"How about the pink one?" "How about the orange one?"
Naruto and Shion ran over each other's words as they shopped through the store for a crib. "Orange? But we're having a girl," Shion whispered uncertainly.
Naruto scoffed. "Who says a girl comes out liking pink? They're babies. They don't know what color they like yet."
Shion gave a side-longed glance at the pink one. "I guess we can get the orange one."
Naruto winced at the look of disappointment and the tears that were about to fall at any moment. Naruto said quickly, "We can get the pink one."
Immediately, Shion's face lit up. "Pink is also the color scheme for the baby shower. I couldn't stop Sakura when she demanded that she plan it."
Now that Shion was no longer a secret this was the first time she was able to go baby shopping. After picking up a few more items that were an overwhelming pink, they went to the cash register.
"Please, let this be on the store for everything you've done for Konoha, Hokage-sama," the cashier said once he saw Naruto with his pregnant wife.
"Not yet," Naruto chuckled. Naruto has had plenty of time to do things such as shop for baby objects as the government was currently at a standstill while the mourning period continued, the Elders petitioned, and the Jounin voted. "I insist that I pay. It'll be good for business. Feel free to let people know we shop here."
"Thank you so much, Hokage-sama."
Naruto lifted the crib over his shoulder, picked up the other purchases in his other arm, and led Shion out of the store. Shion blushed at the display of strength and continued beside him down the road. The couple merged into the sea of black clothing.
"How do you think the voting is going?" Shion asked. "It's taking quite a while."
"It's procedure to take this long. They're going through all my credentials, mission reports, and everything I've ever done in my career that isn't classified to make sure I'm the best candidate," Naruto didn't want to brag but, "It's going to be a unanimous vote."
The doors of the Hyūga compound swung open to the greetings of "welcome home" from the Hyūgas lined at the gate.
"Glad to be back," Hanabi said, sincerely happy she was finally out of the hospital. Hinata rolled her into the compound and Hanabi noticed Hinata had the entire compound redesigned to accommodate the wheelchair.
It certainly wasn't Hanabi's intentions to be in the wheelchair for very long. "I want to walk."
"Are you sure?" Hinata asked when they stopped at the far end of the hallway that led to Hanabi's room. Relying on the strength of her arms, Hanabi picked herself up. Hinata quickly got an arm underneath Hanabi's shoulders.
"Don't push yourself too far," Hinata said concerned. She could feel Hanabi's shaky arms as Hanabi placed one slow step in front of the other. Hanabi had responded well to the physical theerapy while at the hospital but Hinata was concerned Hanabi might push her body too far than what it was ready for.
"I've got it," Hanabi insisted and pushed Hinata away as she leaned against the wall and traveled what seemed like an impossible distance down the hallway. If there was no other better motivation to walk, a smothering Hinata who looked at you with guilty eyes, was certainly it. Covered in sweat and deep breaths, Hanabi collapsed in the bed.
"Do you want me to start a bath? Are you hungry?"
"Hinata, I'm fine," Hanabi said even while Hinata reached to fluff up her pillows. "Stop smothering me. Now that we're back at the compound you don't have to fret over me twenty-four seven. I'll ask Auntie if I need anything."
Hinata pointed to the stacks of manga beside Hanabi's bedside. "I noticed you've picked up a new hobby. I asked Konohamaru for suggestions but if there are none to your liking I could certainly get you more."
"Hinata," Hanabi said flatly. "Deal. With. Your. Shit."
The porcelain squeaked clean as Tomu washed the dishes. Naruto picked up the dripping plate and dried it with a towel. From downstairs in the kitchen, Naruto could hear the soft turn of the page as Shion read a book in bed and the soft sleeping breaths of Ame and Ichigo nestled under their blankets. Naruto heard the front door open, following the sound of tired feet dragging across the matted floors.
The kinkaichu beetles crawled in and out of Tomu's hair like lice. Tomu turned around and asked, "How was training?"
Mushi mumbled with her hood drawn over her exhausted face before she disappeared inside of Tomu's room.
"Is she alright?"
"She started a new training regimen with her clan," Tomu replied.
Naruto could have sped around the kitchen and put up the dishes with ease, but he took his time, and waited on Tomu who refused to give up a plate until it was entirely clean. They worked with each other with a sense of familiarity and comfort.
"How is the business?" Naruto asked softly, conscious that if Shion ever found out she would have a heart attack.
"We did well this month with all the celebrations. I doubt its anything the Akimichi can complain about," Tomu said. Tomu had become Naruto's partner in crime in regards to the Uzumaki drug trade. "But some of our guys are getting excited now that you are becoming Hokage. They think they can do whatever they want now."
"Get me names and I'll handle it," Naruto said without a beat.
The dishes were cleared and the light in the kitchen was turned off. Tomu walked into his room and found Mushi face first in the pillow. Tomu leaned over her and pulled off her hood but at that moment, Mushi dropped off the bed and crawled to the trashcan where she began to vomit.
"How dangerous is this training regimen?" Tomu asked with a frown.
Mushi sat back against the wall. "I'm acclimating to a new hive. It's going to take a toll on my body."
"Could you die?"
"Forty percent," Mushi said as she lifted her hand and Tomu helped her back into the bed.
"How could you do this?" Tomu asked. "Why would you choose to hurt yourself like this?"
Mushi turned into Tomu's chest and whispered, "Because I don't want you to have to come save me again. I want you to know that I'm strong enough to take care of myself."
"No, I'm going to go on every mission with you."
Mushi gave him a pained smile. "That's not how it works. Couples aren't assigned on the same team. It's too risky. There's too many emotional attachments that can divert from the objective. Naruto might be the Hokage but he's not going to give us an inch and you know that." Mushi lifted her arms around Tomu. "Stay in Konoha. You have a chance to get out. Hardly anyone ever gets such opportunity without repercussions."
Tomu frowned as he laid back in his bed. "What if something happens to you?"
"Tomu, you have the sharingan. You are still in much greater danger than I would ever be in the field," Mushi hugged Tomu. "It would be safer for you to retire the hitai-ite."
"Yeah," Tomu said hoarsely and then watched in horror as Mushi jumped towards the trashcan and for a moment, her cloak revealed clothes that hung off her withered body.
Hinata sat in her small office and spent the rest of her day going through the large piles of paperwork on her desk. She reached beside her and took another sip of tea, then turned her attention to sorting out the details of the new kitchen renovation.
"The voting is finally over?" Hinata asked without lifting her eyes. Neji leaned against the entranceway of the office.
"It's over." The meeting had ended late but he wasn't surprised to find Hinata still awake. Neji observed the lines of exhaustion around Hinata's eyes. Instead of commenting on her lack of sleep Neji asked, "How is Hanabi?"
"She says I'm smothering her," Hinata said disapprovingly.
"You are," Neji agreed. "You haven't been home since Hanabi was hospitalized. I think it would be a good idea to give her some space." And work on us, but those words weren't said.
Hinata didn't look up from the paperwork and without a change of expression or tone she said, "Give me thirty minutes and I will meet you in your bedroom."
Neji weighed his gaze on his wife. After a few seconds of reasoning that she was willing, Neji conceded and nodded in understanding. Neji left the office.
Hinata placed down the document after she could no longer see the moving words. She stared with very little compassion at her shaking hands and forced them to stop. They stopped.
Hinata picked herself up and blew out the small fire of the candles. When she arrived in her wing of the compound she found Auntie had already prepared her bath.
"It's about time you two focused more on your duties," Auntie said as she filled the void of silence in the bathroom. She applied a combination of soap and oil until Hinata's skin was soft and pliable for Neji's hands. Water dripped down and collected at Hinata's feet when she stepped out of the large bath.
"It is the woman's duty to produce more strong children for the clan. Your actions tonight will prove to be a brilliant role model and a reminder to our women what their duties are," Auntie said approvingly as she readied Hinata for the bed of her husband.
"You're still reproductively young and those hips of yours should be able to push out at least ten." Auntie brushed Hinata's hair until they were soft strands of silk. "You should seriously begin to consider allowing Neji to stay Clan Head." Auntie coated a deep rouge on Hinata's lips that brought a color of lust to her pale skin. "You were our first female Clan Head and that was an accomplishment in and of itself but that's not what the clan needs anymore." Auntie approved the underwear Hinata should wear for the occasion. The lace blue accentuated the curves, not too riske but remained aesthetically pleasing. In all matters, the matriarch had to prove the example of appropriate attire. "The clan needs more babies. I think the best thing you can do for the clan now is to step down and focus on getting pregnant. You must be very fertile. You got pregnant by the Uzumaki easily enough. Too bad you didn't keep the kid. Now that Uzumaki is Hokage, an illegitimate child could have been great political leverage for the Hyūga Clan."
"As you are not ovulating tonight you could use some assistance," Auntie said as she placed a fertility pill in Hinata's hand to end the final detail of her grooming. Auntie stopped for a moment when Hinata slid the robe onto her shoulders to cover the walk to Neji's room and wondered if Hinata had heard any of her helpful advice.
Without looking down at the small item, Hinata lifted the pill into her mouth and forced herself to swallow.
Then Hinata traveled the long hallway towards Neji's bedroom. The door was open in expectation. She slipped into the room as dead as a ghost and startled Neji even though he had been anticipating her arrival. The door clicked close behind her.
Naruto stopped by the unfinished baby room decorated in a fanciful pink. All the items he and Shion had bought today had thoughtfully been placed in the room, until Shion changed her mind and had Naruto move everything around again. Naruto couldn't care less what the color of the crib was. It was just a crib. His thoughts lingered around the fact that soon there would be a baby occupying this room – his baby little girl.
With a soft smile, he turned off the lights in the nursery. He entered the bedroom where Shion laid in bed reading a book. But this time, instead of reading a book to complete it, Shion was waiting.
Naruto didn't notice how Shion's eyes followed him as he moved to the dresser.
"Naruto," Shion said shyly as her eyes peeked over the top of the book.
"Do you think it's proper for Mushi to be here all of the time?" Shion asked concerned. She had seen the Aburame entered the compound from the bedroom window.
"Do you not want her here?" Naruto asked alarmed. "Her beetles won't hurt the baby. You don't have anything to be afraid of."
"No, it's just…" Shion said slowly, embarrassed. "She's been spending every night with Tomu. It's not proper for a young lady."
Naruto finally realized what she was going around her words to say. "They're teenagers," Naruto shrugged his shoulders. "As long as Mushi is wearing the seal it's not as if she can get pregnant."
"But they're kids. They shouldn't be having…" Shion blushed.
"My hearing is very sharp. They don't have sex every night," Naruto assured her which only seemed to make Shion even more horrified.
"What sort of example does that set for Ame?" Shion asked. "If this goes on, Ame is going to think she can do it too."
"Mushi and Tomu are in a committed relationship. I can only hope Ame is as responsible as those two," Naruto answered.
Shion was flabbergasted. "You would hope your daughter loses her virginity at thirteen?"
"No," Naruto said obviously. "Stop being dramatic. I've already had the talk with Ame."
"She's only ten," Shion gasped.
"And she's entering the Academy in a few days. The Aburama, Hyūga, and Inuzuka are all clans whose children learn much earlier than that age as sex is a part of everyday life for them. At the Academy they teach sexual education classes in the first year. Besides, I want Ame to make responsible decisions and prefer to have whatever teenage sexual tension released under my roof than some stupid horny decision that can get her killed on a mission. As the Hokage I've seen the statistics of how many kids who go out in the field and get themselves in trouble because they were caught in compromising situations. Have sex at home, not out in the field," Naruto said in finality.
"I know this is a different culture from what I'm used to but I don't want our child becoming a slut," Shion said with a sudden anger to her voice. "What's to say that this sort of parenting won't lead Ame to becoming a… a… one of those ero-ninja?"
"That's not how the system works," Naruto said while attempting to be patient. "With Ame's genjutsu she will probably end up in the T&I division."
"Torture and Interrogation," Naruto deadpanned.
"You- you- would allow your daughter to become a torturer?"
"I will allow my daughter to make her own decisions," Naruto said annoyed, immediately picking up on the fact it was 'your' daughter and not 'our'. "Maybe I'm not the best parent," Naruto admitted. "But I'm realistic to the expectations of our way of life. Would I prefer her not to be a ninja? Yes. But hell, if she wants to be an ero-ninja I'm not going to stop her. It's not the most respectable job but because they do missions where it is often determined that violence is not a suitable option, they have higher survival rates than other divisions sent out onto the field," Naruto argued. "My only regret is that our daughter will have to be eventually sent away to the Priesthood. She isn't born with a choice."
"The Priesthood will be her salvation," Shion murmured bitterly as she turned over in bed. She was determined not to lose her daughter to the violence of Konoha. This village of shadows and leaves had corrupted her and Shion was not going to let it corrupt her daughter.
Naruto grabbed a pillow and a spare blanket and headed towards the couch. It was always something with Shion. She wanted him to be a stricter parent, wanted him to stop inviting so many unannounced guests to the compound, and wanted him to send his only biological daughter to the Priesthood the moment she was finished nursing. Naruto might have signed a piece of paper in an act of desperation to save the village, but he was the fucking Demon Fox and he was not sending his unborn daughter away.
Naruto threw the pillow onto the couch when his ears perked up at the sound of footsteps through the gate. He meditated in the space of his breathing and calmed the heat that had erupted from his argument with Shion. Naruto found a smile when the front door revealed Shikamaru on his porch.
"I'm sure you know what I'm about to say, I'm just here to confirm it," Shikamaru said without wasting any words. "Congratulations Hokage-sama."
"Funny, only when I stopped chasing the dream of becoming Hokage did it manage to chase me." Naruto said as the night wind brushed through his hair. Naruto stepped to the side, "Do you want to come in?"
Shikamaru pulled a pack of cigarettes from his pocket. "No thanks. I'm going to hang out here for a while."
"I thought you were trying to quit?"
"I quit," Shikamaru said, "in front of Temari or any vicinity she can smell it." Shikamaru had another change of clothes in a storage scroll in his pocket and planned to burn the ones he was wearing before he got home.
"I see the living together is working out," Naruto tried to stifle a laugh as Shikamaru lit the cigarette.
Shikamaru believed that sex was the one thing that shouldn't be planned out but Temari had them both on a constant schedule and diet, determined to get pregnant and do things right this time. Shikamaru took a deep exhale of smoke.
Naruto sniffed and realized it wasn't tobacco. Naruto stepped forward and closed the door tightly behind him. "Got another one?"
Shikamaru went in his pocket, grabbed the recycled cigarette box, and gave Naruto a blunt. Naruto crouched down on the stairs of the porch in his boxers. Shikamaru threw Naruto his lighter. Shikamaru leaned against a support beam and tried to enjoy the quiet moment before Temari came looking for him. "The war is over."
Naruto nodded, "The war is over."
The sex was easy. The moments after were harder.
"Hinata," Neji said her name with a mixture of emotions – fulfilled after finally having intercourse with his wife since their wedding night, possessive with a knowing that she had chosen him, satisfied by the intensity of his orgasm, and love. All emotions that Hinata did not possess.
When Neji pulled out, it reminded Hinata of how empty she felt even when he was inside her. Hinata stretched off her knees as Neji rested down into the pillow. Neji rolled over and hugged his arm around her waist. Hinata stared at the door.
"I've been thinking," Neji whispered thoughtfully. "Now that we're trying for a baby we should share a bedroom. It would be more convenient and efficient."
Hinata stared into the deep darkness as Neji's grip tightened around her waist. The bed was uncomfortable, too many pillows, not enough covers, too much Neji.
"And this," Neji frowned as he avoided petting the seal tattoo along her forearm. "I do not think it is appropriate for another man to have access to my wife whenever he wants. This seal needs to come off."
It was true that the purpose of the seal had been quick access in case something happened on the battlefield, but they were no longer at war, and Hinata no longer had any justification to keep it.
Neji waited for her answer, then pulled up, and found her eyes closed. Neji reached down to kiss her parted lips, then tucked in, and went to sleep.
Hinata opened her eyes and stared into the darkness. She waited the long minutes until Neji's body weighed on her, until his hand fell from her breasts, until his hot breath stabbed slow into her neck.
Hinata slipped underneath Neji's arm, picked up her robe from the ground, and closed the balcony doors behind her. She leaned her hands along the railing and for the first time that night, she allowed herself to feel. She closed her eyes and could feel the night air hugging her curves and the moisture of spring kissing her lips.
Then she took one step forward, then another, and she jumped over the balcony railing. The guards on the wall were playing a game of shougi. Lovers met in secret under the lavender while others slept. The wide tall gate of the Hyūga clan held open its door under the moonlight, no longer did it keep people in.
And Hinata walked. Her bare feet found a path as she traveled under the archway of pregnant cherry blossoms. Hinata's bare feet strummed the wet grass, tread the cool earth, and drummed against the hard wood of the bridge. She met the river, as all streams do.
Hinata took one step forward, and then another, until her toes balanced on the railing. In the river was the reflection of a full moon. The image of the Hyūga clan crest remained still as the water floated downstream. The river promised a tempting song to take her away.
Hinata's toes balanced on the railing, muscles stretched to jump. Her hands shook. She stood on the edge.
She stepped forward and a pointed foot wafted in the air, her leg as pale as moonlight except for the scar on her thigh. She couldn't jump. She couldn't force her body to throw itself into the water and drown until she could no longer breathe Neji's moan of her name, the needs of the clan, or the tears on her face.
For the first time she couldn't force her body to move.
Her voice skipped along the river when a song came to her lips. She had forgotten the words but it was the only song she ever held in her heart. Her knees bent and lifted with the melody. She turned with blessed grace and danced along the red railing of the bridge. Her silk robe fluttered like wings.
Hinata skipped with abandon and landed with ease. Her pointed toes gliding along the curve of the bridge. Her heart thudded a rhythm to her song. In the river was her dancing shadow in the reflection of the full moon.
The song ended with Hinata's smile. She closed her eyes and felt at peace for finally allowing her body to do what it wanted. She was as light as a cloud, floating, free. She thought she had forgotten how to dance.
"I haven't seen you dance in a long time."
Hinata's eyes dawned open. "Why are you here?"
Naruto stepped forward and leaned against the railing next to her toes. Naruto scratched his shaved chin. "Sometimes I stalk you," Naruto shrugged. "I sensed you leaving the compound and couldn't help but to follow." Naruto looked forward, down the still river. "I haven't seen you dance since the Mountain mission."
"Do you remember?" Hinata asked the night.
"I remember," Naruto answered. As Hokage, he had read the mission folder and the details unlocked the barrier to his memories. "I always felt as if I had forgotten something important. I forgot your dance and that was always something I wanted back because I thought I'd never see you dance again."
Naruto grinned inwardly. "If you weren't a ninja, you'd be a dancer. You would probably be in some big theatre in the Capital. You'd be on some big stage and I'd watch you in the audience wondering how I could ever dream of touching you. Oh, but I'd find a way."
Hinata tasted her tears on her lips. "I don't want to forget."
"I don't want you to either," Naruto said sincerely. There was nothing more beautiful than the brief small moments when Hinata allowed herself to be free.
A Cheshire grin reflected in the water. "Hinata," Naruto said, his nose clogged by Neji's scent on her, "You stink."
Hinata yelped when Naruto suddenly pushed a hand against her butt and she very ungracefully splashed into the river. Naruto erupted in a fit of laughter, blinked an eye open when a surge of water rose and a wave crashed towards him. Naruto flipped back over the second railing and was swept into the river below.
Naruto swam under the shadow of the bridge and caught Hinata up in his arms as he emerged for air. She laughed into his hair as he pulled her legs around his waist. Naruto's chest vibrated against her breasts as his laughter joined hers. Breathless carefree childlike laughter.
Naruto reached to capture the bells in her voice and the mirth drowned in a wave of lips that swelled against one another. Naruto released a small wind jutsu that shook the trees until it rained cherry blossoms. Pink petals flowed down the river.
Hinata could feel the petals brush her hair, drops of gliding water caress her skin, and the love she had for the man who supported her with his arms. Hinata's eyes were as soft as moonlight and her voice as light as a broken bird again attempting to fly, "Yes."
The location of the Kage's Summit was on one of Kiri's tropical islands. The island's prestigious resort and amusement park was just as famous as its bounty of palm trees and soft sea breeze. In Naruto's personal opinion, it certainly was a better locale that the hard cold of Iron country.
Or at least that's what he thought. The monsoon rattled against the windows of Naruto's resort room. It was as if Mei had come back to life to haunt the decisions Naruto has decided to make.
"The Kages have arrived. They are beginning to gather in the conference room," Shikamaru reported. And the rain howled against the windows.
The Hokage stood up from a long night of studying his notes and stretched. The curtains were drawn open and Naruto held a gaze toward the bowed palm trees and surging wave of the oceans. "Sorry, Mei."
Then Naruto turned and left the room. Shikamaru and Naruto met Ino in the hallway. Shikamaru nodded in acknowledgment and then conferred with the security on his radio. Naruto told Ino who guarded the door, "I don't want any interruptions."
The Hokage entered the conference room and greeted the faces of the Kazekage, Tsuchikage, and Raikage. Naruto sat in the empty chair at the round table while the Kages waited to learn the purpose of this summit.
The Hokage began, "The purpose of this summit is to determine what should be done with Kirigakure. The situation in one of the Great Hidden Villages now stands as this: there is currently no viable candidate for a new Mizukage, the hidden village is currently bankrupt, most of their surviving ninja have either abandoned their hitai-ite or have gone missing, and currently all Seven Swords are in my possession. As a solution, the mainland and its assets will be put up for sell to pay back its debtors and we will divide and distribute Kiri's seven clans, the swords, and their islands. In sum, the proposal I am placing before you is the complete dismantling of Kirigakure."
The implications were seen in the Kage's eyes. The Five Great ninja villages would be reduced to four. The power balance would shift. The spoils were tempting.
"You could have just done this yourself," Darui noticed. "We didn't need to be involved."
"Dismantling one of the Great ninja village requires the proper finesse and I do not think it is a task that one can bear alone." Naruto explained. "The balance of power also needs to be maintained."
Naruto motioned to Shikamaru. The Kage's assistants that were present placed a hand on their holster. Shikamaru distributed several folders that detailed the history and kekkai genkai of each of the seven clans of Kiri.
"Each of the Seven Swords have a history with one of the clans. The clan you pick will also determine the sword you will receive. Obviously these clans will not come quietly but they have been crippled by the war, leaving primarily the children and the elderly behind – children that can become effective contributions to each of our hidden villages. Because there are four of us, we can't split the spoils evenly. One village will have a lesser number than the rest. Since Lightning lost the war, it is only appropriate that Lightning receives less."
Darui frowned but knew it was only his pride that had been hurt. In reality, he didn't expect to come out of this meeting with even one Sword and a new kekkai genkai. "Cloud accepts."
The Hokage nodded. "We will now begin divvying up the clans."
It was like playing a board game but Naruto was well aware it was with people's lives. Naruto allowed Lightning to choose first. Darui shuffled through the files carefully and attempted to discern which clan would be more beneficial to Kumo. Finally Darui decided.
"The Momochi Clan," Naruto said when it was his turn. For two reasons, he had unfinished business with Sandayū and was hoping to attract him to Konoha. And for a boy named Haku.
Suna and Iwa decided the remainder between them until there was one clan left that no one wanted. Naruto knew it was probably going to come down to this. "Konoha chooses the Houzuki Clan."
Shikamaru placed two storage scrolls before each Kage and one before the Raikage. "These scrolls contain the swords. Keep them safe and in your possession."
In less than an hour, one of the Great Ninja Villages no longer existed.
"There is also the matter of the disputed border between Iwa and Suna," Naruto outright addressed the elephant in the room. Kitsuchi frowned. After the successful conquer of Mountain the Tsuchikage had begun to make plans to invade Suna. Gaara was well aware of these plans. The two Kage's eyes met with a suggestion that this war was not yet over.
Naruto cleared his throat to break the tension between the two Kages. "From what I understand, Suna seized Iwa's land because of a drought. With two new clans of a water elemental affinity, I doubt Suna will be as crippled by drought problems as it had been before. Surely, there is no longer any need for Suna to hold on to this land?" Naruto suggested.
Naruto had already discussed the proposal in private with Gaara. Gaara didn't like it but standing down meant avoiding another war. Sometimes, you had to be wise enough to choose your battles. Gaara nodded his head and conceded. "Suna agrees to give up all rights to the land we invaded during the Fifth Shinobi War. All Suna personnel will be evacuated within the week."
Kitsuchi stared at Gaara for a long time in an attempt to judge the character of the Kazekage. It was stupid to take the path of war when you could get what you want through words. Finally, Kitsuchi crossed his arms and relented. "Iwa accepts."
The two countries signed a formal agreement with the signature of the Hokage and Raikage as witnesses.
"And the last item on our agenda today," Naruto unfurled a scroll, "A new peace treaty."
Kitsuchi scoffed but figured he'd play along. Gaara scanned his eyes over the document. It was very similar to the one created after the Fourth Shinobi War that outlined a general agreement that none of the Great Ninja Villages would initiate war unless first provoked.
"The last one didn't work out too well," Darui pointed out. "What could possibly make this one anymore successful?"
Naruto slammed a kunai in the middle of the table to punctuate Darui's question. The kunai stood upright embedded into the wooden table. Naruto pointed. "This is just a kunai."
The Kages watched the display in curiosity. Naruto leaned forward and plucked the kunai out of the wood. "But in my hands, this kunai is a weapon. In my hands, I give it meaning." The Hokage signed his signature to the peace treaty. "This is only a piece of paper until you give it meaning."
Mizuka Houzuki stared at the round structure of Konoha's Academy. She hated this village. It was too dry and too far from the sea. She couldn't even retain her liquid form for very long.
"Are you coming in or are you going to stand out here all day?" Mizuka Houzuki looked up at an older man with a scar across his nose. She despised his bright smile and despised him even more when she discovered Umino Sensei was her home-room teacher.
The classroom of aspiring genin went quiet when Mizuka Houzuki entered the room. It didn't bother her. Hushed whispers had been constant since her clan was forcefully relocated to Konoha.
Mizuka dropped down in a chair in the far corner of the room away from every else. She studied her opponents and judged that the competition would be easy to cut down this year. Houzuki jumped when another girl dropped down in the seat next to her.
"Hi, my name is Uzumaki Ame," Ame said as she held out her hand.
Mizuka didn't like anything about her other than her name. Mizuka stared at the offered handshake, until Ame reached down and attempted to force one but the hand dripped through Ame's fingers. "Don't touch me," Mizuka said scathingly. "Leave me or you will be the first I kill in our graduation test."
Ame gave Mizuka an awkward smile. "But if you kill me during the graduation test, then you fail. That's not how the bell test works."
Mizuka gave Ame a blank stare. "What bell test?"
Ame eyes lit up and enthusiastically explained Konoha's graduation test. "It's supposed to test our ability for teamwork."
Mizuka's jaw fell in horror. It was the stupidest test Mizuka had ever heard. The Bloody Mist test was performed for only one reason: to see who could perform an order from the Mizukage without question or hesitation, even if that order was to kill your classmates. "That sounds idiotic."
Ame repeated the well-known idiom, "There are many leaves on Konoha's tree."
"I am not a leaf!" Mizuka snapped. At her raised voice, only then did Mizuka grow aware of two other pair of eyes watching. Behind Ame came a pair of Hyūga twins.
"Come on Ame, she's not worth bothering." The female Hyūga, Tsugi, landed a defensive hand on Ame's shoulder.
Akarui didn't take his sister's lead as he leaned forward with a smug smile. "It's hard to be scared of someone with dancing goldfish on her underwear."
Mizuka's face immediately turned bright red and exploded in a puddle of embarrassment.
"She exploded!" An Inuzuka laughed.
"Kids calm down," Iruka said as he attempted to get in control one of the largest classes he has ever taught due to the postponement of the academic year.
"Ame-chan," a flash bounced off the Aburame's glasses as he suddenly appeared at Ame's shoulder… or was he always there? "Did you know that kinkaichu beetles mate for life?"
"Pervert!" Tsugi jyūkened the Aburame across the room before he could slip a beetle underneath Ame's skirt to find out the color of her panties. Tsugi pressed Ame's head into her early blooming chest. "Do not dare touch my Ame-chan for one day she will marry me."
There was a dog whistle from the Inuzuka.
A skinny hand from the smallest student in class raised his hand. The Akimichi ate but had such a high metabolism he never got bigger than a stick. "Sensei, can two girls get married?"
"Well Akimichi-kun," the Nara beside him began, "The practical reason for marriage, for a ninja at least, is to ensure that his children and his partner gets a paycheck after he dies. Legally two women can get married but it would be biologically difficult to-" The Nara's attention was interrupted as the Yamanaka boy stole the Nara's book bag off her desk. "Hey!"
"Nerd!" Yamanaka tripped over the thread of shadow and stumbled down the stairs into Iruka. Iruka fell back against the black board while the Inuzuka released the three puppies hiding in her jacket.
During the commotion, Mizuka crawled out of the classroom. She longed for the distant distrust of her class back in Kiri where no one talked to one another. She looked behind her to make sure no one was following but didn't see when her head bumped into someone's knee.
Mizuka looked up at the frightened Momochi sitting in the quiet of the hallway. He was two years older, from another class, and she had never talked to him before because their clans had bee situated on two separate islands. She reached out to the only kindred sane spirit. "This place is crazy."
The Momochi nodded. "Aye."
"Don't you look comfortable?" Tsunade teased as she collapsed in the office chair. It was odd at first to be sitting on the opposite side of the desk. Naruto had already swapped out the name plate and pictures. He had probably already gotten rid of her hidden sake drawer.
Naruto scoffed. He felt anything but at ease. He had a long list of appointments and there were tall stacks of paperwork backlogged from when the government was in an impasse.
"I remember it had on a storming night when I invited you into the office and handed you a mask. It's amazing how fast you've gone from a grunt to the leader of ANBU."
Naruto shrugged his shoulders. "The hat is nothing but another mask. It hasn't gotten easier. Being the Hokage is just one hard decision after another."
Pain tempered Tsunade's retired smile. "Jiraiya was right. You were destined to surpass the first Hokage."
Naruto remembered the Shodaime's strength during the Fourth Shinobi War clearly. "I am nowhere near as strong as the Shodaime and I personally hope to never be. His strength came from a period of constant warfare and violence without even the cycles of peace we have now. No, power comes at too high a blood price."
"I didn't mean physically." Tsunade posed a question to the Hokage. "Why do you think the Sandaime failed?"
Naruto closed his eyes to think about the question before he answered. "The Sandaime failed because he chose to entrust the darker parts of Konoha to Danzou which led to the creation of Root and the Uchiha massacre. He was a good man but not the ideal Kage. I will not make his mistakes but I will seek to imitate his successes. After all, he was the one who gave me a chance."
"You've grown up so much," Tsunade whispered. She was proud of his wisdom but would always have a chilling regret for forcing the ordeals he had to survive in order to obtain it. There were no more lessons to teach.
"Speaking of chances. I don't know how many more I can give you." Naruto dead-panned.
Naruto slapped a bill in front of Tsunade's face.
"This is the gambling bill you've procured over the span of just a week," Naruto said and felt as if he was lecturing a child and not his predecessor. "First, why are you sending the bill to Konoha? Second, Konoha does not have the money to entertain your vices."
"Shizune and I were celebrating our retirement." Tsunade pouted. Sakura led the hospital and Naruto led village. There was nothing for Tsunade to do anymore but gamble.
The doors of the office burst open as a shadow clone rushed in. The clone dumped the recent pile of approved missions to be filed away by another shadow clone.
"Don't you think that might confuse people?" Tsunade asked doubtfully.
"Only one of us wears the hat," Naruto answered. He found it more efficient for his clones to act as his secretary. They had the authority to sign when they received the paperwork and made going through the paper trail much quicker.
"Look, the elders Koharu and Homura are getting decrepit and you are certainly old enough to take their place."
"I'm not that old!" Tsunade cringed at the idea of becoming a village elder.
"Tsunade," Naruto said seriously. "You've got to find something to occupy your time other than gambling. We all have our vices but this is becoming self-destructive. The Senju clan has no money. You've gambled it all away. The only thing you have left to your name is your grandfather's compound. If you don't stop this gambling habit I'm going to be forced to sell your home. You won't have any legacy to leave."
Tsunade hung her head over the chair and gave Naruto, the only gamble she had ever won, a look out of the corner of her eye. "You are my legacy."
Neji's expression was a blank as he processed the order he was given. The Hokage leaned forward on his desk and explained, "I need someone in the capital overseeing the reconstruction efforts. I am hereby assigning you as the Hokage's authority in the Capital and advisor to the Daimyo. It is very important that we reinstate the tax collection system and relocate the Daimyo back to the Capital as soon as possible. After you've adjusted to life and taken stock of the necessary projects, I want a five-year proposal on how you plan to rebuild with an estimated budget."
"Five years is a tentative time-frame for the initial stages. Of course, to completely regain what we have lost will take much longer." The Hokage reasoned. There was a hard glare that peeked underneath the hat. "Do you have any doubts about this new assignment? Your role will be an important responsibility in the future security of Fire Country."
"No, Hokage-sama," Neji replied steely while biting his tongue. He knew this was an order.
"Are there any questions?"
"No, Hokage-sama. I understand my role. I will have the proposal on your desk as soon as possible," Neji replied loyally.
"You are dismissed."
Neji bowed and turned for the door but he stopped at the frame. He looked back and the light of the window framed the shadowed outline of the Hokage. "Do not think I don't see your bullshit. How convenient you send me away while my wife is on a mission."
Neji was bitter about the fact his plans to have a child had been stalled when Hinata was assigned a mission after the only night they ever got a chance. Now with the new assignment, his plans were stalled indefinitely.
"I feel wounded you would question my character," Naruto said without a beat. "I truly believe you are the best person for the job."
And the worst part, Neji knew he was right.
"Don't overstep your boundaries Neji Hyūga," Naruto said as he licked his incisors. "I might be the Hokage, my job might be to protect the village, but I didn't get this job by being the nice guy."
The tension between Neji and Naruto was palpable. Both silently recognized what, or rather who, remained between them. "Pack your bags, Neji. I expect you to leave in the morning," the Hokage ordered. And it was final.
Shikamaru lounged in the chair with a cigarette while shadow clones sped through the paperwork that came through the door. The Hokage drew red circles on a map. "Now that Kiri no longer exists we are already getting reports of countries that are trying to rise in the power void." Naruto said as he studied his map. "I'm worried about Ame."
Shikamaru nodded. "Ame played both sides of the war and the current warlord received so much money from both Kiri and Konoha that he has actually managed to hold the position for some time."
Naruto scoffed. "He's already calling himself a Kage."
"And there's Jūgo," Shikamaru added. "He doesn't have much ambition but the ninja are growing really fond of him. The Land of Sound is also projected to grow in the years."
"Jūgo we can work with. I've met the current warlord of Ame. He's smart, he's analytical, and he's patient." Naruto looked up at Shikamaru. "I want him dead."
"Killing him will bring chaos back to Ame. A lot of people are going to die," Shikamaru reasoned the pros and cons. "But he does provide a future threat. From what I've read about him, I agree, he's not going to settle for staying under the shadow of Greater Countries."
Naruto nodded and turned to one of his clones, "Write up the mission briefing and add a reminder for my meeting with the Captain."
Shikamaru exhaled a stream of smoke as he watched the clones shuffle around the office.
"What are your assessments of the Houzuki and Momochi clans?"
"Their compounds should be finished within the next two months along the river, they can't seem to stand each other, and don't see the point of the council."
Naruto rubbed his temple and knew it would be an uphill battle to readjust the cultural differences between Kiri and Konoha. "For now, they will be assigned as lesser clans until they can prove their worth to Konoha. I want you continue to be their liaison. It is extremely important that their transition into Konoha is as smooth as possible."
Shikamaru sighed even though it had been his idea to split up the clans. His list of things to do kept piling up. Perhaps he should stop telling people his ideas.
Naruto leaned over his paperwork when Shikamaru tossed the remains of his cigarette in the trash and stood up from the chair. "And Shikamaru, it's been implied but I haven't formally announced it. Congratulations on becoming the Hokage's advisor of foreign affairs."
Shikamaru hung his head.
"Don't give me that look, Shikamaru. You're the only person never excited about a promotion." Naruto motioned toward the door. "Let Chouji in on your way out."
"Yes, Hokage-sama," Shikamaru bowed in dismissal.
"Temari is going to kill you when she finds out," Chouji responded to the cigarette smell as Shikamaru passed by with a nod of acknowledgement.
"How can I help?" Chouji asked when he entered the office and met with the Hokage. Naruto pointed to the chair, always an indicator that this was going to be a long meeting. The chair creaked under Chouji's weight as he replaced Shikamaru.
"As you know Konoha is still under a lot of debt from the war and we still need to redirect most of our budget to the Capital. Despite all that, I want to buy the mainland island of Kiri before some rich merchant snatches it up." Naruto eyed the Akimichi pointedly.
"The Akimichi was looking at it," Chouji admitted. "The mainland presents a bit of a problem. Without ninjas, it's just a simple fishing village with an active volcano. The volcano provides a huge risk and it would take a long-term investment to make it profitable. Personally, I think it will be easier to buy one of the smaller islands, preferably one with a resort, and watch the money roll in. In short, buying the mainland is a bad investment."
Naruto sat back in thought. "I know Konoha needs it but I'm not interested in the money. I'm interested in it geographically. The mainland is the center of the ocean. Its where all sea routes run through. During the war, Kiri essentially stopped all naval trade and crippled our economy. I want to buy the mainland to keep our enemies from obtaining it."
"The Akimichi will probably end up buying it."
"I thought you said it was a bad investment."
"A bad investment for Konoha. Not for us. We can afford it long-term. Konoha can't afford any more loans, even with the money coming in from Lightning and Demon Country."
"That's not good enough. Chouji Akimichi, you figure out how to buy that island," Naruto ordered. "I am hereby declaring you the financial advisor of Konoha. Figure it the fuck out."
"I can certainly think of a few ways but none of them you will like," Chouji replied. "My clan sells Konoha drugs. Konoha in turn could sell these drugs to mainland Kiri to raise the money. Or, the human trafficking trade becomes much more profitable during peacetime since it's harder to obtain displaced persons. Konoha could plunder a few people and make a nice bit of coin out of it."
"Hokage-sama," Chouji answered respectfully. "I know you want to do everything but at this point Konoha can only be stretched so far until you are forced to dip your fingers in murky water. As your financial advisor, I'm telling you, it's a bad investment. Buy a few of the smaller islands. I can help you determine which ones will turn over the most profit in the hopes of buying a piece of the mainland someday. But for now, that's all Konoha can hope for."
"It's a tough reality when a clan has more money than its ninja village."
"Money is power," Chouji told Naruto. "The world might constantly change, hidden villages will rise and fall, clans will disappear and new kekkai genkai will be born, but money will always remain the one constant."
Naruto chewed on Chouji's words. "I'm going to consider your advice and will call you back in after I've made a decision." Naruto didn't agree about the power of money but admitted inwardly that it was used to oil the gears that kept Konoha running.
"Another thing, I understand that the Akimichi bought Tsunade's old gambling debts?"
"I'm sure they are no use to you now that she is no longer Hokage but the Uzumaki clan would like to buy them from you."
"We can make that work." Chouji nodded as he stood. "Next week the family is hosting a dinner party. Here's your invitation," Chouji added before he was dismissed. "Feel free to bring the wife and kids. It's an outdoor BBQ."
Naruto picked up the invitation and gave a smile. "Thanks Chouji, I'll be there."
Now that the formal meeting was over, Chouji popped open a bag of chips. He waved to Sakura with BBQ fingers. Sakura was allowed inside the office as Naruto's next appointment.
Sakura immediately threw up her hands and knew what Naruto was going to ask her. "No, I haven't completed the medical files for all the members of the Kiri clans." Sakura plopped her bum onto Naruto's desk. "I really want to study the Houzuki kekkai genkai but I can't get any of them to attend an appointment. I have to explain that a medical check-up is a standard procedure but it seems in Kiri the reason why anyone went to the hospital was when someone was about to die."
Naruto chuckled at Sakura's instant ranting. "I want their files completed soon but-"
"I'm trying," Sakura interrupted as she combed back her pink hair in frustration and the small shift revealed the diamond on her forehead, "I'm trying to avoid using force but it might come down to that."
"No, using force will only make them bitter. Make sure they know they won't be unable to take on missions until they get a medical check-up."
Sakura rubbed the headache these new clans were giving her. Even still, there was a lot of resistance to the idea in Konoha.
"I'm glad you're working on those medical files," Naruto tried again and paused to see if he was going to be interrupted by another rant, and then continued. "But I actually called you into my office to promote you."
"Promote me to what?" Sakura asked confused with a hand on her hip.
"The Hokage's advisor of Internal Affairs. Everyone comes in and out of your hospital so you're familiar with a lot of people and you have medical knowledge that I don't have. I think you're the perfect person for the job, if you don't think it will conflict with your job at the hospital of course."
Sakura gave the job some thought. "Why not? It's about time you valued my good advice."
"I don't know if it's always good advice," Naruto snickered. Smoke erupted from shadow clones diving to get out of the way as the Hokage slammed into the wall. Naruto groaned at the familiar taste of Sakura's fist. He peeled himself out of the wall. "I could send you to prison for that."
Sakura gave an unladylike snort. "I'm the Head of Konoha's Hospital."
"I'm the Hokage," Naruto shot back.
"I have a feeling that's going to become an overused line." Sakura rolled her eyes as she leaned back to stretch. She paused when she spotted the Team Seven photo framed on the Hokage's desk. It stood out among all the pictures of his kids. Sakura lifted the picture frame in her hands. "Sometimes, it seems as if it was only yesterday our names were called to be on the same genin team."
Naruto watched the soft emotions in Sakura's face. He lounged back down in his chair. "Are you happy, Sakura?" Sakura turned to Naruto, surprised by the question. Naruto reached to comb his hand through his hair but still hadn't gotten used to the hat in his way. "I know I never fulfilled my promise to you."
Sakura slapped Naruto into the face with the glass of the photo. "I don't care about that stupid promise."
Naruto wiped away the glass shards. There were still a lot of secrets he kept from her. "But if there was a chance…"
Sakura jumped off the desk. "I have a wonderful husband who loves me, two little boys, I'm Head of Konoha's hospital, and your advisor. I used to believe that the value of my life could only be measured by you and Sasuke. And then at one point I realized I was never going to catch up with the insane amount of power you and Sasuke possessed. I had to find my own path."
Sakura walked towards the office door and then turned around. "I am happy Naruto. Are you?" Then she returned to the hospital that was undisputedly Sakura's domain.
Naruto watched the woman that had become akin to an older sister leave the office. Naruto up-righted the Team Seven photo and adjusted the frame back onto his desk.
Ino came through the window.
"Just missed her," Ino cursed as her feet landed on the floor. She wanted to invite Sakura over for a glass of wine, like old times.
Naruto raised an eyebrow. "I've noticed you two seem to be a lot closer than before her memories were erased."
Caught red-handed, Ino didn't deny it. "Maybe there are some memories I didn't unlock. I wanted to start our friendship over." Ino chuckled to herself as she leaned her gaze out the window. "I missed her."
"I missed Ino," Naruto said in turn. Slowly the woman he had come to know during childhood began to shine through the dark turns she had taken. "You seem less angry."
Ino stared at the reflection of her face in the window. "Holding onto my anger was pushing everyone around me away." Then she peeled from the wall and sat a classified folder on Naruto desk. "Here is the finished report from the Kage's summit. It contains all of the moves that the Kage are planning in the next five years, or at least what they think they're planning."
Naruto quickly placed the file into one of the maximum security drawers, locked and activated a seal that kept even a Hyūga from seeing through it. Then Naruto went through a separate drawer and handed Ino an official promotion letter.
"Ibiki's job is yours. You deserve it. Your part was integral to phase one of the plan to defeat Kiri and Kumo. Not only that but I also need you leading the T&I division ANBU branch. There's a Captain's cloak waiting for you."
Ino's eyes lit up with a smug smile.
Naruto thought it was a nice change of pace to see Ino so happy. "What are you going to do now?"
"I'm going to tell my dad," Ino said softly. Both Chouji and Shikamaru had lost their dads in the war. Inoichi was still alive and Ino was undeniably a daddy's girl. "He's going to be so proud of me."
Ino held the certificate to her chest and jumped out the window.
It wasn't more than a minute when Tenten came through the doors. She watched nervously as the Hokage overlooked her mission list.
"Tenten," the Hokage said, "I understand that you aspire to a position of leadership?"
"A position that I have rightfully earned," Tenten replied immediately. It would be a hollow victory otherwise.
The Hokage folded his hands. "With the introduction of the Kiri clans the streets of Konoha have become more unruly and the war have left many destitute and prone to violence. After the Uchiha were removed from the Konoha's police force, the third Hokage wisely decided that it would be best if the police force was comprised of ninja that did not come from a clan, but even today most clans pay off the police and still get away with a lot of illegal activity. I am inclined to agree with the Third Hokage, that it is both important for a ninja to enforce the law and understand the civilian way of life. But he was missing one vital component: strength of character. I need someone who will work with me to clean up the unnecessary dirt that Konoha doesn't need and I need someone who won't be swayed by the influence of the clans. Would you be interested in becoming the chief of Konoha's police department?"
Tenten's jaw dropped and stuttered out her answer, "Yes. I won't let you down. I promise I'll whip the department into shape. It'll be even better than when the Uchiha were overseeing it."
Naruto smiled at her enthusiasm and could see the fire burn in her eyes. "Good, now there are certain things in Konoha that needs to remain untouched. The Uzumaki clan currently oversee all illegal drug activity in Konoha." Naruto motioned to the chair at Tenten's perplexed stare and knew he had a lot to explain.
Tenten nodded after she listened to Naruto's experiences with the street life of Konoha. "It's ingenious," Tenten admitted. "But here's something to think about. How about lowering the prices for the legal drug trade to make them affordable by civilians and career genin? That way they won't have to take the illegal route."
"I wasn't the Hokage before," Naruto agreed. "And I doubt the Akimichi are going to sell any cheaper which means the government will have to offset the costs. But we don't have the money right now. At the right time I do plan on implementing new drug laws but for now, do you understand? I can't fix everything immediately. It's going to take time."
Tenten nodded. "I understand."
"You are dismissed."
Tenten grabbed the paperwork to brainstorm ideas and a rough draft of plans she'll work out in more detail later tonight. When the door of the office closed, Tenten squealed to herself. Finally, all of her sacrifices were paying off. It wasn't Jounin Head but she was promoted to a job that could make a difference. That's all she ever really wanted.
Naruto finally had a few minutes alone in between the string of meetings. He hit his forehead on the desk, pulled the hat over his eyes, and took a nap.
Naruto jolted back as Lee came through the door. "You're ten minutes early," Naruto grumbled.
"Of course." Lee answered. "I am always at least ten minutes early. I had come by an hour ago but you were in a meeting. I had come by thirty minutes ago but you were in a meeting. And now, my dedication has finally paid off! How can I help!?"
Naruto rubbed his eyes and adjusted himself back into the chair. He leaned forward and grinned mischievously. "Are you aware that I assigned Neji to the capital?"
"Yosh!" Lee answered. "You assigned Neji to the capital because a beautiful woman has strained your childhood friendship in a tragic love story of duty, honor, and the hardships of being a shinobi! Your passionate love for Neji and your bitter hate that he has become your rival is the thin line that has spared his life. Sending Neji away is a manifestation of your love for him!"
"Uh… sure," Naruto winced. "Anyways, Neji no longer had the capacity to fulfill his former duties in Konoha. I need a new Jounin Head and I've decided to appoint you."
Lee had no words.
"Maybe you can't use chakra but you're one of the strongest ninja in this village. You complete every task set before you and you always go above and beyond the call of duty. Lee, you have earned this recognition."
Lee erupted into tears. The Kage hat fell to the floor as Lee unabashedly tightened Naruto in a manly hug. "You can count on me!" Lee cried. When Naruto's next appointment began to loom soon, Naruto gently pulled Lee away who had cried into the Kage's cloak for a good fifteen minutes.
"I know you will not fail me," Naruto said as he reached to pick up the hat on the floor.
Lee pulled himself together, his bottom lip quivering, as he repeatedly bowed. "I will be the best Jounin Head there ever was." Lee smiled, his teeth gleaming with a heart-warming happiness.
Lee was proof that sometimes hard-work did pay off.
After Lee cartwheeled out the window to tell everyone the good news, Naruto stood up and stretched out of his seat. He hated sitting for too long.
"Hokage-sama, what have I done? I have brought you reports on the movements of Kuro no Keiyakusha." Captain Mantis walked out the shadowed corner of the office, never noticed by Lee and his tears. His Captain's cloak was slightly modified to include a white hood that drew over his mask.
Naruto almost forgotten Mantis was in the office, just as he often forgot Shino's presence even when he didn't have a mask on. The Hokage placed his hands behind his back. "Report."
"Are my hunter-nin almost finished tracking the remains of the terrorist organization? Yes, we are. Although, we have yet to find who is leading or funding the organization."
"I want that to be a priority," Naruto ordered. "I understand their argument but I don't agree with their methods. They need to be dealt with."
"Yes, Hokage-sama," Captain Mantis answered and then disappeared back into the shadowed corner.
Naruto then proceeded to unlock a drawer and spread out the scroll connected to the ANBU tattoos. The scroll was decorated in a web of animals. Naruto activated the seal and summoned the Fox.
Captain Fox appeared with his head bowed.
"Don't you think it's time for you to get your own mask?" Naruto asked.
"I'm sorry. I've been waiting on you to take it back."
Naruto gave permission and Konohamaru took off the mask. He handed the Fox mask back to the Hokage.
"Which mask do you want to replace it?" Naruto asked.
Konohamaru scratched the back of his head. "I guess the one I had before will be fine."
Naruto summoned the Hound mask from the scroll while Konohamaru also shrugged out of the white cloak. Naruto gave an amused smile. "What are you giving me that for? That's yours."
"What are you-" Konohamaru paused as he stared down at the cloak.
"Congratulations Captain Hound," Naruto chuckled as he leaned back at Konohamaru flabbergasted expression. "Is this really a surprise? You proved yourself when you were forced to step into my shoes and take over my responsibilities in ANBU. You did a good job handling things while I was out of the village. And from what I hear, anyone deserves a Captain's Cloak for standing up to my lover." Naruto teased. "Hinata scares me sometimes."
Konohamaru didn't feel like joking at Naruto's dark humor. He held the heavy cloak in his hands. "Hanabi is missing an arm."
"And Hanabi is alive. You made reasonable decisions no matter how hard they might have been at the time. I need you as my right-hand Konohamaru. And who knows, maybe one day you'll take this hat from me."
Konohamaru laughed. "You enjoy the rolling chair too much to give it up."
"You have a point." Naruto grinned and sat up in his chair. "I do have a mission for you."
Konohamaru replaced the white cloak around his shoulders and the Hound mask over his face. Naruto handed Captain Hound the mission folder.
"I want you to get a team together and gather as much information as you can about Ame's current warlord. When we have enough information, then we will decide the best method to assassinate him."
"Understood, Hokage-sama." Captain Hound bowed and immediately went to work.
Naruto crossed out the last name for the list of meetings he had scheduled for the day. He created a shadow clone to leave in the office. The Rokudaime Hokage retired for the evening and went home.
In the early dawn Uzumaki Naruto took the road less traveled. The small forest trail opened to the wooden building atop the hill.
"Uzumaki-san!" The elder woman at the desk said brightly when Naruto entered through the door. The woman immediately remembered her manners, "I apologize, I mean, Hokage-sama." Naruto chuckled at her greeting. He remembered a few years ago this very woman had thrown a lamp at his head.
"How is everything, Tora-san?" Naruto asked.
"Perfect," Tora answered and brush her white curls from her face. "The new employee is working really well with the children and the check you sent in last week paid for new renovations of the bathrooms."
"Glad to hear. I'm going to pick up the one I dropped off last week."
Tora nodded. "I believe he is out in the yard playing with the other children."
Naruto knew his way around the orphanage well and set off down the hallway. All the lights had been replaced with working bulbs and he could hear the sounds of construction on a new wing. All around him were the changes that the drug money had built.
Naruto paused before a door that led to a closet. When he turned the handle and opened it, the closet was now changed to a nursery. A woman with a uniform turned at the sound of an open door. She smiled in recognition. "How is it going, Hokage-sama?" But she said the title with sarcasm.
"It always startles me to see you here, Maiko," Naruto admitted. For some reason, he always expected to find her on that street corner, waiting to tease him right before he entered his apartment in one of the worst areas of town. Naruto leaned over a crib and watched the peaceful sleep of the tiniest baby he's ever seen.
Maiko shrugged. "This job sure pays better than what I was doing before. Ever since Nishi died, I've been looking to get out of the business. Funny, I told myself I'd never come back here."
"I said the same," Naruto said as he folded his hands in his pocket. The nursery was decorated with a rocking chair, diaper bins, and cribs that sat under the stars of the wallpaper.
"And what's up with that new employee you recommended? She does nothing but watch that kid that came in last week."
Naruto winked and put a finger to his lips in secret. "Politics."
Maiko shook her head and then she was distracted by a sudden smelly diaper. "When are you getting your orphanage open?" Maiko asked. "We're beginning to get an overflow."
"I have a few houses on the compound set up already. I could be open within the month. Tora-san suggested I should start with the older children and move my way down until I've adjusted to everything," Naruto replied.
Maiko teased, "Has the great Hokage ever changed a diaper before?"
Naruto laughed. "See you next week." Naruto knew he was on a schedule and couldn't linger. He rounded the hallway and passed a room where several small toddlers populated a room of play pens and toys.
Naruto was almost run over by a game of tag. A little girl stumbled over his foot. "Are you alright?"
At the sound of Naruto's voice the blind little girl looked up excitedly. "Naru-kun!"
Naruto crouched down with a smile and asked gently, "Hey Kimi, how are you doing?" Her older brother, Katsuo had died from an overdose earlier in the year. Naruto couldn't save them all.
"Great!" Kimi said excitedly, pulled between wanting to talk to Naruto and winning the game of tag.
"Go ahead," Naruto smiled as he watched her drag her hand along the wall as she raced down the hall.
Naruto stepped out into the courtyard where a red-haired woman was watching the children at play. Naruto stopped beside her. "It is time."
"My name is Amaru and I am one of the last remaining Twelve Guardians of Fire Country," Amaru introduced herself to Neji Hyūga at the front gates of Konoha. The red kanji of fire displayed proudly on the white sash of her hip mirrored the red of her hair.
"I had the Daimyo reassigned to Konoha after the battle with Kiri and Kumo," Naruto explained. Then he leaned down and brushed his hand through the young Daimyo's hair, "And this little guy is Naganori Asano, the Daimyo of Fire Country."
It had been easy for Asano to hide among the children of Konoha's orphanage. Asano had been so far away from the throne before the bomb that he had been raised a normal playful child. Neji calculated that the Daimyo of Fire Country had to be no older than six years old. The young boy hung to his Guardian's leg as if she was a surrogate mother instead of his loyal protector.
Naruto crouched down and gave an easy grin. "Neji might seem like he's got a stick up his ass but he's a good guy at heart and he is going to take very good care of you. Right, Neji?"
Neji folded his arms when the young Daimyo looked up at him with doubtful eyes. The Daimyo hid further behind Amaru's leg at Neji's unflinching pale eyes.
Naruto chuckled. Asano pouted and asked "Are you going to visit me?"
"Of course. I won't miss a birthday," Naruto winked. "Neji-niisan is going to take you home now."
Amaru patted Asano soothingly and picked up the young Daimyo in his arms.
Neji immediately said, "He's the Daimyo. He should walk."
Amaru frowned. "He's the Daimyo. If he want to be carried he will be carried."
"A child who is going to be a leader and symbol of Fire Country should not be so spoiled," Neji said rigidly. Stuck in the middle, Naruto laughed nervously. This was going to be an interesting partnership. Amaru gave the Hokage a look.
"Hey Neji, remember he's just a kid. Consider it practice when you and Hinata finally have one," Naruto said slyly. "But who knows, five years is a long time."
Naruto and Neji shared a molten stare so long that Amaru shifted the Daimyo onto her hip and began down the road. The tension broke when Neji was pulled toward his duty to protect his ward. Neji proved he could be the better man. He bowed with clenched fists and said, "Take care of Hinata while I am gone."
Then Neji Hyūga walked out the gates of Konoha.
Tomu's jaw dropped when Hohei secretively flashed the ANBU tattoo on his shoulder in explanation to why Hohei has been so busy lately.
Tomu looked down at his feet as they walked across the river. Leaning on the bridge, they could see where Tomu's construction company was beginning to construct the compound for the new clans. Tomu brushed back his hair. Mushi has been busy too.
"Why?" Tomu asked unable to understand. "We're at peace now. What's the point of joining ANBU or doing training if we're at peace?"
Hohei looked out over the river. "We're ninja Tomu, there will always be an end to peace. The ninja who aren't ready for it when it happens will be the ones to die first."
"Isn't it that sort of thinking, that expectation that peace will come to an end, self-defeating? It's that sort of thinking that prevents us from having peace permanently. Naruto is the Hokage now. Things will be different."
"Haven't you learned anything?" Hohei asked. "Even before ninja, there were always wars. Kiri might be gone but there are a lot of bitter Mist ninja out there. Kuro no Keiyakusha may have been defeated but they are still creating weapons to kill us, one of the Great ninja villages is gone but that only means smaller ones are scrambling over themselves to fill the void. It's not over, Tomu. It's not over until we die."
Tomu frowned. His construction company was offering him his job back. Tomu looked down at the hitai-ite Naruto had given him. He had options. Naruto had fought to give him options while his friends had none. They continued the cycle while he considered escaping from it.
"I won't hate you," Hohei said, "and Mushi won't either."
"I know," Tomu said as he clenched his hand on the railing.
"But," Hohei said as he helped Tomu lay out both sides of the argument. "You possess the last living sharingan. You have excellent reflexes and good chakra control although you lack a knowledge of basic jutsu. You'd be a good hunter-nin. You'd be an excellent asset to Konoha. But if your heart is not in it, don't. This is too much of an important decision to be influence by what Mushi and I have decided to do, because in the very end, we die alone. Maybe we'll be on the same battlefield or on the same team or you're in Konoha, but in the end, we take that last breath alone. No matter what, one of us will be burying the other."
Hohei crossed his arms. "It's time for you to decide who you are Tomu Uzumaki."
The rain tapped steady against the window as Naruto stretched out of his nap and pleasantly found all the paperwork in his office had been completed. Not even Tsunade could have ever boasted such a feat. "You welcome, Boss." The five shadow clones in the office grumbled before they passed out on the floor in exhaustion.
It was about time for Naruto to end his shift and head home (conveniently after Shion falls asleep). Before he left, Naruto closed his eyes and searched for any chakra signatures coming in from a mission. Then Naruto opened his eyes with excitement dancing in them like stars.
Naruto pulled down the sleeve of his Kage's cloak and activated the tattoo on his forearm.
He passed through a shower of rain, wood flew as he slapped his hands against tree bark, and pinned Hinata between him and the tree. Then she stabbed him in the throat.
Naruto coughed as he landed on all fours and splashed in a puddle of water. "What the fuck?" Naruto asked at the unexpected greeting. The trees just outside of Konoha bowed with water.
"This isn't what we agreed on Naruto," Hinata snapped. "You were supposed to send Neji away after I came back from the mission. You didn't even give me a chance to talk to him."
"Shit, Hinata," Naruto snarled as he composed himself. "If it matters so much I can bring you to the capital in seconds. We'll probably even beat Neji there."
The rain poured down drenching the two opposing ninja.
"What is it going to be, Hinata?" Naruto asked. "Do you want to go now?"
Hinata knew assaulting her right after a mission in the cold rain was unfair. She released a tired breath. "Why?"
Naruto relaxed when he saw she didn't have the energy to fight him. He combed his fingers through the blonde strands of his hair. Then he gave her an honest answer, "I was afraid you'd change your mind. Let's face it Hinata, that night I found you, you were naked in your bathrobe about to jump off the bridge. You weren't exactly emotionally stable. But you finally said yes, and I didn't want to let that go."
Hinata stepped forward through the wet puddles of water and pillowed her head against Naruto's chest. "Take me home."
Naruto didn't question her forgiveness. He tightened his arms around her waist and in the blink of an eye, they were in Hinata's bedroom.
Hinata jolted her head around. "I meant your office. I can't report to you in my bedroom."
Naruto threw off the leaden and wet Kage's cloak and it dropped to the ground. His shirt, hat, and pants followed. He flipped back onto Hinata's bed. "Go on, report."
"Naruto, this can't be the precedence. You are the Hokage now. We need to maintain some type of decorum."
Naruto sighed. Then a second later he plopped down in the Kage's chair in his underwear. He threw his wet clothes in a corner. "Now I'm dry and you're still wet. Alright, Hinata, precedence. Report."
Hinata bowed and began, "Anko is dead."
A serious expression drew over Naruto's face. Anko had been missing for some time now. Tsunade had assumed that she might have died in the bombing of the capital but there was never any confirmation and during the war there were more pressing matters to attend to. As Anko's protégé and Hinata's skill in tracking, Naruto didn't have much choice but to send Hinata to look for the former ANBU Captain.
"Did you find a body or the cause of death?"
"I followed Anko's footsteps to Iron Country. It wasn't very hard to track her as she was last seen sleeping with Mifune. Anko was investigating the operations of Kuro no Keiyakusha in Iron Country when she got distracted by something that piqued her interest. I managed to track her to a village and the population spoke of an intense battle which occurred approximately around the same time Mifune saw Anko last." Hinata concluded, "I never found a body but the villagers spoke of black flames that did not die. I have come to the reasonable conclusion that Anko got distracted from her mission by a bigger target and lost the ensuing fight that ultimately killed her. Uchiha Sasuke is still alive."
Naruto yawned. "Seriously Hinata, you're shivering. You're going to catch a cold."
Hinata blinked at Naruto's lack of reaction. "You already knew."
Naruto chuckled. "I know now that Tsunade had been tracking him all this time. She lost his trail a few years back and this is the first time we've had confirmation of another sighting since then."
"I don't think he is in Iron Country anymore. His trail was cold by the time I arrived."
"Hinata," Naruto said seriously. He did not want her to make Anko's mistake. "If you ever happen to see Sasuke in any of your missions, do not engage."
"You're going to just let him go?" Hinata questioned.
Naruto leaned forward. "This isn't an easy decision even though I know he remains a threat to Konoha. But I'm no longer stronger than him and I would lose too many people to take him down. But if he ever enters Fire Country or attack one of our ninja without provocation, then I will deal with him without hesitation."
Naruto placed his feet on the desk and leaned back into his chair. "Is that the end of your report?"
"I am done."
"Good, as the Hokage, I order you to take off those clothes."
Hinata raised an amused eyebrow. "And if I refuse an order? What are you going to do? Dock my pay and banish me from Konoha?"
Her question created an unexpected dilemma Naruto had never considered. "Please?"
The soaked and heavy flak jacket dropped to the ground. Naruto's grin grew wider with every article of clothing she dropped to the floor of the office. The stars lit the smile on Hinata's lips as she slid into Naruto's lap. Naruto signaled the ANBU watching to cloak the office in an obscurity jutsu for some privacy. Naruto leaned forward into Hinata's neck as he rubbed his thumb over her underwear.
He kissed her and then sat back, leaving Hinata with a quizzical expression. "With the confirmation of Anko's death I need a new ANBU Captain."
Naruto watched the conflicting emotions battle in her eyes until resignation won. "I know you don't want to go back into ANBU but I wouldn't be asking this of you if I didn't have a choice. You're Anko's student and she was over both the poison and ero division. You're the only one with both those credentials."
Hinata looked down at the dark swirl on her shoulder. Even in retirement, the tattoo never faded away. "There's no escaping ANBU."
"You can say no." Naruto said but they both knew that was a lie. There was no one else qualified to do the job.
"Anko's old mask will be fine."
Naruto gave a reminiscent smile. "I was sort of hoping you'd pick the Fox. You were hot in that mask."
Hinata brushed the back of her hand against Naruto's whiskers and he purred in response. "That mask only fits one person."
"It fit nicely on your curves," Naruto said unabashedly.
Hinata leaned over and set her hands to the back of the chair until Naruto fell back with the headrest. Hinata hovered over him with a secret smile. "These curves?" Hinata teased as she humped her hips into Naruto's crouch for added emphasis.
His hungry moan forced his head to rear back. "Hina-chan, I missed you so-"
Gravity fought against them as the chair tipped over at their weight. Naruto hit his head on the carpet in a confused blink as Hinata's weight pressed against his chest. On the floor of the office, Hinata erupted in a fit of giggled laughter. Naruto combed his hair back and joined her in laughing at himself, "I'm probably the first Kage to ever fall out of his chair."
Hinata smiled. "And you're probably the first Kage who's still a-"
"Don't say it."
Naruto playfully bucked his hips and watched as the movement caught Hinata by surprise and she fell beside him. The laughter gave way to a breathless comfort. Naruto twisted down and pressed a kiss to the seal on her forehead that glowed a pale purple in the moonlight.
He lifted her backside and unlatched her bra. Naruto dug his thumb into her wet panties and watched her body arch into him. He caught a breast in his mouth. He could feel her body tense at his touch, tighter, and tighter, and then Hinata sneezed. She pulled away from him embarrassed when another trail of sneezes left her body.
"I told you so," Naruto reprimanded as he pulled up and grabbed the Kage's cloak from the corner. With a wind jutsu, Naruto dried the cloth and then wrapped it around Hinata's shoulders. Hinata pulled the robe tighter around her as she sneezed again and sniffed.
Naruto couldn't stop laughing at her predicament. He pulled her into his lap and wrapped his arms around her to warm her with his body heat. He pressed his back against the side of the desk as the rain gradually came to a stop.
"You were right. I've changed my mind." Hinata whispered against the trail of the darkened scar on his chest. "That night was a mistake. I should not have told you yes."
Naruto hit his head back against the desk. "Why do I keep letting you break my heart woman?" The rejection was like peeling off the scab of a scar. "What now? How are you going to make things work with Neji?"
"I'm not." Hinata said. "Neji can stay in the Capital for all I care. Rejecting you does not mean I choose Neji. I've come to realize that there are still personal demons I have to deal with. All throughout the war I just kept pushing things aside to be dealt with for later. The war is over and I still have to grieve for the babies I've lost. I saw the bomb drop on the capital, I saw my little sister tortured, and I have seen things in ANBU. I still have to deal with the nightmares and the insomnia. I still have to deal with the scars my father inflicted on me. This isn't about the clan. This isn't about Neji. This isn't about you. It's about me. I can't tell you yes because I'm not ready."
Naruto pressed his cheek against Hinata's hair and held his arms around the strongest woman he's ever known. It had taken years for Naruto to resolve and come to terms with his own nine-tailed demon. They both knew now that Hinata was re-entering ANBU and Naruto held the Kage's hat, it was going to be a long road ahead for the both of them. Naruto promised, "I'll always be here for you until the day I die."
Hinata curled into Naruto's understanding arms.
For a peaceful moment they rested in the shadows of Konoha.
The pipes were fixed. No longer did they release an incessant screech. The leak was fixed. No longer did sewer water flood the floors.
Naruto smoothed down one last seal along the bars, took a step back, and observed the decoration along the Kyūbi's new cage. The Kyūbi narrowed his eyes and growled as he attempted to near the bars but was repelled backwards by the power of the seals. The red chakra that used to leak through the bars curled back in on itself, unable to get any farther than the seals.
"You do this, and you realize you'll never be able to use my power again?" The Kyūbi sneered. "I won't be there to help you when you're weak and pathetic and dying."
Naruto crossed his arms and the Hokage's coat hung off his shoulders. A small part of him felt a little bit of pity for the Kyūbi. Naruto patiently explained, "I don't need you anymore."
The Kyūbi released a deep baritone laughter, as if it couldn't possibly comprehend how Naruto could survive without him. Naruto turned on his heels and with each step forward the Kyuubi's laughter began to die and then a sudden break, "Wait."
Naruto's steps echoed off the floor.
"You can't do this to me! I am Kurama, the Nine-tails! You're going to regret this! When I get out I'm going to tear you limb from limb. I'm going to- YOU CAN'T FUCKING LEAVE ME HERE BY MYSELF!"
Without remorse, Naruto reached and opened the backdoor of the Uzumaki Compound, closed the door behind him, and placed a final seal on the handle.
Naruto walked through the Uzumaki Compound. The walls had been erected and formed a sturdy defense around his mind. The darkness that settled over the compound was different from the congested tension in the sewer. This was a comfortable darkness of which Naruto bore with ease. He stared up at the thousands of stars that sparkled in the night sky, as if each star could mirror each person Naruto has met in his lifetime, some brighter than others but no less important. A full moon made the eternal darkness easier to bear and the moonlight cast plenty light for Naruto to see his path.
Naruto stopped at the training area. There was a figure waiting for him, sitting on the ground, with white hair cascading over his broad shoulders. Naruto joined the figure, sitting beside him in the place that had now become the heart of his mindscape.
"I'm proud of you, kid."
Naruto pouted when Jiraiya's hand came down on his head and shuffled his blonde hair. "Hey, I'm not much of a kid anymore."
"I guess not. You're a man now." Jiraiya rubbed his chin and nodded knowingly, "And now that you are a man I officially bequeath this to you."
Naruto stared curious at a purple cover 'Icha Icha' that was handed to him. Jiraiya leaned against Naruto's shoulder, flipped through the pages, and showed Naruto the contents inside. Naruto's face went red as each flipped page revealed a sketch of Hinata in a host of provocative poses.
Naruto snatched the book away from Jiraiya and stuffed it in his pants pocket. Jiraiya's booming laughter warmed Naruto's chest.
"Perv," Naruto grumbled, and then leaned back against the great pillar of Jiraiya's back. Through his spine, he could still feel the fading of Jiraiya's chuckles.
Jiraiya stilled and noted as he stared up at the large maple tree that shadowed tender memories overhead, "Beautiful place you've got here, Naruto."
But Naruto's breathing had rested against his back. Jiraiya smiled, took out a pen and small book, and added another entry into the 'Tale of Uzumaki Naruto.'
Against Jiraiya, the closest thing to a father Naruto ever really had, Naruto slept.
Naruto Uzumaki breathed in the sweet sound of silence.
Tomu snapped awake when a hand suddenly covered his mouth. He looked around frantically until his eyes settled on the white ANBU mask. "Am I in trouble?" Tomu asked when the ANBU withdrew his hand.
"…in my pajamas?" Tomu asked.
The Boar ANBU nodded.
Tomu didn't know what was going on but when an ANBU said follow, you didn't say no. Tomu jumped out the window into the warm air of spring and followed the ANBU into the open window of the Hokage's Office.
"Hey, Naruto what's going on?" Tomu asked, wondering if Naruto wanted a late-night run of ramen or something. When Naruto directed Tomu to stand before the Kage's desk, Tomu caught the seriousness of the atmosphere. He corrected his initial greeting and bowed, "Hokage-sama."
An ANBU mask was placed upon the desk.
"The war has ended but our battles have not," The Hokage said from his chair. "Every hidden village is weaker than we were before. We've all lost good ninja and have used valuable resources. In the wake of our weakness, crime has escalated and new hidden villages are attempting to establish themselves in the power vacuum. As the saying goes, Ninjas fight for peace but ANBU keep the peace."
Tomu's heart pounded in his chest as he stared at the dark tears drawn on the ANBU mask of Crow.
Naruto lifted from his chair as if the overbearing Kage's hat put a heavy strain upon his back. Naruto walked forward and the cool wind brushed across his face as he looked toward the landscape of Konoha. The unquestioned leader of ANBU warned, "Before you make a decision, know that there is no escape from ANBU. Even after you retire, the acts you have committed will haunt you until your dying breath, the smell of blood will forever remain on your hands, and your understanding of the ninja world will change forever."
The Hokage echoed, "Anbu are the shadows that the trees cast, the blood spilled from our enemies, the fear known in the dark, the stench about a rotting corpse, and the secrets of Konoha. Uzumaki Tomu, do you accept the mask and in turn accept the responsibilities of the ANBU to know shadows when the rest of the world knows light?"
It was Tomu's choice.
The light of the moon glanced off the silhouette of the bone stark mask and outlined the rim of the Hokage's hat. Naruto stood before the sleeping view of Konoha. The wind rustled through the white Kage's cloak and on the back were the words written in blood red kanji, "Fire Shadow."
Every Fire Casts a Shadow, even those Forged by Will
AN: Congratulations, you've survived ANBU. May your understanding of the ninja world have changed forever.
Soundtrack: Dayz of our Lives by Bone-Thugz-N-Harmony; Lifetime by Maxwell; Wind by Akeboshi