Honokuni Monogatari - “Fire Country Stories”
Kage no Naka - “In the Shadows”
A Naruto Fanfiction by Aoikami Sarah
Note: “Haha-ue” is an old respect term one would refer to their mother as. [lit. Mother Above] Similarly, older sister is Ane-ue, brother Ani-ue and father Chichi-ue.
Yusaku ran past the main gate at the Uchiha complex and stopped an older woman for directions. She seemed confused that he didn’t know the family name he was looking for, but Jiraiya’s description led him to the right place.
The name “Sakai” was emblazoned in gold above the entrance and a servant/guard greeted Yusaku at the door. Because he was a Jounin and an incredibly charismatic one at that, he was allowed to enter and wait for an audience with head of the Sakai family. He sat on his knees in the waiting room on the highest quality tatami mats he’d ever seen. All around him, the subtle glimmer of wealth glistened. He took a deep breath and tried to think of what he would say and realized that he could hear what was being said in the room he was waiting to be admitted to.
“…If this sort of thing can happen I cannot allow you to go outside the grounds again.”
“Haha-ue!” a young crystalline voice pleaded with her mother.
“I mean it Kozue-chan! You could have been seriously hurt from a fall like that!”
‘Seriously hurt?’ Yusaku wondered.
“I know… but if I can’t be free to come and go as I please and do things on my own…”
“Then what?” her mother asked sternly. There was a pause. “Kozue-chan,” the older woman’s voice pleaded back. “We only want the best for you and with your condition we must be sure you are safe!”
“Is this matter settled?” she asked softly.
“There’s my girl. If you want to leave the house, you will take an escort.”
After a few moments Yusaku was shown in. Much to his disappointment the girl was gone. Her mother was seated before a calligraphy table at which she seemed to be writing a letter. Her kimono was gold and red and ornate, unlike the simple pale purple Kozue wore. Her hair was a soft brown and pinned up with jade sticks. She looked up from her work through half-lidded unconcerned eyes. “How can I help you, Yusaku was it?”
“Yes Ma’am. I was downtown today and had the good fortune to be nearby when a member of your house lost her footing coming out of the grocery store.”
Mrs. Sakai put the brush down, interest lighting her eyes. “Oh?”
“Yes Ma’am. It seems that such a delicate creature as your… daughter? You have the same exquisite features, I can only assume…”
“Indeed that was my Kozue,” Mrs. Sakai answered a smile curling her lips.
“Such a precious person should have someone to look after her on her travels, carry her groceries and such, don’t you think?” he asked, his charm warming the older woman.
“And just what are you proposing, young man?”
“Oh! Nothing so serious, Ma’am. I am simply offering a solution: hire a ninja.”
Mrs. Sakai’s face fell a little. “You do know what family you are talking about, don’t you?”
“Only one of the most prestigious shinobi families in Konoha,” he repeated his sensei’s words. “And a busy one at that, I’m sure. There are plenty of other ninja who could offer their services on a D-rank mission to escort your precious daughter wherever she should choose to go.”
“Just any Genin will not do for such a task,” she added spitefully.
“Of course not!” he agreed. “Only a Jounin would be close to sufficient. I would even offer myself for such a pleasurable mission.”
There. He said it. Mrs. Sakai leaned back and took a slow breath. She held his bright blue eyes in her gaze and scoffed. “Very well young man, I will see Sandaime this afternoon about a contract.”
He tried to contain his elation but couldn’t help a bright smile, which to his surprise was returned. “I won’t let you down,” he said.
Kozue pouted as she waited at the door a week later. It was raining lightly but steadily. She wore tall geta to avoid the mud and a grayish blue kimono.
“Oujo-sama,” a servant approached her. “Your escort is here.”
“All right,” she said with a sigh and turned around. A blush rose to her cheeks and she raised her hand to her mouth to try to hide her shock. ‘It’s that man who caught me! He’s a Genin?!’ she wondered.
“At your service, Oujo-sama,” Yusaku said with a bow. He had a large green umbrella with him that he opened for her.
“Uh… Thank you!” Kozue chimed and allowed him to lead her to the market. ‘Perhaps he’s slow-minded or something, that must be why he’s still just a Genin…’ she thought as they made their way through the rain. ‘But why would Konoha let someone of poor faculties be a shinobi? No, that can’t be it. He’s at least a Chuunin. But how did he get this mission?’ She was thinking so hard that she hardly noticed they had stopped.
“Oujo-sama?” Yusaku asked. “We’re here. Which store did you want to visit first?” His smile seemed to shine down on her in lieu of actual sunshine. She directed him to the green grocer. Inside, Kozue bought leeks, bok choy, onions and numerous other vegetables.
Yusaku made casual conversation, trying hard not to seem as intensely interested in her as he was. He discovered that she not only loved to cook, she also sang and played the shamisen.
“Wow, really?” he asked. ‘I have zero talent when it comes to music.’
“Oh, I’m sure that’s not true.”
“Shall I hum you a few bars to prove it? I assure you it’s close to the least pleasurable aural experience you’ll ever have next to nails on a chalk board or cats in heat.”
She brought her hand up to her mouth as she laughed. ‘Well, he’s definitely not slow…’ she thought. Yusaku opened the umbrella and lead her to the next store.
All too suddenly they were at her door. A Sakai servant who seemed irritated that Yusaku was allowed to perform such an enjoyable task for his mistress took the bags of groceries from him. “Perhaps I’ll see you next week, Oujo-sama,” Yusaku said and bowed.
“I’d like that,” she said with a smile. He tried hard not to click his heels together as he walked away.
Although Yusaku was always busy on A and B rank missions he made sure he had time to take one D rank a week.
A half a year passed like that and fall came. After the shops, they sat down on a bench under the shade of a tree with golden leaves. After a comfortable silence, both spoke the other’s name at the same time. Yusaku urged her to go first.
“Yusaku-san.” Kozue pushed a strand of flaxen hair behind her ear. “There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you.”
“Yes?” he asked, anxiously.
“All this time, you’ve never commented on my infirmity. I wonder if you know anything of it?”
He swallowed and shook his head. “No, I don’t. I assume that whatever it is, it’s not terminal, else your…” he struggled for the most tactful word, “protective mother would have informed me of it.”
She smiled and shook her head. “I’m not dying. I’m just frail.” She bowed her head and rubbed her hands in her lap. “My heart is small. It doesn’t pump blood very well so the rest of my body suffers. Sometimes it can cause me to lose consciousness. All the women in our family have been amazing kunoichi, you may have heard of my cousin, Tsunade…?”
Yusaku’s eyes widened. “The same Tsunade who’s one of the legendary Sannin?”
She nodded. My mother and her father were siblings: the children of Nidaime Hokage-sama. When I was a little, my family was very disappointed in me because it was obvious that I’d never be as great as my older cousin. I was pulled out of the academy after the first day because I passed out during our exercises. I decided then that if I couldn’t be useful as a kunoichi that I would be the best woman I could be in other ways. I took music lessons and learned to cook and I was very lucky to be good at it.” She rubbed her hands together. “I’m sorry. I’m talking too much”
“No, no. I’m glad to hear you’re not in any danger,” he said simply.
“Please, Yusaku-san. What was it you wanted to say to me?”
Yusaku took a deep breath. It was now or never. “I’d like to see you.” She blinked at him in wonder. “These missions have been wonderful, and I’d like to continue to serve you, but I’d like to see you seriously. That is, if you’d like to see me.”
“Yusaku-san…” Her radiant smile faded. “I can’t.”
He sat up straighter and pursed his lips into a small frown, a gesture she knew to mean he was thinking. Not finding his question answered, he asked again. “Do you want to see me?”
“You’re worried about your family.”
Kozue stood up and walked a few paces away. “My mother has been parading Konoha’s most eligible bachelors through our home for a year now trying to find the ‘right’ man for me. None of them have ever met me before but they always profess their love for me and tell me that I’m right for them!” she said with a small stamp of her foot. “Yusaku-san, you are the first man who’s tried to get to know me, who’s listened to me… To me, you are the ‘right’ man. To my mother…” she turned and sighed. “You’re not even on the map.”
He stood and held out his hands. Hesitantly, Kozue put her small white hands in his. “I will ask your mother if I may see you.”
The next week, after Kozue waited for an hour for Yusaku to arrive, she barged in to her mother’s parlor and demanded to know where her escort was.
“Kozue-chan, I’m very busy at the moment,” Mrs. Sakai indicated to Sandaime Hokage seated to her left, who paused in lifting a teacup to his lips.
“Did you fire my escort?” she repeated.
“Yes. I did. That must have been last week? He had the audacity to ask to court you. Can you imagine, Sandaime-sama? This boy thought he could sneak his way into this family! Perhaps if he’d been of a notable family he would have been more skillful in his attempts!” Mrs. Sakai chuckled at her pun. The third Hokage simply hummed. He watched Kozue carefully.
“Did you think to ask if I wanted him to court me?”
Mrs. Sakai bit the inside of her lip in frustration. “Kozue-chan I am only ever looking out for your best interests…”
“Without ever asking me what I’m interested in!” she cried, her face turning red with anger. “I care for Yusaku-san very much!” Sandaime raised a brow, but kept his lips on his teacup.
“Kozue he’s no one, he can’t possibly…”
“That’s all you care about!” Kozue shouted. “You only see what a person is not who they are!” Tears brimmed over and she clenched her fists. “Yusaku-san may not have a pedigree, but he’s kind and smart and talented and he…” Kozue’s eyelids drooped and she slumped to the floor.
Her mother knew the signs of her daughter’s condition and was up from her seat in a flash. “Someone, help!” she called out as she caught Kozue, her voice urgent, but controlled. “I’m sorry my daughter made such a scene, Sandaime-sama,” she apologized to the older man but her eyes didn’t leave Kozue. Sandaime rubbed his chin, but said nothing.
That night, Kozue was awakened gently by her name being whispered. Yusaku clung to the wall outside her window with chakra and rested his arms on her sill. Kozue was pleased to see him, but flustered and worried about his safety. He calmed her down, assuring her that he wouldn’t fall the three stories to the ground and apologized for intruding.
“My mother canceled the contract!” Kozue whined. “We’ll never be able to see each other again.”
“Do you want to see me?”
“Then we will see each other.”
“Yusaku-san…” She didn’t sound convinced.
“Kozue-chan, I care about you very much. When your mother turned me away I was worried, but I know that we will be together. All I need is for you to believe in me.”
Yusaku grinned from ear to ear. “I love you, Kozue.”
She held her breath, but no fainting spell came. Kozue’s face lit up in the darkness. “Oh, Yusaku-san, I love you too!”
He sighed and stared at her in the scant starlight. “I won’t be around for a little while, but when I come back, I’ll see you again. Will you wait for me?”
“Of course.” Shyly, Kozue leaned towards him and they shared their first kiss. Yusaku was so overwhelmed with the gesture he almost fell off the side of the building. She giggled at him quietly and said goodnight. The memory of his words and kiss made her smile over and over again and prevented her from getting much sleep that night.
Two weeks went by, and Kozue waited for Yusaku to return. She all but refused to see any of the suitors her mother arranged to meet her. The visits were short and quiet. Kozue did her utmost to be as silently uncooperative as possible.
One afternoon with only a week left to summer, the house was abuzz with the news that a new Hokage had been selected. Kozue sighed and stared at the small leaves falling from the cherry tree in the courtyard. Servants drew her attention away from her melancholy as they swarmed around the decking that surrounded the courtyard, ducking in and out of sliding doors.
“That’s what the doorman said! Go get the best tea set!”
“Sakai-sama wants everything to be perfect!”
“He could have at least warned us he was coming!”
“Where is Oujo-sama?”
Kozue cringed and wished she was a ninja so she could henge into a tree and hide. She was informed that her mother requested her presence in the parlor and that she should dress for a formal visit from the both the new and previous Hokage. ‘Oh no. Please say the new Hokage is married already!’ she thought in despair and went to get ready.
In the parlor, Mrs. Sakai sat and bowed to her superior guests. “We are honored Sandaime-sama, Yondaime-sama to have you in our home. We extend our congratulations to you, Yondaime-sama. When we heard you were coming, we were all so excited to meet you!” She smiled pleasantly.
Sandaime gave his successor a look. The blond young man subtly raised a brow as if to say ‘beats me why she doesn’t recognize me!’ “The pleasure is all mine,” Yusaku said with a wide, satisfied smile he had never afforded the previously acerbic Mrs. Sakai. Before she could broach the subject, Yusaku got bold. “I understand you have a captivating daughter…”
One could almost see ryou marks in Mrs. Sakai’s eyes for a moment, but then her shoulders sagged a bit and she drew a long breath. “I do, Hokage-sama. She is my only daughter, and although all the women in our family are well known for their prowess as shinobi, she suffers from a weak heart and is as frail as a bird. Her talents in the kitchen and with music are exceptional…”
“I’d like to marry her.”
Mrs. Sakai blinked a few times. “Of course, but…”
“But?” he asked, trying hard to disguise the worry in his voice.
On the other side of the room, behind the paper door Kozue sat and gripped her knees. ‘Haha-ue, please, please don’t promise me away!’ she prayed.
“But you should meet first, at least…”
“Am I not good enough for your daughter?” he asked. Sandaime cleared his throat in warning as if to say ‘don’t push your luck, son.’
She looked at her hands. “That’s not it at all, Hokage-sama. Only that this is my daughter’s life we’re talking about. I think it is in her best interest…” She closed her eyes as if what she was about to say were painful. “…To let her decide such a thing as who she will marry.”
Yusaku was at a loss for words. When he had last seen this woman she had laughed him out of the room spouting that a common man such as himself would never be good enough for her daughter and now here she was refusing the cream of the crop. “Then, I’d very much like to meet her,” he asked quietly. Mrs. Sakai lifted her chin and a servant opened the door Kozue was sitting behind. She stared at her mother and mouthed the word ‘arigatou’ before lowering her head to bow to the men. Mrs. Sakai pursed her lips, but smiled back. The men’s backs were too the young woman. They turned to see her. Sandaime gave Yusaku a grin he could not repress.
“Yondaime Hokage-sama, may I present my only daughter, Sakai Kozue.”
As her head lifted from her deep bow, Kozue’s eyes grew wide with disbelief.
“Kozue,” Yusaku asked. “Will you marry me?”
The color fell out of Mrs. Sakai’s face. Sandaime chuckled softly and gave the girl a re-assuring nod that she wasn’t seeing things.
“Yes!” she chimed.
Mrs. Sakai fainted.
A year later, Yusaku and Kozue married. They moved to a new, large house in the older section of Konoha not far from her mother’s house. Although Kozue missed the seclusion of her family estate, she loved having her own house almost as much as she did her husband.
With his duties as Hokage, Yusaku, now Yondaime, found it difficult to fulfill the mission which had brought he and his wife together. One Saturday morning before heading to work he apologized for this again and kissed her good-bye.
The afternoon snuck up on him as it often did and Yondaime grabbed a sandwich from the commissary. He tried to rush to his next appointment, saying hello to ten or fifteen shinobi on the way out. Before he reached the meeting place, Yondaime made sure the gohei that laced his neck were on straight and that there were no crumbs on his face. He took a deep breath and vanished.
Three children sat on a roof, somewhat roasting in the unseasonable heat. A young boy and girl sat on the ledge, their feet dangling through the railing. An even younger boy stood off to the side, looking in the opposite direction. None of them were moved by their sensei’s flashy entrance, but they were surprised at his identity. They got to their feet and marveled at him. Yondaime’s face showed no emotion. He folded his arms.
“Ok, listen up you guys. You passed the final at the academy yesterday which means you graduated, but you’re not Genin until I say so.” He eyed each of his students.
“Holy crap, The Fourth is our sensei?!” the older boy exclaimed.
“You may refer to me as Yondaime-sama, Yondaime Hokage-sama, Hokage-sama or Yusaku-sensei. First order of business: introductions. “My name is Yusaku, I like getting up early, I don’t like those who don’t give it 100% and I aspire to be the best Hokage this village has ever seen.” He turned his head to the older boy. “From the left. Name, likes, dislikes, dream.”
The boy blinked at the curt delivery but shrugged. “Name’s Uchiha Obito. I like learning new jutsu, I don’ like bein’ late and I hope to become a Tokubetsu Jounin like my old man.”
“My name is Rin, I like flower arranging…” The girl frowned as the younger boy scoffed. “I like flower arranging,” she repeated angrily. “And I don’t like pompous little kids! My my dream is to be a great medic-nin like Tsunade-sama,” she admitted shyly and smiled innocently. It was only temporary. She punctuated her statement with a short giggle and a bright, wide grin for her sensei. She stuck out her tongue at the youngster.
“Alright. Lastly…” Yondaime nodded to the younger boy.
He shifted his weight slowly from one foot to the other, sighed and stared unblinking at his sensei. “My name is Kakashi. I like a few things, I dislike a bunch of things and my dreams are really none of your business.”
Obito and Rin’s eyes bulged. Yondaime raised a brow but said nothing. “That is all for today. Tomorrow meet at Training Field 1 at dawn. Pack for a full day and don’t eat breakfast. You will lose it.” He narrowed his eyes at them and disappeared in a puff of smoke.
Yondaime trudged back to the office, mulling over his students. They were selected to be his charges because they were the three in their class with the most potential to lead Konoha. They were all incredibly young. The first two seemed fine, but that youngest one was going to be trouble. “Five year old Genin,” he muttered and sat down at his desk. The information packets on each of them were still out. He leafed through Kakashi’s. A tell-tale grey form raised one of his brows. “Oh right, he’s in the Plan, poor kid. Still, doesn’t seem like he’s Hokage material…” Yondaime scratched his head idly. The Plan was set up decades earlier to help raise the orphan’s of Konoha’ shinobi and was well known for being a tough way to grow up. Rather than pamper children, the Plan allowed them to live independently once they reached a certain level. Kakashi was still living in the dorms according to the form because he was too young.
“Welcome back, Hokage-sama,” a Chuunin crossed to his desk, greeted him and handed him five scrolls marked A, B, C, D and S. He put his student’s information away as the clock chimed six and another session of mission assignments began. Ninja of various rank filtered into the room. The usual din of conversation got louder. Yondaime looked up from assigning a Jounin to an A rank and did his best not to be surprised.
“Wow,” the Chuunin to his left commented. “Every year you get a few of the more ambitious brand-new Genin coming in for their first missions, but this kid’s gotta be lost!”
The Jounin took his assignment, turned around, looked down, saw the hitai-ate and whistled at Kakashi. “They’re churnin’ em out younger every year!” he marveled and laughed as he left. Kakashi stepped up to the table.
“Rank?” his sensei asked very seriously.
“Genin,” Kakashi answered.
Yondaime looked down the D rank scroll and tried not to grin. “Here’s your assignment. Next?”
It didn’t matter to Kakashi what the mission was, or even that it was his first; just that it was a mission. He wanted to do as many as possible, as soon as possible. If he had a couple hundred missions under his belt he was sure people would take him seriously. He was scowling under his facemask and mulling over what kind of horribly mundane task his new sensei had assigned him when he came to the house.
“Oh, hello,” the lady of the house greeted him after he rang the bell. “You must be here for my mission!” Her warm, sincere smile shined down on him and he could do nothing but stare for a moment.
“Uh, I… yes! I’m Kakashi. This is for…” he looked at the stub Yondaime had given him. “Kozue’s groceries?”
“That’s me!” she chimed. “Ready when you are.”
For nearly a decade to follow, Kakashi would help Kozue, when he didn’t have another higher rank mission, to get her groceries. Another young shinobi who declared himself his rival often wondered how it was the Kakashi tallied up so many D-rank missions, but he never told.
“That Gai,” Yondaime said one night when Kozue had invited Kakashi over for soup and sandwiches. “What is it with him and you, anyway? What’d you do to offend him?”
“Nothing,” Kakashi moaned and pushed his chair back. “Gochisosamadeshita,” he thanked them for the meal and allowed Kozue to pinch his cheek before putting his facemask back up. “He’s just a lunatic who’s probably going to burn himself out before he even becomes a teenager. You know he did 1,500 laps around the administration building the other day after I beat him in a foot race?”
Yondaime laughed. Kozue frowned and he tried to stifle it. “You shouldn’t taunt him so much. Maybe then he won’t fight you,” she suggested.
“He comes looking for me!” Kakashi exclaimed.
“It’s true. He comes to our practices when he’s done with his and waits for him. It’s actually kind of cute,” Yondaime said with a smirk.
“Oi!” Kakashi shouted. “It is not cute!!” Kozue laughed and he calmed down. “Sorry. Well, goodnight Yusaku-sensei, Kozue-san. Thanks for the grub.”
“Good night Kakashi-kun,” she said and saw him out. “See you soon.”
When he had left, she turned to her husband and sighed.
“It’s so nice when Kakashi-kun comes to visit. He’s turned into such a nice boy. A few years ago I was still worried that a five year old boy had been made a ninja, but he’s doing just fine.”
“Because he had you to worry about him,” her husband remarked and laced his arms around her.
“I was thinking…” she began and crossed her arms over his. She paused and listened to the insects chirping in the late summer evening. She put her head to his chest and felt his heart pound in expectation. A smile stretched across her face. “I want to have a baby.”
Yondaime took a deep breath. “Kozue, you know what the doctor said…”
“But that was a few years ago!” she protested. “Please, Yusaku-san! It’s like my soul is crying out to me! Whenever Kakashi-kun comes over I feel like I’m not going to let him leave next time.”
He turned her around and looked into her pale green eyes. “We’ll go to the doctor again and see what he says.”
“Oh, Yusaku-san!” she cheered and hugged him tightly. Just for a moment he thought how impossible it was that such a strong hug could come from someone so frail. Then her breathing became short and he picked her up, knowing that if she didn’t lie down she’d pass out from the excitement.
“I’m going to do everything I can to make you happy, and keep you safe,” he whispered and took her upstairs.
* in Naruto the monetary value is ‘ryou’, anime episode 86 12:19 min in – courtesy of Leslina