Honokuni Monogatari - “Fire Country Stories”
Kage no Naka - “In the Shadows”
A Naruto Fanfiction by Aoikami Sarah
October 10th, two years later, Kozue was a week past due with her baby. Yondaime slept lightly beside her. It was almost one in the morning. Konoha was quiet. Kozue’s eyes flicked open suddenly. She glanced over feverishly for her husband and let out a quiet sigh. A few minutes later and she discovered what had awoken her. She grunted softly as the contraction hit. Yondaime turned over to face her and she reached out to wake him. In the distance, a loud crash like thunder but totally out of place sounded, reflecting off of the cliffs to the north. A second later there was an unearthly scream that echoed through Konoha.
He was awake before her fingers touched him. He flicked on the light and stood up, listening. They stared at each other, faces grim.
“What the hell was that?” he asked quietly.
Kozue mouthed, “I don’t know”. ‘I can’t be selfish,’ she thought. ‘I’ll get by…’ “You should go,” she said with a smile.
He sat down on the bed and put his hand over her belly. She prayed that another contraction wouldn’t come before he took his hand away. He kissed her deeply. “I’ll be back soon,” he said. “If anything happens you call the hospital.”
“Nothing will happen,” she assured him. “Go. They need you.”
There were many days when he wished they would just call him Yusaku. This night was one of them. The village was in panic. A huge demon fox, supposedly with nine tails, the most powerful sort, was running amok in the fire country and had now entered Konoha. Buildings were burning, people; both shinobi and civilians were dying.
In the command center, too many people were shouting at him at once. “Yondaime-sama, the seventh squadron has reportedly been wiped out!” “Hokage-sama, the fire department can’t get around to the lower east side!” “Yondaime-sama, what are we going to do?!”
He was thinking of that. The phrase ran over and over in his head. “dou-suru… dou-suru… dou suru…”
“What?!” he barked. The shinobi messenger looked a little astounded. “Sorry. What is it?”
“Your wife, Hokage-sama. It’s time,” the messenger said gravely, not wanting to sound joyous during such a tense time.
“Thank you.” He nodded and looked around the room for someone suitable to leave in charge. He was not surprised to see Sarutobi.
“Go to her,” the old man said quietly. “I’ll see to things here.”
“Thank you Sandaime-sama.” Yondaime passed by his predecessor on the way out. “I’ll go to the beast when I’m done. I think I have an ace up my sleeve yet.”
“Not the Fuuin…?” Sarutobi asked, his face losing color.
“I’m afraid so. This isn’t a normal adversary. If I don’t contain it, all will be lost.”
Sandaime stared at Yusaku and saw the resolution anchored in his blue eyes. “Good luck, Son,” Sarutobi said and embraced the 4th Hokage as if it would be the last time he’d see him alive.
Yondaime nearly flew over the rooftops to the hospital. When he arrived Kozue had already given birth to their son. The baby wailed as the doctors cleaned him up. Yondaime glanced at his head of blond hair and smiled. When he turned to Kozue, she was pale and reached out to him. He rushed to her side.
“You made it!” she cried. They embraced.
“You’re cold…” he whispered, brows coming together.
Yondaime looked around, confused, lost. “This can’t be happening…” His village was under attack. Hundreds of his ninja had died already. Not his wife, too. Not his wife, please, not that.
“Yusaku-san… Save the village… I know you can do it,” she said softly, kissing his hand as it caressed her face.
“Kozue… I will. I promise.”
His son screamed from the other side of the room as his wife let go.
A shorthaired man of less than average height wearing a grey suit walked quickly into the room. He looked fairly out of place, not only because of his dress, and the fact that he was smoking a cigarette, but because he entered through a solid wall. Yondaime turned and walked right through him. “Sorry, pal,” the man in the suit whispered. Yondaime shuddered and walked out the door. Kozue’s body lay on the table and her spirit stood by the nurse who was holding her son. The suit dragged on his cigarette and allowed her a moment.
“He’s beautiful,” she cooed.
“Uh-oh,” the suit groaned. “Lady, you’re supposed to say ‘good-bye’.
Kozue turned and stared indignantly at him. “Good-bye?”
“I don’t have time to explain, just take my hand, ok?” he said, the cigarette hanging from his lip.
“No! I don’t know you.” Kozue put her hand on her son’s head and was alarmed to see it pass through. “What’s wrong with me?!”
“You’re dead, see?” the suit hooked his thumb in the direction of the body. The doctors were pulling a sheet over her head.
“No… This can’t be happening…”
“Ugh…” The suit moaned. “Ok, I don’t have time for this. Stay put. I’ll be back.” He crushed out the cigarette and vanished into thin air.
On the other side of town, things were looking far more dismal. The cries of shinobi could be heard between the occasional unholy roar or crash of trees as the Kyuubi crushed everything in its path. 13-year-old Hatake Kakashi directed his team to move out and made to follow when he saw a streak of white and red fly by.
“Yusaku-sensei,” he muttered, lowered his hitai-ate over his single Sharingan iris and changed direction. As he caught up with Yondaime, he noticed the roaring was getting louder, but fewer trees were being felled. The next sight he saw astounded him.
Yondaime was standing on Gamabunta, the giant frog’s head holding the Nine Tails in place with a strong binding Jutsu. Kakashi hopped up the frog’s body and knelt before his sensei.
“Kakashi, boy am I glad to see you,” Yondaime chuckled, sweat pouring down his face. He held his right arm out, tense, holding the wriggling kitsune at bay with just his will and a carefully practiced jutsu.
“Sensei, what can I do?!” he begged, knowing the stress this was putting on the man.
“Run to the hospital and steal my son.”
“Do it as fast as you can. I have no time to explain, do it now, Kakashi!”
“Ha-hai!” he stuttered and bounded off as fast as his legs would take him.
Kakashi was running, but still stealthy. He entered the hospital, found the maternity ward, located the baby and made off with him without anyone being the wiser. At least, anyone living. Kozue tried to shout at Kakashi, but he couldn’t hear her.
“Matte, Kakashi-kun! What are you doing!?” When he didn’t respond she ran after him. He avoided a doctor in the hall by going upstairs. “Wait!” she called after him. He got to the roof and jumped.
Kozue didn’t think twice. She leapt after him and was amazed to learn she could fly. “Wait!!!” she cried and flew after him.
An amazingly fast fifteen minutes later Kakashi returned with the wailing infant.
“Give him to me.” Kakashi laid him in Yondaime’s left arm. “Thank you Kakashi.”
“What are you going to do, Sensei?” Kakashi asked, unable to conceal the worry in his voice.
“Watch carefully, Kakashi. This may be the only time you will ever see a Jutsu like this performed.”
He lifted the protector from his Sharingan eye and obeyed his sensei.
“I have a favor to ask of you, Kakashi. And I have something to give you in return…”
“Anything, Sensei!” Kakashi cried.
Even under the pressure he was in, Yondaime smiled. “Tell no one that this boy is mine. I don’t want him to have to live up to anything or feel badly for what I’m about to do… I would prefer everyone regard him as a hero, but I’m afraid that won’t happen. When the time comes, a time like this, then and only then tell him. Watch over him for me.”
Kakashi nodded, a lump forming in his throat. The Nine Tails screeched from his fixed spot.
“And for you in return… There’s a letter in my house. You’ll find it addressed to you, about your parents. Your father confided in me… If you want to know, I am the only man who knows…” he added sadly, the realization that his death was imminent just beginning to sink in. “Watch closely, Kakashi. This will be the last thing I teach you.”
Yondaime moved his right hand quickly. In a few seconds he went from casting a retaining jutsu to a sealing jutsu. The Nine Tails writhed and screamed as it was transmuted into raw energy. Yondaime’s body became the conduit for its charka and it flowed from his right hand to his left. He sunk to knees and balanced the baby on his lap. His left hand wove a complex seal on his tiny stomach. When the last symbol had been inscribed, Yondaime collapsed and the Nine Tails was gone.
Kozue stood and waited. “I’m dead,” she mused. “There’s no reason to be upset. Yusaku-san will be joining me soon.” She watched Kakashi pick her son up and cry over the death of his sensei. He rocked back and forth and cradled the baby who cried back. Kozue watched sadly, but she didn’t shed a tear. The tell-tale sound of a match being lit made her spin around.
“You again!” she shouted. “I’m not going anywhere with you, I’m waiting for Yusaku-san!”
The suit rolled his eyes. “He’s not coming.”
“Where is he?!”
He pointed to the baby and the seal on his stomach. “He’s in there with that thing.”
“No…” Kozue stepped back.
“Come on, Lady. Take my hand. It’s a better place you’re going to anyway…”
“NO!” she shouted. “Yusaku-san will come for me, I believe it!”
“Ughhh…” He took a short drag off his cigarette. “FINE. Wait. See if I care. I’ve got hundreds of dead ninja to pass and you’re not going to hold me up. But don’t come crying to me if something shitty happens to you ‘cause you wouldn’t cooperate, ok?” he snarled. His feet lifted off the ground and he flew into the woods, fading as he went. The glow of the cigarette’s cherry was the last she saw of him. Kozue shook her head. Tears streamed down her cheeks. When she looked down, Kakashi was gone.
“No…” she whispered. She floated away towards town repeating ‘no’ over and over again.
Ten-year-old Umino Iruka had been crying for an hour. He sat against a tree and listened to the horrible sounds coming from the woods. His parents were gone, stomped out like bugs by the beast. Suddenly it was quiet. Ninja started coming out of the forest, lining up along a well-traveled path. He got up and wandered over to see what was going on.
“Is it over?” one asked another.
“I don’t hear anything…”
“Did you hear?”
“A lot of people are dead…”
“No, He’s dead!”
Iruka rubbed his eyes and looked between people’s legs at what they were staring at. A few shinobi were walking slowly up the path towards the village. They had a man on their shoulders. His red and white cloak flowed between them. It was dirty and in the moonlight the flames on it were truly in shadow.
“Hokage-sama…” everyone whispered. They knew what he had done. He had saved them all.
Iruka sniffled, realizing that it was not only his parents who were gone. He wasn’t at all surprised to see Yondaime’s student Hatake Kakashi walking behind the procession, but he was a little confused to see him carrying a baby. The child wailed like a siren into the night as they walked away. Iruka watched them till he could no longer see them, only hear the baby’s cries.
“It is with a heavy heart,” Sandaime proclaimed from the parapet overlooking the village square. “That I reassume the duties of Hokage.”
The townsfolk were silent. A light cough or a baby crying here or there just made the silence more obvious, more stinging. The sun was blotted from the sky by a thick summertime haze. It had rained for the last three days. Some said it was welcome, washing away the sadness and allowing everyone to grieve. Some said the heavens themselves were grieving with Konoha. This day had been scheduled, one week after Yondaime’s death, to memorialize him. Sandaime went on.
“It was Yondaime’s wish for each of his people to live in peace. He gave his life, as many of us do in the Ninja Way, for this village. When you think of him, remember what it means to be a Leaf-nin and thank him…”
Kakashi knew very well what it meant to be a Leaf-nin. He was only 13 years old, but that day he had become a man. He watched his mentor, the only man he had every looked up to perform amazing feats, giving his own life and possibly the life of his only son so that the village could be saved. When he returned with the baby that night and met with Sandaime, Kakashi learned that Kozue’s life had ended as well. He hadn’t shed a tear in front of the old man, but his heart had split in two. The people he considered the closest thing to parents were gone. Kakashi turned and slipped through the crowd.
Yondaime’s house was still and quiet. No sweet scents of Kozue’s famous soups greeted his nostrils. No rolling laughter, no music, nothing. The air already felt stale inside. Kakashi went straight to an old roll-top desk and began to rummage through it. He shivered, suddenly feeling cold, but attributed it to being ill at ease for going through his sensei’s things.
“Okaeri nasai, Kakashi-kun!” Kozue chimed. “I’m so glad you’ve come to visit. Have you seen Yusaku-san?” she asked. He continued to rummage, ignoring her. She pouted. “Kakashi-kun? Is everything alright?”
Using deduction, Kakashi found the letter in a stack of Yusaku’s love letters from Kozue from before they were married. It was addressed to Hatake Kakashi and dated just a few weeks after his birth. The handwriting on the outside was Yondaime’s fine, educated script, but the inside was sloppy and mostly in hiragana.
‘Kakashi, this is your father writing. If you’er reading this, it means that your either kinda old, or…’ He read a little of the first badly formed line and folded the letter back up.
Kozue read over his shoulder much faster than he did and gasped. “Kakashi-kun, your parents are Jiraiya-sama and Cousin Tsunade?!”
“No,” he said aloud, startled at the empty sound of his own voice in the vacant house. “Not yet. I don’t wanna know yet.” He looked out the window and saw that people were already dispersing from Sandaime’s speech. He must have told them about the Nine Tails Baby, because already they were abuzz with rumor and sigh. Kakashi folded the letter, stuffed it into a pocket of his flack-jacket and headed for home.
“Kakashi-kun, please wait!” Kozue cried. “Please come back!”
Before closing the door behind him he paused, but didn’t turn around. He imagined the couple saying ‘come back soon’.
Kozue slumped to the ground and sobbed into her hands. “Why is this happening?” she moaned. “Why am I all alone…?”
Kakashi raised his single exposed brow in a rare show of amazement. “You want me to what?” the 25-year-old Jounin and former Anbu member asked his Hokage. Sandaime puffed on a pipe and repeated himself.
“I want you to become a sensei.”
“Sandaime-sama…” he started to argue. “I’m the LAST person who should be around kids…” He brushed a hand over the backpack that contained his beloved smutty novel.
“You have too little faith in your abilities, Kakashi-kun.” Sandaime turned and looked out over the railing of the rooftop they were standing on. Konoha was just waking up and pale sunlight and its long shadows covered the town. “I want you to try it out. I don’t want you pass any of them.”
“What?!” he asked, growing more confused.
Sandaime clutched the railing and looked over his village. “In a few years Uzumaki Naruto will graduate from the Ninja Academy.”
Kakashi let out a sigh and joined him. “I see.”
“I agree that you are not ready to handle the youth of Konoha, but if you test three or four groups, you’ll have a better leg-up on the responsibilities you will soon have.” Sandaime faced Kakashi. “It wasn’t his wish, but it is mine that you help him, Kakashi. Will you?”
Kakashi lowered his head. “I don’t know what I could possibly do for the kid.”
“Just train him to become a Chuunin. The rest will fall into place,” the old man said and patted him on the shoulder. Kakashi nodded his consent and walked away.
That evening, Kakashi couldn’t sleep. He stared at the ceiling in his tiny apartment and tried to get the past out of his head. Discussing the Nine Tails boy had stirred up things he hadn’t thought about in years. Since it was such a warm evening, he went for a walk. Soon he found himself in the older part of town that was cluttered with the big houses of old, rich Konoha families. He passed the Uchiha complex and stared at the no-trespassing signs nailed to the doors where two years earlier his former Anbu teammate Uchiha Itachi had killed the entire clan saving only his brother from the slaughter. He passed the Sakai residence, noble and quiet in the early morning hours.
Further along on a hill overlooking a pond stood a large, empty house. Kakashi climbed the hill slowly. As he got closer he realized the house was empty. The last time he’d seen it was only days after their deaths and the house hadn’t changed yet. His heart sank as he saw boards nailed to the windows and doors. Kakashi stood on the front porch and put his hand on the door. “No,” he said aloud. “I can’t bear it.” He turned to go.
“Damn shame, ain’t it?” a man of average height wearing a western suit asked as he struck a match startling the otherwise alert ninja.
Kakashi’s eyes widened, straining to see in the scant glow of a distant streetlight and slightly blinded by the flare of the match. “Who the hell are you?” he asked quickly, knowing something was off about this man.
“Name’s Yotsuya. You should really go inside,” the suit recommended, exhaling. “She needs your help.”
Kakashi blinked at the man, turned to look at the house, turned back and Yotsuya was gone. He thought he saw the faint glow of his cherry and smelled the smoke, but he had disappeared. Kakashi stepped back towards the house, senses heightened. “What the fuck…?” He turned and stared at the door. His mind reeled, but the idea that Kozue could be in trouble was firmly planted in his head. It didn’t take much for the Jounin to be able to sneak his way inside.
Yotsuya reappeared and sucked on his cigarette. “Sorry kid. If I could get in I wouldn’tna sent ya.” He waited.
Kakashi moved silently across the floor of the entryway. Everything was covered in dust and there wasn’t a single piece of furniture in sight. The humidity and warmth of the spring evening seemed miles away. “What am I doing here?” he asked himself and suppressed a shudder. “Kozue-san’s not in trouble. She’s dead and has been for…” A soft ping sounded behind him. He spun around and looked towards the fireplace, his heart in his throat. “She’s been dead for years,” he asserted and forced himself to walk towards the fireplace. The grate was open and the humid air breathed through the flue. He reached in and closed it. As he did, the door to the kitchen slammed. He smacked the back of his head on the mantle as he jumped at the sound. Kakashi sped for the window he had jimmied open to get in but stopped again and laughed.
“What am I, five? There’s nothing weird about wind slamming a door.” The temperature in the room dropped another ten degrees and a deep, otherworldly voice growled, “Get out of my house…”
Kakashi’s back became as stiff as a board. He turned slowly, leaned against a wall and drew a kunai, still sort of chuckling to himself. “Ok, that’s weird…” he whispered.
“Get out…” the unidentifiable voice repeated. He strained to tell the source. It seemed to come from everywhere.
“Kozue-san?” he asked. “Is that you?”
“Get… out…” the voice echoed. One by one all of the doors in the house slammed then slammed again till the sound was deafening. “Get out of my HOUSE!!!”
Without further protest, Kakashi did just that. The suit didn’t have a chance to question him. The Jounin flew past him like a shot and headed back into town without a word.
“Damn it,” Yotsuya spat as he threw his butt to the ground and crushed it out. He glanced to the left of the darkened house. A faint glowing shape spiraled towards the structure. “Ah well. So much for a quick-fix.” He strolled over to the slow moving apparition. On closer inspection it looked like a six-foot dog-headed snake with bulging eyes and huge fangs. “Hey, you got a permit to haunt this joint?” he joked, flicked an oddly shaped shuriken out of his sleeve and pierced the snake’s body. It and the shuriken vanished. Yotsuya looked up at the boarded windows and narrowed his eyes. “Sorry, Lady. I shoulda come back for you,” he said sadly then straightened his tie and cleared his throat. “Toldja not to blame me if anything shitty happened to you.”