Honokuni Monogatari - “Fire Country Stories”

Kage no Naka - “In the Shadows”

A Naruto Fanfiction by Aoikami Sarah

 

Chapter Four

 

            Two years later, the house looked much the same. The shrubs around it were a bit higher, but still no one had dared move in to Yondaime’s house. Anyone who knew about the house would tell you that a ‘restless spirit’ haunted it. No one wanted to believe that the late Hokage or his wife was responsible for such a frightening presence.

            Yotsuya materialized on the porch, flicked one of his special shuriken at a few lesser demons slithering toward the house and walked over to the front door. His cigarette dropped out of his mouth.

            “No way. Oh you stupid fucking meatbags.”

            A notice was plastered to the door indicating the house no longer met safety guidelines and would be demolished in four days. Yotsuya slapped his hand to his face and dragged it down to rub the stubble on his chin. “Four days. Ugh. If the Kage find out about this I’m screwed.” He paced back and forth. “Ok Yotsuya, think. That Kakashi kid couldn’t make contact with her. Why? She can’t be so far gone that a relative wouldn’t have some effect on her. Maybe ‘cause he’s alive all that flesh got in the way…” He picked up the cigarette, only slightly disappointed to discover it had gone out. He snapped his wrist and it came back to life. He took a drag, studied the cherry and grinned.

.x.

            Naruto punched the oaken pillar one more time and swooned. He let his body fall forward to crash into the pillar where he stayed leaning, his chest heaving with exertion for a few moments before he pushed back and dropped to the ground. The clouds lumbered by overhead making their way across the sky as if chasing the sun in a slow-motion race. “I’ll show that Sasuke…” he whispered. “I’m going to be Hokage. He’ll see. They’ll all see...” His eyes closed and he fell into a deep sleep.

            Inside Uzumaki Naruto were the same guts and blood of any other average 12-year-old ninja boy. But on the spiritual plane there existed within him a fortress no animal or man could touch. Fortunately for Yotsuya, this restriction didn’t apply to him.

 

            He groaned as his nice white and black wingtip shoes splashed down into freezing cold ankle deep water. He flicked his black Zippo lighter open and by its light spiraled his way into the heart of the fortress. Finally he was able to see the great bars of the prison and the relatively small fuda note that held the thing within at bay. He passed the cage on his left and a low purring rumble sounded from within.

            “Who goes there?” a booming voice from the darkness asked.

            “Just relax, Kitsy. I’m not here for you.”

            “Oh?” it asked and came to the front of the cage. From 50 stories up the Kyuubi’s head bowed down to get a closer look at Yotsuya. “If you let me out of here I’ll make you a god.”

            “You should take that on the road, Kitsy. That’s funny as hell,” he deadpanned. “Just go back to bed.”

            “Who do you think you are, little man?!” the Kyuubi growled angrily.

            “Che,” he scoffed. “You might have gotten by me once upon a time, but you fell to Kage while he was still living. You’re pathetic.” The Zippo’s flame was dwarfed suddenly by a green glow coming from the 5’8” tall man. His face turned blue and his head sprouted fangs and horns.

            “You!” the demon growled and took a step back.

            “Yeah. Name’s Yotsuya, the Fire Country’s third God of Death.” Yotsuya straightened his tie as he hid his true face again. “Unless you wanna catch the express bus to the next world, I suggest you back the hell up.”

            The beast growled but offered no more protest. Yotsuya proceeded past his cage. Around the corner of the enormous enclosure that held the Nine Tails Demon Fox was another cage on a 1/10ths scale. Yotsuya stopped in front of this and shook his head at the fuda seal attached to the bars. "It's really annoying how the living go around like they know what they hell they're doing..." he grumbled and rapped on the bars. “Hey, wake up in there. I got a favor I need you to do.” When there was no answer Yotsuya flicked his lighter again. “You in there, pal? Come on. It’s really important!” He could just make out the shape of a person sitting on the floor with his head on his arms, which hugged his folded knees. “Hey, Yondy. Wakey wakey!”

            Yondaime’s head rose slightly and Yotsuya shuddered at the dullness of his eyes. “Don’t tell me he’s too far gone…” he groaned. “Hey, Yondaime-sama. Come here. It’s about Kozue.” The name seemed to perk him up a little. “Yeah, you remember Kozue-chan? Blond, green eyes, sweet smile? Well she’s in a little bit of trouble these days…” Before he could finish Yondaime was up and at the bars.

            “Kozue’s in trouble?”

            Yotsuya grinned. “There’s a boy. She sure is. And you’re the only one who can help.”

            His shoulders slumped. “I can’t do anything from in here.”

            Yotsuya shook his finger at him. “That’s where my part comes in.” He pulled what looked like a glowing cue ball out of his pocket. “We’ll swap you with this for a while. This is a Fuuin Tama. It’s got a volunteer soul in it. You go save your Kozue and this little guy’ll fulfill the Fuuin Shiki’s contract while you’re away!”

            “But…”

            “We don’t have time for buts. In four days they’re gonna demolish your house. Kozue has embedded herself inside of it. If we don’t get her out before it gets torn down she’ll go from being a simple Poltergeist to being a Localized Phantasm.”

            Yondaime raised a brow. “Which means?”

            “Bad shit. You in or not?”

            He simply nodded. Yotsuya tossed the cue ball into the cage. It blossomed like a flower and out stepped a young shinobi. “I’m honored to be of service one last time, Yondaime-sama,” he said and bowed deeply to his Hokage.

            “Come on, this way!” Yotsuya shouted urgently, bending the bars just enough to get Yondaime out.

            “Who was that guy?” he asked as they splashed through the steadily lightening corridors.

            “Leaf nin. Just died in battle. Good kid.”

            Yondaime nodded, his head spinning. “A Poltergeist is a ghost that throws things around, right?” he asked as they ran.

            “Basically, yes. They also attract other free-roaming entities on the Spirit plane to their location.”

            “Then what’s a Localized Phantasm?”

            “Well,” Yotsuya huffed. “A Poltergeist has a house to haunt, right? LP’s don’t have a house or anything familiar to them from when they were alive any more so they haunt the area instead. It makes them only a little more mobile but a ton stronger. They attract bigger entities and thusly become bigger hazards to the stability of the Spirit World.”

            “The Spirit World…” Yondaime repeated. Finally the light that had been getting brighter became blinding. Suddenly they found themselves outside. Yotsuya pointed in the direction of the house and took to the air. It took Yondaime a moment to figure out that he too could fly, but joined the Shinigami quickly.

            “I remember now. When I became Hokage, Sarutobi and the council members told me…”

            “About the Kage?” Yatsuya finished. “Yep. It’s true.

            “Then am I a Kage now?”

            “No. They think you’re inside the kid. And if they find out otherwise my ass is grass. We gotta do this as fast and as quietly as possible.”

            They touched down outside the house. Yondaime gasped at the state of it, but Yotsuya urged him towards it. “Ok. All you gotta do is get her to let you in and get her out. Don’t get freaked out at how different she might seem or look. If you can get her to come out of the house, she’ll be A-Ok. Got it?”

            “Why can’t you do it?” he asked, raising a suspicious brow.

            “Unless she permits a soul entrance, nothing or no one other than the living can enter. And if we wait till they tear the house down, I’ll be forced to exterminate her.”

            “What?!”

            “Yeah, so do you’re best, ok!” Yotsuya said with a shifty smile and lit a cigarette.

           

            Yondaime approached the front door and reached out to touch the piece of plywood that was nailed to it. He expected his hand to go through, but instead he felt a slight shock. When he gave it a good push the feeling intensified and got him nowhere.

            “Kozue-chan?” he asked. “It’s me, Yusaku.” The house seemed to pulse in response, but his hand stayed on the outside. “I heard you were in trouble so I came as soon as I could. They’re going to tear the house down soon, Honey, and if you don’t come out something really bad could happen to you.”

            “Heh, ‘could’,” Yotsuya scoffed. The look of death he got from Yondaime made him wince. He held up his hands and disappeared into the air.

            Yondaime turned his attention back to the door. “Kozue-chan, I’m sorry I couldn’t be with you. I saved Konoha, though, just like you asked me to!” he said with a smile that soon faded. “That was the last thing you said to me before you died. I saw you die, Kozue-chan. There was nothing anyone could have done but I feel like I let you down because I wasn’t able to be with you.” He leaned on his arm against the door and looked at the decaying doormat. “Please let me in, Kozue. I miss you so much. I don’t want anything bad to happen to you ever again. Please help me save you. Please…” he whispered. Yotsuya reappeared and watched apprehensively. A cricket chirped once or twice then Yondaime fell through the door.

            “All right!!!” Yotsuya cheered. “Ok, Kid. Get her out and you’re home free. I’ll come back and check on you later.”

            Yondaime looked around his empty house. “Kozue? Where are you?” The silence made him more nervous than any Poltergeist activity could have. “Kozue?” A door creaked somewhere within the huge house and a strange jingling sound followed. He knew by the sound exactly which room it was coming from and ran up the front stairs. “Kozue? Kozue!” he called as he ran. At the end of the hall the would-be nursery door stood open and creaked softly as it swung slowly back and forth. He swallowed hard and turned the corner.

            Next to where they had placed the crib they bought for their unborn son, Kozue sat in an ethereal rocking chair. She looked asleep, her head lolled to one side and she was bound to the chair and the floor and walls by thick chains around her arms, legs and neck. “Kozue!” he cried and rushed to her, falling to his knees before her and taking her hands in his. “Kozue, please wake up!”

            Slowly her eyes flicked open and she moved her head with what looked like great effort to look at him. “Yu… saku… san?”

            “Yeah, it’s me,” he answered, his heart breaking to see her in such a state. “Come on Sweetheart, we’re getting out of here, he said and tried to pull her arm towards him but the chains held her down.

            “I can’t,” she whispered, her voice squeaking with disuse.

            “Sure you can,” he said with a smile. “We need to get out of the house. It’s not safe here anymore.”

            “I can’t…” she repeated, rolling her head back to her shoulder again.

            “Kozue, please. I’m going to take you out of here. I’m so sorry I couldn’t stay with you. I’ll never let anything bad happen to you again, I swear it!” he blurted out.

            “Yusaku-san...” Kozue brightened. “Really?”

            Too late to go back on his word and desperately needing to get her out, Yusaku assured her. “Really. I promise.” He stood up and held her hands, making the chains taught. “Come on. These bonds are all in your head. Just forget about them and come with me.”

            “But I…”

            “No time for buts,” he echoed the Shinigami. “I love you, Kozue. Let’s go.”

            Her eyes softened and a faint smile graced her lips. She pulled on his hands and tried to free herself of her own effort. It was all that was needed and the chains disintegrated as if they were made of dust. Yondaime scooped her up in to his arms and she buried her face into his shoulder as they left the house.

            He put her down on the porch and looked around for Yotsuya. When he didn’t see him immediately an idea came to Yondaime. “Where do you want to go?”

            “Well… wouldn’t we go to the next world?” she asked.

            “Maybe not just yet,” he replied, artfully avoiding the subject of his incarceration. Thinking about just that gave him another idea. “Would you like to see our son?”

            Her eyes lit up. “Would I!?” she asked and they took off into town.

            Only moments later Yotsuya re-appeared. He squinted at the house, walked up to the front door, walked through it and cursed vehemently. “Lost her again!!!” he shouted.

 

.x.

            The following morning, rain patted in a staccato rhythm on the pane just to the left of Naruto’s head. A comforter was bunched at his feet and the thin sheet covered only his midsection. Despite the chilly weather, Naruto snored comfortably through the night.

            But when he woke, the rain had not lifted. The boy sat up slowly, rubbed his eyes and remembered it was Sunday. “Day off,” he murmured and fell back on his pillow. Unfortunately, he was already awake. His eyes barely open, he looked out at the grey morning. The sound of the rain filled the room. He sighed and pulled the discarded comforter up around his chin. Sitting in thin air just outside his window, Naruto’s late parents watched as they had been doing for the last 24 hours with the unending patience of the dead. Kozue noted the soft frown on his face, the pinch of flesh between his arched brows and worried about her son.

 

            At eleven o’clock Naruto was roused to the sound of knocking on his door. He knew there was only one person it could possibly be. Wordlessly, Naruto opened the door and turned back to bed.

            “Ohayo!” his sensei, Iruka chimed cheerfully. The man’s smile drooped from the less-than-warm welcome. Not to be deterred, he scuffed his feet on the mat and let himself in. “I brought cup ramen!” When Naruto didn’t come running out of his bedroom, Iruka began to worry. He stuck his head in the doorway. “Naruto, you ok?”

            “I dunno…” came the muffled reply. His friend sat on the edge of his bed and waited. Iruka was often short tempered with the boy’s rebellious ways, but he could also be endlessly patient when necessary.

            “Who’s that?” Kozue asked.

            “Umino Iruka. Chuunin. He was our son’s sensei at the Acadamy. Good kid. His parents were killed the same day we died,” Yondaime answered. Kozue nodded in approval. After a few minutes the covers squirmed and a blond head emerged.

            “There you are,” Iruka smiled. “Come on. Let me make you some ramen.” He shook one of the cups for emphasis. Naruto shrugged but did finally slide out of bed.

 

            Iruka busied himself with the teakettle and threw some expired items out of Naruto’s fridge. He washed a few dishes until the water was ready then prepared two of the cups he had brought with him. He set them in front of Naruto and himself and pulled a chair up to the little kitchen table.

            “Ne, Iruka-sensei…” Naruto mumbled, watching steam rise through the gap in the paper lid. “How old were you when you…?” he began, but lost his nerve.

            Iruka straightened up a little in his chair. He reached out and warmed his hands on the little paper cup of Sapporo Ichiban Miso ramen before him. “I was thirteen when I lost my parents.” He chose his words carefully; unsure of what Naruto wanted to hear. The ghostly voyeurs who were now standing in the back of the room exchanged astonished looks.

            “So you remember them?” Naruto too laced his fingers around his cup, but kept his eyes on the steam emanating from it.

            “Yes I do.”

            “Do you miss them?”

            “Of course.”

            “Would you miss them if you had never known them?” he asked quickly but quietly.

            Iruka’s heart twisted. The apartment seemed suddenly very quiet. Even the ghosts were silent. The rain had stopped. “I don’t know,” he replied.

            “Doesn’t make much sense, does it?” Naruto added and looked up as if he wanted agreement.

            “It’s only human.” The teacher fidgeted a bit. He tried to think of the right thing to say. “Even if you never experienced it, you long for it.”

            “Were my parents killed by the Nine Tails, too?” the boy asked softly. Kozue whimpered and clutched her husband’s hand.

            “I don’t know, Naruto,” he admitted.

            Naruto sighed and took the cover off his ramen. His eyes fixed on the pale noodles. “I like to think that’s what happened,” he said as he mixed the soup up with his chopsticks. “I don’t wanna think they abandoned me, but sometimes I feel like they did…”

            “Naruto…” Iruka whispered, his heart breaking. Yondaime pulled his sobbing wife into his arms and shushed her.

            “When the kids an’ even their moms and dads look at me like they do… I think I’m not any good for anything. So maybe that’s what my parents thought and so they dumped me.”

            “That’s not true!” Kozue shouted.

            “That’s not true!” Iruka cried simultaneously and gripped the edges of the table, struggling to find just the right words. “No one would do that to you, besides, you were just a baby…”

            The boy’s lower lip quivered. “I just wish I knew, Iruka-sensei. It sucks to be alone…” A few tears patted down on the tabletop. Involuntarily, the teacher pushed his chair back and stood up. Naruto continued to look down, unable and perhaps today unwilling to put on a brave face. “It sucks.”

            His mentor crouched next to his chair. “Naruto,” Iruka put his hand on his shoulder. “You’re not alone.” The boy sniffled and without hesitation launched himself at Iruka, knocking him on his ass. The teacher wrapped his arms around him and let him cry it out. Slowly, Naruto caught his breath, but still clung to Iruka’s shirt. The clouds grudgingly parted and let some sunlight into the little apartment. “Hey now.” Iruka patted his back reassuringly. “Your ramen’s getting cold.”

            Naruto choked out a laugh and nodded. They ate their lunch wordlessly. When he had finished, Iruka cleaned up and invited Naruto to come out with him.

            “Uh uh,” Naruto grunted as he scratched his hair. “I gotta train. Wasted almost the whole day already.”

            Iruka grinned. “There’s a good boy. You call me if you get bored,” he advised, still choosing his words with ultimate care.

            “Thanks, Iruka-sensei.”

            “Any time.”

.x.

            Well after dark Naruto dragged himself home and fell into bed with his clothes on. His chakra almost completed depleted and his body bearing a number of cuts and bruises from a rigorous session against his own shadow clones, he was asleep in moments.

            Just before he dropped off to sleep, Naruto listened to the silence of his apartment. The things he contemplated that morning, which he thought he had gotten over, came back to haunt him.

            This place he called home had no soul. There was no one waiting for him when the day was over, no one to wake him when it began. No smell of food waiting for him, no din of conversation or laughter like he had heard coming from other people’s houses. Maybe he should get a cat, he thought.

            That was crazy. He’d probably malnourish the thing to death. No. He didn’t need something to take care of. He needed someone to take care of him. But did he need it? He got along all right by himself. He hadn’t burned the place down or even ever locked himself out before. He didn’t need it; he wanted it. He wanted ‘welcome home!’ and ‘how was your day?’ and ‘time to wake up now, Sweet Heart.’

            “Sweet heart,” he muttered. “No one will ever call me Sweet Heart.” Not even his own mother whom he had never known. Iruka, and even that jerk Sasuke had known their mothers… Naruto felt the tears come again and curled up into a ball. “Kaasan…” he whispered, just to see what it would sound like. It didn’t help. He pressed the comforter to his eyes and wept like a child, all the while forgetting he was still just that: a child.

            His parents stood over him. “Yusaku-san, I need to help him,” Kozue whispered, wiping the tears from her eyes.

            “There’s nothing the dead can do to help the living.” He took a deep breath. “I’ve been sealed inside him all this time. I know.”

            Kozue looked shocked for a moment, but nodded. “I remember now. I saw it. You fought the Nine Tails and I waited for you but this man said that you were inside the baby.”

            “Even though I’ve been that close to him, I was unable to even so much as talk to him,” he admitted.

            “But you were sealed up, right?” she said, thinking positively. “Perhaps I can do something. I have this little trick I learned in the last few years.” She smiled. “I need your help though. Call to me in ten minutes so I don’t get lost.”

            “What?” he asked as she kissed him on the cheek and turned into a wisp of smoke. “Kozue!?” he asked, alarmed, but figured out what she was up to as the smoke settled over their sleeping son. He waited nervously and watched the clock. “Ten minutes. No more.”

            Weeping, Uzumaki Naruto fell to dreaming.

 


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