Honokuni Monogatari - “Fire Country Stories”
Kage no Naka - “In the Shadows”
A Naruto Fanfiction by Aoikami Sarah
Yondaime clenched his fists in rage. “There will be a new Hokage who will inherit my will!” Sandaime shouted at Orochimaru. “And become the pillar that supports the house of the leaf!” He lowered his head and his thoughts were as clear to the Shinigami and his subordinate as if he were speaking aloud. ‘Isn’t that right, Yondaime?’
Kozue flew around the giant cube-shaped shield that protected Orochimaru and Sandaime from outside interference. “Yusaku-san? Yotsuya-san? Where are you!?” She hovered just outside it, afraid to enter. Slowly, she reached her delicate toe out and touched it. When it wasn’t cold or hot and didn’t bite her, she giggled a little at herself and entered.
“Take this!” Sandaime growled. “Fuuin Jutsu - Shiki Fuujin!”
Kozue stopped in mid-air and stared at the Fuuin Shiki. “That thing again… It can’t be!”
“Kozue!” Yondaime called out to her.
“Yusaku-san! Yotsuya-san, what’s going on?”
“Watch carefully, Ko-chan. It’s not very often you get to see something this incredibly stupid. Oh wait…” he said sarcastically and stared at Yondaime.
“You’ve got to admit,” Yondaime said, ignoring him. “It’s just about the only thing he could use with 100% guaranteed success against Orochimaru.”
“He could have oh, I don’t know… taken care of Orochimaru as soon as he knew he was in Konoha!” Yotsuya shouted. “And we’ll see about 100% success.”
“But the enemy has no defense against the Shiki, you even told me that!”
“Not if the enemy is so well versed in Kinjutsu. People like Orochimaru are pretty rare, but there is a chance he could make it out of this with his life.”
“Yotsuya-san.” Kozue fidgeted as she watched the Shiki hover menacingly. “Will Sandaime-sama seal all three of the attackers up since he’s using Kage Bunshin?”
“If he’s successful, yeah. But since he’s sealing into himself, the Shiki will take all of them at once, making things a little complicated. The Spirit World will be out all three Kage who aren’t already sealed up.”
“What happens to them if the caster dies?” she asked innocently.
“They’re locked in eternal struggle for eternity,” Yondaime answered.
“That is why the living should never touch shit like this,” he said rolling his eyes. “That’s not what happens. Sure, the jutsu takes the lives of both the caster and the enemy, but once they’re dead, they’re dead. He passes them on. They die. The end. Next level. Buh-bye.”
Kozue blinked. “Then what?”
Yotsuya raised a brow. “Not even we are allowed to know that, Ko-chan.”
They watched as Sandaime captured Shodaime and Nidaime in turn. Yondaime took Kozue into his arms and pressed her head against his chest. “Don’t look, Kozue.”
“I’ve seen this already. It doesn’t disturb me,” she lied and clutched his jacket. It seemed like something very important was going on, but her head was swimming with the memory of seeing her husband taken up by the Shiki all those years ago. She forgot about her responsibilities and just concentrated on him as hard as she could. He was there for her, and that was all that mattered.
Soon, it was over. Orochimaru was debilitated, but escaped with his life. Sandaime was dead. Nidaime, Shodaime, Sandaime and Orochimaru’s ability to form Jutsu were sealed up.
“Hold it right there!” Yotsuya shouted. Kozue looked up, brought out of her daze by his urgency. Yotsuya was standing in front of the Fuuin Shiki with his arms folded. “As a duly appointed representative of Enma Daioh, Magistrate of the border between this world and the Lands Afterward, I, Honokuni Shinigami Yotsuya command you to hold your position!” To their amazement, the Shiki did just that. “I must have a word with the bound parties. Permit me five minutes.”
The Shiki growled, but obliged and three men and a pair of disembodied arms appeared on the roof in front it. Yondaime and Kozue were surprised to see Yotsuya kneel before them. “Hokage-sama…” he addressed all three of them. “You must know why I’ve intervened…”
“Indeed,” Shodaime nodded. “It would seem the Fire Country will be without a Kage…”
“I’m so sorry,” Sandaime, who appeared a man of no more than thirty, lowered his head. “I did not consider the consequences my action would have on the Spirit World. I was thinking only of Konoha and for that I apologize.”
“Saru,” his sensei, the second Hokage put his hand on his shoulder. “It’s all right. You did what you thought was best. That is all any of us can do.”
“If I may interrupt, Hokage-sama,” Yotsuya said, standing up. “I think I have a solution.” He gestured in the direction of Yondaime and Kozue who were still standing on the very top of the roof.
“Yusaku!” Sandaime gasped. “What are you…? Is Naruto all right?!”
“He’s fine,” Nidaime said, folding his arms. “The Shinigami has had Yondaime and his wife in his employ for the last six months.”
“Eep.” Yotsuya straightened his tie. “You see, the thing with that is…”
Yondaime floated down to them, Kozue not far behind. “It’s my fault, Hokage-sama. If I hadn’t…”
Shodaime waved. “We would have done something about it if it were a problem. Besides, as Yotsuya is about to point out, his indiscretion has saved us.”
“Yeah, funny how that worked out.” He turned to his subordinate. “Yondy. Congratulations. You’re gonna get to be a Kage.”
“But…” Sandaime asked. “What about the boy?”
“If Yondaime’s soul is replaced by one of equal strength, the Shiki won’t know the difference. Especially in this situation,” Shodaime said, hooking a finger at the intimidating Shiki behind them. “We wouldn’t be able to fool this one, but Yotsuya should be able to take Yondaime’s place in the contract.”
“Yotsuya-san?” Kozue asked, finally stepping in front of her husband. “But that would mean through the laws of the fuuin contract, you’d get passed on when our son dies, wouldn’t it?”
“Don’t worry, Kozue, someone else will take my place as Shinigami,” he said without a smirk or sly comment.
“That’s not what I meant! Yotsuya-san, you’ll die!”
The Shinigami smiled and stepped towards her. He glanced to Yondaime before wrapping his arms around her. “You are the sweetest thing I have ever known. Thank you for coming into my life.”
“Hey, do me a favor?” he asked, taking her by the shoulders.
Kozue blinked back tears. “You saved me and gave my husband back to me. Anything.”
“Help him out. Be the fourth Fire Country Shinigami.”
Kozue looked to her husband who nodded slightly. She then nodded to the Shinigami and he pressed his forehead to hers. A warmth spread through her as his knowledge and powers were transferred. Her kimono was replaced with a smart-looking black women’s suit complete with Fire Country Spirit World insignia arm band. When he pulled back, Yotsuya was still wearing his suit, but it was torn in a few places where it no longer fit. His body was more muscular than before, his skin was blue and horns sprouted from his head and fangs from his mouth. “This is my true form. I’m sorry you had to see it.”
“You were an Oni…” Yondaime realized what Yotsuya had almost told him just a while ago.
“I’m tired. Five hundred years of doing the same thing can get to be drag,” he said with a slight chuckle. “Now, Kozue, you should know what to do. Send this scary Shiki bastard on his way.”
Yondaime said goodbye to his predecessors and Kozue performed her first task as Shinigami. “As a duly appointed representative of Enma Daioh, Magistrate of the border between this world and the Lands Afterward, I, Honokuni Shinigami Kozue permit you to proceed!” The three men and Orochimaru’s arms were sucked back inside the Shiki and it disappeared.
Yotsuya beamed with pride. “Ok, now you have to take me to the kid. Then you can take Yondy to meet with Enma Daioh. He’ll get sworn in up there. Enma’s not going to be too happy with me, but don’t let him scare you. He’s all bark. Get to know him and his a big friggin’ teddy bear.”
She tried very hard not to cry again. “Ok!” she nodded and they headed out to look for Naruto. It was difficult to locate him, but when they did, he was conveniently unconscious. Kozue was able to enter the boy’s soul and swap the temporary soul with Yotsuya.
“See ya later,” he said with a wink.
“Yes,” she said simply and ran away. When she emerged she fell against Yondaime’s chest and cried.
“Are you sure you’re up for this?” he asked, protectively.
“After a lifetime of being useless, I finally have something I can do for Konoha. I’m so ready for this.” She reached out her hand. He hesitated to take it. She laughed. “Come on, silly. I won’t pass you. I can turn it on and off.”
“How do you know this already?”
“I don’t know. I guess when Yotsuya-san touched my forehead he told me everything. I just know.”
Yondaime took her hand and smiled. “Looks like we’re going to be together for a long time.”
She squeezed his hand, looked down at Naruto who was being carried into Konoha hospital, having just defeated Gaara. “We get to watch our son grow.”
“One day, I’m sure he’ll stand at our side as Kage,” Yondaime whispered. “I’m sure of it.”
Uzumaki Naruto awoke as the sun inched its way into his eye. The remnants of what he imagined to be a particularly vivid dream faded with the light. He remembered Yondaime giving him a pep talk and a woman wearing a suit at his side whom he was sure he’d met before. He thought to write the dream down, but as he reached over to get a piece of paper off of the nightstand, Hinata’s milky eyes fluttered open.
“Morning,” she drawled and laced her arms around him.
He grinned a foxy grin and returned her kiss. “Morning,” he said, and promptly forgot all about the dream.
Only a handpicked group of important shinobi was allowed to witness and judge Naruto’s oral exam later that week. Among them were his old teachers Iruka and Hatake Kakashi, Konoha’s Surgeon General Shizune, head of Interior Security Morino Ibiki, the council members Koharu and Homura and the heads of the great Konoha families. Among them were Sakai Matsumune (brother to Kozue), and Hyuuga Hiashi.
Naruto wore the standard Konoha green and blue with no other piece of flair to set him apart from any other nin except a certain necklace. Naruto swallowed deep, tucked the necklace into his shirt and stepped into the middle of the room. The elders were all seated around him.
“I’m glad you could make it,” he began. “If you are all comfortable, I will now begin my oral presentation…”
A few hours later Hinata sat outside on the administration building steps. She tapped her foot nervously and stared at her clenched hands. “Oh, Naruto…” she worried aloud.
“He’ll be fine,” a gruff, scratchy voice startled her. She turned to see the speaker and looked up at his silhouette, the noonday sun behind him making her squint. “There’s nothing that bastard can’t do. You should know that.” Slowly, he plodded down the steps past her. Hinata’s blood ran cold as she saw the insignia on the back of his shirt. “But tell that dead-last loser I said good-luck anyway,” he said without turning around. “Not that he needs it.”
He hadn’t made a public appearance in years. After he came home, no one wanted to see him. No one would acknowledge him. He had betrayed Konoha and as far as the people were concerned, even if he had been pardoned, he didn’t exist. The only one who stuck up for him was Naruto. He took him in, got him a position on Anbu where no one knew his identity and gave him a second chance. Hinata watched him go, unable to speak; amazed that he had shown himself in broad daylight and touched that Naruto meant that much to him.
“Hina-chan!!!” Naruto called as he threw the huge doors open. She jumped up and turned to him. He bounded down the steps to meet her. “Hinata, you should have seen it!”
“Ah! Did you pass?”
“Did I!?” he laughed. “Even your dad passed me!”
“Oh, that’s so wonderful!” She turned back to look down the steps. “Oh, he’s gone…” she said sadly.
“Someone who came to wish you luck,” she said and leaned close to him to whisper the name in his ear.
“No way!” Naruto looked in the direction he had left, but there wasn’t a trace of him. Naruto’s shoulders relaxed and he grinned wide. “Thanks, Sasuke.”
Slightly hung over from a night of serious drinking with Akimichi Chouji, Inuzuka Kiba and Yamanaka Ino amongst others, Naruto stepped out into the bright sunshine and rubbed his throbbing temples. Hinata followed and giggled at his ill-gotten discomfort.
“So the next test is at 10 tomorrow?” she asked, zipping up her flack jacket.
“Yeah,” he answered. “Good thing, too. I gotta get rid of this headache.”
“Drink lots of fluids,” she advised, gave him a kiss and started off towards the administration building. “I’m sorry I’ve got a mission, but I know you’ll do just fine!” she said with a wave and a smile.
“I’ll miss you, Hina-chan!” Naruto called after her and waved back. He put his thumbs through his backpack and wandered off in the opposite direction.
When Kakashi awoke that morning, he had a strange craving. He rummaged through his bachelor’s pantry and not finding anything that screamed out to him, he went to the store. When that didn’t inspire, he proceeded to the library.
The middle-aged librarian pushed her glasses up her nose and flipped through a stack of cards. “I’m sorry, sir. That scroll has been checked out.”
“I see, and it’s out of print…” Kakashi said with mild disappointment. “When is it due back in?”
“Well, not for another three days.”
“Thank you,” he said and turned to walk away.
“Ah! Kakashi-sensei!” Naruto shouted in greeting as he saw his teacher.
“Sorry, Lady,” the young man apologized. “Hey, Sensei, long time no see!” he tried to whisper.
“Oh, Naruto,” Kakashi replied, his eye curving into a smile. “I suppose congratulations are in order.”
Naruto laughed and rubbed the back of his head, “Yeah. Can you believe it?”
“I certainly can,” Kakashi said and put his hand on his shoulder. “Well, I’ll see you around.”
Naruto was a little surprised at the brevity of their meeting, but nodded, shook his sensei’s hand and went to the checkout counter. “That was weird,” he muttered to himself as he took his backpack off and started pulling the scrolls out of it. “Seemed like he didn’t want to talk to me…”
“Oh! Mr. Hatake!” the librarian shouted and was shushed by some of her coworkers. Kakashi was almost out the door. “That scroll you wanted, it’s come in!”
Naruto eyed him as he walked back to the desk. “The library actually carries something you’d want to read?” he asked skeptically. The librarian handed ‘Fire Country’s Best Soups’ to Kakashi. Naruto gawked and pointed at him. “That?!”
“Sorry,” they said in unison.
“That weird cookbook got mixed in with my study materials,” Naruto explained as Kakashi took the scroll and stared hard at it. “I had to have Hinata go back and get me the Yondaime scroll. I don’t have a clue how the two could have gotten mixed up.” Naruto looked to his sensei. Even from the other side of the mask, he could tell that his mouth was open. “Something wrong, Kakashi-sensei?”
He blinked. “No. That is weird. You know, Naruto…” He shook his head a little, changing his mind. “You must have a lot of work ahead of you this week.”
“Not really, the physical test is tomorrow morning. Then there’s the ceremony.” He inched closer and whispered with a wink, “which is gonna be announced for next Sunday.”
“Ah,” Kakashi took Kozue’s Soup scroll and made sure his hand was covering her name. “Tell you what. When all the craziness settles down for you, we should get together.”
“We totally will!” Naruto said cheerfully. Kakashi turned and left without saying good-bye.
He wandered down Konoha’s main street, took a left and was soon headed into the old residential district. The sun shone down on another perfect day in stark contrast to the storm brewing in the Jounin’s heart. He slowed as the site where the house used to be came into view. “Man,” he whispered, hung his head, turned and left.
Once again, memories of the past brought Kakashi an unshakeable case of insomnia. Just before he reached for the PM painkillers he used occasionally when returning from a strenuous mission, he looked in the mirror at stared at his face.
Where his mask and hitai-ate normally covered it, the skin was paler and more youthful in contrast to the area around his right eye. He stretched some of the skin out with his finger and sighed as it fell back into wrinkles when he released it. “I’m getting old,” he groaned.
At 41, Kakashi was old for a Ninja, but young for a man. “Don’t think I’m going anywhere soon…” he mumbled and turned off the bathroom light. He flopped down on his bed and glanced over at the Soup scroll on the bed stand. Lifting his arm over his head, he pulled an envelope out from in between volumes one and two of “Come Come Paradise”. The name Uzumaki Naruto was printed in kana on the front.
“Should I have told him when he was 18?” he asked himself. “What if I don’t die for another decade or so? Shouldn’t he know? Or is it something he shouldn’t know? Yusaku-sensei never said I should ever tell the boy himself…” He slapped the letter down on top of the Soup scroll and pouted at it. “Yusaku-sensei, Kozue-san… what should I do?”
“Do whatever you like, it’s your secret.”
“No it’s not it’s…” Kakashi began then jumped to his feet, realizing that the voice wasn’t his own inside his head. He took a step back and bumped into a picture frame that fell to the ground. Kakashi caught it with his foot, but didn’t take his eyes (both of them) off of the intruders.
“Watch what you’re doing with that precious picture, Kakashi.”
He glanced down feverishly and grabbed the photo of his Genin team. The man in the photograph smiled at him from across the room. They were definitely there, but he could see the door behind them through their translucent bodies. “Se... Se… Sensei? Kozue-san?”
Kozue smiled and tilted her head to the side. “It’s alright, Kakashi. Yes, we are really here. No, we’re not alive.”
Kakashi’s legs gave out and he sat down hard on his bed. “What are you…?” his eyes traveled over their unusual clothes. Yondaime wore what looked like traditional court robes with long sleeves and billowing pants. The front of his over-shirt was embroidered with a black and red flame insignia. Kozue wore her suit with the same symbol on an armband.
“We came to see you because you wanted to see us.”
“You’re ghosts?” he asked, worried.
“Not per se,” Yondaime picked at his robes. “We’re not at liberty to discuss it, suffice to say that these are our work clothes.”
“Are you alright?” he asked, still leaning back apprehensively.
Kozue put her hand to her mouth. “Oh! I’m so sorry! When I was a poltergeist I must have scared the pants off of you! Yusaku-san rescued me. I’m alright now.”
There was noticeable relief on Kakashi’s face. His shoulders relaxed. “I… I really miss you guys.”
“We miss you too, Kakashi-kun,” Kozue said with a smile.
“You called to us to ask us a question, right Kakashi?”
“Oh, yeah, right.” He stood up, opened the letter and held it out for his sensei to see. “I wrote this.”
Yondaime looked it over. “Sounds fine.”
“Should I give it to him after he becomes Hokage?”
Yondaime looked to his wife. “I think that would be fine,” she answered. “That way he doesn’t have to stress out before the big day. I don’t know how he’s going to take the news. He’s a pretty strong person, but we don’t know what he thinks of us, really.”
“When you do,” Yondaime added. “Please talk to him. Tell him anything he wants to know. Don’t think you’re betraying any sort of trust.”
“Thank you, I’ll do that,” Kakashi whispered. “I miss you guys, so very, very much.”
Kozue looked to her husband. “May I, Hokage-sama?” Yondaime made a face, but nodded. Kozue put her hands together. “I’m going to give you something special, Kakashi-kun, but you’ve got to promise to give one to our son, too.”
She formed three seals Kakashi had never seen before. “Reiton, Kotai no Jutsu!”* she called and her form grew opaque. Her suit became the pale lavender kimono he was familiar with and her hair loosed from the tight bun she wore. In a matter of moments, Sakai Kozue was actually standing in Kakashi’s room. She stretched out her arms and he didn’t hesitate to accept her embrace. Kakashi tried valiantly but couldn’t hold back the tears as he hugged the only woman closest to actual family he had ever known.
“You know,” she said softly. “All that time, I never knew until you opened your letter…”
“My letter? You read my letter?”
“Over your shoulder,” she said, tears coming to her own eyes. “You’re my cousin Tsunade’s son. We were family all along!” She let him sob into her shoulder until she could no longer hold the Jutsu and lost her solidity. “Give our son a hug from us.”
“Will I ever see you again?” he asked them.
“Of course,” Yondaime said with a soft smile. “We’re watching over all of Konoha. Thank you for watching over Naruto.”
And in a breath, they were gone. Kakashi dropped onto his bed and closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them, the last ten minutes seemed like a fading dream, but the letter in his hand reminded him of his purpose and Kozue’s hug filled him with a warmth he hadn’t felt in a long time.
* Reiton, Kotai no Jutsu = Spirit-type, Solidity Technique