Snap Back To Reality 61
Nara Shikaku Part 2
The Uchiha Clan was a foreboding prophecy in the making, a Clan with an ancient and terrible heritage. At times Shikaku was more than a little grateful for being a Nara. So often positions of power were a curse, especially if it came with a history of bloodshed. While the Nara had been a prominent part of Konoha's heritage, they had not nearly been stippled with the same controversy that the Senju and Uchiha had built themselves upon. Safety was a precarious position, one in which the individual balanced on a thin rope with power on one end, and mediocrity on the other, a safe middle ground… an unyielding hold on the status quo. When Shikaku looked at Fugaku, he saw a knife against his thin rope, the rope that his Clan balanced on every day.
"The best things are the riskiest to pursue," he said, leaning forward to put the hot tea back on its coaster. He hated the way its warmth seemed to leave his hands empty against the cold winter air.
"Forgive me if I find this sudden interest in Uchiha affairs to be suspicious," Fugaku replied, burying both his hands into his kimono sleeves.
He was stiff and unmovable like the rocks in the backdrop of his traditional garden. While Shikaku loved his rock garden, it was accented with red maples, and a pond surrounded by carpeted plants and filled with live koi. In contrast the landscape behind him was purely utilitarian, easy to maintain, and hard in its beauty. Fugaku was much like his garden. Shikaku knew this to be a fact. But even the hardest of things had to budge and inch when a determined Nara was at its doorstep. He would make Fugaku budge.
"I've always had an interest on who took the Hokage position."
Fugaku did not look convinced. "I've heard nothing of the sort. In fact word is that you distance yourself from officials and politicking. Why come here today if not for some personal goal?"
"It is for a personal goal, and that is to put you in power. A little vegetable gremlin has no doubt made her way here before I did, but it's not simply her point. I'm sure you've felt something amiss in the latter events of the war. Whether that is Danzo's play or some third-party aggressor, Konoha is just as much a victim of its hand as Iwa and Kumo is. Now I'm sure no one want's Orochimaru as Hokage, and while I trust Minato would be a show of power to the other Villages, I feel like we'll be making a grave long-term decision with him," Shikaku explained.
Fugaku looked troubled, which he very well should be. A conversation with the Jounin Commander about implications that someone had intentionally escalated the war was no light conversation. In fact Shikaku had refrained from voicing these concerns to Hiruzen, as traitorous as that felt. He had lost some of his faith in Hiruzen's character, not that he often put faith in anyone's character. For a while it seemed he could only do so for the Hokage, but after his findings on ROOT, he found it hard to truly trust Hiruzen.
"And what makes you think I will be any better?" Fugaku asked, challenge in his eyes.
"Give Minato three years to study and he will be the better choice," Shikaku said, unwilling to lie. Fugaku above all responded best to straight forward honesty. "But we don't have three years. Something's telling me that the war is simply a precursor to a bigger problem."
"As is all wars, the cumulation to the next," Fugaku countered.
"No, not a war," Shikaku said sardonically as he shook his head. "No this is much more insidious. Or maybe it was an internal threat I haven't weeded out yet, or maybe it was even Danzo, but I feel like it isn't just one of those things. In wars you fight a clear enemy, but the ones you miss are the ones who win."
"And Konoha has missed one?" Fugaku asked. "Better yet it knows the snake, even where it's den is, and it has done nothing to root it out."
"I've been keeping a close eye on Orochimaru, but he isn't this unknown threat. As far as threats go he's rather conspicuous," Shikaku said, shaking his head with a frown.
"And this other threat? It seems like pure speculation at this stage. You've given me nothing concrete to go of," Fugaku replied, a hint of impatience taking his tone.
Shikaku sighed as he pulled out a folder and handed it to the man. Even if Fugaku didn't end up becoming the Hokage, Shikaku thought it would be best to keep him close. The Uchiha and the Hyuuga had become too proud and separate from the Village for his tastes. They held themselves apart from the mingling that other Clans partook in. Whether that be because of their threatened Kekkai Genkai or some other social factors, didn't change the fact that some change needed to happen. Shikaku felt the pull of his desire, urging him back into the safety of the status quo, but he needed to fight it.
"It's thick." Fugaku frowned.
Shikaku scoffed. "Welcome to the world of desk Shinobi. This file is for your viewing pleasure. I trust you'll keep it hidden."
Fugaku put it away and smiled for the first time. "Finally a show of some real trust. You really have become a politician."
"Careful Fugaku-san, or I might just vote for Minato," Shikaku said, unable to hide the twitch in his eye.
Fugaku barked a laugh and leant forward. "I assume you've got a plan to weed out this elusive threat? Jiraiya perhaps?"
"No, Orochimaru actually," Shikaku said, revelling for a moment at Fugaku's shock. "Whoever is doing this would require strong Shinobi, or multiple of them, and has already gathered a few from what I'd gathered. The escalation in the war didn't help Kumo, Iwa or Konoha, so we can plausibly cut out any overtly Nationalist Shinobi. That means it's a high possibility that there's a group out there that has funding from a rich company, or has a means of supplying themselves with money enough to hire these S Class Shinobi."
"And you think they would contact Orochimaru?" Fugaku asked.
"Even S Class nuke-nin will need allies. It would only make sense that they form units for protection," Shikaku replied.
"I'm impressed by your foresight," Fugaku said, in a rare moment of sincere awe.
"Don't thank me. If it wasn't for Hina, we wouldn't be here right now. Her trip to Kiri was what led to this. It was the first case I looked into. Neither I nor Danzo were the ones who escalated the tensions there. Danzo simply decided to capitalise off it," Shikaku said.
"It could have been Iwa or Kumo," Fugaku countered.
"It wasn't. Whoever had done this had intimate knowledge of Konoha's internal working. The information they gave to Kiri was something only two people knew of, and that was me and the Hokage," Shikaku said after a long pause.
He hadn't wanted to disclose that bit of information, but he figured he was past playing things safe. This would no doubt ruffle some feathers, especially Homura and Koharu's. But it was already too late to worry about that. Shikaku had made his choice. Between a potential term of political unrest or a long-term threat that could take them down, he would chose a short term of political unrest. Plus if everything went right, then maybe there wouldn't be a need for unrest in the first place.
Shikaku stood up and decided he'd done all he really could with Fugaku for now. "I'm going to take my leave now. Think over what I've told you. If we work together in the future, I'd like for you to take what I've said into account."
"I will," Fugaku nodded as he got up and showed his guest the way out.
Shikaku wondered for the hundredth time if he was in fact, doing the right thing.
There seemed before him a horde of faceless men, women and children, all bones and crushed spirits. It followed behind him unrelenting in its accusation and terrible in its painful, ever present gaze. It whispered shame into his ears, and promised condemnation. Those bony hands clasped at him from all angles, forcing him down with its crushing weight. He didn't scream, or make any sound, but he pushed against it regardless, grasping at whatever he could with all his might at all times, to push himself forward even just an inch.
And then the pressure of it all would disappear, he would wake up, and above him would be the sky and beneath him the earth. And whatever hellish expanse he had visited would linger in his mind, yet remain intangible in the physical. Even still he didn't scream, or cry, or sweat from exertion as the dream repeated each night. Instead he would wake up breath caught in his throat, looking up at a ceiling all too familiar, silent, and unmoving as if someone had locked his limbs together with chakra wire. Then slowly he would untangle himself from the dread that held firmly onto him, get up, and then get on with the day.
But Shikaku knew. He knew what madness looked like. It was to do the same thing over and over again expecting different results. It was what he had done every day. What every Shinobi did. The ones who enjoyed the death, who lived to kill, they weren't mad. No, they were the sanest Shinobi around. It was men like him who dipped their feet into insanity every day. Men who cared.
"Are you ok?" Yoshino asked.
She was always too perceptive. Too strong. Shikaku felt like he needed to compensate for her strength, to be equal to that in some way. He was Jounin commander, but in truth his wife could beat him in combat. It wasn't that he couldn't win against her eventually. It was the simple matter of fact that she went on more on field missions, had more time to train, and therefore had surpassed him years ago, while he had spent his time sharpening his mind into a deadly weapon. It was why he couldn't be weak. Not even the littlest bit weary. Without his mind what was he? A madman?
"Are you ok?" she repeated.
"I'm alright," he said, brushing his hair back and smiling at her. "Just have a feeling today's going to be more troublesome than its worth."
"A whole day discussing succession rites and then having a stuffy formal dinner with fat old men... can't see why that wouldn't be fun," she said, a snort escaping her lips.
Shikaku barked a laugh. Yoshino grimaced, no doubt thinking about her work in the intelligence department. Apparently they were doing the same thing today.
"Tonight, I'll bring home a tub of Chozo's homemade ice-cream," he promised.
"Only if you can manage to get that Akimichi to not eat the whole thing during a taste test," she said.
They both took a moment to laugh a little before the day inevitably had to move on. Shikaku had honestly done all that he could. He had talked to Hiruzen, to Fugaku and even to some of the Clan Heads. He had no doubt that Hina, the meddlesome child that she was, had already covered most of the other bases. Homura and Koharu probably wouldn't matter in the long run. Shikaku had a feeling that if Fugaku became Hokage, he would do away with their council within a year, or at least limit their power until it became nothing but a title. Shikaku couldn't wait for that. Even if Minato got the title today, it wouldn't change the fact that Shikaku would put his neck on the line to advice electing a new council.
After putting on his flak jacket, and for once leaving his deer skins behind, Shikaku made the trek to work. The scenery he passed by had become almost a part of him. The houses with its red terracotta tiles, the lines of shops down the bottom proudly representing the families who lived in the houses connected above it, the laughing sounds of children running to the park and the academy down this route. It brought him peace. So it was with a calmer mind that he entered the Hokage tower and walked up to the conference room, which had been reorganised to look formal and rich. The council was already there along with the Hokage, talking amongst each other at the back corner.
It was in moments like this that he was reminded that Hiruzen knew this man and woman for longer than Shikaku was alive. They had been his teammates, and friends who had risked their lives for him in war as children. A bond like that couldn't so easily be broken. Shikaku faltered for a moment, wondering if maybe things indeed would go wrong. Hiruzen had proved time and again that sentiment won over any reasonable action he should take. What if he voted in Orochimaru in behest of his Council's vote? It hit him that he shouldn't have even thought this way in the first place. He should have faith, but in this moment it had been lost to him.
"The Jounin Commander finally graces us with his presence," Koharu said, pushing her hands into her kimono and sending him a disapproving look.
Shikaku took pleasure in slouching further, yawning and then making his way towards his seat at the table. Once again, only Hiruzen it seemed had any sense of humour.
"We should stand before the Daimyo takes his seat," Homura said, pointing a look at him.
"No need for all the formality! It's such a bore!"
The voice that rung out from the door was cheerful and scratchy. Shikaku smiled as he watched Homura try and hold back a glower. It was no secret that the stoic man didn't quite like the Daimyo. Shikaku liked the man well enough. He was relatively stupid, which helped when it came to dealing with the noble clans of the Fire Country. But he wasn't the irritating sort of stupid either. He was simply a man who enjoyed life... a little too much if Shikaku was being honest.
The Daimyo strode up to his seat, robes bellowing behind him all over the place, only holding a semblance of nobility because of the servant girls struggling to keep his trail in place. He fixed the too large fan like hat on his head and plopped himself down on his seat with all the grace of a walrus. Shikaku sent the lord a smile to which he was returned one of double the intensity.
"No need to be so stuffy. Sit down! Sit down! Today's a time for change, renewal, progress and I'm greeted with an atmosphere that looks almost like a funeral!"
Hiruzen smiled in a more docile manner than Shikaku had, but he took his seat to the right end of the Daimyo who sat at the head of the table. Shikaku knew that Hiruzen actually quite liked the Daimyo as a person, although to this day could not place the man's views on him as thelord of Fire Country.
"Shikaku was telling me to bring more sake. Maybe I should have listened," Hiruzen joked.
Homura and Koharu took their seats silently and the door opened to reveal the last member to sit for the council: the ANBU captain. He gave a quick bow before silently taking his seat next to Shikaku. The Daimyo looked mildly terrified of the short man with the tiger mask on, but quickly laughed away his nervousness with a flutter of the fan in his hand and a quick drink. Even the most esteemed of nobles had their superstitions about ANBU.
"Shall we get to the matter at hand?" Hiruzen asked before looking at the Daimyo's servant girls.
They bowed quickly and scurried out of the room, leaving only his personal security detail by the door. Shikaku took the tea on his desk gingerly. He couldn't wait for this day to end already.
"Today I intend to step down and elect the future Hokage of the Village Hidden in Leaves," the Sandaime announced.
"It's such a pity. And you were doing such a fine job," the Daimyo lamented.
"Unfortunately I have made too many dire mistakes to take credit for my tenure," Hiruzen said, shaking his head. "The council and I have made a list of candidates we wished to discuss today."
Hiruzen handed over the document to the Daimyo. The man 'oohed' in expectation before taking the scroll and opening it.
"Minato Namikaze, Jounin of Konoha and known by the moniker "The Yellow Flash". Oh he seems delightfully scary. Hmm let's see what's next. Orochimaru of the Sannin! That's a name I know. A truly terrifying man. Snakes, ugh," he said, shivering a little at the mention of the animal. "And finally Uchiha Fugaku? The Mad eye Uchiha… seems like you're playing it risky there. I'm well aware of the historical animosity between the Uchiha and the Senju. Would this cause unrest?"
Shikaku appraised the Daimyo for once. Even though he kept his high-pitched scratchy voice, he still managed to sound mildly intelligible for a moment. Shikaku moved to make his case but was cut off by Koharu.
"My thoughts exactly Daimyo-sama. Appointing Fugaku would be much too dangerous in our current political climate. The Uchiha aren't viewed favourably by the masses."
The Daimyo paused for a moment and frowned. "I've heard quite the opposite actually. The civilians seem to value the Uchiha Clan's duties as the police force. I was more worried about the Clan side of dealings."
"Outside of the Hyuuga, the Uchiha Clan is a highly respected one. As a Clan Head myself I feel the tides shifting. The Uchiha were side-lined by Danzo, a traitor, and to involve them in Konoha's centre will only bring unity," Shikaku said.
He was buttering it up and presenting it like the most beautiful option he could possibly make it. The Daimyo cared about reputation, about appeasing his people, because it was through public opinion that he maintained his head. Maybe his outgoing and dumb persona was in fact the smartest thing this man had ever done. The lords held power, but Shinobi, especially concentrated as they were in a military village, was dangerous business for Daimyo's to navigate. Rock Country's previous Daimyo had an unfortunate accident and was replaced by his more benign and flaccid son. While the Daimyo's held considerable power, they relied on their Shinobi villages, and those villages could take away their power if they should so wish. Only an adherence and respect towards authority and cultural heritage kept the system from entirely shifting.
But the matter of the issue was simple. All he had to do was ensure Orochimaru did not make Hokage. The other two options were infinitely better. Shikaku hoped Hiruzen would shut down the idea for Orochimaru quickly.
"Why not Orochimaru of the Sannin? He has both the title and the lineage. He was the last Sannin to aid during the war and was integral in defeating our enemies," Homura asked.
"Yes, yes, he's a scary man, but that might do the village some good," the Daimyo agreed.
"No." Hiruzen's voice carried across the room and everyone fell silent. Even ANBU captain Tiger turned his head for the first time since he had come. Shikaku caught his Hokage's. Hiruzen tilted his head down in a subtle nod his way, and Shikaku replied with a knowing look. He felt relief in that moment.
"My student may have the strength and the skills, but there is some dark greed that festers in his heart. I will not risk him as the next Hokage. Shikaku is right, we will need a strong successor, one who will make firmer decisions than I ever could. My vote will be with Uchiha Fugaku."
Shikaku was mildly surprised that he hadn't called his vote in for Minato. He assumed the 3rd had a soft spot for he blond. Maybe he was wrong. He wondered for a second if Hina had meddled with the Hokage too. He shook his head and pulled himself back into the present. He needed to keep this momentum going.
"I too will vote for Uchiha Fugaku."
Hiruzen turned his sharp gaze to the Daimyo who jumped in fright in his seat. The man pulled out his fan, practically cowering behind it as he laughed nervously.
"Oh this Fugaku seems like a nice lad. Let's go with him!"
Shikaku held back an amused chuckle. It didn't help that Koharu and Homura looked irritated. Maybe this whole event wasn't so boring. But it was clear where everyone stood... well except for Tiger, who Hiruzen turned to soon after.
"Who will take your vote Tiger?"
The ANBU captain remained silent for a moment as if in silent contemplation.
"I have worked with both Minato-sama and Fugaku-sama. They are incredibly strong Shinobi, however Minato is stronger in combat whilst Fugaku is stronger in strategy. It would depend on the circumstance," he said.
Shikaku shook his head in exasperation and folded his arms. There it was; Tiger's incredible reluctance to make decisions when it came to anything outside of a mission. It was just like the man to sit and choose between vanilla and chocolate ice-cream for an hour. Most of the time he would buy both or choose neither if he could help it. Shikaku knew, after all he was the one who took the recluse out for ice-cream in the first place. He resolved himself to never do it again.
"Tiger-san, we don't have all day unfortunately," Hiruzen said, the same exasperation in his voice that Shikaku felt.
"Well... Minato-sama has established his skills around the nations and his leadership would be a sign of strength, however he is rather inexperienced with politics and what is required of the Hokage position. Meanwhile Fugaku-sama is well versed in politics, and could easily integrate himself into the position- however he isn't nearly as influential a figure-"
"Tiger-san," Hiruzen cut in.
Despite himself the Hokage smiled in amusement. The normally stoic ANBU Captain seemed infinitely more anxious, if the tapping of his finger on the table said anything. Wait second, was he... playing eeny, meeny, miney, moe?
"I will vote for... Uchiha Fugaku-sama..."
He looked physically pained to get out his final vote. Shikaku wasn't even really sure where it would go from here. There was clearly a majority vote, even though the Daimyo looked like he didn't quite care as long as his position was secured, and the ANBU captain seemed indecisive. In the end it was Hiruzen's call and he and Fugaku would deal with the majority of the fallout of this decision.
The Daimyo snapped his fan shut loudly, catching everyone's attention as he stood up. "Well enough of these boring talks. I was told we were going to celebrate with a feast!"
Shikaku took it back. He wanted to go home.
Can you tell how little I knew how to write this chapter XD I legit had no idea where it was going. One of the worst chapters I've ever written. And I was stuck on it for ages, hence why it took so long to update. Doesn't help that my parrot hates me typing, and he rides around on my shoulder like I'm a pirate or something. Never lets me get a word in XD