Naruto Hiden - Volume 2 - Chapter 6
A bunch of ten year old boys crossed the street, laughing with seemingly endless cheer. In the distance behind them, a grim-faced man in his thirties was hurrying somewhere.
The children were probably heading to the Academy, while the man was likely going to work.
On the side of the street, there was a store that sold side-dishes in the early mornings, its store-front surrounded with housewives gossiping with animated gestures.
It was a usual morning's usual scenery.
On this peaceful morning, Shikamaru was striding along the main street that started from Konoha's wide open front gates and continued straight to the Hokage Residence. The street ended behind the residence, at the Hokage Monument where all the past generations of Hokage were carved into the mountain.
Shikamaru's destination was the latter. He had some business there.
Usually, when shinobi received missions outside the village, they left Konoha through the main gates. There wasn't any particular regulation that said they had to, but it was somewhat of a tradition.
The Anbu were the only exception. They dealt with many top secret missions, so in order to keep their departures unknown to Konoha's citizens, it had been arranged for them to leave through the back gates found in the mountain behind the Hokage Residence.
That back gate was Shikamaru's destination. This time's mission was being kept a secret from everyone in the village. The only ones who knew were Kakashi, a handful of senior shinobi, and, of course, Shikamaru himself as well as the accompanying Rou and Soku.
He'd left the business of covering up his absence from the village to Kakashi. If anyone asked where he was, they'd be told Shikamaru had Union business outside the village bounds.
The ideal scenario was to sneak out of the village without anyone noticing his departure, and come back before anyone was bothered by his absence.
’’Hm?’’ As Shikamaru quickly made his way to the back gate, he noticed a blonde haired man in his field of vision.
The blonde noticed him as well.
’’Yoo, if it isn't Shikamaru! What're you hurrying for?’’
You wouldn't have believed the two were the same age, by the childish grin that lit up the man's features as he hurried to his friend. His cheeks had three whisker-like lines across each side, and his blue eyes were free of any doubt or hesitation.
’’That's what I should be asking you. What're you doing up this early, Naruto?’’
He was the hero who had shown everyone the way to ending the last great war, the son of the Fourth Hokage. The Nine Tails had been sealed into him as soon as he was born, and he grew up facing prejudice from his surroundings, and yet he'd never once wavered in his goal to become Hokage, and kept on walking down his path. That was the kind of man Naruto was.
Right now, he was a strong candidate to become the next Hokage after Kakashi.
’’I couldn't really sleep last night,’’ Naruto said, ’’So when I woke up this morning I went to eat some ramen at Ichiraku's straight away, and now I'm heading back home.’’
’’You went to that shop this early?’’
’’Lately, they've been open for business 24/7.’’ Naruto looked incredibly happy about the fact.
’’No, I mean, you're eating ramen so early in the morning...’’
’’I'm always good to eat ramen, whether morning or noon or night!’’
’’Hey, that's not something to be boasting about.’’
’’Half of my body's probably made of ramen.’’ Naruto seriously said, puffing out his chest with pride.
Shikamaru let out a sigh.
’’You're now known as the hero who ended the war. Try and look after your body more.’’
’’Heroes are heroes, and ramen is ramen!’’
’’...That reasoning makes no sense.’’
’’Hahaha.’’ Naruto laughed, sheepishly rubbing a finger across the bridge of his nose.
That behaviour of his hadn't changed a bit since the Academy. Naruto always lived his life with a very pure, straight-forward outlook. It was that outlook of his that had changed his surroundings- even changed Shikamaru.
Naruto, who had been seen as the bane of the village, had kept his pure heart and slowly made more and more comrades that stood by his side.
In the end, Naruto had even managed to save his friend Uchiha Sasuke who had fallen to the depths of darkness, full of resentment towards the whole world.
Saving him wasn't an easy feat.
Rather, it was something that no one other than Naruto could have done.
The dream Naruto had been holding close to his chest ever since he was a child was only one: to become Hokage.
He had had no relatives to give him a kind word, and the only way he could get attention from others was by his repeated pranks, but still he kept insisting that he would one day become Hokage.
In the beginning, nobody had believed Naruto could ever do it. But now, there wasn't a single person in the village who thought anyone butNaruto would be the next Hokage.
Naruto was the sun.
He had a brilliant flame within him that never so much as flickered, constantly burning. It was because of how brightly he shined that he was the sun. Everyone who saw that passion of his opened their hearts to him, and became his comrade.
Up until now, and till the end of time, Shikamaru felt like Naruto would continue moving forwards without that flame of his ever wavering.
And that was the way it should be. Someday, Naruto would be Hokage, gain even more of the village's trust, and then keep shining, brighter and brighter still.
For the sake of that brightness, something like the sun couldn't know about the darkness in the world.
Until now, Naruto had waged war against countless people who's hearts had swayed towards darkness, but he himself had never gone crooked.
'No matter how far someone sinks into darkness, a part of their heart will long for the light.'
Naruto fought because he truly believed that. Shikamaru had seen him change the hearts of his enemies with that same ideal many, many times.
No matter how much darkness surrounded him, Naruto never lost his light.
That's why Naruto didn't really know the true meaning of 'darkness'.
There would always be darkness in the hearts of human beings. Thinking you could save everyone was an impossible ideal.
No matter how frantically you reached out to save people and lead them towards light, there would always be those few who slipped through your fingers, continuing down the path of darkness. It was the way of the world.
But Naruto didn't think like that. No matter how hopeless the situation, he would never give up on saving everyone from that sort of fate.
That was the kind of man Naruto was.
And Shikamaru didn't want him to change.
Naruto was someone who was supposed to stay pure and straightforward, a shining sun.
The more the light shines, the darker the shadows grow.
But as long as there was someone to take on the burden of those shadows, it would be fine.
Shikamaru thought that it was his duty to be that 'someone'.
Wasn't it only natural for a shadow jutsu user to take on the burden of darkness?
Naruto would become Hokage, and Shikamaru would support him as his right hand man. That was Shikamaru's dream: to stay by Naruto's side and sort out any shadows that could interfere with his light.
The moment that thought passed through Shikamaru's head, he suddenly understood himself.
Why had he been so stubborn about volunteering to go to the Country of Silence?
It had been for Naruto's sake, of course.
If the Country of Silence continued to grow more powerful, then Naruto would eventually end up suffering. The Country of Silence would be a huge obstacle for him.
That's why Shikamaru was going to go and nip it in the bud.
He had decided to bear all of the shadows that would try to interfere with Naruto's light, after all. That included dealing with future obstacles as well.
’’So, what're you doing out?’’ Naruto asked, breaking into Shikamaru's reverie.
’’I'm taking a walk.’’
’’This early in the morning?’’
’’Naruto,’’ Shikamaru deadpanned. ’’Me taking a walk is nowhere near as weird as you eating ramen at this hour.’’
’’Well, that's true.’’
They both laughed.
’’Do you have the day off?’’ Shikamaru asked.
’’No way. Because a certain someone keeps giving me pain in the neck missions, I haven't had a day off in half a year, you know. I'm going on another mission at noon.’’
That 'certain someone' was, of course, Shikamaru.
’’They're missions I'm picking out for your sake, so stop your complaining.’’
’’But I still want to take a break for just a biiit.’’
’’You're being eyed as a candidate to be the next Hokage. It's too important a time for breaks. Be more self-aware, Naruto.’’
’’I get that... But just one-’’
’’No buts.’’ Shikamaru said, like one would scold a child. ’’Everyone in the village approves of you. But it's exactly because they approve that you need to take on even more missions, so people can think 'ahh, what would we do if Naruto wasn't here'. It's already been two years since the war ended, you can't naively think everyone's approval will be guaranteed with your actions from that time.’’
’’Alright, alright...’’ Naruto pouted just a bit before giving a great stretch. ’’My stomach's full, so I'll think I'll go home and sneak in a nap.’’
Shikamaru narrowed his eyes at him. ’’Don't oversleep.’’
’’I won't.’’ Naruto laughed at the serious look on his face, and started walking back.
’’Oi, Naruto.’’ Shikamaru called over his shoulder.
’’What?’’ Naruto turned around.
’’You're the man who'll become Hokage. Don't forget that.’’
’’I never go back on my word,’’ Naruto promised. ’’That's my ninja way.’’
’’Never going back on your word.’’ Shikamaru paused. ’’It's my ninja way too.’’
’’Yeah.’’ Naruto raised his right hand in a great wave, and then turned to go on his way.
After watching his back for a while, Shikamaru turned around to go on his own path as well.
’’I'm definitely going to make you Hokage.’’
Shikamaru had long decided he wasn't ever going to go back on those words.
’’I made you wait, huh.’’
Shikamaru was directing the words towards Rou and Soku.
This time's mission involved infiltrating the country as well as assassinating the target. It wasn't something that could be done completely under the radar. That's why the two weren't wearing their masks.
’’We have several mission objectives.’’ Shikmaru said. ’’Surveying the situation in the country of silence. Searching for Sai and the 10 Anbu who we lost contact with. But the highest priority goes to assassinating the man named Gengo.’’
The pair silently nodded.
Kakashi hadn't come to see them off. The three shinobi were the only people near the closed back gates. It was hidden within a cluster of trees at the base of the mountain. Despite it being a bright morning, the gates looked wet and gloomy.
’’Ah well, since we will be carrying out assassination, then we must make sure there's no observation...’’ Rou's nostril's flared as he emphasised 'observation'.
Shikamaru stared at him, bewildered at what he could mean.
’’Your joke totally fell flat, y'know.’’ Soku told Rou.
The man looked flustered, an embarrassed sweat drop clinging to his forehead.
’’He was trying to make a joke, 'know.’’ Soku explained to Shikamaru with an 'I'm so sorry about this' look on her face. ’’You were talking about us surveying the situation, and since surveying has a similar meaning to observing, he made that joke about our assassination not being observed, since it's secret...Basically, this old man tends to make bad jokes like that every now and then, so it'd be a good idea to watch out, y'know.’’
Shikamaru swallowed down the urge to make a witty retort, and cleared his throat, trying to reclaim the serious atmosphere.
’’When we go past the gate, we start running, alright?’’
’’We're aware, y'know.’’ Soku cheerfully answered.
Rou, who'd turned somewhat red-faced with embarrassment, also gave a nod.
’’Alright then, let's go.’’
And with that, the three of them finally heaved open the back gates.