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05 November 2007 @ 11:28 am
[log] [going up in smoke] [Naruto, Konohamaru] [Closed]  

They tried to protect him from the full knowledge of what happened to Naruto's Suna-bound party, but Konohamaru was young and quick as his monkey surname. There was no keeping large chunks of information from him if he really wanted to know what was going on---he had too many influential dead people in his lack of family and was getting too good at sneaking for his own good; besides, the adults hadn't tried TOO hard to keep the knowledge from him. So, worried about his missing Naruto-nii, he'd weaseled out the letters Ino had sent, her handwriting neat and orderly despite the depths of what she was saying.

Repeat, 012607's whereabouts unknown.

Konohamaru hadn't slept until Sakura's note had come in and Shizune had wrapped her arms around his sagging shoulders. Now, Naruto was back and physically in one piece. Mentally, Konohamaru had no idea what had happened and where his friend had been. There'd been talk of the Akatsuki, and there were lines of pain and weariness under Naruto's eyes that were new. There was something...weirdly lost, dull, and tired in Naruto's blue eyes, something irreplacably off.

It scared him. He tried to ignore it and cover it up with pasted-on grins, but it honestly scared him. So...he did the only thing he could think of: cash in his friend's promise of a smoke out on the roof of the Hokage's tower. Konohamaru exhaled slowly, dangling his legs over the dizzying edge, and watched the silvery ribbons of heady smoke dissipate above his head.

Standing in his office, Naruto idly picked up the pipe that Sandaime had left in the office. It probably belonged with Konohamaru - he was the only living relative of old Sarutobi now - but Naruto had been reluctant to pass off the one thing that was so reminiscent of the Third that when he'd found it in the back of the desk drawer, he'd gotten a little choked up. Back in Konoha after spending some time recovering in Suna, Naruto was just glad to be back. Konohamaru had stopped by as soon as Naruto had returned to his office, and as he'd promised, Naruto let him run off ahead while he gathered what he would need. Picking up the pipe from the small box it was in, he headed up to the roof, seeing Konohamaru already sitting on the edge of the building, a thin stream of smoke headed skyward.

"Can't even wait for me, huh?" he asked as he sat down next to his young protege, taking some of the dried leaf, and putting it into the bowl of the pipe, and lighting it, inhaling the smoke as it curled through the pipe. "You're still as impatient as ever."

"Hey, waiting is for losers," Konohamaru sniffed, taking another long drag and holding the burning, stinging smoke in like an embrace. He came from a family of smokers---Gramps had been elegant about it, Uncle Asuma had smoked to excess, and Konohamaru...just relied on something a little stronger than nicotine. He justified it that he had things a little bit tougher than either of his role-models had been. Konoha had seen better days, at least. He let go of the lungful of smoke, coughing a little into his free fist. "I'm not gonna hang around forever. I mean, shit. I don't wanna sit around and wait to get old like SOME nin I know."

"Hey, I'm not THAT old," Naruto countered, taking a long drag from the pipe, letting the smoke settle in his lungs a bit before exhaling. At first, he'd been opposed to smoking, as it could cause health problems in old age. However, as he'd gotten more and more involved in the life of a shinobi, he realized that for most of them, old age was a luxury that they didn't get, and he'd become less worried. Also, the typical herbs that Konohamaru had started to grow were VERY relaxing, and with the stress that he'd had to deal with, he figured that as long as he didn't do it too often, it would be okay. He'd wished that he'd had some when he was in Suna.

"Heh...you probably hoped that I wouldn't make it back so that you could be Hokage, right?" he asked, chuckling slightly as he turned to look at the younger man.

Konohamaru snapped before he could even stop himself; it was a knee-jerk reflex born of losing too much already. "Don't fuckin' SAY that. Don't. Don't ever. I wouldn't---an' I'm not strong enough now, an'---just---don't even. Okay?"

It'd occurred to him, sometime after that note from Ino had winged its way home, that Naruto might not come home. Konohamaru had always been under the impression that Naruto was invincible, so the notion had been strange and terrifying and he didn't even want to think of it as ever being halfway true. Naruto...was so strong. He was the strongest person he knew, and it just didn't even make sense that anyone could take him down. Who could touch the power of the nine-tails? What had they done to Naruto?

"Relax, I'm just kidding," Naruto said, dropping his feet over the edge of the tower, and inhaling deeply on the pipe again before taking it out of his mouth, and blowing out the smoke. "I had every intention of coming back, anyways. I just got a little sidetracked." That was obviously an understatement; no one but Naruto and Sasuke would know how close Naruto was to dying. He'd resolved that he wouldn't tell anyone about what had happened once he'd disappeared from view of the Konoha people. Especially not about the Mangekyou Sharingan. Other than Sakura, no one knew, and no one would know. After all, how could he perform his duties as Hokage if he had to be constantly under surveilance for psychological problems? He figured that he'd be fine. "I won't joke like that anymore, though. I'm sorry." Perhaps the joke had been in bad taste; Naruto had hoped that it would lighten the mood.

Konohamaru watched their smoke climb skyward, the dizzying lightness of the herbs finally taking effect. It'd sure taken long enough---he needed the relaxation, given how little he'd slept and how deeply the fear for Naruto's safety had hit. The Rokudaime Hokage was more or less like family, the annoying big brother he'd never had biologically. Naruto was always someone he'd counted on, reached for, forced himself to chase after. If he lost Naruto, Konohamaru wasn't sure what he'd do. He didn't have much more family left.

Stupid smoke was making his eyes burn. He sniffed hard, rubbing at his eyes with the heel of his hand. "Nah. It's okay. Nothin' could get you, anyway. You're, like, the strongest shinobi I know, period. I'm gonna be old and gray an' wrinkly before I ever get to be Hokage---take an early retirement, please?"

"I doubt I'll ever retire on my own, so you're just gonna have to live to be as old as your grandpa," Naruto replied, also feeling the effects of the herbs, and not a moment too soon. He sighed; this was the most relaxed that he'd been in a good long time. "But I'm not the strongest. Not yet." That revelation hadn't really been news to Naruto, but it was important that Konohamaru know this as well. "No matter how strong you are, there's always someone that's going to be stronger. You just have to hope that they're not your enemies." Another deep breath, another trail of smoke lifting up into the sky. God, how he'd missed this, and it had barely been three weeks.

Konohamaru smiled lopsidedly, twitchy and small. He could feel the warmth in his fingers and toes with alarming accuracy, tensile and comforting. Every inch of his body felt good, and that was the only reason that he pulled drags from the harsh smoke. Anything, anything to make it all better. This was a band-aid big enough for everything, surface fix. He snorted, trying to imagine who or what could be bigger or badder than Naruto. There was...there was that Sasuke guy, that Uchiha who sometimes rode into Konohamaru's nightmares atop a big violet snake, Konoha burning in his bloody wake. He was strong, sure, but Naruto had always been...brighter? He didn't know how else to put it.

"Kinda damning. It's not like my family's done a knock-up job of staying alive, an' I'm the weakest one," he took the last long drag from his blunt, the burning ember at the end flaring bright and hard. Moegi would smell the smoke in his hair, on his hands, and she'd chide. Oh, she'd nag and whine and kiss his nose because she'd know something was not right with him if he was smoking this much. "Besides, you've gotta cut me some slack. Not all of us are jinchuuriki. I need to train. Hard. I need...to stop being such a wuss." He waved one arm expressively, poking his bicep. "I've got noodle arms, Naruto-nii! That's not cool! Uncle Asuma had guns; I've barely got water pistols!"

Naruto laughed. "You're strong in your own way, Konohamaru. Your grandfather wasn't the most physically strong shinobi either. I have no doubt that you'll surpass both of them. Probably even me, once I'm old and can't walk on my own anymore." He grinned, and took one last drag from the pipe, the last of the leaf burning out, leaving a small wisp of smoke escaping from the mouth before Naruto took it out from between his lips, and exhaled. "And don't worry about your training. I'll still work with you, even though Shizune-neechan came back and I don't need you in the office anymore."

Though his words were upbeat, Naruto's eyes still had shades of the torture and pain he'd been through, and it would be obvious even to Konohamaru. Of all the deaths that Itachi had made him watch, he'd taken Konohamaru's the hardest, because in the younger man he saw a lot of himself. His relief to find out that all the visions had been just that was indescribable, but the haunting images were still there. "And then once you're Hokage, you'll find some annoying academy kid who is just like you, and he'll make YOUR life hell for a long time." He grinned.

"Eh, I don't think he'll be anywhere near as dashing and charming as I am," Konohamaru said with a smirk, the giggly, tickling sensations of the relaxant taking affect. Everything was funny, especially HIS amazing wit. He shrugged, itching at the back of his hand. "I dunno. I'm gonna try to do my best. You set the bar pretty high, y'know? But I'll do it. I'll get there. I'll...I wanna be better. I---this fall, by this fall, I want to challege my status of chuunin."

He chewed on the inside of his cheek, adding, "If you think I could be a jounin. I KNOW I can, and...well. If it comes to proving a point, I...guys like me, sometimes you've gotta die to prove a point. If I don't get stronger, that's all I've got."

Naruto chuckled. "Well, you'll have to impress the reviewers, and the council...they approve all jounin promotions. I don't doubt you can do it, though," he said. He emptied the ash out of the pipe, and put it into the front pocket of his flak jacket. "I guess I'll have to push you even harder during training, though," Naruto said, looking over at him, a grin on his face. "You've got a long way to go. If you want to impress me, you're going to have to beat me in a spar with me not holding anything back. You think you'll be able to do that in a year from now?"

Konohamaru goggled at the mere thought. That'd be some jump in power. Was that even feasible for a kid like him? Unlike Naruto, he wasn't anything really special; there was nothing backing him, he had no bloodline limits that he knew of, and an affinity to plants and poisons and sneakiness wasn't exactly prime for anything big. He sighed, coughing a little as his smoke-grated throat protested.

But if he told himself now that it was impossible, he'd be denying the tutelage Naruto had been putting him through since age six. Giving up wasn't their way of the ninja.

"You'd better be ready to eat dirt, Hokage-sama," he grinned, wide and blithe in a way that only a trickster could be. "'Cause I'll be ready. You work me hard an' I'll rise to meet you. That's a promise. It'll take a helluva lot to kill either of us. We're survivors, man."

"That's what I like to hear, Konohamaru," Naruto said, laughing, and lying back onto the roof so that he was looking up into the sky. "I won't have you being a wuss, you hear me. You're going to work." He placed his hands behind his head and closed his eyes. "You've got to be ready. In the off-chance that something DOES happen to me..." It was something that Naruto did not want to think about, but the recent events had forced it into his mind. "If something happens to me, Konoha needs a leader."

That tension that had wound its way into Naruto's tired face, coiling in his shoulders, seemed to be loosening. Konohamaru wasn't sure if it was what he'd smoked or what they were talking about; either way, he was glad to see him relaxing and looking more like the big lolling idiot that he called his big brother. This was a weight off of Konohamaru's chest. Maybe things weren't as bad as he'd thought, if he could still get him to be himself again. It didn't feel like an act, either---it was all Naruto.

His relief was so thick and overwhelming as to be nearly tangible. "I guess I need to start training, huh? I've gotta get good. Gramps named me after this village, an' man, we've gotta keep it together for him---an' everyone else up on the hero's monument. They'll be pissed if we don't, an' I don't wanna hafta get my ass whipped in the afterlife."

Naruto laughed. "Don't worry about anything, Konoha's not going anywhere on MY watch." He sat up again, looking out over the village. Almost rebuilt, one could almost forget that it had been devastated not so long ago. It was a testament to the spirit of the people who lived there, that they could put aside their differences and rebuild their home, despite the sorrow, despite the tragedy. "And by the time you're Hokage, you'll be strong enough to make the same guarantee." He grinned, his eyes the slightest bit brighter.

"Yeah, sure. 'Cause I'll be fuckin' OLD," Konohamaru complained loudly, scrunching up his nose with a theatrical sigh. The warm curves of a smirk tugged at the edges of his mouth, though, and his frown crumbled a bit. "But yeah. Things...are shaping up. I was scared for a while, because, y'know, I'm named after this village---it's GOTTA be awesome."

Konoha and its nin were far from being weak. They just kept burning, relentless. It was that will of fire that kept light in Naruto's eyes and a tease forever in Konohamaru's voice, despite every sorrow that was thrown at them.

"You may be named after it, but it was awesome because of me, never forget that." Naruto laughed and stood up, stretching. "You'll have to work your ass off to keep the awesome level up after I'm gone."

Konohamaru got up, brushing the little flecks of dirt and rock from the backside of his pants. He grinned crookedly at his old friend and hero, shaking his head.

"Geeze, Naruto-nii. You really don't get it. You---you'll never really be gone. Not outta this village, at least, and not as long as I'm alive."