"Hokage-sama, are you aware of the constantly growing popularity of a certain store in Konoha?"
The Hokage looked up from his papers in interest. "Would you mind jogging my memory?" he asked as he glared down at his work. "All these papers have been clogging my mind."
"Why did you even want to become the Hokage?"
"Being the Hokage isn't just about the written work."
"Sure, and you had me fooled."
"Back to the subject. You mentioned a store?"
Nara Shikaku gave a exasperated look and said, "Liquid Luck: a store that isn't but is the closest to what people would call a pharmacy. It's in the shopping district; it gets busier by the day. Even Shikamaru, that lazy 4-year-old kid of mine, perks up at the mention of the shop." The Nara head's voice was bleak, and the man rested his hand on the back of his neck. "Sage, he's even bought stuff from there."
"Ah," Hiruzen put on a thoughtful look, his smoking pipe at his lips. When a Nara became interested in something, their curiosity would only continue to grow. Because of the kind of lazy reputation the Nara clan had, watching them come out of their shell, mind and eyes sharp, it was quite entertaining to watch. However, it was frustrating and tiring too. "Now that I think about it, I do recall that name."
"You do have to approve every opening of every business in the village, Hokage-sama." The narrowing of the Nara's eyes made the Hokage's eyes twitch in amusement.
Sparking a smile, Hiruzen turned back to skimming his eyes over his paperwork. He tipped his pipe onto his ashtray. "You wouldn't have brought it up if you weren't concerned," the Hokage acknowledged observantly, and Shikaku visibly straightened. "Is there something worth worrying over at Liquid Luck?"
"More interesting than concerning, I would say."
"I've checked it out once, recently," Shikaku admitted, sighing. "A nice cozy place, full of foreign smells. The owner is quite nice; he serves tea and snacks for the customers. You should try the biscuits he bakes." The Nara head smiled as he recalled the amazing taste, but the satisfied glint in his eyes flickered away and something grim carved a frown onto his mouth. "The interesting part I want to find out is how he makes them. The concerning part is the usages of the products he sells."
Hiruzen raised an eyebrow as he sat forward in his chair, hand at his chin. "You said his store was a close equivalent to a pharmacy. Are you saying that you suspect that the substances he sells are potentially dangerous?" Alarm lined the Hokage's lips. Dealers in Konoha were not common, even in the Red Light District, since the Hokage had ordered his ANBU from time to time, to dispose of any.. sellers of illegal substances. Either way, Liquid Luck would've had to go through a couple offices for testing and approval before the shop could be opened.
"No, it's not that," Shikaku reassured easily, pursing his lips. His hand went up to scratch the side of his head in frustration as he tried to think of a proper way to explain the situation. "How troublesome," the Nara head grumbled, "This is the shinobi world; people are suspicious of almost anything. But, Liquid Luck has gained the village's trust incredibly fast—too fast for comfort, and I'm hesitant to imagine what would happen if Liquid Luck turns out to have never been on Konoha's side. One day, a civilian could be taking a calming potion and the next, they could end up dead. What would the consequences be?" The words continue even in the silence.
The Hokage breathed out a cloud of smoke. "Did you sense any kind of malicious intent or a falsified act from your visit?"
"No, not at all, and that's what my main concern is."
Shikaku's eyes narrowed, but not at Hiruzen. The air thickened. "It's not something capable of being explained," Shikaku finally got out after a couple moments of unexpressed thoughts.
"Oh? Is that feigned frustration, or is it really bothering you?" the Hokage asked, leaning forward with his elbows propped up on his desk. A frustrated Nara was something you'd want to keep an eye on, since, when Naras got fed up, they went all out. "Try to explain."
Pursing his lips and sighing, Shikaku offered reluctantly, rubbing circles into his temples, "I'm a Nara, yet I couldn't read him. He was just too.." Shikaku grumbled something inaudible under his breath. "I'd recommend you visit the shop. That's all I can offer."
There was a pause.
"Thank you for your time, Hokage-sama," Shikaku randomly spoke as he bowed in respect and farewell. And when he took his leave, walking through the door, he called out, "It opens once dawn breaks."
"You're a pharmacist who deals out truth-speaking to ten-second pimple vanisher potions." It almost sounded like a question, but with the narrowing of Kakashi's eye and his assumed frown, it was more of a statement and confrontation.
"No, I'm a crazy drug dealer on the streets," the green-eyed man scorned, rolling his eyes and throwing his hands up in exasperation. "Yes! I'm a pharmacist, who is very capable of overdosing you on lethal drugs, do you want me to kill you?" He spun around and plucked a vial off of one of shelves, holding it out to Kakashi's bleak face.
"That's rat tonic," Kakashi deadpanned, pushing away the owner's hand. Leaning back into the cushions, the silver-haired shinobi let out a sigh of relief as he sunk into the comfort of the shop. "Take a joke, Hari. I thought you, of all people, would understand my sense of humor."
'That wasn't even funny.' Hari scoffed as he placed the vial back onto the shelf and made his way to the back of the shop, "How can I understand something you claim to have but really don't?"
"Go bother someone else, Hatake-san."
"Okay, now, you've resorted to last names, and I am offended," Kakashi gasped nonchalantly, putting a hand to his chest in feigned hurt.
Hari shot the shinobi a nasty glare. He growled, maliciously, "Hatake-sama."
"Maa, alright, alright, I'm leaving."
Hiruzen commended the unique spot where the store inhabited. It was a small street by the outskirts of the shopping district, where most stores were hushed worlds of their very own beyond their very doors. Liquid Luck was definitely one of them.
The shop's display name was nothing to boast about though. The letters' colors was a matte gold, nothing special, but the font swirled, leaving ink strokes sparking the endings of art. With closed doors, Liquid Luck appeared like a normal boring store, ordinary and unassuming. If Hiruzen had passed it by on a regular stroll, he would have thought nothing of it. However, he, of all people, knew better than judging by appearance. Out in the shinobi world, that factor could get you injured. Worse: killed.
He decided to wait by a nearby bench for its opening before dawn's first ray of light peeked past the cliffs and engulfed Konohagakure in its warm golden glow, and a halcyon day began. Once a beam of sunshine made contact with the store's brand name, the words began moving. Actually moving, and Hiruzen had to rub his eyes just to be sure. They were rippling, as if liquid gold was spilled into salt waters and melted into readable text. Animated text was unheard of in most parts.
And just as Shikaku said, the doors slid open.
Hiruzen had to tilt his head up a bit because the owner was slightly taller to him. The Hokage's brown eyes met green ones. Were they green, though, because the hue slid from emerald to jade to shamrock. Within the few seconds of eye contact, Hiruzen gathered as much observations as possible. By first glance, it was a civilian, dressed in a casual yet bleak gray hoodie with a pair of sweat pants. The man was completely unassuming, but the Hokage noticed the attempt of a loose posture. While his clothing screamed normal and harmless, his physical demeanor said otherwise.
The Sandaime really had to commend his attempt to look like just a regular civilian. It was a good attempt, but the man stood too confidently. Not in an arrogant way, but a there's nothing in the world that I have to fear way. And just then, Hiruzen realized why Shikaku, his Jōnin Commander, the Nara head, one of the most intelligent people in the village, found such an enigma in the place of Liquid Luck's owner.
Other than his posture, the owner's appearance didn't strike anywhere unusual. He had dark brown locks, up to his ears, and a faint scar on his forehead.
"Ah, good morning, you're my first customer," the owner greeted politely as he bowed his head in respect. Hiruzen did the same. "I just finished baking some lovely treacle tarts, would you care for some?" he offered as he spun on his heel and stepped back into his shop.
'Casual but light steps,' Hiruzen noted internally. "I'd love some, thank you." The undercover (if you could call him that) Hokage followed his pace and padded in the small shop, and dear Six Paths was Shikaku right. Any suspicion of Liquid Luck would be easily wiped away if a normal civilian saw the inner world of a small unsuspecting shop.
Liquid Luck seemed a bit bigger from the inside than the outside, but Hiruzen didn't pay much attention to the overall picture. There were small rows of standing wooden shelves, bearing their own unique products, vials and containers of many hues and shimmers. The walls had picture frames pinned onto them, holding labelled images of faraway landscapes Hiruzen had never laid eyes on, from the sky views of volcanoes to the working beauty of civilizations he's never heard of. Several of them had people in them, like the wavy-haired brunette who stood at a mountain's cliff and the freckled redhead who had a mug of what looked like beer.
Hiruzen wondered how much money the owner currently had, since camera film was always pricey.
There was a small fireplace by the front of the store which burned brightly of flames and charcoal, surrounded in a semi-circle of couches with a tree trunk coffee table in the center. It's no wonder why the owner smelled of wood smoke and syrup. And with Liquid Luck swirling with thousands of scents, Hiruzen mused how the air still felt clear. Some scents, he recognized. Others? He had no idea.
The Hokage padded down the rows of shelves, reading all of their names and usages in interest and bafflement. Blood-Replenishing Potion, Draught of Peace Potion (he could really use one nowadays), Pepperup Potion, Polyjuice Potion, Skele-gro Potion. Many of the ones he scouted were incredibly useful. The undercover Hokage started to understand how this place became popular.
"The Laugh-inducing potion, huh?"
Hiruzen turned around to see the owner, holding a small dish plate with a treacle tart on it. Placing down one of the vials, the undercover Hokage said his thanks as he took the dish from him. "It's quite curious. Your creations range from harmless fun to amazingly useful," he noted with a smile. "Did you make them all? How long have you been open?" While he was trying to keep himself from being suspicious, he couldn't help but throw in a few questions.
"Ah, most of them are passed down and I made them through recipes and yes, I guess that what makes my store unique." Green eyes flashing with mirth, he continued, "I've been open for a few months, actually. It only began getting busy around a month ago. Well, anyway, is there anything that has grabbed your interest? The first product is always free."
Furrowing his eyebrows, Hiruzen asked curiously, "Why not have samples, instead of a whole product? Surely profit would come much easier that way."
The green-eyed man laughed nervously and tucked a loose lock around his ear. "Money isn't a probably for me."
"Ah," the Hokage smirked mischievously. "Are you a runaway noble?"
The owner blinked innocently at him before chuckling. "Please, I've seen enough clichés to avoid them myself," he scoffed playfully and when he looked down at the ground, eyes flickering with something, he murmured softly, "But no, I'm not a runaway noble. Sorry to disappoint." They both knew it was supposed to be said lightheartedly, but Hiruzen couldn't help but find some truth weaved into the man's voice.
Hiruzen patted the owner's shoulder, and he almost winced when he felt the slight tenseness in the man's frame. "I think I'll take your offer," he said, changing the subject. "May I take a Draught of Peace potion?" He fiddled with the vial containing a turquoise blue liquid that emitted silvery vapor.
"Of course," the owner perked up. "I have to warn you though. An overdose can put you into a deep sleep. All the other precautions and instructions are labelled on the vial, but I just like to remind buyers, because some people don't listen to instructions," the owner explained before he cleared his throat. "Would you like a bag?
"No thank you, I think I'll take it when I get back to my office." Hiruzen eye-smiled as he put one of the Draught of Peace vials into one of his shirt pockets.
The green-eyed man gave an exasperated sigh. "Ah, you have one of those jobs. I once did a desk job. It included action, sometimes, but Merlin, the paperwork wasn't worth it. I quit after a few years."
"You're quite lucky," Hiruzen commented as the name Merlin was pinned onto one of his things to find out board. "My job isn't something you can quit."
The owner grinned. "It's a little bit too late, but my name is Akagi Hari, the owner of this small lovely shop. It's nice to meet you."
"As I you, Akagi-san," Hiruzen replied without a beat.
"Please," the owner said, amusement and self-consciousness clouding up his emerald gaze, "Akagi-san makes me feel too old for my liking, and I made this comfy part of the shop for a reason. Formal talk is both physically and mentally exhausting."
Hiruzen smiled back lightheartedly and nodded in agreement before offering, "Hari-kun then."
And when the latter began to move to the back, slightly skipping in his steps in a childish fashion, Hiruzen reminded carefully, "I haven't yet told you my own name, Hari-kun."
The owner didn't make a move to turn back, and Hiruzen assumed Hari didn't hear him but when his body vanished behind a shelf, the Hokage heard his voice call across the small shop, "I don't ask the names of people who don't want to share. Have a nice day, Ojiisan!"
Huh. Hiruzen held back a smirk but the corners of his lips twitched, and amusement flared bright in his eyes.
The shop's bell rang and Inoichi, from the front desk, turned to look at his customer. "Welcome!" he called and he met a green gaze. A smile worked itself onto his lips.
"Good evening, Inoichi-san," Hari greeted with a nod of respect as he scanned around the shop, a contemplating glint in his jaded eyes.
Inoichi leaned onto the desk, elbow propped up with a hand to support his chin. "Good evening, Hari-kun. What do you need today?"
The latter hummed in thought as he mused aloud, "I realized how bland the shelves' sides are, so I'm thinking of making a flower wall or vine to decorate them." After his gaze lingered on a bouquet of chrysanthemums, his eyes turned to the Yamanaka head. "Any suggestions from the speaker of flowers?"
"Please don't call me that," Inoichi complained nonchalantly. "but how about red carnations?"
"Is my store called Love Luck? 'Cause it sure isn't, and I'd appreciate if couples went somewhere else to have their date." Hari's hand went to a flower arrangement of lavenders and jasmines and started caressing their soft petals.
The blond-man deadpanned at the potions brewer. "When you enter, there is literally a resting area with a fireplace, couches and candles from millions of years ago (because seriously, they smell ancient), and you bake the best goods, for no charge. People would be showing up at your store for dates and I wouldn't even be surprised. You've dug your own grave, you realize that, don't you?"
"Inoichi, people love my baking, they're gobsmacked by them. But you have to realize that I can choose not to give them to people," he said with a scary smile that said If you continue talking about my bloody shop like some romantic dating hotspot, you'll never taste one of my scones ever again. "Now, back to the topic. Suggestions? Real ones."
He shuddered in fear; nice people were always scary when mad. "Daisies?" he suggested in thought.
Hari glanced at him and asked, "What do they mean?"
"Innocence, if I remember correctly."
"You always remember them correctly," Hari muttered under his breath, but it was still loud enough for the flower shop owner to hear. "But no, because have you seen the prank section of my store? Ha, not innocent one bit."
"Sunflowers for pure thought and joy."
"A bit to bright."
"What in the world are you talking about. Have you even seen your shop name? It literally ripples. How did you even do that?"
"Sure. Aster for patience."
"The theme doesn't fit."
The Yamanaka head narrowed his eyes at the fellow shop owner and his gaze scanned over his flower shop impatiently, searching for something that would satisfy the man. Bellflowers? Too depressing. Lavender? Too romantic. Laurel? Doesn't fit. What about—ah, he found it. "What about yellow lilies?" he asked after a few moments, confident of his choice as he crossed his arms. "They aren't too bright like sunflowers; they represent—"
"Huh?" Inoichi's head snapped toward the potions brewer. Surprise and joy filled him up because Hari, someone not to invested into the language of flowers, knows the meaning of one. "Ah, so you do know some—"
Hari's eyes unfocused and Inoichi almost thought the man was going to wobble to his knees. "Yes," the green-eyed man replied sharply, eyes glued to the ground, and Inoichi had to double take because although Hari was sassy, he never snapped at people. This factor just made him more concerned. Hari had tense shoulders, and his eyes were shaking, not in fear, but—melancholy? Painful, heart aching melancholy?
The continuing silence began to fester, and the awkwardness boiled.
"Yellow lilies then. Can you put in a large order of them please?" Hari asked abruptly—too abruptly that Inoichi had to take a moment to process the order.
If Hari didn't want to talk about it, the least Inoichi could do was follow his lead. He asked, "How many?"
"A lot. Maybe around forty or so. The price doesn't matter."
The price never mattered to Hari. "Alright."
"..Can.." Hari's hesitation made Inoichi look up. "Can you also throw in a few red lilies too?"
"Just around one fifth of the yellow ones, please," Hari answered, as Inoichi was relieved to find that the focused look the potions brewer always seemed to have return to him. "Eight or nine."
As Inoichi wrote down Hari's order on a notepad, calculating the price in his head, he absentmindedly asked, "Is that it?"
Hari seemed to ponder this before perking up as he remembered something. "Oh, thanks for reminding me. I'm making a new potion. Can you get some rose thorns for me?"
Inoichi gestured to the bouquet of roses by Hari's side.
"Rose thorns," he clarified in a grumble as he gave a sharp look.
"The thorns come with the roses, Hari-kun," Inoichi pointed out.
Hari frowned but knew he'd have to put up a fight if he wanted the thorns by themselves. "You're a mean bloke. Alright then," he surrendered as he took the bouquet of roses, checked the price tag and dug out his wallet in his hoodie pocket for the right amount of money. Once he counted, he placed a few bills on the counter. "When will the lilies be ready for pickup?"
"A few days or so. I can get Ino to deliver the specific date when I find out because she's always visiting that store of yours."
"Okay, thank you, Inoichi-san," Hari replied lightheartedly. He nodded his head in respect and farewell. "Have a good evening."
The Yamanaka head waved goodbye as he watched Hari exit through the door, and he couldn't help but contemplate that chilling unfocused glint in his eye. He would've called it grief, but melancholy took first place.
"Hello again, Ojiisan! You're back soon."
"Well, Hari-kun, I think you underestimate the skill of your baking."
"So you think. I'm a siren luring in sailors."
'And when they get too close, what happens then?'
Hiruzen started to understand what Shikaku meant about not being able to comprehend the intentions of Akagi Hari.
The man constantly contradicted himself. Not in his speech, but his overall... demeanor. He appeared to be a regular civilian shop owner with really casual clothes. It did fit the comforting atmosphere of his shop Liquid Luck so it did make sense. Hari, however, had the face of a young adult. There weren't any thick visible wrinkles on his face, but the crowfeet by his eyes shown very clearly when he laughed. When Hiruzen and Hari had first met, the latter said that he felt too old if someone called him Akagi-san. However, many people say that at an introduction. Like Kakashi for example (who actually turned out to be a friend of Hari's).
A young face, Hari had. But his eyes said otherwise. Hiruzen had observed many interactions between Hari and his customers, and the green-eyed man would never respond with anything but a smile and a joyful voice, yet when Hiruzen mentioned him being a runaway noble and when Inoichi mentioned yellow lilies (the two of the them had come upon the topic once), Hari became a shaking mess.
It wasn't rare to find a young person with scarred eyes.
It was rare to find a young person with old and scarred eyes.
Hari had seen things, but he wasn't all that broken up about them. He's not afraid to insert some details about his past into conversations—Sage, his walls were decorated in adventures of himself with friends and family.
Perhaps, Hari had episodes that came out of nowhere. Hiruzen was close to admitting Hari into a therapy session. But he couldn't.
Not when Hari thoroughly boasted about his best friends: Hermione who was the brightest student of her age, and Ron who made him laugh when he forgot how to. Not when Hari chatted about his godfather who was the biggest drama queen and his godson who loved to change his hair to an obscure color. Akagi Hari was passionate about what he did here, and he was happy to share the experience with others.
He talked freely.
And when he did, grief hidden between the lines as heartwarming nostalgia filled his chest, no one mentioned how with every person he spoke about, he talked about them in past tense.
Shikamaru made his way down the street, along with his best friend Chōji, who was currently content in eating a bag of potato chips. They padded over to the beginnings of the shopping district in a comfortable silence while the buzz of Konoha filled in the empty air. They passed the quiet shops, and the busy ones too, but it was about noon when the crowds had only begun to die down to go have lunch.
They turned down a fairly empty road to where one shop stood out with its rippling name and its glowing doorway. A few customers walked in and out, but luckily, at this time of day, the shop wasn't very busy.
Chōji's mouth began to water, and Shikamaru was amused. The fresh smell of baked goods clouded the air with a coat of sugar.
When they were about to enter, they halted in surprise as the Sandaime stepped out, smiling but with a curious look on his face. The three of them made eye contact and the two clan heirs respectfully bowed in greeting.
Finishing his chips, Chōji spoke up, "Hello, Hokage-sama! You come here too?"
"My second time, actually," the Sandaime verified with a crinkle of his eyes. He had a pipe in his hand, and Shikamaru couldn't help but feel uneasy. Was Hari in trouble? "Am I to assume you two are regulars?"
The two kids nodded in response.
Chōji perked up and informed casually, "We're going cloud-watching on Hari-san's roof, would you like to come?"
Surprised but grateful, the Hokage shook his head. "No thank you, Chōji-kun. I have a pile of paperwork I have to attend to. I hope you two have fun." He padded past them and said his farewell, making his way over to the Hokage Tower.
The two clan heirs waved goodbyes and when the Hokage was out of view, Shikamaru and Chōji exchanged looks, but the former shrugged in a wordless reply and they entered Liquid Luck. Once they did, they immediately spotted Hari organizing a poorly arranged potions batch that a customer, no doubt, had ruined.
"Hey Hari-san!" Chōji greeted enthusiastically, nearly bouncing on his feet for food.
The green-eyed man turned his head to them. Recognition flickered in his jaded eyes and he grinned, hands on his hips, "Ah, the cloud watchers. How have you two been?"
"Okay, thank you," Shikamaru replied, and he looked around the small shop, asking "Has Ino been around?"
"Ah, yes," Hari answered as he recalled the blond girl that sometimes accompanied the two cloud watchers. "She was here today, back for another Sleekeazy's hair potion. You guys can head on up; I already have the roof set up."
Chōji exclaimed politely, "Thanks, Hari-san!"
They grabbed two Draught of Peace potions from one of the shelves, one for each of them. They deposited a few coins into Hari's hand.
"Don't stay up there too long! You might catch a cold!" called Hari as the two clan heirs made their way to the back of the store where the staircase was.
Shikamaru protested nonchalantly, "It's summer though." He didn't think Hari heard him.
A staircase later, the two clan heirs opened the door to the roof, which was burning hot from being vulnerable to the sun all morning and afternoon. Shikamaru squinted at the brightness and muttered a Nara phrase under his breath before both of them saw the usual plain picnic blanket on the floor with various plates of baked goods atop it. singing a lure with its beautiful presentation.
Shikamaru swore that, in his entire life so far, he'd never seen Chōji run that fast.
"How does this Essence of Dittany work, Hari-kun?" the undercover Hokage asked on his third visit to Liquid Luck.
"Oh"—Hari popped his head out from behind a shelf, his gaze pinning onto the vial the old man held—"I haven't used that in a while. Well, I'll show you. So—" The shop owner unsheathed a knife from his belt (that the Hokage had never noticed) and Hiruzen's ANBU guards tensed from their positions before Hari placed the sharp blade onto his palm.
Hiruzen's eyes widened in confusion as he took a step forward to stop Hari. "What are you—" The latter drew his knife across his palm, drawing blood.
"—if you have a wound and you pour this over it, the skin restores and the wound is healed." Hari beckoned Hiruzen over as he sheathed his knife. Once the Hokage came over, Hari took the Essence of Dittany vial from his hands, uncapped it and poured it over his wound. The green-eyed man winced when the liquid made contact. "I wouldn't use it on major wounds though; there'd be too much to fix," he advised as Hiruzen watched in fascination as the wound healed in a brief moment.
Hiruzen held his breath.
"Uh, excuse me, are you—can you hear me?"
The Hokage ignored the hand waving in front of him. He rubbed his chin in thought until he finally came with a solution. "Hari-kun, may I put in a rather large order for every medical potion you have?"
"Oh." Hari's eyes widened in surprise but soon regained their composure. "Sure, of course. How many do you need?"
"As many as you can make," Hiruzen answered and added quickly, "although, I would like to make a long-term contract with you."
Hari didn't seem to process this. "Oh oka—wait what?"
"I think it's time I introduced myself, Hari-kun," Hiruzen concluded as he fiddled with his smoking pipe in excitement. It was his fifth visit. He almost smiled at Hari's anticipated expression but held it back. My name is Sarutobi Hiruzen."
Abruptly, Hari froze in place as if Hiruzen had just slapped him, and shock seared into his gaping mouth. "..the Third Hokage?" he faintly asked, his voice quiet and barely audible.
"Yes," Hiruzen confirmed with a nod, entertained at his identity reveal.
"Oh Merlin." Hari looked almost ready to throw up. "I am... so sorry."
The Hokage nearly laughed. "What do you have to apologize for?"
"I've been calling the Sandaime an old man," Hari whispered in a ghastly voice.
"Well, I can be considered one." This time, Hiruzen smirked cheekily. "Don't worry, I am not offended."
"Oh thank Merlin!.." the green-eyed man exclaimed in pure relief, and then he met the Hokage's amused brown gaze again and admitted in a disappointed tone, pursing his lips, "By the way, your introduction was very anticlimactic. It needs some work."
Hiruzen shot him a look. "I liked you better when you were sorry."
"Hari-san! Hari-san!" a enthusiastic voice exclaimed from outside.
The latter peered past his many shelves from the back and smiled as he watched the little blond boy of sun and joy bounce into his shop, taking a seat by the fireplace. He was restless in his place.
"Good afternoon, Naruto-kun. Would you like some biscuits?" Hari asked politely after making his way over to one of the shelves and placing a new bunch of potions onto a shelf.
Naruto beamed at him. "Yes please!" he exclaimed and Hari made his way over to the back where his freshly made baked goods sat on a platter. Hari grabbed a plate and placed a couple biscuits onto it and padded over to the fireplace where he handed it to Naruto.
The two of them had met a month ago when Naruto was being chased by his newly pranked victims. Hari had offered refuge and Naruto had ducked into the potions shop without another thought. Despite their assumed age difference, they got along quite well.
As Naruto bit into a biscuit, lavishing at the amazing sweetness. "Guesh whabt I deid twoday, dattebyaho!"
"Mouth closed when you eat, Naruto," Hari reprimanded with a sharpness in his tone.
"Sorry, Hari-kun!" Naruto said once he finished a biscuit. "But do you wanna hear?"
Hari smiled, "Of course."
The little blond boy of hope and joy didn't notice the pain in green eyes and a shaking smile.
Naruto babbled on about how, today, he painted this entire grocery store with bright orange paint after spiking the owner's wine with a Babbling Beverage. He was so proud of his achievement but Hari was close to scolding him for him, yet with the treatment he receives with this village, he said nothing except how Naruto would become an amazingly strong shinobi when he grew up. With his encouragement, Naruto's eyes lit up and when the little boy grinned in ecstasy, Hari melted.
The whiskered-boy chattered more, talking about past pranks and that famous ramen store Ichiraku by the fireplace after finishing a plate of baked goods, while Hari welcomed new customers and attended to regulars with snacks. Naruto didn't stop because even though Hari wasn't sitting by him, the latter replied often to his stories.
An hour or so passed and Naruto had gone quiet; Hari couldn't see if he had left since he had been doing inventory for half an hour or so. After finishing the inventory after a few minutes, Hari padded down to the front of the store where he smiled at a sleeping Naruto. He'd let Naruto sleep a little while longer but the sun was setting and Hari wasn't cruel to let a little boy walk back to his apartment alone at night. Gently, Hari bent down over the couch and nudged Naruto.
The latter blinked his eyes awake blearily. "Huh?"
"Naruto-kun, it's almost dusk," Hari crooned softly, "You should be getting back soon. Walking on the streets at night is dangerous."
The blond boy sat up, rubbing his eye with a hand as he yawned. "Okay, Hari-san. What time is it?"
"Your bed time," Hari answered swiftly as he beckoned Naruto to his feet. "Now, come on, Naruto-kun, time to get up."
Idly, Naruto wobbled on his feet, his nap's exhaustion hitting him like a brick. He kept yawning and Hari held back a chuckle. Tired children were funny to watch; they were pretty much dead on their feet. And that's when their parents usually—oh. 'He's the same as me.' Naruto had no parents. Hari knew that, but he was an orphan also. It's just that, Konohagakure was just... It's just that Konohagakure reminded him how peace existed, once.
Hari sighed. Just because he didn't have the contact of love as a child, didn't mean Naruto had to be the same. With one swoop, Hari swept Naruto off his feet, one arm under his legs and one under his back. The little boy squirmed in his grip as he yelped in surprise. "What're you doing, dattebayo?" he blurted out in confusion.
"You live in that tall pinkish building, right? The one with the red brick roof?" Hari asked in confirmation as he made his way out of the shop and onto the street. There was hardly anyone outside.
Naruto inquired, "How did you know?" in more of a curious tone than a cautious one.
"You mentioned it in one of your stories today," Hari answered without a beat. "And for your first question, I'm bringing you home. Key?" After a shaking gaze, full of confusion and what is this, Naruto handed him his apartment key. Hari shushed him, "Go to sleep. You're exhausted, even if you are literally a stamina machine."
Drowsily, Naruto muttered under his breath, "What does stamina mean?"
Hari smiled. "You'll learn it in school."
The shop owner carried Naruto in silence, both of them listening to the soft breeze and the crinkle of arid leaves spiraling down the streets. Naruto was confused. He's seen children being picked up by their parents in piggy backs and shoulder rides, and he thought it just happened with family. But he's warm, caressed in a gentle grip with the bleeding sky above him, clouds of violet and pink drifting across. So he leaned into Hari's chest and closed his eyes, falling asleep in mere seconds.
ANBU stalked from the alleys and roofs, but Hari paid no mind.
Life could be great, even if hell was just yesterday.
Life could be great, even if hell was what you lived every day.
Peace existed once, and it's proof that peace can exist again.
And as Hari carried a small fragile body with two souls, one of joy and one of hatred, he smiled as the chain between him and the being in the shadows rattled, for he knew, that as long as humans lived to see another day, the legacy of the Marauders would never truly die.