“Most worm charming methods involve vibrating the soil, which encourages the worms to the surface...the worms surface because the vibrations are similar to those produced by digging moles, which prey on earthworms.” ~Wikipedia Entry on Worm Charming
Shikaku stared down at the letter in his hands. Minato’s neat handwriting spelled out his name on the front and the wound in his soul that had been festering for two days twinged.
This was the last missive he would ever receive from his friend unless he had any other post-mortem surprises up his sleeve. Shikaku ran a hand down his face and chuckled, though it came out strangled. He wouldn’t be surprised. Minato was - had been - sneaky that way.
Shocked was too mild a word for Shikaku's reaction when Sarutobi Hiruzen told him that he was the preferred candidate for the next Hokage. The hat was something he’d never contemplated as a part of his future. He had known, from the age of fifteen, that one day Minato would be his Hokage and his job would be to advise and support him.
Before he could flat out refuse the post, however, Sarutobi had slid the envelope across his desk. “Please wait to give your answer until you read this.” His expression had been grim, but his eyes were kind.
So Shikaku had taken the envelope and walked to his office in a daze. He’d been sitting in there, just staring at the innocuous piece of paper, for almost fifteen minutes.
He took a deep breath, then picked up his letter opener and slit open the envelope carefully. He pulled the crisp paper out, wondering what possible explanation Minato could give him for marking Shikaku down as his chosen candidate for Hokage should he die.
His hands were steady when he unfolded the thick pages only because years of fighting through impossible situations had hardened him. Inside, he was shaking.
My dear friend,
I suppose if you’re reading this you’ve either been snooping where you shouldn’t again or I’m dead. If it’s the first, put this back before you embarrass the both of us.
If it is the latter...I am so sorry to leave such a large burden on your shoulders. I know this is not something you would have chosen for yourself, so I ask that before you refuse, to please read this all the way through.
When I first told Lord Sarutobi of my choice for a successor should I die, he was surprised. I think he anticipated me putting Kushina down, or perhaps Jiraiya-sensei. The reasons I gave him were twofold, and once I shared them with him, he agreed with my decision wholeheartedly.
The first is quite simple. Do you know how many times I have beaten you in a spar in all the years we’ve known each other?
Shikaku’s brow furrowed as he ran through every spar with Minato he could remember. After a moment, he huffed. That couldn’t be right...
That’s right. The answer is about half. Two of those spars took place after I became Hokage, and you came out the victor in one of them. In a fight to the death, I’ve never been sure which of us would come out on top. In all honesty, we’d probably both lay dead at the end. I know, that’s a pretty morbid thing to say under the circumstances, but there it is.
Lord Sarutobi was surprised when I revealed this, but after some thought, he said he could see it. You are a difficult man to beat. It’s funny, but people tend to underestimate your power, which I know of course is a deliberate move on your part. Still, despite you proving over and over again in the war that you’re nearly impossible to take out by normal means, I don’t think anybody has brought you up as a Hokage candidate before I pointed out the obvious. You’re quite good at redirecting people’s attention, aren’t you?
So, on to my second reason. Out of all our peers, you are, without a doubt, the only person I’ve truly felt is my intellectual equal. I know, I know, I’m being boastful, but it’s the truth. You and I were unstoppable when we put our heads together. That’s why I made you my Jounin Commander, after all.
There are numerous other, smaller reasons that I was able to use to convince Lord Sarutobi that you were the right choice. Your reputation with other villages, the respect that our forces hold for you, your position as a clan head and your political prowess when you deign to get involved. The fact that you are a good man, with a strong moral compass.
There is one reason, however, that I did not tell him and that I will share with you now, my friend.
There is a ruthlessness in this village, born from necessity as we fought through two bloody wars. It has rooted itself deep into many of our shinobi and I have suspected for some time that there are those in power who have rotted from the inside. Orochimaru’s defection and the circumstances around it was only a symptom of this.
You and I have that ruthlessness as well, but we are pragmatic enough to recognize it, use it where we must, and look beyond it in order to see the bigger picture - the picture of the world we want to build for future generations.
You are ruthless, but you are also steady, and kind, and have a soft spot for fluffy, helpless things that sometimes gets you into trouble. And no, even in death I won’t let you forget about the injured squirrel incident.
And so I ask you, one of my oldest and most trusted friends, to take up this mantle for me. I know that you will protect Konoha while keeping that bright light - the light of a peaceful future - in sight. I can entrust Konoha, and all of the people that I love within her walls, to your capable hands.
You have been my right-hand man for so long. Please, Shikaku, do not stop now.
With all my love,
P.S. Don’t let those advisers push you around. They’re snakes in musty clothing.
P.P.S. If you accept the position, I’ve entrusted a box of scrolls to Lord Sarutobi to share with you. I hope you find them useful.
Shikaku set the letter on the desk and buried his face in his hands for a few long minutes. Eventually, he straightened, blinking rapidly. “Dammit, Minato,” he said in a rough voice. He then stood and went to tell Sarutobi Hiruzen that he would accept the appointment as Godaime of Konoha.
When Shimura Danzo’s face twisted in contempt two days later after the Daimyo sent word of his approval, he wondered just what kind of trouble he’d allowed Minato to drag him into this time.