Tsubasa whirled and spun, kunai flying from her fingers, and speared three ninja who had been creeping up behind her, one in the head, one in the eye, and one in the neck. Just as quickly as they fell, they were replaced with three more ninja, each one already forming hand seals.
“Damn!” she swore, blinking salty sweat out of her eyes. “Did Kiri send their whole village?”
“I wouldn’t be surprised,” Tsubame, identical to her in every way from his Uzumaki red hair to his sea blue eyes, said grimly as he took out two ninja with a rush of water, leaving another two stunned. Tsubasa darted forward to slap seals on their foreheads, and activated them not even a second later. The two ninja crumpled to the floor, and Tsubasa disregarded them. She turned, Tsubame’s name on her lips, only to freeze as she spotted him, clashing swords with a Kiri nin as another crept up behind him.
Too far—she wouldn’t make it in time.
She reached for a kunai, and found her pouch empty. Tsubame turned, reacting to the presence behind him, too late.
A swirl of leaves, the clash of metal on metal. She blinked, and Tsubame was on the ground, but not bleeding. The Kiri nin’s head rolled to a stop at her feet.
A man with blond hair stabbed the remaining ninja, and then turned to her. “Got here in time!” he declared cheerfully, as if a man’s decapitated body wasn’t lying at his feet. “Uzukage-sama?”
She nodded, even as she eyed him. Blond hair and blue eyes weren’t an unusual combination in Uzushio, but none of her people looked quite like this man. She looked for any sign of a forehead protector or other village identifier, and found nothing. “That’s right.”
“You look like you could do with some help,” he said with an easy grin.
Despite the lack of identifier, she could tell easily that he was a ninja, and what was more, he’d saved her precious younger brother and that said more than he knew. “Uzushio welcomes your aid,” she said.
“Great!” he said, and brought his hands together in a seal. “Shadow clone jutsu!”
A veritable army of clones appeared, so many that even an Uzumaki would have probably killed themselves doing it. They let out a battle cry and rushed deeper into the village, racing over the roofs and down the streets, leaving Tsubasa and Tsubame blinking at each other.
“Did that happen, or is the chakra exhaustion making me hallucinate?” she asked.
Tsubame tossed her a few soldier pills and the weapons pouch he’d pilfered from one of the fallen ninja. “No time to worry about it now. You good to go?”
She popped the pill and cracked her knuckles. “Try to keep up, shrimp. Dinner for a week says I can get more Kiri nin than you.”
Tsubame smirked at her. “Better get your wallet ready. Let’s go!”
Tsubame dashed off into the city, vanishing and then reappearing to slam kunai into the eyes of two approaching shinobi. Tsubasa laughed and followed, seals and kunai at the ready.
The sun had risen by the time one of her ANBU appeared behind her. “Uzukage-sama, Kiri is retreating.”
She slapped a seal onto the forehead of a Kiri nin. He fell, leaving the street relatively peaceful for the moment. Overhead, the Kiri nin leapt from building to building, more often than not falling prey to traps, weapons, and the occasional jutsu from those with enough chakra left. She heard whooping from triumphant genin in the distance, and couldn’t help but smile despite her bone-deep exhaustion.
“Report,” she ordered as she retrieved her kunai.
“Several streets have taken damage, particularly in areas frequented by shinobi, although there have been heavy casualties in the civilian sectors as well. Our barrier seals have been completely destroyed. Our forces suffered heavy casualties, but we made it through. The jounin and chuunin took the brunt of it, but the majority of the genin were in the shelters with the civilians. Some of those areas were targeted, but most of the attacks were averted. I can only imagine what would have happened if not for our backup. I didn’t see them myself, but I heard stories. Did Konoha send them?”
She and Tsubame exchanged a glance. “Them? I was only aware of one.”
“I only sensed the one,” Tsubame confirmed.
All three of them tensed and readied their weapons as someone flickered into the space between them. Their blond ally blinked at them before sheepishly grinning and holding out two Kiri jounin as if giving up a peace offering.
“Caught these guys organizing the retreat. They seemed to be in charge; you could probably get some information from them,” he said.
Tsubasa signaled the ANBU, who quickly restrained the two ninja and then vanished with them. Even as he left, however, she sensed three more ANBU approaching. “Come with us,” she said, gesturing to the stranger. “We can talk in my office. If it’s still standing.”
Her office, only a few minutes away, was missing a wall but otherwise none the worse for wear. Tsubasa put her Uzukage robes on over her standard shinobi armor and then placed the hat on her head before taking a seat at her desk and facing the stranger.
“Now, explain how and why you came here,” she said. “I assume you have a name.”
The blond sheepishly ruffled the back of his hair. “Yeah . . . Namikaze. Narumi Namikaze.”
“You feel like an Uzumaki,” Tsubame said from beside her. “Uzumaki chakra is quite distinctive, if you know what to look for.”
“Yeah, my dad was a Namikaze, but my mom was an Uzumaki,” Narumi said. “That’s what I’ve been told, at least. I never actually knew them.”
“What village were you raised in, then?” she asked. Not Konoha, most likely. They would have been told if an Uzumaki child, either abandoned or an orphan, was alone in the village. Or so she liked to think, anyways. She knew all too well that even the closest allies kept secrets from each other.
“No village,” he said. “My sensei taught me everything I know, but he didn’t belong to a village, either.”
A shinobi without a village, who just so happened to know the Shadow Clone Jutsu, Konoha’s specialty, and was so powerful that he should have at least been in the bingo book? Either he was lying, or his sensei had been a missing-nin, most likely from Konoha.
“And where is your sensei now?” she asked.
There, in his eyes, a brief flicker of something—grief? “Dead,” he said. “He died a few years ago.”
She steepled her hands in front of her and narrowed her eyes at him. “Why did you come to Uzushio?” she asked. “Given your age, I doubt it was to locate your family, or you would have come years ago.”
Narumi shrugged. “It’s hard to miss pretty much an entire shinobi village headed out to battle. I was traveling through Kiri at the time and caught wind of what was going on, and decided to help Uzushio.”
She couldn’t detect any lies from him, but at the same time, it seemed incredibly convenient. “What are your plans from here on out?”
Narumi rubbed at his nose sheepishly. “I was hoping you might have room for another shinobi?”
Tsubasa held in a sigh and exchanged a glance with Tsubame. Tsubame nodded once, and she looked back at Narumi. “Tsubame will take you to torture and interrogation, where you will go through the standard procedure for joining the village. Any wounds you have will be treated there as well. Cooperate, and you should have no problems.” If you are telling the truth, her eyes silently told him.
The young man just grinned at her, as if she had informed him that they just so happened to have an open position for Jounin Commander and a vacant mansion for sale, and he was welcome to them both. “Sure thing, Uzukage-sama. Lead the way!”
Tsubame left, Narumi behind him, and two silent ANBU tailing them both. Tsubasa sighed and glanced out through the space where there had once been a wall, surveying the collapsed canals and bridges, the destroyed houses, and the shinobi, most of them genin who had been spared the worst of the battle, clearing the dead from the street. Tsubame appeared in the street below, and Tsubasa watched as he marched Narumi off towards T&I. She could only hope that she had made the right decision.
Keep your friends close and your enemies closer, right?
Two long, dull months spent in a small room in T&I, his only visitors the two interrogators who had been assigned to his case, the shinobi that brought him his meals, and, on rare occasions, Tsubame.
Really, it was sort of relaxing, compared to what he’d been through before activating the seal that had sent him back in time.
Narumi Namikaze, who had once been called Naruto Uzumaki, grinned broadly as he stretch his hands up towards the sky.
Two months, and he was finally free.
“Don’t look too excited,” Tsubame said sternly. “You’re still on probation for the next year. That means—”
“Limited access to files and facilities, regular meetings with my T&I buddies, no S-rank missions and A-ranks only in extreme circumstances. I know, I know,” Narumi said, waving off the glare with ease.
Tsubame set off towards the administrative center, where the Uzukage’s office was located, and Narumi followed. “Unfortunately, due to the current political situation, we are in an eternal state of ‘extreme circumstances,’” Tsubame said tersely. “As such, you will accompany me on an A-rank mission to Konoha. The Uzukage will explain your duties in further detail.”
Without another word, he took to the rooftop, cutting across the village. Narumi followed him, waving at the genin working at repairing the village as he ran. Those that recognized him from the attack waved back, while others eyed him curiously, and some stared at him warily. He couldn’t help but smile as he took in the white houses with the colorful roofs that rose from the water. He was only just seeing Uzushio for real, and he loved it already, from the salty sea breeze to the red-haired children running through the narrow streets and along the canals.
“Namikaze!” Tsubame barked. “This way.”
“Coming, coming,” he said, turning to follow the red-haired man. He wondered, idly, what had become of him in the time he had left behind. Killed, most likely, along with most of the others in Uzushio.
He couldn’t help but grin. He’d done it. He’d saved Uzushio, even the Uzukage, and the Uzumaki.
He jolted back to attention as someone cleared their throat loudly, and found himself standing in front of the Uzukage. She looked much as he recalled from a few months ago, still red-haired and blue eyed, still almost identical to her brother, still dead tired.
“Narumi Namikaze,” she said, and he realized that she was holding out a navy blue flak jacket and an Uzushio forehead protector. “Do you swear, on your life and the lives of your ancestors, to protect Uzushiogakure and her citizens, to obey the word of your Uzukage, and to serve them until your dying day?”
“I do,” he heard himself say.
“Then,” she said, as she placed the items into his hands, “I hereby name you a chuunin of Uzushiogakure, to be promoted to jounin upon the end of your probation. Welcome to Uzushiogakure, Namikaze.”
He slid into the flak jacket and zipped it up. It was heavier and thicker than the ones from his time, but still comfortingly familiar. He tied the forehead protector around his head, adjusting his hair slightly as he did. “Thank you, Uzukage-sama. I heard you had a mission for me?”
“Yes,” she said, producing a scroll from her desk. “You will be acting as guard detail as Tsubame travels to Konoha on a diplomatic mission, along with two ANBU. I expect you to bring him home safely, Namikaze. You leave at dawn.”
He nodded firmly, and tucked the scroll into his standard-issue belt to read later. “Yes ma’am.”
He turned to leave only to pause and turn around sheepishly. “Oh, and, uh, is there anywhere I can live? I didn’t really bring much money with me, ya know. . .”
Tsubasa sighed. “Get one of the chuunin outside to show you to the barracks. We’ll find something more suitable once our rebuilding is finished. Have him take you to the armory, as well,” she added.
Narumi left Tsubame and Tsubasa to their conversation, well aware that they were probably going to discuss him. Really, it wasn’t a bad idea—stick him with the Uzukage’s brother and a couple of ANBU to keep an eye on him, and send him somewhere he couldn’t easily cause problems. If he’d actually been trying to sabotage Uzushio, his efforts would have been stymied for some time, given the amount of surveillance he would be under from both his teammates and Konoha. Not to mention that Konoha had the Yamanaka on hand.
He stopped in front of the Hokage’s desk, manned by two chuunin, one with red hair and one with teal. “Uzukage-sama said to ask one of you to take me to the armory and the barracks?”
The two took one look at him and immediately pressed their heads together, whispering furiously and making quick motions under the desk. Moments later, the red-haired one cursed, while the teal-haired one smiled triumphantly and stood. “Right this way,” she said. “I’m Mizushima, by the way. Suoh Mizushima. My partner back there was Hachiro Uzumaki. And yes, he really is the eighth son of his family. He has two younger sisters, too! His family is productive even for the Uzumaki. They’re the largest clan in Uzushio, of course. The Mizushima clan is the second biggest,” she added proudly. “I’m not talking too much, am I?”
He shook his head. Information on Uzushio had been nearly nonexistent in the future, and they hadn’t really been eager to tell him anything in T&I. “Go ahead. I’d love to hear more.”
Suoh beamed and clapped her hands together. “Great!” she chirped. “Now, I’m sure you know that the Uzumaki are brilliant at fuinjutsu, because everybody knows that. But what you need to know about my clan stems from our origin as glass-makers . . .”
By the time they reached the armory, he knew more than he was sure he’d ever need to know about the history of the Mizushima clan, from their skill at manipulating glass, which they eventually turned towards a unique type of weapon-crafting, to their fine-tuned Katon jutsu, which while not as large or explosive as Uchiha jutsu, were capable of reaching extreme temperatures.
He was actually mildly relieved when she finally announced, “And here are the barracks! They’re a bit crowded at the moment, seeing as a lot of people’s houses were destroyed in the attack and a bunch of others gave up their houses for civilians with nowhere else to go, but we should be able to find someplace for you.”
Narumi stared at the facilities. The barracks weren’t, as he had expected, a large building or dormitory, or even an apartment building. They were, rather, a series of boats strung together at the edge of the island. Each boat was large enough to house five to ten people, maybe more, depending on how closely they were willing to squeeze together, and there were at least ten boats in total. “Boats?”
“Boats!” Suoh said cheerfully. “Come on, I think that one has a spare hammock. One of my cousins was staying there, but he’s boarding with relatives now. The armory is that storehouse down there, by the way, but let’s get you settled first.”
She jumped on board the boat and lifted a trapdoor in the deck. “Yoohoo! Got room for one more?”
A loud groan emanated from the depths of the boat. “Not another! We just got rid of one,” someone grumbled. A shinobi with scars criss-crossing his face shuffled into view, glowering up at them. “If I tell you we don’t have room, will you leave?”
“Nope,” she said cheerfully, before shoving Narumi forwards. He yelped and fell through the trapdoor, but managed to land in a crouch on the wooden floorboards. “Narumi, meet barrack seven. Barrack seven, meet Narumi Namikaze. He’s related to the Uzumaki, I think?”
“I know you,” a blond girl, sitting beside a brunet and a blue-haired boy, said. The three of them couldn’t have been more than eight or nine. “You helped us hold the shelter!”
He squinted at them, and thought that maybe they were familiar, but he’d had so many clones running around that night that half the damn village seemed familiar. “Don’t mention it. You three were doing pretty well already.”
“The medic-nin say Toshima-sensei is going to make a full recovery thanks to you,” the blue-haired boy said, looking at Narumi with something eerily close to hero-worship.
The blond girl nodded, looking slightly more cheerful. “Once Toshima-sensei is out of the hospital, we’re going to live with him,” she said wistfully. The three of them spoke to each other in hushed whispers.
“Hammock’s over there,” the scarred shinobi said, jerking his head towards the opposite side of the room. “Put your stuff in the bag.”
The hammock was strung from the ceiling, across from another hammock that was already occupied by a snoring older man. There were ten hammocks in total, but someone had also laid mats underneath them, so that people could sleep beneath them as well. The mat beneath his hammock was empty at the moment, but a worn stuffed animal was resting on top of it, and one of the bags hanging from the ceiling was full of gear. He placed the spare clothing he had in the other bag and returned to Suoh, who was waiting where she’d left him.
“Those three kids down there are a genin team,” she murmured. “Their houses were destroyed in the attack. They’ve only got their sensei and each other, now.”
“Who sleeps underneath my hammock?” he asked her.
She shrugged. “I don’t know. One of the others in there would, but I don’t really spend much time in the barracks. Now come on, let’s get to the armory. I do have to go back to work sometime, unfortunately.”
The armory was being manned by a trio of genin who eagerly tripped over themselves and each other in their rush to help, grabbing kunai and shuriken and sealing supplies and anything else they thought he might find useful, while one of them painstakingly counted the items and recorded it in a ledger. The total cost was surprisingly cheap, and he was able to afford it even on the small stipend the Uzukage had given him.
“Anything more specialized than this, and you’ll want a blacksmith,” Suoh said as the kids rushed around. “But this is a great place to get the basics, and the quality is pretty decent considering the cost. Lots of genin use it, and a fair amount of the chuunin. Jounin tend to prefer higher-end shops for their materials.”
A girl with red hair in pigtails, perhaps about ten years old, handed him the pouches full of supplies. “Thank you for shopping at the armory!” she chirped. “And thanks for saving my big brother during the attack!”
“Thank you!” the other two chorused.
“Well, that concludes our little tour,” Suoh declared as they left. “Welcome to Uzushio, Namikaze. I look forward to working with you.”
“You too,” he said. With a final wave, Suoh darted off over the gold, red, and blue roofs of Uzushio, leaving him to board the ship and drop down into the barracks. The sleeping shinobi had left while he was at the armory, but two chuunin had taken places on mats on the floor, and were playing an odd game with dango sticks while the three genin watched curiously. The trio nudged each other as he walked through the boat, and stared as he sorted through his supplies.
He settled down to sleep after a dinner of ration bars, knowing he would have to wake up early and that what sleep he would get was likely to be fitful and restless. In a way, sharing a room with so many strangers was a relief—he woke up whenever someone entered or left or started crying, so that he didn’t have time to have any nightmares of his own, even if he was still drowsy by the time the sun rose.
As he rolled out of the hammock, he nearly stepped on a small hand, and in his hurry to avoid it nearly ran into the hammock next to his. The person beneath his hammock, a boy around ten years old, still wearing his chuunin vest, sleepily rolled over but didn’t wake. A few of the shinobi in the room did wake as he made his way to the exit, but that was unavoidable, considering they were all on high alert. He smiled fondly at the three genin on the far side, who had pushed their three mats together and were curled together like puppies, and leapt through the trapdoor.
Uzushio was beautiful in the sunrise, white stucco painted orange and gold, the dark sea lightening and changing colors along with the sky. Narumi took the long route, trailing along the narrow walkways bordering the canals, picking his way through the occasional bits of rubble and construction materials, and marveling in the sheer happiness he could sense in the village, even after everything they’d been through.
Two children, laughing, darted in front of them, and he stared after them in wonder. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen happy, laughing children before coming to this time. Actually, now that he thought about it, he couldn’t remember seeing any children. Not any living ones, at least.
He shook those thoughts from his head and ran the rest of the way, managing to reach the administration building just as the sun fully rose. Tsubame was already there, flanked by two ANBU and chatting warmly with an Uzumaki jounin and her three genin, but his smile fell away the moment he caught sight of Narumi.
“Namikaze,” he said, glancing towards the sky. “Right on time. Let’s move. Sana, I’ll talk to you when I’m back.”
“Of course, Tsubame-sama,” the woman said happily as she ushered her three genin, all of whom were staring at Narumi, into the building. Narumi wiggled his fingers at them, and they quickly looked away, only to sneak glances back at him.
The ANBU fell in line behind Tsubame and Narumi as they walked to the edge of the village, where the roads and buildings faded into a beach dotted with shrubs and kunai. Narumi looked out over the deceptively calm sea, well aware of the torrential currents surging beneath the surface, ready to trap any unprepared boats or swimmers. Ninja, thankfully, didn’t have to worry about that, and the four of them easily ran out over the surface of the sea, moving so quickly the currents didn’t have time to grab hold of them and drag them under.
“How long to Konoha?” he called over the roar of the wind.
“At top speed, with a squad this small? Three or four days,” Tsubame said. “How’s your tree-running?”
Narumi laughed. “I could practically do it in my sleep!”
“You might need to,” Tsubame said slyly.
Narumi blinked at him, startled, wondering if he was teasing, only for Tsubame to vanish between one blink and the next. “Hey!” Narumi protested, and dashed off, chasing the occasional glimpse of crimson hair he could catch through the trees. He couldn’t see the ANBU anywhere, but he assumed they were surreptitiously keeping their eyes on both him and Tsubame.
His next glimpse of them was close to midnight, when Tsubame finally stopped and allowed Narumi to catch up. “Hmm, you are fast,” Tsubame hummed as he stretched, still standing on a branch. “I actually had to work to keep ahead of you.”
“Oh yeah? I was barely getting started,” Narumi taunted in response.
“Are you normally out of breath after barely getting started? You should see a medic about that,” Tsubame said. He settled down on the branch and closed his eyes, but kept his hand on his weapons pouch. “You should sleep, if you can. We’re making better pace than I expected. How are you two keeping up?”
“Fine, Tsubame-sama,” one of the ANBU said. “We will keep watch.”
With that, the two of them vanished again, leaving Narumi and Tsubame seated on opposite branches. “Not sleeping on the ground?”
“You’re welcome to it, if you fancy being crushed in your sleep. We’re deep within Fire Country right now, but you never know when you’ll come across enemy troops.”
Narumi grimaced, but resigned himself to an uncomfortable night. Not something he was unfamiliar with, all things told, and he managed to drift into a light sleep before too long, although he retained a vague sense of what was going on around him. When the ANBU alighted on the branches of the tree next to his, he awoke instantly, as did Tsubame. The two of them stretched, grimacing, trying in vain to work out the kinks that came along with sleeping in trees. Narumi peered up through the thick foliage, trying to gauge the time by the rising sun, and looked back only to find Tsubame had vanished again.
He looked into the distance, glimpsed red hair snapping in the wind, and groaned. “Oh, not this again.”
Nevertheless, he pushed off from the branch in pursuit of Tsubame. They ran throughout the day, eating dry rations bars on the run, Narumi only guided by the occasional sighting of red hair or a painted mask. These forest were familiar, but at the same time not, having yet to experience the passage of time and the multiple battles that would change the landscape into what he knew. There wasn’t even much of a road to speak of, beyond the occasional thin, dirt track he spotted winding through the forest, and the only travelers he glimpsed were other ninja, and then only for a split second before they vanished again.
They stopped not long after the sun had fallen. Narumi caught sight of Tsubame crouching on a branch, deep in discussion with what appeared to be two Konoha jounin, judging by their uniforms. As he approached, the two of them left again, and Tsubame ran on, but this time allowed Narumi to catch up to him.
“We’re an hour out from Konoha,” he said. Narumi caught sight of him sliding a scroll away, but didn’t bring it up. “We’ll stick to the ground from here. Konoha gets a bit antsy when foreign shinobi run through their trees at top speed.”
The ANBU fell into step behind them as they jumped to the ground and began running again, albeit at a much slower speed than before. More and more shinobi could be glimpsed through the trees as they approached, either watching them carefully or rushing off on missions of their own.
The gates of Konoha appeared so suddenly he was almost startled, and only remembered to slow down when Tsubame, beside him, dropped out of his run. A full squad of chuunin was manning the gate, two on each side and one in the middle.
“Identification and mission statement,” the one in the middle ordered, holding out a hand.
Tsubame handed over a small booklet and the scroll he had taken out before. The chuunin looked expectantly at Narumi, who stared at him blankly for a moment. Tsubame coughed. “Namikaze, your identification.”
“Oh,” Narumi said, and began digging through his pockets. “I have identification?”
“Of course you do,” Tsubame said, in the tone of voice that said exactly what kind of idiot he thought Narumi was.
“Aha!” Narumi said, digging out a similar, if much crisper, booklet. “Here you go.”
The chuunin examined them carefully, and Narumi took the opportunity to look at them as well. They’d used his mugshot as his identification photo; somehow, he wasn’t surprised. T&I sorts had a bizarre sense of humor.
Finally, he nodded and handed them back. “This all seems to be in order. Please go directly to the Hokage’s office.”
One of the chuunin at the gate peeled off from the rest to escort them, just in case they had any thoughts of not going directly to the Hokage, Narumi assumed. He skimmed through the identification booklet as they walked. It was surprisingly thorough, containing everything from his name and birthday to his medical information and history. He wasn’t even entirely sure how they’d gotten some of the information in there.
He looked up again to find that they had reached the Academy, and that the Konoha chuunin was leading them through the expansive yard to the administration section. It hadn’t changed much from his years there—the building was pretty much the same, and the old swing still hung from the tree in the front of the school, although it was much newer now. A boy with blonde, spiky hair was sitting on it, pouring over a book of some sort. Narumi craned around, trying to catch another glimpse of him, only to be sent spinning as a small, red-haired whirlwind collided with him.
“Tsubame-nii! Are you okay? Is everyone in Uzushio okay? I heard about what happened, Uzukage-sama didn’t get hurt, did she? Did you kick their asses?” the red-haired whirlwind demanded. “Tell me, Tsubame-nii! And who’s this guy?”
The girl whirled around, and Narumi’s breath caught in his throat. Red hair, purple eyes. Kushina Uzumaki, Academy student.
“I’m Narumi Namikaze,” he found himself saying, before Tsubame could say anything to introduce them or the chuunin could hurry them off.
“Eh, Namikaze?” she said, gaping at him. “Really? You gotta come with me!”
“Kushina, wait!” Tsubame snapped, but Kushina had already grabbed Narumi’s hand and yanked him off, towards the tree where the blond boy was still sitting.
“Hey, Namikaze!” she yelled. “Minato!”
The boy looked up with a distinctly startled expression. “Uzumaki-san!” he yelped immediately. “It’s you!”
“Of course it’s me, dummy,” she scoffed. “I found a relative of yours! He’s a Namikaze, too.”
“What? A Namikaze?” Minato turned, finally, to look at Narumi. After a moment, his eyes widened, likely noticing the resemblance between the two of them.
Narumi grinned and ruffled his hair. “So, you’re a Namikaze too? Who’d’ve thought that I would end up with such a cute little brother when I came here.”
“Little brother?” Minato yelped.
“Little brother!” Kushina exclaimed, looking between them with wide eyes. “Oi, Namikaze, why didn’t you tell me your older brother was so strong? Maybe you’re not as wimpy as I thought.”
“You thought I was wimpy?” Minato said, with an expression that bore a remarkable resemblance to a scolded puppy.
Kushina rubbed the back of her head. “Did I say that? I meant, uh . . .”
Kushina was spared from having to think of an excuse by the reappearance of Tsubame, who appeared between them in a swirl of water. “Namikaze,” he said, his blue eyes boring into Narumi. “Need I remind you that we are on a mission?”
“Of course not. Still, it’s not every day you find out you have family still alive,” Narumi said.
Tsubame’s eyes slid to Minato, and he pursed his lips. “With me, Namikaze. Now.”
Before Narumi could get a word in edgewise, he found himself being dragged away from the building. “I thought we had to go to the Hokage?” he asked.
“Change of plans. The Hokage is busy. We’re heading directly to meet with someone else.”
‘Someone else’ as it turned out, was a Yamanaka and a much younger and much less scarred Ibiki. They looked at him, he looked back at them, and the next thing he knew, something slapped against his neck, and the world faded away.
The door opened, and three of the room’s four occupants looked up. “Ah, Hokage-sama. Jiraiya-sama,” Ibiki said. “You made it after all. We were just about to begin. Yamanaka, when you’re ready.”
Tsubame leaned against the wall as he surveyed the small group that had gathered around Namikaze’s unconscious body. Inomi Yamanaka, to handle the primary investigation. Ibiki Morino, in case they required a more in-depth investigation. And, finally, the Hokage, Jiraiya, and himself, to observe, gather information, and draw conclusions.
“All right,” the woman said, drawing a breath. “Just so you know, this technique will not draw out precise details and memories, more like feelings and emotions towards a given prompt, and sometimes impressions. Now, let’s begin.”
The woman knelt by Namikaze’s head, touched her fingers to his temples, and closed her eyes.
“First things first—is he who he says he is?” Ibiki began.
“Narumi Namikaze,” she murmured. “It’s his name, as much as any name can belong to anybody. His parents—a man, blond, who looks like him. A Namikaze. His mother, red-haired. Uzumaki. He’s . . . happy, about something. A boy who looks like him. So small—was he that small? A son—no, a brother. Minato?”
“An academy student here,” Tsubame said to the others. “They met before we came here. What are his intentions towards Kushina?”
“Kushina Uzumaki,” she murmured. “Family. So small, little spitfire. He’ll keep her safe.”
“Where did he learn what he knows?” Jiraiya asked.
Yamanaka’s brow furrowed. “His teacher—an old man? Left his village. Powerful, but you wouldn’t think it to look at him. There’s sadness there—he died, long ago. Never got to say goodbye.”
A missing-nin, then, as they suspected.
“What are his intentions towards Konoha?” the Hokage asked.
“The trees feel like home,” she murmured. “It feels familiar, but not. He likes it here already. He’ll protect her, if he can.”
“And Uzushio? What about Uzushio, and the Uzukage?” Tsubame asked, feeling that familiar thump in his heart that came up whenever he thought of his sister in danger.
“Uzushio,” she whispered. “It’s beautiful there. Happiness—the children are laughing. Sunlight on the ocean.” She sniffled, and he realized, suddenly, that tears were pouring down her cheeks. “I-I’m sorry, Hokage-sama.”
“Can you continue?” Ibiki demanded.
She took a few deep breaths and nodded. “He loves Uzushio,” she murmured. “He would die for her. The Uzukage, Tsubasa Uzumaki. Strong, beautiful, but not as much as her brother.”
Tsubame felt his cheeks flush as Jiraiya whistled. “Let’s move on,” he suggested.
“No, no, let’s hear more!” Jiraiya said. “Ask about Tsubame-chan. Come on now, it’s for the sake of the village.”
He started to interrupt, but already Yamanaka was speaking. “Tsubame. Happy, smiling, but only for others, then cold and down-to-earth for him. Want to see that smile again. Wonder what his laugh is like? Red hair, like a waterfall, bet it’s soft—”
“Okay!” Tsubame interrupted over the sound of Jiraiya’s laughter and the Hokage’s stifled chuckles. He was sure his face had to be bright red by now. “That’s enough!”
“Oh, that was priceless! This whole thing was worth it for that. He thinks you’re pretty,” Jiraiya sing-songed.
“Jiraiya, I can and will use you as a test subject if you don’t shut up,” he said.
Jiraiya fell silent, but now the Hokage was chuckling, which was just unfair. He couldn’t threaten the Hokage! “Ah, to be young,” he said. “Thank you, Yamanaka-san, that will be enough. I think we can be fairly well assured that he bears no ill will to our people.”
“He doesn’t bear ill will to much of anything, really,” Yamanaka admitted as she pulled away. “I sensed a lot of sadness, and he’s got a protective streak a mile wide, but not much hatred or malice. Except he doesn’t like venus fly traps, I think?”
“So we have a possible hatred of plants. Oh, excellent work,” Ibiki drawled. “You’re dismissed, Yamanaka. Go clear your head. I don’t want to see you in here for the rest of the day. Uzumaki, do your thing.”
Tsubame pulled the counter-seal to the sleep seal from his bag, and pressed it to Narumi’s forehead. A burst of chakra, and the seal sank into Narumi’s head. A moment later, his eyes opened. He blinked once, twice, and cleared his throat. Tsubame watched carefully, keeping an eye out for any potential side-effects.
“Ah. I was just interrogated, wasn’t I?” Narumi asked, remarkably calmly. A potential side-effect, perhaps, dulling his emotions or his responses? Could be useful, something to look into.
“Calm down, buttercup, it’s not like we yanked all your fingernails out while you were sleeping,” Ibiki said. “You’re free to go.”
Narumi sat up and rubbed at his temples. “Ugh, my head feels like it’s been scrambled. I could sleep for a week.”
A side-effect of the Yamanaka jutsu, or the seal? Possibly both. “It’ll wear off in time,” Tsubame said. “Come, I’ll show you to our quarters. Jiraiya, are we meeting later?”
“Sure, sure, I have some time before I’m being sent out again,” he said. “I’ll get the gang together. Namikaze, you’re welcome to come, if you’re up for it.”
“Me?” Namikaze asked, pointing a finger to himself.
“Who else? You’re the only Namikaze I know of besides that academy student, and we’re hardly going to invite a kid drinking. You sure Inomi-chan didn’t scramble his brains?” Jiraiya asked Ibiki, who ignored him. A completely understandable reaction—Tsubame often felt the same urge.
“It sure feels like she did,” Narumi groaned. “Ugh, I feel like I’m going to be sick.”
Tsubame sighed and slapped another seal on Narumi’s forehead. “Honestly, you and Jiraiya are such children. Is that better?”
Narumi opened his mouth, paused, rubbed his forehead, and then said, “Yeah, it is! Hey, I didn’t know you were a medic.”
Jiraiya made a muffled snorting noise. Tsubame diligently ignored him. “My specialty is medical seals, but I wouldn’t call myself a true medic-nin.”
“That’s pretty cool. Is that how you put me to sleep?” Narumi asked.
Tsubame steered him towards the door. “Yes. It’s primarily used for surgeries, but it serves other purposes as well.”
“Like kidnapping and interrogation?” Narumi asked, shooting a sly smirk over his shoulder at Tsubame.
“Among other things,” Tsubame said smoothly. Narumi followed along just behind him as they exited the T&I building. He felt the two ANBU on the edge of his awareness the moment he left the building, although he couldn’t see them anywhere. They followed along, hidden, as he led Narumi through the village to the diplomatic quarters. Narumi stared around them with avid interest, occasionally staring at passers-by or food stalls.
“Have you ever been to a big city before, Namikaze?” he asked.
“Hmm? Oh, yeah, a few, here and there. Not recently, though,” he said. Tsubame dodged around a trio of Uchiha children, easily recognizable by their clan insignia. Narumi stared after them, wide-eyed. Tsubame stifled a smile. Seeing him like this, gaping around at the big city, staring at one of Konoha’s most famous clans, and tripping over his own feet because he was too busy taking in the sights, made the fearsome warrior who had appeared that night to single-handedly save his village seem a little more . . . human. And rather young, actually. Before, he would have placed him in his mid-to-late twenties, but now he wasn’t so sure.
“How old are you, Namikaze?” he asked.
“Hm? Oh . . . twenty-ish, I think,” Narumi said thoughtfully. “I haven’t really been keeping track recently. What about you?
“I don’t believe I made any agreements for an exchange of information,” he said, making a show of stroking his chin.
“What? Hey, I told you mine!” Narumi protested.
Tsubame stiffened at movement out of the corner of his eye, only for Narumi to slug him on the arm and throw an arm around his shoulders to pull him close. “Come on,” he said, with a teasing glint in his eyes. “Don’t make me mess up this perfect hair of yours.”
Red hair, like a waterfall, bet it’s soft...
Tsubame pulled away, hoping the blush on his cheeks wasn’t as obvious as he felt it was. “That won’t be necessary. I’m eighteen,” he said.
“Eh? Eighteen? I thought you were way older. Isn’t eighteen a little young to be Uzukage?” he demanded.
It took Tsubasa a moment to figure out what he meant, but once he did, he nearly laughed out loud. “Tsubasa isn’t my twin.” He took a moment to admire Narumi’s surprised face, and then added, “She’s older than me by ten years.”
“What? No way!” Narumi exclaimed. “You’re having me on. You two look practically the same!”
He shrugged. “Tsubasa looks young for her age. Uzumaki longevity, I suppose. Plenty of people who didn’t know us when we were young mistake us for twins, so don’t beat yourself up about it. It’s a common error.”
“That’s a thing?” Narumi asked.
Tsubame paused, for a moment, to stare at him. “What, common errors?”
“No, Uzumaki longevity,” he said. “What’s that?”
He sighed and continued walking. “You really don’t know much about our clan, do you.”
Despite his words, Narumi’s grin only grew. He went over what he said, and realized. Our clan, he’d said, accidentally including Narumi in his statement. Or, perhaps, simply including him without thinking about it. He’d meant it, he realized. Whatever else he might be, Narumi was unmistakably an Uzumaki. Chakra like theirs couldn’t be faked.
“Uzumaki longevity,” he continued, “means that our clan tends to have long natural lives and heal quickly. That’s all, really. Some consider it a bloodline, others don’t. It varies from opinion to opinion. Haven’t you ever noticed something like that?”
Narumi laughed and rubbed sheepishly at the back of his head. “I mean, I don’t get sick all that often? And I heal pretty quickly, I guess.”
“It can manifest like that,” he said. “I know some people in the village who’ve never been sick a day in their lives.”
“Huh,” Narumi said, looking out into the distance. “I had no idea it was a clan thing. I thought it was just a me thing.”
So he really hadn’t heard much about their clan. “Do you know any fuinjutsu?”
Narumi nodded at that, at least. “Yeah, I’ve picked up a bit here and there. Not as much as you, I bet.”
“I’ve been learning about seals since before I could walk. Don’t worry, we’ll bring you up to speed on them,” he said. “We can’t have an Uzumaki who knows nothing about seals, after all.”
“Nothing! Hey, I know some stuff,” Narumi protested. “I can do storage seals and explosive seals, no problem.”
“Oh, is that all?” Tsubame teased as he ducked through the gate to the apartment complex where his sister kept an apartment for her visits to Konoha. He was familiar with it, having stayed there many times before, and easily darted up the stairs to the top floor, Narumi hot on his heels. “I was making those before I even started the academy. Come back when you’ve created your first original seal array.”
“I’ve done that too!” he declared hotly.
“Oh, good for you! Now you’re on the same page as an Uzumaki academy student,” he said as he opened the door at the top of the stairs and stepped into a small hallway. He bit his thumb until it bled and pressed it against the door, which unlocked with a click.
“Blood-based seal array,” he explained at Narumi’s curious look. “The door will unlock for me, my sister, or the Hokage.”
“Not the ANBU?” Narumi asked.
He shook his head. “They stay elsewhere, and only guard the outside.” He stepped inside, leaving his shoes at the door, and pulled out a piece of seal paper from the pouch at his waist. With his still bleeding thumb, he drew a quick seal array, which he handed to Narumi. “Put your blood in the center of that, and it will let you come and go from the apartment. I expect it back at the end of the mission.”
Narumi bit down on his thumb with a practiced ease that spoke of experience with blood-based seals, or perhaps summoning—Narumi hadn’t disclosed any summons, but that didn’t mean he didn’t have one hidden up his sleeve—and spread his blood in the blank spot in the center of the seal. “This is pretty clever,” he said, his eyes drifting over the seal. “Way better than a key!”
“Tsubasa designed it,” he said. “She’s the seal expert, of the two of us.”
“Still can’t believe you aren’t twins,” Narumi muttered.
Tsubame hid a smile. “Come on, I’ll show you where you can sleep. There’s two bedrooms.” He led the way through the small living room, which featured a couch, a table still covered in seal paper from their last visit, and few large bookshelves, and past the kitchen and dining room, to an area with four doors. “Bath and toilet,” he said, motioning to two of the doors. “The other two are bedrooms. The one on the right is yours. Now, I’d advise you get some rest—no doubt Jiraiya has a long night planned for the six of us. And if I have to suffer through it, so do you.”