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“Ten of them are asleep, right here,” Tsubame reported, circling an area on his map. “Two from each squad. Each squad has four members patrolling, for a total of twenty shinobi on patrol. The big guy is still patrolling this stretch right here. He’s front and center, with three others fanned out behind him. Is that enough to get him, Dan?” 

Dan nodded. “Should be. If not, I can use one of the others to take him down.” Dan made a hand seal and, moments later, his body slumped against the wall. 

“Ten minutes,” Sakumo said. Isuzu shifted nervously. 

They waited with bated breath, anxiously awaiting any sign that things had gone wrong, until at long last, Sakumo said, “That’s ten. Send in the clones.” 

Narumi made a clone, which exited their little fort and ran off to find the other clones. As he peered out into the darkness, he could barely make out figures running towards the depot. Some fell into traps, only to dispel instantly. Memories rushed through him as clones dispelled. 

“Traps around the perimeter,” he reported. “Capture, not kill, mostly pits and rope traps. A few noise traps, but they’ve been disabling those as they go.” A loud explosion resounded through the air, and flames lit up the sky. Moments later, screams and shouts and the clash of metal on metal resounded through the air. “That would be the sleeping shinobi,” he said, and then winced. “Or what remains of them anyways. One of the clones decided to get the drop on them with a suicide jutsu.” 

Dan, beside them, gasped back to awareness. “That explosion shocked them for a bit,” he reported. “I managed to take out the rest of his squad, but then he sustained a fatal injury at the hands of the other squad patrolling the interior.” 

“Nicely done,” Sakumo said. “Now let’s move before they get a chance to recover!” 

Explosions lit their way as they traversed the trap-covered ground. Narumi caught sight of Sakumo summoning his three wolves, who howled with delight and raced into the fray. Dan made a few hand seals and sank into the earth, probably to approach from below. 

“Namikaze-senpai!” Isuzu called out. “If I get that squad over there in a genjutsu, will you help take them out?” 

“Good idea!” Narumi replied, turning to head towards a group of four shinobi that were fairing pretty well against the flood of clones. As he watched, they began to stumble and miss, their perceptions of their surroundings thrown off. Narumi had to give the kid props—it was a simple genjutsu, but effective as long as you didn’t give them time to notice. 

And he didn’t. Narumi launched himself at the nearest of them, knocking him out with a blow to the head with the blunt side of a kunai and flinging a series of shuriken at the woman beside him. She blocked half of them,  but the genjutsu threw her off enough that one caught her in the eye and another in the throat. A third shinobi screamed as he was enveloped in flame. The fourth freed himself from the technique, but too late, as one of the wolves leapt onto his back and tore out his throat. Isuzu screamed, and Narumi whirled around to see a shinobi throw two kunai at the boy. He parried one of them, but the other collided with his goggles and cracked the lens. Narumi caught the moment instinct took over as Isuzu flung out a series of shuriken. The shinobi stumbled back, and Narumi grabbed hold of him and slit his throat. 

“You okay, kid?” Narumi asked. 

Isuzu tore off the goggles and tossed them to the side. “They’re broken!” he declared. 

“Trust me, better them than you,” Narumi said. “A kunai to the eye at that range means losing an eye is about the best you can hope for. C’mon, stick close to me.” 

The inside of the compound was both flooded and on fire, and the ground was broken up and jagged where earth jutsu had torn it apart. Narumi glimpsed a flash of crackling lightning out of the corner of his eye, and then the world was silent and still. 

Tsubame trudged through the muddy water towards them. “Check through the supplies and tag them with explosives,” he said, passing out stacks of explosive tags to the two of them. “Dan and Sakumo are searching the bodies.” 

“Can I make them blow up?” Isuzu asked, trying and failing to hide his eagerness. 

Tsubame looked him up and down. “I suppose, if you’re very careful,” he said. “I’ll teach you how once you have them all set up.” 

Isuzu whooped and splashed off towards the nearest pile of supplies. “I better go make sure he doesn’t blow them up before we salvage what we can,” Narumi chuckled. 

“I think this is the most excited I’ve seen him since he joined us,” Tsubame said wryly. “I should have known. Pyromaniacs, the lot of them.” 

“You know how it is. Giant water dragons are cool and all, but nothing tops a good old explosive tag,” Narumi said.

Loud splashes and squelching noises heralded Sakumo’s arrival. “Whose idea was it to flood the place?” he complained. “Ran is pissed at me for ruining her coat!” 

“Not the other two?” Tsubame asked. 

“You kidding? They’re practically overgrown puppies, they had a blast.” Sakumo paused. “Don’t tell them I said that.” 

Tsubame sighed. “Don’t you have something to be doing, Sakumo?” 

“Oh, yeah.” Sakumo rifled through his pockets and tossed a small book at Narumi. “Take a look.” 

Narumi opened the book and quickly recognized it as a bingo book. He flipped through it quickly, only pausing on the faces he recognized. The Uzukage had a page, as did the would-be Sannin and the rest of his companions, bar Isuzu. At the back of the book, on a page that had clearly been recently added, he had to double-take at the face and name that greeted him. “Narumi Uzumaki,” he read. “The One-Man-Army.” 

Sakumo grinned and clapped him on the back. “Congrats, you got your first bounty! It’s not as high as any of ours yet, but it’s up there.” 

“Dan’s is the highest, isn’t it?” Tsubame said, as he peered at the page curiously. “Hmm. That’s a decent bounty, for a new entry. Word of what you did at Uzushio must have spread.” 

“They got my name wrong,” he said. 

“Well, you are an Uzumaki,” Tsubame said. “This is for the best anyways.” 

“What do you mean?” Narumi asked. 

“If you have a bounty, people are likely to go after you. If they’re especially motivated, or if they want revenge, they might even go after your family. The Uzumaki are a large enough clan that targeting immediate family isn’t practical, but you have a younger brother in Konoha, don’t you? Namikaze isn’t a common name—it wouldn’t take long for some shinobi out for revenge to connect the dots. It’s safer for him not to be connected to you by name,” Tsubame explained. 

Sakumo nodded sagely. “It’s true. A lot of shinobi from small civilian families drop their last name or take a new one so people don’t try to get revenge on their family members.” 

“Huh. I didn’t know that,” Narumi said. 

“We’ll call you Uzumaki in the field,” Tsubame said. “Now that you have their attention, we should avoid bringing that connection up if at all possible, at least until he’s old enough to defend himself.” 

Narumi shuddered at the thought of Minato being captured and killed because of a connection to him. “Yeah, let’s avoid that.” 

“There you are,” Dan called, sloshing through the water as he approached them. “I’ve finished my search.” 

Sakumo’s brow creased. “Dan? Weren’t  you with Isuzu?” 

“No,” Dan said, blinking at him in confusion. “I haven’t seen him. I thought he was with Tsubame and Narumi.” 

“Shit,” Sakumo said, and the four of them launched into motion. 

“This way, I sense him!” Tsubame said, leading the way further into the compound. 

Sakumo sniffed the air. “Blood,” he said grimly, and darted forward, drawing his tanto. 

They reached the back of the compound and rounded a corner to see a Kiri shinobi hunched over a small, prone body. Sakumo disappeared in a swirl of leaves, only to slam into the Kiri shinobi a split second later. Tsubame ignored the brief tussle, instead running straight to Isuzu, Dan hot on his heels. 

Tsubame skidded to his knees and pressed his fingers to Isuzu’s neck. “Still alive,” he said grimly. 

Narumi stepped up beside him and stared down at Isuzu. His left eye was a gaping wound, blood pouring from the empty socket down his face. “Tried to steal his Sharingan and bungled it,” Tsubame said, and gestured to the cut next to his other eye. “We stopped him taking the other one, at least.” 

“Can you heal it?” Dan asked. 

Tsubame grimaced. “If it was whole, I could reattach it. Work like this is too delicate for my seals. Our best bet is bandaging him, giving him some blood pills, and getting him back to Konoha ASAP.” 

“Team Two has a medic, right?” Sakumo said. “Any idea where they are?” 

Tsubame pulled out their mission scroll and tapped the map, which was dotted with various markings. “The last marker they placed has them halfway across Kiri. It’s on the way to the border, though, so we can try to find them. If we don’t, one of us will have to split and take him back.” 

“Sakumo,” Dan said. “You’re the fastest.” 

“And the least mission critical,” Sakumo nodded, with a sharp grin. “I get it, you guys don’t need me hanging around with the One-Man-Army on your side.” 

“If you could leave Gin, Ran, and Jun, however, that would be appreciated.”

They fell silent as Tsubame opened his medic kit, pulled out gauze, bandages, and various other items, and began to tend to Isuzu. He cleaned the wound as best he could in their conditions, bandaged it, and topped it off with a seal. “That should hold until we can get him help,” he said grimly. “As long as we get him help quickly. Narumi, can you carry him?” 

Narumi nodded, and Sakumo and Tsubame loaded Isuzu into his back as quickly as possible without disturbing his injuries. They fell into formation, Narumi in the center, Sakumo taking point, and Dan and Tsubame flanking Narumi from the rear. Once they were sufficiently far away, Tsubame triggered the seals. The resulting explosion was strong enough that Narumi could still feel the heat, and he had no doubt that the sound had summoned any shinobi in the vicinity. 

“That should keep them busy,” Tsubame said grimly. 

They ran, occasionally adjusting their trajectory as Narumi’s clones dispelled or were destroyed, but never stopping. The Kiri shinobi were easy enough to avoid; most of the squads they came across were too distracted to notice the Konoha shinobi darting past them. They made good time to the other end of Kiri, and from there Tsubame was easily able to pick out the chakra of the Uzumaki on the other team. 

The other team, when they found them, had not fared nearly so well as they had; they were down one member, one of the ones from Konoha, and the other had a faintly dazed, shell-shocked look to him. One of the blue-haired twins was carrying the other on his back, and the orange-haired Uzumaki had lost her left arm from the elbow down. 

Their team fell into step beside them. “I called a retreat,” the Uzumaki said grimly to Tsubame. 

Tsubame nodded once, sharply. “Our Uchiha needs to be taken to Konoha ASAP. Can you make it?” 

She thought for a moment. “I can get him as far as Uzushio at least, but I’ll take him further if I can. Strap him to me so I don’t drop him.” 

They halted just long enough to tie Isuzu to the Uzumaki’s back with torn strips of cloth and bandages, and then the other team took off again, leaving them huddled in an underground shelter to plan their next move. 

Tsubame spread out the scroll and the map, and surveyed it thoughtfully. “It seems like they already hit everything in our immediate vicinity,” he said. “We could backtrack to where we were and see what we can find—no word from ANBU on potential targets.” 

Once everyone had examined the scroll to their satisfaction, Tsubame closed it with a snap and a determined nod. “All right,” he said. “Let’s keep going.” 


They wreaked havoc across Kiri for another eight days before, just after a skirmish with some Kiri ANBU, Tsubame announced, “Message from the Uzukage.” 

Narumi looked up from where he had been rifling through a fallen jounin’s pockets and stuffed a pilfered pack of gum—a rare treat—into his pocket. “What’s she say?” 

Tsubame scanned the scroll once, then twice, before closing it. “We’re being recalled. ANBU accomplished its mission, and all operatives are accounted for.” 

Sakumo stretched and grimaced as  his back made a series of popping noises. “Good. The sooner we’re out of here, the better. I need real trees over my head, damn it.” 

“Is there anything we should hit on our way out?” Dan asked.

Tsubame shook his head. “No. Uzukage-sama wants us back ASAP.” 

Sakumo grimaced. “How ASAP is ASAP?” 

Tsubame gave them a humorless smile. “Yesterday, preferably.” 

“About as ASAP as it gets, then.” Sakumo sighed and began to stretch. “Get your rest while you can, boys, we’ve got a long run ahead of us.” 

“Let’s finish up here, then move out,” Tsubame ordered. 

They quickly raided the remaining bodies, grabbing anything useful or important. After a quick meal of stale rations and soldier pills, they took off as fast as they could while still saving their stamina. This time, they were careful not to draw enemy attention, and steered clear of any towns or guard stations. They managed to make it out of Kiri without incident—most Kiri ninja seemed too distracted to pay attention to the enemy shinobi racing by—and were soon out on the ocean again, dashing over waves and whirlpools. 

Narumi got into a groove after the first hour or so, focused on nothing but regulating his chakra so he didn’t plunge into a whirlpool and keeping pace with the others. At their top speeds, it didn’t take long to reach Uzushio, although they all had to pop soldier pills to keep going. All of them could have done with a rest, but the moment they stepped foot on shore, they were ushered straight to the Uzukage’s office. 

“Diversion Squad One, Uzukage-sama,” the ANBU escorting them announced. 

She looked up as they entered, relief clear in her eyes for a moment before it was suppressed. “Good,” she said briskly. “ANBU has completed the objective, but we anticipate retaliation from Kiri. That brings us to your next mission—protection detail.” 

None of them complained, because they were professionals, but a quick glance at the others told Narumi they likely had some choice remarks to make in private. 

Tsubasa handed a scroll to Tsubame, who read through it with a frown, the kind that meant he was displeased and trying to hide it. He handed the scroll to Sakumo, who in turn handed it to Dan. Neither of them looked particularly happy about it. 

Narumi skimmed through the scroll quickly. It contained information on three children, all between the ages of three and seven. Judging by their names, the three-year-old and five-year-old were siblings, while the seven-year-old was unrelated. The scroll didn’t have any other information, though, so he wasn’t sure why the others were so upset. Unless protection detail was code for something unpleasant. 

“These children,” Tsubasa said, “are the three youngest children of the Mizukage and Daimyo of Kiri. The next four oldest have been taken to Konoha. The Mizukage has one remaining child, as does the Daimyo. They will be eager to recapture their children. Your duties will be to guard the children and ensure no attempts to rescue them or kill them succeed. They are being held at the Uzumaki compound, where you will reside for the duration of the mission. I leave the details to your discretion. Questions?” 

“No, Uzukage-sama,” they chorused. 

“Good. I suggest you clean up before reporting in.” Her eyes returned immediately to her desk, already skimming over a report. “Dismissed.” 

They left in silence, and didn’t speak until they could no longer see the administration building. 

“Well, now we know what ANBU was up to,” Sakumo said, his voice carefully empty of emotion. 

“It’s a logical decision,” Tsubame said in the same manner. “The Daimyo and Mizukage will think twice about attacking while their children are at risk, and it gives us something to hold over their heads during negotiations.” 

“That doesn’t mean I have to like it,” Dan murmured, so quietly Narumi had to strain to hear him. Tsubame gave a sharp nod, but said nothing. 

They trooped on in silence for a while, until Sakumo said, “So, are you putting us up, or are we going to have to rent a room?” 

Tsubame rolled his eyes. “Good luck finding a room. Half the shinobi in the village are still living out of the barracks. The civilians and genin all have housing, but that leaves the majority of the chuunin and jounin. You’ll be staying with me, of course.” 

“Fancy,” Sakumo teased. “We get to stay with the Young Lord .” 

“Don’t start,” Tsubame sighed, in the tone of voice of someone who knew very well that the imminent mocking could not be stopped. 

Narumi took pity on him and decided to head Sakumo off at the pass. “Young Lord?” 

“Don’t you know?” Sakumo said gleefully. “Tsubasa is the Uzumaki clan head, but she doesn’t have any children, so Tsubame here is the heir. His bedroom is as big as my apartment. There’s a whole room just for eating in. Meanwhile, I eat sitting on my bed, using a milk crate as a table.” 

“Spending all your money on diamond rings instead of new furniture might have something to do with that,” Dan noted. 

Sakumo’s expression shifted from teasing to sappy at once. “But it was worth it,” he sighed as he gazed into the distance. 

Tsubame shot Dan a grateful look while Sakumo was distracted by whatever fantasies he was entertaining. “This way,” he said, motioning them along. 

More and more Uzumaki appeared as they walked down the streets—there was no gate or wall marking the compound, but Narumi assumed they must have entered it at some point. Orange and red-haired children darted through the streets, likely running home to eat dinner. Adults, he noted, were more scarce, and those he did see were mostly injured, elderly, or civilian. More than one child remained outside even as the sun sank below the horizon, sitting on rooftops and the edge of canals and eating seafood roasted on sticks. They waved and called out greetings as the group passed, the more daring ones asking for Tsubame to show them a cool seal or jutsu. 

“Later,” Tsubame promised each one. “I’m on a mission.” 

The children left them alone upon hearing that, so they managed to make it to their destination largely unbothered. Tsubame’s house was large, as Sakumo had said, but it was far from empty. Even outside, Narumi could hear the sound of cheerful conversation, which only increased in volume as they entered the house. He quickly realized the reason; every room Tsubame led them through was filled with bedrolls, the house turned into an impromptu barracks for people left without housing after the attack on Uzushio. Not all of them were Uzumaki, either—Narumi noted more than one head of blue, brown, or black hair. 

Tsubame’s bedroom was the only one free of extra bedrolls, but not for long. It took them moments to drop their gear and set up their bedrolls, and by then the room was just as crowded as the ones they had walked through earlier. Even Tsubame laid out his bedroll—Narumi suspected his bedding had long since been given up to some of the guests. 

Unloaded of their burdens and keenly aware of how long it had been since they bathed now that they were in an enclosed space, the four of them raced to the baths and eagerly stripped of their uniforms—Narumi didn’t even want to think about what some of those stains were. He was pretty sure they were better off burning them and requisitioning new ones than attempting to clean them. 

Narumi was the first into the bath, although Sakumo was quick to join him. 

“I’m so jealous,” Sakumo moaned as he sank into the water. “I can’t believe you have a private bath. I have to go to the public bathhouse.” 

“I think the fact that you live in a dump could be blamed for that,” Dan commented. 

“Doesn’t matter,” he said, waving a hand idly. “Kaede’s grandparents left her a beautiful house. You know, the one with the wisteria. Once the war is over, we’re going to get a genin team to fix it up. It has plenty of bedrooms, too. Master bedroom, then three spare rooms, so the kids won’t have to share.”  

“You don’t have kids,” Tsubame said, as he slipped into the water between Dan and Narumi. 

“I will,” Sakumo said cheerfully. “Three of them. We’ve got names picked out for the first one already.” 

Dan smiled wistfully. “That’s wonderful. Tsunade and I want kids as well, of course—but we’ll have to see how things go with the hospital. There’s so much to do.” 

Tsubame sighed as he untied his hair from its usual bun, letting the long strands drift through the water. “Tell me about it. As soon as this war is over, every shinobi from genin to jounin is going to be drafted into the rebuilding effort.” 

“What about you, Narumi? Any plans?” Dan asked. 

Narumi hummed thoughtfully. He had plans, of course—more than he could safely share. “Yeah, some,” he said, idly twining a red strand around his finger. “I want to stay in Uzushio, but do you think the Uzukage would let me visit Konoha to see Minato?” 

He glanced up at Tsubame, who seemed to be distracted—he was staring very intently at the opposite wall. “Tsubame?” he prompted. 

Tsubame jerked to attention. “What? Oh. Yes, probably. It’s not uncommon for Uzushio shinobi to visit Konoha.” 

“Great!” Narumi said. “I’d like to get to know him. He’s my little brother, ya know!” 

“I pity him already,” Tsubame said, dry as the desert. He dunked his hair into the water one last time before climbing out of the bath. “We should be going.” 

Sakumo groaned, but nevertheless hauled himself out. “You’re a slave-driver, Tsubame.” 

“If we stayed in there any longer, we would never get out,” Tsubame said as he tossed each of them a towel. 

“You know I hate it when you’re reasonable,” Sakumo said. 

The four of them quickly scrubbed off and got dressed; to Narumi’s pleasant surprise, their old clothing had been replaced by fresh, Uzushio-issue uniforms. They weren’t all that different from Konoha uniforms, really, except that they were a slightly lighter shade of blue. Honestly, they could have been bright pink and he wouldn’t have cared so long as they were clean. 

All too soon, they were heading away from the bathhouse, through the streets of what Narumi was coming to consider the Uzumaki part of town, rather than the Uzumaki compound—he still hadn’t seen any walls anywhere. This time, Tsubame didn’t lead them to his house, but to a smaller house behind it. As they approached, Narumi caught sight of a few ANBU, hiding in shadow. Another two were inside, one of them looming over a pot of stew in the kitchen, the other staring down a trio of children. Two of them sat frozen in their chairs, hardly daring to breathe let alone move, while the youngest cried his eyes out. 

Tsubame swept into the room without a moment’s hesitation, dismissing the ANBU with a flick of his fingers. “Dan, Sakumo—one of you take care of him, the other talk to the other two. Narumi, I want your clones stationed around the house. Take a look around and see what we have for them. Clothes, books, toys, toothpaste and toothbrushes, soap and shampoo—anything they don’t have, we’ll send someone to buy tomorrow.” He sampled the stew, grimaced, and dumped the goopy mess into the trash. “Tastes like field rations.” 

As Tsubame raided the cabinets—which were thankfully stocked with food—Narumi sent a horde of shadow clones out into the world. Sakumo approached the youngest boy, who took one look at him and started screaming. Sakumo quickly changed paths, instead kneeling in front of the two older children. Dan bravely picked up the screaming boy, only to get kicked in the chin by a flailing foot. 

“This is more difficult than they make it sound in books,” he commented, as he attempted to keep the wriggling, screaming boy right side up and simultaneously prevent him from kicking or hitting Dan in the face too much. 

“Oh, for—Narumi, keep chopping these vegetables. And stir that soup.” 

Narumi somehow found himself holding a knife in one hand and a spoon in the other, and had to rush to the counter to catch a carrot before it rolled over the edge. When he wasn’t in danger of dropping any vegetables or stabbing himself with the knife, he looked up to find that in all of five minutes, Tsubame had somehow managed to silence the toddler and was now carrying him while he contentedly chewed on Tsubame’s hair. 

“How’d you do that?” Narumi asked. 

Tsubame poured a variety of spices into the soup and stirred it all together. “Live with the Uzumaki long enough and you’ll get plenty of experience with screaming children. He didn’t even try to stab me with a kunai.” 

“Mama,” the boy said. 

“I’m not your mama,” Tsubame said, in the tone of voice of someone who knew that a venture was doomed. 

“Mlem,” the boy said, around a drooly mouthful of hair. 

Narumi glanced over at the others—Sakumo was entertaining the other two with some sort of lightning trick that was making their hair stand on end, and Dan was talking to one of Narumi’s shadow clones—before returning to his newest duty as a shinobi: sous-chef. 

The boy babbled something. Narumi had absolutely no idea what he said. “You’re correct,” Tsubame said. “I think that is plenty of carrot. Give that here, Narumi—if these children have been living on ANBU cooking, I have no doubt they’re starving.” 

Sure enough, the moment their food was placed in front of them, the children fell upon it like starving animals. They finished half the pot between them, and promptly fell asleep at the table. They didn’t stir when Sakumo and Dan bundled them into futons, or when the shinobi began to talk quietly at the table, leaving the door to the bedroom open so they could keep an eye on the kids. 

Sakumo ran a hand through his hair. “Seriously,” he muttered. “What the hell is the Uzukage thinking, kidnapping kids?” 

“It’s an effective tactic,” Tsubame said grimly. “She told me she got the idea from something you did, Narumi.” 

“What, me?” 

“How did she even have time to tell you that?” Sakumo asked. 

Tsubame rolled his eyes and tapped his scroll, the one linked with Tsubasa’s. “It’s easier to talk privately through this. Apparently one of the jounin and the chuunin you captured were actually Chiyo’s son and daughter-in-law. She’s been a lot more reluctant to attack now that they’re in Konoha’s hands. Things are almost over on the Suna front.” 

“So they thought the same tactic might finish things in Kiri,” Dan surmised. “It makes sense, although it is unpleasant.” 

Sakumo looked through the bedroom door. “These kids have nothing to do with the war, except for what their parents did.” 

“And we’ll make sure the war doesn’t touch them more than it already has,” Tsubame said. “The ANBU have a watch, but we should organize our own, just in case.” 

As it turned out, their watch wasn’t really necessary. A few enemy shinobi attempted to either rescue or capture the kids, but ANBU always took care of them before they got anywhere near the house. They took to spending their shared watches playing cards or, in the case of Tsubame and Narumi, holding lessons on fuinjutsu. 

“Until now, I’ve just been having you memorize arrays. We haven’t had time for anything else,” Tsubame said as he set a pile of scrolls, an inkwell, and several brushes on the table. “At the moment, we have enough time for you to learn properly instead of simply memorizing and copying. So, paper, ink, brush, and a list of seal components. Start experimenting. I’ll stop you if it looks like you’re about to blow the house up.” 

With that, Tsubame unfurled a scroll and started to draw a seal of his own on it. Narumi looked between him and the supplies lying on the table. “What, just go for it?” 

“You have the basics down by now,” Tsubame said. “Trial and error will teach you the rest. Unless you’d rather sit through a detailed lecture on what each and every component does on its own and in combination with other components?” 

Narumi shuddered. Just the mention of a lecture brought back memories of sitting inside a cramped, stuffy classroom on days when he could have been running around outside. “No thanks.” 

“That’s what I thought,” Tsubame said. 

Narumi glanced over the list of components Tsubame had left on the table. He recognized most of the components from the arrays Tsubame had made him copy, and some of them he was passingly familiar with, but he couldn’t even begin to list the functions of some of them. He started by drawing he Uzumaki spiral—that, at least, he knew was usually used as a base. He started adding a few components that he recognized. He wasn’t sure what the seal would do, but hopefully it wouldn’t do something horrible if he activated it. 

He’d show it to Tsubame first just in case. 

“What in the world are you making?” 

Narumi looked up to find Tsubame leaning over his shoulder, peering down at the array on Narumi’s scroll with a furrowed brow. “Not sure,” he said. “Something cool, I hope.” 

“Well, it doesn’t look like it will kill us all,” Tsubame said, after a moment more of squinting at the array. 

“Let’s try it out, then,” Narumi said.

He lowered his hand to the array. 

“Wait!” Tsubame said, reaching out to grab Narumi’s hand. 

Tsubame’s hand landed on Narumi’s right as the array activated, the ink flaring blue for a moment. 

Other than that, nothing happened. 

Tsubame sighed. “Well, we aren’t dead yet. Next time, wait until I actually tell you to activate it. I can’t tell how it will react in a single glance. I’m an expert in medical seals, not whatever abomination you created. ” 

“Right. Sorry.” Narumi laughed sheepishly. 

Tsubame pulled his hand away. Narumi’s hand moved with it. 

The two of them stared at their hands. Tsubame moved his hand to the side; Narumi’s hand moved as well. Narumi tried to pull his hand away, only to bring Tsubame along too. 

Tsubame pinched the bridge of his nose with his free hand. “This is why we wait to activate our seals,” he muttered. 

Narumi waved his hand up and down slightly. “Sorry. Wow, they’re really stuck.” 

Tsubame forced their hands to be still. “Cut that out. We have to figure out how to reverse this. Sit still while I look at the seal.” 

Narumi leaned back in his chair while Tsubame pulled the array closer and leaned over it, absentmindedly tucking a strand of red hair behind one ear. Tsubame chewed on his lower lip as he ran a finger along the outside of the array, clearly deep in thought. He was pretty cute when he was concentrating. 

Sakumo walked out of the bedroom, yawning and scratching his stomach. “Hey, Tsubame, what’s for breakfast?” 

Narumi looked at Tsubame, who was leaning in so close to the seal that his nose was almost touching it. He was muttering to himself too quietly for Narumi to make out the words. “I think you’re on your own,” he said to Sakumo. 

“Plain rice it is,” Sakumo said. He trudged to the kitchen and began to putter around. “I have no idea how Kaede and I are going to survive. Neither of us can cook.” 

“Me neither,” Narumi said. He’d gotten pretty used to living on instant food, takeout, and field rations over the years. 

“The life of a bachelor,” Sakumo sighed, the last word ending in a yawn that threatened to split his face in half. 

Tsubame chewed on the end of the brush. “You’re gonna give yourself splinters,” Narumi said.

“Shut up, nee-chan,” Tsubame muttered.  Narumi snickered. 

After awhile, Sakumo came over with two bowls of rice and slid one across the table to Narumi. Narumi took the chopsticks with a free hand; thankfully, his right hand was free, and his left hand was stuck to Tsubame’s right hand. 

“So, you and Tsubame,” Sakumo said, with a pointed look at their hands. “Did you . . . you know?” 


Sakumo’s eyebrows waggled up and down. “You know.” 

“Oh! Uh, no, our hands are just stuck together because of a seal accident,” Narumi said. 

Sakumo sighed. “Damn. Here I thought you’d finally got yourselves sorted out.” He laughed. “‘Seal accident.’ Nice one.” 

Narumi snorted, and ended up hacking and coughing as rice went up his nose. 

Entirely oblivious, Tsubame said, “Well, you seem to have created something that sticks two or more objects together, which has the potential to be quite useful. On the other hand, you added a time dependency clause of some sort, which means it will wear off in either 24 minutes, 24 hours, or 24 days.” 

“I think it’s been more than 24 minutes,” Narumi noted. 

“Hours or days, then,” Tsubame said. “I’m going to start working on something to cancel the effect. I am not going to go around stuck to you for almost an entire month.” 

“Ah, that would cause some problems,” Sakumo said. 

“We’re in the middle of a war. I think it would cause more than some problems .” 

“At least we’re not on the front lines anymore.” Sakumo laughed. “Although the Kiri nin might be confused enough that you could get a few hits in before they pulled themselves together.” 

“This does mean, however, that meal preparations will be complicated,” Tsubame said. “Sakumo. Go out and buy food. Something that even you can make.” 

Sakumo gave him a mockingly deep bow. “Yes, young master. Whatever you want, young master.” 

Tsubame threw some sort of booklet at his head. “Get out of my home, you menace.” 

Sakumo, still laughing, snatched the booklet out of the air and slipped out the door. Narumi caught a brief glimpse of one of the ANBU guarding the house before the door closed again. 

Tsubame sighed and shook his head, tossing back strands of red hair. “Finally, some quiet.” 

“Until everyone else wakes up at least,” Narumi said. 

“I wish. Those children never say a word. I never know what they want.” Tsubame tossed his head as if shaking off those thoughts and shot a glare down at the seal in front of him. “This, at least, is a relatively easy problem to solve.” 

Tsubame reached back to pull his hair into a ponytail, inadvertently taking Narumi’s hand along with him. Strands of Tsubame’s hair slid through his fingers as his hand was pulled along, as smooth and fine as silk. 

“Huh. Your hair’s really soft,” Narumi said. 

Tsubame jerked his hands away from his head like he’d been electrocuted. 

“Sorry, sorry,” Narumi laughed. “I can’t help it.” 

Tsubame glared down at their attached hands. “Let’s solve this problem as soon as possible.” 

He set to work, giving Narumi another seal that he deemed vitally important to Narumi’s education in the sealing arts. Narumi worked on it with half of his attention, the other half devoted to the warmth of Tsubame’s hand against his and the cute way Tsubame bit his lip when he was frustrated. After a while, he got bored of working on the seal and started making up his own—although he would definitely have Tsubame thoroughly check them over before activating them. 

All too soon, however, another problem arose. He’d tried to ignore it, but it was unavoidable.

Naruto nudged Tsubame. “Hey, Tsubame. I’ve got to piss.” 

Tsubame looked to the ceiling as if beseeching an unseen god. “This is the worst thing to have ever happened to me.”