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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 months. 

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.”  

 

Chapter Text

Red hair, purple eyes . . . Narumi blinked slowly, clearing the sleep from his eyes, and reached out with one hand. “Mom?” 

Smack. 

Naruto yelped and shot up in bed, rubbing his cheek. “Ow! That hurt, ya know!” 

Tsubame’s smile was sweet and very, very sharp. “Do I look like your mother, Namikaze?” 

“It's dark!” he protested. “And you do have kind of girly hair.” Not that it didn’t look nice, he noted privately. Normally Tsubame kept his hair up in a bun, away from his face, but tonight he only had it up in a ponytail, free to fall down his back. He’d only seen it like this once, on the night of the battle in Uzushio. 

“Get dressed. We’re going out,” he said. “The others are meeting us downstairs. Be ready in sixty seconds or I’ll leave you to find the way yourself.” 

Narumi scrambled for his clothes, yanking on the first fresh pair out of his bag and yanking it on as he tumbled towards the front door. “Hey, don’t be mean! I didn’t mean it. Your hair’s, uh, cool.” 

“Shut up about my hair!” Tsubame snapped. Narumi stared after him as the other man started down the stairs. If he didn’t know better, he would’ve said that Tsubame’s face was rather . . . red. 

“Namikaze!” Tsubame barked. “Are you coming, or not?” 

Narumi jerked back to awareness and sprinted down the stairs. “I’m coming, I’m coming. Where are we going, anyways?” 

“To meet with the others,” Tsubame said, as Narumi burst out into the open street. Narumi whirled around to face him, only to find that Tsubame was already walking down the street. Tsubame was wearing a pair of fancy sandals, rather than the more practical pair favored by most shinobi, but even then he moved surprisingly quickly in them, especially considering that he was also wearing a hakama rather than the standard shinobi pants. 

The apartment was fairly close to the center of town, so they reached the main street in short order. Tsubame, Narumi realized after a moment, was moving towards their destination with pinpoint accuracy, not even looking around them to see if the people they were meeting were around. “Tsubame,” he realized, “you’re a sensor, aren’t you?” 

Tsubame glanced back at him, surprised. “You figured it out quickly. Yes, I am.” 

“What are you sensing? Can you sense, like, individuals or something? Does everyone have a special chakra signature?” 

He shook his head. “No, I'm not that skilled of a sensor. I can tell roughly how many people are around me, and I can distinguish between certain special types of chakra. Some Uzumaki have distinctive chakra—you do, for instance. But with the people we’re meeting, all I really have to do is head for the largest group of chakra signatures around.” 

“Who are we meeting, anyways?” Narumi asked. 

“You’ll see in a minute—there, they’re waiting for us,” Tsubame said. 

Narumi followed Tsubame’s gaze towards a bar on the corner of the street. He noticed Jiraiya’s unmistakable hair first, and then recognized Tsunade and . . . Orochimaru. He very nearly grabbed a kunai, but stopped himself at the last minute. At this point in time. Orochimaru hadn’t done much of anything. He was, what, twenty, twenty-one? Hell, the three of them weren’t even known as the Sannin yet. 

He looked, then, at the fourth member of the group. Where the other three were intimately familiar to him, even as young and happy as they were, this other man was a complete unknown, even though he looked to be the same age as them. His hair, however, was grey and spiky, and he stood with a casual nonchalance that struck him as familiar, somehow. 

“Ah, Tsubame-chan!” Jiraiya cheered. “Here we are, together at last. We’ve missed you on the battlefield.” 

“Stop calling me that,” Tsubame muttered as they approached, easily dodging Jiraiya’s one-armed hug. “And you know I’ve been needed in Uzushio.” 

That sobered the other four up quickly. “How are things there?” the grey-haired man asked. 

“Coming along,” Tsubame said. “We lost good people, but the majority have managed to pull through. I’ve been pulling overtime at the hospital, though.” 

Tsunade grimaced. “Tell me about it. Medics are in such high demand that I feel like I’ve seen more missions than these three combined.” 

“I hear it’s thanks to your friend here,” Orochimaru said, peering at Narumi in clear interest. “We haven’t been introduced.” 

“Of course,” Tsubame said. “Namikaze, this is Jiraiya, Orochimaru, Tsunade Senju, and Sakumo Hatake. This is Narumi Namikaze.” 

Hatake—that was why he was so familiar. This was Kakashi’s dad, Narumi realized, looking into the man’s face. He did look familiar, now that Narumi really was close enough to really see him, although Kakashi looked . . . lazier. 

“That was good work you did there,” Sakumo said, shaking his hand. 

Narumi rubbed the back of his head. “Anyone would’ve done it.” 

“Anyone who could summon a full army of shadow clones,” Orochimaru said, still staring at Narumi with that sharp, unblinking gaze. “Tell me, did you modify the jutsu? Have them stored in seals? Or do you just have that much chakra.” 

“Huh, I never thought of doing that,” Narumi said. “Uh, no, I just have a lot of chakra.” 

“There’s an understatement if I ever heard one,” Jiraiya laughed, slapping Narumi on the back so hard he nearly stumbled. “I hear we have you do thank for saving Tsubame-chan, here.” 

“Stop calling me that,” Tsubame muttered. Jiraiya made an odd, pained noise, and turned stark white. Naruto took one look at Tsubame’s icy expression and decided he was better off not asking. 

Orochimaru sighed loudly. “Pity. I was hoping it would be something interesting, but you appear to be yet another brutish lout. No doubt you and Jiraiya will get along famously. Tsubame, come. I had something I wanted to consult you on in regards to seals.” 

Orochimaru’s mention of seals made him shiver, but luckily, no one seemed to notice. “Hey, hang on! I thought we agreed I got to pick his brain first? We had a bet, bastard!” Jiraiya yelled. 

Orochimaru sniffed indignantly. “You took too long to ask him. Idiot.” 

While the two of them bickered, Tsunade slipped her arm through Tsubame’s and led him inside. “Namikaze, come on. Those idiots will be there all day,” she called over her shoulder. “Now tell me what you’ve been up to before those two start picking your brain.” 

“Oh, like you don’t want to  pick my brain too,” Tsubame said. 

“Yes, but unlike them, I have the sense to wait until we’re working. It’s my night off! I’ve forgotten what my apartment looks like, I’ve spent so much time at the hospital.” She sank into a booth, pulling Tsubame down beside her and gesturing for Narumi to sit across from them. Sakumo, who had followed them in, sat beside him. “You, what’s your story?” 

Narumi blinked and pointed at himself. “Me?” 

“Yeah, you. You see any other mysterious shinobi here? We’re all curious. I’m just cutting to the chase for all our sakes so we don’t have to put up with the idiots trying to act like spies,” Tsunade said as she flagged down a passing waitress. “Sake, all around. Keep it coming!” 

“You’ll regret that in the morning,” Sakumo chuckled, even as he accepted a glass of sake. 

Tsunade shrugged. “I don’t have a shift, and Dan said he’d make breakfast. The way I see it, I’m better off than the rest of you. Kaede’s still in the field, isn’t she?” Sakumo nodded his agreement. “And those two are still bachelors, and these two are just going to be stuck with each other’s suffering! Oh, I’m going to enjoy everyone begging me for hangover remedies!” she cackled. 

Narumi couldn’t help but grin; it seemed Tsunade hadn’t changed all that much, at least. 

A crash resounded through the room, bringing all the ninja to their feet and their hands to their weapons as a white blur shot through the room, crashed into the opposite wall, and dropped to the ground. 

JIraiya, groaning, flopped onto his back and rubbed his head. Orochimaru, on the other side of the new, Jiraiya-shaped window, dusted off his hands and clothes, stepped neatly through the door, and took a seat beside Tsunade.

“So,” he said, casually sipping from his sake cup. “Where were we?” 

“Asking this guy his story,” Tsunade said, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Even the other shinobi in the bar had already returned to their drinks and conversations, paying no attention to the body on the floor. 

“Ah, the boring method,” Orochimaru sighed. “Very well, carry on. I must admit to being curious.” 

Jiraiya finally roused himself, still rubbing his head, and sank into the remaining seat next to Sakumo. “That’s no fun,” he grumbled, apparently having overheard their conversation. “But fine, fine.” 

“Oh, like you don’t know more than us, anyways,” Tsunade said, rolling her eyes. “Come on, Namikaze, spill the beans!” 

“Um.” Narumi rubbed the back of his head. “What did you want to know exactly?” 

“How did you learn the Kage Bunshin? That’s a Konoha secret technique,” Orochimaru said. “And seeing as I don’t recall someone stealing any village secrets recently . . .” 

“Oh. I learned from my teacher,” Narumi said, which . . . okay, was a complete lie, but he couldn’t exactly tell them that he had stolen village secrets, even if he’d been twelve and (in retrospect) kind of stupid.

Jiraiya leaned back and peered into his sake cup as if examining it for secrets. “Ah, yes, the mysterious teacher. Let me take a guess: a Konoha missing-nin.” 

“He might’ve been. He didn’t wear a village headband,” Narumi said. 

“What was his name?” Jiraiya asked. 

Narumi shrugged. “I just called him old man. Or pervert.” 

Sakumo snorted sake out his nose. The rest of them kindly ignored him as he hacked and coughed. Jiraiya held his sake cup up, squinted at it, shrugged, and gulped it down. Orochimaru’s smirk turned a little more evil. 

“Anyways, he . . . passed away years ago,” Narumi said. “I doubt it’s relevant.” 

Jiraiya shrugged. “You never know what could be useful. Still, seeing as he knew Konoha techniques, I’m betting he was a Konoha shinobi. Maybe from sensei’s time? No, maybe earlier. Records from that time are sketchy, but I could take a look.” He stroked his chin. “Orochimaru, what do you think?” 

Orochimaru hummed thoughtfully. “If he was from sensei’s generation, you’re more likely to find information. But if he was from earlier, you’re unlikely to find any descriptions detailed enough to give you a lead. Not to mention that his appearance would have changed over the years, so any descriptions you did find would likely not match up with Narumi’s knowledge. All in all, I would say finding any concrete information would be quite unlikely.” 

“How close were you to this guy?” Jiraiya asked.

“He was sort of like a godfather to me,” Narumi said. “I never knew my parents, so my teacher was all I had.” 

Tsunade grimaced. “Cheerful,” she said, and knocked back her sake. “Come on, everybody, another round! We’re celebrating tonight.” 

“And what, exactly, are we celebrating?” Tsubame asked, even as he accepted and knocked back the next two cups of sake Tsunade pressed on him. 

“Uzushio’s survival, and ours,” Tsunade said grimly. “Come on, you all, bottoms up.” 

They all dutifully chugged their glasses, and no one protested when Tsunade topped them all up again, although Tsubame’s cheeks were starting to look suspiciously pink and Orochimaru’s eyes had taken on a glassy sheen. Sakumo seemed normal enough, until he hiccuped. 

“That’s enough for Tsubame-chan, I think,” Jiraiya chuckled, pulling his sake away from him. “Still as much of a lightweight as always, huh?” 

“I have seals to deal with hangovers and I’m not giving you any,” Tsubame said, and grabbed the glass back. 

“Suit yourself,” Jiraiya said, and slung an arm around Sakumo’s shoulder. “So, Sakumo, how go things with your lady-love?” 

“You and Tsunade, both so domestic. It’s sickening,” Orochimaru said. 

Sakumo elbowed Jiraiya sharply, forcing him to let go before he spilled his sake over the both of them. “I’m sure you’d like to know!” he laughed. 

“Which one did you decide on?” Tsubame asked, abruptly. 

Tsunade, Jiraiya, and Orochimaru all turned as one to stare at Tsubame, and then, still moving as one, turned eerie grins at Sakumo. 

“Oho!” Jiraiya laughed, ruffling Sakumo’s already messy hair. “So that’s how it is, huh? Doing these sorts of things without telling your best friends. You punk!” 

“You’ve been holding out on us,” Tsunade said, cracking her knuckles threateningly. 

“And yet you asked Tsubame for advice? Tut, tut, Sakumo,” Orochimaru said, shaking his head back and forth. “Resorting to asking someone six years your junior for help.” 

“It’s because you guys have bad taste,” Sakumo said drily. 

“Bad taste!” Tsunade yelled, slamming her hands down on the table hard enough that the sake bottles all rattled and would have tipped over if Narumi hadn’t hastily steadied them. “You bastard, I’ll show you bad taste!” 

The appearance of a small, square box shut them all up. They stared down at it intently, and gasped when Sakumo opened it with a flick of his finger. 

A small, golden band with a white jewel set into it sat nestled in the box, twinkling in the light. 

Tsunade sat back and huffed. “Boring.” 

“It’s kind of plain, isn’t it?” Jiraiya noted. Orochimaru nodded in agreement. “Jeez, Sakumo, you’re giving her this?” 

“It’s a diamond!” Sakumo complained. “You know how hard it is to find these things since the war? This thing is worth twenty S rank missions!” 

“Doesn’t look like it,” Jiraiya complained, although Orochimaru looked rather more impressed. 

“Well, I’m not giving it to you,” Sakumo said, snapping the box shut and putting it back in his pocket. “I’m proposing once she gets back.” 

“Sakumo, you dog!” JIraiya cackled, already recovered from his disdain of the ring. 

“Wolf, actually,” Sakumo corrected. 

“Personally, I liked the one with the blue stones,” Tsubame said. “But this one is nice too.” 

Narumi looked around at them. “Uh, congratulations?” he guessed. 

“Yeah, congratulations!” Tsunade cheered, pouring another glass of sake for all of them. “Cheers, to Sakumo’s marriage!” 

“Cheers!” they all chorused, clinking their glasses together. 

“Sakumo’s getting married?” another group of ninja called from across the room. “Hey, guys, Sakumo’s getting married!” 

Before long, the whole bar was cheering and offering congratulations, and even some shinobi walking by or eating in restaurants across the street had come to see what the fuss was about. Amidst the chaos, Sakumo groaned and sank his head onto the table. “She hasn’t even said yes yet,” he groaned. “And now she never will!” 

“Oh, don’t be dramatic, you big baby,” Tsunade snorted. “Drink some more!” 

Sakumo dutifully accepted the two glasses of sake she pressed onto him. This seemed to be the cue for the rest of the bar to start buying them drinks to celebrate, and before long their table was filled with a variety of sake bottles and shots. Jiraiya and Tsunade, and even Orochimaru, in his own creepily quiet way, accepted this turn of events with wild abandon, tossing back drinks one after another, even as their cheeks turned red and their words slurred together. Sakumo joined in after a moment of sulking, although Narumi got the sense that this was more to drown his misery and get so drunk that he wouldn’t remember any of it in the morning. Even Tsubame made a valiant attempt, although he slumped against the wall, fast asleep, even before they were halfway through with all the drinks they had been purchased. 

Narumi joined in with them happily. He might not have been a jinchuuriki anymore, but some of the effects had lingered, such as his massive chakra pool and his incredible metabolism. He was pretty sure that by the time they polished off the alcohol, he’d had more than anyone else at the table, and was half as drunk as them. 

“Saaakumo,” Jiraiya slurred as they stumbled from the table. “Mah friend . . . we gotta . . . enjoy our youth while you’re still free.” 

Sakumo shook himself free from Jiraiya’s grip, and somehow managed to make his way to the door. “Nah, I gotta, gotta write a letter. Gotta write to Kaede.” He practically fell through the door, but somehow managed to stay upright as he wobbled down the street, mumbling to himself. 

Jiraiya shrugged and staggered off towards the red light district. 

“Have fun!” Orochimaru called, and giggled. 

Tsunade narrowed her eyes at him. “What’d’ja do?” 

“Hmm, nothing much. He’ll be fine other than performance issues,” Orochimaru said, still snickering. He swayed on his feet, steadied himself on the wall, and turned rather green. He vanished without another word. Tsunade, shaking her head woozily, followed him. 

Narumi tapped Tsubame’s shoulder, and then, when that failed, shook him. Neither action accomplished anything beyond making Tsubame curl up into a ball. Narumi rolled his eyes, but let him sleep, instead enlisting the help of a couple drunk jounin to get Tsubame on his back, with his arms slung over Narumi’s shoulders and Narumi’s arms tucked under Tsubame’s legs. Tsubame fell back asleep in seconds, and remained that way even when Narumi hauled him up the stairs and dumped him into bed.  

***

Naruto woke to an apartment that was empty but for a bowl of rice, pickles, miso soup, and a letter stating that Tsubame was in negotiations with the Hokage, would likely be stuck in negotiations for the next few days, and that he should seek out one of the four he’d met the previous night if he remembered them and if he wanted to risk the hangover. Alternatively, the paper suggested several good restaurants in the area, several good training grounds, and advised asking civilians if he wanted anything more touristy. 

Narumi took one look at the breakfast and went straight back to bed to sleep off his hangover, and awoke much later to a white mask looming over him. 

He shrieked and shot up in bed, smacking his face against the mask. The ANBU reared back, and Narumi rolled to the ground, clutching his head and cursing up a storm.

The door opened. “Oh,” said Tsubame, sounding distinctly unimpressed. “So you are alive.” 

“Sage’s balls, you didn’t have to startle me like that,” Narumi groaned. “Oh, that did not do anything for my hangover.” 

“Just as pathetic as the rest of them,” Tsubame sighed. He knelt down beside Narumi and pressed a seal to his head. Narumi groaned in relief as his headache and lingering nausea vanished. 

“Tsubame, you’re a god,” he sighed. “Is that breakfast still there?” 

“Unfortunately, no, but there is dinner,” Tsubame said. “You’ve been asleep for hours.” 

“I’m never drinking again,” Narumi sighed as he got to his feet. The ANBU had vanished, leaving them alone. 

“Thankfully, the others seem to agree with you,” Tsubame said, as he took a seat at the kitchen table, where someone had laid out plates of rice, fish, vegetables, and pickles. Tsubame, it seemed, had fairly simple tastes. 

“How are negotiations? What are you negotiating for, anyways?” he asked. 

“Reparations,” Tsubame said, once he’d swallowed. “Konoha is bound by our treaty to defend us in the case of attack, just as we are bound to defend Konoha. They failed to uphold their end of the treaty, even though we have upheld ours, which is a very serious slight to their honor. It doesn’t look good, so they want to give us reparations both to uphold their honor, and because giving another village reparations makes them look better, since it means they can easily afford to give away these things. Basically, if they give us supplies and food, it means they can easily spare these things, which makes them seem stronger. At the same time, we don’t want the amount of supplies we’re given in the reparations to be obvious, because it makes us seem weaker. Although we really do need them,” he grumbled. 

“Huh. Do you do these kinds of things a lot?” he asked. 

“Diplomacy missions? Not that often. We don’t have them very often, to be fair, and when we do I usually get sent on them,” he said. “Medics are in high demand, though, so more often I’m in the hospital or on the front lines.” 

Both of them fell quiet at the mention of the war. Narumi  had to admit he didn’t remember much about the Second Shinobi War, other than that Nagato said that Konoha had started the war, the Sannin had made their reputation during the war, and that it had left small countries such as Ame devastated. 

Times like these he wished he’d paid more attention in school. He’d spent days cramming details on important missions and events into his brain, but he was lacking a lot of the bigger picture. 

“We’ll probably have another mission pretty soon. We’re working out a joint mission deal with Konoha, as part of the reparations,” he said. “With Tsunade’s team, probably, and maybe Sakumo, Dan, or Kaede.” 

“Already? What kind of mission?” he asked, desperately hunting through his mental files for any idea of what they could be sent to do. 

Tsubame smiled grimly. “We’re at war, Namikaze. What kinds of missions do you think they give their heavy hitters?”

Chapter Text

Heavy hitters, as it turned out, got the kind of missions that involved camping out in trenches on the Suna-Konoha border, covered in mud and leaves and praying the seals protecting them from earth jutsu held so they didn’t get crushed in their sleep. Narumi had been placed on a joint Konoha and Uzushio squad with Dan, Sakumo, Tsubame, and whatever Uchiha or Hyuuga got stuck with them. For the moment, they had a ten-year-old Uchiha named Isuzu, fresh from the Academy. Tsunade, Jiraiya, and Orochimaru had been shipped off to Ame, so it was just the five of them and the other squads stationed with them.

Tsubame appeared beside him with a splash of water. “How are the seals, Namikaze?”

Narumi sat back on his heels. “They seem good. They match up with what you showed me, at least.”

Tsubame made a pleased noise. “We’ll make an Uzumaki seal master of you yet.”

“That’s why Uzushio was targeted, yeah?” Naruto asked.

Tsubame nodded. “Most likely. Our primary responsibilities are shielding our allies and capturing or stopping enemies, especially large groups of enemies. A seal array in the right place at the right time can capture or kill a whole squad, and the reason why we’re able to stay in these trenches is because these arrays prevent earth jutsu from being used here.”

“And you have medical seals,” he said.

“And that,” Tsubame agreed. “Preferably we’d also have a medic on hand, but medics are in short supply. I don’t have the chakra control for it, unfortunately.”

Narumi laughed. “Yeah, my chakra control was always shit. It took me ages to get tree-walking down.”

“I’ve been walking on water since before I could remember, so mine has always been passable. Still nowhere near the level required to be a medic, however,” Tsubame said.

A bird call pierced the air, and Tsubame frowned.

“Enemies?” Narumi guessed.

Tsubame nodded. “The Uchiha must have seen something. Come, we should return.”

They used shunshin to return to the rest of the squad, splattering their companions with water and leaves. “Ugh,” Sakumo grimaced. “Why can’t you do a normal shunshin instead of splashing all of us, Tsubame?”

“What did you see?” Tsubame asked.

Dan nodded at Isuzu. “Tell them, Isuzu.”

Isuzu’s sharingan whirled as he looked over the edge of the trench. “Suna shinobi, heading this way. A whole bunch of them. At least fifty, maybe more. It’s hard to tell with so many.”

“Good. Turn that off before you exhaust yourself,” Tsubame ordered. Isuzu sighed in relief as his eyes returned to their natural black. “Go down the line and pass the word along.”

Isuzu nodded and dashed off, keeping low to the ground so as not to be seen as he left their trench. “Our seals are in good order,” Tsubame said. “Sakumo, can your wolves track them?”

Sakumo bit his thumb and slammed his hand on the ground, and three wolves appeared in a small puff of smoke. “Gin, Jun, Ran, enemy combatants headed our way. Track them and report back.”

The wolves slipped away and disappeared into the forest like ghosts. By the time Isuzu returned, there was no sign they had ever been there.

“Everyone is ready,” he said.

“Good,” Tsubame said. “Now we wait.”

“You got goggles, kid?” Sakumo asked Isuzu, who hesitated a moment before shaking his head. Sakumo tossed him a scroll. “You’ll need them. These guys love going for the eyes, especially if you’re an Uchiha.”

Isuzu gulped and pulled on the goggles as the rest of them settled in, ready to move at a moment’s notice. “They’re splitting up,” Isuzu murmured after a moment. “Pincer attack? There’s a wolf coming this way.”

Sakumo sniffed the air. “Ran,” he said. “Hm. Puppet corps?”

“I can’t tell,” Isuzu confessed.

Ran slipped back into their trench. “Puppet corps,” she said. “A full troop of them headed this way.”

Narumi jerked as he heard a shout from somewhere in the distance. “They’re here,” Tsubame said grimly, and then the world exploded in light and color.

Narumi leaped from the trench, summoning his shadow clones into existence with barely a second thought. The seal arrays had triggered, he realized moments later, trapping a few squads of shinobi and taking them out of the equation but leaving many more free. “Isuzu, fire!” he called, leaping out of the way of a Great Fireball just in time. The puppet user swore and tried to recall his puppet before it burned to a crisp, but a wolf leapt on him and tore out his throat.

Narumi glanced over at the kid and swore as he saw him frozen, staring at the wolf in horror. He ducked under the sweep of a poisoned blade, allowing one of his clones to take care of his attacker, and dashed toward Isuzu. He snatched him out of the way of a spray of senbon and held him close as they rolled along the ground. “Hold on tight,” he ordered, shifting Isuzu to his back and summoning two more clones. “You two, watch my back. Isuzu, what do you see?”

“On your six, there’s a squad of puppet users rallying,” Isuzu called.

“Fire on my mark,” Narumi ordered, and leapt back into the fray, dodging stray jutsu and weapons. Flashes of memories returned to him as his clones were dispersed, but he dismissed them and summoned more clones. He threw a spray of kunai into the back of a puppet user, who staggered and fell, revealing a group of puppet users that were gathering not far from him.

“Fire when in range,” Narumi ordered.

Hot fire bloomed over his head. A few of the puppet users managed to leap out of the way, but the rest screamed as the fire devoured their puppets and then reached for them. A wind jutsu took care of the rest of them, scattering them and throwing them into trees. He caught sight of a glimpse of Sakumo, his white blade shining bright, and then of a Suna jounin turning on his squad, a mark of Dan’s technique at work.

Tsubame appeared beside him in a flash. “Narumi, array eight!” he barked.

“The what?” Narumi asked as he thrust his kunai into an enemy’s eye, and Isuzu spat fire at a puppet getting ready to spray senbon at them.

Tsubame groaned. “You’re going through the Uzumaki standard seal patterns as soon as we get some down time. Just watch my back.”

While Tsubame drew on the ground, Narumi and Isuzu maintained the perimeter, Isuzu tossing fire at puppets and people alike, and Narumi using wind to push back projectile weapons or poison smoke. His clones raced through the battlefield, screaming war cries at the tops of their lungs. A few of them came to join him, protecting both Tsubame and the seal, until Ran howled and Tsubame screamed, “Narumi, trees!”

Narumi leapt for the trees as a wave of water crashed through the battlefield. The Uzushio shinobi seemed to know what to do, as the moment the seal activated they were up in the trees, with their Konoha counterparts not far behind. The Suna shinobi, however, were inexperienced both in fighting Uzushio shinobi and in dealing with large quantities of rushing water. The few Konoha and Uzushio shinobi who had been caught up in the technique soon climbed out of it using water walking, but the Suna shinobi were either killed while still finding their feet, or sucked down into the whirlpool at the center of the seal before they had a chance.

Then, all at once, the water receded as if it had never been there, leaving dozens of shinobi scattered about the field, groaning.

Tsubame forced a stack of seals into Narumi’s hands. “Put these on the chests of any drowning victims on our side, or any highly ranked or important people on their side, and activate them.”

Narumi lowered Isuzu to the ground. “Come on,” he said. “I could use a hand.”

Isuzu nodded slowly and trailed after him as he headed across the battlefield, to the closest green and blue jounin vests he could see. Some were already dead, killed before Tsubame had even activated his technique. Only a few had actually fallen prey to the technique, and they were quickly revived with the seals Tsubame had given him.

They spluttered back to consciousness, hacking and coughing up water. “Ugh! Fucking Uzushio bastard!” they called to where Tsubame was picking his way through a group of bodies. “Some warning, next time?”

“I believe someone needs to brush up on their battle signals. A wolf’s howl was the signal mentioned in the mission report,” Tsubame said.

“Eh? There was a mission report?” Narumi said.

Tsubame sighed. “Hopeless as ever. I can’t believe you’re an Uzumaki.”

“I thought you’d do it before you activated it, not right as you did,” the Konoha shinobi grumbled, even as he swiped a stack of the seals from Narumi.

“Even if you hadn’t heard it, your water-walking should have been more than good enough to see you through,” Tsubame said.

The shinobi threw his arms up and wandered off, muttering about Uzushio shinobi all the while. The Uzushio shinobi, none of whom had fallen prey to the technique, just snickered.

Narumi handed half of his papers to Isuzu. “You see how to use them? Go ahead and check on the Konoha and Uzushio shinobi. Once you finish, stick by someone in the squad.”

Isuzu nodded and ran off, and Narumi began the slow work of picking through the enemy shinobi. Some were dead, some had drowned too quickly for him to save, and some were genin or chuunin that he couldn’t justify using the supply of seals on. He slapped them on a few important-looking jounin and some shinobi he recognized from the bingo book he’d been given. He rolled over a red-haired man in a tan jounin vest, looking for some distinctive marks, and froze at a familiar face.

He thought, for a moment, that he was looking at Sasori, before he remembered that Sasori was probably a baby. Sasori’s father then, he assumed. He thought he remembered that Chiyo lady going on about someone killing Sasori’s parents during the war.

He scrambled through the man’s pockets for his identification, and got his confirmation. This man was either Sasori’s father, or a very close relative. Narumi slapped a seal on his chest and tied him up as he coughed up water, and then quickly checked the identification of the women closest to him to see if he could find the man’s wife. He found her not far away, and quickly slapped a seal on her before tying her up as well. Narumi left them there once he was certain they weren’t going anywhere, and continued on his way.

He’d just about finished tying up the last jounin he thought he recognized as someone important when Tsubame appeared next to him. “What’s with those two random shinobi you got?” he said.

“Eh? You mean they aren’t important? I thought I’d seen them in the bingo book or something,” he said.

Tsubame sighed. “The woman isn’t even a jounin. I suppose it doesn’t matter. Chiyo escaped with half the puppet corps, so that’s down the drain. We’ll transport all of them to Konoha and see if they know something.”

Narumi hummed. “They might, if they were here. You never know! I mean, I’m not a jounin, and I know a lot of stuff.”

“Well, you’re an anomaly,” Tsubame said wryly.

Narumi winced as the last of his clones dispersed. “Ugh, suicide jutsu,” he said. “Some puppet user decided to go out in style.”

Dan and Sakumo appeared in a flash of leaves. Isuzu, Narumi realized after a moment, was perched on Dan’s shoulders. “There’s a clean-up squad  and a couple capture squads headed our way,” Sakumo said. “We’re to hold the position and help them with the prisoners if need be.”

Narumi felt a pulse of chakra from Tsubame, who pulled out a scroll and opened it. “No, we aren’t,” he said grimly. “Uzukage-sama is calling our team to the Kiri front. They’ve got some trouble over there. We’re leaving Konoha Team Three in command here.”

“Ugh, not those assholes,” Sakumo groaned. “Dan, you deal with them. You’re the only one of us with real social skills.”

Dan laughed in amusement, but obligingly hurried off, calling out to a particularly grumpy Hyuuga and exchanging a few quick words. “We’ll hit up a supply drop on the way,” Sakumo said. “There’s one along the way, if I’m not wrong.”

“I know the one,” Dan agreed. “The one at the watch post?”

“That’s the one. If we make good time, we might be able to beg a bed from the folks out there,” Sakumo said.

***

They did not, in fact, manage to bag a bed from the sleep-deprived, jumpy shinobi at the guard post, nor did they manage to for the remainder of their trip. They slept in trees or on the floor of whatever guard post they managed to reach the entire way to the coast. By the time they reached Uzushio, beds felt like a distant dream. At that point, Narumi would have killed for even a hammock.

He flopped down on the sand with a sigh and unzipped his flak jacket to tug irritably at his sweat-soaked shirt. “Just dump me in the ocean,” he groaned. “I’ll survive.”

Tsubame frowned down at him. His red hair was up in a bun again, both to keep it out of the way and to keep it from being soaked with sweat and sticking to his neck. “Get up, Namikaze. We don’t have time to waste.”

Narumi reluctantly hauled himself to his feet as Tsubame took off over the waves, barely giving his feet time to touch the water before he was off again. Narumi took off after him, the other three hot on his heels, with Dan looking after Isuzu.

Tsubame reached into his bag and pulled out a scroll, reading as he skipped over the swirling water beneath them. “Kiri’s getting rowdy. We should be just in time to meet our people before they head out. We’re hitting them before they can hit us. With the seal arrays in the state they are, they’d smash through our defenses with no problem.”

“How on earth do you do that?” Narumi asked. “Some kind of seal thing?”

Tsubame glanced back at him in surprise. “What, the message transfer? Uzukage-sama and I have linked seals. If one of us seals something in, the other can take it out.”

“Handy.”

Isuzu dashed ahead, laughing as the waves sprayed him with salty water. “Don’t fall in!” Dan called after him as he fell into step beside Narumi. “Tsubame, what’s the news?”

“Looking for news about Tsunade?” Tsubame asked wryly. “She’s still in Ame with the other two, last I heard. Hanzo the Salamander is making some noise, I think, but nothing’s come of it. No news of Chiyo, either.”

Sakumo groaned. “They’re going to send me after her, I just know it. I always get the worst jobs. I’ve been stabbed, burned, electrocuted . . .”

“Poisoned on that one bodyguard mission,” Dan mused. “Left to drown in a well that one time with the hunter-nin . . .”

“Tied up to a tree completely naked,” Tsubame offered.  “Oh, no, wait, tied up to Kaminari no Kuni’s daimyo’s wife’s bed while all her maids laughed at you. That was funny.”

“The time when he was tied up to the Kazekage’s bed was funnier,” Dan said.

“You never told me about that one,” Tsubame said. “You’ll have to fill me in over drinks.”

Sakumo groaned. “Dan, we had a deal.”

“Sorry. All’s fair in love and war,” Dan said, completely unrepentant. “You can cry about your woes to Kaede, I’m sure she’ll be sympathetic.”

“You kidding? She’ll laugh herself sick. I thought she was going to die when I told her about the crime lord incident.”

Sand crunched beneath their feet as they left the ocean for the shores of the island. Tsubame led the way through the twisting canal to the Uzukage’s office. Tsubasa was waiting for them, along with a full squad of ANBU. “There you are,” she said grimly. “You’re moving out. Eel will fill you in on the situation while you’re on the move.”

A masked ANBU nodded at them politely, and Tsubame returned the gesture. “We’ve just returned from the Suna front. They’ve retreated for the moment, though I have no doubt they’ll return. Tsunade’s antidotes are holding us in good stead even in her absence.”

Tsubasa laughed. “I bet that old bat’s taking it real well, huh?”

“Let’s just be glad the Kazekage hasn’t gotten involved,” Tsubame said.

“Don’t worry so much. I have people working on it,” she said, waving her hand. “Now go.”

Tsubame glanced around the room. Other than their squad, there was a squad containing orange-haired Uzumaki woman, a pair of blue-haired twins, and three Konoha shinobi, as well as the eight masked ANBU. “This is everyone?”

“You’ll make it work,” she said. A bird alighted on the window, and she sighed as she retrieved the scroll. Tsubame nodded towards the door, and they left with only a few missteps.

Narumi wasn’t going to forget an ANBU, elite ninja, pride of Uzushio, getting accidentally tripped by a little kid anytime soon. Judging by the snort that had managed to escape Sakumo, neither was he. Tsubame, clearly the most mature out of all of them, just sighed and led the way down to the shore. Once there, the other squad peeled off from them along with four of the ANBU, probably heading for a different part of Kiri.

“Our job is to cause trouble wherever we think it’ll hit Kiri hardest. Supply lines, mines, fields, guard posts, you name it. Whatever we have to do to make an opening for them to do what they need to do. And before you ask, no, I don’t know what their mission is, and no, you aren’t allowed to pester them. Unlike your Konoha ANBU, Uzushio ANBU bite .”

“Sakumo would know,” Dan said.

A scroll flew threw the air and smacked Narumi in the head, followed by a call of “Catch!”

“Some warning?” he yelled back as he scrambled to grab the scroll before it was lost to the whirlpools under their feet.

“Those are standard seal arrays. Study them,” Tsubame ordered.

Narumi summoned a couple clones and set them to studying it. “Where are we headed first?”

“Kiri’s docks,” Tsubame yelled.

“I’m thinking fire,” Sakumo mused. “Lots of fire.”

“The wood’s wet, you’ll just make smoke,” Tsubame said. “Think before you speak next time.”

Sakumo sighed. “Fine, fine. We’re going for big and flashy, right? Let’s get some big, fiery explosions for the boats. I’ve got a nice lightning dragon that’ll look badass coming through the smoke.”

“Sakumo, we’re near water,” Tsubame replied.

“So? You have seals for that, don’t you? Come on, it’ll scare them shitless,” Sakumo said with a wolfish grin.

Tsubame sighed and tucked a strand of hair behind his ear. “You can’t always rely on me to keep your bizarre plans from getting out of hand,” he complained, even as he produced a seal. “This should protect you in case the lightning gets a bit out of hand. It does have a limit, so try not to go swimming. Keep away from the water as much as possible.”

Narumi examined the seal. “What does it do? I’m getting something about repelling the lightning?”

“Essentially,” Tsubame said. “It should protect your person and the area immediately around you. Regardless, you should stay back while Sakumo and I go ahead. Water dragon, then lightning dragon.”

“Then clones,” Sakumo said. “To finish off the ones still standing. Make them look like a bunch of different people, if possible. We want to make them think an army’s headed their way. Dan, Isuzu, you move in with the clones. Isuzu, keep an eye out for anyone who looks important, or anyone who looks like they’re pulling any big stunts.”

Isuzu nodded. “And the rest,” Sakumo finished, “we’ll figure out as we go along. Alright, let’s do this!”

Sakumo and Tsubame dashed ahead, leaving only the violently churning water in their wake. The ANBU had vanished already to do whatever it was they had been sent to do.

Narumi ran, and watched as in the distance a watery dragon reared its head and lightning crackled through the sky. “Sakumo must have very good control to keep it from getting out of hand,” he mused.

Dan nodded. “Even with the seals, Tsubame wouldn’t trust anyone else with lightning around water. Sakumo is a master of the element.” He smiled grimly. “There probably won’t be much left for you to clean up.”

“Even so,” Narumi said, and summoned a horde of clones. They all transformed, either into people he had made up or into villagers and shinobi he had known over the course of his life, and ran forwards. He allowed himself to be swept up with them, and spotted Dan and Isuzu doing the same.

They arrived to docks and boats piled high with corpses. Further back on the shore, Tsubame and Sakumo were fighting several ninja who must have come as backup. With a mighty cry, the clones swept forward, taking the ninja off-guard by their sheer numbers alone.

Then, as suddenly as it had begun, everything was still. Narumi wandered through the crowd of clones, and eventually came upon Tsubame, who was applying seals to a wound on his leg. As Narumi watched, he activated the seal, and the wound began to heal until it was nothing more than a pink, shiny scar.

“Impressive,” he said.

“For simple wounds, at least,” Tsubame said. “A wounded leg is easier to heal than a stab to the stomach or other organs. You need the more delicate touch of a medic for that.”

“Seals can’t do it?” Narumi mused, tracing the smooth, curving lines of one of the seals. “I dunno, I think they’re pretty delicate.”

“Not now, at least,” Tsubame hummed thoughtfully. “I’ve been researching it.”

He stood and wandered over to a body, which had been slashed open from groin to mid-chest. “Sakumo is very good for that,” Tsubame said.

“Huh? Wait, you mean you experiment on these guys?” Narumi said.

Tsubame looked at him in surprise. “Of course. I certainly wouldn’t do it on live subjects.”

“That wasn’t really what I meant,” Narumi said.

Tsubame’s gaze fell on the Kiri shinobi again. “We all have to do things we don’t like for our village,” he said. “We already killed him. I can’t think of anything worse we could do.”

“I guess,” Narumi said.

It just seemed weird to him, coming from a time when only creeps like Orochimaru or Danzo experimented on people like that to a time where it was basically acceptable, at least on the battlefield. “Some Uzushio and Konoha ninja donate their bodies to the village, should they die in battle,” Tsubame said. “Some of them will be taken home. Some will rot where they lie. Some will be taken by other villages, and experimented on. It’s not pretty, but that’s how it is right now.”

He sighed and sat down, tucking his knees up to his chest, and stared at the corpses scattered around them. “I wish it wasn’t that way. We’ll change things.”

“Yeah,” Narumi agreed, sitting down beside him. “We will.”

They sat for a moment, in silence, until Sakumo appeared in the distance, picking his way over the corpses. “There you are. How long do those clones of yours stick around?”

Narumi shrugged. “As long as they want, or until they get forcefully dispelled.”

“Excellent. That’ll freak them out, for sure. Can you keep making them whenever one gets dispelled in battle?” Sakumo asked.

“If I have a chance, yeah,” Narumi said. “I can make . . . pretty much as many clones as I want. I’m not even tired after making all those.” He might not have the Kyuubi anymore, but he still retained some of the benefits of being a jinchuuriki.

Sakumo whistled. “That’s pretty incredible, even for an Uzumaki. Anyways, Dan took a look around and he says there’s a couple of guard stations we can hit on the way to a supply route. Isuzu’s with me on fire duty. You’re on clone duty. Tsubame, whatever crazy seal shit you think up. Dan’s doing his spirit release, because it freaks them out like nothing else.”

“Like you wouldn’t scream like a civilian if your teammate turned around and stabbed you,” Tsubame scoffed. He pulled himself to his feet, brushed himself off, and peered out over the horizon. His red hair gleamed in the setting sun, and Narumi couldn’t help but watch in fascination as the light brought out the golds and oranges hidden in the sea of red. He irritably blew a strand of hair away from his face and turned to look into the distance, where Isuzu was washing his hands in the water while Dan stood nearby.

“Should we camp?” he murmured, quiet enough that neither of them would overhear. “What do you think, Sakumo?”

“Me?” Sakumo scratched the back of his head. “Wouldn’t you have more experience with kids than me? Your clan is huge.”

“Yeah, but if an Uzumaki kid is flagging, they won’t let you forget it. He’s an Uchiha.” Tsubame wrinkled his nose. “They’re so quiet .”

Sakumo sighed. “Can we even afford to camp?”

Tsubame paused, and then shook his head. “We’ll just have to keep an eye on him. Tell him not to use the Sharingan unless he has to. We’re in the middle of enemy territory, and we have to keep going while our momentum is strong. Namikaze, you have stamina to spare?” Narumi nodded. “Carry him on your back, then.”

They returned to the other two and informed them of the plan. Isuzu, as they might have predicted, puffed up irritably upon hearing their decision. “I don’t have to ride on your back! I’m not a child, I’m a shinobi of Konoha!”

“You have to conserve your strength for the Sharingan,” Tsubame said evenly. “Chakra is a resource, and I won’t have you wasting it keeping pace with us when you should be saving it for when we need it. You’ll ride on his back, and that’s an order. Come on, we’re moving out.”

Isuzu scowled, although the expression didn’t look nearly as fierce on his childish face as he probably wanted it to, and reluctantly clambered onto Narumi’s back.

They set off without another word, and over the course of the night smashed, stabbed, and burned their way through three guard posts, with the burning and subsequent explosion of a key bridge on the supply route as the grand finale. After surrounding the place with enough seals to ensure no one would want to set within ten feet of it for fear of being reduced to itty, bitty pieces, they retreated for the night and set up camp in a tree, like true Konoha shinobi.

“These trees aren’t nearly as comfortable as the ones in Konoha,” Sakumo grumbled. “Why couldn’t we just go back to that last guard post again?”

“If you want to be set upon by Kiri nin in your sleep, be my guest,” Tsubame said. He was perched in a tree of his own, reading through letters by the light of a seal.

“Anything from Konoha?” Dan asked.

Tsubame shook his head. “Just requests for updates on our status.” He scribbled down a quick reply and sent the message off again. “Some intel, too. One of the ANBU sent back word of a supply depot not far from here. We’re to hit that in the morning.”

Sakumo sighed. “I’m so jealous. Those three get to have a show-down with Hanzo the Salamander and we’re stuck in the ass-end of Kiri.”

“You could always go join them. I’m sure you’d survive somehow. You’re like a cockroach that way,” Tsubame said.

Sakumo kicked Tsubame’s branch. Tsubame scowled and threw a stick at him. “Children, please,” Dan said calmly. Isuzu, leaning against his side, was fast asleep.

“So Tsubame has an immature side too, huh? That’s kind of cute,” Narumi couldn’t help but tease, just to see Tsubame’s face turn tomato red.

As predicted, he flushed and scowled and threw a scroll at Narumi. “Shut up and study your seal arrays.”

“I’ve already learned so many of them,” he complained. “I’ve had clones studying that other scroll all day.”

“Keep studying,” Tsubame said. “I won’t have you blowing us all up by messing up such simple seals. The next step is practicing them until you can make them with your eyes closed.”

“Sir, yes, sir,” Narumi muttered, and settled down to sleep while his clones read over the scroll. Below and around them, his other clones patrolled the perimeter or sat in silence. With that many clones surrounding them, the enemy would be hard pressed to sneak up on them, so he felt comfortable enough to fall into a light doze.

Narumi woke what seemed like minutes later, when Sakumo fell out of his tree and dispelled one of his clones. Tsubame, startled by the noise, jerked to alertness and probably would have drawn his sword on instinct had he not lost his balance and nearly fallen out of his tree as well.

“I had a dream,” Sakumo grumbled irritably as he pried sticks and leaves from his person.

“Don’t tell me.” Tsubame leapt from the tree and landed gracefully, not a hair out of place even after sleeping in a tree all night. Narumi tried to ruffle his hair into something more orderly, and quickly gave it up as a bad job in favor of joining them on the ground for a breakfast of ration bars and water purified by seals.

“I think you were in it,” Sakumo mused.

“Now I really don’t want to know,” Tsubame said.

“I think I was Uzukage,” Sakumo continued.

Dan and Isuzu joined them on the ground, accepting ration bars from Tsubame. “Is Sakumo talking about his dreams again?” Dan asked.

“How’d you know?” Sakumo asked.

“Because as far as I can recall, you haven’t ever been Uzukage,” Dan replied. He made a face at the ration bar, and wolfed it down as quickly as possible. Narumi couldn’t fault him. They tasted like a mix of sugar, cardboard, and rancid meat, and it was impossible to get used to the taste even after weeks of living on them.

“Fuck you, I’d make a great Uzukage,” Sakumo said.

“Uzushio would either fall or revolt within a week,” Tsubame said.

A clone alighted beside them. “Hey, boss, there’s a whole bunch of Kiri shinobi headed this way,” he said. “Should we ambush ‘em?”

Narumi glanced at the others. “Why not,” Tsubame shrugged. “Just make sure to leave some of them alive to spread the word. Isuzu, stick close to Namikaze.”

They leapt into their trees, masking their presence with camouflage jutsu and scent-suppressing seals. The Kiri nin traveled along the ground, not as used to perching in trees as their Konoha counterparts. They weren’t, however, totally oblivious, as a few meters before they were within striking range, one of them cried out a warning.

“Damn, sensors! Dan, go!” Tsubame called.

Dan’s spirit entered the commander of the troops, who began to strike those around him. Without their leader, the less experienced shinobi began to panic, and were hardly in any state to respond when the other four launched themselves at them. Narumi managed to blast a good chunk of the force into the air with a few wind jutsu, leaving them easy pickings for Isuzu’s fire jutsu. A white wolf leapt over his head and tore out the throat of shinobi in the middle of a technique, and out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of a white tanto crackling with lightning and chakra. Occasionally he jumped over shinobi with seals slapped to their body, or stumbled upon traces of seal arrays.

The battle was over as quickly as it started, as Narumi slammed a kunai into the back of a woman trying to heal her fallen teammate and looked up to find the rest of the shinobi fleeing into the distance.

Tsubame peered after them. “Mid-chuunin level,” he estimated. “Not worth chasing.”

Sakumo turned over one of the fallen corpses. “Got their commanding jounin here, I think,” he called as he rifled through the woman’s pockets. “Orders to scope out situation along the border. Looks like we’ve got their attention. Let’s see. . . Kiri bingo book, I’ll take that if no one else wants it. And . . . aha, ANBU tattoo. Judging by the wounds, I’d say taken off ANBU duty to recover from injuries. They must be feeling the heat if they’re sending out injured shinobi. Scrolls, in code. Tsubame, send these to Uzukage-sama so she can get T&I on them.”

“Of course. Namikaze, seal array twenty-one,” Tsubame said, tossing yet another scroll to Narumi. “Tag any survivors for ANBU or capture teams. You can draw this one directly on the skin.”

Narumi went around, drawing out the seal on any living shinobi, while Tsubame did the same. Dan, Sakumo, and Isuzu continued to search the fallen shinobi for anything useful. They found a few coded scrolls, and a stash of Kiri-made rations, which tasted of seaweed, tree bark, and miso. It was a welcome change.

After their impromptu lunch break, they continued on their way to the supply depot, avoiding any shinobi they ran into along the way. They seemed to be streaming en masse towards the coast, although some also seemed to be headed in the direction of the other squad terrorizing Kiri.

Tsubame was the first to sense the supply depot. Dan applied a quick earth jutsu to dig them a small fort, hidden from view, so that they could observe.  

“At least five squads of six shinobi each,” Tsubame reported. He sketched out a quick plot of their patrol routes in the dirt, while Isuzu held up one of Tsubame’s seal-lights. “There is always one in place here—likely the entrance. Two more patrol a rectangular path around the border of the depot. They encounter each other every twenty minutes. Another is stationed here,” he said, prodding an area inside the compound. “They patrol around and inside this area. My guess would be that the majority of their supplies are here. The other two patrol the inside of the depot. The largest chakra signature, likely the leader, is with the squad that patrols the stretch from the entrance to this other guarded area. The leader is accompanied by shinobi with high-chuunin to low-jounin levels of chakra. The other squad on the interior patrols the edges, and is made up of shinobi of a similar level. The outer patrols are mid to high-chuunin level. Thoughts?”

“Since we’re going for flash, I’d say hit ‘em hard with the clones. Freak them out a bit,” Sakumo said. “Dan, you go for the big guy before we enter, and keep up the act until they see the clones. Having their commander turn on them will panic them more. We’ll try to keep the clones on the down-low, but once they start catching wind of what’s going on, have them use suicide seals to take out as many as possible and freak out the rest. After that, we’ll head in for cleanup. Leave one of those less experienced chuunin alive to spread the word.”

Tsubame took a scroll from his waist, and from it produced a bottle of ink and a stack of blank papers. “These will go to your clones,” he said as he began to paint seals onto the paper. “They only take a little chakra to activate, but they’ll produce a blast strong enough to kill or seriously injure anyone close to you. The closer, the better. Try to keep them within five feet. Where are your clones?”

Narumi shrugged. “Scattered around here and there, underground like we are. I can send another clone to deliver anything to them.”

“Copy this seal,” Tsubame said, handing a handful of supplies to Narumi. “The rest of you, get some sleep. We’ll launch our attack at night.”

Chapter Text

“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?” 

“What?” 

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.” 

Chapter Text

“I have returned—whoa, what happened here?” 

Narumi shrugged helplessly as Tsubame furiously scribbled away on a scroll. Their disastrously embarrassing trip to the bathroom had taken ten minutes, and Tsubame had only grown increasingly irritated since then. Narumi suspected that Tsubame now had to use the bathroom as well, but was resisting giving into the inevitable out of sheer stubbornness. “What’d you get?” 

Sakumo tossed the booklet onto Tsubame’s lap and then dumped a bag on the table, upending it so its contents spilled out. “Spoils of war, my friend!” 

Narumi had expected him to come back with a bag of rice and some fish, and maybe some vegetables, not several items wrapped in brightly colored paper or stored in cardboard boxes. He opened one curiously and found three grilled squid on skewers, like the ones he sometimes saw kids eating on the side of the canal. 

Tsubame looked up as one of the items rolled across his scroll and sighed. “Sakumo. You didn’t.” 

“What? Those little genin looked so cute, selling stuff by the side of the road. I couldn’t resist!” 

“I said to buy groceries, not snacks and street food!” Tsubame sighed and shoved a clumsily wrapped package away from his scroll so he could roll it up. “I suppose I’ll have to go out myself. Narumi, you can carry the bags.” 

“Sir, yes, sir,” Narumi said, as he was tugged out of his chair along with Tsubame. Tsubame retrieved a few bags from the kitchen, most likely to carry their purchases, and nearly dragged Narumi out the door. 

“Slow down, Tsubame,” Narumi laughed as he quickened his pace so they were walking side by side. “The groceries won’t go anywhere.” 

“We should get there before the good fish are all taken,” Tsubame said. “They’ve probably already been picked clean of the best catches of the day, but if we hurry we should be able to find some good ones. I’m not holding out much hope for vegetables. Maybe they’ll still have rice, but we have to hurry.” 

As they hurried through the village, people called out greetings to Tsubame and cast curious glances at Narumi. A few people even waved cheerfully at Narumi, evidently recognizing him from somewhere. Or maybe they were just friendly. 

“People here sure are nice,” he remarked to Tsubame. 

“Well, you are an Uzumaki,” Tsubame said. “Some of them can sense that, like I can. Sensors aren’t uncommon among our clan. As far as they’re concerned, that makes you family.” 

A smile spread across Narumi’s face, unbidden. “Family, huh?” 

He couldn’t help but look around, grinning goofily at all the colorful heads of hair running past him. As their eyes met his, they smiled in return, even if he had no idea who they were. After a moment, Narumi looked back to Tsubame, catching a brief glimpse of his reddened cheeks before Tsubame turned around and yanked Narumi back down the street. 

“Hurry up, before everything is gone. If we miss out, you’re waking up at four in the morning tomorrow to accompany me during the morning rush.” 

Having grown up in Konoha, Narumi first expected to end up in a supermarket of some sort, only to realize that they probably didn’t have supermarkets yet, in which case it would probably be a series of stores, each geared towards a specialized item. He didn’t expect, however, for Tsubame to pull him onto a wide street running alongside the widest canal Narumi had seen so far. Boats filled the canal, strung together to avoid drifting away, and people walked freely from one boat to another along narrow makeshift walkways. 

Tsubame sighed. “Ah, we already missed the rush. Well, we’ll see what’s left.” 

Narumi followed him onto one of the boats; there were a few people on each boat, so he wouldn’t say it the canal was all that empty. “What’s it like during the rush?” 

“Oh, you can hardly move. Shinobi arts are strictly forbidden, including minor chakra manipulation to walk on the water, unless it’s an emergency. We had a few too many instances of shinobi trying to cut in line.” Tsubame surveyed the fish being offered by the man running the boat-shop. “These three here, and that one over there, please.” 

“Of course, Tsubame-sama,” the man said. “Come again!” 

Once the fish were nicely wrapped up in plain paper, they left that boat by crossing over the one next to it, which seemed to be selling crockery. The next was selling clothing, and the one next to that was selling fabric. They stopped on a boat selling a sparse collection of vegetables: a few lumpy yams, some crooked carrots, a small, sad collection of mushrooms, a handful of roots, and two small bags of rice. 

“Tsubame-sama, welcome. Let me put something together for you,” the shopkeeper said. “No mushrooms again?” 

“I’ll take the mushrooms this time,” Tsubame said. “And some for my friend, too.” 

The shopkeeper turned a cheerful, if tired, smile at Narumi. “Welcome! Any friend of Tsubame-sama’s is a friend of mine. I’ll need your ration books.” 

While Narumi attempted to remember if he had ever been given a ration book, Tsubame produced two thin booklets and handed them to the shopkeeper, who removed a few slips of paper from each before handing them back. 

“I held onto yours for you,” Tsubame explained. “I didn’t anticipate taking you along for the grocery shopping.” 

“What about Dan and Sakumo?” 

Tsubame grimaced. “They’re from Konoha, so they aren’t covered. At least my rations were increased because of the kids . . . I think I can make it work.” 

The shopkeeper placed a wrapped package on the table and patted it firmly. “There we go, wrapped up safe and sound. Have a nice day.” 

“Thank you. Now, let’s see what else we can find.” 

Narumi followed Tsubame through the boats, idly browsing as Tsubame examined each and every shop. Most they passed through, with a brief stop at a shop that was evidently meant to be a bakery but was only selling a few small bags of flour, sugar, salt, and a few tiny jars of yeast. Their final stop took them to a fruit stand, with offerings as meager as the rest of the food shops. 

As the woman wrapped their purchase, Narumi spotted a small potted plant with long, thick  leaves on the counter. When he leaned close to examine it, he noticed that someone had written “Jirojiro-san” on the pot. It was a completely different plant, but it still reminded him of Ukki-kun, the plant he had given to Kakashi a lifetime ago, and he couldn’t help but smile and pick it up. 

“You have a good eye!” the woman chirped. 

“It’s an aloe vera, right?” he asked. 

She nodded. “That’s right. I got it from some merchants that passed through Suna. I don’t think I’m taking very good care of it, through.” 

“Nah, you’re doing great,” Narumi said, setting it back down on the table. “I’m pretty good with desert plants like this.” 

“Wow! You should give me some tips.” 

Narumi sheepishly rubbed at the back of his head. “Hehe, sure.” 

A sudden jerk at his hand pulled him to the side. “We should go,” Tsubame said sharply. 

“Come again!” the shopkeeper called after them. 

Tsubame pulled Narumi along in silence, speeding up whenever Narumi tried to walk next to him, until Narumi could no longer hear the din of the marketplace. 

“Uh, Tsubame?” Narumi asked. “You trying to run away with my hand?” 

Tsubame deliberately slowed down. “My apologies.” They were side-by-side, now, but Tsubame wasn’t looking at Narumi. “I . . . didn’t know you liked plants.” 

“Oh, yeah, I do. I had a small garden where I grew up, and a bunch of potted plants. It was kind of nice to have something that needed me,” he said with a laugh. “I guess there isn’t much room for a garden here.” 

“Some people have potted plants,” Tsubame said. He hesitated for a moment. “And . . . it’s a bit far from the main village, but there’s a small island that no one’s using right now. I don’t know who used to own it, but they left it to the Uzumaki when they died. No one wanted to live so far from the main compound, so there’s an empty house just sitting there. It probably needs some repairs after all these years but . . . it could be yours. If you wanted it. I know there’s enough space for a garden.” 

“What, really? Come on, let’s check it out!” 

Narumi darted forward, only to be yanked backwards with a yelp as Tsubame pulled his hand back. “We can’t right now! We have to get the groceries home.” 

“Aw, c’mon, Tsubame, live a little! The groceries aren’t gonna go bad if we take a little detour,” Narumi said, giving Tsubame his best pleading expression. 

Tsubame looked away, cheeks slightly pink, and sighed. “Fine, we can go. But we have to be quick about it.” 

He pulled Narumi in the opposite direction from where Narumi had been headed. “This way.” 

The village abruptly stopped without so much as a beach on this side of the island; Narumi could see the barracks docked nearby, and a few people had boats tied up outside their houses. As they stepped out onto the water, he could see a few boats in the distance, skillfully avoiding the whirlpools. 

Salty water sprayed across his face as they ran. At first he couldn’t see much of anything, but eventually he could make out a small, flat shape in the distance. It increased in size as they approached, until he could make out a protrusion from the shape, and then that the protrusion was in fact a house, and then the details of the island itself. 

They stepped from the water onto a small beach, from which a small path led up to the house. A few small trees stood around the house, the kind that were good for thin, whippy branches you could use to attack your friends. The house itself did look to be in need of repairs; the windows and door were missing, and when he looked inside he could tell it was covered with grime. 

Tsubame pulled him around to the back of the house, where there was dirt instead of loose, gritty sand. Narumi knelt, pulling Tsubame down with him, and ran a hand through the dirt. “Yeah, this is pretty good from what I can tell. I think you could grow some stuff here,” he said. 

“You want it, then.” 

Narumi sat on the ground. Tsubame hit the ground beside him with a huff. “Whoops. Sorry. I dunno, maybe. It’s nice.” 

“It is. And I suppose it might be good to have you at a distance in case you cause any more mishaps,” Tsubame said. 

“Hey!” Narumi elbowed Tsubame, and then laughed. “What could I say? I just couldn’t bear to be separated from your gorgeous face.” 

“Just my face, hmm?” 

“Well, your personality is a little . . .” He made a face and wiggled his free hand from side to side. Tsubame thumped his fist against Narumi’s shoulder. “Joking, joking!” 

Tsubame huffed and looked away. Narumi laughed and looked up at the sky. “It’s kind of quiet here, though.” 

“You don’t like the quiet?” Tsubame asked, still looking away. 

“Mm, not really. It feels a little isolated, I guess,” Narumi said. 

“The village is only a short walk away. No matter where you live, you’re always welcome in the Uzumaki compound. Besides, I’d come visit you,” Tsubame said. 

Narumi looked at him, eyes wide. “You would?” 

“Of course. You’re my responsibility, aren’t you? My sister told me to keep an eye on you,” Tsubame said. Narumi couldn’t help but notice that the redness on his cheeks spread all the way to the tips of his ears. “And I have to get some time away from my family. You haven’t had time to notice yet, but they have a tendency to be nosy and overbearing at the best of times. Especially the elders.” 

“What, I don’t count as family anymore?” Narumi gave him an exaggerated pout. 

“Well, you know, you’re . . . different,” Tsubame said. “I . . . enjoy spending time with you.” 

The words hung between them for a moment. 

Narumi gave Tsubame a teasing grin. “So, how painful was that for you to say?” 

Tsubame huffed and elbowed him. “See if I ever say anything to you again.”

They fell into silence for a moment, the groceries abandoned at their sides, their hands still stuck between them. 

“I wanted to live here,” Tsubame said. “I used to come here to play as a child, when I wanted to be alone. Most children had parents who wouldn’t allow them to come out this far, but my father was the Uzukage. He spent most of his time running the village or training Tsubasa to be his successor.” 

“What about your mom?” 

“She died giving birth to me.” 

“Oh, the same as me.” Narumi snorted and gave Tsubame a lopsided grin. “What a weird thing to have in common.” 

“It must have been hard, being raised away from your family.” 

Narumi leaned back as much as he could with his hand still attached to Tsubame. “It was at first. But I had my teacher and my friends, and then the old guy who trained me, so it wasn’t all bad. And I found my way here eventually.” 

“You’ll soon have your fill of us,” Tsubame assured him. “Trust me, living in the middle of the compound is a trial at the best of times.” 

“So why don’t you live out here?” Narumi asked. 

“As much as I may want to . . . as the heir to the family, I’m expected to live inside the compound. And Tsubasa is never going to have children, so that will never change.” 

“You should do what you want. Not what other people’s expectations tell you to do,” Narumi said. 

Tsubame sighed. “If only it were that simple.” 

Narumi opened his mouth to speak, but Tsubame interrupted him. “We should be going. It’s getting late. The ANBU will start to wonder what became of us.” 

“Just a little bit longer,” Narumi said. “Come on, you know you want to. Or would you rather go back to babysitting?” 

“Just a little longer,” Tsubame agreed, at last. 

Smiling, Narumi knocked their shoulders together. He remained like that, his shoulder pressed against Tsubame’s, as they stared out over the sea. Caught in the wind, a few strands of Tsubame’s hair glistened in the sunlight, red and orange and yellow. Idly, Narumi reached up with his free hand and let one of the strands wrap itself around his finger. 

“Your hair really is pretty, ya know,” he said. 

“Sh-shut up, Namikaze.” 

Narumi grinned. Once again, Tsubame was as red as his hair, from his cheeks to the tips of his ears. “It’s the truth.” 

Tsubame, still blushing, tucked a strand of hair behind his ear, only to jerk in surprise as Narumi’s hand was brought along and brushed against his hair. 

This close, Narumi was able to see all the little details he’d never noticed before, like the little holes in Tsubame’s ears. Curious, he leaned closer. “You have pierced ears?” 

“Hm? Oh, I do. I’m surprised they haven’t closed up. I don’t wear them on missions,” Tsubame said. “I wouldn’t want to lose them."

"But you're not on a mission now," Narumi said. 

Tsubame gave him a flat look. "I already have children grabbing my hair. I don't need them to grab my ears as well." 

"I guess you've got a point," Narumi sulked. "Aw man, and here I wanted to see you in them." 

A huff of laughter escaped Tsubame. “After all this is over, I’ll wear them again.” 

“I’ll look forward to it.” Narumi looked out over the ocean. “When this is all over, huh . . . when do you think the war will be over?” 

“It’s hard to say, but . . . soon, I think. It’s already been a few years since it started.” Tsubame sighed. “We’ll have a lot of rebuilding to do once everyone is home. If you think it’s crowded and busy now, wait until the war is over. Most of the chuunin and jounin are out of the village.” 

“I’m looking forward to it. A whole village of Uzumaki!” 

Tsubame gave him a small smile. “There are other clans, you know.” 

“Yeah, but!” Narumi waved his hands. “Uzumaki!” 

Tsubame laughed quietly. “You’ll get sick of us soon enough.” 

“You think?” Narumi looked over at Tsubame, at his red hair and sea-blue eyes, and couldn’t help but smile. “I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of you.” 

Tsubame turned his head away, but Narumi could still see that the tips of his ears were red. “Honestly. Stop saying things like that. People will get the wrong idea.” 

“Maybe I want them to.” Tsubame, still looking in the opposite direction, elbowed Narumi firmly. Narumi couldn’t help but laugh. “Sorry, sorry, I’ll talk about something else. Hmm . . . when did you pierce your ears?” 

“Ah. When my genin team took the chuunin exam,” he said. “We passed it all at once, on our first try. Our sensei didn’t let us until he was sure we could pass, so we were thirteen, the oldest ones there. We pierced our ears with fishhooks. We all got infections, of course. Not our finest hour.”

“Ha! So even you do stupid stuff sometimes.” 

“Tsubasa would have a wealth of stories to tell, I assure you. If you ask her, however, I’m afraid I’ll have to kill you.” 

Narumi laughed and leaned against Tsubame. “Still, Tsubame in earrings. I’ll look forward to it. I bet you look even prettier.” 

“I thought I told you to stop saying things like that.” Tsubame looked away, over the ocean, but then turned around to meet Narumi’s eyes. “If you think I’m so pretty, why don’t you pursue Tsubasa?” 

Narumi squinted at Tsubame, trying to discern what he was thinking from his blank face and coming up with nothing. “What? Why would I do that? I don’t like Tsubasa, I like you, ya know.” 

Tsubame was blushing again and avoiding Narumi’s gaze, but Narumi could still see that his blank expression had been replaced with a small smile. “It would be easier.” 

Narumi failed to see how trying to get with the Uzukage would be easier. “Doesn’t matter. Like I said, I like you. Tsubasa’s too scary.” 

Tsubame laughed. “She’d be happy to hear you say that. Speaking of which, we should be going. Tsubasa will have nothing on Sakumo and Dan if we leave them to fend for themselves for much longer.” 

Tsubame stood, but Narumi remained sitting, their joined hand stretching between them. “I’ve become one with the earth. Help me up.” 

Tsubame rolled his eyes. Narumi laughed, only for his laughter to morph into a startled shout as Tsubame yanked upwards, heaving Narumi onto his feet. Narumi stumbled forwards and would have fallen again had he not collided with Tsubame. 

“Geez, warn a guy.” Narumi steadied himself with a hand on Tsubame’s chest. They were almost the same height, Tsubame just slightly shorter, so that he barely had to look down to meet Tsubame’s eyes. This close, with their noses almost brushing, he could make out all the little flecks of different colors in Tsubame’s eyes. It was like every time Narumi took a closer look at him, he got more and more interesting. 

Tsubame’s eyes met Narumi’s and then flicked downwards slightly, landing on Narumi’s lips. Narumi’s breath caught in his throat. His lips felt dry. On reflex, he licked them. 

Tsubame tore his gaze away and stepped back. “We should go.” 

“Oh . . . yeah,” Narumi said, allowing himself to be pulled along to the front of the house and down to the beach. “Maybe we could come back, sometime? It’s pretty nice here, ya know.” 

Tsubame stopped on the beach. Narumi stared at the back of his head. 

Without warning, Tsubame spun around, seizing the front of Narumi’s shirt with his free hand, and tugged Narumi close. Their lips crashed together, their teeth clacking together painfully as Narumi opened his mouth in surprise. Tsubame’s tongue darted into Narumi’s mouth for an all too brief instant before pulling back. 

Narumi found himself gaping at the back of Tsubame’s head as Tsubame stared resolutely at the village, a hand pressed firmly to his mouth. “We should—we should go.” 

Slowly, a grin spread across Narumi’s face. “Uhuh. You sure you don’t need a minute to calm down?” 

“Quite sure.” 

“You’re blushing!” 

“Shut up, Narumi.” 

***

The seal binding their hands wore off after only 24 hours, before Tsubame had a chance to finish his counter seal. As a punishment, he sentenced Narumi to repeatedly draw the same seals over and over until he had them all memorized. It was the worst parts of the Academy all over again—and to make it worse, Tsubame wouldn’t even let him use clones to help memorize them. Narumi was joined in this endeavor by the three-year-old, who took to sealing with the exuberance of someone who had no idea what they were doing and only liked to stick their fingers in the ink and try to eat them. 

Despite the fact that they were looking after kidnapping victims, life in that house wasn’t all that unusual. They quickly fell into a routine, aided by Tsubame’s insistence on holding lessons for the children, and soon it felt almost normal to be looking after three kids with three other guys and a bunch of unseen ANBU. By the end of the third month, Narumi didn’t even blink when he walked out of the bedroom to find Sakumo hoisting two of the kids into the air like they were makeshift weights. 

Tsubame, surprisingly, took care of the bulk of the childcare, organizing meals and baths and lessons, handling all nightmares and tantrums, laying out house rules and enforcing them when they were broken. 

“I’ve taken care of Uzumaki children before,” Tsubame explained, when Narumi asked. “Nothing is as trying as an Uzumaki child that wants nothing more than to fling itself headfirst into the nearest canal or blow itself up with a sealing experiment. At least these ones don’t know any jutsu.” 

In the absence of the ANBU, the kids got more boisterous over time. Narumi didn’t even want to think about what they would be like with jutsu under their belts. It was hard enough keeping them out of trouble as it was. 

Still, sometimes they managed to get breaks. Narumi took to accompanying Tsubame on his weekly trips to the market; if they left early enough and finished quickly, Tsubame occasionally allowed them a few moments alone, and they would walk out to the small island away from the main village before returning. 

In the house in the middle of the bustling Uzumaki compound, surrounded by his friends and the kids, it was almost possible to forget about the war. 

And then the Uzukage walked into their living room, dressed in armor under the robes of her office, sword in hand rather than on her back. 

Tsubame stood and faced her. “Uzukage-sama,” he said, face blank. 

“Kiri is launching an assault on the village,” she said. “As they currently are, the barrier seals won’t even withstand their first attack. I’ve made threats. Now it’s time to make good on them.” 

Her eyes landed on the children, sitting frozen around the table where they had just been eating dinner. 

Tsubame stepped forward until he was close enough that she was easily within striking distance of his sword. His hand rested on the hilt, ready to draw at a moment’s notice. “You might be my Uzukage, but you’re my sister first,” he said. “And I won’t let you do this.”

Neither of them moved. Narumi’s mind raced through the possibilities. Tsubame could hold off Tsubasa, at least for a while, but he couldn’t fight the ANBU at the same time. Narumi, with his clones, could manage that, but that meant Sakumo and Dan would have to grab the kids and make a run for it without anyone to watch their backs. It could work, if they got out before anyone else in the village realized what was going on, but they’d have to be quick. Now, if only Narumi could signal them somehow—

Tsubasa’s hand left her sword. Tsubame’s shoulders relaxed slightly. 

“Tsubame. Namikaze. With me.” Without another word, Tsubasa turned on her heel and left the house.

Narumi fell into step beside Tsubame, both of them following behind Tsubasa as she led them through the village. The canals and streets were crowded with ninja and civilians who all fell silent as Tsubasa passed them. 

They stopped on a beach. In the distance, Narumi could see a horde of shinobi approaching over the water. 

Tsubasa turned to Tsubame and looked at him for a long moment before turning to Narumi. “Namikaze. You saved my brother’s life once. I never thanked you for it. So, thank you.” 

She removed her robes, draping them over one arm, and then took off her hat. Tsubame stepped forward and grabbed her arm. “Nee-chan, you can’t. You’re the Uzukage. The village needs you.” 

“I’ve always been a warrior,” Tsubasa said. “That’s how I keep Uzushio safe. But more than a warrior, our village needs a healer. They’re going to need you, Tsubame.” 

Tsubasa swept the robe around, setting it on Tsubame’s shoulders, and then took one last, long look at the hat before placing it on Tsubame’s head. “Take care of the village for me, Uzukage-sama. And you, Namikaze—look after my brother.” 

Tsubasa stepped out onto the waves without a backwards glance as Tsubame sank to his knees in the sand. 

Narumi watched as Tsubasa broke into a run, moving almost too fast for him to see her. He looked down at Tsubame. “Should we help her?” 

Tsubame said nothing, just stared after Tsubasa, and after a moment Narumi turned back to the sea as well. 

Narumi squinted into the distance, trying to see Tsubasa. He could only just see the brilliant banner of her red hair, flying in the breeze. “What’s she doing?” 

“If it’s what I think she’s doing? A forbidden technique.” 

Narumi gritted his teeth and formed the seal for the Shadow Clone Jutsu. “We can’t let her go alone! I’ll help her.” 

“Don’t!” Tsubame pushed himself to his feet and grabbed Narumi’s arm. “The technique she’s planning to use can’t be controlled. If you go out there, you’ll be killed. We have to stay here in case she fails. I can count the number of jounin and chuunin in the village on one hand—if we go after her, that’s two less jounin to defend the village.” 

“Uh, I’m still a chuunin, remember?” Narumi said. “I’m still on probation for another six months or something.” 

“Not anymore,” Tsubame snapped. “You’re promoted. Now be quiet, Namikaze!” 

Narumi fell silent. The village was eerily silent; even the ever-present seagulls were gone from the sky. In the distance, the Kiri shinobi were still too far off to make out clearly. Something was strange about the scene, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. 

And then he realized—the ocean was getting further away. 

“Uh, Tsubame? Isn’t it bad when the ocean starts moving away like that?” He glanced over at Tsubame, only to find his gaze fixated on Tsubasa. 

If not for her red hair, it would have been impossible to discern Tsubasa from the horde. “Soon,” Tsubame murmured. 

Something strange was happening to the sky, almost like it was moving. It was only when the first white froth of the cresting wave appeared that Narumi realized it wasn’t the sky, but the sea. 

The wave rushed toward them like an avalanche, swallowing up the Kiri shinobi and Tsubasa. It was taller than any building in Uzushio, and moving fast enough that there was certainly no time to escape the beach, much less evacuate the village. Perhaps they had already been evacuated, but Narumi distinctly remembered passing several people on the way there. 

Was this how Uzushio was destroyed? By a forbidden technique activated by it’s own Kage?

Still, Tsubame didn’t move, and so Narumi held his ground. The wave rushed toward them, and Narumi couldn’t help but close his eyes against the spray of water as he braced for the impact of the wave. 

Water smacked into him, knocking him backwards. Narumi stumbled back and fell, landing in water that only went up to his knees. 

He blinked in surprise. The massive wave was gone, the small waves that periodically lapped against him the only sign that it had ever been there. In the distance, the ocean was almost entirely still once again. The Kiri shinobi were nowhere to be seen, and neither was Tsubasa. 

“The whirlpools,” Tsubame said. “Even an expert at water-walking wouldn’t have a chance of getting out once the whirlpools caught them.” 

He removed the hat from his head and stared at it. After a moment, he replaced it and offered Narumi a hand. “We have to tell the village what happened.” 

They didn’t have to go far. The edge of the beach was crowded with the few jounin and chuunin in the village, as well as several genin. Tsubame stopped in front of them. 

The jounin leading the group dropped to one knee. “Uzukage-sama!” 

The rest of the shinobi followed suit, from the jounin to the genin. Even a few civilians who had risked leaving their houses took to their knees. 

Tsubame inhaled slowly. “My sister—the Nidaime Uzukage is dead,” he said. His voice was quiet, but the village was still unnaturally silent. “She appointed me the Sandaime Uzukage.” 

None of the shinobi seemed to be very surprised, as far as Narumi could tell. The leader of the group nodded firmly. “Shall we discuss matters in your office, Uzukage-sama?” 

“Ah—yes.” Tsubame looked at Narumi for a moment. His hand reached forward slightly, and then retracted. “Namikaze. I’ll see you . . . later. When I have time.” 

“No worries. There’s a lot to deal with,” Narumi said. “I’ll head back to the house and fill Dan and Sakumo in.” 

Tsubame gave him a brief, grateful nod, and then he was gone, swallowed up by the jounin and ANBU bodyguards. A few people walked out onto the watery beach, staring out into the distance. A few young children darted out and splashed through the water, throwing wet sand at each other gleefully. Narumi left them through it, walking through the streets that were only just starting to regain some semblance of life, as people left their houses and stopped him to ask about what had happened. He left them discussing everything in his wake; as he walked through the village, eventually people knew before he even came across them, and more and more people stood talking in the streets. 

“Isn’t eighteen a little young to lead the village? Tsubame-kun is so young . . . Nidaime-sama was twenty-five when Shodaime-sama died.” 

“He’s a medic, isn’t he? I don’t know if a medic is suited to lead the village . . . what if Kiri attacks again?” 

“Didn’t you hear about that wave? Kiri would have to be insane to try that again.” 

Even the Uzumaki weren’t immune from the gossip; if anything, the loudest discussions on the subject were occurring inside the Uzumaki compound, mostly from kids exclaiming about how “totally cool” it was that Tsubame was now Uzukage, and how “super awesome” the giant wave had been. 

As Narumi shut the door to the house, he was beginning to understand Tsubame’s love for that tiny island, far away from the main village. 

Sakumo approached him as soon as he shut the door. “What happened? Quick, before the kids realize you’re here. Dan can’t distract them forever.” 

Narumi sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “Short version? I’m pretty sure the war with Kiri is over now.” 

Sakumo stared at him. “I think I’m gonna need the long version.”

Chapter Text

Narumi didn’t see Tsubame again until late the next day, in the middle of washing up dishes after losing at rock-paper-scissors to Dan and Sakumo. 

“Good, you’re all here,” Tsubame said. “Pack up your things. We’re going to Konoha. The Hokage has called a Kage Summit.” 

“The kids?” Dan asked. 

“They’re coming as well,” Tsubame said. “We leave early tomorrow morning. I will meet you on the beach.” 

Sakumo appeared in the bedroom doorway, stifling a yawn. “What’s this about Konoha?” 

Tsubame left without another word, leaving Dan to fill Sakumo in on what little they knew. They spend the rest of the day packing. They didn’t need much, used to surviving on rations and sleeping on any available surface, but the kids weren’t used to such travel. Narumi suspected the longest trip they had ever made was when the ANBU had kidnapped them and taken them to Uzushio, and they’d probably been asleep or unconscious for most of that. 

It seemed like every time Narumi turned around there was something else they needed to bring, but somehow they managed to get everything together in time to meet Tsubame on the beach. 

Tsubame wasn’t alone, of course, accompanied by his usual group of ANBU guards and a jounin with blue-green hair, the one who had spoken to Tsubame the day that the Kiri ninja attacked. 

“Kaisou Mizushima,” he said in greeting. “Jounin Commander.” 

“Narumi Namikaze,” Narumi replied. 

“I know. I’ve read your file.” 

Tsubame cleared his throat. “If everyone is ready, we’ll set off immediately. Dan, Sakumo, Namikaze—each of you take one of the children. I’d like to get there as soon as possible.” 

If it was just them, they could have run straight to Konoha without stopping, but with the children they had to stop and make camp and prepare meals. The fighting had died down, but they still remained on high alert whenever they stopped for the night. There was no telling when some rogue shinobi might show up, wanting revenge or simply wanting to rob them blind. 

Either they were lucky, or ANBU were secretly stalking them and stopping any attackers, because they somehow made it to Konoha without any issues. Tsubame and his Jounin Commander were immediately whisked away to wherever the Summit was being held, somewhere outside of Konoha, taking the ANBU with them. The children were taken somewhere else, hopefully to be reunited with their older siblings, who had been in Konoha's custody. 

That left Narumi standing at the gates of Konoha with Dan and Sakumo, not entirely sure what he was meant to be doing next. 

"Sakumo!" 

A grin spread across Sakumo's face as he turned toward the source of the call. Narumi followed his gaze; it was easy to spot who he was looking at. She stood head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd, and a dog even bigger than Akamaru walked by her side. As if that wasn't enough, she had a massive naginata slung across her back.

A cocky grin on her face, she beckoned Sakumo with one finger. "Get over here, you sexy man."   

Sakumo laughed and ran towards her. He had to lean up to kiss her, balancing himself with an arm around her shoulders. When they separated, her cocky grin had settled into something softer, only to turn mischievous an instant before she put an arm around Sakumo's waist and swung him around. When they came to a stop, they were kissing again. 

They separated at last, laughing and breathless. Sakumo turned and beckoned Narumi over. "Kaede, this is Narumi Namikaze. He's with the Uzumaki. Narumi, this is Kaede Inuzuka, my fiancée, and her partner, Hachimaru."

Narumi should have guessed she was an Inuzuka from the massive dog at her side, the red clan markings on her cheeks, and the sharp canines revealed when she grinned wolfishly at him. Her messy brown hair was pulled back in a loose braid that looked like she had slept in it for a week or two. The most striking thing about her, however, was how tall she was, easily tall enough to prop her chin on Sakumo's head. 

"Holy shit," Narumi said. "How tall are you?" 

Kaede barked out a laugh. "193 centimeters. And I never let Jiraiya forget it!" 

Narumi stared at her. Kaede grinned and flexed. He was pretty sure her biceps were about twice the size of his. "Like what you see?" 

"Uh, is it weird if I say yes?" 

"I'd be insulted if you said no. Also, I wouldn't believe you. Everyone wants a piece of this." She winked at him. "Might as well be honest about it." 

Narumi found himself briefly struck speechless by the realization that this was probably Kakashi's mom. 

Sakumo came to his rescue. "How did you know we arrived? We didn't send advance notice." 

Kaede tapped her nose. "I could smell you comin' a mile away, babe." 

Narumi had to admit they kind of reeked. Traveling from Uzushio to Konoha at top speed didn’t allow much time for showering. 

“Tsunade and I’ve been bored as hell waiting for you,” Kaede continued. “They haven’t been giving out missions or anything because of the Summit. We’ve got the weddings halfway planned already.” 

Dan perked up. “Tsunade is here?” 

“Yeah, she’s at the hospital, I think,” Kaede said, wrinkling her nose. “I’m not helping you look for her. That place stinks.” 

Dan was already walking towards the hospital. “We’ll meet up later!” he called over his shoulder before he was swallowed up by the crowd. 

“We should move away from the gates,” Sakumo said. “We’re blocking traffic.” 

“Whatever you want, babe. Wanna get lunch?” 

“I could eat. My mouth still tastes like ration bars. Narumi, you interested?” 

Narumi ran a hand through his hair. “Maybe another time? I was gonna head by the Academy . . .” 

Sakumo nodded. “Another time. I’m sure we’ll all get together tonight, anyways.” 

The two of them wandered off, arms around each other’s waists, already deep in discussing the options for lunch. 

Narumi went in the other direction, towards the Academy and the administration building. Other shinobi glanced warily at him as he passed, not recognizing him, and he was pretty sure that an ANBU was watching him. He definitely had a member of the Military Police tailing him; the Uchiha wasn’t even trying to be subtle. 

With that in mind, Narumi didn’t try to hide what he was doing. He walked right up to the Academy, looked into classrooms until he found the one Minato was in, and knocked on the door. 

The teacher paused in the middle of his lecture and glared at Narumi. “I’m in the middle of teaching, Shinobi-san.” 

“Sorry, sorry,” he said, as he looked over the crowd of students. Most of them, eager for an interruption, were staring at him. Kushina, recognizing him, waved at him enthusiastically. Minato, on the other hand, had his nose buried in a book, and gave no sign of noticing that the teacher had stopped speaking, much less that they had a guest. “Mind if I borrow Minato Namikaze?” 

Minato still didn’t look up. The boy next to him elbowed him, and only then did Minato jerk to attention, jumping to his feet and dumping his book on the ground. “Sorry, sensei, can you repeat the question?” 

The class snickered. Narumi waved, drawing Minato’s attention away from the teacher. “Hey! Wanna go for lunch?”  

“Lunch isn’t for another hour!” the teacher protested. “And students are not allowed to leave campus for lunch!” 

“Whaddya say, Minato?” Narumi asked. 

Minato looked at his teacher, and then back at Narumi. “I should really stay and study . . .” 

Narumi waved a hand. “I never studied, and I became a ninja! One day of skipping won’t kill you.” 

The teacher spluttered. “Excuse me, I really must protest—” 

Minato nodded, a small smile appearing on his face. “I’d like to join you for lunch.” 

“Great! Grab your stuff. You can show me around town after.” 

Minato stuffed his things into his bag in record speed, nearly leaving behind a few stray papers in his haste. His smile was nearly wide enough to split his face in two by the time he joined Narumi in the doorway. 

“You’ll have to show me the good places for lunch,” Narumi said, slinging an arm around Minato’s shoulder and leading him out of the Academy. “And before you start worrying about cash, it’s my treat. I remember being a broke kid.” 

“I don’t really go out to eat,” Minato admitted. “The matron makes lunch for all the students, and I eat breakfast and dinner at home.” 

“Then we’ll just pick whatever smells the best!” Narumi declared. “The matron?” 

“At the orphanage,” Minato said, his gaze focused on the ground. “I’ve lived there ever since I can remember. The matron says that a woman brought me there, told them my name, and left. She might have been my mother, but they don’t really know . . . and I don’t know anything about my father except that his name was Namikaze, at least according to the woman who brought me there. And now you, I suppose.” 

Narumi ruffled his hair. “We’re the same. I never knew my parents either.” 

Surprisingly, Yakiniku Q was still around. Narumi stopped in front of it and inhaled deeply before grinning down at Minato. “Smells good. You down for barbecue?” 

Minato nodded. “My classmates talk about this place. They say it’s good, but I’ve never been able to go.” 

It was still a little early for lunch, so the hostess seated them immediately, and a waitress quickly came by to take their order. Narumi had a lot of pay from his missions, and he hadn’t had an opportunity to use it, so he was free to go nuts and order as much as he wanted. By the time he’d finished reeling off his order, Minato was staring at him with wide eyes. 

Narumi laughed sheepishly. “I’ve been eating ration bars for the past few days. I’m starving for some real food. Eat as much as you want. So, you just started at the Academy, right?” 

Minato nodded hesitantly. “In January. I’ll be a second year soon.” 

“So you’re . . . seven? Eight?” 

“Eight,” Minato confirmed. “My birthday is in January.” 

“Damn! I missed your birthday. I’ll get you a present next time for sure. What day is it?” 

“Ah, no, you really don’t have to. I don’t need anything,” Minato assured him. 

“Birthdays aren’t about getting stuff you need, they’re about getting stuff you want! Or about other people giving you stuff they think you would want,” Narumi said. “I’ll guess what you want and then you can tell me how close I am. So come on, what day?” 

“The twenty-fifth,” Minato admitted at last. 

“Expect the coolest birthday present ever!” Narumi declared. “I’ve gotta make up for eight birthdays, ya know!” 

The waitress interrupted their conversation with plates of thin-sliced meat. Narumi heaped them onto the grill, turning them so they could cook on each side. They only took a few seconds each, they were so thin. “C’mon, eat up before it gets cold.” 

Between the two of them, they somehow managed to polish off all the food. In between bites of meat, Minato filled him in on everything he’d been learning in the Academy. He didn’t seem to have many friends from what Narumi could tell, instead spending his time practicing and studying. He studied in class, he studied during lunch, and after school he went to the library or training ground to study more, until he went home, ate dinner, and studied in his room. 

“I’m already  behind,” Minato explained as he picked at one of the remaining pieces of meat that neither of them had the room to finish off. “Most people in my class are from shinobi clans,  like Kushina-san. She can walk on water already. I’ve been trying to figure out some of the chakra control exercises I’ve read about in books, but I haven’t had much luck on my own . . . and when I try to practice at school, the older students just laugh and make me leave.” 

“I can teach you, ya know! I mean, I’m not that great at chakra control stuff, but I know how to do the tree-walking and water-walking exercises,” Narumi said. He scooped up the last of his meat, shoved it into his mouth, and waved down the waitress for their check. 

“You’ll teach me? But why? Don’t you have other things to do?” Minato asked. “You already bought me lunch.” 

“Nothing more important than hanging out with my little brother!” Narumi said as he signed the receipt for the meal with a flourish. “C’mon, let’s go find a free training ground.” 

By the time they finished their meal, most teams had gone for lunch, so they had their pick of training grounds. Narumi picked the one Team Seven had always met at, the one near the bridge with the wooden posts. 

“Okay, so, pick a tree and get walking,” he said. “I’ll make sure you don’t crack your head open.” 

MInato raised his hand. 

“You don’t have to raise your hand. It’s just the two of us. What’s up?” 

“How do you do the tree walking exercise?” 

Narumi scratched the back of his head. “Uh, you just channel the chakra to your feet and walk up. Here, I’ll show you.” 

Narumi walked up the tree and down again as Minato watched. “Like that.” 

“How do you channel chakra to your feet?” 

“You just . . . do it?” Narumi desperately tried to recall what Sakura told him. He was pretty sure she had given him a massive lecture about chakra once or twice.  He remembered none of it. “Uh, yeah, you just do it.” 

Minato gave him a skeptical look. “Are you sure you’re a jounin?” 

“Yes, I’m a jounin! I trained for it and everything!” 

“Okay then, how do you channel chakra to your feet? And how do you know how much chakra to use?” 

“You channel it through . . . the chakra pathway system. That’s right. And if you use too much, you’ll break the tree and fall off, but if you use too little you won’t stick to it at all.” Narumi scratched at the back at his head. 

“That’s not much information. Are you sure you can’t tell me anything more detailed?” Minato asked. 

“Uh, to be honest, I kind of just ran at the tree until it worked,” Narumi admitted. “I figured it out eventually!” 

Minato nodded. “Trial and error, then? In that case, I suppose there’s nothing to do but get started.” 

He walked towards the nearest tree. “Oh, hey, do you want a kunai to mark your progress?” Narumi called. Minato gave no sign of hearing, instead staring up at the tree, lost in thought. 

Narumi leaned against one of the wooden posts and waited, wondering if Minato would be more like Sakura, who had gotten it immediately, or Sasuke, who had struggled and struggled until he had mastered it. 

Minato put a foot on the tree and pulled it back. “Not enough.” 

He put a food to the tree again; this time, the bark fractured under his foot. He repeated these experiments a few times, putting a foot to the tree and then removing it, until at last he nodded firmly and walked up the tree. 

“That wasn’t so hard,” he said, from the top of the tree. “What’s the next step?” 

“Water-walking, I guess,” Narumi said. “We’ll need some water to practice on.” 

The Naka River wasn’t far from the training ground, thankfully, and before long the two of them stood by the edge of the river, Minato putting a foot on the water to test various levels of chakra. 

“I see,” he said, after a minute. “The current changes, so you have to constantly adjust the amount of chakra to compensate.” 

With that, Minato stepped out onto the water, wobbled a bit, and then steadied. He took a few steps, then walked around in circles, growing more confident the longer he remained on the surface of the water. Before too long, he was experimenting with jumping up and down. 

“What about hands?” he asked. “Could you channel chakra to your hands to grab onto something?” 

“I guess. I’ve never tried. Wouldn’t you want your hands free so you could form seals?” Narumi said. 

“But what if you were falling and had to stop yourself? I feel like it would be easier to grab onto something with your hand. Or if someone was trying to grab something from your hand, you could hold onto it,” Minato said. He started to go through the basic Academy kata, only occasionally wobbling on the surface of the water. 

“You’ve got pretty good chakra control. It took me forever to get that down,” Narumi said. 

“Well, sensei says I have an average amount of chakra, so I have to use it well. I’m not like Kushina-san. She has so much chakra. She beats me at everything except academics,” Minato sighed. “And she can do the water clone jutsu already, and she knows a lot of taijutsu that they don’t teach us at the Academy. I’ve never managed to beat her when we spar.” 

“She probably can’t do the regular clone,” Narumi said. “I never figured it out. They always came out funny-looking. And don’t worry so much about school! I was pretty bad at school, and I turned out fine! You’re gonna be an awesome ninja.” 

Minato gave him a small, sheepish smile. “Thank you, Narumi-san.” 

Narumi opened his mouth to tell him that just Narumi was fine, when a deep voice said, “Narumi-san.” 

Narumi looked around, but saw nothing. 

“Down here, Narumi-san.” 

Narumi looked down and saw a large slug sitting at his feet. “Oh, hey. Did Tsunade send you?” 

“Yes. Your presence is required. I will escort you to Tsunade-sama,” the slug said. 

“Sure. Sorry, Minato, looks like I’ll have to cut this short,” he said. “I’ll see you again, yeah?” 

Minato stepped off the water and bowed. “Thank you for your time, Narumi-san. But . . . before you go, can I ask you something?” 

“Sure, go ahead.” 

Minato hesitated for a moment. “Why did you want to spend time with me today? I’m sure you have more important things to do, as a jounin, and I’m just a first-year student.” 

Narumi ruffled his hair. “You’re my brother, and that makes us family! I wanted to spend time with you and get to know you. That’s all there is to it. I don’t know how much free time I’m going to have, but I want to spend as much of it as I can with you. How about this? If I’m free, I’ll meet you at the Academy.” 

Minato fixed his gaze on Narumi’s shoes, but Narumi could see him smiling. “I’d like that.” 

“Great. I’ll see you soon, Minato!” With one last ruffle of Minato’s hair, Narumi turned to follow the surprisingly fast slug, nearly missing the quiet response from behind him. 

“See you soon . . . Nii-san.” 

Grinning like an idiot, Narumi followed the slug back to the main streets of Konoha. He vaguely recognized the areas they were in, although it had been rebuilt and added to many times when he had lived there. The restaurant district was still in the same location, albeit with different restaurants than he was used to. The bar that the slug led him to was unfamiliar to him, but the faces that greeted him inside were very familiar. 

“Narumi!” Sakumo waved him over with the hand not wrapped around Kaede. “Grab a seat. You’re the last one here, apart from Tsubame.” 

Sakumo and Kaede sat on one side of the table, with Dan, Tsunade, and Orochimaru on the other side. Narumi chose to sit next to Sakumo, even though that put him in the uncomfortable position of sitting directly across from Orochimaru. The rest of them already had drinks, and were quick to push another drink at him. Another drink still waited, most likely for Tsubame. 

Narumi looked around the table again. “Jiraiya isn’t coming?” 

The glass in Tsunade’s hand cracked. “Jiraiya,” she said, through gritted teeth. “Is too busy playing genin-sensei in fucking Ame!” 

“I told you we should have just killed them,” Orochimaru said. 

Tsunade sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. “For the last time, Orochimaru, we’re not killing kids if we can help it. Now drink your alcohol.” 

“We kill people all the time. I don’t see what difference the age of the individual being killed makes,” Orochimaru muttered before downing his drink. 

“So Jiraiya’s still in Ame? I’m surprised the Hokage let him stay,” Narumi said. 

“Officially, he’s there to ‘keep an eye on the situation.’ Ame is still unstable as hell. Fights break out there every day. The villages might have stopped all major operations for this treaty, but that still leaves rogue shinobi, minor border skirmishes, shinobi from the smaller villages, and the like. Hanzo hasn’t been too active over there since we fought, but it’s still a hot zone.” The glass in her grip shattered. “Bastard.” 

Dan cleaned up the glass as Sakumo dabbed at the spilled alcohol. “With any luck, everyone will be officially recalled soon. I’m sure he won’t miss the weddings.” 

“He’d better not. I’ll kill him,” she said. 

From what Narumi could remember, Jiraiya wouldn’t return to the village until Minato became a genin. That wouldn’t happen for a couple years yet, probably. “I’m sure he’ll return soon,” Narumi said. 

“Speaking of missing people, where is Tsubame?” Sakumo asked. 

Tsunade smacked the table. “He’d better show up, that brat! I sent him an escort and everything.” 

“He might be busy with meetings,” Dan pointed out. 

“Nah, they stopped them early. The Tsuchikage’s guard was in my hospital with a broken arm,” Tsunade said. “Any longer and there might not be a Summit anymore.” 

“I’m sure he’ll be here soon,” Dan assured her. 

They ordered another round of drinks and some snacks, still with no sign of Tsubame. At last, a bird with a blue back, red face, and white belly flew in through the door and landed at their table. 

“Tsubame-sama sends his apologies, but he won’t be able to make it to the party,” it chirped, before fluttering its wings as if to fly away. 

“Orochimaru, catch it!”

At Tsunade’s words, Orochimaru’s hand shot out and seized the bird before it could fly away. Tsunade stood and slammed her hand on the table. “If Tsubame won’t come to the party, we’ll take the party to him! Grab your drinks and snacks, everyone. This meal is on Jiraiya’s tab!” 

“No tabs during wartime!” the bartender called. 

Tsunade put her hands on her hips and stared down the bartender. “Don’t you know who I am? I’m Tsunade Senju, one of the Sannin who survived Hanzo the Salamander!” 

“You’ve had too much to drink, is what,” the bartender retorted. “Now pay your bill and get out!” 

The six of them abruptly found themselves out on the street, holding drinks and plates of snacks. “Wimps,” Tsunade said. “We didn’t even drink that much.” 

“And another bar kicks us out,” Sakumo said cheerfully. 

Dan looked back. “Should we return their plates and cups? They didn’t give us any takeout containers.” 

“Ours now!” Tsunade cackled. “Okay, Orochimaru, release that bird. He’s our ticket to Tsubame!” 

Orochimaru released the bird, which fluttered away and was soon no more than a dot in the sky. “After him!” Tsunade declared. 

Balancing drinks and plates of snacks, they took to the rooftops. Orochimaru was the fastest out of them all, leaving the rest of them trailing behind him, spilling alcohol all over themselves and dropping snacks on roofs. 

“You there! Drinking alcohol in the street is prohibited!” 

Kaede laughed. “Shit, it’s the Uchiha! Run for it!” 

Narumi glanced behind them to see two members of the military police attempting to keep up. “I know your names!” one of them yelled. “You’re in for it once I report you!” 

“Yeah, right!” Kaede called back. “Name us then!” 

“Senju, Hatake, Inuzuka, and Uzumaki! Your clan symbols are right there on your backs! And I know you too, Orochimaru!” 

“Looks like Dan’s the only safe one!” Sakumo laughed. 

Narumi looked over at Tsunade, who was in the middle of taking a drink. “Uh, should we be concerned about this?” 

“Pfft! As if. They’re the military police, not ANBU. What’re they gonna do, scold us and slap us with a fine? And that’s if they catch us first!” Tsunade called, loud enough that the officers still chasing them could easily here. 

“That’s it, just wait until I get my hands on you—” 

“Stop in the name of the law, you menaces!” 

Narumi took a gulp from his drink and nearly choked. It was much harder to run and drink than Tsunade made it look. He risked another glance behind them. The two officers were still chasing them, but they weren’t gaining any ground. 

Two more officers alighted on the rooftops beside the original officers. “What seems to be the problem?” 

“Captain! We were attempting to arrest these shinobi for drunk and disorderly conduct when they started to resist arrest!” 

“Shit! Reinforcements. Run for it!” Tsunade put on a burst of speed, and the rest of them followed, breathlessly chasing the bird. In the distance, Narumi spotted the building he had stayed at the last time he had been there, the one where Tsubame kept an apartment. 

Orochimaru, first to the door, punched in a code and vanished inside. Tsunade held the door open and gestured towards them. “In, in, in! Quick, the stairs!” 

They jumped up the stairs rather than climbing up them normally, and soon were at the top floor. Tsunade jostled the handle and swore. “Locked with a seal! Orochimaru, can you get it?” 

“An Uzumaki seal of that caliber? In a week,” Orochimaru said. 

“JIraiya could do it,” Sakumo said. 

Tsunade slammed a fist against the door. “Dammit, Jiraiya! If I get arrested, I’m making him pay bail!” 

“Hang on, I think I can get it, Tsubame said he added me to the seal.” Narumi pushed his way to the front and bit down on his thumb until it bled. He swiped his thumb across the seal, and they all tumbled forwards as the door slid open. 

“Quick, shut the door, shut the door!” 

Tsubame, sitting at the kitchen table with a mountain of papers in front of him, blinked at them rapidly. “What in the world are you doing?” 

“Tsubame, cheers!” Tsunade exclaimed, holding her mostly empty cup aloft. “Hide us from the cops!” 

“Again? What did you do this time?” 

They all tried to talk over each other to explain what had happened, only to fall silent at a knock on the door. Tsubame stood. “I’ll deal with it. Stay out of sight.” 

The six of them shuffled over to the nearest door, and shortly found themselves shut in Tsubame’s bedroom, sipping their drinks and nibbling on edamame and kara-age. 

“I feel like someone should be making a joke about being in Tsubame’s bedroom,” Sakumo remarked. 

“I’ve got nothing,” Kaede said. “We need Jiraiya’s unique talents for this.” 

“What, being a creep?” Tsunade laughed. 

Sakumo had his ear pressed to the door. “Shh, shh, we have to listen in case Tsubame needs backup.” 

“Oh, come on, they’re hardly going to try to arrest the Uzukage,” Tsunade said. “How drunk are you?” 

“Not drunk enough, probably,” he said. 

Tsunade wiggled her empty cup. “True, that. There is a distinct lack of alcohol here. Who wants to go to the corner store?” 

“Not it!” 

“Rock-paper-scissors!” Kaede proposed. “Losers have to go to the corner store!” 

“Everyone loses at rock-paper-scissors,” Orochimaru said. “Unless you plan on restricting us to two options.” 

“Okay, fine, we’ll pick underwear out of Tsubame’s drawers and whoever picks the brightest pair has to go,” Kaede said. They stared at her, aghast, and she shrugged. “What? Someone has to represent Jiraiya here.” 

“Oh, so it was a joke,” Tsunade said, as she subtly slipped a kunai back into her pouch. 

Sakumo rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “It wasn’t a bad idea—don’t look at me like that, I’m not saying we should actually steal his underwear! We should draw lots or something!”

The door opened, and any response they might have made was silenced by Tsubame’s glare. “You had better not be talking about stealing my underwear.” 

Kaede, grinning, wrapped an arm around his shoulders. “Don’t worry, Tsubame-chan, I’ll defend your honor.” 

“You were the one who suggested stealing his underwear in the first place,” Tsunade reminded them. 

Kaede waved a hand. “Details.” 

“It’s a pretty important detail, you can’t exactly defend him from yourself—” 

“I could if I had a shadow clone that turned evil—”

“You can’t even make a shadow clone.” 

“Yeah, but if I could!” 

“Why are you in my house?” Tsubame said. 

Narumi raised his hand. “Well, I’m staying here.” 

Tsubame shot him an exasperated look. 

Sakumo raised a hand. “It’s Tsunade’s fault.” 

Tsubame shot Tsunade an exasperated look. 

Tsunade shrugged. “What? Hiruzen-sensei is hardly going to hide us from the cops.” 

“He did that one time,” Orochimaru said. 

“Yeah, when we were kids,” Tsunade said. “When we turned sixteen he said he was going to stop hiding us from the cops, remember?” 

“I don’t.” 

Tsunade thought for a moment. “Oh, yeah, it was just Jiraiya and me that got that lecture.” 

Orochimaru smiled slyly. “That’s because I never need to hide.” 

Narumi was overcome by a sudden fit of coughing as he recalled all the time Orochimaru had spent hiding in the future. 

“How drunk are you?” Tsubame asked. 

“Not at all!” Tsunade declared. “Come on, Orochimaru, you and I are going to the corner store. We’ve got better taste than these plebs. The rest of you, sit on Tsubame and make sure he doesn’t get away.” 

“This is my house!” Tsubame called after her. The front door slammed in response. He sighed. “She’s going to bring back vodka, isn’t she? You do realize I came here to work.” 

“We can’t have a party with one of our friends missing,” Sakumo said. 

“And it isn’t good for your health to work constantly,” Dan said. “You need to take breaks, Tsubame.” 

Kaede dropped her arm from around his shoulders, only to pull him into a bone-crushing hug. A muffled yelp escaped him as his face plunged into her chest. Narumi felt weirdly jealous of both parties. “Don’t worry, Tsubame-chan, we’ll save you from the big, bad paperwork.” 

Kaede patted his head, and then grinned wickedly and gave him a noogie that had him desperately fighting her off. “Kaede, my hair—do you know how long it takes to fix my hair—” 

“Oh, calm down, princess, you’re still pretty.” Kaede released him and slapped his back, sending him stumbling forward. She gave Narumi a wicked grin. “Narumi agrees, right?” 

“Wha—why me?” 

“Please, you two aren’t fooling anyone. You reek of each other. The only two worse are Dan and Tsunade,” Kaede said. “So, did ya do it yet?” 

Tsubame spluttered. “Kaede! That’s completely inappropriate!” 

She shrugged. “What? I just want to know how much PDA I should prepare for.” 

“As if you aren’t the worst offender in that department,” Tsubame said. 

Kaede, grinning, folded her arms behind her head. “Guilty as charged.” 

Tsubame sighed and massaged his temples. “You could at least get out of my bedroom.” 

“Sure, sure.” Kaede dropped her arms around Sakumo and Narumi’s shoulders and dragged them forwards. “Come on, boys. Tsubame needs time to pretty himself up for his guests.” 

“We can’t all roll around in the dirt and call it makeup,” Tsubame retorted, before slamming the door on their backs. 

“You wish you had a face like mine!” Kaede yelled through the door. Narumi hadn’t personally met that many Inuzuka, but from the ones he had met, he was beginning to think that they had no idea how to speak in anything quieter than a shout. 

Tsubame didn’t respond, so they returned to the main room, which contained a small kitchen, the kitchen table, and a small living room off to the side. The kitchen table was covered with papers, which they all left alone in favor of squeezing onto the couch and fiddling with the radio. 

After the sixth station droning on about the war and the peace talks, they finally found a station that was playing some weird music that Narumi would have considered oldies but that were modern in this day and age. 

“Better than nothing,” was Kaede’s assessment. “Otherwise we’d have to break out the musical instruments, and trust me, no one wants to hear Tsubame attempt to play. Or me. Or Orochimaru. Or Tsunade. Or Sakumo.”

“Or me,” Narumi added. 

“That leaves us with Dan, and he only listens to weird instrumental music from before Konoha even existed,” Kaede said. 

“They’re classics,” Dan said. “The musical complexity—” 

The door opened and Tsubame walked out, wearing a more comfortable yukata with his hair pulled back in a ponytail. “Are we discussing music? Dan has the best taste—what are you doing?” 

They blinked at him. “What?” Narumi said. 

“You do realize I have chairs,” Tsubame said. 

They looked at each other, squished on the couch. In the end there hadn’t been enough room, so Sakumo was sitting on Kaede, but they made it work. 

“Do you want to make Orochimaru sit on this couch?” Sakumo asked. “Because you’re welcome to try. I promise we’ll make your funeral a nice one.” 

“There are two chairs,” Tsubame said. 

“Go on, fight Tsunade for the other one,” Kaede said. “That’ll liven things up.” 

“I’m not sitting with you. I have a lot of work to do.” With that, Tsubame took his spot in one of the chairs at the kitchen table and glared down at the papers spread in front of him. 

“Boo! Spoilsport,” Kaede called. 

“I told you, I don’t have time to drink with you. I have a lot of work to do for the Summit,” Tsubame said. 

The door slammed open. “Guess who’s back?” Tsunade called, holding two bottles of vodka aloft. Orochimaru, behind her, held two six-packs in each hand. 

Tsunade dumped their purchases—including a few bags that Narumi suspected contained more snacks—and set about pouring shots for everybody. “Anyone who skips out on shots can go turn themselves in to Officer Uchiha out there,” she said. 

“They’re still there? For real?” Kaede laughed. “Don’t they have real criminals to arrest?” 

“They’re the Military Police,” Tsunade said. “They basically exist so the Uchiha can feel self-important.” 

“Now, now, that’s not the only reason they exist,” Dan said, although he was smiling in amusement. 

“Oh, yeah, how could I forget! They also exist to get in the way of the ANBU.” Tsunade handed him a shot and leaned down to kiss him. “Thanks for the reminder, honey.” 

Narumi tossed back the shot as she handed it to him, wincing as the alcohol burned all the way down his throat. “Ugh. That’s disgusting.” 

“It’ll put some hair on your chest!” Tsunade declared. 

“Tsunade was too cheap to buy decent alcohol,” said Orochimaru, who Narumi noticed was drinking something completely different. 

Tsunade snorted. “I’m not wasting the good stuff on people who have no taste. They can have the shitty beer and glorified rubbing alcohol.” 

“I think I’d rather have the rubbing alcohol,” Narumi said as Tsunade poured him another shot. 

“Get drunk enough and you’ll stop tasting it. Bottoms up, boys and girls!” 

They all drank, and drank again whenever Tsunade refilled their glasses, switching to the bland, watery beer when Tsunade declared them all sufficiently drunk. Narumi had made his way through three beers and several conversations that he only dimly remembered by the time they did another round of shots, which they followed up with snacks and convenience store meals. 

Narumi downed another shot—it was true, you did stop caring about the taste after you were drunk enough—and laughed as Kaede told some doubtlessly exaggerated story from the Iwa front. 

At some point, Narumi ended up sitting on the floor; Dan was throwing up in the bathroom, and in his absence Kaede and Sakumo had taken over the couch and were whispering to each other and laughing quietly. Orochimaru and Tsunade were both hunched over the coffee table, scribbling away on pieces of paper and plotting Jiraiya’s death. Tsubame still sat at the table, pouring over his papers. 

Narumi got to his feet with minimal wobbling and made his way to Tsubame with a tray of snacks. “How’s it going?” 

“Terribly. It will be a miracle if the Tsuchikage doesn’t kill everyone in the next meeting.” Tsubame bit into a piece of chicken and glared at the paper. “I would like to find a solution that pleases everybody, but the Tsuchikage and Raikage are determined to not be pleased on one end of the spectrum, with Danzo on the other!” 

Narumi tried his best to look as if he didn’t recognize the name. “Danzo?” 

“Shimura Danzo. The Hokage’s advisor,” Tsubame said. “He has the best interests of Konoha at heart, but that doesn’t make him any less unpleasant to work with. Especially when he seems determined to dismiss all of my suggestions.” 

Narumi sat down backwards in the chair next to him, folding his arms across the back of the chair and resting his chin on them. “Well, you can talk to me about it if you want. I bet I can do a good Danzo impression. Grr, Konoha is the best, all other villages should die!” 

“Surprisingly accurate, considering you’ve never met him.” 

“You never know! Maybe I’ve met him in like a past life or something.” 

Tsubame laughed. “You’re drunk. You don’t have to keep me company, you know. Go back to the party.” 

Narumi wrinkled his nose. “Honestly, I feel like if I drink another drop I’m going to be sick, and there’s only one bathroom.” 

“Dan?” Tsubame guessed. “He never could handle hard liquor.” 

“Yeah. And anyways, I like spending time with you.” 

Tsubame didn’t look away from his papers, but he was smiling. “And I like spending time with you. I warn you now, it’s not going to be interesting.” 

“That’s okay,” Narumi said. “Just looking at you is interesting enough for me.” 

“You’re a sap.” Tsubame smiled softly at the papers in front of him. 

“Only for you,” Narumi said. 

In the bathroom, Dan kept throwing up. Tsunade walked by on her way to check on him; Orochimaru had vanished somewhere, probably to his lab. On the couch, Kaede and Sakumo had fallen asleep, only managing to fit with Sakumo on top of Kaede. Narumi closed his eyes and listened to the scratch of Tsubame’s pen on the papers. 

This wasn’t what he’d expected from the past. But he liked it. 

Chapter Text

Narumi woke up in his bedroom with no memory of how he got there. A glance at the clock revealed it was almost three in the afternoon—about time for the Academy to let out. With a groan, Narumi heaved himself out of bed and trudged to the kitchen. He sipped at a cup of water, hoping that would somehow silence his pounding head and settle his queasy stomach, until he noticed a seal on the table and a note from Tsubame telling him take it for his hangover and that Narumi was once again free for the day. 

Narumi applied the seal and groaned in relief as the pain faded away. “Tsubame, you’re a god.” 

Now that he wasn’t in danger of throwing up whenever he moved too quickly, Narumi got dressed and ran from the apartment to the Academy, arriving just in time for the students to get out of class. It was still weird to him, how many Uchiha there were—he swore that about a third of the kids streaming from the building had the Uchiha crest somewhere on their clothes. On the other hand, there weren’t nearly as many kids from civilian clans as he remembered from his day. In his class, there had only been ten or so kids from shinobi clans, with the remaining twenty or so from civilian families or the orphanage. Here, he was hard pressed to spot more than one civilian kid for every five from a shinobi family. 

He wasn’t able to spot Minato until the crowds cleared and he could see to the old tree with the swing, on which Minato sat, reading a scroll. 

“Hey, Minato!” 

Minato jumped, nearly falling off the swing, and looked around. His eyes widened when they landed on Narumi. “You came!” 

“I’ve got the day free again. To be honest, I’m not really sure why they even brought me.” Narumi shrugged. “But I like Konoha, so I’m not complaining. So, want to train? We can probably find an open training ground somewhere.” 

Minato nodded enthusiastically. “I want to work on my taijutsu. It’s hard to practice with no one to tell me what I’m doing wrong.” 

Narumi rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. “Uh, I’m more of a run in and start hitting people kind of guy. I don’t really know the basic Academy style all that well.” 

“That’s okay! Kushina-san doesn’t do the basic style either,” Minato said. 

Together, they walked out of the Academy and made their way to the training grounds. “Kushina-san, huh?” 

“She’s really good at taijutsu. She can beat anyone!” He sighed. “I wanted to get her something for her birthday, but I didn’t know what she would want, and now it’s too late.” 

“A present Kushina would want, huh? Maybe a kunai or something? Or, uh, a scarf? Girls like scarves, right?” Narumi said. 

“But her birthday is in the summer, so a scarf doesn’t make sense,” Minato said. 

“A . . . hat?” 

Minato looked at him doubtfully. Narumi searched for an escape from the conversation before Minato lost all faith in him. “Oh! Look, a training ground. Let’s get practicing! Come on, show me what you’ve got!” 

Minato wasn’t bad at taijutsu. He was a little textbook, a little predictable, but he’d grow out of that as he got used to fighting and stopped worrying about whether or not his form was correct. He had what mattered, in Narumi’s mind—he punched hard and didn’t give up.

In the end, Narumi was the one who had to call an end to the training. He was pretty sure training too hard was counterproductive when you were just starting out—Sakura had talked about that once. Once Minato started taking more than a few minutes to pick himself up off the ground, Narumi decided it was time to stop. They’d been training for a long time, anyways; the sun had already started to set. 

They went out to dinner at a restaurant Narumi had never been to but that Minato wanted to try. At first Minato was eager to talk about the books he read and what he was learning in class, but as soon as Narumi mentioned seals, every sentence out of his mouth was a question about seals. By the end of the night, Narumi had resorted to giving him a rundown of the basic parts of seals by scrawling them on a spare napkin. 

They only left when they realized it was past midnight, the restaurant was closing, and Minato had missed his curfew; Minato refused an escort home, so Narumi headed his own way and returned to the apartment. 

Tsubame was there, for once not pouring over his papers. He was sitting on the window seat instead, staring out over the village. He had a bottle of sake at his side, and was dressed in the casual yukata that Narumi was coming to recognize as his preferred outfit for lounging about the house. 

“Got room for one more?” 

“I don’t think we’ll both fit—here, I’ll move to the couch.” 

“Nah, we can make it work. Here, budge up.” Narumi nudged Tsubame’s legs out of the way and took a seat at the opposite and of the windowsill. “Nice view.” 

Tsubame hummed in agreement. “Konoha is a lovely village. Not as beautiful as Uzushio, but few places are, to me.” 

“Uzushio is one-of-a-kind,” Narumi agreed. “Kind of like you.” 

“Hah. People who knew Tsubasa and I as children would disagree.” 

“Really? I dunno, you seemed pretty different to me,” Narumi said. “Sure, you two look identical, and I guess you’re both kind of serious, and you both really care about your family, and . . . uh, where was I going with this?” 

He’d been aiming for a laugh, but Tsubame didn’t so much as smile. “We were different,” Tsubame said, staring into his sake. “Tsubasa never cared about what other people thought of her.” 

He took a gulp of the sake and then held it out to Narumi. Narumi waved a hand. “Thanks, but I’m good.” 

“Ah, right, your little over-indulgence last night.” Tsubame took another sip. “I was going to look over the proposed treaty again, but since everyone seems determined to dismiss me as a child, why bother?” 

“Rough day?” 

“It’s always a rough day when I have to deal with stubborn old men,” Tsubame said bitterly. 

Narumi smacked his fist against the palm of his hand. “Want me to go in there and soften them up for you?” 

“If only that would help, I would gladly join you,” Tsubame said. 

Narumi ran a hand through his hair. “I wish there was something I could do to help. I’m not even sure why you brought me to Konoha with you, ya know.” 

Tsubame tucked his legs up further and rested his chin on his knees. “I have to admit, it was a . . . selfish decision. I wanted you at my side.” 

A grin spread across Narumi’s face. “Oh, I get it. This is a romantic getaway.” 

Tsubame’s head jerked up. His cheeks were painted the same red as his hair. “It’s not like that!” 

Narumi got to his knees and crawled closer to Tsubame. Tsubame, his face still aflame, tried to shift back, only to find himself trapped by the wall. Narumi set his hands on Tsubame’s knees. “And you didn’t even tell me,” he lamented. “All this time for romance, wasted!” 

“We’ve been here for two days!” 

“There’s a lot you can do in two days,” Narumi said with a wink. He stretched Tsubame’s legs out so that framed his waist, putting Narumi between Tsubame’s knees. The yukata was bunched up at Tsubame’s knees, and had fallen open slightly to display Tsubame’s legs. He ran his fingers along Tsubame’s legs, tracing his soft skin, moving higher and higher with each pass of his fingers. 

Narumi had planned to stop as soon as he reached an obstruction, but his fingers encountered nothing, even when his fingers had vanished up the yukata. Narumi ran his fingers along the outside of Tsubame’s thighs, and stopped as he reached Tsubame’s hips. 

His grin had faded as he focused on Tsubame’s legs, but now it returned, wider than ever. “You’re not wearing any underwear!” 

Tsubame’s blush had reached his ears, and was starting to creep to his chest. It was adorable. “S-so? It’s not like I was going out!” 

Narumi surged forward, pressing kisses all over the exposed skin of Tsubame’s neck and chest. “Do you have any idea how sexy you are?” 

“A-ah! Narumi, wait!” 

Narumi pulled back and moved to kiss Tsubame’s lips instead. “Too much?” 

“We’re in the middle of a shinobi village! Anyone could look through the window and see us,” Tsubame protested. 

“Is that all? Then we’ll move to the bedroom.” Narumi stood, and before Tsubame could get up as well, got his arms under Tsubame’s knees and around his back and lifted him up. He was heavier than Narumi had expected, but not too heavy for Narumi to carry to the bedroom.

“Narumi!” Tsubame yelped. “Some warning would be nice!” 

“But you’re cute when you’re surprised,” Narumi laughed as he walked towards the bedroom. He dropped Tsubame on the bed as suddenly as he picked him up, admiring how how the yukata fell open as Tsubame settled on the bed. 

Narumi grinned down at him. “So, Uzukage-sama? I’m at your command.” 

Tsubame glared up at him, the effect lessened by his blush. “Get over here and kiss me.” 

Narumi crawled across the bed and knelt between Tsubame’s spread legs. He reached out and cupped Tsubame’s face with his hands, brushing away a stray strand of red hair with one thumb. Tsubame’s lips parted slightly, and Narumi could no longer resist. Still smiling softly, he leaned down, towards Tsubame. 

 “As you wish.” 

***

They fell into a routine over the next few days. Narumi woke up, sometimes in Tsubame’s bed, sometimes in his own, to an empty apartment and the breakfast Tsubame had left for him. He wandered around Konoha, occasionally meeting up with Sakumo or Dan or Tsunade or Kaede or even Orochimaru, until it was time for the Academy to let out. Minato was almost always waiting for him on the swings, and the two of them would train or study fuinjutsu together or grab something to eat until Minato had to return to the orphanage--personally, Narumi wouldn’t have minded spending more time together, but Minato was always careful about curfew after the first time he missed it. 

Once Minato left, usually after dinner, Narumi returned home to spend time with Tsubame. Sometimes they went out with the rest of their friends, sometimes they stayed in so Tsubame could go over his papers for the next meeting of the Summit. 

Days passed, with no sign of the Summit ending or the treaty being signed, until Narumi walked into the apartment, planning to put away the remains of his lunch before heading to the Academy, only to find the papers gone from the table. 

Tsubame was in his bedroom, shoving his clothes into his pack. 

“What happened?” Narumi asked. 

“The Tsuchikage and the Raikage walked out of the Summit,” Tsubame snapped. “Kiri and Suna signed the treaty. We’re going back to Uzushio.” 

Narumi leaned against the doorway. “Do we have time to swing by the Academy? I should say goodbye to Minato.” 

Tsubame sighed. Slowly, his shoulders relaxed, releasing all the tension he had been holding. “Yes. Yes, we should have time for that. There is someone I should give my greetings to, as well. Pack your things, and then we will leave.” 

Narumi left him to his packing and went to his room to do the same. He hadn’t brought much beyond a few changes of clothes and his usual mission gear. “You mean Sakumo and Tsunade and all them?” 

“No, I’ll send them a message. They’ll understand,” Tsubame called back. “This is a meeting that has to be done in person.” 

Once Narumi had packed up his belongings and sealed them away to make them easier to transport, he met with Tsubame in the living room. Rather than his usual mission gear or casual wear, Tsubame was dressed up in a kimono and hakama. Narumi, in his jounin uniform, felt underdressed in comparison. 

“Uh, should I . . . change . . .” 

As Tsubame tucked his hair behind his ear, Narumi’s eyes were drawn to a flash of blue. Delicate blue glass, the same color as Tsubame’s eyes,  dangled from his ears. 

Tsubame smiled, clearly pleased. “It’s not necessary.” 

“Uh, good. ‘Cause I don’t own anything more formal than a jounin vest,” Narumi admitted. 

Tsubame shook his head as he turned to leave. “We’ll have to remedy that. You should own at least one outfit suitable for formal occasions.” 

“What, you planning on showing me off?” Narumi teased, throwing an arm around Tsubame’s waist. 

Tsubame avoided his gaze. “This way.” 

Tsubame led them to a clan compound, one of the ones with walls and a big, imposing gate. The nameplate, however, surprised Narumi. “Senju? I thought you said we weren’t going to visit Tsunade.” 

“We aren’t,” Tsubame said. He exchanged a few words with the man at the gate, too quietly for Narumi to overhear, and the man escorted them deeper into the compound. Narumi took the opportunity to look around--there were a lot of trees, which he should have expected, and an expansive garden. They passed by several houses, some of them empty and some of them occupied, until they stopped at a house that wasn’t much different from the rest, as far as Narumi could tell. 

The man led them to a room, but left them outside the door while he went in. After a moment, he returned, this time to gesture them in. 

The room was small, occupied only by a low table, a few cushions to sit on, and an old woman with faded, maroon hair and black eyes. 

She smiled as they entered. “Tsubame, come, sit down.” 

Tsubame bowed deeply to her. “Mito-sama, may I introduce Narumi Namikaze. Narumi, this is Mito Senju.” 

The old woman chuckled. “There’s no need to be so formal, Tsubame. It is lovely to meet you, Narumi-kun. Thank you for taking time out of your day to visit this old woman.” 

“Nice to meet you, too,” Narumi said. 

“I would have visited sooner, but I was busy with the Summit until now,” Tsubame said. 

“Ah, yes, I heard all about it from Hiruzen and Shimura. Those boys never could agree on anything,” she sighed and shook her head. “But enough of that, Tsubame. I haven’t seen you since what happened in Uzushio. I still remember the day your sister turned eighteen. . .it was striking, how much she looked like your mother in her kimono. I see you’re wearing the earrings I gave her.” Mito said. 

Tsubame reached up to touch the earrings. “Tsubasa never did like jewelry, but people always gave it to her.” 

Mito reached across the table, clasping Tsubame’s hands between hers. “I am sorry, Tsubame.” 

Tsubame’s eyes were fixed on his lap, so Narumi couldn’t see his expression. “It’s alright. It was necessary for the sake of the village. I’m sure you understand, Mito-sama.” 

“I do. But Tsubame, it’s alright to mourn.” She turned her smile on Narumi. “And, it’s alright to depend on the people you love.” 

Narumi expected Tsubame to splutter and protest, like he did when Narumi teased him, but he just nodded once and pulled his hands away. “I apologize for cutting our visit short, but we really should be leaving. We have to stop at the Academy before we leave.” 

“Oh? Saying goodbye to Kushina-chan?” 

“No--well, I should do that as well. But Narumi has to say goodbye to his younger brother. Minato Namikaze. Kushina may have mentioned him, they’re in the same class,” Tsubame said. 

“Your brother? Well then, I’ll have to check in on him as well. He’s practically an Uzumaki,” Mito said. 

Narumi beamed at her. He wasn’t really sure who she was, other than a member of the Senju clan, but she was pretty cool for an old lady. “Thanks!” 

“Thank you for meeting with us,” Tsubame said, with another bow. “I’ll see you again when I’m next in Konoha.” 

“Be safe, Tsubame. And you, Narumi-kun.” 

Narumi waved goodbye as the same man who had led them there escorted them from the compound. Tsubame didn’t say a word as they left the Senju compound, and continued his silence as they walked towards the compound. 

“Soooo,” Narumi said. “Who was that lady?” 

Tsubame finally looked at him, an exasperated expression on his face. “That lady, as you put it, was Mito Senju.” 

“Yeah, I got that, but who is she? Just someone from the Senju clan?” 

“She’s from the Uzumaki clan, actually,” Tsubame said. “Mito-sama is my father’s sister, but she married Hashirama Senju and took his name. Tsunade is her granddaughter.” 

Narumi’s head whipped back to the direction they had come from, even though he could no longer see the compound. “That was Tsunade’s grandma ?” 

“Trust you to focus on that part,” Tsubame sighed, but Narumi noticed the smile was back on his face. 

“Wait a minute, if she’s Tsunade’s grandma, and your father’s sister . . .” his nose wrinkled. “How old is she? Wait, no, hold up. You’re related to Tsunade? Argh, I don’t know what to focus on!” 

This time, a soft huff of something that could almost be considered laughter escaped Tsubame’s lips. “Mito-sama is my father’s older sister, and my father was rather old when he had Tsubasa and I. And yes, Tsunade and I are related. Her father was my cousin, and Tsunade and I are first cousins once removed.” 

“Is that why all your names are so similar?” 

Tsubame laughed out loud at that. Satisfied, Narumi grinned and waited for him to recover himself. “They are, aren’t they? I hadn’t thought of that,” Tsubame said. 

“Well, that’s one mystery solved,” Narumi joked. 

Tsubame didn’t speak again, but the atmosphere was much more comfortable now. Narumi suspected that the mention of his sister bothered Tsubame more than he would admit. He filled the silence between them with idle chatter, remarking on the places they passed that he had visited with Minato or with the rest of their group of friends, until they reached the Academy. Their visit to Mito had pushed back their arrival enough that most of the students had left for the day, but Minato was still on the swing under the tree. 

“I’ll look for Kushina,” Tsubame said. “She might have gone home already. Meet me at the school gate when you’re ready to leave.” 

Narumi continued towards Minato while Tsubame walked off on his own. “Minato! Sorry I’m late.” 

Minato looked up with a smile and rolled up his scroll. “It’s okay, Nii-san. I was just studying. Do you have time to train today?” 

“About that.” Narumi scratched at the back of his head. “We’re going back to Uzushio today. I . . . don’t know when I’ll be in Konoha again.” 

“Oh.” Minato bit his lip and looked at the ground. “Will I get to see you again?” 

Narumi crouched down and put his hands on Minato’s shoulders. “Absolutely! I’ll come to Konoha and see you every chance I get, believe it. And I’ll be there when you graduate if I have to become a missing nin to do it!” 

Minato giggled and scrubbed at his eyes with his sleeve. “You shouldn’t do that, Nii-san. You’ll get in trouble.” 

“Nah, I’ve got an in with the Uzukage. He’ll forgive me,” Narumi said. He ruffled MInato’s hair. “Write me, okay? You can tell me all about how you’re doing in school.” 

Minato was still for a moment, and then threw himself forward so enthusiastically Narumi nearly toppled over. Narumi stumbled back and quickly steadied himself, mindful of the kid now attached to his waist. He rubbed Minato’s hair, gentler than his previous vigorous ruffling. “You’ll see me again, Minato, I promise. We’re family.” 

MInato pulled away and gave him a tentative smile. “Okay. You’ll really come back?” 

“Absolutely. I never abandon the people important to me. Even if I have to break some dumb rules,” Narumi declared. 

Minato looked at him reproachfully. “You shouldn’t break the rules, Nii-san. They exist for a reason.” 

“Even if you have to break the rules to save someone you love?” Minato fell silent. Narumi laughed and poked his forehead. “Don’t break yourself thinking too hard.” 

“I won’t!” Minato protested. “You just said something interesting, that’s all.” 

“What, I’m not normally interesting?” Minato shrugged sheepishly in response. “See if I ever train you again!” 

Narumi glanced back and spotted Tsubame waiting at the entrance. “I should go..” 

Minato attempted a smile. “Bye, Nii-san.” 

“I’ll see you again, Minato. It’s a promise,” Narumi said, before walking to where Tsubame waited. 

Tsubame looked up as he approached. “Ready?” 

Minato was sitting alone on the swing, his scroll lying unopened in his lap. Still, Narumi nodded. “Ready. Let’s go home.” 

***

The war waged on. It wasn’t as bad as it had been--after a few final skirmishes on the Suna front before they managed to get the news of the treaty to every squad, the fighting with Suna and Kiri was over. The kids that had been kidnapped from Kiri were still in Uzushio, but Narumi figured they were waiting for things to calm down a bit more before sending them home. They still had Iwa and Kumo to contend with, after all. 

Occasionally, talk over another peace treaty would come up, only to fall through as someone disagreed with someone else. Narumi didn’t hear about them all that much--he spent most of his time outside of Uzushio, in the field with a squad that, in the absence of Tsubame and Jiraiya, usually consisted of Tsunade, Dan, Sakumo, Kaede, and Orochimaru, depending on who was cleared for missions at the time. 

As it turned out, they were all accustomed to working together. Tsunade and Orochimaru had been on the same genin team, of course, but Dan and Kaede had actually been on a genin team together as well; the third member of their original team had quit being a ninja due to family problems. Sakumo, the only one not to be in the same year of the Academy as one of the others, had been placed onto a team with Kaede and Dan following the deaths of his original teammates. Once Dan and Tsunade had gotten to know each other, the two teams had regularly combined for training and missions. Tsubame had once been their regular squadmate from Uzushio; now, that was Narumi. 

Narumi didn’t see much of Tsubame. He was in the field, and Tsubame, as the Uzukage, now had to stay in Uzushio. They had the linked scrolls that Tsubame had once shared with his sister, but those were strictly business only. Occasionally, a small sparrow would show up with a tiny message strapped to its leg. Those messages were always short, and always coded. 

Narumi never knew how to read them; the only one who did was Orochimaru. Narumi could only be grateful that Tsubame wasn’t the type to put passionate spiels in his messages, or else Narumi would have never been able to face Orochimaru again. 

They went to a lot of places. They fought a lot of battles. They ate a lot of ration bars. 

And, in the end, Narumi always returned to Uzushio. 

The village was slowly rebuilding. There were more chuunin and jounin in the village now, so they weren’t just relying on the efforts of the genin and civilians. It seemed like every time Narumi came back, a new section of the village had been rebuilt. No one had gotten to the house on the far-off island, but Narumi was in no rush, seeing as he was still rarely in Uzushio. Most of the time when he was in the village, he ended up staying with Tsubame, who was still hosting the kids. 

Narumi always expected them to be gone, but they were always there--one year later, two years later, until he really began to wonder when Tsubame intended on returning them to their parents. 

The fighting was finally dying down again--another Kage Summit had just been called, this one somewhere in Kumo, and so all missions had been suspended until further notice. To Narumi, it seemed like the perfect time to send the kids home, but when he returned to Uzushio from his latest mission, he found them in the house as normal--two of them, at least. The five-year-old and seven-year-old were sitting in the middle of the living room, playing some kind of game with cards and colorful sticks, but the nine-year-old was nowhere to be seen. 

“Where’s, uh, Hyousuke?” Narumi asked. 

Tsubame, pouring over his notes at the table, glanced up at the clock. “It’s only two. He’s still at the Academy.” 

“Wait, the Academy? What’s he doing there?” 

“Taking the placement exam,” Tsubame said. “I’m not sure if the Mizukage gave him any lessons, so the first year may be too easy for him. Besides, he’s already nine--he’d be the oldest one in the class.” 

“The placement exam?” Narumi echoed, feeling like he’d missed something somewhere along the line. 

“It is a bit late. I should have enrolled him at least a month ago, but the elders were being stubborn about it. As usual,” Tsubame said bitterly. 

“Wait, wait, wait, why’s he joining the Academy? What about sending him back to Kiri?” 

Tsubame didn’t look up from his paper. “He’s not going back to Kiri. None of them are. Those were the terms of the peace agreement. The older children remain in Konoha, and the younger ones remain in Uzushio.” 

“I thought you didn’t agree with kidnapping them!” Narumi exclaimed. 

Tsubame glanced over at the two children, still in the midst of the game but staring directly at Tsubame and Narumi. “We shouldn’t talk about this here. To my office.” 

Narumi stormed away from the table and went to Tsubame’s office. He didn’t even wait until Tsubame had activated the noise suppression seals to give them privacy before demanding, “So what’s the big idea? They should be with their family!” 

“Uzushio’s defenses have been completely destroyed. It will take years to get the seals back to the level they were at before the attack. We can’t afford another war. The children are an assurance of good faith.” 

“They’re kids, Tsubame!” Narumi slammed a hand down on Tsubame’s desk. “They shouldn’t be involved in this at all! I know you disagreed with kidnapping them.” 

“I wasn’t the Uzukage then,” Tsubame snapped. “I had the liberty to disagree with my sister in my private time. Of course taking hostages is a disgusting practice, and I would gladly send them home if I could! But I have to make decisions I don’t like for the sake of the village.” 

“You don’t have to! Didn’t you say you wanted to change the way things are now?” Narumi said. “Just send them home!” 

“I can’t, Narumi. I can’t.” Tsubame slumped down in his chair and covered his face with one hand. “I want to, but I can’t.” 

“You’re the Uzukage,” Narumi said. “If you decide to send them home, that’s that!” 

Tsubame laughed brokenly. “If only it were that simple.”

“You’re just giving up, dammit! If you believe in something, then fight for it! Don’t just give up because it’s for the good of the village or whatever.” Narumi turned around and stomped forwards, only to quickly reach the other wall. He turned around and stomped in the other direction, only to  quickly run into the same problem. Narumi ran his hands through his hair roughly. “Argh! I can’t think in this tiny room!” 

He jabbed a finger at Tsubame. “Don’t go anywhere! I’m gonna persuade you to send them back!” 

Narumi stormed to the door and flung it open. 

“I know you will,” he heard Tsubame say softly just before the door slammed shut. 

There was nothing better than a fight to help him sort through his thoughts. With the Summit going on, the village was full of jounin ready and eager to spar, particularly with someone they’d never trained with before. When Narumi went to one of the many training areas around Uzushio, he found three jounin already there, and by the time he finished sparring with them, even more had turned up. The Uzumaki in particular were fun to practice with--they had almost as much stamina as he did. His last match lasted for half an hour until they both got too hungry to continue. And no wonder--it was past ten when he finally got home. 

The main room was dark and empty, dinner left out for him by Suikawari, an Uzumaki woman who took care of the house and the kids while Tsubame was busy. A quick peek into the kid’s room showed that they were all asleep. Tsubame, on the other hand, was nowhere to be found. Instead, Narumi found a note informing him Tsubame had left for the Summit and a scroll officially granting him four weeks of leave in Konoha, lasting for the rest of December and most of January. 

Narumi sighed and began to pack up his things. “At least Minato will be happy.” 

He waited until morning to leave, in order to say goodbye to the kids and tell Suikawari how long he would be gone. He approached Konoha leisurely, to avoid alarming any shinobi in the area, and ended up escorting a merchant from Nami halfway there. In this time, Nami was apparently a prospering merchant country, trading with countries from as far away as the other side of the continent; however, given the war, they hadn’t been able to hire shinobi to protect their merchants and had suffered losses as a result. The merchant considered himself quite lucky to have encountered a shinobi--a shinobi from Uzushio, no less, Nami’s sister island country--who just happened to be traveling in the same direction. Narumi, for his part, didn’t mind taking on an unofficial mission now and then. It wasn’t like he had anything better to do. 

They parted at the gates of Konoha. Narumi wandered around for a bit--he’d never been to Konoha without Tsubame, and he realized too late that he hadn’t informed any of his friends he was coming--before heading to the Academy. 

To his surprise, the Academy was crowded with parents. A quick question to one of them, an Uchiha who gave him a dirty look, revealed why. Going at the speed of the merchant caravan had delayed him slightly--he’d arrived just in time for the final exam. 

The first of the students emerged, proudly holding up a headband, and was quickly congratulated by friends and family. A few minutes later, the next one emerged, and then the next. 

“Ah, Narumi-kun, I see you made it.” 

Narumi turned to find Mito Senju approaching him, accompanied by two people he assumed were members of the Senju clan as well. “Mito-san--uh, Mito-sama. It’s been a long time” 

She chuckled. “Mito-san is fine. Tsubame is more formal than he needs to be.” 

“Are you waiting for Kushina?” 

She nodded. “Kushina and Minato.” Narumi felt his eyes widen, and Mito chuckled. “You didn’t think I’d follow through, would I? Oh, yes, I’ve kept an eye on the both of them. Your younger brother has quite a talent for fuinjutsu.” 

Narumi grinned. “Yeah, he really does. He’s gonna be a great shinobi. Kushina, too.” 

Mito smiled, but Narumi couldn’t help but think it looked somewhat sad. “Yes, she will be.” 

The door to the Academy slammed open so loudly that everyone in the vicinity turned to look. “Yeah! I passed!” Kushina shrieked. Eyes lit up with glee, she scanned the crowd. She grinned when she spotted Narumi and Mito and ran forward, forcing everyone to get out of her path. “Baaaaaaa-saaaaaaan! Naaaaarumi-niiiiiii!” 

She screeched to a halt, panting, and grinned up at them. “Look! I passed!” 

Narumi held out a fist, and she bumped her fist against it. “Good job! Any idea who your teammates are going to be?” 

“I hope Mikoto is on my team! She’s amazing at genjutsu and I suck at genjutsu, and I’m really good at ninjutsu and Mikoto isn’t so good at ninjutsu, and she likes fighting from far away and I like to fight close up so we’ll work well together. And Minato should probably be on my team ‘cause he’s gonna get killed without me to protect him. But we won’t find out for another week,” she said. “Sensei says they have to finalize it after they find out who passed. Like me! I passed! They were super impressed with my water clone.” 

Narumi spotted a head of blond hair leaving the Academy. Minato didn’t look up as he wove through the crowd, too busy staring at the headband in his hands. Narumi held up a finger to hush Kushina and Mito and crept forwards, approaching Minato from behind. As soon as Narumi was directly behind him, Minato started to turn, but Narumi snatched him up and heaved him into the air and onto Narumi’s shoulders. 

“Ah! Nii-san!” Minato exclaimed. “What are you doing?” 

Narumi grinned and headed back to Kushina and Mito, still bearing Minato on his shoulders. “What, you don’t like it? I always wanted someone to do this to me when I was a kid.” 

“I’m not a kid,” Minato protested. “I’m a genin now. That means I’m officially an adult.” 

“Congratulations,” Narumi said. “Any idea about your teammates?” 

“I don’t know,” Minato said. His fingers tensed in Narumi’s hair. “I . . . hope I’m on the same team as Kushina-san.” 

“Oh, is that how it is?” Narumi teased. 

“Nii-san! It’s not like that!” 

“Sure, sure.” Narumi crouched down, allowing Minato to unsteadily get off. “So, who’s up for a celebratory dinner?” 

One of the Senju accompanying Mito leaned into whisper something to her. “Ah, of course. I’m afraid I won’t be able to join you. Congratulations, Kushina, Minato. Enjoy your dinner.” 

Kushina latched onto Narumi’s hand and looked up at  him with a gap-toothed smile. “I want ramen, Narumi-nii! Ramen, ramen!” 

Narumi looked over at Minato. “Ramen sounds good.” 

Minato nodded so rapidly Narumi thought his head might pop off his shoulders. “Ramen is good! I like ramen!” 

Ichiraku wasn’t open at this point in time--Narumi had checked. Kushina eagerly led them to her favorite restaurant, a small, run-down restaurant located near her apartment. 

“I go here all the time!” she said. “They make the best broth out of every ramen place in town. I know, ‘cause I’ve tried them all. Hey, Teuchi-nii, I want an extra egg!” 

Narumi gaped as a young man, somewhere in his late teens, poked his head out from the kitchen. “Welcome back, Kushina-chan! Coming right up.” 

“And I want two bowls, please! It’s a celebration! I graduated today,” Kushina declared. 

“Congratulations!” Teuchi called back from the kitchen. 

Kushina turned her attention back to Narumi and Minato. “I’m gonna learn how to make ramen as good as Teuchi-nii’s someday. ‘Cept I can’t afford the good ingredients on my stipend right now so I was waiting to be a genin to learn. And then I’ll be able to make whatever I want!” 

“If you need someone to try your food . . . I’d like to,” Minato offered hesitantly. 

Kushina grinned at him. “You will? Thanks, Minato! Mikoto offered too. She’s super good at cooking. We can have cooking parties!” 

“Oh! Okay. That sounds fun. I don’t know how to cook at all,” Minato said. 

Kushina wagged a finger. “You gotta know how to cook if you’re gonna live on your own! Eating out all the time’s way too expensive. Jeez, Minato. But don’t worry, I’ll teach you everything.” 

Their ramen arrived, and Kushina fell silent for a moment as she devoured it. 

“Me and Minato’ve been spending lotsa time with Baa-san,” Kushina said, once she’d slowed down. “She’s been teaching us tons of stuff about fuinjutsu! ‘Course, I know a bunch of stuff already, but Baa-san knows way more! She’s amazing. I’m gonna be just like her when I grow up.” 

Minato nodded. “Mito-baa-san knows more about fuinjutsu than any of the books I found.” 

“Pfft, duh! You’re not gonna learn anything good about fuinjutsu out of some dumb book,” Kushina said. “You’ve gotta have a teacher! That’s how all the Uzumaki learn, right, Narumi-nii?” 

“Seems that way,” Narumi said. “Tsubame’s been teaching me the basics.” 

Kushina nodded. “And then once you know the basics, you get to go off and do your own thing.” 

“It still seems impractical to me to have so much of fuinjutsu reliant on oral tradition. I’ve been making detailed notes of our lessons with Mito-baa-san,” Minato said. 

Kushina wrinkled up her nose. “That’s the most boring part of fuinjutsu.” She lifted up her empty bowl. “Teuchi-nii! Seconds please!” 

Teuchi came over with a fresh bowl. “On the house, for our new genin here.” 

Kushina cheered. “You’re the best!” 

Minato frowned down at his bowl. “I like Mito-baa-san’s lessons. They’re very interesting,” he said. 

“Then write them down. I’m sure someone will appreciate it,” Narumi said. Minato gave him a brief smile before returning to eating his ramen. 

In the end, Kushina ate four bowls of ramen to Narumi’s three, and Minato’s one. Narumi waved off Minato’s attempt to pay and covered the bill himself. The sun had long since set by the time they all left the store. 

“Be safe walking home, you two,” Narumi said. 

Kushina waved as she ran off towards her apartment. “Bye, Nii-san,” Minato said, before heading off as well. 

Narumi stared after him. “Uh, Minato? Isn’t the orphanage in the other direction?” 

Minato jumped and laughed sheepishly. “Oh! You’re right. I must be more tired than I thought. Thank you for dinner, Nii-san. I’ll see you tomorrow.” 

“See you,” Narumi agreed, as he watched Minato run in the direction of the orphanage. He waited until both kids were out of sight before heading back to Tsubame’s apartment.

Chapter Text

The bell above the door of the restaurant rang, and Narumi automatically looked up from his menu. As he spotted the newest customers, he grinned and waved. “Hey, over here!” 

Sakumo and Kaede, the first to arrive, joined him around the large table, sitting so close together that they were almost on top of each other. “Narumi,” Sakumo greeted warmly. “It’s been awhile.” 

“Yeah, since the mission in Iwa, right?” 

“That was a mess,” Sakumo sighed. “No medics, no Orochimaru . . .” 

“Well, it was Dan and Tsunade’s wedding,” Narumi said. 

“‘Cause they just couldn’t wait until after the war for their wedding like the rest of us. How long’re you here for?” Kaede asked, as she scoured the menu. “You’re not missing ours, are you?” 

“Nah, I’ve got until the end of January,” Narumi said. “I’ll be there for sure!” 

The bell rang again, and a few moments later Orochimaru slid into the bench on the other side of the table. “You haven’t ordered yet? Disappointing.” 

“I was waiting for Dan and Tsunade,” Narumi said. 

As if on cue, the bell rang yet again. Narumi glanced over, and his mouth fell open. “Whoa!” 

Tsunade glared at him. “Not a word, Namikaze.” 

“You’re huge!” Narumi blurted. He waved his hands around. “I mean, uh, holy shit! It’s massive! Are babies supposed to be that big?” 

Dan took the seat beside Orochimaru so Tsunade could have the end. Narumi had no idea how Tsunade was managing to sit down with a baby literally growing inside of her. “He’s a normal size,” she said. “And I can’t wait for him to be out! No training, no missions, and he never stops kicking.” 

“Two more months,” Dan said, patting her hand. 

Narumi stared at her stomach. “Whoa. I mean, I got your letter and all, but it’s different actually seeing it.” 

“It is fascinating,” Orochimaru agreed, staring at Tsunade’s stomach. “The creation of a human life . . . the cycle of death and rebirth continues . . .” 

Narumi had no idea what Orochimaru was going on about, as usual. He looked around the table for help.

Kaede eventually came to his rescue, continuing on as if Orochimaru had never spoken. “Yep, there he is! The true reason for the Senju wedding! Dan and Tsunade couldn’t keep it in their pants!” Kaede cackled. 

Narumi looked between them, at Kaede’s grin and Tsunade’s scowl. “Wait, is that really why?” 

“The elders insisted,” Tsunade growled. “I would’ve waited until after the war, but apparently it isn’t proper for the heir to the clan to pop out a baby before getting married.” 

“See, if you were an Inuzuka, this wouldn’t be a problem. No one gives a shit when an Inuzuka pops out a baby!” Kaede laughed. 

“Something you want to tell us?” Tsunade teased. 

“Not yet,” Kaede retorted. 

“Not for lack of trying,” Orochimaru said under his breath. Sakumo blushed and rubbed at the back of his head sheepishly. 

“What’re you gonna name him? Any ideas?” Narumi said. 

“We’ve got it all picked out. Kogane Senju,” Tsunade said. “We wanted to wait to see if it would be a boy or a girl, but . . .” 

“The elders,” Dan finished.

“Huh. And you just went along with what they wanted?” 

“You don’t know the elders,” Tsunade snorted. “They’re a pain in the ass. I have to listen to them at least some of the time, or they can make life a living hell. And I don’t really mind knowing ahead of time. I’d rather save my fight for the big things. Like sending him to school.” 

“School? You mean the Academy? Why would that be a fight?” Narumi asked. 

“Nah, not the Academy, I mean before that. You know, how a lot of civilian families send their kids to school from four or five years old,” Tsunade said. 

“Why send them to a civilian school? It would be entirely pointless,” Orochimaru said. “Simply enroll them in the Academy.” 

“The academy age has been shifting,” Tsunade said. “You’ve noticed, right? Kids are entering at six or seven instead of four like we did.” 

“Wasting time,” Orochimaru said. 

“They’re four,” Tsunade said. “They should be making friends, not deciding that they want to grow up to become killers.” 

“We hardly decided we wanted to become killers,” Orochimaru said. “We had our own goals, and becoming a shinobi was the way to realize those goals.” 

Tsunade shrugged. “Maybe it is pointless. Maybe he’ll grow up wanting to be a shinobi just because he’s grown up surrounded by them. Hell, when I was a kid, I never imagined  being anything but a shinobi like my grandfather. But I’d like for him to have options.” 

Dan chuckled. “Who knows? Maybe he’ll end up wanting to be a monk.” 

“A monk? That’s your example? What kind of four-year-old wants to be a monk?” Tsunade said. “You should have said--uh. Daimyo?” 

“The Daimyo?” Kaede snorted. 

“I’d like to see you come up with something better!” 

“Fine! Maybe he wants to grow up to be a dog!” 

“A dog? That’s not a job. That’s not even human!” 

“Hey, I wanted to be a dog when I was a kid.” 

“You’re an Inuzuka, you’re practically half dog already!” 

Listening to his friends bicker, Narumi couldn’t help but smile. It was nice to put his worries about Tsubame and the kids from Kiri out of his mind, just for a little bit. Maybe that had been why Tsubame had given him a full four weeks in Konoha--a little time with his friends, away from the war, was just what Narumi needed. 

Narumi spent the next few days with his friends and the two kids, depending on who was busy. Dan and Tsunade were always busy with managing the hospital and preparing for the baby. Orochimaru was usually somewhere Narumi decided not to think too hard about. Sakumo and Kaede were usually free, but spending time with them usually ended with Narumi getting roped into helping plan the wedding, which they were extremely enthusiastic about; Narumi had learned quickly to not drop by their house unannounced. Kushina and Minato were both free until the team announcements, apart from spending time with Mito at the Senju compound, and were almost always eager to train or grab a meal with him. 

They were in the middle of training when, just as Narumi blocked a kick from Minato and a punch from Kushina, the ground shook. In the distance, Narumi could see a cloud of dust from the area near the village gates. Without a second thought, he sprinted towards the gate, the kids hot on his heels. 

By the time they reached the gates, such a crowd had gathered that even the Uchiha officers couldn’t get through. Narumi crouched down. “One of you get up on my shoulders and tell me what you see.” 

Kushina moved first. Narumi grabbed onto her legs to steady her as he stood, wincing as her hands gripped his hair too tight. “Uh, it’s your friend, the one having the baby, and she looks really mad, and there’s a crater and a super old dude in the crater.” 

“A super old dude?” 

“Yeah, he’s got a bunch of white hair and a big scroll.” 

“Jiraiya!” Narumi exclaimed. 

Tsunade yelled something. “I can’t hear what she’s saying,” Kushina complained. 

“Then we’ll have to get closer.” Narumi pushed his way through the crowd, ignoring the dirty looks and angry muttering that followed him. 

As he got closer, he could hear Tsunade yelling. “Two years, you bastard! Where the hell have you been? Forget it, I’m not interested. You’re dead, asshole!” 

“Tsunade, you can’t kill him!” Dan exclaimed. “Think of the baby!” 

Narumi broke through the crowd; Dan had joined Tsunade, who was standing in front of a crater, hands on her hips. “He deserves it.” Dan looked at her sternly, and Tsunade snorted. “Oh, fine. Ugh, there goes our lunch break . . . hey, don’t you assholes have anything better to do than gawk!” 

The crowd quickly dispersed, eager to avoid Tsunade’s wrath. Dan met Narumi’s eyes, shrugged, and gestured towards Jiraiya before following after Tsunade. Narumi crouched to let Kushina down before walking to the edge of the crater. 

“You still alive, Jiraiya?” he called. 

Jiraiya groaned and dragged himself to his feet. “Three years out of the village, and this is the greeting I get . . .” 

“You missed her wedding. ‘Course she’s pissed.” Narumi offered him a hand and hauled him out of the crater. “What brings you back?” 

“Sensei called me back,” Jiraiya said. “Besides, those kids I was training are doing pretty well now--wait until I tell you about them! C’mon, let’s do lunch, I’m starving. Ah, wait, shit, I have to go see Sensei.” 

“I can wait,” Narumi said. He looked down at the kids, who were watching the exchange with unabashed curiosity. “Sorry, you guys mind training on your own?” 

“Yeah, okay, I was gonna to hang out with Mikoto anyways. You wanna come, Minato?” 

“I can come--I mean, okay!” 

The two of them raced off, and Narumi and Jiraiya fell into step beside one another. “How was Ame?” 

“A shithole,” Jiraiya said. “Still, that kid--he’s the real deal, Narumi, a complete genius. All five elements, in just three years! Not even Sensei and Orochimaru learned them that quickly.” 

“You’ll have to tell me all about it after your meeting.” 

Jiraiya grimaced. “He’s gonna chew me out, I can tell. Wish me luck. If I die, burn my porn stash so Tsunade doesn’t find it and bring me back from the grave to kill me again.” 

With the Academy out and missions on hold for the Summit, the administration building was pretty empty. Narumi passed the time chatting with the chuunin at the mission desk while he waited. 

In the end, it was two hours before Jiraiya emerged from the Hokage’s office, holding a file under one arm and looking like death. Narumi followed him out of the building and into the nearest restaurant, taking a seat across from him at the table. 

Jiraiya ordered a bottle of sake, and downed two glasses in short order. “Sensei has a sick sense of humor. He’s making me take genin !” 

“So? I mean, you were training some kids from Ame during the war, right? Isn’t that basically like having a genin team?” 

“It’s completely different! I didn’t have to do D-ranks,” Jiraiya groaned. 

“You can’t just go right to C-ranks?” Narumi asked. 

“I wish. Genin teams are required to do a certain number of D-ranks. They probably figured that otherwise everyone would avoid doing them.” Jiraiya gulped down another cup of sake and slid the folder across the table to Narumi. “I can’t bear to look. Just tell me I don’t have a Hyuuga or an Uchiha.” 

Narumi flipped through the folder and had to suppress a grin. There, in the back of the folder, was Minato’s profile. He shook his head and closed the file. “Bad news, Jiraiya, your team is made up entirely of Uchiha and Hyuuga. . .” 

“What? Give me that!” Jiraiya snatched up the file and skimmed it quickly. He breathed a sigh of relief. “Oh, good, they’re all from civilian families. I hate dealing with clans.” 

As the waitress brought their food, Jiraiya pulled out the first profile and read through it. “Good taijutsu scores, average ninjutsu, decent academic scores . . . not bad, all around. Could be worse. Let’s see . . . good ninjutsu scores, average taijutsu and academic scores, again, not bad. And last but hopefully not least . . . good ninjutsu, good academics, and average taijutsu--wait, Namikaze? Ha!” 

Jiraiya reached across the table to slap Narumi’s shoulder enthusiastically. “Looks like your baby brother’s in my hands! Ah, this is great . . . seems like a team with a lot of potential.” 

Narumi squinted at the folder. “You can tell that from this file?” 

“Well, they’re civilians, but they passed the exams on the first try and didn’t do badly, which means they’ve been working hard without any previous training from their families,” Jiraiya said. “Also, because they’re not from clans, they aren’t stuck in any boxes. So many clan kids think that because their clan does something, they have to do it to, even if they’re shit at it. With these kids, I can find what suits them and make them shine! And, of course, Minato here’s your brother. With genes like that, he’s bound to be a great shinobi. It’s like getting a clan kid without all the bullshit baggage.” 

The bell above the restaurant door rang. “Oh, hey! Jiraiya and Narumi!” 

Kaede dropped into the seat beside Jiraiya without further ado. “Move over, porcupine.” 

“Excuse us,” Sakumo said, as he took a seat beside Narumi. 

Kaede reached over to snatch up Jiraiya’s file, dropping a file of her own on the table as she did. “You got genin too? This I’ve gotta see.” 

Narumi reached over and pulled her file towards him. Jiraiya leaned over the table to get a closer look. “I didn’t know you were taking a genin team, Kaede.” 

“I thought it would be fun,” she laughed. “I could do with some fun after all this war bullshit. Damn, Jiraiya, they really gave you a bland team.” 

Narumi flipped to the first page, a girl who looked strikingly like Shikamaru. Jiraiya snorted. “A Nara? Good luck with that one.” 

Kaede cracked her knuckles. “I can be pretty motivating.” 

Narumi pulled out the next profile and found a name he actually recognized--Mikoto Uchiha, Sasuke’s mother. Jiraiya winced. “Ouch. They saddled you with an Uchiha. Have fun with that.” 

Kaede shrugged. “I guess they figured I wouldn’t complain about it. It’s not like she can steal any of my techniques, since most of them require a partner.” 

“Where is Hachimaru, anyways?” 

“He’s only interested in yakiniku restaurants.” 

Narumi turned to the final profile, and blinked in surprise. “You got Kushina?” 

Kaede grinned. “I know, right? The Uzumaki kid! I figure her and me are gonna get along just fine.” 

Jiraiya’s brow creased for a moment, before it smoothed out as he smacked Kaede on the back. “Better you than me! I’ll take my blank slate team any day over clan bullshit.” 

Kaede elbowed him. “My team’s gonna kick your team’s butt, shrimp!” 

“One centimeter! One, lousy centimeter!” 

“More like two.” 

Narumi looked down at the file in front of him. “Something wrong?” Sakumo asked. 

Narumi shook his head. “Nah, nothing. C’mon, let’s eat!” 

Still, he couldn’t help but wonder--Kushina wasn’t a jinchuuriki yet. So when did she become the Kyuubi jinchuuriki?

***

Minato waited with bated breath. Five teams so far, fifteen students, and neither he nor Kushina had been called. 

Sarutobi-sensei cleared his throat. “Team Six! Mikoto Uchiha, Kushina Uzumaki--” 

Kushina whooped and jumped up from her seat. “Yeah! Mikoto and me are on the same team! Told ya, Mikoto!” 

“Sit down, Uzumaki! I repeat, Team Six, Mikoto Uchiha, Kushina Uzumaki, and Shikanao Nara!” 

“No!” Kushina wailed. “Sensei, you were supposed to put Minato with me!” 

“Take it up with the Hokage, Uzumaki! Team Seven! Michio Akamatsu, Chinami Wakimizu, and Minato Namikaze!” 

Minato looked around the room for his teammates. Michio and Chinami were two of the other civilian students in his class, but he didn’t know them well. He wished he could have been on Kushina’s team, with someone he knew, instead of two strangers. 

Michio gave him a wave and Chinami smiled slightly when he met their eyes, so at least they seemed nice. 

Sarutobi-sensei finished reading of the last of the teams, ten in total, before calling them back to attention. “You have an hour break for lunch, after which your new sensei will come fetch. You’ve done well. Continue to make your village proud, and embody the will of fire!” 

The students erupted into cheers as their teacher left the room. Before Minato could even stand, Michio joined him at his table. “I don’t think we’ve ever talked. I’m Michio.” 

Minato shook his hand. “Minato.” 

“And I’m Chinami,” the third member of their team said, as she claimed the other seat next to Minato. “Would you like to eat lunch together?” 

“Of course,” Minato agreed. “By the swing?” 

He waved to Mikoto and Kushina as his team left the room. Kushina made a face at him, likely expressing her displeasure at the team arrangements. He shrugged and gave her a sympathetic smile in return. 

Michio and Chinami unpacked their lunches as they sat down. “Minato-kun, don’t you have a lunch?” Chinami asked. 

“Ah . . . no, I forgot.” 

“I almost did too!” Michio said. “I ran out the door without all my stuff and my mom had to chase me down.” 

“You can share mine,” Chinami said, pushing her bento towards him. “My mother always makes too much for me, so I usually share with friends.” 

“Here, mine too,” Michio said. “My mom always makes me a snack after school anyways.” 

Minato gave them both grateful smiles. “Thank you.” 

“No problem! We’re teammates now,” Michio said. “I gotta say, I’m glad we’re all from civilian families.” 

“Why do you say that?” Minato asked. 

“Everyone knows that the jounin favor the kids from shinobi families,” Michio said. “All the civilian kids who joined the Academy say so. If you’ve got a team with civilian kids and shinobi kids, the jounin-sensei almost always gives all his attention to the shinobi kids. ‘Cause they’ve got more potential, or something.” 

Minato frowned. “That’s not right. The jounin-sensei should give their attention to each student equally. Don’t the civilian students complain to someone about it?” 

“Who’d take ‘em seriously?” Michio said. “It’s not like there’s anyone in charge of the jounin-sensei besides the Hokage, and they’re not gonna let a genin go see the Hokage just to complain. The jounin-sensei can do whatever they want with their genin. Everyone knows that.” 

“Ah . . . I guess they don’t really talk about things like that at the orphanage,” Minato said. 

“Well, that makes sense. I mean, the orphanage basically just feeds into the Academy, doesn’t it?” Michio said. “That’s what my parents say.” 

Minato shrugged. “In most cases, yes. If someone has no talent with the shinobi arts, usually they’ll do something else, but most of us go to the Academy.” 

“I have a few friends from the orphanage,” Chinami said. “They didn’t pass the exam, though.” 

“That test was hard!” Michio complained. “I thought I failed for sure. I’m terrible at academics, and my henge is just awful. I guess my taijutsu pulled me through.” 

“I did the best in the ninjutsu section,” Chinami said. “My taijutsu and academic scores are okay, though.” 

“I’m best at academics and ninjutsu,” Minato said. “My taijutsu is . . . a work in progress.” 

“Yeah, I was thinkin’ about that!” Michio said. “You almost got Uzumaki last time we had taijutsu practice. Have you been doing lots of training on the side?” 

“Ah, no . . . well, a little, I suppose. Kushina-san and I have been training a lot more together,” he admitted. “We’ve been studying fuinjutsu together.” 

“Whoa! So that’s why you two’ve been all buddy-buddy. I thought you were dating or somethin’,” Michio laughed. 

Minato felt his face flush. “M-me? And Kushina-san? O-of course not, that would be ridiculous.” 

Michio grinned broadly. “But you wanna, am I right?” 

Minato buried his face in his hands. “It’s not like that . . .” 

Michio laughed and elbowed him. “Don’t worry, Minato, your secret’s safe with us.” 

“I think it’s sweet,” Chinami said, with a happy sigh. “Training together . . . falling in love . . .” 

“In love?” Minato yelped. “It’s not like that, really!” 

The other two laughed. 

“You’re a lot of fun, Minato!” Michio said. “I’m glad, I thought you were some jerk with a stick up your ass.” 

“Eh? Really?” Minato asked. 

Chinami smiled awkwardly. “I have to admit, I thought you were a little standoffish too . . .” 

“Is that the kind of impression I give off?” He hadn’t even noticed; he’d have to pay more attention to how people perceived him. 

“Don’t worry too much about it!” Chinami said. “I mean, I thought Michio was a clown, and he’s okay so far.” 

“What! Hey, I put a lot of effort into being the class clown!” 

“You mean being seen as an idiot was intentional?” 

“Admit it, class would’ve been ten times as boring without me!” 

They finished their lunch just as the bell rang to announce the hour was up, and returned together to the classroom. Kushina seemed cheerful again, and waved at him happily as his team claimed the desk behind her. 

She spun around in her chair to talk to him. “Nao-chan’s pretty funny, actually! Did ya know she likes to play mahjong and go and shogi and stuff? How’s your team?” 

“They’re nice,” Minato said. 

Kushina eyed them skeptically. “Well, Michio can almost beat me in taijutsu, so he’s okay,” she said. “And Chinami’s pretty good at ninjutsu, so I guess she’s okay too.” 

“We can hear you, Uzumaki,” Michio complained. 

Kushina stuck her tongue out at him. She turned back around as the door opened to admit the first of the jounin-sensei. More jounin followed the first, but none of them came for Team Six or Team Seven. 

The door opened again, when the room was almost empty, to admit two people Minato realized he recognized. They were his brother’s friends, the Inuzuka woman with the massive dog and the massive naginata, and the man with the mane of white hair who had been beaten up by the gates. 

The woman put her hands on her hips and scanned the room  until her eyes landed on Minato’s section of the room. “Team Six, there you are! C’mon, brats, up you get!” 

Kushina whirled around, her eyes gleaming. “Minato, she’s so cool!” 

The woman laughed. “Let’s see how cool you think I am when I’m done with you!” 

Still grinning, Kushina left with her team. The man with white hair stayed at the front of the room. His eyes met Minato’s. 

“Team Seven, you’re with me,” he said. 

Minato and his new teammates exchanged looks; none of his them seemed familiar with the man. Minato wasn’t sure how to feel. The man was a jounin, and he was friends with Minato’s brother, so surely he was strong, but at the same time he had gotten  beat up in front of the village gates. 

Maybe taijutsu just wasn’t his specialty, Minato consoled himself. 

The man led them to a training ground, the same one that Minato’s brother liked to use. “Okay, let’s do introductions,” he said. “Name, likes, dislikes, dreams for the future.” 

Minato looked around at his teammates, neither of whom seemed willing to start. “I’m Minato Namikaze. I like training with friends and studying fuinjutsu and ninjutsu. I dislike . . .” 

For a moment, he was stuck; most of his dislikes seemed far too personal to share. 

“I dislike . . . natto. And my dream for the future is to be Hokage,” he finished in a rush. 

Sensei, thankfully, didn’t call him out for rushing through the dislike part of his introduction. “Hokage, huh?” he said, grinning.  “I can work with that. Who’s next?” 

“I’ll go!” Michio said. “My name’s Michio Akamatsu. I like taijutsu and pork bowls! And I dislike carpentry, even though my whole family is carpenters. I think it’s boring. And my dream for the future . . . I wanna be a jounin-sensei.” 

“A noble goal,” Sensei said. “And the last one.” 

“I’m Chinami Wakimizu. I like to design gardens. I dislike . . . eating fish. My family raises koi, so it’s always felt a little weird to me. And for the future, I want to master water-jutsu.” 

Sensei nodded. “I’m Jiraiya of the Sannin.” 

Minato looked at his teammates. They didn’t seem like they recognized his name either. 

Jiraiya-sensei sighed and waved a hand. “Nevermind. Anyways, I like training with my teammates, drinking with my friends, and . . . doing a lot of stuff you’re too young to hear about. I dislike people who betray their friends. And my dream for the future is to make you the best damn shinobi to come out of this village. But before that . . . I have one last test to give you.” 

Minato’s mouth fell open in surprise. No one had mentioned another test. 

“What? That’s not fair!” Michio exclaimed. “We already passed our final exam!” 

“Life’s not fair, kid. The jounin-sensei are allowed to give their genin any test they want. If you fail this test, it’s right back to the Academy for you. ‘Course, if you want to complain, you can always just go back right now. No? Good. The test is simple.” 

With a sly smile, Jiraiya-sensei held up two bells attached to string. “You just have to get these bells from me in the next three hours. Whoever doesn’t have a bell . . . fails.” 

Minato swallowed. ‘Simple,’ Jiraiya-sensei had said, but just looking at him Minato knew that unless the man was going easy on them, there was no way he would be able to get a bell on his own. A quick glance at Michio and Chinami showed similar misgivings. 

This test was definitely not as simple as it seemed. 

Jiraiya pulled out a timer and set it on the stumps. “Aaaaand . . . go.” 

Michio ran at Jiraiya. Minato grabbed him with one hand before he could get too far, grabbed Chinami with the other hand, and ran into the forest. 

“Hey, what’s the big idea?” Michio demanded. 

Minato shook his head. “We can’t take those bells from him on our own. He’s a jounin.” He’d had experience fighting Narumi with Kushina, and even when Narumi was going easy on him, Minato couldn’t beat him one-on-one. “If we work together, we might have a chance.” 

Michio frowned. “Yeah, I guess three-on-one is better odds.” 

Chinami nodded. “I don’t think I could take a jounin on my own. But what about the bells?” 

“We’ll have to work that out once we have them,” Minato said. “Right now, we need to make a plan to get those bells.” 

The other two nodded firmly. Minato met their determined gazes, and knew that they would do whatever they had to do to get those bells. 

They would pass this test. 

***

Kushina couldn’t help but bounce her leg up and down as she sat in front of her new jounin-sensei with her teammates. A genin! She was finally a genin! And she had a team! Minato wasn’t on it--she hoped he was going to be okay, that white-haired guy seemed kind of unreliable--but at least she had Mikoto. Plus, their new sensei seemed really cool. 

“Right! I’m Kaede Inuzuka, and this is my partner Hachimaru. Now, I know your names, I assume you know each other’s names, so I have just one question for you. What are your dreams for the future?” 

She waved her hand eagerly. “I’ll go! I’m gonna be Hokage!” 

“Hokage, I love it! Next!” Kaede pointed to Mikoto. 

“I’m going to be a jounin by the time I’m fifteen,” Mikoto said. 

“Jounin at fifteen! Great. Now you!”

“Dreams, huh,” Shikanao said. “I want . . . to be the head of the Cryptology department.” 

“Cryptology, huh? I don’t know anything about that, but I like it!” Kaede grinned at them all. “Okay, I’ve decided I like you. You’re my genin now. I could give you another test and then send you back to the Academy if you fail, but you all seem like interesting kids. Now, one more question! Don’t worry about getting this one wrong. What is the most important thing to a shinobi?” 

“Uh, their body?” Kushina guessed. 

Kaede laughed. “I guess in a literal sense I’ve never met a disembodied shinobi, but nope! Not what I was looking for.” 

“Chakra?” Mikoto guessed. 

“Bzzt! There’s a lot of taijutsu and weapon-work that doesn’t require chakra,” Kaede said. “I don’t know any shinobi that don’t use chakra, but there could be one!” 

“The mind,” Shikanao said. 

“Good guess, but not what I was thinking of either. The answer is . . . teamwork!” 

The three of them all exchanged doubtful looks. “Teamwork?” Kushina asked. 

“A lot of ninja work solo, especially in ANBU,” Mikoto said. 

Kaede wagged a finger. “That’s what you think. But ANBU, they get their equipment from someone, right? And someone gives them a mission? And someone debriefs them? And someone takes care of their injuries? And someone trained them until they were able to be genin? No one does anything alone. This whole village is one big team, and we all work together to protect each other. The most important thing to a shinobi is teamwork, and without it you’re as good as dead. But don’t worry about remembering that one. By the time I’m done with you, it’ll be drilled into your heads so hard you’ll never forget it.” 

Kaede gave them a wicked grin. Kushina’s smile spread across her face until her cheeks ached. Her heart was pounding in her chest, her body thrumming with excitement, her mind whirling with possibilities. She couldn’t wait to get started. 

***

Now that they were officially genin, Narumi didn’t see Minato and Kushina nearly as often. They trained in the mornings and spent their afternoons doing D-ranks, and were exhausted in the evenings. Jiraiya was putting his team through their paces, throwing every exercise he could think of at them in the hopes of finding out what they were good at. Kaede had been running constant drills with her team, making them get used to working together and honing their already existing skills. 

Narumi was only able to treat them to a congratulatory dinner a week after they became genin, when they had a day off. 

Kushina arrived first and immediately slumped into her chair. “Narumi-nii, I’m exhausted,” she groaned. “I thought being a genin was supposed to be exciting, but all we do is weed gardens and paint fences and  boring stuff like that. I wanna move on to C-ranks, but Kaede-sensei won’t let us.” 

“Yeah, D-ranks have always seemed like a waste of time to me,” Narumi laughed. “But I guess someone has to do it!” 

“If I have to catch that stupid cat one more time, I’m throwing it into the Forest of Death,” Kushina muttered. 

The door opened to admit Minato. He looked even worse off than Kushina, with bags under his eyes and his hair uncombed. Jiraiya must have really been pushing his team hard. Still, his smile was the same as always. “Hello, Nii-san,” Minato greeted. “Kushina-san.” 

“Minatooooo,” Kushina whined. “Is your sensei as much of a hardass as mine? My bruises have bruises! I’m never gonna look at a naginata the same way again! I have nightmares about being chased by dogs!” 

Minato’s eyes lit up. “Jiraiya-sensei is amazing! He knows a lot about fuinjutsu, did you know? And he knows a lot about ninjutsu and creating jutsu, he says his teammate is interested in that kind of thing.” 

“D-ranks,” Kushina whined. 

“They’re not so bad,” Minato said. “I had to do chores like that at the orphanage all the time, since we couldn’t afford to hire genin.” 

“Ugggh, you’re such a goody-two-shoes,” Kushina groaned. Minato shrugged, and Kushina grinned and slung an arm around his shoulders. “That’s why you need me! I’ll get you into trouble, no worries.” 

“Shouldn’t we be staying out of trouble?” 

“Where’s the fun in that?” 

While they playfully bickered, Narumi went ahead and ordered. Kushina wasn’t shy about ordering as much as she wanted, but he knew that Minato would be careful about ordering too much when someone was paying. He was a genin now--he needed all the energy he could get. 

Minato’s mouth fell open when the waitress brought by the food Narumi had ordered, so much that the table underneath was barely visible. “Nii-san! This is too much.” 

“You can take the leftovers home,” Narumi said. “Now eat up, before it gets cold!” 

After a moment, Minato nodded and picked up his chopsticks. “Thank you for the food.” 

“Thanks for the food!” Kushina cheered, before falling ravenously upon the meal. 

By the time they finished, the entire table had been cleared of food. They must have been hungrier than they’d been letting on. “Still hungry?” Narumi asked, eyeing the two genin.

Kushina leaned back and sighed. “I’m stuffed! That was pretty great.” 

Minato nodded and set his chopsticks aside. “Thank you for treating us, Nii-san.” 

“Don’t worry about it. You sure you don’t want more?” 

Minato smiled softly. “I’m sure.” 

Narumi paid the bill, and the three of them left the restaurant. Kushina headed back to her apartment, but Minato headed off in the opposite direction from the orphanage. Narumi watched him go, but Minato didn’t change direction at all. After a moment, Narumi followed him. Something seemed off with Minato, and Narumi was going to find out what. 

After a while of following Minato, Narumi  began to think he’d been mistaken. Minato went to a ninja supply store for a few minutes, looked in a few bookstores, and otherwise acted like any other genin with a fresh supply of cash to spend. He didn’t buy very much, but that wasn’t surprising. Minato was the type to be careful with his money. By the time nearly an hour had passed, Narumi was about ready to call it quits, when Minato entered a laundromat. 

Narumi settled on the roof of the opposite building to watch. 

Minato unsealed a bag from a scroll--he was clearly putting his fuinjutsu lessons to good use--and emptied it into the washing machine. He put in a few coins, filled it with detergent, and then settled down with a book. 

Narumi watched and waited, wondering why Minato would come here to do his laundry. Maybe the laundry machine at the orphanage was broken, or they didn’t know how to clean shinobi gear properly so he’d taken to doing it himself. Narumi would have to keep watching to find out. 

Minato’s laundry wasn’t washed and dried for another two hours, and Minato took another half an hour to fold his clothes and seal them back up. Narumi followed him through the village; Minato still wasn’t heading to the orphanage. Eventually, they reached a park, one that had one of those play structures with a room underneath so kids could sit in it. The room was small, but could still easily fit a child Minato’s size comfortably. As Narumi watched, Minato entered the room and sat on the bench, pulling his knees up to his chest. 

Narumi decided he’d watched long enough. In a flash, he was at the entrance to the little room, crouching down to see through the door. He knocked against the wood. “Knock knock.” 

Minato jumped up so quickly he smacked his head against the ceiling. “N-nii-san! What are you doing here?” 

“Worrying about you,” Narumi said. “You’re not going back to the orphanage?” 

Minato shook his head and stared down at the floor, avoiding Narumi’s gaze. “I’m a genin now. Legally, I’m an adult. Everyone leaves the orphanage when they become a genin . . . I’ve been saving up my mission pay for an apartment, but I don’t have anyone to act as a guarantor so I have to pay a large deposit . . .” 

“You couldn’t ask Jiraiya? He’s your jounin-sensei, I’m sure he could help you out,” Narumi said. 

Minato shook his head rapidly. “I couldn’t impose on him like that!” 

“Well, lucky for you, you’ve got a big brother to impose on. C’mon, you’re not sleeping here. You can stay with me until we sort out an apartment for you.” Narumi held out a hand. 

Hesitantly, Minato put his hand in Narumi’s. Narumi hauled him out of the playground and wrapped an arm around his shoulders as he led him from the park. “How long’s this been going on?” 

“Since I passed the exam,” Minato said. “I should have expected it, but it slipped my mind. Some people failed the test on purpose so they wouldn’t have to leave.” 

Narumi sighed. “Jeez, just throwing kids to the wind like that . . .” 

“Genin pay can easily cover rent for a cheap apartment,” Minato said. “Two or three D-ranks are enough, and we do more than that in a week. We just didn’t start them right away, and then I wasn’t prepared to put down a deposit.” 

“You shouldn’t have to worry about that at all. Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it,” Narumi said. “You are going to take a shower and get some sleep. No arguments!” 

Minato, still looking at the ground, nodded. “Yes, Nii-san.” 

Narumi sighed and ruffled Minato’s hair. “And next time, tell me when you’re having trouble with something. I’m here to help you, ya know.” 

Minato didn’t reply, and they walked the rest of the way to Tsubame’s apartment in silence. While Minato showered, Narumi set up a spare futon on the floor of his bedroom. Tsubame’s room was unoccupied, but Tsubame was pretty private, so Narumi figured he should at least ask before letting someone else sleep there. He could take the floor for a week or two while he got Minato sorted out. 

Of course, Minato tried to protest the arrangement. “I couldn’t put you out of your bed, Nii-san! I’m fine with the floor.” 

“You’ve got training and missions,” Narumi said. “You’re taking the bed. Trust me, I’ve slept in worse conditions for longer periods of time.” 

Minato looked from Narumi to the bed, fingers plucking anxiously at the hem of his borrowed pajamas. “If you’re sure, Nii-san.” 

“I’m sure,” Narumi said firmly. “Now get in bed.” 

Minato crawled reluctantly under the covers as Narumi turned off the lights and got settled on the spare futon. 

“Thanks, Nii-san,” Minato whispered. 

“No need to thank me. We’re family, Minato. I’m gonna look after you no matter what.”

Chapter Text

Narumi left Konoha shortly after Sakumo and Kaede’s wedding—a boisterous affair with a horde of Inuzuka in attendance—and headed back to Uzushio. Word had finally come to Konoha that the Summit had ended, a treaty had been signed, and the war was officially over. He passed shinobi returning to Konoha in droves on his way, and was joined by several shinobi returning to Uzushio. By the time he finally arrived, he’d gotten to know many members of the  Uzumaki and Mizushima clans, as well as several other jounin and chuunin. 

The village was even busier than normal, as the genin who had been left behind reunited with parents and siblings and friends. Even the canals were filled with people running over the water, anxious to get home. 

Narumi made his way to the Uzumaki compound, but didn’t get far before an ANBU landed in front of him. 

“Namikaze-san,” the woman said. “Uzukage-sama is waiting for you in his office.” 

“I’ll be there,” he said. 

As he made his way through the crowded streets and canals, Narumi wondered what Tsubame could want. A new mission, now that the Summit was over, or maybe something related to the Summit and the treaty. Or, Narumi thought with a grin, maybe Tsubame just wanted to see him. He probably wouldn’t summon Narumi to his office for something so frivolous, but it was a nice thought. 

The ANBU guarding the door opened it as he entered, clearly expecting him. Tsubame, to Narumi’s surprise, wasn’t sitting at his desk but rather staring out the window, towards the sea. 

“Leave us,” he said. 

The ANBU bowed and left. 

“All of you,” Tsubame said. Motion blurred in the corner of Narumi’s eyes, but when he turned his head, he saw nothing. 

Narumi leaned against the wall next to Tsubame. “You wanted to see me?” 

“Yes. I . . .” Tsubame breathed in deeply, then breathed out. Narumi leaned over, trying to look at Tsubame’s face, and saw that his brows were furrowed deeply. “There’s something I have to tell you. It regards a treaty.” 

“I thought it might.” 

Tsubame shook his head. His red hair fell to the sides of his face like a curtain, blocking Narumi’s view. “No, not that treaty. A treaty with Nami; the council has been arranging it. As you know, Uzushio has no daimyo, and thus lacks a significant source of income that the other countries have, while Nami has no shinobi village, and thus lacks protection. A treaty between the two countries benefits both parties.” 

“Yeah, okay, I get that. But what does that have to do with me?” 

Tsubame sighed again. “I apologize. It is easier to discuss the minute details than . . . than tell you what I have to tell you.” 

His fingers played with the ends of his hair. “We almost had a treaty with Nami ten years ago, you know. The daimyo of Nami has a daughter—Nami’s princess. She was meant to marry Tsubasa, but that fell through for obvious reasons. In the end, without the union to seal it, the treaty negotiations collapsed. And now I’m the Uzukage, in a position to take Tsubasa’s place, so. . .” 

Tsubame took a deep breath. “I’m getting married.” 

Narumi’s heart stuttered in his chest. “Married?” 

“For the treaty. To the daimyo’s daughter. I’m sending out some shinobi to bring her here tomorrow, and when she gets here, we’ll be married. I’m told . . . she’s quite pretty.” Tsubame laughed, but the sound was quiet and broken. 

“And you didn’t talk to me about it?” 

Tsubame shook his head. “I couldn’t. I couldn’t talk to you about it. I knew that . . . if I did,  I wouldn’t be able to go through with it.” 

“So you don’t want this?” Narumi asked. Tsubame’s gaze remained fixed out at sea, turned away from Narumi. Narumi seized his shoulders and, before Tsubame could make him let go, spun Tsubame around to face him. “Dammit, Tsubame, talk to me!” 

He froze as he took in Tsubame’s face. His lips were pressed together firmly, trembling slightly, and his eyes were shiny and wet. 

“You think I want this?” Tsubame hissed. “Of course I don’t want this! I don’t care how pretty she is, or how much of a fitting wife she is. I’ll never love her.” 

Tears welled up in Tsubame’s eyes and spilled down his cheeks. “But I have to do this. For the sake of the village.” 

Slowly, Narumi let go of Tsubame’s shoulders and instead wrapped his arms around him, pulling him in closer until Tsubame’s face was pressed against his shoulder. Tsubame leaned against him limply, trembling. 

“I’m sorry, Narumi,” Tsubame whispered. “If I could, I would . . .” 

Narumi pressed his face against Tsubame’s hair. “It’s okay. I understand.” He pulled back just enough that he could cup Tsubame’s face in his hands and wipe away Tsubame’s tears. Somehow, he managed to smile. “I know what it means to be a Kage.” 

Tsubame reached up, running his hands  through Narumi’s hair and pulling Narumi down until their foreheads rested against each other. “You’re too understanding, Narumi.” 

Narumi shifted slightly, pressing their lips together. Tsubame kissed back eagerly, his hands clutching at Narumi desperately. When Narumi pulled away, Tsubame’s cheeks were flushed pink. “I dunno about that,” he said. “I’m just as understanding as anyone should be.” 

Tsubame smiled softly and leaned against the window.  “If everyone were like you, the world would be a much better place.” 

“Hey now, don’t flatter me when you’re dumping me. I’ll get the wrong idea.” Narumi stared out the window, looking out at the deceptively calm water. “You said there was a mission to bring her here, right? Send me on it.” 

Tsubame should his head. “Narumi, I couldn’t ask you to do that.” 

“I want to go. I want to meet her. I gotta see if she’s as pretty as they say,” Narumi said, giving him a grin. 

Tsubame scoffed. “You know I don’t care about that.” 

“Yeah, otherwise you wouldn’t be with me.” 

“Don’t say things like that,” Tsubame said. “You know I’ve always found you handsome. This girl, whoever she is, whatever she looks like . . . she could never compare.” 

Narumi ran a hand through his hair, and Tsubame gave him an apologetic smile. “Sorry. I’ll refrain from saying such things.” 

Tsubame turned away from the window and returned to his desk. “I’ll add you to the mission roster. The team leaves from the mission desk tomorrow morning. Details are in the scroll. I’ll have a copy sent to you. Now, I—I have a lot of work to do. You should go.” 

“Okay. I’ll go. See you, Tsubame.” 

With one final glance at Tsubame—looking down at his desk, avoiding Narumi’s eyes—Narumi walked to the door. 

“Narumi. I . . . I really am sorry,” Tsubame whispered. 

Narumi paused, one hand on the door. “Yeah. Me too.” 

He left the Uzukage’s office and took to the streets, wandering them with no clear destination in mind. He drifted through the crowd and somehow ended up at the edge of the village, staring in the direction of the small, isolated island Tsubame had once taken him to. 

Narumi walked across the water until he reached the island, and walked through the house. It was made of some kind of stone, or a similar material, so he wasn’t too worried about walking through the house and going upstairs. It was a nice house. Big enough for two people to live comfortably, with a trapdoor at the top of the stairs that lead to the large, flat roof of the house. 

Narumi stretched out on the roof, staring up at the blue sky and the few clouds. 

“Dammit,” he said. 

His eyes burned. Narumi covered his eyes with his arm and tried to ignore the wetness seeping into the fabric. Even when he closed his eyes, he could still see Tsubame’s distraught expression, the tears pouring down his cheeks. He wanted nothing more than to run back to Tsubame’s office and rip up that damn treaty, then go to the elders and rip them a new one for making Tsubame feel like he had no choice but to go through with the marriage. 

He understood making sacrifices for your village, for the people you cared about. He’d sacrificed a whole world, all the friends he’d left behind, for the sake of building a better world. But that didn’t make it hurt any less, and it didn’t make him stop wanting to beat the shit out of anyone who made Tsubame cry. 

In this situation, though, Narumi couldn’t do anything, and he hated that more than anything. 

So, he went to get the Daimyo’s daughter. Her name was Shiomi, she was a few years older than Tsubame, and she was just as pretty as Tsubame had been probably been told. She smiled the whole way to Uzushio; she had been told Tsubame was handsome and strong, and she was excited to marry him. 

She hadn’t been told that he was sometimes cold and standoffish, that he had a streak of mischief he kept carefully hidden, that he loved children and that they loved him in return, that he was obsessed with seals and spent more time researching them than was probably healthy, and that he would never love her as anything more than a friend. 

Narumi tried not to dislike her, but he had to admit he wasn’t entirely successful. He may or may not have slipped a sea urchin (or two or three) into her bed when no one was looking. 

With civilians, they had to travel by boat and move carefully to avoid the whirlpools lurking under the water, so their trip from Nami was much slower than Narumi was used to. By the time they arrived, the whole village was decked out for the wedding, shinobi and civilians alike crowding in the streets to catch a glimpse of the princess. 

Narumi went to the wedding. Tsubame did look handsome in his formal attire, and the princess even prettier than she had looked on the trip over. Tsubame’s eyes were slightly red, and his hands trembled through the service. 

“Tsubame-chan is nervous,” an old Uzumaki woman chuckled to her friend. 

The other woman swatted her. “That’s our Uzukage, you know! And not that I blame him, with such a pretty wife . . .” 

Tsubame smiled at the end of the ceremony and smiled through the reception, but it didn’t reach his eyes. Narumi stayed for the whole reception, but didn’t approach Tsubame. Instead, he waited until a week later, went to Tsubame’s house, and knocked on the door. 

Hyousuke opened the door. Seeing him here, in Uzushio instead of home in Kiri, still made Narumi feel guilty. 

“Hey, Hyousuke, is Tsubame home?” 

The boy nodded and stepped back. “Tsubame! Narumi is here!” 

Tsubame appeared in the door, a frown fixed to his face. “Narumi. Should you be here?” 

Narumi shrugged and smiled at him. “Hey, you dumped me. You never said we couldn’t be friends.” 

Slowly, the corners of Tsubame’s lips turned upwards. “Friends? I suppose . . . I suppose I would like that.” 

Narumi beamed. “Great! Because let me tell you, I still have a lot to learn about this whole fuinjutsu thing.” 

Tsubame sighed, but he was still smiling, and the tenseness in his eyes had cleared. “Of course you’re after my fuinjutsu knowledge. Well, you might as well come in. We’ll make a respectable Uzumaki of you yet.” 

“I’d like to see you try!” Narumi laughed as he walked through the door. 

Even if he couldn’t have what he’d had with Tsubame, at least Narumi could make sure he was smiling. 

***

“I think Tsubame is avoiding me.” 

“Well, can you blame him? That did kind of end disastrously.” 

Narumi stared miserably down at his ration bar. Sakumo poked futilely at their attempt at a fire. 

“He’s been sending me on missions non-stop since he got married,” Narumi sighed. 

“He feels guilty,” Sakumo said. “This is his weird, emotionally-constipated way of making it up to you.” 

“By sending me on a hunt for a missing-nin? In the rain?” 

“Hey! At least you have my charming company!” 

“I’d rather be out of the rain. Or at least have a good meal.” 

Sakumo sighed. “It does make it hard to track. Ran, Gin, and Jun still aren’t back . . .” 

“Shouldn’t you go with them?” Narumi asked. 

He waved a hand. “I’d only slow them down. They’re better trackers than me. Now, if Kaede were here . . .” 

“Oh, yeah, how’s she doing?” 

Sakumo chuckled. “She can’t wait. She’s been counting down the days ever since we found out.” 

“He’s due . . . November, yeah?” 

“Yep, two months,” Sakumo said. “He’ll be in the same year as Kogane in school. Maybe they’ll even be on the same genin team.” 

“Yeah, maybe,” Narumi said. It was a strange thought—there were people alive who should have been dead, and people alive who shouldn’t have existed at all. Kakashi’s genin team might be totally different from what it had been. “How’s Kogane doing?” 

“Getting bigger every day,” Sakumo said. “Hard to believe it’s already been six months. He’s a quiet kid. I thought babies were supposed to be noisy, but Tsunade says he pretty much never cries. I wonder what Kakashi’ll be like . . . oh, I don’t know if I told you. That’s what we’re naming him.” 

“Kakashi Hatake. Nice name,” Narumi said. 

“Kaede thought of it, actually. We’re sticking with the Hatake naming tradition—” 

Both of them fell silent as the sound of footsteps racing towards them became apparent. They both took up positions behind trees, kunai at the ready. 

Three animals burst into the small clearing where they had made camp. At first, Narumi wondered if they were Gin, Jun, and Ran, but no—these were clearly dogs, not wolves, much smaller than Sakumo’s summons.

A teenage girl burst into the clearing, gasping for breath. “Sakumo-senpai!” 

“Tsume?” Sakumo exclaimed. “What’s wrong? What happened?” 

“Kaede-nee-chan,” the girl gasped. “She’s at the hospital! The baby’s coming! Tsunade sent me to relieve you.” 

“Already? But it’s too early!” 

“The baby doesn’t care!” Tsume said, shoving Sakumo forward. “Now get going! I might be a chuunin, but I can track just as well as you!” 

“Keep my summons with you,” Sakumo said, already moving forwards. “I’ve got to—” 

He leapt up into the trees and was gone, his words lost to the wind. 

Gin, Jun, and Ran appeared nearly a day later, having tracked down their missing-nin to an abandoned fishing hut where he had taken shelter from the rain, and disappeared just as quickly. 

“That’s not good,” Narumi said. “He uses water jutsu—he’ll have the whole river to use.” He grinned at the thought of a bit of a challenge. Tsume Inuzuka, too, was grinning. 

“Me ‘n the boys are ready any day,” she announced, cracking her knuckles. 

“Then let’s get going!” 

Tsume cackled. “Just barge in and hit ‘em, huh? I like your style!” 

With Tsume and her ninken as backup, Narumi was free to barge right into the fisherman’s hut. The missing-nin, clearly not expecting such a full-frontal assault if he expected to be tracked down at all, went down like a sack of bricks to Narumi’s punch. Narumi heaved him up over one shoulder, slapped a seal on him to keep him knocked out, and rejoined Tsume. 

The two of them headed back to the village. It took two days, all things told. Narumi left the missing-nin and the mission debriefing to Tsume in favor of running to the hospital. 

He burst through the doors and ran to the front desk, ignoring the dirty looks the staff gave him. “I’m looking for, uh, Kaede Hatake.” 

“Name?” 

“Narumi Namikaze.” 

The receptionist flipped through her files and nodded. “You’re on the list. Maternity ward, room 203.” 

Narumi thanked her and took off towards the elevator. The room was easy to find, but when he arrived it was empty except for Kaede, who was sleeping. A few flowers had been set up around the bed, along with several balloons declaring, “It’s a boy!” 

Narumi left the room and continued down the hallway until he encountered Sakumo staring into a window. Narumi joined him and looked through the room full of babies until he spotted the smallest of them, connected to twice as much equipment as the others. 

“He’s so small,” Narumi said. 

“They think he’ll be okay,” Sakumo said. “Tsunade herself is taking care of him.” 

Narumi put a hand on his shoulder. “I know he’ll be okay. He’s gonna grow up to be an amazing shinobi.” 

“I hope so,” Sakumo said, still staring at the baby. “Narumi, would you be his godfather?” 

“Yeah, of course—wait, what?” Narumi blinked rapidly. “Why me?” 

“Dan and Tsunade are busy with Kogane, and the hospital on top of that,” Sakumo said. “Tsubame has enough on his plate as it is. And as much as I like Orochimaru and Jiraiya, I wouldn’t trust either of them with a baby. There’s no one I’d rather take care of him than you if something happened to me and Kaede.” 

“I hope you know I’m gonna spoil him terribly,” Narumi informed him. 

Sakumo laughed. “I’m sure you will! He’s gonna take after Kaede, I can tell already. I’m gonna be beating boys and girls away with a stick.” 

“How’s she doing?” 

“Recovering. There were some complications, but Tsunade says she’ll be up and training again in no time.” Sakumo chuckled. “You should’ve seen her genin team. Ah—that reminds me. I think you might want to talk to Kushina-chan.” 

“Kushina? What about?” 

“Didn’t you hear? Mito Senju died recently,” Sakumo said. “I think we were on a mission during the funeral—it was during the summer. Tsubame didn’t tell you?” 

Narumi shook his head. “Like I said, he’s been avoiding me. I don’t think things are going well with his wife.” 

“I’m not surprised,” Sakumo said. “You sign up to marry a hot young shinobi and you get Tsubame. Don’t look at me like that! I didn’t mean it in a bad way. I just meant that if she expected to marry a gorgeous prince who would sweep her up in his arms and carry her off into the sunset, she was going to be unpleasantly surprised. Bad luck, really. Her first prince ended up being a princess, and her second ended up only interested in other princes. Or maybe it's karma?" 

“Whatever it is, she's not happy about it,” Narumi sighed. “She started glaring at me whenever I showed up at their house.” 

Sakumo whistled. “You went to their house? You’re a braver man than me.” 

“I couldn’t just abandon him!” 

“He got married. He wasn’t captured by enemy shinobi.” Sakumo thought for a moment and shrugged. “Granted, for Tsubame it may amount to the same thing.” 

“I wish there was something I could do to make it easier for him.” 

“Give it time,” Sakumo said. “Eventually, his wife will accept that Tsubame isn’t attracted to women at all, and then she’ll give up and let him do whatever he wants. It’ll just take, oh, ten years or so depending on how stubborn she is.” 

They were quiet for a moment, watching Kakashi through the window. 

“I wonder if they’ve had sex?” Sakumo wondered. “How does that work? Like, does he just lie back and think of Narumi?” 

Narumi shuddered. “Please, never say that again.” 

“Sorry, sorry,” Sakumo laughed sheepishly. “Kaede’s lack of filter is rubbing off on me. But like I was saying, you should check in on Kushina. She’s seemed quiet lately.” 

“Yeah, I might go do that. Any idea where she is?” 

“Kaede’s team has been training with Jiraiya’s team while she’s in the hospital,” Sakumo said. “Check training ground three.” 

Narumi left Sakumo at the hospital and ran to training ground three, stopping at the edge of the training ground to observe before entering. 

He spotted Jiraiya’s team first, practicing ninjutsu together. Chinami was spitting out globs of water, Michio was blowing out a stream of fire, and Minato was puffing out gusts of wind. In the background, Mikoto was training with shuriken and kunai, throwing them at Jiraiya. After a moment, Jiraiya froze in place. Narumi looked for the cause, and eventually noticed a shadow connected to his—Mikoto had attached wires to the kunai, and Shikanao had used the shadows from the wires for her jutsu. 

“Again, faster!” Jiraiya said, only to look over and spot Narumi. He waved and dodged a kunai. “Narumi, what brings you here?” 

“Is Kushina here?” 

Jiraiya jumped over a trio of shuriken and knocked a kunai aside with a kunai of his own. “She went off on her own, towards the river. You’re welcome to follow her if you want to get your head ripped off.” 

“I’ll take my chances!” Narumi said, waving at Minato as he headed into the forest. 

It wasn’t hard to find Kushina; he just had to follow the sounds of splashing and cursing. He found her attempting to stand on the river, only to wobble and fall into the river. Narumi had a feeling he knew what the issue was now; Kushina, an Uzumaki born and raised in Uzushio, had probably known how to walk on water since she learned how to channel chakra, and there was only one reason he could think of for her to have difficulties with it now. 

As Kushina dragged herself out of the river, Narumi knocked on a tree to get her attention. “Hey there,” he said. 

Kushina glared at him as she wrung the water out of her shirt. “What?” she snapped. 

“Having trouble?” 

Kushina turned her glare on the river. “I shouldn’t! I’ve been walking on water since forever! This is stupid.” She kicked at the river, splashing water through the air. She sank down, tucking her knees to her chest and wrapping her arms around them. “Why’d Mito-baa-san have to pick me?” 

Narumi knelt beside her and ran a hand over her hair, pushing the wet strands away from her face. “Because she knows you’re strong.” 

“I can’t even do the stupid water-walking exercise. Even babies can do that,” Kushina muttered. 

“The Kyuubi is disrupting your chakra. You’re used to having a certain amount, and now you have way more than you’re used to,” Narumi said. 

Kushina looked at him with wide eyes. “Nii-san . . . you know about the Kyuubi?” 

“I had a hunch,” he said. “There aren’t many things that would give you difficulty with the water-walking exercise.” 

He stood and offered her a hand. “Come on. Let’s keep trying. You’ll get there!” 

Kushina took his hand, and he pulled her up. Kushina stared at the river. “Mito-baa-san said that I’m a vessel for the Kyuubi, but . . . if I fill the vessel with love . . . even a jinchuuriki can be happy. Nii-san, do you think . . . do you think Baa-san was right?” 

Narumi rubbed his chin. “Hmm, I dunno. I think we’d better test it out!” 

Kushina stared up at him. “What do you mea—eeek!” 

Narumi seized Kushina, hugging her so fiercely that she was pulled off her feet, and spun her around until she was laughing. He set her down, steadying her as she stumbled, and ruffled her hair. “So, how d’you feel? Does the vessel have a little more love in it?” 

Kushina wiped her eyes and smiled up at him. “It does. But I think we gotta do that one more time. Just to make sure.” 

“Okay, here we go!” 

Narumi hoisted her up and spun her around, laughing along with her. “Okay, Kushina! Let’s go!” 

“Go? Wait, what’re you gonna do?” 

Narumi put one last burst of speed before releasing her. “Fly, Kushina!” 

Kushina shrieked as she flew through the air, colliding with a tree with a smack. Kushina glared down at him from the tree. “Nii-san! That was mean!” 

“Yeah, but you’re sticking to the tree,” Narumi said. 

Kushina blinked in surprise, and looked down at her hands and knees, which were both sticking to the trunk of the tree. Slowly, she removed her hands from the tree, shifted from one knee to that foot, and then from the other knee to the other foot, so that she was standing on the trunk. 

“Hey, I’m doing it—whoa!” Kushina fell from the tree as quickly as she had stuck to it, landing in a crouch on the ground. “Nii-san, you saw, right?” 

“Told you, you’ll get it,” Narumi said. 

Kushina got to her feet. “Yeah! I’m not gonna give up, stupid river!” 

Narumi cheered as Kushina ran back to the river. “Yeah, you show that river who’s boss!” 

By the time the sun went down, both of them were soaked and shivering, but grinning from ear to ear as Kushina stood on top of the river. They made their way back to the training ground, Kushina on Narumi’s back, and found Minato waiting for them. 

He jumped to his feet as they approached. “Nii-san! Kushina-san! Are you alright? You’re soaked.” 

Narumi spotted Kushina’s victory sign out of the corner of his eye. “‘Course I’m alright. I’m gonna be Hokage, ya know! A little bit of training won’t bring me down.” 

“She’s fine, just exhausted,” Narumi said. “C’mon, time for dinner. My treat.” 

“Yeah!” Kushina cheered. “Ramen, ramen!” 

“Ramen it is!” 

***

On days when they had missions, Kushina met her team at Kaede-sensei’s house instead of the training ground. Mikoto was usually the first one to arrive out of the three of them, always punctual, and sure enough when Kushina opened the front door, Mikoto was already sitting in the living room, showing Kakashi-chan how to hold the shuriken properly. 

“Yes, just like that,” she said, as she looked up to give Kushina a smile. 

Kushina crouched beside them and ruffled Kakashi’s hair. “How’s it going, Kakashi-chan! Training already?” 

Kakashi peered at her through his half-lidded eyes, somehow managing to look both irritated and sleepy. 

Kaede rushed through the room, pulling her hair up in a pony-tail as she grabbed her mission pouch from the kitchen. “Only two and he’s already started asking us to put him in the Academy. He can’t wait to start training for real. Right, Kakashi?” 

Kakashi nodded once. 

Kaede grabbed her naginata from where it had been leaning against the wall and slung it across her back before turning to them with a broad smile. “Now, who’s ready to go to Kogane-chan’s house?” 

Kushina raised her hand. “Sensei, Nao-chan’s not here!” 

“I’m here. Are we leaving?” Shikanao stood in the middle of the entryway, not even bothering to take off her shoes. 

“Nao, right on time as always. Yep, we’re heading out. Got your stuff? Need help with your shoes?” Kaede asked Kakashi. 

With a nod, Kakashi grabbed his tiny little backpack and started to put on his itty-bitty ninja shoes. Kushina almost cooed over him—he was so adorable!—but that was a surefire way to get kicked in the shins. 

Kakashi insisted on walking, so their progress to the Senju compound was slow. “Where’s Sakumo?” Kushina asked Kaede, to pass the time. 

“Oh, he’s off with Narumi again,” Kaede said. “I feel like Narumi almost sees him more than I do! They’re tracking down a missing genin squad.” 

Mikoto frowned. “That would be . . . Isamu Uchiha’s team, right?” 

“Yeah, I should’ve known you would know,” Kaede said. “Their distress seal went off a few days ago.” 

Mikoto nodded. “I spoke to his mother yesterday . . . she’s very worried.” 

“I would be too. A fresh genin team activating a distress seal . . .” Kaede sighed. “Well, Narumi and Sakumo will find them.” 

The guard at the Senju gate waved them through, as he always did, and they walked with Kakashi to the house he stayed at when both Kaede and Sakumo were on missions. The door was opened by another of Narumi’s friends, a man with pale hair who Kushina had only met in passing a few times. 

“Hey, Dan, got another one for you,” Kaede said. Kakashi pulled off his shoes and wandered into the house in search of his friend. Kushina had babysat them both once as a D-rank. It was the easiest D-rank they’d ever taken; the kids had sat next to each other in silence, looked at some books, and gone outside to ‘train’ together. “Aaaaaand he’s off. See you when I’m home, Kakashi! Have fun with Kogane!” 

“Bye,” Kakashi’s quiet voice called from within the house. 

“I’ll look after him,” Dan said. “You’re due back in two weeks?” 

Kushina nodded. “Yeah, it’s your basic patrol mission. Sakumo might be back before me, we’ll see. Alright, kids, let’s head ‘em up and move ‘em out!” 

The four of them made their way to the gates, where Hachimaru joined them. Kakashi liked to turn Hachimaru into his mount of war, so Hachimaru tended to make himself scarce when he wasn’t in the mood to play. Kushina scratched him behind the ears—a difficult feat when Hachimaru was as tall as she was—and earned herself a grateful bark. 

“You know the drill,” Kaede said as they took off into the trees. “Stay alert, give a signal if you notice anything out of place. This is our last mission before the chuunin exams, so let’s make it a good one.” 

They fell into their usual formation, Kaede and Hachimaru in the front, Shikanao and Kushina on the sides, and Mikoto in the back. They passed another patrol as they made their way along their route, and Kaede exchanged brief words with them before they headed on their way. At night, they made camp. Shikanao, who couldn’t be trusted to wake up in the middle of the night, took the first watch, while Mikoto, who was always awake early anyways, took the last watch. Kushina ended up with the second watch, and passed the hours staring up at the stars visible through the gaps in the trees, Hachimaru curled around her back. 

For the first few days, nothing unusual or unexpected occurred on their route. This was why Kushina hated patrol routes; the majority of the time, they were the most boring missions available. She’d rather fight a bunch of bandits, or guard a merchant traveling from one town to another. Even escorting the Daimyo’s wife and her horrible cats to and from the capital would be better than endlessly running through the trees, staying on high alert even though nothing was going to happen. It left her with too much energy and nothing to do with it. 

And then, on the fourth day of their patrol, Hachimaru stopped and sniffed the air. Kaede did the same, and promptly wrinkled her nose. “Blood.” 

Kaede launched into motion, running off into the distance with Hachimaru. The three genin followed hot on her heels, Shikanao vanishing into the trees like the shadows she controlled to attack from a distance while Kushina and Mikoto ran directly into the fray. 

Kushina burst into a clearing to find Kaede already engaging a group of bandits. Kushina engaged the nearest of them, a woman with wicked set of brass knuckles, ducking underneath her wild blow and punching her directly in the diaphragm. The woman doubled over, gasping, and Kushina quickly knocked her out. A trio of kunai shot past her, and Kushina followed them. The bandit knocked aside the kunai, only to freeze as Shikanao caught him in her shadow, wide open for Kushina to take him out. 

Hachimaru leapt over her, landing on a bandit who had been attempting to sneak up on Kushina and tearing out his throat. Kushina turned to find two more bandits running at her, and on reflex whipped out a chakra chain and tangled them together. Mikoto followed up, knocking them out and tying them up with ninja wire. 

The clearing was still. 

Kaede pulled her naginata out of a bandit with a squelch and wiped the blade clean on the grass. Mikoto searched the fallen shinobi, tagging them for retrieval and picking up the various weapons she had thrown. 

“Hey, sensei?” Kushina asked, looking around the clearing. “What blood did you smell?” 

Kaede sniffed the air again and frowned. “I’m not sure. It’s still here but . . . muted.” 

Mikoto looked around in a circle, her eyes Sharingan-red. 

The ground burst upwards underneath them. Kushina toppled backwards, the back of her head smacking against a tree as rocks and dirt rained down on them. When the dust settled, a group of five shinobi stood in front of them, the line through their Iwa headbands as clear as day. 

“Shit! Get back,” Kaede snapped. “Where’s Nao?” 

A twig snapped behind them. Kushina whirled around, kunai at the ready, but relaxed as she recognized Shikanao’s familiar, spiky ponytail. “Nao-chan,” she called, only to freeze as a man stepped out behind Shikanao. 

No—he wasn’t just behind Shikanao, Kushina realized, as he stepped further into the clearing. Nao’s feet weren’t touching the ground at all, and blood dripped from her chest, from the gaping hole through which the man had shoved his hand. 

The man yanked his hand back, and Shikanao fell to the ground, limp and unmoving. 

He smiled. “She’s still alive,” he said. “Now, hand over the Uchiha, and we’ll let the other three go. If you hurry, I’m sure your hospital can save her.” 

Kaede snarled and aimed her naginata at him. “Over my dead body.” 

The man sighed and shook his head, as if regretful. “So be it.” 

Kaede met Kushina’s eyes in the instant before the man lunged, heading towards Mikoto. In a flash, Kushina was in front of him, Mikoto standing in the place where she had just been. The man didn’t stop, but Kushina ducked under his extended fist. He slashed at her with a kunai, scoring a long line across the arm she hastily raised to protect her face, only to be knocked back as Hachimaru leapt over her. 

“Go!” Kaede yelled, naginata whirling through the air. “Hachimaru and I will hold them off!” 

Kushina and Mikoto exchanged glances. “But, sensei!” 

“Go! These are jounin. Call for backup and get Nao back to the village!” 

Kushina forced herself to tear her eyes away from the fight and ran to Shikanao, joined by Mikoto. Together, they were able to get her off the ground, and ran from the clearing with Shikanao supported between them. 

Shikanao’s body was still warm, but blood was seeping from her wound. 

“We can’t go on like this,” Mikoto said. “We have to bandage her wound, or she’ll die before we reach Konoha.” 

Kushina halted only a second after Mikoto. A quick glance backward showed that all the enemy shinobi were still engaged with Kaede and Hachimaru. “We have to be quick.” 

As Mikoto bandaged Shikanao using the standard medical kid, equipped with seals anyone could use so long as they followed the instructions properly, Kushina hunted through her pockets until she came up with the distress seal. When activated, it would alert the mission center in Konoha, and they would send someone to the location of the seal. Kushina dropped it on the ground and hoped that would be enough. 

Mikoto sat back on her heels and wiped her face clean of sweat, accidentally leaving a streak of blood on her forehead. “There. That should hold her until we can get her to the hospital, but we have to move quickly.” 

“You’re not going anywhere, Uchiha bitch!” 

A body plowed into Kushina, sending her flying into a tree. She lay there for a moment, stunned. When she managed to pull herself together and get to her feet, she found Mikoto dodging spikes of earth and tossing out weapons and fire jutsu that were quickly blocked by walls that emerged from the ground at a split second notice. Kushina bit down on her thumb and started to draw on the ground. Her ink and sealing paper was somewhere in one of her pockets, and getting it out would waste time—blood and dirt would have to do. 

She finished and activated the seal, and the next time the man tried to summon up a wall of earth, nothing happened. His eyes went wide as Mikoto’s kunai speared him in the throat and chest. 

Kushina stumbled to her feet. Her thumb was still bleeding, but it was a minor wound at most. “C’mon. We’ve got to go.” 

Mikoto’s eyes went wide, and her hand clapped against her neck. She turned, her eyes looking upwards, before collapsing to the ground. 

Kushina leapt in the direction Mikoto had looked, colliding with a woman and knocking her down to the ground. The woman twisted out of Kushina’s grip and rolled them over, punching Kushina twice in the face before Kushina reached up and dug her thumbs into the woman’s eyes. She screamed and reared back, and Kushina kicked her off and hit the woman’s nose with the flat of her palm, directing the blow upwards, towards the brain. Her nose crumpled with Kushina’s hit, and the woman fell to the ground and didn’t move. 

Kushina wiped away the blood streaming from her nose. Shikanao was on the ground, bandaged but still bleeding, and Mikoto was unconscious from an attack of some kind. Two enemies had managed to get past Kaede and Hachimaru and attack them, and that meant they were in trouble. 

There was nothing else to do—Kushina couldn’t abandon Kaede and Hachimaru, and she couldn’t leave Mikoto and Shikanao undefended. Bringing her hands together, Kushina formed a seal and summoned six shadow clones. Before the Kyuubi, she’d managed three and been exhausted; the horrible fox had his uses. 

“Get them back to Konoha. I have to go help Kaede-sensei,” Kushina said. 

The clones nodded. Four of them paired up to carry Mikoto and Kaede, and the other two followed. With any luck, they would manage to get home without being dispelled. It was a risk Kushina had to take. 

There wasn’t a moment to lose; leaving her friends in the hands of the clones, Kushina turned on her heel and ran back to the clearing. 

She stopped short as she entered the clearing. She couldn’t see Hachimaru, but Kaede was still standing, naginata firmly planted in one of the four remaining enemy shinobi. Relief rushed through her. “Kaede-sensei!” 

Kaede sank to her knees. Kushina stepped forwards, and Kaede fell face-down in the dirt and didn’t move. 

The man who had attacked Shikanao looked at her, still smiling. “Looks like one of the little genin came back. Where’s the Uchiha, girl? Tell us, and we won’t hurt you. It’s too late for your sensei and the dog, but you don’t have to die.” 

At last, Kushina caught sight of Hachimaru, his coat red with blood. Rage bubbled up inside her like lava, more powerful than any of the ‘love’ that Mito had told her to cultivate. 

The man’s smile faltered as he took a step back. 

Kushina’s hands clenched into her fists, her nails biting into her hands and drawing blood, sharper than they should have been. 

“I’ll kill you,” she snarled. 

Red filled her vision, and she pounced. 

***

Narumi hefted the small body into his arms and sighed. “At least we saved one of them.” 

Sakumo, beside him, gently laid the final body onto a storage scroll and sealed it up. “Better than nothing,” he said grimly. “How are his eyes?” 

“Intact,” Narumi said. “I have them sealed up. Think Tsunade can reattach them?” 

“If they’re intact, then probably,” Sakumo said. He stood, holding the three scrolls in his hands. “We should get him back to the village quickly.” 

Narumi looked down at the boy in his arms. Isamu Uchiha, ten years old, recent Academy graduate, the only surviving member of his team. Narumi had wrapped bandages around his eyes and activated the seals in the bandages, but Sakumo was right. The faster they got him back to the village, the better. “Let’s go.” 

Before Sakumo could put away the scrolls, a hawk flew down from the sky, alighting on Sakumo’s shoulder. “A message from Konoha?” Narumi asked as Sakumo quickly shoved the scrolls away and removed a slip of paper from the hawk’s leg. 

“A distress signal was activated near us,” Sakumo said. “Only a few minutes ago.” 

“You go. You’re the better tracker,” Narumi said. “I’ll get Isamu back to the village. I’ll take the bodies, too.” 

“You can spend time with Kakashi,” Sakumo said as he handed Narumi the scrolls. “It’s been awhile since he saw you. If Kaede isn’t home, he’ll be with Dan and Tsunade.” 

“I’ll visit him once Isamu is taken care of,” Narumi said. 

With that, Sakumo took off with his wolves, while Narumi ran in the opposite direction. Isamu’s breaths were short and shallow, but at least he was breathing.

“Hang in there, Isamu,” Narumi encouraged as he ran. “You’ll be home soon. You can do it.” 

Isamu’s lips parted. “M-mom . . .” 

“She’s waiting for you, so hang in there,” Narumi said. “You’ll see her soon, don’t you worry. I’m gonna get you to Konoha, so save your strength.” 

“T-tell mom . . .” 

Narumi listened, but Isamu said nothing else, and after a few minutes Narumi assumed he had lapsed back into unconsciousness. He put on an extra burst of speed and didn’t slow down until the gates of the village were in sight. 

The guards waved him through after a quick check of his identification, leaving Narumi free to make his way to the hospital. The moment he walked through the doors, Isamu was whisked away by a medic and the storage scrolls were taken by another medic so the bodies could be processed. 

Unwilling to leave until he knew more, Narumi settled down in the waiting room.

Eventually, Tsunade emerged from the depths of the hospital, leveling an unimpressed look at him. “I thought you’d be here. The Uchiha kid is fine. Eyeballs back in his head and everything. It might take him a while to get the sight back.” 

Narumi leapt up from his seat. “He’s fine?” 

Tsunade set her hands on her hips. “He’s fine, so settle down. He’s asleep and resting, and his mother is on her way, so there’s no need for you to take up space in my hospital anymore. Go home and take a shower.” 

“I was gonna visit Kakashi.” 

“Trust me. Take a shower first,” Tsunade said. 

Looking down at his blood-stained shirt, Narumi had to admit she had a point. Tsubame’s apartment was a bit out of his way, but he made his way there was quickly as possible to bathe and change before heading to the Senju compound. 

He found Dan in the garden, watching over three small children, one with dark hair, one with blond, and one with grey. 

“Narumi,” he greeted warmly. “Good to see you.” 

“There’s one more than normal,” Narumi said, squinting at the kids running around with toy shuriken and kunai. 

“My niece, Shizune,” Dan said. “My sister’s daughter. She’s three.” 

The kids had taken notice of the new arrival. Kogane and Shizune quickly dismissed him and went back to throwing their toy weapons, but Kakashi stared at him solemnly from behind his oversized scarf. 

Narumi grinned and waved him over. “Hey there, Kakashi, remember me?” 

Kakashi ran over, but shook his head. 

“That’s okay,” Narumi said. “I brought something fun for you.” 

“This is Narumi-ji-san, your parents’ friend,” Dan said as Narumi hunted through his pockets. 

“Aha!” Narumi held a seal aloft. “Here, hold this and channel chakra through it. Wait, do you know what—” 

Kakashi grabbed the seal with both hands and glared down at it. After a few minutes, brightly colored sparks erupted from the seal, spiralling and pinwheeling through the sky. Harmless, but colorful and fun. 

Narumi laughed at Kakashi’s wide eyes and reached into his pocket for more seals. Went he went to hand over the seals, however, Kakashi’s eyes were no longer looking at him but behind him. 

Narumi turned and saw Sakumo standing on the path leading to the garden. “Hey, Sakumo!” Narumi called, waving him over. 

Sakumo stumbled forwards. 

Dan stood. “Ah. I think I should take the children inside. Kogane! Shizune! Time for lunch. You too, Kakashi.” 

Sakumo was limping, Narumi realized as Kogane and Shizune ran past him. Kakashi didn’t move from his side. 

Dan looked inside, after the other two, and then back at Kakashi. “Come on, Kakashi.” 

“It’s okay. Go look after the other two,” Narumi said. 

Sakumo’s shirt was stained with blood, not yet dried, and Narumi had a feeling that something was terribly wrong. 

“Dad?” Kakashi said as Sakumo approached them, his eyes fixed on Kakashi and nothing else. 

Sakumo sank to his knees in front of Kakashi. Trembling, his hands reached out to gently hold Kakashi’s shoulders. Kakashi stared at his father, and then at Narumi, confusion clear in his eyes. 

Narumi had a sinking feeling he knew what team had set off the distress seal. 

Kakashi tentatively patted his father’s head, as if unsure what protocol to follow now that their regular post-mission routine had been disrupted. “Welcome home, Dad.” 

Sakumo blinked, as if seeing Kakashi for the first time. “Ah. I’m home . . . Kakashi.” 

Sakumo’s face crumpled. Tears welled up in his eyes. He clutched Kakashi desperately close, as if never intending to let him go, and sobbed. 

Chapter Text

Narumi didn’t go on another mission with Sakumo for two years. After Kaede’s death, Sakumo was put on leave for to take care of Kakashi until he entered the Academy and was, at least in the eyes of the village, able to take care of himself. The Academy entrance age had been shifting earlier again, and so Kakashi entered at only four years old, the youngest in his class but not by much. 

With Kakashi in school most of the day and supposedly able to fend for himself the rest of the time, Sakumo was again placed into active duty, and again put on a team with Narumi. 

He looked a little older, a little more tired when Narumi saw him, but he was smiling again as they met at the gates of Konoha. “It’s been a while,” Sakumo greeted. 

“Since Kushina’s chuunin exam,” Narumi agreed. 

After her death, Kaede’s team hadn’t been given to another jounin since the chuunin exams were mere days away. Shikanao Nara hadn’t participated due to severe injuries, but Kushina and Mikoto had rounded up a lone genin for the exams and passed. They’d gone on to form a squad with Minato and his teammates, lead by Minato, who had passed his jounin exam shortly after Kushina had become a chuunin. Kushina, not to be outdone, had quickly done the same, and Mikoto looked to be following them both. 

He’d stayed in Konoha, partly for the exams, and partly to help look after Kakashi while Sakumo mourned. Tsubame had given him three months, in the end, until he’d been forced to recall Narumi for an urgent mission. 

It had been mission after mission since then, with little to no breaks in between. Nothing much had changed in that respect, except that now he was going on them with Sakumo. And Narumi had to admit, as friendly as the other Uzumaki were, he particularly enjoyed going on missions with Sakumo. 

“If you were starving and you had to pick between a lizard and a scorpion, what would you eat?” 

Narumi stared up at the sky. “The lizard, I guess. Scorpions are poisonous, right?” 

“It’s a poisonous lizard,” Sakumo said, as he stared glumly at his ration bar. “Can we just keep running to Konoha? I’m sick of ration bars.” 

“You literally passed out from exhaustion,” Narumi said. 

Sakumo grinned and nudged him with his foot. “Yeah, but I’ve got a wonderful, kind partner who carried me to safety.” 

“Eat your ration bar or I’ll cram it into your mouth myself. And I’d still take the lizard. I mean, if they’re both poisonous, I’d rather eat something that doesn’t have a stinger,” Narumi said. 

“Orochimaru chose the scorpion.” 

“He would.” 

Sakumo took a deep breath, pinched his nose, and wolfed down the rest of the ration bar. “There!” he declared triumphantly. “Now we can keep going.” 

“Don’t you have to digest that or whatever?” Narumi said. 

“What, you think I know anything about the human body? Do I look like a medic to you?” Narumi snorted, and Sakumo grinned and elbowed him playfully. “C’mon, if we hurry you might get in some time with Kakashi. He’s been training like a demon lately. He says he’s going to graduate in one year, and I believe him.” 

Together, they took off into the woods, running back to Konoha. “He’s in the same class as Kogane, right?” 

“That’s right. They still train together sometimes, but Kogane’s actually made some other friends,” Sakumo said. “A girl from the orphanage and an Uchiha boy. I tried to get Kakashi to play with them, but he and the Uchiha kid have some kind of rivalry going on. He gets along with Dai’s kid pretty well at least.” 

Sakumo sighed. “He’s too used to spending time with adults and kids like him, who take to shinobi training like ducks to water. He doesn’t understand people who struggle learning things that he’s always found easy, and that the adults around him do with a second thought.” 

“He’ll grow out of it as he meets more people,” Narumi said. “Besides, he’s got you to help him understand.” 

“As much as I can, at least. I was always like him, shinobi training just came to me easily. Kaede would be better at helping him understand. Her parents didn’t so much train her as toss her and a bunch of other Inuzuka kids together and wait to see who came out on top,” Sakumo chuckled. 

“It was totally Kaede,” Narumi said. 

“Yeah, it was Kaede. She always enjoyed beating up her relatives,” Sakumo said. “And she always had to work for it. Did you know she was clumsy as a kid? She was always growing. Taijutsu was always a struggle for her because her body was always changing, so as soon as she’d gotten it down she’d be thrown off balance again. So, of course, taijutsu was what she decided to master. I think Kakashi gets his stubbornness from her.” 

“Oh, like you aren’t plenty stubborn, Mr. Run Until I Pass Out.” 

“Guilty as charged.” 

“So, what else has been going on? You seen Minato and Kushina lately?” 

They talked all the way to the gates of Konoha, at which point they slowed down and prepared to show their identification and mission scroll. A passing jounin, however, raced up and grabbed Sakumo by the arm. 

“Hatake! In the nick of time,” he said. “Get to the Hokage’s office, quickly!” 

Sakumo exchanged a brief, startled look with Narumi before he was dragged off. Narumi, left behind, held out his identification to the chuunin on guard. They examined it more closely than usual, squinting over each and every line. 

“What’s going on?” he asked. 

They exchanged glances. “Can’t tell you,” one of them said, eventually. “Strictly Konoha business.” 

Narumi shrugged and pasted a grin on his face. “Fair enough. ‘Scuse me, I’d better get this to the mission desk.” 

As tempting as it was to follow Sakumo and listen in on his meeting, Narumi wasn’t that stupid—the ANBU would catch him in a heartbeat, and then he’d be thrown in T&I and Tsubame would have a hell of a time getting him out. Instead, he waited by the administration building for Sakumo to come out. 

When he did, it was with a Hyuuga, an Uchiha, a Nara, and a Yamanaka, each of them wearing serious expressions. Sakumo paused briefly by Narumi, waving the rest of the team on. 

“Sorry, looks like an urgent mission came up,” Sakumo said. “Konoha shinobi only.” 

Narumi slapped him on the back. “Go get ‘em. I’ll see you for our next mission.” 

Sakumo waved and jogged after his teammates, the seal Narumi had just placed on his back quickly vanishing into nothing. Narumi took a deep breath and followed Sakumo towards the gates of the village at a much more sedate pace. 

Hopefully, it wouldn’t be necessary, but he had a feeling that this was the moment he had been waiting for. 

With the seal, Narumi was able to track Sakumo, keeping far enough away that his teammates wouldn’t notice Narumi’s presence but close enough that he would be able to reach them without too much delay if something did happen. 

Narumi hated waiting, but that was all he could do right now, checking the seal again and again in case something had happened. 

At first, the seal moved forward steadily, occasionally adjusting trajectory but always moving forward quickly enough that Sakumo must have been running without stopping. Then, all at once, the seal stopped. Narumi waited, heart pounding in his chest, but the seal didn’t move again. 

“Shit.” 

Narumi took off—maybe something had happened, maybe Sakumo was just taking a break; maybe the Hyuuga and Uchiha would see him, maybe they wouldn’t. If Narumi waited too long and missed his chance, he’d never forgive himself. 

The seal started to move again, much more slowly than before, and Narumi put on an extra burst of speed. 

When he reached the seal’s position, at first he didn’t see anything. He looked around wildly, spinning in place as if that would help him find Sakumo. “Sakumo!” 

A twig snapped. Narumi spun around to face the direction the noise had come from, and found himself looking at Ran, her mouth closed around Sakumo’s jounin vest, hauling Sakumo along the ground. She opened her mouth, depositing him on the ground, and sat back on her haunches. 

Narumi breathed out a sigh of relief. “Thanks, Ran,” he said, as he knelt down to assess Sakumo’s injuries and handle anything that he could take care of with the medic kit. Sakumo, thankfully, didn’t seem to be too badly off beyond a few cuts and bruises. “What happened?” 

“We were tracking an enemy, but were suddenly ambushed from underground,” Ran said. “Sakumo was knocked out with a genjutsu. He wouldn’t wake up when I bit him. He was in danger of being killed, so I pulled him away from the battle. His teammates were still fighting when I left, but I haven’t heard them since.” 

“A genjutsu,” Narumi said. At least it wasn’t a head injury; he had no idea how to take care of those, but a genjutsu was pretty simple. Narumi brought his hands together and let out a burst of chakra, disrupting Sakumo’s chakra flow and dispelling the genjutsu. 

Sakumo shot up, his hand flying to his tanto. He looked around wildly until his eyes landed on Narumi. “Narumi? What are you doing here? Wait, never mind that. I have to find my team.” 

Ran stood and padded further on. “I left them fighting this way.” 

The battleground, marked by the cracked ground, was empty when they arrived. Sakumo crouched and examined the area as Ran sniffed around. “Someone fell here, and here,” he noted. “Not a lot of blood, so they were knocked out but not too injured. They were rolled over, and then picked up by someone else. The tracks lead . . . that way.” 

“I found the man we were tracking,” Ran said, at the opposite end of the clearing. “He went this way.” 

Sakumo looked in the direction he had pointed, and then in the opposite direction, which ran had indicated. “Damn! They split up.” 

He dropped into a crouch, head in his hands. Narumi leaned against a tree and waited for him to finish thinking. 

“Ran, track my team. Forget the mission,” he said, at last. “I have to get them back.” 

Narumi breathed out. This was it, then. The moment Sakumo abandoned his mission for the sake of his team. “I’ll go after your team,” he said. “Finish the mission.” 

Sakumo’s head shot up. “Narumi, I can’t ask you to. I was responsible for leading this mission, I should have been able to tell that there was an ambush. I have to bring them back myself.” 

Narumi put a hand on his shoulder. “Do you trust me?” 

Sakumo breathed in, and then out. “Yeah. I trust you.” 

Narumi smacked him upside the head. “Then let me go rescue your teammates, dumbass! I can handle some lame-ass ninja who have to rely on a stupid ambush to win a fight.” 

“Actually, I’d say it was a very smart tactical decision,” Sakumo said. 

“Doesn’t make it any less lame! Now get going,” Narumi said, pushing him towards Ran. “I’ll find your teammates and bring them home safe.” 

Sakumo bit down on his thumb and, with a puff of smoke, summoned Gin and Jun. “Take them with you. I’ll see you in Konoha.” 

“Yeah, see you.” 

Sakumo took off with Ran while Narumi waited for Gin and Jun to catch the scent of Sakumo’s teammates. Soon, they were off again, racing towards the enemy shinobi. 

Jun snorted as they reached a river. “Hah! What kind of mediocre trackers do they think we are? We aren’t ninken. Some measly river isn’t going to throw us off.” 

Gin growled in response and leapt over the river. Jun yipped and followed, and then the two of them were off again. Narumi followed them to a cave. 

“What’s the plan?” Jun asked, as Gin silently stared at the cave. “Want us to get a look?” 

“Sure,” Narumi said. 

Gin shimmered and vanished, the only sign of his movements the slight indentation of the ground beneath his paws. Narumi waited with Jun, lying down in the shrubbery to avoid being seen, until Gin returned. 

“Eight enemy shinobi,” he said. “Two injured. Two lookouts.” 

“And one knows genjutsu, and one knows earth jutsu,” Narumi said. He cracked his knuckles. “Well, I dunno about you two, but I could go for a good, old-fashioned beatdown.” 

The two gave him wolfy grins. 

Gin and Jun went ahead to take care of the two lookouts watching the entrance, leaving Narumi free to approach the cave. “Two down,” Narumi said, as he slapped knock-out seals on them to keep them out of the game. 

The cave was large, but only had one area. All six of the other shinobi were there, gathered around the four Konoha ninja. Narumi readied his anti-earth seals, brought his hands together, and summoned his clones.

The six enemy shinobi whirled around and came face to face with so many clones that the entrance to the cave wasn’t even visible. 

“Shit! The Uzumaki!” one of them yelped. 

The clones surged forward. Most of them were dispelled quickly, but the chaos gave Narumi the ability to slip deeper into the cave and apply his seals, so that at least they would have trouble bringing the cave down on top of them. 

One of the clones crowed in triumph. “Got you, you genjutsu asshole!” 

Narumi rolled under the legs of a massive shinobi bearing an equally massive sword, coming to a stop beside the four captured shinobi. A burst of chakra was enough to wake up the Hyuuga and the Nara, who tried to jump up but were stopped by the bonds around their wrists and ankles. A clone took Narumi’s place to cut them free, as Narumi engaged the shinobi with the sword. 

The shinobi froze in the middle of his fight, allowing Narumi an opening to slap a knock-out seal to him. The Nara continued on; the Hyuuga, too, was fighting another shinobi. Between the three of them, along with the two wolves and the multitudes of clones, they made short work of the remaining shinobi. 

As the fight died down, the clones dispersed, and the Nara set about freeing and examining the Yamanaka and the Uchiha. 

“Straight for our medic,” he sighed as he examined the Yamanaka’s bleeding head wound. 

The Hyuuga approached Narumi and nodded stiffly. “Uzumaki-san. Thank you for your assistance.” 

“It’s no problem,” Narumi said. “I just happened to be in the area and came across Sakumo.” 

The Hyuuga stiffened. “Hatake? Where is he?” 

“He went after the guy you were tracking,” Narumi said. 

The Hyuuga relaxed. “I see. That is good news. We should join him.” 

Narumi looked down at the still-unconscious Uchiha and Yamanaka. The Nara had freed them, but hadn’t had any luck waking them up. “I think you should get them to the hospital.” 

“Three people are unnecessary to carry two,” the Hyuuga said. “As the second in command of this squad, I will join Hatake. Nara, you will take these two to Konoha. Uzumaki, you will join him—unless you have another mission, in which case, I am certain Nara can take them alone.” 

“You sure have faith in me,” the Nara groaned. “Please don’t.” 

“Nah, no mission at the moment,” Narumi said. “I’ll help them get to Konoha. Gin, Jun, you mind helping him get to Sakumo?” 

“Ugh, Hyuuga,” Jun said. “Hurry up, Gin. The faster we find Sakumo, the faster we get rid of the Hyuuga.” 

The two wolves left, and the Hyuuga followed after them. Narumi and Nara took the Uchiha and the Yamanka on their backs and took off for the village, slightly slower than normal due to their burdens. 

Nara glanced at him as they made their way to Konoha, sticking to the ground rather than the trees. “You’re Narumi Namikaze of the Uzumaki, aren’t you?” 

“Is that what they’re calling me? Jeez, what a long name,” Narumi said. “But yeah, that’s me.” 

Nara nodded. “My younger sister was on your cousin’s team. Shikanao.” 

“Whoa, really?” Narumi said. “Uh, I was sorry about what happened to her. How’s she doing?” 

“She’s not on active duty any more, but she joined the cryptology department,” Nara said, shrugging one shoulder. “She wanted to join that department anyways.” 

“At least there’s that,” Narumi said. “What’s your name, anyways?” 

“Shikanosuke. Nara’s fine. So, you really just happened to be in the area?” Narumi shrugged. Nara eyed him. “You shouldn’t follow people on top secret missions.” 

“What were you doing, anyways? It seemed pretty urgent,” Narumi said. 

“Can’t say,” Nara said. “Top secret. Hyuuga’d be pissed if I told, Uchiha too. All the clans, really. Even the Nara would be upset.” 

“Takes a lot to upset a Nara,” Narumi said. 

Nara shrugged. “I’m sure the Uzumaki get upset about things, and they have a reputation as being pretty easy-going.” 

“Yeah, I guess so. Usually things that threaten family or the village are the quickest way to rile them up,” Narumi said. 

Nara nodded. “Then we understand each other. Even the Uzumaki wouldn’t take kindly to, hypothetically speaking , someone sneaking around to make blueprints of clan compounds and village defenses and sell them off to the highest bidder.” 

Narumi whistled. He could just imagine the fury on Tsubame’s face if someone spilled the secrets of the barrier seals to Kiri or something like that. “Yeah, that would piss them off. Hypothetically speaking.” 

Nara nodded. “Then you understand the importance of our mission. Let’s hurry and get to Konoha. Yamanaka’s getting heavier by the second.” 

When they finally reached Konoha, they delivered Uchiha and Yamanaka to the hospital before splitting up. Nara went to the Hokage’s office to make a report, and Narumi, although he knew he should leave and head back to Uzushio to report in as well, couldn’t resist stopping by Sakumo’s house and waiting for him to return. 

By the time the door opened, Narumi had gotten bored of waiting and had taken over the kitchen to make himself a late lunch. “I’m home,” Sakumo called. 

“Welcome home!” Narumi called. 

“Narumi? What are you doing here?” Sakumo peered into the kitchen. “Is that food? I could eat a horse.” 

“No horses here, just curry,” Narumi said, waving the empty box of curry roux in the air. “It’s almost ready, go sit down. You’re out of carrots by the way.” 

“Ugh. I’ll go shopping later,” Sakumo groaned as he flopped into a chair. “I’m exhausted.” 

Narumi pulled out two plates and heaped them high with rice and curry. “How was the mission?” 

“Successful, in the end,” Sakumo sighed. “Hyuuga told me you got them all out of the caves. Thanks for that. I kept wishing that I had gone with you.” 

Narumi set the plates on the table and took a seat across from Sakumo. “I’m glad you didn’t. Seems like it was pretty important.” 

Sakumo shivered. “Yeah, I thought Hyuuga was gonna kill me when I said I almost gave up on the mission to rescue them. Not that I blame him, I guess. Being a Branch House member of the Hyuuga clan isn’t easy.” 

Narumi scowled at the reminder. “That’s an understatement.” 

The door opened again. “I’m home!” Kakashi called. 

“Welcome home,” Narumi and Sakumo chorused. 

“Curry on the stove if you’re hungry,” Sakumo added. 

“I’m going to train with Kogane,” Kakashi said. “Bye!” 

Sakumo laughed and shook his head as Kakashi ran to his room and ran out again with his gear. “Always training,” he said. “Seems like only yesterday he was so small I could almost hold him in one hand. Soon he’s going to be a genin and have a team of his own. I wonder who his teammates will be?” 

Narumi grinned to himself. “We’ll have to wait and see, I guess.”

Chapter Text

Kakashi rose bright and early, before the sun was even up, on the morning of his first mission as a jounin. He ruthlessly squashed the butterflies in his stomach as he ran through the mission parameters in his head—Minato-sensei had gone over them with him the night before, so they were fresh in his mind, but he wanted to make sure he remembered everything. He wanted this mission to be perfect. 

His father was still gone, off on a mission of his own, so Kakashi made himself a quick, but healthy and filling breakfast before grabbing his things and heading out to the training ground where he would meet with his team. 

Minato-sensei was the only one there, and he beamed at Kakashi and gave him a cheerful wave. “Kakashi! Bright and early as always.” 

“Good morning, sensei,” Kakashi said, only to find himself suddenly face to face with a brightly colored package.

“Congratulations on making jounin!” Minato said. “Go on, open it up.” 

Kakashi quickly unwrapped it and opened the box. “A . . . kunai?” he said, lifting it out of the box and running a finger over the three tips, careful not to prick his fingers. 

“A hiraishin kunai,” Minato said. “For emergencies.” 

Kakashi flipped it around and examined the seal. He didn’t know much about seals, just little bits his dad had picked up from friends in Uzushio and then passed on to him, so he couldn’t do much more than pick out fragmented bits and pieces of the seal. “Thank you, sensei,” he said. 

“It’s not much,” Minato said, sheepishly rubbing the back of his head. “Kushina wanted me to get you ‘something awesome.’” 

Kakashi smiled behind his mask. “That does sound like Kushina.” 

Both of them turned at the sound of running  footsteps. “Sorry, I’m not late, am I?” Rin asked anxiously as she came to a halt beside them. 

“Not at all. You’re right on time, as always. Kakashi and I were just early,” Minato assured her.

“Oh, um. Good.” Rin thrust out a small package towards Kakashi. Her cheeks were slightly  pink—Kakashi hoped she wasn’t coming down with something. That was the last thing he needed on his first mission.  “Congratulations Kakashi! It’s a first aid kit,” she continued as he opened it to reveal a pouch. “I put it together myself. I thought it would be good.” 

“Thank you, Rin,” he said, as he fastened the pouch to his belt. 

He looked up to find Rin staring at him. “You’re welcome,” she said quickly. “Um, where’s Obito?” 

“I’m sure he’ll be here soon,” Minato said, in a tone that Kakashi thought was much too hopeful considering who they were discussing.

Sure enough, the three of them were waiting for another half an hour before Obito ran up, waving wildly. “Hey!” he called out. “Sorry I’m late, I was helping an old lady with her groceries, and then she kept talking about her grandkids!”

An odd, squirming feeling settled in his stomach at the sight of Obito and his stupid grin. Kakashi hoped he wasn’t catching whatever Rin had. “Liar,” he huffed. 

“Am not!” Obito protested. 

Minato spoke up, likely in an attempt to stop any arguments before they began. “We were just giving Kakashi his congratulations presents!” he said. 

“Oh,” Obito said, and looked at Kakashi with that stupid, stupid grin. He rubbed at his nose sheepishly. “Uh, I got kind of busy with that old lady and I sorta . . . forgot.”

The weird, queasy feeling was only getting worse. “Whatever,” Kakashi said, to cover up whatever was wrong with him. “It would’ve been useless anyways.” 

Obito puffed up irritably. “Would not, Bakashi! My gift was going to be amazing!” 

“What were you going to get me, then?” Kakashi shot back.

Obito faltered. “Uh.” 

A hand landed on Kakashi’s head. He spun around, grabbing a kunai and aiming for the attacker’s arteries, only for a familiar white blade to knock his kunai away. Kakashi grinned and exchanged a series of blows with his attacker, culminating in the familiar sound of his father’s laughter as he protested, “Alright, alright, Kakashi! Give your old man a break, he just got back from a mission!” 

Kakashi looked up at his father, who beamed down at him and ruffled his hair. “I thought you weren’t supposed to be back for another two days,” he said. 

“We rushed a bit,” Sakumo said. “I wasn’t about to miss my son’s first mission as a jounin. Besides, someone else wanted to see you.” 

“Someone else?” Kakashi asked, only to whirl around as Minato made what could only be qualified as a squawk. 

A strange blond man with odd marks on his cheeks was assaulting Minato as Rin and Obito gaped uselessly. Kakashi stepped forwards, only for his father to stop him with a hand on his shoulder. He paused, glanced up at his father, and then refocused on the stranger who had an arm around Minato’s neck and was . . . ruffling his hair?” 

“Cry ‘uncle!’” the stranger yelled. 

“Uncle! Uncle!” Minato yelped. The stranger laughed and released Minato, easily dodging his punch—although Minato didn’t look like he was trying very hard to punch him, Kakashi noted. 

“Honestly, nii-san,” Minato huffed. “Do you really have to treat me like this in front of my students?” 

“Of course!” the stranger said cheerfully. “It’s good for them to see their sensei get a good ol’ dose of humility.” 

“Hold on, ‘nii-san?’” Obito exclaimed, for once asking a good question. 

“Ah, that’s right,” Minato said, turning to face them. The stranger did as well, and Kakashi was immediately struck by his blue eyes, so similar to Minato’s. “You haven’t met,  have you? Nii-san, these are my students, Obito Uchiha and Rin Nohara. You already know Kakashi, of course. Obito, RIn, Kakashi, this is my older brother, Narumi Uzumaki.” 

“Are you related to Kushina?” Obito asked. “And how come you didn’t tell us you had a brother, sensei?” 

Sakumo bent down and murmured in Kakashi’s ear, “Narumi is your godfather, Kakashi. You probably don’t remember, but you saw him a few times when you were very young.” 

Kakashi thought back carefully, only to come up blank. He shook his head. “My godfather?” he asked quietly, trusting that all the noise Obito was making would mask their conversation. 

“That’s right,” Sakumo said. “He’s been very eager to see you again, but they’ve kept him busy in Uzushio.” 

Now that Kakashi looked, he could clearly see that the man’s headband sported the spiral of Uzushio, not the leaf of Konoha. “If he’s not from Konoha, why did you make him my godfather?” 

“Think of the alternatives,” his father said wryly. Kakashi shuddered at the thought. He’d met his father’s friends, and he wouldn’t want to end up stuck with any of them. He respected Orochimaru’s genius, and he was undeniably a good shinobi, but he didn’t exactly come across as the godfather type. And Jiraiya, who had once taken Kakashi to a hot spring to use him as bait and then left Kakashi there when a bunch of women had chased him out, would probably be even worse. 

“That reminds me,” Sakumo said. “I have something for you, Kakashi.” 

Sakumo held out a simple tanto, about as long as Kakashi’s forearm, with a plain, circular guard. The sheath, too, was remarkably plain, but Kakashi’s breath caught in his breath as he looked at it. 

He looked into Sakumo’s eyes. “Father,” he said. “But this is your . . .” 

“The White Light Chakra Sabre,” Sakumo said. “It was mine, and now it’s yours. Once you get back, I’ll teach you more about how to use it—although I don’t doubt you’ll probably have it all figured out by then.” 

Kakashi reached out to accept it and unsheathed the tanto just enough to reveal a strip of gleaming white metal. “Thank you, Father. I’ll make you proud.” 

Sakumo, beaming, ruffled Kakashi’s hair, and, while he was still trying to fend off that attack, swooped in to press a kiss to his forehead, even though he couldn’t feel it through the forehead protector. It still made him squirm, and he couldn’t help but glance to the side to make sure Obito hadn’t seen him get treated like a little kid—he didn’t need Obito teasing him when they were supposed to be focused on the mission. It would be unprofessional. 

“I’m already proud, Kakashi,” Sakumo said. “Keep yourself on your mission, and remember . . .” 

“Those who break the rules are trash, but those who abandon their comrades are worse than trash,” Kakashi said with him. “I remember, Father. I won’t let you down.” 

“You? Let me down? Not possible,” Sakumo said, and wrapped an arm around Kakashi’s shoulders. “Now come over here and greet your godfather.” 

Narumi gave him a broad, cheerful smile as they approached. Kakashi couldn’t help but compare it to the same expression he saw so often on his father’s face, and found himself relaxing even though he knew it was a good idea to stay on guard against strangers. “Jounin already, huh?” he said. “Looks to me like you need one of these.” 

He held out a small, black book, which Kakashi accepted. “A bingo book? I already have one,” he said—he’d started an unofficial one of his own as a chuunin, focused more on the abilities of opponents he had heard of or come across rather than the bounties on their heads, and once he’d reached jounin he’d been presented with an official one. 

Narumi grinned and tapped the side of his nose. “Not this one. What you’ve got there is a super rare Uzushio-style bingo book. Trust me, it’s got all kinds of juicy info you won’t find in the standard Konoha edition.” 

“Narumi,” Sakumo said, sounding amused. “Should you really be giving that away?” 

Narumi grinned and rubbed the back of his neck. “Eh, I’ll just tell Tsubame it got destroyed during battle. Coming from me, he’ll believe it.” 

Kakashi looked up from the book sharply. “Are you going to get in trouble for giving this to me?” 

Narumi winked at him. “Only if we get caught. So you should keep that a secret, ya know?” 

Kakashi nodded, and slipped it into a pouch, where it wouldn’t get lost or ruined. “I promise.” 

“Great! Now, it’s kinda lame to get a present you can’t even brag about, so I got you this too.” Narumi held out a scroll, which Kakashi opened and examined with some interested. “It’s a sealing scroll, and works like you’d expect, except it also preserves food and stuff. Keeps things from rotting. So you can eat something fresh on long mission if you end up somewhere the hunting isn’t good, or you can store a body without worrying about it decomposing. I put some takeout in one once, and it was still good a month later! Still warm, even.” 

“ANBU have started using them to throw off estimates about time of death,” Sakumo said. “Store a body for hours or even days, then take it out again looking like it only just died.” 

Kakashi resolved to take a closer look at the scroll later to see if he could replicate it—maybe Kushina or Minato could help him. “Thank you, Narumi-san. I’ll use it well.” He glanced over at the rest of his team; Obito was still lobbing question after question at Minato, and Rin was eagerly listening in to the answers. “I should be going now,” he said. 

“Come home safe,” Sakumo said, ruffling Kakashi’s hair. 

Kakashi nodded and, with a quick glance to make sure Obito wasn’t looking, darted forward to give him a hug. “Will you still be here when I get back?” he asked. 

“I’ll do my best,” his father promised. “We’ll go out for dinner to celebrate your first mission as a jounin.” 

Kakashi smiled at the thought—it had been too long since they’d been able to sit down for dinner together, much less go out to eat. Sakumo was busy most of the times on missions, as was Kakashi. “Will you be here too, Narumi-san?” he asked. 

“Probably,” Narumi said. “We’re between missions right now, and hopefully it’ll stay that way for awhile.” He knocked his shoulder into Sakumo’s. “Now come on, I think I was promised a bowl of Ichiraku ramen.” 

“Only one!” Sakumo declared. “I know how much ramen you can eat, you’re worse than Kushina—!” 

Kakashi left them bickering and rejoined his team. “Ready?” Minato asked. 

Kakashi nodded. “Let’s go.” 

He went over the map in his head as they ran towards the Kusa-Iwa border and reviewed what his father had told him of fighting Iwa shinobi. Ideally, they wouldn’t be doing any fighting—they were meant to sneak in, destroy the bridge, and sneak out. Kakashi knew enough about leading missions to know that nothing ever went according to plan, however, and stayed on high alert as they crossed the border into Kusa, towards Kannabi bridge. 

He sensed the man not long after they reach a forest full of strange, massive mushrooms. Kakashi wasn’t much of a sensor, but he was decent enough to tell when he was being watched when the watcher wasn’t making much of an effort to hide his presence. “Sensei,” he murmured, motioning towards the man. Minato nodded, and Kakashi signalled to them to hide in a nearby ditch, just large enough that the man wouldn’t notice them. Just to be safe, he readied one of the  earth jutsu-nullifying seals, pressing it into the ground and keeping one hand on it so he could activate it at a moment’s notice. 

“There are a lot of them,” he said. “At least twenty. Clones?” 

“Quite likely,” Minato agreed. “What’s your plan, Kakashi?” 

Kakashi turned it over for a moment. Rin, he knew, was best away from the front lines—as their medic, she was easily the most valuable member of the team. Minato was incredibly fast, and could probably take out half of them before they even realized what was happening. Kakashi wasn’t at that level, at least not yet, but he felt he could take out at least a quarter of them on his own, easily. That left the remaining quarter to Obito and Rin, and although Obito struggled as a ninja, Kakashi had faith that he would protect Rin. 

“Sensei, you and I go in together, take out as many as possible before they can retaliate,” he said. “Rin, Obito, you watch our backs. If any of them try to get the drop on us, take them out.” 

Obito scowled, likely at being left  behind, but nodded when Rin did. Minato pulled out a hiraishin kunai and nodded once, sharply, before vanishing in a swirl of leaves. 

Kakashi pulled out his father’s tanto and leapt into the fray, taking down a clone as two Minato took down three more nearly simultaneously. A shuriken shot past his face, hitting an incoming clone in the eye and dispelling it as he stabbed another in the gut. 

One. Two. Three. 

Another barrage of shuriken, from Rin or Obito, a brief puff of flame that distracted a clone long enough for Kakashi to take him out. A brief shout from Rin, but he couldn’t look to see if she was safe because another two clones were bearing down on him, swords drawn. Kakashi dove down and sliced upwards with his tanto as he slid between a clone’s legs. He rolled, a sword falling where he had been moments before, and threw his tanto. It struck true, landing right in the center of the clone’s forehead, and Kakashi darted forward to snatch it out of the air as the clone dispelled. 

He paused, breathing heavily, and stared around the forest. A single shinobi lay at Minato’s feet. 

“Do you think he has teammates nearby?” he asked. 

Minato nodded. “Most likely. Stay alert. I have to leave you here, but I’ll finish my mission as quickly as possible. I know I don’t have to tell you this but . . . remember. The most important thing to a ninja is teamwork. Trust in your team, Kakashi.” 

He nodded. “I will, sensei.” 

Minato left after a few quiet words to Rin and Obito—all too soon, in Kakashi’s opinion. He knew he could lead this team, and he knew Rin trusted him to lead; the question was whether Obito would follow him or not. 

The two of them approached him silently, Rin’s eyes scanning him quickly for any injuries. Obito glanced away, then looked back to meet his eyes. “Well? You got any new orders . . . leader ?” 

Kakashi’s stomach felt strange again—he really hoped he wasn’t coming down with anything. He should have checked the medical kit Rin gave him to see if she had included any medicine. He nodded tersely, keeping his face blank to hide the queasy feeling. “Let’s go.” 

They ran through Kusa, occasionally taking breaks to briefly rest when one of them grew too tired to go on. Part of him felt impatient, waiting for them to recover when he knew he could keep going, but he only had to look at his father’s tanto to remind himself. 

Those who abandon their comrades are worse than trash. 

Part of being a good leader was knowing the limits of those under one’s command. Pushing them too hard would weaken them, which would endanger them all in a fight. Going ahead and leaving them behind would be worse; there was no telling what they might encounter this close to enemy territory. He busied himself by running through potential strategies. 

Rin was primarily a medic, the weakest at fighting of the three of them. It would be best to keep her in the middle, with Kakashi taking point and Obito in the rear. Obito was clumsy at times, but good with shuriken and his fire jutsu. From the rear, Obito could launch distance attacks and cover Kakashi, who was the best at hand-to-hand combat. 

They made it a fair distance before getting attacked again; they had long since left the mushroom forest behind for bamboo. They were midway across a small lake when Kakashi sensed chakra. He raised a hand to signal the others just as the bamboo from the forest around them was launched at them. Obito darted forwards, pushing Rin behind him, and blew out flames hot enough that Kakashi could feel them even from a few feet away. The bamboo burned up quickly, and the remaining shards fell harmlessly into the water. 

Their attacker made himself apparent before the last embers had stopped burning—he flew out of the forest, leaping from bamboo stalk to bamboo stalk almost too quickly for Kakashi to make out the motions. Kakashi darted forward to meet him, carefully avoiding the shuriken Obito flung out, and slashed his tanto across the space where the man had been moments before—too slow. He whirled around, caught sight of motion out of the corner of his eye, and dropped to the ground just in time to avoid taking a sword to the neck. 

Rin screamed.

Kakashi whirled around, and cursed as he saw the man he had been fighting appear beside a second man, who was holding Rin under his arm. Two of them—of course there were two. Hadn’t Minato told him they would probably encounter a team?

“We’ll take care of this one,” the man holding Rin said, and then they were gone. 

“Dammit!” Obito yelled, already racing off into the forest without even a single thought about where they might have gone or whether more of them might be waiting in ambush. 

“Wait!” Kakashi said. 

Obito whirled around to glare at him. “What? Are you saying we shouldn’t go after her?” 

“What? Of course not,” Kakashi said. Did Obito really think that poorly of him? A sour feeling settled in his stomach at the thought. “Rin is our comrade, and we’re going to save her.” 

“O-oh.” Obito blinked at him in shock. “I thought you would say we should finish the mission. I mean, failing your first mission as a jounin...” 

“I won’t fail,” Kakashi said. “We’ll save Rin, and then we’ll blow up the bridge. We’ll be behind schedule, but the village can’t complain as long as the job gets done.” 

Obito looked away, towards the place where the two men who had taken Rin had last stood, and sheepishly rubbed at the back of his head. “You know, Kakashi . . . I always thought the White Fang was a true hero.” 

Kakashi almost jerked in surprise—Obito had never even mentioned knowing anything about his father, much less that he admired him. 

“That thing he says, about those who abandon their teammates . . . I thought that was really cool.” Obito grinned at him, then, and the strange fluttery feeling in his stomach returned with a vengeance. “You’re a lot more like him than I thought. So, what’s the plan, leader?” 

The two men had covered their scents, but he could still easily trace the scent of Rin’s shampoo. Kakashi followed their trail, and where his nose failed, Obito’s keen eyes picked up the slack. Before long, they had made their way to a cave, where their enemies awaited them. 

“I’ll enter first,” Kakashi said. “I’ll try to get the drop on one of them, but they’ll most likely be expecting us, so it will end up one-versus-one. Let’s go.” 

“To where?” a voice said, as Obito’s eyes widened and he surged forward, shouting, “Behind you!” 

Kakashi stumbled as Obito’s arm slammed into his stomach. Off-balance, he could only watch in horror as a sword descended towards Obito’s face—at the speed it was going, it would split him open, but Kakashi couldn’t look away—but then, at the last second, Obito dodged to the side and forward, drawing a kunai and slamming it into the man’s chest almost faster than Kakashi could see. The man dropped to his knees, his mouth forming soundless words, and then fell. 

Kakashi sniffed and smelled Obito’s blood, but Obito was still standing. “Obito?” 

Obito turned, and his eyes were as red as the blood trickling down the side of his face. “Jeez, Kakashi, who’s the crybaby now?” he teased. 

Kakashi touched a finger to his eye, and found it came away damp. “Still you,” he said, as a tear trickled down Obito’s face. “Your eyes. . .” 

Obito looked down at his hands. “Yeah, the Sharingan. I can see the flow of chakra, now.” He grinned. “Looks like it’s my turn to protect you this time, Bakashi.” 

Kakashi scoffed. “You’re the stupid one. Are you just going to leave that to get infected? Hurry up and let me treat it, and then we’ll rescue Rin.” 

Obito looked ready to race into the cave at the reminder, but he stood still long enough for Kakashi to quickly disinfect and bandage the long cut down the side of his face. It had missed his eye and his ear, but would probably leave a scar; Kakashi could do field medicine well enough, but he was no medic. 

They double-checked their equipment, prepared themselves for a fight, and walked into the cave together. 

Rin sat on the floor, out of it but unharmed as far as he could tell. “Her chakra flow is irregular,” Obito whispered. 

“They probably put her under a genjutsu to extract information,” Kakashi said. This was good, in more than one way—Rin hadn’t been physically tortured, so if they broke the genjutsu, she would likely join the fight, and it also meant that the enemy didn’t know anything about their abilities, or else they wouldn’t have bothered with the genjutsu. 

The enemy shinobi sighed and shook his head. “Looks like those guys were completely useless. Guess I have to do everything myself,” he said, and drew his sword.

Kakashi drew his tanto and dashed forward as the man ran at them with his sword, Obito at his side. He jumped up as Obito threw himself to the ground, aiming his tanto down at the man. The man dodged, but not without taking a cut to the shoulder from the tanto, and now Kakashi and Obito were between him and Rin. 

Kakashi knelt before her and quickly canceled out the genjutsu. She blinked for a moment, surprised but not distressed—likely not psychological torture, then—and then smiled slightly. “Kakashi? Obito?” 

“We came to save you,” Obito said. 

Kakashi nodded. “We have to go and complete the mission.” With the three of them working together, he had no doubt they could at least incapacitate the enemy shinobi—with some luck, they might even be able to capture him and take him to the village. 

Rin stood. Her legs trembled slightly, but the longer she stood the firmer her stance became. Satisfied that she was fine, Kakashi turned back to face the enemy shinobi. 

The man sneered at them. “Don’t get so cocky, brats,” he said. “You’re still at my mercy.” 

He made a seal, and the cave around them rumbled. 

“Get out!” Kakashi yelled, and the three of them stumbled forwards. The earth surged under his feet, and Kakashi quickly slapped one of the nullifying seals to the ground and activated it. The earth stilled, but the rumbling continued. Kakashi readied another seal and looked for the source of the attack—the walls, perhaps—

A small pebble fell past his nose, and he looked up. Obito, in front of him, ran forward, sparing not a single glance for the rock above him that was beginning to fall. 

Kakashi moved without even thinking about it. 

His hands collided firmly with Obito’s back, slamming the nullification seal onto his back and activating it, just as the ceiling collapsed on top of them. 

Everything hurt, but he managed, somehow, to open his eyes. The relief he felt at the sight of his teammates, dazed but unhurt, was enough to wash away the pain. “Obito . . . Rin . . .” 

Obito blinked, still dazed—Kakashi hoped he hadn’t hit his head; head injuries could be dangerous and he wasn’t sure Rin was cleared to treat them—and then his eyes widened as he scrambled forwards. “Kakashi!” 

Rin’s hands glowed green as she sat beside him. She chewed her lip nervously. 

Normally, Rin’s healing brought a sense of relief, or sometimes, if the injury was particularly bad, of pain. Kakashi didn’t know what it meant that he couldn’t feel anything, but he knew it wasn’t good. “Rin, it’s fine.” 

“Shut up, Bakashi!” Obito said. “Come on, we have to break these boulders somehow. Do you know any earth jutsu?” 

Rin shook her head. “I—I don’t know if we should,” she said. “The way the boulders fell...if we move one of them, we might cause the whole thing to collapse on top of us. They have teams dedicated to learning how to properly use earth jutsu for rescues.” 

“Dammit! There has to be something,” Obito said. “Maybe we can, I don’t know, lift it up enough to drag him out, or something.” 

“Rin,” Kakashi said. “Stop. Save your chakra. I can’t . . . feel anything. You have to save your chakra for the mission. You have to complete it without me.” 

“Like hell! What happened to being teammates? Aren’t you our comrade too, Kakashi? We won’t leave you!” 

Kakashi tried to breath, and coughed blood. “Rin . . . sorry. The medical kit you gave me is probably ruined, but look in my kunai pouch. Take sensei’s kunai—take all of them, you might need them. That man, if he’s out there, you’ll have to kill him and escape before reinforcements arrive. But before you go . . . Obito. Take this.” 

He tried to lift his hand, but only managed to twitch his fingers. Still, it was enough to draw Obito’s attention to the white tanto lying there. “Take it to my father. Tell him that I’m giving it to you—he’ll know what I mean.” 

Tears welled up in Obito’s eyes. “Dammit, Bakashi,” he said. “I was the one supposed to give you a present.” 

“Don’t worry,” Kakashi said. “You can make it up to me later.” 

And he closed his eyes. 

***

They returned to Konoha in silence. None of them felt much like talking. Rin, Obito knew, had liked Kakashi as more than just a teammate—not to mention that she felt guilty for being the weak one, the one that had to be protected. She’d gone off to train every time they stopped on the way back, punching holes in trees long into the night. 

Minato felt guilty too, for his own reasons. He’d come to save them barely in the nick of time. Obito had passed out in the middle of fighting off the reinforcements, and Rin had been left alone, fending them off with only Kakashi’s kunai. He’d been quiet ever since Obito had woken up. Even now, as they approached Konoha, he stared solemnly at the massive gates. 

He turned to them as they walked through. “I have to speak to Kakashi’s father. Rin, Obito, report to the Hokage and then go to the hospital and get checked out. Tell him I’ll give him my report soon.” 

Somehow, Obito managed to nod. Idly, his thumb ran over the hilt of the tanto at his side. He didn’t have the scabbard—Kakashi had always worn it on his back, and it remained buried with him in the cave—so he had tied the tanto to his waist and wrapped the blade in bandages. “Yeah, Sensei,” he said. “We’ll go.” 

Minato put a hand on each of their shoulders and tried to smile. It didn’t reach his eyes. “I’ll speak to you both soon. Get some rest.” 

Minato vanished, and Obito and Rin turned as one to trudge in the direction of the Hokage’s office. It was busy as always, but the moment they presented their mission scroll they were quickly ushered into his office. The usual jounin were gathered there, clustered around maps dotted with little pins, and the Hokage himself sat behind his desk, pensively smoking his pipe.

Obito slammed the mission scroll onto the desk, not caring that the jounin glared at him for his rudeness. “Kannabi Bridge mission was a success.” 

The jounin gathered by the maps burst into action, adjusting pins and muttering to each other. The Hokage looked at them over his steepled fingers. “And Kakashi Hatake?” 

“Dead,” Obito growled, and stormed from the room without waiting to be dismissed. A chuunin waved a mission report form at him, but Obito ignored him. What the hell was he supposed to write?

Mission went great, except for the part where our teammate died to save us and now all of us are guilty and not speaking to each other and our team will probably be split up. 

He could see it now. The Hokage had already been sending Minato on more and more solo missions—hell, he was the only shinobi that had a flee-on-sight order from Iwa. Rin was a great medic, so she would always be in high demand, whether on the field or in the hospital. And Obito—Obito was a weakling who couldn’t even save his comrade from a stupid rock, even after he’d awoken the Sharingan. He’d probably end up shuffled into the police force like the rest of the Uchiha no one cared about. 

It was funny—he’d never realized before that Kakashi had been the glue holding Team Seven together. He’d been too busy seeing him as stuck-up, self-important, cold-hearted . . .

Somehow, Obito found himself at the memorial stone. Several names had been added recently, and soon Kakashi’s would join them. Someone had placed flowers at the base of the memorial. 

He sat down and stayed there for a long, long time. 

The sun had long since set by the time he heard footsteps approach from behind. 

“Rin completed your mission report for you,” Minato said. 

“Oh,” Obito said. “Is she . . .” 

He didn’t know what he wanted to ask. Was she okay? Of course not. Was she at the hospital, or at home, or training? Probably one of those. 

“She’s at home,” Minato said. “I persuaded her to get some rest.” 

“And now it’s my turn?” Obito said. 

Minato said down next to him and didn’t say anything. Obito waited, and waited, and when he finally couldn’t take it anymore, he said. “It’s my fault! It’s my fault that Kakashi—I wasn’t paying enough attention, and he had to push me out of the way. It should’ve been me. Kakashi’s a better ninja than I am—the village actually needs him. It should’ve been me.” 

Obito clenched his fists in his lap and tried to ignore the tears gathering in his eyes. Beside him, Minato stared at the memorial stone and said nothing. 

“I’ve known Kakashi since he was very young,” Minato said, at last. “My brother—Narumi, he’s friends with Kakashi’s father. They fought together in the war when they were around my age. Sakumo understands better than anyone the choices Kakashi had to make on this mission—he doesn’t blame you, Obito. No one blames you.” 

Obito stifled a sob in his sleeve. Minato, thankfully, didn’t draw attention to it, just wrapped an arm around Obito’s shoulders and kept talking. “A few years ago—long before you were on my team—Sakumo was on a mission that went wrong. His mission was critical to the village, but his teammates had been captured. He didn’t have the time to both carry out his mission and rescue his teammates, so he chose to abandon the mission and save his team.” 

“He did?” Obito  said.

“He did—until my brother showed up and persuaded Sakumo to leave the rescue to him, so that Sakumo could finish his mission,” Minato chuckled. “Sakumo likes to say my brother has the gods’ own luck. But, what I’m saying is . . . Sakumo knows what it means to be a commander, to be responsible for a team.”

Obito buried his face in his arms. “Stupid Kakashi. He was always . . . always protecting us. Me and Rin. I couldn’t do anything to protect him; I was too weak. I’m tired of being weak.” 

Minato squeezed his shoulder. “And that’s the first step to getting stronger. When the world knocks you down, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep moving.” With a small smile, he picked up a flower that had been resting at his side and set it on top of the bouquets beneath the memorial. “And of course, it’s always good to take a moment to remember the people who are important to you.” 

***

On the day Kakashi was assigned the Kannabi bridge mission, Narumi was in the hospital in Uzushio, receiving treatment for a concussion, several crushed ribs, and a nearly severed arm. When he woke up from his medically induced sleep, Tsubame was at his bedside, pouring over a stack of documents, as he always was these days.

“What happened?” Narumi asked, already getting out of bed and finding his clothes. 

“Kakashi and his team were assigned the mission to destroy Kannabi bridge,” Tsubame said. 

Narumi inhaled sharply. He knew it was coming, but he’d hoped to be there—hoped to be able to help them however he could. He could hear Tsubame’s next words already, a quiet, regretful, Obito Uchiha didn’t make it. 

“Kakashi didn’t make it,” Tsubame said. 

Narumi froze. Not Obito—Kakashi. “Kakashi? What happened?”

“He sacrificed himself to save his teammates, as I understand it,” Tsubame said. He handed Narumi a scroll. “I’ve already given you a week’s leave. I’ll write to you if I need you before then. Now go. Sakumo will need someone with him.” 

Narumi pocketed the scroll and gathered up the remainder of his belongings. Tsubame escorted him out of the hospital, but from there they split ways, Tsubame returning to his office, and Narumi heading for edges of the village.

He would go to Konoha eventually, but first he had another stop to make. 

He made his way to Kusa as quickly and quietly as he could, occasionally making use of shadow clones to distract any wandering squads he came across, until he reached the remains of Kannabi Bridge. Narumi didn’t have much talent for tracking, but summoned as many clones as he could and set them to sweeping the forest for any hint of the battle that had taken place there. 

Hours dragged by and finally, finally, a clone dispelled, filling Narumi’s head with the knowledge of a collapsed cave surrounded by the bodies of Iwa shinobi. He dispelled the remaining clones and raced to the cave. The dead Iwa shinobi were still lying there, so he must have beaten Iwa to the scene, but there was no telling when they would come investigate what had happened to the squad. The cave was easy to find, located at the center point of the field of dead bodies. Narumi leapt into the cave, holding up one of the flashlight-seals to light the way. 

Empty. The cave was empty. 

Oh, he had the right cave, that much was for sure. He spotted the tell-tale signs of a jutsu that had been partially halted by a nullification seal, and there was a pool of blood on the ground, but the rock that should have been crushing Kakashi’s body lay broken across the ground. 

Narumi took one look around, just to make sure he hadn’t missed anything he could easily find himself, and then left. It took him a painful two days to reach Konoha, even running at full speed the whole way, pulling on his vast chakra reserves to keep going when he tired. He was exhausted by the time he finally arrived, but nevertheless he went straight to Sakumo’s house. 

The door was locked, and no one answered when he knocked, so he pressed a bloody thumb to the seal-lock and let himself in. The house was seemingly empty and eerily quiet, and for a moment he thought Sakumo wasn’t home. 

He found Sakumo in Kakashi’s bedroom. Kakashi’s bedroom wasn’t particularly childish, for all that he was twelve years old. It was filled with textbooks, scrolls, weapons, and equipment. The only signs of Kakashi’s age was the cheerfully blue bedspread with a shuriken pattern and the stuffed dog that Sakumo clutched  in his hands as he sat on Kakashi’s bed. Sakumo wasn’t crying, but it was clear from the redness in his eyes and the tracks on his cheeks that he had been recently. 

Narumi hadn’t been sure whether or not to say anything, but as he stared at the blank emptiness in Sakumo’s eyes, he knew he couldn’t stay quiet. “I went to Kannabi Bridge,” he said. “Kakashi’s body was missing.” 

Sakumo looked up, a glint of anger in his eye. “Iwa?” 

“Maybe. I don’t know. They left the Iwa shinobi behind, so I don’t think so.” Narumi sat beside him and clasped a hand on Sakumo’s shoulder. “Sakumo, I need you to let me borrow your wolf summons. I can’t track him on my own.” 

A fire sparked in Sakumo’s eyes, chasing away the eerie blankness. “I’m coming with you.” 

“Would the Hokage let you?” Narumi asked. 

“I don’t give a damn!” Sakumo snarled. “He’s my son!” 

“And my godson,” Narumi said, and the fight left Sakumo all at once. His hands rested, limp, on the stuffed dog. Narumi put a hand over his. “Sakumo. Let me do this for you.” 

Sakumo said nothing for a moment. He stood, left the room, and came back with three vials of blood and a fresh bandage on his hand. “Here. Use these to summon them,” he said. “I. . .I can’t hope that he’s still—it would break me, to lose him twice. I can’t. But if anyone can bring him home, it’s you.” 

Narumi placed the vials of blood in the pouch at his hip. “I’ll bring him back, Sakumo. Believe it.” 

Sakumo turned away, and Narumi left, heading back to Kusa. The scene was much as he had left it, although the bodies of the Iwa shinobi had since been removed. He poured one of the vials onto his hand, slammed it to the ground, and said, “Kuchiyose no Jutsu!” 

He must have misjudged the amount of chakra, because Ran was the only one to appear instead of all three. “Narumi-san,” Ran said, in her surprisingly deep voice. “You require my assistance?” 

“Kakashi was here, in that cave. Can you track him?” Narumi asked. 

“Of course,” Ran said. 

They started from the cave where Kakashi’s body had been. Ran didn’t need to sniff the blood to get Kakashi’s scent; Narumi suspected she knew Kakashi’s scent as well as she knew Sakumo’s. She set straight to tracking where Kakashi had gone, leading them deeper into the cave-in, through narrow crevices between the rocks. 

Eventually, she stopped. “The trail ends here.” 

Narumi brushed a hand against the earth, which was unnaturally smooth. “A jutsu?” 

“It smells like earth chakra,” Ran agreed. 

“Dammit,” he muttered. If they’d escaped into the earth, there was no telling what direction they had gone. “We’ll search the area. They have to be around here somewhere.” 

Narumi knew that Madara had to be hiding somewhere nearby, that if he just searched hard enough to find Kakashi, they would be successful. They searched throughout the night, and when Ran dispelled, he summoned her again, this time with Gin and Jun as well. 

They searched until he had only a few drops of blood left, and a note from Tsubame asking where he was waited for him on the scroll they used to exchange messages. 

Narumi sank to his knees and struck the earth with his fist. “Dammit! Where are you, Kakashi?” 

He’d changed things, but not enough—he’d still lost one of his precious people. 

But not permanently—there were other chances. Kakashi was strong, and had a good head on his shoulders. He wouldn't fall to despair easily. Narumi would have other opportunities. 

Narumi took a deep breath and stood. “Okay,” he said, and pointed a finger up at the moon. “I’ll find you, Kakashi. I’ll bring you home. And you better be ready for me, Madara, you asshole!” 

Chapter Text

The Hatake house was located in a quieter part of the village, away from the hustle and bustle of the market districts, civilian sectors, and apartment blocks. Most people in this area of the village were older shinobi, ones who were tired of the noise that the younger generations still enjoyed. A small fence, only as high as his waist, marked the boundaries of the garden. From the street he could make out a koi pond, a small vegetable garden, and, further back, a straw training dummy still stabbed full of shuriken and kunai. 

Across the street, three women and two men sipped their drinks and stared at him. Two hours ago, there had only been one. He suspected they were taking bets on whether or not he would enter, and when. 

Obito glanced at his watch. They were supposed to have a meeting at Minato’s house for lunch half an hour ago—he’d lost track of time. 

Obito stepped forward, opening the painted white fence as he did. Behind him, two of the watchers cursed, but he ignored them and set off down the stone path through the garden, past the maple tree in the front yard. 

He knocked, and received no answer. “Hatake-san?” he called, and knocked again. Still no answer. 

“He’s home, kid,” one of the watchers said. “Just go in.” 

Obito hesitated for a moment. Most veteran shinobi tended to place traps around their homes, particularly in dangerous times, and this could have been a trick to get him into some embarrassing trap—but he didn’t have much of a choice. 

He knocked again, and this time when he received no answer, he slid open the door. “Hatake-san? Sorry for the intrusion. It’s me, Obito, Kakashi’s—” 

He froze as he entered the main room. Sakumo sat slumped on the floor, his hair loose and wild rather than restrained in its customary ponytail, staring into the household shrine. A stick of incense burned there, with several unlit sticks and some small food offerings set beside it. Some of them, Obito knew, were Kakashi’s favorite foods. Two pictures sat inside the shrine, one of them of a woman Obito didn’t recognize, and one of Kakashi. 

Silently, Obito padded across the tatami floor and knelt beside Sakumo to light a stick of incense. 

“How old are you, Obito?” Sakumo asked. 

Obito almost jumped—Sakumo hadn’t even looked like he was awake, much less that he knew Obito was there. He glanced at him, feeling guilty for intruding, but quickly looked away at the sight of the man’s reddened eyes. “Uh, thirteen. Sir,” he said. 

“Thirteen,” the man repeated. “Kakashi was twelve years old. You know, Tsunade’s done some pretty interesting research at the hospital.” 

Obito officially had no idea where this conversation was going. “Uh, no, I didn’t.”

“You’re considered adults in the eyes of the village once you get that headband,” he said. “But your brains don’t finish developing until you’re in your twenties. Kakashi has changed so much since he was a baby—I always wondered, how different would he be at fifteen? At twenty?” He laughed, but he sounded like he might cry. “I thought I had the world of teen rebellion to look forward to.” 

“Kakashi rebelling. I’d pay money to see that,” Obito said, without really thinking. 

“Kakashi has always liked rules, ever since he was little. He was—he was so small when he was a baby,” Sakumo said, motiong with his hands. “He was born too early—Just holding him, I thought I’d crush him. Tsunade is a great medic, but her experience is in healing injuries and illnesses in adults and children, not babies. For a long time, we feared . . . well. I don’t know what I would do if I lost him. Didn’t know. He’s all I had left of her—he looks so much like her, you know.” 

Obito squinted at the portraits. It was hard to tell who Kakashi looked like, really, when all Obito could see were his eyes. 

“Ah, of course.” Sakumo reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. When he opened it, Obito could see it was stuffed full of pictures of Kakashi, from when he was a tiny, wrinkly baby to when he was a glaring twelve-year-old. In most of them he was wearing the mask, but Sakumoi pulled out one that showed his bare face. He did look a bit like the woman in the portrait, Obito realized. 

It was strange to think that he hadn’t known what his teammate really looked like until after his death. 

Sakumo put the pictures away gently, almost reverently. “I’m sure you didn’t come here to listen to a maudlin old man,” he said. “What can I do for you, Obito?” 

Obito held out the tanto, still wrapped in bandages. “Kakashi told me to bring this to you. He said to tell you he was giving it to me. He said you would know what he meant.” 

Sakumo reached out to brush his fingers against the tanto. “Of course,” he said. His eyes were damp; seeing it made tears well up in Obito’s eyes as well. 

Sakumo took a deep breath and stood. “Thank you, Obito. Come again tomorrow morning.” 

“What time?” Obito asked. 

Sakumo gave him a stiff smile. “I’ve heard about your habits. Just come when you can. I’m on mandatory leave, so I’ll be here.” 

Obito didn’t realize until he was halfway home that Sakumo hadn’t taken the tanto back. 

***

Obito skipped morning training the next day to go to Sakumo’s house—Minato had been sent out on a solo mission again, and Rin was practicing taijutsu with Gai. 

“You gonna go in, or are you just gonna stand there again?” one of the watchers from yesterday drawled. 

Obito scowled at them and strode resolutely forward to knock on the door. This time, Sakumo opened the door a few moments after the first knock. He looked more put together than yesterday—his eyes were still red, but his hair was brushed and in a ponytail, and he was wearing a fresh uniform. 

“Obito, right on time,” he said, as if Obito hadn’t gotten waylaid by about three old ladies on his way there. “Let me get on my shoes.” 

“Are we going somewhere?” Obito asked. 

“To the blacksmith,” Sakumo said as he pulled on his sandals and walked out the door. Obito hurried to keep up. “We need to get you a new sheath for that tanto. It could probably do with some maintenance, too. And then we’re going to a training ground, and you’re going to show me everything you know about using a tanto.” 

Obito tripped over his own feet. “But—don’t you want your tanto back?” 

Sakumo stopped and put a hand on Obito’s shoulder. “Obito. Kakashi gave that to you for a reason, and he sent you to me for a reason. The white chakra blade is yours now, and I am going to teach you how to use it.” 

Obito scrubbed at the tears that welled up in his eyes. “You . . . want to teach me?” 

“I do,” Sakumo said. 

Obito felt too stunned to say anything else—the White Fang, one of the greatest shinobi in Konoha, whose power rivalled the Sannin—Sakumo wanted to teach him? 

He followed Sakumo through the village in silence, and didn’t say a word as Sakumo ordered a new sheath and the blacksmith went over the maintenance of the blade. They walked all the way to one of the training grounds, and only then did Obito say, “But why?” 

“You’re one of Kakashi’s friends,” Sakumo said, as if that was all the explanation needed. “Now, show me what you know.” 

As it turned out, not much. ‘Stab them with the pointy end’ and ‘slash them with the sharp edge’ were pretty much the extent of Obito’s knowledge. Every time he tried to attack, Sakumo countered him immediately, and Obito found himself dropping the tanto or hitting the ground or sailing into the trees. It was both exhausting and completely humiliating. 

Still, after several hours, Sakumo nodded in satisfaction as if Obito hadn’t made a complete fool of himself. “This is good,” he said. 

“Good? I’m terrible! I don’t know anything!” Obito exclaimed. 

“Exactly. No bad habits to unlearn,” Sakumo said. He grinned, and the expression was positively wolfish. “Now let me show you how a Hatake fights.” 

If someone asked how a Hatake fought, the answer was, “like fucking demons,” apparently. By the end of the day, Obito was sure that never, in all his time training with Kakashi and Minato, had he felt so exhausted. Before, Minato’s attention had always been split between the three of them, so two-thirds of the time Obito had gone relatively unnoticed. It was both unnerving and exhilarating to have all of Sakumo’s attention focussed solely on him. One one hand, Obito knew he was a terrible ninja, and he was half-afraid Sakumo was going to realize that and wash his hands of him. On the other, this was the White Fang . Obito was probably never going to get a chance like this for the rest of his life. 

The sun was setting by the time Sakumo finally declared, “Okay, that’s enough,” and Obito collapsed to the ground. 

“I can't move,” he groaned. 

Sakumo heaved him to his feet and clapped him on the back. “Walk it off, or you really won't be able to move,” he advised. “Come on, I'll treat you to Ichiraku.” 

Somehow, Obito managed to make it all the way to Ichiraku without collapsing by the side of the road. Ramen had never tasted so good.

He devoured three bowls without really thinking about it, and glanced guiltily at Sakumo when he finally noticed the growing stack of bowls. “Uh. Sorry.”

“You did well,” Sakumo said dismissively. “You've more than earned it. Another?” 

“I think I'm good,” Obito said, and turned that phrase over in his mind. You did well. 

You worked hard, he'd heard before, along with keep trying, you've almost got it , and several variations thereof. Never a simple, straightforward, you did well.

“Thanks,” he said. “For training with me today.” 

Sakumo chuckled. “Don't thank me yet. This time next week, you'll be cursing my name.”

Obito stared at him. Was Sakumo going to give him homework or something? “What do you mean?” 

“I’m going to train you, of course,” Sakumo said. 

“Oh. Cool,” Obito said. “I mean, wait, what? You can’t train me! Aren’t you super busy?” 

“Mandatory leave,” Sakumo reminded him. “I’m grounded until the Hokage clears me for duty again. Which means you and I are going to spend as much time training as possible before I get sent out again.” 

Sakumo got to his feet and handed a few bills to Teuchi, waving him off when he tried to return the change. “I’ll see you tomorrow morning, Obito.”

For the next week, Obito went to Sakumo’s house every morning. Sometimes he arrived early in the morning, and sometimes he arrived later, but no matter what, Sakumo always answered when he knocked, and together they walked to the training field. 

Sakumo was a firm believer in hands-on learning. Every morning, after a brief warm up, Sakumo would draw his tanto and launch himself at Obito, and Obito would have to defend himself. Sakumo would correct Obito’s form while attacking him—nudging a foot into place here, adjusting the position of his arm there. He moved so quickly that Obito had to use his Sharingan to track him—something that ended up being useful for learning how Sakumo attacked, as well. 

Every day, they trained from morning to night, until Obito was too exhausted to do anything but eat dinner and collapse into bed. Obito couldn’t really tell if he was improving or not, but Sakumo hadn’t given up on him yet, so he figured he had to be doing something right. Either that, or Sakumo was just killing time until he was allowed to go out on missions again. 

His answer came a week after they started training, when Sakumo slapped a pile of papers in front of Obito during their lunch break and said, “Sign these.” 

Obito, in the middle of eating, didn’t really pay attention to what he was signing until he was halfway through the papers. “Uh, what am I signing again?” he asked. 

“Apprenticeship papers,” Sakumo said. “With these, you’re officially my apprentice. You’ll be able to accompany me on missions out of the village, and I can nominate you for the jounin exams when you’re ready.” 

Half a roll of sushi fell out of his mouth. Obito quickly snapped his jaw shut and picked up the papers to actually read them instead of just signing at the bottom. The document was crammed full of legal jargon, so he skimmed it to pick out the important bits, which covered the missions they were allowed to go on together and the process of being nominated for the jounin exams. 

“S-rank missions?” he exclaimed. “We’re allowed to do S-ranks?”

“Perks of being apprenticed to an elite shinobi,” Sakumo said. “Although I won’t be taking you out on those for awhile. At least not just the two of us. Maybe if Narumi came along. . .” 

Obito nodded. His last mission had just been an A-rank—and if that could go so horribly wrong, he hated to think about what disasters might happen on an S-rank mission. 

“So, you interested?” Sakumo asked.

Obito gaped at him. “Am I—am I interested?” He grabbed the pen and scribbled his name across the pages as quickly as possible. He slammed them down on the ground when he was done and grinned at Sakumo. “No getting out of training me now. . .Shishou.” 

***

Obito ducked under the white blade heading towards his neck, slashing out with his own blade. His opponent dodged, but Obito was expecting that—he wouldn’t be able to win so easily. He swiped with his leg, forcing his opponent to jump, and dove forwards. The blade descended towards him but—there, an opening, one that he could take advantage of if he moved at just the right moment. He turned, narrowly dodging the enemy’s attack—the flat of the blade skimmed him, very slightly—and thrust forwards. 

The opponent dodged, but not quickly enough. 

Obito’s mouth fell open. “Holy shit!” he yelped. “I got you! I actually got you!” 

Sakumo eyed the new slash on his jounin vest wryly. “That you did,” he said. “Good job, Obito—your sharingan is fully mature now, isn’t it?” 

Obito blinked. “It is? I thought you were moving more slowly.” 

Sakumo smiled at him proudly. “That was all you. You did well, Obito. I think you’re ready for this now.” He pulled a scroll from a pouch at his hip. “I was going to give this to Kakashi when he turned thirteen. He’d want you to have it.” 

Sakumo held it out, and Obito accepted it and pulled it open. It was immediately apparent what the scroll was. “You’re letting me sign the wolf summoning scroll?” 

Sakumo handed him a kunai, handle-first. “You have to sign your name in blood, then put blood on your fingerprints and apply them to the scroll. Then I’ll show you how to summon.” 

Obito grinned and stabbed the kunai into his thumb, perhaps a little too eagerly. He cursed as blood gushed from the wound when he pulled out the kunai, and quickly spread the blood over his other fingers. In a few moments, he had a sloppy, but readable signature and five fingerprints on the scroll. He handed it back to Sakumo with a grin, and waited with bated breath for Sakumo to start the lesson. 

“To summon, you need to have blood on your hand,” Sakumo instructed. “It can be from your fingers, but you can also use blood from other parts of the body. Press your fingers to the ground and summon chakra to your hand to summon the animal. A small amount of chakra will summon younger animals, while larger amounts of chakra will summon multiple animals or older animals.” 

“Like Gin, Jun, and Ran,” Obito supplied. 

“Exactly. To summon all three of them, I have to use a fairly large amount of chakra. When they were puppies, it took a lot less,” he said. “Now, the wolves as a whole are fairly well-tempered. If you accidentally summon one that doesn’t like to be summoned, they’ll probably just send a different summons in their place instead of taking it out on you, and you won’t get any like Manda.” 

“Manda?” Obito asked.

“Orochimaru’s summons, a snake. Manda regularly threatens to eat him,” Sakumo said. “I can’t think of any wolf summons that would do that, although you might get one or two that just don’t want to help. I would recommend finding two or three younger wolves and building a rapport with them. Puppies might not seem so formidable right now, but they’ll get stronger alongside you, and in time you’ll become an incredible team.” 

“All right. How much chakra should I use?” he asked. 

Sakumo hummed thoughtfully. “About twice as much as you use for the Great Fireball Jutsu, I would say. The signs are boar, dog, bird, monkey, ram. Ready?” 

Obito nodded, flashed through the handsigns, and slammed his hand against the ground. “Kuchiyose no Jutsu!” 

A cloud of smoke obscured his vision. Obito squinted into it, trying to see what he had summoned. 

A sharp yip resounded through the air, followed by another. “Congratulations,” Sakumo said, as the smoke cleared to reveal two wolves, one golden and one brown and white. “You're officially a wolf summoner.” 

The two wolf puppies wagged their tails at him “Um, hi. I'm Obito.” Obito held out his hand, and each of the wolves sniffed it. 

The golden one yipped excitedly and nearly tripped over her own feet as she bounded over to him and licked his cheek. “I'm Noodles!” she said. “Are you going on a mission? Take me with you! I’m ready!” 

The white and brown one yawned, padded over to Obito, and curled up in his lap. “What's his name, Noodles? Or, uh, her name?” he asked. 

“His name is Rice!” 

Noodles and Rice. Obito glanced at his lunch and wondered if she had come up with those on the spot. 

Sakumo cleared his throat. “As it happens, I do have a mission for the three of you.” 

Noodles leapt over to him, her tail wagging a mile a minute. “A mission? What is it? Are we protecting a caravan? Assassinating an evil overlord?” 

Sakumo held out a scroll. Obito looked at it in dismay. “A D-rank?” 

“Trust me,” Sakumo said, with a grin. “You'll thank me later.” 

Obito opened the scroll and groaned. “I hate you so much.” 

Their mission? Catching the daimyo's pet cat. 

An hour later, Obito had to admit Sakumo was right. Rice refused to wake up for longer than ten minutes at a time. Noodles was more likely to lunge after a butterfly than try to track that stupid cat. Whenever Obito tried to wake Rice up, Noodles inevitably lost interest and wandered off. 

It took them three hours to track down the cat. 

“I still hate you,” he told Sakumo when he returned. 

“Eat up,” Sakumo said, passing Obito his lunch and another scroll.

Obito opened it. “Weeding a garden? Really, Shishou?” 

Sakumo looked pointedly at Noodles, who was attempting to get a kunai out of a holster. She tripped and ended up tangled in the straps instead. “Do you want to take them out on a C-rank?” 

“Not . . . really,” Obito admitted. 

“They’ll grow quickly,” Sakumo assured him. “Once they’re about a year old, their growth starts to slow. How quickly they reach their full size really depends on the wolf—Ran kept growing for a few years after I met her.” 

Ran, Obito knew, was the largest of Sakumo’s wolves, standing just below his shoulder. “How large is the largest wolf you’ve seen?” 

“Oh, easily large enough for me to stand on her head,” Sakumo said. “We tend not to summon her, though—she doesn’t like to fight much. It’s better to stick to your personal summons. Eat your lunch; we’re expected at the mission site by one.” 

This time, Sakumo accompanied them to the mission, although he didn’t do anything but sit on the porch, watching as Obito cursed and struggled to pull up the weeds. Noodles tried to help, but she got underfoot more often than not, and she wasn’t strong enough to pull up the weeds on her own. Rice, on the other hand, found a nice, warm patch of dirt and curled up to sleep. 

“What I wouldn’t give for Rin and Kakashi,” he muttered, only to freeze and glance guiltily at Sakumo. 

Sakumo smiled gently at him. “They were good at D-ranks?” 

Obito snorted. “Rin was. Kakashi was terrible at D-ranks. He hated them, maybe that was why, or maybe he hated them because he was bad at them. He did them quickly, but he never pulled out the roots of the weeds, and he always bought the wrong groceries, and he always left dust everywhere when we were cleaning, and he always made little kids cry, and I’ve never seen an uglier fence than the ones he painted.” 

Sakumo laughed softly. “Kakashi always complained about D-ranks. He never had to do them before. Minato trained with him for a while, and then they went straight to C-ranks, and then the chuunin exams. Come to think of it, I never gave him any chores either.” 

“I think Minato-sensei had you covered there. We spent a year doing D-ranks.” Obito gave a weed a vigorous tug. “No one does D-ranks for a year! I’d rather go back to the academy than live through that again.” 

“I’m afraid I have some bad news for you,” Sakumo said. 

Obito turned to look at him so quickly his neck cracked. “You’re joking. Tell me you’re joking.” Sakumo stared back at him blankly. The corner of his lips twitched upwards slightly, and Obito threw a weed at him. “You are!” 

Sakumo, laughing, dodged away from the weed. “Better get working, or I really will keep you on D-ranks for a year. The faster you and your summons start working together, the faster you get to do a C-rank.” 

Obito looked at Rice, who was still fast asleep, and Noodles, who was fighting with the garden hose, and had a feeling he was going to be doing D-ranks for a very, very long time. Noodles, at least, was eager to help. It only took a few days for him to work out a method that worked for them. Noodles would find the weeds or track Tora or do whatever smaller jobs she could handle, and Obito would take care of the things she was too small to do. Rice was harder, and Obito spent a good two weeks just carrying him around in his jacket, but eventually he discovered that Rice was susceptible to bribery. Promise him some head-scratches and a meal at Yakiniku-Q, and he would reluctantly rouse himself and help. He was always the first to dispel, but at least he was willing to work with them. 

Other than that, he didn’t really go on missions much—Team Seven had been well and truly split up. Rin had been attached to a squad with Kogane Senju, which was good. Obito could trust Kogane to always have his teammates’ backs. She worked primarily as a medic, but she wasn’t only that—he’d seen her knock over a tree with a single punch, and had a feeling she’d been getting tips from Tsunade. When he had the time or when Sakumo was busy, Obito joined her squad for training  and, when the puppies grew and got a little better at working together, for the occasional C-rank or B-rank. 

He still thought about Kakashi, sometimes, when he caught Sakumo staring into the distance or when his eyes landed on the team picture beside his bed. Sometimes he wondered if Kakashi was looking down on them and feeling proud of how much they’d grown. Probably not, though. Kakashi was kind of an asshole like that. 

***

“Uchiha-san. The Hokage wants to see you.” 

The two of them stopped mid-spar. Obito glanced at Sakumo, who nodded and sheathed his weapon. “I’ll be there,” Obito said to the ANBU, who vanished in a swirl of leaves. 

He made quick time to the Hokage’s office—in the middle of war, even when things were winding down, you didn’t dawdle when the Hokage summoned you. When he arrived, Narumi, Kogane, and the rest of Rin’s squad were already there, waiting for him. 

Rin was noticeably absent. 

“Where’s Rin?” Obito immediately asked. 

“Rin Nohara was captured by Kiri shinobi,” the hokage said, and Obito's world stopped. 

He'd already lost Kakashi—he couldn't lose Rin, his best friend, his only friend. A world where Rin wasn't smiling and laughing, where they would never train together and go out for ramen together . . . he couldn't imagine what that world would be like. 

A hand landed on his shoulder. 

Obito pulled himself together. Captured, not dead. He hadn't been able to save Kakashi; he would save Rin. 

“Your mission is retrieval and reconnaissance. This is Kiri’s first move in weeks, and I want to know why,” the Hokage said. “You will be accompanied by Narumi Uzumaki, jounin of Uzushio, who will be performing additional reconnaissance in the area on behalf of the Uzukage. In the event of open conflict, you will defer to his command. You are to leave immediately. Dismissed.”

They had all come prepared, well used to being shipped out with little to no time to get ready. The five of them—Obito, Narumi, Kogane, and Kogane’s genin teammates—met at the gate within the hour, submitted themselves to the scrutiny of the gate guards, and were on their way. 

Kogane led them to the site of their last mission. “We were assigned reconnaissance in the area, and were unexpectedly ambushed,” he said. “Rin-san was captured here. The enemy deliberately drew us away from her, thus opening her to attack from their hidden allies.” 

Obito bit down on his thumb until it bled and slammed it to the ground, summoning Noodles and Rice in a puff of smoke. The puppies had grown quickly, as Sakumo had said, and Noodles now stood as tall as his hip, with Rice a few inches shorter. 

“Noodles,” Obito said, cutting her off before she had a chance to get distracted. “You remember Rin, right? Can you smell her?” 

“Of course!” Noodles exclaimed, sounding shocked that he would even ask. “I smell Rin, and blood, and a bunch of gross old men, and flowers, and dirt, and—” 

Rice sniffed the ground, briefly, and then trotted forwards. 

“Wait for me!” Noodles said, and raced ahead only to quickly correct herself moments later. “She’s this way, I promise.” 

Obito ran after Noodles, pushing himself onwards even when he stumbled, focused on nothing but moving forwards. He didn’t stop, even when the opening of a cave appeared before him, just drew Kakashi’s tanto and stabbed the closest shinobi as Noodles leapt onto another. 

The cave burst into chaos as his companions entered the fray. Obito shoved himself away from the Kiri shinobi and looked away, eventually spotting Rin sitting in the center of the gave. He darted to her side. “Rin? Are you okay?” 

She looked at him with wide, shocked eyes. “Obito . . .” 

He grabbed her arm and pulled her up and out of the cave. “It’s okay, Narumi and your squad are with us. Let’s get out of here.” 

He started to run, still holding on to Rin. “Obito,” she said. “Obito, stop, there’s something I have to tell you!” 

“Now?” he said, glancing behind him. They hadn’t managed to leave the cave unnoticed, and had a few Kiri shinobi on their tail. 

“Obito, they planned this! I can’t go back to the village,” she said. “They sealed the Sanbi inside me, but the seal won’t hold. They let me escape so that the Sanbi would break out and destroy the village.”

“The Sanbi?” he exclaimed. “Are you sure?” 

“I overheard them talking after . . . after they put the seal on me, when they thought I was unconscious. Obito, we can’t let the Sanbi escape and destroy the village.” Rin took a deep, rattling, breath. “Give me your kunai.” 

“My kunai?” He looked back at her, at her resolute expression, and realized. “Rin, no. You can’t. There has to be another way!” 

“The seal is breaking already,” Rin said desperately. “Please, Obito! If it breaks, the Sanbi will wreak havoc from here to Konoha. I can’t let that happen.” 

“Well, tough luck, because I can’t let you die. I let Kakashi die. I won’t do the same thing again. You’re my precious friend,” Obito said. “I won’t abandon you, not now, not ever!” 

“Obito . . .” 

Obito looked behind them and cursed. They’d lost one of their pursuers, but the remaining two were gaining on them. He spun around, pushing Rin behind him, and drew Kakashi’s tanto. 

He ran a thumb over the hilt, took a steadying breath, and ran at the nearest Kiri shinobi with his sharingan activated, moving quickly enough that the shinobi wouldn’t be able to stop him in time. 

Quickly enough that, when Rin appeared in front of him, hands outstretched to guide the tanto into her chest, he realized he couldn’t stop in time. He could see everything that was about to happen—a few more steps, and his tanto would plunge into Rin’s chest, and without a healer they wouldn’t be able to save her in time—

Rin was going to die, and he couldn’t do anything to stop it from happening. 

His sharingan burned. 

His tanto was scant millimeters away from Rin’s chest when something large and heavy slammed into his side, sending him head-over-heels and slamming him into a tree. He tried to stand, only for his limbs to catch on something and send him tumbling back to the ground. “Whoa!” Narumi exclaimed, reaching out to steady Obito. “Careful with that.” 

Obito’s eyes fell to the tanto, red with blood. “Rin!” he shouted as he twisted around, mouth in his throat. 

Rin stared back at him, completely unharmed. 

Narumi stood and hissed. He pressed a hand to his side, and it came away red with blood. “A little too slow,” he said. 

“Narumi-san, the Sanbi,” Rin said, her voice trembling. 

“Rin,” Narumi said. “It’s gonna be okay, but you have to trust me. Show me the seal. The rest of you, watch our backs.” 

Obito took up a position guarding them, but couldn’t help but glance at them to keep an eye on the proceedings. Rin laid on the ground and pulled up her shirt, revealing a seal written on her skin in blank ink. Narumi examined it, then pulled out a brush and a pot of ink and set to work. 

Rin giggled, sounding surprised herself at the sound. “Sorry, it’s cold,” Narumi said. “It’ll be done soon.” 

Slowly, a second seal developed on top of the first. Obito wasn’t really sure what Narumi was doing, but he seemed to have it all under control, so he couldn’t help but relax. Narumi was a seal master, Minato-sensei had said—if anyone could help Rin, it was him. 

It still felt like an eternity passed before Narumi said, “That’s done. No demons escaping anytime soon.” 

Rin let out a sigh of relief and shakily got to her feet. “Narumi-san, I don’t know how I can ever repay you.” 

“Eh, you can buy me some Ichiraku when we get back.” Narumi grinned and ruffled her hair, and then he dropped his hand to a pouch at his waist. Obito tensed and searched for enemies, but Narumi just pulled out a vial containing a few drops of red liquid and dropped it into his hand. Without a moment’s hesitation, he slammed his hand onto the ground and exclaimed, “Kuchiyose no Jutsu!” 

Obito’s mouth fell open as a cloud of smoke obscured his vision. Rin, beside him, seemed equally startled; she must not have known that Narumi had a summons either. Obito squinted into the smoke, eager for a glance of the animal, only to see . . . wolves?

“Ran? Gin? Jun?” he said. 

Gin gave him a doggy grin, as did Jun, but Ran didn’t so much as glance at him. “Narumi-san,” she said. “You require resistance.” 

“Yeah,” Narumi said, and whispered in her ear. 

After a moment, Ran nodded. “Of course,” she said. 

“Great!” Narumi climbed onto Ran’s back and waved at them. “Hold down the fort, kids!” 

Ran vanished in two massive bounds, leaving them alone in the middle of a field. 

Noodles sighed. “I want to be as cool as Ran-sama when I grow up.” 

“Doesn’t everyone?” Obito said. 

They stood, for a moment, in silence, staring at the horizon. 

“Where is the fort?” Kogane said. 

Obito blinked at him. “The what?” 

“The fort Narumi-san instructed us to secure,” Kogane said. “I assume it is nearby?” 

Obito snorted, and then laughed, and then Rin was laughing too, and the two of them had their arms around each other’s shoulders. He was crying a little bit too, but everyone was nice enough not to mention it. Not like Kakashi—Kakashi would’ve immediately made fun of him for being a crybaby. 

“It’s a figure of speech!” he laughed. “Not a literal fort, jeez, Kogane. All that, and you’re ready to take on an entire fort already?” 

Rin laughed, delighted, and wrapped her other arm around Kogane to pull him into their impromptu hug as well. “So there is no fort,” Kogane said. 

“No, there’s no fort,” Rin said. “At least, I don’t think there is. There could be one nearby.” 

“Then we should do reconnaissance, in case Narumi-san knew of a fort and wanted us to secure it,” Kogane concluded. 

“How about we just wait for him to get back,” Obito suggested. “He can’t take that long. Come on, you guys must be exhausted. Let’s take a break.” 

After a moment’s thought, Kogane agreed that it was best to take a moment to recover, just in case they really did have to secure a fort. They didn’t want to set up a fire this close to enemy territory, but Rin had a supply of warming seals that they activated as the sun set and the chill of night set in. They all produced their rations, showing off what countries they had managed to get rations from and trading the ones they didn’t want. Kogane had the most, as it turned out, as his collection included rations from Iwa, Kiri, Uzushio, Konoha, and even Kumo. 

All of them agreed Konoha rations were the worst—somehow, they always managed to taste slightly like rancid meat. 

They all jumped to attention as they heard footsteps approaching, only to relax as they recognized the new arrival as Narumi. He was holding something in his arms, Obito noted. 

Rin held up a seal and activated it, causing it to emit a gentle light. “Narumi-san? Is someone hurt?” 

“He’s alive,” Narumi said grimly. “But barely. We have to get him back to Konoha, and fast.” 

Obito said nothing, too busy staring.

There, cradled in Narumi’s arms, was Kakashi. 

***

Narumi had half expected that Madara would slip out from between his fingertips again. He’d expected an empty cave, perhaps some sign that Kakashi had been there, and an eventual dead end. Not two Zetsu and Madara himself. Not Kakashi, wounded and barely conscious, but still alive. 

He’d gotten at least one of the Zetsu, but Madara had escaped. Narumi didn’t care; Kakashi was safe, in his arms, and still alive—for now. 

The chuunin were all still gaping at him. “Kogane,” he said, and Tsunade’s son snapped to attention. “Take your team and go to the Hokage. Rin, go with them. The Hokage will want to know about the Sanbi. Obito, with me. How fast can you run?” 

“As fast as I need to,” Obito said, determination plain in his eyes. 

“Good. Let’s go!” 

They took off, in the same direction at first. Narumi ended up in the middle of the formation, which was practical, if a little unusual for him—usually he was one of the ones taking point or protecting the rear. Rin and Obito ran beside him. Rin reached out, a brief green glow briefly rising to her hands before sputtering and disappearing. 

She stared at her hands in shock. “Something’s wrong with my healing,” she said. 

“You’re a jinchuuriki now,” he said. “You just got loaded with more chakra than you’ve had in your life, than most people ever have. It’s like, you used to have a nice little reservoir, and now it’s flooded and overflowing. Turn on the taps, and it all comes gushing out. Or something. Anyways, your control is going to be absolute shit for a long time.” 

It might never be as good as it was, but he didn’t tell her that, not when she already looked so distraught. 

They passed the rest of the run in silence; none of them felt much like talking. Obito was still staring at Kakashi like he wasn’t sure if he was awake or dreaming. Kogane was utterly focused, and Rin was stuck in her own head. Even Obito’s wolf puppies were quiet. 

They split as they approached the village; Narumi didn’t have time to submit himself to the scrutiny of the guards. Already, Kakashi felt cold and still in his arms. Instead, he snuck over the walls, quickly and quietly enough that the chuunin on guard didn’t notice. From there, he ran straight to the one place where he knew someone would be able to figure out what exactly Madara had done to Kakashi. 

He burst through the doors without so much as a hello, ignoring the shout of, “Hey, you can’t go in there!” from the little girl sitting at the reception desk. 

“Help him,” he said, and laid down Kakashi on the nearest flat surface. 

Orochimaru approached, interest apparent in his eyes. Narumi couldn’t help but shiver—Orochimaru was still creepy, even if he hadn’t done any weird experiments. 

“Well, well, well,” Orochimaru said. “Sakumo’s boy. Why didn’t you take him to the hospital?” 

“I don’t think they’re equipped to deal with what’s been done with him,” Narumi said. “His body was rebuilt using something. Half of him was crushed by a rock.” 

“Fascinating. You are correct.” Orochimaru leaned in closely. “Parts of his body have clearly been replaced—I need to take samples. Run tests.” 

“But he’s gonna be okay, right?”  Obito said. 

Narumi laid a hand on his shoulder. “Kakashi will be fine. Orochimaru is a genius.” He might not have particularly trusted Orochimaru, but that much was true at least. “If anyone can understand what was done to Kakashi, it’s him.” 

“You flatter me,” Orochimaru said, in a tone that was plainly unflattered. “If you insist on staying, stand against that wall. I detest having intruders in my laboratory.” 

Narumi urged Obito towards the door. “Get Sakumo. Tell him to come to Orochimaru’s lab.” 

Obito nodded, but hesitated. “I’ll stay right here,” Narumi promised. 

With that, Obito ran from the room. Narumi retreated to the side of the room, perched on a table, and watched Orochimaru as he took a variety of samples and then busied himself with a variety of machines. Narumi didn’t know what Orochimaru was doing, and he didn’t really care as long as he figured out how to help Kakashi. 

“Anko,” Orochimaru called, after a moment, and the little girl who had yelled at him darted into the room. “Make our guest comfortable.” 

“Got it, sensei!” Anko declared, and rushed around the room like a miniature hurricane. By the time the door burst open again, Kakashi was set up on a bed, with an IV in his arm and a blanket tucked around him. 

Sakumo ran into the room like all the shinobi of Kiri and Iwa were at his heels, and then froze, just inside the doorway. “Kakashi,” he breathed. 

Anko barely had time to scrambled out of the way before Sakumo flashed across the room in a swirl of leaves, stopping just short of slamming into Kakashi’s bed.

“Do not disturb my instruments,” Orochimaru warned. 

Sakumo traced a shaking hand across Kakashi’s face, just over the scars that covered half of his face. “Narumi, you . . . you really did it,” he said, and choked back a sob. “I never thought . . . I didn’t dare hope . . . but you did. You really do have the luck of the gods,” he said, and sobbed again. 

“No crying in my laboratory,” Orochimaru said, somewhat crossly, but neither of them paid him any mind. 

Sakumo leaned down and pressed a kiss to Kakashi’s forehead. Smoothed a hand over his hair, still as wild as ever, if a bit longer now. Cupped his face in his hand, and brushed his thumb just under his empty eyelid. Straightened the blankets, and set a stuffed dog on the bed next to Kakashi. 

“You brought him home,” he said, and in one smooth motion he stood and strode across the room. 

He stopped in front of Narumi, and smiled. “Narumi, you wonderful, unbelievable man.” 

With that, Sakumo reached out and pulled Narumi into a crushing hug, and laughed until he cried. 

Chapter Text

Darkness. 

“Absolutely fascinating . . . do you realize, approximately half of his body has been reconstructed using Hashirama Senju’s cells? Fifty-three percent, if you want to be precise.” 

Pain. 

“I don’t really care whose cells they are. They could be the fucking Tsuchikage’s and I wouldn’t care.” 

He knew that voice. 

“Of course you don’t.” 

“Sensei. Sensei, I think he’s waking up.” 

“Ah, of course. Another dose, I think.” 

Nothing. 

***

Pain. 

“Would you please stop bringing contaminants into my laboratory?” 

“It’s food. What if he wakes up and he’s hungry?” 

“Then I will send Anko to buy food.” 

“She’s nine. She’d probably buy him sweets or fried food. And shouldn’t you have other genin?” 

“Ah, yes. Them. They showed little promise.” 

A warm, gentle touch.

“Hey, Kakashi, it’s okay . . . Orochimaru, can I give him more painkillers now?” 

“Yes. His last dosage was eight hours ago.” 

Nothing. 

***

Pain. 

“And then Rin tried to punch a tree—she does that now, it’s pretty cool—only I guess she used way, way too much chakra, and the tree exploded everywhere! Kushina laughed so hard I thought she was gonna be sick. So we decided maybe we should stick to just walking up trees for now, because Rin only blows them up a tiny bit that way.” 

“If you insist on staying, be quiet.” 

“Uh, right, sorry. Orochimaru.” 

“That’s Orochimaru-sama to you.”

“Heh. Right. Um, is Kakashi supposed to look all angry like that?”

“He has been listening to you blather on for several hours. I suspect he may also be in need of additional medication. Anko.” 

“Got it, sensei.” 

“I can do that, you know.” 

“You will not lay so much as a finger on my equipment. Anko will handle it.” 

Nothing. 

 ***

Kakashi opened his eyes. 

Or, he tried to, and failed upon finding his eyelids had stuck together. He reached up to scrub at his eyes, only for his arm to fail to move. He tried the other, and although it was slow to respond, managed to rub at his eyes enough that they were able to open.

He blinked, for a moment certain something was wrong with his vision because everything was white. 

“You’re awake,” a familiar voice rasped. 

Kakashi looked to the side, grateful to find that there wasn’t anything wrong with his vision—it was just that he was in Orochimaru’s laboratory, and everything except for Orochimaru’s hair and eyes was white. “Hold still,” Orochimaru instructed. “I have tests I want to run now that you are awake. Move when I tell you. You may want to displace that boy.” 

Kakashi looked at his other arm and found the reason why he hadn’t been able to move it. Obito was holding his hand, and his head was resting on top of their clasped hands. 

“He has been here day and night, whenever your insufferable father  was not,” Orochimaru muttered. “Move your left arm.” 

Kakashi did. “How long have I been here?” 

“Fifteen days,” Orochimaru said. “Narumi-san brought you here.” 

Kakashi had vague memories of that, he thought. Of Narumi bursting into the place Zetsu had taken him, of Narumi carrying him away. Nothing, after that, except for vague snippets of things that may or may not have happened.  

“Move your right arm.” 

Kakashi attempted to extract his hand from under Obito’s face without waking him up, moving as slowly and carefully as possible. Obito, however, had apparently become less of a heavy sleeper since Kakashi had been—dead? asleep?—gone, and opened his eyes the moment Kakashi pulled their hands apart. 

“Whazzat?” he mumbled, and then shot to his feet so quickly he nearly knocked over the IV beside the bed. “Kakashi! You’re awake.” 

His hands went to Kakashi’s shoulders, holding tight, as Obito leaned down to peer into his face. “Are you okay? You’re not in pain, are you? Tsunade said that if Orochimaru is mean to you I have to tell her, and then she’ll beat him up. Are you hungry? Your dad made soup. A lot of soup, actually, I think he was going kind of crazy.”

Obito gasped. “Your dad! I have to tell him.” He looked around wildly, still holding onto Kakashi’s shoulders. 

“Move your left leg,” Orochimaru said. 

“Right, I’ll have Noodles get him,” Obito decided, and raised his hand to his mouth. 

“No summoning in my laboratory,” Orochimaru said. 

Obito gaped at him. Kakashi realized, suddenly, that he had missed all of Obito’s ridiculous and over-the-top faces, even if they did make his stomach squirm uncomfortably. “You summon snakes all the time!” 

“Snakes are intelligent, wise creatures,” Orochimaru said. “Your mongrels are a menace.” 

“Wolves,” Obito said, and raised his thumb to his mouth. 

“Anko will go,” Orochimaru said. 

“Do I have to?” a girl said from outside the laboratory. 

“Yes. Move your right leg,” Orochimaru said. 

Kakashi did so, as the girl sighed heavily. Moments later, a door opened and closed. “I am hungry,” he said to Obito. 

Obito beamed. It made his stomach hurt, and not just because of the hunger. “Here. It’s kind of cold, because Orochimaru said I’m not allowed to use his bunsen burners anymore, but it’s pretty good either way.” 

Kakashi sipped at the soup, not expecting much, only to be surprised. “Oh.” 

“It’s your favorite, right? Miso soup and eggplant? Trust you to have such boring, old-man tastes, Bakashi,” Obito said. 

Kakashi looked at him for a few moments. Obito was smiling, like he couldn’t help but smile when looking at Kakashi, like he was really, genuinely happy. 

The whole time, Madara had been telling Kakashi about how the world was terrible and broken, and on one hand, he knew it was true. The life of a shinobi was cruel. There were countless times in his life that his father had almost died, or he had almost died. On the other hand, there was Obito. Bright and smiling even when, as far as Kakashi could see, he didn’t have any reason to be. 

“I met Madara Uchiha,” he said. 

Obito blinked at him. “Oh, cool,” he said. “Wait—what? Madara Uchiha as in, that Madara Uchiha? He’s dead though, right? Holy shit, are you dead?” 

“Kakashi is alive,” Orochimaru said. “Wiggle your fingers.” 

Kakashi wiggled his fingers, and then his toes for good measure. “Fingers!” Orochimaru said crossly. 

Kakashi wiggled his fingers. 

Orochimaru made a noise that could only be described as ‘intrigued’ and started to adjust a variety of dials and buttons. 

“Madara Uchiha, as in that Madara Uchiha. He survived by attaching himself to a tree,” Kakashi said. “I think.” 

He had been either unconscious or in incredible pain for the majority of the time. 

“Wouldn’t he be super old?” Obito said, wrinkling his nose. 

Kakashi nodded sagely. “Super, super old.” 

And Obito—Obito laughed, and threw his arms around Kakashi to pull him into a hug. 

Kakashi froze. 

Obito had never, ever hugged him before. In fact, Kakashi was fairly certain the only person who had ever hugged him was his father. 

Kakashi’s cheeks felt uncomfortably warm; he hoped his injuries weren’t infected. 

“Stop that. You are raising his heartbeat and interfering with the data,” Orochimaru said. 

“Stuff your data,” Obito said, and didn’t stop hugging Kakashi. 

Kakashi, slowly, reached around and hugged Obito back. It was nice to touch someone that wasn’t one of Madara’s creepy Zetsu things. 

He jerked away as the door burst open, this time to admit his father. “Dad,” he said, not bothering to hide the relief that overtook him. 

Sakumo visibly breathed a sigh of relief. “Kakashi.” 

In a heartbeat, Kakashi found himself gathered up in his father’s arms, held against his chest like he was a little kid again. Sakumo smoothed a hand over his hair, too wild and too long, and kissed Kakashi’s forehead where his headband should have been. “You’re safe,” he said. “I’ve got you.” 

Kakashi buried his face in his father’s shirt. He smelled like wolves and dirt and the maple tree in front of the house. “You’re really here?” he said. 

Madara had invented countless genjutsu to make Kakashi lose hope, created countless scenarios where Kakashi had been taken home only to wake up and find himself back in the cave, but none of them had felt like this. 

“I’m really here,” Sakumo said. “And so are you.” 

They stayed like that for several long moments, until Orochimaru said, “As far as my tests show, he should be well enough to leave. I want him back for more tests next week. If his condition worsens bring him to me immediately. Now get out of my laboratory.” 

“We’re going, we’re going,” Sakumo said. “Kakashi, can you walk?” 

Kakashi slung his legs over the side of the bed and stood. The leg that Madara had replaced still felt strange to walk on, like it wasn’t really part of him. He had to focus to move it the way he wanted to, but he could move. He took a few steps, and then nodded. “I can walk,” he said. 

Sakumo didn’t ask him if he was sure, just gathered up a few things that Kakashi hadn’t noticed before, with Obito’s help. Obito gathered up the food, while Sakumo bundled up Kakashi’s blankets and Tobi. Kakashi couldn’t believe Sakumo had brought Tobi—he really hoped Obito hadn’t noticed that he still kept a stuffed dog. The thought of Obito knowing that was too mortifying to contemplate, so he returned his focus to walking out the door without forgetting to move the leg Madara had given him. 

Behind him, Sakumo and Obito talked quietly, something about noodles and rice. Kakashi wanted to listen in—he didn’t remember them being so close, before—but trying to eavesdrop made him forget to move the new leg and almost sent him careening into a vegetable stand. Kakashi tuned them out and instead focused on moving one foot in front of the other. 

He’d never been to Orochimaru’s laboratory, so he hadn’t known how far away it was from his house. Kakashi just kept moving, even though each step took more and more of his concentration, until he was so focused that he didn’t notice the fruit stand right in front of him and nearly walked straight into it. 

“Whoa there!” Sakumo exclaimed, halting Kakashi with a hand on his shoulder. Kakashi tried very hard not to wobble, but had the feeling he wasn’t entirely successful, judging by Sakumo’s concerned frown. 

Sakumo held out the blankets to Obito. “Obito, can you take these?” 

“Sure thing,” Obito said, and shifted the bags of food to one hand so he could take the blankets with the other. Obito plucked Tobi from the top of the pile and tucked him into the top of his jacket, leaving him looking like one of those Inuzuka kids who carried their ninken puppies like that. 

His arms free, Sakumo turned around so that his back was to Kakashi. “Hop on,” he said. 

“I don’t need a piggy-back ride,” Kakashi said. 

“Come on,” Sakumo cajoled. “You love piggy-back rides!” 

Kakashi’s face burned. “Dad,” he groaned. “When I was three, maybe.” 

“I distinctly remember a certain chuunin getting so tired after his first time training with his team that he asked me for a piggy-back ride home,” Sakumo teased. 

Obito laughed. Kakashi was going to die

Just to get his dad to stop talking already, he wrapped his arms around the man’s neck and let Sakumo hoist him up. It was a toss-up between what was more embarrassing: being carried like a little kid when he was already a jounin, or Obito carrying around Kakashi’s stuffed animal. 

It was kind of nice to not have to concentrate on moving his arm and leg properly, though; he was free to focus on Sakumo and Obito’s conversation. 

“It’s okay, Shishou,” Obito said. “I’ll train with Kogane’s squad.” 

“If you’re sure,” Sakumo said. “You’re more than welcome to come by. I’m sure Kakashi would appreciate some company his own age.”

Kakashi wasn’t entirely sure why he would need or want company his own age,  especially since he was going to start training as soon as he got home. He’d spent too long lying around already, and he had to get used to fighting with his new limbs as soon as possible. The war wasn’t going to end just because he felt a little under the weather.

Kakashi rested his cheek against Sakumo’s shoulder and started to plan. Once they arrived at home, he would organize his supplies and see what he needed to restock. Then he would train, starting with warmups and simple exercises and working his way up to more complicated maneuvers. Maybe Gai would be willing to assist him—Gai was always willing to do boring exercises in the name of a challenge. Once he was satisfied with his performance on the simpler tasks, maybe Obito would join in. Kakashi had to admit he was curious about what Obito had done in his time away, especially since he had called Sakumo ‘shishou.’ 

Kakashi planned, and the next thing he knew he was being lowered into his bed and blankets were being arranged over him. 

“Get some rest,” Sakumo said. 

Kakashi tried to push himself up. “I need to . . .” 

“Oh, just go to sleep, Bakashi,” Obito said, as he set down Tobi next to Kakashi’s pillow. “No one’s going to run off and defeat Iwa without you.” 

Kakashi’s arm gave out beneath him, and he flopped onto the bed with an irritated huff. Sakumo turned out the lights, gave him one last, long look, as if making sure he wasn’t going anywhere, and left the room. 

Obito stayed, fidgeting in place. “I, uh, still have your tanto,” he said. “If you want it back.” 

Kakashi closed his eye. “Keep it,” he said. “It was a gift. Don’t you know it’s rude to return gifts? You really are a one-of-a-kind idiot.” 

Obito sniffed, and made a sound that might have been a laugh if he wasn’t trying not to cry. “Look who’s talking, Bakashi.” 

“Shut up and let me sleep,” Kakashi said. 

He peeked through his eyelashes as Obito’s footsteps retreated. Obito walked to the door, then hesitated. “I really am glad you’re back,” he said quietly. “Team Seven wasn’t the same without you.” 

The door closed. Kakashi rolled over, hugged Tobi to his chest, and smothered his smile in his pillow.

***

In the days that came, Kakashi spent most of his time rebuilding his body’s strength and learning to use his new limbs as natural parts of his body. Gai was overjoyed to see him—he actually burst into tears when Kakashi said hello—and eagerly participated in Kakashi’s training. 

As for Obito, Kakashi actually saw more of him than he had initially expected. When he had given Obito the tanto, he had expected his father would teach Obito how to use it, that it would give his father something to focus on. He hadn’t expected his father to take Obito on as a student, much less that he would have Obito sign the wolf summoning scroll. It seemed like Obito was at his house every other day, meeting his father before they went off to train. He joined them for dinner almost every day of the week, and Kakashi often came home from training with Gai to find his father teaching Obito how to cook. 

Rin, on the other hand, he saw much less of than he had expected. While he was asleep, she had apparently undergone meetings with the various seal masters in the village—Minato, Jiraiya, and Kushina. The seal had been deemed safe, but that left Rin struggling to control the sudden influx of chakra. Most of the time she was off training with Kushina, trying to get a handle on controlling both her chakra and the demon inside her. Rin wasn’t allowed to leave the village at the moment, for fears that Kiri would attempt to kidnap her, but when Kogane’s squad went on missions inside the village, she often accompanied them. With Minato still out of the village on missions, there was no one to bring Team Seven back together on missions. Kushina did her best to bring them together for dinner now and then, but oftentimes Kakashi went days without seeing Rin. 

Between training and regaining his strength, Kakashi spent a surprising amount of time with Orochimaru, who had taken an intense interest in Kakashi’s new limbs. He spent an inordinate amount of time sitting on a lab table, a variety of instruments attached to him, occasionally moving his arm and leg or channeling chakra through the limbs. 

“Absolutely fascinating,” Orochimaru said, as he examined the spot where Kakashi’s body blended with the parts Madara had made to replace the crushed half of his body. “Your body has almost completely accepted the Hashirama cells as part of your body.” 

“What does that mean?” Kakashi asked. 

Orochimaru looked at him, scientific curiosity clear in his eyes. “That is what we must find out.” 

The next day, Orochimaru gave him a pot of dirt. “There is a seed there,” he said. “Make it grow.” 

Kakashi eyed the pot of dirt. “The Wood Release uses earth and water chakra, doesn’t it?” 

“Correct,” Orochimaru said. “I assume you are capable of using both. The seal used for Wood Release is Snake.” 

Kakashi focused on the pot of dirt and molded his chakra. Earth and water didn’t come naturally to him, but he was capable of using them. 

The pot of dirt turned to mud. “Fascinating,” Orochimaru said again, as he stared at his machines. He produced another pot of dirt. “Again, if you would.” 

Kakashi molded his chakra in different ways, using different ratios of earth and water chakra, and each time ended up with different consistencies of mud. “What are your machines telling you? What do they do?” he asked, as they waited for Anko to go to the store and bring them more pots of dirt. 

Orochimaru gave him a brief overview of his instruments, which somehow still managed to include several words Kakashi had never heard before. Orochimaru, when asked for a more detailed explanation, instead handed him several massive texts and a variety of scrolls as thick and long as his forearm. 

Kakashi read, and slowly but surely, he learned what each instrument attached to him did, and what the readings Orochimaru took meant. He hadn’t paid much attention to the more scientific side of the ninja arts before, but he learned quickly. Orochimaru’s research was surprisingly interesting. He was researching several ninjutsu, and indeed knew more than anyone else in the village, except perhaps the Hokage. He had invented several of his own techniques, and showed them to Kakashi when he expressed interest. He experimented with seals, although he didn’t consider himself a master of the art, and only knew enough to suit his purposes. What those were, Kakashi wasn’t entirely sure—Orochimaru was working on several projects that he refused to tell Kakashi anything about. Kakashi suspected Orochimaru was part of ANBU, and did research for them. 

Orochimaru also knew how to summon snakes, as did Anko—the two of them frequently used smaller snakes to send messages to each other when Anko was running errands or training elsewhere. 

“Don’t anger her. She is incredibly venomous,” Orochimaru warned, as Kakashi let a snake as thin as his smallest finger slither across his hand. 

“Don’t you have the antidote?” Kakashi asked. 

“I have no need for it. I am immune to all the venoms my snakes produced,” Orochimaru said. 

“Useful,” Kakashi said. “How did you do that?” 

Orochimaru stabbed him with a needle. 

Kakashi jerked away, too slowly to fend him off—Orochimaru was surprisingly fast when he wanted to be, and Kakashi’s reflexes weren’t nearly where they used to be. “What was that?” 

“Building up your immunity,” Orochimaru said, and went back to his work as if nothing had happened. 

Kakashi shrugged it off and went back to work on his pot of dirt. Half an hour later, he threw up all over Orochimaru’s floor. 

Orochimaru handed him a bucket. “If you must throw up, do so in something easy to clean.” 

“What did you give me?” Kakashi gasped as he bent over the bucket. 

“Just a little venom. You’ll be fine,” Orochimaru said. 

Kakashi ended up staying in the laboratory overnight, too overcome with nausea and fever to make the trip home. He had vague impressions of a quiet, but angry conversation between Orochimaru and Sakumo, and in the morning woke to a warm bowl of miso soup with eggplant and a plate of grilled fish, unusual because Orochimaru was strict about having food in his lab. 

“Your father,” Orochimaru said with a grimace, “. . . insisted.” 

Orochimaru’s eye was noticeably bruised. Kakashi decided not to draw attention to it. “Thank you,” he said, and gulped down the soup. 

Orochimaru didn’t give him another dose of the venom for a few days, and when he did it was noticeably smaller. Kakashi felt a bit queasy, but was well enough to head home when it was time for dinner. Orochimaru never dismissed him, and the lab was never closed as far as Kakashi could tell. To be honest, he wasn’t entirely certain Orochimaru had a home outside of the lab, as the man was there and working no matter when Kakashi arrived. He once went to the lab at three in the morning, just to see, and Orochimaru was there in his lab coat, as he had been when Kakashi had left that evening. 

Anko, who was active and a little too loud and rambunctious for Kakashi to particularly enjoy spending time with her, made it into a sort of game. They took turns attempting to find a time when Orochimaru wasn’t in the lab, excluding times when he was on a mission or had been summoned away by the Hokage. So far, they had had no success; Kakashi was fairly certain the man had sent snakes to spy on them, so that he would always know when they were headed to the lab and could arrive there before they did. 

Snakes, Kakashi was quickly discovering, were incredibly useful. They could be small enough to go unnoticed by all but the most attentive shinobi, and could easily sneak into inaccessible areas. They made excellent spies, and could also be used for surprise attacks or assassinations. Almost all of Orochimaru’s snakes were incredibly venomous, which was useful both if you sent them to attack someone directly and if you harvested their venom and used it in other ways. They could both send and receive messages. The larger snakes, which Orochimaru had never summoned for Kakashi to see, were deadly in battle, easily capable of crushing an entire apartment block. 

“And much more intelligent than those mongrels of your father’s,” Orochimaru muttered. “Running through my laboratory, knocking over my equipment, destroying my experiments, eating my snakes . . .” 

“They’re kind of cute,” Kakashi mused, raising his hand up to his face to examine the blunt nose and smiling mouth of the snake draped over his hand. 

“They are intelligent and wise creatures,” Orochimaru said snootily.

Kakashi scratched the snake under the chin, and it swayed back and forth happily.

They were super cute. 

Anko, who had her feet up on a desk and was tearing her way through a massive pile of dango, added, “They’re cute.” 

Wise and intelligent ,” Orochimaru hissed. Both of them wisely and intelligently decided not to continue the discussion.

Anko returned to her pile of dango, and Kakashi returned to his pot of dirt. Surprisingly, it had yet to become mud. Unsurprisingly, it had yet to become a pot of plant rather than a pot of dirt. 

Kakashi sighed, closed his eye, and focused on the seed planted in the dirt once again. 

“Holy shit!” Anko squawked. 

Kakashi opened his eyes, and saw not mud, but a small, green stalk. “I . . . did it,” he said. 

Orochimaru was buried in his machines, muttering under his breath. “Absolutely incredible,” he said. “Very well done, Kakashi-kun.” 

“You did the mokuton!” Anko cheered, nearly knocking over her pile of dango in her glee. 

A small smile tugged at the corner of his lip. “Yeah,” he said, as he stared down at the small sprout in the middle of the pot. “I did.” 

“Do it again,” Anko urged.

“Yes, do,” Orochimaru said, and handed him another pot. 

Now that he knew how he was meant to mold his chakra, it was easier, and only a few moments later a small, green plant pushed out of the dirt. He fed it more chakra, urging it to grow, until he was holding not a sprout but a very young sapling. 

He made the plants grow until he felt faint from chakra exhaustion, and collapsed into bed the moment he arrived home, only waking up to gulp down the soup Obito waved under his nose. 

The next day, when he went to Orochimaru’s lab at the arranged time, Orochimaru was not busy with his research, but was waiting for him by the door. “Come,” he said, striding past Kakashi. “We will be working outside today.” 

Anko was waiting for them by the equipment, which had been moved into a clearing behind the lab. Kakashi hooked himself up, with some assistance from Anko, while Orochimaru checked the equipment and finished setting up. 

“Now, grow a tree,” Orochimaru said. 

Kakashi looked at the ground dubiously. All the times before he had started with a seed and simply urged it to grow; he wasn’t sure if the same process would work to create a tree from scratch. 

But now that he had done it once, it was like second nature; he reached out to the ground with his chakra, rooting a little ball of earth and water chakra into the ground. The chakra spread its roots down into the ground and shot up into the air, a tree growing from where there had been only dirt moments before. 

Orochimaru made him keep going until his chakra was exhausted and they sat in a small grove of trees, each of them in a slightly different stage of growth. By that time, Anko had long since run off to do her own training with the other genin who were ostensibly on her team, although Kakashi had never met them. 

“I have gathered more data in these past weeks than I have since I started this research,” Orochimaru said. “As such, I would like to offer you these. I would appreciate further opportunities to study your abilities in action.” 

Kakashi accepted the stack of papers Orochimaru handed him—apprenticeship papers. He picked up the pen and signed his name. “I guess that means I get to call you Shishou,” he said. 

“If you want to be fed to Manda,” Orochimaru said. 

Kakashi was pretty sure he was kidding. Maybe. He handed the papers back once he’d signed them all; Orochimaru accepted them and handed him a scroll in return. He opened it to reveal a list of names and fingerprints, with the most recent being Anko’s. He pricked his thumb and used the blood to sign his name and fingerprints. He’d seen his father perform summonings countless times, had even mimicked him as a child, so Kakashi flashed through the signs and slammed his hand against the ground without a second thought. 

“Kuchiyose no Jutsu!” 

When the cloud of smoke cleared, three snakes sat on the ground in front of him, coiled together so that it was hard to tell where one began and another ended. 

Their tongues flicked out as they rose up and met his eyes. 

Kakashi bowed his head. “My name is Kakashi Hatake. Nice to meet you.” 

“Sage,” hissed one, with spiky, yellow scales that turned to brown at the tips. 

“Basil,” hissed the second, which Kakashi thought was black until it shifted and he noticed that its scales had a rainbow sheen. 

“Thyme,” hissed the third, which was grey, with a brown vertical stripe and horizontal bands of black all down its body. 

“Please take care of me,” he said. 

The snakes hissed happily. “How polite,” Sage said. 

The other two disappeared in a puff of smoke, but Sage slithered over to him and coiled around his arm. “I will remain with you,” the snake said. 

He helped Orochimaru return the equipment to the lab, and then bid the man goodnight and headed home. 

“Sage,” he said, as he walked, “can you go back to the lab and tell me when Orochimaru leaves?” 

“I will,” Sage said, and the snake slithered down to the ground and was quickly out of sight. 

He didn’t expect to see Sage again until the early hours of the morning, but to his surprise the snake returned just as he was opening the gate to his house. “What happened?” 

“Orochimaru left the laboratory as I approached,” Sage reported. “He went to a large building and met a woman who smelled of medicines and slugs.” 

Kakashi smiled to himself. Of course—Orochimaru left when Kakashi and Anko were both out eating dinner, and not likely to return for some time. He likely only returned when his snakes sent word that Kakashi or Anko were approaching the lab. 

Mystery solved. 

The next day, Kakashi and Anko came prepared. They left the laboratory in the evening, as usual, but waited nearby until Thyme brought word that Orochimaru had left. They gave him five minutes, then returned to the laboratory and settled in to wait. 

It took ten minutes for Orochimaru to return to the lab. 

Anko gave him an exaggerated pout. “Sensei, where were you? We’ve been waiting forever!” 

Kakashi nodded sagely. “It’s irresponsible to leave the lab for so long, Shishou.” 

Orochimaru gave them a look that said he wasn’t sure whether he wanted to be amused or turn them into snake food. Anko grinned unrepentantly, and even Kakashi couldn’t help but smirk a little. 

“What do you want?” Orochimaru asked. 

“My father is busy,” Kakashi said, which was only a little bit of a lie. Sakumo was, in fact, busy teaching Obito how to make katsudon. 

“My father is also busy,” Anko said, which was a complete lie. 

Orochimaru knew it, too. “You’re an orphan,” he said drily. 

Anko widened her eyes and pouted harder. “I’m hungry, sensei.” 

“If I feed you, will you stop attempting to sneak into my laboratory at all hours of the night?” Orochimaru said. 

Kakashi and Anko exchanged glances. “So long as you feed us, we will stop attempting to sneak into your laboratory,” Kakashi said. 

Orochimaru narrowed his eyes. Kakashi stared back. 

“You may spend no more than 100 ryo,” Orochimaru said. 

Anko cheered. 

***

Nagato should have known. 

He should have known that Hanzo couldn’t be trusted. And now Konan was in danger—still screaming at him to leave, didn’t she know he couldn’t do that—and he’d been told to kill Yahiko to save her. 

He couldn’t do that. He couldn’t let Konan die—but he couldn’t kill Yahiko either. 

He stared down at the kunai. The tip of it shook along with his hand. 

He looked up at Hanzo and the shinobi from Konoha standing next to him. The sight of that symbol made that cursed hatred boil up inside of him. Of course Konoha would be behind this; they knew that they profited from the war. Why would they ever want an end to war? 

“Nagato. Kill me.” 

Nagato looked at Yahiko in shock. Of course he couldn’t kill Yahiko. He would rather die himself. 

His blood rushed in his ears. 

“Nagato!” 

“No, don’t do it!” Konan. He couldn’t let Konan die. 

“You had better hurry. Unless you wa—gah!” 

Nagato jerked his head up to look at Hanzo—had Konan managed to escape? 

Konan wasn’t in Hanzo’s grip anymore, that was for sure. Instead she was slung over the shoulder of a woman with blond hair in a long ponytail. Her face was hidden from view behind a fox mask, like the kind they sold at festival stalls, and she wore a standard, black shinobi uniform that could have been from any village. 

“Mwahaha!” she cackled. “The Fox Goddess has captured the princess!” 

They all stared at her. Even Hanzo seemed shocked by her appearance. 

“Danzo!” she exclaimed, pointing a finger at the man standing beside Hanzo. “What would the Hokage think about this?” 

“He knows,” Danzo said. 

She jabbed her thumb towards the ground. “Pull the other one, old man!” 

Danzo signaled the ANBU behind him, and they dashed at the woman. In a flash, she was gone. 

“Yo! Nagato!” Nagato spun around to find the woman standing in a tree behind them, still holding Konan over one shoulder. As his eyes met the eyes of her fox mask, she saluted him. 

Yahiko glanced at him. “You know this lady?” 

Nagato could only shake his head. He had never seen her in his life. 

The fox mask grinned at him. “You better hurry if you want your princess back!” 

With that, she was off again, leaping into the trees. Yahiko surged forwards, running after her without a second thought for Hanzo and Danzo, and Nagato followed him. In the distance, he could see the fox woman running along the ground and leaping from tree to tree, never stopping. 

He was gasping for breath, his clothing soaked in sweat, by the time he and Yahiko ran into a clearing to find themselves face-to-mask with the stranger. Both he and Yahiko fell into offensive stances, ready to fight, only for the stranger to bend down and led Konan down. Konan ran to them and threw her arms around them.

A puff of smoke erupted from the stranger, obscuring their vision. Nagato expected the woman to be gone when it cleared, but instead he found himself staring at a man with blue eyes and short blond hair, a fox mask pulled to the side. 

He grinned at them. “Sorry, sorry! I didn’t want to lie to you or anything, but it’d be a pain if Danzo realized who I was.” 

“Who are you?” Yahiko demanded; he was still on edge after their meeting with the strange, plant-like creature that had approached them out of the blue. “What do you want?” 

“Nothing at all!” the man declared. 

Yahiko glowered at him. “Everyone wants something. Especially people from villages like yours.” 

Nagato’s eyes landed on the man’s headband, which had previously been hidden beneath the fox mask. For a moment, he thought it was a Konoha symbol, but then he realized the point was missing. The man was from Uzushio—almost as bad as Konoha, really, for all that Uzushio was a small village like Ame. It was counted among the Six Great Shinobi Villages for a reason. 

“I’m just a fan of Akatsuki’s work,” the man said. “You want to bring peace to the world, right?” 

“And let me guess, you have a great way for us to bring peace,” Yahiko said. 

“Nope, I have no better ideas than you,” the man said. “I’m just saving the people important to me, and the people important to the people to me, and the people important to them. And hopefully they’ll save some people too.” 

“Some people would say that’s a foolish way of bringing peace,” Yahiko said. 

“Some people would say that what you’re doing is foolish too,” the man said. “But we’re gonna keep doing it, right? Because . . . if any kind of peace exists, I’ll grab hold of it and never let go.” 

Nagato’s eyes widened. “Jiraiya-sensei’s book?” 

The man rubbed the back of his head, smiling sheepishly. “What can I say? He’s a friend of mine. And if you guys died, it’d make him really sad. And I think that if you guys stick to the right path, you really can bring peace to the world. Anyways, uh, that’s all I really had to say. Don’t trust Hanzo or Danzo. They’re bad news. And take care of each other!” 

Before any of them could stop him, he ran off, using shadow clones to confuse the trail. 

Yahiko took a deep breath. 

“Yahiko.” 

Even Nagato was surprised that he had spoken; as Yahiko’s eyes met his, however, he knew what he had to say. “Don’t ever ask me to kill you again. And Konan. Don’t ever tell us to leave you behind.” 

Konan nodded, a tremulous smile on her lips. After a moment, the corners of Yahiko’s mouth turned up as well. “Got it. So, time to plan our next steps. We need a new  hideout—a better hideout—and we need to deal with Hanzo, once and for all.” 

Konan and Nagato nodded as Yahiko continued talking, laying out his ideas for their feedback. 

Anyone would say that it was foolish to face down Hanzo the Salamander, especially when he had Konoha’s special forces at his back. But no matter how foolish it was, Nagato wouldn’t stop pursuing peace. 

Chapter Text

Less than a month after the war ended, Sarutobi stepped down, and Minato was inaugurated as Hokage. The majority of the village was overjoyed at the news; Minato had made a name for himself during the war, and was as beloved by the people as he was feared by their enemies. The day of his inauguration quickly turned into a festival, with travelers from around the Land of Fire coming to take part. 

As the village celebrated, Narumi gathered in a bar with the group of people who had come to be his friends in this time. Jiraiya, back in the village for Minato’s appointment, was the first to arrive, with Tsunade and Dan not far behind. The four of them snagged a table before the bar got too crowded, and Sakumo arrived shortly after. 

“Shots for everyone!” Jiraiya declared, flagging down a waitress. 

“Shots, really, Jiraiya?” Sakumo groaned. 

“My student just became Hokage. If that doesn’t call for shots, I don’t know what does!” 

“None for me,” Tsunade said. 

Jiraiya gaped at her. Tsunade and Dan beamed back. “Another one?” Jiraiya exclaimed. “One wasn’t enough?” 

“It’s long past time Kogane had a sibling,” Dan said. He put a hand over Tsunade’s and gave her a small smile. 

Jiraiya made a disgusted noise. “Dan has to drink for both of you, then.” 

The waitress placed shots in front of each of them. Sakumo grimaced, but downed his as quickly as possible. Narumi followed his example; after so much time with Jiraiya, he was easily able to ignore the burn of the alcohol. Jiraiya went for his next, only for it to be promptly snatched out of his hand. 

“Hey!” Jiraiya protested, only to be promptly silenced by Orochimaru’s glower. 

Orochimaru downed both of Dan’s shots in quick succession, and then took a seat next to Jiraiya. 

“What crawled up your ass and died? Your kids giving you trouble?” Jiraiya said, as he waved down the waitress again. 

“They are not,” Orochimaru hissed, “my kids.” 

Jiraiya, showing a remarkable lack of self-preservation, slung an arm around Orochimaru’s shoulder. Narumi glanced at Orochimaru’s darkening expression and tried to figure out how quickly he would need to run when Orochimaru snapped. 

“He’s just pissed Hiruzen didn’t make him Hokage,” Tsunade said.

The shot glass in Orochimaru’s hand shattered. 

Sakumo only laughed. Apparently Jiraiya’s lack of self-preservation was catching. “Come on, you didn’t really think he was going to make you Hokage. If he was going to pick one of us, he’d pick . . . Tsunade. She’s a Senju. Or Dan, he’s wanted the hat forever.” 

“I would have to refuse,” Dan said, and sipped at his shot. Narumi had no idea how he could stand drinking them like that, and he didn’t want to know. “The hospital won’t run itself.” 

“The medical school would fall apart in three days without me,” Tsunade said. 

“Well, Jiraiya wouldn’t make a good Hokage, for obvious reasons,” Sakumo said, ignoring Jiraiya’s protests. “So that means even out of us, you’d be . . . third choice. And come on. Ever since that flee on sight order, we knew what was coming. So what’s really got you bothered?” 

“Namikaze,” Orochimaru snapped, “is going to cut my funding.” 

The table burst into laughter. “Your funding?” Jiraiya howled. “You’re worried about funding?” 

“I am working on several delicate projects at the moment,” Orochimaru said. 

“I don’t think Minato gives a shit about your funding,” Jiraiya said. 

“Which is exactly why he is going to cut it. To improve the academy, or build new apartment buildings.” Orochimaru’s sneer said exactly what he thought of that venture. 

“The academy could do with an overhaul,” Sakumo mused. “You know they don’t even teach kids how to walk on water anymore? They only teach them how to walk up trees.” 

“More civilians have been entering the academy,” Dan said. “Most children from shinobi families arrive knowing the basics of channeling chakra. Civilian children don’t have that advantage. But I do agree; the academy curriculum is laughably out of date. Kogane’s textbook still said that Tsubasa Uzumaki was the Uzukage. Their teacher had to supplement the textbook with his own lectures and extra material.” 

“The academy has always been a waste of time,” Orochimaru said. “There is nothing there that can’t be taught to oneself.” 

Jiraiya rolled his eyes and elbowed him. “We can’t all be geniuses.” 

“Even you only spent a year in the academy,” Orochimaru said. “Four years is unnecessary.” 

“We also spent a lot more time learning from Sensei,” Jiraiya said. “Kids these days, they spend, what, a couple years with their genin team?” 

“Kakashi had his team for three,” Sakumo said.

Jiraiya waved a hand. “They were all chuunin after a year or two. At that point, it’s a chuunin squad, not a genin team. Doesn’t count.” 

“Four years is still unnecessary. They waste time teaching them how to arrange flowers and about the history of the nations, when they could easily learn those things on their own,” Orochimaru said. 

“The kunoichi classes are bullshit, I’ll give you that,” Tsunade said. 

“Didn’t you get out of them after the first week?” Dan said. 

“Yep. Punched the teacher in the gut,” Tsunade said fondly. 

Jiraiya rolled his eyes. “They’re kids, Orochimaru.” 

“They are shinobi,” Orochimaru said. “I have never once needed to know how to arrange flowers.” 

“Sakumo has!” Jiraiya declared triumphantly. 

“Oh, please, no,” Sakumo groaned. “Let’s not relive that.” 

“So here we were,” Jiraiya said, quickly adapting the air of a story-teller. “Myself, Tsubame-chan, and Sakumo.” 

Sakumo stared into his glass in despair. Narumi patted his shoulder. “It’ll be over soon.” 

“Now, the three of us had been tasked with infiltrating some illegal drug operation, killing the leader, and taking off with the merchandise,” Jiraiya said. “Tsubame, as the prettiest and most distracting, was tasked with finding a way to get to the leader . . . only to end up fighting with a bunch of nobles who were harassing some girl and getting arrested by civilian cops.” 

“And he let them arrest him?” Tsunade said. 

“He was kind of preoccupied making sure the girl was okay, and then it turned out she was a cop in disguise, and she slapped handcuffs on him for fighting in the streets before he could think to get away!” Jiraiya chortled. “Anyways, that left just Sakumo and I to find a way to get in. Sakumo decided to just sneak inside and see what he could find. And so Sakumo had just gotten over the fence and landed in the garden when a whole host of servants appeared. And so they look at him, and he looks at them, and then one of them goes, ‘Oh, you must be the master flower arranger!’ See, turns out this crime lord was getting married, and he’d hired a guy to do all the flowers.” 

“Please, let’s stop here,” Sakumo said, and was ignored. 

“So Sakumo is like, oh, yeah, I am absolutely a master flower arranger, so they take him into the mansion, but they don’t take him to the crime lord—they take him to the crime lord’s mother . This tiny, wrinkled old lady about a hundred years old. So Sakumo ends up sitting there for hours, arranging flowers in front of this horrible old woman who would smack his hands with her cane whenever she didn’t like the flower arrangement. Anyways, he ends up managing to make some arrangement that insults her horribly, and she accuses him of planning to ruin the wedding—and the door opens, and the crime lord walks in. And you know who the crime lord was?” 

“No,” Sakumo groaned. 

“The crime lord was none less than a target on a previous mission who Sakumo had seduced for information!” Jiraiya howled. All of them, bar Sakumo, burst into laughter. “So Sakumo’s sitting there, surrounded by flowers, staring down this crime lord, who’s just staring back at him. Before Sakumo could high-tail it out of there, the man throws himself at Sakumo’s feet and wraps his arms around his waist and declares, ‘My love! You have returned to me at last!’ You see—” He broke off laughing for a moment before recovering. “See, it turns out Sakumo was a little too good at this whole seduction thing, and the guy had fallen madly in love with him only to be absolutely heartbroken when Sakumo departed in the dead of night.” 

“Sakumo, you heartbreaker,” Tsunade cackled. 

Sakumo made a noise like a dying animal. 

“So this crime lord sweeps Sakumo off his feet—literally, it was pretty impressive actually—and declares to his mother, ‘Mother, this is the man I love! This wedding is cancelled!’ And the mother—you know what the mother says? She says that she has put way too much work into this wedding for it to be canceled, and that he’ll just have to marry Sakumo instead! So now the whole household is in a fuss because clearly Sakumo needs a whole new wardrobe for the wedding, and they still need the flowers, and in all the chaos I was able to sneak through the house and get the information I needed about the merchandise. So I left the mansion, and went to get the merchandise. No idea what happened next, Sakumo was too pissed that I was there and didn’t do anything to help him to tell me.” 

“You were spying on me through the window!” 

Jiraiya waved a hand dismissively. “You had it handled. Anyways, I got the merchandise and bailed Tsubame out of jail, and then the two of us went back to the mansion to see if Sakumo needed any help. We slipped in and had a look around, only to find Sakumo having the time of his life!” 

“It was horrible,” Sakumo said. 

“You were lying in his lap eating tiny cakes and drinking champagne!”

“I was acting!” 

“You were lounging around drinking and eating and getting pampered while poor Tsubame was sitting in a cell with a bunch of thugs who looked like they could have squished his head like an overripe peach,” Jiraiya said. “Anyways, Sakumo looked like he had the crime lord well in hand, so we decided to investigate a little more, make sure we got everything we needed.” 

“That was, without a doubt, the worst support on a mission I have ever received,” Sakumo said. 

“Anyways, Tsubame and I did some digging, got some really juicy information on the guy and his associates, and by that point it was getting late so we decided it was about time we got a move on. So we went back to look for Sakumo, but he was nowhere to be found. Tsubame could still sense him, though, so we got to tracking, and eventually found him having a romantic moonlit picnic on the outskirts of town!” 

Jiraiya spread his arms wide. “Picture it. A hilltop dotted with a few trees and a whole lot of flowers. The stars overhead. I think even a couple shooting stars, it was that perfect. A blanket spread on the ground, some really expensive champagne, a whole basket full of little goodies. This massive, muscular crime lord giving Sakumo the sappiest look I’ve seen outside of Tsunade and Dan. And then, as we watched, he started to choke and wheeze, and a few seconds later, he was dead!” 

“Poison in the champagne,” Sakumo said. “Very tragic.” 

“With that, the mission was over, so we took the picnic and made our way home,” Jiraiya concluded. 

“Your example is irrelevant,” Orochimaru said. “Sakumo didn’t really need to know flower arranging, he just had to pretend he did.” 

Jiraiya threw his hands in the air. “That’s what you got out of this story?” 

Narumi laughed and looked at Sakumo, who had downed his glass of alcohol and looked slightly more cheerful for it. “Now I’m curious about the first mission with the crime lord.” 

“That’s for me to know, and none of you to ever find out,” Sakumo said. 

Narumi looked at Jiraiya. Jiraiya shrugged. “That one was a solo mission. I already told you everything I know. I have one about Orochimaru, though—” 

“You are not telling them that,” Orochimaru said. 

As the other side of the table descended into chaos, Narumi watched Sakumo as he stared wistfully into his glass. He caught Narumi looking, after a moment, and smiled slightly. “I told Kaede about that solo mission,” he said quietly. “She used to tease me mercilessly about it. She always said that on our wedding day, my crime lord lover would put a stop to the wedding and sweep me off my feet, and then she’d have to fight him for me. When I told her about the second mission she was so disappointed she wouldn’t get to duel anyone at the wedding.” 

“Wait, is that why she kept challenging people to spar at the afterparty?”

Sakumo laughed. “Yeah, it was. I think everyone thought she was joking, though.” 

A peanut sailed between them. “No private conversations!” Jiraiya declared. “Drink up, boys.” 

“Yeah, if private conversations were allowed, Jiraiya would be stuck talking to Orochimaru, and then we’d end up getting kicked out,” Tsunade said. 

A waitress came around and delivered another round of drinks, which they all dutifully sipped as Jiraiya urged them on. Narumi had no idea what Jiraiya had ordered them, but it was definitely strong. 

“I’m going to regret this in the morning,” Sakumo sighed as he took another gulp. “At least Obito is always late. I don’t envy you, Orochimaru.” 

“Hangovers are inefficient. I concocted my own cure long ago,” Orochimaru said. 

Noise from the street resounded through the bar as the door opened to admit a gang of teenagers. Kakashi, Obito, Rin, and Kogane, each of them dressed in yukata and bearing festival masks, walked through the doors. Anko was with them, as was a dark-haired girl who eventually Narumi recognized as a young Shizune. The group made a beeline for their table, not sparing a glance at the tables of drunken ninja around them. 

“Dad,” Kakashi called over the din of the bar. “Give me more money.” 

“Ask Narumi-ji-san,” Sakumo said. “Dad’s all out.” 

“Ji-san, can I have some money for the festival?” Kakashi said. 

Narumi had to admit it—his heart melted a little. It was amazing how cute Kakashi could make puppy-eyes look when he was wearing a mask and had his headband covering one eye. “Yeah, okay,” he said, opening his wallet and pulling out a handful of bills. “How’s this?” 

Kakashi’s eye crinkled in a smile. “Thanks, ji-san!” 

Sakumo leaned in to whisper in his ear. “How much did you give him?” 

“No idea.” 

“Shishou! Shishou!” Obito yelled. “Can I have some pocket money?” 

“You too?” Sakumo grumbled. Obito grinned at him unrepentantly. Sakumo sighed, opened his wallet, and pulled out a few bills. “Don’t spend it all at once.” 

“I knew you had money,” Kakashi said. 

“Me too!” Anko declared. “Sensei, I need money too! Are gonna let Obito’s shishou make you look like a bad sensei?” 

“Your attempts at manipulation are childish and clumsy. Work on them.” Nevertheless, Orochimaru handed money to Anko and Kakashi both. Anko whooped with glee and Kakashi grinned behind his mask. 

“You need money too?” Tsunade asked Kogane, already pulling out her wallet. 

“I have enough,” Kogane said. 

“It’s not like I’m buying anything,” she said. “Can’t drink with the pregnancy.” 

“Of course,” Kogane said. He took a moment to absorb what she had said, and then his eyes widened. “Pregnancy?” 

“Yep. You’ll have a little sibling in a few months. Here, go have fun.” Tsunade pressed a stack of bills into his hands. Kogane stared blankly at the money. 

“Here, Shizune,” Dan said, handing his niece some money as well. “Are you having fun at the festival?” 

Shizune smiled at him. “Lots of fun, Ji-san.” 

“Keep an eye on these knuckleheads,” Tsunade said. “They need it.” 

“Ah, let the kids have some fun, Tsunade!” Jiraiya declared. “Here, let Ji-san give you all some money. There you go, there you go. Now scram.” 

Once Jiraiya had given money to each of them, even Rin, the children dashed out the door, already loudly discussing what games to play and what food stalls to visit next. Narumi watched them go fondly; it was a little strange, being on this end of the equation, but he kind of liked it. 

“Time flies too quickly,” Sakumo said mournfully. “Kakashi, Dad wants to go to the festival too!” 

He slumped over, resting his head on the table. “You’re drunk,” Jiraiya said as he slid over another drink. 

Narumi slid it back across the table and poured a cup of water instead. Across the bar, someone made a joking toast to “Kushina, the real Fourth Hokage!” Jiraiya turned around to throw peanuts at them. Orochimaru poured something in Jiraiya’s drink while his back was turned. The small skirmish between Jiraiya and the other table spread when they hit Tsunade with peanuts, and somehow Narumi ended up under the table with Sakumo, sipping at glasses of water while peanuts and dango sticks flew overhead. 

Both tables ended up getting kicked out of the bar; the fight dissolved once the door shut behind them, and the other group wandered off, presumably to another bar. Orochimaru vanished pretty much immediately, and Jiraiya wandered off in the direction of the red light district. Dan and Tsunade went off together, either to have a romantic dinner or have sex, leaving Sakumo and Narumi alone. 

“Well, I’m starved,” Sakumo said. “Man cannot live on peanuts and alcohol alone.” 

Narumi peered down the streets. “The food stalls are this way,” he said. “Want to check them out?” 

“Your words are music to my ears.” 

The two of them wandered the streets, chuckling at the young genin and chuunin trying their hand at the festival games. Narumi was pretty sure he caught sight of Kakashi trying to fish up a yo-yo. Eventually, they found their way to the area where all the food stalls had set up shop and wandered between them, accepting the occasional free sample when it was offered. 

They settled on a stall that was crowded enough to show that it was good, but not so crowded they would be waiting hours for their food. The menu included a variety of foods, from yakisoba to yakitori, and they discussed what looked best while waiting for their turn. 

“Next!” the man running the stall called, and the two of them stepped up to order. 

Sakumo pulled out his wallet and reached in for his money. “I’ll have . . .” He blinked at his empty hand, and then looked at his wallet, also empty, and gave a startled laugh. “I forgot, I gave all my money to the kids.” 

“Shit, me too,” Narumi realized, and quickly opened his wallet to check how much he had. He squinted at his money, and then at the menu. “I have enough for . . . a yakisoba. How large is that?”

The yakisoba came in fairly large servings, as it turned out. “One yakisoba and two pairs of chopsticks. We can split it,” he told Sakumo. 

Once their food was ready, the two of them found a seat on a nearby bench and held the yakisoba between them as they ate. 

“I haven’t done this since I was a kid,” Sakumo chuckled. 

Narumi took a bite and thought back. “I don’t think I’ve ever done this.” As a kid, he hadn’t had any friends to share food with, and oftentimes at festivals the stall owners would run him off. By the time he had people he could actually call friends, they were all old enough that they had a steady supply of money from their missions. 

“You grew up in the country, right?” Sakumo asked. “Did you go to festivals in the city as a kid?” 

“Oh, yeah. When I was traveling with my teacher, a lot of the time we’d end up in a town or a city that was having a festival. He’d give me some money and let me run around while he visited the bars,” Narumi said. Jiraiya, in that regard, hadn’t really changed much. 

“I used to do the same thing with my genin team,” Sakumo said. “We liked to beat the festival games until they wouldn’t let us play anymore. They used to only have games for civilians—recently they’ve added an area full of games more geared towards shinobi. Nets and strings that break more easily, bottles that are harder to knock over, things like that. I remember the first time I lost a carnival game I was so shocked I had to sit down.” 

Narumi had fond memories of accusing various stall owners of rigging their games. “I used to prank them if I thought they’d cheated,” he said, and ended up regaling Sakumo with tales of his pranks that had the man laughing so hard he almost upended their yakisoba. 

Between the two of them, they polished off the yakisoba quickly. Narumi went to throw the empty container away, and returned to find Sakumo gazing up at the night sky. At Narumi’s approach, Sakumo looked over and smiled at him. “Should we go find the kids? It’s getting late.” 

“Sounds good,” Narumi said. “Any idea where they are?” 

“Probably a park or a training ground,” Sakumo said. 

They wandered through the village, not in too much of a rush, and ended up finding Kakashi and Obito lying fast asleep in an empty playground. A paper bag half-full of clementines and half-full of clementine peels sat between them, and their spoils of war lay scattered around them.

Sakumo hoisted Kakashi onto his back, while Narumi did the same with Obito, and together they made their way back to Sakumo’s house. 

An explosion resounded through the village, and both of them jerked in surprise, instantly ready for an attack. Lights lit up the sky, and Sakumo’s serious expression melted into joy. He turned to Narumi with a grin, the bright lights in the sky reflected in his eyes. “Fireworks!” 

A flower exploded in the sky above them, followed by a pinwheel and then an Uchiha fan. Narumi laughed at that. “I think we know who’s in charge of the fireworks now.” 

They kept their faces turned towards the sky as they continued walking. “The kids must be tired to sleep through this,” Sakumo said. 

Narumi adjusted his grip on Obito, who had started to snore softly. “Tired and full of clementines.” 

“Did I ever tell you about the time Kakashi ate so many clementines he made himself sick?” 

“No, you didn’t.” 

“He was, oh, about four or five, and I bought a big bag of them from a farm. He ate so many he threw up, and then went right back to eating them again.” 

“I did the same thing with cup ramen when I was about six,” Narumi said. 

“Did they have those when we were kids?” Sakumo wondered. “I thought they were pretty recent.” 

Narumi chuckled sheepishly, too used to making small slips like that to feel too worried about it. “You got me. I did that just recently.” 

“They are pretty good. Just don’t tell Kushina I said that. She thinks they’re a blight on the earth,” Sakumo said.

“Well, compared to Ichiraku,” Narumi said. 

“Kushina makes a pretty killer bowl of ramen herself. You should ask her to make you some while you’re in town.” Sakumo glanced over at him. “When are you heading back?” 

An Uzumaki spiral exploded in the air. “Not sure. Tsubame hasn’t gotten back to me yet; he knows things have been crazy over here, with Rin’s seal and all. Konoha wants me on hand in case anything goes wrong.” 

“Makes sense,” Sakumo said. “That’s good. I’m sure Kakashi will be happy to spend some time with his ji-san.” 

“Just Kakashi?” Narumi teased. 

Sakumo laughed and bumped into Narumi playfully. “He likes having more than one adult to ask for pocket money.” 

They made it to Sakumo’s house at long last. Sakumo tucked Kakashi into his bed, then set up the spare futon on the floor so Narumi could put Obito down, and then the two of them retreated and left the boys to sleep. 

“Want some tea before you go?” Sakumo asked, as he put away the stash of festival prizes and snacks the boys had gathered. “We can eat the rest of Kakashi’s clementines.” 

“Sure, thanks,” Narumi said. 

He hadn’t had much of a taste for tea when he was younger, but he had grown to like it as he had gotten older, particularly because Sakumo was so fond of it. The two of them gathered at the table, leaving the door open to let in the summer breeze, and Sakumo poured them both cups of tea that they sipped at while chatting and peeling clementines. By the time they ran out of tea and all the clementines had been peeled, the first rays of sun were just starting to peek over the horizon.

“You’re welcome to stay instead of going back to wherever you’re staying,” Sakumo said. “I have another spare futon. Kakashi makes a mean breakfast.” 

“By the time I’m ready to wake up, I think it’ll be more like lunch,” Narumi laughed. 

The two of them stood, cleaned off the table, and made their way to Sakumo’s room to set up the futon. “You say that like he’ll give you a chance to sleep in when we could be training,” Sakumo said. “And with Obito here we’ll be lucky if they don’t burn the house down before eight.” 

“Still more sleep than we ever got in Kiri,” Narumi said. 

“Ugh, don’t remind me. My back aches just thinking about those trees,” Sakumo said. 

“Or you’re getting old,” Narumi teased. 

“You’re not that much younger than me. If I’m old, you’re old.” 

A yawn interrupted Narumi before he could retort. “Well, I dunno about you, but this old man is going to sleep,” he said. Narumi crawled under into the futon, as next to him Sakumo did the same, and fell asleep in a heartbeat. 

***

Obito’s tongue poked out of the corner of his mouth as he very, very carefully ran the brush over his chosen canvas, drawing swirls and lines in sweeps of dark paint. Beside him, Kakashi did the same. Obito surveyed Kakashi’s work critically. “You should add some spirals.” 

“Spirals? Why?” Kakashi said. 

You know .” Obito waggled his eyebrows. 

Kakashi made a disgusted face. “I still think you’re wrong,” he said, but Obito noted he drew the spirals. 

“I’m totally right,” Obito said. 

“We had a sleepover and it didn’t mean anything,” Kakashi said. 

Obito fumbled his brush, accidentally drawing a stripe of paint right through some of his other designs. His canvas flinched and blinked. “Whoops,” Obito said, and quickly scrambled back. “Mission compromised! Run, Bakashi!” 

Kakashi jumped up and followed him to the door, leaving Narumi and Sakumo blinking sleepily after them, paint all over their faces. Obito and Kakashi left the evidence of their crime where they had found it, in Sakumo’s office, and raced off to the training ground before the adults could figure out what they had done. 

They kept running even when they left Kakashi’s house, less to get away from any potential retribution and more to see who would reach their training ground first. Obito won, but only by a few seconds—Kakashi was still getting used to his new limbs, and Obito had no doubt that within the next few months Kakashi would be beating him handily. 

He was already getting faster in their spars. Before, Obito had been able to counter him easily, but now they were more evenly matched. He’d be struggling to keep up again in no time; Kakashi trained like a demon and was determined not to be held back by the artificial limbs grafted to his body. 

He was already using little Mokuton tricks to trip up Obito, sending little vines to snag at his ankles at just the right moment. Every time he ate dirt made him hate the Hashirama trees a little more. 

“You can use your Sharingan, you know. I don’t mind,” Kakashi said. 

Obito hesitated. He actually didn’t use his Sharingan all that much. He’d played around with it a little, before Kakashi had returned, training with Sakumo as the man pushed him until his Sharingan was fully mature. He’d had a bit of fun looking at chakra patterns, at least until he realized it freaked people out when he stared at them with the Sharingan. Since the incident with Rin, when they’d found Kakashi, he hadn’t really used it. He’d been in the village, for one, and hadn’t been in any battles that required him to use the Sharingan. And the last time that he had used it, with Rin—he’d been able to see what would happen, and still knew he wouldn’t be able to stop. He still saw Rin’s death in his nightmares. He knew it hadn’t actually happened, but sometimes it still felt like it had. 

He had to get over it some time, though. “Yeah. If you’re sure you can handle it, Bakashi,” Obito said, with an arrogance he didn’t really feel. 

Kakashi rolled his eye and darted back into the fight without another word. 

Obito activated his sharingan as he countered Kakashi’s first punch. He could see Kakashi’s movements coming before they happened, although he wasn’t always fast enough to counter them perfectly. He could see as Kakashi’s chakra shifted and surged as he manipulated the trees around them, and was able to dodge the plants before they even burst through the ground. 

When they finally stopped, both of them were out of breath, covered in sweat, and halfway to chakra exhaustion. They made their way through cool-down exercises slowly. 

“I didn’t know the Sharingan had another level,” Kakashi said. 

“Huh? Oh, yeah, the final form has three tomoe,” Obito said. 

“I know that. I meant the form yours has now. It looks different from the other Sharingan,” Kakashi said. 

“No, it doesn’t,” Obito said. “It has three tomoe, that’s all.” 

“Yes, it does,” Kakashi insisted. “It doesn’t have three tomoe. It looks different. Don’t you ever look in a mirror?” 

“Not with my Sharingan,” Obito said irritably, even as he pulled out his tanto to look at his reflection in the blade. He activated his Sharingan and nearly jerked back in surprise—Kakashi was right. It really was different. 

“There’s not supposed to be another form of the Sharingan,” Obito said hesitantly. There wasn’t, not officially, but there were always . . . rumors. Things that the clan elders mentioned when they thought no one was listening, or that the adults talked about when they met up late at night. 

“So ask your elders,” Kakashi said. 

Obito snorted. First of all, the elders didn’t like to tell anyone anything—especially not him. Second, “I, uh, never actually told them. That I awakened the Sharingan.” 

“And they never figured it out?” Kakashi said skeptically. 

“I never use it around other Uchiha!” Obito flailed his arms in some vain attempt to illustrate his point. “I don’t spend that much time with them, I think they’ve pretty much given up on me. And it’s not like you have to tell them, it’s just that most people brag about awakening it when they do. And I . . . even if I had someone to brag to in the clan, I wasn’t really in the mood after what happened.” 

“And you can’t just tell them now?” Kakashi said. 

Obito grimaced. On the list of things he wanted to do, talking to the elders listed just below visiting the dentist.  Still, there were ways around these things. “I guess I could take a look in the compound. They have records there. Things that can tell me what this is.” 

He had his suspicions. But he didn’t want them to be true. 

“Meet me here,” Obito said, already walking away from the training grounds. “If I don’t come, assume I’m getting lectured by the elders or something.” 

“Should I come find you?” 

“Not unless you can think of a way it wouldn’t be suspicious,” Obito said. “Like get us a mission or something, that way they’ll have to let me go!” 

“I’ll make a plan,” Kakashi said, determination clear in his eyes.

Kakashi was kind of stuck-up sometimes, but Obito liked that about him—that Kakashi would do anything for a friend. “Cool. I’ll see you later!” 

Most people might think that the best time to sneak into a place you weren’t supposed to be was the middle of the night, but at least in the Uchiha clan, that was rarely the case. At night, the police were on high alert, especially because most of the clan was asleep, not to mention that the clan elders and adults sometimes had secret meetings late at night. Sneaking around late at night was a surefire way to look suspicious. On the other hand, during the day most people were busy enough that they wouldn’t pay another Uchiha a second glance, especially not Obito. Even if he was caught, he could just pretend he was lost. 

If this was the Mangekyo, there had to be records on it somewhere—and he had a feeling he knew where to look. 

Naka Shrine was deserted at this time of day—even the people who usually tended to it were off eating lunch. Obito slipped inside unnoticed, and made his way into the secret room beneath the shrine, where the clan kept secret records. 

Obito skimmed through them as quickly as possible, looking over them with his sharingan to memorize the contents and then putting them back exactly where he had found them. Even someone with another Sharingan wouldn’t be able to tell he had been looking through them. 

Obito started, of course, with the oldest records, and quickly struck gold—Madara Uchiha had possessed the Mangekyo, which he had awakened after the death of his father, as had his brother. Obito skimmed the history sections, more focused on looking for the abilities of the Mangekyo. He didn’t find much, other than a few oblique references to things that Uchiha with the Mangekyo had done in battle. 

As he skimmed through one of the few records that kind of talked about the techniques, Obito glanced at his watch and swore. It was just past one, which meant that people might be coming to tend to the shrine soon. He hopped off the stone tablet he had been perched on—probably offending several deities while he was at it—and quickly replaced the papers and scrolls as he had found them before slipping out of the shrine. 

No one was inside the shrine, thankfully, and he breathed a sigh of relief as he stepped outside. 

“And what are you doing, Obito?” 

Obito yelped and whipped around, meeting the eyes of Mikoto Uchiha. “Mikoto-ba-san! Uh, I was playing hide and seek?” he said. 

He could have smacked himself. There was no way she was going to believe that. 

Mikoto’s eyebrows rose, and he braced himself for a scolding. “So you’re the ringleader of this little enterprise.” 

Obito blinked at her, and then slid his eyes down towards the two small forms beside her. Itachi blinked up at him solemnly, while Shisui grinned unrepentantly. “Uh, yeah, sorry, Ba-san,” he said, sheepishly ruffling his hair. “We got a little carried away.” 

“This isn’t a place for playing. You should know better, Obito,” she scolded, and then nudged the two boys towards him. “If you’re so eager to play, you can take them to the park and watch them for me.” 

Obito sighed. So much for his meeting with Kakashi. “Okay, Ba-san. Come on, let’s go.” 

The two boys hurried to catch up to him. Obito slowed his steps slightly; Shisui was seven and faster than Obito when he wanted to be, but Itachi was still only four.

“You weren’t really playing hide and seek, were you?” Shisui asked. 

“Were you?” Obito retorted. Shisui shrugged, which was as good as a confirmation. “You don’t tell on me, and I don’t tell on you. How’s that?” 

“Only if you let us go right now,” Shisui said. 

“Are you crazy? I’m not crossing Mikoto-san. Come on, you can come train with Kakashi and I,” Obito said. 

Even Itachi looked intrigued at that; no doubt he had heard of the other genius. Probably by being endlessly compared to him. At Itachi’s age, Kakashi had been almost ready to graduate from the academy; Itachi wasn’t even enrolled yet, although his father had him training endlessly to make up for it. 

“Yeah, okay,” Shisui said, after a glance at Itachi. “But you have to buy us dinner afterwards!” 

“Dinner? How long do you think I’m putting up with you squirts? Mikoto-san will feed you,” Obito said. “Besides, I’m probably having dinner with Kakashi’s family.” 

“Then we’ll come too!” Shisui declared. 

Obito knocked him upside the head. “Don’t just invite yourself to other people’s gatherings!” 

Shisui laughed and raced ahead; Obito wondered if this was what it had been like to spend time with him when he was younger. Kakashi’s constant irritation was beginning to make sense. 

Kakashi was at the training ground when they finally arrived. Obito suspected he had never even left. He wasn’t training, at least not physically—he was instead reading a book, something about tactics by the look of it. Trust Kakashi to study even when he was already a jounin; it was like he enjoyed making Obito look bad or something. 

“Hey, Bakashi!” he called. “Quit studying, we all know it’s hopeless.” 

“Clearly,” Kakashi replied as he slipped the book away. “I suppose I will be forced to remain a genin all my life.” 

Obito couldn’t help but laugh, even though the joke wasn’t even that funny. There was just something about Kakashi making jokes that got to him—he was so straight-laced all the time. “Imagine being stuck doing D-ranks your whole life.” 

Kakashi’s eye slid over to the two kids. For a moment, Obito feared he would say something about the Sharingan, but he just said, “Your family?” 

Obito grimaced. “Yeah, I got stuck with babysitting duty.” 

“I’m not a baby,” Shisui said. 

Obito grabbed him and gave him a noogie, ignoring his squealed protests. “You’ll stop being a baby when you stop getting caught causing trouble!” 

“You got caught too!” Shisui protested. 

“Did not! That was on purpose,” Obito said. “How else was I supposed to save your sorry butt?” 

“If you’re just going to play, take them to the park,” Kakashi said. 

Obito released Shisui in favor of elbowing Kakashi. “Quit being a jerk, Bakashi. They came to train.” 

Kakashi eyed them skeptically. Obito couldn’t really blame him; Itachi wasn’t even in the academy yet, for all that his dad made him train pretty much every day. He was probably hoping for another Kakashi Hatake. Obito could have told him the world didn’t want or need another Kakashi. One was plenty. 

Eventually, Kakashi shrugged one shoulder. “Great! So, how should we do this? Two on two?” Obito suggested. 

Kakashi looked at Itachi again, and then at Shisui. “How about all three of you against me?” he said. 

Obito wasn’t sure if he wanted to punch him, or agree and kick his ass with Itachi and Shisui. Just when he thought Kakashi was starting to loosen up, he had to be an ass. 

“Kakashi-senpai, may I spar with you?” Itachi asked. 

Kakashi looked at Obito, although Obito couldn’t have said why. Kakashi’s expression was as inscrutable as always. “Sure,” Kakashi said. 

“Guess that leaves you and me together, shrimp,” Obito said to Shisui. “Taijutsu?” 

He was not about to use his tanto and have to explain the results of that to Mikoto. With his luck, he’d end up stabbing Shisui and having to drag him to the hospital. 

Shisui shifted into a taijutsu stance, and in an instant they were exchanging blows. Shisui was good for a genin, Obito had to admit. He was almost too fast for Obito to see without his Sharingan, and his taijutsu was almost flawless. It was a stark reminder that Shisui, for all that he was six years younger than Obito, had also fought in the war. They tried to keep genin away from the worst of the fighting, but that rarely worked out in practice. 

Eventually, they shifted from pure taijutsu to using their tanto as well, although they didn’t draw the weapons from their sheaths. Here, Obito had the advantage, both because of his superior reach and because he’d been spending his days training with the White Fang, Konoha’s resident expert in swordplay.  

They ended their spar with Shisui pinned to the ground, his sword arm trapped underneath him, Obito’s tanto held to his throat. “Nice one,” Obito said, between gasps for breath. “But you’ll have to work a lot harder than that if you want to beat this senpai!” 

“Done?” 

Obito looked over to find Kakashi and Itachi watching, having finished their ever-so-diligent progress through their stretches. “Yeah.” 

Kakashi stood and turned to go. “Come on. Dad will be waiting.” 

Obito fell into step beside him. Shisui and Itachi followed, but didn’t take the turn towards the Uchiha compound. Obito scowled at Shisui, who grinned unrepentantly as he tugged Itachi along by the hand. Itachi, for his part, looked rather embarrassed—it struck Obito as rather comical that of the two, the four-year-old was more dignified. “What do you think you’re doing?” he asked Shisui. 

“Coming for dinner,” Shisui said. 

“No, you aren’t,” Obito said. “Mikoto-ba-san is waiting for Itachi.” 

“No, she isn’t,” Shisui said. “She’s busy .” 

Busy, Obito knew, meant that the clan elders were planning a meeting. He couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for Itachi, whose parents were always so busy with clan business. Looking at Shisui, he knew this was exactly what the little brat had intended. “Ugh, fine,” he said. “You can stay if Kakashi agrees.” 

Please say no, and I’ll never call you Bakashi ever again, Obito silently promised, staring at Kakashi’s face as if this would somehow communicate his intentions. 

Shisui and Itachi looked at each other, a silent conversation passing between them. “Kakashi-senpai, may we come for dinner?” Itachi asked. 

Kakashi looked down at the boy for a moment, considering, before nodding. “You can come.” 

Nevermind. You’re Bakashi forever. 

Resigned to his fate, Obito didn’t protest Shisui’s continued presence. “You’ve gotten good recently,” Shisui remarked. 

Obito blinked in surprise. “Oh, thanks—hey, wait, what’s that supposed to mean? I was always good!” 

“Last time we sparred, I beat you,” Shisui said. 

“That was ages ago! I was a genin.” 

“So? I was an academy student.” 

“Obito works hard. That’s what matters,” Kakashi interrupted. “Some people are just late bloomers. That’s what my father says, at least.” 

“People grow at different rates,” Itachi said, and nodded. “Your father sounds very wise.” 

Kakashi shrugged, but Obito thought he looked kind of pleased under the mask and headband. 

Sakumo, of course, spoiled this initial good impression by launching two buckets of paint at them the moment Kakashi opened the front door, aided by Narumi with his own buckets. Obito couldn’t help but laugh as Kakashi dripped red, orange, and blue paint all over the floor. “Dad,” Kakashi complained. “The tatami.” 

Itachi looked utterly horrified, at least as much as he could. He was frozen stock-still and his eyes were wider than normal; if he was any normal four-year-old, Obito was pretty sure he would have been throwing a tantrum. 

Narumi and Sakumo cackled, arms thrown over each other’s shoulders. 

“We have guests,” Kakashi said again, in a desperate, doomed attempt to make them behave like normal adults. 

Obito grinned and smeared orange paint over Kakashi’s relatively pristine cheek. “Give it a rest, Kakashi. These two troublemakers had it coming anyways.” 

Sakumo attempted to look more serious. “Ah, yes, welcome to my house. Please come in. Don’t worry about the tatami, it’s probably time to replace it anyways.” He turned around and immediately dissolved into muffled laughter. 

Narumi looked at their faces and snorted. “Heh, sorry. Come on in. I’ll run a bath and get some clean clothes.” 

Narumi vanished after Sakumo. Kakashi sighed. “I apologize for my father and godfather, Itachi-kun, Shisui-kun.” 

“It will wash off easily,” Itachi said. 

“Your dad’s cool,” Shisui said. “Imagine Fugaku doing that!” 

Itachi smiled slightly. Obito was certain there wasn’t a more reserved kid on the face of the earth. 

The four of them made their way to the bathroom, Itachi and Kakashi doing their best to avoid dripping paint everywhere, and Obito and Shisui doing their best to splatter each other and the other two. Sakumo, thankfully, had scrounged up clothing for everyone, so once they were all clean they had something to wear, although Itachi was kind of swamped by his borrowed clothes. 

By the time they were out, Sakumo had made dinner for all of them. “I do apologize,” he said, once they were all served and seated. “I didn’t expect the boys to bring back guests.” 

Itachi nodded politely. “Thank you for having me.” 

“It’s okay,” Shisui said. “It was fun!” 

“Sorry about bringing them by with no warning,” Obito said. “Mikoto-san is making me babysit to keep us all out of trouble. Although they weren’t supposed to stay this long.” 

He glared at Shisui. Shisui grinned unrepentantly. 

“I’ll bring them home after dinner and smooth things over with Mikoto-san,” Sakumo promised. 

Dinner passed relatively smoothly, after that, and before too long Sakumo was escorting Shisui and Itachi out of the house. Narumi went to clean up, while Obito and Kakashi retreated to Kakashi’s bedroom. 

Finally, they were alone. 

Obito hastily constructed a fort out of spare blankets and strategically placed kunai and ninja wire while Kakashi stared at him blankly. Once he was done, he seized Kakashi by the arm and dragged him under the fort. 

“Okay, so I think I know what it is,” he said. 

“You realize this does absolutely nothing to prevent people from listening in on our conversation,” Kakashi said. 

Obito rolled his eyes. “Yes, I know, Bakashi. That’s not the point. The point is that I think—I think killing Rin gave me the Mangekyo Sharingan.” 

“You didn’t kill Rin,” Kakashi said. 

“Well, no, but I thought I did.” Obito stared down at his hands. “The moment I realized I couldn’t stop in time it was like—I saw, in an instant, exactly what the world would be like without Rin in it. I thought I really had killed her. That’s what matters.” 

“And what is the Mangekyo Sharingan?” 

“It’s an evolved form of the Sharingan. You get it by . . . by killing someone important to you, or by watching them die. I mean, that’s what the records say,” Obito said. “It has special abilities, things that the normal Sharingan can’t do. But it differs from person to person.” 

“Then, clearly, we have to test them out.”

Chapter Text

Kakashi and Obito took out a mission, just the two of them, to get away from the village. A simple courier mission, nothing fancy, but it involved going all the way to Uzushio so they wouldn’t be expected back for days. There was plenty of time along the way to find somewhere out of the way to practice. 

“Susanoo . . . anyone can do, so let’s not test that out,” Obito said, as they made their way through the tunnel system they were scoping out for their experiments. “I don’t really want to bring the mountain down on top of us. Each eye has an ability, but it differs from person to person. The records weren’t really clear on that part.” 

“Do you have a plan?” Kakashi asked. 

Obito shrugged. “Just try to activate it and see what happens, I guess. The records aren’t really clear on how to figure out what you can do, so I guess you just do it.” 

The reached a slightly wider area of the caves. “Here should do it . . . unless it turns out I have some really devastating ability that ends up trapping us in here,” Obito said. 

“Activate it away from the exit,” Kakashi said. 

Obito could have smacked himself. “Right. Obviously. Okay, here goes.” 

He activated the Sharingan, accompanied as always by that familiar twinge. He didn’t really know what he was doing, so he just kind of . . . pushed the chakra towards his eye and urged it to activate. 

And suddenly, he just knew

“Kamui.” 

A portal opened up in front of him; as if in a daze, Obito stepped towards it. He reached a hand out, into the portal, only to be suddenly yanked back by Kakashi. The portal closed as abruptly as it had opened. 

“Be careful,” Kakashi said. 

“Nah, it’s okay, I think,” Obito said. “I’m going through.” 

“I’ll go with you.” 

The look in Kakashi’s eye plainly said he wasn’t taking no for an answer, so Obito just nodded and opened the portal again. He and Kakashi stepped through and entered a strange, black void full of nothing but weird square shapes. 

“It’s kind of . . . boring,” Obito said. 

“Useful,” Kakashi said. “You could store all kinds of things here. Or escape into it during a battle.” 

“Booooring,” Obito said. “All I can do is, what, open up portals to some weird square place?” 

Kakashi was quiet for a moment, clearly thinking. “Can you only open up portals out of her from where you opened them to go in? Or can you open portals anywhere?” 

“Oh. That’s a good question. Hang on, let me try.” 

Obito thought very hard of a place they’d been on a mission once that had been pretty devoid of human life and opened a portal. When stuck his head through, he found himself there instead of in the cave they’d been practicing in. He pulled back and, instead of opening a portal to somewhere he’d been before, tried to open one to a place he had only heard about. This time when he opened it, he caught a glimpse of steaming hot springs and a few people soaking in them. He quickly closed the portal before they could notice and turned to Kakashi, grinning. “I can’t just open portals to places I’ve been, I can open them anywhere! Think of all the cool things we can use this for! We can travel back to Konoha in an instant with this!” 

Kakashi nodded. “It would make returning after important missions easier.” 

“Nerd!” Obito pounced on him and attempted to give him a noogie. Kakashi fended him off ruthlessly, and Obito was forced to give up before they got too sidetracked fighting each other. “Live a little, Bakashi. We could go all kinds of cool places and be back before anyone misses us!” 

“That’s what you want to use it for?” Kakashi crossed his arms over his chest. 

Obito threw an arm around his shoulders. “Come on, I’ve always wanted to go to Yugakure, but the high-ranked jounin always snag those missions first.” 

“I’m a jounin,” Kakashi said. “I can just get us a mission there.” 

“Yeah, but you’ve only been a jounin for like a year. You’ve gotta be a jounin for at least a decade before getting a chance at a Yugakure mission,” Obito said wisely. He’d heard all his older cousins complaining about it. 

“Our teacher is the Hokage, stupid. We can just ask him for one,” Kakashi said. 

“Oh yeah! I keep forgetting about that.” It was still weird to think of Minato-sensei as the Hokage. Personally, Obito had been rooting for Kushina. “But isn’t that favoritism, or something?”

“We’re shinobi, Obito. No one is going to cry about life being unfair because we got an easy mission,” Kakashi said. 

“Well, yeah, but . . . isn’t it more fun to do things without permission?” 

“No.” 

“Buzzkill.” 

“Wait until you’re getting interrogated by T&I on suspicion of deserting the village. Then you can tell me how fun leaving the village without permission is.” 

“We wouldn’t be leaving the village without permission,” Obito said. “We’d just be . . . taking a little side trip. Which is basically what we’re doing right now.” 

“Those are completely different scenarios. This is training, not taking a vacation,” Kakashi said. 

“Come on,” Obito whined. “There has to be somewhere you’ve always wanted to go, but couldn’t get a mission to go there!” 

Kakashi scowled, and Obito knew he had him. “Tetsu no Kuni. The samurai don’t take kindly to shinobi interference, so we never have missions near there. Their swordsmanship is supposed to be unparalleled.” 

“Then let’s go there!” Obito declared. “It’ll be fun, Kakashi, we’ll be back before anyone even knows we went.” 

“Don’t be stupid. We can’t go there.” Obito opened his mouth to argue, but Kakashi continued. “Do you have any idea how cold it is there? We’re not even remotely dressed for the weather; we’d freeze to death the moment we stepped through the portal. The best way to do it would be to get a mission somewhere cold, so people wouldn’t be suspicious of us packing cold-weather clothing, then take a side trip to Tetsu once we finish the mission.” 

Obito whooped. “I knew you’d come around! Okay, it’s a plan. No take-backs, Bakashi!” 

“That’s for later,” Kakashi said sternly. “Right now, we have to test the limits of your abilities. We have a lot of work to do.” 

Obito groaned. “Can’t we just play it by ear?” 

“No.” 

“Figures. So, what’s the plan?” 

“First of all, we have to figure out exactly how many of these portals you can make in quick succession before running out of chakra, and how long you can have your Mangekyou Sharingan active . . .” 

***

“Ah, Obito, I thought you would be here. I have some forms for you to fill out.” 

“Sure thing, Shishou,” Obito mumbled as he attempted to peel another orange. Kakashi could strip the peel off in one go, leaving a perfectly curled strip of peel behind. Obito was determined to get the trick down, no matter how many oranges he had to eat. 

A small stack of papers appeared beside him. Obito picked up the pen and idly filled out the forms with one hand as he peeled the orange with the other. 

He cursed as a piece of it tore off halfway through. He peeled the rest of it carelessly, and put a little more of his attention towards filling out the forms. 

Halfway through, he stopped to consider what he was doing. “Uh, Shishou?” he asked, as he peered down at the little form telling him that the village was not liable in cases of death or serious injury. “What exactly am I filling out here?” 

“The jounin exam registration form, of course.” 

“Oh, yeah, course.” Obito nodded and continued filling out the forms. Mostly they just needed his signature and ninja identification number, so it was pretty mindless. 

He froze on the last page, his hand hovering above the paper. “Wait, what? The jounin exams?” 

“That’s right.” 

“Are you crazy? I can’t take the jounin exams! I’m . . .” A terrible ninja. A clumsy knucklehead. An idiot who still can’t wake up on time even now that I’m fifteen years old. 

“The student of a jounin of Konoha, a burgeoning expert with a tanto, with two summons that he works very well with and a fully evolved Sharingan,” Sakumo finished. “You’re more than ready for the exam.” 

“I—I don’t even know what the exam involves!” 

“It’s simple, really. The jounin exam tests leadership, knowledge, and ability. You’ll have to take lead on a mock mission, take a written exam, and spar one-on-one.” 

Obito gulped. “Uh, what happens with a mock mission?” 

“You’ll get a small task to carry out somewhere in the village and a team to lead. Keep in mind, these teammates are meant to test you and judge your performance. They’ll probably act in ways meant to challenge you. You might get someone lazy, or argumentative, or careless. They examine how you manage the team, how you complete the goal, and whether or not you succeed. 

“Next, the written exam. This part is pretty simple. Some questions about math, some about history, some about laws and rules, and so on.” 

“Uh, yeah, about that written exam . . . I don’t exactly have the best history with written tests.” 

“Don’t worry,” Sakumo assured him. “Kakashi will help you study for that one.” 

Obito groaned. “Jeez, throw me under the bus, why don’t you.” 

“Finally, the one-on-one sparring. You’ll face a jounin specifically chosen to fight you,” Sakumo said. “The judges will evaluate you based on how well you perform. This can involve whether or not you win, how many abilities you show off, and how long you last. Your scores in each of these tests are evaluated to determine whether or not you pass.” 

“Wait, so I don’t get eliminated if I fail the written part?” 

“No, although it will lower your score significantly. This isn’t the chuunin exams. Only a few people take the jounin exams each time,” Sakumo said. “There’s no need for the mass elimination of the chuunin exams.” 

“Who else is taking it?” Obito asked. 

“I’m not sure yet,” Sakumo admitted. “People like to hold it close to their chest to keep out of the betting. And there’s still a week before the forms are due, and a month until the exams. So, are you going to finish signing that?” 

Obito gritted his teeth and scrawled his name across the forms. “Hell yeah. These exams are going down!” 

***

Ever since the incident with Rin and Kiri, Narumi had spent most of his time traveling between Uzushio and Konoha. Tsubame wanted him running missions for Uzushio, while Minato and the Konoha elders wanted him on hand to keep an eye on Rin’s seal while she trained with Kushina. They compromised by sending him from one village to the other each month. At this point, Narumi was spending more time in Konoha than in Uzushio, since Tsubame always sent him off on a mission the moment he arrived home. 

He was so busy, he barely had a chance to keep track of time, although he always made sure to keep an account of how close they were to the day he would be born. Until then, there wasn’t much to do but bide his time and keep an eye out for Madara and Zetsu. Obito was still in Konoha, but there was no telling if Madara had found someone else to do his bidding. 

With all that on his mind, he somehow had no idea what was happening when Minato and Kushina greeted him with brilliant grins on their faces. 

Mostly, he was just relieved. Last he’d seen her, Kushina hadn’t been looking well, and Minato had been feeling the stresses of being Hokage right after a massive war. 

“Nii-san!” Minato said cheerfully. “We’re glad you could make it. We’re all having dinner at our house tonight. We made up the usual guest room for you.” 

Narumi fell into step beside him as soon as the guards had checked his identification. It was mostly a formality at this point, since the Hokage himself was there to greet him, but he didn’t mind. “Who’s gonna be there?” 

“Sakumo, Kakashi, Rin, and Obito,” Minato said. “I invited Jiraiya-sensei, but he’s out of the village again.” 

“And Mikoto!” Kushina declared. “I invited her too, ya know. She might bring Itachi-kun, she might not. He’s getting so big! It’s hard to believe he’s almost five already.” 

“Has he started the Academy yet?” 

“Not yet,” Minato said. “His father . . . asked, but I refused. I’m not letting any children join the Academy until they’re at least six, no matter how talented they are. Itachi can join the Academy in a year, with the rest of the children his age.” 

“We’re trying to make it an official law, but the council’s being a pain in the ass, as usual,” Kushina complained. “It took months just to get them to approve me as his official aide!” 

“At least the paperwork is more manageable now,” Minato said. “We’re still spending late nights at the office, though.” 

“It’s not all bad,” Kushina said, and winked at Minato cheekily. 

Minato turned pink, coughed, and cleared his throat. “Yes, well . . . ah, Kushina is making ramen for dinner, Nii-san.” 

Kushina laughed. “Way to change the subject, pretty boy. But yeah, I’m making ramen. I should really get started on that, if we want everything to be ready in time for dinner.” 

The three of them made their way to Kushina and Minato’s house. Since Minato had become Hokage, they had moved out of the apartment they had once shared in favor of a modest house with enough room for both a guest bedroom and a study. The dining room was large enough to comfortably seat all their friends with only a little bit of crowding. 

Sakumo, Kakashi, and Obito were the first to show up—Kakashi’s influence, Narumi didn’t doubt. Kakashi and Obito both looked slightly grubby, like they’d just come from training. They made a beeline for the kitchen, and Obito immediately began begging a taste of the food from Kushina. 

“Narumi!” Sakumo greeted, clapping him on the shoulder. “Back with us again I see.” 

“For the month,” Narumi agreed. 

“I’d say that it would be nice if the elders could get over themselves and stop demanding your presence, but I have to admit I like having you around,” Sakumo said. 

Narumi grinned at him. “And I like being around.” 

The door opened, this time to admit Rin. “Hi, Sensei, Kushina!” she called. “Narumi-san, thank you for coming again.” 

“My pleasure,” Narumi said. “How’s the training going?” 

Rin smiled slightly. “I’m making some progress. I think I’m finally figuring out this whole jinchuuriki thing.” 

“You’ll have to show me next time you and Kushina train together,” Narumi said. “And the elders want me to take another look at your seal. Let me know when’s a good time for  you.” 

The door opened again, this time to admit Mikoto Uchiha. “Mikoto-chan!” Kushina cheered, rushing forwards to hug her and kiss her cheek. “I’m so glad you could make it. It’s not good for you to be shut up with all those stuffy old men, ya know!” 

Narumi’s eyes were drawn to Mikoto’s round belly. “Whoa,” he said. “You’ve gotten big since I was last here.” 

Mikoto smiled proudly as she rested a hand on her stomach. “They’re going to be a strong ninja. I can tell.” 

“She’s due in June, right?” Kushina asked. 

“That’s right.” 

“She?” Narumi asked. “You know already?” 

“It’s a bet!” Kushina declared. “It’s gonna be a girl. You had a boy, so now it’s time for a girl.” 

“That’s not how it works,” Minato sighed. 

“I would be happy with either,” Mikoto said. 

They drifted into the dining room as the conversation continued. Kushina suddenly recalled that she was in the middle of cooking and raced off, leaving the rest of them to talk by themselves. Narumi ended up talking with Sakumo about what Kakashi and Obito had been up to in the past month. 

“Obito has some news to share,” Sakumo said. 

Obito grinned. “You’re looking at one of Konoha’s newest jounin!” 

“Wait, you took the exam? And you didn’t tell me?” 

“It was a piece of cake!” Obito bragged. 

“He almost failed the mock mission,” Kakashi said. 

“Shut up! I didn’t count on you being one of the ones judging me,” Obito scowled. “I did really well in everything else.” 

“Only because I helped you study for the written exam for a month,” Kakashi said. “And because everybody sparred with you.” 

“It was horrible,” Obito groaned. “I got my ass kicked every single day for an entire month. Kogane has no mercy. Kakashi has no mercy. Shishou has no mercy. Fucking Tsunade has absolutely no mercy! I thought I was gonna die!” 

“You’re exaggerating. If she did hurt you that badly, she would heal you afterwards,” Kakashi said. 

“She had to anyways! She broke both my arms!” 

“Tsunade-chan can be a little overenthusiastic,” Sakumo chuckled. 

“Overenthusiastic? Overenthusiastic ?” Obito waved his arms dramatically. “I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to take the exams! My life flashed before my eyes!” 

“Whoa! Settle down there!” Kushina dodged around Obito’s arms as she brought the ramen to the table. “Dig in while it’s hot, everybody.” 

Narumi eagerly slurped up the noodles as soon as the bowl was placed in front of him. He’d held Ichiraku Ramen at the pinnacle for years, but he had to admit not even that could top Kushina’s homemade ramen. 

The dinner table was silent; even Obito was too preoccupied with the food to talk. However, once the bowls were emptied and cleared away, Kushina clapped her hands together. “So! Minato and I had a little announcement to make . . .” 

“You’re gonna be the next Hokage?” Obito guessed. 

“You’re going to take a honeymoon after all?” Rin asked eagerly. 

“Nope!” Kushina said. “We’re having a baby.” 

Narumi’s mouth fell open. 

“Whoa, for real?” Obito asked. “Like, an actual, real-life baby?” 

Minato laughed. “Yes, a real baby.” 

“What are you going to name him? Do you know if it’s a boy or a girl?” Rin asked. 

“We’re naming them after the main character from Jiraiya’s book,” Kushina said. For a minute, everyone in the room looked horrified, until she continued, “ The Tale of the Utterly Gutsy Shinobi. Naruto.” 

The room breathed a sigh of relief. 

“What if it’s a girl?” Rin asked tentatively.

“Still Naruto!” Kushina said. 

“We’re still discussing that,” Minato said. 

“Hey, Naruto’s a great name for anyone, ya know!” 

“She’ll get bullied horribly.” 

“So did I! It’ll make her tough.” 

“How far along are you?” 

“Only a couple months. It’ll be born in October, according to Tsunade.” 

Narumi sat back, dazed. It was finally time, after all these years, for this time’s version of himself to be born. 

Someone pressed a cup of sake into his hand. On autopilot, he knocked it against the other’s cups and downed it. Someone refilled his cup, and he downed it again. 

Sakumo, pressed up against his side, laughed. “You okay there, Narumi? You’d think it was your kid that was being born.” 

“Feels like it.” Narumi held up his cup. “Pour me another.” 

Sakumo waggled the sake bottle in the air. “We’re all out.” 

Narumi looked around; the bottles nearest them were all empty, and although there might have been another one somewhere, he wasn’t about to scour the house on the off chance there might be more. The closest visible source of sake was, in fact, right next to him. “Not all out,” Narumi said. He reached down, plucked Sakumo’s sake cup from his hand, and tossed it back. 

“Ah, not fair!” Sakumo protested. 

Narumi grinned at him cheekily. “You know I’m good for it.” 

“Dad,” Kakashi called. “Obito and I are going home.” 

“I should get going, too,” Rin said. 

“I have to be going as well,” Mikoto said. “Would you care to walk with me, Hatake-san?” 

Sakumo hauled himself to his feet. “I’ll accompany you home, Mikoto-san. I’m sure Kushina is giving you a bunch of leftovers that need to be carried.” 

“Right here!” Kushina called, as she heaved a large container of ramen out of the kitchen. Sakumo grunted as she dumped it unceremoniously into his arms. 

“I’ll see you around, NarumI!” Sakumo called as he followed Mikoto out of the house, leaving Naruto alone with Kushina and Minato. 

Kushina and Minato exchanged a glance. “Ah, Nii-san, there were some things we wanted to talk to you about,” Minato said. “First . . . would you be Naruto’s godfather?” 

“Wait, me?” Narumi stared at them. “I mean, yeah, of course. I’d be honored.” 

“Oh, good. There’s no one I’d rather have take care of Naruto if something happened to us,” Minato said. “And on that note, could you take a look at Kushina’s seal? We’re both fairly certain there should be no danger as long as we take the proper precautions, and we’ll be heading outside the village just in case anything goes wrong, but we’d like your opinion as well.” 

“Sure, I’ll take a look at it. Uh, maybe not right now though.” Narumi held up the sake cup sheepishly. 

“Well yeah, not right now! Tonight’s a night for celebrating, not squinting over old seals,” Kushina declared. “You’ve both gotta drink on my behalf too, ya know. And on Naruto’s behalf!” 

“I was saving this for the private celebration,” Minato said, as he pulled out a small bottle of sake. “Jiraiya’s congratulations present. He assures me it’s delicious . . . and very expensive, which is why there’s only enough for a few cups.” 

Minato poured two cups, and he and Narumi drank deeply. 

“Hmm,” Minato said. 

“Yeah,” Narumi said. 

“It’s . . .” 

“It tastes like weapon oil.” 

“You’re joking.” Kushina dipped her finger in the sake and touched it to her tongue. “Blech! It does!” 

“Sensei has interesting taste,” Minato sighed. 

“Is that what they’re calling it these days? In my days, we called it ‘god-awful.’” Narumi sniffed the sake, coughed, and pushed it away. 

Kushina snickered. After a moment, Minato and Narumi joined in, and before long the three of them were laughing over the bottle of shitty sake until all three of them were breathless and red-faced. 

“I’m making him take this back.” 

“Yeah, probably for the best.” 

***

The months passed in a blur of traveling between villages and going on missions. Kushina and Minato looked happier every time he saw them. Kushina had found a new hobby in cooking for anyone who would sit down at her dinner table. “Who knows what Naruto’s favorite food is going to be!” she declared whenever she placed some new concoction in front of him. 

“If it’s really your kid, ramen,” Narumi always said. 

Mikoto’s kid was born in the summer—a boy named Sasuke, as Narumi had thought. Things were different, but so far all the kids he had grown up with the first time were the same—with the exception of Tsunade’s latest kids. Nawanuke, a boy, had been born the previous January, and was now a very loud one-year-old. In February, she had given birth to a girl they had proudly named Heiwa. Kushina, officially grounded from missions, spent most of her time fussing over Sasuke with Mikoto and babysitting Heiwa and Nawanuke when both of their parents were called to the hospital. 

Kakashi and Obito were often missing from the village, along with Kogane. Narumi suspected that Minato had assigned at least one of them to ANBU, although he couldn’t know for sure. Rin, on the other hand, was always in the village, training her new abilities as a jinchuuriki and trying to get her chakra control up to her previous high standards. 

Now that Obito and Kakashi were both jounin, Sakumo was usually out on missions as well. On occasion, he and Narumi were assigned to joint missions together. Otherwise, Narumi had to wait until his visits to Konoha and Sakumo’s time off coincided to see him. 

October drew ever nearer; as September drew to a close, Narumi prepared to head over to Konoha, gathering anything he thought he might need should Zetsu or some other minion show up. Tsubame, seemingly understanding Narumi’s tension, didn’t assign him anything more time consuming than checking over the protective seals around Uzushio until the last week of September. 

“I have one last mission for you. I would have liked to assign it to someone else, considering your nephew is about to be born, but unfortunately you are the only one available with a high enough clearance for the mission,” Tsubame said. “Fortunately, it shouldn’t take you long. You can leave for Konoha as soon as your mission is completed.” 

Narumi scanned the mission scroll. A simple retrieval mission—they’d received evidence of some important documents that had gone missing during the war, and he was being sent to find them. The documents had been sold to a minor crime family headquartered on the coast of the Land of Fire. Retrieving them was anticipated to be a bit troublesome, but not too dangerous for a jounin. 

He gave Tsubame a cheeky salute as he rolled up the scroll and stored it away in one of the many seals on his belt. “No problem, Uzukage-sama. I’ll have it back before you know it.” 

Tsubame rolled his eyes and waved him on. “Don’t cause too much trouble. You know the daimyo gets huffy if Uzushio shinobi wreak havoc in his cities.” 

“No promises!” Narumi called back as he left the room. 

The mission site wasn’t far from Uzushio; he could easily reach it within the day if he moved at a comfortable pace. It was a large village, focused on trade, so Uzushio shinobi often visited it when they wanted something they couldn’t get in the village. Uzushio knew of the crime family doing business in the background, but so long as they kept away from shinobi business, hadn’t been too bothered by them. Now that the family was sticking its nose where it wasn’t wanted, it was time to take action. 

The center of their operations was a real estate office in the center of town. It was here that Narumi headed, purposefully waiting until night had fallen and the office was almost empty to make his move. 

As a kid, he hadn’t really been one for stealth; he’d been more of a run in, guns-blazing type. He’d had his lessons knocked into him by the time he’d reached his late teens, and now it was almost second nature to slip through a window and take to the ceiling to avoid running into any lingering guards. There were a few walking the halls and guarding doorways, but it was easy to avoid them or distract them. Normally he wasn’t the best person for stealth missions, since he was terrible at hiding his chakra, but that didn’t really matter in this case. It wasn’t like the civilians were going to sense him. 

In and out, that was the plan. So long as he didn’t alert them, he could be on his way to Konoha faster than it took a cup of instant ramen to cook. 

Eventually, he found a location that looked promising, an office that was guarded by two men outside the room, and three men inside the room. One of the ones inside was guarding the window, blocking off another potential entrance. 

He knocked out the two outside the door with a couple sleep seals; based on his observations, he had some time before the next patrol came along, and it wasn’t like he was going for complete secrecy. They’d realize someone had been through when the documents went missing anyways. 

With that in mind, Narumi opened the door and rushed the three men inside without a second thought, easily taking down the two just inside the door with sleep seals before they had a chance to react. The third turned, swore as he saw the other two going down like bags of bricks, and scrambled for the sword strapped to his hip. He didn’t draw it more than an inch before Narumi’s fist collided with his jaw, knocking his head back hard enough that it hit the wall with a loud thud. 

Narumi winced as the man dropped to the floor. Hopefully no one had heard that. He wasn’t about to stick around to find out, so he quickly began a sweep of the room. The desk contained a few interesting bits of information he put into the storage seal that he and Tsubame were linked to; someone in Uzushio would find a use for them. The stolen documents weren’t in the desk, however, so he began a quick sweep of the room, digging up a few other interesting  bits and bobs as he searched under floorboards and behind books in the bookshelf. 

He finally found what he was looking for as his hand sank through a book as if it wasn’t there at all. Narumi could have smacked himself. He sucked at noticing genjutsu; he should have tried dispelling them as soon as he walked into the room. 

Narumi pushed his hand further into the bookshelf and pulled out a scroll decorated with the Uzumaki spiral. He sealed it away, and then pulled out the linked message scroll, which Tsubame was no doubt checking frequently.

Mission complete. Items deposited in linked storage. Off to K. 

Only the first few words of Tsubame’s message appeared— Understood. Wish our cousin luck with the baby— before something collided with the back of his head. Narumi stumbled and turned around, shoving the scroll back into his pocket. A genjutsu melted away before his eyes, revealing a young woman with a fierce scowl and a staff raised up to strike. 

Narumi had just enough time to think that yeah, he really had to make a habit of checking for genjutsu, and then the staff swept through the air and hit his head with a mighty crack. 

***

Narumi didn’t know how much time had passed; he woke up, now and then, when his attackers lifted the genjutsu on him to give him food or ask him questions. Luckily for him, he had a pretty high pain tolerance, and they weren’t creative enough to think to use a genjutsu to get the information they wanted. He kept his mouth shut, and inevitably they got frustrated and knocked him out again. 

There were quite a few of them, from what he could tell. Missing nin from Kiri, mostly, and a few hangers-on from smaller villages who had joined up with them. Five, eight, ten, fifteen—he wasn’t sure how many. He wasn’t in a state to count them most of the time, too dazed to pay attention to his surroundings most of the time. If it wasn’t the genjutsu, it was the pain, or the hunger, or the thirst. 

He wasn’t sure how long it had been; no more than a week or so, he was sure. Not October yet, he hoped. 

He kept an eye out, when he was aware enough to pay attention to his surroundings, looking for a possible way to escape. His chance came suddenly, when he snapped out of the genjutsu just as a body collapsed to the ground in front of him. Narumi rolled away until he hit the wall of the cave his attackers were using as a hideout. 

He glanced around the room, and found himself staring at a blank-masked individual—Kiri hunter-nin. The hunter-nin stared at him for a split second before vanishing so quickly Narumi wondered, for an instant, if he had imagined it. The body was still on the ground, however, so Narumi gritted his teeth and got to work. 

The wall of the cave was rough enough to tear through the cloth they’d wrapped around his wrists; they’d relied more on genjutsu to keep him trapped. His hands were free in only a few minutes, and then he was able to untie his ankles as well. 

Getting to his feet was a slow process; his legs didn’t want to cooperate at first, and he had to use the wall to support himself at first. Eventually, however, he felt sturdy enough to limp his way into the middle of the room to remove the weapons from the body lying there. They’d taken his weapons and scrolls from him, and he wasn’t about to go wandering around without anything to defend himself. 

Not that he faced much opposition as he made his way through the caves in search of his belongings and the exit; the hunter-nin, when he saw them, vanished immediately without paying him any heed, and the missing-nin were too busy fighting or escaping the hunter-nin to pay attention to him. His progress through the caves was slow, but largely unimpeded. 

His belongings had been unceremoniously stuffed into a crate near the exit of the caves. They’d clearly been searched, and his sealing supplies had been decimated, but clearly none of them had managed to get into the linked message scroll. He gathered everything else up, but kept out the linked message scroll as he stumbled out of the cave, emerging into a forest that could have been anywhere in Konoha or the surrounding smaller countries. He raised a hand to his mouth, ready to bite down, only to blink in surprise as he realized there was already blood trickling down his fingers. He wasn’t sure where it was from. 

He pressed his thumb, already covered in blood, to the seal on the scroll. It smeared as his hand shook, but the seal opened nonetheless. 

Narumi stumbled and sank to his knees. Bloody fingerprints dotted the scroll. Narumi blinked back dark spots and brought his finger to the page, smearing his message over the scroll in messy calligraphy that would have had Tsubame scolding him for sure. 

He didn’t know what day it was; he didn’t know how much time he had. He didn’t even know if this message would still be useful, but he had to try. 

Oct 10. Go to Konoha. 

***

Tsubame received the message early in the morning on October 10th. It was a short, simple thing, but he stared at it for a long time. He hadn’t heard anything from Narumi in days, had assumed he was busy helping his brother and sister-in-law with preparations for the baby, and then this. 

Oct 10. Go to Konoha. 

Just after midnight when he received it, and his wife was expecting him home at any minute, but he immediately packed his things and summoned a small group of ANBU to accompany him. If Narumi had sent him such an urgent message, then something must have gone wrong in Konoha—and that was before Tsubame considered the smears of blood on the scroll. The two things together spoke of a situation that made his heart pound with anxiety. 

Even now, after everything, all their disagreements and difficulties, Narumi was one of his closest friends—possibly his closest friend, period, even after everything that had happened between them. Tsubame wasn’t sure what Uzushio would look like without Narumi, and he didn’t want to find out. 

He ran all the way to Konoha, for once not pausing to check to see if the ANBU were keeping up. They would make it to Konoha eventually, and he didn’t have time to waste. 

As it was, as he approached Konoha early in the morning on October 11th, he could see smoke rising into the air. 

The gate, when he arrived, was entirely abandoned, lacking the usual guards that greeted visitors. And no wonder—just about half the wall was crushed. Tsubame stepped through, taking an instant to survey the situation as the ANBU caught up to him. 

A few flickering barriers were in place around the village, despite the lack of any apparent threat. Nearby, a jounin attempted to talk down one of the trembling chuunin powering the barrier, clearly too terrified to recognize that the threat was gone and now all that remained was the clean-up. And there was a lot of clean-up to be done; even from the gates he could see that half the village had been destroyed. 

He signaled the ANBU gathered behind him. “Assist the Konoha shinobi. Focus on search and rescue for now until we learn more about the situation.” 

The ANBU nodded and ran towards the destroyed sections of the village, and Tsubame made his way to the administration building. He passed a few people on his way there—a jounin nursing a broken leg, comforting a crying chuunin as she attempted to heal it; a blond boy he vaguely recognized as Tsunade’s son, clutching two children who must have been his younger siblings; three genin sobbing and hugging each other, desperately holding onto one of them who had clearly been dragged from the rubble only moments before; a lone genin running through the streets, yelling names at the top of her lungs. Tsubame ignored them all for the moment; no matter how much he wished to stop and help, he was needed elsewhere. 

The Hokage’s office was, miraculously, still in one piece. A few ANBU attempted to bar him entrance, only to back off when faced with his glare. He nearly ran through the building in his haste to reach the Hokage’s office—if Narumi was anywhere in Konoha, he would be there, with his brother. 

It wasn’t Minato Namikaze’s voice that Tsubame heard as he approached the office, however. 

“The villagers will be informed,” the Sandaime’s voice said, as he approached. “They deserve to know what Minato died for.” 

“Surely you don’t intend to tell them everything .” 

“Not everything. The boy’s parentage will remain a secret—who knows who would seek revenge on him for his parent’s actions. But the villagers will be informed that the beast was sealed away. They will respect the boy as what he is—a hero who saved the village.” 

“This is madness. The other villages will find out immediately! And once word reaches Kiri—” 

“That will not happen. I will issue an order that no one is to speak of the boy’s nature as a jinchuuriki. He will be raised as any other child. After the events of tonight, I am sorry to say that one more child in the orphanages will not make much of a difference.” 

“An orphanage? You can’t be serious. The lack of security alone ensures the jinchuuriki will go missing within the month.” 

“The ANBU will guard him—” 

“Hah! My agents will guard him better than the ANBU ever could. Give the boy to me, Sarutobi. As the village’s jinchuuriki, he needs to be trained—” 

“I am not giving ROOT Minato’s son—” 

Tsubame had heard enough; without a word of warning, he swept through the door and settled a glare upon the four occupants of the room. Sarutobi he knew well, of course, from previous dealings with the man as Kage of their respective village; one other, Danzo, he was also familiar with. The two others he didn’t know, but he was fairly certain they were Sarutobi’s advisors. 

Sarutobi stood behind the Hokage’s desk, another confirmation of the words Tsubame had heard earlier. The final confirmation was the cradle set on top of the desk; Minato and Kushina would not have let their child out of their sights if they had no other choice. 

Tsubame lifted the child from the cradle, smiling down at his blue eyes and blond fuzz. Already he resembled Narumi and Minato; perhaps that would change as he got older, perhaps not. 

Once he had the child settled in his arms, he settled his glare upon the two men facing off across the desk. “You will do no such thing,” he said. “Either of you. He is Kushina’s son, an Uzumaki. He has a family to take care of him.”  

Danzo’s eye narrowed. “He is the Kyuubi jinchuuriki. He belongs in Konoha.” 

“Just as the Sanbi jinchuuriki belongs in Kiri?” Tsubame snapped back. “He is a child who belongs with his family. Kushina and Minato—” 

“Dead,” the Sandaime said. “The Kyuubi broke through the seal as Kushina was giving birth. Minato gave his life to seal the Kyuubi into Naruto.” 

“Naruto,” Tsubame repeated. Trust Kushina to name her son after a ramen topping. “Regardless, in the event of their deaths, Naruto was to be given to his next of kin. Where is Narumi?” 

“Narumi? I had thought he was still in Uzushio,” the Sandaime said. “He never arrived in Konoha.”

“He said he was on his way to Konoha several days ago,” Tsubame said. Clearly, something had gone wrong along the way if he had never arrived. 

“I will send someone to look for him,” the Sandaime said. “His expertise would be of help in rebuilding the barrier seals around the village—completely destroyed when the Kyuubi attacked. As for Naruto, however . . .” 

“The Uzumaki will take care of him,” Tsubame said. “He belongs with his family. If we are unable to locate Narumi, I will take care of him myself.” 

“Theft of a jinchuuriki breaks the treaty between Uzushio and Konoha,” Danzo said. 

Tsubame knew there was a reason the man rubbed him the wrong way; theft, as if Naruto was an object and not a child. “It hardly counts as kidnapping when he is being returned to his next of kin after the death of his immediate family,” he retorted. 

“Perhaps a compromise,” the Sandaime said. “Naruto can live with his family in Uzushio until he is old enough to attend the academy, and then he will come to live in Konoha, just like Kushina did.” 

Tsubasa had been the one to negotiate Kushina’s move to Konoha, not Tsubame. He had never found any issues with how Tsubasa had resolved it—but he could push for more. “Narumi will want to go with him. At that point, you are removing two powerful shinobi from Uzushio. We will require compensation.” 

“A negotiation that can occur later,” the Sandaime said. “For now, we can agree to discuss the details once Naruto is old enough to attend the academy. Right now, the village needs us.” 

“I left on short notice—I have to return to Uzushio,” Tsubame said. “I’ll send whoever I can spare to help rebuild. I currently have ANBU assisting in search and rescue efforts. They are yours for the time being.” 

The Sandaime nodded gracefully. “Your efforts are much appreciated. In return, I will send some trackers after Narumi.” 

“My thanks,” Tsubame murmured. The child in his arms stirred, drawing his attention away from the other occupants of the office. “I will take Naruto with me; if you find Narumi, inform him of this.” 

With that, Tsubame left the office with the boy before any of the three advisors could protest. Already, as he left the room, he could hear their voices rising as they argued. Tsubame tucked the boy against his chest and stepped out into the streets, heading back towards Uzushio. 

He had a rescue mission to arrange.

***

The first thing Narumi became aware of was something tickling his nose. He wrinkled his nose and sneezed. 

The ground beneath him shifted. 

“So,” said a familiar voice. “You’re awake.” 

“I told you he would awaken soon,” said a second, more feminine voice. 

Narumi blinked. He wasn’t lying on the ground, as he had thought, but being carried piggyback by someone with a familiar mane of silver hair. A large wolf stared at him placidly. “Sakumo? What are you doing here?” 

“Rescuing you. Careful, don’t move too much. You really did a number on yourself. I did what I could, but I’m no medic-nin. Couldn’t spare any of them,” Sakumo muttered, quieter. 

The comment reminded him, and Narumi flailed as he attempted to retrieve his message scroll to see if Tsubame had replied to him. “Sakumo, what day is it? What happened?” 

“October 13th,” Sakumo said. “I found you near a cave close to the Kusa border. Or, Ran did, technically. What happened?” 

“Never mind that, what happened to—” 

The words caught in his throat. 

Sakumo was silent for a moment. “Naruto is fine,” he said, at last. “I haven’t seen him, but I heard. Kushina and Minato . . . didn’t make it. The Kyuubi broke out of the seal. Minato defeated it, but it cost him his life.” 

The pain that washed through him this time had nothing to do with his injuries. Narumi struck his fist against Sakumo’s shoulder, only to apologetically brush his hand over the spot when the man grunted. “Dammit,” he growled. “I should’ve—” 

“You were captured,” Sakumo said. “It wasn’t your fault. Both Kushina and Minato would tell you the same.” 

Narumi contained the words that wanted to escape him. It was his fault; he had known that Kushina and Minato would be in danger. He should have refused the mission, told Tsubame to give it to someone else, clearance be damned. He should have made himself keep going instead of passing out in the forest. He shouldn’t have gotten captured in the first place; what kind of jounin didn’t even check for genjutsu when infiltrating an unfamiliar location? 

Rookie mistakes, and now Minato and Kushina and countless citizens of Konoha were dead, and Naruto would grow up not knowing his parents. 

“Naruto! Is he okay?” Narumi demanded. “Where is he?” 

“He’s fine. Tsubame has him, he took him back to Uzushio the moment he arrived in Konoha,” Sakumo said. “The moment he realized you weren’t in Konoha, he had the Sandaime organize your rescue mission. That’s me. There’s some Uzushio folks running around looking for you, too.” 

Narumi relaxed slightly at that. Tsubame would keep Naruto safe. “And everyone else?” 

“All fine. Minato made the kids stay behind the barrier. Kakashi and Obito are furious, but they’re unhurt except for a couple bumps and bruises. Rin’s working overtime at the hospital, but she’s fine too.” 

“Thought her chakra control wasn’t good enough for medic-nin techniques yet.” 

“She’s doing the basics—stitches, splints, the works. Keeping people tided over until a medic can see to them,” Sakumo explained. “Tsunade and Dan are busy at the hospital too. Kogane’s been looking after Nawanuke and Heiwa. I don’t think he’s let them out of his sight once since the attack. The village is a mess. We’ve even got civilians pitching in to clean things up.” He sighed. “I think that about covers it.” 

Narumi sighed and rested his head against Sakumo’s shoulder. “What a fucking mess.” 

Sakumo laughed harshly. “You can say that again. Still, we’ll make it through. Uzushio was decimated, and look at her now. That’s where we’re headed, by the way. Trust me, you don’t want to try to get a bed at Konoha’s hospital right now. Tsubame sent over a bunch of medics, and they’re still swamped. Besides, I figured you’d want to see your nephew as soon as possible.” 

“Yeah. Thanks, Sakumo.” 

“Don’t mention it. Just relax and let me take care of things. You’ll be home before you know it.” 

***

The next time he woke up, Narumi was in a plain room he immediately recognized as one of Uzushio’s hospital rooms. The Konoha hospital rooms were all white, but Uzushio’s had cheerfully blue walls. 

He wondered, for a moment, what he was doing there. He turned his head to the side and spotted Tsubame in the chair next to his bed, flipping through paperwork.

Narumi shot up in bed. “Naruto!”

“Is fine,” Tsubame said calmly. “He’s in the hands of our best nurses. Sakumo informed me that he filled you in on what happened?” 

Narumi nodded. His hands clenched at the bedspread. 

Kushina and Minato, once again gone before their time, when he could have prevented it. 

“I took the liberty of preparing your house for Naruto,” Tsubame said. “Additionally, I have removed you from the active mission roster for the foreseeable future.” 

“Wha—why?” 

“All single parents are removed from the active mission roster until their children are at least in the academy,” Tsubame explained. 

Narumi struggled up from the bed. Tsubame knew him well enough to not bother trying to stop him. “I’m going to see Naruto,” he said. 

Tsubame followed him to the door, but put a hand on the door to hold it shut before Narumi could open it. “There’s something else you need to know. Naruto is the Nine-Tail’s jinchuuriki.” 

“Yeah. I thought as much,” Narumi said. He took a deep breath and sighed it out. “Who else knows?” 

“You. Me. The Sandaime Hokage and his advisors,” Tsubame said. “That’s it.” 

Narumi opened his mouth, shut it again, and cleared his throat. “Wait, only us? That’s like, only six people.” 

“I was hardly going to let Sarutobi tell the whole village,” Tsubame said. “The matter is officially a village secret. I authorize you to tell Naruto as soon as you think he’s old enough to understand.” 

He paused, and then sighed. “I suppose you may also tell Sakumo.” 

Narumi clasped his shoulder. “Thanks, Tsubame. For looking out for Naruto.” 

Tsubame looked away. “I could hardly do otherwise. He is an Uzumaki, after all.” 

Tsubame removed his hand from the door, allowing Narumi to open it, and together they set off down the hallways of the hospital. “So no one knows about, uh, that thing. But what about Naruto’s parents?” 

“As far as anyone is concerned, his parents are Uzumaki,” Tsubame said. “Konoha was told that the Kushina and Minato’s child was killed when the beast attacked. The only ones who know otherwise apart from the village leaders are, as far as I know, Sakumo, Jiraiya, Tsunade, Orochimaru, and Minato’s students. As with the other matter, I trust you to tell Naruto as soon as he is old enough.” 

Narumi definitely didn’t want to wait to tell Naruto until he was as old as Narumi had been. “Maybe when he enters the Academy. . .” 

“That’s another thing I wanted to talk to you about. Naruto will be going to the academy in Konoha. And before you get upset, I already assumed you would be leaving with him,” Tsubame said. “Sarutobi only agreed to allow Naruto to grow up with his family until he was old enough to enter the academy.” 

Naruto would get to grow up with the same kids Narumi had grown up with—that was a nice thought. “So, until he’s six?” 

“Perhaps. Minato was in the process of pushing through a law that would only allow children to enter at the age of eight. The council might pass it in his memory,” Tsubame said. 

“Minato would like that,” Narumi murmured. 

“You should hear Orochimaru talk about it. You would think the village had banned him from doing research ever again,” Tsubame snorted. “Of course, there’s no law against teaching your children at home before they join the academy. I have some ideas, for Naruto—I hardly want to send him off to Konoha with no preparation for what could be waiting there—but that can wait. For now, I think there’s someone you want to see much more than you want to talk to me.” 

They stopped in front of a long window. A few nurses were there, tending to a few babies, but Narumi’s eyes were immediately drawn to Sakumo, who was murmuring to a small bundle in his arms. He looked up, met Narumi’s eyes, and presented the bundle with a broad smile. 

A small, red, scrunched-up face with a tuft of blond hair poked out of the bundle. Narumi couldn’t help but smile despite his lingering sadness and anger over his failure. “He’s adorable.” 

“Go on,” Tsubame said, pushing him towards the door. “I’m sure Sakumo has all kinds of advice to give you before he has to leave. We can talk about the future later.” 

Part of him wanted to rage, to scream that it just wasn’t fair that Kushina and Minato had still been killed, that somehow he had failed to protect him despite all of his knowledge of what was coming, but a soft smile from Sakumo as he held Naruto up and waved his little hand at Narumi had him pushing all that aside. He could deal with that later. Right now, Naruto was more important. With one last deep breath, Narumi steadied himself and stepped through the door to join Sakumo.

Chapter Text

The rebuilding of Konoha was slow. The Sandaime took over pretty much immediately and organized all the chuunin and genin into rescue and repairs, and sent out all the available jounin on missions to keep up appearances, but even months after the attack, it seemed like Obito was tripping over rubble every other step. At least Ichiraku was back in business. 

Even if it wasn’t the same without Kushina trying to steal his toppings all the time. 

Nothing was the same now. 

He almost never saw Rin, these days. She was always busy at the hospital, helping Tsunade and Dan in whatever way she could and leading a group of civilians who had volunteered at the hospital. 

It was the same with Sakumo. The village needed money, so the jounin were pretty much always gone unless they worked at the hospital—and now that most people were out of the hospital, for better or for worse, more and more medic-nin were being sent out as well. Sakumo, as one of the most high profile shinobi in the village, was guarding lords and ladies and making nice with rich clients. 

The Hokage had decided that Kakashi was now skilled enough with his new limbs to be sent out on high-profile missions, the kind of missions that generated gossip about how strong the next generation of Konoha shinobi was. When he wasn’t accompanying Sakumo on the Hokage’s doomed attempts to make Kakashi network with the upper-crust of society, Kakashi was usually teamed up with Obito for missions. These days, Obito and Kakashi spent their days hunting down all the S-ranked bounties they hadn’t had to worry about when the village had been in top shape. 

It was, in all honesty, one of the worst jobs he’d ever been given, second only to the Kanabi Bridge mission. Somehow, when he imagined becoming a jounin, he thought he’d be getting all the nice missions to exciting locations, not missions that sent him hiking through a swamp in the ass-end of nowhere, getting devoured by bugs and lugging an unconscious bounty back to where he’d left Kakashi. 

“Heeeey, Bakashi!” Obito called. “Get your lazy ass over here! Noodles, can you smell him?” 

Noodles sniffed and then scrunched up her nose. “I think a bug flew up my nose!” 

Obito sighed and adjusted his grip on the bounty. Next time, he was going to go after the short guy, and Kakashi could take down the burly woman. “Bakashi!” 

“There’sssss no need to sssssshout.” 

Obito shrieked as something flicked his ear, and resisted the urge to swat at his shoulder. “Please don’t do that,” he said. 

The snake perched on his shoulder hissed; Obito got the feeling it was laughing at him. “I will stop doing that when your reactions stop being so amusing. My master issss right over there.” 

Obito followed in the direction the snake pointed with its outstretched head. “Bakashi! Your snake is bullying me again!” 

“She wouldn’t bully you if you didn’t make yourself such an easy target,” Kakashi said, from his seat on top of a bound body. He looked up, his single eye roving over Obito. He nodded and snapped shut the book he’d been reading, the ever-updating Uzushio bingo book that Narumi Uzumaki had given him. Obito had taken a look at it once, while Kakashi had been studying his Konoha bingo book. It was filled with shinobi from Kiri and missing-nin from Uzushio, and was dotted with cheerful little notes from Narumi. Sometimes instead of bingo book pages, he even added little doodles of Naruto and  updates on how he was doing. Obito had taken to ripping them out of the bingo book and saving them, along with the baby pictures Narumi sent them from time to time. He had quite a few pictures he saved up now. When he next had some free time, he planned on getting a scrapbook to officially collect them, instead of just keeping them in a shoebox in his closet. 

Kakashi stood and hauled his bounty over his shoulder. “Let’s get them back to Konoha.” 

“One of these times I’m going to persuade you to take a break before rushing right back to the village,” Obito muttered as he activated his Mangekyo Sharingan. The two of them stepped through the portal that appeared, and emerged in the forest just outside the village gates. Five minutes later, they approached the gate. 

“Fast as usual, huh,” one of the chuunin at the gates said, as he checked over their mission scroll and identification. “How long was it this time? Three days?” 

Kakashi shrugged and walked through the gate, leading the way to the bounty drop-off point. Obito knew that the bounties went to T&I, but beyond that, he had no idea what happened to them once they handed them off to the scarred jounin behind the counter. He was pretty sure he was better off not knowing. 

Obito stretched out his sore muscles as they left the building and abandoned the bounties to their fates. “So, what now? Another mission? Or are you actually going to let us stop for lunch this time?” 

In response, Kakashi turned and silently trudged down the street, hands in his pockets. Obito followed behind him, letting Kakashi take the lead past newly-repaired shops and houses, all the way to the graveyard. 

The grave for Kushina and Minato was still piled high with flowers from the regular visitors that dropped by. Someone had even left a bowl of ramen as an offering. Kakashi silently knelt down and lit a stick of incense. Obito sat at his side and watched the smoke drift through the air. 

The Hokage Mountain watched over them. 

“I wonder who they’re gonna get to be the Godaime,” he said. “I mean, the Sandaime is super old, right? He already retired once.” 

“Probably one of the Senjus. Dan or Tsunade,” Kakashi said. “Shishou was complaining about it to me.” 

Obito shivered. “Imagine Orochimaru as Hokage.” 

“I don’t think he actually wants the hat,” Kakashi said. “He’s too busy with research for that. He only cares if the Hokage will interfere with his work and funding.” 

Kakashi sat back on his heels and stared up at the mountain as well. He was silent for a long time, long enough that Obito started feeling antsy and had to resist the urge to jiggle his leg. 

“They’ve already started talking about the next Hokage. My father told me,” Kakashi said. He got to his feet, and then offered Obito a hand up. “Let’s get a mission.” 

Kakashi turned, making to pull his hand away. Obito tightened his grip and pulled back, forcing Kakashi to stop and look at him, his single eye narrowed in irritation. “Let’s do something fun,” Obito blurted. “Outside the village.” 

The more he thought about it, the more the idea appealed to him. Obito took off towards the mission center, thoughts wheeling around in his head. That place with the hot springs, maybe, if he could swing it—although it was getting colder now, so that was likely to be a pretty popular location. 

No, Obito had a better idea. 

He burst into the mission center; the chuunin at the desk looked up with an exasperated expression on his face. “You again?” 

“I’m here for another mission! Somewhere cold. Like, super cold.” 

The chuunin’s eyebrows rose. “Somewhere cold? At this time of year?” He shuffled through some scrolls, and eventually dropped a small pile  of them on the desk. “Take your pick. We’ve got a couple bounties in the Land of Snow—” 

Obito waved his hand. “No, no bounties.” 

The chuunin muttered something about “picky jounin” under his breath. “Fine. We have a bodyguard mission for some minor noble. Nothing fancy, but he’s paying big bucks. And then we have a priority delivery to the daimyo of Yuki no Kuni. The faster you can get it there, the better.” 

Obito smacked his hand against the desk. “The second one! We’ll take it.” 

The chuunin handed over the scroll. “You have three weeks.” 

Obito grinned; three weeks was more than enough time. “Sounds great! Let’s go, Kakashi. Grab your stuff and meet me at the gate.” 

“You have to let go of me first.” 

Obito looked down and saw he was indeed still holding Kakashi's hand. He snatched his hand away and scratched at the back of his head with awkward laugh. “Eheheh. Sorry about that. Anyways, uh, meet back here in an hour?” 

Kakashi looked at him. “I'll give you three.” 

Obito puffed out his cheeks irritably. “Jeez, Bakashi, I’m not that bad anymore! Just for that, I’m going to beat you here.” 

Of course, as always, the universe conspired against him. First, when he went to the Uchiha compound to restock his gear, he ran into Mikoto and ended up getting drawn into a long conversation about whether or not he was eating properly. He finally managed to escape, only to find an old woman returning home with several massive grocery bags just as he was leaving the compound. He couldn’t just leave her to it, of course, so he offered his assistance and helped her home, and then ended up putting away her groceries for her as well. 

In the end, he managed to get to the gate two hours later to find Kakashi waiting for him. 

Kakashi raised his one visible eyebrow. “Thought you were going to beat me here.” 

“Shut up,” Obito said. 

The chuunin looked over their mission scroll briefly before waving them on. Obito waited until they were out of site of the village before opening up a portal. They paused in the in-between world to put on their winter gear, and good thing, too, since they emerged in the middle of a snowstorm. 

“Shit!” Obito quickly yanked down his snow-goggles and tugged his scarf up higher. “C’mon, Bakashi, the city should be just up ahead.” 

Thankfully, he’d positioned the portal close enough to the city that they only had to run through the snow for half an hour. They were quickly escorted to the daimyo’s palace and given a chance to rest and regain their energy after delivering their message. 

“A three week mission, done in an hour,” Obito sighed as they relaxed in the bedroom they had been given for the night; Obito could have gotten them out of the country in an instant, but Kakashi had said it would be rude to refuse the hospitality. 

“I take it you have a plan for the remainder of our time,” Kakashi said. 

Obito grinned and put a finger to his lips. “It’s a secret! But keep your winter gear on.” 

They left in the morning, after eating a hot breakfast and giving their farewells to the daimyo. In the in-between world, Obito removed anything that might mark him as a shinobi, from his headband to his weapon pouches, and Kakashi did the same. Once they were done, they looked almost like civilians, although the bandage they’d wrapped over Kakashi’s empty eye socket made him stand out. 

With that taken care of, Obito took them to another snowfield. Here, however, the skies were clear and cloudless, and he could clearly see towering mountains in the distance. 

Kakashi looked around as he tugged his scarf tighter. “Where are we?” 

“You’ll see!” Obito declared. 

They managed to find their way to something resembling a path. Obito wasn’t sure they were going in the right direction—he hadn’t been able to find much information on their destination—but they did eventually see a city rising in the distance. 

Obito’s breath caught in his throat as they neared the entrance. There, swords at his side, stood a man dressed all in plate armor, complete with a mask covering his face. 

“Obito, you didn’t,” Kakashi said. “We’re now allowed to be here.” 

“Live a little, Kakashi! Relax and don’t say anything incriminating, and they’ll never know.” 

Kakashi sighed, but allowed Obito to pull him up to the entrance. A sword, still in its sheath, dropped in front of him as he approached. 

“Halt. Name yourselves,” the samurai ordered. 

Obito grinned at him. “I’m Tobi, and this is my, uh, boyfriend, Ba—shi.” 

The samurai stared down at him. Obito really wanted to know what expression he was making. 

“We’re on a trip!” Obito added, when the samurai said nothing. 

“Present your identification,” the samurai said. 

The only identification Obito had was his shinobi ID card, and that would definitely give the game away. “Uh. Should I have identification?” 

“If you are a shinobi,” the samurai said. 

Obito laughed nervously. “Uh, nope, not a shinobi.” 

The samurai stared at him. 

Obito tried not to look away. 

The sword in his path lifted. “If you are lying, the consequences will be severe,” the samurai said. 

“Great!” Obito said, grabbing Kakashi’s hand. “Come on, let’s go. I bet there’s an inn somewhere around here.” 

The capital of Tetsu was smaller than the capital back home, but Obito still managed to find an inn with only a little bit of aimlessly wandering around the snowy streets. There weren’t many options, but this one looked warm and comfortable and not too pricey, not that he was too worried about expenses considering how much his missions paid these days. 

“Bashi?” Kakashi hissed as soon as the innkeeper had bustled out of view, leaving them alone in the main room. 

“I was trying to think quickly!” Obito protested. “Be grateful I didn’t introduce you as Bakashi.” 

Kakashi crossed his arms over his chest. “Boyfriend?” 

“Uh.” Obito had to admit he hadn’t really thought that one over; it had just been the first thing to come to mind. 

Kakashi looked away. “. . . Nevermind. It’s fine. We should take a look around before they figure out we’re shinobi and kick us out.” 

“Uh, I think they might arrest us actually,” Obito said. “I can get us away if they try that, but we should probably stick together just in case.” 

Kakashi shrugged. “That’s fine. We should stay together anyways. Since we’re boyfriends .” 

Obito tried to ignore the heat in his cheeks. “Uh, yeah. Sure! Sounds good. So, where do you want to go?” 

Obito’s stomach growled loudly before Kakashi could answer. 

Kakashi raised an eyebrow. 

Obito sheepishly rubbed the back of his head. “Uh, maybe we should grab some lunch first.” 

The main room had a few tables for the people staying there to sit at and take meals. There was no menu and no staff, but the innkeeper quickly came by their table with the lunch offering for the day. 

“So, what’s the plan?” Obito asked as they dug into their food. 

Kakashi shrugged. “I don’t actually know what there is to do here. I just wanted to see the samurai.” 

Obito grinned. “Then samurai it is! Don’t worry. I’m gonna make this the best vacation ever.”

***

Kakashi was going to die. 

His heart was pounding in his chest, his stomach was sick with nerves, and the flush in his cheeks had nothing to do with the freezing air. No, it was entirely to blame on Obito, pressed up against Kakashi’s side in a vain attempt to escape the cold, his hand still holding onto Kakashi’s from when he’d dragged him over to their current spot, watching some boys around their age train. 

“Oh, man,” Obito said, as their teacher launched into yet another demonstration. “I totally wish I could use the Sharingan right now, you have no idea.” 

Kakashi quickly glanced around to make sure no one had heard him. The area around them was abandoned, thankfully. Tetsu was not exactly a popular tourist destination, especially in the middle of winter. “I don’t think they would take kindly to that.” 

Obito elbowed him. “I’m not actually gonna do it! I’m not that stupid.” 

“Could have fooled me.” Kakashi kept his eyes fixed on the samurai-in-training. If he looked at Obito, he would spontaneously combust. 

“Whoa! Look at that!” 

Obito’s arm slipped around his waist and tugged Kakashi around to look at a different part of the training area. It didn’t mean anything, Kakashi was certain—it was just the easiest place for Obito to grab him, given how close they were standing together—but he still felt like he was on fire. 

“Amazing,” Obito gasped. 

Kakashi blinked, and took in the two samurai facing off in the training field, their blades flying through the air so quickly he could hardly see them. Obito’s mouth was wide open as he watched them—and, Kakashi realized, his eyes were bright red. 

“Obito!” Kakashi hissed, squeezing Obito’s arm. 

Obito turned to him and blinked, his eyes fading back to natural black. “Ah—shit, sorry. I got excited.” 

A quick glance around showed that no one had seemed to notice, at least. “Save your excitement for other things.” 

Obito stared at him blankly for a moment before grinning mischievously. “Other things, huh?” 

Kakashi rolled his eyes. “Mature. Be more careful. Come on, we should go.” 

Momentarily disappointed at the thought of leaving the training area, Obito soon perked up once again. “Yeah! I’m curious about Tetsu. I mean, they can’t only have samurai. Let’s go!” 

Obito didn’t let go of Kakashi as they returned to the main streets of the city. He probably wasn’t even thinking about it; he was probably just cold. Unfortunately, knowing that didn’t do anything to stop the heat under Kakashi’s skin or the butterflies in his stomach. 

Obito dragged them all over the city, stopping in every store that caught his eye. They bought roasted sweet potatoes from a street vendor, which warmed their hands while they ate them. Once they had finished those, the familiar, fishy scent of oden drew them to yet another vendor, who chatted with them about various sites in the city while he served them their skewers. 

After that, tired from their day of walking, they returned to the inn. 

“D’you think our room is ready?” Obito asked as he opened the door. 

The inn was more crowded, now, almost every table in the room filled with customers. There wasn’t a seat to be had at the bar, and Kakashi and Obito had to squeeze in to get to the counter. 

“Hi, ma’am!” Obito called cheerfully. Out of the corner of his eye, Kakashi noticed the man next to them glance over at them. 

“Oh, the boyfriends ,” he said. “Enjoying the town?” 

Obito stared at him. Kakashi tried, in vain, to place where they might have met the man; Obito hadn’t mentioned that stupid cover story since the gate. 

That left only one person who the man could be, Kakashi concluded. “The samurai from the gate.” 

Obito smacked his fist against the palm of his hand. “Oh! I didn’t recognize you without all the stuff.” 

The man nodded. “Takamura.” 

The same name as the inn, Kakashi realized with a sinking feeling in his stomach. 

His fears were realized as the man said, “I live here. My mother runs the inn. But, as I was asking you, are you enjoying the town?” 

The man stared at them levelly. Obito, ever oblivious, grinned at him. “Yeah! We went to see the samurai. They’re amazing—oh, but, uh, you probably already knew that.” 

The man looked away from Kakashi, focusing on Obito. “It’s always a pleasure to meet someone who appreciates the samurai arts. However, I am surprised . . . I thought you would be more of a fan of shinobi.” 

Obito blinked at him. “Eh? Why would I be a fan of shinobi?” 

The man looked at Kakashi again, his gaze unblinking. “It was just an impression I had. Forgive me, I have to join my friends. Enjoy Tetsu.” 

Finally, the man left, taking two pitchers of beer with him to a table. The innkeeper appeared, a broad smile on her face. “Enjoy your stay, boys!” she declared as she placed a key in Kakashi’s outstretched hand. 

Kakashi grabbed Obito’s hand and dragged him upstairs before anyone else could ask them weird questions. 

“Kakashi—hey, wait, I wanted to see what was for dinner! Kakashi!” 

Kakashi shoved him into the room and shut the door behind him. He pressed his ear to the door and listened, but no one was following them. 

“Geez, what’s up with you?” Obito asked. 

Kakashi remained pressed to the door. “That man is onto us. Takamura.” 

“Eh? You think so?” Obito scratched at the back of his head and wrinkled up his nose, trying to think. Kakashi stared, unable to look away for some strange reason. “I thought he was just being friendly.” 

“Idiot,” Kakashi said, shaking himself free of his strange, Obito-induced trance. “Did you not notice all his weird, pointed comments about shinobi? And about us being boyfriends ?” 

Obito tilted his head to the side. “Uh, yeah, I guess? I didn’t think it was that weird . . . you think it was weird?” 

“Yes, it was weird,” Kakashi sighed as he stepped away from the door.  “I don’t think anyone followed us up here, so he must not be too suspicious, but we should be careful.” 

Obito shrugged. “I don’t think we have to worry that much. I mean, he’s one guy, and he’s on gate duty. We’re probably never going to see him.” 

“Did you miss him saying that he lives here?” Kakashi sighed. 

“So? I live at the Uchiha compound, and I’m never there,” Obito said. 

Kakashi rolled his eyes. “Yeah, because you never buy groceries so you always come running to my house.” 

“What’s the use in buying groceries when we’re out on missions all the time?” 

“Buy things that don’t go bad easily. Canned food. Dry goods.” 

“When I could have your dad’s home-cooked meals? No thanks!” Obito threw himself down on the bed, tossing down his bag, and then looked around. “Aw, man!” 

Kakashi looked around the room, but didn’t see anything out of place. “What is it?” 

“There’s only one bed! They gave us a single,” Obito groaned and hauled himself up. “C’mon, let’s go see if she has a room free with two beds.” 

Kakashi grabbed his arm. “Wait! We can’t do that. That samurai is still down there. He’ll definitely be suspicious if two people who are supposedly dating raise a fuss about having to share a bed.” 

Obito scratched the side of his nose. “We’ll tell him we’re, uh . . . waiting until marriage?” 

Kakashi stared at him flatly. “He’s never going to believe that.” 

Obito threw his hands up in the air. “What, so we’re just going to share that one little bed? Because one guy might be a tiny bit suspicious of us?” 

Kakashi looked around Obito, to the bed. It was small, he had to admit, roughly the size of Kakashi’s bed at home. Kakashi’s bed had fit Kakashi and Obito comfortably when they were both smaller, but that was a few years and a few growth spurts ago.  If they shared, the two of them would have to squeeze together to fit, a thought that brought a warm flush to Kakashi’s cheeks. 

He shook his head. “He might be one guy, but he has friends. All it takes is one little comment to his friends, and then the word spreads, and the next thing you know every samurai in town has an eye on us. We’ll have to make do. You can have the bed. I’ll take the floor.” 

Obito rolled his eyes and punched Kakashi’s arm. “Don’t be dumb. You’re not going to catch Obito Disease from sleeping next to me. I bet it gets freezing here at night, you’re gonna die if you sleep on the floor. Besides, I know it’s hard on your body when you don’t sleep in a bed.” 

That much was true—ever since the Kannabi Bridge mission, Kakashi often woke up stiff and sore when he slept on anything other than a bed. He dealt with it, because it was an inevitability on missions, and he never complained about it. He certainly hadn’t mentioned it to Obito. “What makes you say that?” 

Obito wrinkled his nose, a sure sign he was thinking. “Well, whenever we have long missions and can’t stop at an inn or something and have to sleep outside, you always move a little bit slower and more carefully, and sometimes you make painful faces. I mean, you wear a mask and all that, but I noticed the corner of your eye kind of scrunches up when you’re in pain.” He laughed sheepishly and rubbed at the back of his head. “I guess I just pay attention to you!”

Kakashi reiterated: he was going to die. This vacation was a doomed plan. He should tell Obito to back up his things, turn in their key, and take them back to Konoha before things could go even further downhill. 

But then Obito turned a blinding grin on him and said, “C’mon, let’s go grab something to eat and talk about our plans. Tomorrow’s gonna be great! That vendor gave me a bunch of great ideas about things to do together,” and Kakashi’s legs and willpower turned to jelly.

For better or for worse, they would stay for the rest of their vacation. If they were caught, Kakashi would let it be known that it was all because of Obito’s stupid smile.

***

“Kakashi, is it just me, or is someone following us?” 

Kakashi breathed out slowly and tried to ignore Obito’s arm, curled around his as Obito pulled him down the snowy streets of Tetsu. “So it’s not just me. I think it’s Takamura. I don’t think we’ll be able to shake him; he knows these streets better than us, and if we try too hard it will just look suspicious. I think we’re stuck with him.” 

Obito nodded thoughtfully. “I think I’ve got an idea.” 

Kakashi glanced at him doubtfully. “What are you planning?” 

Obito grinned. “Just trust me.” 

For five minutes, Obito made a show of touring the street, his arm tucked around Kakashi’s waist and driving Kakashi slowly insane, until he turned back as if to point out something Kakashi had missed and said, “Oh, hey, it’s Takamura! Takamura, over here!” 

Faced with Obito’s enthusiastic waving, there was nothing Takamura could do but join them from where he had been lingering, several paces behind them. Obito beamed at him as if he wasn’t aware Takamura had been following them ever since they had left the inn. “Is it your day off?” 

Takamura’s face was disguised by a thick scarf; all Kakashi could see of his face were his dark eyes. “It is.” 

“Are you running errands for your mom?” Obito chattered; Kakashi admired his ability to maintain his cheerful demeanor in the face of Takamura’s blank stare. “I get sent out to do that all the time at home! But if you’re not busy, I was wondering if you could show Kakashi and I around?” 

If it weren’t for Takamura, Kakashi would have shaken Obito until he coughed up exactly what he was thinking. 

Takamura dipped his head. “I would be glad.” 

“Great! Because some of these street vendors gave us advice on where to go, but I keep getting turned around and distracted,” Obito said with an easy laugh. “I don’t know where to go, so lead the way, tour guide!” 

Takamura was undoubtedly the worst tour guide ever, speaking maybe a sentence, if that, on each place he brought them. Obito didn’t seem to care, filling the air with cheerful chatter. Kakashi, for his part, attempted to ignore Obito’s arm around his waist and kept an eye on Takamura, just in case he pulled anything. At the moment he didn’t seem inclined to do anything, but that could change in a heartbeat. 

Takamura escorted them to various popular locations, and then, when Obito’s stomach growled, took them to a small restaurant that Kakashi suspected was run by people Takamura knew personally, since they greeted him familiarly. They took their seats around a booth, Takamura on one side and Obito and Kakashi on the other, and in moments a steaming hotpot was placed in front of them. 

“Nabe!” Obito cheered. “That’s perfect for the weather. Thanks for the food!” 

Obito devoured three bowls in short order, bottomless pit that he was, while Kakashi picked his way through his first bowl. He didn’t start his second bowl until Obito was on his fourth. Takamura’s eyes flickered between them, watching, as he scooped steaming slices of meat into his mouth. 

He watched them throughout the meal, but didn’t say anything until Obito had excused himself for the bathroom. 

“So,” he said, as Kakashi paid for the meal. “Is he also a shinobi, or just you?” 

Kakashi continued counting coins for the bill. “What makes you think I’m a shinobi?” 

Takamura held up a small book, not unlike Kakashi’s bingo book, open to a certain page. Kakashi was wearing a hat over his hair and wasn’t wearing any of his ninja gear, but it was still easy to recognize that the person in the picture was him. 

“Kakashi Hatake” was printed at the top of the page. In a cramped, messy scrawl, someone had written “The White Fang’s son!” 

Kakashi finished counting money and returned the remainder to his bag. “So?” 

“This is obviously you,” Takamura said. 

“Maybe I have a twin,” Kakashi said. Takamura stared him down. Kakashi nodded towards the page. “You’re a fan of the White Fang?” 

Takamura blinked and then did a double-take at the page. “Ah. That. I heard that he channeled chakra through a blade, a feat remarkably similar to samurai techniques.” 

Kakashi nodded. “He’s a fan too,” he said, nodding towards the bathroom door just as it opened. 

Obito, grinning, bounded back over to their table as Takamura slipped the book away. “Sorry, I’m ready to go now. What next?” 

Takamura looked at the clock. “If you’re interested, I believe we have time for a visit to a picturesque location, although it is a bit of a hike.” 

Obito nudged Kakashi. “Hear that? Picturesque . Sounds right up your alley, old man.” 

“Enjoying calming nature scenery does not make you old,” Kakashi said. “When you slip and fall in the snow, I’m going to laugh at you.” 

Obito stuck out his tongue, and just to be contrary started running around as soon as they got outside. “C’mon, slowpokes! Stop wasting daylight!” 

Kakashi sighed as he followed him. “Do you even know where we’re going?” 

Obito turned around so that he was walking backwards. “Uh, nope! Where are we going, Takamura?” 

“Continue straight. I will inform you when we reach the trail we need to take.” 

“Great!” Obito darted off without a care, plunging into the snowbanks to the side of the street with a gleeful laugh. “There’s so much snow here!” 

“It snows at home, too,” Kakashi said. 

“Yeah, but it always melts quickly, or gets swept away, or is all gross and icy,” Obito said. “Not fluffy and soft like this!” 

“It is still icy,” Takamura warned. “You should be careful.” 

At Takamura’s direction, they turned off the main road onto a small trail, still covered in snow. Obito gleefully stomped along the trail, allowing his feet to sink deep into the snow, while Kakashi and Takamura followed behind him. Eventually, the trail ended at a rocky cliff, which had a series of rocks and outcroppings leading up to the top of the cliff. It looked climbable, but calling it a path would be too generous. A frozen waterfall poured over the top of the cliff, icicles dangling over the iced-over pond below. 

“Oh, man, I bet this place is great in the summer!” Obito said. 

“The summer is not particularly warm here,” Takamura said. “However, the fall is larger due to the melting snow.” 

Obito ran over to the cliff. “Hang on, I’m gonna take a look!” 

“Be careful,” Kakashi warned. The last thing they needed was Obito using chakra to climb the cliff and making Takamura suspicious of him, too. 

Obito rolled his eyes. “Yes, Mom .” 

As Obito began to carefully climb the cliff—using only his hands and feet, and no chakra, to Kakashi’s relief—Kakashi wandered closer to the pond and brushed away the snow over the ice to see if he could see through it. 

“Are there fish?” he asked. 

Takamura nodded once. “Asleep at the bottom of the pond. Ice-fishing is popular this time of year, but this isn’t the best spot for it. There is a larger lake further outside of the city that people prefer to go to, but it is not a trip an ordinary person could make in a day. Unless you think the two of you could manage it.” 

As if on cue, Obito yelped, only to quickly call out, “I’m okay! Don’t worry!” 

“Probably for the best we don’t go,” Kakashi said. “That idiot over there would probably manage to fall in somehow.” 

“Hey! I heard that!” 

“Just focus on not killing yourself.” 

Obito blew a raspberry in response. “Mature,” Kakash sighed. 

“I reached the top! You should come take a look at this. It’s beautiful up here!” 

Kakashi stood and turned to find Obito had indeed reached the top of the cliff, although he hadn’t climbed on top of it yet, instead holding onto the ledge with his hands as he stared into the distance. He looked down and, spotting Kakashi watching him, grinned. “C’mon! It’s not a hard climb at all. I can help you, if you’re too much of a wuss.” 

Kakashi sighed and stepped closer. “I’m coming, I’m coming.” 

“Yeah, hang on, let me just finish climbing up—whoa!” 

Kakashi saw the moment Obito’s foot slipped off the outcropping just as he was about to climb up. His arms pinwheeled uselessly as he fell back. Kakashi surged forward, careless of how his unnatural speed would give Takamura additional evidence—there was no telling what dangers lurked under the snow. Obito might land on snow, or he might hit a hidden rock. Kakashi wasn’t about to take that chance, not when the mere sight of Obito falling sent his heart leaping into his throat. 

He reached the cliff just in time to catch Obito. They hit the snow, Kakashi underneath Obito, and lay there for a moment, breathing hard. 

“Thanks,” Obito gasped, as he sat up enough for Kakashi to wriggle out from underneath him. 

“I told you you were going to slip and fall,” Kakashi said. He got to his feet and brushed himself off, and then offered Obito a hand. Obito grasped his hand and let Kakashi pull him up, only to wince and sink back down to the ground. 

Kakashi knelt beside him. “What hurts?” 

“Ankle,” Obito groaned. 

Kakashi nodded and looked at Takamura. “Is there a clinic or a hospital nearby?” 

“I can take you to the doctor,” Takamura said. 

Kakashi gave Obito, still prodding at his ankle through his boot, a stern look. “You aren’t walking on that until we know it isn’t serious.” 

“What? But how am I supposed to walk? You aren’t just gonna leave me here, right?” 

“Don’t be stupid,” Kakashi said, and, without another word, put one arm under Obito’s knees and another around his back and hoisted him into the air. 

Obito’s hands scrabbled at Kakashi’s shoulders. “Whoa! Warn a guy!” 

Kakashi adjusted his grip on Obito and made his way back to the trail, carefully picking his way through the snow. Takamura led the way, escorting them down the trail and back to the city. 

After a moment, Obito relaxed, one arm loosely wrapped around Kakashi’s shoulders so that it rested on top of his backpack. “I could get used to this,” he said. 

“Enjoy it while you can,” Kakashi grunted. “You’re heavy.” 

“Rude,” Obito laughed. 

Kakashi didn’t respond, too focussed on not tripping and falling to respond to Obito. Takamura wasn’t much for conversation, and even Obito didn’t seem to be in the mood to talk, so they passed the rest of the trip to the clinic in silence. 

“A sprain,” was the doctor’s verdict, after poking and prodding at Obito’s bruised and swollen ankle while he complained enthusiastically. “Stay off it for six weeks.” 

He went on to give more detailed instructions, which Kakashi absorbed while Obito wilted with each word. Obito was silent and sullen when they left the clinic, Obito moving on his own with the aid of a pair of crutches, and didn’t speak until he’d flopped down on their bed in the inn. 

“Six weeks!” he whined. “What a way to ruin our vacation!” 

Leaving Obito to mope, Kakashi fetched a pillow to elevate Obito’s ankle and went to get some ice from the innkeeper. When he returned, Obito had resorted to flipping through some awful-looking bodice ripper from the bookshelves. 

What Happened in Tanzaku-Gai, read the title. The author, according to the blurb, had also written the bestselling The Shinobi Lover’s Code. A quick glance to the bookshelf revealed that they also had access to that book. 

Obito snickered and turned the page, only to yelp as Kakashi placed the ice pack on his ankle. “Jeez, Bakashi! That’s cold!” 

“Then don’t be an idiot and sprain your ankle,” Kakashi said. Obito subsided, grumbling under his breath. 

They spent the rest of the day like that, Kakashi alternately putting the ice on Obito’s ankle and removing it while Obito skimmed the romance novel and read Kakashi the funny or dirty parts. The author’s true skill lay in having a very poor sense of both male and female anatomy. 

The innkeeper was nice enough to bring them dinner, so that Obito wouldn’t have to traverse the stairs on his crutches again, and Takamura appeared to take their plates down and give them painkillers he’d purchased from the local drug store, a surprisingly nice gesture coming from their personal samurai babysitter. 

Kakashi settled down on the bed next to Obito and let his eyes slip closed. He hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before, too distracted by Obito’s presence next to him to manage anything more than a light doze. Obito’s reading wasn’t particularly soothing—he kept giggling and going off on distracting tangents instead of reading—but somehow Kakashi still found it relaxing to listen to him talk. 

***

“Kakashi. Hey, Kakashi, wake up.” 

Kakashi jolted awake, fighting against the blankets tangled around his legs. “Gah!” 

“Sorry,” Obito whispered. “You looked like you were having a nightmare. You okay?” 

Kakashi managed to straighten out the blankets. “I’m fine.” 

Obito gnawed on his lip—a bad habit to cultivate. If you did it in the middle of the battle, you’d end up biting through your lip. “You’re going to bite through your lip in the middle of a fight if you keep doing that,” Kakashi said. 

“Want to talk about it?” Obito said. 

“Not really,” Kakashi said. Reliving the cave and Madara in his dreams was bad enough; he didn’t want to relive it in the waking world as well. He looked around the room for a distraction. “Why is the lamp on?” 

“Oh,” Obito said sheepishly. “I couldn’t sleep, so I turned the light on to read.” 

Kakashi settled back down and shut his eyes, determined to get at least a little more sleep. “That Tanzaku-Gai book again? Read it to me, then.” 

“Uhhh, it’s not that book,” Obito said. 

“The shinobi lovers one? That’s fine too.” 

“It’s not that one either. I, uh, decided to try out a different author.” 

“Good. Maybe this one will be better,” Kakashi said. “Read.” 

“Uh, okay. If you insist.” Pages ruffled as Obito picked up the book. “I’m going to start at the beginning, though. Or else you’ll be confused.” 

“So there’s enough of a plot for it be confusing if I miss the beginning? What is it called?” 

The Gates of Konoha ,” Obito said. 

At least the title sounded better than the other two, Kakashi told himself. “Okay. Go ahead.” 

Obito cleared his throat. “The Sharingan was far more vivid than Kai had ever imagined. Red as freshly spilled blood, with a black pinwheel where a pupil should have been. The Uchiha loomed over him, pinning Kai against the wall of the Uchiha compound. Kai’s breath caught in his throat as the Uchiha stared down at him mercilessly, not even blinking. Had his mind been more present, he would have wondered if he was already caught in a genjutsu, but as it was he couldn’t look away from those brilliantly red eyes . . .”

Chapter Text

“. . .Kai watched the retreating back of the Uchiha. ‘What did you say? I couldn’t hear you.’ The Uchiha didn’t turn around as he responded. ‘I said, call me Asahi. Now hurry up. Before you get captured again.” For a moment, Kai stood where Asahi had set him down after carrying him from the cave, as if paralyzed by an unnoticed poison. No one had ever rescued him before, not in such a way as Asahi had done—without a care for repayment or thankfulness, but simply because he cared about Kai. 

“‘Are you coming, or do I have to go back there and get you?’ Asahi was barely visible through the trees. Kai hurried to catch up, matching Asahi’s long stride with his slightly shorter one. ‘What about the mission?’

“Asahi said nothing for a long time. ‘Missions are useless,’ he said, at last, ‘without comrades to complete them with. Now, enough questions. We’re going home.’ 

Home. Kai had never thought he would hear that word again, not applied to him, and unbidden, a smile crossed his face. ‘To Konoha,’ he agreed, and together they set off towards the gates of Konoha. The end.” 

Obito looked at the boy sleeping next to him. “Jeez, Bakashi, you sure have a talent for sleeping through the best parts. Well, I guess it made it easier to read.” 

He stared down at the very last page of the book—an advertisement for the third book in the series, The Storms of Kumo, coming out next month. The second book, The Peaks of Iwa, had been out for a year already. Obito would have to check them out; for better or for worse, he was invested in Asahi Uchiha and Kai. 

Seeing as how looking at Kakashi gave him a queasy feeling in his stomach, Obito had a feeling it was for the worse. 

He groaned and slumped back, letting his head smack against the headboard. “Stupid book,” he muttered, glaring down at the cover. That was what had caught his attention in the first place—the dark cover with the Sharingan in the center. He’d never read a book with an Uchiha as a main character before. If he’d known what type of book it was, he never would have picked it up. Then he wouldn’t be dealing with all these dumb thoughts and feelings. 

Like how cute Kakashi looked when he was sleeping. 

Obito tore his eyes away from Kakashi—no, he was not going to activate his Sharingan to memorize how Kakashi looked, that was weird and creepy, jeez Obito—and glared at the book. 

“This is your fault,” he told the book. “You and your stupid romance plot. Why couldn’t you just be an action book, huh?” 

He’d thought it was kind of funny, at first, how the serious, jaded Asahi Uchiha reminded him of Kakashi sometimes, and the cheerful, clumsy Kai was more like himself. As the book progressed, it had gotten less and less funny, and more and more like there was something Obito had been missing for a long time. He had a feeling he knew where this book was going, just like he had a feeling he knew the real cause of the queasiness in his stomach when he looked at Kakashi, curled up against Obito to ward out the cold that inevitably seeped into their hotel room. 

They wouldn’t be there for much longer, at least. Their vacation time was just about up; in the morning, they would leave Tetsu and head back to Konoha. Well, he said in the morning, but really it was more like in a couple hours—sharing a bed with Kakashi really hadn’t been good for his sleep. Everytime he laid down and closed his eyes, every single charged camping scene from the book ran through his head. Nothing ever happened during them, just like nothing happened while he was sharing the bed with Kakashi, but that didn’t stop him from thinking about it. 

He blamed his lack of sleep on his ankle—and that didn’t help matters any—but really, it was the book. And Kakashi being a stealth-cuddler. 

Beside him, Kakashi stirred. “Obito?” he mumbled. “Why’s the light on . . . does your ankle hurt?” 

“Uh, yeah,” Obito said. “A bit. I decided to finish the book.” 

Kakashi scowled. Obito couldn’t help but stare; he still wasn’t used to seeing Kakashi’s face without a mask. He always started out sleeping with it on, but it inevitably slipped down during the course of the night, revealing the small mole by the side of his mouth. 

“Without me?” 

Obito laughed. “Sorry, you kept falling asleep and missing all of it.” 

Kakashi waved a hand at him. “Give it. I’ll read it.” 

“Right now? We’re leaving in a few hours, you know,” Obito said. “You’re not gonna finish it in time.” 

“I’ll take it and read it on the way.” 

“It’s not ours!” 

“Please. Like anyone’s going to notice,” Kakashi said. “It’s stuck in between a bunch of trashy bodice rippers that probably no one reads.” 

“Just buy one when we get home. It’s not like they only sell them in Tetsu.” At least, Obito hoped they didn’t. If they did, he might have to become surprise penpals with Takamura. Obito’s plan to put him at ease had worked—once Obito and Kakashi allowed him to tag along, he became a lot more relaxed. Not that Obito had been able to go much of anywhere with his ankle. As it turned out, crutches and the snow did not mix well. 

Kakashi sighed. “Whatever you say.” 

Obito hoped that by the time they got home, Kakashi forgot all about the book. He didn’t want to know what Kakashi would think of it. Some things were better left to the imagination—and Obito’s imagination was plenty active, for better or for worse. He’d had plenty of daydreams where Kakashi read the book and had the same revelations Obito was having, and he’d had plenty of daydreams where Kakashi read the book and tossed it aside in disgust. 

Obito would rather not find out which one was closer to reality. Kakashi was important to him, more important than Obito had ever expected when they’d first met in the Academy. He didn’t want to risk that. He’d just have to live vicariously through Asahi and Kai. 

Kakashi rolled over and slid out of bed, hissing at the cold. “We might as well get ready to go, since we’re both up. I’ll pack our things.” 

Obito grimaced at his wrapped ankle. “I can’t wait to get a medic to take care of this for me.” 

Kakashi tossed Obito’s clothes over to him. “Having medical ninja is definitely one advantage we have over the samurai.” 

Obito laughed as he dressed and tossed his pajamas back to Kakashi, who packed them up in their bags. “Careful there, you sound almost like you plan to go to war with them.” 

“If Takamura tries to follow us to the border, I might,” Kakashi said. “I am not walking through the snow all the way to the border with your ankle in that condition.” 

“It’s gotten better,” Obito said. It still hurt to put weight on it, but he’d handled worse. 

Kakashi gave him a doubtful look, but didn’t say anything as Obito fetched his crutches. After a final check for any forgotten belongings, they checked out of their room and left the city. Takamura accompanied them to the gate, but didn’t follow them past that point. The moment they were out of sight of the village, Obito and Kakashi ducked off the road so Obito could summon up a portal back to Konoha. 

In an instant, they were back in the forests surrounding Konoha. The air was crisp and cold, and the ground muddy from rain, but there was no snow. Obito had opened the portal closer to Konoha than normal, out of respect for his crutches, but it still took them an hour to reach the gate. 

“Hey, it’s Obito and Kakashi!” the chuunin at the gate called as they approached, elbowing his partner. “You two sure took your time!” 

Obito shook one of his crutches at him. “Yeah, we were in an awesome battle! There were six of them, and they were all jounin-level shinobi—” 

“Obito slipped and sprained his ankle,” Kakashi said. 

The chuunin roared with laughter. Obito stuck out his tongue at Kakashi. “Way to make me sound completely lame.” 

“They already know you’re completely lame,” Kakashi said. “Come on, let’s go to the hospital.” 

The hospital was busy when they arrived. At least one mission had gone badly, and the waiting room was crowded with medics determining who could wait and who needed to be whisked away to surgery. The nurses took one look at Obito, judged that he wasn’t about to keel over and die, and shuffled Kakashi and Obito into a corner. 

It was a few hours before Rin, bags under her eyes, emerged from surgery and spotted them. 

“Obito! Kakashi!” she exclaimed, picking her way through the injured shinobi still waiting for their turns. “Are you hurt?” 

Obito laughed sheepishly. “Not seriously. Just a sprain, but I was hoping someone could fix it up . . .” 

Rin’s smile twisted. “Ah, I’m not cleared for anything more than what you’ve already received, by the looks of it. I’ll see if anyone is free.” 

Rin left as soon as she had appeared. Obito frowned after her; he hadn’t seen as much of Rin as he would like, since her kidnapping. The Hokage and the council hadn’t wanted to let their new jinchuuriki out of the village until she had a handle on her new abilities and increased chakra. Obito was usually out of the village on missions, and when he was in the village, it seemed like Rin was always busy. Maybe she was avoiding him. 

Kakashi’s elbow dug into his side sharply enough to make him yelp. “I can practically hear you thinking.” 

“That hurt, Bakashi!” Obito rubbed at the sore spot and his ribs. “I dunno. I was just thinking that I haven’t spent much time with Rin lately. I hope she’s doing okay.” 

“She’s fine,” Kakashi said. Obito blinked at him, surprised. “Kogane told me so. She’s been spending a lot of time with him and Shizune.” 

“Are we really gonna take Kogane’s word for it? Rin would tell him she was fine and he would just accept it at face value,” Rin said. 

“True enough,” Kakashi agreed. “But Shizune is more. . . emotionally perceptive than Kogane.” 

Obito snickered. “A brick wall is more emotionally perceptive than Kogane.” 

Kakashi shrugged. “I’d like to deny it, but . . .” 

“It’s Kogane,” Obito finished. 

The door to the waiting room opened, and Shizune stepped into the room. She scanned the area, and smiled when she spotted Obito and Kakashi. “Obito, right this way. Rin told me you had a sprain?” 

Obito hopped up and grabbed his crutches. “Yeah, I went to a doctor but I was hoping you could help it along a little more.” 

“I’ll see what I can do,” Shizune said, holding open the door for him as he joined her. 

She led him to a small examination room and let him get situated “I just finished another patient,” Shizune said. “I’m technically supposed to be taking a break.” 

“What? Hey, don’t waste your break on me!” 

“It’s alright,” Shizune said, as she unwound the bandaged wrapped around his ankle. “My shift is over after tonight, anyways.” 

“How long was this one?” Obito asked. 

“Twelve hours,” Shizune said. Obito flinched on reflex as her hands glowed green and she held them over his ankle, but her chakra was cool and calming. “Good, I can tell you’ve kept your weight off it.” 

“Kakashi carried me back to town after I injured it,” Obito laughed. 

“I can speed up the healing process,” Shizune said. “It should feel a bit tender afterword, and I would refrain from training and going on missions for another two weeks, but you should be able to walk around on it at least. This should only take half an hour or so.” 

Obito watched her work for a few minutes. “How’s Rin been doing? I haven’t seen her around much recently.” 

“She’s been working hard,” Shizune said. “We have a new division of civilian doctors now, for dealing with non-critical injuries and illnesses. She’s in charge of them, like I’m in charge of the medic division.” 

“And what about the, uh, jinchuuriki thing?” 

“I think you should ask Rin about that,” Shizune said. “She doesn’t like to talk about it much.” 

Obito swallowed around a lump in his throat. “Oh. Do you . . . you don’t think she . . . is Rin upset at me? For what happened back then?” 

“Of course she isn’t,” Shizune said. “But like I said, you should talk to her about it. Her next day off is this Friday. Don’t worry, I’ll make sure to keep Kogane busy while you talk to her.” 

“Huh? Kogane?” 

“They’ve been spending a lot of time together recently,” Shizune said. The green glow around her hands dimmed and vanished. “There, all set. Like I said, you can walk on it, but avoid anything too strenuous.” 

Obito hopped off the bed and tested it out. His ankle ached slightly, but not badly enough to bother him. “You’re a life-saver, Shizune.” 

“You can pay me back by talking to Rin,” Shizune said as she ushered him out of the room. “I take it you can find your own way out? I have to get back to surgery.” 

“Work hard!” Obito said, shooting her a thumbs up. Shizune gave him a small smile before heading down the hallway. Obito went in the opposite direction, back to the waiting room. To his surprise, Kakashi was still there, flipping through a book. As Obito walked up, he slipped away the book and stood. 

“All set?” Kakashi asked. 

“Yeah,” Obito said. “You didn’t need to wait for me.” 

Kakashi shrugged one shoulder. “I wanted to ask if you were coming over for dinner. I don’t know if Dad’s home. If he isn’t, I don’t want to have to go grocery shopping on my own.” 

Obito laughed and slung an arm around Kakashi’s shoulder, ruthlessly shoving down the twinge of happiness at the warmth of Kakashi’s body pressed against his own. “I get it! I’m your pack mule.” 

Kakashi avoided his gaze. “Let’s go home. I’m hungry.” 

Obito had to admit, he was hungry as well. They’d taken longer in the hospital than he had thought, and it was dark now. Hopefully the shops would still be open, or they’d end up eating canned food or something. When they approached the house, however, it was clear to see that it wasn’t empty as they had left it. The lights were on, and Obito could hear quiet murmurs of conversation from inside. 

He grinned at Kakashi and put a finger to his lips. 

“Oh, no,” Kakashi said. 

“C’mon,” Obito cajoled. “It’ll be like playing ninja again!” 

“Obito, we are ninja,” Kakashi sighed, even as he joined Obito in crouching down and creeping along the side of the house, keeping just below the level of the veranda. 

The doors from the living room to the garden were obviously open, as Obito could clearly hear the conversation inside when they reached the living room. Obito peeked over the veranda, Kakashi doing the same beside him, and saw Sakumo sitting in the living room, his back to them, staring at the wall. 

“—you be going back?” Sakumo said, glancing towards the kitchen. 

“Naruto is with Tsubame. He’ll be fine for another day.” Narumi Uzumaki walked into view, bearing a bottle of sake and two cups. Obito waggled his eyebrows at Kakashi, who rolled his eyes in response. “He’s getting used to me heading out now and then.” 

“I didn’t go out on missions until Kakashi was in the Academy,” Sakumo said as he accepted a cup. 

Narumi poured the sake and sat down next to Sakumo, his back to them as well. “Officially, it’s the same for me, but you know how it is. Rin’s seal, the village barriers, the works.” 

“They should give you a break,” Sakumo said. “Rin’s seal is fine. She hasn’t had a problem since you put it on her.” 

Narumi laughed and leaned against Sakumo, and their cups clinked together. “Well, maybe you can put in a good word for me, huh, Godaime-sama.” 

Obito’s mouth fell open, and Kakashi’s hand instantly slapped over it. Obito glared at him, only to find that Kakashi wasn’t looking at him at all. His eyes were wide open as he stared at his father and Narumi. 

“Don’t call me that,” Sakumo groaned. “I don’t know what the Sandaime is thinking. Me, Hokage?” 

“You’re the best option,” Narumi said. “Jiraiya is doing important  business out of the village, and no one can really take his place. Dan and Tsunade are running the hospital, and they have two little kids to take care of. That’s, like, four full-time jobs between the two of them. And Orochimaru is, uh . . . Orochimaru.” 

“Did you know he picked up another student?” Sakumo said. 

Obito made what he hoped passed as a questioning look at Kakashi. 

“Kabuto,” Kakashi mouthed, making circles with his hands and holding them up to his eyes like glasses. Obito shook his head; he’d never met the kid, as far as he could remember. 

“I didn’t,” Narumi said. “Doesn’t that make three?” 

“If we don’t count the other two on his genin team,” Sakumo laughed. “Poor kids. I’m pretty sure he trained them enough to pass the chuunin exam just so he could get rid of them.” 

“Sounds like Orochimaru,” Narumi laughed. “So, his other student?” 

“A kid named Kabuto, from the orphanage, I think,” Sakumo said. “I’ve seen him running around after Kakashi and Anko now and then. He’s still an Academy student, but he’s already persuaded Orochimaru to sign him on as an apprentice.” 

“You can do that?” 

“There’s no rule against it, so long as it isn’t a full apprenticeship. He’s not allowed to do missions or anything, but Orochimaru can train him.” 

“So Orochimaru has another kid,” Narumi laughed. 

“Now, now, they’re not his kids, they’re his lab assistants,” Sakumo said, prompting more laughter from Narumi. 

“Pocket money? No, no, those are their wages!” Narumi said, though his laughter. 

Sakumo shook his head and sighed in mock sadness. “Face it, Orochimaru is a dad in denial. Even my own son has been taken in by his wily ways and superior offerings of pocket money. I guess that leaves me with no choice but to get together with Orochimaru to finally unite us as a family.” 

Kakashi made a face. 

Narumi snickered. “Leaving me for Orochimaru, huh?”  

“Don’t worry,” Sakumo said, his voice playful. “You’re the only man for me.” 

“I better be,” Narumi said, his voice low. He leaned in close to Sakumo—Obito gulped; his eyes felt dry, but he didn’t dare blink—and pulled back with a laugh. Narumi stood, picking up the bottle of sake, and retreated to the kitchen, out of view. 

“Uh, have you been grocery shopping?” he asked. 

Sakumo ran a hand through his hair and stood. “Yeah, when I got home a few days ago. I grabbed whatever, I don’t know what we can make.” 

“Well, uh, it’s just the two of us, ya know? So just something small is fine, I guess,” Narumi said, with another laugh. 

Obito looked over to Kakashi, who was thinking so hard Obito’s head hurt just looking at him. He nudged Kakashi and tilted his head towards the front of the house. Kakashi nodded, and they crept back to the front and entered through the door. 

“We’re home!” Obito called as they replaced their shoes with slippers. 

“Kakashi, Obito!” Sakumo exclaimed, greeting Kakashi with a hug and a quick ruffle of his hair. “How was your mission?” 

“Good,” Kakashi said. 

Sakumo turned to Obito, tugging him into a hug as well. “Looks like you’re both still in one piece. You boys hungry?” 

“Starved!” Obito said. 

“Dinner for four!” Sakumo called over his shoulder. Narumi emerged from the kitchen and waved at them. 

Obito fumbled for what to say for a minute; he knew why Narumi was there, but Narumi didn’t know he knew, and he knew where Naruto was but Narumi didn’t know that he knew that either, and Obito hadn’t really realized how spying on people you knew could be so awkward. “Uh, how’s it going?” he said, mostly because it seemed like the safest option and didn’t sound completely stupid. 

“Pretty good,” Narumi said. “Got some new pictures of Naruto for you! He’s started walking around already. What do you want for dinner?” 

“Omurice,” Kakashi said. 

Sakumo smiled at that. “Omurice, huh? There’s a request I haven’t heard for awhile. Can you do omurice, Narumi?” 

“I’m the omurice master, ya know!” Narumi declared. “Naruto loves the stuff.” 

Narumi returned to the kitchen, while the three of them settled around the table. Obito tried to find something to say, but he was afraid that if he opened his mouth he’d blurt out something stupid about what he and Kakashi had seen. Kakashi, beside him, was silent. 

“Sakumo’s got news!” Narumi called from the kitchen. 

Sakumo grimaced. “Ah, I wasn’t going to mention it yet . . .” 

“Who knows when you’ll get another chance?” Narumi said. “I know how many missions you go on. When was the last time you all had dinner together?” 

“Six months ago,” Kakashi said. 

Sakumo chuckled sheepishly. “Fair point. Well, you see, the Sandaime . . . he’s nominated me as the Godaime. The daimyo’s happy enough with it, and he’s going to inform all the jounin in the next couple weeks, so I suppose you would find out soon enough anyways . . .” 

A smile spread across Obito’s face. He knew, but it was different hearing it officially. “That’s awesome! My shishou’s gonna be the Hokage!” 

Kakashi nodded. “I think you’ll be a good Hokage.” 

“I hope so,” Sakumo said. “The current plan is to have the inauguration in January.” 

“A new Hokage for the new year!” Narumi declared. 

“Whoa, so soon?” Obito said. “That’s, like, a month.” 

“A little more than a month,” Sakumo said. “We’re going to wait until the genin have graduated and the chuunin exams are over. Get all the heavy stuff out of the way, you know.” 

“Logical,” Kakashi said. 

Obito glanced at him out of the corner of his eye. It was hard to tell how Kakashi was feeling, with everything but one eye hidden, but Obito would swear something was off about him. He would have asked if he was feeling okay, but that would open up a whole other can of worms given Sakumo was sitting right there. 

“So, what’re your plans as Hokage?” Obito asked. “Longer lunch breaks for Academy students? ‘Cause that would make six-year-old me over the moon.” 

Sakumo talked about his various thoughts and plans until Narumi brought them the omurice, after which they switched to stories about Naruto. Kakashi was quiet throughout the meal, only speaking up occasionally. It wasn’t that unusual for Kakashi, but he was usually more talkative around his dad, and Obito couldn’t help but be a little worried. 

Was it about his dad and Narumi? Did Kakashi think it was weird? He hadn’t said anything when he and Obito had talked about it before, but they’d been joking then—they hadn’t seriously thought there was anything going on. The thought soured Obito’s stomach, but he forced himself to keep eating until it was all gone. 

“Thanks for the food, Narumi,” he said. “I should probably be heading home, though.” 

“Stay the night,” Kakashi said, already getting up and heading to his bedroom, leaving the remainder of his omurice. “Night, Dad, Narumi.” 

“Goodnight!” the two men called. 

Kakashi shut the bedroom door behind them and stared at Obito. “Uh, want me to make a blanket fort?” Obito guessed. Kakashi nodded. “Sure thing. One blanket fort, coming right up!” 

He constructed the fort quickly, with the usual combination of ninja tools and bedroom furniture, and then settled himself on the bed. Kakashi joined him moments later and pressed four seals around the walls of the fort. 

“There,” he said. “Now no one will overhear us.” 

“Okay, good, because that wasn’t just me, right? There was totally something going on with your dad and Narumi,” Obito blurted. 

Kakashi nodded. “I thought so too. So, you agree?” 

“I thought they were gonna kiss or something,” Obito said. “You, uh, don’t think it’s weird, do you?” 

Kakashi gave him a blank look. “It’s my dad, Obito. Of course it’s weird.” 

“Oh, uh, yeah, I guess that would be weird,” Obito said, running a hand through his hair. He couldn’t help but grin in relief—so that wasn’t what was bothering Kakashi after all.  “D’you think they’re, you know, dating?” 

“I don’t think so,” Kakashi said. “Narumi pulled back quickly, and they both seemed embarrassed afterward.” 

Obito flopped down. “You thought so too, huh? I wonder why they aren’t dating.” 

“Distance. Other obligations,” Kakashi said. 

“Not wanting to ruin a friendship,” Obito said. He rolled over and sighed. He didn’t know about distance or obligations, but he knew what it felt like to not want to risk a friendship. “D’you think they’ll ever get together?” 

“Most likely not,” Kakashi said. “They’re shinobi of different villages, and my father is about to be Hokage. The logistics alone would make a relationship nearly impossible.” 

“Yeah, I guess,” Obito sighed. “That’s kind of sad.” 

Kakashi’s hand clenched in the blankets. “. . . It is.” 

Obito rolled over, wrapping himself up in a blanket, and grinned at Kakashi. “Maybe we should get them together.” 

Kakashi laid down beside him. “Don’t be ridiculous.” 

“D’you know if Narumi was ever married or anything?” Obito wondered. He couldn’t remember the man ever mentioning a relationship, but he didn’t spend that much time with him. 

“Not that I know of.” 

Obito glanced over at Kakashi, and found him staring up at the roof of their fort. “What’s the matter?” 

“Nothing.” 

“C’mon, I can tell,” Obito said. “You’re acting weird. Is it about your dad and Narumi? Your dad being Hokage?” 

“I’m proud of him for being nominated as Hokage. I think he’ll be good at it,” Kakashi said. 

Obito propped up his head on one hand. “So what is it?” 

Kakashi stared upwards. “I don’t remember my mother. It’s never bothered me before. I . . . don’t know why it bothers me now.” 

“Your mom, huh?” Obito said. “I don’t remember my parents at all. Grandma never really talked about them, either. She said I took after both of them once. You look like your mom, right?” 

“Do I?” Kakashi turned his face towards Obito and tugged down his mask. Obito’s mouth went dry. Half of Kakashi’s face was scarred from the cave in, but the other half was smooth. He had a small mole at the corner of his lips. His soft, pink lips. 

“Uh. I dunno what your mom looks like,” Obito said, forcing a chuckle. 

“Ah. That’s right. Hang on.” Kakashi slipped out of the fort. Obito peeked out and watched him rummage through the closet, peeking in boxes until he found what he was looking for. Kakashi returned to the fort with a framed picture. 

“My parents at their wedding,” he said, offering it to Obito. 

Obito had actually seen a picture of Kakashi’s mother once before, when Sakumo had shown him pictures, but he was again struck by how alike they looked. His mother was more tanned and her hair was brown, but otherwise their features were pretty much the same. 

“She was really pretty,” he said, flushing as he realized he had indirectly said that Kakashi was pretty. He hoped Kakashi didn’t notice. He looked over the picture again. 

“I have more,” Kakashi said, leaving once again and returning this time with a shoebox full of picture frames. “My dad gave them to me.” 

There weren’t many pictures. One of them was Sakumo as a genin, with two kids Obito didn’t know, and then another one of him with Kogane’s dad and Kakashi’s mom. The second picture had Kakashi’s mom again, this time as an adult, with three genin. 

“Hey! That’s Kushina, and Mikoto-ba-san!” Obito exclaimed. 

“They were my mom’s genin team,” Kakashi said. 

“So you knew Kushina already,” Obito mused, setting that picture aside for another one. This one had a whole bunch of adults, again at Kakashi’s parents’ wedding. Narumi was there, at Sakumo’s side, along with Tsunade, Dan, Orochimaru, and Jiraiya. A massive dog stood next to Kakashi’s mom. 

Obito couldn’t help but smile. They all looked so happy, standing there. “Must be nice.” 

“What?” Kakashi leaned over to look at the picture. “The wedding?” 

“Yeah, weddings are nice. I’ve never been to one, but I’ve always wanted to. At this rate the first one I’ll end up going to is my own,” Obito laughed. 

“You want to get married?” 

“Huh? I mean, yeah, eventually,” Obito said. Kakashi hummed thoughtfully. Obito glanced at him, but even without his mask on, Kakashi’s expression was inscrutable. “Hey, Kakashi? D’you, you know, like anyone?” 

Kakashi looked at him blankly. “I like plenty of people. You. My dad. Narumi. Kogane. Rin.” 

Obito waved his hands. “Not like that! I mean, you know. Do you like someone.” 

“Oh—you mean—” Kakashi looked away. “. . . No. I don’t.” 

“Oh. Uh, me neither,” Obito said. He wasn’t sure how to feel about what Kakashi had said; on one hand, at least Kakashi didn’t say he liked someone else, but he hadn’t said anything about liking Obito either. 

Obito sighed and let his head drop to the bed. “Life is hard.” 

Kakashi snorted. “You’re realizing this now? Move over, you’re taking up the whole bed.” 

Obito scooted over, and Kakashi stretched out alongside him. “You’re not gonna get out the futon?” 

“Don’t want to,” Kakashi said around a yawn. “Besides, we’ve been sharing for three weeks.” 

“Yeah, I guess,” Obito agreed, tugging the blanket over them. He’d been kind of looking forward to getting a good night’s sleep, for once, without being distracted by Kakashi lying next to him. Although, he had to admit he didn’t really mind it. Kakashi was pretty cute when he was sleeping.

Kakashi sleepily smacked Obito’s face with his hand. “Stop thinking. You’re keeping me up.” 

“Sir, yes, sir.” Obito said. “Night, Kakashi.” 

“Night, Obito.” 

Chapter Text

“Whatcha reading, Kakashi?” 

Kakashi looked up from his book to find Rin, Kogane, and Shizune standing beside the table he’d been sitting at while waiting for Obito. They were supposed to do some light training after lunch, but Obito, as usual, was late. “Oh, Rin. Just a novel. I read part of it at an inn, so I decided to buy a copy for myself. It’s about a serious, rule-abiding Uchiha and his lackadaisical partner.” 

Rin giggled. “Sounds like you and Obito in reverse. Are you here for lunch?” 

“I’m waiting for Obito. Would you like to join us?” 

“Sure. It’s been awhile since I talked to Obito,” Rin said as she slid into the bench across from him with Kogane and Shizune. “You two are always out on missions.” 

“It’s been settling down recently,” Kakashi said, slipping the book back into a pouch. “Now that the rebuilding is done.” 

The door to the restaurant opened, this time to admit Obito, gasping for breath and flushed pink. “Sorry I’m late!” 

“Only an hour,” Kakashi said. 

“Shisui was pestering me. He’s such a pain,” Obito sighed. “Ever since I beat him sparing he hasn’t left me alone. He’s gotten worse since he learned shunshin—you wouldn’t believe how fast he is. He leaves behind an afterimage . It’s ridiculous.” 

The waitress came by to take their orders, and brought them to the table shortly. The lunch rush had long since finished, so they had the restaurant almost entirely to themselves. It was nice to have some time to talk to his friends; Rin, Shizune, and Kogane were either working at the hospital or out on missions. Now that he thought about it, Kakashi hadn’t seen Gai in a while, either. Maybe he would seek him out for training while Obito was recuperating. 

Obito, for his part, seemed unusually quiet. Throughout the meal, he kept glancing across the table at Rin. An unpleasant feeling settled in Kakashi’s stomach. Briefly, it occurred to him that Obito had professed to have a crush on Rin when they were younger, and that maybe he still did, but Kakashi pushed those thoughts out of his mind. It wasn’t any of his business who Obito had a crush on, and it shouldn’t bother him if Obito did have a crush, anyways. 

 He continued to tell himself this throughout the meal, which somehow ended in Shizune and Rin being invited to train with them, while Kogane had to return to the hospital for his shift. As they exited the restaurant, however, Obito paused in the street. 

“Hey, uh, Shizune, Kakashi? You mind going ahead? I wanted to talk to Rin about something.” 

“Of course,” Shizune said, before Kakashi could ask any questions. “We’ll meet you at the training ground.” 

Obito smiled so gratefully that Kakashi had no choice but to follow along with Shizune. The question of what Obito could want to talk about tumbled around in his mind. Maybe Obito did have a crush. Maybe he was going to ask Rin out. The thought bothered him, for some reason—only because if Obito had a girlfriend, it would complicate their training schedule, Kakashi told himself firmly. 

To distract himself, he pulled out his book and flipped it open to where he had left off. 

“Oh, The Gates of Konoha?” Shizune said. “I like that book. It’s good, isn’t it?” 

“It is. I’m planning to buy the second book once I’m finished,” Kakashi said, as his eyes scanned over a depiction of a fight between Asahi Uchiha, Kai, and two ninja from Kumo. 

“The second one is good, too. It’s actually from Asahi’s point of view, instead of Kai’s,” Shizune said. “I can’t wait for the third one to come out. But I’m surprised, Kakashi. I didn’t think you enjoyed romance novels.” 

Kakashi stopped. “Romance novels?” he repeated, dumbly. 

Shizune blinked at him. “Well, yes. Didn’t you know? The first book is mostly building up the relationship. It isn’t as heavy-handed as most romance novels, which is part of why I enjoy it, but I thought the romantic cues between Kai and Asahi were fairly obvious.” 

“I just thought they were partners,” Kakashi said. “Like Obito and I.” After all, many aspects of the book reminded him of things he and Obito had said or done or felt. 

Kakashi stared at the book. “It’s . . . a romance?” 

“It is . . . are you okay, Kakashi?” 

Kakashi slipped the book into the pouch and took a step back. “I’m fine. Tell the others I won’t be able to join them.” Before Shizune could protest, Kakashi slipped away and vanished into the crowd. 

He had a bookstore to find. 

***

“I’m an idiot.” 

Kakashi stared up at the ceiling of the bookshop, The Peaks of Iwa resting on his stomach, still open to the last page. It ended on a cliff-hanger, because of course it did. The next book wasn’t out yet; Kakashi had already asked. 

Once again, Kakashi read the last page, as Asahi vowed to find Kai and pull him out of whatever hole he had dug himself into. The book had ended on a poor note, with Kai turning traitor in the middle of the climax with nothing more than a whispered apology. That wasn’t what had him bothered, though. 

The second book was even more of a romance novel than the first, even Kakashi could tell that much, and yet every thought Asahi had about Kai insisted on reminding him of how he thought about Obito. How he felt about Obito. 

Kakashi flipped back towards the middle of the book—he’d marked the page, just because it had answered a question he had never truly thought to ask. 

Kai leaned in towards Asahi, his purple eyes sparkling with mirth. “I can’t believe it. Are you jealous, Asahi?” 

Asahi ruthlessly quashed the sour nausea roiling in his stomach, threatening to put his partnership with Kai at risk. Who Kai flirted with was his own business, whether it was for a mission or not. “Of course not,” he said. 

Kai laughed, and Asahi knew he had answered too quickly to fool him. “You know I was only getting information.” Kai touched Asahi’s shoulder, the warmth of his hand a burning imprint against Asahi’s skin. “It doesn’t mean anything.” 

Asahi wondered, as Kai leaned in, if Kai’s gestures towards him meant anything, or if they were as empty as his flirtations towards the men and women they encountered during their missions. 

“Jealous,” he said. “I’m jealous.” 

Not of Obito—of Rin. Just because Obito might have a crush on her. Because he might ask her out. 

“Jealousy is a stupid emotion,” he said. 

The owner of the bookstore poked his head into the reading nook, where Kakashi had spent the last few hours holed up. “We’re closing up.” 

Kakashi nodded and got up, taking the book with him—he’d already paid for it, before he started to read it—and heading for the door. Just as he arrived, however, it opened to admit Obito, breathless and pink-cheeked. 

“Hey, you’re not closed yet, are you? I need to buy something—oh, Kakashi!” 

“Five minutes!” the owner called. 

Obito didn’t move, still staring in surprise at Kakashi. “So this is where you were! Are you feeling okay? Shizune said you weren’t feeling well or something.” 

“I’m fine,” Kakashi said. “What did you talk to Rin about?” 

“Oh.” Obito sheepishly ran a hand through his hair. “I was, uh, talking to her about what happened with the kidnapping. You know. ‘Cause, we hadn’t really talked much since then, so I thought she was avoiding me, and maybe she was mad at me or something, but she’s not! She felt bad and thought that I was upset at her, but I wasn’t, so it was just a bit misunderstanding!” 

“It wasn’t about liking her?” Kakashi asked. He immediately regretted it, but there was no way to pretend he hadn’t said that. 

Obito’s nose wrinkled up. “Uh, what? Wait, are you talking about that crush I had on Rin when I was, like, thirteen?” He burst out laughing, and a hot flush rose to Kakashi’s cheeks. “Jeez, Bakashi, that was forever ago!” 

“Only three years,” Kakashi muttered. 

“You’re ridiculous,” Obito said, but his voice was fond. Not that it did much for Kakashi’s embarrassment; if anything, his cheeks felt even warmer.

The shopkeeper appeared, hands on his hips. “Out! We’re closed!” 

“What? Aw, c’mon, I just wanted one book!” Obito protested. 

The shopkeeper waved his broom at them. “Out! Out!” 

“Okay, okay, we’re going!” Obito said, grabbing Kakashi by the wrist and pulling him out of the shop. Behind them, the door slammed shut and locked. 

Kakashi cleared his throat. Obito’s hand was still holding his wrist, and it was incredibly distracting for such a simple touch. “What book were you looking for?” 

Obito let go of Kakashi’s wrist. “Oh, uh, nothing really. Just the sequel to that book I was reading at the inn.” 

Kakashi reached into his pocket and held out the book. “Here. I just finished it. You can have it.” 

He didn’t want to read it again. It would just remind him of what he really felt about Obito, how he wanted more than just Obito’s friendship now that he knew more was an option. 

“Oh, really? Thanks,” Obito said, accepting the book. “Wait a minute, did you ditch training to go read?” 

Kakashi shrugged one shoulder. Obito laughed. “Bookworm! I’ll give it back to you once I finish. I probably won’t finish it as quickly as you.” 

“That’s okay. Take your time,” Kakashi said. “Are you coming over?” 

“Nah, Shisui roped me into training with him,” Obito said. “Itachi’s probably gonna be there. You could come if you want.” 

“Maybe another time,” Kakashi said. He needed some time to sort through his new realizations. 

He liked Obito. He liked Obito. Like his dad had liked his mom, once upon a time. Like his dad liked Narumi, maybe. 

“Yeah, sure. I should be going before Shisui tears the village apart looking for me. See you tomorrow, Kakashi!” Obito trotted off, still holding the book as he waved goodbye. 

The book, Kakashi realized, that still had the pages and passages he had marked as relevant to his feelings for Obito. 

“I’m an idiot,” he said. 

He couldn’t let Obito read that book. He was oblivious, but even he couldn’t have missed the connection between Asahi and Kakashi and Kai and Obito. If Obito looked at the book, he could figure out how Kakashi felt about him. 

There was nothing for it: Kakashi would have to steal back the book before Obito could read it. 

The first stage of the plan was simple: find a bookstore that was still open, and also had a copy of the book for sale. It was late, but Kakashi managed to find a few bookstores still open, although only the last one offered the book. With that, he had his decoy book ready to switch out. The next part of his plan: replace the book he had given Obito with the one he had bought. This would be tricky. 

Obito had gone to the Uchiha compound. Kakashi, as he wasn’t part of the clan, wasn’t welcome in the compound without an escort. The only Uchiha he really knew were Itachi and Shisui, both of whom might let something slip to Obito. That left infiltration as the only option. 

Kakashi waited until night had truly fallen to go to the Uchiha compound. Most people would be in their beds, asleep. The few guards posted were easy for him to avoid, and Kakashi was soon on his way to Obito’s house. Obito, luckily, lived towards the edge of the compound, away from anyone else. 

The house was dark and silent when Kakashi arrived. Obito had locked his front door, but he’d given Kakashi a key ages ago. Kakashi walked silently through the house until he reached Obito’s room. Obito had left his bedroom door slightly open, but Kakashi was careful as he pushed it open, knowing the door had a tendency to creak. 

Obito snored softly. Kakashi slipped through the door and scanned the room for the book. The first book was there, on the table—Obito must have bought a copy of his own—but there was no sign of the second book until Kakashi looked at the bed. 

Obito’s head was resting on top of the book, his hand curled around the edge. 

Kakashi swallowed, stepped closer, and hoped that Obito was as deeply asleep as he seemed. He gently nudged Obito’s hand away from the book, not daring to breathe until it was finally free. He pulled gently at the book, easing it slowly out from under Obito, stopping whenever Obito stirred. 

The book was halfway free. Kakashi breathed a soft sigh of relief. 

Obito’s eyes opened, gleaming red in the darkness of the room. In a flash, Kakashi found himself flat on his back, a kunai held to his throat, Obito straddling his hips. 

Obito blinked. “Kakashi? What are you doing?” 

Kakashi cleared his throat. “The book. I was going to replace it with a different one.” 

“Why?” Obito asked, his grip on the kunai relaxing. 

“I underlined some things in the book,” Kakashi said. 

“Trust you to treat a novel like a textbook,” Obito laughed. “But it’s not like I care. Pretty much all of my books are second hand.” 

Now that Obito said it, Kakashi had to admit that perhaps he had overreacted. Obito probably wouldn’t have thought twice about Kakashi underlining some of the passages in the book, even if they were rather romantically charged. Still, there had to be some way out of this hole he had dug himself into. 

“So why did you underline it, anyways?” Obito asked, flipping through the book and squinting at the pages. 

“The prose was good,” Kakashi said. 

“That’s all? Then why’d you try to take it back?” 

“It’s weird to underline a romance novel.” 

“Well yeah, I’d probably make fun of you for that,” Obito said. His eyes narrowed. “Wait, you knew it was a romance novel?” 

“Of course I did,” Kakashi said. 

Obito snorted. “Here I thought you’d be too oblivious to notice.” 

“I’m not as oblivious as you!” Kakashi protested. 

“Oh yeah? I bet I can figure out the real reason why you underlined stuff in this book,” Obito said, holding the book aloft. 

“No, you can’t,” Kakashi said. There was no way Obito could figure it out. 

Obito’s grin turned devilish. “So there is a reason!” 

“No, there isn’t,” Kakashi said. 

“You already said there was,” Obito sing-songed. “And I’m not giving this back until I figure it out.” 

Kakashi scoffed. “Fine, do what you want. Just get off me already.” 

Laughing, Obito stood and offered Kakashi a hand up, playfully keeping the book away from him. Still, there was nothing to worry about. There was no way Obito could figure it out. No way at all. 

***

“I’m never going to figure this out.” 

Obito let the book fall onto his face, blocking out the sun, only for it to be lifted off moments later. He sat up and looked around; Kakashi and Kogane were still going at it in the middle of the training field, while Rin, next to him, was reading the blurb on the back of the book. 

“What are you reading?” Rin asked. 

“Just a novel. I bet Kakashi that I could figure out the real reason why he underlined a bunch of stuff in it, but I can’t figure it out,” he sighed. “He said it was because the prose was good.” 

“Well, let’s see if I can figure anything out.” 

As Rin flipped through the book, Obito watched Kakashi and Kogane’s fight. Kakashi had gotten pretty good with his mokuton, sending little roots to trip Kogane at critical moments. Kogane’s Spirit Release wasn’t particularly useful for sparring, but he’d learned how to punch from Tsunade. If he wasn’t holding back, a punch from him could shatter bone, and his chakra scalpel could easily put an opponent out of commission. As Obito watched, Kogane kicked at Kakashi, who substituted with a log. Kogane’s foot hit the log right in the center, and it exploded into splinters. Roots burst out of the ground, trapping Kogane’s other foot. Kakashi emerged from the forest, and Kogane fended him off with his remaining hands and foot. 

“Is this a romance novel?” 

Obito rubbed at his nose. “Yeah, yeah. Don’t make fun of me, it’s good!” 

“No, it is. I thought it sounded familiar; Shizune reads this series,” Rin said. “I didn’t think Kakashi liked romance novels, though.” 

“I didn’t think so either,” Obito said. “He’s marked it up like a textbook or something.” 

Rin giggled. “That’s very Kakashi. Although, that does give me an idea . . . it’s a little weird, though.” 

Obito turned to face her fully. “What is it? You gotta give me a hint at least, my ninja pride is at stake here!” 

“Have you noticed that the main characters are kind of like you and Kakashi?” 

“Yeah,” Obito admitted reluctantly. He’d done more than noticed. He’d dwelled on it like a pathetic loser. 

“Well, I’ve noticed that most of the passages underlined pertain to Asahi’s feelings towards Kai,” Rin said. “It could be that Kakashi related to these passages in some way. I can’t say for sure, of course. But it does seem very like Kakashi to use a romance novel as a textbook for his own emotions.” 

“Yeah, that does seem like some thing he’d do, the weirdo,” Obito snickered, only to stop as he turned her words over in his mind. “Wait, what do you mean, his own emotions?” 

Rin stood and dusted herself off. “I’ll leave that part to you. Kakashi! Kogane! My turn!” 

The roots retreated, leaving Kogane free. Kakashi left the area they’d chosen for their spar, high-fiving Rin as he passed her on his way to sit next to Obito. Kogane and Rin nodded to each other, and the next instant they were in motion, exchanging rapid blows, tinged with the green of medical chakra and the red of the Sanbi’s chakra. 

“Rin’s improved at using the Sanbi’s chakra,” Kakashi noted as he took a seat beside Obito and started to go through some basic stretches. Before Kogane, he’d fought Obito, and Gai before that, and the three fights had left him sweaty despite the cold weather. Obito tried to resist staring at all the ways his uniform clung to him, but, well, he was only human. 

“Uh, yeah! She told me she’s been training everyday and even talking to the Sanbi, and that they have an understanding or something? She can manifest three full tails, but she doesn’t do it for sparring because it would freak people out,” Obito said. “I wanted to take her someplace where she could show me, but I think people would notice if she suddenly went missing. She’s got a million ANBU guards.” 

“She has six,” Kakashi said. “We could handle them easily. But we probably shouldn’t.” 

“Yeah, probably,” Obito said. 

“At least not until my father is sworn in,” Kakashi said. 

Obito snickered. “Planning to abuse your position already, huh, honorable son of the Hokage?” 

Kakashi shuddered. “Please, never say that again.” 

Obito leaned against him, teasingly fluttering his eyelashes. “Oooh, young master, show me your jutsu!”

“. . . Stupid.” 

Obito pulled back slightly to look at Kakashi’s face. Kakashi was looking away from him, his gaze fixed on the spar, but Obito could see a faint, pink blush peeking out from above his mask. He’d put it up to the cold weather, or the heat of summer, or any other reason the previous times he’d noticed it, but now it just made him think of what Rin had suggested. 

He was dying to ask Kakashi about it—but what if Rin was wrong? Well, maybe he could play it off as a joke, or say that Rin had said something weird and pin the blame on her. Did he risk it? Could he? 

Obito had to ask. Otherwise, he’d blurt it out at some horribly inopportune time, like in the middle of a fight, and then Kakashi would be so surprised he would get gutted or beheaded or something. But he couldn’t now—Rin and Kogane were right there, and he just knew that Kogane would come over and say something awkward at a key point in the conversation if Obito brought it up now. Not to mention that Obito was supposed to fight Rin next, and his turn was bound to arrive before they finished their conversation. 

There was only one way to get out of this without any awkward conversations. 

The world came into sharp clarity as he activated his Sharingan. Kakashi barely had time to make an inquisitive noise before Obito grabbed him and tugged him into a portal, bringing them out on the top of the Hokage monument. That way, if the conversation went sour and he needed to make a quick escape, he could just take a flying leap off the Yondaime’s head.

“Obito, what?” Kakashi said, his voice clearly irritated. “I wasn’t done stretching. And I still have to fight Rin. I wanted to see how my mokuton does against the Sanbi.” 

“Do you like me?” Obito blurted. 

Kakashi’s eye went wide. 

Obito backtracked. “Uh, I mean, I was looking at that passage, and I was wondering if maybe they reminded you of me and you.” 

“No,” Kakashi said, so casually it was almost suspicious. “That would be ridiculous.” 

Obito squinted at him. “Are you sure? Because you’re blushing.” 

“You’re imagining things.” 

“The Sharingan doesn’t imagine things.” 

“You ripped that line from Peaks of Iwa. ” 

“So? It’s a good line! And that’s beside the point!” Obito pointed at him. “You like me, and I’m gonna prove it!” 

Kakashi’s eye narrowed. “And how are you planning to do that, exactly?” 

No time to think—Obito surged forward, grabbing Kakashi by the shoulders, and tugged Kakashi forwards. Their lips crashed together, Kakashi’s mask soft against his lips. 

Shit. The mask. Obito had forgotten about the mask. He reached up to pull it away, only for the mask to be yanked down before Obito could so much as touch it. Kakashi’s lips parted against his, their teeth clacking together painfully. Obito pulled back to prepare himself to try again, this time without any teeth-clacking, but Kakashi followed him. His mouth was warm, soft, and tasted kind of like miso soup. 

Obito never wanted to stop kissing him. 

Eventually, he ran out of breath and had to pull away. “Wow. So, uh, how was that for proof?” 

“You better not have done that just to mess with me,” Kakashi said. 

Obito waved his hands desperately. “No! No, that’s not it at all! What I mean is, uh, I like you too! A lot! So, wanna be my boyfriend? Or something?” 

Without the mask, Obito could see Kakashi’s blush even more clearly. His own cheeks felt equally red. 

“You’re an idiot, Obito,” Kakashi said, and then wrapped his arm around Obito’s shoulders and pulled him close. 

Obito didn’t smile, but only because he was pretty sure it might ruin the kissing. As soon as they separated again, he was beaming. He wrapped his arms around Kakashi and pulled him into a bone-crushing. 

“Wahooo!” he screamed into the wind. “My boyfriend is the most amazing shinobi in the whole damned village!” 

“Obito!” Kakashi complained. 

Obito activated his Sharingan and opened a portal. “C’mon, we’ve gotta go tell Rin and Kogane!” 

“What—Obito, wait, we only just started dating—” 

Obito only laughed and pulled him through the portal. He was the happiest he’d ever been, and he didn’t care who knew it. He’d tell the whole damn village they were dating, if he didn’t know it would irritate Kakashi to be gossiped about. 

He leaned in for one last kiss. “I like you, Kakashi.” 

Kakashi grumbled, but still kissed him back. “I like you too, Obito. Just please don’t tell the whole village yet.” 

“Our friends?” 

“You can tell our friends.” 

“And the whole village later?” 

“Don’t push it,” Kakashi said, and together they stepped through the portal. 

Chapter Text

The January after Naruto turned two found Narumi returning once again to Konoha. This time, however, he wasn’t going on his own. They were going for the Chuunin Exams and Sakumo’s inauguration, so he was accompanied by both Tsubame and Naruto. They arrived just in time for the third portion of the exams, the elimination tournament. 

Narumi looked up at the stadium and bounced Naruto on his hip. “Look at that, Naruto! That’s where we’re going to watch the exams.” 

“Big!” 

“Yeah, it sure is, isn’t it. Hey, Tsubame! Where are we going to be sitting?” 

Tsubame, who had been in the middle of speaking to a Konoha ANBU, turned to face him. “I had assumed that you would want to be in the Hokage’s box with me. I have it on good authority that Sakumo will be there as well.” 

Narumi laughed sheepishly. “You know me too well. It won’t be an issue, having Naruto there?” 

“Of course not,” Tsubame said. “I daresay he will be better company for me than anyone else there.” 

With that, he swept into the building. “I think he likes you more than  me,” Narumi said to Naruto before following after him. 

The Kage box was already filled with ANBU from all Uzushio, Suna, and Konoha. Sarutobi sat in the center, Sakumo standing right behind him. The Kazekage sat to his left, a man with red hair and another with brown hair standing behind him. An empty chair sat to the Hokage’s right, but Tsubame pulled it backwards and to the side rather than sit in it, with a smooth gesture between Narumi and the seat. 

Narumi gave him a brief smile as he sat down, Naruto in his lap. “Thanks.” 

One of  the ANBU left, probably to get another chair, but in the meantime Tsubame stood next to the Hokage. “Hokage-sama. Kazekage-sama,” he greeted. 

The Kazekage turned to face Tsubame and nodded his head. Narumi noted, with some surprise, that he didn’t seem to be related to Gaara at all; his hair was a deep blue, so dark it was almost black, and his eyes were yellow. If this was Gaara’s father, they didn’t look a thing alike. “Uzukage-sama.” 

While they exchanged greetings and made nice, Sakumo slipped over to Narumi’s side. “Who’re the two with the Kazekage?” Narumi whispered. 

“The one with the red hair is Sasori of the Red Sand,” Sakumo whispered. “The puppet-user, and Chiyo’s grandson.” Narumi nodded; his suspicions on that front had been correct, then. “The one with brown hair is Rasa, the Kazekage’s successor.” 

Narumi’s eyebrows rose--so that was Gaara’s father. “He’s going to be the next Kazekage?” 

“Once the Sandaime retires. Which probably won’t be anytime soon,” Sakumo chuckled. “He’s not much older than Tsubame.” 

There was a brief moment of shuffling as the ANBU finally brought another chair for Tsubame. Sakumo smiled down at Naruto. “And Naruto! You’ve gotten so big, I almost didn’t recognize you.” 

“Wanna snack!” Naruto declared. 

Narumi fished out a pouch of applesauce and let him have at it. “How’ve things been with you? Looking forward to being Hokage?” 

Sakumo groaned. “I feel like I’ve rewritten my speech ten times. It never fails to put Obito to sleep.” 

“What about Kakashi?” 

“He pretends to listen and tells me it’s good afterwards,” Sakumo said. “But If I ask him for details, he can’t tell me a thing. I even tried reading it to Heiwa and Nawanuke.” 

Narumi laughed. “How’d that go?” 

“Heiwa told me it was long and boring, and Nawanuke kicked me somewhere that shouldn’t be mentioned in polite company,” Sakumo said. 

“Ouch. That bad a speech, huh?” 

“Apparently. Seeing as I don’t want to get assaulted by all of Konoha for a bad speech, I was hoping you’d take a look at it,” Sakumo said. “People like it when you talk to them! I need some of your magic, please.”  

Naruto, bored of the discussion and his applesauce, wriggled off Narumi’s lap and ran to peer over the edge of the balcony. He waved enthusiastically at someone--probably not anyone he actually knew, although Narumi supposed he could have been waving at some of the genin from Uzushio. Katsuro, the youngest of the children taken from Kiri, was down there with his genin, who Narumi sometimes hired to watch Naruto when he was busy with a fuinjutsu experiment. 

“Just ditch the robes and the Inuzuka will wolf-whistle so loudly no one will be able to hear your speech,” he said to Sakumo, quietly enough that most of the others in the box would find it difficult to listen in. 

“Oh, come on! I haven’t been wolf-whistled at in years. You’ve been talking to Jiraiya too much,” Sakumo accused. 

Narumi grinned at him. “You know that some of them are still secretly pining for you and your wolves. Your sexy, sexy wolves.” 

Tsubame snorted inelegantly, and promptly tried to disguise it as a sneeze. Narumi and Sakumo exchanged grins. 

"Anyways," Narumi continued, "yeah, I can look at that speech for you. No problem." 

"Right now?" 

"Right now?" Narumi echoed. "But the exams are about to start." 

Sakumo pulled a scroll and a worn-down pencil from his vest. 

"You carry it around with you?" Narumi asked. 

Sakumo shrugged helplessly. "I've been trying to edit it in my free time, but it just keeps getting longer." 

"Well, one scroll isn't too bad," Narumi said. 

Sakumo reached into his vest and pulled out two more scrolls. Narumi gave him a look. Sakumo shrugged again. 

"Right," Narumi sighed. "Well, we might as well get started. You can share my seat--this is going to take a while." 

The exam fights going on in the background were distracting at first, as were Tsubame's play-by-play explanations to Naruto, but after awhile Narumi tuned them out almost completely, only occasionally looking up when Naruto let out a particularly excited shout. Sakumo, sitting half on the seat they were sharing, was the worse distraction. He had an arm draped around the back of the chair, and occasionally he would brush against Narumi, which never failed to send a shiver down his spine. 

"Okay," Narumi said at last. "I cut out all the sentences with kanji I don't know, and then I got rid of all the bits that didn't make sense without those sentences, so that got it to about half the size. So that's a start." 

“Narumi, you are a lifesaver,” Sakumo sighed. 

“I’m not done yet!” Narumi declared. “I’m gonna get this thing down to one scroll if it’s the last thing I do!” 

“Oh! Not that sentence. I like that one.” 

“Too late! It’s gone.” 

He tore through the speech throughout the first matches, but managed to finish in time for the semifinals. All three of Katsuro’s genin had managed to make it, and Naruto was cheering them on enthusiastically from his seat on Tsubame’s lap. 

“Katsuro did good work with them,” Narumi noted, as he watched two of them face off against each other, drawing out the match to showcase their skills. 

“He did,” Tsubame agreed. “Their experience in their last exam served them well.” 

“You’ve already decided to promote them, haven’t you,” Narumi said. 

“Their talents are wasted on babysitting,” Tsubame said. 

The match finally ended, one of the genin getting taken out by a neat fuinjutsu trap, and they moved onto the finals. 

“What’s the plan for after the exams?” Narumi asked. 

“Tsunade’s invited everyone over for dinner,” Sakumo said. “And no getting out of it, Tsubame! She’ll hunt you down if you don’t show up.” 

Tsubame sighed. “Must I?” 

“Jiraiya’s going to be there!” 

“That isn’t a draw.” 

“Heiwa and Nawanuke will be there. You know you want to see them,” Sakumo cajoled. 

Tsubame hesitated, and then sighed. “Oh, very well. If you insist.” 

“Great!” Sakumo exclaimed. “Now someone else can get kicked in the nuts for once!” 

The Hokage descended into a coughing fit. 

Tsubame sighed. “Why am I friends with you?” 

***

The exams ended up taking only one day, with the finals wrapping up just in time for dinner. Tsubame was swept away before Sakumo or Narumi could get a word in edgewise, leaving them to take Naruto and make their own way to the Senju compound. 

The moment they knocked on the door, Tsunade yanked it open and levied them with a glare. “You didn’t bring Tsubame.” 

“ANBU took him away,” Sakumo said. 

Tsunade jabbed a finger at his chest. “No excuses! Now turn right around and go get him. Narumi, you can come in. Heiwa and Nawanuke are somewhere around here, I’m sure Naruto would rather play with them than stand out here all night.” 

Sakumo sighed and trudged back into the night. Narumi set Naruto down and watched him wander off into the house. “I brought birthday presents for Nawanuke and Heiwa,” he said. 

“Oh, good, something new for him to wreak havoc with. What is it this time?” Tsunade asked. 

Narumi produced a book, the kind with cardboard pages that were easy for kids to turn. “A book for Heiwa! She’s reading already, right?” 

“Reading she can do. It’s getting her to stop that’s the real issue,” Tsunade snorted. “I can already tell you she’ll love it.” 

“And for Nawanuke . . . rubber bands!” Grinning, Narumi produced a large package of colorful rubber bands. 

Tsunade sighed heavily. “He’ll love them. I hate them already. Well, go on, you might as well give them to him now. It’s almost his birthday, anyways.” 

“Should I give Heiwa the book?” he asked, as he stepped into the house and removed his shoes.

“Yeah, why not,” Tsunade said. “Nawanuke! Heiwa! Ji-chan has presents for you!” 

Narumi didn’t take more than a step into a house before a blond boy nearly ran right into him. “Present!” he demanded, holding up a hand. 

Tsunade put her hands on her hips. “What do we say first?” 

“Present, please!” he said, in the same tone. 

“Good enough,” Tsunade said. 

Narumi produced the rubber bands and deposited them into his hands. Nawanuke scowled at them. “What’s that?” 

“They’re rubber bands. You can do all kinds of stuff with them. Like this, see?” Narumi opened up the package and fished out a rubber band. He hooked the band around his thumb, stretched it back with his other hand, and then let it fly with a snap. Nawanuke’s mouth fell open as the rubber band vanished. 

“Cool!” he exclaimed, before racing off with his prize. 

“Thanks for showing him that one,” Tsunade said wryly. “I was hoping he wouldn’t figure it out for a few years.” 

Narumi grinned at her. “Just doing my job as the cool uncle.” 

Tsunade’s eyes moved past him. “Heiwa, what are you doing over there? Come on, say hello to Narumi-ji-chan.” 

“Hello, Ji-chan,” Heiwa said, emerging from behind the couch. 

“Hey there, Heiwa,” Narumi said, holding out the book. “Got a present for you. I heard you like to read.” 

At that, she nodded enthusiastically and ran up to take the book. “Thank you, Ji-chan,” she said, at a stern look from Tsunade. She immediately opened up the book, a kid’s book that introduced them to basic fuinjutsu elements throughout the story. Naruto demanded to have it read to him pretty much every night. 

The door opened, and Kakashi and Obito tumbled into the door, hair mussed and cheeks flushed. “Sorry we’re late!” Obito called cheerfully. “Got a little lost on the road of life!” 

“That is a lie,” said Kogane, coming in through the door behind them. “You were kissing in the middle of the street.” 

“Yep! Thanks, Kogane, for letting everyone know!” Obito said, just as cheerfully. 

“You’re welcome.” 

Rin popped in through the door. “Is there a reason why we’re all standing in the entrance?” 

“Yes!” Shizune piped up from the back of the group. “Can we go in? It’s cold out here.” 

“You heard her! Move your asses, or I’ll move them for you!” Anko shouted. 

Obito made a quick escape, tugging Kakashi along by the hand. “Is Naruto here? I wanna see him!” 

Kogane lined up their shoes as Anko shoved her way into the hallway. “Outta the way!” she said, as she kicked off her shoes and made her way to the kitchen. “Kabuto, quit being a weirdo and get in here! And close the door behind you!” 

A small boy with round glasses and grey hair entered the house behind Shizune, shutting the door behind him. “Thank you for having me, Senju-shishou, Kato-shishou,” he called. 

“My latest protege,” a voice rasped into Narumi’s ear. 

Narumi yelped and jumped back. “Orochimaru! Don’t do that!” 

Orochimaru smiled, a sight that was as unnerving as it ever was. “I wouldn’t startle you if you didn’t let your guard down. Who knows what could happen.” 

“You’re trying to creep me out on purpose,” Narumi accused. 

“Now, why would I do that?” 

With that, Orochimaru drifted off into the kitchen. Narumi shivered and stepped away from the entrance. Naruto and Nawanuke were in the living room, attempting to shoot rubber bands at each other and laughing uproariously, while Heiwa was sitting on the couch, flipping through the book he had given her. Shizune and Rin had found the supply of sodas and helped themselves; Anko was nibbling on pocky--which she had probably brought herself--and hovering around them. Obito, Kakashi, and Kogane had all somehow managed to get their hands on beers; Kogane kept making faces every time he sipped from his, but he had yet to put it down. Dan was in the kitchen, talking to Kabuto, while Tsunade and Orochimaru had settled themselves at the table with a massive bottle of sake. Narumi had no doubt that they would polish it off on their own, and still be ready for more. 

The door swung open, and a cheerful shout resounded through the house. “Guess who’s back in town?” Jiraiya called. 

Orochimaru barely looked up from his sake. “Oh. It’s you.” 

Tsunade cracked her knuckles. “You’ve got a lotta nerve, showing up here after publishing that trash you call a novel. That ‘busty blonde’ had better not be based on anyone in particular.” 

Jiraiya threw his hands in the air. “Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events, is purely coincidental!” 

Tsunade snorted. “You wish it had a similarity to actual events.” 

“You aren’t the only busty blonde in the world,” Jiraiya said, with a sly grin at Narumi. “Narumi knows!” 

Narumi laughed awkwardly at the reminder of the incident, which had involved a mission gone wrong and the use of a certain Sexy Jutsu as a distraction. Tsunade’s eyes narrowed in suspicion as they landed on him. 

Thankfully, the door burst open again before she could question him, admitting Sakumo and, just behind him, Tsubame. “Finally tracked him down!” Sakumo declared. “Now, how about dinner?” 

“Ready to be served!” Dan called from the kitchen. 

“Everybody squeeze in,” Tsunade called above the din of the house, smacking her hand against the table. “Kids! Dinner!” 

Narumi ended up squeezing in next to Tsubame and Sakumo. Naruto had insisted on sitting with Nawanuke, between Tsunade and Dan; Narumi suspected Nawanuke had brought the bag of rubber bands to the dinner table. Heiwa had insisted that Kogane sit next to her, and everyone else had squeezed in wherever they could. Orochimaru, sandwiched between Tsunade and Jiraiya, looked particularly murderous over the arrangements. 

The arrival of the food and the pouring of fresh cups of sake had everyone in better spirits before too long. Even Orochimaru stopped looking like he was going to stab Jiraiya every time the man laughed too loudly. The teenagers still cleared off as soon as they finished eating, seizing a few remaining cans of beer and all of the soda for themselves; Kabuto, with a brief glance between the adults lingering over the sake and the teenagers heading out to the yard, elected to go with the teenagers. 

Tsunade kept the sake coming, and before long even Narumi was feeling the effects. Judging by the flush on everyone else’s faces, he wasn’t the only one. Sakumo had slumped back in his chair and looked to be on the verge of falling asleep, while Dan had actually fallen asleep. The kids outside had quieted down, and he suspected that most of them had left. 

Tsubame set aside his cup and stood. “I should be going. I am certain there will be plenty more pleasantries for me to suffer through tomorrow.” 

Narumi looked up at the clock and winced. “Ah, yeah, I should be heading home with Naruto as well.” 

Naruto, who had previously been nodding off, shot upright at this words. “Don’ wanna go home! Me an’ Nawa are playing!” 

“Oh, let him stay,” Tsunade said. “The kids can have a sleepover, and you can pick him up in the morning.” 

“You sure?” 

“Yeah, yeah. What’s one more?” 

“Thanks. I’ll come by in the morning to pick him up,” Narumi said as he followed Tsubame to the door. 

“Keep Tsubame out of trouble!” Tsunade called. 

Narumi shivered Tsubame opened the door and they stepped out into the night. He’d gotten used to the perpetual summertime weather of Uzushio. He already longed for the warmth of the house; it wasn’t too late to go back and claim Sakumo as his personal space heater. 

They hadn’t taken more than a few steps away from the house before Tsubame paused and turned around to face Narumi. “You don’t have to accompany me, you know. I’m more than capable of returning to the apartment by myself. I know you would rather be with Sakumo.” 

Narumi laughed sheepishly and ran a hand through his hair. “I’m that obvious, huh?” 

Tsubame slowly lifted his hand and rested his fingertips against Narumi’s chest. “Your heart, as ever, is an open book to me.” 

Narumi could only stare down at his bowed head. 

After a few heartbeats, Tsubame pulled away, a small, false smile twisting his mouth. “Apologies. I may have overindulged.” 

Before he could step back further, Narumi wrapped one arm around his shoulders and one around his waist and pulled him in. Tsubame resisted for a moment, but almost immediately went limp. 

“Release me,” he muttered. “This is improper.” 

“C’mon, when was the last time you let someone hug you?” Narumi said. 

Tsubame thought for a moment. “Naruto. This morning.” 

“Okay, before that,” Narumi said. 

“Naruto. Yesterday, at bedtime.” 

“Anyone other than Naruto?” 

Tsubame thought that one over for a little longer. “I believe it was Katsuro. Sometime last week.” 

“Anyone who isn’t basically your kid or nephew?” Narumi asked. Tsubame didn’t typically welcome hugs from Narumi anymore, and he wasn’t particularly close to anyone else as far as Narumi knew. “I dunno, your wife?” 

“Not her. Touching her makes me sick.” 

Unsure what to say to that, Narumi said nothing, until Tsubame sighed. “I apologize. I told you I overindulged.” 

“I know exactly what you need,” Narumi said. Not giving Tsubame any room to protest, he turned them both around and led them back to the door, kicking it open with his foot. 

Tsunade looked up in the middle of pouring a fresh round of sake as they entered. “What, did you two forget something?” 

“Nope! I’m here for a tradeoff.” Narumi steered Tsubame to the table and pushed him onto a seat, pulling Sakumo up from the table in the same motion. He waved over his shoulder as he tugged a bemused Sakumo to the door. “I’ll be back in the morning for Naruto!” 

“Yeah, yeah, get out of here!” Tsunade called. “C’mon, Tsubame, help me put the kids and Dan in bed, and then we can really let loose.” 

“I’m not drinking anything you tried making yourself,” Tsubame said, and then the door slammed shut. 

Narumi tucked his arm through Sakumo’s and started off down the street. “Sorry about that,” he said. “I figured Tsubame needed some company other than me.” 

“He’s always been close to Tsunade and Orochimaru, ever since they were kids,” Sakumo agreed. “It’s good for him to spend some time with them. Although I don’t see what that has to do with dragging me off.” 

Narumi grinned at him. “What can I say? I just wanted the pleasure of your company.” 

“That makes two of us,” Sakumo said. “C’mon, I’ve got a cup of tea with your name on it.” 

“That sounds perfect.”

***

Narumi had only seen Sakumo look as nervous as he did standing up in front of all of Konoha once before, and that was at his wedding. He did look good in the robes though; they suited him. Narumi had a pretty good view of the event; he had been placed at the front of the audience, along with the rest of Sakumo’s friends and family. 

Sakumo cleared his throat, and then cleared his throat again. “My fellow shinobi,” he began, only to hesitate. 

A sharp whistle pierced the air. “Take off the robes, wolf-boy!” 

“Yes, thank you, Tsume,” Sakumo said,  but he was smiling now. “As I was saying . . .” 

He launched into his speech properly, this time. After a few moments, everyone sitting beside Narumi visibly relaxed. 

“Oh, thank god,” Tsunade groaned. “He made it shorter. I was certain we’d be stuck here for hours.” 

“Oh good,” Obito whispered. “I was worried I’d fall asleep, and I don’t know how to sleep standing up so I’d fall over, and that would be really embarrassing.” 

“Would you be quiet,” Orochimaru hissed. “I am trying to see if he says anything about my funding.” 

“Orochimaru, he’s not gonna mention funding in his inauguration speech,” Jiraiya whispered. “Besides, if Minato didn’t do anything to your funding, you know Sakumo isn’t going to.” 

“I still say Sensei should have made me the Godaime,” he muttered. 

“We know ,” Jiraiya and Tsunade said in unison. 

Tsubame, up on stage next to the Sandaime, was glaring daggers at them. Narumi waved Naruto’s hand at him. 

“Would you please be quiet,” Kakashi said. “Everyone behind us is listening to us instead of the speech.” 

“Yeah, well, everyone behind us should mind their own business unless they want a foot up their ass,” Tsunade muttered. 

“I don’t think your foot will fit there,” Kogane said. 

“It will if I put a little effort into it,” Tsunade said. 

A few people behind Narumi shifted nervously. 

Obito leaned around Kakashi. “Hey, Narumi, how long are you and Naruto going to be in Konoha?” 

“We have to leave tomorrow,” Narumi said. 

“Aw, I wanted to spend more time with Naruto.” 

“You’ll see him again,” Narumi said. 

When he glanced at the stage, Sakumo was looking right at him, wearing a smile that Narumi couldn’t help but return. 

The speech ended sooner than he expected, and just in time for Naruto to start getting restless. Narumi handed him off to Obito and hopped up on the stage; Sakumo was surrounded by well-wishers, but Narumi managed to wade through the crowd and make his way to Sakumo’s side. 

Sakumo, in the middle of shaking hands with some noble from the Capital, beamed at him. “How was it?” 

Narumi grinned at him so fiercely that his cheeks ached. “It was brilliant. You were brilliant.” 

Sakumo laughed. “How would you know? I don’t think you listened to a thing I said!” 

“I’ve listened to you practice so much, I don’t need to,” Narumi said. 

A chuunin popped up next to them. “Hokage-sama, they want to take a picture of you and the Sandaime for the paper?” 

“Oh, yeah, of course,” Sakumo said. “Narumi, I’ll see you afterwards, if I get a chance. If not--” 

Sakumo yanked him into a hug. For a moment, Narumi couldn’t breath, but he couldn’t have said if that was from the force of the hug or something else. “I’m glad you could be here,” Sakumo said, as he pulled back. 

“I’m glad I could be here, too,” Narumi said. “Now, go on. Your adoring public awaits.” 

Sakumo paused and glanced back, as if there was something he wanted to say, before simply waving and vanishing into the ground. 

Narumi couldn’t help but wish that he had said whatever it was he had wanted to say. 

Chapter Text

“Obito.” 

Obito looked up from his book, The Deserts of Suna , fourth and final book of the series he and Kakashi had been reading since they started dating. It had come out just in time for Kakashi’s seventeenth birthday, but Obito had quickly stolen it for himself. “Yeah?” 

Kakashi waved a scroll. “A mission from the Hokage.” 

Obito rolled his eyes. “You can just say from your dad, you know. It’s weird for you to call him the Hokage.” 

He reached out for the scroll, only for Kakashi to hide it behind his back. “Delivery fee,” he said. 

Obito tugged down Kakashi’s mask and kissed him. “There. Now tell me what illustrious mission we’ve been given.” 

Kakashi handed over the scroll. Obito opened it and skimmed through. “A diplomatic mission to the capital? Boring.” 

“Perks of being the Hokage’s son,” Kakashi said. “Think of it as a vacation.” 

“We go on way more interesting vacations all the time,” Obito said. “Like the hot springs!” 

“Unfortunately, we have to stay the whole time for this,” Kakashi said. “But it should be fruitful.” 

Obito laughed. “What a weird way to put it.” He nudged Kakashi with his bare foot. “Hey, sit down.” 

“We should pack,” Kakashi said, even as he sat down next to Obito, putting Obito’s feet in his lap. 

“I’m still packed,” Obito said. “We just got back from a mission, and I’ve been here the whole time.” 

Kakashi shrugged. “I like it more when you’re here. Although, I’m still packed too.” 

“That’s because you’ve been training with Gai instead of unpacking,” Obito said. “Hang on, let me finish the book and then we can go. I only have a few more chapters.” 

He opened the book back up to the battle he’d been in the middle of; Kai was in the middle of trying to rescue Asahi, who had gotten mixed up in bad business to save Kai from the group of rogue ninja who’d been manipulating him in the previous books. 

“Obito.” 

“Hmm?” 

“Do you want to get married?” 

“Uh, yeah,” Obito said, as Kai wrapped a trio of ninja in wire and kicked another off the edge of the plateau. Kai was so damn cool. “I feel like you asked me that before.” 

“I did.” 

Obito wiggled his toes against Kakashi’s thigh. “You finished the third book, right?” 

“I did. I was going to read that one, but someone took it before I could,” Kakashi said. 

Obito grinned at him unrepentantly. “I’m almost done! If he doesn’t rescue Asahi I’m gonna riot in the streets.” 

“Please don’t,” Kakashi said. “I would have to join you, and then that would embarrass the village because my father is Hokage.” 

Obito laughed. “What? Why would you have to join me?” 

“I can’t let my boyfriend riot in the streets alone,” Kakashi said. “Besides. Asahi and Kai should absolutely end up together.” 

“I knew you were just as invested in these books as I am,” Obito said. 

“You should hear Shizune talk about them. She’s even more invested than we are,” Kakashi said. 

Obito shuddered. “Forget Shizune, your creepy little lab buddy is into them.” 

“Anko isn’t creepy,” Kakashi said. 

“She left snakes in my bed! For a month!” 

“Snakes are cute,” Kakashi said. 

“You’re so weird,” Obito said. “Noodles and Rice are cute, not your snakes. You know they’re big enough to eat me?” 

“They aren’t going to eat you.” 

“Manda eats people! Orochimaru threatened to feed me to him!” 

“Well, that’s Manda. My snakes don’t eat people.” 

“So you say,” Obito said playfully. “Now let me read, or we won’t be able to leave until tomorrow morning.”

“Kay.” Kakashi stretched out on top of Obito, resting his head against Obito’s chest. Obito propped his book up on Kakashi’s head and let himself be dragged back into the world of Asahi and Kai. 

It wasn’t yet completely dark by the time he finished the book. With Asahi rescued and reunited with Kai, wandering the world together, he was ready to set off. “Okay, let me make sure I have everything I need, and we can go. Here’s the book.” 

His things were where he had left them in Kakashi’s bedroom, so it was a matter of minutes to double check he had everything he needed before joining Kakashi again. 

The Capital was close enough that they didn’t bother with a portal, instead walking there themselves. At their speeds, they were able to arrive by mid-morning, and were greeted by the crowded streets of tourists and citizens. 

Obito could only be thankful that people tended to give shinobi a wide berth, or else they might have been crushed by the crowds. 

“Busy as ever,” Kakashi sighed. “Well, let’s not keep the daimyo waiting.” 

The palace loomed above the rest of the city, all elegant white walls with gleaming red and gold accents and a black roof to top it all off. A wall separated it from the rest of the city, but Obito and Kakashi were quickly escorted inside after showing their identification and mission scroll. They were led to the throne room, where the daimyo was waiting for them. 

“Hatake-kun,” he greeted. “A pleasure, as always.” 

Kakashi bowed, and Obito copied him. “Daimyo-sama. I have a message from the Hokage.” 

A retainer approached them and accepted a scroll from Kakashi, then brought it to the daimyo. The daimyo read through it, stroking his chin. “I will have to discuss the matter with my advisors. For now, you will be shown to your room. We shall meet again tomorrow.” 

The room they were brought to was more like a series of rooms, with a main room, a bathroom and toilet, and a bedroom. It was on the highest floor of the palace, but had a balcony that overlooked a garden more beautiful than anything Obito had seen in Konoha, with rock gardens and koi ponds and small, man-made waterfalls. And the food was out of this world—thin-sliced beef of the highest grade, fresh fruits and vegetables that were out of season in Konoha, fatty fish that melted in his mouth. 

It almost made up for the boring diplomatic meetings. Obito was thankful that Kakashi was taking charge of those, because everything the daimyo and his many advisors said just went in one ear and out the other for him. 

“Just sit there and look the part of the menacing Uchiha,” was Kakashi’s advice for the meetings. “If someone asks you anything, just grunt derisively, like answering such a pointless question is beneath you.” 

“So act like the most stereotypical Uchiha ever, got it,” Obito said. At least it worked; by the end of the second day they had stopped trying to ask him questions, and by the fourth they shrank away from his stare, even when he was just kind of spacing out in their direction. It was kind of fun being taken seriously for once. 

All in all, their trip to the Capital was a surprisingly fun vacation, at least until Obito was shaken awake in the middle of the night. 

His hand shot to the kunai under his pillow. “Obito, it’s me,” Kakashi said, stopping him before he could follow through on an attack. “Something’s wrong. Someone’s on the roof.” 

“Not one of the guardians?” 

“Possibly. But we should check.” 

Obito slipped out of bed, kunai in hand, and followed Kakashi onto the roof. The civilian guards, patrolling the palace grounds, didn’t so much as look up. They crouched on the roof, side-by-side, and surveyed the area. 

Obito pointed to a figure next to an ugly ornamental statue. It was too dark to see details, but Obito could make out the waistband that all the Twelve Guardians wore. “There, it’s one of the guardians. I’ll ask him what’s up.” 

Kakashi held out a hand, stopping him in his tracks. “Stop. I smell blood.” 

Obito activated his Sharingan and sighed. Where he should have seen the flow of the man’s chakra, he saw nothing.  “He’s dead.” 

“I’m going to follow the trail,” Kakashi said, summoning his snakes with a small puff of smoke. 

“I’ll see if I can find any of the other guardians. They travel in packs, right?” 

Kakashi  snorted. “That’s one way of putting it. I’ll send a snake if I find anything.” 

Kakashi crept off in one direction, so Obito went the other way, keeping his Sharingan active so he could see any chakra. When he did, it wasn’t one source of chakra, but three. The guardian was on the ground, unconscious, with two unknown shinobi standing over him, several kunai at the ready. Obito put on a burst of speed and arrived just in time to intercept the kunai, knocking aside most of them but taking one to the shoulder. He gritted his teeth and pressed on. The first was taken off guard, and Obito was able to get in close and knock him out without much trouble. The second was more aware, summoning up a thick mist to keep Obito from tracking him with the Sharingan. 

Obito took the opportunity to activate a portal and remove the guardian from the situation, delivering him straight to the dorm all the guardians shared. Only four of them were there, but they woke up as soon as he stepped through the portal and laid the unconscious guardian down on the floor. 

“Trouble on the roof,” he said. “I’m going back up there.” 

The mist on the roof had cleared by the time he stepped back through the portal. The shinobi he had left up on the roof was prowling the area, clearly looking for Obito. He stopped and looked towards the other end of the roof as a shout rang out. Obito took advantage of his distraction and darted forwards, drawing his tanto. It sank deep into the man’s back, and when Obito pulled it out, he fell to the ground and didn’t move. Obito ran on, towards the  back of the house, and found Kakashi fighting two shinobi while holding two bundles under his arms. Kakashi kicked one of the shinobi away and blew a ball of fire at them, but then was forced to dodge out of the way of a flurry of shuriken. 

A snake slithered across the ground, heading towards one of the men. Obito bit down on his thumb and slammed his hand to the ground. “Noodles! Rice! Get ‘em!” 

His wolves howled and launched themselves forwards, toppling over the two shinobi. One of them rolled out of the way, and the other attempted to fight his way free but quickly went still. A snake slithered away from his legs. 

Kakashi darted away from the fight, still holding the two bundles—children, Obito realized as he got closer. 

“What’s the situation?” 

“They tried to kidnap the daimyo’s two oldest children,” Kakashi said. “I’m getting them out of here.” 

“Go. I’ll handle this.” Noodles and Rice were still distracting the remaining shinobi, so as Kakashi vanished into the palace, Obito teleported behind him. The man turned around as Obito stepped out of the portal, just in time to take Obito’s tanto to his chest. He clutched at the tanto as he sank to his knees, and fell forward as Obito yanked it out. 

“Good job,” he said, to the two wolves and the snake currently wrapped around his ankle. “You can go now, I think that was all of them.” 

“Will do, boss!” Noodles declared cheerfully before vanishing in a puff of smoke with Rice. Kakashi’s snake remained around Obito’s ankle, so Obito decided to just leave him to it. 

The palace was in an uproar when he made his way back inside. The civilian guards and some of the guardians were searching the floors of the palace, while the remainder had gathered in the throne room with the daimyo and his family. The daimyo’s wife was tearfully clutching her oldest son and daughter, while the two other sons and the youngest daughter were sleepily rubbing their eyes. Four of the guardians were in the room, ready in case of another attack. 

Kakashi was sitting in the middle of the room, so Obito took a seat next to him. “I took care of the last one on the roof,” he said. 

To Obito’s shock, the daimyo bowed his head to them. “You have saved my children.” 

“My babies,” his wife bawled, clutching them even closer. “My beautiful babies!” 

Privately, Obito thought that the kidnappers probably just wanted a ransom; the kids probably would have been fine in the end. 

“For your service, you will both be given a reward,” the daimyo announced. “Whatever you desire, I will grant it so long as it is in my power to do so.” 

There wasn’t anything Obito really wanted; the daimyo was super rich, yeah, but Obito had enough money from his missions. He didn’t really need anything more than what he had. Well, he supposed it would be great if the author wrote another book in the Kai and Asahi series, but he was pretty sure the daimyo couldn’t do anything about that. He would just leave the reward thing to Kakashi; Kakashi would know an appropriate reward to ask for. 

“We want to get married.” 

Obito gaped at Kakashi. Kakashi stared at the daimyo. 

“Oh? To whom?” the daimyo asked. 

“To each other,” Kakashi said. 

“Ah, such a situation would be . . . unprecedented.” The daimyo looked to his advisors for assistance. Obito prayed that one or more of them would object. Then he could ask Kakashi what the hell he was doing. 

None of the advisors, however, spoke up. 

“Uh, Kakashi?” he whispered. “What are you doing?” 

Kakashi glanced at him briefly, and then reached over to lace their fingers together. “Don’t worry. I’ll handle it.” 

That was absolutely not the problem. 

“Kakashi,” he hissed. “We can’t get married! I’m eighteen! You’re seventeen!” 

“Sixteen is the age when people can legally marry,” Kakashi said. “You should know that. That’s when Itachi’s mother got married. Granted, the law currently only pertains to men marrying women. I was planning to petition the daimyo to change the law, but hadn’t expected much progress for a few years. Really, this is a fortuitous turn of events.” 

“Wait, wait, you want to get married? You want to marry me ?” One of the advisors was yelling about something, but Obito couldn’t tear his eyes away from Kakashi. 

Kakashi blinked at him. “Of course? You already accepted my proposal.” 

“Wait, I did what?” Obito whispered. 

“I asked you if you wanted to get married, and you said yes,” Kakashi said. 

“What? No—” Obito stopped. He did, actually, recall Kakashi mentioning that. “I thought you meant that theoretically! Like, an ‘in the future would you want this’ type of question! Like, you know, ‘do you want kids’ or ‘do you want to buy a house.’” 

Kakashi hesitated. “Do you want kids and a house?” 

“Uh, yeah—wait, that’s not the point! The point is, I didn’t realize you were actually proposing to me! There’s supposed to be more, you know, proposing. And a ring.” 

Kakashi opened his pocket and pulled out a box, flipping open the cover to reveal two golden rings. 

“Oh. You have rings. Well, uh, that’s good. Wait a minute, how long have you been planning this?” 

Kakashi shrugged. “I don’t know. A few months.” 

“We haven’t even been dating for very long. Only a couple years,” Obito said. 

“But I’ve loved you for longer than that,” Kakashi said. 

Obito’s mouth opened and closed. “Wait—you—you love me?” 

“Of course I do. You’re the only person I’ve ever loved. You’ve been by my side ever since I was rescued and taken to Orochimaru’s lab. I . . . I want you to stay by my side. If you want to. So, will you marry me, Obito?” 

Obito scrubbed at his eyes. “Aw, jeez, Kakashi. I love you too, you know. And maybe we’re kind of young, but . . . I feel the same. There’s nowhere I’d rather be than by your side.” 

Kakashi’s eye, previously tense, softened. Obito smiled at him and leaned in to kiss him. 

“How precious!” 

The two of them jerked apart. The daimyo’s wife had given up her grip on her children, and now had her hands clasped together, tears pouring down her cheeks. “Darling, we can’t possibly get in the way of true love! Marry these two lovely boys right this instant!” 

“Ah—right now?” the daimyo said. “Well, we need a marriage certificate . . .” 

“You! Fetch a marriage certificate!” 

An attendant hurried out of the room. Obito leaned in closer to Kakashi. “Is this really okay?” 

“We don’t have to if you don’t want to,” Kakashi said. “I’ll ask for something else?” 

Obito flushed. “I-I-I want to,” he said. The thought gave him butterflies in his stomach, but the more he thought about it, the more he liked the idea of being married to Kakashi. “But, wait, what about names?” 

“Ah,” Kakashi said. “I guess we could keep our names . . . I can’t really marry into the Uchiha clan, being one of the last Hatake.” 

“Wait,” Obito said. “Kakashi, can I take your name? And marry into the Hatake clan?” 

Kakashi’s eye widened. “Are you sure? The Uchiha won’t be happy.” 

Obito grinned. “They’re never happy with me. I’d rather be a Hatake than an Uchiha.” 

“If that’s what you want, then you’re welcome to have my name,” Kakashi said. “I . . . I would like that too. You being part of the Hatake clan.” 

Obito would never have to step into that stifling compound again. Would never have to return to that empty house, shoved out of the way of the rest of the clan. His cheeks ached with the force of his smile. “I’d love that. I’d need a new place to live.” 

“I’ll make us a place,” Kakashi said. “A place of our own, wherever we want to live.” 

“With the mokuton?” Obito laughed. 

“I was just going to buy something with the money I’ve saved, but I can make it with the mokuton,” Kakashi said. 

“Wait, buy a house? Just how much money do you have saved?” 

Kakashi shrugged. “I never spend much. Besides, I didn’t know how much a wedding would cost.” 

Obito snorted. “What? How long have you been planning this?” 

Kakashi tugged at his mask, and embarrassed flush crossing his cheeks. “Ah . . . a while?” 

“You’re ridiculous,” Obito said fondly. 

The door slid open, and the attendant walked in and presented a form to the daimyo. 

The daimyo cleared his throat. “Very well. Would either of you wish to say anything?” 

“I think we’ve both said enough,” Obito laughed. 

Kakashi nodded. 

“Very well,” the daimyo said. “Fill out the form, if you would.”

Kakashi took the form first and signed his name across the bottom, and Obito did the same. The daimyo finished by signing his name as well, and sealed the matter with his official stamp. “I now pronounce you husband . . . and husband! In addition, your ceremony and reception will all be paid for, whenever you wish to hold it. It is the least I can do in exchange for saving my children’s lives.” 

The rest of the evening passed in a blur; there was an impromptu feast, Obito vaguely recalled, although most of the daimyo’s children fell asleep in the middle of it. Afterwards, he and Kakashi returned to their rooms. 

The moment the door closed behind them, Kakashi pulled Obito into a searing kiss. 

“There,” he said against Obito’s mouth. “We’re married now.” 

Obito laughed breathlessly. “You sure have a way of springing things on a guy, Kakashi.” 

Kakashi shrugged. “It all turned out for the best. I don’t regret it.” 

Obito smiled and leaned his head against Kakashi’s shoulder. “Neither do I.”  

***

Obito stared at Kakashi.

Kakashi stared at Sakumo. 

Sakumo stared at both of them. “The daimyo sent me a very interesting letter,” he said. “Congratulating me on my son’s marriage, and sending me an extravagantly large amount of money for a ceremony and reception.” 

Obito gulped. He knew they’d be getting grilled, but he didn’t think it would be happening the moment they stepped through the gates. Granted, they’d gotten a little . . . distracted . . . on the way home, but the daimyo sure was fast about communicating with the Hokage. 

Sakumo sighed. “I won’t ask you if you were sure, because you never do anything without being sure about it. But the Uchiha elders aren’t happy with the matter.”

“They’re never happy with me,” Obito said. 

“Be that as it may, don’t be surprised if you face some increased hostility. In addition . . . don’t pull anything like this again without informing me first, Kakashi,” Sakumo said. 

Kakashi looked to the side. “I’m not exactly going to get married a second time, Hokage-sama.” 

“Inform me,” Sakumo stressed. “And Obito—” 

Obito gulped and braced himself. 

“Welcome to the family.” 

Obito’s mouth fell open. “You-you aren’t mad at me?” 

“You’ve been like a second son to me ever since you became my apprentice,” Sakumo said with a soft smile. “I’m overjoyed to have you as part of the clan. But please, don’t let Kakashi make any more rash decisions on his own again.” 

“It wasn’t rash,” Kakashi grumbled. “I planned it very carefully. I just took advantage of an opportune moment to speed things up.” 

“Next time someone offers you a reward, please consult me first on what you should ask for,” Sakumo said. “Although, you have made several people the village extremely happy. Don’t be surprised if you see a lot of newlyweds in the coming days.” 

Obito laughed, surprised. “Wait, people are getting married? Because of us?” 

“You do realize the daimyo changed the laws for you,” Sakumo said.

“That’s . . . kinda cool,” Obito admitted. 

“Please don’t do it again,” Sakumo said. “The elders are up in arms over ‘the breaking down of tradition,’ and I have plenty of tradition-breaking to do myself.” 

Kakashi nodded. “We’ll be careful. I’m going to buy land to build a house now.” 

“A house,” Sakumo said. 

“A house,” Kakashi confirmed. “For Obito.” 

Obito couldn’t deny that Kakashi’s words made him happy; someone was willing to go all the way to building a house, just for him, for no other reason than that they loved him. 

Sakumo sighed. “Of course. You’re welcome to both live with me, of course.” 

“I don’t think you’d get enough sleep that way,” Kakashi said. 

“Kakashi!” 

“More than I needed to know,” Sakumo sighed. “Go on, get out of here.” 

Kakashi nodded and turned to go. Obito waved at Sakumo one last time before following him. 

“And boys? Congratulations. Be good to each other.” 

Obito smiled at Kakashi as they left the office. “So, what’s next?” 

Kakashi nodded resolutely. “A house. Do you want a reception? Or a ceremony?” 

“I don’t really care,” Obito admitted. “A reception might be fun, I guess? It’ll be the easiest way to tell everyone we know.” 

“And we can use the gift money to buy furniture,” Kakashi said. 

“Sounds like a plan! ‘Cause, uh, I spent a lot of my money on my old house,” Obito said. “So I don’t have much in the way of savings. I’m . . . I can’t wait to never have to go back there.” 

Kakashi slipped his hand into Obito’s. “Where do you want to live?” 

“I dunno. I guess I never really thought about it,” Obito said. “Is there anything you want?” 

“A training ground,” Kakashi said firmly. 

“Okay, a training ground,” Obito laughed. “I don’t think anyone wants to live near a training ground. We’ll probably have our pick of locations. So, wanna go look?” 

“Let’s go,” Kakashi said. “Hm, I wonder if you can annoy them into giving us a discount?” 

“Rude! I’m not annoying, I’m your husband!” Obito laughed, delighted. “I’m your husband!” 

When he looked over at Kakashi, Obito could tell that even through the mask, he was smiling. 

***

Shadowing Hiruzen had not prepared Sakumo for how much of a headache it was, actually being Hokage. The domestic issues had been bad enough. Getting anything approved by the council was worse than pulling teeth, and the elders or clan heads were constantly bursting into his office to yell at him about something or other. Then there were the Uchiha. Hiruzen had somehow managed to piss them off so thoroughly that Sakumo wasn’t sure that calming them down was even within the realm of possibility anymore. He was trying to mend those bridges, but Danzo and the Uchiha elders weren’t making it easy for him. 

In addition, he’d inherited the small conflict going on between Kumo and Konoha, remnants of the Third Shinobi War, and that had been worse. When the request to meet for a renewed peace treaty had come to his office, he’d been optimistic that he’d be able to wrap things up in time for the new year. He’d put up with Kumo’s Head Ninja and his smug expression, waded his way through outrageous demands until they had something considerably more reasonable--considering that Konoha wasn’t losing the fight by any means, the treaty had better be reasonable in Sakumo’s opinion--only for this to happen. 

This being the corpse currently in the middle of his office. 

Hiashi Hyuuga stared Sakumo down unapologetically. Hizashi, ostensibly there as a witness, looked just as unapologetic. 

“Explain,” Sakumo said. “I want to know exactly what happened.” 

“This man ,” Hiashi hissed. “Snuck into the Hyuuga compound with the intent of kidnapping my daughter. I caught him in the middle of the act.” 

His copy of the treaty sat on his desk, the ink still fresh. Kumo’s copy had already been sent away--now, Sakumo wished he had held back. 

“Keep talking,” he said, as he pulled out a pen and a fresh slip of paper. “I have to write a letter. And someone seal up that body.” 

Hiashi paced back and forth across the office like a caged tiger as Sakumo wrote his letter to the Raikage, doing his best to keep it short and to the point and not too accusatory, but not too apologetic or permissive. He finished before Hiashi had finished his rant, and handed the letter off to an ANBU to be taken to the Aviary. 

Hiashi paused in the middle of his rant, and Sakumo quickly spoke up  before he could begin again. “Go. I’ll summon you again when I receive word from Kumo.” 

It felt like it took forever for the response to arrive, but once it did, Sakumo wished it hadn’t. 

Clearly, Kumo had received their copy of the treaty before sending their response. 

He put off summoning Hiashi Hyuuga as long as he could, trying to work out a way out of the mess they were in and scrapping idea after idea, until Hiashi had clearly gotten tired of waiting and decided to nearly break down his door instead, again accompanied by Hizashi. 

Sakumo held up a hand for silence before Hiashi could begin to speak. Mercifully, Hiashi was silent; being Hokage was good for something, after all. “Kumo denies any involvement in the affair,” he said. Hiashi’s mouth opened, and Sakumo plunged on before he could speak. “Obviously, this is a lie, but it is one they are sticking to. They demand the body of his killer, in accordance to the terms of the treaty.” 

Sakumo had no idea who had suggested that term--Danzo, or one of the other elders, or someone from Kumo--but he already regretted agreeing to it. 

The room was silent. Sakumo waited, wondering what Hiashi would say. 

“I’ll do it.” 

Sakumo’s eyes snapped to Hizashi. Hiashi seemed just as surprised. 

Hizashi looked straight at Sakumo. “They demand the body of his killer. Very well. I will go. Who can say whether it was I, or Hiashi, who killed him? Either way they will not be able to tell the difference.” 

“I will not allow it,” Hiashi said. 

“Your children are young,” Hizashi said. “Without you, who would lead the clan? Hinata? She is three years old. Another member of the main house, until she is of age? Perhaps--until they decide their own children would be better suited for the position, and conflict arises over the succession. A weakened Hyuuga clan is a weakened Konoha.” 

Hizashi closed his eyes for a moment, and then opened them. “Furthermore, you are my brother, and I do this for you. All I ask is that you care for Neji, as if he were your own.” 

Sakumo held up a hand before he could go any further. His office did not need to turn into more of a scene out of a daytime drama than it already had. “Your sacrifice is appreciated, Hizashi, but unnecessary.” 

Hizashi’s eyes widened. “Hokage-sama?” 

“I’m hardly about to roll over for Kumo, for an incident that they started,” Sakumo said. He picked up two letters, already written, and tapped them against the desk. “I have a plan.” 

The first of the letters, he held out for an ANBU to take. “Deliver that to the Aviary. Tell them to send the fastest bird they have--Jiraiya likes to travel quickly. Owl, find Orochimaru and Tsunade and bring them here. Tell them I have a mission for them.” 

The two ANBU vanished. Hiashi and Hizashi were in the middle of a quiet but extremely intense discussion, so Sakumo left them to it. As always, he had plenty of paperwork to finish up while he waited. 

Tsunade announced her presence by slamming the door open. “This had better be good, Sakumo! I had just gotten Nawanuke to go the fuck to sleep when your ANBU went and woke him up!” 

“You can consider yourself lucky that I was not in the middle of anything delicate,” Orochimaru said. 

“I have a mission for you,” Sakumo said. 

“Great. Who are we fighting?” Tsunade asked. 

“Hopefully, no one,” Sakumo said, holding out the letter. “I told you earlier about the incident with the Hyuuga and the Head Ninja of Kumo. I need you to deliver this to the Raikage.” 

Orochimaru stared disdainfully at the letter. Tsunade glowered at him. “A letter. You couldn’t get one of your chuunin to do this?” 

“The letter isn’t important,” Sakumo said. “It’s full of meaningless platitudes. The important thing is who delivers the letter.” 

Tsunade barked out a laugh. “I get it! You’re flexing your muscles at the Raikage. Well, I can’t say I don’t like being shown off. We’ll deliver your letter.” 

“Very well, Tsunade can deliver the letter,” Orochimaru said. “I will return to my laboratory.” 

“Tsunade isn’t delivering the letter. The Sannin are,” Sakumo said. “I’ve already sent word to Jiraiya. He’ll meet you on the road. Meet up with him, and then deliver this letter while being as threateningly non-threatening as possible.” 

Tsunade looked at Orochimaru. “Is it possible to be threateningly non-threatening?” 

“If anyone can make it work, it’s you three,” Sakumo said. “You’re a doctor who can punch through mountains, a scientist who knows more jutsu than anyone, and the biggest pervert in the world. I have faith in you.” 

“That makes one of us,” Tsunade snorted, as she snatched the letter from his hand. “You owe me for this, Sakumo.” 

“Just think of it as a vacation,” Sakumo said. “You love terrorizing people!” 

“I love it more when I can punch them once I’m sick of terrorizing them,” Tsunade said. “But sure. It’ll be fun. C’mon, Orochimaru, let’s go. You love creeping people out.” 

“I do find the expressions on their faces quite stimulating,” Orochimaru mused as he followed her out the door. 

Sakumo spread his hands wide and smiled at Hiashi and Hizashi. “There we have it. Problem solved. Hopefully. Those three should be able to put the fear of Konoha into them.” 

Hiashi and Hizashi exchanged doubtful looks. Sakumo elected to be magnanimous and dismiss them instead of explaining the details of his plan. 

Sakumo knew it for a fact: no one could withstand the sheer force of annoyance that was Orochimaru, Tsunade, and Jiraiya combined. Not even the Raikage. 

Chapter Text

“You! Obito Uchiha! Stop right there!” 

Obito yelped and froze in place. “Tsunade-sama!” 

Tsunade stepped into his field of vision, hands on her hips. “Do you have a mission? Are you busy?” 

“Uh, no, not really,” Obito said. “Just training.” 

“Great. You’re babysitting,” Tsunade said. 

“I’m a what now?” 

“Babysitting. You know, that thing genin do for D-ranks? Nawanuke’s sick so I’m taking him to the hospital, but I need someone to watch Heiwa,” Tsunade said, nodding towards Nawanuke, who was kicking pebbles at genin with the glee of someone who knew none of them could retaliate against a civilian kid. Unfortunately, “he was an annoying little shit,” was not a good enough excuse to get out of trouble. Obito had tried. 

Heiwa, thankfully, was much less annoying. Granted, Obito had never really spent time with her, but she couldn’t possibly be as bad as Nawanuke, who had once put gum in Obito’s hair and laughed about it. And dropped a water balloon on Obito’s head. And tied all of Obito’s ninja wire into a knot. He was a cute kid, but then he started screaming and wreaking havoc the moment you so much as looked at him. 

He didn’t seem sick, at first, until he projectile vomited onto a genin. Obito was pretty sure that had been intentional, and judging by Tsunade’s stressed sigh, she knew it too. 

“Obito. Senju compound. Now.” 

Obito jumped. “Yes! I’m going, I’m going.” 

He knew the way to the Senju compound, of course. He’d been there a few times before for various parties, although not since Kogane’s birthday the previous March. Usually there was a kind of grumpy old guy guarding the gate, one who always glared at Obito when he walked in, but today he wasn’t there. Obito didn’t actually meet anyone as he walked to the main house, which was unusual. There weren’t nearly as many Senju as there were Uchiha, but he was pretty sure there were usually at least a few people around. 

Tsunade had left the door unlocked, so he let himself in and helped himself to a pair of slippers. “It’s Obito,” he called into the house. “Heiwa-chan, where are you?” 

“Right here.” 

Obito jumped and spun around to see Heiwa sitting on a couch, a stuffed rabbit at her side. She rubbed at her eyes sleepily. “Oh, sorry, where you sleeping? Your mom asked me to come hang out with you. Do you remember me?” 

Heiwa nodded. “You’re Nii-chan’s friend’s husband. Mom said you’re an idiot. But Nii-chan said you’re a good ninja.” 

“Kogane said that, huh? You like ninja, right, Heiwa?” 

“I like ninja. I’m going to be Hokage,” Heiwa said. She glared at Obito as if daring him to laugh. 

“That’s an awesome dream,” Obito said. “You’re gonna be a great Hokage.” 

Heiwa blushed and looked away, clearly pleased with what he had said. 

“You wanna practice being a ninja with me?” Obito asked. He didn’t mind sitting around while Heiwa slept or did whatever, but it would be more fun to actually do something. 

After a moment, Heiwa nodded. “I’m the Hokage. And you can be the jounin commander.” 

“How prestigious!” Obito laughed. “A rank I’m never gonna get in real life. I’ll gladly be your jounin commander, Hokage-sama.” 

“Okay. Wait here.” 

Heiwa trotted off and vanished up the stairs. She was, what, almost four? A little older than Naruto was; Naruto had turned three only the October before. Obito found it hard to believe that it had already been three years since Minato and Kushina had died; it still hurt to think about. Every time he thought about how Naruto would grow up like he had, not knowing his parents, it brought up a fresh wave of sadness. Sure, Naruto had his uncle and the rest of the Uzumaki clan, but Obito knew better than anyone that one close relative and a big clan didn’t mean you didn’t miss your parents. Once Naruto was in Konoha and attending the Academy, Obito was going to tell him everything he knew about Kushina and Minato. 

The patter of small feet on the wood floor alerted him to Heiwa’s return. She was carrying a tiny little pouch, and had a piece of black fabric with a piece of paper attached to it wrapped around her forehead. As she got closer, Obito could see that she’d drawn the village symbol on the paper. 

“Whatcha got there?” he asked. 

Heiwa opened up the pouch to reveal a few rubber shuriken and kunai. Obito whistled. “Wow, you’re super prepared!” 

“I wanted ninja wire, but Mom said no,” Heiwa said. 

“Weeeellll,” Obito said. “If you promise not to tell, I’ll lend you my ninja wire today. But it’s our secret, okay?” 

Heiwa nodded, her expression serious. “I’ll make it a village secret. Because I’m the Hokage.” 

Obito grinned. “Of course, Hokage-sama! So, what’s our first order of business?” 

Heiwa led the way to the back garden. “You’re my jounin commander, but you’re a traitor to the village, so I have to stop you.” 

Obito nodded and fell into a defensive stance. “You’ll never stop me, Hokage-sama!” 

Heiwa pulled out her kunai and gave him a menacing glare so reminiscent of Tsunade that Obito shivered. “Prepare yourself.” 

By the time the door to the backyard opened hours later, Obito was wrapped up in ninja wire and covered with bruises from Heiwa’s kunai and shuriken. 

“What are you doing?” 

Obito tilted his head backwards and grinned at Kakashi. “Hey! We’re playing ninja. Wanna join? Heiwa’s the Hokage. I’m a traitor.” 

Kakashi looked down at him with a stony expression. 

“C’moooon,” Obito cajoled. “It’ll be fun. I’ll make it worth your while.” 

“Oh, no,” Kakashi said in a monotone. “The Hokage has captured my comrade. Whatever shall I do?” 

Heiwa aimed a kunai at him. “I’ll defeat you Kumo ninja! You’ll never attack Konoha again!” 

“Mwahahaha,” Kakashi said. “You’ll never defeat me. And then I will go to Konoha and kidnap all the clan children. Because that’s what we do.” 

“Kakashi!” Obito hissed. “Are we allowed to talk about that?” 

Kakashi shrugged. “What? She’s three. Who’s she going to tell?” 

“Don’t un—unrestimate me!” Heiwa declared. 

“Oh, if only you had the Legendary Sannin with you,” Kakashi said. “Then I would run away with my tail between my legs. Because that’s what Kumo ninja do.” 

Obito laughed. “Kakashi!” 

“That’s basically what happened,” Kakashi said. 

“Yeah, but I’m pretty sure we’re not supposed to talk about it.”  

“What aren’t you supposed to talk about?” Heiwa asked. 

“It’s nothing,” Obito said quickly, but Heiwa was already speaking again. 

“Is it about how Hinata was kidnapped? Because Mom told me about that already. She said that if someone tries to kidnap me, I should scream and fight him. She gave me a real kunai to keep near me at night so I can stab anyone who tries to kidnap me,” Heiwa said. “But Kogane said that wouldn’t help because if someone kidnapped me they would probably be really strong.” 

“Jeez, Kogane,” Obito said. 

Kakashi shrugged. “Well, it’s true.” 

“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean you should say it!” 

A rubber kunai flew threw the air and struck Kakashi in the thigh. “No being distracted during battle!” Heiwa declared. 

Kakashi put his hands in the air. “There’s an important message for the Hokage. Dinner is ready.” 

Heiwa sulked. “You get away this time.” 

Obito escaped from the ninja wire as Heiwa went in search of dinner. “Thanks for that. My arms were falling asleep.” 

“So you could have escaped at any time,” Kakashi said. 

“Yeah, but what’s the fun in that?” Obito said. “Lighten up, Kakashi! Maybe you should spend more time with kids. They’re pretty fun.” 

Heiwa opened the back door. “Kakashi-nii, Obito-nii, Ba-san wants to know if you’re staying for dinner.” 

“We can have dinner? Awesome! Sure, we’ll stay, Heiwa.” 

A small, happy smile spread across her face. “Mm. That means three people for dinner. I’ll go tell Ba-san.” 

Obito chuckled as she ran off, rubber kunai still in hand. “She’s a cute kid.” 

“You’re good with kids,” Kakashi commented. 

Obito walked into the house, Kakashi trailing behind him. “I guess? I mean, there are a ton of Uchiha kids. I’m just used to spending time with them.” 

Kakashi nodded thoughtfully and followed Obito into the dining room, where Heiwa was patiently waiting as Tsunade’s housekeeper served the food. 

“Kakashi-nii, sit next to me,” Heiwa said. “You said you would tell me about making jutsu.” 

“Did I?” Kakashi wondered, but obliged her by sitting next to her. 

The housekeeper hadn’t yet finished serving the last plate when there was a knock on the door. Obito waved her off and took up the serving utensils himself. “It’s okay, I got this.” 

She hurried off to answer the door. Obito heard a few brief murmurs of conversation, and then she returned, followed by Rin. 

Obito grinned and waved at her. “Hey, Rin! Hungry?” 

Rin took a seat at the table next to him, across from Heiwa. “Thanks, that would be great. I just got off from my shift.” 

“Oh,” Heiwa said, looking up from her dinner. “Nii-chan’s girlfriend.” 

“Eh?” Obito said, dropping the serving utensils in his shock. “Girlfriend? Since when?” 

Rin blushed. “Ah, not very long. Only a few weeks?” 

“A few weeks? That’s forever!” Obito exclaimed. “And you didn’t tell me? Man, I can’t believe you two are dating . . .” 

He stared into the distance, only coming to his senses when he realized Kakashi had said something. “Yeah?” 

Kakashi only nodded and looked back at his food. When he didn’t say anything else, Obito dismissed it and looked back at Rin. “Man, I can’t imagine Kogane dating at all.” 

Rin giggled. “It’s been . . . interesting. I told him my hands were cold, and he bought me gloves and told me I should dress warmer because of the weather.” 

Obito clasped his hands over his heart. “A true romantic!” 

She smiled down at her dinner. “But he’s very sweet, in his own way. I just have to be very straightforward with him.” 

“You probably sound like the bossiest girlfriend ever,” Obito laughed. “‘Kogane! Hold my hand! Kogane! Put your arm around my waist!’” 

“Why do you want me to do that?” 

“Nii-chan!” Heiwa exclaimed, eyes wide. 

Kogane walked over to Obito and took Obito’s hand in his. “Like this?” 

Obito patted him on the shoulder. “Thanks, Kogane. You’re a real pal. Now go give Rin a hug or whatever it is you do.” 

“Usually I kiss her. Because we are dating, and that is what people do when they are dating,” Kogane said. 

“Uh, I don’t really need to see my best friends making out,” Obito said. “How about you save it for after dinner.” 

Kogane nodded and took a seat at the head of the table, between Rin and Heiwa. “That is acceptable.” 

Heiwa smiled down at her dinner. “Now we only need Dad and Mom.” 

“And Nawanuke,” Kogane said. 

Heiwa frowned. “Nawanuke can stay away. He threw up on Hatake-san.” 

“On . . . Hatake-san?” Obito wondered. 

“Her stuffed wolf. It was a gift from the Godaime,” Kogane said. 

“He’s not a wolf, he’s my advisor,” Heiwa said. “Uchiha-san and Hyuuga-san too.” 

“Her stuffed rabbit and turtle,” Kogane said. 

“My advisors,” Heiwa repeated. “‘Cause I’m the Hokage.” 

“You are not,” Kogane said. 

“Okay!” Obito interrupted. “Let’s eat, before it gets cold!” 

“Wow, you ate all your vegetables, Heiwa!” Rin praised. 

Heiwa nodded. “Mom says vegetables are good for you. Nawanuke never eats his vegetables.” 

“That reminds me,” Rin said. “Your mom is going to be at the hospital with Nawanuke for a little longer. But don’t worry, he’s okay.” 

“I hope he stays there forever,” Heiwa said. 

“Let’s not wish horrible illness on our siblings,” Obito said. “It’s not very nice.” 

Kogane nodded. “Wishing illness is not a practical method of revenge. You should instead—” 

“Eat your fish, Kogane,” Rin said smoothly. Obito shot her a thumbs-up on the sly. 

Kakashi stood abruptly. “I have to go.” 

“Eh?” Obito twisted around to watch him leave. “So soon?”

“Lab work,” Kakashi said. 

“Oh, okay,” Obito said. “See you at home!”

Heiwa watched him go, her mouth twisted into a small frown. Without a word, she started to pick at her dinner. 

“You wanna play together some more after dinner, Heiwa?” Obito offered. “I can’t teach you about making jutsu, but I can teach you some other cool stuff.” 

She looked up at him with wide eyes. “Really?” 

“Really,” Obito said. Heiwa returned to her dinner, smile back on her face. 

Now Obito just had to think of some skill appropriate for an almost-four-year-old. Tsunade wouldn’t kill him if he taught Heiwa the Great Fireball Jutsu . . . right? 

***

“Shishou, I need your help!” 

Orochimaru didn’t look up from the computer—a massive, clunky piece of equipment that they had recently received from another branch of the Research and Development Department—as Kakashi entered the lab. “Is this to do with the jutsu you are developing for the Uchiha boy?” 

“No, not that,” Kakashi said. “Obito wants kids. I asked him, just now, if he wanted kids, and he said yes.” 

Orochimaru’s fingers clacked over the keyboard. “And how is that my problem?” 

“I can’t have kids with Obito. We’re both men,” Kakashi said. 

“Ah, the limits of the human form. So, you require a female vessel,” Orochimaru said. 

“I’d rather not,” Kakashi said. “Can’t you just . . . make one?” 

Orochimaru spun around in his chair, facing Kakashi. “Hmm . . . two people combine to make another . . . their blood lives on in the child, a form of immortality in itself . . . very well. I am intrigued. I will assist you in this endeavor. I will require samples of genetic material from both yourself and the Uchiha boy.” 

“I can do that,” Kakashi said. 

Genetic material was easy enough to find; now that he and Obito lived together, it was a simple matter for Kakashi to find some hair and bring it back to the lab. Kakashi was more involved on the jutsu research side of things, whereas Orochimaru was deeply interested in biological matters and fuinjutsu research as well, so he let Orochimaru handle the brunt of the work. 

In the end, it took two weeks to design and assemble the apparatus: something that resembled a large test tube, covered in a variety of seals, hooked up to Orochimaru’s computer by a mound of wires. 

“It is an inelegant machine,” was Orochimaru’s verdict. “But it is convenient.”

He took his seat at the computer. “I must process the samples. Ask the Uchiha if he has any preferences.” 

Assuming Orochimaru meant preferences as to whether it was a boy or a girl, Kakashi left him to his work and went to hunt down Obito. He eventually found Obito in the middle of a spar with Kogane, while Rin waited for her turn from the sidelines. As Kakashi approached, Obito flashed him a brief grin. “Hey, Kakashi! Want to take a turn after Rin?” 

“No, I have to get back to the lab. I just had a question for you.” 

Obito dodged a strike from Kogane. “Yeah?” 

“Do you prefer girls or boys?” 

“Uh—” Obito dropped down and attempted to sweep Kogane’s legs out from under him, only for Kogane to backflip out of the way. “—both are good?” 

Kakashi nodded; he’d thought the same, but it was nice to know that Obito didn’t have a preference either. “I agree.” 

Kogane’s fist slammed into Obito’s gut, sending him flying backwards into a tree. “I’ll leave you to your fight,” Kakashi said. 

“See you! Love you!” 

“I love you too,” Kakashi called. 

Upon returning to the lab, Kakashi found that several more seals had been added to the tube, along with more wires leading to a variety of instruments, some of which he didn’t even know the purpose of. 

“Obito says he doesn’t have a preference,” he reported. 

“Then I will do as I please,” Orochimaru said. “Now, we must create the artificial gametes, to learn if this venture will even succeed. You will assist me.” 

Kakashi assisted Orochimaru for a couple weeks, until the middle of February, his work only interrupted by one birthday party for Obito—a rousing success, as Obito loved the new fire jutsu Kakashi had created for him—and another birthday party for Heiwa—less of a success, as it had ended in Kakashi and his friends being scolded by Sakumo.

He decided against informing Obito of how the experiments had been going, to avoid getting his hopes up in the case that they ultimately failed. After those weeks however, Kakashi was as clueless as Obito, as they were sent out of the village on a mission to track down an A-rank missing nin who had been spotted getting worryingly close to Konoha. She proved unexpectedly wily, and in the end it took them two weeks to finish the job and haul her back to T&I. 

When they returned at last to Konoha, it was to the discovery that Tsunade had taken Heiwa and Nawanuke to Uzushio for some reason, and no one knew quite when they intended to return, and that Orochimaru had made significant headway in their experiments. 

Kakashi stared at the small blob in the tube. It hardly qualified as a baby, in his mind, but it was larger than he had expected. “How far developed is it?” 

“Approximately twenty-seven days,” Orochimaru said. 

“Twenty-seven? But I was only gone—” 

“For fifteen, yes, yes,” Orochimaru said dismissively. “I have seals to speed up the development. I don’t have time to wait around for experiments to fail. The first batch refused to last until the second day. I spliced in some additional genetic material, and that seems to have stabilized them.” 

“Genetic material? Whose?” 

“Mine,” Orochimaru said.

Kakashi tried to figure out how he felt about Orochimaru’s genetic material being part of his kid. 

“Don’t waste your time on inconsequential thoughts,” Orochimaru said. “It won’t have much of an effect. Think of it as glue. Now, this one has made it to twenty-seven days, the furthest thus far, but I expect it to fail soon. The process has yet to be fully refined. I anticipate several more trials will be required.” 

“Ah. And something Kabuto said. Do you wish for it to be . . . a surprise?” Orochimaru said, as if the mere thought of a surprise was distasteful to him. 

“I’ll ask Obito,” Kakashi decided. 

Obito had already gone to bed; not that Kakashi could blame him. It was still early in the afternoon, but Obito had opened quite a few of those portals, and that tended to exhaust him. “Obito,” Kakashi whispered, nudging him until Obito’s eyes opened. 

“Kakashi? Wha?” Obito mumbled. “Wha’s wrong?” 

“Nothing. Do you want it to be a surprise?” Kakashi asked. 

“Sure, I love surprises. Night, Kakashi.” 

With that, Obito rolled over and fell back asleep. Kakashi patted his spiky hair. “Good night, Obito.” 

Kakashi, however, still wasn’t tired, so  he returned to the laboratory to join Orochimaru. Anko was there as well, reading a magazine in the front room while snacking on dango, and Kabuto was inside the lab flipping through one of the many pamphlets of data Orochimaru had collected on their experiment. 

“Obito said he wants it to be a surprise,” Kakashi reported. “Ah . . . perhaps it should be a surprise for me as well.” 

“Very well. You are removed from the project,” Orochimaru said. “Kabuto is more useful in biological fields than you. I have a jutsu that needs to be finished and tested. Work on that. If you finish, find Anko something to do, preferably something hard and frustrating. She has been slacking off far too much since joining T&I.” 

From then on, Kakashi didn’t have much to do with the experiments. Kabuto partitioned off that area of the lab, so the most Kakashi got was a glimpse of the test tube and whatever was growing in it whenever Kabuto opened and closed the curtains. When he was in the village, he busied himself with developing jutsu and testing jutsu that Orochimaru developed, and tormenting Anko on Orochimaru’s behalf. Most of the time, however, he was on missions either with Obito or alone. 

He was off to a diplomatic mission in the Capital on his own—Obito had been sent out on a tracking mission with an Inuzuka and a Hyuuga, so neither of them were particularly happy with their missions—when Orochimaru stopped him on his way out of the lab. 

“I have refined the procedure sufficiently. This one should be the last trial,” Orochimaru said. “You may inform me whenever you are prepared for the final product.” 

***

“Anko.” 

Anko quickly shoved her magazine under the desk, hoping that Orochimaru hadn’t noticed she hadn’t been reading the book on poisons like he’d told her to. It wasn’t her fault the tome was so long and boring. She wanted to do something, not spend all day reading. 

“I will return in the evening,” Orochimaru said, and she quickly started to pay attention to what he had been saying. “I expect the specimen to be disposed of by then.” 

“Right, dispose of the specimen, got it,” Anko said. 

The door shut behind him. Anko waited five minutes, and then pulled out her magazine. It wasn’t like some lab specimen were going anywhere; she’d clean them up when her snakes warned her Orochimaru was returning. In the meantime, she had a gossip rag to read and dango to eat. 

Thirty-four sticks of dango later, Anko was jolted to attention by sharp fangs in her wrist. “Ouch! What was that for?” she demanded, glaring down at the snake. 

“You weren’t listening,” the snake hissed. “Orochimaru and Kabuto return.” 

“Shit.” Anko shoved the dango in the trash along with the gossip mag. Hopefully Orochimaru and Kabuto wouldn’t look in there and realize what she’d been up to. She didn’t have time to take more than a step towards the lab before the front door opened and Orochimaru and Kabuto walked through the door. 

Orochimaru arched an eyebrow at her. “In a hurry, Anko?” 

“Uh, nope,” Anko said. “So. . .you guys are back, huh? How about you go run and get dinner. And I’ll, uh, set the table.” 

Orochimaru stared her down, unimpressed. Kabuto gave her a superior smirk. Anko ground her teeth. Little brat. Just because he was Orochimaru’s favorite now didn’t mean anything—Anko had been his student first! 

Kabuto opened his mouth, probably to make some smarmy response about staying to help Anko clean the lab because obviously she couldn’t do it herself, when a crash came from further inside. In a flash, Orochimaru was in the lab, the doors swinging in his wake. Anko and Kabuto exchanged a look before rushing after him. Anko froze in the doorway at what she saw. 

A kid, a little one about the same size as Tsunade’s brats, stood in the lab, tangled in the curtains Kabuto had set up around whatever he and Orochimaru had been working on. He stared at them with wide, black eyes, a stark contrast to the white hair on his head. Anko had no idea where he had come from, and desperately hoped that Orochimaru wasn’t about to scold her for letting some kid slip into the lab while she was distracted. There was nothing worse than being scolded by Orochimaru; he was more inventive with his punishments than T&I. 

“Anko,” Orochimaru said, “I believe I instructed you to dispose of the specimen.” 

“That’s the specimen?” Anko exclaimed. “He’s a kid!” 

“‘He’ is one of the failed trials,” Orochimaru said. 

Anko eyed the kid warily; when Orochimaru’s trials failed, things tended to go horribly wrong. “What’s wrong with him?” 

“His chakra reserves are much too small,” Orochimaru said. 

Anko relaxed. That wasn’t so bad. 

“Also, he may die of cancer at a tragically young age,” Orochimaru said, which was worse. “No matter. I will dispose of him now.” 

Kabuto stepped in front of Orochimaru, hands on his hips. “You will do no such thing.” 

“I will not,” Orochimaru repeated, almost shocked. 

“You will not,” Kabuto said. “Look at him! He’s awake, exploring his environment. He’s not an empty shell anymore, he’s a child. We have to give him to Kakashi.” 

“Currently impossible,” Orochimaru said. “Kakashi is in the Capital for another fourteen days.” 

“Then, Obito,” Kabuto said. 

“Also impossible. The Uchiha is on a mission, and is not due to return for another twelve days.” 

“Okay,” Kabuto said, “then we’ll take care of him.” 

“We will not.” 

“We will,” Kabuto insisted. 

Eventually, Orochimaru turned away and went to his computer. “Do as you wish. He is your responsibility.” 

“Thank you, Shishou!” Kabuto said. “Now, do you know what they were intending to call him?” 

“I do not know, nor do I care,” Orochimaru said. 

“That’s okay. We’ll just call him Hatake-chan,” Kabuto said. He crouched in front of the boy, who stared at him without blinking. “Hello, Hatake-chan. My name is Kabuto, and that is Anko, and that is Orochimaru.” 

The boy said nothing. “Is he broken?” Anko asked. “You said he was a failed test, right?” 

“Anko, you shouldn’t say things like that. It isn’t nice,” Kabuto said. “Hatake-chan is more than welcome to take his time in speaking to us. Now, let’s find you something to wear that isn’t curtains, and then I’ll show you around the lab.” 

Anko had to admit it, Kabuto was good with kids. She wouldn’t know what to do with one, but he dressed the kid up in a spare change of clothes and led him around the lab, explaining each and every piece of equipment in the lab. When the kid fell asleep, Kabuto tucked him into the exam bed and raced off, returning in record time with real food, clothes, and even a bunch of books. 

“You went a little wild there,” Anko noted. 

“He will be in our care for twelve days. We should ensure that he is as well-taken care of as possible,” Kabuto said. 

Anko perched on a table and watched Kabuto prepare some kind of canned soup for the kid. “Whatever. Just don’t expect me to play babysitter with you.” 

Kabuto smiled at her. “Anko, I wouldn’t trust you to babysit if I were handing out D-ranks and you were the last genin team in the world.” 

“Whatever,” Anko snorted. “Just don’t come crying to me when you’re in over your head. I’ve seen Tsunade’s brat—you’re gonna regret taking care of him by this time tomorrow, maybe sooner. We’ll see how much he screams.” 

To her consternation, the kid proceeded to not scream or cry at all. Even the better behaved part of Tsunade’s brats cried sometimes, like at that boring birthday party Anko had gotten dragged to. Five days passed, and not a peep out of him, no matter how much Kabuto read to him and spoke to him. 

“I think he’s stupid,” Anko said, when Orochimaru had taken the kid away for a checkup and she and Kabuto were eating lunch out in the main room. 

“Don’t say that,” Kabuto said. “He might hear you.” 

“You think it’s weird too, that he hasn’t said anything,” Anko said. 

“Physically, he is almost four years old. Three years and six months, to be exact.” Kabuto said. “It is a little strange that he hasn’t even tried to say anything. However, there is no telling what spending the first forty-two or so months of his life in a test tube did to his development. He wasn’t supposed to be a successful test.” 

“So he’s a baby in the body of a three-year-old,” Anko surmised. “Tough shit.” 

Kabuto shrugged. “So it seems. Of course, it hasn’t been very long. Time will tell.” 

***

In only five days, Orochimaru’s laboratory had become some horrible parody of a preschool. Children’s books, food, and clothes now occupied a small corner of the lab that had previously been devoted purely to his collection of graduated containers in various shapes and sizes. Rather than equipment and wires, he was now in danger of tripping over a small human body. This would not be so bad, Orochimaru thought, if the child showed any hint of promise. Instead, it was utterly silent, staring at the world but making no attempt to engage it. Kabuto had attempted to rouse a response of some sort from the child, and had once managed to make it giggle by tickling it, but had otherwise failed in his attempts. It did not misbehave or cry or complain. It walked around, but that was the extent of what it did, rather like a mobile doll. 

Orochimaru was just waiting for Kabuto to leave the child unattended for long enough that Orochimaru could dispose of it in peace. He was not going to tolerate a failed experiment being deemed a success. 

His chance finally came when Kabuto was forced to take a shift at the hospital, something he had been putting off, at the same time Anko had a shift at T&I. They would not return until the following morning, leaving Orochimaru plenty of time to finish his last report on Test Subject Gamma 12, or 'Hatake-chan' as Kabuto had dubbed the child, and then dispose of it. 

A tug on his sleeve interrupted him just as he was about to finish his report. "Mama." 

Orochimaru turned and stared down at the child. The child stared up at him. "Orochimaru," Orochimaru corrected. 

"Mama," the child said again. 

Well, he had one syllable correct, which was better than none. "What is it you require?" Orochimaru asked. 

The child held up a book, one of the things Kabuto had brought for him. "You wish to be read to," Orochimaru surmised. "Very well. I shall read to you, and you shall eat your dinner and go to bed." 

The child looked at him silently. Orochimaru nodded. "Leaving room for negotiation is a wise choice. Let us commence the reading." 

There were no other chairs in the room, unfortunately, so Orochimaru decided the most efficient method was to simply have the child sit in Orochimaru's lap. That way, it could read along, and would be able to learn to read to itself. 

Orochimaru opened to the first page. "The cat says meow." He looked to the second page. "The dog says woof. This is the drivel Kabuto has been reading to you? No wonder you have not been properly engaging with your environment." 

Orochimaru set the book aside and pulled forwards a book he had given Anko to read as a punishment. Not that she had read it, he knew, or she would have reached the far more interesting sections later in the book. "A treatise on poisons and their side effects," Orochimaru read from the title page. "It is not particularly in-depth, but an overview will be sufficient for you until you decide that poisons are something you are interested in. Now, pay attention, as this will be applicable to your future career as a ninja." 

The child was a far better student of the written word than Anko, listening diligently as Orochimaru read the sections that he deemed most valuable for a growing mind. Orochimaru rewarded him by teaching him to use the microwave, so that he might heat up his dinner by himself. With both mind and body nourished, the child dropped off to sleep almost immediately, and did not wake up until the following morning, when Kabuto returned to the lab. 

Orochimaru observed them covertly throughout the day. The child did not attempt to speak to Kabuto, although he listened, nor did he attempt to initiate contact, although he accepted it. Mostly, he watched, observing Kabuto and Anko and Orochimaru in silence. 

Kabuto left again at the end of the day, clearly reassured by the child's continued presence that Orochimaru had decided not to dispose of him. Not long after Kabuto had left, the child once again approached Orochimaru and tugged on his sleeve. 

“Mama,” he called, when Orochimaru didn’t look at him at once. 

“Patience is a necessary trait for a shinobi,” Orochimaru informed him. “You will wait until I have finished this report for the Hokage.” 

The child fell silent, but didn’t move from Orochimaru’s side. When he had finally finished the report and set it aside to be delivered in the morning, Orochimaru turned to look at him. “As a reward for waiting, I am going to teach you a necessary skill for your career as a shinobi.” 

He led the way across the room, pushing aside equipment so that there was a patch of bare wall. “Your fathers will tell you that you do not have to become a shinobi. That you may choose whatever you wish to do with your life. This would be a waste of talent, if you have any. That is what we shall ascertain. To begin, you must know what chakra is.” 

“Essentially, chakra can be manipulated to create shinobi techniques, which are called jutsu. Like so.” With a single hand seal, Orochimaru created a ball of fire, hovering in the air between them. The Fox Fire Jutsu, an early creation of Kakashi’s, pretty but mostly useless. The child’s deep, black eyes reflected the light of the flames. “There are a variety of techniques, with a variety of uses. If you continue to do as I instruct, I will show you more of them. But now you see the importance of chakra.” 

“Chakra is created by combining physical energy and spiritual energy. Training can increase the amount of chakra a person has at any given time, but there are limits to how much it can increase. Your father, Kakashi Hatake, has an average amount of chakra. You have a slightly below average amount of chakra. Large amounts of chakra are not necessary to be a skilled ninja, however. What you require is rather good chakra control, and that is what we shall test. Observe.” 

Orochimaru walked up the wall to the ceiling, so that he was looking at the child upside-down. “Channel chakra to your feet, then walk up the wall. The chakra will enable you to stick to the wall. However, this is likely too advanced for you at this moment.” 

He stepped down again, grasping the child’s arm and stretching it out. His skin was paper-white, untouched by the sun, and Orochimaru could clearly see his veins. “You see here the veins through which your blood flows. Like blood, chakra flows through your body. First, you must know how to channel chakra. We will start with meditation. Sit like this—yes, just so. Now, form a seal with your hands—yes, like that. Seals are a tool used to help you channel your chakra. Now, we shall begin.” 

Orochimaru talked the child through meditation until he fell asleep. He put the child to bed, more to avoid Kabuto’s ire in the morning than out of any real feeling that the child should be in a bed, and resumed his work until his level of exhaustion diminished his efficiency to unacceptable levels. 

The next day, Kabuto returned to spend time with the child, and at night the child again came to Orochimaru’s side. This time, rather than call out, he waited quietly. 

“Good,” Orochimaru said, once he had finished with his work. “You remembered what I told you. That will serve you well. I believe we have made sufficient progress with the meditation. You can channel your chakra, correct?” 

The boy nodded. “Yeah, Mama.” 

“Yes, Orochimaru,” Orochimaru corrected. The child had clearly been picking up too many of Anko’s speech patterns.  “You will now walk up the wall. When you succeed, you will have a reward.” 

The child nodded, put a foot on the wall, attempted to put another foot on the wall, and fell over. 

“A running start may help,” Orochimaru said, and left him to it. The good thing about chakra exercises was that once you explained them, you could leave the students to it. Orochimaru had done much the same with his former genin, who had been a rather uninspired lot. They had taken a full day to learn the technique; Anko had managed it within two hours. Orochimaru set a timer, and waited for the child to either tire or successfully complete his task. 

Two hours in, the child fell to the ground and, instead of going up the wall, walked over to Orochimaru, holding his stomach. “Mama, ouch.” 

“Your stomach hurts?” The child nodded. “Then say, ‘Orochimaru, my stomach hurts.’ Your previous language was imprecise. When giving a mission report, would you say there are a few enemy ninja, or four enemy ninja? The latter, because ‘a few’ could mean anywhere from three to five ninja.” 

“Mama, my stomach hurts,” the child said. 

Orochimaru decided that was good enough. They could work on the child’s constant mispronunciation of his name later. “You are most likely hungry. Alternatively, you have developed a tumor, and will probably die. We shall act on the first hypothesis.” 

After a few tentative sips of his microwave soup, the child devoured it, and was soon back to running at the wall and sticking about half the time. An hour after that, he fell asleep there on the floor. Orochimaru put him on the bed, and returned to his work once again. The next two nights, they did the same, two hours of training, then dinner, then another hour of training, then sleep. 

The fourth night, Orochimaru was in the middle of writing a scathing retort to a proposal by another member of the R&D Department when he was interrupted by an excited shout. “Mama, look!” 

Orochimaru spun around in his chair. His eyes traced up the wall, now dotted with occasional dents, up to the ceiling. “Good. But can you get down?” 

His steps back down were wobbly, slow, and hesitant, but he managed the feat just the same. Orochimaru stopped his timer. “Eleven hours. On the better side of average.” 

“What’s the reward?” the child asked. 

Orochimaru eyed him, examining the clothing Kabuto had given him with distaste. The shirt had some kind of hideous creature on it, likely from a children’s cartoon, and the shorts were, of all things, bright green. “You are going to be a shinobi, and you should dress like it. Those things you are wearing would do absolutely nothing to protect you on the battlefield. Worse, they are hideous. You will receive your reward tomorrow.” 

“Wanna reward now,” the child said. 

“‘I want a reward now,’” Orochimaru corrected. “And what have I said about patience? Patience is necessary if you want to avoid rushing into a trap and meeting an untimely death. I could give you a box, in shiny paper, with a nice bow. And you could rip it open, and find a lovely venomous snake inside that would kill you in a heartbeat. Or you could wait.” 

The child was quiet. Orochimaru nodded. “As I thought. Now, you can entertain yourself, or I can read you this dreadful proposal and you can assist me in informing the writer that a baby monkey would do better at his job.” 

“Monkey!” the child exclaimed. “Ook ook!” 

“I see Kabuto has persisted in reading you that garbage,” Orochimaru said. “I shall show you another example of what not to read.” 

And thus, the tenth day passed peacefully. On the eleventh day, Kabuto and Anko were both gone at their other jobs for the day, and so Orochimaru was again alone with the child. He left the lab briefly to fetch the reward, and returned just as the child had finished his breakfast. 

“Put this on,” he instructed. 

The child looked at the clothes, and then at Orochimaru. “Help please, Mama.” 

“You must learn to dress yourself,” Orochimaru said. “However, as this is different from the clothing you are accustomed to, I will assist you.” 

He had purchased more traditional shinobi clothing for the boy, a kimono top, simple black pants, and practical sandals. “There,” he said. “Now you look the part of a shinobi-in-training.” 

The child jumped up and down, eagerly flapping the sleeves through the air. Orochimaru left him to it and returned to his work, only looking up when the door to the lab opened and closed. He expected to see Anko or Kabuto, perhaps, trying to get a free lunch out of him, but instead saw a flash of purple fabric vanishing through the door to the front room. 

In a heartbeat, Orochimaru had snatched the child up, preventing him from escaping out the front door. 

“What’s there?” the child asked. “Anko-nee an’ Kabuto-nii went out there.” 

“That is Konoha,” Orochimaru said. “And you may go there when one of your fathers retrieves you.” 

The child nodded. “Kabuto-nii said I have a Daddy and a Papa.” 

“That is true,” Orochimaru said. “And they will retrieve you, and then you will be out of my hair and I will no longer be responsible for your training as a shinobi.” 

“But I like training,” the child said. 

“Good. Then you can continue to train while you wait for your parents.” Orochimaru deposited the child back in the lab. “Now, continue to practice walking up the wall. You did it once, but that is only the beginning. You should be able to do it in your sleep.” 

The child returned to walking up the wall and, once he had gained more confidence, running up the wall. Eventually, he started to walk on the ceiling, laughing at how it made all his clothing fall towards the ground. 

The door opened, and Orochimaru looked up, ready to foil another escape attempt. Instead, he found Kabuto and Anko. 

“Oh, cool,” Anko said. “Are we teaching the brat ninja tricks now? I wanna teach him how to throw a senbon.” 

“You may teach him to throw dango sticks, and nothing more,” Orochimaru said. “I have not tested his self-preservation instincts sufficiently to trust him around sharp objects.” 

“We shouldn’t be teaching him anything,” Kabuto said firmly. 

“Well, someone had to counteract your dreadful books rotting his brain,” Orochimaru said. 

“Rotting his—those are educational books for children!”

“Ah, yes, ‘the cat says meow.’ If this is the height of education, I fear for the future of our ranks,” Orochimaru said. 

“Shishou, he’s not even four,” Kabuto said. 

“Old enough to train,” Orochimaru said. 

Kabuto, unfortunately, did not like to hear that particular truth, and set about avoiding all of his work in favor of loudly reading to the child from a book apparently titled ‘Families Come in All Shapes and Sizes.’ Orochimaru theorized this because the phrase was repeated on every single page. 

“The whole village of Konoha is one big family!” Kabuto cheerfully declared, at which point Orochimaru had to leave the lab and decimate a training ground. Tsunade, unfortunately, had still not returned from her little sojourn to Uzushio, or he would have enlisted her. 

By the time he returned, Kabuto had left, and Anko and the child had taken to throwing dango sticks at the wall of the front room. So long as they were not making a mess in the lab, Orochimaru did not much care, so he left them to it. Unfortunately, they were still incredibly loud and distracting. Orochimaru was becoming increasingly glad that the child would soon be gone. His lab had not been productive for nearly two weeks; the child was an unacceptable disruption, and Orochimaru was counting down the minutes until Kakashi or the Uchiha boy would retrieve him.

 

Chapter Text

Usually when Obito got back from a mission, no one was there to greet him. It was kind of hard to greet people exactly when they came home, since usually they didn’t send along advance notice that they were returning. So it was unusual to return and immediately have a snake wind its way around his ankle. 

“Oh, hey,” he said. “Are you one of Kakashi’s?” 

The snake flicked its tongue at him. “Come to the lab.” 

With that, it was gone. Obito quickly went to hand in his mission scroll and report before heading to the lab, knowing that with Kakashi he would end up getting distracted and forget to turn them in entirely. 

When he reached the lab, however, Kakashi was nowhere to be found. 

Instead, Orochimaru appeared in front of him—something that always made Obito gulp in fear—and dropped something into Obito’s arms. “Congratulations. It’s a child. Now get out of here.” 

Obito looked down at the kid in his arms, who looked up at him in return. He was a cute kid, sure, with big black eyes and fluffy white hair, but Obito wasn’t exactly sure why Orochimaru was giving the kid to Obito—and come to think of it, why did Orochimaru have a kid in the first place?

Unfortunately, Orochimaru had already vanished from the laboratory, leaving Obito alone with the kid and Anko. 

“Uh, Anko? Why’s Orochimaru giving me a kid.” 

“That’s your and Kakashi’s kid, duh,” Anko said, not looking up from her magazine. “You’re a lucky guy. Not everyone has a boyfriend with the means to special order a baby.” 

“Mine and Kakashi’s? But how?” Obito blurted. 

Anko sighed, annoyed. “You really want the details? Because I don’t know them. Something about taking your genetic material and Kakashi’s and making a baby out of it. Kabuto would know more. Oh, and Kabuto put together an information packet for you. Take it on your way out.” 

Obito’s throat went dry. Okay, so Kakashi had apparently gone and gotten them a baby. That was—okay, that was something Obito was not ready for, and he definitely had some questions for Kakashi whenever he got home. What the hell were you thinking , mostly. Obito could barely take care of a house plant—how was he supposed to take care of a kid? 

But that wasn’t the worst of it. The worst part of it was that if the Uchiha knew that Orochimaru had artificially created an Uchiha baby, one with the potential to awaken the Sharingan, they would riot in the streets. Also, they would probably kill Orochimaru, or at least try to. Obito wasn’t really sure if Orochimaru could be killed. 

The door opened and closed, and Obito realized he was alone in the lab. He took in a deep, shaky breath. “Okay. First things first. Let’s get you home without anyone seeing I have a kid and asking questions.” 

Obito had never been more thankful for the Mangekyo Sharingan. 

He opened a portal directly to the house Kakashi had built on the outskirts of the village, hidden in a forest that Kakashi had grown himself. The closest thing to them was a training ground that Gai liked to use, and even that was far enough away that Obito couldn’t even hear the people training there. 

Once home, he shut the door and locked it behind him before lowering the kid down to the ground. “Okay,” he sighed. “Let’s go talk over there, uh—what’s your name?” 

“Hatake-chan,” the kid said. 

“That’s your last name,” Obito said. He skimmed the information packet, but didn’t see a name anywhere. Mostly it looked like medical information. He did spot the kid’s birthday. November—he’d be four in about six months. “They didn’t give you a first name?” 

The kid wasn’t paying attention, instead staring around the room with wide eyes. 

Obito sighed and sat down on the couch. He knew the Hatake tended to name their kids after agricultural terms. What was he supposed to do, name him after a plant or something? “Onshitsu . . . Kaitaku . . . those would be stupid names,” he muttered to himself. “Kousaku? Housaku? Minoru . . . Minori?” 

The kid was looking at him. 

Obito beckoned to him. “Hey, Minori. Come here.” 

The kid hesitated just a moment before walking over to the couch. Obito had beckoned him, but he wasn’t really sure what to do with him. He’d known a lot of little kids over the years, from Shisui and Itachi to Heiwa and Nawanuke, but all he’d really done was play with them now and then. Three-year-olds needed—what did they need? Food? Water? School?

Obito groaned and put a hand over his eyes. “Shit. What am I supposed to do with a kid?” 

“ . . . Do you . . . not want me?” 

Obito sat up and looked at the kid, with his big black eyes—Obito’s eyes. “Aw, what the hell,” he said, and bundled him  into a hug. The kid didn’t resist, but he didn’t exactly hug back either, instead sitting limply in Obito’s lab. “Of course I want you. I might not know what I’m doing, but I want you.” 

Slowly, the kid—Minori—mimicked Obito, wrapping his arms around Obito’s neck. “Kakashi’s got a lot of explaining to do once he gets home, but that’s nothing for you to worry about. All you need to worry about is getting some sun. You look like a ghost.” 

Obito opened up the porch doors and together they sat out in the sun, eating sweet watermelon with sticky fingers while Obito flipped through his photo albums and taught Minori everything he needed to know. Meanwhile, Rice slipped silently through the village, bringing Sakumo a message that would summon him to the house once Minori was asleep. 

Minori, however, did not want to go to sleep. 

“But what about training,” he said, as Obito made dinner. 

“Training? It’s almost time for dinner,” Obito said. “What training—agh, the fish! Minori, tell me after dinner.” 

“Yes, Papa,” Minori said, and Obito narrowly avoided dumping all the vegetables he’d been cutting in the trash. 

Minori happily drank his miso soup with eggplant—Obito had gotten into the habit of making that for dinner, since it was Kakashi’s favorite—but then proceeded to stare at his fish and vegetables. After a moment, he stared at Obito, who had just picked up a vegetable with his chopsticks and shoved it into his mouth. 

Minori picked up the chopsticks and attempted to mimic Obito’s grip. Obito couldn’t help but snort. “Uh, let me help you with that. Like this—see?” 

Carefully, he arranged Minori’s hand so he was holding the chopsticks properly. “Now, like this,” Obito said, and demonstrating picking up a carrot and eating it. 

Slowly, Minori began to eat. He dropped more food than he managed to get in his mouth, but Obito figured it was good enough. First parenting moment successfully navigated. 

Oh, god, he was a parent—but that was something to freak out about at a later moment, when he wasn’t figuring out how to get a toddler to agree to go to bed. 

“But what about training,” Minori repeated, as Obito washed the dishes. 

“What training?” Obito asked. 

“This training!” 

Obito turned around, but didn’t see Minori until, a sense of foreboding falling over him, he looked up. Minori, standing on the ceiling, looked back at him. “Gah! Minori, what’re you doing—you’ll fall!” 

Minori stared at him. He didn’t fall. 

Obito took a deep breath. “Okay. So you can do the wall-walking trick already. Uh, who taught you that?” 

“Mama,” Minori said. 

“You have a—uh, never mind. Someone at the lab taught you, right? Anko? Kabuto?” 

“Mama,” Minori repeated. 

“Please tell me that doesn’t mean Orochimaru,” Obito said. 

Minori nodded. Obito breathed in, breathed out, and decided to set aside the question of why his kid was calling Orochimaru ‘Mama.’ It was probably just a really, really unfortunate mispronunciation. “Okay. Well, uh, good job on learning that. I don’t think I learned that until I was twelve or thirteen. Have you learned anything else?” 

“Medididation,” Minori said. 

“Meditation? Okay, that’s pretty harmless,” Obito said. 

“And throwing sticks,” Minori said. 

“Ooookay, that’s a little less harmless,” Obito said. “Lets, uh, not throw sticks without an adult around, okay? Let’s make that a rule.” 

Minori stared at him. 

“How about we . . . come down from the ceiling,” Obito said. 

Minori walked back down the wall until he stood in front of Obito. He stood there, clearly waiting for something. 

“Bed?” Obito said, hopefully. 

“Training,” Minori said. 

Obito looked at the clock; it was almost ten, and he’d expected to have Minori in bed. Kids were supposed to go to bed early, right? But now Sakumo was due to arrive any moment. “We’ll train in the morning, okay? But now you have to go to bed.” 

Minori was still staring at him. 

It looked like Obito was just going to have to put him in bed and hope that it didn’t cause a Nawanuke-style tantrum or something. Obito steeled himself and prepared to execute this plan, only for the door to open. 

“Obito? I got your message.” 

Sakumo stood in the doorway, removing his shoes for slippers. He looked up, spotted Minori, and smiled. “Oh? Who’s this? Are you babysitting?” 

“Uh, not exactly,” Obito hedged. 

Sakumo stepped into the living room. “Not exactly?” 

“Does he look . . . familiar to you?” 

Sakumo crouched and looked Minori in the eyes. After a moment, a frown spread across his face. He picked Minori up by the armpits and held him up so that his face was next to Obito’s. His eyes flicked from Minori’s to Obito’s. 

“Please tell me that this is a relative of yours, and Orochimaru and Kakashi didn’t do something stupid,” he said. 

“He is a relative . . . technically,” Obito said. 

“Orochimaru and Kakashi did something stupid,” Sakumo sighed, lowering Minori back to the ground. “Let me guess. He’s yours and Kakashi’s.” 

“Yeah, basically,” Obito said. “Except he’s three, somehow? I don’t think they’ve been working on this for three years.” 

“Orochimaru knows all kinds of tricks to speed up physical growth,” Sakumo said absentmindedly, as he crouched back down to look at Minori. “Now, what’s your name?” 

Minori looked up at Obito. Obito nodded in what he hoped was an encouraging manner. “My first name is Minori. My last name is Hatake.” 

“Minori Hatake? That’s a nice name,” Sakumo said. He looked up at Obito. “Kakashi named him?” 

“Uh, I did, actually. I hope that’s okay,” Obito said. 

Sakumo smiled. “It’s a very appropriate name. My name is Sakumo Hatake. I’m your Jii-chan, your father’s father.” 

Minori looked at Obito. “Papa’s father?” 

“Not mine,” Obito said.

“Daddy’s father,” Minori concluded with a nod. 

Sakumo ruffled his hair. “You’re very smart. Now, I have to talk about something with your Papa, so why don’t you run along to bed.” 

“But training,” Minori said. 

Sakumo looked to Obito for an explanation. “I guess Orochimaru was training with him at night? He walked up the wall earlier. Scared the cra—I mean, uh, it scared me,” Obito said. “I was trying to get him to go to bed.” 

Sakumo nodded. “I see. Well, Minori, your Papa likes to train in the morning. You should go to bed now, so you’re awake and ready to train with him. Wouldn’t that be more fun than training alone?” 

After a moment, Minori nodded. Obito breathed a sigh of relief. “Thanks, Shishou. I’ll get him ready for bed.” 

Minori was surprisingly compliant while brushing his teeth and getting ready for bed. Obito thanked everything in the world that Minori didn’t seem to be another Nawanuke; Obito was not prepared to get kicked in the nuts on the regular. 

They didn’t have another bed, or even a spare futon, so Obito tucked Minori into the bed he shared with Kakashi before joining Sakumo in the living room. 

“The Uchiha are going to riot if they find out,” Sakumo said. “Especially since he has your eyes.” 

Obito sighed and sank onto the couch. “Yeah, I know. Dammit, Kakashi, what were you thinking?” 

“Knowing Kakashi, that it would make you happy,” Sakumo said. “And Orochimaru probably just thought it would be interesting.” 

“I don’t know what to do,” Obito sighed. 

Sakumo stood. “I have a plan. Kakashi is due to return in two days. Until then, keep him hidden here. Don’t even let your friends see him. Don’t mention him to anybody. If you train with him, train inside. Understood?” 

“Understood,” Obito agreed. 

He really hoped that Sakumo’s plan, whatever it was, worked out. 

***

Usually when Kakashi returned home from a long mission, he was greeted with an enthusiastic kiss and promptly dragged off to the bedroom. It was a custom he’d quickly come to enjoy and look forward to. 

Being greeted with Obito standing in the entryway, hands on his hips and a scowl on his face, was a new one. 

“I’m home,” Kakashi said. Obito didn’t move. “ . . . Can I come in?” 

“Kakashi,” Obito said. “What did we talk about after that whole marriage misunderstanding?” 

“That . . . we would communicate clearly from now on, to avoid other misunderstandings? And that I would make it clear when I was asking you things whether I was talking in general terms, or about immediate plans for the future?” Kakashi guessed, mind whirring as he tried to figure out what he had done. 

“Then explain this,” Obito said, reaching off to the side, out of Kakashi’s view, and pulling a small child into view. 

“Oh,” Kakashi said. “Orochimaru said he was going to wait until I told him to do that.” 

“Apparently, plans change,” Obito said. “So, why was Orochimaru making babies out of our genetic material?” 

“Because . . . I told him to?” Kakashi said. 

“And why did you tell him to?” Obito said. 

“Because I asked you if you wanted kids now, and you said yes,” Kakashi said. 

Obito gaped at him. “Wha—when did you do that?” 

“When you were babysitting Heiwa,” Kakashi said. 

“That was months ago!” Obito exclaimed. 

Kakashi shrugged. “It was a long-term plan. It was supposed to be more long term. I wanted to get the house ready first.” 

“Oh, you did, did you,” Obito said. “You should’ve made it more clear! I don’t remember that at all!” 

“I asked you about it two other times. I asked you if you wanted a boy or a girl,” Kakashi said. 

“What—wait, I remember that! You asked me if I preferred boys or girls. I thought you meant, you know, dating and stuff!” 

“Obito, we’re married. Why would I ask you about your dating preferences?” 

“I don’t know, you ask me weird stuff all the time! Well, what about the other time you asked?” 

“I asked if you wanted whether it was a boy or girl to be a surprise,” Kakashi said. 

“Okay, that one I really don’t remember,” Obito said. 

Kakashi thought back. “You might have still been half-asleep.” 

Obito glared at him, unimpressed. “New rule. You aren’t allowed to ask me things when I’m in the middle of doing something else anymore.” 

“But that’s inefficient,” Kakashi said. 

“You’re going to have to live with it, because that’s how we end up with surprise babies,” Obito said. 

“Can I meet my kid now?” Kakashi asked. “Also, can I come inside?” 

“Minori, this is your daddy,” Obito said, bouncing the kid on his hip. “He’s a big idiot.” 

“Why is that my introduction?” Kakashi asked. “So, is it a boy or a girl?” 

“He’s a boy,” Obito said. “Congratulations.” 

Kakashi made to step inside, only for Obito to block him. “ You aren’t coming inside. You get to go to the Hokage’s office and get Shishou, so that he can tell us his plan to fix this mess.” 

“What’s there to fix?” Kakashi asked. 

Obito shot him a look, the kind that plainly said Kakashi was an idiot. It was a new experience; usually, Kakashi was the one giving those looks out, not receiving them. “Kakashi. The Uchiha.” 

“Ah,” Kakashi said, realizing. “I hadn’t thought of that.” 

“Neither did Orochimaru, obviously,” Obito said. “Luckily, Shishou has a plan. Go get him. C’mon, Minori, let’s have lunch while Daddy gets Jii-chan.” 

“Can we train after?” 

The door shut, cutting off the conversation. Kakashi stared at the door for a moment longer before sighing and heading back to the village. Somehow, he’d still managed to mess it up, and now Obito was angry with him. Kakashi had asked him if he’d wanted a kid, when the thought occurred to him while watching Obito play with Heiwa. 

He’d thought that Obito would like having a kid. And they were old enough, nineteen and almost eighteen. Itachi’s mother had been about the same age when she’d had him. And Kakashi . . . 

Kakashi hadn’t wanted to wait. Not when he and Obito were off on dangerous missions every other week. Not when a single wrong move might result in one of them returning home alone, or neither of them returning. 

Kakashi didn’t want to leave Obito alone. 

Kakashi didn’t want to be left alone. 

He took off at a run, not wanting to be alone with his thoughts for too long. Not towards the Hokage’s office, though. He had another stop to make first. 

When he reached Orochimaru’s laboratory, he found both Anko and Kabuto in the front room. Anko winced at his arrival. “You better not go in. Sensei is pissed . Like, more pissed than that time we got drunk on his good sake.” 

“He’s been furious ever since the Hokage came by two days ago,” Kabuto said. “Anko and I have been running interference.” 

“That’s okay. I just had a question,” Kakashi said. “The kid—Minori. What happened? Orochimaru said he would ask me before the final experiment.” 

Kabuto pushed his glasses up his nose. “It was fascinating, really. At first, his body was functioning, but I wouldn’t have really called him alive except in the most technical sense. Essentially, he was an empty shell. And then he woke up. I must confess, we haven’t the faintest idea what happened. It had Shishou quite curious in further experiments.” 

“And then the Hokage shut that down,” Anko interrupted.

“Ah. Yes, I should go speak to him,” Kakashi said. 

A crash resounded from inside the lab, followed by loud, furious hissing. 

“Get out while you can,” Anko advised. 

Kakashi made his escape, racing across the village to the Hokage’s office. His timing was unfortunate, and he ended up having to wait almost an hour for Sakumo to be available. A man wrapped in bandages glared at Kakashi as they passed each other. 

Sakumo was rubbing his temples when Kakashi entered. “That man,” he sighed, as he looked up. “And here’s my other headache.” 

Kakashi stood in front of the desk as Sakumo dismissed the ANBU and activated a seal to prevent eavesdropping. 

“I won’t ask what you were thinking,” Sakumo said. “You already know that you should have been clear with your intentions to Obito—more clear than you were—and that you should have informed me and gained my permission. You know full well that the Uchiha aren’t happy. This could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Now, you’re going to fix this. You will sneak Minori out of the village, and bring him back in through the village gates. You will say he is your son, and nothing else. You will say nothing when people ask about his mother. Let people draw their own conclusions to the matter. Understand?” 

Kakashi nodded sharply. “I understand, Hokage-sama.” 

“Good. Now go. If anyone asks, you are being sent out on another mission. Return in two weeks time.” 

Kakashi left the office without further ado; it wasn’t often that his father was upset with him, and he had to admit that it wasn’t a pleasant feeling. He returned to the house, tentatively opening the door. To his relief, Obito wasn’t blocking the door. 

Kakashi removed his shoes and stepped into the house. Obito was lying on the couch, Minori in his lap. They were reading, but not a book for children. After a moment of listening, he realized they were reading one of his strategy books. 

Obito looked up as Kakashi entered, breaking off mid-sentence. “What did Shishou say?” 

“I’m to sneak out of the village, and take him in through the gate in two weeks,” Kakashi said. “We’re to pretend he’s my son with an unnamed mother.” 

Obito frowned. “Why yours? He’s obviously related to the Uchiha.” 

“Hatake chakra,” Kakashi said. “It’s equally obvious he’s a Hatake, and there are far more Uchiha than Hatake. I suppose people will assume I had him with an Uchiha woman.” 

Obito breathed out. “That won’t make the Uchiha happy.” 

“But they won’t be as furious as they would be if they knew Orochimaru could grow children with the Sharingan in his lab.” 

Obito stroked Minori’s hair. “Maybe he won’t have the Sharingan. Not every Uchiha does.” 

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” Kakashi said. “For now, we’ll act on the assumption that he has the potential to develop it. I need to take him with me.” 

Slowly, Obito set Minori down on the ground. “I’ll get some food for you. Make sure you’re packed.” 

Left alone with Minori, Kakashi took a moment to observe him. His hair was white and fluffy; Kakashi had no idea where he’d gotten that particular trait. His skin was pale, even lighter than Kakashi’s, although not as light as Orochimaru’s. His eyes were unmistakeably Obito’s, although Kakashi had never seen Obito make quite that expression. Privately, he thought that Minori’s wide-eyed stare reminded him of a bug. He also didn’t seem to have figured out blinking, and kept looking startled whenever he blinked involuntarily. 

“Blinking keeps your eyes from drying out,” Kakashi informed him, getting a blank stare in response.  “Blinking is when you quickly close your eyes. Like this.”  

Kakashi blinked to demonstrate, and Minori imitated him by blinking a few times. Now he looked much less like a bug. 

Satisfied, Kakashi resumed his observation. He was small, but a quick glance at the packet of information left on the table showed that he was three years and six months old. Also, that he had received all his vaccinations required at that age, and that Kabuto had given him a check-up and a clean bill of health. For some reason, he was wearing clothing that looked like it had come straight out of a ninja supply shop. At least he was well-dressed for their mission. 

Obito returned, a scroll in hand. “I packed food for Minori.” 

“Not for me?” Kakashi asked, accepting the scroll. 

“You can eat ration bars.” Obito said. He looked away, but then quickly moved forward and pressed a kiss to Kakashi’s lips. “Come back safe. And take care of Minori.”  

Kakashi attached the scroll to his belt while Obito gave Minori a hug and a kiss, which Minori mimicked. 

“Don’t worry about sneaking out,” Obito said, Sharingan flashing red as he opened up a portal. “I’ll send you somewhere far enough away that it’ll take you two weeks to get back, if you walk.” 

“Reassuring,” Kakashi said. He picked Minori up, and with a final wave at Obito, stepped through the portal. 

They emerged in the middle of the forest, slightly off to the side of the road. If Kakashi recognized his landmarks correctly, they were somewhere close to the Suna border, although still far enough away that they wouldn’t encounter any border patrols. 

He looked at Minori, who was staring at the trees with wide, unblinking eyes. “Well, Micchan, looks like it’s just you and me. Let’s head home.” 

“Can we train here?” Minori asked, still gaping at their surroundings. Kakashi was beginning to wonder if he had ever seen a tree before. 

“Train?” 

Minori nodded. “Mama showed me how to walk on walls and Anko-nee-chan showed me how to throw sticks.” 

“Ah, that kind of training. I don’t see why not,” Kakashi said. “It’s not like we’ll have much else to do. Two weeks is a lot of time, after all.” 

Minori grinned, and Kakashi couldn’t help but smile in return as warmth filled his chest.

In that moment, Minori looked just like Obito. 

***

When Naruto was five years old, he entered the Ninja Academy in Uzushio. Not officially, of course; Tsubame entered him under a false name, one of many Uzumaki children. He wasn’t even the youngest one there. Konoha had increased the Academy enrollment age to eight, but in Uzushio children were entered whenever their parents thought they were ready, or whenever they demanded to be enrolled. The youngest kid in Naruto’s class had just turned four, and the oldest was already eight. 

With Naruto in the Academy, Narumi was put back on the official mission roster. Naruto was used to his uncle going on occasional trips to Konoha, and didn’t see much difference between that and missions. Missions were usually longer, but Naruto didn't care, too busy playing with the other kids and his best friend Karin—which had been a surprise for Narumi. 

His missions ranged from kind of boring to dangerously exciting. His current mission had been leaning more towards the former; he’d spent about a week tracking some missing-nin  reported to have some skill with seals. He’d been looking forward to a good fight, only to discover that the guy had been crushed by a falling rock and died. 

Narumi had hoped that maybe the guy had faked his death and kept a watch for a day just in case, but eventually had to admit that this was just going to be a mission with an anticlimactic ending. 

And then the puppets attacked. 

They announced their presence with a spray of needles, which Narumi dodged on reflex. The puppets burst out of the trees, and he responded by creating a horde of shadow clones. He had a lot of practice from fighting puppets in the war, and knew most of their tricks—namely, he knew that getting too close was a good way to end up dead by some weird, poisoned mechanism. Sending in shadow clones with explosive seals was the best way to get rid of them, when you could make as many clones as Narumi. They could take the brunt of the attacks while he prepared seals to take out the puppets. 

Taking out the puppet users was the best way to stop the attack, but without a sensor to help him, he’d have a hard time picking them out of the middle of the forest. He’d smash the puppets, and then the puppet users would have to confront him themselves or run away. 

He wasn’t expecting sand to suddenly rise up and cover his body all the way up to his neck. The puppets picked off the last of his clones, then vanished back into the forest. 

Two men emerged from the forest. One of them had bright red hair and a familiar face—Sasori. The other, with light brown hair, wasn’t familiar to Narumi. He only realized who he was when a very familiar child stepped out of the forest behind them. 

“Narumi Uzumaki,” Yashamaru greeted, as Gaara stepped forwards to stand beside him. 

“Yashamaru, Sasori, Gaara,” Narumi said. Gaara’s eyes widened in surprise at being addressed. 

“You’ve done your homework,” Yashamaru said. 

“So have you. I mean, I assume you have. I don’t think you decided to ambush me for no reason,” Narumi said. 

“They say that you fixed a faulty jinchuuriki seal,” Yashamaru said. 

“Yeah, I did,” Narumi said, looking at Gaara. “Why? You got a seal that needs fixing?” 

“A jinchuuriki seal,” Yashamaru said. “The demon has too much influence over the jinchuuriki, and frequently tries to break out.” 

“I can take a look,” Narumi said, “But you’ll have to let me go first.” 

Yashamaru nodded to Gaara, and the sand melted away. Narumi shook the remaining bits of sand off him and stretched out. “Okay, lie down, get comfortable, and lift up your shirt. This might take a while.” 

“Don’t try anything,” Yashamaru warned. “Or we’ll kill you where you stand.” 

Looking at the menacing expression on Sasori’s face, Narumi believed him. He waited for Gaara to lie down before taking a seat beside him and pulling out a pot of ink and a brush. “Okay, let’s take a look at what we’ve got,” he muttered, pressing his fingers to Gaara’s stomach and channeling his chakra through the seal. The stark, black lines of the seal appeared, spreading out from Gaara’s belly button. 

Narumi whistled. “No wonder you’re having issues. There’s basically no separation between Gaara and the Ichibi. Don’t worry, I’ll see what I can do. Hold still—it’ll be cold.” 

Slowly, a new seal took form on Gaara’s stomach, modifying the old one underneath it. It wasn’t too hard, really; he had a lot of practice at sealing on the fly, and he’d seen Gaara’s seal before, when Gaara had shown it to him in the future he had left behind. Really, he was more worried about getting away after finishing the seal. He doubted Yashamaru and Sasori were going to thank him for his help and let him go home. The puppets still surrounding the area were a bit of a clue. 

When he went to refresh his ink, he dripped some onto his free hand. Slowly, so that Yashamaru wouldn’t notice any strange movements, he traced out a seal on his leg and activated it. Gaara was the only one easily able to see what Narumi was doing, and he was focused on the growing seal on his stomach. 

“I’ve got a nephew your age, you know,” Narumi said. “His name’s Naruto.”

He glanced away from the seal and caught Gaara staring at him. Narumi grinned at him before dipping his brush in the ink and continuing his work. “He’s going to be a ninja.” 

Gaara looked behind Narumi before answering. “Me . . . me too.”

“You too, uh?” Narumi said. “Naruto likes to learn about ninjutsu and fuinjutsu. How about you?” 

“My father teaches me ninjutsu,” Gaara said, before falling silent with another look behind Narumi. 

“Finish the seal,” Sasori said. 

“No small-talk, huh?” Narumi sighed. “Okay, okay.” 

A bird hooted nearby. 

Narumi laid down the last element of the seal. “There we go. All set. Gaara should be all in control now.” 

In an instant, Yashamaru had knelt on Gaara’s other side, helping him sit up. “How do you feel?” 

Gaara’s hands twisted in his shirt. “It’s . . . quiet.” 

Yashamaru sighed. “Then it worked.” 

Behind him, Narumi heard the quiet sound of a weapon being drawn. He rolled out of the way, at the same time as five cloaked figures dropped out of the trees. 

The ANBU stared down the visitors from Suna. Yashamaru pushed Gaara behind him as he stood, weapon drawn. 

Narumi stood and walked to the front of the group, waving at the ANBU to relax. They didn’t, of course, but at least he’d tried. 

“How about we all go our separate ways,” he said to Yashamaru and Sasori. “I’m pretty sure you’ve got more important things to take care of.” 

He nodded towards Gaara. Yashamaru glanced backwards at Gaara, then looked at the ANBU. After a moment, Yashamaru nodded and stepped back. 

“Sasori, let’s go,” he said. “I’ll take responsibility.” 

With that, the three of them left, taking Sasori’s puppets with them. 

Narumi grinned at the ANBU. “Thanks. You guys sure came fast. I was expecting to stall for time.” 

“You activated the highest priority distress seal,” said a masked ANBU with a familiar voice—Narumi was pretty sure it was Kogane Senju. “There was no reason for us to delay.” 

“Still, thanks. I was afraid that would get messy, and I didn’t really want to fight a jinchuuriki,” Narumi said. “I have to head to Uzushio and report in.” 

The ANBU nodded. “We will conduct an investigation of the area and ensure the Suna shinobi have left the country.” 

Whistling, Narumi swung himself up into the trees and headed towards Uzushio, leaving the ANBU to their work. That had worked out better than he’d expected; he thought he would have to wait until the chuunin exams to fix Gaara’s seal. Maybe now Yashamaru would survive, and Gaara wouldn’t go completely nuts. He’d have to wait and see; for now, he was heading back to Uzushio. 

Maybe he’d make ramen for Naruto to celebrate. 

Chapter Text

“Naruto, wait up!”

Naruto, halfway up a wall, twisted around and made a face at Karin as she chased after him. “Betcha can’t catch me!” he taunted. Karin snarled and hurled a kunai at him. Naruto yelped and scrambled up the wall, Karin hot on his heels. He jumped from the roof just as she reached up to grab him, boosting himself over the canal below with a rush of chakra. He stuck to the wall of the house on the opposite side and raced up to the roof.

“Get back here, Naruto!” Karin yelled as she chased after him. “You’re dead meat!”

Naruto leapt from the roof, over several familiar heads of red hair, and scrambled over the red tiles of the next roof. A blur out of the corner of his eye caught his attention, and he threw himself down just as a boy leapt down at him from the second story of the house next door. The boy shrieked as he flew off the roof and landed with a splash. Naruto, snickering, picked himself up, only to yelp as something fast and heavy barreled into him.

He toppled off the roof and landed in the canal beneath it with a splash. He quickly swam back to the surface, gasping for air, and turned a glare on Karin as she popped up beside him.

“What’d you do that for?” he complained. “I almost won!”

“You pushed me!” she said. “I almost got trampled, you idiot.”

Naruto scowled, only to snicker as he took another look at her face. “You’ve got dirt all over you!”

Karin glared at him and splashed him with a wave of water. Naruto yelped as the salt stung his eyes, and quickly pulled himself all the way out of the water with chakra before she could take further vengeance. He’d just climbed onto the bridge over the canal and offered a hand to Karin when a dry voice said, “Wreaking havoc again, you two?”

Naruto turned around, grin at the ready, and pulled Karin with him as he spun around. “Jiji! We almost won!”

The Uzukage smiled down at him. “I see that. You two have gotten quite fast.”

“I’m gonna be the fastest! And the strongest! And then I’m gonna be Uzukage!” he declared.

He smiled fondly at Naruto and patted his head. “A good dream. You should hurry home now. Narumi is waiting for you. Karin, your mother is still working at the hospital. Go wait for her there.”

Karin frowned and glanced at Naruto, but reluctantly nodded. “Okay. See you tomorrow, Naruto.”

He waved cheerfully as he took off down the street, heading towards the residential district while Karin headed to the hospital. “See you, Karin! Let’s play ninja tomorrow!”

“Tomo’s gonna complain if we play ninja!” Karin said.

He made a face and shrugged. “She’s mean!” 

Karin’s words were lost to the rush of sea wind as he leapt into the air and ran up the side of a building. Red and yellow tiles clacked beneath his feet as he ran across the village, leaping across canals filled with fishermen and merchants peddling their wares, calling out to both the civilians on the walkways and waterways and the ninja leaping overhead. Naruto called out a cheerful greeting to a crowd of red-headed children before turning towards the outskirts of the village, towards the setting sun. The edge of the island rose up before him, and he leapt from the roof, plunging down towards the sea. 

He landed with ease, only sinking a few centimeters as his chakra adjusted to the rush of the current beneath him, and took off again. The sun was still bright enough that he could barely see, so he ran on blindly, trusting his memory to lead him. Then, as the sun dipped lower, dyeing the sea around him red and gold, an orange roof peaked out from above the horizon. Naruto made a mad dash for it, sprinting over the last meters of ocean towards the island. He threw himself on the sandy beach, panting, and laid there for a moment until he caught his breath. 

Naruto rose to his legs unsteadily, but didn’t stumble as he ran up the cliff path leading to the front door. The glass bead curtain in the doorway tinkled merrily as he brushed it aside, as it always did, but he soundlessly ran over the cool tile and stone floor as he headed up to the second story. 

He grinned upon seeing the open door to the study, ran in without a second thought, and collided with a strong, sturdy back. “Narumi-jichan, Narumi-jichan!” he chanted gleefully as he clambered up the man’s back, using whatever handholds presented themselves as he clawed his way to sit on his uncle’s shoulders. Narumi remained steady throughout the ordeal, calmly tracing ink over a scroll. Naruto looked down and observed for a moment. “Whatcha doin’?” 

“A storage seal for the hokage,” he said.

“What’s it gonna hold?” he asked. 

“Whatever he wants, ideally,” Narumi said. He finished the line of characters he was working on, and then set aside the brush. He scanned over the characters, nodded once, and then set it aside. Naruto looked at it and grimaced; that was more difficult than anything Narumi let him work on. It was way more complicated than the storage seals he got to make!

“Oh, yeah, Jiji said you wanted to talk to me,” he recalled. 

Narumi sighed and held onto Naruto’s ankles to help keep him steady as he stood. Naruto held onto his hair for extra grip, making use of the high ponytail that held his hair back while he worked on his seals. The world blurred around them with the speed of Narumi’s shunshin, but Naruto didn’t even have time to whoop gleefully, because they stopped on the rooftop only a moment later. 

“Take a seat, Naruto,” Narumi said with the rare seriousness that meant Naruto had to start being serious, too. Naruto nodded and shoved aside the sudden nerves fluttering in his stomach as he took a seat beside his uncle. 

They stared out at Uzushio for a moment, the red and gold and blue roofs lit up by the sun, before Narumi spoke. “It’s time I told you about your parents.” 

Naruto whipped around so quickly his neck cracked. “You said they died when I was born!” he accused as he rubbed his neck. 

“They did,” Narumi confirmed. “Today, I am going to tell you about who they were.” 

“Mom was an Uzumaki and Dad was your brother, right?” Naruto said. 

“My half-brother,” Narumi said. “Understand, Naruto, that what I’m going to tell you is an S-ranked secret. Do you know what that means?” 

Naruto rubbed the back of his neck. “Um, is it like an S-ranked mission?” A sudden jolt of fear shot through him. “My parents weren’t missing nin, were they?” 

Narumi smiled slightly at that. “No, they served their villages faithfully their whole lives. An S-ranked secret is one that you can’t talk about on pain of death. You can’t tell anyone about this—not Karin, not any of your classmates. You can’t even talk about it with Uzukage-sama unless he tells you to, okay? This is not something you are to brag about, ever. This is a big responsibility. Are you ready?” 

Naruto gulped. “What if I’m not?” 

Narumi ruffled his hair. “Then I’ll ask you if you’re ready in a few years. This isn’t a once in a lifetime chance.” 

He took a deep breath. “I want to know. Tell me. I won’t ever tell anyone, ever. Promise!” 

“Alright,” Narumi said, and sighed slightly. Naruto stayed silent, recognizing the gleam in his eyes that said he was thinking. “Your mother’s name was Kushina Uzumaki. She grew up here, just as you did, until it was decided that she was to move to Konoha to become the Kyuubi jinchuuriki. She left the village and moved to Konoha, where she attended the academy and, eventually, joined the ranks of Konoha’s jounin.”

“My mom was a jinchuuriki too?” Naruto exclaimed. 

“Uzumaki have always been the Kyuubi jinchuuriki. You’re the third,” Narumi explained. “Mito, the Shodaime Hokage’s wife, was the first.” 

“And Mom was the second,” Naruto filled in. “Was she strong? What did she look like?” 

“Oh, she was very strong. Your father was terrified of her,” Narumi chuckled. “The Red Hot-Blooded Habanero, they called her. For her temper. She had red hair and violet eyes, but your face is shaped like hers, and you inherited her love of ramen.” 

Naruto grinned at that. “If she loved ramen, she must have been awesome!” 

“She was,” Narumi agreed. “But you understand, Naruto, why this is dangerous information. Your mother fought in the Third Shinobi War, and made a lot of enemies. If those people knew who you were, they would attack you. The information on your father is even more dangerous. Do you still want to know?” 

“I don’t back down!” Naruto declared. “Tell me.” 

“Your father was Minato Namikaze, the Yondaime Hokage.” 

Naruto stared at him. “Dad was . . . the Yondaime? Really?” 

Narumi nodded. “Saw him sworn in myself. Few people knew he was married to your mother, of course—they wanted to keep the relationship quiet until tensions from the war had died down—and that’s why I didn’t tell you until now. Your father has many enemies, Naruto. Even more than your mother.”

“Was he cool?” Naruto blurted. “What did he look like? He was super strong, right?” 

“He was cool,” Narumi said, laughing softly. “Of course, he was my little brother, so I never would’ve said so to his face. You look a lot like him. He had blond hair and blue eyes, just like you.” 

“And you!” Naruto said. 

A strange smile crossed Narumi’s face. “And me,” he agreed. “And he was super strong—you have to be strong to become Hokage—and he loved Konoha more than anything.” 

He looked out over Uzushio again, a strange look on his face. Naruto tried and failed to ignore the pit opening up in his stomach. “That wasn’t the only thing you wanted to talk to me about, was it?” he asked. 

Narumi looked at him in surprise, and then smiled. “You’re very perceptive, Naruto. Yes, there was more.” 

“You’re not going on a mission, are you?” he asked, and then, with an odd twisting feeling in his stomach, recalled that they’d been talking an awful lot about Konoha. “Are you going away? Am I going away? You’re not sending me away, are you?” 

“Calm down,” Narumi said, but Naruto noted that he didn’t say he was wrong yet. “You aren’t going anywhere on your own. You see, Naruto, both of your parents lived in Konoha, and were loyal Konoha ninja. You weren’t born in Uzushio. Rightfully, you are a citizen of Konoha. When you were born, the Sandaime Hokage wanted you to be raised there, and to attend the Academy there. Tsubame—I mean, the Uzukage—didn’t want you growing up alone, however, so the two of them made a deal. You would be raised in Uzushio, with your family, but you would attend the academy in Konoha once you were old enough.” 

“But I’ve been attending the academy for years!” Naruto protested. “Since I was five! I’m supposed to graduate in a year, and be on a team with Karin!” 

“That’s another thing you can’t tell people. The deal was that as soon as you were old enough to attend the academy, you would move to Konoha. The Uzukage wanted you prepared for anything by the time you moved there, so he enrolled you early in the academy here without Konoha’s knowledge. If people found out what he did, they could interpret it as him breaking the deal.” 

“Because Jiji enrolled me in the academy here but said I wasn’t old enough for Konoha’s academy? And some people might say he should’ve sent me straight to Konoha?” Naruto guessed. 

“Exactly,” Narumi agreed. “So, if anyone asks, I’ve been teaching you privately. Understand?” 

“I understand,” Naruto muttered. “But wait! I don’t even want to go to Konoha!” 

Narumi put a hand on his shoulder. Naruto resisted the urge to shrug it off, and settled for glowering resentfully at a seagull. “For the sake of our village,” Narumi said, “we often have to do things we don’t always agree with. What we can do is try to make things turn out for the best.”

“Why can’t I stay here? With you, and Karin,” he said, trying and failing to sound like he wasn’t whining. 

“Because you’re the child of two of Konoha’s strongest shinobi, and the Kyuubi jinchuuriki. If we kept you here, Konoha could go to war over you. Other countries would join in, either as allies or enemies of Konoha.” Naruto looked down guiltily. “But you won’t be alone. I’ll be leaving with you,” Narumi said, ruffling Naruto’s hair. 

“You?” Naruto stared at him. “But you’ve been an Uzushio shinobi since forever! You can’t leave!” 

“I’m not about to let you go running off to Konoha all alone. Just think of all the trouble you’d cause!” Narumi laughed. “Besides, Konoha’s a nice place. You’ve been there before but you were probably too young to remember it.” 

Naruto scowled and kicked his heels against the tiles. “Karin won’t be there.” 

“No,” he agreed. “Karin is staying here. But you’ll make plenty of friends in Konoha. Your mother’s best friend has a son your age, you know.” 

“Really?” Naruto asked. 

“Really. Sasuke Uchiha. Mikoto Uchiha was a good friend of your mother’s. But you can’t tell him that, understand?”

“I understand,” Naruto said, less sulkily this time, feeling rather cheered at the mention of people who had known his mother. Narumi was his father’s brother, but really, he didn’t say much about Naruto’s parents. Naruto thought that maybe he didn’t even know them well. They had grown up in different villages, after all. 

He recalled then that Narumi had said Konoha didn’t know he’d spent the past three years at the academy, and gaped. “Ji-chan, you mean I’m going to have to start all over at the academy? Not fair!” 

Narumi’s laughter rang out over the sea, startling the seagulls that had gathered on the roof. They rose into the sky as one, squawking madly. Naruto laughed as he watched them careen about in the air and leaned into Narumi’s side. Behind them, the sun dipped beneath the horizon, and the bright gleam left the village rooftops along with it. Narumi prodded him up, and Naruto reluctantly obeyed, casting one last glance at the village as the last glimmers of sunlight faded away.

***

They left before the week was over, seen off by Karin and the Uzukage and what seemed like half the village. A genin team went with them—their first C-rank, Narumi knew, and one judged to be of little risk since they would be accompanied by both their jounin-sensei and Narumi himself. The three of them exchanged eager grins and whispers at first, but quieted as they left the village. 

“We’re going to be running most of the way to make it there as quickly as possible,” the Jounin-sensei said as they approached the edge of the island. “I expect you to tell us when you need a break, understand?” 

“Understood!” the genin chirped as one. 

“Naruto, on my back,” Narumi said, crouching down. “I don’t want you falling behind.” 

“I can run!” Naruto protested, but fell silent at a single stern glance. He obeyed with only a few muttered protests. Narumi stood and adjusted his grip on Naruto, and then nodded to the other jounin. With that, they were off, nearly flying over the ocean as they ran. The genin kept up easily—ninja children were water-walking practically the moment they learned to walk, and the civilian children learned soon after joining the academy out of necessity. 

“We’ll be meeting up with the Konoha party at the halfway point,” the Jounin-sensei continued as they ran. “We’re expecting two genin teams, a merchant family with two daughters, a blacksmith and her son, and five orphans, two girls and three boys. The children are all seven or eight, with the exception of the youngest merchant’s daughter, who is five.” 

“Two genin teams?” Narumi asked. 

“The Hokage assigned one to protect them all, and then the merchant hired another to protect his family and his merchandise, as I understood it,” he said. 

They adjusted their stride as they left the ocean for the land, and took to the trees the moment they entered the forest of Fire Country. The genin played around for a minute, jumping gleefully along the trees and running up and down the trunks. The jounin allowed this for a moment, likely allowing them to grow used to running on trees instead of water, before calling them to order with a sharp whistle. 

They eventually settled into a schedule, running for a few hours at a time with half-hour breaks in between, sleeping when it grew too dark to see the trees and Naruto had long-since fallen asleep on his back, and then picking up again shortly after dawn. They made good time, and were closer to three-fourths of the way there than one-half when they finally ran into the other party. 

The jounin held up a hand, and they stopped to watch them approach. Narumi counted them carefully. A jounin in the front, with the merchant. Two genin on the sides of the merchant’s carts, and one behind them. The merchant sat on the first cart, while his wife and daughters sat on the second. Behind them, a smaller cart carried a woman and her son—the blacksmith family. Another two genin bracketed their cart. Behind that followed a cart carrying five children, with another jounin and a genin behind it bringing up the rear. 

The jounin in the front didn’t pause, but Narumi noticed his eyes briefly flutter their way. Their jounin brought his hands to his mouth and made a birdcall—an owl—and then jumped down from the trees to walk beside the other party for a moment. 

“Any troubles?” their jounin asked the Konoha jounin. 

“If going at a snail’s pace counts as trouble,” the jounin said wryly. “No trouble at all. You?” 

“Signs of a bandit camp, near this road,” he said, tapping something on the jounin’s map. 

“Hey, Narumi-jichan, who’re they?” Naruto asked, pointing at the cart of orphans. 

“They’re moving to Uzushio. Uzukage-sama must have really pressed his advantage,” he said. “Konoha is getting me and you, so they benefit in the short term, but Uzushio is getting a new merchant family, a new blacksmith, three potential shinobi, and five definite shinobi.” 

“They’re going to be shinobi?” Naruto asked. 

“They’re orphans,” Narumi said. “Many orphans in ninja villages go on to attend the Academy.”

Their jounin leapt up to join them, and motioned them onwards. Naruto climbed back onto Narumi’s back, but before he could take off, Naruto twisted around and called out, “Hey! You guys gotta take care of Uzushio, okay? And my cousin Karin, too! She’s super cool, and really good at tag! Good luck at the Academy!” 

None of the children responded until one of them, a brown-haired girl, looked around at the silent faces around her and finally called out, “G-good luck! I’ll look for your cousin!” 

Satisfied, Naruto twisted around, and Narumi ran to join up with their genin team. 

“We should reach Konoha shortly after midday, if we continue at this pace,” the jounin sensei noted. “We’ve made good time. You’ll have time to look around Konoha, like you wanted.” 

“Wait, that’s why you’ve been such a slave-driver?” one of the boys said. “Sensei, I thought you were just being mean!” 

“We get to look around Konoha!” the girl cheered. “Come on, let’s go!” 

“I hear Konoha has great blacksmiths,” the other boy said gleefully before rushing off in her wake. 

“Now you’ve done it,” Narumi laughed, adjusting his pace to catch up to the children, who seemed to have made the thing into a race. “You’d better catch up or they’ll tear through the gates before you can stop them.” 

“At this rate, I think we’ll make it before lunch,” he noted wryly. “Maybe I should have mentioned shopping sooner.” 

“Uzukage-sama gave you the week, then?” he asked. 

“Two weeks,” he corrected. “One there, one back.” 

“And we took three days,” Naruto laughed. “They’ll be glad.” 

The walls of Konoha rose up before them, heralded by the gleeful shouts of the genin. “Quiet on a mission!” the jounin ordered, to no avail. “Shift to the road!” 

That, at least, they listened to, jumping down from the trees to run along the dirt road to the village. They slowed as the gates of the village came into view, and the genin finally allowed their sensei to overtake them as they approached the guard. 

A bored chuunin looked them over. “Mission scroll and identification,” he drawled. 

The jounin produced a scroll and his identification card from a pocket and handed it over to that chuunin, while his partner tended to Narumi and the genin. “Uzushiogakure Team Three reporting in for an escort mission,” he said. 

“Ah, the diplomat,” the chuunin said as he glanced over the scroll. “Yeah, this is all in order. We have quarters to house you and your genin team. Uzumaki-san, Hokage-sama is waiting for you.” 

A third chuunin escorted the genin team away, while the chuunin that had greeted them beckoned Narumi and Naruto forwards and began escorting them to the Hokage’s office. Narumi let Naruto down to walk, but Naruto kept hold of his hand as he gaped around the bustling streets. Compared to Uzushio, Konoha was a fairly large city. 

“Eeh, no one has red hair,” Naruto exclaimed, after a few moments. 

Narumi managed not to laugh, but was fairly sure he heard the chuunin snicker a bit. “Red hair’s a bit less common in Konoha,” he explained. 

“Everyone looks boring,” Naruto complained. “Hey, nii-san, are you all related or something? Why do you all have brown hair?” 

The chuunin looked back at them, clearly startled. “Eh? You mean me? No, most of us aren’t related. It’s just a common hair color.” 

“No, red’s a common hair color!” Naruto argued. 

“Red’s not common at all, unless you’re part of a clan,” the chuunin said. 

“Is so!” Naruto argued. 

“Is not! Wait a minute, why am I arguing with a kid?” 

“Am not a kid!” 

“Are too!” 

Narumi coughed delicately. “Thank you for the escort, but I think we’re here,” he said, motioning to the door in front of them and the receptionist looking at them impatiently. “Narumi Uzumaki to see the Hokage.” 

“Oh, you’re early,” she said. “He’s free right now, but he has a meeting in fifteen minutes, so make it fast.” 

Narumi eased open the door, ushering Naruto in ahead of him. A man with white hair looked up as the door opened, and smiled. “Narumi, I see you made it safely. And this must be Naruto.” 

“Hey, Sakumo. It’s been awhile,” he said. “And yep, this is Naruto. Naruto, this is Sakumo Hatake, the Godaime Hokage . . . and an old friend.” 

“This old man’s really the Hokage?” Naruto asked skeptically. 

Sakumo laughed. “Just like your mother, aren’t you? I am, and I’ve got the paperwork to prove it.” 

He stood up to clasp Narumi’s hand in his. “It’s good to see you again,” he said, smiling warmly into Narumi’s eyes. “Kakashi will be happy to see you.” 

“Just Kakashi, huh?” Narumi laughed. “How’s that kid doing, anyways? Keeping out of trouble?” 

“Ask him yourself,” Sakumo said, as leaves swirled through the room and a shinobi appeared before them. 

“Narumi-san,” Kakashi said. He turned a reproachful stare on his father. “You’re early.” 

He’d grown since Narumi had last seen him. He was taller, now, but still wore his usual mask and had his headband dipped down over his eye. Even then, Narumi could see the edges of the scars under his headband. 

“Kakashi, good to see you. Has your father managed to get you to take a genin team yet?” Narumi asked. 

“Not yet,” Kakashi said, his eyes straying towards Naruto.

Narumi grinned and pushed him forwards. “Naruto, this is Kakashi. He’s the Hokage’s son, and your father’s student.” 

“Eeh, Kakashi-nii, really?” Naruto exclaimed, bounding over to him. “So, you’ve gotta know all his super awesome techniques, right? You’ll show me, right? Hey, Kakashi-nii, play ninja with me!” 

Kakashi cast a pleading look at Narumi. Narumi laughed, but called Naruto back to him. “You can pester Kakashi later. He’s not going anywhere. We have to get settled in our new home.” 

“I think I’ve found a nice place,” Sakumo said, picking up on his prompting. “Not far from Kakashi’s place, so it’s a bit of a walk to the academy, but there’s lots of space to run around and it’s not too expensive.” 

“Doesn’t Kakashi live in the middle of a forest?” Narumi asked. 

Sakumo chuckled. “He does. I hope you don’t mind, but the forest has grown a bit . . . I think he thought Naruto would like it.” 

“I’m right here, you know,” Kakashi said plaintively. 

Sakumo waved a hand at him. “Oh, go take Naruto out for lunch, or something. He’s probably been eating rations for the past few days.” 

Kakashi raised an eyebrow, and Sakumo sighed and pulled out his wallet. “Leech,” he grumbled. “Be wary, Narumi. Kids will pester you for things long after they’re grown. Kakashi, bring Naruto to Narumi’s place when you’re done with lunch.” 

Kakashi rifled through the wallet for a moment before nodding. “Naruto, have you ever done shunshin before?” 

“Yeah!” Naruto cheered, and before Kakashi could say another word, scrambled up his body until he was perched on Kakashi’s shoulders, hands gripping his hair firmly and legs locked around him. “Go, Kakashi-nii!” 

Kakashi gave them one last glare before vanishing in a swirl of leaves. The moment he was gone, Sakumo and Narumi burst into laughter. “Oh, it’s as perfect as I thought it would be!” Sakumo laughed. 

“I thought Kakashi was going to pass out the moment he saw him,” Narumi chuckled. “DId you not tell him Naruto was coming?” 

“I said I needed him for a mission when I heard you’d arrived,” Sakumo chuckled. “His face—!” 

“He’s going to kill us, later, isn’t he,” Narumi said fondly. 

“He’d better not,” Sakumo said, just as fondly. “That brat took all my money.” 

Naruto laughed and leaned against the desk. “So, what’s the plan?” 

“I have Naruto enrolled in the newest Academy class,” Sakumo said, drawing out a stack of papers. “I filled out what I knew of the paperwork, but you’ll want to check it over. Class started a couple days ago, but he won’t have missed much.” 

Narumi glanced over the paperwork, occasionally filling in blank sections as Sakumo talked. “His teacher is Iruka Umino, a chuunin, and a good teacher from what I hear. There are a number of clan heirs in his class, as well. Hyuuga, Aburame, Nara, Yamanaka, Akimichi . . . there’s an Uchiha and an Inuzuka as well, but they have older siblings who are the heirs.” 

“Mikoto Uchiha was one of Kushina’s friends,” Narumi said. 

“True, but even if she notices anything, she knows not to say anything. She’s a smart woman,” he said. “The rest of the children I don’t know, I’m afraid.” 

“Such an elitist,” Narumi teased. “Only knowing the clan children. Tut tut, what would the civilian parents say?” 

“Shut up, you,” Sakumo grumbled. “Just because I have to listen to their damn parents complain day in and day out . . . anyways, you’ll have to go through a series of appointments with T&I before you can be officially confirmed as a Konoha shinobi. It’s mostly a formality at this point, but it’s protocol.” 

Narumi returned the finished school paperwork, only for Sakumo to hand him another stack. “Imagine,” Sakumo said drily. “Multiply that by about two hundred and you have an idea of what it’s like to be Hokage.” 

He sighed. “I hope Naruto’s having fun, at least.” 

***

Naruto whooped madly as the wind rushed past him. “Faster, Kakashi-nii! Faster!” 

“If we went any faster, we’d crash into a tree,” Kakashi said. Naruto pouted as, rather than speeding up, Kakashi instead began to slow down until he was running at a normal speed, and opened his mouth to complain about it just as another ninja fell into step beside them. 

“Hey, Kakashi! What’d your dad want? And who’s the kid?” A man with dark hair and equally dark eyes asked. “Hang on, is that—!” 

“Why, yes, Obito,” Kakashi said, loudly enough to talk over whatever it was the other man had been about to say. “That is the Uzushio diplomat’s nephew. Very astute of you.” 

“Right, right,” Obito said, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly. “It’s good to finally meet you, Naruto. I owe your uncle a lot.” 

“You know my uncle too, Obito-nii?” Naruto asked curiously. 

Obito grinned. “Obito-nii, huh? I like it. And yeah, I sure do. I’ll tell you what I can over lunch. You were headed to lunch, right?” 

“Ichiraku,” Kakashi said. 

Obito whooped and put on an extra burst of speed. “Come on then. Last one there has to pay!” 

Kakashi spurred into motion, the world blurring around them as they ran so quickly that they left a gust of wind in their wake. Naruto held on desperately, laughing at the top of his lungs even as the high speed stole the breath from his lungs. 

And then, all at once, they were still, and Naruto found himself sitting on a chair at a food stall next to Kakashi. A second later, Obito threw himself into the chair on the other side of Naruto with a fierce pout. 

“Looks like you’re paying again,” Kakashi said dryly. 

“Oh, shut up, bas—jerk,” Obito said. 

“Oh, it’s you two again!” an old man said happily. “No Rin today?” 

“She’s in surgery right now,” Obito said. “We’ve got a replacement instead.” 

Naruto squirmed as the man looked at him with surprise that quickly turned to happiness. “Well, who’s this young man, then?” he said. 

“I’m Naruto Uzumaki!” he declared. 

“I’m Teuchi.” Naruto shook the offered hand solemnly. “So, you like ramen, Naruto?”

“It’s my favorite!” Naruto cheered. “Narumi-ji-chan makes it sometimes.” 

Teuchi smiled down at him. “Well then, this bowl’s on the house. What’ll it be?”

“Miso!” Naruto declared. 

“Same for me, and pork for this loser,” Obito said, gesturing towards Kakashi. 

“Same as always. Coming right up!” Teuchi said. 

Naruto watched Teuchi prepare their ramen for a few moments before glancing over at Obito. He had shaggy black hair and black eyes, like a lot of the people in the village, but he looked a lot more cheerful than most of them. A pair of orange-tinted goggles hung around his neck. When Obito ran a hand through his hair, Naruto caught sight of a scar by the side of his eye, as if someone had tried to cut his eye and missed. “Hey, Obito-nii, how’d you know my uncle?” 

“Same reason Kakashi knows him. He helped us out a lot during the war,” Obito said. “We probably wouldn’t be alive without him.” 

“Oh. Narumi-ji-chan is pretty strong,” Naruto said cheerfully. “I’m gonna be even stronger someday!” 

Obito grinned down at him and ruffled his hair. “I’m sure you will!” 

A massive bowl of piping hot ramen was placed before him, and Naruto promptly abandoned the conversation in favor of staring ravenously at it. “One bowl of miso, with extra pork and fishcake,” Teuchi said cheerfully. “Enjoy!” 

Naruto whooped. “Thanks for the food, old man!” He took one bite, froze, and stared up at Teuchi with his mouth wide open. Kakashi reached over and closed it. “Old man,” Naruto said reverently the moment Kakashi’s finger left his chin. “This is the best ramen in the whole world!” 

Teuchi laughed. “I’m glad you like it! Now eat up, before it gets cold.” 

Naruto immediately started wolfing down his ramen, only vaguely paying attention to the conversation around him. 

“Are you gonna introduce him to Rin?” 

“Not today. Hokage-sama is going to work out an official meeting, I think. Of course, I’ll probably still end up being the one to do it...” 

“You know, he is your dad. It’s weird hearing you call him that.” 

“Obito, as a shinobi it’s only proper to address the Hokage by his rank. You should know better by now.” 

“You—I’m gonna—ugh!” 

Naruto held up the empty bowl. “Old man! More. Please,” he said, recalling his manners at the last moment. 

“Oho! I see you liked that,” Teuchi said proudly. “More of the same?” 

“Yes, please!” Once Teuchi had turned back to the stove, Naruto tugged on Kakashi’s sleeve. “Kakashi-nii, can I try yours?”

Kakashi sighed. “If you wanted pork, you should have asked.” Nevertheless, he nudged his bowl closer to Naruto, who grinned and helped himself to some of Kakashi’s broth and noodles. Obito took advantage of this and dumped his bamboo shoots into the bowl.

“Don’t be rude, Obito,” Kakashi said as he took the bowl again. 

“Says the guy who always shoves his vegetables onto my plate when we eat at Yakiniku Q.” 

“Well, if I wanted vegetables, I wouldn’t go to a yakiniku restaurant, would I?” 

“Jeez, Bakashi, even Minori isn’t as bad as you!” 

Naruto watched the two of them bicker until Teuchi brought over another bowl in favor of scarfing down the food rapidly. “Teuchi-jiji, I’m gonna come here every day after the academy!” he said happily. 

Obito laughed. “Slow down, squirt, before you choke!” 

“I think Narumi might have some issues with you eating ramen every day,” Kakashi said drily. 

Naruto set down his chopsticks. “Done! Thanks for the food, old man! Kakashi-nii, play ninja with me now!” 

“The deal was that I take you to lunch. Don’t you want to see your new house?” 

Well, Naruto did want to see their house. . .but he wanted to explore the rest of Konoha, too. Everybody knew that playing ninja was the best way to find secret places. He turned his best pleading look on Kakashi, who simply looked back with the same sleepy-eyed stare. 

“Pleeeeaase, Kakashi-nii? We can play ninja on the way to the house!” he said. 

Obito dropped a hand on Naruto’s head and ruffled his hair. “Come on, Kakashi, might as well. Just send a message to your dad. It’s been ages since I played ninja.” 

“Obito, we played ninja just last weekend,” Kakashi said, even as he stood. “Okay, Naruto, how are we playing?” 

“Hmm . . .” Naruto thought for a moment. Playing bodyguard was fun, but they didn’t have enough people for that. “Capture mission! Kakashi-nii, you’re it! Obito-nii, we have to get away!” 

He sprinted for the nearest wall and ran up it, only pausing when he realized the other two hadn’t followed him to the rooftop, and were still standing at Ramen Ichiraku, staring at him. “What’sa matter?” 

“You can walk on walls already, Naruto?” Obito asked. “I didn’t learn until I was a genin.” 

“Well, duh!” Naruto said. “It’s way easier than walking on water.” 

“You can walk on water, too?” Obito exclaimed. “Okay, I know people who didn’t learn that until they were chuunin.” 

Naruto laughed. “That’s dumb! I’ve been walking on water since forever. How’d you get around without knowing that?” 

“There’s much less water in Konoha,” Kakashi interrupted. “Most people get by fine without knowing that until they’re older.”

Obito whistled suddenly. “Man, he must have crazy chakra control! Remember how much trouble Rin had?” 

Naruto shifted back and forth. “Come on, let’s play already! Hurry up.” 

In a flash, Obito was beside him. “Alright, let’s go! Try to keep up, Kakashi!” 

Naruto let Obito lead the way as they raced across the rooftops. Occasionally, he’d look around, taking in the sights. Konoha was massive compared to Uzushio, a veritable maze of bustling streets filled with all manner of people. He spotted a market one moment, and then another, and then two more, several restaurants, and even more neighborhoods filled with houses and apartments. They were also several strange, walled-off districts.

“Hey, Obito-nii, what’re the places with walls around them?” 

“Clan compounds. Most clans live in a specific area, although not all of them are walled off. That’s the Hyuuga compound right there. The Uchiha have one, too.” 

“Who’re they?” Naruto asked. 

“The Uchiha clan helped found the village, and they run the military police. The Hyuuga are also pretty important,” Obito said, and then, quite abruptly, “Quick! There’s Kakashi, this way!” 

Naruto didn’t see Kakashi anywhere, but he ran after Obito anyways. They were heading away from the center of the village, now, towards the training grounds and the forest at the edge of the village. In one area, the forest seemed to have grown towards the village proper, so that it almost engulfed the houses. As they drew closer, Naruto realized that there was actually a house hidden among the trees. 

“See your house yet, Naruto?” Obito asked. 

“There’s so many trees!” Naruto exclaimed. 

Obito laughed. “Thank Kakashi for that. He thought you’d like trees to train with. Apparently having a whole training ground practically right next door wasn’t enough.” 

Obito slowed as they reached the edge of the forest. Kakashi joined them a moment later, not even winded by their run. 

“Narumi is on his way,” he said. 

“Not your dad?” 

“No, he’s busy with paperwork.” 

Naruto left them to their conversation in favor of running towards the house and throwing open the doors. They were sliding doors, unlike the ones in Uzushio, he noted curiously, and where the floors there had been made of stone, tile, or stucco, these were made mostly of tatami, with wood in certain places. 

“It’s a bit traditional,” Obito said, scratching at the back of his head. “But it’s got lots of space, and it’s pretty quiet out here.” 

Naruto kicked off his shoes and raced over the tatami, whooping as his socks slid along the floor. “This is awesome!” 

“At least put on the slippers first,” Kakashi sighed, setting a pair of bright orange slippers down. Naruto slid over to him, and put on the slippers with only some reluctance. 

“All right!” Obito cheered. “Who’s ready to see Naruto’s room?” 

“Me!” Naruto said. “Which way is it? I bet I can find it myself!” 

“Oh, dear,” he heard Kakashi sigh as he raced away. “There’s two of you.” 

The first room seemed to be Narumi’s study, as it was lined with bookshelves and filled with scrolls, brushes, and ink. Naruto closed that door and moved on. The next door opened to the bath, the second to the toilet, the third to a wood-floored bedroom filled with all of Narumi’s boring, adult things. The one across from that, however, led to a slightly smaller bedroom holding a bed with an orange and blue bedspread, a bookshelf filled with a mix of children’s books, history books, and books on the ninja arts. 

Naruto flung open the closet at the back of the room, which was filled with a variety of clothes, more than he’d had in Uzushio, even. The few articles of clothing he’d brought with him were stowed among them. He paused, briefly, over a pair of dark blue shorts, rubbing it between his fingers to feel the reinforced material, and let out another shout as he spotted real, actual ninja fishnet armor! A few reinforced shirts went along with these, mostly in shades of blue, with the Uzumaki spiral sewn on the back in thread either slightly darker or lighter than the shirt fabric, so that it wasn’t noticeable unless you looked at it from the right angle. 

He flung himself on the bed and ran his fingers over the frame, marveling at the rough texture. 

“Kakashi made that. Cool, huh?” Obito said. 

“Kakashi-nii made it? How? Did he cut down a tree?” Naruto asked. 

Obito laughed. “Kakashi cut down a tree? I’d pay money to see that. No, nothing like that. Come on outside and he can show you.” 

Naruto trotted along beside him as Obito headed to the back of the house, hollering. “Kakashi! Naruto wants to see you do your thing!” 

Kakashi appeared beside them in an instant. “It’s a small house, Obito, you don’t have to yell,” he said patiently. “And must I?” 

“Yes,” Obito said firmly, and snatched Kakashi by the elbow as if worried he would scurry away. He opened the door to the veranda and pushed Kakashi forward. Naruto squeezed past him and raced into the wide, open yard. 

“Fine, fine,” Kakashi sighed, and positioned his hands into a seal.

“Ooh, make him a treehouse! Every kid needs a treehouse,” Obito said. 

Kakashi sighed. “Fine. Out of the way, Naruto.” 

Naruto ran back to Obito’s side, while Kakashi walked into the center of the yard, eyes closed, hands in the same seal. Naruto watched him for a minute before leaning in to ask Obito what he was doing and when he’d get on with the technique, only for Kakashi to open his eye and declare, loudly and clearly, “Mokuton!” 

Gnarled branches burst from the ground, twining together to form the trunk of the tree, and then spreading out and sprouting leaves at the top. The tree grew and grew as Naruto gaped, and he eventually noticed an odd shape forming at the center of the tree as the branches twined together, as if they were forming a cube with holes in it. A room, he realized after a moment, and the holes were the doors and windows. 

“A treehouse!” he shrieked as Kakashi dropped the seal and the tree finally stopped growing. He raced forward and scrambled up the tree, easily finding footholds between the entwined branches. “Nii-san, you’re the best! How’d you do that? Wasn’t that the thing the Shodaime Hokage could do?” 

“Oh, my,” a new voice said, sounding wryly amused. “A treehouse already? And here I haven’t even seen the main house yet.” 

Naruto stuck his head out the window and grinned down at the three adults gathered below. “Ji-chan, look at what Kakashi-nii made me!” 

He held back a laugh as Narumi ruffled Kakashi’s already rumpled hair, while the jounin simply stood there as if nothing at all was happening. “Thanks for keeping an eye on him, you two. Come over for dinner sometime, you hear?” 

Kakashi, already turned to leave, waved a hand. “Yes, yes.” 

Obito waved cheerfully as he followed Kakashi towards the forest. “See you later, Naruto! Narumi, let’s train together sometime!” 

“Go play with people your own age,” Narumi called after them. “How’s the house, Naruto?” 

“It’s great, Ji-chan! Except there’s like no water, anywhere,” Naruto complained as he scrambled down the tree. 

“Did you like Kakashi and Obito?” Narumi asked. 

Naruto grinned up at Narumi as he reached his side, and grabbed hold of his hand as they walked back to the house. “Kakashi-nii is super cool! He was like, ‘Mokuton!’ and then the tree was like ‘woosh!’ I want a mokuton!” 

He pouted when Narumi only laughed. “Don’t we all.” 

“How’d you know them, ji-chan?” he asked curiously. “They said they knew you, but I’ve never met them.” 

His uncle hummed. “We met years ago, before you were born. Actually, I met Sakumo before Kakashi was even born,” he mused. “We fought in the third war together, and their sensei was the Yondaime.” 

“You mean—!” Naruto clapped his hands over his mouth at Narumi’s stern glance, and looked up at him sheepishly. “Sorry. But really?” 

“Yep,” Narumi said. “They’ve been waiting to meet you for a long time. So has Rin, their other teammate, but I understand she’s in the middle of work right now. You’ll meet her once she’s not on call, I think. How do you like your room?” 

“It’s great!” he cheered, releasing Narumi’s hand to slide over the tatami floors in his socks. “This stuff is great, too!” 

Naruto shrieked with laughter as Narumi slid by and grabbed him, swinging him around in circles until Narumi nearly fell over. “Come on, let’s get our things unpacked and see what Kakashi and Obito did to the place,” Narumi said, settling Naruto down once their laughter had quieted. “I’ll show you around town once we’re done.” 

Naruto whooped and raced off down the halls to his room, only realizing once he slid through his door that he’d forgotten his things. 

“Looking for this?” Narumi said. 

Naruto sheepishly accepted the scrolls Narumi handed him and spread them out on the floor, releasing his belongings from them one by one. Before long, the room was filled with the clutter he’d collected over the years, from his collection of seashells to his sets of kunai and shuriken to the goodbye card his friends had given him. He paused, however, at the last scroll—he didn’t remember packing three scrolls, only two. 

“Go on,” Narumi said, from the doorway. “It’s yours.” 

Naruto channeled chakra through the seal, releasing its contents in a faint puff of smoke. When the smoke cleared, a black backpack sat on the ground, along with new school supplies and a set of weapons. 

“Kunai and shuriken? Ji-chan, I already have a bunch,” he said. 

“Not like this. That’s a jounin-grade pouch there. It’ll hold a lot more, and last a lot longer,” Narumi said. Naruto opened it curiously and peered at the shiny weapons inside. “Careful with that. Those are live.” 

Naruto yanked his hand away, but his shock quickly turned to glee. “Really? I get actual live weapons!” 

“Only if you promise to be careful with them, and not use them in school,” Narumi warned. “You can train with them here.” 

Naruto jumped up and threw his arms around him. “Ji-chan, you’re the best! This almost makes up for having to go back to the beginning of school again.” 

Narumi laughed and ruffled his hair. “I’m sure you’ll survive. You’re a smart kid, just like your parents, and you’ll make lots of friends here.” 

“You really think so, Ji-chan?” Naruto asked. 

“I really do.” 

Chapter Text

A door shouldn’t have been imposing, but for some reason, as Naruto stood in front of the door leading to his new classroom, he couldn’t help but shiver and hold onto Narumi’s hand a little tighter. 

His uncle smiled down at him. “Want me to come in with you?” he asked. 

Naruto shook his head quickly. “No, that’s lame,” he said. “I can do it.” 

Narumi ruffled his hair. “Go on and knock ‘em dead, kiddo,” he said, and let go of Naruto’s hand. Naruto took one last breath, and then opened the door.

The room was already full of children, most of them talking to each other while the teacher took roll. He looked up as Naruto entered, and smiled. “Okay, class, settle down!” he called, “We have a new student joining us today. Why don’t you go ahead and introduce yourself?” 

He beckoned Naruto over to stand beside him, at the front of the classroom. 

“I’m Naruto Uzumaki, from Uzushio! Nice to meet you,” he said. 

“We’re glad to have you here, Naruto. I’m Iruka Umino, and I’ll be your teacher for the rest of your time at the academy. Take a seat wherever you like,” he said, with a broad gesture towards the classroom. 

Naruto took a quick glance around. So far, the room seemed to be divided into girls and boys, although there were fewer girls. There was an empty seat in the rows the girls had claimed, and another one in the very back, next to one boy who was eating potato chips and another who was already fast asleep. The only other seat was in the very front, at the row just in front of the teacher’s desk. A boy—or maybe a girl?—with fluffy white hair was sitting next to the window, and a boy with spiky black hair sat next to him, but the aisle seat was free. Naruto sat there and pulled out his books while Iruka prepared the lesson, occasionally shooting curious glances over at the other two. 

The one right next to him looked a lot like the rest of the people he’d seen around the village, the ones with black hair and eyes and the fans on their back. The Uchiha, he remembered from what Narumi had told him. He couldn’t see the boy’s back from this position, but he suspected that he’d find a fan there, if he looked. The other boy was smaller, small enough that Naruto suspected he might actually be a girl, even if he wasn’t sitting with the girls. His hair was pretty long, too, falling down to brush against his shoulders. 

He turned and smiled at Naruto. His eyes were black, just like the other boy’s, although other than that they looked nothing alike. “I’m Minori Hatake,” the boy said, stretching a hand behind the boy in between them. Naruto shook his hand quickly, as the position was rather uncomfortable to hold. “You met my parents yesterday. I would’ve gone to meet you then, but Daddy said to give you time to settle in first.” 

Naruto blinked at him, and realized why he’d seemed so familiar. “Oh! Kakashi-nii didn’t say he had a kid.” 

Minori laughed. “Daddy always forgets stuff like that! He was probably too excited to remember.” 

Naruto blinked for a few moments, because excited hadn’t exactly been the vibe he’d gotten from Kakashi. Obito, maybe. “He was?” 

“Mhm. Papa, too, and Jii-chan and Ba-chan and everyone,” Minori said. “And me! I hope we can be friends.” 

Naruto grinned. Not even the first five minutes of class, and he already had a friend. “Yeah, me too!” 

Iruka cleared his throat, and the two of them jerked back to attention. “While I’m glad to see my students forming bonds, it’s time to begin class.” 

“Sorry, sensei,” the two of them chorused, sharing sheepish grins with each other. 

“I’ll let it slide for now, but pay attention. Now, who can tell me anything about the shinobi codes?” 

Class was just as boring as Naruto had expected. Iruka was teaching things he’d learned about when he was five and actually attending academy for the first time, and he actually still remembered most of it. It was small consolation that both of the boys next to him seemed a bit bored as well. Lunch, when it came, was a relief, especially when Iruka informed them that practical lessons would take place after lunch. Even if he knew how to do everything already, practical lessons wouldn’t be boring. 

The moment Iruka announced their hour break for lunch, the students poured out of the classroom and into the yard. Minori waited for Naruto, clutching his bento to his chest. “Come on, I know a good spot to sit,” he said, heading for the door the moment Naruto had his lunch in hand. “It’s a really good spot, so we have to hurry or someone else will take it! Come on, over here!” 

‘Over here’ turned out to be a large, shady tree with a swing. Minori plopped down on the grass and patted the spot beside him. Naruto joined him, and the two of them set out their bento boxes on the ground. Minori’s was blue, with a series of dogs marching across it, while Naruto’s was orange and decorated with toads. Narumi had laughed when he’d seen it, for some reason, and insisted on buying it. 

“On three!” Minori declared, taking hold of the lid. Naruto hastily copied him. “One, two, three!” 

They revealed their lunches, and quickly set about seeing what they’d been given and what the other had been given. Narumi had made him little sausages cut up like octopus, along with rice and vegetables. Minori’s was similar, except that his parents had packed him fish, and his rice had the picture of a dog on it. 

“Whoa, cool!” he said, peering down at it. “Ji-chan never does that for me!” 

Minori puffed up proudly. “Papa is the best at bento,” he said. “He makes Daddy’s, too.” 

Naruto paused, sausage midway to his mouth, and realized exactly why Minori’s eyes seemed so familiar. “Oh!” he exclaimed, dropping his sausage back into his lunch. “Obito-nii is your dad too?” 

“Yeah!” Minori said, nodding proudly. “I have two dads, instead of a mom.”

“That’s so cool,” Naruto said. “I’ve never met anyone with two dads before.” 

“I have, and some people with two moms, but not anyone my age,” Minori said. “Trade you a sausage for some of my fish?” 

“Done,” Naruto said, eagerly making the exchange. “Oh, man, this fish is almost as good as the stuff in Uzushio!” 

“It’s imported from Uzushio, I think,” Minori said. “Daddy calls it Uzushio fish.” 

Naruto bit his lip. “You think they’d tell Ji-chan where to buy it?” 

“I’ll ask,” Minori assured him. “Do you like bean sprouts? Papa always gives them to me because Daddy likes them, and he forgets that I don’t.” 

“Trade you my tomatoes,” Naruto suggested. 

They traded throughout lunch, bargaining over the things they liked the most and eagerly getting rid of the things they liked least. It was almost like lunch with Karin, except that she got a lot grumpier when he refused to give her something, and Minori just pouted a bit and then laughed it off. His smiles were a lot like Obito’s, cheerful and frequent, and Naruto couldn’t help but relax over the course of lunch. 

The butterflies in his stomach reappeared, however, the moment Iruka called them back together and led them to a training ground. 

“This is the beginner training ground,” he said, gesturing to the training dummies and targets. “You and the class above you use this training ground, while the upper two classes use the advanced training ground. You’re only allowed to use the beginner training ground right now, because the advanced training ground uses live weapons, understand?” He waited until they all chorused their agreement before continuing. “Now, all the weapons you use here will be dull, but they can still cut you if you aren’t careful. You should treat every weapon you use here as if it were a live weapon. Does everyone remember the safety training?” Once again, a chorus of agreement. “Okay, four or five to a target, kunai to start. Once you throw ten kunai, raise your hand, and Mizuki-sensei or I will come grade you. Start!” 

Minori and Naruto quickly peeled off to one of the targets, the one on the side. Here, they’d be less likely to be interrupted by wayward kunai, as they only had one side to look out for. The boy who sat next to them seemed to have had the same idea, as he joined them, as did a girl with pink hair and a boy with sunglasses. The pink hair made him grin—it was almost like being home!

Minori was first in line. He threw his kunai with a practiced ease that said his parents probably taught him—a probably that went up to definitely when they all hit mostly in the center of the target. “Sensei!” he called once he was done. Iruka came over in a moment, congratulated Minori on a job well done, and then rushed off to the next student. Minori, beaming, skipped to the back of the line, where he struck up a conversation with the pink-haired girl. 

Naruto’s first hit was too high up. He eyed the target, and realized after a moment that it was closer than he was used too—he didn’t have to compensate as much for the distance. His next nine strikes were much better, although not as good as Minori’s, hitting mainly in the center with only a couple hitting the next ring. 

“Very good, Naruto,” Iruka said, marking down his score. Naruto beamed and joined up with Minori. The boy who sat next to them went next, and did just a little worse than Naruto. He looked a little upset about it, and didn’t say anything to them when he went to stand at the back of the line. Naruto did learn his name was Sasuke, at least, so he must’ve been the boy Narumi told him about. Still, Naruto didn’t know how to start a conversation without mentioning that, especially considering how he didn’t talk to Minori at all. 

“What’s his deal?” he whispered to Minori. 

“He’s not allowed to talk to me,” Minori whispered back. 

Naruto, sensing a story, opened his mouth to ask, but Minori shook his head. Instead, he watched the pink-haired girl, who was decent but clearly inexperienced with kunai. “Who’s she?” he asked Minori.

“Um, Haruno, I think?” he said. “A civilian family. She’s pretty good for a civilian, actually. Look over there.” 

Naruto followed Minori’s eyes to a larger, brown-haired girl, who had missed four of her shots and only barely made the others. She threw one as he watched, and he couldn’t help but wince at her grip. At least the pink-haired girl was using a proper grip with her kunai. 

“Very good, Sakura,” Iruka praised when he came by. “You’re improving already. Just keep practicing, and you’ll be hitting the center without fail in no time.” 

The girl flushed and scampered off to the back of the line, her face hidden by her hair. The civilian girl with the brown hair glowered at her retreating back. Even Naruto shivered at the look on her face. 

“What’s up with her?” he asked. 

Minori glanced over at the girl. “Jealousy, probably,” he said. 

Her final kunai went wide, sailing off into the bushes, and the rest weren’t much better. “Keep at it, Ami,” Iruka said as he graded her. “You’ll get there.” 

The glare she shot towards Sakura once Iruka left made both of them shiver. “Girls are scary,” Naruto muttered. Minori nodded his agreement, and glanced across the training field. Naruto tried to follow his gaze, but couldn’t quite figure out who he had been looking at. 

Once the last of them had gone—Naruto somehow managed to miss watching the boy with the sunglasses—Iruka rounded them all up, and led them over to a different part of the training ground. This area had a series of fighting rings marked on the ground, which another class was using. Iruka led them past the other class, over to a large area of dirt. 

“Line up in four rows, with at least a meter between you and the person next to you,” he ordered. “We’ll be going over the basic Academy kata. I know some of you no doubt have personal or family styles, but even so I need you to stick to the basic kata for now.” 

The two of them headed to the first row, and ended up between the middle and one of the ends, with a clear view of Iruka. Naruto automatically fell into the kata they’d used at the academy in Uzushio, and only realized Iruka was doing it differently when he heard a few people behind him snicker. Ears burning, Naruto hastily corrected himself, doing his best to copy Iruka’s stance. Mizuki adjusted his foot, but otherwise he seemed to have gotten it right. 

Once Mizuki had adjusted everyone, and they were satisfied, Iruka nodded firmly. “Alright, for today, we’re going to practice blocking. Everyone watch me!” 

Unlike class, physical lessons were tiring. He kept defaulting to the things he’d learned in Uzushio, which made the boys behind him snicker at him, even though Mizuki corrected them just as often. He had to actually concentrate to learn Konoha’s forms, which was more tiring than he’d expected, and he was relieved when Iruka led them through the cooldown exercises. 

“Remember, at the end of the month we’ll start sparring, so work hard!” he said. 

Naruto glanced over at Minori, who was easily the smallest of the bunch, but he’d kept up easily during the taijutsu practice and was grinning in excitement at the mention of sparring. Naruto had no doubt that anyone who tried to pick on him for being the shortest would find themselves regretting it shortly. 

They returned to the classroom to fetch their things, and were then dismissed by Iruka with a few final reminders of their first homework assignment, to be due on Monday. The moment they were allowed to leave, there was a mad rush for the door. Being in the front, Minori and Naruto were some of the first people out, only just behind Sasuke and a girl with grey hair. The pink-haired girl, Sakura, was just behind them, but stumbled and was swallowed up by the horde of students eager to get home. Naruto caught a brief glimpse of her talking to the girl who had been bad at shurikenjutsu, Ami, but lost sight of them again as he left the building. 

The yard emptied quickly as the students ran home, leaving only those few who were dedicated to practice and had nowhere else to do so. A group of teachers was standing near the door, and another two were supervising the exit. A familiar figure stood near them, and waved as Naruto spotted him. 

“Ji-chan!” he exclaimed, breaking into a run, Minori hot on his heels. Naruto barreled into Narumi at top speed, but Narumi didn’t so much as flinch. 

“Hello, Naruto,” he said. “And Minori! You’ve grown.”

“Nii-san, can we go?” 

Naruto blinked and looked over, and realized that Narumi must have been talking to someone, because just across from him stood a teenage boy in a chuunin vest and Sasuke. “In a minute, Sasuke,” the boy said. “Narumi-san, our conversation has been . . . interesting.” 

Narumi dipped his head. “As I said, all I ask is that you consider my offer.” He put a hand on Naruto’s head. “My nephew, Naruto, is in your brother’s class. And Minori, of course.” 

Itachi dipped his head towards them. “Kakashi-senpai’s son. He speaks of you frequently.” 

“You know Kakashi-nii?” Naruto interrupted. “He’s the strongest, isn’t he? He’s super fast!” 

“Not true!” Sasuke exclaimed. “Nii-san is the strongest, don’t be stupid. He’s the best!” 

“Yeah, well, I’ve got Kakashi-nii and Obito-nii, and both of them could totally kick your brother’s butt!” 

“Could not! I’ve never even heard of that Obito guy,” Sasuke said. 

“Both Kakashi-senpai and Obito-senpai are very strong shinobi,” Itachi said, putting their argument to rest. “I can only hope to live up to their example.” 

He looked, again, at Minori, who shifted on his feet restlessly. “I gotta go,” he said. “Daddy said he’d train with me. Bye, Naruto, Ji-chan.” 

“We’ll leave soon too, Naruto, but can you take these to the teacher’s office for me?” Narumi held out a small stack of fliers. Naruto glanced over them, and found that they were all requests for a dedicated student interested in learning fuinjutsu. 

“You’re looking for students?” he asked. 

Narumi nodded. “Part of the conditions of being here. I had the option of taking on a genin team, or taking on a couple apprentices instead. I opted for the apprentices.” 

“Sasuke, go help him,” Itachi said. “I have to speak with Narumi-san.” 

Sasuke made a face. “Do I have to?” 

Itachi poked Sasuke’s forehead. “If you help, I’ll train with you.” 

Sasuke perked up immediately, and grabbed half the papers from Naruto. “Come on, let’s go!”

“Hey, wait up!” Naruto hurried to catch up to him, and managed to reach him as they entered the school. 

They walked in silence through the empty halls for a moment, until Naruto said, “Minori said you’re not allowed to talk to him, but are you not allowed to talk to me, too?” 

Sasuke frowned at him, but shook his head. “Father didn’t say anything about you,” he said. 

“Why aren’t you allowed to talk to Minori?” Naruto pressed. 

Sasuke, however, only shrugged. “I don’t know. Father didn’t say. He just got upset when he heard I was sitting next to him in class, and said not to talk to him.” 

“And you didn’t ask?” Naruto asked. He couldn’t imagine not pressing Narumi for more information if he’d said something like that. Not that he did, really. He couldn’t remember a single time Narumi had said not to talk to someone. 

Sasuke looked just as shocked at the idea of asking his father such a thing, however. “Of course not!”

Naruto huffed and adjusted his grip on the papers. “You’re weird.” 

“You’re weirder!” Sasuke said. “You’re pretty good at shuriken and kunai, though.” 

“I would’ve done better, but the target was closer than Ji-chan’s,” Naruto said. 

Sasuke perked up at that. “Me too! Nii-san’s are super far away.” They grinned at each other. 

“You should come over to train,” Sasuke continued. “I like training with Nii-san best, but he’s always too busy.” 

“Minori couldn’t come though, could he?” Naruto asked. 

Sasuke shrugged uncomfortably. “I don’t think so. But you could come when he’s training with his parents or something, doing clan things.” 

It was true that Naruto didn’t really know what Minori did after school, and he did leave without Naruto to train with his parents. “Yeah, okay,” he said. “You’re pretty good at shuriken and kunai too, so it’ll be fun!” 

A teacher opened the door to the teacher’s lounge as they approached. “Oh, Narumi-san’s fliers, thank you,” she said, accepting them. “We’ll pass these out in homeroom tomorrow. Good job, you two.” 

WIth that, she handed them each a candy and sent them on their way. The two of them beamed at each other all the way back to the gate, gleeful in their shared triumph and the rush of sugar. At the gate, Itachi and Narumi were still deep in conversation, but they said their goodbyes as they spotted Sasuke and Naruto, and the two groups went their separate ways. 

“Bye, Sasuke!” Naruto called, waving back at him. 

Narumi smiled down at him. “Good day at school?” 

“Yeah, it was pretty good!” Naruto agreed. “I didn’t know Kakashi-nii had a kid.” 

“Yeah, Minori,” Narumi said, with an odd smile. “I haven’t seen him more than a couple times since he was, uh, born. Haven’t I shown you pictures, Naruto?” 

“Eh, no?” Naruto guessed, scratching his head as he tried to remember. “You show me lots of pictures! I can’t remember them all.” 

Narumi laughed. “I guess I do, don’t I? Still, isn’t it fun you’ll be in the same class?” 

“Yeah,” Naruto agreed. “Why isn’t Sasuke allowed to talk to him?” 

Narumi frowned. “I think that’s something you should ask Obito and Kakashi.” Naruto pouted, but Narumi just smiled and ruffled his hair. “What else happened at school?” 

“Not much. It’s so boring, Ji-chan! I’ve learned it all already,” Naruto whined, even as Narumi laughed at him. Naruto, in the end, couldn’t help but laugh as well. 

***

Dinner was almost always a quiet affair in the Uchiha household. Itachi always ate in silence, and his mother tended to be naturally quiet, so Sasuke felt awkward whenever he was too loud and tended to speak quietly as well as a result. This was even more true when their father was there, eating his food with a scowl that never seemed to leave his face. Sasuke couldn’t really remember the last time he’d seen his father smile, although he had vague ideas of what it would look like, so he must have seen it at some point. Either way, his father’s serious expression and demeanor made starting a conversation even more nerve-wracking, so Sasuke tended to sit there, picking at his food, unless someone spoke to him. 

“How was school, Sasuke?” his mother asked. Even this topic made his father frown, as it had since he’d mentioned that Hatake kid. 

“It was good. There’s a new kid, from Uzushio, I think,” he said. 

His mother paused, for a moment, before resuming her motions. “Oh?” 

“Yeah—I mean, yes. His name is Naruto . . . Uzumaki,” he said, thinking back to when the teacher had introduced him. “He’s pretty good at shurikenjutsu. I invited him over to train with me sometime.” 

His father opened his mouth, likely to say something, but before he could, his mother set down her chopsticks and said, quite firmly. “That’s a lovely idea, Sasuke. Invite him for dinner when you arrange things.” 

His father huffed irritably, but his mother just smiled in that way that meant she wasn’t changing her mind, and he resumed eating. Grateful that he hadn’t been told not to speak to this new friend, too, Sasuke ate his meal with renewed gusto. 

Just as he was about to ask to be dismissed to go train, Itachi set down his chopsticks and stared across the table at their parents in that way that automatically made people in the room want to pay attention to him. “Father, Mother,” he said. “I have been offered an apprenticeship.” 

Their father paused, and then set down his chopsticks as well. “By whom?” 

“Narumi Uzumaki,” Itachi said. 

“The sealmaster,” Fugaku said. Sasuke wasn’t sure if Father was pleased or not, which was strange—he was usually pleased with everything Itachi did or said. Itachi seemed just as impassive as he always did with Father, which wasn’t unusual, but didn’t give Sasuke any clues about what he was thinking, either. 

“Hn,” Fugaku said, with a sharp nod, after a moment of staring. “I served with him during the war. His power rivals the Hokage and the Sannin.” 

“If I choose to apprentice under him, he has asked that I leave ANBU to fully devote myself to my studies,” Itachi said. 

Fugaku’s frown deepened. Sasuke resisted the urge to glance nervously between them. Even he knew that Father had been extremely pleased, even more so than usual when Itachi did something, when Itachi had joined the ANBU and become an ANBU captain. To throw that away . . . 

Mother, however, laid a hand on his arm. “It isn’t unusual,” she said, “for a master to ask their apprentice to devote themselves fully to their craft.” She gave Father one of those looks, the kind that made it seem like a whole conversation was passing between them even if neither said anything. Father didn’t look any happier, though. 

“He has offered to teach me everything he knows about fuinjutsu and more, and to introduce me to many people he knows both in Konoha and Uzushio, and to support me until I reach jounin and beyond,” he said. “Furthermore, I wish to study under Narumi-san.” 

“Fugaku,” Mikoto murmured. “This is good. Think of it, an Uchiha fuinjutsu master . . .” 

“You will devote yourself fully to studying fuinjutsu. I expect you to reach jounin promptly,” Fugaku said, before standing and striding from the room. Itachi’s shoulders relaxed, just slightly. No one else probably noticed, but Sasuke knew Itachi best, even better than Shisui. 

His mother, however, smiled as she left the table, only to return moments later with two cups and a small bottle of sake. “This is a cause for celebration,” she said, pouring two glasses. “To your apprenticeship, Itachi.” The two of them drank, and Mother even let Sasuke have a small sip, even though he had to fight to keep himself from making a face as the drink burned down his throat. “Will he take any other apprentices?” 

“The village wants him to take at least two or three,” Itachi said. “He said that I was the first person he thought of. He believes I would excel with fuinjutsu.” 

“You always did have beautiful calligraphy,” Mikoto sighed. 

“Nii-san, what’s fuinjutsu?” Sasuke asked, finally tired of only having a vague idea of what was going on. 

“Seals,” Itachi explained, “Such as in storage scrolls and exploding tags. Narumi-san is one of the few seal masters in Konoha. Jiraiya the Sannin is also a seal master, but he has been out of the village for some time. Orochimaru also has some skill with them, but is not widely regarded as a master of the art. It is the same with many other jounin in Konoha. True seal masters are quite rare outside of Uzushio.” 

“Where that kid in my class is from?” Sasuke asked. Itachi nodded. Sasuke sighed. “That’s so cool, Nii-san, I bet you’re going to learn a bunch of stuff. School is boring.” 

His mother laughed, and even Itachi smiled a bit, and dinner slowly but surely returned to normal. Father never returned. 

***

Naruto awoke early, unaware of what had startled him from sleep. He blinked blearily at the ceiling, confused for a moment because it was made of wood, not stucco, before he remembered, and shot up in bed. Konoha! And it was the weekend, his first weekend here! 

He rolled out of bed and pulled on his clothes as he ran from the room, towards the front door, and gleefully slammed the front door open as best as one could slam a sliding door. 

A black shirt greeted him. He looked up, and found himself looking up at the boy from yesterday—Itachi, Sasuke’s older brother. “Good morning,” the boy greeted. “Is your uncle home?” 

“Uh, yeah,” Naruto said, rubbing his nose sheepishly. “Come in. Have a seat and stuff. Ji-chan!” 

While Itachi delicately sat on one of the cushions in the sitting room, Narumi shuffled out of his room, half asleep and still wearing his pajamas. “Naruto? It’s so early,” he grumbled, before spotting their guest and blinking a few times. “Itachi?” 

Itachi bowed in greeting. “Narumi-san. I would be grateful if you would take me as your apprentice, if the offer is still open. I will turn in my resignation as soon as details are finalized.” 

“Oh.” Narumi said, scratching at the back of his head. “Sure. Naruto, go put on some tea, will you? Let me just get the papers.” 

Naruto set the kettle on and, assuming that they would take awhile, made himself a sandwich while he waited. Once the kettle was boiling and the tea was steeping, he brought it back into the living room, where Narumi and Itachi were sitting across from each other, pouring over a stack of small papers. Naruto poured tea into the three cups on the table, and settled in to watch. 

“Ji-chan, what’re you doing?” he whispered, as Itachi flipped through the papers, signing occasionally. 

“Itachi is becoming my apprentice,” Narumi said. “Don’t you have sealing practice to do?” 

Naruto stuck out his tongue, but obligingly pulled out his calligraphy set. At this point, he wasn’t so much making seals as he was practicing the components he would need to learn to make more advanced seal arrays of his own. It was boring and tedious, even though he knew it was necessary, and he couldn’t help but sneak peeks at the other two now and then. 

It took them a long time to finish their work, and when it was done, the two of them picked up their cups and drank deeply. “Well then, Itachi, congratulations,” Narumi said. “You’re now my apprentice.” 

Itachi bowed. “Please take care of me, Shishou.” 

“Of course. Now, let me see, I think I have some beginner’s exercises I can set you to . . . Naruto, show him what you’re doing for now, I’ll be right back.” 

Naruto obligingly scooted over to show his work to Itachi. “I’m learning advanced seal components,” he said proudly. “So you can call me senpai.” 

Itachi’s lips quirked up in clear amusement, but nevertheless he nodded. “Of course, Naruto-senpai. I welcome your advice.” 

“You’re gonna be doing beginner seals, which are super easy,” Naruto explained. “Even if you mess one up, it won’t do anything too bad, just maybe catch on fire or explode a little if you’re lucky. Ji-chan says I have to be extra careful, or else I could blow one up, because even Uzumaki make mistakes with seals sometimes, even though we have an affinity. All you gotta have for beginner seals is good calligraphy, and that’s the hardest part. Ji-chan still makes me practice calligraphy.” 

He pulled out a spare sheet of paper, wrote a quick symbol on it, and handed it to Itachi along with his spare brush. “Here, you can practice this one. It’s my favorite, because it’s the symbol for the Uzumaki. It’s the base of a whole bunch of seals, so you’re s’posed to build on it after. We’ve gotta share ink though because I don’t have any extra.” 

Itachi dipped the brush in the ink, examined the symbol for a moment, and then with a single sweep of his hand made a perfect Uzumaki spiral on the page, right next to Naruto’s. “You’re pretty good,” Naruto said grudgingly. “But it takes more than good calligraphy to be a great seal master! You’ve gotta be inventive! Like this, see?” 

He grabbed a spare piece of paper, scribbled down a seal, and slapped it down on Narumi’s cushion. It activated as he pushed his chakra into it, and it disappeared into the cushion. “C’mon, act natural,” he said, elbowing Itachi when he kept staring at the cushion. Itachi quickly returned to his work, if a little bit too diligently, and Naruto returned to his. 

“Naruto’s got you on the seal base already, huh?” Narumi said, as he returned with a scroll. “Here, this is a primer on basic seal components.” Naruto bit his lip as Narumi approached, but couldn’t hold his laughter as Narumi sat down and the cushion let out a loud, long fart. 

“I see Naruto’s been showing you all the things you can do with seals,” Narumi sighed. “That’s a favorite of his.” 

Itachi accepted the primer with a graceful nod, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. “Thank you. Should I come again tomorrow?” 

Narumi hummed thoughtfully. “Tomorrow . . . let’s say weekends are for self-practice, for now. Come again on Monday.” 

***

On Monday, Naruto awoke to a cheerful voice at the door. “Hello! Naruto, Ji-chan, good morning!” 

Sleepily rubbing his eyes, Naruto pulled on the first clothes he grabbed out of the closet and stumbled into the living room, where Narumi, looking just as tired as Naruto felt, was putting eggs and toast on a plate. Minori, who in contrast seemed far too awake for the early morning, grinned at Naruto around a mouthful of toast. “Morning,” Minori said again.

“Morning,” Naruto mumbled as he sank onto a cushion and helped himself to breakfast. 

“Honestly, Minori, don’t your parents feed you breakfast?” Narumi sighed as he started on a third plate. 

“I wanted to walk to school with Nacchan, but I didn’t know when you were going to leave, so I decided to get here early,” Minori said. 

“N-Nacchan?” Naruto pointed to himself. “You mean me?” 

Minori tilted his head to the side. “Is it no good? Or is Nakkun better?” 

“Eh, Nacchan sounds kind of girly,” Naruto said, rubbing the back of his head. “You can call me Nakkun, I guess.” 

“Daddy calls me Micchan so I assumed,” Minori said. “Hey, Nakkun, wanna race to school?” 

Naruto opened his mouth to agree, before remembering how surprised Obito and Kakashi had been that he’d been able to run up a wall. “Can you walk up walls?” 

“Of course,” Minori huffed. “I’m not a baby!” 

Narumi chuckled. “You two have such skewed perceptions. Go on, before you’re late. Don’t forget your bento. You have yours, Minori?” 

The two of them proudly held up their bento boxes before placing them in their bags. “Alright, stay out of trouble, and listen to your teacher,” Narumi said as he saw them to the door. “And don’t go on the rooftops, you hear? The patrol routes are different here and I don’t need you giving anyone a heart attack!” 

“You’re no fun, Ji-chan,” Naruto whined as they left, followed by Narumi’s laugher. “We’ll have to race later.” 

Minori shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. Come on, I’ll show you a good shortcut!” 

Minori dove into the forest, and Naruto followed hot on his heels. Minori pulled him along, ducking beneath branches and leaping over roots, laughing breathlessly all the while. Even when he tripped or a branch smacked him in the face, he kept right on running. 

“Come on, this way!” 

Minori dove into a patch of shrubbery, and once again, Naruto followed. They crawled through the bushes on their hands and eventually came to a wooden fence. “Shh, this isn’t supposed to be here,” Minori whispered, as he nudged aside one of the wooden slats. It was a tight fit for Naruto, but Minori slipped through easily. The hole let out into a park, but the early hour meant that it was still completely abandoned. 

“C’mon, over here,” Minori said, tugging Naruto out of the park and down a side alley. He clambered up a series of trash cans and pulled himself onto a balcony, and then jumped down the other side onto a totally different street. 

“See,” Minori said, pointing up. “The Hokage’s office is right there, and the Academy is right next to it.” 

Naruto squinted and eventually managed to make out the red dome of the Hokage’s office. “It’s close!” he said, surprised. 

Minori puffed up proudly. “I know the best shortcuts,” he declared. 

Sure enough, the two of them were early enough that the only other people in the classroom were a girl with blank eyes, a girl with grey hair, and the boy with sunglasses, all of whom were sitting in the room in silence. Iruka looked up as they arrived and let out an amused huff. “You two have leaves in your hair,” he said. Minori laughed sheepishly as Iruka approached and brushed them down. “Take more care in your appearance,” he scolded, before ushering them off as Sakura slipped into the room and sat beside the blank-eyed girl. Sasuke walked in not long after, and took his usual seat between Minori and Naruto. 

“My mom said you should come over to my house to train sometime,” Sasuke said. “She said you can stay for dinner.” 

“Cool! Hey, Minori, when’re you busy?” Naruto asked, leaning back to look at Minori from behind Sasuke’s back. “I don’t wanna go on a day when we could be doing stuff, y’know!” 

“I’m only really busy on Wednesdays,” Minori said. “I train every day, but Wednesday is the only day that’s super important.” 

Naruto turned back to Sasuke. “So, Wednesday?” 

“Wednesday is fine,” Sasuke decided after a moment. “Nii-san is always busy on Wednesdays.”

“Alright, everybody, settle down!” Iruka called. “Class is starting. Kiba, I see you trying to sneak out the window, and it won’t work. Shikamaru, wake up, you just got here. Now, everybody put away your books and take out a pen. We’re having a quiz.” 

The homework had been easy stuff about the Hokage and the village, so the quiz was no problem. Naruto finished quickly, and noted that Sasuke and Minori had as well. Sakura finished early as well, he noticed, while Shikamaru didn’t seem to be making an attempt at all. 

The lesson continued in that vein, the same old boring stuff he’d learned before, only adjusted to suit Konoha. He was vibrating in his seat by the time lunch rolled around and he was finally able to escape the classroom with Minori. 

“Sasuke should eat lunch with us,” Naruto said to Minori. “I mean, he can’t talk to you, but he can talk to me, and you can talk to me! It’ll be like playing Courier.” 

“He eats lunch with the other Uchiha kids,” Minori said. “They’d notice if he started eating lunch with me, and they might tell his father, so he’d get in trouble.” 

“Oh,” Naruto said, frowning. “Are there a lot of Uchiha kids? There’s a lot of Uzumaki kids in Uzushio.” 

“There aren’t any in our class other than Sasuke, but there’s four or five in the years above us,” Minori said. “The Uchiha are one of the biggest clans in Konoha. Here, take my bean sprouts again.” 

A boy with a furred hoodie and red marks on his cheeks who Naruto thought was named Kiba bounded up to them. “Yo, Minori! There you are.” 

“Kikkun!” Minori exclaimed. “You aren’t skipping today?” 

Kiba flopped onto the ground, and a puppy popped its face out of his hoodie. “Nah, my mom totally kicked my ass last week. Besides, practical training isn’t so bad. So this is the new guy?” 

“Yep!” Minori said. “His house is right next to mine. I’ve known Kikkun since I was little.” 

“You’re still little, shrimp,” Kiba said, shoving Minori lightly. Minori frowned at him and steadied his lunch. 

“I won’t share my bento with you if you’re going to be mean!” he declared haughtily. 

“Aw, man, don’t be like that. C’mon,” Kiba whined. Minori huffed, but nevertheless offered part of his lunch to Kiba. “Your name’s Naruto, right? I’m Kiba, and this is Akamaru.” 

The puppy in his hoodie barked in agreement. 

“We’re the strongest in class!” Kiba declared. “Just you wait, new guy, you’ll see what’s what when we start sparring.” 

Naruto grinned. “You won’t even have time to see anything—you’ll be too busy eating dirt!” 

Akamaru growled at him, but Kiba was grinning too. 

“We don’t even start sparring for weeks,” Minori said. 

Kiba laughed and jumped up. “Nothing wrong with laying down the law, shrimp. See ya later, I’m gonna go see if I can get Choji to cough up some food. You keep an eye on this weirdo for me, Naruto!” 

Minori sulked as he surveyed his empty bento box. “Kikkun’s so mean. He treats me like a little kid and then he eats all my food.” 

“But you are a little kid,” Naruto blurted, only to falter when Minori looked at him fiercely. “Uh, I mean, we can ambush him after school and make him buy us food?” 

“Yeah!” Minori cheered. “Kiba’s allowance sucks, but we can make him ask his mom for more. She loves me so she’ll definitely say yes.” 

“Where’ll we make him take us? Ramen?” Naruto suggested. "Ooh, or the arcade! I saw an arcade earlier, we didn't have those in Uzushio!" 

Iruka’s call rang through the yard, and they slowly picked themselves up and headed back to the classroom. “We can decide once we get him,” Minori said. “Kiba always goes to the park to play with Akamaru after school so we can get him on the way.” 

“Sounds like a plan,” Naruto said. 

They fell silent as they entered the classroom. Iruka gave them a suspicious look, but didn’t question them. “Okay, class,” he began as the last of them took their seats. “Since this is the first full week of school, from now on on Mondays and Fridays the girls will be having kunoichi classes in the afternoons.” 

The door slid open, and a rather plain woman with black hair and glasses eyes entered the room. “This is your instructor, Suzume-sensei,” Iruka said. 

Suzume stepped up to the front of the class. “Girls, come with me. We’ll be headed out to the yard. Line up outside the classroom.” 

The girls hurried to obey. Suzume scanned the classroom as she turned to go, and paused as she looked at Naruto’s table. “I said all the girls,” she said sternly. “No exceptions, even if your friends are boys.” 

Minori blinked at her in surprise. Suzume’s stern gaze didn’t leave him. Iruka opened his mouth, probably to correct her, but then Minori smiled. “Oh, sorry. I’m coming. Nakkun, wait for me by the school gates, ‘kay?” 

“‘Kay,” Naruto mumbled as Minori slipped from the room on the heels of a blonde girl. 

Suzume surveyed the room one last time before leaving. Naruto blinked after her, and then turned to Sasuke. Sasuke shrugged. 

“Uh, sensei?” Kiba said. “Is Minori allowed to do that?” 

Iruka sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Let’s just get outside and start warm-ups.” 

***

Minori fell into step beside Ino as they followed Suzume out of the school. She looked down at him in surprise. “Um, aren’t you. . .” 

He held up a finger to his lips. “Shh! I’m infiltrating,” he said. “I’m Minori.” 

“Ino,” she said. 

“And you’re Hinata, right?” he said to the girl trailing behind them. 

“Oh, u-um, yes,” she mumbled. “Um, Minori-kun. . .”

“Shh!” he said. “You can call me Minori-chan, since I’m in disguise and all.” 

“You’re not in disguise at all,” Ino said. “You’ll never pass for a girl with your hair looking like that.” 

Minori glanced down at the ends of his hair in surprise. It was light and fluffy, and Obito always wondered over how it got that way when he and Kakashi had wiry and thick hair. “What’s wrong with my hair?” 

“Well, first of all, it looks like you don’t do anything other than run a brush through it every morning,” Ino said critically. Minori decided not to mention that that was exactly what he did. “Do you even use conditioner? The moment Suzume-sensei gets a close look at you, she’s going to realize everything.” 

“Being a girl is harder than I thought,” he said thoughtfully. 

Ino sighed and shook her head. “Well, since you’re so hopeless, I guess I’ve got no choice but to help you out. Walk in front of me and I’ll do your hair.” 

Minori trotted forwards. Ino gathered up his hair, pulling and twisting it behind his head even as they continued to walk forwards. After a few moments, he heard the snap of a rubber band. “Is it done?” he asked. 

“Hang on, it’ll just come undone,” Ino said. “I’ve got a spare bun cover somewhere. . .there. There we go, you actually look presentable now.” 

“Everyone gather around me,” Suzume called. “All of you call out your names. They didn’t give me a roster.” 

They went around the group, introducing themselves. All in all, he estimated that there were fifteen girls, as compared to the thirty boys in the class. The only one he really knew was Heiwa Senju, since he’d known her since they were little. Hinata he had only heard of before; the Hyuuga didn’t like Obito much more than the Uchiha did. Sakura was becoming familiar, since she was one of the best civilian students, and he smiled at her when she introduced herself. She ducked her head and hid behind a curtain of pink hair, but he thought he’d caught a hint of a smile, so he counted it as a success. 

The teacher quickly introduced them to the class and their activity for the day, and then set them up with a variety of flowers and let them loose. Ino fell upon them immediately, snatching up the ones she wanted ruthlessly, and by the time Minori had returned from fetching his was in the middle of putting together a rather elegant arrangement. 

“You’re good at that,” he said. 

“Daddy owns a flower shop,” Ino explained. She glanced over at his. “Those are . . . interesting choices.” 

“They’re all poisonous,” Minori explained happily. “I’ve got a theme going.” 

He glanced around as he adjusted his riotous bundle of color. Ino’s was the best, but Hinata’s was close behind. Heiwa’s, of course, was textbook perfect, although he didn’t miss her disgruntled frown and the book waiting by her side. Some of the civilian girls were pretty good, too. He glanced around, searching for Sakura, but didn’t spot her. Another quick glance revealed that Ami and a few other girls were gone too. 

Minori stood and brushed off stray bits of grass. “Ino, watch my flowers for me, please?” 

“Yeah, okay,” Ino said, still eyeing her own arrangement critically. “Call me if you need backup.” 

Minori wandered towards the area furthest from the teacher where a small group of girls had gathered. As he approached, he caught sight of Sakura on the ground in the middle of the group. Ami towered over her, her foot planted firmly on a pile of flowers. 

“Forehead!” Ami taunted. “Your forehead’s so massive even your stupid hair can’t hide it. You’re going to be ugly forever.” 

Minori looked at Sakura. Nothing looked weird about her to him. “Sakura’s not ugly,” he said. 

Ami whirled around, a scowl on her face. “What do you know?” she snapped. “You’re just a stupid little kid who only got in because you’re related to the Hokage.”