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The red hair and the string of destiny

Chapter Text

The Konoha 11 were all standing in front of the Hokage with their senseis. A mission has been given out, and as always, Naruto wouldn’t stop complaining.

“Baa-chan! This isn’t fair! I don’t want to do this!” He complained, waving his hands around as if that would help him in any way. Tsunade’s usually firm and professional face was filled with concern and guilt this time around. The 15 year old in front of her didn’t deserve this, but it wasn’t like she could say ‘No’ to that woman. The expression on her face made everyone else in the office question this whole situation. Did Naruto know something they didn’t?

The blond walked over to the desk and slammed both of his hands on it angrily. “I beg you… Don’t make me do this!” He raised his voice an octave higher strangely which made him sound a bit like a woman. Nobody ever paid attention to this habit of his. Their minds were all thrown off the tracks when Tsunade-sama stood up and walked around her desk so that she stood next to Naruto. She touched his shoulder and he turned to face her. He was still a little shorter than her, but that didn’t stop him from giving her an upset glare.

She sighed before pulling him into a hug and patting his spiky hair gently. “I’m sorry Naruto but it can’t be helped. She asked for you personally this time. I tried to avoid it the best I could, trust me.”

At this point he was just letting out his frustration. “I’m begging you! Don’t let them order you around! She’s not your queen! And you’re older than her! I’m begging you, tell them I’m in no condition to travel or something! Please!” He cried out, knowing perfectly well it wasn’t of any use at all. The older woman hugged him closer but he never made a move to hug back. He just stood there and enjoyed the warmth of another person. “Please…” He whispered once more before giving in to the silence of the room. To think there were 17 people in there was bizarre.

Soon enough, Kakashi stood forward and took his student away from the Godaime Hokage’s grip. Naruto’s eyes never left the ground as he walked back to Sakura’s side with Kakashi. “Naruto,” Tsunade spoke once more. “I’ll get you some proper kimono and I’ll do your hair tomorrow morning before you leave. Maybe it’ll help soften her heart.”

At that, Naruto lifted his head and scoffed. “As if! She’s colder than ice.” He rolled his eyes and crossed his arms, exactly like a moody teenager he is. Except he has problems. Problems like no other teenager does.

Tsunade tells them to go and get ready for their trip. They are to go to Uzushiogakure for...something. They were told further instructions would be given to them when they arrived. They were all nervous and confused. It wasn’t the fact they have never been to Uzusio, nor were they concerned about what their mission could be. They just couldn't stop thinking about the accident they witnessed a few minutes ago. Before they slowly parted ways, each one of them carefully stole a glance at Naruto from time to time. He looked irritated but not exactly worked up. It didn’t seem like he was gonna destroy anything or fight anyone, so it was… all right.

Finally, everyone took their separate paths home and Naruto was left alone. Well, more or less he was. He still felt somebody’s presence behind him.
“What is it, Kakashi-sensei?” Naruto asked, venom in his voice. He wasn’t mad at his sensei, he was just mad at the world.

“Naruto, I don’t know what exactly is going on, but I want you to know if you need someone to talk to I’ll be right there, okay?” The silver-haired man said while ruffling Naruto’s hair slightly.

“Thanks….. Nii-san.” The blond responded teasingly. Kakashi rolled his eyes at the comment but didn’t seem all that bothered.

“Maa maa… Don’t call me that in public, Naruto.” The older one warned before disappearing in a swirl of leafs. Naruto laughed to himself before disappearing as well. They both reappeared in their shared home just moments later.

Kakashi took Naruto under his wing when the boy was 11. At first Kakashi didn’t want to see Naruto due to him looking so much like his father and he thought they were treating him as good as possible in the orphanage. Then something about Naruto started to feel fishy and when he investigated a bit more he found out that his sensei’s son hasn’t been to the orphanage since he was 4! He’s also been absent from the academy for about 6 months when he was 9 and nobody even looked for him. Hatake was scared that if he took Naruto in as a toddler, he wouldn’t be able to manage as a ninja and a caretaker at once even if he really wanted to. But since Naruto was older already he adopted him officially and took him in as his little brother. Naruto was overjoyed when that happened. In his last year at the academy he finally had good grades and a nice teacher too. He passed with flying colors.

And he got Kakashi as a Jōnin instructor too! Speaking of that, their team originally had 4 members instead of 3. The fourth was Uchiha Sasuke, who - after barely a year of being a ninja and an overly aggressive behavior towards his teammates - got taken down by his family to get prepared for being the clan head. His older brother already became a ninja so instead of forcing him to abandon that after years of fulfilling his duty, they took Sasuke instead. And Sauke didn’t complain at all. He always wanted to be more than his older brother. That’s the only reason he became a ninja in the first place. Just to surpass his ‘nii-san’. Strangely, they have never been given a replacement. They were just fine without him anyway.

When the two men appeared in the living-room of their small apartment, a beautiful smell hit them.

“Grilled pork with vegetables…” Naruto muttered under his breath. It was a game he and Kakashi played ever since Kakashi taught him how to infuse chakra into his nose for a better sense of smell. They both tried to guess what the smell was and the one who was right didn’t have to do any chores for a day.

Kakashi looked up thinking, “Nope, there’s rice too.” He said confidently, pulled down his Hitai-ate and placed it at the coffee-table. They both walked closer to the kitchen to confirm the silver-haired man’s suspicion when all of sudden Iruka crossed their path.

“No interfering with my cooking!” He threatened pointing a ladle at both of them. He was wearing Kakashi’s apron - basically a piece of Icha Icha merch that was decent enough for Naruto to see - under the apron was white T-shirt he wears at home and a pair of dark-green sweatpants. He looked like an angry house-wife when you stepped on the newly washed floor with dirty shoes and Naruto was inches away from bursting out with laughter. Kakashi on the other hand probably wanted to take Iruka to the bedroom and have some… fun. The brunette looked down at Naruto with a glare that translated to ‘take one step closer to that stove and you’re done young man’.

This - even if it was supposed to be a threat - made the blonde lose it completely and before he knew it he was on the ground laughing. Kakashi gave a little chuckle before pulling down his mask and pecking his boyfriend’s cheek. Iruka’s face flushed bright red, earning another chuckle from Kakashi’s mouth which made him mad so he pulled Kakashi in by his collar teasingly. The Hatake looked ready to use one of the tactics he learned from Icha Icha before they heard a fake cough from underneath them.

“I’m still here!” Naruto warned before getting up quickly. “But I’m going to my room to change now and as a hormonal teenager it will take me at least 20 minutes to decide what to wear even though it’s just for the inside of this house~” He said teasingly with a smirk. Iruka looked shocked like he didn’t expect Naruto’s ‘innocent’ 15-years-old mind to understand such things but also a bit angry with the boy for thinking he’d trade a make out session for his dishes’ perfection. Kakashi on the other hand gave Naruto a little too innocent-looking grin before putting his hand on the back of Iruka’s head and -

That’s where Naruto turned away and walked down the corridor to his room with an evil giggle. He plopped down on his bed and turned to a chair where his usual home-outfit was… Oh man! Iruka must’ve decided to have a laundry day. He stood up and walked over to his dresser. He had about 5 outfits in total, which isn’t much but it’s enough. He pulled out a shirt with the Uzumaki clan symbol on it and put it back down quickly. He shook his head and sighed. He had already pushed tommorows mission away and now that stupid T-shirt just had to remind him! Maybe he really will take 20 minutes this time around…

When Naruto beat the living shit out of his pillow, changed into navy-blue sweatpants and white shirt with Konoha’s symbol on it, he headed back to the kitchen. It was approximately 23 minutes and 48 seconds since he left so he hoped he wouldn’t walk in on… something. Luckily all he saw were innocent traces - like Iruka’s messy hair that fell all the way down to his shoulders since Kakashi stole his hair band and used it to pull his own hair back instead. The brunet’s face was still flushed - making his scar stand out even more - while he cursed Kakashi out and called him names like ‘pervert’ and ‘horny Jōnin’, Naruto could have sworn he heard something like ‘Ero-baka’ as well. He let out a laugh to let them know his presence and they both snapped out of their lovey-dovey world.

He smiled innocently. “I even gave you 3 minutes to spare! Aren’t I nice today?” He teased while getting their chopsticks and putting them on the table. Iruka looked like he wanted to hit Naruto with that pan he was cleaning for making such comments but held himself back.

Kakashi gave the blond that smile again. It was so overly innocent and confusing. Like- what’s he trying to achieve?! Naruto - by now - put it on the shelf with ‘thank you’ expressions. Iruka has already set the table and - to be honest - Naruto was surprised how this man was still a teacher. He could have been a professional chef by now! He sat down and stared at the food, his mouth watering.

His spirits were brought down when he realized that there indeed was rice next to pork and vegetables on his plate. Damn you Kakashi. He thought about all the dishes he’ll have to wash later, when he heard Iruka kick Kakashi out of the kitchen to go change his clothes and wash his hands before dinner. Then the brunette sat across from Naruto with a somewhat calm, motherly expresion. Naruto smiled.

I’m sure you must be wondering who this Iruka who just had a make-out session with Kakashi is in the first place. Well, Naruto basically set him and Kakashi up 3 years ago at a parent-teacher conference. They were both so awkward for about 15 minutes they weren’t even able to discuss Naruto’s grades and behavior so he just decided to get it over with. “Iruka-sensei if you wanna go on a date with Nii-san he’s free tonight at 7.” He remembers it very vividly when both Iruka’s and Kakashi’s faces turned so red they could match the notebook Iruka-sensei was holding. His big brother scolded him plenty after they left but they still did go on that date.

And now, 3 years later, Iruka has been living with them for about a few months. It all started when he forgot to go home one morning after he spent a night with his lover and Naruto caught him making coffee only wearing his boxers and Kakashi’s favorite shirt. Naruto almost killed him with that set of shuriken he threw when he saw someone other than Kakashi in their kitchen but can you blame him? The accident was easily forgotten anyway and now they all get along in the small apartment like a little family. With Kakashi and Naruto being active ninja and Iruka a teacher, the brunette is like the house-wife for real. And he doesn’t even mind it! Or realize it. Naruto wasn’t sure which one.

Finally Kakashi came back dressed in a more casual outfit made out of black sweatpants and a dark blue turtleneck that was long enough to use as a mask if needed. Kakashi only really showed his face to the people he trusted the most. No one had seen it for about 12 years before Naruto came into the picture. And 12 years is a long time. He sat down between the two men and smiled. The dining area was small so the table was pushed against a wall, with only 3 chairs remaining around it’s free sides.

As soon as the silver-haired man’s butt hit the chair, Naruto clasped his hands together happily. “Itadakimasu!” He yelled before diving into the food hungrily. The other two repeated his actions before eating themselves.

“See Naruto, there’s rice.” Kakashi pointed at his plate with a shit-eating grin. Naruto looked at him annoyed with his chopsticks still in his mouth. He swallowed before speaking up.

“I get it. I have to wash the dishes tonight.” He said irritated.

“And hang up the laundry.” Kakashi added, still smiling even though it was painfully obvious that he was trying to provoke the blond big-time.

“Shut it nii-san… I’ll do it or whatever.” He said absolutely not-on-purpose ‘forgetting’ every piece of manners he had in his life, putting his elbows on the table and chewing with an open mouth.

“Maa Naruto, you’re being childish.” Kakashi sighed. What the?! He started it!

“You want me to use my hands instead of these?” The blond asked while holding his chopsticks up carelessly, like he wanted them to fall on the ground, count to 6 and say ‘Oh no! They’re useless now!’ even if they weren’t food with the 5-second rule.
“STOP PLAYING AROUND AND EAT YOUR FOOD!” Iruka suddenly yelled and successfully shut them up. Which was usually hard for other people. He didn’t even have to try. We should respect this man.

After the dinner, the youngest one of them took all of their dishes, put them in the sink and started washing. The two others stayed in the kitchen as well, sitting at their assigned seats, with Iruka grading some tests and Kakashi reading a newspaper for a change.

When the blond finished washing and drying the dishes he threw the wet sponge angrily into the sink and stomped to the washroom to get the newly washed clothes and hang them up. He mumbled something about ‘Stupid Takara’ and disappered behind the corner.

Iruka looked at Kakashi with a raised eyebrow. The man in the question set his reading material on the table and let out a dramatic sigh. “Does he have a crush or something?” The brunette asked sheepishly but always ready to find something to tease Naruto about.

Kakashi shook his head. “We got a new mission and he doesn’t like it very much.”

Iruka nodded, already used to this kinda behavior. “Another D-rank?”

“Actually,” Kakashi let his hand fall backwards into an empty space, showing his frustration. “It’s a B-rank, may even turn into an A-rank. But I think I understand where the frustration is coming from. We’re going to Uzusio and-” He was interrupted by Iruka, who cursed no-so-silently as he accidentally made a random red line with his pen on one of the tests he was correcting.

“You’re going to Uzusio!?” His boyfriend yelled at him in shock and if Kakashi wasn’t a professional ninja he’d probably fall off the chair.

“Yea-”

“AND Tsunade-sama didn’t say anything to you!?”

“I don’t think I’m follo-”

“He’s been to Uzusio!” Iruka yelled and slammed his hand at the table angrily as he stood up. Kakashi could only stare when Iruka grabbed his hand and started to pull him towards their bedroom to explain everything without Naruto overhearing.

“Don’t be too loud.” The mentioned boy said with a grin, carrying a basket full of water-soaked clothes to the balcony. He earned a smirk from his big brother and his boyfriend seemed too worked up to even hear him. Not that he complained really. A comment like that would probably earn him a bump on the head.

Iruka threw Kakashi inside their bedroom and locked the door behind him.

“When are you leaving!?” Iruka asked, his hand gripping onto his hair, almost as if he was never gonna see them again.
Kakashi blinked in surprise. What the hell is going on today? “T-Tomorrow?” He stuttered out.

“T-to-tomorrow…” Iruka repeated as if to confirm he heard right. Then he jumped to his lover, took him by the shoulders and shook… violently. “Kakashi, you. have. to. promise!” He said, and only let go when the silver-haired man nodded slightly.

“To promise what?” The scarecrow asked when he caught his breath that was literally shook out of him.

“Promise you’ll look after Naruto 24/7!”

“Why? He’s perfectly capab-”

“Kakashi.” Iruka said in that voice he always used to tell his students to keep their traps shut or else… “Naruto has been to Uzusio when he was 9, or 10. He left with a happy face and an invitation from his distant aunt, their respected leader. You know what? I won’t make it any softer. She’s basically a queen, a goddess in that village and to tell the truth Naruto was actually supposed to stay there and live with her until further notice. And he’d surely enjoy living with his family, but one day he came running back to the academy. I checked. No personal belongings, no change of clothes. Just him in his kimono and the orange jacket over it. Something fishy is happening in Uzumakis’ village.”

Kakashi’s mouth fell slightly open. Is that where he disappeared for half a year? Why wasn’t it in the papers if it was permanent and why come back? Questions built up in his mind but before he had a chance to ask any of them, Iruka spoke up.

“So, you promise?” He asked in a faithful voice, like when a child asked their parents to bring back a souvenir from their journey.

“I promise.” Kakashi said, without a second thought.

There was a knock on the door. “Umm, Sorry for interrupting but I’m done with the laundry, y’know?” Naruto’s voice came from outside of their bedroom. “And, I’m going out tonight, so I thought I’d let you know.” He laughed nervously at the end, which made both adults smirk internally. Sounds like their little bro has got himself a date. On that note, Iruka decided to be nice. “Be back by 10!” He yelled. A dramatic sigh was heard before Naruto shouted ‘Hai’ in response, knowing there’s no negotiating with the man. After that they heard the front door open and close.

Kakashi chuckled.
__________________

Naruto ran down the street and made his way to where the training grounds for genin were. The Third Training ground was their meeting place for ages. His and… well…his best friend’s. The streets were still buzzing with people even though the sun had already set. The dim light of the street lamps barely shone onto the bridge that he had to cross to get to the meeting place and the only source of light once there was a small lantern brought by his friend. A small smile decorated both of their faces as they sat there on the cold dewed grass and stared at the stars together. No words were necessary in this relationship. Naruto turned his head to stare at his ‘friend’. His dark hair wasn’t spiky and messy like the blond but he had an unmistakable duck-butt hairstyle he couldn’t get rid of since they were kids. The pale skin looked outstanding in the moonlight and Naruto wasn’t ashamed to think those thoughts. He knew the other one thought the same way. He saw the other boy’s dark eyes stare back at him and for a minute they exchanged stargazing for staring into each other’s eyes instead. The dark-eyed boy’s hand was usually resting on the blond’s cheek by now but tonight both of his hands were resting in his lab.

Maybe…

Naruto reached his own hand out and the other did the same. Their fingers touched gently, but the friend took his hand and placed it back to the blond’s side. Naruto was surprised at the least, but maybe he just wasn’t in a touchy mood today, right? That’s what he thought for a moment, until he met his eyes again. Smile no longer decorated the pale lips, instead a frown settled on that face. He pushed himself away a little to make a distance between them. Just a few millimeters really, but it was more than enough for Naruto. He took a deep breath while looking ahead instead of at the blonde.

“I’m getting married.”

What…?

“When?”

“Hn.”

“Where?”

“Hn.”

“To who?”

“Hn.”

“Sasuke?!”

Naruto leaned closer to make up for those few millimeters of distance Sasuke put in between them. His blue eyes tried to catch a glimpse of the other boy’s face but failed when he turned further away.

“I won’t be able to see you anymore.”

Why does this sound like a break-up? Why does this feel like a break-up? They were never together for Kami’s shake!

“So, this is the farewell. Let’s make the most out of it.” Finally, finally, raven’s hand reached out towards Naruto but this time, the blonde didn’t want it anymore. He clenched his fists in his lab.

Wind picked up as they stayed still and silent for a few minutes. Flame in the lantern between them flickered, threatening to burn out any second now. Naruto felt his hair tickle the skin of his cheek before he realized how close Sasuke’s hand was. He jumped back and stood up shakily.

“I… I have to be home by 10.” He muttered before taking off. He ran back to the streets full of nightlife with his eyes shut tight more or less. He bumped into a few people along the way, his mind too cloudy to think about using rooftops as a way home. Somewhere, someone called out his name. He didn’t know or care who. Only thing he knew and cared about at the moment was that he wanted to lock himself in his room and… no… but… maybe… yeah… He just wants to cry.

/////

The clock just struck 9PM. When Naruto arrived back at their apartment he barged through the front door loudly. He didn’t exactly want to attract attention but he also couldn’t help but feel angry. First thing he saw was Kakashi filling out some paperwork and Iruka preparing their lunch for the mission tomorrow. He shook off his sandals and threw them wherever in the hall. Iruka was about to lecture him about putting his shoes away when he comes home but never got the chance when the blond speed-walked through the corridor and shut the door of his room behind him.

Both men exchanged worried looks. Kakashi stood up from his paperwork and walked over to Naruto’s door. He knocked first. When a response didn’t come in 30 seconds he put his hand on the door handle.

“Naruto? Can we come in?” He asked softly, looking at the concerned Iruka standing by his side. Naruto said something, but none of them could make out the words from that sound he let out. The silver-haired man opened the door carefully and saw Naruto laying on the bed with his face hidden in the pillow. That’s probably why they couldn’t hear him clearly. Kakashi walked over and sat on the foot of the bed while Iruka stood in the doorway. Light was shining from the hall into the dark unlit room, but didn’t reach too far since the brunette was now in its path.

“What happened, Otōto?” Kakashi asked softly. The blond didn’t respond verbally, instead he had his hands wrapped around Kakashi in an instant. The older one was surprised but returned the favour nevertheless. “What’s wrong? Can you tell me?” Kakashi repeated the question in a different form this time.

“I take it the date didn’t go well?” Iruka tried to lighten up the mood, but only earned an angry glare from Kakashi. Naruto figured it couldn’t get any worse. Telling them won’t be so bad and no one said he had to use names. He didn’t even have to tell them the details. Those were the perks, and it’s not like he had anything to lose anymore.

He pulled away from Kakashi, but only enough for him to speak clearly. On the emotional rollercoaster and in the middle of his first heartbreak, he didn’t care if they took whatever he said the wrong way.

“He broke up with me.” He whispered into the darkness of his room, but well aware of who was listening. Iruka and Kakashi were both shocked at the least. They had honestly had no idea he was seeing someone in the first place. Sure, there were suspicions and teasing along the way every time Naruto said he’s going out but… those were just silly jokes, childish games.

Kakashi was - for the first time ever - completely clueless. In the 29 years he has spent on earth, he has never once been through a break-up. A broken heart? Sure. But not the kind you get when a person who you love leaves you by their own choice. Well, he’s been through similar things, but not quite the same. He looked at Iruka, silently begging him for advice. The other man walked over to the bed and sat down, next to Naruto. Now the blond was sitting there, watching the floor with his big brothers on both of his sides. Iruka placed a hand on Naruto’s back in an attempt to comfort him.

“On a scale of 1 to 10, how bad is it?” He asked out of the blue. Naruto looked up at him for a moment, then back down.

“... 9….” He breathed out in a broken voice. Iruka nodded and continued rubbing Naruto’s back.

“Well then,” The brunette sighed as he stood up and stretched. “I’ll make hot cocoa and get some amazingly unhealthy sweets we can eat while watching a sad movie. Then I have a surprise game up my sleeve. We can all play that, but then you two have to go to sleep. Does that sound okay?”

“Uhm.” Naruto agreed quietly.

“Great, come on.” Iruka said in a motherly tone while holding out a hand for Naruto to grab. The boy reached out hesitantly but eventually took a hold of the hand and let himself be dragged to the living room.

Kakashi has never felt stupider in his life.

Chapter Text

It was 6AM when Naruto came to. He was on the couch, covered by a soft blanket. Blinking tiredly, the blond sat up. His neck hurt a bit from sleeping in such an uncomfortable position but nothing he couldn’t handle. It seemed the sun was already up for the most part but the clouds made the morning seem dull and sorrowful. He wanted to lie back down, but then he remembered they have a mission. Then he wanted to lie back down even more.

The Uzumaki got up anyway and made his way to the bathroom. He needed to wash the whole yesterday thing away and start fresh. Baa-chan also promised to get him a kimono and do his hair so he had to go see her before the departure. They leave at 8AM. Or, they’re supposed to, but with Kakashi’s timing they’ll probably be leaving at 9:30. The blond took a quick shower and washed his hair, making sure it’s as flawless and as not-spiky as possible. It’ll be easier for Tsunade to work with, that way. Afterwards he brushed his teeth and put on some flat outfit - one of those your parents buy you, thinking they finally figured out your style but they didn’t exactly get it right. He’d be changing soon anyway.

It was 6:30 now and Iruka started his morning routine as well. He made breakfast for everyone, ate with Naruto while they saved some of the food for Kakashi to eat later. Then the hygiene routine followed and after that he got his bag and headed towards the academy. Both Umino and Uzumaki left the house together at 7:15.

Naruto arrived at the Hokage tower in about 10 minutes and walked straight to the Hokage quarters where Baa-chan lived. He knocked on the heavy wooden door, not really in the mood to barge in enthusiastically. While the blond waited for somebody to answer, he crossed his arms and looked at the ceiling impatiently. He didn’t feel like smiling, or jumping in joy or… anything, actually. It was like that stupid raven left and took Naruto’s heart with him.

“That Teme…” Naruto muttered under his breath. Only seconds after that a black-haired woman opened the door for him. He looked up and felt something like a reflex tug him to smile. So he did.

“Hi Shizune-nee-chan.” He greeted and saw her smile back at him.

“Hello Naruto. Tsunade-sama is in her room waiting for you.”

“Ah, thanks!” He walked around her inside and headed towards the bedroom. He’s been there before so he knew the place pretty well. As the blonde arrived he opened the door and peeked inside carefully. Two stools were set in the middle of a large space, near-by on the dresser were all kinds of hair accessories, clips, hair bands, some… thing that looked like perfume? Oh yeah, he saw that before. It’s to soften up the hair. No wonder, he seriously needed it. And, of course, a comb.

“There you are Naruto!” A voice said from the right. Uzumaki looked towards the voice and saw Tsunade walking out of her walk-in closet. Seriously, what was that even good for? Can’t people just keep their clothes in a wardrobe? She walked up to him with a kimono. It was created from various fabrics, from which there were at least 3 different shades of blue. The top was long, probably reached up to his knees, the famous Uzumaki clan spiraled symbol decorated the area on its back, just below the lem around the neck. The pants were more ninja-like, grey and baggy, but somehow, still looked fancy. Then she threw a pair of sandals at him. They were black, like the ones he wore, but….wow. Were those even for guys? They’ll probably cover his whole calf up to his knee. Sakura-chan wears these. Hers have bigger heels though.

“I made sure to dress you according to the Uzushio dress-code. Anyway, what are you waiting for? Put it on so we can get started on your hair.” The older woman ordered and Naruto immediately scrammed into the bathroom that was connected to the bedroom.

It had been a long time since he wore a kimono. More importantly, the last one he wore was for kids and… well… easier to figure out. Not like it was hard to put clothes on but Naruto did spend 10 minutes doing so. When he was finished he walked outside and smiled sheepishly at the blond woman waiting there. She clapped her hands together excitedly, her smile almost un-naturally wide.

“You look so handsome!” Tsunade exclaimed as she took a wide belt made out of another blue-shaded piece of cloth with a silver stripe in the middle and tied it around her nephew’s waist. Naruto’s cheeks flushed bright pink at the comment. He wasn’t sure if anybody ever called him handsome.

“Let’s start on the hair!” She said happily and pulled Naruto towards the two stools she prepared. He sat down and she did the same behind him.

Naruto could tell somewhere deep down, Baa-chan really wanted a daughter or a granddaughter or perhaps a niece, even. The way she took her time brushing out his hair, and gently braiding it together said it all. But he felt super comfortable when she did that. The blond couldn’t explain it but having his hair brushed by someone felt like a relaxing massage. He could ask Iruka to do it from time to time too.

After 20 minutes, the hairstyle was finished and Naruto already missed the warmth of hands brushing through his hair. It looked pretty formal. Two strands of hair edged both sides of his face and she tied a bun up adding a few braids into it. The Uzumaki didn’t really understand how or what she did to make it like that but it was pretty.

“Thanks Baa-chan!” He cheered, admiring her work in a hand mirror she got for him. She put her hands on his shoulders like a proud grandmother sending her grandchild off to a prom-night.

“Almost forgot!” She smiled and walked over to the white decorated vanity and took something out of the drawer. Naruto traced her steps as she walked back to him and held the strange thing on her palms as if to display it for him.

“What is that?” He asked, suppressing the desire to poke it childishly even though it was made out of metal. It was a big round silver ring-shaped wire-like thing with one of it’s ends spiraling in front while the other was simply cut off stopping where the spiral began. A…. headband? Crown? He saw it somewhere before. Where though?

“It belonged to my cousin, your grandmother.” Tsunade said and reached up to put it on Naruto’s head. He barely managed to stay still and not pull away when she was doing so. He remembered where he saw it. They had similar jewels back in the Uzushio Palace strong room. This may be enough to soften that mad woman’s heart after all.

“There…” Tsunade whispered under her breath when she fixed the spiral so it would be in the middle of Naruto’s forehead. “You look great.” Another compliment? Geez… The blond was blushing again. Tsunade looked behind Naruto and gasped slightly.

“It’s 8:15! You should get going!” She pushed him and threw his gloves at him. Did I not mention those yet? They were basically a replacement for a backpack. He sealed everything he needed for a mission in the storage seals painted on them and just summoned it when he needed. Not that he wants to show off, but he made them himself! They reached up to his elbows to, well, there wouldn’t be enough space to draw any seals if they didn’t.

“See you soon Baa-chan!” The boy yelled out before running outside saying ‘bye’ to Shizune in the process. Let’s just get this over with.
________________________

He arrived at the gates at 8:30, luckily before Kakashi. Everyone else was there and as he walked down the street he felt them starting to turn towards him one by one. He tried to find pockets on his outfit and damn! Who makes something without pockets! This should be a crime! He sighs and instead puts both of his hands behind his neck, making sure not to touch his hair and accidentally ruin it.

“Hi there! I’m really sorry I’m late, y’know?” Naruto blurted out nervously to break the awkward silence.

“Wow.” Someone among the crowd of shinobi said before Ino pushed her way to the front. She leaned closer to Naruto and looked him up and down with a thoughtful expression. Then she tapped her chin and stood up straight.

“Who would have thought you can look so pretty you baka.” She giggled before grabbing his forearm and leading him to the rest of the group.

Naruto received all kinds of looks while standing there. Confused, amused, shocked and even ones like the one Hinata was giving him. She was so red again. Is she going to faint? And Kiba too. Is he… drooling?! Hell No! Kiba is definitely not his type! Naruto made a disgusted face in the brown-haired boy’s direction. Sakura ran to him and observed him just like Ino did before. Then she smiled and put her hands on his shoulders.

“Who did you dress up for?” She teased. Naruto wished he could say ‘For my Auntie. I absolutely despise her by the way.’ That may have sounded a little weird considering they knew nothing about his situation. Instead he turned to her slightly with another one of those reflex-like smiles tugging the corners of his lips up.

“Baa-chan insisted I wear it. I’m a representative of the Uzumaki clan in Konoha. If they think I’m disrespecting the family name they might replace me.” That was a very believable excuse for Naruto. Bravo! And what’s more, he technically told the truth. Though he never really heard anyone verbally address him ‘The Uzumaki clan representative’ before.

His pink-haired team-mate stared at him for a moment processing all the info he threw at her. “Wait what!?” She yelled, catching the attention of most people gathered there.

“Sakura-chan calm down! It’s okay really!”

“They could take you away!?” Now the whole Konoha 11 with their senseis minus Kakashi were grouped up around the two remaining members of Team 7. Naruto spread his arms out to keep some space around him to breathe in. This took a turn he wanted to avoid at all costs.

“Nobody’s going to take me away, Sakura-chan. Not as long as they believe I’m a good representative. Which I am, aren’t I?” He asked, more or less ignoring everyone around the two of them and only focusing on comforting his friend. She gripped her hair tightly and opened her mouth to say something.

“Don’t take this the wrong way Naruto,” She said softly. “but you can be goofy and immature pretty often.”

The blond laughed internally. He knew he did that. It’s who he is. But then again, he has a trained side. One they haven’t seen yet. Maybe it’s time to show them. He took a deep breath in and out. Here goes nothing.

“Sakura-chan.” He addressed her in a stern voice, similar to one Tsunade used when she was talking about serious missions. Everyone went wide-eyed just by that. “I am perfectly capable in areas such as representing the Uzumaki clan in the village of Konohagakure. You should not worry in the slightest.”

After his fancy-ass speech, the whole group stood frozen in their places. Well, somewhere in the corner of his eye he saw Shikamaru smirk. That smart-ass bastard probably knew all along! Chōji wasn’t eating his chips anymore and damn, that’s a rare site. Hinata was half unconscious in Neji’s arms, Kiba’s jaw dropped to the floor. Shino looked… normal. He doesn’t do emotions. Ino and Tenten were holding onto each other in shock. Suddenly Naruto felt an arm wrap around his neck in an almost choking manner.

“What a YOUTHFUL thing to say my dear friend!” Lee yelled enthusiastically while shaking Naruto back and front in his grip.

“Lee...can’t… breathe!” Naruto choked out and his black-haired friend retrieved his hand with an apologetic face. Naruto smiled at him silently saying it’s okay but still held his throat lightly.

“Maa maa… What’s with all the commotion?” A voice came from outside their circle. Naruto knew instantly who it was. The stupid Hatake was 45 minutes late! Well, it’s less than Naruto expected but still.
“About time Kakashi-sensei! You’re really late y’know?!” The blond said while making his way through the crowd. The scarecrow looked at his outfit with a raised eyebrow.

“Tsunade sure went all out.” He said before walking over to Naruto with his hands in his pockets. “I got your lunch.” He whispered so that only Naruto would hear him. Naruto raised an eyebrow and then realized he only got his storage gloves and weapons when he was leaving. He totally forgot!

“Thanks Nii-san.” He said before joining Sakura again. Kakashi just smiled under his mask. Up until now an image of a crying blond boy in his Iruka’s arms was planted in his mind, but it seemed he was doing much better.

“Let us begin our journey of youth!” Gai yelled from somewhere far ahead. Hatake couldn’t help but chuckle at his ‘internal rival’s’ word choice.
_________________

Hours of jumping through the trees went by and the sun has found its position directly over their heads. Time for lunch break.

The group of 15 shinobi stopped near a creek that was running through the forest, making its presence known by the sound of water colliding with rocks and pebbles on its bottom and sides. The sight was almost too peaceful. Oh well, after running for almost 4 hours it’s only fair to get some rest. Everyone sat in separate little groups of their own choosing while Naruto and Kakashi sat by the creek looking at the water. Kakashi pulled two bento boxes and two pairs of chopsticks from his backpack and handed one to Naruto. The blond sat with his legs criss-crossed next to his older brother and silently admired the way sunlight was reflecting on the water. The leaves above his head were all kinds of warm colors. It reminded him it was almost time for him to turn 16. Damn.

“Thanks y’know.” Naruto muttered as he took his lunch. Kakashi studied Naruto’s movements carefully, trying to figure out this whole thing, Iruka apparently understood a hundred times better than him. He narrowed his visible eye when he watched Naruto open the box and put his hands together in a symbolic gesture.

Naruto decided to ignore his sensei staring at him and rather than that decided to fill his stomach with Iruka’s delicious chef-level cooking. He opened the plastic box with a small smile on his face and probably felt the most excited since… whatever.

“Itadaki-”

Kakashi mixed up their lunches. There was way too much salad and vegetables and tomatoes…

Tomatoes.

Sasuke loves tomatoes…

“I hate tomatoes!” He panicked as he was inches away from throwing the lunchbox into the creek.

“What?” He heard a surprised and confused voice from beside him, realizing it’s just Hatake he sighed.

“Y-you mixed up our l-lunches.” The blond said, hanging his head low and stretching his hands out towards Kakashi, almost forcing the cursed tomato lunch-box in his face.

“Maa… is that all?” The masked ninja laughed as he took the box from Naruto’s hands and replaced it with the unopened one still sitting in his lab. The blond took his lunch and began eating without any other words or gestures. Thanks to stupid tomatoes he wasn’t even keen on enjoying Iruka’s cooking anymore. He just threw mouthful after mouthful of rice and fish into his mouth intensely staring into the clear water in front of him as if something would stare back. Soon enough, Naruto ran out of things to grab with his chopsticks as he pointlessly moved them around the empty dose. He looked down and realized the lack of food in the box. He gulped down the last bite of rice in his mouth, took the lid and closed it, leaving the used chopsticks inside.

“Thanks for the meal, Nii-san.” He said, placing the empty dish on the ground next to him and stood up. “Be right back.”

Kakashi watched Naruto walk away with his head down. Was he that upset over the fact they switched lunches for a few seconds? I mean, they were just tomatoes and, well… he ate them last week when Iruka… What was that meal he cooked? Something exotic outside-the-Fire-country dish for sure. There were plenty of tomatoes there. Maybe it was a girl thing or something. Not that Naruto or Iruka were girls but they seemed to understand it perfectly well and acted like it was normal. Nothing seemed normal about their behavior to Kakashi though.

Naruto walked deeper into the forest, kicking random pebbles into the creek which stream he decided to follow to not get lost. He searched for pockets on his outfit once again, only to find out there were still none. How annoying. He crouched down, took one of the pebbles and threw it into the water full-force. The surface of already streaming water was violated for a few seconds before the pebble landed on the bottom, joining all the other rocks there.

“Stupid Uchihas…” He mumbled. Why does Sasuke weigh his mind so much? Maybe he shouldn’t have run from him last night. He should have let him explain further… But then again… ‘So, this is the farewell. Let’s make the most out of it.’

WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT!?

Naruto didn’t even hear Sasuke say that! Or did he? He was probably distracted by everything but why is it coming back now!? The blond shook his head with his eyes closed. Closing his eyes was really a stupid thing to do.

A pair of obsidian eyes appeared in front of him, pale smooth skin around them was flawed by the red-ish blush covering the cheeks. They were so close. Too close. Why couldn’t he see Sasuke’s hair? His neck, his chin, his lips… Where are they? Why the hell is his face so close- Noooo- No why would he- Screw that! How did Naruto not notice him being so close last evening?

The blond abruptly opened his eyes. His feet got all tangled up and he stumbled back and front for a while, almost falling into the streaming water a few times. Instead, he ended up on his butt, sitting on the soft grass on the spot where he fell. He didn’t move for a few minutes, replaying the moment with the raven in his head just a few more times. ‘Why the hell would that bastard…’ He covered his mouth with the back of his palm. ‘Did we actually kiss? I don’t remember…’ Immediately, he pulled his hand away. It’s not like he still likes him, right? He hates Sasuke now! That Teme… he-he… he’s… whatever! One of Naruto’s hands clenched into a fist as he started pulling out the grass out of the cold dirt.

You can’t love him anymore! He’s getting married! You’ll just get hurt! He reminded himself looking down. He started to tremble. He took an uncontrollable sharp breath in.

‘I loved too easily.’

“Damn it!”

Chapter Text

Lately, Sasuke’s been feeling terrible. Since he turned 16 a few months ago, his father decided to step down as the Head of the main branch family and, boy, was that annoying! He still took care of leading the police department himself, but that did not make the other duties Sasuke now had to hold any easier. Or maybe it did? Who knows. Sasuke has never tried to be a clan head and the head of the police department at once. All he knew was that his father was no weakling. Really, there was no end to it! Currently, the youngest Uchiha son has been filling out paperwork for about 3 hours straight so far. He got barely any sleep last night, his fingers were starting to fall asleep and his wrist hurt for the past 20 minutes.

The raven stood up and stretched his arms over his head. “That probably deserves a little break.” He mumbled to himself and headed outside his office.

Maybe he should take a walk before lunch. Yeah, a walk sounded nice. He put his sandals on clumsily, doing his best to ignore his new attire he was forced to wear. Kimonos. So annoying. Ninja pants were so much more appealing at the moment. It was stupid, how you don’t realize how much you cherish something until you loose it. Like his ninja clothes, or… more important things… and… people.

He sighed, exiting his house. His mother was probably at the market shopping for said lunch and the other male members of his family were at work. He decided to enjoy the days he spent with them in this household, because unfortunately soon enough he’d be living in the house alone with his new…. ugh…. wife. Not looking forward to that.

As soon as he stepped out of his front porch he met with bows and greetings from ‘his people’. He gave them all slight nods as a form of response and continued his way outside the Uchiha compound to the main part of the village. He passed the academy and saw kids training in the back-yard, doing their best to hit the target with their kunai. Brings back memories. He continued walking and got to the front entrance of the academy where the teachers were talking and laughing off their morning lessons before going back to teach afternoon class.

Iruka-sensei was there. The man looked exactly the same as he did 4 years ago when he taught them shinobi-history and tutored their sparring lessons. Sasuke stood there for a moment, considering the idea of talking to his old teacher. As far as he remembered Iruka was very close to Naruto and he may know where his blonde- I mean- Naruto is.

Sasuke wanted to apologise but that’s one thing they won’t teach you growing up with the Uchiha. Sure you’ll be able to throw 8 kunai at once but to think of a proper apology? Nah. The Uchiha pride is too big for that. It was no less for Sasuke as his last name is Uchiha, but somehow - the raven himself couldn’t tell how - Naruto was much more than pride or clan or name. Feelings are gross and complicated in Sasuke’s opinion, but he doesn’t want them to go away now. Not anymore.

He walked over to where the teachers, including Iruka, were sitting and held up his left hand slightly waving. That was about the best greeting he could manage at the moment.

Luckily, the brunette looked up and immediately recognized his former student. Sasuke isn’t someone to forget, after all.

“Sasuke-san! What brings you back to the academy?” He asked enthusiastically, others supporting the mood with their own smiles and greetings. Sasuke stood there awkwardly, trying to make his glare look as polite as possible. No that it really helped since everyone but Iruka felt unsafe enough to leave and retrieve back inside the school building. Maybe it was for the best.

“So, Sasuke-san, did you only come by to say hello to your old sensei?” Iruka asked, smiling at Sasuke softly. This type of affection was rare for the raven, even though he lived with parents and his older brother. Smiles like those were exclusively and limited only to Naruto. Naruto was the only one who’d give them to him and Naruto was the only one who’d receive them back.

“No.” Sasuke said sternly to answer Iruka’s question. “I actually want to ask about one of my former classmates. If you’re still, perhaps, in contact with him?”

Iruka raised his left eyebrow suspiciously but nodded regardless. “Just tell me the name and I should be able to do something.” He said, trying to be helpful.

Sasuke stopped for a moment. He did not think this through. What’s he gonna say when he sees Naruto again? Sorry I told you I’m getting married to a complete stranger and have to leave you behind? Hah, I don’t think so. He looked at his former sensei, his expression as stoic as he could manage.

“Yes.” He responded and stared off into a blank space somewhere behind Iruka. “About that, I would like some advice as well, if that wasn’t too much of a problem.” The raven pointed out.

For some reason, Iruka beamed at that statement. “Well, go on! Tell me their name!” He urged and used his hand to signal Sasuke to sit down next to him. Sasuke hesitantly followed and sat on the step next to Iruka gracefully as he could in his black kimono. He looked up at the smiling man next to him and took a deep breath. This felt more awkward than it should.

“It’s…” He trailed off. “I have to speak to Naruto.”

Iruka’s eyes widened as he leaned closer to Sasuke to study his expressionless face. The Uchiha remained as neutral as possible on the outside but on the inside he was nervous as ever and who-knows-why it suddenly felt really important to not screw up talking to this brown-haired man.

“Were you with Naruto last evening?”

The question came seemingly out of nowhere and Sasuke’s brain needed to process what he had just heard come out of Iruka’s mouth. How the hell did he know about that? Were he and Naruto still that close? He can recall when Iruka treated Naruto like his son, but even after 4 years? Oh well…. wait. Does this mean he’s basically speaking to Naruto’s father right now? Not that it mattered but it still felt awkward and important. Back to answering the question.

“Yes, we were… stargazing last evening.”

“You were stargazing? Is that it?” Iruka asked, curiosity getting the better of him.

Sasuke looked at him, then turned away and nodded slightly.

“Stargazing.”

“Uh-huh.” Iruka conformed, turning away as well, stroking his chin, thinking.

Both men sat there in silence for some time. Finally, Umino turned towards the raven again, oblivious to the fact that he was scaring the living crap out of the young Uchiha. Yes, Sasuke looked calm and composed but if this man in front of him was capable of shutting up an Uzumaki and handling a Hatake he could also scare an Uchiha.

“So, could it be you by any chance who hurt my sweet child.” Iruka asked, uncomfortably calm and straight-forward. Sasuke knew he himself was like that too, but at that moment he considered stopping.

“I only came here to ask if you can tell me where Naruto is or how to get in contact with him. I have no intention nor duty to answer your questions Iruka-san.” The raven crossed his hands triumphantly, but it wasn’t that much of an accomplishment as he would find out soon enough.

Iruka sighed, obviously irritated. “Fine, then meet me here today at 5:30 PM. We’ll talk then.” He said in his do-it-or-face-consequences voice. Sasuke looked at him to confirm he’s serious. When he found that unshakeable expression still on, he gave in.

“See you then, I suppose.” He said as he stood up and started to walk away.

“See you later, Sasuke-san!” Iruka yelled enthusiastically after him before retrieving inside the building to resume the education of his students.

Somewhere in the back, far way corner of his mind, Sasuke wondered if Naruto could be so intimidating, too.
_________________________

5:27 PM
Sasuke arrived at the academy entrance, waiting for Iruka’s work to end for the day. He still desperately wanted information about Naruto’s whereabouts, so therefore he had to be there.

At 5:31 PM exactly, the brunette exited the building. His eyes scanned the surroundings for the one and only Uchiha Sasuke. He was gonna give this boy who broke his baby’s heart a hard time, better warn you, he’ll turn a calm dinner into an interrogation with the raven under the spotlight. Somehow, he will.

Sasuke lifted his gaze and his obsidian eyes met dark brown, which held somewhat of a promise to get every last detail about why he wanted to meet Naruto in the first place. If the young Uchiha wasn’t so full of himself from growing up in the Uchiha compound, he'd gulp nervously.

“Sasuke-san!” Iruka greeted, walking towards where Sasuke was standing with a slight wave of his free hand. In the other one the man held his bag, full of school work that was yet to be graded. “Come along. We can finish our conversation at my house.” The older man suggested - or more like ordered - happily and started walking towards the apartment he’s currently occupying all by himself for a few weeks until his two loves would be back. Sasuke fought the urge to protest by convincing himself it would be as pointless as asking the grass to stop being green and followed Iruka through the busy Konoha streets.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
They stopped by the Mohawk Fish Market on their way to Iruka’s apartment, where the brunette bought some delicate Bluefin tuna to make Sushi for dinner. Sasuke was trying his best to not feel awkward around the other man, especially when everyone knew who he was and seemed to silently question why in the hell is the Uchiha clan head in the fish market.

“So, Sasuke-san, how has your day been so far?” Iruka asked, in an attempt to start small talk. He had a plan. A plan to make the raven spill everything.

Sasuke shrugged, looking around warily, as if afraid one of the dead octopuses or crabs would suddenly attack him. “It’s been… average.” He responded after a while.

Iruka nodded, the same intimidating smile still planted on his lips. They walked in silence for a few minutes until they got to the part of the village where Naruto, Iruka and Kakashi lived. The neighbourhood seemed friendly, many people recognized Iruka and greeted him with small waves of their hand or smiles. Some made an effort to start a conversation but wavered when they saw the expression Umino was wearing. He was smiling, yes, but Sasuke was beginning to think that the smile didn’t only seem so creepy to him. Maybe he should wipe it off of the man’s face. But politely, give him a taste of his own medicine, maybe? Could work for all he knew.

“Iruka-san.” The younger male addressed the man who walked slightly in front of him, leading the way. The man in the question looked over his shoulder at Sasuke and blinked, signaling he’s listening.

“Is Naruto home?” He asked, doing his best to keep himself from smirking.

Iruka was nothing short of outraged. How did this heart-breaker figure out that he and Naruto lived in the same home? He sighed and slowed his walking for a moment to get to the Uchiha’s side.

“No, Naruto is currently…” Iruka stopped himself, remembering when Kakashi told him about their destination. Uzushiogakure. His poor baby Naruto. Somehow he knew the boy didn't like it there very much. “He’s on a mission.” He finished when he realized the other was piercing him through with that well-known Uchiha glare.

“Yeah, right.” Sasuke said, a hint of sarcasm in his bored - and maybe a little wicked-sounding - tone.

Iruka frowned at the remark. With the smile gone there wasn’t even a hint of brightness on his face anymore. “I am being serious. Him and Kakashi left for a mission this morning.” Iruka defends himself immediately and without thinking about it too much.

“Him and Kakashi?” Sasuke asks. Something in him is beginning to flicker oddly. Iruka looks at him for a moment and observes him closely, then nods as a confirmation to his question. There’s a burning feeling in Sasuke’s stomach as he wonders if Kakashi still uses the same ‘cute little nicknames for his cute little Genin’. He looks away from Iruka, frown growing on his own face as he watches the gravel and dirt sidewalk move under his feet. This, of course, doesn’t go unnoticed with Iruka who starts to think to himself about all the reasons Sasuke would break up with Naruto in the first place. It looks to him like the younger male might be questioning his decisions now.

Iruka hummed to himself as he walked up the stairs on the outside of one of the buildings. Their apartment was on the second floor. He pulled out the key and glanced at Sasuke sideways - to make sure he’s still there - while opening the door.

“Come on in.” He sang sweetly, back to his interrogation plan, although maybe he was going a little soft, seeing his former student upset. Raven’s head shot up at the sound of the older man’s voice and he walked inside obediently.

“Nice place.” He complimented, looking around the living room. There was a couch, an armchair and a coffee table, a little cabinet facing him, leaning against the back of the couch. Opposite the armchair was a door to a little balcony. The view wasn’t exactly flattering, but it was better than the red light district.

As the teacher went to the kitchen to prepare food, the young Uchiha peeked in the hallway. There were two doors to his right, one to his left and one directly across from him. A lot bigger than an apartment for a teacher who lives alone he imagined would be.

“You live alone, Iruka-san?” Sasuke asked as he entered the kitchen after the other man. Iruka was crutched, looking for something on one of the cabinets. He pulled out a pot and filled it with water.

“No, I live with my lover and his younger brother.” He answered, keeping his face as serious as possible. He knew it was kinda wrong, but playing with the Uchiha boy was a little fun in a way.

“Kakashi has a younger brother?”

Umino blushed furiously. Was it that obvious?!

Sasuke snickered before saying: “There’s like four masks and a sleeveless shirt scattered around the living room.”

“Ah!” Iruka yelped, realizing Kakashi must have scattered the clothes there before leaving in the morning. It’s always like that. The brunette could bet that the apartment would be covered in clothes without him putting them away personally. He left the pot on the stove and ran past his guest to the living room, scooping up all the clothes and blanket from the previous evening.

The older man headed for the room where their washing machine was located and Sasuke followed him curiously. He found out it was the first door on the right. A small dark room, with only a small window under the ceiling. A washing machine and a dryer on top of it, an ironing board leaned against the wall with an iron on a small stool next to it. Iruka swiftly dodged a shelf full of cleaning products while throwing the laundry in his hands into a linen laundry basket. Sasuke watched curiously as Iruka stepped out but never shut the door, instead he headed for the door at the end of the hallway. He entered the room - never letting Sasuke see inside - and came back with a few more pieces of laundry. Then he turned to the door on the left and didn’t seem to mind when the raven sneaked a peek inside this room.

The walls were littered with posters of random heroes (But still mostly ramen). A window with heavy curtains was to their right and under it was a bed with green covers. Across the door was a desk with a few papers and books, under it was a trash can full of seemingly failed papers - whatever was on those. To the left was a dresser with a few items on top of it and another few sticking out of it randomly and messily.

Sasuke instantly knew this was Naruto’s room. He smirked at the thought of his -no not his- the blond scribbling on the papers and curling them into little balls only to throw them in the bin.

Umino picked out a few pieces that smelled not-so-good anymore and looked at Sasuke smirking in the doorway. An annoyed expression appeared on his face.

“I sure hope this is your first time seeing this room.” He commented bitterly without sparing the younger man another look. He exited with the pile of fabric and headed towards the laundry room again, leaving Sasuke to admire the room itself. It was nothing special, as I mentioned before, but it was his -Naruto’s- room and… well… The Uchiha walked over to the desk and looked over the papers and scrolls spread over its surface. Some literature about Fūinjutsu, some more about unique Fūton techniques.There were unfinished reports or simply the ones where he’d make a grammatic, occasionally visual mistake and had to start over.

He walked over to the nightstand where a few decorative items were located. A picture frame -with a quite familiar but terrible photo Sasuke would recognize anywhere- and a vase with a handful of half-withered poppy flowers.

Sasuke smiled bitterly at the photograph of him and Naruto, made with terrible quality in the backyard of his house a few months ago. It was summer, the raven just turned 16 some weeks ago and Naruto wanted to celebrate his new position as the clan head. The blond sneaked -yes sneaked- into the Uchiha compound to surprise Sasuke after he returned from a long mission. Sasuke scolded him, not because he was angry but because he was so fucking worried that one of the new guards would see him and hurt him that he lashed out.

Naruto however wasn’t bothered by this at all and instead simply trashed around Sasuke’s new house until he found a camera that he’d later set up in the garden and pulled the other man outside to take photos with him. They made at least 5 of them but this particular one on Naruto’s bedside table was the one where Sasuke was crutched down in slight shock while Naruto was behind him, wrapping his hands around the raven’s neck, holding onto the red lining of his kimono tightly.

Naruto’s hair was pulled back but his bangs were still falling into his face and he was wearing a casual oversized white T-shirt. His eyes were half-lidded as he was looking down on Sasuke’s surprised reaction when he took a running start and jumped on him from behind. From the soft twinkle in his eye and the bright and honest smile, Sasuke was pretty sure the other man found it hilarious.

“Let’s have dinner?”

The Uchiha spun around at the sound of the voice, seeing that it was Iruka, he placed the picture frame back down.

“Sure.”

Chapter Text

“Naruto?” A feminine voice called to him. He was still on the ground, tearing the grass out of the dirt with his closed fists.

“Naruto?! We’re about to leave! Where the hell did you go!?”

The blond retrieved from his mindscape upon hearing the slightly angry tone from his pink-haired friend. He could tell she was getting impatient and as much as he wanted to sit there far from Konoha and Uzushio he knew it was no use. He’d have to face both of those problems eventually.

“Comin’ Sakura-chan!” He said walking towards her voice as he still couldn’t see her.

“Naruto! What took you so long!” She yelled with her hands on her hips, leaning forward slightly to show him she was mad. He smiled sheepishly, looking away, remembering what took him so long in the first place. ‘I was crying over a boy that wasn’t really even my boyfriend but somehow broke my heart and now I gotta go see my terrible aunt.’ He’d say if he were to be honest, but what’s a white lie between two friends, right?

“Nothing, Sakura-chan, let’s go.” He said quietly, heading back towards the clearing where the rest of the ninja were located. Her emerald eyes softened, watching his back before she remembered what she came to tell him.

“Naruto! Wait! They went ahead. You don’t have to go back.”

The blond stopped walking, the new information slowly sinking in. He turned around after what seemed like too long with a smile on his face.

“Lead the way then, Sakura-chan.”

The pinkett's brows knit together just like Tsunade’s did sometimes -which pained Naruto in a strange way- as she stepped forward towards her best friend. The Uzumaki felt small all of a sudden when she wrapped him in a tight hug, pulling him as close as possible. He returned the embrace with his shaking arms and burrowed his face into the crook of her neck. She rubbed his back, which reminded Naruto of how Iruka acted last night. The brunette simply knew what was wrong, somehow. Was Sakura like that too? probably yes. She can read him like an open book, after all.

An ugly sob worked its way up his throat, and he felt Sakura stiffen at the sound. It makes sense. She never heard him cry before.

“Naruto…” She whispered quietly.

--------------------

“Sorry for getting your shirt wet.” He sniffed one last time as they walked side-by-side in the direction of Uzushio.

“It’s no problem. It’ll dry.” The girl replied quietly, her voice still quivering with worry. It looked like Naruto got things out of his system -which she was really glad happened- but she didn’t know what made him so anxious in the first place.

‘I want to find out.’

They walked in silence for a while. Sakura looked up at the sky to determine the time. They should hurry if they want to get to Uzusio before nightfall. She turned to her sulking friend and as much as she wanted to help more, they were on a mission. And on a mission it didn’t matter they were friends. They were teammates, period.

“Come on, we gotta hurry up.” She whispered, her throat felt dry. Something was so off about her friend…. no…. he’s just a teammate now. No personal feelings involved. She went from casual walking to speed-walk and then to running. She checked if Naruto was following, which he luckily was. She didn’t want to think about how dull and drained his face looked, nor about the sorrowing sounds of his cries.

‘Focus on the mission.’

--------------------

As they neared Uzushio, she saw a huge gate ahead of them. It looked similar to the one they had back in Konoha, only so much heavier and kind of… intimidating. The red of it’s wood contrasted with the grey of the walls around it perfectly. The gate back home was always open for any travellers - Sakura remembered- yet this one was closed tightly. They saw their group waiting for them feet away from the guards stationed on each side of the tall gate. Gai-sensei seemed to be in a passionate argument with one of the guards which was quite odd.

“- you have insulted my eternal rival with y-”

Nevermind, it makes sense now. Sakura came to a stop next to Ino and Tenten while Naruto continued a little further towards the front of the group. He pushed the heels of his palms onto his closed eyes, taking a few deep breaths before checking his clothing. He stepped forward, his chin held high with some newly gained confidence.

‘It’s kill or be killed in there.’ He reminded himself mentally before he shot an uncomfortably piercing and demanding glare towards the guard arguing with Gai. The man that had black and grey clothing on with the uzumaki spiral on his upper arms and back tensed. His red hair flew around his head as he turned towards Naruto who crossed his arms across his chest disapprovingly. The guard’s lips sealed together as he looked at his partner on the other side of the gate.

“H-Hinoiri-sama!” He stuttered out, straightening his pose frantically.

‘Oh right, that name.’

“Forgive us! We didn’t know they were part of your crew!” He said, bowing apologetically.

Naruto sighed audibly, putting on his best mask. He tried to fake the disappointment in his voice.

“It’s fine. Don’t let it happen again though.”

The guard that spoke to him nodded and signaled the guards on top of the wall to open the gate. The heavy doors peeked open and the group of awe-stuck ninja walked inside with Naruto in the lead.

There weren’t many people around, only a few citizens here and there, carrying groceries and such. When they noticed Naruto they sent him polite greetings, waves, some would even stop to bow to him. He had to remind himself countless times to not look down and to act kind. He was so used to avoiding eye-contact from back home that it felt unnatural to him to actually look ahead of himself instead of on the ground.

The streets were so quiet it made the blond anxious. He didn’t want to be there at all. He wanted to turn around and go home. Or maybe not. He could just go back to that creek where he had a mental break-down…. Well now that he thinks about it that sounds like a pretty terrible idea. He lifted his gaze towards the palace. If they kept going at this pace, they’d arrive there in about 10 minutes. He does not like that. He wants Baa-chan. He wants Iruka. He wants to sit on a couch in a comfortable living-room with Tsunade braiding his hair. A cup of cocoa in his hands and a fluffy blanket wrapped around his shoulders. And Iruka would whisper comforting words to him while rubbing his back gently and offer him some of the home-made cookies he baked just for him to feel better and-

“Naruto?”

The boy in question lowered his gaze only to see his pink-haired best friend looking at him worried. He cracked a somewhat fake smile at her, hoping to calm her worries at least a bit but it only seemed to make it worse as her face scrunched into a frown.

“Yeah?” He asked, trying to ease the tension. He definitely did not want to answer any questions she may have but oh well.

“You seem to be respected around here. Do they really know you that well?”

The blond shrugged, not really sure how to answer. Sure, he was well known in this village -as Lady Hinoiri- but he wasn’t even actually a representative. What should he tell her? They’ll find out about everything that happened, won’t they? Sooner or later they will for sure and when that happens… then what? How would they react? Kami would they be disgusted? Afraid? Would they… pity him, perhaps?

Sakura saw Naruto’s uncomfortable grimace and pulled him to the back of the group so he didn’t have so many people staring at him. She knew that made him uncomfortable back home.

“Naruto?”

“Ah!” Naruto yelped slightly when he bumped into Lee’s back as they came to a stop. They arrived at the palace much sooner than he would have liked and he wasted his precious time to prepare himself mentally by worrying. Great.

Lee moved out of Naruto’s way without words and Naruto slipped away from the soft grip Sakura had on his shoulders.

Surprisingly enough, the palace security didn’t look too heavy. There were no guards in sight and if Naruto didn’t know better already he’d think it was easy to run away from there. Let me tell you it was not. The Fūinjutsu was all around the place and stronger than they taught even here in Uzushio. He barely knew how to deal with it, which meant if someone like Kiba or Tenten, or Ino, or Lee, or Shino or even Neji got trapped here they probably wouldn’t be able to undo the jutsu. Damn it.

He took a shaky breath, knowing this was about to turn into a disaster.

“I can’t wait to see Naruto whip out that fancy speech of his again!” He heard Ino whisper from behind him. That’s not such a bad idea anyway! Let’s do it! He thought to himself before snickering slightly. Bet the old hag will be surprised if I talk back.

They walked through the castle gardens towards the main entrance. Who cares if they're just a group of shinobi? Naruto’s gonna make a show out of this. As he threw the front door open, the butler and a few maids turned towards them.

“Hinoiri-sama!?” One of the women barked out surprised, but covered her mouth quickly. There was a sound of porcelain shattering somewhere and a voice came from the same direction. “What in the world did you do to your hair!?”

Naruto wanted to laugh at the reactions of the panicked maids and… wait, is that?

A woman with long wavy red hair launched towards him through the halls. She put one hand on his shoulder while the other inspected his hair carefully.

“Oh Kami, why is this blond Hinoiri-san! Why?!” She asked, you could hear the utter defeat in her voice as she spoke to him. Naruto gulped nervously, patting the hand on his shoulder with a small smile.

“Hi Akari~” He said sheepishly. Akari was his stylist back when he used to live in Uzushi. It didn’t really make sense to him for a 9 year old boy to have a stylist but sadly he was too innocent to see what they were trying to do back then.

“Don’t ‘Hi Akari’ me! I’m very serious Hinoiri!”
Naruto sighed, putting the hand on his shoulder in between the both of his.

“Listen Akari-san, I gotta go talk to my aunt now, y’know? Let’s talk later, after I’m done. I’ll have you called to my room.”

The woman just nodded, stepping out of the way of the group of Konoha ninja. Naruto shot her one more smile before they entered the long castle halls. He could hear the curious whispers behind him. Luckily, everyone seemed too preoccupied with all the paintings, silver and various artefacts that lined the walls of the long corridor. The walls themselves turned to navy red color as they entered the deeper part of the castle, just a few meters away from the throne room. Naruto always called this all-red quarters ‘The vampire’s layer’. What can I say, he was a creative child.

They stopped at a heavy wooden door decorated with silver ornaments and the Uzumaki swirl in the middle.

Naruto raised his hand to knock, then he remembered his earlier boost of confidence about talking back and being a rebellious teen and all that.

While he was having a dilemma whether to knock or just kick the door open someone beat him to it and opened the toor from the other side.

The boy from the other side of the door looked at him strangely, cocking his head. He was visibly younger and smaller than Naruto, yet they somehow looked similar. He also had red hair, they were long and reached all the way to his shoulders where they were pulled together by a silver bow. Naruto looked down at him, letting his hand fall back down to his side.

Awkward silence stretched out as Naruto studiet the boy’s bright yellow eyes and the matching kimono. Just like everything else in the castle, it was decorated with silver lining and held the Uzumaki family symbol on its upper back.

Naruto summed up his info about the boy. Red hair, main-branch-family kimono, yellow eyes, younger than him, just came out of the throne room…

“Akihiko?”

“Hinoiri-nee-chan?”

Naruto smiled sweetly at the little boy, petting his hair affectionately.

“I’m surprised you remember me, y’know? You were just four when I left.”

“Of course I remember you!” The little boy cried as he launched himself at the blonde and wrapped him in a hug. He seemed to tense up a little a few seconds into the hug. He leaned closer to Naruto’s ear. “Karin just gave mother some… news and she’s not in a good mood.” He whispered.
Naruto pulled away and held the boy at arm's length.

“Don’t worry, I can handle whatever she throws at me, y’know?”

Akihiko nodded before bidding his cousin good luck and speed walking away through the corridor Naruto’s companions subconsciously created.

*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°
Upon entering the throne room, they saw the first piece of gold furniture since they arrived at the castle. It was the throne itself, occupied by a beautiful woman. Her hair was long, like, very long. It touched the ground in her sitting position. She was sitting with her legs crossed, both her forearms gracefully placed on the armleans of the fancy chair. The cushions on the inside of it were red as well.

Her red eyes scanned the group before landing back on Naruto. She smiled. A smile that looked so sweet it would melt you away. It was dangerous. She pursed her red lips as she untangled her legs and stood up gracefully.

“Hinoiri.” Her voice rang in their ears. All of Konoha 11 finally realized the name people used for Naruto here fully. That word - that voice would play in their heads forever.

She walked down the steps -since the throne was on a platform- and straight towards Naruto, ignoring the sad-looking figure at the bottom of the stairs. The person was on their knees, painfully bent over to the point where their forehead was touching the ground. Naruto shivered at the sight. He knew that person.

What the hell did you do Karin!?

He was so focused on his weeping cousin that he never noticed Kakashi and Asuma instructing everyone else to bow. Obviously they knew they were in the presence of the queen herself and therefore they should act accordingly.

“Hinoiri. What a pleasure to finally have you here with us.” The tall, terrifyingly sweet woman said as she leaned down to kiss both of Naruto’s cheeks. It was a usual greeting there.

“H-Hello Oba-san.” He stuttered out afterwards. Where the hell did that determination of confronting her and talking back from a minute ago went? Where? Where is it? While the blonde was busy searching the deepest parts of his brain for his sassiness and rebellion against his family, the woman ran her fingers through his hair, towards the little bun on top of his head. She pulled out the various pins and hair-ties and let his hair fall down flat into his face.

“What did you do to your hair, hun?” She voiced. She ran her long slender fingers decorated with rings and jewellery through the blond locks again, propping them up behind Naruto’s ears. She brushed her fingers against the silver spiral on his forehead, focusing on it for a few short seconds before returning her full attention to Naruto.

The blond really didn’t want to argue about how this is the hair he got from his father and the one he was born with, so he kept quiet. Luckily, it looked like that’s what was expected from him.

“Doesn’t matter. I’ll fix it for you, my little kitsune.”

The queen snaked her head down from his ears towards his nape. Her index finger twirled in the shape of a spiral before pressing two of her fingers in the middle of her new drawing, creating a seal. It glowed a low golden color before Naruto’s hair suddenly started changing color from the roots as they grew all the way to his waist-line. The beautiful vail of red resembled the hair of the queen herself, although it was still shorter.

Naruto felt hot tears in the corners of his eyes as he checked his own body for changes. He found that his waist was just a little slimmer, his hips were just a little wider, and his chest just a little bigger. He really hoped the place in between his legs stayed the same at least. Joining his cousin on the floor crying sounded quite appealing to him all of a sudden. Because this wasn’t him. This was Hinoiri. Hinoiri Akane Ainu Uzumaki. Why did this person exist in his place in the eyes of the queen he’ll never understand and for some reason he wasn’t eager to.

Queen Takara Chizue Mito Uzumaki was simply… crazy.

Chapter Text

Sasuke sat down at the table across from Iruka, cracking a little mental smile at the food that was laid out on the table.

“So, Sasuke, you wanted to know about Naruto. What exactly was it that you wanted to know?” The brunette asked, snapping his chopsticks apart. Sasuke took his own pair of fresh chopsticks and snapped them apart, looking down on his plate thoughtfully.

“I just wanted to know if you had any information about his whereabouts. I can see now that you definitely do.”

Iruka hummed in agreement as he watched Sasuke clasp his hands together with his chopsticks in between them and mutter a quiet ‘Itadakimasu’. He soon followed, both of them starting to eat their portion of food quietly.

Sasuke swallowed a mouthful of rice before taking a deep breath, looking down in distress. As an Uchiha, he shouldn’t ask about things like those. He shouldn't want things like those. But he found himself desperate. For once in his life, his Uchiha pride and ego didn’t matter. He cleared his throat before speaking, at the very least making sure he wouldn’t stutter.

“I want to apologize to Naruto…” He paused to phrase his words correctly in his head before-hand. “There is something I want to clear out before it’s too late.”

Iruka suddenly perked up with an unexpected interest and curiosity of a child. You could tell from his face he wanted details. ‘Spill, Sasuke, spill.’ His eyes urged.

The raven sighed, giving in after swallowing a piece of his fish.

“I told him some disturbing news yesterday when we met. I should have phrased it differently, or done it another time when I was more emotionally capable but… I just blurted it out without thinking. I guess I was still frustrated about my parents doing it and-”

“Did you take your anger out on Naruto?” Iruka interrupted when his mouth was finally empty.

“What? No!” Sasuke shook his head jerkily. “I told him I was getting married but he started to ask questions I didn’t want to answer. I didn’t want to think about getting married, I wanted to spend as much time with him as possible!”

The older man seemed like he might spit out his food in shock for a few seconds until he composed himself again.

“You’re… getting married?”

“Hn.”

“Don’t avoid my question!”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Well you’re going to! You hurt Naruto a lot, I didn’t think you’d go behind his back this far.”

“Huh?” Sasuke's stone facade finally slipped, revealing a confused boy. Iruka stopped his movements, his chopsticks halfway from his mouth. They both just looked at each other, trying to figure out what the hell did the other person mean by what they said.

“I didn’t go behind his back!” Sasuke finally slipped, spitting out the accusation with venom.

“Then how the hell are you getting married!?”

Sasuke seemed to shrink in his seat. He said he didn’t want to talk about it, yet here they were. Awesome. Who cares anymore?!

“My parents! It’s a clan tradition they have to pick our approve of whoever I choose. I just didn’t think they’d push me into it this early!” It looked weird for Umino to see the Uchiha boy so disturbed and emotional. Like for the Uchihas' faces, emotions were unnatural.

“Your parents pushed you into finding a bride? Why not tell them about Naruto then?”

Sasuke’s face flushed bright pink, the blush standing out sharply against his pale cheeks. He knew there was no point in hiding anything.

“Me and Naruto… we were never really… like that.”

“Oh?” Iruka sounded almost irritated. That’s not what it looked like last evening when Naruto came home crying.

“It’s true!” Sasuke protested against the older man’s tone immediately. “Besides… it would never work out…”

Iruka sighed audibly, putting his chopsticks down and crossing his arms.

“Not with that attitude it wouldn’t.” He commented bitterly, leaning back in his chair despite his food not being finished even halfway. Sasuke glared at him for a few seconds, trying to figure out what caused this sudden frustration.

“I didn’t mean like that. I’d enjoy being with Naruto if he enjoyed being with me. Is just that Naruto’s a boy, he could never be a ‘bride’ my parents would approve of.” Sasuke mumbled under his breath, almost as if talking to himself but Iruka heard it. He hummed, looking into space for a few moments as he let new thoughts pass through his head.

“So do you love him?”

“Huh?!” Sasuke looked outraged at the question.

“I said, are you in love with Naruto?” Iruka repeated even though he knew the raven heard the first time just fine.

Sasuke didn’t say anything, not trusting his own voice enough at the moment.

Back at the Uchiha compound you’re not allowed to use ‘the L word’ so carelessly. It’s something to treasure and only give to the people that are truly close to you. Their clan depends on that feeling so much they wouldn’t have their strongest weapon without it - the sharingan. Sadly, sharingan only evolves when you lose one of the people you feel strongly towards. Sasuke’s allowed to say he loves his mother,his father and his brother, however, being in a relationship would mean unstable love - romantic love. He’s not allowed to risk getting hurt by something so silly. That’s why parents usually choose a fiance for their child, so that they wouldn’t get hurt in a temporary relationship and rather get used to a permanent one right away.

But… he already broke all those rules, didn’t he?

He fell in love - romantic love - and caused the other person to suffer. He regrets it, he knows he’s guilty and it hurts. It hurts that he was being such an idiot. He lets out a humorless laugh at the thought. Iruka probably thinks he’s going insane. He covers his face, hiding his imperfect crumbled facade with his hands.

“I… I’m in love with Naruto.” He admitted quietly. He was right about his voice, it was shaky. Iruka smiled like a maniac, as if finally achieving whatever it was he wanted to do there.

“Good.” He sighed, satisfied with the answer he got out of the raven. “He’s in love with you too.”

“Really!?” Suddenly Sasuke was up on his legs, leaning across the table to confirm the information with a twinkle in his eye.

“Really.” Iruka confirmed, feeling nostalgic. This energy was reminding him of the Sasuke that first entered the academy when he was 6 years old. Just a little kid, a kid that desperately wanted to be like his older brother for his father to acknowledge him. Sasuke wasn’t like that anymore. After he was granted the position of Clan Head the sparkle in his eye died out. He no longer had to compete against his elder brother, nor did he need to wait for his father to pat his head. He was above them now.

Sasuke sat back down, composing himself. He avoided Iruka’s knowing glances for the rest of the meal, feeling embarrassed enough already. Finding out his old sensei had a side full of mischief - mainly for teasing people - was not what he needed at the moment.

After the dinner, Iruka stood up, collecting all the dishes from the table. Sasuke couldn’t help but feel a little useless watching him clean so he offered to help.

The brunette was putting away the washed and dried plates when he heard the clicking of the dishes Sasuke was washing stop. He turned over, only to see Sasuke’s expression full of emotions once again - it looked painful. For a second Iruka thought he cut himself with something.

“Gomenasai…” He took a shaky breath turning to face Iruka. “Gomenasai, Iruka-sensei!”

“Will you help me get Naruto back?”

Taken aback, the older man stood there, staring at the raven. The boy shifted anxiously, the silence made him feel like he’s going to receive a negative answer.

“Sure.” Iruka agreed in the end, closing his eyes in satisfaction. You have a lot of making up to do, but I have a feeling you’ll be just fine.

------------------------------------------------

Returning home that evening, Sasuke was like a happy-go-lucky child. Well, on the inside he sure as hell was. Going through the Uchiha compound, he received another wave of bows and greetings from the adults and teenagers still hanging around outside.

He greeted them back.

He was in such a good mood he actually said ‘Konnichiwa’ ‘Konbanwa’ and so back to them.

His mood, however, dropped instantly after he reached his house. More accurately, his living room, where his parents were sitting, waiting for him to get home. Since they were waiting for him together, they obviously wanted to talk. They never really spend time together unless it was for their children. Another stupid arranged marriage - Sasuke thought.

“Welcome home, son.” His mother greeted him with a smile. They were sitting on the tatami mat that was laid out over the wooden floors of the room. Sasuke acknowledged her greeting with a small ‘Konbanwa’, looking quite lost.

“Sit down.” His father ordered. He was always like that. It was hard for him to separate work-life from home-life. So he orders people around all the time. Sasuke got used to it over time. Might have even acted similarly towards his teammates at some point. He felt kind of stupid for that.

He walked over to them and sat down across from the couple. This was quite convenient - he could tell them to cancel the wedding. Or at least move it so he can prove he has someone he loves already.

“Sasuke,” His father addressed him in a stern voice. His mother just kept smiling supportively at the both of them. “We will go visit the household of your bride for the purpose of courting in two to three weeks.” He explained, again, professionally, as of talking to his employee.

Sasuke’s eyes widened at the announcement. “Otōsan, Okāsan, I-” He immediately began to protest but was cut short by his mother’s emotional voice.

“Sasuke, please. We know you’re not happy about this but I’m sure you two will get along just fine. Look at me and your father, we went through the same thing and yet here we are. It all worked out and we’re so happy we had a son like you. You’ll get to feel this way one day too, I’m sure.” She cooed, putting her palm on her son’s cheek affectionately. Sasuke wanted so badly to slap the hand away and yell at them he’s not even into girls! That he wants to get married to the one he loves, not some random girl he’ll meet once or twice before their lives are tied together forever. He’s a 16-year-old with a full-time job for Kami’s sake! He hasn’t even done anything yet! Why should he get married?

He stood up hastily, feeling a little like a child that just got denied their favorite treat.

“Sorry, gotta finish paperwork.” He mumbled under his breath, frustrated as ever, as he stormed off to his office.
_________________________________

The evening day after, Iruka sat in his living room, correcting some papers that were already turned in about 2 weeks ago but he simply had no time to look through them just yet. The balcony door was open, letting the fresh and quite cold air into the room. Of course it was getting cold - it was the beginning of October after all. Suddenly a bark was heard from the small terrace. As the brunette looked over, he saw his lover’s ninja dog clumsily climbing over the railing. He hurried over to help the poor creature, lifting him up into his arms.

“Hey Pakkun, what’s up?” He asked cheerfully upon putting the pub down and sitting back down onto the couch.

“Iruka-san, I have a letter for you from Kakashi-sama.” The dog announced, showing off the tiny scroll on his collar.

“Oh? He misses me already?” Iruka laughed slightly as he unattached the little message.

Pakkun seemed too tired to answer.

Iruka opened and read, absorbing every information. At first, it sounded cheerful - like usual Kakashi kind of cheerful - then however, it took a dark turn.

‘Hi Iruka-chan! How are you doing back home? I hope all is well! Come to Uzushiogakure immediately, be discreet and bring some women's clothing with you. We need reinforcements. Only tell Tsunade you’re leaving.

PS: make sure it’s just you alone

<3 Kakashi’

Iruka gulped. He knew there was something fishy about that place! At least he was right. Not that it was a good thing this time. He hurried to tell Tsunade-sama as she was apparently trustworthy according to the letter.

She was furious, of course, but as the Hokage she couldn't resolve the situation herself as she agreed to send Naruto’s team there. She landed Iruka some of Shizune’s clothes as Kakashi asked - although they had no idea what they were for. Iruka almost didn’t take them with him, thinking it was just one of Kakashi’s pervy fantasies.
He decided to leave as soon as the sun rose the next morning. While with the Hokage, he excused himself from his job as a teacher and the morning before he left, he left a note at his door for Sasuke. After the supper they had together, they talked about meeting again since Sasuke wanted advice. It would be unfair to leave him in the dark about his absence. The note didn’t give any specific information anyway - only that he was sent out on a mission as reinforcements.

As he passed the guards outside the Konoha gate that morning, he headed in the direction of Uzushiogakure.

Chapter Text

Back in Uzushio, the whole group of Konoha kunoichi was hanging around in a huge bedroom - and a salone, and living room, and a walk-in closet, and… is that a playroom? - anyway, they were all huddled up around the bed. On the baby-blue velvet covers was sleeping a certain red-head with whiskers. The women had no idea if the person in front of them was a girl or a boy at the moment but they were eager to find out. All the men were chased out of the bedroom by the personal maid, Junko was her name, and they were... wherever.

Sakura let out a puff of breath, growing slightly impatient. She didn’t like anything going on in this castle. Especially after she had to carry that other girl - Karin - to the infirmary. That little boy Akihiko showed her and Ino the way there while they were treating her. Sakura almost vomited after she had done the physical exam with her healing jutsu.

Karin’s condition was poor, not life threatening, but very, very poor. She was kicked severely in the stomach many times. It wasn’t random, it was with accuracy and rage. Also with something pointy but not quite sharp - maybe a heel of a shoe. And here comes the worse part.

She was pregnant. Sadly, after that beating not even she could do anything to help. It made her sick, but she has done surgeries before. She’s seen limbs cut off. Ino, however, didn’t. She ran towards the trash-can as soon as she had the chance.

The pink-haired kunoichi grimaced at the memory of what happened only an hour ago. Ino still looked a bit pale from what the pinkie could see from the foot of the bed while the blondie was occupying the divan by the window.

Tenten sat with Hinata on the other side of the huge bed - which was like 4 meters away not gonna lie - and Kurenai sat near the window, silently comforting Ino.

Suddenly, Sakura felt a stir in the delicate surface of the baby-blue bed’s mattress. She looked up to see Naruto stirring in his sleep. He looked uncomfortable - not as uncomfortable as he looked when the queen first put him in that new body though.

She walked towards him, putting a hand on his shoulder. He seemed so small in that huge bed.

“Naruto, wake up, hey!” She shook him a little. Everyone in the room turned towards her as they heard the mention of the jinjuriki’s name.

“Naruto-kun?! I-Is he okay?” Hinata asked from across the bed. Sakura couldn’t tell just yet. There were no physical injuries she could detect other than chakra exhaustion. If it was psychological, she could do nothing for him.

“Sakura-chan?” A raspy voice asked. It wasn’t Naruto’s. Well, they could all recognize it but it wasn’t his usual voice. It was that one he would always use when got mad or just overly emotional. She never thought about it much - a lot of people have that. Hearing him say her name like that wasn’t really new either, although it sounded unnatural. She just couldn’t shake the feeling he was mad at her.

“Yes Naruto, that’s me.” She confirmed, helping him sit up.

“What the...'' The red-head felt the sheets underneath him, frowning in confusion. “What happened?” He finally asked.

The pinkie stared for a few seconds, processing not only that he had no memory of his transformation but also his voice staying octave higher than usual.

Kurenai decided to butt in when Sakura didn’t respond for some time.

“You lost consciousness, Naruto-kun. Are you feelin’ alright?” She asked politely. Naruto nodded his head hesitantly.

“Does anything hurt?” Ino finally pushed herself to talk although opening her mouth made her feel like she was gonna vomit again.

“No.” Naruto breathed softly. His voice got even thinner when he looked himself over, finding out he’s still in Hinoiri’s body. Damn it. He looked around the room, only now recognizing his old quarters. It was almost the same as he remembered, except a little less child-like now, if that makes sense. Everything was in shades of blue, except the furniture wood which was very light ash-wood. Of course there were many details made in silver, mainly ornaments from under the ceiling.

“Why are we here?” He demanded, trying to stand up, which was stopped by Sakura.

“Junko-san escorted us here.” Tenten explained. Naruto nodded understanding but still didn’t like the fact. He remembered Junko - she was like a babysitter of his when he was here the first time. Guess she got promoted to his personal maid then.

“Where is everybody else?”

“She also said that the queen doesn’t wish for you to have any male visitors. Well, she said there was an exception in uh, um, Aki- Akohi-”

“Akihiko?”

“Yeah, that.” The weapon specialist nodded sheepishly.

Naruto looked down, running the information through his mind.

“What about Karin?”

...

“Me and Ino took her to the infirmary.”

Naruto really wanted to go over there and hug her. Tell her it’ll be okay soon, but his mind wasn’t really into moving his new body just yet. No, not his body. This body belongs to Hinoiri.

He doesn’t want to be Hinoiri.

Naruto turned his head towards his best friend who still had a hand wrapped around his shoulder to help him sit straight.

He hummed in acknowledgment. Sakura felt transparent, like he could see right through her. He shifted his weight once more, trying to sit up straight by himself but he felt so numb and tired he fell back into his friend’s hold limply.

He pouted for a few seconds before he noticed he didn't have his gloves on. Where did they go? Sakura seemed to notice his dilema and reached over to the bedside table to get them for him, whispering a quiet ‘Here’.

“Arigato, Sakura-chan.” He said taking them into his own hands only to lay them down onto the sheets in front of him. He needed to check if Junko - or anyone else - took his things. He placed the palms of his hands just centimetres away from the black fabric, summoning the items inside. The bed was instantly filled with many different things - mostly spare clothes, shuriken, kunai etc. There was also a sleeping bag, a spare blanket, a first aid kit and a tiny bag that was, unsurprisingly, orange.

Naruto let out a relieved breath. Everything seemed fine. Although, check twice, cut once, as they say. He leaned forward to grab the orange bag, then leaned back into his bestie putting it on his lab. He unzipped it and roamed through it for a bit. Everything was in place. Good.

Sakura on the other hand, didn’t really find the contents of the bag ‘good’. Why would Naruto of all people have a bag like this. She reached into it before Naruto had the chance to close it. There was a bottle of pills - among other things - that she decided to pull out. She had no idea Naruto had some prescription pills. She turned the small dose upside down to read what they were for and which doctor gave them to him, ignoring his panicked expression.

‘Dr. Tsunade Senju’ Read the first part that also had Naruto’s name on it listed as patient’s, then there was a date - this bottle was seemingly only 3 months old, but the medicine has been continuously prescribed for the past 2.5 years!? And the type of medicine…

… birth-control.

She finally looked up from the small text, which Naruto took as an opportunity to snatch the bottle away from her.

“Why do you have that?” She asked, way too confused and shocked to think.

Naruto let out a series of sounds - it was hard to tell whether he was trying to talk or not. He put the bottle bag into the bag and zipped it back up again. Sakura looked around the room, only now realizing everybody had their eyes on them. She frowned, well aware that kind of attention made Naruto uncomfortable.

“Could you give us a moment alone, guys?” She asked. Everybody nodded before getting up and exiting the room together.

After the door clicked closed, Sakura sighed. She propped up a pillow for Naruto to lean on so she could sit across from him, see his face and such. He was still playing with the tiny orange bag, poking it with his fingers nervously. Sakura was about to have a real heart-to-heart talk with him.

“Come on Naruto. They’re all gone now, you can tell me who the pills are for.” She said in a sing-sang voice, but it was too shaky to sound cheery and uplifting.

“I take them. They’re for me.” He said, pointing his index finger on his chest.

“Naruto, even if you have a boyfriend I don’t know about - which is deeply upsetting - you’re a boy. You don’t need birth-control. I don’t know how you got Tsunade-sama to prescribe them to you but you could have permanent damage if you continue taking them.”

Voicing it out loud like that made Sakura wonder if maybe Naruto was just being annoying so she gave him some lemon sweets and pretended they’re medicine.

“Listen Sakura-chan, I don’t have a boyfriend, I just hate periods. I couldn't stand them and when Baa-chan found out she decided to help me. It’s nothing to be worried about, y’know?”

Before the pinkie could even process what he just said she started talking.

“You’re right, periods are a pain. Literally, sometimes but still- wait.” She looked Naruto in the face - the only part of his body that hasn’t changed that much - and gaped. Periods.

“You have periods!?”

“Shh! Sakura-chan quiet down!” He warned putting a hand over her mouth. She removed it slowly after a few seconds, her eyes still wide.

“Well answer my question!” She whisper-yelled almost excitedly.

“Yeah, yeah.” He laughed dryly. “I haven’t really had them since I took the birth-control but I do need it so, I guess I do have periods.”

Sakura sat in silence, as if a completely different person sat in front of her all of a sudden.

“Why didn’t you tell me!” She threw her hands in the air suddenly. “I could have helped make you feel more comfortable! Also, do you carry that bag with you all the time? Because sometimes it catches me unexpectedly and I don’t have a tampon or a pad with me so, you could lend me some, I mean-” She laughed sheepishly throwing her whole body onto the bed backwards.
Naruto couldn’t suppress a smile that soon turned into a laugh as he shifted his weight so that he was laying next to Sakura on the bed.

For a bit, they just laid there and laughed, lifting up the mood. After the giggles died out, Sakura turned onto her side so that she was facing Naruto again.

“So… does that mean you can have kids?” She asked carefully. Naruto turned his head towards her, a slight blush staining his cheeks at the topic.

“I guess, yeah. But that’s always a possibility when you’re a jinjuriki, y’know.”

“Really? So that’s the reason you have periods and everything?”

Naruto kept silent. It wasn’t. Every Jinjuriki can get pregnant, yes, but male pregnancies are complicated and uncomfortable anyway so it doesn’t usually happen. But…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Naruto was around 9 years old when Queen Takara took him to the infirmary for the first time. He wasn’t really hurt - he never was - and yet there he was sitting on the bed. He felt nervous. Was something wrong with him?

The tall red-haired woman gave him a sticky honey-sweet smile before placing a kiss on his forehead.

“Don’t worry, the doctor just needs to do a check-up and some basic things so you have your health records here in Uzushiogakure no sato, too.” She explained before leaving the room. The doctor came in - Naruto honestly couldn’t tell if they were a man or a woman just by their looks. They looked old. Like OLD. Do you even know what it means to be old for an Uzumaki? Definitely something.

They instructed him to lay down and stay still. Seemed easy enough. But somehow it was also scary as hell. The check-up took more than it should have, but Naruto was 9, he had no idea how long it should take. The doctor deemed him good to go after they gave him a shot of something. A shot! How could he have been so stupid!? Then he got a bottle of pills with a complicated name he couldn’t read. He was to take them every morning after he woke up and every evening before bed.

He obediently took the medicine until it started to make him sick to which his aunt responded that it meant they were working. Months later - it was probably the beginning of February so he was 10 by then - he found himself bleeding. Now that seemed like a serious issue. You know what his aunt told him?

“You’re finally a woman Hinoiri! I knew you were all along.”

Naruto strongly disagreed with that, but he’d rather have her help than argue with her at the moment.

Only when he turned 11 did he realize what she was doing. Him and his only trustworthy family member - Karin - planned an escape route for him. It took them some time. Especially undoing the Fūinjutsu the queen put on him to make him look more girl-like. In the end though, they made it. They even found the old short-sleeved orange hoodie Naruto was wearing when he came there almost 2 years ago. That was the only thing he took with him when he left.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Back to answering Sakura’s question, no, he didn’t have periods because he was a jinjuriki. He had periods because his psycho aunt made him blindly take hormones. Not to mention it changed the way his body reacted to certain things and affected his puberty. I mean, he’s just 161 centimetres tall. That’s almost the same as Sakura. He could have been taller, he was sure. But apparently girls don’t grow that much, so there he was.

“No.” He finally answered, looking at the ceiling. It seemed so far away. The room was, after all, at least 6 meters tall.

“I’ll tell you another time, okay?” He said softly. His voice seemed to be stuck in his throat and he wasn’t really up to getting it unstuck.

“Sure.” The pink-haired kunoichi responded quietly, matching her friend's level of softness. “So, you wanna just lay here and do nothing? We can if you want.”

Naruto propped himself up on his elbows. He wanted to see Karin.

“Let’s go see Karin.” He suggested.

“Sure.” Sakura said again aj she got up from the bed. Naruto proceeded to seal all his things back into his gloves before attempting to get up himself. Sakura brought him his shoes from who-knows-where and he put them on. Then with her help they both walked out of the huge bedroom.

“Hinoiri-sama!” A voice came as soon as they opened the door.

“Junko-san!” Naruto smiled kindly. “How have you been?”

“Kami, what happened!? What are you wearing!? Where are you going?! Wherever it is you have to change…” The maid rambled on and on while Naruto and Sakura exchanged funny faces about her complaints.

“All right, all right. I’ll change. Would you do me a favor and pick out some casual outfit for me? And I’m goin’ to visit Karin-nee-chan.”

“Right, come with me then.” She said, speed-walking back to the bedroom. When she entered, she made a b-line for one of the other doors in the room. There were 4 in total - the entrance, the salone, the bathroom and the closet. This door was across the bed, on the left, further away from the windows. It was the walk-in closet.

Naruto pulled Sakura along, walking into a huge open space with many robes lining the walls. Once again, everything was blue. The girl was quite surprised at the amount of clothing the room was in possession of. Especially the fact that most of them were at least two sizes of the same thing. Like in a shop.

Naruto seemed confused by this too, so Junko hurried to explain.

“Her Majesty, your aunt didn’t know what you looked like so she had various types and sizes of clothing prepared for you, Hinoiri-sama.”

Naruto nodded, but frowned afterwards. Such a waste of fabric and energy.

Him and Sakura sat down on the divan in the middle of the wide aisle while Junko went around the corner to retrieve a more casual outfit.

“So,” Sakura started, putting her hands on her lab. “Why is everything blue?” She asked, quite curious. The palace she’s seen so far was mostly red-themed.

Naruto leaned back against his arms, studying the new crystal chandelier hanging above them.

“In Uzushiogakure it’s a dress-code kinda thing-y. Since everybody has red hair - and red is apparently a color of Gods - people can’t wear red. The only time you can wear red is at your wedding if you’re the bride. Oh, and if you’re the queen. She wears red ‘cause she’s the “Goddess”, y’know?” Taking a breath, he continued his rambling. “So people have this saying “Eyes are the windows to your soul.” Right? That’s why Uzushio people believe if you wear and surround yourself with whatever color your eyes are, you’ll be true to yourself and others. Everybody here keeps the dress-code, so I have to as well, I guess.”

Sakura nodded, although not really understanding. The whole village dressed according to an old saying that sounded kind of unbelievable, not to mention unmanageable as well. But, Naruto’s whole room and wardrobe was in blue tones here, so she guessed it was real after all.

Junko emerged from around the corner, handing a pile of neatly folded clothing to Naruto. He excused himself as he went to change while Sakura spent a few excruciating moments with the ever-smiling Junko.

When Naruto came back, he was wearing a kimono dress - the pink-haired kunoichi never thought she'd see him in a dress. It was blue with silver ribbons on the edges, plain and stopped half-way from his ankle.

Junko’s face crumbled uncomfortably as she studied him.

“You know, Hinoiri-sama, you’re lucky you’re only going to see your cousin. Next time you go out I’m putting you in a corset.”

“A what!?” Naruto obviously knew what she meant, but he did not like corsets.

“Let’s go see Karin-sama now.” Junko waved the question off easily as she started to walk towards the exit. Naruto and Sakura followed suit.

Chapter Text

They walked through the huge palace for a few minutes before arriving at a part that seemed more-or-less identical to the one Naruto was staying in, except this one was floor-to-ceiling all in maroon and pink colors.

So the girl’s eyes are pink then? Sakura wondered, doing a little spin to take in the view.

They met another maid in front of a big heavy wooden door. Her and Junko exchanged greetings as the other woman awed over ‘Hinoiri-sama’s newfound beauty’ for a while. The maid’s name was Mako apparently. What Sakura noticed first was that under the white apron she was indeed wearing a forest-green skirt and top of similar cut as Junko’s outfit. Her eyes were also dark-green.

Finally after the two were done gossiping, Mako opened the door for them and invited them inside. Naruto seemed to finally light up as he saw the figure in the huge maroon-colored bed touched up with transparent drapes and canopy of the same color. Due to the dark-ish color of the drapes you could only see a shadow of a person sitting up on the bed.

“Karin-nee-chan!” Naruto cried excitedly as he ran towards the bed with as much enthusiasm as his new attire allowed him.

“Not now Akihi-” A monotone voice started but was cut off when Naruto almost tore the drapes off while getting them out of his way.

“Hino-chan?!” Karin cried, surprised but also quite happy. She moved on her bed just a little to lean towards the other red-head and give them a tight hug.

“I missed you so much!” She cried into his shoulder while Naruto just kept smiling softly. “But why are you here!? You gotta leave! You might be older and all but this isn’t gonna get any better y’know.”

Naruto let out a humorless laugh as he pulled away from her shoulder, holding her at arm’s length.

“They say you can’t run away from your problems. It’s true. I tried.” He said, trying to lift up both their spirits. Karin didn’t really laugh but a small smile now decorated her lips as she let out a sigh.

“I’m glad you’re alright.” She smiled.

Sakura watched the interaction with sad eyes. This woman was very kind, considering who her mother was. The way she looked at Naruto, her eyes showed that she wanted nothing more than to protect him. She was the eldest daughter of the current queen, right? She’ll make a wonderful ruler one day.

Why did bad things have to happen to good people? The kunoichi asked herself quietly as she walked closer to the bed where the pair was chatting.

“Uh-um… Uzumaki-san? I mean Karin-sama?” She choked out, playing with the hem of her shirt.

“Yes?” The red head turned her head towards the other girl. “Umm, do I know you?” She sounded uncertain.

“N-no, not really I guess.” Sakura forced out, the feeling when she made the exam was still deep in her stomach, creating an uncomfortable pit.

Naruto seemed to sense the somehow awkward energy of the conversation as he jumped in to introduce them.

“Karin-nee-chan, this is Sakura-chan. My friend from Konoha and my one and only team-mate.”

“Sakura-chan, this is Karin. She’s my cousin and always took care of me while here.”

Sakura nodded her head quietly. She still felt terrible.

“Karin-san,” She took a deep breath. “I’m so so sorry I couldn't do anything for you and-and-” She stuttered as a sob caught in her throat.

Naruto looked confused beyond anything else, while Karin matched his expression for a few seconds before the realization kicked in.

“You’re a medic then.” She commented to which Sakura nodded, trying her best to keep her lips in a thin line and not let the unwanted cries out. Karin smiled sadly, reaching her hands out towards Sakura. Naruto -although still clueless- nudged her to come closer.

“It wasn’t your fault. But I forgive you anyway, so don’t apologize again.” The woman warned, holding both of Sakura’s hands in her own for comfort.

The pinkie just nodded her head again.

“What were you sorry for anyway, Sakura-chan?” Naruto asked, looking at his cousin’s and his best friend’s locked hands. Sakura looked at Karin, obviously expecting she’d elaborate herself. Which she did, luckily.

“You remember Suigetsu, Hino-chan?” Karin asked as she let go of Sakura’s hands and turned towards Naruto instead.

“Of course I do. You wouldn’t shut up about him.” Naruto commented playfully.

“Right,” The red-head smiled, “well, me and him had gotten closer.” She continued the story. Naruto seemed to catch on quickly as his eyes widened with excitement just a little bit.
“You mean like…” He trailed off as he entangled his fingers together and locked them in place. “like that?”

Karin nodded, letting out a little giggle at his childishness. “Yes, like that.” She said, humor underlining her voice. Then she continued in a more composed yet still really soft tone. “You know, since we were like that we-uh, um… Has anyone given you ‘the talk’ yet?” She asked with an awkward smile on her lips.

Naruto blinked in confusion, then frowned looking down, thinking. All of a sudden his cheeks were decorated by a red-ish blush as his eyes widened. He looked back up at his cousin, covering his mouth with the palm of his hand as if to say “No way!”. The other red-head just nodded, already knowing perfectly well what was playing in his mind.

“A-and?” Naruto asked as he pulled his hand away from his face.

“Well…” The Uzumaki princess started, looking down at her stomach. “There -uh- there is -no- there was uh…”

“The baby died.” Sakura cut in without thinking about it too much. There was probably no real way to say she got beat up so severely that she lost the pregnancy anyway.

“Y-yeah.” The other woman confirmed, her voice sounded so sad all of a sudden.

Naruto just sat there, silently regretting he wanted to know in the first place. He didn’t move. This wasn’t really a situation he thought he’d ever end up in. His cousin - who he hasn’t seen in 5 years - just had a miscarriage. And he knew exactly why. Naruto wasn’t that dumb. He could put 2 and 2 together.

“Don’t lash out, Naruto.” Sakura warned, seeing a frown slowly making its way onto his face.

“Wasn’t gonna.” He replied quickly, never moving his gaze. “Just thinking, y’know?”

Sakura’s face showed concern as she looked towards Karin for help.

“Don’t worry too much, Sakura-chan. You’ll be out of here soon enough. No harm will come to you or our comrades, I promise.”

The kunoichi’s eyes widened at the statement. Naruto was known for never going back on his word. However, she wouldn’t let him keep this one.

“There’s no way we’re leaving without you and you know it!” She argued, throwing her hands into the air above her head dramatically.

The person sitting on the bed gracefully smiled. And kept smiling.

“What?” The pinkie asked, getting annoyed by the silence.

“You know as well as I do that Queen Takara won’t let any of the ninja stay here. And even if she allows you kunoichi to do so, I can handle myself. I’m not the naive child that came here 7 years ago.”

You could hear the wind outside picking up, carrying many stray colorful leaves with it.

“I also need to make sure that Karin finally gets to the throne. I won’t leave here without it.”

“Hino-chan…” Karin sighed. “You should really leave. Now that you’re older, mother might put some of our clan’s traditions to use.” She warned, only to be ignored by her younger cousin.

“Karin-nee-chan. I give you my word that I won’t leave before you’re the one on the throne.” Naruto said, drawing a cross over his heart with his finger.

After the serious moment passed, he leaned closer to her so that nobody could hear what he was saying. “You have to get better first, but when you do, maybe we could perhaps… sneak out and go see Suigetsu?” He giggled as he pulled away and stood next to Sakura. Karin gave him a soft playful smile.

“We should have a girls’ night soon! There’s so many things I have to discuss with you.”

The redhead nodded, smiling before he turned to Sakura again. “That would be amazing! Could Sakura-chan and my other comrades come as well?” Now he sounded as excited as a little girl planning her first sleepover.

“Of course! I’d love to get to know them!” Karin smiled, gently (but somehow nervously) fisting on her blanket. “But, um, may I ask you something?”

Naruto didn’t answer verbally, only nodded with a confused yet curious look on his face.

“Are there… any Senju clan members your age in Konohagakure right now?” The question was gentle, quiet, almost as if she was scared of the answer. It made Sakura wonder where the princess was going with this.

“I…” Naruto thought for a second before answering. “I don’t think so. Probably the only Senju I know right now is Tsunade-baa-chan, y’know?” He looked at the pinkie for correction, but as far as she was concerned, a girl from an almost non-existent clan, she also only knew the Hokage as a Senju.

“I see.” The older red-head answered, looking down and studying her hands. “That’s good then.” Her smile was shaky, fake, failing its purpose to reassure.

“Why did you wanna know?” Of course Naruto would ask. He was as curious as ever, it seemed.

“Well, you’ll be coming of age soon. Gotta get ready for your ‘Sweet 16.” Karin mocked, holding up her index finger towards him to gently boop his nose.
Naruto’s eyes went wide before his face turned into a disgusted grimace. He swapped his cousin’s hand away. “There’s no way I’m getting married.” He growled, much like the fox inside him would.

“I know.” She agreed quickly, staring up at him with dead-serious eyes. “That’s why you should leave before she can make you.”

“I already told you, I’m staying.” The whiskered boy responded stubbornly, crossing his arms.

Karin parted her lips. It was unclear whether it was only to let out a sigh or if she was actually about to speak but a knock on the door beat her to it. She paused for a moment, as if considering something, but then turned to the door slightly, calling out a small: “Come in!”

Everyone turned to Junko who bowed politely in the doorway before giving a stern look to Naruto.

“Hinoiri-sama, her majesty, the queen, would like to speak to you.”

Nobody moved for some time before Naruto turned to Karin for instructions. The princess seemed at loss of words, she only nodded her head towards the maid carefully. “Be careful.” She muttered as Naruto moved his feet towards the door. Sakura followed him, leaving the older Uzumaki alone with her worries.

 

~~~

 

The morning was chilly, the young princess was fiddling with her frozen fingers as she walked through the palace garden. She ran off to meet her dear friend - a simple boy from a tribe that lived far away on the shore of the sea. Neither of them got many opportunities to explore the outside world.

Her hair was red, standing out against the dull colors of the winter nature. Everybody else she knew had the same hair color as her. Except for the boy from the shore, of course. His hair blends in with the cold tones of snow and ice.

“Konichiwa, m’lady!” His spiky-teeth smile popped out of nowhere in front of her. The girl stopped dead in her tracks, looking a little up on the boy’s face. He hung upside-down from a branch of one of the sakura trees in the garden. It made his bangs fall off of his forehead and his coat - nothing more than a piece of cloth - was obviously under the gravity's effect as well as his stomach and lower back were hanging bare in the cold winter air.

“Hōzuki-san!” The red-head panicked, pulling on his arm to get him down from the tree. He let out a playful giggle before he jumped down and stood proudly. The boy walked over to the trunk of the said tree, where a piece of white wood lay leaned against it. It was decorated with sea-grass, some shells and some shiny rocks that could be found on the beach.

“Look!” He gestured towards the wooden stick with a wide grin. “Onii-chan gave this to me. It’s a practice sword! One day, I’ll have a sword like him, too, and I’ll be a great warrior!” He called proudly, lifting the ‘sword’ high above his head.

The princess got closer, tilting her head a little to get a better look. The so-called sword was merely a piece of wood the sea washed out at some point, damaged, unkept, with no shape (certainly not the shape of a sword, at least). She put her hand over her mouth, muffling her silent laughter. It looked like the boy's elder brother needed desperately to get rid of him so he whipped out a ‘practice sword’.

“What?” Hōzuki asked, a confused grimace plastered on his pale face.

“I don’t think your elder brother gave you a sword.” She grimaced, nodding her head towards the stick he was still displaying proudly.

The boy lowered his arm, flipping the stick over in hands slowly. “Aw man!” He cried, throwing his head back as he regretted his own stupidity. “At least it’s pretty I guess.” He muttered under his nose

“It sure is.” The red-head confirmed, playing with the rim of her coat.

Her companion looked at her as he outstretched his arms towards her, offering the stick. “You want it?” He asked.

The princess was surprised by the sudden offer but nonetheless she reached for it, gently taking it from his grasp. Her delicate fingers in thin gloves brushed against his bare cold ones and she immediately took them into hers. The stick dropped to the ground, making a creaky sound as it landed on the thin layer of snow.

Hōzuki’s fingers were freezing and hers would soon be as well, but if they held hands, none of them would be cold, right?

“U-Uzumaki-chan!” The boy complained. His face took on a strange pinkish color on top of the one that covered his nose and ears from the cold.

“You’re feeling warmer already!” Uzumaki voiced her thoughts excitedly.

“Karin-sama!” Someone called. Mako!

The girl panicked as she let go of the boy’s hands, failing to notice his slightly disappointed face.

“Go!” She urged before she turned around and picked up her skirts to run back to her babysitter.

“See ya later!” Suigetsu called before he was out of her ear and sight reach.

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It’s been 3 weeks, she reminded herself as her red eyes scanned the calendar. Her mother, now nothing more than a mourning wreck, hasn't talked to her this whole time. She apparently hasn’t talked to her father either.

This is a common thing to happen. Karin knew. She read it in her history (and story) books many times. Someone gets sick, and then they die. It’s not a rare occasion. Many people must’ve left the world that way and many families must’ve missed them.

But, nobody was expecting this. Not you, not your mother, not your father.

There was a tiny faint voice in her head. It kept talking - it felt like it was purposely trying to make her cry. She would, sometimes.

She stared at the kimono laying on the foot of her bed. Black. It was black with tons and tons of laces and ribbons. Black, but still made for a princess. Her eyes darted back to her night gown - which was maroon, just like the rest of her closet. Nobody came to check on her since she woke up. Nobody came to make sure she changed and called her for breakfast. Not that it mattered.

Karin was 9 at the time. She understood the concept of death. It’s an endless sleep. One book would say, When a person dies, they’re in a better place. another would read. Those, however, never seemed scary to her. To sleep forever? To be somewhere better than a palace? She could not find a reason for everybody's grief.
She couldn’t understand why nobody came to get her in the morning, she couldn’t understand why she’s supposed to wear black, she couldn’t understand why one death caused such a disruption in life.

°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*

“When can I see mother?”

“Later.”

“When can I talk to father?”

“Later.”

“When can I go out to the garden?”

“Later.”

When is later, then?!

“Karin-sama, the queen and the king request your presence at the dinner today.”

Oh, apparently, later was today, at 6 PM.

Her mother’s smile was different from 7 months ago. It was fake, Karin realized upon sitting down at the table between her parents. The table was long, 6 meters long. While the girl sat exactly 3 meters away from each of her parents, her eyes flickered from her red-haired, red-eyed mother to her red-haired, purple-eyed father. She ignored her plate of food completely.

“Sweetie~”

The queen’s robotic voice rang in her ears. The under-tone was so unnatural, it made Karin flinch.

“Yes?” She turned to her mother, hoping to find the same woman that raised her for the past 10 years. It was not her. Not in the slightest.

“Wanna know something?”

The youngest in the room nodded. Something in the back of her mind was telling her to runrunrunrunrunrunrunrun.

“You’re going to have a little sister!” Her mother sang excitedly, grinning at her husband. He seemed nervous as he only let out an agreeing hum in return.

°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*°*

Karin was tired. Why, you may ask? Well, she didn’t get a little sister. She got a little brother. And her mother wanted a daughter. A princess, she could spoil till the end of her days or have her marry an important gentleman from an important clan for better connections in politics. She didn’t want a son.

Karin(as probably the only person in her family) didn’t mind her brother in the slightest. She liked being a big sister once more. She liked that she was much older and more experienced than when Hinoiri was born. She could take care of her little brother all by herself if the need arose.

A few months after he was born, their parents started fighting and arguing often, until one day… their father just… left.

“I’m here!”

An enthusiastic voice snapped the princess out of the small flashback. Karin watched as Suigetsu jumped over the tall brick wall covered in ivy and ran towards her and her baby brother. Akihiko, the third and youngest child of the Uzumaki royal family, was now almost 11 months old. He clumsily stood at Karin’s side, grasping her forearm tightly for balance.

“...Hey…” The pale boy seemed out of breath as he stopped, keeping a polite distance between himself and the royal family. His dark eyes scanned the place for any unwanted witnesses before he closed the distance between himself and the two red-heads.

“I missed you.” He whispered, wrapping Karin’s shaking body in a hug using his left hand, while he placed the other atop the small prince’s head.

“Sui…” Karin’s voice was quiet as she barely managed to get it through her throat. It’s been way too long since they had seen each other. They both scrunched down to match Akihiko’s level a little better and included him in a hug.

“Hey bud,” The blue-haired boy greeted, messing up the younger one’s hairdo a little. “You’ve grown up a lot since I last saw you! You’re so big now! Walkin’ and everythin’!” He said excitedly and watched the young prince give him a partially toothy smile.

Karin pulled away slightly, pushed her glasses out of the way as she pushed the heels of her palms into her eyelids to get rid of the odd itch around and on her eyes.

“You okay?” Hōzuki asked quietly.

“Now that you’re here… I think I’m a lot better.”

Chapter Text

So, I'm really sorry about not updating but I'm kinda trying to get into High school right now, which is surprisingly hard.

I don't really have a plan about how this fanfic is gonna go, I thought about posting really short chapters in parts but I don't wanna half-ass this thing. I have many many more fanfics started in many other fandoms, if you'd ever want to read some other stuff from me, don't hesitate to comment a fandom - If I have something written there, I'll post it (once again, not finished, just some randoms but it might be good to pass the time and if it gets attention I might just gain inspiration to continue.)

Once again, thanks for understanding, I'll try to update if I have the time, maybe during summer, maybe earlier, we'll see.

Love ya!

- SW