Sealkeeper: He Who Binds

Chapter 161-A "Names"

Release 2022.07.18

"Mai." There was a brief knock on the open door of her office as Orochimaru let himself in. Tsukuyomi's right hand was instantly suspicious.

"Orochimaru." Her black eyes narrowed, watching the man in a teen's body carefully.

"I have to take care of something for a project I've been working on. It'll probably be a few days, so if Tsukuyomi needs anything from Oto make sure to call upon Kabuto. He'll be in the warehouse overseeing some of my other experiments."

Orochimaru had been pleasantly scarce these last few weeks, that would go to explaining why. Mai turned back to her work. "Very well, I'll reach out to him if Tsukuyomi needs anything." Unlikely, considering he was on vacation, but there was still the occasional Kage-Bunshin that popped up to pass something on. She was just glad he was only doing so to delegate tasks he'd thought of rather than to enable him to do them himself.

Maybe he was learning after all.

"Perfect. Enjoy your paperwork." Orochimaru spun off and sauntered down the hallways, evidently pleased by something Mai couldn't even guess at.

It was nearly a minute later she realized one of the issues with what he said and her head shot up to stare suspiciously at the empty doorway.

When- and how- had Orochimaru obtained any warehouses here in Nami? This was the shipping capital of the world, buildings like that were at an absolute premium and not something just anyone could be getting their hands on- especially for matters completely unrelated to shipping at all.

Goddamnit, what had the snake done this time?

…And who could she assign to clean it up so she wouldn't have to deal with it?

Kusa no Kuni stretched out before him, deceptively peaceful from his position on the Hi no Kuni border. Genma knew that Iwa filled the minor country and were probably fortifying whatever bases they had set up at this very moment.

It brought back their tactics from the last war a little too much for his comfort. Ame was to the south, seemingly untouched by Iwa- probably worried about stepping on Akatsuki's toes- but on the other side of Kusa the country of Taki had been cut off from their old allies. He should probably just be grateful Taki had been able to warn them before they found themselves too busy defending their own borders to get a messenger hawk out.

From what little his scouts had been able to report, Iwa was directing a lot less towards Taki, evidently just trying to keep them occupied enough that they couldn't press to the east to reclaim their territory near the border. Like KUsa, Iwa would be using that as a staging ground for their future plans- whatever the hell those actually were.

Things still seemed off to Genma, his instincts screaming that he was missing something, but as far as he could tell they had only made some minor modifications to their old plans, most notably striking at Konoha before they were established in the minor countries. Last time they had been settled in those countries before trying to push into Hi no KUni, giving Konoha a better chance to fight them back. Striking first had allowed them to do some damage this time while still ensuring little of the conflict could be pushed into Tsuchi.

It wasn't necessarily a bad plan- some might even say that it would have worked last time had the Yondaime not been around- but something about it just didn't sit right with the Tokujō. Mostly it was how little Iwa seemed to have committed to this. He knew for a fact their manpower was more than what he was seeing, even with whatever they'd diverted to keep Taki- and possibly Kusa- occupied. Half-hearted simply wasn't like Iwa at all, they were far more inclined to charge in with everything they had and commit early.

Onoki might have been the fence-sitter because it was hard for him to make up his mind, but once he did he- and the rest of Iwa behind him- was all in. The mountains stood tall, but there was no stopping or slowing a rockslide. Once it started it went until there was nothing left. Such was Iwagakure.

So where the fuck was the rest of Iwa's forces?

His scouts hadn't found them in the nearby minor countries yet and at this point Genma was seriously considering just sending a few into Tsuchi no Kuni itself to see if they were still there.

It was a dumb thought, really, and an even worse plan, but at this point he was almost willing to give it a shot.

Now this was an Orochimaru Akishi recognized. The young man with oddly-styled- and she doubted Orochimaru was willingly maintaining that, so was it natural?- hair, pale skin, and dark eyes. She did take some pleasure from his reduced stature in this form, though admittedly she found the second Orochimaru's new form much more pleasing to the eyes.

The broad, almost crazed, smile on his face, well, that was new.

To Akishi, at least.

He hadn't bothered to wait to be shown into her chambers, strolling through the manner and into the backrooms as if he had lived here himself for the last decade. She didn't know if it was something with his mannerisms or an assumption that he was expected but Akishi couldn't smell any blood so it would appear none of her human acolytes had attempted to stop him.

That or he hadn't left any trace of their bodies when they did.

"Akishi, darling," He all but purred. "How absolutely lovely to see you again. Have I ever mentioned that you have some marvelous ideas for projects?"

Crimson eyes narrowed suspiciously. "No, Sage, you've never said anything of the sort." He was…too happy, she eventually decided. That's what felt so off to her.

There was something lurking in those black eyes she couldn't identify, lying in wait under this strange cheerfulness and politities to strike at the unaware.

She was not about to be bit by a snake without fangs, even if his particular venom might have been second only to Antok.

"Haven't I? Oh, what an oversight. See, I received word about your little request and it just so happens it overlapped with something Naruto wanted me to look into and led me to some quite…interesting…results."

"And what might those be?"

Orochimaru's grin nearly split his face.

"I can create life."

While it might not have been the rocky spires of her home, the lush green of Kawa no Kuni was still a welcome sight after her time spent in Kaze no Kuni. Sure, Tsuchi no Kuni's rock might have been a similar color to Kaze no Kuni's endless sand and, admittedly, it didn't look nearly as pretty in the sunset, but at least Tsuchi no Kunbi still had life between those rocky spires. Gods, at this point she probably would have welcomed the sight of Konoha forests just for something to actually look at.

Most curiously, the temperature seemed to drop a good five degrees as soon as they had stepped away from the sandy sea and onto the tan rock that encircled Kaze no Kuni as if to keep the rest of the world safe from the ravenous desert. Or, perhaps, it was some sort of bowl that contained just about the least appetizing dish she could imagine.

The rocky ground stretched fairly far here, the green of Kawa no Kuni mostly visible due to the valleys it dipped into almost immediately, but that was fine. There would be plenty of room for her forces to set up camp and get some rest as they switched back to a more reasonable schedule of being awake during the day. Now that they'd escaped the divine forge that was Kaze no Kuni's oceans of sand they wouldn't have to worry about being melted down to slag by the cruel gaze of the sun.

One might argue that as Shinobi they should be moving at night anyway but those who believed so would be missing a few key points. First, while they were capable of operating at night it was still much more helpful to be able to see where they were going, especially when they were trying to move stealthily. Iwa Shinobi were used to maintaining their footing in their rocky home, avoiding loose stone and fragile ledges. Suna had been alien to them but was still closer than the lands of Kawa and, soon, Hi no Kuni.

Secondly, if they moved at night they would have to camp during the day. The caravans had been left in Suna to make moving through the valleys and forests far less complicated but even so they remained a large group. Sure, she could split them up now as they crossed into Kawa but then communication became an issue. She wanted to avoid that until they were in position to strike at Hi no Kuni to reduce the chances of anyone jumping the gun and getting their movements discovered. Camping during the day, the same time any travelers and traders were moving, increased their chances of being discovered.

It was just easier to be moving at the same time away from the usual paths and settling down when everyone else did than it was to hide her forces when the rest of the world was active.

Of course, the last point was that Kurotsuchi was not a night owl by any stretch of the imagination. She wasn't pulling all nighters unless she absolutely had to. Considering she was the one in charge here, that was unlikely to become the case unless she royally fucked something up.

And so they would be moving during the day, public perception of Shinobi be damned.

Besides, as Shinobi it was their prerogative to be unpredictable.

She took a moment to glance at some of the tan tents being erected by Suna natives who had elected to follow them. The Kazekage- wherever the hell he was at the moment- had taken a majority of Suna's Shinobi- those not captured or killed in their doomed attempt to invade Konohagakure- with him when he left Suna and those who had remained behind were still slightly bitter about that. Kurotsuchi really didn't see why, considering all those who stayed did so by choice. The civilian- or what passed as such in Suna- family and friends of the Shinobi who joined the Kazekage and a good chunk of unaffiliated civilians had accompanied the man in his exodus.

Rumor had it he had called off the invasion before the first event of the Chunin exams had started- before his children had left for Konoha, even- but the council had continued to arrange it against his command and wound up Suna Shinobi had only been too eager to continue with it.

Both of those groups had paid for their folly, the man personally ensuring the council could never make such a costly mistake again, and the Kazekage had taken those loyal to him before vanishing.

Even so, those still in Suna had only become more angry at Konoha, continuing to blame it for their misfortunes. That was wrong and, quite franky, stupid but it was also a situation perfectly ripe for her to take advantage of. She wouldn't say no to more manpower, especially because the Suna natives had made navigating back out of Kaze no Kuni much easier than she had expected.

Turns out they knew their country. Who would have guessed?

Granted, not all of those who had joined them in pushing Kirigakure forces from Sunagakure had elected to join them, a majority of those still in Suna were much more concerned with ensuring no one else would be able to occupy them again.

Kurotsuchi could respect that, she knew she wouldn't be able to stand by and allow Iwagakure to be taken over by anyone else- especially Konoha- and knowing that Iwa was vulnerable would make it extremely difficult for her to leave it to attack someone else. Sure, she might not care for Konoha- okay, she was an Iwa Kunoichi, that may have been just a bit of an understatement- but she certainly didn't hate it more than she loved her own village. In a decision to defend her home or attack their longtime rival her home's defense would win out without question each and every time.

Still, it was nice to have her forces bolstered this early. It gave her some hope that she might be able to convince Kawa to join them or, at the very least, remain neutral. They didn't really have a reason to hate Konoha like Suna did- even if it was mistaken- but surely they would be able to see the opportunity presented by two larger villages joining forces against Konoha.

A slight frown crossed her lips. Actually, if she thought about it that had been done before. Unsuccessfully, too. Konoha had never lost a conflict with any other village and always came out in a better position than they started. Even giving away Biju- Biju- which allowed other villages to employ Jinchuriki against them hadn't done anything to harm the village hidden in the leaves.

Well, it had killed off the two founding Hokage but that only served to provide a foundation for that Will of Fire that had Konoha Shinobi willing to sacrifice themselves for their allies without a second thought. The Will of Fire might have been vastly inferior to the teachings of the Book of the Mountain and the Way of Stone but she had to respect its effectiveness in that alone. Shinobi willing to make those sacrifices could be dangerous and everyone knew Konoha's strength came from the fact that they were all batshit crazy. The Will of Fire was misguided but by the gods was it dangerous.

Unfortunately for Konoha it wouldn't be enough to spare them the weight of the mountain or the avalanche that sprung forth from it.

"...I can't believe I let you talk me into allowing this." Shizune's muttered comment went unheard- or at least unheeded- as her team- more in the way of being her charges than as a group of people supporting her- gazed proudly at their creation.

It wasn't even what they were supposed to be working on, not entirely, but it had consumed every waking moment for three of them and Tsunade had only succeeded on egging them on throughout it. Why her former master was so excited by this project Shizune couldn't fathom but the woman had been spending an awful amount of time in Orochimaru's company lately so perhaps the man's madness was rubbing off on her.

Not the most pleasant of thoughts, really. She could only hope Tsunade's presence was in some way reigning in the man's experiments because otherwise the woman was losing her mind for nothing.

Or perhaps Tsunade had always had that little spark of insanity in her and Shizune was just now able to bear witness to it. It would make sense, all the other Sannin left the realm of Konoha eccentricity to reach a level of mild- or in the case of Orochimaru major- insanity. It was easy enough to believe Tsunade hadn't escaped that fate but, like Jiraiya, managed to maintain it mostly under control.

She probably shouldn't be comforted by that thought but, strangely enough, she found she was.

Of course, everyone around the Wolves- and especially around Naruto- was a little bit crazy and Shizune didn't know if they started that way or just lost some of their rational minds spending time around them. She was partially inclined to believe the latter, because she had been absolutely confident in her own sanity until after she joined the Wolves.

She was the head physician, for fuck's sake, yet here she was building a giant set of armor just because her team had become overenthused by the prospect. Shizune really was just a glorified babysitter at this point, mostly of her team but also over Naruto himself. She was pretty sure he remained the only 'Wolf' she had ever treated as part of the noble house. He seemed to have learned his lesson- which was food considering he hasdn't elected to bring her, her former master, or her apprentice with him on his trip- so she wasn't really sure what she was doing here beyond watching Tsunade encourage her charges to take the project they'd been charged with in an…interesting new direction.

And to think, this was just supposed to be a prototype.

"It's beautiful." Shizune was pretty sure Sasori would be crying if his puppet body was capable of it.

"A masterpiece." Agreed Kankuro- not actually a part of her team but she'd somehow ended up assuming responsibility over him anyway- and Clicky in stereo. They shared a quick look and a small smile when they realized and Shizune tried not to think about the strange relationship budding between all three of the puppeteers she had found herself in charge of.

Really, only one of them was on her team. She certainly wasn't being paid to keep an eye on the son of the Kazekage or an S-rank Nuke-nin and she most certainly wasn't being paid anywhere near enough to look into the throuple they seemed to be. She didn't even want to know how that worked when only two of them actually possessed living flesh, though she had read enough of Jiraiya's books- the library here seemed to be filled mainly with erotica, strangely enough, and she needed something to read as her team tinkered away- to guess at all the ways puppetry might come into play in the bedroom.

It was thought like that which made her question if she had made the right call accepting Tsukuyomi's offer to join the House of Wolves.

"Well, it's good." Tsunade conceded. "I still think it could be bigger and I'm sure you guys could have squeezed more weapons into it."

"Oh yeah," Deidara nodded. "I told you we should have gone for four shoulder-mounted cannons at the least."

"It's not supposed to have any weapons." Shizune countered blandly. "We were supposed to be creating working sets of armor to protect the Wolves, not mobile weapons platforms."

"A good defense is an overpowering offense." Rusty offered with a shrug. He immediately shrank into himself- an amusing sight considering he had a good head of height above Shizune and was broad enough to provide her with complete cover if need be- when she shot him a glare for trying to justify the path the project had taken.

"That's not a saying, but you're more than welcome to try arguing that point to Tsukuyomi when he asks why his Wolves don't have something practical yet." That shut them all up.

For about two seconds.

"Bah," Tsunade dismissed her concerns with a lazy wave of her hand. "You can always just tie him to your bed again. I'm sure that would smooth it over."

Shizune's glare moved from Rusty to her former master. "At this point I might by tying you to his bed just to buy us some more time to do what he asked of my team, one that, need I remind you, is made up of three of the people here."

"He's got enough on his plate, I doubt he even has the energy to add me to his list." Tsunade sounded confident about that so Shizune was quick to correct her belief.

"And who said it would be for him? Anko needs something to keep her entertained between rounds and she can't monopolize all of his time.

That immediately put her former master on the back foot. "Erm, that wouldn't really convince him to overlook our…creative interpretation of this project would it?"

"You think making Anko happy wouldn't improve my chances of convincing him to accept delays to our task?" Tsunade flinched. Everyone knew Anko was one of his favorites, anything that made her happy was sure to earn points with him.

"Yeah, but surely he wouldn't be displeased with this." Clicky gestured to the nearly three meter tall set of armor. It was impressive and it would be more so when they had it up and working with Naruto's seals but she wasn't sure he'd be happy to know they weren't doing what he'd instructed. He would probably be pleased to know they were occupied, though, so that might make up for it.

"We'll have to hope so, but I think for now we need to go back to our original task. We'll need the seals for it to apply to the larger sets anyway."

Five sets of shoulders drooped. "So we can't test it out now?" Deidara frowned.

"It won't work yet, it was never going to work before Naruto approved of it. This was a proof of concept more than anything else."

"And you're sure we can't get him to approve of these instead of what he's asked for?" Sasori spoke up.

Shizune paused, considering it. "He might." She eventually admitted. "But you'll have to bring it up to him when he's around again. Do any of you want to risk bringing our results to his attention when the actual assignment is so far behind?"

Unsurprisingly, none of them did.

"That's what I thought. Pack it up and take five. We'll resume work on the regular armor when you get back."

"Hai, Shizune-Taicho."

She gave a pleased nod. Good, at least they would be cooperative now. She hadn't been able to drag them away from their tangent project before. Hopefully this would mean they would be less distracted. At least, until they received either the go-ahead from Naruto or seals for the original project that they could apply to the prototype.

Maybe she should reach out to Naruto to make sure any seals reached her alone, just to stop that from becoming an issue. Gods knew what her team might apply those seals to otherwise.

She loved them, really she did, but holy fuck they were a handful.

Naruto stared at Naruto.

Naruto stared back.

Well, no, not really. The second Naruto- the new Naruto- was very much dead at the moment. It also didn't look like him, not exactly. That had sort of been the point. He wanted it easy to tell the difference while still being him. An important thing to consider when he was going to be providing it with permanent- or at least semi-permanent- life.

He had enough trouble keeping track of himself as it was, thank you, he didn't need to add to that by having another him that didn't dispel and looked exactly like him. That was a recipe for disaster.

Switching his attention from his second body- a thought that would take some time to get used to, he was sure- he glanced at the pair of excited Orochimaru's beaming at him from the corner. It was…strange seeing Sasuke's face so gleeful and it was hard to connect his as being the same person as the darker skinned young woman next to him but he supposed it would be similar when he was occupying a body that was different from his usual appearances, even if only slightly.

Actually it was more than a little. His new body was bigger- older, perhaps, if only in looks- and the eyes had been changed at his request. The face was still his, as was the hair, but those were the only things untouched. Probably. His body was still clothed, thankfully- something he knew was a miracle considering who had worked on him and delivered it- so he couldn't be sure but he had a suspicion that the man had taken certain liberties with his body, especially since he knew what Naruto's intentions were for it.

"So, how do I do this again?"

"Your Kage-Bunshin will perform the Jutsu, focusing on projecting their Chakra into the body. It will feel…quite strange the first few dozen times but there's no result if you fail so you don't have to worry about it. The lack of a current soul in the body should make things easier too."

Naruto nodded and silently created a Kage-Bunshin with the help of Isobu's Chakra. It gave him a look and a brief nod before performing the handsigns and projecting its- or, rather, Isobu's- Chakra. In a blur of green it was sucked into the new body which shot up with a gasp.

Two chains held it- him- down at the shoulders until the body's functions started up and settled into a normal rhythm. With a few more gulps of air the body ceased its struggling and, meeting Naruto's eyes with its blue, gave a nod. "I'm good."

Naruto returned it, retracting and dismissing his chakra chains, and the clone- the other him- sat up.

The Sasuke Orochimaru gave a light clap. "First try? I should have known you would manage quickly."

"It wasn't all that different from the Kage-Bunshin." The second Naruto admitted.

Orochimaru- both of them- blinked. "Oh, yes, I suppose some elements of it are rather similar. I hadn't thought of that." He said as she nodded along. "But that's a good thing, it means we can get you into as many bodies as you need. Let me know if you want any more and any modifications you desire."

"I'll keep that in mind, Orochimaru. I think we're good for now."

"Excellent." The snake clapped. "In that case, I do believe I'm just about done here. I hope the other me hasn't been any trouble?"

"Not at all."

"Perfect." He paused. "And her appearance, it pleases you?" The other Orochimaru looked more than a little irritated being spoken of as if she wasn't there but remained quiet in favor of waiting for Naruto's answer.

"You've become quite skilled in creating the female form, Orochimaru. She is, of course, quite attractive." While he spoke to the body of Sasuke his attention was firmly on the second Orochimaru and he was rewarded with a slight flush to her cheeks.

"Excellent, most excellent." Orochimaru seemed pleased for a second before his excitement waned and, almost hesitantly, he asked; "And you, uh, wouldn't happen to have named her, have you?"

Naruto cocked a brow. "Named her?" He moved his gaze between the two, eventually settling back on the original. "I was under the impression her name was Orochimaru."

"Well, yes, technically, I just thought you might find it easier to give her a separate name to help you differentiate the two of us."

"Do you want a new name?" He asked the second Orochimaru.

"If you like."

"I'll think of something then." Damnit, he sucked at names. He still couldn't remember what he had decided for the second Kage-Bunshi he'd been using to cover Sai and Hana's vacations. Pushing that issue to the side, he returned his focus to the second him.

"We'll probably need a name for you too, in that case." The other him just shrugged. It didn't matter to either of them but it would probably help everyone who encountered them. His Wolves had been plenty confused with the Kage-Bunshin when he started using them and he could already see the mess another him could cause, even with the changes. They were sure to be perplexed on how to treat another him. Did they treat him as Naruto, as a subordinate of Naruto? A high-ranking Wolf? An ally?

Now that he thought about it, he'd need to figure out…his…role in this too, so the Wolves and everyone else could be informed. A name would definitely help make that process easier.

"In the meantime, you know why I decided to utilize this."

"Yeah, yeah. I know." The new Naruto gave a sigh. "This is going to be exhausting."

"You'll enjoy it." Naruto promised.

"Of course I will, just pop in to give me a break every so often, yeah?"

"Or I'll send in the girls. I'll try not to leave you with her alone."

"Thanks." His double pushed himself to his feet and headed back towards Naruto's- really, it was Mikoto's at this point- bedroom. He glanced back to the three and gave a quick salute that was returned by Naruto and the original Orochimaru and received a wave from the second Orochimaru.

As he disappeared into the den of the succubus the second Orochimaru turned her attention to Naruto. "I'll let her get a round or two by herself first, then I'll go help you out."

"Thanks, I'm sure I'll appreciate that."

Well, at least he had a bit of a project to occupy himself with now. He'd play around with some names until something sounded right, that should at least eat up an afternoon.


He really needed to find a hobby.

When Tsukuyomi had originally instructed her to make contact with the other Ravenous- or were they man-eaters still?- Akunaki really hadn't thought anything of it. They were, in a way, part of the same group tied together by the bonds of bloodshed and ritual cannibalism and as Tsukuyomi had ordered it there was no way it could not be done.

Not just because he'd never give them an impossible task but because there was no way any of the Wolves would ever allow themselves to fail their lord. The very thought was utterly inconceivable.

She hadn't given any thought as to how she was going to contact them once they reached Kirigakure. It's not like they could just waltz into the village now, could they?

…Could they?

Kirigakure didn't exactly have an outer wall anymore, that had been brought down when Tsukuyomi reduced the village to ash, and their efforts in rebuilding had been more focused towards providing shelter for their inhabitants rather than establishing any defensive structures. There would be guards, of course, patrols out to ensure Kirigakure's safety, but how hard would it be to sneak past them? All they really needed was one Wolf to make their way into the village- or what passed for one- and find one of their siblings. From there their siblings could either come out of the village to join them or facilitate the Ravenous' entry into the village.

That seemed absolutely doable.

Besides, what was the worst that could happen- they burn Kirigakure to the ground again?

She could hardly consider that any sort of loss.

Sealkeeper: He Who Binds

Chapter 161-B "Narutwo"

Patron release 2022.07.26

So it hadn't taken an afternoon. It had taken maybe ten minutes. Should it have taken an afternoon? Probably. The matter of naming two new lives deserved more contemplation than he'd really given it but he had found something that worked and called it a day.

Mostly because he didn't want to keep searching when he knew he wasn't going to come up with anything better. Really, he was just hoping these would serve as placeholders until the second Naruto and Orochimaru came up with their own names. Maybe the fact that the two he'd come up with were slightly lacking would encourage them to decide what they'd like to be called.

Narutwo and Omaru weren't exactly inspired, after all.

But with that done- it was done, damnit- he had time again to focus on other projects.


Settling down at his desk, Naruto cracked open one of his books on Fuinjutsu and set about trying to design something that would help with his new underground railroad.

He adamantly ignored the stack of paper seals at the corner of the desk covered in Sealkeeper's solution to the same problems.

He needed something to do, damnit, he wasn't going to be spending all his time away from Nami in Mikoto's bed no matter how enticing that sounded. Besides, Narutwo had that covered.


…It was about time for a care package, now that he thought about it, and probably a new distraction so the poor guy could get some rest too. Where had Anko gotten to? He was pretty sure it was her turn to brave the den of the succubus.

"...Anko-Sama?" Jujure, one of Ganju's 'boys' looked curiously at the trembling Kotatsu. The Zabuton they'd acquired for it had been stacked around it like a child's attempt at a fort. Of course, the fact that it floated a good inch and a half above the ground made it obvious someone was beneath it.

The boots sticking out from one end and the purple spikes that escaped the Futon that surrounded the base weren't exactly helping them remain hidden, either.

"She's not here!"

"...Right." He paused, trying to decide which question should be asked first. Eventually he settled on; "So…why are you hiding?"

"Shh! She'll hear you!"

"Uh-huh." Another pause. "Are you hiding from Mikoto-Sama?"

"Don't say her name!" Anko's head emerged from under the Futon to glare at him and he quickly raised his hands in surrender. "If you say her name you'll summon her here and she'll catch me!"

Jujure didn't think that sounded all too bad, honestly, being caught by a woman like Mikoto but he nodded anyway in faux understanding. "Of course, of course."

She slunk back beneath her Kotatsu and he stood there a minute more, just as confused as when he'd first seen the trembling table.

"...So why there?"

"Why else?" He could tell from her tone she thought he was a bit thick in the head, but as far as Jujure was concerned he wasn't the one trying to hide under a Kotatsu that was too small for him to fit beneath. "All of her meals are left in the doorway of her lair, offerings to the succubus! She'll never search for me here because she doesn't use tables!"

It was a genius plan by Anko-logic, the greatest logic there had even been.

Jujure, well, he wasn't exactly versed in it.

"I see. Did…did you want me to find Naruto-Sama for you?" If anyone could understand…this… surely it was the Father.

"What? No!" Her head popped out again. "Don't you dare! He'll sacrifice me in a heartbeat to save himself from her!"

That didn't sound much like Tsukuyomi but then again it didn't sound like much of a sacrifice either.

"...Right. Well..I'll just…leave you to it?" He reached down to pluck the small vase- which by some miracle had not yet fallen off- from the center of the Kotatsu and moved it somewhere safer before taking his leave.

All the women that ended up encircling the Father were outrageously attractive, there was no denying that, but why did they all have to be absolutely crazy too? Couldn't he just draw plain, rational woman to him? Was that really too much to ask?

If Yūmei was to be honest he would have to say he preferred Kirigakure before the conclusion of the Bloodline Rebellion or, as some called it, the Genkai Civil War. That wasn't just because Kirigakure had still been standing and wasn't yet reduced to piles of rubble and cobbled together mass shelters- though he did miss his flat and the extra wide shower he had only finished re-tiling a week prior- but because it had been a time of chaos and conflict.

Though he was a neutral, not caring for the reasoning behind the war that had stretched on for over a decade, the opportunity to fight and hunt had been everything he'd ever wanted. Before the conflict Kirigakure had been an excellent choice for that, constantly accepting assassination contracts the other villages wouldn't touch and boasting the greatest Hunter-nin in the world.

But after? When it was assassin against assassin and Hunter-nin against Hunter-nin? That had been absolutely glorious. And, as he would later learn, the chaos that came with Mizu no Kuni's internal struggle provided plenty of other opportunities too.

Of course, if Yūmei was to be honest, his name wasn't really Yūmei at all.

Katagara Umeijo was his name by birth, a name he'd carried for thirty-seven years.

That had all changed when he'd arrived. At first Yūmei hadn't thought much of it, none of them did. Sure, Tsukuyomi of the House of Wolves made an impressive entrance and his reputation- something that had actually managed to reach them when little else managed to enter the country- had only been increased by the rumors overheard from the Wolves he'd sent to aid Yagura but that hadn't lasted long.

Unimpressed by Yagura's drive and the lack of results, Tsukuyomi had taken things into his own hands and within a matter of days had the location of each and every outpost Mei's Bloodline faction were hiding in.

Yagura had been waging war against them for over a decade and they'd only ever managed to find and destroy forward bases, temporary structures at the best constructed solely to aid its builders in launching a handful of attacks in a region they didn't otherwise have easy access to. Tsukuyomi had the same bases- the actual bases- within a week of arriving. The difference between the two men was so substantial it was staggering.

And that was only the beginning.

While Yagura stayed in his office occupying his time with running a village with no outside missions and taking care of inane administrative details as if they weren't in the middle of a war Tsyukuyomi himself had gathered his forces and any willing Kirigakure Shinobi and led the charge to clear out the bases he had located personally.

Yūmei almost hadn't accompanied them. He was beyond glad he had.

Stomping out barely-occupied outposts at the tail-end of the rebels' base rotation had become something much more when a few of the Wolves asked their lord for permission to eat their enemies and, to Yūmei and most of the Kirigakure Shinobi's surprise, he'd allowed it. The closest thing to hesitation there had been when the man confirmed they were asking what he thought they were and the next thing anyone knew there were Wolves eating rebels.

Tsukuyomi hadn't stayed for it, instead herding those who hadn't wished to partake on towards the next target, but Yūmei had.

It was the single greatest day of his life.

The hunt, the kill, both of those paled in comparison to the real prize- savoring the flesh of his enemies. Those Wolves had taught him something valuable that day and had helped him discover the cure to satiate a hunger he didn't even know he had. That was the day he'd stopped being Katagara Umeijo and became Yūmei.

Between his fellow Kiri Shinobi who had stayed and the Wolves who had started the whole thing, Yūmei had found his home. A place he truly belonged.

But the Wolves couldn't stay forever and when they left they took Kirigakure with them. Their wake was ash and blood enough to make any Kirigakure Shinobi proud and their future was only known to the man they called Tsukuyomi.

Yūmei and the other marked had been left behind without direction, floundering to figure out what their place was in a new KIrigakure now that they had cravings that could no longer be so easily filled. There were some times he'd thought it was some sort of punishment until he realized the truth; it wasn't a punishment, it was a test. He wanted to see how they would do without his pack.

Would they forget the hunger that had been awoken, returning to their lives as simple Shinobi? Would they lose their minds to it instead, consumed by their need to such a degree that they would be discovered and put down? Or would they rise above, harnessing their craving and controlling it as they hunted and feasted like propper Wolves?

Yūmei knew what he would do, what he had done.

What all those who remained in Kiri had done

Even if they were separated from the actual pack, they were Wolves in their own right.

Care had been taken that they not be discovered, both individually and as a group. Contact was limited and hunting even more so. Much to their surprise they had been largely passed over for assignments in Sunagakure to help their new ally Konoha. Yūmei would have expected Mei to use them first, keeping all neutrals- including those that had taken The Mark - as far away from a vulnerable Kirigakure as possible. Instead she had sent those she'd already worked with throughout the civil war and kept the neutrals near.

Maybe she thought their loyalty to Kiri- rather than her and her faction- would see them better used defending and rebuilding their beloved village. That was possible. It also could have been that with Kirigakure in the state it was she figured there wasn't much damage they could actually inflict upon it. That was equally likely, really.

There was a lot more damage they could do to a newly reemerging Kirigakure through their actions abroad than there was anything they could do to a village that had been razed to the ground. Right now their reputation would play a major part in getting back into the global landscape. If it suffered too much during their reemergence they would never reclaim their position as a major village and the likelihood that they would ever fully rebuild would be terribly low.

That would be…unfortunate…but Yūmei found that he- and his siblings on the few occasions he'd been able to speak with them- were much more concerned with securing their next meal. Some were starting to wonder if it might not be easier to do so outside Kirigakure where they were under a bit less scrutiny and people were a bit more…lax.

So it was a bit of a surprise when Yūmei found his next meal was being delivered to him.

The Wolves were back.

Okay, so maybe not permanently. Even he could tell that much with a glance, but the marked Wolves had returned to Kirigakure and they had food.

That just about made today the second best day of his life.

He did have to wonder when the hell he'd been elected to defacto leader of the Marked here in Kirigakure, though- and why the hell that meant he had to be the one to gather the rest of them.

Shouldn't he have subordinates or something? He'd have to work on that.

The dark steel still managed to gleam in the dim light of -admittedly- hasty electrical work haphazardly stretching along the top of the tunnel.

Ganju didn't even know the Wolves had an electrician because he certainly wasn't and none of his boys were either. Then again, maybe they didn't. It would explain the quality of the work. Still, it suited their purposes for now and it's not like there was anything flammable down here.

Tsukuyomi had been very clear to ensure that would be the case. It was almost like he knew them or something.

"So, everything good?" Ganju tucked his rag away in his back pocket and wiped his forehead. He had been under the impression that it would have been cooler down here but that didn't seem to be the case. It must have been the lights- or whatever Jūgo was doing to the engine- because he was pretty sure he hadn't worked that hard polishing the engine while he waited for the young man to finish…things.

There was a stack of papers at his workbench near the entryway he still needed to go over but he'd not had the time. Besides, why would he look over those when he could see it all on the actual engine?

Well, mostly because Jūgo's broad-ass shoulders- seriously, what the hell was his routine? He needed to get in on that- blocked his sight of anything important. At least with the schematics he could sort of follow along by taking note of any piece Jugo brought in or took out. It would, at the very least, give him some idea of what was going on.

He'd grab them the next time they came out, then, he didn't feel like going all the way back now.

Ganju paused, turned around, and eyed the workspace- and the papers in question- maybe a dozen meters away.

Yeah, that was way too far.

"I'm not seeing any problems." Jūgo confirmed. He hadn't expected any- it's not like he'd operated the engine all the way here- but he couldn't discount any neglect from the previous team- as unlikely as that was- or anything falling out of place during the trip.

It's not like the engineers had ever expected the engine to be picked up sideways and carried halfway across the world, after all.

"Well good, let's fire her up."

Jūgo peaked around the engine to give Ganju a flat stare before making a show of glancing over to the track that extended a whole three meters beyond the engine and back to the Wolves' defacto construction expert.

"And, why, exactly, would we do that?"

Ganju shrugged. "I don't know, to make sure she works?"

"She works."

"But how do you know?"

"Because I'm the expert."

Ganju opened his mouth to comment only to catch himself and snap it back closed. "Well, yeah, I guess you are." His shoulders slumped. "I just really wanted to avoid working on the tracks."

Juugo rolled his eyes. "It's not that hard."

"Says the man who carried a train!"

It was a fair point.

While the two debated the merits of starting up the engine with a distinct lack of track for it to run on, the Wolves of Nami continued their work digging out the tunnel and applying the sheets of seals the Father had provided.

It was with some suspicion that Haku eyed the scroll that had been awaiting her at the post office. Tsukuyomi had preferred to send his previous communication on loose paper in letter-sized envelopes, the whole thing neat and modern.

Scrolls were new and, while they were still considered the proper form of communication between Shinobi, everyone knew what scrolls were really for; seals.

She wasn't sure how she would feel receiving a seal from the man, especially not knowing what it was. Typically one would expect a storage seal- and it was very likely that's what it was- but it could realistically be just about anything, such was the possibility with seals.

When it came from a man who had unsealed and resealed a Biju in seconds- and within himself, no less!- she thought it was only wise to be more than a little doubtful about the seals he may or may not be using.

Besides, even if it was a storage seal what the hell would he be sending her?

Her mission was to integrate herself into Namihime's upper circles to keep an eye out for anyone trying to take control as Mizu's next Daimyo and put herself in a position to influence those that might help Mei reunite the separated hidden village with the rest of the country.

Tsukuyomi was funding the mission- for what reason Haku wasn't entirely sure of, though she had a feeling it may have been either because of her relationship with his sister or because it jabbed a sharp stick into a rather sore part of Mei's pride- and all he ever asked was the occasional question about how Mizu no Kuni was doing.

Nothing she had provided him- that she knew of- was anything more than one of his Wolves could find out spending a single day here in the capital. She supposed it might save him from having to post a Wolf here- and she ignored the little voice in the back of her head that accused her of being the Wolf he had for that purpose- but she didn't know why he needed that either.

If he had plans for Mizu no Kuni, sure, she could see it then, but in that case he should be asking much more in-depth questions. They way he inquired as to Mizu's financial recovery or the political climate was less like a strategist feeling out an opportunity and more like small talk with someone you were only vaguely acquainted with.

Unless he was just really good at disguising his questions and the value of her answers- which she thought would be more likely in his speech, as she was able to look over his correspondence several times before responding with what she felt was safe- then he was either asking as a token effort or, perhaps, just as a reminder that he was still out there.

Maybe he just felt the need to ensure they were still in contact with her? Her answers would assure- to a degree- that he was still reaching her. Maybe that's all he really needed and it wasn't a bad idea.

…But that didn't explain why he would be sending her anything more than their regular letters.

Unfortunately the only way she was going to figure out why he had sent something was going to start by determining what the hell he had sent in the first place and that would require opening the damn thing.

Taking a deep breath and readying herself to run if it was anything dangerous- assuming she would even have time- she opened the scroll.

A storage seal stared back at her, completely inert for the moment. Not set to release upon opening the scroll then, she wasn't sure if that comforted her because it ensured she had to be near it when the scroll went off. At least it was something she recognized, that was infinitely better than dealing with a seal she knew nothing about.

Nothing to it but to get it over with, then. She sent a small amount of Chakra into the seal and stepped back as the scroll released a small cloud of white smoke which quickly dissipated to reveal….Tsukuyomi?

Haku blinked in surprise as the young man appeared in the middle of her hotel room. He was similar enough to the pictures in the Uzumaki compound and she could see the resemblance to the picture in his official file but it also seemed it might have been a few years out of date.

He certainly didn't seem as tall in those pictures and she didn't remember him being a good head taller than her back when he was fighting off Zabuza and Kisame.

Then again, she was a little more focused on keeping her adoptive father alive to worry about things like comparing their heights and, really, back then he'd seemed massive in presence alone. She wouldn't have thought twice if his official Konoha file had listed him at two and a half meters after that, though having seen it she knew his actual height was- or had been- only a smidge taller than herself.

That had changed, evidently. She supposed that was to be expected. He was a young man, after all. Sometimes it was hard to remember that and reconcile it with the fact that he was a Daimyo capable of tossing around an S-rank Shinobi.

Two, if you then counted his defeat of Yagura.

Haku most assuredly did.

Tsukuyomi took a moment to glance about her room and gave a satisfied nod before returning his attention to her. "Good evening, Yakuta-San" He greeted her by her cover name. "I'm glad to see my…investment…was enough to secure you suitable accommodation."

"It has proven to be more than sufficient, thank you." She gave a slight nod to the man whose wallet she was currently living off of. He was also- possibly- in a way her potential brother in law if things went well with Naruko, so there was absolutely no benefit to being rude to him. Mei would probably enjoy hearing about it, but Mei hadn't been the one living out of a soggy sleeping roll for two weeks because even in their victory the Bloodline faction was in dire need of funding.

"Good, good." He gave another nod and she could almost believe he meant it. In the end, though, it seemed more like polite small talk than anything which left her wondering what on earth he had come to Namihime for-

Unless this was the move he'd been planning all along and he really was intending to add the country to his domain.

"My apologies for not sending out word sooner but Karura really didn't want to wait." He paused but just before Haku could ask who this 'Karura' was he continued. "Speaking of whom, I really should let them know they can come through."


He closed his purple eyes for a second and another cloud of white smoke filled the room for a second time only to leave another Tsukuyomi and an attractive- if a little plain- woman in her late twenties or early thirties looking about the room.

"Ah, perfect. I'm glad that worked." The new Tsukuyomi wore a slight smile, obviously pleased by whatever success this was, and immediately addressed Haku. "Yakuta-San, I do hope you can forgive me for arriving unannounced but my dear Karura here was feeling a bit cooped up and I promised her a date night out of the country."

Haku blinked. He had sent a clone- because that's all it could have been- in order to summon himself across the world- she was assuming that's what he did, anyway- for…a date night?

That was- she paused in her thoughts. That sounded exactly like the sort of thing he'd do, now that she thought about it. The name Tsukuyomi was pretty much synonymous with the word 'excessive' as far as she'd encountered it. Why would this be any different? He had cast himself out of his family to deal with another clan, according to Naruko, and he had ended up burning Kirigakure to the ground just because he decided it had caused him too much trouble.

If those hadn't been excessive she didn't know what was and compared to this, well, traveling across the word for a date was kind of...tame, really. People traveled all the time, they just usually didn't have whatever means Naruto- because that was his name and she should probably start using it when she thought of him if he was eventually going to be her relative in a way- had at his disposal.

"It's…fine." She eventually managed to answer. What else could she say? It's not as if he wasn't the one paying for this place anyway. If he decided to pop in and check on her to see how she was using the funding he was providing for her mission that was sort of his prerogative.

She wasn't going to be sharing details of her Kirigakure mission, of course, but anything else was pretty much fair game. She did think it would be pretty weird if he started asking if she was eating right or getting enough sleep, though.

Tsukuyomi used his free hand- Haku had just realized that the woman had a firm grasp on his left arm, pressing it to her chest as if she was afraid he would vanish- to gesture to his companion. "This is Karua, the mother of my son, Gaara, and daughter, Isobu."

….eh? Haku was well aware that the Wolves looked up to him as their own father but she was pretty sure this was the first time she had heard that he actually had children.

What she was sure of, though, was that the reports Mei had obtained from the Hokage mentioned a different woman- someone by the name of Anko.

Was that not a thing anymore or was he cheating on her with this Karura? Then again, she was the mother of his children, so maybe he'd been cheating on her with Anko? To be perfectly honest, it probably wasn't any of her business and she really wasn't about to ask. She just couldn't help but wonder what was going on there.

"It's nice to meet you, Karura-San." Haku gave a shallow bow in greeting and the woman smiled at her.

"You too…" Karura paused, her face scrunching up in thought before she turned pleading eyes to Tsuku- Naruto- Pleading eyes to Naruto.

"Yakuta Yua," He offered gently, taking care to keep her alias even in the privacy of her hotel room. Haku filed away the fact that this Karura was bad at keeping things under wraps. That could actually come in handy at some point. "She's a very close friend of my sister, Uzumaki Naruko." He stressed the degree of their relationship without actually saying anything outright but Haku still felt a modest flush spreading across her face.

"Oh!" Karura's eyes gleamed. "You're friends with Naruko-Imouto? How wonderful!"

Haku blinked in surprise, her flush receding slightly, and turned a questioning look to Naruto who just offered an easy shrug- and it was very strange to see him perform such a casual gesture. He almost seemed…human- and an indulgent smile.

Despite having hinted at them being more than friends, his emphasis seemed to have gone right over Karura's head. Haku wasn't sure if she should count that as a blessing or not.

"Ah, yes, we're very good friends."

"I'm glad to hear that, she doesn't seem to have many." Haku found herself surprised again. She wasn't sure how much time this woman actually spent around Naruko but she didn't suspect it was all that much which meant she may have been more insightful than Haku had given her credit for. Which made the fact she had missed Naruto's obvious hint even more strange. "I'll have to introduce you to my children too, I'm sure you would get along with them just as well as their auntie does."

Haku felt her receding flush return with a vengeance as she realized that one day she might really be their aunt.

"That sounds…lovely." A glance to Tsukuyomi revealed the mirth dancing in those piercing eyes, he was enjoying this. That seemed a bit more in character for him, enjoying the discomfort of others, but it also served to make him feel more human.

It made Haku terribly uncomfortable. Tsukuyomi wasn't supposed to be human, he was supposed to be an unstoppable monster that rampaged his way across the world.

And here he was. Acting Human. In Namihime. For a date night with the mother of his children.

It was just wrong.

"We'll have to arrange something, then." The man eventually interjected. "For now, though, we'll have to take our leave before it gets too late." The left arm in Karura's possession snaked about in her grip until his hand found hers and he began to lead her towards the door. "We'll stop by later, Yukata-San. That is, so long as you don't have any other plans for the evening…?"

She was sorely tempted to lie and say that she did have plans but either her father's rotten luck had transferred to her or Tsukuyomi somehow had eyes on her and had planned today knowing she was free. In the end she went with the truth. There was a possibility- no matter how slim- that she might be able to gain some insight or details into something he and the Wolves were up to if she talked to them some more- Karura did seem like she might be a bit loose-lipped and if she was close to Tsukuyomi she may have learned things others weren't privy to- but even if that wasn't the case it also wouldn't be a bad idea to establish a better rapport with future family.

It certainly couldn't hurt, could it?

Actually, it was probably best not to think about that. There were all sorts of ways anything involving Tsukuyomi or his Wolves could go horribly wrong. Kirigakure- or what was left of it- was a grand example of that.

That was…not reassuring.

She really had to wonder if becoming a part of this family was really worth it in the end. No, that was a lie. It was for Naruko, Haku couldn't think of anything that wouldn't be worth her sunflower.

Kotatsu - Covered, heated table.

Zabuton - Sitting pillows

Yūmei - Famished. Credit to TheGreatBubbaJ for this suggestion back in like December of 2021.

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