Sealkeeper: He Who Binds

Chapter 171-A "Lace"

Patron Release 2023.01.11

In the end, learning that the young man her Mai had always harborred deep affection for happened to be Tsukuyomi, the Daimyo of Nami no Kuni, hadn't really meant anything to Tsume. Some things had become a bit more clear and she felt she had a better understanding of the complicated interrelationships within the House of Wolves but it really didn't affect her any.

Though she was a bit put out that she hadn't been informed and rather had to piece things together from what a walking, talking shark had offhandedly revealed in her presence.

Mai assured her it was because she'd forgotten to and had never brought it up to Naruto for permission and not in any way a sign that they hadn't trusted her with that sort of information. In all likelihood, Mai had claimed, even Naruto probably didn't remember that Tsume wasn't in the know yet and would have been liable to do something in her presence that likewise spilled the 'secret'.

Really, after Asuma had found out Naruto- and Mai- had more or less considered it public knowledge, not entirely expecting the Godaime to keep the matter silent. He had, apparently, but neither Tsukuyomi nor Mai had reconsidered their position based on that. As far as they had been concerned at that moment, the world knew the identity of Tsukuyomi.

Which made some sense because while Asuma might not say anything there was no telling what was going on in Kirigakure, the village- or remains of one- that had ultimately been the ones to discover that Naruto and Tsukuyomi were one in the same. As Naruto had also been the reason it was the remains of a village rather than a full village, they had little reason to believe they'd be amenable to keeping that secret.

And, ultimately, it really didn't matter. Once he had a destroyed village under his belt anyone who may not have taken 'Tsukuyomi' seriously based on Naruto's age would know better. A double-edged sword in some situations, sure, but the House of Wolves was hardly going to be convincing anyone they were innocent anytime soon, either.

Tsume was going to have to have a very long discussion about Hana's suggestion to marry the boy, though. Hadn't she been aware of the….Tsume didn't really like calling it such, but it really was a love triangle of sorts, wasn't it? Especially with Hana's suggestion. Well, Hana should have been aware of the various relationships ongoing between the three of them when she sent that letter, so Tsume found herself wanting to know exactly what was going through her daughter's head when she wrote it.

She didn't hold out much hope for that, though, considering how much Hana had avoided her questions about the same subject when she stopped back in Konoha to visit the clan. Maybe the fact that she now knew Tsukuyomi's identity would help prompt her to share a bit more this time.

Especially because Tsume could now go directly to Naruto if Hana was misbehaving.

Tsume paused in the middle of the Yu no Kuni palace and blinked in surprise. Sure, Hana was usually out of her reach- both geographically and because she was acting in the authority of a foreign lord- but she was still the mother, damnit! Why did her thoughts make it sound like Naruto was somehow the father off at work? He'd come home and Tsume would inform him of Hana's behavior and hand off the responsibility of punishment to him because her threats obviously hadn't been quite enough to keep the girl in line.

She was going to have to blame thoughts of Hana's old letter for that. Marry Tsukuyomi, indeed. Tsume snorted. How absurd.

To say Orochimaru was displeased would be quite the understatement. After receiving word from Overseer Jirobo that the Deep Cells had not only been breached but were currently disgorging a myriad of monsters in spite of Orochimaru's pacts with the beings who resided there, Orochimaru had immediately reached out to every other outpost that made up the network village of Otogakure and to just about everyone she'd ever worked with- though they had probably thought they were her allies or something equally preposterous- to find the manpower that would be needed to set things right.

The results were not anything close to what she expected- or to what they needed.

The Otogakure outposts, while still under her command, were slow to respond as the scientists and overseers who worked on the projects housed there attempted to follow her commands without jeopardizing the integrity of their own experiments.

The result was a slow trickle of Otogakure Shinobi rather than the wave of bodies she'd needed to push back against the tide of beings currently surging up from the Deep Cells. It had allowed- barely- the regular replacement of the bodies Jirobo was constantly losing- it was probably a miracle the man was still alive at this point- but they hadn't been able to properly reinforce him with the manpower he needed to accomplish this exceedingly critical task.

And it was critical. More critical than anything else Orochimaru had ever worked on, including her own reaches for immortality. She didn't necessarily care for the world as a whole but the damage that could be inflicted upon it by beings that had no right to claw their way across its surface was such that even she could not stand by and allow it to happen.

Not unless she wanted to spend her immortal life among the ruins of civilization and the corpses of every other being on the planet. She may have had a very healthy disregard for life- in her own opinion- but having everyone dead would just be inconvenient. Someone had to be around to perform all the menial tasks she was too busy to see to and while it was possible to use clones for that sort of thing- Naruto was a great example of that- it just wasn't the same as bossing around other sentient beings.

And it's not like she could scare or intimidate her own clones, and that was half the fun of having people work for you.

So, needing to stop the world from being overrun and utterly destroyed by the monstrous beings of the Deep Cells and not being able to muster the necessary manpower from her various outposts, that left her former 'allies'.

And she was right to be dubious of them being worthy of such a title because not only had they not really been allies before- simply because that implied some level of equality or at least a mutual respect- but now that she was trying to call on them all she seemed to receive were excuses.

She didn't need excuses, she needed combat-capable bodies to throw into the maws of darkness while she tried to figure out what the fuck had gone wrong with her arrangements.

There was no way there were actual monsters, there was no way they wanted to get involved- which, admittedly, was fair- with the monsters, or they were too busy worrying over the Hi-Tsuchi-Kaminari conflict to risk sending troops they may need later to assist Orochimaru now. Idiots didn't realize there wouldn't be a future if this didn't get resolved immediately.

But if no one else would give her what she needed to fix this she'd just have to turn to the group she knew would assist her. Orochimaru needed the Wolves.

The Wolves in Nami honestly didn't do much. As a general rule just their presence was enough of a visual deterrent to keep the majority of Hanahime's inhabitants well behaved and those who weren't were usually near the docks where returning sailors had imbibed a few too many drinks and were spoiling for fights.

As long as it was with their fellow sailors and things didn't go too far, the Wolves stationed there- the most exciting post, many of the Wolves claimed, making it highly contended- would generally allow things to play out. They only really needed to step in when knives were pulled or the sailors attempted to pick fights with citizens who had otherwise just been minding their own business.

Beyond that, there was the odd issue- usually caused by visiting foreigners who didn't yet understand the Wolves who oversaw the city or just how vigilant they were in their duties- or domestic disputes that the Wolves did their best to resolve. Some Nami citizens had been conscripted as peace officers and handled the more delicate social situations the Wolves would have just powered through, so all the Wolves needed to do in most of those situations is de-escalate it enough to avoid violence. After that the peace officers could step in- under the protection of the Wolves- and handle things according to the laws Hana and her advisors had been putting into place and refining since her arrival.

Which meant, generally, that unless the Wolves got lucky- an interesting choice, most people would consider avoiding trouble entirely to be lucky- and something happened, only the patrols that watched Nami's borders actually did anything regularly. And even that was mostly reports.

It was, all things considered, a rather cushy position to be posted anywhere in Nami.

So naturally the Wolves absolutely hated it. The only benefit to being in Nami was the chance to be posted in the palace where they could be near Tsukuyomi- and enjoy Tsunami's snacks- or could at least pass through the palace on the way to the barracks and see the father- and, again, enjoy Tsunami's snacks- but with the palace gone and Tsukuyomi safely off in Yu no Kuni a majority of the benefits had gone with them.

Fortunately Tsunami did still bring them snacks in the barracks.

What the Wolves in Nami wanted, what they needed, was a chance to see some action again.

They got their wish.

"What in the fuck are those?!" The shout of his fellow Wolf was quick to arrest Keigo's attention and he turned to see what had caused such a reaction.

"What in Tsukuyomi's name….?" Dragging themselves up from the shallows near Nami's shore were half a dozen white figures. Not completely white, he noted, as black limbs that had either been attached or had burst from established flesh were pulled up into view. The scales on those additional limbs looked as if they were spreading to the unnaturally white skin and Keigo was sure he saw a few tufts of drenched grey hairs but he was much more concerned with the wicked claws that curved out from spindly fingers.

The rows of mismatched teeth- stained in the yellows of neglect and rusty browns of long dried blood- also caused concern as they grinned up at the Wolves who had spotted them. Some of those golden eyes were sharp but most were glazed over like a dead fish and Keigo didn't spot a single creature who had both eyes bright. He didn't know if that was good or bad, really.

The bodies themselves, Keigo realized within a second, were of average size and build for a grown man, but the long limbs that extended in every direction grasping almost desperately for whatever handholds they could find made them seem so much bigger.

He could have sworn he saw one of the arms get sucked back into a thigh while a hoofed foot tore its way out of a back but a second later he lost sight of the hoof. Keigo didn't know what these things were- and he wasn't sure he wanted to know- but amorphous, humanoid beings crawling out of the ocean were hardly a good sign.

And then they were joined by even more.

"Shit! Wolves, defensive lines. Jarabi, get your ass back to Hanahime and get us some reinforcements!" He ordered, dragging his tanto from its sheath. Keigo wasn't even supposed to be here at the moment but after weeks of attaching himself to random patrols to escape the boredom of recovering from his injuries in the hospital he'd just made a habit of regularly joining his siblings in the "field"- even if that was only patrols around Nami's border.

The benefit was that he was here to direct the Wolves against whatever these things were but it also meant he needed to get a temporary chain of command established so he could slip away and reach out to the rest of Naruto's inner circle through the seal.

It might actually just be faster to send a runner to Sai for that, honestly, especially when he didn't know if anyone was currently in the seal. Karura could be used to gather the others, either calling for them or physically dragging them into the seal but that took time and required him to be able to find her. Considering the seal was now a lifesize replica of Hanahime- and was regularly updated by Isobu and Gaara- that meant she could be just about anywhere and that didn't even account for her being with Mito in her seal or even out in the world somewhere like the Uzumaki compound in Konoha.

No, his best bet was probably just to get word to either Sai and Hana and allow them to handle it while he handled….this.

On second thought, he wondered as he charged towards one of the things, maybe he could trade responsibilities with them?

And, maybe, he could get some of those aquatic Shinobi he heard Orochimaru had been working on. He could hardly think of a better use for them than keeping these things from even reaching the shores.

Tsume had realized several things in the time she'd now spent in Yu no Kuni. Firstly, Mai was now much busier than she ever had been while, conversely, Naruto no longer seemed to be doing much of anything. To be fair, Naruto was trying to help Mai by handling most of the minor things so Mai could focus her attention more appropriately- mainly to the Wolves she was using to aid Hi no Kuni in defending themselves from Iwagakure's recent hostilities.

Unfortunately Mai was also worried about Naruto overworking himself for whatever reason. As far as Tsume was concerned, being swamped with work would at least keep him tied down, busy, and-probably- out of trouble. Some of the Wolves had agreed with her there, though they wouldn't actually speak out against Tsukuyomi or Amaterasu.

That was another new thing and it was going to take some time for Tsume to ever be able to think of Mai as "Amaterasu". For as long as she'd known the young woman she'd always just been Mai, the right hand of Tsukuyomi. Thinking of her as the sun, well, Tsume didn't really think it suited her.

If anything, Naruto should have been Amaterasu and Mai should have been Tsukuyomi. She was pretty sure in some of the older stories Tsukuyomi was a woman, which would fit, though she couldn't recall if Amaterasu was the brother in those or there were just two sisters. Hadn't seemed important to remember at the time and honestly it still really wasn't.

The point was, Mai really didn't seem like an Amaterasu. It wasn't until later that Tsume realized it was less about her resembling the sun and rather the fact that- somehow- Naruto projected a feeling of age and power to the point where you could convince yourself he was in some way divine. That had actually been a rather uncomfortable realization for the woman and she couldn't say what about it really bothered her the most. Really, he was just a charismatic- if sometimes immensely irritating- young man, which is how he'd made it as far as he did.

It was a simple, rational explanation.

And yet it still rang hollow in her ears. There was more there and either she couldn't see it or some part of her absolutely refused to see and thinking about it brought a general sense of unease and nervousness she just couldn't quite shake.

Which was a little stupid, really, because she'd seen him lounging around the palace library in nothing but a loose- very loose- robe tossing assorted candied fruits into his mouth while he read. He'd missed. A lot. Either because he wasn't really paying attention or because he was just a bad shot- her money was on the first- but the result was a myriad of colored, sugary fruits stuck to his hair while he focused on his book,

How the hell could that make her nervous?

Honestly, it was kind of cute even if she would never be admitting that to anyone for as long as she lived. That would even have to be kept from Mai lest she give the girl ideas. Insinuating that she also found the man Mai was attracted to 'cute' in any sense might lead to discussions and invitations Tsume would just rather not have, thank you.

And Hana would probably end up suggesting some very inappropriate things between the three, too.

But beyond Mai's new name and how busy she was with the work Naruto used to do- in fact, it seemed to Tsume as if Mai was running the whole House of Wolves these days and when she mentioned it near Naruto the young man had actually smiled. There was probably something there she was missing- Tsume had realized the most important fact- she wasn't actually here because Mai wanted to spend time with her.

That sounded pretty bad at face value but the situation was more complicated than that. Mai would like to spend time with Tsume- very much so, by the looks both helpless and at some times hungry she sent towards the Inuzuka matriarch- but when it came down to it the work she was doing with the Wolves took priority and Mai couldn't really drag herself away from it.

In which case, why had Tsume even been invited in the first place? Someone who didn't know Mai might suspect it was just to give Tsume some time to relax and escape her own duties with her clan but Tsume understood how Mai thought much better than that.

She had been invited here to Yu no Kuni so that Mai could see her. Again, there was more to it than that. Mai wanted her where she knew Tsume was safe and where she could see it for herself every day. It wasn't enough to receive word from Konoha that Tsume was doing well, Mai was far too worried for that to placate her nerves.

That alone told Tsume two very important things; first, whatever was happening out there- be it the monsters or the conflict in northern Hi no Kuni- was probably more dangerous than most people were hearing about. Understandable, Konoha herself was still mostly removed from the events despite the fact that her Shinobi were off participating in the mess.

Second, and most importantly, it told Tsume that Mai was overstressed. Very overstressed.

And that just wouldn't do.

The more stressed Mai was the less efficient she would be when it came to her work- and the more aware of that she'd become- which would only serve to further increase stress in a vicious cycle that could only end when it resulted in a complete breakdown. And if Mai really was fully in control of the Wolves at the moment- Tsume was quite confident saying that was the case- then who knows if they'd manage to recover from that. Knowing the House of Wolves were suffering because of her breakdown would go one of two ways, either it would galvanize her and spur her back into the saddle or it would keep her down completely.

And Naruto could always step in and take over again- from the looks of it, he'd been contemplating doing just that and was only having trouble finding a way to do so without making Mai think she had lost his confidence, something that would only have her working herself even harder to prove him wrong- but that only really helped the Wolves.

Tsume may have been allied with them, but she really didn't care about the Wolves.

She cared about Mai.

Naruto's efforts to reduce her workload in secret- so she wasn't worried about him and so that she couldn't stop him- obviously wasn't enough. Probably because it wasn't the amount of work that was causing the stress but rather having the responsibility of the entire house on her shoulders. For years it had been Naruto bearing that weight with Mai's assistance and while Mai had held plenty of responsibility in the Wolves ultimately she could always turn up to Naruto for direction and, if necessary, push the buck to him.

Now she had both the entire house and Naruto's expectations resting on her slender shoulders. Tsume had no doubt it was actually the latter that was causing her so much trouble.

Mai was absolutely terrified of letting Naruto down after he'd entrusted the House of Wolves- his children, from what Tsume understood- to her care. And she was fretting about it so much that every other problem she used to be able to handle with the barest effort now loomed over her like mountains.

So, in summary, it was all Naruto's fault.

And so Tsume would be using him to help remedy it. That, she thought, was only fair.

She also didn't have any better ideas. If her standing in the doorway of Mai's office in nothing but lingerie hadn't managed to draw the girl away- Mai was a sucker for lace- then Tsume had to go for the big guns.

And if Tsukuyomi alone couldn't drag Mai out of the office and away from her problems- even for just an evening so she could start mentally recovering- well, Tsume would just have to put him in lace lingerie.

Tsume hoped it didn't come to that, she wasn't entirely sure she could pull it off.

The form shambled through the darkness, barely managing to keep itself together. Even as it drew closer the flesh of its hosts slowly liquified, releasing a noxious smoke that followed it like a cloud of miasma.

Thirteen pairs of human legs and thirteen pairs of human arms were joined by two dozen more limbs that scratched wildly at anything they could to help push the massive body closer to its goal. A dozen heads lolled lifelessly with every lurch, their eyes long ago liquified and from the sockets now pouring a constant stream of viscous black blood that the limbs alternated between slipping in and using to help slide the amalgamation of flesh over the floor like a slug.

The sounds it made doing so were enough to turn one's stomach.

The final head, at the very center of this mess, stared forward with unseeing black eyes. Motes of light swirled like an ocean of stars through the glassy mirrors, its attention far away from this city of concrete and rain.

Before it walked Zetsu, the black half of his body seeming to ebb and flow out of the shadows of the empty hallways. He turned every now and again to ensure the host was still following him but he wasn't too worried about it wandering off. It was made out of his own clones, after all, and he still maintained some control over them even when they were holding…others.

It wasn't much, but certainly enough for him to keep track of where they were and where they were headed.

And even if he couldn't, he still had a handful of clones to help him get it where he needed to go. Mostly they were there to keep an eye out for anyone who might see what he was up to- and, in that case, to ensure they were silenced- because Pein was already suspicious enough about his true intentions when he'd released monsters into the world from Orochimaru's Deep Cells.

The man- even if he liked to call himself a god- would not be pleased to know he was also messing with the Gedo Mazo.

Fortunately, no one ever came to this room unless there was a meeting or a Jinchuriki had been caught. They'd recently had one such meeting so unless someone found a Jinchuriki- unlikely going by their track record- he should be left with plenty of time to go about his work.

And with the aid of his clones, this sealing shouldn't take long at all.

He just hoped it managed to integrate itself to its new body quickly, his flesh was not a suitable host for a child of Au'Khan Ajahre.

Where the fuck were these things coming from? Mai knew, academically at least, that the answer to the question was simply "Orochimaru's Deep Cells" but she didn't know a single thing about them other than the fact that Orochimaru had her hands in them. She didn't know where they were or what the things spilling from them were- beyond knowing they had apparently merged with living plant-clones of one of the Akatsuki members- or why they were doing anything and that made it terribly difficult to plan for them.

And that was bad enough when she only had to worry about Yuto's group running into them in southern Hi no Kuni- and how had they managed to get there? Were they also involved with the conflict up north?- but now they'd made it all the way to Nami no Kuni?

Sai had reached out, understandably surprised by the development, through the seal to let her know of what the Wolves had encountered along Nami's coast. While the description was slightly different from what Yuto had provided- were the creatures themselves simply different based on where they were or was that just a difference in how the two wrote?- she had little doubt they were the same things.

That was a problem and in order to find a solution she needed information.

Only she hadn't been able to get ahold of Orochimaru. No one in Naruto's inner circle could reach the Snake Sage for whatever reason. Mai had taken to setting up a watch within Naruto's seal- which, quite frankly, was a ridiculous place to have to post a standing guard- to keep an eye out for her. Not that he was likely to show up unless she was looking for someone specifically, so that meant they had to find her in the physical world.

Normally not a problem, she'd been sticking to Nami for the most part.

Except now that she needed him she wasn't.

Just her fucking luck.

She'd like to send people out for her but right now those in Nami were busy with the monsters trying to encroach upon Tsukuyomi's domain and the others she'd sent to Hi no Kuni and were also dealing with monsters.

Really, monsters were the biggest problem she found herself having to deal with at the moment- not something she ever thought she'd be saying.

Compared to that managing the Wolves was easy, especially with Hanabi who had been doing work out of Nami and with the things that vanished from her desk only to show up later completed in handwriting that certainly wasn't hers. Obviously Naruto wasn't able to help himself- or, rather, had been helping himself to her work- and had been doing some of it for her.

It didn't seem like he was doing too much, though, so as long as that didn't change- and while she had other things to worry about- she was letting it slide. It was making things a bit easier for her, which was probably why he had started doing it- rather than as an effort to alleviate his own boredom- and she appreciated it.

If he started to take too much, though, she'd be sure to give him a proper tongue lashing. Or maybe she'd take up Tsume on her offer to tear verbal strips from his hide now that she knew who he was. Tsume hadn't wanted to yell at him for anything related to him overworking himself but she was sure she could convince the wonderful woman to do it for her anyway.

Tsume…..Mai groaned, rubbing her eyes with the heel of her palms. She really wanted to spend time with the Inuzuka matriarch- and the gods knew she could use both some stress relief and a bit of physical comfort- but she didn't want to taint her time with Tsume worrying about her Wolves off fighting monsters. Tsume deserved better than that. Tsume deserved her full, undivided attention.

Only right now she wasn't getting any attention and Mai was feeling slightly guilty about pulling the woman away from her family just for her own peace of mind. With Tsume safely within the palace- a palace Mai was ensuring will be fortified enough to keep Tsukuyomi safe- she had one less thing to worry about. It was a massive help, honestly, but the guilt still gnawed at her.

A foot connected to her doors, pushing them both inwards until they crashed against the walls on either side, and broke Mai from her thoughts. Mai blinked in surprise. Who the hell…..

It was Naruto. Who else would think they could get away with something like this?

Mai blinked again.

He was only wearing an orange towel that had been folded in half before he tied it around his waist, leaving it rather….short. Mai watched a droplet of water make its way down from his inner thigh and felt a tinge of pink flush across her cheeks. She'd seen more than that when it came to Naruto- much more, both from when the two of them had been lovers and from his habit of going without clothes on the top floor of the Nami palace- but knowing what was hidden just out of sight made it all the more tantalizing.

And then the fact that it was water hit her and she realized he was wet. Mai was also pretty sure she saw a few scattered bubbles of soap on his shoulders, though curiously enough his hair was completely dry. Had he not gotten that far yet? And if not, did that mean…..

"Mai," He greeted her casually enough as he strolled into the room. "How have you been?"

She felt one eyebrow rise all on its own. "I've been well enough, thank you." Mai paused. "Why are you kicking my door in?" She didn't even bother with the fact that he was only wearing a towel. She knew the importance of choosing her battles- and her headaches.

"Ah! I'm glad you asked." He gave her a smile but it seemed more predatory than cheerful. "You see, I was actually in the middle of washing myself in preparation for an evening of enjoying the palace Onsen-" That explained the towel, then. "- when I was accosted by Tsume whom you, apparently, have been neglecting."

He wasn't wrong but; "How does that lead you to kicking down my doors?"

"Because I'm here to fix that, obviously." He had made it to her desk at this point and didn't even hesitate in scooping her out of her chair and throwing her over his shoulder like a sack of grain. From her new position she could see his chains masterfully moving to tidy and organize her desk and as they walked away one of the chains pushed the chair back in.

"Naruto, I have work to do-"

"Nope." He was quick to shut her down. "Not tonight you don't." After a second he reconsidered his statement. "Actually, no, that's wrong. You do have work, but the only work you have is Tsume and I expect you to do her well."

"Naruto!" She knew her face was absolutely red and she was very glad Tayuya wasn't here to see it. That girl loved seeing Mai flustered and out of sorts and would have never let her live it down.

It wasn't long before they reached the bedroom Mai had claimed for her own. It was, as one might expect, very close to her office. The only reason it wasn't directly next to it was due to a reading room and Mai had chosen it specifically because it was the closest bedroom to an office- and inversely the reason she'd chosen that office- in the entire palace.

Inviting himself in, he gave an appreciative look at Tsume who was lounging on top of Mai's bed wearing….well, it was more like she wasn't wearing….it was very little, very lacey, and very nice. "Mai, have I ever mentioned that I adore your taste in women?" He gave Tsume a wink as he asked and didn't need to turn around to feel the heat of Mai's blush.

He considered the light dusting of pink of Tsume's cheeks- barely visible with how low she had turned the warm golden lights- a great victory. He'd be savoring that image for a very long time.

"I do believe this is yours, Tsume." Naruto shifted Mai off his shoulder and into his arms. "Sorry she doesn't have a ribbon, I couldn't find one on the way to her office. If you want her tied, though, I do believe I could manage something.

"That's okay, I like her just fine the way she is." Tsume shot Mai a salacious gin. "Though I do believe she might be a bit overdressed." She reached out for the girl and Naruto leaned over the bed to deliver Mai into her arms. When Tsume was sure Mai wasn't going anywhere- the pale arms similarly wrapped around her silently promised that- she looked up to meet Naruto's purple eyes. "Thank you, Naruto." Her gratitude was sincere and he gave her a soft smile.

"Of course, Tsume." His eyes moved down to Mai who had nestled her head in the crook of Tsume's neck and narrowed slightly in concern. "Take care of her."

Tsume nodded almost solemnly and returned her attention to her younger lover.

The two finally spending some much needed time together, Naruto quietly padded back to the door as quietly as he could. He reached for the doors and, right before he closed them, glanced back at the bed one last time.

The Inuzuka matriarch was looking straight at him, a frown tugging at her lips and her brows furrowed in thought. After a moment her eyes moved from Naruto back to Mai and then returned again to meet his blue. She looked resigned for only the briefest of seconds before her entire body sagged with a sigh.

"Close the door, Naruto." He gave a nod and stepped out into the hallway-

"Naruto." Her voice had him looking back again. "Get back in here and close the door."

Purple eyes blinked in confusion and Mai's head shot up in surprise. "Tsume?" She asked.

"I already needed his help just getting you here," She explained, brown eyes moving to a corner of the room to avoid their gazes and her lips almost drawn to a pout. "So I'll probably end up needing his help to make sure you fully relax too."

Mostly it was knowing that Mai needed to be able to see both of them and know they were both safe in order to have any chance of fully relaxing. And it wasn't like Tsume was oblivious about the fact that Mai was still very much in love with the young man. If it took the two people Mai loved to make sure she was taken care of tonight, well, Tsume would just have to bite the bullet and help it happen.

At least, she could console herself, Naruto wasn't bad looking. He was, in fact, rather pretty. Beautiful, even, and the look he gave her as he moved next to the bed and stared working Mai's shoulders while she rested in Tsume's arms- which had such an immediate effect on the tension in Mai's body Tsume would have had to be in a coma to miss- promised the Inuzuka matriarch that he would keep his attentions focused entirely upon the young woman in her arms.

Good, she didn't want Hana getting any more ideas.

Sealkeeper: He Who Binds

Chapter 171-B "Damned Eyes"

Patron release 2021.01.18

Tsume found herself more than a little conflicted as she lay in Mai's bed. The young woman in question was to her right, her face burrowed into Tsume's chest and her legs entwined with those of the older woman. That was not what had her questioning her recent actions, no, that would be the young man on Mai's right. The one whose arm Tsume was currently laying on and whose other arm draped across Mai- keeping her securely between the two of them- and rested on Tsume's left hip.

He, like herself, was also on his side which- due to Mai's choice to enjoy Tsume's breasts while she slept- meant he was lying directly across from the older woman and looking straight at her. Or he would be if he was awake. Well, she didn't think he was awake. If nothing else, his eyes were closed and his breathing was steady enough for her to believe it, though if that was the case he was moving that hand of his gently over her hip in his sleep.

Not entirely unbelievable, just unlikely. In which case she was quite glad his eyes were closed, she didn't think she could deal with them looking into hers as they occupied the same bed.

Though at this point staring into each others eyes wasn't much at all.

That, in fact, was the main reason Tsume was conflicted.

Just like those purple eyes of his had promised, he had kept his attentions- and his hands- strictly to Mai. Or he had until Mai, worried that the two of them weren't getting as much out of it as she was- which hadn't been the point at all, they were working together to take care of her- had all but begged Tsume to let her return the favor.

And she'd asked Naruto for his help.

When those purple eyes had turned to her- those damned eyes- seeking permission she had relented. She had been the one to invite him to stay and she was sure Mai would think she'd done something wrong if she turned them both away like that.

But that was just an excuse, really.

The truth was that working over Mai had her horny as all hell and watching Naruto sink into the young woman minutes before had done nothing to help that. The young man was a handsome specimen, that was for sure, and while Tsume loved Mai dearly she wasn't normally into other women at all. Mai was the only woman Tsume found sexually attractive and the only woman with whom Tsume had acted on that attraction.

And it had been far too long since she'd last been with a man. Normally not a problem, she had ways of taking care of herself and her time with Mai was without a doubt sexually gratifying but when it was right there and her girlfriend- was Mai her girlfriend? Lover? Tsume didn't actually know- was not only okay with it but would encourage it?

Tsume had said yes and then spent the next few minutes tortured by hands and mouths just hoping he'd take it as far with her as he had with Mai. He hadn't.

Naruto used his permission only to touch and mostly left erogenous areas to Mai. It drove Tsume crazy, and not in the good way. And then, eventually, in the good way.

Mai was exhausted at that point and more than ready to cuddle with her two most beloved people and fall into blissful, naked slumber. It had been Tsume who copied Mai's earlier actions and suggested that it was Naruto's turn.

That traitorous tongue of hers.

Mai had looked a little surprised but far from displeased. Naruto had just raised a questioning brow. When the young woman tried to push herself up from next to Tsume that brow had only risen higher. Tsume didn't know what had possessed her to do it, but she'd told Mai to just lie there and rest- she'd take care of it.

Mai had been even more surprised but there was no denying the sudden hunger in her eyes at the prospect of seeing the two people she loved together like that. Tsume held that look partially accountable for helping spur her forward with that spontaneous decision.

What Naruto had thought of the whole thing Tsume really didn't know. He certainly hadn't rejected her advances but even as she climbed onto the young man her attention was firmly on Mai. It stayed there the whole time, too, and the expression Mai wore as she watched them drove Tsume absolutely wild.

It was three satisfied individuals who had eventually found themselves under Mai's covers, the lights put out and only a faint glow of the moon slipping past curtains that hadn't been fully closed earlier. Tsume had been lying here awake ever since.

She still didn't know what Naruto thought of it- she hadn't asked and she wasn't sure she really cared- but she knew what Mai thought of it and, most conflicting, she knew how she felt about it. Tsume had enjoyed it. A lot. Part of her felt guilty, almost like she was cheating on Mai, but Mai had been there, taking it all in with hungry black eyes and reveling in the joining between the two.

The movements of her hands had not gone unnoticed either.

Another part of her told her to wake up Nami's Daimyo for another round, but that just led to her other part shouting out even louder. It was okay this time because Mai had been here and encouraged it but if she did anything else surely that would be cheating, wouldn't it? And just the fact that she was even considering it was bad enough, as far as Tsume was concerned.

But gods if she didn't want to.

Naruto's hands traveled up from her hip and along her side, stopping just shy of the breasts Mai had pressed her face into, and back down to her upper thigh. Tsume shivered at the gentle caress beneath Mai's sheets of crimson silk. Between those fingers of his and the naked Mai pressed into her body, Tsume was in a mood related to sleep only by the merits of sharing a room.

She glanced down to Mai to make sure the young woman was still getting the sleep she desperately needed and when her gaze came up again it was to twin orbs of purple reflecting the moonlight.

Those damned eyes.

Languid and satisfied, there was still an amusement to them that struck Tsume as hungry. Just as Mai's look had been during- another shiver made its way down her naked spine, a combination of his soft, teasing touches and memories from earlier that evening.

The amusement in those eyes of his only grew.

"Not tired enough to sleep, Tsume?" He kept his voice quiet to avoid waking Mai and the low rumble sent another shiver through her. A warmth was starting to grow in her belly and some distant part of her made the observation that his familiar use of her given name probably was appropriate now considering, well, everything.

She didn't pay it any mind.

"Just enjoying the moment." Was her response.

He hummed, still moving up and down her hip. "You sure? You seem a bit…tense."

She only barely managed to bite back the growl she wanted to give him, and only because Mai was still asleep. His hand traveled down again but slipped from her upper thigh down onto what she could only assume was Mai's leg considering she couldn't feel it anymore. It had been annoyingly distracting while she was lost in thought earlier.

Now that it was gone she missed it.

Whatever that hand was doing underneath the sheets, Mai mewled in her sleep and did her best to push even closer to Tsume. It wasn't possible for the young woman to be any closer but it certainly didn't stop Mai from trying. Tsume narrowed brown eyes at his purple.

"Don't you dare wake her." She hissed quietly. The girl needed her rest, that's most of the reason they'd done this in the first place.

"And let her miss all the fun?" Naruto asked. His eyes were practically glowing with smug amusement- or maybe that was just the moonlight hitting them. He leaned down to place a kiss on the back of Mai's neck and Tsume stiffened as the young woman became…grabby. "You know she'd want to watch."

Want to- She narrowed her eyes at him until they were practically a glare. Was he just assuming this was something that was going to happen? Nevermind the fact that she was just considering it or that she wanted it to happen, he was not the one who got to call the shots here. Not when it was his fault that she was feeling like this at the moment, those damn hands of his- Tsume paused, blinked, and then she did growl softly.

"You were doing that on purpose, weren't you?"

"Doing what?"

"The touching, the teasing. You were trying to turn me on again." She accused.

One red brow rose smoothly and his answer slid over her ears like velvet. "...Trying, Tsume?" There was absolutely no way to miss it in his tone- he was enjoying this.

She was too, much to her consternation, especially when that hand returned from its trip to Mai and resumed its travel over her bare skin. Tsume couldn't think about- or enjoy- it long as her attention was caught by Mai who wiggled against her before peering up sleepily and giving a tiny yawn. The young woman was absolutely adorable and Tsume almost felt guilty about how arousing she found the sight.


Mai rubbed at one eye with the back of her hand as she gained a bit of awareness. "...Naruto…?" She mumbled. Tsume was a little disappointed it wasn't her name to come out from those pink lips first until Mai continued. "You're already ready to go again?" It only took a moment for Tsume to realize what Mai was noticing. Obviously she wasn't the only one in the mood, something Mai commented on next as her hands traveled back down to her older lover. "...You too, Tsume?"

There was a solid second before Mai's already drooping eyes shot back open and realization flashed behind them. They sought out Tsume's looking for answers and, when none were immediately forthcoming, she asked; "Are you two going to go again?"

There was no mistaking the hope in her voice and suddenly Tsume didn't feel quite so guilty.

The Inuzuka matriarch would still be doing everything in her power to ensure Hana never learned of this, though-

She'd never hear the end of it if she did.

As he walked down the darkened halls of one of Orochimaru's many bases, Sasuke realized he'd actually missed the damn place. He'd missed a lot of things he had never expected to, really. Simple things.

The grass between his toes as he did his sunrise Katas each morning to wake his body up.

The sharp smell of his favored burn cream- a recipe taught to him by his mother and that had been passed down through the Uchiha for generations.

The passible curry served by his go-to curry house. The one that provided free explosive notes with every order. It wasn't even that good but by the gods he'd been craving it since just after Orochimaru took over his body. That had been a hellish….he didn't know how long it had been, he realized, it may have just been a few hours.

He doubted that. Highly. But he had no way to keep track of the passing of time when he didn't even have access to his body. Just the deep, darkness of his inner mind. No sound. No touch. No taste. He could not feel the heart in his chest or the breath in his lungs.

But he was an Uchiha, damnit, and the last one. He needed to ensure his children grew up right so they didn't make the sorts of mistakes he had. That the entire clan had for generations. They needed to be better. He'd never asked for Orochimaru's Ten no Juin and it had certainly played a large part in some of his worse mistakes- what he could feel in the darkness was the blood still staining his hands and the burn he'd made on his chest, both as clearly as the day they'd been inflicted- but in the end it was still Uchiha Sasuke who was responsible.

He should have been better able to resist- from what he learned from time in Orochimaru's outpost that purple-haired examiner from the second task had been marked by the Snake Sage well over a decade ago and had never once made use of it. Considering she was an active Tokujo and was going on much more dangerous missions than him, she'd obviously been in situations in which she could have benefited from its use to save herself and her team- and he should have taken more steps to try to counter the damn thing.

Kakashi had seals that would help suppress it, there had to be other things that could also keep it dormant. Sasuke had never bothered to look. That was on him.

But his kids, his children, if Sasuke had anything to say about it they would be raised humble and hardworking. He would make sure he understood there were monsters out there like Orochimaru who could do the most horrible things while still being a -dare he say it- reasonable human and monsters like Naruko who held such a terrible power back by sheer will alone and only called upon it to save her comrades.

The Uchiha were not at the top, not like he'd been taught by his father. No, if an Uchiha was at the top it was because they'd damned-well worked their asses off to get there. His own brother was a good example of that. For all their flaunted Uchiha superiority it had only taken one young man to slaughter them all. Not because he was an Uchiha but because he'd made himself better.

Their bloodline might be the finest steel, but if one did not work, shape, and sharpen that steel it was useless for a Shinobi. His children would need to be worked, shaped, and sharpened until they were each weapons capable of defending themselves, each other, and their own children.

The future of the Uchiha.

Sasuke didn't actually know how he would accomplish this goal- hopefully the mothers would have good input and would be willing to help in this- but even if he'd been gone for ten years there was still time to impart those lessons on his children. And if it had been less?

That just gave him more time to come up with something.

His feet took him down a familiar pathway until he reached the communal chambers he'd spent so much time in. When the overseer of this outpost had realized he and Neji were encountering each other regularly anyway- and when the girls had reported that they weren't trying to plan some sort of escape- she'd moved them to three sets of rooms. Sasuke had no illusions it was to make security easier for the woman. If they were all in one area she could keep them in that area and was free to use the rest of the outpost as she pleased.

Not that he could blame her, he'd have done the same thing just for the sheer convenience of managing the situation.

So with a private series of rooms on either side, the middle rooms- a large communal sitting room, a decently equipped kitchen, and an Onsen all the ladies could gather in (minus whoever was currently watching Sasuke and Neji to make sure they didn't try to make a run for it. Sasuke had always thought the easier solution was to have them join but then the women would miss out on 'girl time')- were the social gathering point for everyone and helped Neji and Sasuke feel a little less cramped and confined without having to be accompanied for a walk through the outpost.

It helped that it meant one of the ladies from either group could spend time in that room and keep an eye on the door, as passing through the room was the only way in or out of the private rooms too. Much more efficient that way, which seemed to be this overseer's largest focus. He didn't mind it too much, but unless she was joining him in the attempts he drew the line at her trying to coach him through the most efficient ways of bringing back his clan- especially when she'd tried to do it in his private bedroom when he was with one of his girls.

Fortunately telling her that she was free to use her own advice if she fit herself into his schedule managed to shut her up. She'd been blushing up a storm as she left but Sasuke was fairly sure it was due to the very same schedule she was clutching to her chest rather than because of his offer. Obviously she'd found it satisfactorily efficient.

At least she'd stopped timing his strokes.

Shaking his head of the thought- gods but that woman was gorgeous. Those legs alone were worth reworking his schedule for- he let himself into the common room, still slightly surprised he'd been allowed to come all this way without an escort. Kabuto had brought him here from Nami- and boy did Orochimaru's right hand seem pleased to have that task. Sasuke wasn't sure if it was the chance to get out of the wet country or the opportunity to see this outpost's overseer that had him more cheerful. Kabuto was probably smart enough to enjoy them both.- and as soon as they'd entered sent him off to his rooms.

Maybe Kabuto couldn't be bothered to make sure he went where he was supposed to or maybe the fact that his future children- or perhaps children, depending on how long it had been- were here was enough for the Shinobi medic to be sure Sasuke would want to be here.

Or, perhaps, he'd earned a bit of leeway with the fact that he'd managed to remain alive.

Sasuke hesitated slightly on his way through the door as the thought struck him. His deal with Orochimaru was for his body- so the man, well, they were a woman at that point for whatever reason- could obtain the Sharingan. In return, he received the means to bring back his clan.

But Orochimaru had finished with his body. There was no reason for the Uchiha to have to stay anymore, other than to claim his part of the exchange and he could hardly imagine Orochimaru caring whether or not he returned to his lovers. At least, not now that they were already pregnant. He had the Uchiha and he had their Doujutsu for himself already, everything else was inconsequential.

So long as Sasuke didn't try to run off with any of the girls- or just with some of the babies- nothing he did really mattered as far as Orochimaru and his subordinates were concerned.

It was strange, in a way, to know you were more free than you had ever been- from both the prison of his mind, from Konoha, and now from his deal with Orochimaru entirely- and yet you were willingly returning to one of your old cages. But, were he to look at it from the eyes of this outpost's overseer, it was simply more efficient this way.

They would be provided for here in the outpost. The next generation of the Uchiha wouldn't want for any of the basic necessities- or even some creature comforts- for as long as they remained. Orochimaru's subordinates would protect them with their lives- because there were worse things than death, something Orochimaru would make unbelievably clear should they fail him and live to regret it- and could even- possibly- be persuaded to aid in training and education. It was simply the best arrangement for Sasuke and his children to stay here. It was the best chance the Uchiha had of coming back.

And, well, the mothers were still fiercely loyal to Orochimaru and he held no illusions that they would choose the snake over him when it came down to it. He didn't know if they'd choose Orochimaru over their children- he desperately hoped not- but in order to put the children first they'd be staying under Orochimaru's hospitality anyway. There was no way Sasuke could convince them to come away with him.

So with the honey here, Sasuke really didn't have any other option than to return to the trap.

He wasn't particularly upset about it, though.

The room was a little more bright than he ever remembered it being, he thought as he finished making his way through the threshold, and he could only assume it was to account for the various bookshelves that now spread across the previously empty walls. Those were definitely new to the common room. One of Neji's girls- Akira, if memory served- was making use of the increased lighting to enjoy a book on the couch, her stomach swollen in the final months of pregnancy.

She was absolutely glowing and if this was still her first it gave Sasuke at least a rough estimate of how long he'd been away. Was it disappointing that his suffering hadn't actually been for as long as it felt- to be fair, it would have been hard for an eternity to pass- or was he fortunate it may have only been a few months which was probably the only reason he'd managed to hang onto his own mind the whole time?

On some of the other couches three of Neji's other girls were speaking softly with two of his own. They, like Akira, were very much pregnant which meant it probably had been just a few months that Orochimaru inhabited his body for.

Akira glanced up from her book at the sound of the door closing and blinked in obvious surprise when she saw the long-lost Uchiha standing there. After a second she looked to the other women from the corner of her eye and an impish smile crossed her lips.

"Welcome back, Sasuke-san." She greeted just loud enough for the others to hear. The conversation ceased immediately and the two women carrying the next generation of the Uchiha clan got up from their seats as quickly as they could before waddling their way to meet him with cries of "Sasuke-kun!".

The Uchiha was fairly certain he could hear the other three starting to make their way over from the private Uchiha rooms but for the moment he focused on the two here with him. He was also smart enough to quickly stride towards them rather than force them to come all the way across the room to see him.

"Momo, Anzu," He greeted them, placing one arm around each woman. "It's good to see you both. You look well." Sasuke received a kiss on both cheeks.

"We missed you, Sasuke-kun." Momo informed him, happily leaning against the father of the child that was currently growing within her.

"We weren't sure you were ever coming back." Anzu frowned. "It didn't really sound like you would be when you left."

"Sorry ladies, I wasn't sure I'd be coming back." He apologized and then explained. "Orochimaru was inhabiting my body to obtain the Sharingan. It-" He hesitated for half a second before deciding they may as well know the truth. "Well, it was supposed to kill me."

The gasps from the right told him that the others had arrived and a quick look in that direction showed Ume, Suika, and Nashi in the doorway. He flashed them a smile. "It's good to see you three, too."

"Not as good as it is to see you, Sasuke-kun." Nashi purred. Beside her Ume nodded in agreement. "Yes, it's been too long."

"And we're especially glad to have you back knowing it should have been impossible." Suika assured him, pushing past the two to enter the common room. Sasuke found it very hard not to stare. Suika had always been the most….gifted…of the five but in her pregnancy more than just her stomach had grown.

Sasuke didn't know if it was possible for one's mouth to go completely dry whilst simultaneously being on the verge of drooling but he was pretty sure he was experiencing it at the moment. Whatever showed on his face obviously pleased Suika as she smiled at him and the other four tittered with amusement.

"Sasuke?" Neji came into the room from the Hyūga suites, drawn by the noise or possibly just having seen the gathering through the walls. "I thought you were leaving?"

"I did, it was part of my deal with Orochimaru." Neji hadn't had to worry about a deal to get the same thing, but Neji also hadn't exactly asked for it either. He was just abducted during the Chunin exams, surrounded by beautiful women, and told they were going to help him start his own unmarked branch of the Hyuuga. Neji, not being a complete idiot, had decided to go with it. "But things have been taken care of now so I was able to return."

Neji gave an understanding nod. He would want to get back as soon as possible too, even if Akira was still being especially critical about his performance in the bedroom. The others assured him he'd become satisfactory so he was pretty sure she did it just to annoy him. Or maybe she just had much higher standards when it came to a lover. "Well, welcome back. Any more plans? There's still not much to do around here." his 'outside the bedroom' went without saying, because there was too much of that for him to keep up with most of the time.

"Not really," Sasuke shrugged. "Figured I'd just get back into my routines." And speaking of which…

"Momo, what's the date?"

"Uhm…." She placed a finger on her lip as she tried to recall the information he sought. "August ninth..? Momo didn't seem too sure but Anzu nodded in agreement. Just to be safe he spared a glance over to Nashi who, with a knowing smile, also gave a nod to confirm the other two were correct.

"Thank you." He glanced at the clock near the kitchen and mumbled; "Just after three, hmm?"

Sasuke nodded. "Alright. Neji, good to see you and your girls. Momo, Anzu, Ume, Nashi, I'm very happy to have returned to you and look forward to spending time with you all again. Right now, however," Returning the kiss to the cheeks of Momo and Anzu he slipped away from them and approached Suika. "I do believe this time slot belongs to you, Suika, and I know you're long overdue for some attention."

She beamed at him as he wrapped one arm around her waist and started leading her back into the Uchiha Suites.

He may have been gone for months but Uchiha Sasuke still remembered the schedule.

Momo - Peach

Anzu - Apricot

Ume - Plum

Suika - Watermelon

Nashi - Pear

As you may have noticed, Ume is plum and yet I'm fairly certain I've been using it for Sea Country. My bad, I was supposed to be typing UMI no Kuni. I'll blame the pronunciation and my shit memory. The fact that I didn't go back to check and instead trusted that shit memory is also a major factor. Sorry.

Thanks goes to my Patrons for their patient support.

Lord Generals

Cephalon Keeper, Michael Huber, B4NH4MM3R, Jacklefrackle

Lord Marshals

Ronji, MythicFool, Pope Gregory Trivium III, Luxano,

Lord Majors

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Lord Commissars

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Lord High-Inquisitor


Lord Inquisitors

Angel Morales, Brendon, Joe Schumacher, Michael Friede, Nilzor, Chase, Maroner, Forseeti, Carlos Campbell, Thanyx, Slip123, Godfrey Kawi, Nicholas Hoover, Supernowy, Milton Pereira, YGO, Louis Lennin, OldManCain, Brandon Romero, MB, Brandon, LoneSaiyan, Para, Nekrull DeUmbrus, Jennifer carpenter, HKaz, Pantheras, MasterT941, J. G., Tyrell2000, Gobo, June Tai, james escobedo, Sebastiaan asselbergs, James, TheGreatBubbaJ, TheAbsoluteMonarch, JonCotterill, Zack Crum, SMatatabi, Theepicslime, Matthew Smith, Wrex, DamnedThrice, DualEquinox, Carl Confoy, James Fleming, Sivellan, Marin Dimovski, J. G., Matiu Patuwai, DARKAR

Until I next have your attention, I remain,