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Naruto is as subtle as a brick.

He stares, and he stares openly. It is driving Sasuke insane. Once, he’d stared so blatantly at Sasuke when he was rushing to get dressed and start his day, that Sasuke felt himself harden slightly. Naruto’s eyes had dipped to his waist, and he’d stared, lips parted slightly, pupils dilated. 

It was bound to happen. Winter has truly settled and there is no escaping the stifling snows settling into the valley. There are no campaigns, nothing to do but ride out storm after storm. Even the village center is subdued when they finally fight their way through the snow drifts for supplies. There is nothing for them to do but to occupy each other’s space and get in each other’s way.

It’s not as if Sasuke hasn’t noticed Naruto. It’s hard not to. He noticed him the very first day he saw him. But now, they’re spending more time together. Naruto is learning the northern language—and at this point in the charade, Sasuke isn’t sure how he’ll ever break the truth to Naruto that he can speak the southern language just fine—so it’s becoming easier to communicate. 

The worst thing is that Sasuke likes Naruto. He’s a pampered aristocrat in so many ways that Sasuke has begun to lose track. He is loud. He insists on getting his way. He carries himself like a lord, and he has recreated Sasuke’s humble home in the image of his own childhood mansion. 

But the children love him. They turn to him like flowers to the sun, soaking in his easy affection. He calls them all baby, even Kakashi, and not a single one of them protests at the endearment. In fact, they respond to the nickname. Naruto says baby, and five sets of eyes turn towards him because they all think of themselves, for all intents and purposes, as Naruto’s babies. 

They tolerate his constant, gentle touches to the forehead to brush away hair, to their cheeks, on their backs. They let him pull them into hugs, kiss them on the cheeks, on their foreheads, and on the crowns of their heads. He dotes and fusses over them the way he dotes and fusses over Kushina. He manages every aspect of their life, from what they eat—at a precise time, and always home cooked meals, none of the sweets or greasy stall foods from the village center—to what they wear—layers upon layers of clothes if it’s particularly cold out; Naruto will tie each of their cloaks on personally to make sure they don’t fall off during their play. He tucks them into bed each and every single night. He tells them, I love you, without hesitation and with the full force of his affection behind the words. They tell him, I love you, too.

And then there’s Kushina. Sasuke wakes up to Kushina’s bright smile every morning. She gurgles happily whenever she sees Sasuke, reaches chubby fingers for him, and says, Fa-fa and Da-da like his other children. She drools on his chest when they nap together, and her first steps were towards Sasuke. Sasuke’s heart felt too small for his chest at seeing Kuki walk on her own without fear of falling. She’d wobbled between Naruto and Sasuke a few times. Naruto sent Kuki towards Sasuke each time with, Go on, go on towards your Father, like it was as easy as that. And it is. 

Naruto names Sasuke Kuki’s father, and he becomes it. 

This means nothing, Sasuke wants to tell Naruto. Your father wants you returned the moment my mission is over. 

But instead, Sasuke finds himself spending endless hours contemplating joint custody agreements for annulled marriages. He lies awake at night, terrified that he will lose Kuki, and that the children will lose Naruto. He worries he will not be able to teach Kuki how to ride a horse, wield a sword, draw a seal. He wants to take her to her first day of school, like he did with all his children. He wants to watch her grow old, safe and healthy and happy. He wants to walk her down the aisle, hold her children in his arms, and be a grandfather. 

He sees the children with Naruto and he doesn’t know how to take away what they have. They are happy. They are happier than they have been in so many years, Sasuke didn’t even realize they were unhappy until he sees them with Naruto. He worries how Kakashi will be if Naruto isn’t in his life anymore, and if he will become silent and withdrawn again without Naruto to sit patiently with him and hold him close while the words get loosened from the secret places in Kakashi’s chest. He worries if Itachi will have nightmares again about the Sharingan if he doesn’t have Naruto’s unwavering faith to guide him through his worst fears. 

He wonders how Shisui will know that just because he likes painting doesn’t make him any less an Uchiha than the others without Naruto to cherish each and every single squiggly line Shisui draws. He worries about Mikoto not learning how to calm that temper of hers, if she doesn’t have Naruto for whispered and private conversations that make her chakra settle. He worries that Yaese will feel left behind again, lost in the shuffle of his siblings without Naruto to make him feel loved and treasured at odd intervals—a dinner with all of Yaese’s favorite sweets, a picnic on Yaese’s favorite grassy knoll.

What kind of father would he be, to take Naruto away from the children? What kind of man would he be, to walk away from Kushina, when Naruto named Sasuke her father? He stays up every night, listening to Naruto’s breathing even out while Sasuke worries and frets. He needs to find a solution to this mess, sooner rather than later. 

But he can’t bring himself to string a coherent sentence, though, let alone have an adult conversation with Naruto about the state of their marriage and what comes after. Not when Naruto is watching him with such intent that he can’t help but watch back.  

But for all the staring they do, Sasuke doesn’t expect anything to come of it. He lets himself construct a few fantasies in his own private moments, but that’s the end of it. He doesn’t allow himself much freedom in his imagination. This is an allegiance, nothing more.

Sasuke is fine with leaving things how they stand, but then, Naruto starts to seduce him.

It’s subtle at first. Sasuke is used to Naruto’s open staring, so he’s startled when he realizes that Naruto has started to touch him gently on the elbow to get his attention. He stands close when they speak and holds Sasuke’s gaze. When Naruto talks to him in the southern language—and that is one thing Naruto has not stopped doing since they met; the man can hold a conversation with himself as long as Sasuke stays silent—he’ll pitch his voice in a low murmur, making it intimate, and Sasuke feels tethered and drawn. He finds himself moving closer, just to hear Naruto’s words more clearly. Now and then, he will look up at Sasuke from under the sweep of his lashes with a small, private smile, and Sasuke will find himself with sweaty palms and a dry mouth, mind stuttering to find something to do or say. 

Sasuke grits his teeth, and stays unmoving, and keeps his distance. But Naruto only smiles, and becomes more brazen. Sasuke tolerates the lingering touches, the heavy looks, and everything in between, but then, one night, after he has checked on all the doors and windows, after the children have been tucked into bed, he walks into the bedroom to find that Naruto has decided to take a second bath that evening. 

“Kushina threw up on me,” he announces from inside the washroom in broken southern tongue. The door is wide open, so Sasuke can see Naruto perched on the edge of the tub, hand dipping and circling in the water to test the temperature. 

Sasuke frowns. “Is she alright?” 

“She’s fine,” Naruto answers, and launches into an explanation in the southern language about his initial worry, how he’d asked Onga for help, but then it turned out to be nothing; Kushina just didn’t like the new solid foods Naruto was slowly introducing to her. It’s the lull of the conversation that makes Sasuke let his guard down, because as Naruto’s words trail off, he starts to undress and Sasuke doesn’t look away fast enough.

When Naruto’s robes fall to the ground, Sasuke exhales carefully. He hasn’t seen more than the skin on Naruto’s forearms, his feet, and the column of his neck. But now, he can see the sinuous line of his spine, the perfect, compact, round curve of his ass, the lean thighs tapering off into slim shins and elegant ankles. All of Naruto’s skin has that same lovely olive hue as his face and arms; Sasuke assumed it was a tan from all the sunshine in the south. He doesn’t know where to look, and he’s so busy staring that it takes him a moment to realize that Naruto is saying his name, murmuring, “—Sasuke?” 

Sasuke drags his gaze up from Naruto’s ass and finds that Naruto is looking over his shoulder at Sasuke. There is no anger in Naruto’s face at Sasuke’s blatant staring. “What?” 

Naruto angles his head. “Would you like to join me?”

It’s perfect grammar and northern accent, and even if it were, Sasuke isn’t sure he’d have the wherewithal to compliment Naruto on it. There is no mistaking it now, no way to ignore the push and pull between them. Sasuke takes a jerky step away from the door to the washroom. “I should sleep,” he announces stiffly, and turns away before he can become fully ensnared.

Naruto leaves the door open to the washroom. As Sasuke lies on the couch—furs drawn over his head—he hears the soft splash of water, the gurgle of water when Naruto drains the tub, the soft pad of feet as Naruto settles into his bed. There is the quiet sound of the bed dipping under Naruto’s weight, and then silence. “Good night.”

Sasuke takes a deep breath. Pretending that nothing has changed is the best strategy here. “Good night.” 

Mercifully, he sleeps.