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Margin of Error

Chapter Text

“Are you mad at me?” Kakashi asks, tipping Naruto’s chin up with a finger to peer closely at his face. “You seem mad at me, bubble toes.”

“I’m not mad at you, Kakashi,” Naruto says calmly, but he is. He is oh, so goddamn mad at Kakashi, he doesn’t even know what to say. They had secured the primary election against all odds as the underdog, and now that they’re officially the National Party’s nominee, Kakashi had decided to go completely off the goddamn rails and admit, in front of a town full of farmers, that he would be open to reconsidering subsidies on agricultural products. Naruto had nearly stroked out in the back row when Kakashi said the words aloud because a majority of the voters in the room depended on those subsidies for a living. When there was stunned silence, Kakashi explained to the audience, that the subsidies might look good on paper in the short-term, but really, they were payoffs to larger corporations that are lying in wait to take over smaller farmers. The original local farmer who had asked the question pointed out that he had children to feed.

Kakashi’s response? And what about your grandchildren?

He made good points. Naruto happens to agree with everything that Kakashi said in that room. He would, because he wrote the goddamn position paper on it for the campaign platform . But Kakashi was not supposed to say the words aloud in front of a room full of farmers. The more conservative news outlets are already skewering Kakashi for his disregard for the Land of Fire farmers, the bedrock of their nation’s wealth.

Naruto loves his father, he really does, but his anger is so acute now that he doesn’t even respond to Kakashi’s endearment for him: Bubble toes .

Kakashi arches an eyebrow. “I’m Kakashi now.”

“You’re my boss now,” Naruto snaps, pulling away from Kakashi, and still not looking up from his phone screen.

Kakashi turns his attention to Sakura. “Hey, petal, you mad at me, too?”

“Don’t talk to me,” Sakura returns easily, still staring intently at Naruto’s laptop. She’s not involved in the campaign, but they still spend all their dinners together as a family, and afterwards, she catches up on all that she has missed. Naruto still relies on Sakura as a sounding board—especially when Tenten, Neji, Hinata or Ino are unavailable as they are this evening—and right now, she’s reviewing Naruto’s draft of a speech.

Kakashi places a hand over his heart. “My children hurt me so,” he mourns, theatrical. He takes off his jacket and drapes it over the back of his chair, loosening the tie around his neck with a sigh. “Here I am, working hard all day, and my children can’t even take the time to look up from their phones—” Naruto and Sakura both look up at Kakashi at the same exact moment, gazes withering. Kakashi falters in his speech, but he recovers nicely. “We have a meeting.”

“No, we’re done for the day,” Naruto says, eyes returning to his phone. He’d blocked off the time to rework a major speech that Kakashi is slated to give to the Association of Farmers and Fisheries about protective tariffs. He’ll have to undo some of the damage Kakashi did in his town hall encounter.

Kakashi is already talking into the phone to his personal aide outside. “Send them in, thank you.” He places the phone back in his cradle considers Naruto and Sakura in their seats. “Now, I don’t want you to get upset,” he says, and that’s all the warning they get before four agents in dark suits files into the room.

They salute crisply to Kakashi, who waves it aside, nonchalant. “I’m a retired General, agents, we can dispense with the formalities.”

“Sir,” says a tall, dark-haired man in the center of the cluster, and falls into ease. The three agents flanked behind him follow suit. They are an odd group of people, mismatched in a way that does not fit with the Secret Service. One of them has silver hair, with blue-indigo eyes. Another is even taller than the dark-haired man, ginger-haired. There is a woman next to him with hair so red, it’s almost as bright as Sakura’s. 

All of them are armed.

“Children,” Kakashi says, turning to Naruto and Sakura with a smile, “meet your protective detail.” He points to each one in turn: “That’s Special Agent Uchiha Sasuke, with his team, Agent Biratori Jugo, Agent Hozuki Suigetsu, and Agent Betsukai Karin. Agents, meet my children, Naruto and Sakura.”

Sakura is the first to recover from her shock. “No, Baba.” Kakashi holds up a finger, but Sakura talks right over him. “This is ridiculous. First of all, we don’t need protective detail. Second of all, I can’t have a protective detail when I’m in the hospital.”

The dark-haired man clears his throat. “Sir,” he says, and Kakashi dips his head to give him permission. Oddly, the man stares directly at Naruto when he speaks, almost entirely ignoring Sakura. “It is our job as Secret Service to accommodate to the lifestyles of our protectees. We will not intrude on your day-to-day, as per protocol.”

Naruto frowns. “Screw protocol. Bad enough that they point out the nepotism of this campaign at every chance they get, we don’t need to give them another reason to—”

“Do you really think you can talk me out of keeping you two safe,” Kakashi asks mildly.

Naruto knows a losing argument when he sees one. “But Baba—”

“You will both get a protective detail. I have hand-picked this team, which means I have asked them to take a bullet for you, and they have agreed to do so. You will give them your full cooperation, not only because this is my final decision, but because you owe it to them for making this sacrifice for you,” Kakashi announces. There is always a slight drawl to his words, as if he can’t be bothered to even participate in a conversation, but sometimes, his words get sharp, his eyes become a darker gray, and the line of his shoulders becomes stiff. When they were little, it would scare Naruto and Sakura when Kakashi would get this way; now is no different. “Am I understood?”

Sakura caves first. “Yes, Baba.”

Naruto chews on his bottom lip, swallowing on his obedience, while Kakashi stares him down. He lasts all of three seconds. “Yes, Baba.”

“Good,” Kakashi says, and in a moment, his expression relaxes into something easy and familiar again. “Get some rest, the both of you. I want to speak to these agents for a moment.”

Sakura folds Naruto’s laptop close and gets to her feet, gathering her white coat and messenger bag. She gets on her tiptoes to kiss Kakashi on the cheek, and he cups her face gently as she does, telling her, I love you too, into her hair, when she murmurs her usual good night, I love you, Baba.

Naruto gathers his things. The table is littered with his notes, his laptop, and his cellphone, alongside the leftovers from their desert—Kakashi had ordered a treat for them after dinner today, Naruto’s and Sakura’s favorites, because he insists that they’re both losing too much weight, and he can’t have that because he dotes on them both as if it’s his job.

Which, Naruto guesses, in some ways it is.

Even though he’s still annoyed at the idea that he will now have to walk around with a protective detail—they had those before when the war with the Land of Earth was at its zenith and Kakashi’s children a target for his enemies—he still tilts his face up to kiss Kakashi on the cheek. He’s still angry at his father, but once, he’d gone to bed without saying, I love you, and he’d woken up the next morning to find that Kakashi had shipped off to war. “I love you, Baba.”

Kakashi holds his face with both hands, smiling. “I love you too, sweetheart,” he murmurs, and presses a kiss to his forehead. “I don’t want the two of you staying up too late.”

Naruto remembers his anger. “I wouldn’t have to stay up late to rework this draft if you hadn’t gone off-script again. And now Sakura has to work on it too!”

“Let’s go, Naruto,” Sakura grumbles. “We’ll need coffee to get through this. I don’t even paid for this shit.”

Naruto scoffs. “I do, and it’s not anywhere near enough,” he mutters, and follows his sister towards the door, asking her, “Can you just drop an IV into my veins and pump pure caffeine directly into my bloodstream?”

“We should just snort it,” Sakura mutters darkly, and they both ignore Kakashi’s voice raised to warn them, “You’re not allowed to smoke, snort, or inject any substance of any kind. Am I clear?”

“Crystal,” Naruto mutters, walking past the agents.

The dark-haired man holds the door open for Sakura and Naruto, and Sakura steps through with a polite thank you . Naruto looks up from his consideration of an email from Ino—about staffing and presence in the more rural districts—to offer the same, “Thank you…” He blanks, which is to be expected because he’s running on very little sleep, and this campaign has aged him for more than he would ever care to admit. “Sorry, what was your name again?”

The man frowns, an expression of uncensored surprise on his face for a split second. “Special Agent Uchiha,” he offers. “Uchiha Sasuke.”

“Thank you, Special Agent Uchiha,” Naruto says, stepping out the door with a jaw-cracking yawn to catch up with Sakura. “I think I need to strengthen the language in section D,” he tells her, and they both fall into easy conversation about how, exactly, Naruto can make Kakashi say what he needs to say.

The next morning, Naruto wakes up to Agent Hozuki and Agent Biratori at his doorstep. They trail him doggedly throughout the day, and after a while, Naruto learns to completely ignore them, even though Agent Biratori looms so menacingly that it’s impossible not to notice him.

Naruto finds out early that Agent Biratori is kind, polite, and smiles easily, while Agent Hozuki is bright, as foul-mouthed as Sakura at her angriest, and with such a rollicking sense of humor that Naruto finds himself warming to them both easily. They’re now flanking the door to the conference room while Neji gestures at a map they have hung up of the country.

Kakashi is not in the room, but his campaign manager, Nara Shikaku is present, as well as his senior advisor, Hyuga Hiashi. They are Kakashi’s right- and left-hands and his best friends. Shikaku will act as his Chief of Staff if Kakashi gets elected, and Hiashi will likely continue on as Kakashi’s senior advisor. The three of them served together, and their friendship runs so deep that they can predict Kakashi’s eventual decisions and moods almost as precisely as Naruto and Sakura.

“No National Party Candidate has ever won the rural districts in the history of this country’s politics,” Neji says, countering Naruto’s argument as effectively as he ever did in law school. “We divert our focuses from the other, more urban districts—”

The door opens and Kakashi enters with Sakura at his side. They arrive with a bevy of Secret Service agents, most of them for Kakashi, but two for Sakura. The Secret Service agents spread out around the room, with Special Agent Uchiha Sasuke and Agent Betsukai Karin standing just over Sakura’s shoulder. It’s a bit overkill, in Naruto’s opinion, but the room is large and one wall is entirely made of glass. They’ve gotten enough death threats in their lifetime that Naruto grew up with a panic room; he can get used to six Secret Service agents in a single room.

For once, Sakura is not wearing scrubs, which means she must have had the day off. Or her shift ended early. Naruto can’t keep track anymore the way he used to; the campaign is in full swing now and the days run long. It’s already well past midnight, but the senior staff has lingered to discuss campaign strategy in the last stretch of the election.

Everyone gets to their feet when Kakashi enters, and Naruto follows suit. He’s used to the respect Kakashi commands wherever he goes, and he’s learned at a very young age that when he is in public, he is Hatake Kakashi’s son. That comes with certain responsibilities, like getting to his feet when Kakashi walks into a room, and staying standing until he sits down.

“As you were,” Kakashi says, and settles back into his chair to listen, Sakura at his immediate right.

Neji picks up exactly where he left off. “If we divert resources from the more urban districts, we will risk looking like we’re pivoting, or worse pandering, to a demographic that has no interest in supporting this party’s platform. We’ll risk losing support and enthusiasm from our base, and we’ll gain nothing in the rural districts.”

Hinata clears her throat lightly before speaking. “I agree with Neji,” she says, looking around the table. “We gain more by drawing out independent voters and bolstering the turnout in the urban districts than we do by rerouting resources to rural districts.”

Ino leans forward in her chair. “Right now, our presence in rural districts and the bordering areas is so paltry, it’s insulting. We either make our presence felt, or we stop pretending that we have any footing.”

The reason for this meeting is because Naruto had stayed up the last night to write out a memo for a new strategy. He’d been reworking the draft for Kakashi’s speech when inspiration struck, and at two in the morning, he had printed out reams of district polling data and done the math.

The numbers are convincing: with each passing year of Lord Danzo’s administration, there has been a chipping away at his core voters the rural areas. The districts still swing in his party’s favor, but fewer of them are showing up in the polls. The conventional wisdom seems to be that the voters are not showing up at the polls because they see no incentive to do so. Lord Danzo has won every election comfortably since he was appointed to Kage nearly five years ago. But before Danzo took command, Senju Tsunade had nearly broke even in those very districts.

There is a National Party electorate there, and although they have not showed up at the polls, Naruto intends to draw them out. Combined with the strong support from their base in the urban areas, they could finally vote Danzo out of office.

The numbers are right in front of them, but convention and tradition prevails in politics. Most of the team is convinced they should stick to the traditional playbook. The National Party is strongest in urban districts and urban areas, among younger voters. The Federalist Party is strongest in the rural districts, among older, more conservative voters. Each party tends to campaign and rouse enthusiasm in its own base; whoever draws the greatest number of votes to the ballot boxes on election day wins.

Naruto thinks it’s all a load of hogwash. Traditional only means no one has tried anything different yet. Ino and Hinata look like they’re about to dissolve into another argument over semantics, so Naruto steps in. It’s easy to get lost in the numbers and the fine details, but he’s learned that in life as in law, it’s always important to not forget the forest for the trees.

“If Kakashi gets elected he will be Kage of the Land of Rice Fields. All of it,” he points out. He holds the gaze of everyone at the table steady as he speaks, looking from one to the next to make his point, as he might in front of a jury. “He will be Kage of the urban and the rural districts. He will be Kage of young and of old, of conservatives and liberals. He will be a leader for all of these lands. That’s our campaign. We will unite this country after war, after economic devastation, after all that’s happened under Lord Danzo’s leadership, because there is no choice but to unite. Centuries of politics has divided this country so much so that the concept or civil discourse and a country putting aside differences to come together and do good has lost all value. People don’t care about campaign slogans and the politics. They care about policy. They care about things that will affect their lives, like health insurance, infrastructure, clean air and water. They care about sending their children going to good schools, of security in their homes, of church on Sunday and picnics on Saturday. The basic premise of this republic is that we leave behind something better for our children. How are we supposed to do that if we don’t talk to half the country, if we outright ignore them?”

Naruto points to the map on the wall. “The urban districts will vote for us,” he promises them. “If our base sees us opening up dialogue with those across the aisle, they won’t think we’re abandoning them to pivot to the opposing team. They’ll see us practicing what we preach about unifying this country. That will shore up more enthusiasm than any number of rallies we can hold. That will bring them to the ballot boxes. The numbers I have put together for you show that there is a sizeable base in the rural districts who have just stopped voting. It’s not because they don’t care, it’s because they feel like we don’t. So let’s show them we care. Let’s talk to them. Let’s make our case at town halls and churches and school gyms. Let’s speak to them, and let’s see where the chips fall. We owe this country that much, at least. At the very least, we’ll start a conversation, we’ll have a civil discourse that rises above clever taglines and focus group tested slogans. We’ll have a discourse that is worthy of the people of this country. ”

Naruto turns his attention to Kakashi, Shikaku, and Hiashi at the head of the table, hand clenched into a fist under the table while he waits for their decision. Hiashi heaves a breath. “You should never have sent him to law school, Kakashi.”

“He was drawing up contracts to stay out late on Fridays when he was fifteen,” Kakashi says, sounding mournful. “There was nothing I could do.”

Shikaku tilts his head towards Kakashi with a smile. “I actually happen to agree.” He taps the print out of Naruto’s memo, which he had marked up while Naruto presented it earlier in the meeting. “The numbers are convincing, Kakashi. And I don’t think Naruto’s sell is just idealistic dreaming. It might work.”

Naruto bites the inside of his cheek to stop from grinning too widely. Shikaku was on all three of Tsunade’s successful campaigns for Hokage. He defied every single convention in traditional politics that predicted that Lord Danzo would take over after Sarutobi Hiruzen’s death, and instead elected the first female Kage in the nation. He served in her administration as Senior Advisor for all nine years of her administration. Hiashi was once Mayor of Konohagakure and Tsunade’s Secretary of State. Between the two of them, they have decades of political experience. If Shikaku agrees with him, and Hiashi is leaning towards his argument, then surely, Kakashi will follow.

“We’re six points from Lord Danzo’s lead,” Asuma points out from his corner in the room. He’s not allowed to smoke anywhere near Kakashi because Kakashi is trying to quit, so he always sits by a window that has been cracked open to blow the smoke out directly. “In his previous campaigns, he tends to solidify his lead and pull ahead in the last six months of the campaign. He’ll likely do the same now. If we follow the same playbook as his opponents in the last two campaigns, we’re not going to make much headway. We need a new strategy.”

“The numbers are convincing, Naruto,” Ibiki mutters under his breath, flipping through the memo. He glances up from his document and frowns. “You did this all last night.”

“I snorted a few lines of caffeine,” Naruto deadpans. “It was such a sweet, sweet high.”

“Where did I go wrong with you,” Kakashi sighs over the laughter that follows. He sits forward in his chair and raps his knuckles on the table, calling for order again. “Let’s hear the battle plan, then.”

Ino gives Naruto a sharp grin. She’d been the first to be convinced, and she’d come prepared with a campaign strategy. She gets to her feet, somehow still sharply dressed and pristine in the middle of the night, and stands next to the map. “We start,” she announces, pointing to the northwestern most corner of the country, “with District 11.”

District 11 is the ass-end of the country without a single goddamn tower in any direction for a hundred miles because Naruto still has no signal.

“Could you please,” Sasuke grits out, “sit down?”

Naruto holds up his phone and does a full circle, spreading his feet wide so he doesn’t lose his balance as the truck rumbles on. He’s on the back of a truck, going forty-miles an hour on a completely empty road in the middle of rolling plains and farmland. It’s very unlikely he’ll fall, but that doesn’t make Sasuke’s sharp gaze on him any less intense.

The text that Naruto is trying to send to Hinata keeps showing up with a red exclamation mark. Failed to deliver his phone tells him, but that is not an option because Naruto needs to know how Kakashi’s first town hall in District 11 is going. His missed his flight out of Hyogo, where he had been taping an interview with a few news networks, because there was an overly friendly traveler at the bar where Naruto had stopped to get food just outside the terminal. Which naturally led to a truly embarrassing moment when Special Agent Uchiha Sasuke— you can call me Sasuke —slammed the man down onto the ground with a hand twisted behind his back, growling, “I said, back the fuck off .”

“It’s your fault we’re late, you know,” Naruto points out. Sasuke usually protects Sakura, but they had traded off. Now, Naruto is being trailed around wherever he goes by Sasuke’s silent glowering. Agent Bestukai Karin has been dispatched to stay with Sakura because in Kakashi’s absence, the protective detail around either Naruto or Sakura vanishes entirely. Sasuke has been tasked with getting Naruto safely to Kakashi’s side, so that he can be folded into the larger protective sphere around Kakashi for the remainder of this campaign trail. “If you hadn’t created a big scene with that man at the bar, we would have gotten here on time.”

“He was getting too close,” Sasuke says calmly. “I couldn’t rule him out as a threat.”

Naruto scoffs. He settles back onto the floor of the bed of the truck. “He was two drinks in, and he got handsy,” Naruto deadpans. “That’s not a threat. That’s my Thursday evening.”

Sasuke arches an eyebrow. “You’re used to getting drunk and handsy on Thursday evening?”

Naruto likes his protective detail. He likes Jugo because he is kind and patient, and Suigetsu because he is funny and always honest. He even likes Karin, whose every word seems to drip with sarcasm, because he likes the challenge of sparring with her. She’s whip-smart and can deliver a punchline with such deadpan seriousness that Naruto almost always laughs.

But Uchiha Sasuke has no redeeming qualities. Naruto will admit he is handsome, but that is all that Naruto will concede. He is a condescending, judgmental, smug bastard who always seems amused by Naruto. When the staff had loaded his luggage into the town car, Sasuke had taken one look at it and asked, You have everything you need, Master Naruto?

It makes Naruto want to punch him in the face. Now is no different. “No,” Naruto enunciates cleanly. “ I don’t get drunk and get handsy. Other people do. I don’t like getting drunk. People tend to make really stupid decisions when they’re drunk.”

Sasuke’s expression doesn’t shift. “Is that so.”

“Yes, it is , you smug piece of—” Naruto takes a deep breath. His father told him to offer full cooperation and respect the people tasked with taking a bullet for him. So he will. Instead, he slides open the window to the front of the pick-up. “How much longer?”

Kenshin looks over his shoulder with a rakish grin. “So eager to get rid of me?”

Naruto smiles. Kenshin is volunteer at the local campaign offices had arrived to pick them up and drive them to the town hall, and so far, he’s offered Naruto coffee, a drink, water, food, and even control over the music. He’s a sweet man, but a bit clumsy with his flirting, even if he does have striking green eyes and broad shoulders. Naruto had politely declined all of Kenshin’s attempts at flirtation, and opted to sit on the bed of the truck for the fresh air and the view. Sasuke had clambered on behind him because he is apparently that kind of paranoid.

“My father tends to worry,” Naruto says, because there is no surer way of deterring a persistent man than to remind them that Hatake Kakashi is Naruto’s father.

“Of course,” Kenshin says, expression becoming strained. “Just another hour.”

“An hour,” Naruto repeats, disbelieving. “How far is this place?”

“Fifty or so miles,” Kenshin answers easily, looking back towards the road. “Not far at all.”

Naruto leans back against the side of the truck and stares up at the blue sky overhead. He’s spent an entire lifetime in the capital, living in large estates and high-rising sky-scrapers. He’s never been in a place so desolate and isolated before.

“I need a drink.”

“I thought you said you don’t like getting drunk,” Sasuke points out neatly. He’s stretched out his feet, but he’s so tall that he has to bend his knees up to fit.

Naruto has no such height issues, so he stretches out his toes, pressing against the other side of the pick-up truck. “For you, Uchiha, I’d make an exception.”

“So I’ve gathered,” Sasuke says, sounding far angrier than he should. He’s looking away from Naruto entirely, so all that Naruto can see is the strong line of his jaw, clean shaven as always. Naruto is about to ask, What’s your problem with me anyways, because half his interactions with Sasuke end with thinly veiled insults and the other half end with stony silences.

But before he can say it, his phone buzzes. He picks it up on the second ring. “Uzumaki.”

Hinata’s voice crackles over the line. “Naruto, we have a problem.”

Naruto looks towards the sky again. There are a few, swollen clouds overhead, but the sun is still bright and the sky is still crystal blue. “Lord God,” he prays. “Sweet heaven above, have mercy on me.”

Kakashi holds out an ice-cream cone with a flourish. It’s chocolate with chocolate sprinkles. Naruto takes it with a sigh, because sometimes, Kakashi forgets that he is twenty-four and not a toddler anymore. It seems to be worsening with age; the older Naruto gets, the more adamant Kakashi becomes in his delusions that Naruto is a child. “Baba, you’re not listening to me.”

“I’m listening, bubble toes,” Kakashi promises him, and loops a hand around Naruto’s shoulder, guiding him further along the crowded street. They’re at a county fair to do an informal meet-and-greet, but Kakashi is treating this as a vacation. He talks to the locals and answers all their questions. He even gamely poses for pictures and selfies. But time and again, he returns to Naruto’s side and guides him from one kiosk to another, like he did when Naruto and Sakura were children and he took them to fairs and theme parks on the rare days that he was free.

Naruto can’t find it in himself to pester Kakashi to focus because for the first time in months , Kakashi is loose and relaxed. He’s even wearing jeans and a light sweater against the early fall chill, looking years younger now that he’s not wearing his standard suit and tie. Naruto leans into Kakashi’s side, grateful for the heat, because he’s woefully underdressed for the cold. He’d arrived wearing a loose, cashmere long-sleeves and then realized that somehow, he’s crossed into another hemisphere when he flew north. The debates are coming up, though, which means he has to grit his teeth and bear the cold so he can talk to Kakashi about the final schedule that Danzo’s campaign manager has agreed to. “Baba, listen to me—”

“Your sister would like this,” Kakashi says, and pulls away to head straight for a kiosk with water guns and a moving line of targets. He holds out his ice cream cone, and a staff member immediately steps forward to take it. Before Naruto can even protest, Kakashi is pulling out his wallet to pay the man at the kiosk. Kakashi picks up a water gun and hoists it against his shoulder expertly. “When you were little,” Kakashi announces with great flare, “you two used to think I was the coolest for being able to win these for you.”

Naruto can’t help but smile at Kakashi’s intensity. Naturally, he wins on the first try, dropping every single target as it goes by his field of vision. There’s a smattering of applause from the crowd that has gathered around them.

Kakashi grins. “My little boy will pick the prize,” he announces. There is a TV news crew pointing a camera at him, and at least a dozen phones snapping pictures. Normally, Naruto doesn’t mind Kakashi’s displays of affections, but he’s starting to dislike how so many people are now witness to it.

Naruto steps forward and considers the display. “Anything you want,” the kiosk owner says, gesturing widely with his hands.

There is a line of monstrously large plushy toys on the far right, but Naruto ignores them in favor of pointing to a demented looking hippopotamus the size of his palm. “That one.”

The kiosk owner’s bushy eyebrows wrinkle with a frown. “You sure?”

“When he was a toddler, he had hippopotamus pajamas,” Kakashi explains seriously. “Also, a hippopotamus hat.”

Naruto flushes. “ Baba .”

Kakashi, of course, ignores his embarrassment entirely, and buffs a kiss against his forehead. The kiosk owner holds out the plushy for Naruto, who takes it with a smile. “Thank you.”

“You like it?” Kakashi asks, drawing Naruto away again from the kiosk and to the next attraction.

Naruto holds the plushy close to his chest for warmth. Kakashi is smiling down at him, eyes crinkled at the corners. The debate schedule can wait. “I like it a lot.”

Kakashi’s eyes becomes fonder still. “How about I buy you some cotton candy, bubble toes?”  

They spend most of the afternoon at the fair. When they finally get back in the car and head to their next event, Naruto checks his phone to find that the local news stations are already running footage of Kakashi, snapping down target after target with a water gun, and then winning his son a hippopotamus plushy. Family outing for the Hatake family , the ticker reads, and there’s a still of Kakashi with an arm around Naruto’s shoulders, smiling as he presses a kiss to Naruto’s forehead. Naruto is smiling in each and every single picture as well.

Kiba has already left him a text, Good B-roll on this trip , because he’s in charge of social media, and there is not a single photo-op that the man can’t spin into gold online.

On their long drive to the diner for their next meet-and-greet, Sakura calls them. She insists on being placed on speaker phone to complain in great, exacting detail why it’s unfair that Naruto got to spend a day with Kakashi and not her. “Sucks to suck,” Naruto says, flippant, and Sakura’s growl rumbles in the closed space of the car.

“I’ll make it up to you, sweetheart,” Kakashi promises. “How’s school?”

“Rotations are the best,” Sakura answers immediately, and then launches into a rambling explanation of her day. She’s sure now that she will pursue surgery, and Kakashi raises an eyebrow at Naruto because Sakura pivots between fields every other day now. She wants to do everything, it seems.

“You know, Sakura, you can take a year off before you submit your residency applications,” Kakashi points out.

“I don’t want to,” Sakura counters. “Hey, Naruto, what was with your text about the guy at the airport getting up in your space? Your texts were jumbled. Did Sasuke really dislocate his shoulder?”

Naruto pinches the bridge of his nose. “Sakura.”

There’s silence on the other end of the line. A moment later, Sakura mutters, “I…have to go.” She hangs up immediately, not even bothering to offer an explanation in her hurry to escape Kakashi’s mounting anger. It’s palpable in the car, and Naruto stares resolutely at the plushy on lap.

Thankfully, Sasuke speaks up from the front passenger seat. “It was handled, sir.”

“I’m sure it was,” Kakashi says icily. “I just wonder why it wasn’t included in my daily briefing of my children’s safety.”

Sasuke turns in his seat to look at Kakashi in the eyes. “Yes, sir. I didn’t think it needed to be included in the briefing. He was just being overly aggressive.”

Kakashi’s eyes narrow into near slits. To Sasuke’s credit, he holds Kakashi’s gaze steady. “You thought a man overstepping his boundaries with my son did not need to be included in the briefing?”

Sasuke’s expression doesn’t shift. “A mistake, sir. It won’t happen again.”

“Make sure it doesn’t,” Kakashi says, and finally his gaze lands on Naruto again. “What happened?”

Naruto tries for a smile, but it’s weak in the face of Kakashi’s anger. “He said he wanted to buy me a drink. I said no, and he kept asking. I was about to leave to board the plane, and he grabbed my hand, and that’s it. Baba, it wasn’t Sasuke’s decision to—”

“Naruto,” Kakashi interrupts, “I swear to God, I do not—”

He bites off the rest of his sentence, and spends the rest of the drive reading up on memos and documents. Which is how Naruto knows that he is truly angry, the kind of anger that makes him shut down and descend into long stretches of silence that make both Sakura and Naruto both fret. He texts Sakura while the car rolls along, telling her she should shut her stupid mouth next time. She texts him back with a sad emoji, and then, How bad is it?

Bad, Naruto answers, and watches Kakashi slam out of the car when it rolls to a stop in front of the diner. Sasuke, per protocol, stays in the car with Naruto.

Naruto takes a breath. He’d tried telling Kakashi the truth of the matter, which was that Naruto had brow-beaten Sasuke into withholding the event from Kakashi’s briefing. He didn’t want to distract Kakashi with a minor incident such as that, but Sasuke had sat there and taken the full blame for it. “Thanks for taking the hit on that.”

“It was my call,” Sasuke answers.

“I asked you to—”

“It was my call,” Sasuke interrupts again, and steps out of the car. He opens the door for Naruto a moment later, eyes scanning the crowds. He does the same check every single time he opens a car door for Naruto: over Naruto’s shoulder, to his left, to his right, a scan of the taller buildings around them, and then, as he’s falling into step beside Naruto, over his own shoulder. It’s a full check, all angles of attack accounted for. When he’s done, he will always step two feet behind Naruto, just over his left shoulder. When someone moves too close to Naruto, his fingers twitch. Once, he’d seen Sasuke’s hand push back his suit to rest on his holstered gun, a fluid motion that Sasuke didn’t seem to be aware of while he stared down the overly enthusiastic supporter nearly jump the barriers to get to Kakashi for an autograph.

Inside the diner, Kakashi is already at the front of a large crowd, falling into a stump speech. Naruto frowns when he realizes that immediately behind Kakashi is a campaign poster for Lord Danzo, but it’s too late now to take it down for the cameras. He’ll have to talk to the aide who set this up; it’s a sloppy mistake.

Kakashi doesn’t seem to notice or care as he keeps talking. He’s getting better with each passing month, but there is still a raw, unpolished quality about the way he talks, the easy banter, as if he’s having a conversation with someone individually rather than speaking to a large crowd. He is not a politician. He never wanted to be a politician. But Sakura and Naruto had convinced Nara Shikaku, and Shikaku had convinced Kakashi. For your country , he’d said, because the country was reeling still from a war, and Danzo was gearing up for another senseless campaign against the Land of Earth. Kakashi had retired as a general because he’d refused to follow Danzo’s orders to march on a largely civilian sector, and Shikaku convinced him to step out of his retirement to serve again. Serve again for your country , Shikaku told Kakashi, and Kakashi had done just that, stepping far past his comfort zone and meeting strangers, going from town hall to town hall to make the case for a peaceful future.

He answers every single question posed to him by the crowd, and by the end, people are nodding along with each of his answers, and clapping when he says something particularly heartfelt. He gets a standing ovation when he wraps up, and the owner of the diner shakes his hand firmly, saying loud enough for the cameras to pick up, “You’ve got my vote, General.”

It’s too early to get any numbers to confirm that Naruto’s new campaign strategy is working, but Naruto can feel it in the air. When he looks over at Ino and Tenten, they’re both grinning. Hinata jostles him lightly in the elbow and mutters, “We’re doing good, Naruto.”

“Don’t jinx us,” Kiba mutters while he tweets and posts pictures of the event on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat.

Shikamaru mutters under his breath while he reads his phone. The junior staff travels with Kakashi while on the road. Sometimes Hiashi or Shikaku will join Kakashi, but their main task has been to cajole Senior Council members into casting their vote for Kakashi. It’s not enough to win the popular vote; Kakashi also has to get the backing of Senior Council. Danzo has an iron grip on the Senior Council, but both Shikaku and Hiashi belong to two of the most respected families in the country. If anyone can convince Senior Council members to swing their vote in favor of Kakashi—despite years of precedence that dictates that a twice-elected Kage is almost sure to be elected for a third, fourth, and fifth time, every term for three years, until they resign from office. “Make sure he eats the local foods, Naruto. There’s two local news reporters here.”

“He shouldn’t be eating so much fried food,” Naruto mutters under his breath. “It’s bad for his cholesterol.”

Asuma chuckles, reaching up to press a hand on Naruto’s head. He’s watched Naruto grow up from training diapers and graduate law school, so Naruto tolerates the gesture. “Your father still has the same training schedule as when he was in the army, Naruto. And he’s young. Stop worrying.”

“I’m not worried,” Naruto counters hotly, and moves through the crowd to get to Kakashi, Sasuke trailing him as always. When he reaches Kakashi, it’s to find that he’s talking intently to a woman about a disease that’s decimating their herds.

“We don’t know what to do,” she’s saying. “Our district Governor says he’s trying his best, but all the taxes we pay seem to be going to the war. At this rate, we won’t have enough foal for the next season to put food on the table. And my two boys died already on the front lines, so I don’t have anyone to help me.”

Kakashi grew up dirt poor and enlisted in the army for the free meal. He met Naruto’s biological father, who took Kakashi under his wing, and slowly but steadily, Kakashi climbed the ranks until he was General. When Naruto’s parents died in the war—a bomb under their car, a political assassination that shattered the windows of Naruto’s nursery inward and left Naruto with thin, triplicate scars on his face where the glass had cut into him—Kakashi adopted Naruto. He raised Naruto and Sakura in opulence and luxury, doting on them with such care that Naruto cannot remember ever wanting anything. He already had it all. So while Naruto feels his heart ache for the woman’s plight, the low, rough grief in Kakashi’s voice is genuine.

He covers the woman’s hand with his own and asks her, “What were their names, ma’am?”

The woman’s eyes become bright with tears. “Tayuya’s was my eldest,” she says with a thick voice. “Fuuma was the younger one.”

Kakashi cradles the woman’s hand in his own and looks her in the eyes. “Tell me about them.”

Naruto had come here to remind Kakashi to make sure to order the local foods for the photo op, but he thinks that’s a silly, inconsequential thing, not when Kakashi is listening so intently to the woman describe her sons the only way a parent can. Kakashi listens to her entire story, and when she’s done, he promises her that he will bring peace, that her taxes will go to saving what’s left of her herd and not to a fight that is not worth fighting anymore. She wipes at her face, nods, and grips Kakashi’s hands back fiercely. “Make sure you do, General,” she says. “We’re all counting on you now.”

On the way back from the diner, Kakashi is quiet. He watches the scenery pass by through the window, even though it’s so dark outside that there’s nothing but shadows. Naruto’s phone buzzes with a text from Kiba, glowing bright on his screen.

Should I hold off on the clip of the woman talking to the General?

Naruto glances at Kakashi. He’ll be forty-five next week, and already, he’s spent most of his life on the frontlines. He looks far more tired than man his age should. Naruto’s phone buzzes again, the two minute reminder that a text has arrived. He clicks off the screen, and unbuckles his seatbelt. Immediately, a signal goes off from the front of the car, a steady, low-pitched beeping that someone is not buckled in. Naruto ignores it in favor of sliding across the seat to lean into Kakashi.

Kakashi immediately holds out a hand so that Naruto can tuck his head under his chin. He presses a kiss to Naruto’s head, lingering. “Everything’s all right.”

“I know,” Naruto says, and turns his face into Kakashi’s chest. If Kakashi becomes Kage, he will have to shoulder the full burden of the country on his shoulders. It is a lifetime appointment usually, even though there is an election every three years. He will get more and more tired as the years go on.

Naruto hadn’t considered that when he and Sakura came up with this insane plan to elect him.

The beeping continues for the rest of the drive back to the hotel, but Naruto dozes off against Kakashi and doesn’t wake up until Kakashi gently shakes him awake. “Let’s go, bubble toes.”

Naruto blinks awake groggily. Out of habit, he turns to his phone first and realizes that in the twenty minutes that he fell asleep, three different issues have sprung up that need to be addressed. There’s an email from Shikaku that will need immediate attention. “I hate campaigning,” Naruto grumbles, and slides out of the car.

Kakashi follows closely behind. “If I remember correctly, this was all your idea.”

“Sakura’s,” Naruto corrects. “She thought of it first. I just came up with the plan and executed it.”

“I can’t leave the two of you alone for ten minutes,” Kakashi mutters under his breath, checking his own phone as they walk into the hotel. Naruto bids Kakashi goodnight at the stairwell, telling him, I love you, Baba , and promising that he won’t stay up too late. He heads to the business lounge across the lobby and settles at a wide, empty desk. The windows of the room are dark plates; he can barely make out the lake just beyond.

“I would prefer if you didn’t sit so close to the windows,” Sasuke says after he walks around the room thoughtfully. He considers the drapes, but no matter how much he tugs at them, they will not close.

“They’re decorative,” Naruto tells him as he pulls out his laptop from his messenger bag. He sets down a fresh legal pad next to it, along with two pens. The debates are only three weeks away, which means Naruto has to construct standard answers for the topics that he knows will come up. He also has to come up with counter arguments to Danzo’s answers. He’s been reading and rereading Danzo’s transcripts, getting familiar with his style of speaking and arguing. But now is the type to put pen to paper and come up with sound language that will both get the point across in two minutes or less, and will play good on TV. “They put them up for show, but they’re not full panels of cloth.”

“They’re useless,” Sasuke mutters darkly, and stays standing at the windows, looking out into the darkness. It’s not even eleven, but there’s not a single light visible. The isolation of this place boggles Naruto’s mind.

“You have night vision, there, Uchiha?” Naruto asks, glancing up from work. “Or do you just like striking that pose?”

Sasuke looks over his shoulder with a frown. “What pose?”

“The dark and brooding pose,” Naruto points out, waking his laptop from its sleep. At least, there is decent Wi-Fi.

“I don’t brood,” Sasuke counters, but pivots suddenly to do another round of the room. He circles like a hawk sometimes.

Eventually, though, the circling stops. As the clock ticks to midnight, Sasuke settles at the table across from Naruto, gaze still wandering from exit to exit to exit, window to window. Naruto slips off his shoes, folds a leg underneath him, and bends his head over the legal pad to write out his thoughts. He dedicates a page for each major issue—infrastructure spending, education, health care, and others—but two for the war itself, and two more pages for national security. Every now and then, his phone will buzz and he will respond to a text from Ino, Neji, Tenten, Hinata, Kiba, or Shikamaru. They also have a group text, a sounding board for questions they want everyone to consider—even Shino and Chouji, who are stationed in the capital with Hiashi and Shikaku to deal with Senior Council. At one point, Sakura calls in to FaceTime, and he pauses long enough to answer all her questions about Kakashi: if he’s eating, if he’s sleeping, if he’s getting time to work out in the mornings because he gets cranky otherwise. Naruto answers affirmative on all of the questions, and Sakura launches into questions about his own health: are you eating, are you sleeping, are you taking breaks?

“You’re losing weight still, Naruto,” Sakura points out with a frown.

“No rest for the wicked,” Naruto answers with a smile, and Sakura rolls her eyes at him. She has propped up her phone in the bathroom to talk while she brushes her teeth, flosses, and washes her face in preparation for bed. She picks up the phone again, and while the image cuts in and out, Naruto warns her, “If you pee while you’re on the phone, I’m hanging up.”

“Settle down you prude,” Sakura grumbles, and rearranges the covers of her sheets. “I hate when Baba travels. The place feels too big.”

“It is too big,” Naruto points out. Sakura and Naruto spent far too much of their childhood in the cavernous spaces of their homes while Kakashi was away on a battlefield somewhere getting shot at. “Get some rest. Love you, stupid face.”

“Love you, too, idiot. Give Baba a kiss for me,” Sakura mutters, and cuts off the call.

Naruto stares at his laptop for a moment before calling her back on FaceTime. She picks up with a scowl. Her hair is sticking up in all angles even though she has just settled into bed. “What?”

“Do you think,” Naruto asks, and then stops talking. He doesn’t know how to voice the question aloud.

“Spit it out, or I’ll fly over there and beat it out of you,” Sakura deadpans.

Naruto takes a breath. He’s never been in the habit of hoarding his words, especially with Sakura. “Do you think we did the right thing convincing Baba to run?”

“Of course,” Sakura answers easily. “He’s the only one who can turn this shit-show around. The war is endless, Naruto. We need peace. Kakashi is the only one with the authority to bring peace. He’s General Hatake Kakashi. Who else, but—”

“I know it was the right thing for the country,” Naruto interrupts. “I meant, did we do the right thing for Baba?”

Sakura pushes herself up in bed. “What’s wrong?”

Naruto fidgets with the pen in his hand. “He’s getting tired, Sakura. He just retired a few years ago, and now, he’s—”

“Oh, shut up,” Sakura interrupts. “Baba is fine . Stop fretting over him. Is he tired? Of course he is. But he’s got bullet shrapnel in his shoulder still, and the man still does pull-ups every morning because he’s that kind of deranged. Stop insulting him by thinking that he can’t handle this, Naruto. He’s the only one who can.”

Naruto takes a deep breath. “All right.”

“Is that it?” Sakura asks, settling into bed again. She holds the phone aloft so that it feels like Naruto is looking down at her from above. “Have you assuaged your neuroses for the day?”

Naruto ignores the comment. So he has a few obsessive compulsive ticks. Doesn’t everyone? “Have the staff send me two of my jackets. It’s cold here. I want them right away. And shoes. There’s a lot of mud.”

“I told you not to pack cashmere,” Sakura grumbles, and cuts off the call.

Naruto looks down at his shirt. It’s soft, but it’s useless against the chill that settles in this valley. And for some reason, everyone insists on turning on air conditioning indoors so that Naruto has been cold since the moment he has stepped foot into this district. He pulls the shirt snug against his torso and goes back to work. It’s nearly one by the time he’s accomplished all that he wants, and by the time he makes it back to his hotel room, he’s exhausted.

He waits patiently outside while Sasuke does a sweep of the room. When he’s cleared the space, Naruto steps inside with a sigh. He holds the door open for Sasuke, but Sasuke lingers just outside. Normally, he wishes Naruto good night , and leaves, but tonight, he pauses at the entrance.

“I served under the General during his last campaign,” he says suddenly, holding Naruto’s gaze steady. It’s an odd detail to mention, and that too, without any context. So Naruto keeps his peace. Sasuke clears his throat. “I actually enlisted because of him.”

Naruto frowns. “He recruited you?”

“I saw an interview he gave once. He talked about the honor in serving the country,” Sasuke answers stiffly. “I enlisted when I got out of high school.” He pauses a beat, and adds, “I got placed directly in the brigade he commanded in the Battle of Kyoto Valley. I carried out his orders that day for my platoon.”

The Battle of Kyoto Valley was a victory for Konohagakure, but Naruto also knows that the troops sustained some of the heaviest artillery bombing during that one push on the frontlines in the entire war. The battle dragged over a full week. The pictures that came back from the frontlines were muddy and gruesome.

Naruto can’t say any of that, so he settles for the most innocuous thing he can say. “I didn’t know you two knew each other personally.”

Sasuke shrugs. Normally, he is secure in his thinly-veiled taunting of Naruto, but now, he looks awkward in his own skin. “The General got me a job in the Secret Service. I couldn’t find a job after the war because the economy was shit, so…” He clears his throat again. “I never went back to college after I came home.”

There’s a slight pink hue to his cheeks, hidden by the shadow of his stubble. He starts every day clean-shaven, but some days, when their schedule is demanding, he doesn’t have time to shave. Apparently, the man can grow a beard just while standing around; Naruto tried once when he was a teenager, and gave up soon thereafter. He’s still staring awkwardly at Naruto, so Naruto tries to ease the conversation. “Do you…like the job?”

It’s the most asinine question he can ask someone in a situation like this, but he’s not sure what else to do. Sasuke ignores the question entirely. “I’d ride into hell if the General asked me to,” he says. “I’m glad you convinced him out of retirement. A lot of us who served with him are.”

Naruto has always known on an intellectual level that the men that Kakashi leads are faithful and loyal to him. He commands their respect. What Naruto did not know was that he also commanded their love. There is an affection in Sasuke’s voice when he named Kakashi, the General .

This is why , Naruto realizes. This is why Kakashi must win . A man who has spent as many years on the battlefield as Kakashi is the only one who can truly understand the need for peace. This is Sasuke’s way of assuring Naruto, the same way Sakura had. He usually doesn’t comment on anything Naruto says or does, even though he is always a few feet away to overhear and observe.

This is the first time he’s crossed that professional boundary, and Naruto is grateful for it. “Thank you.”

Sasuke nods once, stiffly. “Good night,” he says, crisp.

“Good night,” Naruto returns, and closes the door on Sasuke. He watches the shadow of Sasuke’s feet under the door for a few long moments. Finally, though, Sasuke leaves.

Debate prep is a special kind of hell, but it’s worse than usual because Kakashi decides to hold it in the wilderness. He orders the campaign to arrive at a lodge by a sprawling lake for the weekend so they can conduct business away from the prying eyes of the press and public.

Naruto tries and fails to point out that they could have avoided the press at their ranch, which is tucked in the southeast, far from prying eyes. They sometimes spend their summers there as a family, but it largely functions as a way to supplement their sprawling family income. Kakashi ignores him because he has decided he likes the isolation of District 11, and that he’d like to extend his stay here while he can. So they drive and drive and drive even further north and west in District 11 until the road narrows from two lanes into a single pat, and the trees thicken around them.

There is no signal, no matter how much Naruto waves around his phone. “Whose stupid idea was this anyways?”

“Sasuke’s,” Kakashi answers pleasantly, not looking up from the write-up of the debate topics that Naruto had created. “He used to spend summers in these woods with his brother and uncles when he was young. I’ve always wanted to see the place for myself.”

Sasuke stays silent in the front of the car, even though Naruto is glaring daggers into his head. Things have thawed between them since the night Sasuke stood in his doorway and awkwardly confessed his faith in Kakashi. They talk more now, snippets of conversation in the quiet moments while Naruto is in an elevator or being ferried from place to another. Naruto finds out several things about Sasuke during this time:

First, Sasuke is from District 11. His family died when he was young, and he was raised by Jugo’s family on a sprawling ranch. He spent most of his waking hours hauling bales of hay and herding cow. He enlisted in the army when he saw Kakashi on TV, and since Jugo was his best friend, he enlisted right alongside Sasuke. They met Suigetsu in basic training, and Karin was assigned to their platoon as medic. The four of them have been inseparable since.

Second, Sasuke wears a wedding ring but he is long separated. Naruto had put his foot in his mouth when he’d indicated the wedding ring and asked, What’s your wife’s name? When Sasuke didn’t answer, he pressed, Separated? Divorced?

“She left me,” Sasuke finally admitted quietly. She had left without a single word, not even a goodbye, after giving birth to their fifth and youngest child. Clinical depression, Sasuke says. Bipolar disorder, a personality disorder, the diagnoses never made much sense. She just left. The truth settles so heavily between them that Naruto reaches for the one topic that he knows will cheer up Sasuke. You have pictures of your kids? Sasuke pulls out his phone immediately, and shares pictures of all five of his children: four boys, and a girl. The eldest boy is eight, followed closely by a younger brother of six. There are twins, four years old, a girl and a boy. The youngest is a son, just three. They have all inherited Sasuke’s dark hair and dark eyes. In the pictures that Sasuke shows him, they are always smiling, always in the middle of play. There is one picture of them sprawled out in a pile of leaves that Sasuke had apparently just finished raking. He lingers over the picture and points to them, from youngest to oldest, and names them each, smiling a small, private smile: “The youngest is Yaese. That’s my little girl, Mikoto, and her twin brother, Shisui. That’s Itachi, and the eldest is Kakashi.”

Naruto had glanced up at the last name. “You named your firstborn son after my father?”

Sasuke pocketed his phone quickly, flushing. “I asked him for permission before I did, so—”

“I’m sure he’s honored,” Naruto interrupted, stilling Sasuke with a hand on his elbow. “He should meet your son one day.”

“When this campaign is over, maybe,” Sasuke agreed, and stepped away to put that distance between them again. He does this a lot, Naruto has noticed. He maintains a distance between them, but sometimes he’ll drift close when they talk, step into the space next to Naruto and listen intently to what Naruto has to say. He always catches himself, and when he does, he withdraws immediately.

Their relationship has thawed enough that once, Naruto was able to pester Sasuke to drink a cup of coffee in front of him. He’d never seen the man eat or drink or even use the bathroom, so he wasn’t sure Sasuke would take the offered cup of coffee. But then he did.  

Naruto regrets buying the bastard coffee now; apparently, their entire campaign staff had to be rerouted to the very corner of the country as a result of one of Sasuke’s ideas. A corner of the country where, apparently, people don’t use cell phones. Naruto stews in his annoyance for the entire drive, but the moment the door to the car opens, his anger vanishes immediately because Sakura is waiting for them.

Even Kakashi seems surprised, but the surprise turns quickly into joy when Sakura launches herself into his arms, laughing. Kakashi holds her close. “Hey, baby girl, when’d you get here?”

Sakura beams up at Kakashi. “Uncle Asuma said I could come join you,” she says. “I took the weekend off.”

Kakashi presses a kiss to her forehead. “I’m glad you did,” he says, and tucks her against his side. He holds out his free hand, and Naruto steps easily into the space, so that he’s flanking Kakashi at his right, and Sakura at his left. He holds them both close as they walk up the path to the cabins ahead, “How about we have a barbecue tonight?”

Sakura answers yes, that would be fun, they could invite the whole campaign staff for a break, but Naruto hears none of it. He’s too busy focusing on a minor detail that is looming ahead.

“Is that a log cabin ?” Naruto demands, pointing at the monstrosity in front of them.

“It’s actually kind of nice inside,” Sakura says. “You might like it here, Naruto. We can wear flannel and go on a hike in boots.”

“The hell I will,” Naruto growls. “There’s no signal here.”

Sakura pulls out a walkie talkie from the pocket of her jacket. She’s grinning from ear-to-ear. “It’s so much fun. Everyone gets one here.”

Naruto looks over his shoulder to glare at Sasuke. “This was your idea?”

Sasuke only smirks at him.

The barbecue is a much needed break. Naruto finally has a chance to spend time again with Shino and Chouji, who have both flown in from the capital. Most of the campaign staff are either his friends from college, his friends from law school, or family friends. There is a level of comradery amongst them that makes it easy to patch over differences and work together. The entire staff has arrived, including Hiashi and Shikaku, and before long, the night dissolves into a loud, raucous gathering.

Naruto drinks far more than is good for him, so by the time he stumbles to his own cabin, his feet are unsteady. Sasuke steps forward to grip his elbow steadily and guide him inside. When Naruto sits onto the bed, the room spins. “I think I drank way too much,” he breathes.

Sasuke watches Naruto fumble ineffectively with his shoes before muttering a curse and sinking to his knees. He takes off Naruto’s shoes with the same concentration that he does everything else, and Naruto watches the top of his head earnestly. When Sasuke tugs a shoe off his foot, Naruto braces a hand against Sasuke’s shoulder for support because even that light pull seems like it will destabilize Naruto.

When Naruto is stone-cold sober, he runs his mouth. When he’s drunk, there’s absolutely nothing that can make him hold his silence. “You have really nice shoulders.” Sasuke glances up sharply at him. “Broad,” Naruto continues. “Very broad shoulders.”

“You’re drunk,” Sasuke says very, very carefully.

“You are also,” Naruto continues, dragging up his hand from Sasuke’s shoulder to his hair, and then to his jaw. His stubble is rough against Naruto’s palm. Very handsome . “You should stay the night.” The suggestion becomes real in Naruto’s mind, and suddenly, he’s aching for it. He wants to know what Sasuke feels like, and a moment later, he’s voicing those thoughts aloud. “—the weight of you on top of me, inside me,” Naruto hears himself saying, and as he says the words, he reaches for Sasuke with a sigh. “You should stay so we can do that.”   

Sasuke goes utterly still for long enough that Naruto thinks it’s a yes , and leans in. But then Sasuke pulls away. “No,” he says, getting to his feet. “I don’t think I should. Good night.”

A moment later, Naruto is alone. He blinks at the sudden absence of the man, but the effort is too great to stay sitting upright, so lies down on the bed. He falls asleep immediately.