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Doing the Work

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She sat in seiza, with her small pack behind her, at the gates of the Uchiha compound, prepared to meditate while she waited. She had timed it as best as she could, to look as if she had been there indefinitely when Uchiha Sasuke returned home after a day at the academy, but not so long that the ANBU who had taken over internal village security would decide to actively disapprove.

The Uchiha child paused when he first saw her but then flinched forward, away from the pack of fangirls following behind, pushing him onwards.

The fangirls must be an ongoing torture, highlighting exactly how alone he was in the crowd now that he had no family to protect him from them. It gave her a pang of residual guilt to think of her own days as a young girl fangirling over the young Hatake clan head. At least she’d had the decency to not pester him in the immediate aftermath of his orphaning. Or perhaps she’d just had the luck to not have been of the age to fangirl at that time. And Hatake Kakashi had had a jounin sensei at the time to protect him as well.

As far as she could tell, Uchiha Sasuke had no one. It had been a month since the Uchiha massacre, and the children who were telling themselves that they alone could bring love to the heart of a traumatized pre-pubescent child were just gaining momentum. No one had stepped in to protect him.

The last of the Uchiha. A clan with the mandate of internal village security, it had been the clan most closely tied to defending civilians. And their last remaining member was left to fend for himself.

Maybe he had refused support from the other shinobi clans, correctly assuming that if he accepted their help, he’d also be accepting their control. He was in the impossible situation of being both child and adult, both clan head and student learner.

He couldn’t be protected any more than he could be served. But she’d be damned if she weren’t going to make the attempt. As a civilian in a shinobi village, she had long experience meeting impossible contradictions of social obligation.

“What are you doing here?” the boy was rude in his query, but she certainly didn’t blame him for that.

“I have a petition for the head of the Uchiha clan.” She spoke quietly but with certainty, her eyes modestly lowered. She had dressed carefully for this meeting, with a formality that she expected the Uchiha child would recognize but not fully understand.

The fangirls didn’t understand either, and they hung back too. Glaring daggers at her, but not approaching either. There was power in formalized proper behavior, to keep outsiders out and insiders on course.

Before the Kyubi attack nearly a decade ago, she had been raised to marry well, trained to run a wealthy and high ranked estate, and in a hidden village, that meant interacting with the noble shinobi clans. Many of the daughters of wealthy civilians or of civilians who wished to be wealthy, were raised with such expectations, although a surprising number had been left without the training to back it up.

It meant that many of Sasuke’s fangirls wore excessive perfume, had romantic expectations, and didn’t have the know-how to actually maintain a secure estate in a comfortable manner. It also meant that they fought each other for a chance at romance that was never there to begin with.

She had somewhat more reasonable expectations. Although only somewhat given that she was here.

“My father is dead!” the child nearly snarled. They both pretended the tears in his eyes weren’t there.

She didn’t even pause, “Long live the clan head.”

“I…” Uchiha Sasuke didn’t know what to make of that.

“May we speak in your office, Uchiha-sama?” She never would have made such a suggestion to the prior Uchiha-sama. It would have been incredibly presumptuous of her. The child Uchiha-sama took the suggestion with relief.

“Yes.” He jumped on the option because he knew it was the correct thing to do. He had likely seen his father meet with petitioners before. “Come inside and we will talk.”

“Thank you.”

She rose from her kneeling position with as much grace as any experienced performer of tea ceremonies, situated her pack, and ignored the growling of the fangirls. Uchiha-sama flinched again at the sound and then gratefully ushered her through the gates and closed them behind.

They walked in silence, the adult woman and the shinobi child, up a path going to weeds, past houses that were beginning to show their lack of upkeep. She was glad she hadn’t waited any longer to come here, but none of her thoughts showed on her face.

It had been easy, after the Kyubi attack, to allow her face to settle into the calm blankness of an empty page. To refuse to show any feelings at all, and to tell herself as well as the rest of the world, that she didn’t even have feelings to show.

There had been no more laughter and no more tears, just goals, and those goals were assisting with the cleaning and the funerals and the budgets and the packing. The family of her former fiancé had only arrived in Konoha the month preceding the attack, to establish their son and her future husband as an outpost of their business empire. Afterwards, without him to lead the outpost, there had been no point in them staying. They were kind to her and left her a gift of money and goods to help her through the following year, but they had no other sons to offer her, and her social connections were all in Konoha anyway.

She had only met Shinzo a handful of times, but she had been looking forward to their wedding and establishing her own household.

Instead, his family took his body back to their family lands, so she didn’t even have a grave to mourn over. But there were enough graves in Konoha without his as well. Her parents didn’t have graves either—her parents and their storefront had been too close to the original Kyubi attack to leave anything but ashes.

She still burnt incense at the main Konoha temple in honor of her parents and her fiancé, her past and her future, every week.

But it had been nearly ten years since then and she wasn’t living the life she had been supposed to live. At closer to thirty than twenty, she had a job performing tea ceremonies at a small tea house and a dwindling correspondence with her parents’ old work contacts and cousins in other cities and towns. She was the very image of a poor relation. She was unlikely to make any marriage that she’d be satisfied with, but she found, when she finally gave herself permission to think about what she wanted, that she didn’t even want to get married. She wanted no more hostages to fortune. But she had been meant to run a large estate, to help run a large business empire. Instead, here she was, in a village that got hit every time it tried to recover. There were no large estates to run.

Except for this one, the Uchiha one. Recently available.

The blood had been cleaned from the floors of the house, the Uchiha child led her too, but the stains were still visible. From the papers on the desk in his father’s study, she would guess that this was the first time he’d even entered the room.

“What do you want?” the child demanded again.

She kneeled down again and bowed low. “I would like to enter your service, Uchiha-sama.”

“Who even are you?”

“I’m Kobayashi Naoki, Uchiha-sama. Please call me Naoki. The head of a founding clan should not be without service.”

Her parents would be shamed, if they were still alive, to see her begging to be of service. There was a deeply bitter freedom to being an orphan with no family left to shame.

“I don’t need anyone else! I can do everything myself!”

“Of course you can, but you are Uchiha-sama, you shouldn’t have to.”

“I do have to!”

“You should have someone to make you dinner. You shouldn’t have to stop training to cook. You should have someone to run your bath for you, so that your muscles can relax and you can better train the next day. You should have someone to make your bed fresh so that you can sleep well and be better prepared.”

“I, I don’t need any of that!” The certainty in the child’s voice wavered.

“And, if you have a woman in your household, then any of the fangirls who hope to court you will have to demonstrate that they are better homemakers than me.”

That finally got his attention, as his eyes widened. “What?”

“I am sixteen years your senior and doubt I will ever be your concubine in truth. But that would be the role I would fill and anyone desiring to be your wife would have to challenge me.” She spoke matter of factly about throwing away her honor, in a way she doubted a shinobi child could even understand. The only way a civilian lady of her standing entered into a clan was through marriage. Anything else was dishonorable. On a personal level, she didn’t understand why formal marriage to a paid killer was honorable while casual dalliance was not. But she understood what the social rules were and was prepared to lose status over this attempt. If it worked, her status wouldn’t matter; if it didn’t, then it was time for her to leave the village entirely.

“You’re a civilian. Most of my fangirls could beat you easily.”

“They’re shinobi and they’re children, none of them will be better homemakers than I am. And that is how they’d need to challenge me.”

It was a bit more complicated than that, of course, but the explanation was good enough for a nine-year-old boy and likely good enough for most of his pre-pubescent fans as well.

“What does a homemaker even do?” He spoke with a sneer, trying and failing to hide the real curiosity.

“Let me show you.”

He clearly tried to think it through, but was confused by what he should even be contemplating. He had been a younger child of a large and noble household. The work that went into homemaking had been actively hidden from him his entire life until he’d been left to suddenly care for himself. He nodded. “Show me.”

She rose and this time led the way out of his office to the kitchen. The blessing of old traditional houses was that she could guess the layout pretty well. The kitchen looked better than she had expected after a month, but also sadder: there were pre-made meal packages and a handful of utensils but no evidence of cooking, and no fresh ingredients for anything that couldn’t be eaten raw. A quick check of the staples left behind and she was able to ask: “Would you like tea, miso, or hot chocolate?”

“… miso.”

She knew from village gossip that he always ate on his way home from the academy, so he probably wasn’t hungry, but he likely hadn’t had anything home made since the massacre.

He watched as she heated the water and stirred in the miso and then added the dried mushrooms and seaweed. She showed him everything she did and made sure to clean the counters and the utensils as she went. Not rushing, but also not pausing until the soup was ready to be served. She made her movements like a ceremony, every movement done with intent.

“Would you like to sit down at the table with a bowl or would you like to follow me with a mug?”

“… a mug. Please.”

“Of course, Uchiha-sama.”

He flinched a little at the title, but accepted the mug of soup and took a sip. He looked, not happy precisely, but pleased.

She had found a half package of incense in the kitchen and had noticed a small family shrine in the main entrance room on the way to the study. She took a stick of the incense and dampened a rag, and then led the way to the shrine.

She carefully cleaned the area of dust, lit the incense and took a moment to bow in honor of the people who had prayed before this shrine for previous generations. Uchiha-sama looked stricken when she stepped back, but took a moment to bow in front of the shrine himself. While he did so, she wiped the surfaces of the various tables and windowsills. This wasn’t the time to do a full cleaning, but she wanted to make sure he could see the difference even a few moments of attention could make to the cleanliness of a room.

Once he had stepped away from the shrine and picked up his mug of soup again, she led him down the hallway, keeping a sharp eye out for a linen closet and was lucky enough to find one close to his bedroom. She got out fresh sheets and unmade and remade his bed. She also opened the windows to air out the room.

“It gets too cold at night.”

“I’ll close the windows before it gets dark enough to turn on lights that would attract bugs. But the room should air out, and sheets should be changed at least once a week.”

“Oh.” He looked awkward and angry and embarrassed. She just wanted to reassure him that this was all knowledge that had to be taught, but instead let it lie and allowed him to learn by watching. No one just knew about airing out rooms or changing sheets. His mother, or more likely his mother’s servants, had probably always changed the sheets and aired the room while he was out. Even if his peers among the shinobi clans had offered to help him, they had probably done so from a militant perspective, training him to fight, rather than a familial perspective, training him to live.

After the bed was remade, the old sheets got bundled up and she took them with her to the bathroom to soak in the sink as she drew him a bath. She added oils and salts to sooth his muscles after a long day of training, and a vast quantity of bubble bath to preserve his modesty and her sense of decorum.

He had finished his soup by the time the bath was ready. “If you give me the mug, I’ll return it to the kitchen and you can get in the bath.”

“What are you planning to do,” he stated more than asked, but with deep suspicion. It was appropriate. No one wanted a stranger wandering around their house while they bathed. It was not conducive to relaxation.

“I’ll return here and see if I can scrub some of the stains out of the old sheets.” The sink was actually more of a large bin that she would guess had once served as a bathtub for babies, but was positions in such a way that she could scrub the sheets while keeping her back to the bathtub. He would be able to see her but she would not be able to see him.

“… Okay.”

She took the mug back to the kitchen as she said, spent a few moments peering into a few more of the cabinets, half to get a further lay of the land and half to give him more time to get into the bath, before heading back. She grabbed a couple of towels from the linen cabinet on the way. She knocked gently on the door frame but didn’t enter until he spoke. “You can come in.”

She kept her eyes lowered as she entered, set the towels down next to the door, and went right to the washtub to deal with the stains. These sheets had probably been freshly laundered and pressed when the massacre had happened. There were a few stains that looked like smears of blood left to dry, hopefully after the child had trained too hard rather than directly due to the massacre. She hoped that the ANBU who’d responded had gotten the child clean before he’d next slept in his own bed.

While she hoped they’d cleaned the boy, it was obvious they hadn’t cleaned the house. Or at least done a half-hearted job of it, especially for such an honorable old house. The wood baseboards should have been replaced or at least refinished. She added that to her mental tally of things to be done.

“Why are you doing this?” The boy didn’t sound nearly as relaxed as she might have wished from a warm soak but more relaxed than she had been a month after her own parents’ violent deaths.

“Because the Uchiha are an old and honorable clan and deserve to be treated as such.”

“What does that even mean?”

“You should not be left to care for yourself. You should not be hounded through the streets by fangirls. You should have someone to keep you company in the empty evenings. When you go out to fight, you should have someone awaiting your return. These are things that Konoha owes to the Uchiha Clan.”

“Oh.” 

If he noticed that she hadn’t truly answered his question, he didn’t push further.

She went back to working with the sheets, which actually seemed to be getting cleaner. Whatever soap the Uchiha household stocked was pretty miraculous and she’d have to search the records to see where it came from. She hummed a light lullaby, as if doing so unconsciously, so that the child could close his eyes and still know where she was.

He spent long enough in the bath that it must have gotten cold by the time he said, “I’m ready to get out.”

“The towels are here. Would you like me to hold them for you or would you like me to go prepare your bedroom?”

“The bedroom,” he said quickly, an immediate response. She nodded and left the bathroom so that he could get out and dry off on his own.

She closed the windows in his room, and folded down the blanket so he’d be able to slide right into bed when he was ready. She was tempted to do a quick dash around the other rooms in this section of the house, to see what was available, but resisted. She would either have time later or she wouldn’t, and if she didn’t, then it wouldn’t matter. Plus she wouldn’t betray his trust that way. No adult shinobi would have allowed a stranger this amount of unsupervised time in their house. For that matter, no reasonably intelligent civilian would have done so either. But a traumatized child who’d been left alone for a month and probably didn’t think he had anything more to lose? It was both terrible that she was able to do this and a sign of how important it was to do.

When Uchiha-sama left the bathroom wearing his bed clothes, she was sitting in meditation outside his bedroom door. She waited until he hesitated to say, “There was a lap harp in the linen closet. Would you like me to play to you as you go to sleep?”

It would have been something that he’d seen done for his parents and older brother, to fend away nightmares after particularly awful missions. It might have been the only time he would have seen any adult shinobi cry, when the sounds were muffled by music and a trusted musician kept them company.

“It’s still really early. I should train more.”

It was still early, just dusk, but he had dressed himself in bed clothes rather than anything else, and he looked exhausted. He wasn’t objecting, he was asking to be convinced.

“Sleep is important to training. You’ve practiced enough while tired. It’s just as important to learn how to get the sleep you need.”

“Oh.” He paused. “Yes, I want you to play music. And, and I want breakfast in the morning!”

It was a demand, an attempt to act spoiled, almost, to hide the plea that she still be here in the morning.

“Of course. Let me get the harp, and then you should sleep well and eat well before training again.”

“Yes.” He nodded decisively before going into his room and getting into bed. He didn’t close the door, so once she’d retrieved the lap harp, she settled in the doorway to play.

She described what she was doing, as she tuned the harp, so that he could see exactly how it worked. Then she stopped speaking and proceeded to play every lullaby she knew at least three times.

She wasn’t sure when he fell asleep, whether he had cried silently in this guarded privacy or not, or if a long day, a warm bath, and a fresh bed for the first time in a month lulled him to sleep quickly. But she still played until her hands cramped.

If she had married on schedule, her first child might have been just a year younger than Uchiha-sama. She wasn’t sure how she felt about that.

Instead of thinking about it, she played until it was full dark out, then quietly listened to his breathing to confirm he slept before getting up and shutting the door. She put the harp back in the linen cabinet and grabbed a change of sheets for one of the guest rooms as well. She retrieved her pack from the study and got herself situated there, including hanging up the wet sheets she’s been cleaning before to dry on the line overnight. Then she left to do some shopping in the night market. She wanted to prepare him a bento box for lunch tomorrow as well as a full breakfast.

It felt good to have a plan. To have a household of larger than herself, even if it wasn’t, strictly speaking, hers. Sleeping in a new place, an empty compound filled with unseen ghosts where she had invited herself to stay, did not lead to the best sleep, but that just meant she was easily awake with the sun. 

The next morning, she made breakfast and a lunch for Uchiha-sama while she wore her good robe again, spoke gently and kept her eyes lowered. She was pretty sure the excessive formality was freaking him out at least a little, but he rose to the occasion and sat at the table to be served and thanked her with the correct formulaic responses. Then he was off to the academy and she got to work.

The very first thing she did, as soon as Uchiha-sama was out of sight, was walk the perimeter of the compound looking for animals. Thank all the gods that someone had opened the pen doors. There was clear evidence that predators had gotten to many of the chickens, rabbits, and goats now freely roaming the grounds, but none of them had starved due to lack of food or water. Many of the surviving animals were filthy and it would take a lot of effort to get them clean. She couldn’t start today, just made a mental note and moved on.

The main house had been dusty and blood stained, its kitchen garden full of weeds, and from the look of it many of the other houses were in even worse shape. At least the Uchiha didn’t have the elaborate flower gardens of the Aburame or she’d have to give up on the gardens before she even began. But she fed herself with fresh fruit from the vines, and collected some for Uchiha-sama’s kitchen as well. She wouldn’t have to buy vegetables or fruit again, which was good since she didn't plan to spend her own saving here.

There were more than a hundred houses in the compound and each of them needed to have their kitchens emptied, their contents stored safely, and their doors closed and locked to prevent animal infestations. It wouldn’t take that much money to commission some D rank missions of genin teams to fix things up, but for all that the Uchiha clan had been wealthy, she wasn’t sure if Uchiha Sasuke actually had any available funds. And she was absolutely sure that he wouldn’t want other shinobi in his compound. No injured or grieving shinobi wanted strange shinobi in their space.

So she would have to do it herself.

It was a ludicrous thought for a variety of reasons. If she did one house a day, which was optimistic, it would still take several months to accomplish. And she didn’t have to do any of this. She could just go home. Leave the child to live or die on his own. He wasn’t her responsibility except for how she was making him her responsibility without asking permission from anyone in authority. In spite of the implied refusal of such permission even.

The Uchiha had been set up to fail, caught up in the ongoing battle between the Sandaime and the Kyubi, and no one was willing to acknowledge it.

They were expressly forbidden from acknowledging it.

A blanket S-class secret: no one was to talk about the Kyubi, the creature who had attacked the village and killed so many of them, shinobi and civilian alike, and how it was still here. Living among them.

The first time she really saw the demon child to look at, not just the remains of some prank or running past leaving low level destruction in its wake, she had laughed so hard she cried. It had not been a nice laugh, either. She had been so angry at the world and her inability to change anything that seeing someone else’s petty revenge, even an enemy’s, had been a comfort.

The Yondaime had won the battle with the Kyubi, sealing it into the shape of a human child, but it had made sure to have it’s revenge: it looked like the Yondaime. Anyone who saw it would think it the Yondaime’s bastard child. She had choked back the words, since everyone knew speaking of the demon child was forbidden.

She sometimes wondered if the Kyubi’s appearance answered the question of why the Sandaime hadn’t had the child killed once the Yondaime had made it vulnerable. She would not have thought the Hokage sentimental enough to allow its appearance to sway him. He certainly wasn’t too sentimental to execute those who disobeyed him by talking about it. More than one civilian had disappeared, their belongings silently packed up by shinobi from the central tower, after showing a bit too much negative interest in the demon child. Whatever the cause, the demon child continued to run around the village years after it’s original attack doing the best it could to leave more mayhem in its wake.

It was still alive and it still had power and that power was growing every day. Was it taunting that the mayhem was more mischievous than truly destructive?

Every prank was a mockery of the village that had captured it and reduced it to this. Or maybe it’s continued existence was the revenge of the Sandaime, instead, a mockery the creature of fire and spirit that had decimated the village, that it could be reduced to this.

A spiteful war of petty revenge.

She wanted to kill them all for treating the villagers as pawns in their game. The amorphous “them” of killer shinobi and powerful elders who created impossible situations and watched their people die caught between orders and honor. Except that she really, really didn’t. She didn’t want to kill anyone. She just wanted to make them stop it. And she couldn’t do that either.

So instead she had laughed. And laughed. And laughed.

Kobayashi Risu, the tea house owner, had sent her home that day.

She was far from the only person to have a hysterical break when thinking too closely about the Kyubi attack. Risu-san had been sympathetic but told her to only come back if she could control herself. Reacting too strongly to the demon child could get a person disappeared after all.

Risu-san had been right: Naoki couldn’t stay at the shop while uncontrollably laughing at the pettiness of powers capable of killing her without a thought.

At least she wasn’t Uchiha.

That was the thought that had finally calmed her laughter. Like oil on troubled waters: at least she wasn’t Uchiha.

Rumor had it that the Uchiha had been involved in the original Kyubi attack, but due to the Hokage’s edict of silence and secrecy, she actively didn’t think about it. Asking such questions was dangerous in this village. She doubted it was true, but she wondered how much of their downfall was due to the Kyubi attack, one way or another.

The Uchiha’s mandate had been to deal with civil unrest internal to the village rather than external defense. As a clan, they’d been buffered from the losses in the original Kyubi attack but were directly responsible for maintaining peace in the aftermath and the Saindame had forced them to do so without allowing them to actually remove the Kyubi. It ran around causing chaos under the Hokage’s protection while the Uchiha were held accountable for the results they were not allowed to prevent. Now they were all dead because one of them finally snapped under the pressure and provided them all with mercy deaths.

She could sympathize.

And yet, what kind of mercy death left behind one traumatized survivor to carry the entirety of the weight of a noble clan, a founding clan even?

If the Uchiha had overthrown the Sandaime, as she’d sometimes thought they might, she would have supported them as best she could. But they hadn’t. Instead, they’d died to maintain an impossible honor and left their one surviving child to do the same.

In the aftermath of the Kyubi attack, the civilians had come together to help one another. She had slept on a living room floor with five other civilian women who’d lost their homes, in the house of a sixth. Hundreds of civilians spent their days cleaning the streets and sorting rubble, offering free service because no one could afford to pay and eating what was offered because no one could afford to buy.

She knew what a good community did in the face of a disaster. It had been the worst days of her life, and she still had nightmares of the fire and smoke, but it had also been a time of kindness that came with a clarity of purpose. She had worked harder then ever before, even as she’d cried for her family and her future, and had made list after list of things that needed to be done and what she could do.

The Kyubi attack had decimated the village but the village had come together to get through it.

The Uchiha massacre had decimated the village as well, but this time, the village simply watched from the sidelines and did nothing.

It was sickening to watch. It was more sickening to watch nothing happen than it had ever been to sort through the rubble to find bodies to be buried. She would rather work hard to accomplish some good than continue on in her life of easy stagnation as people turned away from suffering neighbors. So she had told Risu-san that she was leaving the tea house, for now at least, and made her way to the Uchiha compound.

There was so much she couldn’t do, but not nothing.

By the time Uchiha-sama returned from his day at the academy the next day, she was weeding the front walkway. She was ready to greet him with a small smile and to ostentatiously ignore the fangirls trailing after him, shutting the gate in their faces.

He had arrived home earlier than he had the previous day, so he had likely skipped his normal dinner to get back to the compound sooner. She was glad she was able to immediately present him with an arranged fruit platter.

She also gave him two pieces of paper, two lists.

He looked confused by the paperwork but she remained silent and left him to contemplate them.

The first one read:

  1. Clean main house
    1. Clean kitchen
    2. Clean bathroom
    3. Dust entire house
    4. Replace stained floorboards
    5. Update artwork for new Uchiha-sama *
    6. Update training space for new Uchiha-sama *
  2. Care for Animals
    1. Chickens
    2. Rabbits
    3. Goats
    4. Others?
  3. Clean and close houses on the compound (120 houses, listed separately)
    1. Move spoiled food to compost heaps
    2. Sort possessions for saving, donating, or throwing away *?
    3. Sort possessions for leaving at house or taking to main house *?
  4. Review Paperwork in Office *
    1. Identify contracts: clan rights and responsibilities*
    2. Identify financial situation*
  5. Update Inventories
    1. Food
    2. Weapons *?
    3. Library *?
    4. Security features – potential traps, jutsus, seals *
  6. Gardens
    1. Weed and harvest kitchen gardens
    2. Weed flower gardens
    3. Weed walkways

It had been tempting to just start doing the work, treating Uchiha-sama as a child to be catered to, but if he was to succeed, if she was to help him succeed, then she needed to treat him as the clan head he was.

He finally spoke. “This is the type of paperwork that Father was always looking at, isn’t it?”

“Most likely, yes. It’s two lists. The first is an outline of tasks that I believe need to be done. The second is a list of buildings in the Uchiha compound. You can add or remove anything. Let me know which tasks, if any, you’d like to do yourself, with or without my assistance, and which ones you’d like me to prioritize. I’ve put a star by the ones I think you would find of particular interest, and a star plus a question mark by those I was less sure of.”

“This is my compound. I should be doing all of this.” He tried to be demanding but he mostly sounded daunted.

“This is your compound, so you must be aware of everything that takes place in it. But you don’t have to do it all yourself.”

“My Father….”

She interrupted him because there was a difference between treating a clan head with suitable respect and letting a child mislead himself. “There is no way your father ever turned compost heaps after he became clan head.”

He looked bug-eyed for a moment before relaxing and maybe even had a tiny little smile. “No, I can’t imagine that either.”

He fell silent after that, but his eyes distant. It wasn’t until they grew more haunted that she interrupted his thoughts. “Look over the lists, write down your thoughts. I’ll make dinner in the kitchen. The past is always here, but it’s the future a person can effect, Uchiha-sama.”

Chapter Text

She prepared dinner, ate her portion in the kitchen, and served Uchiha-sama at the table, kneeling beside him to serve. He was clearly uncomfortable with the situation but didn’t ask her to leave or move. They didn’t speak while he ate.

After he was done, she moved the plates back to the kitchen and cleaned them while he continued to stare down at her lists, making various marks here or there, but nothing particularly legible as far as she could tell.

He was still staring down at the papers, looking frustrated when she was done. Staring at unfamiliar paperwork and trying to prioritize things he didn’t even fully understand. Children could be very smart, but they were inherently inexperienced. Uchiha-sama was a good child to be trying so hard, but still a child who didn’t yet know how to balance all the demands that would be made on him.

She finally spoke. “May I make a suggestion, Uchiha-sama?”

“What?” It was a rude return, but not a rejection.

“Tonight, let us fix up the training space here, so that you can move and train while you think about how you want to manage everything else. There is no need for you to sit at a desk while you think.”

“The training space doesn’t need anymore setting up. I’ve already been using it. I crossed that line off the list.”

She had noticed that, but was ignoring it. “It was set up for your father, and you are perfectly capable of using your father’s training space. But it should be set up for you.”

It had been obvious that he’d been using it, when she’s cleaned the floors earlier in the day, but equally obvious that nearly everything was set up to cater to an adult height and grasp.

He stared at her for a long moment, and then got up and ran out of the room.

She wasn’t quite sure what that meant, but she had plenty of experience, too much experience, dealing with grieving people and grieving herself. She made her way to the training space. From the sound of it, he was tearing the room apart.

She was careful entering the door since she didn’t want to get accidentally skewered by something.

The training space would definitely need to be fixed now. A good half of the weapon racks had been knocked over entirely and those that were attached to the wall hung cockeyed. The floor was littered with sharp objects of various kinds and a few of them were sticking out of the wall, as opposed to being displayed.

Uchiha-sama was panting in effort, the first time she’d ever seen him actually display obvious and visible distress.

“He didn’t love me. He barely tolerated me. I never trained here until he was dead!”

“You are the fifth generation of Uchiha to train in this room. It is yours now. You can train in it however you want.” There was a handy training lineage that still hung on the wall that let her come up with that number, for which she was grateful. She was less grateful for the last line listing ‘Uchiha Itachi’, with no sign of ‘Uchiha Sasuke’.

Uchiha Sasuke pulled another sword off the wall and threw it against the far wall, where it struck near the floor and stuck out at an awkward angle. She considered that for a moment, considered the boy, and then sank down to sit in seiza and watch.

He looked startled at her reaction but she kept her face calm, attentive but without judgement. Keeping one eye on her, he took another sword from the wall behind him and flung it. This one struck more cleanly to the opposite wall. He had clearly thrown it more consciously. He still kept an eye on her, maybe testing for adult disapproval, as he begun systematically taking every single weapon down from the walls where they had been displayed and flinging them across the length of the training space.

When he was done with the swords and daggers and axes still on the walls, he started on the ones that had littered the floor. And when he was done with those, he walked to the other wall, pulling them out of that wall and throwing them back to stick out of the first wall.

It was late at night when he finally quit flinging them across the room.

“Tomorrow, you can put them away. All of them. I’ll put up my own weapons. And I’ll look over the paperwork in Father’s office. I mean, in my office. And we’ll both start clearing out the other houses. And I’ll figure out what to do with any weapons left in those houses, too.”

“That sounds like a good plan, Uchiha-sama.” It sounded like a child’s plan, with too much to do all at once, but it was a start.

“Okay. I’m, I’m going to bed now.”

“Would you like me to draw you a bath first?”

“I want to go to bed. I’ll shower in the morning.”

“Very well. Sleep well, Uchiha-sama.”

“You have to play for me.”

“Of course.”

And so she played him to sleep again before retreating to her own room. It was a monumental amount of work she had taken on, but it was off to a good start.

The next morning, she made no comment about the way the child’s shoulders relaxed as she laid out his breakfast and offered him the luncheon bento box and saw him off without ever commenting on the events of the previous evening.

Once he was off, she did go to pick up the room, pulling the weapons out of the wall and storing them in the storage cabinets out of sight. The room looked remarkably empty and the walls needed patching but that could be dealt with later, maybe as a winter activity.

She made a circuit of the grounds again, saw to the animals as best she could, and did some harvesting and weeding of the kitchen gardens, prepped for more meals with the results, before starting on a month’s build-up of dirty laundry. It was hard labor but the hours past quickly. She was just able to get a quick shower in and update the task lists before she was greating Uchiha-sama upon his return.

That evening, after dinner, they worked together to arrange the training space to his specifications.

She played him to sleep again, her hands cramping, but she pushed through it. She would become accustomed to it.

The next day was much the same, but that evening, she asked him to walk around the house with her and identify which art he liked and which he’d like to replace. There were a lot of options for replacement art in storage in the main house and certainly would be even more in the other houses. He didn’t want to deal with the art, and tried to refuse to have opinions on it, but it was part of being a clan head: he had to have opinions and he had to voice them. Art was a relatively forgiving topic to develop his opinions on. By the end of the evening, he had strong ones and she had to reassure him that he could re-arrange all the pictures as often as he wanted and doing so seasonally was traditional.

He actually had requests for some of the music she played that night, and she found herself smiling as she played.

The next evening, Uchiha-sama insisted that she show him all the animals and then look together at the houses of the compound even as it got dark, so he could match them to the lists.

The evening after that they worked with the animals, getting extremely dirty while the animal pens got marginally cleaner.

The day after that, was his first day off from the academy since she had moved in. They started working on reviewing and shutting up the other houses for indefinite closure.

They didn’t talk all that much, while checking out the houses. Uchiha-sama looked for the security measures and the weapons, while Naoki cleared out the kitchens, and they both sorted through the possessions to either store at the houses or carry back to the main house. They spent two full days working on those houses, just returning to the main house for meals and to drop off anything Uchiha-sama wanted to keep for himself.

When the next week started, and he returned to classes and she continued to work on the other houses during the days, although she care to spend two hours working on the main house: an hour of cleaning and an hour of gardening. That evening, he picked at his dinner, and his silence was more fraught then before.

Sorting through his father’s office was the one large task that he hadn’t even started on yet. She never mentioned it, but it was always there on the list.

That day, they finally went into the office and started looking through the papers.

It was wildly inappropriate for her to be there, to be looking at these, but Uchiha-sama was the one who finally flung open the doors, as if ripping off a scab, and said, “you start.”

And so she started. She narrated everything she did so he would learn as well. She identified what was on the shelves of the bookcases, and what the stacks of papers were on the desk.

There were the budgets and the receipts and mission records and plans for future missions and detailed geneologies to ensure that marriages within the clan were never too incestuous. There was correspondence with merchents and with shinobi and with nobles. And woven through all of it was clear evidence of plans for a coup. She doubted Uchiha-sama was able to recognize them as such and it was the one thing she didn’t verbalize for him. It was just mixed with the mission plans, really: notes to ensure there was Uchiha presence in every aspect of village bureaucracy, notes on the missions about bias, and favors owed. Debts collected or repaid. Blackmail potential and weaknesses for bribery. She wondered how close the coup had come to being implemented. She wondered how many other clans had such hints in their records. She didn’t speak any of those thoughts aloud.

Uchiha-sama stayed to one side, looking at the pages she showed him, but keeping his arms hugged around himself instead of taking any of them.

It was later that night, after he’d had his bath and changed into his bed clothes, but before he’d gotten into bed that he asked, "Why do you always call me Uchiha-sama?"

"Because that's who you are."

There was a long silence before he said, "But..." and then trailed off. She waited for him to continue, but he finally shook his head.

"Would you like to me to call you something else?"

"Can you, sometimes, when you’re playing the harp and I’m going to bed, can you call me Sasuke-kun?"

"Of course, Sasuke-kun.” She realized that maybe she had forgotten that he was still just eight years old. She was tentative with her next question, but, “Would you like a hug?”

He looked affronted, but then looked down and muttered, "yes, please."

She wrapped her arms around him. "You are shinobi and you have a very high status. But you are also very young. If you were a civilian, you would still be very much a child. You’d have a proper caregiver.”

“I’m shinobi, I don’t need a caregiver. And I have you.”

“Yes, you have me.”

“That’s enough.”

It had barely been a week and he was saying that. His family had been killed six weeks ago and he was talking to a stranger who had moved into his compound. She didn’t let her thoughts show on her face. She was increasingly sure he had been right, when he said his father hadn’t loved him. At the very least, the former Uchiha-sama hadn’t known how to show his son love. Under the circumstances, maybe that was a blessing.

She held him in her arms as he whispered, “I don’t want to go back into the office, Noaki-kun.”

“You can’t avoid it forever, but you don’t have to go every day. And you can make as many changes as you want.”

“Okay.”

They continued to clean the houses of the compound and collect weapons for Uchiha-sama to train with, and make lists of what was there, and at night she would tuck Sasuke-kun into bed and play lullabies to guard his sleep.

It was three weeks after she had moved in that someone other than Uchiha-sama’s stalker-ish child-ish fans finally showed up at the Uchiha compound to check in on the situation.

It was during the day while Uchiha-sama was at the academy.

“Naoki-chan,” the elderly shinobi with extensive bandages greeted her.

Some high-ranking elders could make such a familiar address seem like a kindly offer of familial protection. She was fairly sure this particular shinobi elder was attempting to mimic that while actually using it as a taunt. He was one of the Hokage’s advisors and she wracked her memory for his name. He was the first sign that anyone in power in the shinobi hierarchy was paying attention.

“Shimura-sama.”

He didn’t waste time on any extra niceties. “You’re old enough to be Sasuke-kun’s mother.”

“If the Kyubi attack had never happened, my first child might have been just a year younger,” she agreed.

“And yet, he calls you Naoki-kun rather than Oba-san or Ane-san?”

Someone must have been paying attention before, at least, for this man to know that much.

“A lost family is not so easily replaced. But comfort can still be had.”

“Hmm.” He seemed more coldly contemplative now without the mask of joviality and she appreciated the changed.

“May I ask a question, Shimura-sama?”

It was rude to put herself forward this way, but she thought he’d allow it just to know her question. He’d likely gain more from her questions than she would from his answers, but she didn’t have the capability of keeping a secret from highly skilled shinobi, so she was better served not trying.

“Ask.”

“Who controls the Uchiha Clan finances until Uchiha-sama graduates and is officially an adult?”

There hadn’t been anything in the office records to easily answer that question. There had been a stack of wills for all the clan members but nothing about what to do if all of them were dead. She’d had plans to ask at the bank, but took the opportunity to ask a shinobi elder, who might have a different perspective than a civilian banker.

Nothing obvious about his response gave away any sort of surprise but she got the impression it was there anyway.

“Uchiha Itachi, I believe, as the only adult member of the clan, currently has control, from the bank’s perspective. Of course, he cannot interact with the local bank without drawing attention to himself. Would you like me to have you put in charge as a regent until Sasuke-kun comes of age?”

Now she was insulted. That trap wasn’t even attempting to be subtle.

“Of course not. Uchiha-sama has sufficient funds for his needs until he graduates.” A statement which had the virtue of being true. Shinobi often found it useful to maintain untrackable cash stashes and a clan planning a coupe doubly so. There was enough cash in the main house to support two people for years without even being thrifty. “It’s just, until he’s recognized as an adult, he can’t formally excise his brother from the clan and take control of the finances himself. I,” she introduced a polite sort of pause, and then continued quieter, as if revealing a secret she would only trust to him, “I don’t trust the banking establishment to have his best interests at heart.”

That statement was both true and not. She and Jinnouchi Kino, the bank representative she worked with most often, had a mostly friendly argument about how they balanced access and denial to funds in chaotic circumstances. There had been a lot of chaos in the wake of the Kyubi attack and some enterprising sorts had attempted to proactively declare themselves heirs to fortunes who’s current owners still survived. In response, the bank had demanded proof of death from every heir claimant, and the Kyubi had literally burned to ash a number of people, her parents included, leaving no bodies behind.

She appreciated how they protected the funds entrusted to them even as she found some of the ways they protected them to be irritating to deal with herself.

More to the point, Uchiha Sasuke should not have to live on funds abandoned in the pockets of his dead relatives until the official accounts were available to him.

“Hmm. I can look into it for Sasuke-kun, if you’d like. Perhaps he could be granted a qualified adulthood status in this instance. The bank owes me a few favors.”

“Oh no. Uchiha-sama doesn’t want any favors done for him.” Which was true, but even more so Naoki herself absolutely did not want the Uchiha clan to incur any debts of favors, especially to other shinobi, until she was more certain in the child Uchiha’s ability to manage those debts without being taken advantage of. In that regard, she trusted the bank officials significantly more than she trusted any elderly shinobi.

“As you wish. But if you do need help, please feel free to come to me.”

“Thank you, Shimura-sama.” She smiled as gratefully as she could manage.

“Of course, Naoki-chan.” He nodded his head regally and then disappeared in a swirl of leaves.

She wondered if there was some intended message for that particular style of departure or if it was just a matter of convenience. If it was intended as a message, the contents of the message were lost on her. But she was pleased to have survived her first interaction with the shinobi hierarchy after moving into the Uchiha compound.

Once she was sure he was truly gone, or at least as sure as a civilian could be—a thought which made her realize that maybe there was a message in disappearing rather than walking—she left the compound and headed to the bank. She met with Jinnouchi-san to ensure that noone, civilian or shinobi, tried to pre-emptively do Uchiha-sama a favor. Jinnouchi-san also promised to look into the requirements of recognizing Uchiha Sasuke as the proper representative of the Uchiha Clan, despite being a child, rather than Uchiha Itachi. He would let her know his suggestions and also keep the inquiry confidential.

He was a good man and he looked at her with sad eyes as he also promised to keep her personal accounts safe and separate. They had met for the first time when she was preparing for her marriage and for the second time to deal with her losses and the losses of her entire neighborhood. He had seen more than a few people fail to maintain their social status and knew she was in a precarious situation. If ever she left the Uchiha Compound, she would not be able to return to respectable employment. She would need to live on her savings, marry, or leave the village entirely. But those concerns were something she could leave to him for now as she focused instead an ensuing the Uchiha Clan’s survival.

Once that was done, she returned the compound and took some time away from her regular weeding to enjoy the flower garden and put together some flower arrangements for inside.

Uchiha-sama, when he returned from the academy, looked appalled, at least at first. "What is that?" He pointed accusingly at the wall sconce built into the training space for just such a decoration.

"It's a flower arrangement."

"I don't need flowers..." but the statement started out strong before trailing off a bit and his eyes kept studying the arrangement. She had been in the stands for every chunin exam held in Konoha for the last two decades and wandering through the observer spaces for shinobi practice grounds was a common form of civilian entertainment. If she couldn't create an ikibana flower arrangement to illustrate the lines of certain taijutsu and kenjusti attacks, she would have been embarrassed for herself.

"It is for inspiration."

"It looks like an attack,” said with quiet awe and moved one hand along the same line as one of the branches.

“Mmhmm,” she hummed her agreement. "A shinobi should be as silent a flower on the branch and as difficult to hit as a petal in the air."

“That’s, I’ve heard that before. Somewhere.”

“It’s an old phrase, from the shodaime’s time.”

“The sensei at the school, he says that timing is everything. Too fast is just as devastating as too slow. An attack before there's an opening or a block before the attack is a waste.”

“That sounds like my teacher for the tea ceremony. Everything in its time. Too soon is as bad as too late. Finding the right timing in the nature of the water, the fire, and the tea.”

“Huh,” he said, but it sounded considering. That evening, Uchiha-sama practiced kata in the training area but rather than merely watching, Naoki performed a tea ceremony in one corner. It was a pleasant evening and a nice break, for them both, she thought, from the work of the last few weeks.

She started performing the tea ceremony once a week, as a reminder, to herself as much as to Uchiha-sama, that there was more to training than just the shinobi arts. And she still played Uchiha-sama to sleep every night.

The days continued on the weeks passed and the months as well.

The work was difficult, both mentally and physically, because it combined tasks that were significantly beneath her honor, such as scrubbing the floors, and those that were significantly above her rights, such as reviewing all the clan’s financial data.

It was midwinter before Naoki brought up the suggestion of bringing a banker to the compound to go over the financial aspects of running a clan. Uchiha-sama had looked daunted but agreed to meet with Jinnouchi-san. Naoki had been the one to ask most of the questions on his behalf, but that conversation was also the first time Uchiha-sama spoke his brother’s name aloud.

Jinnouchi-san had gone over all the clan finances: what money Uchiha-sama had access to currently, what he would have access to once he had graduated and was legally reconized as an adult, what investments the Uchiha Clan had, what decisions needed to be made regarding those investment. And in the end, “Is there anything else I can do for the Uchiha Clan at this time?”

Naoki had remained silent. Jinnouchi-san had waited. Uchiha-sama had looked unhappy and determined and finally managed to stutter out: “Update our records: my, my brother, Uchiha Itachi, is no longer a member of this clan.”

Then he got up and left the room. Jinnouchi-san had looked at her, to confirm the order, or maybe just to confirm that Uchiha-sama was in a state of mind to make an order like that. She nodded.

Uchiha-sama had to make that decision and he had to be the one to say it, out loud, to another person.

And, as far as she could tell, she was one of three people Uchiha Sasuke actually spoke to. He didn’t speak much really, and mostly in bursts of energy before going silent for hours on end. There were some days, when she only ever heard him grunt yes or no sounds in response to direct questions.

One of the resources that Jinnouchi-san had revealed to them was that the Uchiha Clan had funds reserved for sponsoring apprenticeships. Even without being an adult, Uchiha-sama could make directions regarding those funds as long as they met the original guidelines.

She respectfully insisted that they visit the orphanage and identify two children to be sponsored the next week. Uchiha-sama went with her, but in the end, she was the one to select Tamanaha Omezo and Koyanagi Toshitsugu. Enough older than Uchiha-sama that they could be properly apprenticed to a baker and a weaponsmith, respectively, but not so much older as to be a separate generation.

By the time Uchiha-sama graduated from the Academy, he could be served fresh bread from his own clan baker. By the time he was chunin, he would be getting his kunai from the Uchiha forge as well.

Uchiha-sama managed to greet them both and make brief eye contact but didn’t manage to hold a conversation with either. Hopefully by the time Tamanaha-kun and Koyanagi-kun graduated from their own trainings and moved into the Compound, Uchiha-sama would be in a better place to socialize. That was still years away.

It was a painful and stressful week getting those apprenticeships arranged and Uchiha-sama delegated the process entirely to her.

She was hardly in a position to truly critique him for that though, since she was essentially self-exiled as well. She left the Clan grounds once a week to visit the main temple and burn incense there, and occasionally for other things as well, to buy fish or bread at the market, or to send and receive correspondence via the post office. But she didn’t talk to a lot of people. All of her friends and most of her acquaintances were shunning her.

The shunning was not malicious, but proper, civil, and everything she had expected. As one who had abandoned the proper behavior of a young lady, the other ladies in her previous social class had to demonstrate their disapproval. The other civilian ladies could not allow themselves to condone one of their own becoming a concubine, much less a concubine to a child. It was inappropriate and a terrible example.

They might approve of how she was setting the Uchiha compound to rights, but that did not include them approving of her. But everyone in a hidden village understood sacrifice, shinobi and civilian alike. Sometimes, one must choose to stay behind, to knowingly take a suicide mission in order to protect one’s companions. And sometimes, one must allow one’s companions to knowingly take a suicide mission and allow their sacrifice to protect oneself.

Uchiha Sasuke was too young for the trauma he had. He wasn't even legally an adult yet, although that would come sooner than any civilian child, as soon as he graduated. But he was still a pre-genin. He shouldn't have already seen murders or been tortured. He should still have been protected as a child. It was a sad fact of life that he hadn't gotten to be a child while going through his pre-genin days, but it was insane that he wasn't being afforded the respect and given the accommodations an adult trauma survivor would have been. There had been no one to keep a light lit during the long nights or to play soft music during the long silences, to ensure that meals were served with sufficient protein for training but without even the hint, taste or aroma, of blood. The shinobi organization ensured that the shinobi stayed capable, but it was the role of their civilian family to ensure they stayed happy. Or at least as happy as possible.

Naoki had stepped in. She was setting things to rights among one of the major shinobi clans and the civilians appreciated it even as they could not approve of her.

The lack of civilian companionship, any companionship other than a young traumatised shinobi boy, took some getting used to, but she kept herself busy and found herself settling into the long silences of companionship with young Uchiha-sama.

At least Uchiha-sama had to be speaking with his sensei at the school, just for practical purposes. She’d never been there to see it, but he sometimes told her about Iruka-sensei.

The third person he spoke to was “that idiot dead-last kid, why is he even trying, he’s such a failure!” who seemed to be the one peer he gave any attention to at all. Naoki started adding “that idiot” to her weekly prayers at the temple. She wasn’t sure who he was, but he was apparently irritating enough to break Uchiha-sama out of his grief.

Then she did know who he was because one late spring day, Uchiha-sama asked her. “Why does everyone hate that idiot, Uzumaki? I know why I hate him, because he’s an idiot! But all the civilians hate him too and it’s weird!”

She could feel her face harden and she struggled to keep it calm and blank.

“You do too! Why?”

She thought of that night of fire and screams and blood, of lives lost and all the potential futures of those lives lost too. She thought of a laughing boy whose smile was as large as his face could manage but whose face was too human to show a fox’s grin. She thought of the Uchiha clan caught between protecting the civilians from the monster and the monster from the civilians. The Kyubi’s continued existence was an open secret and yet revealing the secret was a death sentence.

She finally managed to choke out, “It’s an S-class secret.”

Sasuke looked boggled and in any other circumstances, she would have found his expression amusing. “… Why?”

“I’ll try to tell you what I can.”

That conversation lead to the second visit she received from an adult shinobi.

"Kobayashi-san." Umino Iruka greeted her with barely suppressed anger, and she took a moment to consider that combination.

Her name was Kobayashi Naoki, so it was a proper way to address her. But shinobi who were angry at her or wanted to demonstrate their higher status of her tended to either address her by her personal name, as Shimura-sama had, or by her family's original name, Akanishi, to create distance between her and the village.

Many of the smaller families who joined the village under the Shodaime presented themselves as having some tree or forest name, and the Akanishi family had done the same and become the Kobayashi family. Those families who joined the village during the Nidaime’s time tended to take on water themed names. Umino's family had either been a proud shinobi lineage from a coastal region or a small civilian family that joined during the Nidaime's time in power.

Umino-sensei calling her Kobayashi-san set them up as equals, even when he was mad at her. She wasn’t the equal of a shinobi teacher and she rather thought she’d be safer making sure he knew that. "Please, call me Naoki, Umino-sensei."

He took a breath. "Before I report you to the Hokage, what exactly did you tell Sasuke-kun about Uzumaki Naruto."

Ah. She wondered how that had gone down.

"I told him that shinobi villages hold many secrets, some more dangerous than others and I was unable to tell him more about the student in his class, but that Uzumaki was a refugee name."

"That was not all you said."

"It was." She waited until he'd taken another deep breath and then continued right before he said anything. "And then I took him to the roof to admire the view of the Hokage mountain."

She had wrapped him in her arms to keep them both warm as they had sat on the roof watching the set light up the giant stone faces. She had called him “Sasuke-kun” as she spoke about the important of knowing the past in order to understand the present. She had reminded him of how the Shodaime and the Nidaime had been brothers, and could Sasuke-kun see the relationship in the faces? And how the Sandaime had a grandson in the village, had Sasuke-kun met the child? When Sasuke-kun had asked her about the Yondaime, she had hugged him tight and said, “it’s a secret”, and his eyes has widened and he had said nothing.

"You!" The sensei almost choked on his own words.

She looked at him with her most limpid expression. And blinked. What exactly had he, or the Hokage, or any shinobi who thought it a good idea to tell a bunch of victims of the Kyubi to ignore its ongoing presence in the village upon pain of death, expected?

Umino-sensei glared and then gritted out, "Sasuke-kun announced to the whole class that Naruto-kun shouldn't call him a bastard because his parents had been married. Unlike Naruto-kun who looked a bit too much like the Yondaime to have a refugee name!"

She shrugged. “It’s a logical conclusion that mostly fits the facts as he knows them.”

The Uchiha had died while caught between two power sources in a petty squabble. If she was throwing her lot in with the lost Uchiha, then she would get them their revenge in a manner that matched those powers. Nothing as honorable as an assassination attempt or direct attack. Just petty difficulties stacked one after another, catching them in their own web of lies.

Would the Sandaime defend the honor of the Yondaime in this matter or allow the Kyubi to further smear his name in the minds of the next generation? And either way, the civilians would wait and watch and think quiet thoughts without ever saying anything because saying anything was forbidden.

Umino-sensei seems to have caught at least some of those implications, given the way he grimaced.

“Fine.” He turned around to leave and then turned around again. He was clearly a teacher of young children who knew he had to demonstrate any courtesies he was attempting to teach. “Thank you for seeing me on such short notice, Kobayashi-san.”

“Of course, Umino-sensei. I am always available to discuss Uchiha-sama’s education.” She kept her own response blandly polite

He left, walking away from the compound rather than disappearing in a swirl of leaves. She still wasn’t sure if it was a matter of courtesy or strength.

There was no additional follow-up to the situation, at least not officially.

She did start to get some surreptitious smiles from the other civilians when she went to the market.

Time continued onwards. The more she worked on fixing up the Uchiha compound, the longer the list of things to do grew as:

  • Clean house #19

became:

  • House #19: replace missing roof tile
  • House #19: replace blood stained floor boards
  • House #19: clean dirty laundry that had been left to mildew for two months
  • House #19: fix broken screen in side window
  • House #19: fix jammed door in back

She continued to work through the list, adding things as she identified issues and removing them as they were completed. She actually kept a second list of things accomplished with a note as to what date they were done on, both to document the status of each house and to remind herself of what she had accomplished.

They celebrated Uchiha-sama’s birthday that summer and decided that her gift to him was to deal with the girls who still followed him around with hearts in their eyes. Uchiha-sama was wealthy and high ranked, smart and cute, and other nine-year-olds seeing him as nothing more than those characteristics, a prize to be won rather than a person to know, blocked most of his opportunities to actually develop friendships with his age-mates.

She was tempted to turn his small crowd of stalkers into a workforce for fixing up the compound. But it would be too intimate a task for them: to allow them to actively care for the Uchiha clan when all they currently did was spout nonsense about one day being the clan matriarch.

Instead, she asked Uchiha-sama if he would allow her to bring two of his fans into the compound per week to test their abilities, with the intent that they redirect their attention from him directly to her as his gatekeeper. “You’re only role in this would be to ignore their presence entirely.”

“Yes. Please.” He had looked so relieved.

The next day, when he returned from the academy, she greeted him at the entrance as she always did, but rather than follow him back to the house, she turned to the fangirls outside.

"Young ladies.”

They jerked to attention. It was the first time she had ever even acknowledged their presence. “I am going to invite you in to the Uchiha main house, one at a time, two per week, to perform a tea ceremony for me. Uchiha-sama may or may not be present, but if you do not have the concentration to focus on your task even with his presence as distraction, then you do not have the skill needed to perform for me, much less for Uchiha-sama."

Their eyes had gotten progressively wider as she spoke, and they all nodded vigorously even as they looked a bit overwhelmed by the prospect.

"I expect all of you to show up on those days and one of you to enter the gates, having arranged amongst yourselves the order. If you cannot work together, even when in competition with one another, then you do not have the skills to assist Uchiha-sama."

They looked even more daunted then before but continued to nod.

"I will know, if you exclude any volunteer for this. And there will be no repeats until every volunteer has had their chance."

She shouldn’t have been surprised when the group grew rapidly over the next few days, including individuals who had not previously been part of Uchiha-sama informal entourage.

The “real” fangirls were appalled, but Naoki had set the rules of the challenge that anyone who wanted to participate were allowed to, and acting directly against a competitor would be a count against them. As it turned out, every single shinobi clan established in Konoha who had an unmarried pre-genin, genin or civilian member aged between five and thirty who could reasonably wear a woman’s dress, sent a representative.

Sasuke-sama was appalled and retreated into his training area and refused to meet anyone’s eyes the first time he saw a woman old enough to be his mother appear. Nokia had explained that they were simply using him as an excuse to check out the situation and weren’t actually fans at the dinner later.

“Don’t get attached to any of them. The fangirls clearly, but also the others. Some of them, you could strike up a friendship with and it might shield you from the others, but it would be a favor they were performing for you. And I don’t think you want to accept favors or incur debts at this point.”

“No.” But he relaxed a bit at the reassurance that it wasn’t personal.

The first time an apparent young man showed up, Uchiha-sama looked more baffled than anything. Naoki had shrugged but hadn’t bothered to explain anything. She honestly wasn’t sure if that clan just didn’t have a born-female member available or if the individual in question had a non-traditional gender identity. Either was possible and in time Uchiha-sama would likely interact with both.

She found the interactions more interesting than she had expected. She hadn’t interacted with anyone outside of Uchiha-sama and merchants in a year. Now she was meeting all sorts of interesting individuals.

The original fans were annoying but mostly under control now that she’d established a challenge for them to direct their energy towards that wasn’t harassing Uchiha-sama. The women who showed up to participate in the challenge who weren’t fans, however, proved to be fascinating.

Akimichi Uki, twelve years old and already as tall as many adults and nearly as wide as she was tall, performed the single most graceful tea ceremony that Naoki had ever seen and created the best tea. Naoki was tempted to try to seriously get her into the Uchiha clan. Or at least intoduce Akimichi-kun to Risu-san, the owner of the tea house that Naoki used to work at. The girl had looked absolutely dismayed, however, when she said as much. “I’m planning on going to the capital and observing the Daimyo’s court! I just thought this would be a good trial run!”

“Be careful, Uki-chan. You are a wonder. Don’t let anyone steal you away.”

“I won’t!”

Meanwhile, Inuzuka Manami and her ninken Joruri were a hot mess. Literally, when she managed to spill the hot water all over herself. Naoki watched the attempted ceremony with morbid fascination and finally managed to asked, “Did anyone actually teach you this?”

Manami-kun flushed even brighter red than before. “Mom said no one had time for this kind of thing and if I wanted to know how to do it, I should just spy on the workers at the tea house…”

Well, that was… something.

“If you really want to learn how to do this, go hunt down a particularly luxurious pelt, the kind that a noble in the capital might want, and then trade it for lessons with Akimichi Uki.”

The girl looked disgruntled at that piece of advice, which was the best that Naoki could offer after the failed attempt at making anything drinkable, and went off muttering.

Sasuke-kun actually came into the room after Manami-kun and Joruri left, and gave a single laugh, “ha!”, at the mess.

That bit of rare laughter made it worth it.

The one she really liked was Nara Shikhako.

Nara-san performed a simple but elegant tea ceremony and then caught Naoki up in an enjoyable conversation that lasted several hours. She also brought a shogi set as a gift.

A genin Kunoichi at twenty, Nara-san was unlikely to advance further and seemed disinclined to as well. She had become a genin in order to gain access to the genin library and then, according to her, intentionally failed the tests to join a jounin team. Instead she took the occasional D rank mission for pocket money and mostly stayed in the Nara compound to maintain the grounds.

“I can tell you how to fix things up here, if you’d like. But you’d have to pay mission fees for me to do any of it for you.”

Naoki had blinked a bit at that bluntness, while they sipped their tea, but had eventually settled on, “I would appreciate the knowledge.”

“Then call me Shikhako and I’ll call you Naoki-san.”

“Thank you, Shikhako-san.”

“You’re very welcome, Naoki-san.”

Naoki was virtually sure that Shikhako-san had been commanded by her clan head to make friends with her, but she could only aplaud the woman’s success.

She had set the rules of the fangirl competition that there would be no repeats until everyone had had their turn, but Shikhako-san wasn’t an academy student and so they met every few weeks during the day when the fangirls wouldn’t notice preferential treatment. And when Sasuke-kun was at the Academy with them, anyway.

She really had too much to do to lay back and stare up at the clouds, and yet, Shikhako-san had pointed out with a somewhat winsome smile, doing just that was maintaining a connection with another clan. Making connections with the members of other clans was important, although it was a bit of a social quagmire given Naoki’s paradoxical position as acting matriarch of a founding clan and concubine beneath notice at the same time.

The Nara were the first clan making a serious attempt to develop and maintain a connection with her and they had done so with their ususal brilliance. An adult kunoichi genin was the perfect contact. A kunoichi, after all, was not expected to abide by the same social restrictions that a civilian would and a genin was not high ranked enough to get into trouble that way.

Shikhako-san convinced her that really, Naoki taking a break and staring up at the infinite blue of the sky while allowing all of her muscles to relax and her thoughts to slow and clear was the best possible use of the time. Especially since the Nara elders wouldn't expect Shikhako-san to do anything else as long as she was in Naoki’s company. Naoki had laughed at that but agreed.

They met every few weeks. On days with poor weather they drank tea and played shogi or talked about the tricks and difficulties of maintaining secure clan compounds.

On pleasant days, they sat out in the fields, staring up at the sky and talked about nothing and anything.

It was one such day in early fall that she let her guard down a bit too much. She was used to keep her thoughts to herself, but Shikhako-san had a way of luring her into saying things a civilian should never even think.

It was a beautiful day.

It was something like meditation and something like being asleep and aware at the same time.

She watched a cloud blow slowly across the sky, briefly veiling the sun and she shivered a bit in the temporary shadow before it moved on.

"Is cloud watching related to the Nara shadow jutsu?" She found herself wondering aloud. "I can imagine it is relaxing to look somewhere there are no shadows. But I also wonder if the shadows of clouds can be used to control whole territories"

Shikhako-san was suddenly blocking her view of the sky, eyes wide, looking down at her. "What?"

She blinked a few times. Shinobi moved too fast, even Nara ones. It was hard to dredge her mind back from the peace of staring up at the sky and getting it back on track. "I apologize. I should not have speculated."

"That's... not the issue."

"Can you tell me what the issue is?"

"Your first guess was right: it's relaxing to not see shadows. Do you know what the other clans would do to us if we were capable of using the shadows of the clouds?"

"Ah." She didn't know, but she could guess. "I won't speculate again."

"..."

She kept herself relaxed and her eyes gentle though still directed at Shikhako-san rather than back at the sky because she didn't want to appear dismissive, but she did want to demonstrate that the potential problem was successfully fended off. There was no need for conflict.

"I will need to pass on your speculation to Shikaku-sama."

"I would never ask you to go against your clan, Shikhako-san."

"But I don't know what he'll do." And Shikhako-san seemed genuinely concerned.

"Do you trust him to make decisions that are best for your clan and our village?"

"Yes!"

"Then give him all the information he needs to make correct decisions."

"But what if..."

She finally sat up and looked at the woman she was beginning to realize was a genuine friend, rather than merely a friendly political contact. "I will never be made safer by attempting to keep secrets from Nara-sama."

"That is very true."

The next time she saw Shikhako-san, the other woman didn’t mention the conversation although she gave Naoki a few looks. It wasn’t brought up again and Naoki refrained from contemplating the possibilities.

It took months before she’d gotten through the first attempts by all the girls who had shown up in order to perform. It took much of that time before Uchiha-sama stopped flinching at the existence of other people in his house and garden.

He didn’t have to interact with them, she made absolutely sure of that, but they were occasionally in his presence. And the few that squealed at him or tried to force their attention on him were quickly evicted. The others learned the lesson.

Some of them did better than others, but none of them were particularly skilled at the task, which, frankly, she appreciated. If any of them had been too skilled at it, she would have had to come up with a different challenge. Although the kunoichi teacher at the academy had dropped by at one point to suggest that music and calligraphy were skills she wouldn’t mind her students studying extra hard for.

Naoki was a lot more willing to sit through badly done tea ceremonies than badly done music performances, however. And calligraphy would be too quick to do and too easily judged for a challenge that was supposed to act as a block to the girls’ stalking tendencies.

In the meantime, now that she was becoming accustomed to other people on the grounds, she missed having other people people around who weren’t just visitors.

Since all the houses had been cleaned but now stood empty and ready for new residents, she started looking for potential residents. When she’d found them, she went to Uchiha-sama to get his permission.

“I would like to arrange for a family to come live in the Uchiha compound. They are civilians and would swear allegiance to the Uchiha clan and to you as the head of the Uchiha clan, and they would maintain the grounds. They would stay in one of the houses at the edge. There would be more fresh vegetables in the growing season and preserved vegetables for the winter months. Shall I do so?”

“I, I won’t be able to protect them.” He whispered.

“You will.”

“I can’t, I’m not good enough, to defeat… my brother.”

“You will train hard and you will be. You will train harder once you have someone to protect.”

“I can’t train any harder!”

“You will train smarter.”

“I can’t do that either!”

“But don’t you want to find out if you can?”

“Fine, whatever, but I don’t promise to protect them!”

“Thank you, Uchiha-sama.”

“Whatever.”

The first civilians were an elderly couple, Suda Nariaki and Suda Ishi, with a mentally impaired adult child, Suda Nobuyoshi, to care for the grounds. It had been Nobuyoshi who had first caught her eye. He was a large man but capable of listening to instruction with and from civilian children as he had worked chores around the village. His parents had a small vegetable stand at the night market. They were poor and without savings for the future but they knew how to garden.

They were intensely grateful to be offered a house in the Uchiha Compound in exchange for maintaining the grounds. They would even be able to expand their market stall with the excess poduce of so many kitchen gardens. And Suda Nobuyoshi would be able to perform the groundskeeper duties for the rest of his life while giving devotion to the young clan head who still wasn’t quite up to nurturing that type of devotion for himself.

It was nice to have other living people on the compound grounds as well. Sometimes even Uchiha-sama stopped by their house just to spend time in the presence of other people who welcomed him without demanding anything.

It was Sasuke-kun, who that introduced her to the next new residents. It was late at night after an evening of training for him and a tea ceremony for he and he had sat down next to her that their shoulders brushed but he didn’t have to look at her face as he whispered.

“Two older shinobi offered me their condolences this afternoon. They said, they hadn’t wanted to disturb my mourning, but they, they had worked with the police department before. Before. They looked, they looked ashamed. And I don’t…”

She kept her own voice soft as she prompted him, “What are their names?”

“Kobe Bakin and Hamamoto Doppo. I had to ask them, because I couldn’t remember their names.”

“But you remember them from before?”

“I think so. I think they trained my, my brother, when he was at the police department. They were partners and were going to to retire even then. And now they’re retired. And they lost, I think they lost their legacy, too. When my, my brother killed everyone.”

“Did you like them?” She wondered how hard it must have been for those two men to approach the child their own protégé had harmed so badly. She’d look them up in the office records later to see what the prior Uchiha-sama had to say about them, but she expected, just from this interaction, that they had been too lowly to get much attention.

“I, I don’t, I can’t,” he stuttered.

She wrapped an arm around him to hold him close. “If you want, only if you want, but one thing a clan head can do is to offer housing to retired shinobi. Retired shinobi live on the Hokage’s sufference, because they are owed loyalty for loyalty. The Hokage must povide for all of his loyal shinobi. But for the members of the police department, it would have been expected for the Uchiha Clan to care for them.”

“My, my parents used to visit a lot of retired shinobi. Not just the elders, but just regular retired shinobi.”

“Yes.”

“Should I be doing that too?” He sounded terrified.

“Why don’t you ask if Kobe-san and Hamamoto-san would like to stay on the grounds?”

It would be an awkward conversation for all involved, but if those shinobi really wanted offer their condolences then they should offer their assistance as well. And one thing that they could give was adult shinobi mentorship and a connection to the past.

“I, yes, I’ll do that.”

She hugged him close and hoped for the best. If nothing else, supporting retired shinobi would demonstrate that the Uchiha Clan was beginning to take up its responsibilities once more.

Chapter Text

She had been at the Uchiha compound for nearly four years when Uchiha-sama graduated as a genin. He was officially an adult at twelve years old. There had never been any real doubt that he’d graduate, so she had made an elaborate dinner to welcome him home.

“Congratulations, Uchiha-sama.”

“Thank you, Naoki-kun.”

“You are now an official adult of Konoha.”

“Yes.”

The both took sips of tea. There was a rhythm to formal conversations and he had quickly adapted to them.

“As an adult, you can take the Uchiha seat on the Clan Council if you so desire.”

He shrugged. “No one would listen to me.”

“Mm.” She took another sip of tea and he did as well. “Your voice will not hold much weight, but you have the right to hear anything they discuss. That kind of knowledge is power. And you will have a vote, so other council members will want you on their sides.”

“I need to train in order to defeat my, my brother.” He stuttered a bit, but he was getting better at being able to refer to the man who killed his clan and tortured him at all.

“There’s more than one way to train.”

“You just want to hear about the council.” He glared at her. “I’ve heard about you. People say you’re using me.”

“People say a lot of things. What do you think?”

“You aren’t even denying it!”

“It’s not the kind of accusation that can be denied. You must make up your own mind.”

He scowled again. “I wouldn’t tell you any secrets that I heard on the council, you know.”

“I appreciate it,” she said, rather dryly. “The ANBU would probably kill me if you did.”

“Oh.” He looked startled at that.

“Both actions and inactions have consequences. And there’s more than one way to kill a person.”

She took another sip of tea but he just fiddled with his cup. He finally muttered, still looking down at the table, “I don’t want you to be killed.”

“I appreciate it.”

“But you think I should join the council.”

“I think you’ll learn a lot about consequences and the more… subtle… means of attack if you listen to what is discussed at the Council.”

“How would you even know?” It was a real question, rather plaintively asked. “You just said that you’d be killed if you heard what was happening.”

“I don’t have to be present or hear the conversations to see the results. If you see a person with a scar, it’s not a guess that it resulted from an injury. Often you can even guess how and why the injury.”

“Oh.”

She had settled into a routine and it was a routine she enjoyed. The compound wasn’t lively, but it was alive with nine permanent residents: Uchiha-sama and herself, of course, but three groundskeepers, two retired shinobi, a baker, and an appentice blacksmith. Koyanagi Toshitsugu, the blacksmith apperentice, had moved out of his master’s forge and into the clan compound only recently and before schedule, but he had a shinobi sweetheart he wanted to have privacy to meet with. So there might even be a new resident in the foreseeable future.

She was looking forward to Uchiha-sama being allowed adult priviledges in the village at large rather than just in the compound and watching him come into his own.

Among other reasons, it would also stabilize her own position, since Uchiha-sama the adult had a right to allow people to move into his compound in a way that Uchiha-sama the pre-genin only had because no one in power had objected. For four years, she had acted with authorities that weren’t precisely available. Now they were.

It didn’t occur to her that after four years of no one objecting, anyone might finally take interest once her situation was more firmly established. And yet, it was the day after Uchiha-sama’s graduation that someone spoke from behind her, when she was sweeping the training room.

“You don’t appear to be sleeping with my 12-year-old student.”

Naoki didn’t quite manage to avoid the startle from an unexpected voice. At least that gave her a moment to consider the words. This must be Uchiha-sama’s new jounin-sensei. Uchiha-sama had failed to mention that his jounin sensei was Hatake-sama.

It was unfortunately quite possible that Uchiha-sama hadn’t realized who his jounin sensei was. She really hoped he joined the Clan Council because Uchiha-sama needed that type of information if he was going to be more than canon fodder and a martyr for the village.

“Hatake-sama. May I offer some tea?” It seemed unlikely given that he wore his facemask everywhere, but it was the polite thing to do to offer.

“I think not.” He slouched and looked around lazily as if only vaguely interested in the conversation he had started. “You didn’t answer my question.”

“Your question, Hatake-sama? I’m sorry, but I didn’t hear one. Would you honor me by repeating it?”

“Hmm.” They stood in silence for a moment. “You don’t appear to be sleeping with my student.”

She continued to wait for the statement to turn into a question.

He grimaced. “Why not?”

She raised her eyebrows at that. She knew what he intended to ask, but that wasn’t a great question. “As you stated before, he’s twelve years old.”

“And yet, you entered his estate as his concubine when he was eight. Are you waiting for him to grow up a little?”

“No,” She allowed her disgust at the question to come through in her voice. “There are only so many ways in which someone can join a clan, even in an unofficial capacity.”

“And you thought concubine was the best option?”

“I imagine you’ll find that most kunoichi agree that concubine is the easiest way to get in while maintaining as much freedom to act as possible.”

“For infiltration missions, yes. I’m sure you’ll understand my concerns.” The sarcasm was unnecessarily heavy, she thought.

“Is there a word for benign infiltration?”

“Hmm. Is there such a thing as benign infiltration?”

“I believe that is for you to decide, Hatake-sama. For you and Uchiha-sama and Hokage-sama.”

“And what will you do,” he suddenly changed tack, “if Sasuke decides he does want such services from you? He’s going through puberty right now after all.”

“He has plenty of willing fangirls with whom to experiment, if he so desires.”

“But he also has a full grown concubine waiting at home for him.” Hatake-sama threw in a leer as emphasis, his one visible eye trailing up and down her body.

She froze in response and honestly wasn’t sure if the flush she could feel in her cheeks was due to embarrassment, outrage, or fear. It suddenly dawned on her that she was alone in the house with him and there were few people even in the compound. Hatake-sama was an adult jounin with a great deal of power: physically, socially, and politically. He could literally do whatever he wanted to her and she would have few recourses.

She took a moment to shut down all emotion and then said, “If you ever threaten me like that again, I’ll wait until you’re out of the village to set your clan grounds on fire and take my chances with whatever village security decides to do to me.”

He took a step back. “I didn’t mean it as a threat.”

“Yes, you did.”

“I meant to make a point. Not to threaten you. Although I suppose I got your answer either way.”

“If I thought that Uchiha-sama would ever threaten to rape me, I would have made sure to teach him better. It has not been an issue so far and I don’t expect it ever will be.”

“Tell me if it ever becomes an issue.”

She gave him a look.

“Tell me.”

“If I am ever in a situation where I desire protection from Uchiha-sama, I’ll leave the village entirely.”

He looked at her consideringly, like a merchant judging wares or an Aburame inspecting a new insect. It was the base level threat that any notice by an experienced shinobi included, but nothing more. “I expect the village would be the lesser for your loss.”

“Is there anything else you need, Hatake-sama.”

He sighed and slumped even more. “No, I’ve seen what I needed to. I’ll walk myself out.”

She nodded.

He walked away and she thought that maybe he truly hadn’t meant to be threatening before, because he walked. He walked away so that she could see him leave rather than disappearing in a swirl of leaves such that she had no idea where he was.

She appreciated it. And she finally let herself shake. She had gotten comfortable and had forgotten what living under constant threat was like. She needed to remember it. She was a civilian and she couldn’t allow herself to flinch in the face of shinobi. The Uchiha Clan was still a young child, despite the increased number of residents on the clan grounds, herself included. Concubines did not have the protections of clan members and that had been one of the specific reasons she had been able to position herself as one. A concubine was outside the hierarchies and protections of a clan, which allowed her to offer Uchiha-sama services and companionship no one else could.

She took a walk around the compound. Looked at each of the houses, reviewed the lists of things that needed to be done, and then prepared dinner.

She was composed by the time Uchiha-sama returned home. He was grumpy about his lazy jounin-sensei who was late and read porn in public and didn’t actually teach them anything.

“Your jounin-sensei came by the Compound this morning.”

“He was here when he was supposed to be training us at the field?” He growled a bit. It was just beginning to stop being adorable as his voice lowered to an adult range. But it wasn’t quite there yet.

“Do you know who he is?”

“Sensei? He’s a jounin.”

“He’s Hatake Kakashi. Sharingan Kakashi. Clan head of the Hatake Clan.”

“Only Uchiha have the Sharingan!”

“The story, as I heard it, was that one of his eyes was a gift from a Uchiha team mate. The circumstances were a bit confused and as a civilian I wasn’t in the right position to get all the rumors. But he had his own fangirls when he was your age, and was the head of his clan by that point as well.”

“How did I not know this?”

“This all happened before you were born.”

“And you’re just a civilian but you still know more than me!”

“Join the Clan Council. Everyone else there will be older, but even if you just sit there and listen, you’ll learn things.”

“I need to learn how to fight! I don’t care about who my jounin-sensei is except that he’s not teaching me how to fight!”

He stomped off to the training room.

Naoki cleaned up the dinner, did a bit more sorting through papers in the office, and then went to sit in the doorway of the training room. Uchiha-sama was running through his katas again. It was beautiful to watch even if she had no way to judge how well he was doing. It looked skillful to her.

“The Kage are the most powerful people in the world,” she said.

Uchiha-sama ignored her, which she was more than willing to take advantage of. It gave her a chance to monologue for a bit without interruption, if he was ignoring her. She knew he would still hear her, even if he pretended not to.

“The most powerful people in the world, and yet, they have guards,” she spoke slowly. Like reciting poetry, speaking with a tempo that was completely different from the one-person battle being performed in front of her. “They have whole armies. And schools to make more soldiers.”

Uchiha-sama finished one kata and seamlessly started the next. She was mildly impressed with her own ability to notice the transition.

“There are likely a number of shinobi out in the world who could win a fight against the kage, one-on-one, but who never will because what makes the kage powerful is that they never fight one-on-one. They are powerful on their own, but their greatest power comes from having villages.”

“I can fight him on my own!” Uchiha-sama shouted.

“But why would you give up the advantage that you have? You have a village and the one you seek does not.”

“I”m not a Kage, Naoki!”

“But you could be…”

He scowled at her and she refrained from saying anything more on the topic, at least for the evening.

He scowled as he trudged off the meet with his genin team and jounin teacher the next morning and each day for the next month, angrily training on his own in the evenings. Naoki kept the house and grounds clean and welcoming and the correspondence to an adult Clan head set aside for Uchiha-sama’s review at dinner. The schedule for the Clan Council came as a form letter that some member of the Hokage’s staff hadn’t quite finished personalizing for an actual Clan head rather than a Clan heir, which was more common for newly graduated genin.

Uchiha-sama scowled at the letter and then scowled at her for good measure, while Naoki kept her face calm and accepting. Neither of them spoke about it, but when the day finally came, he asked her to help him dress up for his first meeting with the clan council.

“I need to look official. Like a proper clan head. Like you do when you do that thing,” he said.

She knew exactly what he meant, because clothes set the tone of an interaction and she was careful in how she presented herself. She didn’t say that there was absolutely nothing a twelve-year-old was going to wear to look like a proper clan head and trying would probably just make it worse. He didn’t need to hear that, he just needed to start showing up for the council and then work out the details later.

Unfortunately, patience was not one of Uchiha-sama’s strong suits.

He stomped home after the council and went out of his way to slam the doors.

“They refused to tell me anything!”

It was sometimes hard to tell when Uchiha-sama was venting and just wanted to rage without interference and when he was genuinely hoping to get a helpful response. His questions never really sounded like questions. But the long pause and steady stare after he had finished shouting his statement was a sign.

“If you want them to tell you something, you have to ask the right questions.”

“I asked questions! They just push them aside and don’t explain anything!”

Naoki took a moment to consider how much trouble she was willing to court. There was safety in keeping ones head down, but it wasn’t perfect safety and without a willingness to risk everything, nothing would be accomplished.

Uchiha-sama had the protection of his rank, and Naoki would take whatever came her way. So she said, “Ask them who the godaime hokage is. The sandame only came out of retirement at the death of the yondaime. Who is being trained to be the godaime?”

Uchiha-sama blinked at that. “I, I don’t think anyone is.”

“Let us make a list of every shinobi you can think of who would potentially become the hokage this year. They must be a powerful jounin of several years experience but not too old to hold power for several more years.”

“That’s still a lot of shinobi. I don’t know them all.”

“The hokage leads the village and supports the entire academy as well. They should have successful students as well. When the Saindaime became hokage, he had already been the sensei to the legendary Sannin. But none of his students are in the village anymore. Neither are his children. And he is quite old. He would not have been selected Hokage as he currently is.”

“That’s, that treasonous!”

“Not really: a retiring Hokage is always going to have different characteristics than a newly seated Hokage. The Sandaime came out of retirement, rather than being newly seated. But he retired once already and he needs to have a plan for when he retires again. There should be a Hokage-in-training to become the Godaime. Put together a list of all the shinobi who are famous, and who have famous students, and who have experience leading clans, and bring that list to the council. Ask them who among those shinobi is being trained to become Godaime. That will make them talk to you.”

“What if they just ignore me again?”

“They might not want to have that conversation with you, but not a single one of them will want you to have that conversation while they are absent. They will talk about it.”

“But…”

“Try it and see.”

She wasn’t entirely sure what happened at the next meeting but Uchiha-sama returned looked smug, and the following day Hatake-sensei showed up again. He walked up the path to her this time, with his slouch and his book, and stopped a good five feet away.

“You’re remarkably angry for a homemaker,” Hatake-sensei said. A rude and personal non sequitur, but she was beginning to think he just had terrible manners. And also, an interesting choice of words: homemaker rather than concubine. A more correct choice of words, really, when it came down to it.

“Am I?” She considered that for a moment. “How many homemakers do you know?”

That gave him pause. She wasn’t any angrier than many homemakers. She was just angrier than he had expected any homemaker to be.

“Why are you angry?”

“I’m a good homemaker.” She started and then paused. It was odd to call herself that after so many years. It was what she would have been if Shinzo-san had survived the Kyubi attack and they had married. It was what she had always intended to be.

Hatake-sensei eventually replied, clearly tentative and uncertain of where this was going. “Yes, you are.”

She nodded. “I’m good at it and I enjoy it. It’s what society has always told me I should be and I don’t regret that.” She didn’t actually regret much of anything. Life happened, often going along paths that were completely unintentional, and regret implied a level of control that she didn’t really feel.

“Good? I’m still not seeing where the anger comes from.”

She didn’t often think of the anger that had stewed for so long in the decade between the Kyubi attack and the Uchiha massacre. The anger that had watched the Uchiha clan suffer and wondered, hoped, that they would rebel against the impossible demands made on them, and allow her to rebel vicariously. The anger that had found distraction in endless tea ceremonies but also meant that she had no friends she regretted losing by walking away from her reputation and into service to the young Uchiha orphan. The anger that spiked at seemingly everyone asking for those ten years: don’t you want something more? Yes, she wanted something more, but it was never what anyone thought she should want. She wanted more, but it was never more honor, more respect, more power. It was always more peace, on a greater scale, more chance to live in peace, more opportunity to create peace.

“Because society also tells me that my position is worthless. I should be a homemaker but why would I accept just being a homemaker. Why didn’t I try for more. We homemakers create the homes that shinobi defend, and yet shinobi are valued much more highly than just mere homemakers.” She wasn’t bothering to keep her eyes lowered for this particular speech. She stared him dead in the eye. Let him look away instead. He didn’t look away but he did sway slightly back.

“Ah.”

She released another breath and then allowed calm to settle once more. She lowered her eyes and turned away, looking towards the garden. There was always something to do in a garden. “So there’s some anger there.”

“Ah.”

She ignored him after that and he eventually went away. The anger still bubbled up, like water left too long to boil. She had remind herself that she had achieved her goal: she had found a way to create peace, to work for it, to take a compound soaked in blood and left to rot and cleaned it into a home that welcomed its clan head back. A place where a civilian family could tend the grounds and have certainty in the future. A place where retired shinobi could find security and calm without triggers or threats. A place where a lone civilian woman could make something of value for others even if they never knew it.

It occurred to her that she really should be treating Hatake-sama with more courtesy. But the two times they’d met so far hadn’t been great.

And then things changed even more, because Uchiha-sama had apparently taken to the idea of becoming stronger through teamwork.

"I’m going to invite my two teammates to move into the Uchiha compound, so we can train more. I have plenty of houses."

Naoki froze and took a moment to tell herself that Uchiha-sama acting like an Uchiha-sama was a good thing, even if the decision he'd made was to move the Kyubi into the Uchiha compound directly.

The one real benefit of the Uchiha massacre was that it released the clan from its responsibility for the damage done by the Kyubi, and Uchiha Sasuke was suggesting that he take that responsibility back. She had been silent for too long.

"You don't like Naruto." Uchiha-sama said. "Why?"

She straightened her robes a bit. "I will tell you, if you ask me, but the reason why almost no civilian likes Uzumaki Naruto is an S class secret. If I tell you, the Hokage will be within his rights to have me killed."

"He won't kill my concubine for telling me. I'm Uchiha-sama."

"You're probably right," she agreed. And if he wasn't, shouldn't giving him the information he needed to succeed be worth risking her life?

"So, tell me. And don't lie about how it's because he's the Yondaime's bastard child. I'm not sure it's even true and you wouldn't care if it was. You just wanted to use me to embarrass him." Uchiha-sama glared at her.

"I apologize for that." He continued to glare. "I didn't mean to use you. I thought the assumption, once spoke aloud by someone who couldn't be disappeared, would make changes."

"Well, it didn't. So now you have to tell me the truth."

"You were just a couple of months old when the Kyubi attacked Konoha. I am far from the only person orphaned by that attack, for all that I was an adult at seventeen. The orphanage was overrun in the aftermath. And one of those orphans was what appeared to be a newborn infant: an infant that's skin displayed a seal creating a physical container, that had the Yondaime's yellow hair and the whiskers of a fox scarred onto it's cheeks."

"You're telling me the Yondaime turned the Kyubi into a baby?"

“In the aftermath, we tried to figure out who had died and who had survived. The children too young to know their own names and the adults too burnt to be recognized and too injured to speak were the most difficult to identify. There were many children we couldn’t find any living family for. But while we searched, trying to piece broken families back together again, the Hokage declared the origin of that infant to be an S-class secret that no one was to speak of."

It had been a slap in the face and a warning at once. That infant was too dangerous to place in the home of any couple grieving the loss of their own child. So the civilians had left it alone.

Uchiha-sama had apparently stopped listening, distracted by the reference to the seal. "I don't think seals can create things like that, a physical body out of a chakra creature? That's weird..."

"And so we held the funerals and cleared the rubble and tried our best to pretend that it was over even though we all knew it was still there."

"But, Naruto isn't the Kyubi." Uchiha-sama said rather blankly. "He's an idiot."

He had a point there. It was possible the transformation from giant chakra fox to human infant had done something as traumatic to its brain as to its victims. Naoki would attempt to treat it fairly. And there was something to be said for Uchiha-sama gaining it as an ally as well. And more to be said for abiding by the directions of Uchiha-sama. It was not her right to allow or disallow his invitations. She had to remind herself of this repeatedly, but if he was to become as powerful an adult as she expected he would, he needed the space to grow and make decisions and see the consequences of those decisions himself rather than be held back by a civilian’s perspective.

Instead she would do something about his other teammate who still regularly participated in the fangirl challenges.

Once the entire team had spent a morning moving the demon child and Haruno Sakura into two of the houses of the Uchiha compound and Hatake-sensei had shown up, to all appearances intending to just hang back reading before they all departed for an afternoon mission, Naoki started to make a luncheon for them.

"Haruno-san, will you join me in the kitchen?"

"Of course, Naoki-san!" the younger girl chirped as she leapt up. Haruno-san didn't notice Hatake-sensei's sharp look, but Naoki did and ignored it.

They quietly got the tea tray together, three sets for the three men in the other room. It was put together beautifully, with little decorative snacks, both sweets and savories.

When it was all prepared and a good ten minutes had passed, she finally turned to the girl. "Haruno-san, why are you here with me?"

"What?" Haruno-san blinked up. "You asked me to...?"

"Your genin team is in the other room discussing shinobi matters and you excused yourself to learn how to put together a tea service from a civilian? And have you even noticed that we've only put together three servings? One of them is for Hatake-sensei and none of them are for you."

"But you asked me..."

"Do you want to be Uchiha-sama's wife or his teammate?" She finally asked, point blank, and rude.

"Both!"

"Well, you're well on your way to being neither. Because if you keep on trying to be his wife at the expense of being his teammate, then you'll be kicked off his team and a failed shinobi could never be a potential bride."

The girl started trembling, her face pale and blotchy.

Naoki grabbed a fourth cup and put it on the tray with no added presentation at all.

"Now go back out there, join your team and actually put some effort into being worthy rather than just glossing up your appearance to look as though you are."

Haruno-san ran away with tears leaking and Naoki tried not to feel like a monster. She could have taken that girl under her wing and helped rather than just give her a sharp wake up call, but Naoki had already chosen her alliances and she wouldn't split that loyalty. Not at this point.

Nothing showed on her face as she walked back into the training hall and gracefully knelt to serve each member of the team their tea. A cup of tea and a plate of delicate snacks for Uchiha-sama, Hatake-sama, Uzumaki-san, and a mug of tea for Haruno-san.

"Hey! How come Sakura-chan isn't getting any cookies?" Uzumaki-san demanded in a voice loud enough to let the neighbors know what was going on. If there had been any neighbors. It was, perhaps, a kindness to his previous neighbors that Uchiha-sama had invited the demon child to live in one of the Uchiha houses.

Haruno-san cringed back from where she'd been attempting to fade into the background. "Shut up, Naruto!"

"No! This is like the bell test all over again! You have to get cookies too!"

"Shut up, Naruto! I don't need any cookies!"

Naoki looked up from where she'd been ignoring the back and forth, to give Haruno-san a hard look.

"I, I mean, thank you, Naruto, that is what teams are about?" Haruno-san trailed off a bit at the end, as if uncertain about that being the correct answer. But Naoki was satisfied enough and looked peacefully away again.

Uzumaki-san didn't appear to have noticed the byplay.

"Yea, it is! Believe it! And we're the best team!"

"Yeah."

Somehow the training room of the Uchiha main house became the place for Team 7 to meet. It was good, but also odd. While Hatake-sensei taught the shinobi arts and oversaw the missions, Naoki found herself teaching all four of them about manners, mostly by demonstration rather than actual lessons. Uchiha-sama had been part of a large and formal clan until he was eight years old, but Hatake-sama had only had a small clan even before he was orphaned at age six. He didn’t have any of the training.

Even Hatake-sensei’s jounin-sensei had apparently been an orphan, separate from both civilian and shinobi social circles. Shinobi taught disassociation and othering so hard that the Yondaime, from all accounts a cheerful and pleasant young man, had gone out one day, killed a thousand other shinobi, and then return to bashfully flirt with his sweetheart. The shinobi he’d killed had been from a different village and thus worn a different symbol on their identification plate.

Even the shinobi who left their villages, Naoki had heard tell, still wore the metal plates and symbols, just bisected by scratches.

It was a sign of killers and victims and pride in being both. They were taught how to fight and kill people, but not how to make friends, or at least social connections.

The demon child who she tried to call Uzumaki-san, and occasionally even Naruto-kun at his instance, also insisted that he would one day be the best shinobi ever. It was a horrifying thought. How many would die so that a demon raised as a human child could be the best shinobi ever?

And yet, it made her curious. She wanted to ask, and really, from her perspective, was a demon any more dangerous than a genin shinobi? Either one could kill her easily. So she asked him, spoke to him willingly for the first time, “Who would you have to be better than in order to be the acknowledged best?”

The question stumped him for a bit. Uchiha-sama had a point when he said that Uzumaki Naruto was too dumb to be a demon. Naoki just wasn’t convinced that demons were particularly smart. Immense power was just as dangerous when wielded by an idiot as by a genius.

He finally declared: “The Shodaime! Senju Hashirama was the god of shinobi so I’ll be better than him! Believe it!”

“The Shodaime ended a war and established a village. You’ll have to save a lot of people and improve a lot of lives in order to be better than him.”

“Yeah! I’ll save all the people! Believe it!”

“And how will you improve their lives?”

“Um, they’ll still be alive!”

“Tell me, can you use water jutsu to water crops during a drought? Or to stop flooding?”

His eyes went wide, and he even looked daunted for a moment, before it turned to excitement. “I’ll figure out how to!”

She was fairly sure he had missed the point. But it was worth the try. “Then also figure out how to use earth jutsu to hold back mudslides and search for earthquake survivors. Use fire jutsu to put out forest fires or maintain controlled burns.”

“I will Naoki-sensei! Believe it!” And he bounced away.

“We don’t get a lot of missions to deal with natural disasters, Naoki-san.” Kakashi-sensei spoke from one side, standing in a doorway a few feet away. “Most victims of natural disasters can’t afford the mission rates.”

To all appearances he had been there for a while, but she knew he hadn’t been. If he was smart, he was always keeping an eye on the demon child while it interacted with civilians. For the sake of one or the other.

She shrugged. “If he wants to be better than the Shodaime, then he should try to complete the Shodaime’s goal of peace.”

“Complete it? We have a village…” He spoke with over-acted disinterest even going so far as to turn a page in his book.

“But we don’t have peace.”

“We’re not at war,” he pointed out, and then undermined his own argument by adding, “currently.”

“There’s more to peace than an absence of war.”

“Is there?”

“And that question shows why we don’t have peace. Too few people even know what peace looks like, so how can you achieve it?” She was perhaps, being more blunt than was safe.

“If it’s not the absence of war, then what is it?”

“It’s the presence of peace, of course.” Which got him to look up from his book to give he a disapproving look.

She quirked a smile at him. “Peace is as active an activity as war is. You have to work hard to keep peace going. If all it was was absence of action, then it would be a lot easier to force. And the people who did the best job of it that I ever saw…” she trailed off, wondering if she was brave enough to actually say this aloud, even after all these years. But bravery itself was something a person had to work at, and she would continue to strive for it. “Was the Uchiha clan.”

Kakashi-sensei blinked, but didn’t look threatening. Talking about the dead and gone was always a risky matter with shinobi, but the risk appeared to have paid off in this case. He lowered his book slightly and quirked his eyebrow at her.

She wasn’t even sure how to summarize the work that clan had done. How pervasive it had been. How much they were missed for things that simply made life easier and better. Instead, she could only summarize one of the more obvious examples. “There was almost a guild war between the dyers and the weavers about fifteen years ago. If the war had taken place, the whole village would have suffered, and suffered even more if either side had won. No one would have died by violence, although it’s quite possible several people would have been left to starve as the result. The Uchiha police department maintained the peace and Uchiha Fugaku personally mediated between the two guilds.”

“Hmm. I thought the ANBU took on most of the responsibilities of the Uchiha police.”

“The responsibilities were split. ANBU deal with shinobi conflicts and the Civilian Council deal with civilian conflicts. And no one acknowledges the mixture of shinobi trained civilians and civilian raised clan members.”

“Hmm.” He seemed to actually be thinking about it, but then, “well, I’ve left my cute little students alone for long enough. I’d better head out.”

And he wandered off.

She went back to preparing the meals for the next few days. She’d strewn a few seeds for the future. There was no point in worrying about whether or not they’d grow.

Civilian society and shinobi society each had their own set of social rules of what was and was not appropriate behavior and the correct responses to such behaviors. Of course some people and some households were more or less strict in the way they acted these out. But pretty much everyone knew at least the general shape of the standard conversations, the standard behaviors, and sometimes it was sarcasm that saw them performed, but other times it was relaxation. A ceremony that created relationships without risking intimacy.

She was fairly sure Hatake Kakashi was rude by all social rules, at least partially intentionally.

Knowing how the shinobi clans worked was how she was able to simply walk into the Uchiha Compound with Uchiha-sama’s permission. She knew the formulas while he only just recognized them. But because he recognized them, she could lead the relationship and make sure that he always knew the correct next step, even if he didn’t understand where they were going.

It was also how she was able to interact with Uzumaki-san. She could give him the proper courtesies a homemaker offered any guest, and he seemed delighted to be treated as anything other than a demon bent on destruction, so that worked out.

The more scripted her actions were regarding Hatake-sensei, however, the more he seemed to delight in breaking the patterns of behavior. He didn’t want to hear the regular “how are you?” I’m fine. And you?” dialogues. He wasn’t much interested in participating in honest dialogues, either, but he seemed to actively enjoy derailing scripted greetings with ludicrous stories, either lies or metaphors, and seeing how she responded.

She offered him compliments for his kindness to the little old ladies he helped across streets.

She offered him condolences on the loss of his beloved butterfly and wishes that it’s funeral had been appropriately grand.

She offered him best wishes for any future dance competitions he might be drawn into.

They weren’t the fictions she was used to in social interactions, but they were just as performative and, she found, even more enjoyable as she looked forward to hearing what he would come up with next.

She also found that the more she relaxed in his company, the more he relaxed in hers. And the more he relaxed, the easier she could be. 

She was never entirely sure how well he knew the social mores of either civilians or shinobi, or able to tell when he was intentionally acting outside of the bounds of propriety and when it was accidental. There was certainly a mix though. Sometimes he clearly didn’t know the impression he was giving and other times it seemed like a test to see her reaction. She was virtually sure that her rebuffs and chastisements were exactly what he wanted, though, as he tested the boundaries. And for all he tested, he never again came across as threatening.

Or, at least, not immediately threatening in the way he had in their first meeting as opposed to the general arua of danger that so many shinobi presented.

Sometimes, she could feel Hatake-sensei watching her and wondered how intentional her knowledge of it was. He could certainly have hidden his interest from her if he wished to do so. But shinobi of such high levels sometimes lost track of what the world looked like to people with less sensing abilities than themselves. Sometimes they misjudged and thought that civilians had senses only a little less than their own and were surprised when civilians didn't notice a whisper at the edge of a crowd. Sometimes they misjudged and thought that civilians were functionally blind and wouldn't notice a shinobi standing on a rooftop, silhouetted against a morning sky.

Either way, she allowed her knowledge of his presence to be no more than her knowledge of the kitchen fire: present and potentially dangerous but useful to keep as long as it was never forgotten. Before the massacre, when this compound was full, courtesy would have involved cultivating an implied lack of awareness. Privacy in the polite fiction of unawareness rather than in truth.

Plus, sometimes he would bring nindogs with him and they were an utter delight.

One of the massacred Uchiha had had dogs. She wasn’t sure if they had been killed in the massacre or left afterwards, but she’d found their grooming brushes in one of the empty houses.

Sometimes, as the genin trained, she’d brush the dogs until their coats were glossy and smooth.

The first time, she settled down on the floor with grooming brushes, and invited his ninken to be brushed, the ninken and Hatake-sensei had all looked at her with moderate suspicion. But one of them did present itself and invited her to brush. She spent ten minutes brushing Guruku’s fur and getting all the loose hairs out and his coat sleek and shining. Then she spent the next fifteen minutes continuing to brush him as he lay utterly boneless on her lap where he’d flopped himself when she’d called it done and begged for more instead. The other ninken, who’s crept ever closer, finally had enough of it and Shiba finally pushed him out of the way to flop in his place. Hatake-sensei had watched the whole time.

After that, the ninken demanded brushing as their payment for training with the genin team and Naoki spent hours getting their fur all soft and glossy. She enjoyed the time and often settled herself down to the side of wherever the genin were training, able to keep track of events without being either too obvious or too hidden.

It was after a mission, when Uchiha-sama, Haruno-san, and Uzumaki-san were all focused on writing up their reports that Hatake-sensei asked, out of the blue, “What will you do if Sasuke decides to get married?”

Haruno-chan audibly gasped and Uchiha-sama looked like he might be growling, but too low for Naoki to hear.

She made sure her own voice, while soft, was still loud enough that Uchiha-sama could hear what she said. “When Uchiha-sama decides he no longer needs my services, he will call me into his office to tell me. He will thank me for my service and offer me the use of a house at the edge of the compound for the rest of my life along with a small annuity. If this happens because he plans to marry, his bride will then have three options available to her: she can do nothing, she can invite me back to the main house as a house keeper or nanny to the future children, or she can offer me a significant sum of money to leave.”

This was information that Uchiha-sama needed to have. He had options available to him and there were proper ways to access those options. He was a good kid who could grow into a good clan head if he was given the chance.

“Hmm.” Hatake-sensei considered her and she kept her eyes modestly lowered. “And what if you decide to get married?”

It was unlikely, but again, something that Sasuke should know. “Then my proposed spouse would introduce themself to Uchiha-sama and either offer their loyalty or offer a significant sum of money for my transfer of loyalty.”

“And if he desires to do neither?” Hatake-sama introduced the gendered pronoun, and Naoki wondered if it was due to stereotypical thinking or specific plans. She wasn’t quite sure why Hatake-sama would be considering trying to matchmake for her, but it seemed just as unlikely that he would make gender specific assumptions as an elite jounin. For now, she followed his lead.

“Then he isn’t the husband for me.”

“Hmm,” he said, but then didn’t go away.

After a few moments, she said somewhat acidicly, “I suppose I could always run off with the silver as replacement for my honor and leave Uchiha-sama the choice of either letting me go as beneath his concern or coming after me to give me the gift of an honorable death.”

The Uchiha were a prideful clan, had been a prideful clan and she had tried to ensure Uchiha-sama maintained that pride of place. And she was prideful too. It was what made her a good lady of the house.

Given that she had been talking with Kakashi-sensei, but speaking loud enough for Uchiha-sama to learn as well, it was not surprising that Haruno-san had also heard. It was surprising that the girl then approached her. She waited until the rest of her team had left for their own houses, and found Naoki folding the laundry.

“If I marry Sasuke-kun, I’ll invite you to live in the main house with us.”

Naoki raised her eyebrows at that bit of presumption. She put a serious bit of effort to maintaining a reserved formality. It often helped traumatised shinobi to relax in large part because it was an excuse to never be too honest or delve too deeply into emotions. But it wasn’t the best way to deal with a young girl who, despite all of her training, was still more civilian than shinobi at this point.

“Okay, Sakura-chan. Help me fold the laundry, and tell me, why do you even want to marry Uchiha Sasuke?”

“Because he’s the best!”

“He’s so wonderful that you trained at the academy for four years, joined a genin team under a jounin, with the goal of retiring to live at the compound and have kids?”

“I’ll still… I mean, I’m not going to waste my training! And plenty of kunoichi get married and have kids!”

“Not while they’re active duty kunoichi, they don’t. Not willingly, at least.”

“Yes, they do!”

Naoki looked at her. “Civilians marry into shinobi clans for the wealth and reputation. But do you know why so many shinobi marry civilians?”

“Because they’re not muscle bound or scarred?”

She gave the girl a look.

“What? That’s what my mom says!”

That surprised Naoki. She wondered if the elder Haruno-san actually believed that was true or if she was using it to manipulate her daughter. Either way, it was stupid. “Civilians often carry as much visible muscle as shinobi since we can’t rely on chakra enhancements. And scar more readily than shinobi as well since we don’t have easy access chakra healing. Try again.”

“I, I don’t know. That’s what my mom always said.”

“There are two main reasons. The first is that civilians can develop expertise in home-making skills that no shinobi preparing for battles could spend time learning. The second is that civilians, some of us, at least, train to be protected.”

“How to… be protected? What training does that take?”

“When you start getting hired for protection missions, you’ll discover that some clients are easier to protect than others. Some of us know how to judge when to hide and when to run, when to give our guards orders and when to obey the orders of our guards.”

“Huh.”

“It’s a different mind set. Or maybe the same mind set but a different perspective: who’s life is more important at any given moment. Who protects and who is protected. Is your life more important or is his?” It was a vast simplification to summarize it like that, but an interesting challenge for any young girl thinking of joining a shinobi clan. Shinobi values were all tied up in lives, protected or taken, sacrificed or stolen.

“I… his? Mine? What’s the right answer?”

“There are no right answers until you understand the question. Just, try to be his teammate. Stop worrying about you or anyone being his wife.”

Haruno-san looked mullish but eventually nodded.

Life settled into a new routine.

Maintaining the household for actively training genin was almost like a miniature example of being a civilian in a shinobi village. Great and deadly events took place outside of her view and beyond her clearance level, and she did her best to pick up the pieces afterwards without ever knowing where the damage came from.

And then there were the Chunin exams.

Team 7 was entered even though they’d barely been a team for half a year.

The first two stages didn’t allow civilian audience members but Kobe-san and Hamamoto-san, the retired shinobi who lived in the Uchiha compound were rooting for the young man they considered their clan head. It was Kobe-san who let her know that something had happened and Uchiha-sama was in the hospital.

She wasn't allowed into the hospital, of course. It was a shinobi hospital. If the Tower administration could have gotten away with it, they probably would have tried to keep the entire building a secret. But there was a small flower garden with a fountain next to the entrance and she settled down into seiza there, prepared to meditate for the day. There were always things to do at the compound, but there always were and nothing was so important that she couldn't spend a day conspicuously caring about Uchiha-sama's well-being. 

Even if she couldn't be there with him, enough shinobi going into and out of the hospital would see her and know and there would be rumors and he would hear about it. He would know that he had a home that cared about him. 

As it turned out, she was only there for five hours before Hatake-sensei stopped in front of her. 

"Get up." 

She blinked up at him. 

"I'm taking you to him." 

She felt her eyes widen slightly at that, but she did her best to keep her face impassive and merely nod. He was as good as his word, though, and escorted her through the hospital doors and past the lobby, down a series of hallways and finally into a room with Uchiha-sama on the bed. 

He looked small and broken and she only hesitated for a moment, before she climbed up into the bed with him, easing herself behind him so that she could replace one of the pillows he was propped up on. He sighed deeply as he relaxed back into a loose embrace. Haruno-san and Uzumaki-san looked boggled and even Hatake-sensei was looking more blank than usual. She only ever treated Uchiha-sama as Sasuke-kun when they were in private, late at night, when he was tired and after long days. 

This definitely counted. 

After a long silence that Naoki refused to allow to be awkward but had Haruno-san and Uzumaki-san shifting, Sasuke-kun started whispering. "Orochimaru... he..." 

Hatake-sensei coughed, a clear interruption. He had escorted her into a secure area but she was still a civilian. 

She was willing to bet that Uchiha-sama gave his best glare, because Hatake-sensei spoke, his tone entirely impassive, "If she's ever kidnapped, if she doesn't know anything, then there will be a rescue attempt. If she knows too much, then the priority will be the security of the information." 

It was a polite way of saying that she would be killed rather than allowed to be a hostage. 

She hugged Sasuke-kun tighter for a moment. "It's okay. Just rest and get better." 

She closed her own eyes and evened out her own breathing to get him to do the same and at least pretend to sleep. She didn't say that it was far too late to protect her and Hatake-sensei had to know it. She had free access to Uchiha-sama’s office and Hatake-sensei knew it. If she was ever taken hostage, she would need to die as quickly as possible, either by her own hand or someone else's. She had known too much since the first time she'd sorted through Uchiha-sama's papers in that office years ago. 

It was possible, though, that somehow the Hokage administration didn’t know that and Hatake-sensei was trying to maintain that lack of knowledge. It was something to consider another time. When there were less important things to do. Right now, she had to hold Sasuke-kun for as long as she could.

The next month, she didn’t see much of any of them, as they all prepared for the final stage of the Chunin exams. The final stage was the best known among the civilians, the one-on-one matches. Naoki had given serious thought to skipping the event for the first time in her life. She didn’t want to see Uchiha-sama get injured again. She didn’t want to see Haruno-san or even Uzumaki-san get injured.

But she had to go, she had to provide support, and so she would.

She sat through all the fights, gasping and cheering at the right times and praying desperately. She had thought all her prayers were answered. The wave of tiredness that crashed over her seemed only natural, an effect of having worried for a month and then having that worry lifted.

Her eyes were already closed in relief when the sleep forcefully sucked her down into unconsciousness.

When she woke up, the whole world had changed.

There had been an invasion that no level of security could hide, the Sandaime was dead, and the Hokage’s office had issues an impossible blanket secrecy edict on everything until the next Hokage revealed themselves.

The chunin exams were purported to be a test of the genin who participated in them, but they were also a test of the village that hosted them. On rotation, each village had to demonstrate their ability to maintain their defences even while loosening their regular security and allowing foreign shinobi entrance.

As a test of Konoha, they didn’t pass.

Chapter Text

The village was on war-time footing. Every civilian was on edge and if the shinobi knew when another attack might come, they weren’t saying.

Hatake-sensei was in and out of the village, so team training was haphazard at best, much to Uchiha-sama’s vocal annoyance. His teammates were just as annoyed and rowdy on the days Hatake-sensei was missing and Naoki had taken to giving them in-clan unofficial missions and “paying” them with food.

She even spent two full days making ramen broth and hours more making the noodles in exchange for the team checking on every roof in the compound and fixing any that had holes or weak spots.

Uzumaki-san was loudly appreciative and claimed it was, “Almost as good at Ichiraku’s ramen!”

He clearly meant it as a compliment but Naoki had spent two days laboring over that broth and was not pleased by being so clearly second best. Next time, if there ever was a next time, she would make it better!

It was one of the quiet days, though, when Hatake-sensei was in the village and their whole team was out practicing somewhere else that Itachi returned.

He returned to Konoha and returned to the clan compound. Returned to his killing grounds, to see the houses she had worked so hard to scrub free of blood stains, re-staining woods and replacing tapestries.

She was weeding the front walk, again and seemingly always, when he walked through the gates. She shut her eyes as soon as she realized who she was seeing. Itachi, once the heir to the Uchiha clan and then it’s executioner.

Having her eyes closed made weeding more difficult, but not impossible, so she continued doing it, walking her hands along the garden bed and identifying weeds by touch, even as she heard him approach along the gravel path. The sound of footsteps stopped just a few feet away from her, but that hardly meant anything when it came to a shinobi.

He could claim leadership of the Uchiha clan, his by blood and birth and even by conquest, but she would not bow her head to him. His younger brother had earned the title of Uchiha-sama by surviving the torture done to him.

A blade of grass will bow with the wind, but not even a gale will uproot it like a tree. She was civilian, but in this she was more powerful than any shinobi and she would not acknowledge him.

“I don’t intend you any harm.”

No, he probably didn’t: shinobi rarely intended harm to civilians outside of missions. That didn’t mean they didn’t do the harm anyway. The difference between incidental harm versus intentional harm didn’t really matter when you’re dead at the end anyway. On a personal level, she even found incidental harm the more insulting option. She didn’t bother responding and instead kept weeding.

“You can open your eyes. I wouldn’t need to use the Sharingan to hurt you anyway.” He honestly sounded a bit put out and somewhat insulted. Good.

She kept her eyes closed. Of course he didn’t need to use the Sharingan to hurt her. He wouldn’t need it to cast a genjutsu on her to harm her. But nothing she could possibly do would prevent him from harming her. And in a conflict between the two of them, her being without sight actually inconvenienced him more than it did her.

She stayed there weeding the garden path until she heard the approach of Team 7. Uchiha-sama walked quietly and said little, while Hatake-sama might as well be a ghost for all his steps made any noise, even on the gravel path, but Uzumaki-san and, on many occasions, Haruno-san announced their presence loudly.

“I can’t believe we have to stay here! We should be out chasing the traitor!” Uzumaki-san yelled.

“Shut up!” Haruno-san yelled back, “Kaka-sensei told us to! And we’d just be in the way!”

“But it’s no fair! Sasuke-kun should get the chance to—“

“You don’t tell Sasuke-kun what he gets to do!”

All three stormed into the main house, but Uchiha-sama marched his way right through the living room and back to his bedroom without any acknowledgement of her or his teammates.

She’d make him a dinner tray this evening rather than a team meal.

“Hello, Naoki-san.” Haruno-san was less chipper than she normally was, but trying to hide it. “You should probably know, Itachi was seen in the village. Kakashi-sensei is trying to catch him, but he told us we needed to stay here and make sure Sasuke-kun didn’t go out on his own.”

“Ah,” Naoki said. Then, after a moment, “thank you for telling me.”

She should probably tell someone of her own encounter with Itachi, such as it was, but there didn’t seem to be any time constraint on it, since his presence was already known. She didn’t want to scare Uchiha-sama with possibilities, anymore than he already was. Maybe she would tell Hatake-sensei when she next got the chance.

For now, she set up two guest rooms in the main house for Uzumaki-san and Haruno-san to stay in, and dinner trays for all four of them. They could work out who ate where on their own. She ate her own dinner in the dining room, so Team 7 either ate in their own rooms individually or gathered in one of them.

The next morning they left together for training, as if it were any other day.

She carried on as usual, waiting for something to happen.

Before she got a chance to speak with Hatake-sensei, a shinobi elder showed up at the Uchiha Clan Grounds, walking through the gates as if he had an invitation. It was the same shinobi elder who had first come to see her in the month after she’d moved into the clan grounds. Given how casually he walked into them himself, maybe he hadn’t considered her too encroaching with he own actions.

“Ah, Sasuke-kun,” the Shinobi elder greeted the boy kindly and yet, Naoki thought, with some disrespect, especially since he was in the Uchiha clan grounds.

“Shimura Danzo.” Uchiha-sama’s own reply was abrupt, and an odd mixture of her own formality and Hatake-sensei’s rudeness.

“I’d like to speak with you, in private, about an important matter.” Shimura-sama didn’t even look at her.

“Hn.” Sasuke grunted and she wondered at the sullenness with which he treated an elder, but Shimura-sama seemed to think nothing of it. He got up, but then turned to her, “Naoki-kun, you should clean the records room while I’m in this meeting.”

She bowed low, “As you desire, Uchiha-sama.”

Shimura-sama actually snorted lightly and she realized, this man held her in absolute contempt. She wondered how much of her freedom of movement with Uchiha-sama had come from this man being the shinobi elder who came to see her and judge her when she first moved into the compound. Had he reported back that she was nothing and no one?

He saw her bow low to a young child and thought her less than a child. Had he never allowed a child to ride on his shoulders? Even she, a civilian woman, had set young children on her shoulders as an adolescent, allowed toddlers to rise high and look out at the world from a greater height than their own short legs could give them.

For all that she had given up her reputation to move into the Uchiha Compound, bowing to Uchiha-sama didn’t make her low, it allowed her to raise him high.

The entrance to the records room was on the other side of the house, but it shared a wall with the office, that was intentionally thin and unshielded. “Records” for the Uchiha included extensive notes of secret meetings and unknown witnesses. If Uchiha-sama had wanted privacy, he would have asked her to go to the gardens or visit one of the other residents of the grounds. If he hadn’t cared, he wouldn’t have said anything. Asking her to go to the records room meant he was concerned.

As she listened to a shinobi elder try to tempt Uchiha-sama with a mission outside the village to kill his brother, she thought he was right to be concerned. Uchiha-sama had survived but not passed the chunin exams, and Shimura-sama’s authority came from being advisor to a Hokage who was now dead. It was a suicide mission that Shimura-sama had no right to give.

Writing down every detail of the offered mission also highlighted exactly how few details were being offered.

Afterwards, after Uchiha-sama had tentatively agreed to the mission just to get Shimura-sama out of the house, he found her making tea and trying to think through the different possibilities of what this meant.

“What does he want from me?”

“What do you think he wants?”

“He wants me to die.”

“Yes. Most likely. Or at least be out of the way. If you’re out of the way, especially if he’s the one to send you on a mission, then he can say whatever he wants about you and your intent with no one to contradict him.”

Uchiha-sama pressed his lips together so hard they seemed to disappear entirely. He nodded, but even the nod was a stuttered thing.

She didn’t discuss the massacre or his brother with him, and yet, “He wants your brother dead.”

“It’s, it’s not revenge, not for him. Not justice either. It’s, it’s secrecy.”

“That was the impression I had as well. He offered you revenge, but he wants,” Naoki paused and pressed her own lips together as she tried to find the right words, and yet, there weren’t any good words fo this situation, “loose threads cleanly cut.”

“If I, if I and my brother are loose threads, then, then what was the Uchiha Clan to him? What was our place on the Clan Council? Father, father’s notes on him…”

Naoki winced, because yeah, if even Uchiha Fugaku couldn’t figure out what Shimura Danzo was doing, then she and Sasuke-kun were unlikely to do any better. Shimura-sama dealt with secrets.

When Orochimaru, the last of the Sandaime’s students to reside in the village, had been cast out for unethical experiments, most of the civilian population, the smart ones, had assumed it was less for his actions as for being caught performing them. Unethical actions were part of shinobi culture: failing to stay hidden was a much more serious crime, for shinobi.

She had never given any serious thought to who else, among the shinobi hierarchy had to have known and condoned Orochimaru’s actions before they became public knowledge. “What do you know, Uchiha-sama, of any relationship between Orochimaru and Shimura Danzo?”

“What do you know about it?”

She shook her head. “Nothing. I’m just wondering…”

“About the two powerful people at least a generation older than me who want me out of the village and probably dead?” He snarled. “One of them a known traitor and the other blocking every Hokage candidate for the last ten years?”

Ah, Naoki thought. She hadn’t heard that before, but it made sense. Shimura-sama did not qualify as a Hokage, himself, too old and his missions too unknown, but as a power behind the throne, his power could only be maintained by keeping the throne weak.

She tried to think of anything Uchiha-sama could do to ride out this situation and she couldn’t think of a single thing. Not without compromising his own rising power, and even if were willing to subjugate himself to one or the other, she doubted it would keep him safe. She finally had to admit, “I don’t see a good way out of this for you. They’ll keep coming.”

“And everyone in the compound will be at risk.”

“That too, but more importantly: they’re trying to trap you. If you avoid the traps forever, it just gives them opportunity to set more. They need to be stopped.”

“I can’t just kill them. I’m not strong enough. Yet.”

“Stopped doesn’t always mean killed. Sometimes it just means figuring out what motivates them and removing that motivation.”

“I,” Uchiha-sama started, but then paused. “Huh.”

She waited for him to say more but he just started chewing on his lip, trying to work something out and not quite getting there. “Go to Hatake-sensei. I think you can trust him. This is a situation where allies are your greatest strength and isolation your greatest weakness.”

And she was fairly sure Hatake-sama started attending the clan councils himself after his student starting doing so. He hadn’t looked happy about, but she’d noticed that the missions he arranged had them scheduled to be in-village on council days and once he’d even returned with Uchiha-sama to discuss something that had taken them into the office. With all his talk of looking ‘underneath the underneath’, surely he would know what powers were moving and why.

It was only when Uzumaki-san and Haruno-san arrived at the main house, looking for their third team mate that she learned that Hatake-sensei hadn’t yet returned to the village. She could feel the blood drain from her face.

“Don’t worry, Naoki-kun! We’ll find him! Believe it!”

“Genin leaving the village without orders…” Naoki trailed off. She actually wasn’t quite sure what the crime was, or the punishment, she just knew that it was a crime and there was a punishment. Shinobi didn’t just to do it to retrieve a friend.

Uzumaki-san didn’t appear to have realized what he was saying. Haruno-san did clearly know, but she surprised Naoki by agreeing with Uzumaki-san anyway. “Don’t worry, Naoki-san. Kakashi-sensei says that those who break the rules are trash, but those who abandon their comrades are worse than trash. So we won’t abandon Sasuke-kun.”

“No, we won’t! Believe it!”

“And anyway,” the girl shrugged, “we’re going to meet with our sensei, so it’s almost like we have permission. And,” she undermined her own position by adding, “we can grab an old mission scroll from Kakashi-sensei’s apartment so the gate guards won’t realize we don’t have permission.”

“I shouldn’t,” Naoki started and then stopped. Loyalty to the village meant that she should immediately report rogue genin, but she certainly wasn’t going to do that. She could try to convince them to not go, but she didn’t want to. She had absolutely no official authority ove them and people would believe her if she said they were searching elsewhere within the village walls. Or at least, they’d believe she thought that.

“Just, come back, whether or not you find Uchiha-sama and Hatake-sensei,” she found herself saying, surpised by her own sincerity. “Come back alive.”

There was more than one reason why genin were not allowed outside of the village unsupervised. She didn’t want either of them killed, not even the demon child. She hadn’t realized how much he had become a regular part of her life until now.

“We will, Naoki-san. We’ll come back, all of us.”

It was a long quiet week after that. Too quiet. She actually missed the days of endless dirty houses in need of cleaning because it was something hard and mindless to do. Now, there was always too much work to do, but it was mostly less heavy labor and more upkeep and planning. She walked around the compound at least twice a day, making sure everything was in reasonable order.

She shared some meals with the Suda family who could tell she was anxious but didn’t press to be told why.

She was sitting in the main house trying to figure out what to do next when Team7 finally returned. Team 7 minus Uchiha-sama. She took a deep breath and triend to calm her heart.

“He’s alive and uninjured,” were Hatake-sensei’s first words, and thank all the gods for that. He looked tired, worry lines around his one visible eye.

“He’s going to learn a lot!” Uzumaki-san shouted, like he was trying to convince himself more than he was her. “When we see each other again, we’ll see who’s stronger! Yeah!”

Haruno-san was silent.

“He’s on a mission under my authority,” Hatake-sensei explained. “And probably safer out there than he’d be here right now.”

“Thank you for letting me know, Hatake-sensei.”

His eye looked even more pinched when he attempted to use it to smile.

“Would you like dinner? I can make up a tray for you in a guest room.” He had taken on responsibility for Uchiha-sama significantly beyond what a jounin-sensei owed their genin students. A dinner in a room where he could take his mask of in private was nothing close to what she owed him.

“Thank you, but no. I need to report in. We came right here. Naruto, Sakura, eat a lot and get a good nights sleep because tomorrow is going to be busy.”

He still walked away to right outside the Uchiha gates before disappearing in a swirl of leaves.

Uzumaki-san and Haruno-san ate a dinner she threw together and disappeared into their own houses. In the days after that, she barely saw them as they were busy with missions and training.

The following week, Senju Tsunade was announced as the Godaime. The proper celebrations were held all over the village and Naoki participated in the public ones and hosted a small one for the residents of the Uchiha compound. She wasn’t expecting the change in leadership to have any direct impact on her though.

She certainly wasn’t expecting the Godaime to show up at her gates one day and invite herself in for tea.

The new Hokage, the Godaime and the last of the Senju, was a kage-level shinobi in her fifties who looked like a rather pleasant woman in her thirties. Naoki had spent years treating a boy child as the head of a clan, because he was both, it was second nature to treat this lady with the deference that was required.

“Hokage-sama. You do me honor. May I offer you a cup of tea?”

“Please.”

The reassuring formality of preparing tea, serving it, drinking it, and then putting all the accouterments away could complete an entire social visit at need. She was certainly feeling the need now. Uchiha-sama was notable in his absense.

As they were sipping their teas in what Naoki firmly told herself, and used her body language to firmly tell everyone else, was comfortable silence, the Hokage finally spoke. “You’re not going to ask why I’m here, are you?”

It seemed like a rhetorical kind of question, but the Hokage was clearly waiting for a reply. Naoki considered the comment for a moment, trying to decide how best to respond to that. Some people in power disliked subservience more than they disliked impudence. But to guess wrong could be a death sentence. What else in life was new? She compromised. “Would you like me to, Hokage-sama?”

Senju Tsunade snorted lightly. “I’m not planning to shut down the Uchiha compound or make any changes in how it’s run, in Sasuke-kun’s absense.”

It wasn an enormous weight off her shoulders, that the Godaime knew of Uchiha-sama’s absense, acknowledged that she knew, and then confirmed that she would not punish the Clan in general for that absense. “Thank you, Hokage-sama.”

“I am, however, tempted to assign you an Anbu guard.”

Since the Senju-sama hadn’t struck her down for her last comment, Naoki decided to try her luck again. “Could such an Anbu guard stand against Itachi?”

“Doubtful.”

“Then it might be best to rely on the protection of being beneath notice.”

“You’re interacting in pretty rarified circles for trying to pass yourself off as worthless.”

“Not worthless,” Naoki pointed out. “Certainly no more than any other useful tool is worthless.”

“Hmm. Then maybe I should rephrase my previous statement: you’ve caused a few too many interesting changes in village politics, to pretend to be without power.”

“No more than any other advisor to a person in power.”

“Sasuke-kun was not exactly a person in power before you got to him.”

“Uchiha-sama was always going to be a person of power.”

“There was no Uchiha-sama after the massacre. Until you started calling him that. And then, like magic, there was.” Senju-sama was not going to let her get out of it.

Naoki finally allowed, “There is a skill to picking up after a disaster and carrying on.”  

Senju-sama sighed and seemed more pained than vindicated. “Yes, there is.”

The silence after that was no longer quite so forced as the original silence had been.

And so she carried on. But carrying on felt less like picking up after a disaster, where all the damage was done and now it was time for triaging and fixing what was fixable and instead was more like living in a warzone, always waiting for the next attack.

She had been officially recognized by the Hokage and allowed to continue maintaining the Uchiha compound. Officially, everything was fine.

Unofficially, it was rough.

Uchiha-sama’s absence from the village was noted and the peculiarities of that absence well known. If he was on a sanctioned missioned, his genin team should have gone with him. If he had abandoned the village, the clan compound should have been closed and the residents cast out. Neither happened. Rumor of all kinds spread.

Even more than before, it was like living in war-time. The Uchiha Compound with no Uchiha in it was surrounded by a mixture of allies and enemies, and not always ones who declared themselves. Prices at the stores went up and courtesies went down. At least when it came to her and to any of those who called the Uchiha Compound home.

She kept to her regular schedule, continued to keep the compound occupied, doing her best to create the illusion that everything was okay so that the rest of the village would accept it.

Uzumaki-san left the compound to go on a training trip and Naoki was surprised to realize she was sad to see him go. She wished him luck and made another attempt at making ramen for his farewell dinner.

Haruno-san left soon afterwards, apologestic but also explaining that she needed an apartment closer to both the hospital and the tower, since she had been accepted as an apprentice by Senju-sama. Naoki was less surprised at the feeling of loss to see Haruno-san leave. She wished her the best and made her a farewell dinner of anko dumplings and a gift of a jar of umeboshi.

The compound that had just begun to feel lived in after so many years was back to feeling very, very empty.

Leaving the compound got progressively more difficult as well.

Kobe-san and Hamamoto-san, the two retired shinobi living on the grounds, started taking turns escorting her to and from the market when she went. She hadn’t asked them to do it and had actually been planning to ask them if they’d prefer to distance themselves from the Uchiha compound instead. But one of them was “just heading out for a bit of a walk” whenever she was leaving the grounds a bit too often. She would not insult them by offering an escape after their kindness.

Their presence mostly protected her from physical insults. She was desperately glad to have in-house groundskeepers and a baker, though. The Uchiha clan had always been a target of rumors, but the lack of any Uchiha at all made it worse.

Despite it all, she left the compound at least every other day, more than she ever had when Uchiha-sama was resident. But she had to make sure that people saw her. That the village as a whole acknowledged her presence as a representative of the Uchiha Clan. The Uchiha Clan lived.

It also ensured that enough people had the chance to insult her in her walks through the village rather than needing to go to the compound gates themselves. Drawing attention away from the compound gates made it easier for the friends of Suda Nariaki and Suda Ishi to continue to visit them without harm. A residence on clan grounds had been intended to be a gift to them rather than confine them in isolation.

At least Kobe-san and Hamamoto-san could easily visit their friends elsewhere and were more than up to dealing with any insults.

Tamanaha-san and Koyanagi-san had it more rough, but they had their apprenticeships that got them out and socializing and under the protection of their master instructors.

In the meantime, Hatake-sama had taken to checking up on her, largely via his ninken. One or more of the dogs would stop by at least once a week to see how she was doing and offer their services or the services of their master. She never took them up on it, but offered them free hunting on the grounds when they visited and they would generally leave her some fresh game for her pantry.

If they stayed for dinner with her, she’d bring out the grooming brushes and spend as much time as they wanted brushing their fur out.

It was a treat they all enjoyed, herself very much included. Brushing those ninken was one of the few purely pleasurable activities she had as she spent her days keeping a strong face in response to a suspicious and angry village.

Six months after everything changed, their blacksmith, Koyanagi-san, decided he had had enough.

“Uchiha sponsorship was supposed to make my life easier! Not more difficult!” He yelled at her. He was an eighteen-year-old blacksmith with the muscles to prove it, and she was a thirty-year-old homemaker. She was not going to back down.

“You owe the clan for your apprenticeship. You agreed to ten years of service, starting after your apprenticeship ended. You’ve barely given one.”

“What clan? There aren’t any Uchiha living here. It’s just you and your delusions of being some sort of great lady when all you are is another parasite.”

“A parasite is one who takes without giving back.”

“Look, I’ll pay you back for the apprenticeship when I have the money, but I can’t earn the money while living here. I’m leaving.”

And he left.

He moved in with his girlfriend, a Yamanaka chunin, and Naoki thought briefly about letting it go. He was an orphan who didn’t understand the way the world worked, and it was quite likely his girlfriend, Sakiko-chan, had no idea of what he’d said. Naoki liked Sakiko-chan, and yet, Sakiko-chan deserved better from Naoki than the pity gift of a boyfriend.

When she had first selected him from the orphanage, Koyanagi Toshitsugu had been proud to be an investment rather than a charity case. Now, she knew, he hadn’t understood the difference.

She went to the bank first, slipping out of the compound without escort but also wearing a more subdued outfit to disappear in the with the crowd. At the bank, she let Jinnouchi-san know that Koyanagi-san had broken his contract. There was a built in clause for that and the banking institution would see that he paid her back in full for both his apprenticeship and ten years of lost work to an established clan. It was a set amount, significantly more money than he would have made in the Uchiha-clan as it currently stood. It was also more money than he would make as an independent blacksmith. It might, perhaps, be matched by the money a blacksmith sponsored by the Yamanaka Clan would make instead.

Perhaps. Breaking the contract would destroy him unless the Yamanaka Clan took it over instead. That was the gamble he was taking, even though he didn’t realize it, or at least didn’t realize the opportunity he had left to her.

Shinobi society, whether one is shinobi or civilian, was built around ruthlessness in both honor and sacrifice.

After leaving the bank, she returned to the Uchiha compound to get dressed in her most formal robe, selected an embroidery she had made that would make a good host gift, and then went to the Yamanaka compound and asked to speak with Yamanaka-sama. She went again, without escort, or at least, if either Kobe-san or Hamamoto-san followed her, she wasn’t aware of it. Being dressed for meeting a high ranked individual proved to be protection enough from everything but the occasional glares.

“Kobayashi-san,” Yamanaka-sama welcomed her with kindness but also open curiosity. “Welcome. What can I do for you? Or for the Uchiha Clan?”

It was well known that she avoided asking favors from other Clans, so there was reason for his curiosity at her appearance. She waited until they were alone in his office before she responded.

“Thank you for receiving me, Yamanaka-sama. I was concerned when I heard that the Yamanaka might not acknowledge the Uchiha Clan anymore.”

His pleasant expression lasted a moment too long before his eyes widened in obvious dismay and surprise, and it reassured her. A shinobi of his skill wouldn’t show surprise. Interacting with civilians as regularly as he did, he understood the value of communicating with facial expressions, but real surprise was apparent in that delay before a visible response.

“Where did you hear that slanderous rumor?”

“Our blacksmith declared that his contact with the Uchiha Clan was void due to the lack of clan before he moved in with Yamanaka Sakiko.”

Yamanaka-sama’s face went stony. “Thank you for coming to me with this, Kobayashi-san. The Uchiha Clan is an ally of the Yamanaka Clan. Sakiko-san does not speak for the clan but her support of one without honor is a dishonor to us all. I assume you do not want Koyanagi to return to the Uchiha Compound?”

“No. I have already let the bank know that he broke his contract. We will be more careful with the next sponsorship we offer, but I was most concerned by the potential implications of the Yamanaka Clan’s support.”

“There is no Yamanaka Clan support for one who betrays an allied Clan. Koyanagi will be evicted from the compound and Sakiko-kun will face censure. Will that satisfy the honor of the Uchiha Clan?”

“It will. Thank you, Yamanaka-sama.”

“Thank you for bringing this indiscretion of one of my clan members to my immediate and personal attention.”

They were, between the two of them destroying a young man’s life. He would almost certainly have to leave Konoha entirely, but the bank would track him for the rest of his life, unless he managed to find a sponsor willing to buy him out of his debt.

Everyone would know what he had said and done, and what the repercussions were, and that was more important than his life. That message to the village was more important to her and to Yamanaka-sama, at least, and they were the ones making the decision.

The Uchiha Clan remained a clan capable of sponsoring others, and the Yamanaka Clan was a reliable and trustworthy ally.

The Yamanaka as a clan were scrupulously fair when it came to their interactions with civilians and shinobi alike. They were known for it because they had to be: their abilities for mental manipulation that was their power in shinobi circles would be enough to have them excluded entirely from civilian circles if there was ever a credible rumor of them using it to manipulate their business partners.

Yamanake-sama invited her to stay for dinner with his family and she was pleased to accept. It was a sign that she trusted his clan but also a releif to have one pleasant meal away from the empty main house in the Uchiha Compound.

The Yamanaka Compound was beautiful and lively, lit up with lights even in the evening, and Yamanaka Hikari, a chunin that Yamanaka-sama had assigned to escort her safely home, was charming and polite. They talked about flowers.

For a day that had started off so badly, it ended quite pleasantly.

The next day stated off with continued fall-out.

“You destroyed him!” Sakiko-chan wailed. She was probably trying to scream her anger but it came out like despair. Naoki had liked Yamanaka Sakiko since Koyanagi-san had first introduced them. She’d also had plans to use that relationship to foster closer ties between the Yamanaka and Uchiha clans. That hadn’t worked out in the way intended, but this was just as good, for the clans, at least, though not for the individuals.

“He threatened the Uchiha clan.”

“He didn’t know that!”

“He threatened the Yamanaka clan as well.”

“He didn’t know that either! I was putting together a petition for the Yamanaka Clan to buy him out from the Uchiha Clan!”

“And did he know that?”

“Someone spit on him last week. He’s a great blacksmith and someone spit on him!”

“And so he decided to join that person and spit on the Uchiha Clan himself as well?” She could understand his motives but not condone his actions.

Sakiko-chan sank down. “Why didn’t he just wait for me?”

“He’s eighteen years old. Patience is not his strongest characteristic. But I would have preferred to bail him out of jail for fighting whoever spat at him than have him exiled for dishonoring both of our clans.”

“Can’t we just pretend it didn’t happen?” She looked up at Naoki with big appealing eyes, framed by beautiful dark tear-damp lashes. Naoki was moderately impressed.

“What did your clan head say to that offer?”

She looked down sulkily. “If I can’t trust Toshitsugu-kun to wait for my petition to be seen, how can I possibly trust him to support a revised history.”

Naoki nodded. “History is what the living say it is, as long as there is no evidence to the contrary.”

“He also said that you were being particularly kind to the Yamanaka Clan and I should be ashamed of my role in luring away a Uchiha asset without discussing the transfer with you.”

“Yes.”

“He said I should be grateful that you didn’t come to see him at the flower shop in front of all the customers.”

Naoki shook her head. “That would have been a massive overreaction on my part. A suicide run to take the Yamanaka Clan down with the Uchiha clan. Escalation and kill strikes like that are the actions of shinobi. I am a civilian homemaker: my training is in how to de-escalate. Koyanagi’s downfall was an opportunity to bolster the reputations of both the Uchiha and Yamanaka Clans as well as the alliance between the two Clans.”

Sakiko-chan chewed on her lip. “Yamanaka-sama said that one of my punishment tasks was to cultivate you as a friend and learn how to manipulate social connects the way you do.”

“Well, that’s blunt of you.”

“Would subtlety have worked on you?”

“Maybe.” She considered. “Probably not.”

“Well then.” Sakiko-chan shrugged. “Although how come so many of the villagers hate you if you’re so good at social manipulation?”

Naoki shot her a hard look for that bit of rudeness. If Yamanaka-sama had sent Sakiko-chan to learn from her, it was an opening to keep the two clans connected. She wouldn’t rebuff that offer even if Sakiko-chan was going to be rude about it. “Do scars on a shinobi demonstrate weakness?”

“I mean, sort of? I mean, absolutely not! And don’t tell anyone I hesitated!”

“Are you concerned by a specific scarred shinobi deciding to demonstrate exactly how weak they aren’t?”

Sakiko-chan scowled at her.

And then Tamanaha-san rushed up, and scowled right back at Sakiko-kun. “Naoki-san! I just heard! Toshi was an idiot and deserves whatever happens to him. I wanted to make sure you knew that I would never behave that way!”

She had to smile at the second orphan the Uchiha Clan had sponsored at the same time as Koyanagi-san. “I know you are loyal, Tamanaha-san. It is one of the many things I value you for. Your tarts are a delight to the senses, so it says a great deal that your loyalty is your greatest gift.”

He looked pleased and reassured at her compliment. She was laying it on a bit thick, but not dishonestly. He had grown into being an excellent baker and more than that a good man. He’d taken Suda Nobuyoshi under his wing even, though the groundskeeper was significantly older than him in body and significantly younger than him in mind. The fruit tarts that still sold extremely well at market, even with the rumors about the Uchiha Clan, were the result of that friendship.

Tamanaha-san made life easy and it was easy to overlook his additions.

Looking at Tamanaha-san and Sakiko-chan together made her change her daily schedule slightly. “Would the two of you like to come with me to the orphanage to see about finding another apprentice to sponsor?”

They agreed and by the end of the day Kimio Sayo was selected to apprentice to a tailor and Moto Tadako to a blacksmith.

The following week, she arranged the apprenticeships themselves. Naoki had been concerned that she would need to find a different master blacksmith, but when she went to Hosoo Toichi, who had been Koyanagi-san’s master instructor, he startled her by immediately apologized for any failure of his action or inaction that had led to Koyanagi-san not understanding his responsibilities to his clans sponsor. “I must apologize again, for not coming to you immediately when I heard.”

“You’re a busy craftsman. You cannot drop your work or your other apprentices at a moment’s notice.”

“I’m a master craftsman and yet I am mortified that any apprentice of mine behaved in such a manner. At the end of this week, let me come to you with a proper apology gift.”

“I appreciate it and look forward to seeing you then.” She was beginning to realize why some people found it so awkward when she created a social interaction that placed them into a higher status than they were expecting to be. She was used to being treated as either a concubine or an honorable homemaker, not as the matriarch of a clan.

“Is there anything I can do immediately for you?”

“I was coming to you about potentially placing another apprentice with you. For all his lack of honor, Koyanagi did not lack in skill, and that I give you full credit for.”

“I guarantee a place for your sponsor. I feel like I should offer to have Koyanagi’s fee applied to…” Hosoo-san started tentatively, and Naoki understood the quandry. An apprenticeship was expensive and he likely couldn’t really afford to not get the fee.

She waved away the suggestion and ignored his quiet sigh of relief. “You fulfilled your responsibility to Koyanagi by teaching him skill. Neither you nor Moto Tadako should suffer under the shadow of a previous apprentice.”

More to the point, Moto-san deserved to study under a successful master respected by all rather than one working under a significant debt. Naoki needed to budget and conserve the clan funds, but making money was not her goal: making a sustainable community for the Uchiha Clan was.

They made arrangements for Hosoo-san to meet Moto Tadako in the afternoon, after he came with the apology gift he had apparently been making for her.

Naoki hoped that by the time Moto-san and Kimio-san graduated from their respective apprenticeships, the clan compound would be better set to receive them.

In the meantime, Sakiko-chan periodically came by to shadow her.

“Most of the villagers don’t like you, you know,” she said, “but you don’t actually interact with most of the villagers. No one who ever interacts with you regularly ever insults you, either to your face or behind your back.”

Naoki raised her eyebrows at that rudeness. “You were a lot more polite before Yamanaka-sama told you to figure me out.”

“Yeah, I know. But you use politeness to create a barrier. So I use rudeness to get past it. But what I’m saying is: the people who know you, respect you.”

“Hmm. And I wouldn’t have regular interactions with people who are rude to me. Who would?”

“You have the causality reversed. I mean, you also wouldn’t interact with people who are rude to you, and, let me tell you, watching you snub someone who is actively in your way is amazing. But people who interact with you aren’t rude to you. They don’t want to be rude to you. I mean, I find it difficult to be rude to you, and I’m a shinobi who specializes in pushing people’s buttons!”

“Hmm,” Naoki said again, dubious, but let it lay. It was nice to still have Sakiko-chan visit the compound periodically, even without Koyanagi there. Shikhako-san also visited semi-regularly.

It was possible to go a full day without speaking to anyone, but it wasn’t possible to go a week without speaking to at least three people and more often eight or ten. She was grateful.

A month later, Inuzuka Tsume, head of the Inuzuka Clan, and her companion Kuromaru arrived at the Uchiha Clan gates and requested entrance.

Naoki was particularly grateful that Bisuke-kun had come by just the prior day and left her a brace of rabbits. She was able to offer one of them to Kuromaru while offering tea and cookies to Inuzuka-sama. She got extra points for that. Inuzuka-sama was not subtle in her opinions.

She wasn’t subtle, but she could be opaque. So Naoki had no idea why Inuzuka-sama was visiting her, fingers tapping on her knee as she looked at Naoki and said, “You went directly to the Yamanaka head with your complaint.”

Naoki wasn’t at all sure where this was going or what it meant that the head of a clan had come to her. She also wasn’t sure what all Inuzuka-sama knew about the situation with the Yamanaka and Naoki wasn’t about to tell her more.

“Clan business stays within clans.”

“That’s what Kuni-chan thought you’d say.”

“I’m afraid I don’t recall Kuni-san…?”

“And Manami-chan says you were kind to her.”

Naoki blinked but didn’t verbally respond. She hadn’t thought of the young Inuzuki’s attempt at a tea ceremony in years. She didn’t recall being particularly kind, although she knew she wouldn’t have been particularly cruel either. It was sadly possible that lack of cruelty counted as kindness to some shinobi.

“Hmm.” Inuzuka-sama continued to drum her fingers before apparently coming to a decision and leaning back. “The Uchiha compound is not siege ready. Too few people, too few animals.”

“We are not under siege.” Naoki pointed out, as calmly as she could. She ensured it was so, by never allowing more than two days to pass without visibly going to a market to browse, even if she wasn’t actively shopping. Few of the vendors directly refused to serve her, but many of them made it an unpleasant experience, so most of her actual purchases were done surreptitiously and with the more desperate and black market vendors.

But she made notes on who treated her in what ways, for possible future reference, and refused to allow anyone to keep her out of the public spaces.

Inuzuka snorted disparagingly. “You should have a flock of sheep and goats.”

And that was a rather abrupt change.

“And who would care for this flock?”

“I have a cousin, a fifth cousin three times removed, Kuni-chan. She lives in the Inuzuka compound but isn’t technically Inuzuka. She’s seventeen years old and wants to live somewhere else.”

Naoki waited silently to see where this was going.

“I can see why the Nara like you.”

Naoki continued her silence. The only Nara she had regular contact with was Shikhako-san, and she wouldn’t have thought that Inuzuka-sama would have much contact with a Nara genin. The connection was interesting and something to consider later.

“Kuni-chan has severe birth defects. But she has trained dogs to help her, not ninken, but still highly trained. She trained them herself. And she has rights to a certain percentage of the Inuzuka flock.”

Inuzuka-sama fell silent and didn’t look inclined to start again.

“Who came up with the idea of coming to me?”

“She did.”

“And is she willing to give her loyalty to Uchiha? Not away from Inuzuka, but to Uchiha as well?”

“Yes. A shared loyalty. Like a marriage, as she pointed out. Her own space as an adult rather than a child, but loyal to the clans that raised her and keep her.”

“You do realize that anything I draft up will need to be reviewed and finalized by Uchiha-sama when he returns?”

Inuzuka-sama smirked. “Absolutely. We can implement the clan agreement before then, but if, at Uchiha-sama’s return any of the involved parties wish to change the agreement, this one will be voided.”

Naoki actually found herself smirking back at that, as she nodded her agreement. Such contractual clauses were one of the reasons why shinobi clans often had discussions such as this done by their lesser members first. An unofficial trial period in what otherwise would have been a permanent agreement.

“Then let us get down to business. Will you join me in the study?”

Kuni-chan turned out to be an absolute delight. She and her dogs and her sheep and goats brought a lot of liveliness to the compound that had been missing since Team 7’s departure.

The next week, Hatake-sama showed up personally to check up on her. He was tense as he walked into the compound, even as he hid it in a slouch and a book. She invited him to take a tour of the compound with her as she was making one of her regular circuits. He had shrugged but started walking, which she took to mean he actively wanted to do so.

As they walked along, Hatake-sama’s book slowly lowered. He finally gave up on even pretending not to be looking, tucking the book away and stuffing his hands in his pockets instead.

“There’s a Yamanaka watching us,” he finally said, casually.

“Yes,” she agreed. “Yamanaka-sama ordered her to study my social interactions.

“Huh.”

“Yes.”

“Inuzuka are pretty clan orientated. They don’t generally leave.”

“Kuni-san is not Inuzuka. Technically.”

“Hmm.”

“Have you heard anything from Uchiha-sama recently?” she finally asked, keeping her own voice just as casual as he had been.

“Hn, nothing worth reporting.”

She considered that answer and decided to push, at least a little bit, because maybe had had heard something that wasn’t worth reporting and she’d still like to know. “Well, a homemaker is always interested in the littlest things rather than the grand affairs.”

“Hmm,” he eyed her out of the corner of his eye but finally said, “He seems to be learning a lot.”

“That’s good.” Good that he was alive to be learning, at least. She wondered how many of the things he was learning were from life’s harder lessons, leaving mental and physical scars. But she wouldn’t ask that. Hatake-sama had said enough. “Well, when you see him again, let him know that he always has a home to return to.”

Hatake-sama didn’t respond to that for a long time. She’d nearly forgotten what she had last said, when he finally murmured, “I’ll let him know.”

They made it back to the main hosue and she even managed to convince him to stay for dinner, or at least his ninken convinced him to stay since they all popped out of their own realm to demand brushing. She prepared a dinner for all of them, the dogs on the floor and Hatake-sama’s on a tray so he could either go into another room or position himself behind her.

Instead he just ate incredibly quickly, which was a bit insulting to the food, but he always was a fairly rude man. Maybe his tastebuds had suffered some horrible injury in years past. But he settled in a chair with a book and seemed content to read as she brushed out each of his ninken in turn.

It took the entirety of the evening and her arms felt like they were going to fall off after just three dogs, but she persevered because it was such a comfortable delight to see them all together. It was when she was stretching her arms out between brushing Urushi and Akino that she noticed the way Hatake-sama was watching.

She had a sudden flashback of the first time, years ago, when Uchiha-sama had asked her to call him Sasuke-kun sometimes. Sometimes he just needed to be a child rather than the head of a noble clan. 

Hatake-sama was also the head of a clan and nearly thirty years old at this point. But looking at him watching his dogs get brushed, she thought she could see the same yearning as eight-year-old Sasuke-kun. 

But he was Hatake-sama and she could not offer him a hug like she had his student. So she kept brushing his dogs and let the thought flow away like extra dander.

But even after they had all left for the night, even a week later, the thought still came to her sometimes. Hatake-sama had worn a mask since he was at least five years old. He didn't let people touch him and she would never make the attempt to do so unless he asked her and he would never ask her. 

And yet, having seen the need, she couldn't quite make herself ignore it. She could no more give Hatake-sama comfort than she could help Uchiha-sama. They were both impossible tasks but she had done the one, so what would it hurt to consider approaching the other. It was certainly better to consider other options rather than just wait in fear of the news that the final Uchiha-sama had died. 

She told herself that it was Hosoo’s gift of a decorative metal arch, fit for a temple, that had inspired her to focus on cleaning up the Uchiha clan temple and shrine. But she knew it wasn’t true. She had gotten the shrines cleaned and fixed and she lived in hope that Uchiha-sama would return but in expectation that he would not. And even if he died just six years after she'd met gone to him, she could not regret her decision to have done so. Afterwards, after events were known for sure, she would see what the Hokage decided to do with the Uchiha compound, but she still had her personal savings from years ago in its own account. She would be fine, even if the Uchiha clan finally died despite all of her efforts. Everyone died eventually, civilians and shinobi alike.

None of these thoughts and plans changed the fact that she had seen Hatake-sama’s yearning and couldn’t quite forget it.

She considered the situation for another week before finally going to to buy some gloves.

There is no way that a civilian could buy shinobi gear without setting off a few alarms, and trying to hide it would have been worse. So she went first to the Yamanaka florist shop to ask about gloves that shinobi use to care for toxic plants, when they need to maximize dexterity while still having full coverage.

Apparently shinobi still tended towards fingerless gloves and just built up an immunity to the toxins. But a little perseverance got a recommendation for a shinobi outfitter who made custom pieces and was willing to create full gloves to her measurements.

She would be surprised if there were not at least two reports sitting on the Hokage’s desk by sundown, one from the florist and the other from the outfitter. She would be even more surprised if anyone actually mentioned it directly to her. Even Kobe-san, who was her escort of the day, looked curious but didn’t ask.

It took a week for the gloves to be delivered by a very curious shop assistant who went away with a thanks but no answer to the question many were wondering and no one had asked.

She stored them away with the dog grooming brushes and an extra human brush as well.

She could tell the questions and rumors had made the rounds when Hatake-sama showed up the next day himself, rather than just sending a ninken to check up on her. They took another circuit of the compound. His ninken played with Kuni-chan’s dogs and got thoroughly dusty, a ploy, she was fairly sure, to ensure they got to stay for brushing even with their master present.

That evening when she settled down with the ninken, she set the gloves and a human hair brush beside her as well. She proceeded to ignore them entirely as she brushed the ninken. No one said anything about them, although the ninken had eyed them more overtly than either she or Hatake-sama had.

It was the next week, when Hatake-sama showed up in person again, when she laid them out as before, that Kakashi finally got up and inspected them and then offered them to her.

She put the gloves on, and then held out one gloved hand for the hair brush and motioned for him to sit down in front of her. It felt like a terrible danger and yet no danger at all. He put his back to her, and she carefully drew the brush through his hair. It started with short strokes to work out any knots and then longer ones to smooth out the hair, and then brushing back and forth, the bristles scraping over his scalp. He didn't even bother resisting the way his body slumped over. He only peered lightly out of his one eye as she shuffled herself somewhat awkwardly to one side so that he could lay with his head in her lap.

She set aside the brush and when he moaned with disappointment, put the tips of her gloved fingers on his scalp instead and started massaging little circles. "Is this okay?"

He managed to groan an affirmative. She hummed in amusement but didn't stop the massage.

The fire was burned down to embers and her fingers soft and still as she dozed off when Pakkun coughed, and spoke unusually softly and apologetically. “Boss? It’s getting late.”

Hatake-sama had jerked out of his doze, flushed red, stood up, disappeared in a swirl of leaves, reappeared in a swirl of leaves a moment later, said, “I’m sorry. I had a lovely evening. Thank you. I’ve got to go,” and ran out.

The ninken looked a bit embarrassed by it all, but mostly followed after their departed master. Pakkun stayed for a bit longer. “Thanks, Naoki. I hated to wake him up, that was the most relaxed I’ve ever seen him, but we do have a mission coming up. But that brushing his hair was really great of you.”

“I’m glad he allowed me to do so. Take care of him and yourself.”

“Will do. See you in a week!”

It was late and she was half asleep already, making it harder than expected to get the gloves off again and all the brushes free of hair and packed away again, before she made it to her bed. But she found herself laughing a little, as she relaxed into sleep, at Hatake-sama’s red ears but also happy at the sense memory of his hair, spiky but soft. This evening had been the most relaxed she had been in a long while, too.

The next day was a reminder that shinobi had ways of finding out the most random information.

A kunoichi was suddenly walking next to her in the market, head tilted in, the very image of a good friend owed good gossip. Naoki only vaguely recognized her and she didn’t gossip. “So, what’s Kakashi like without his mask?”

“What in the world makes you think i would know?” Naoki kept her own back straight and her face directly forward.

“Well, he spent last night with you, didn’t he?”

“Uchiha-sama has made Hatake-sensei welcome at the compound.” She said repressively.

“And welcome to you as well, eh?” The kunoichi said salaciously.

Naoki finally stopped walking and turned to look directly at the kunoichi. If she had been a civilian, Naoki would have slapped her. Instead, she simply said, “No.”

“No?”

“No.”

“No, he’s not welcome to you? Or no, you’re not going to tell me what he looks like without his mask?”

“No.”

And she walked away, counting her breaths and ignoring the words of the woman still following her.

It was the start of a long day of ignoring smirks, waggling eyebrows, and curious looks.

At least it made an interesting alternative to ignoring insults and sneers. Although sometimes the two reactions blended oddly. Which was particularly odd since she’d joined the Uchiha Clan as a concubine and thus her sexual status should have been established by now. But apparently the fiction of a relationship with Uchiha-sama was sufficiently distinct from the possibility of a real relationship with Hatake-sama to earn special treatment by those people who cared enough to spit or insult.

According to Pakkun, it was actually the insults that had driven Hatake-sama back to the Uchiha Compound for dinner, as spite overrode embarrassment.

She didn’t bother resisting smiling at that. “I would not be in my current position if I weren’t the same: spite definitely overrides embarrassment.”

Hatake-sama continued to visit himself on a weekly basis although it was another month before he offered her the gloves again and he timed it, giving himself just a quarter of an hour to have his hair brushed. The ninken took up the rest of the evening but she was also fairly sure they were mocking him for the self-sacrifice.

On the second anniversary of Uchiha-sama’s departure from the village, she started a serious review of the Uchiha Compound temple. In the first year living in the compound, Uchiha-sama had shown next to no interest in that place, and they had cleared and closed the building as they had all the other unused buildings.

She had noticed at the time that the most recent deaths, the hundreds of deaths from the massacre had not been added to the memorial stones, but it hadn’t seemed like a priority with everything else needing to be done. Seven years later, it seemed more serious a lack.

She consulted Shikhako-san on the names and then actually commissioned her to carve them into the stones. Shikhako-san had the skill for it as a Nara homemaker and Naoki couldn’t bring herself to allow a stranger into the temple to do the work instead. Naoki had sat with Shikhako for the three days of work, getting each name perfectly carved. As Shikhako-san carved, Naoki updated the records with the massacre deaths and reviewed the older records so she would know them all and properly honor them.

Uchiha-sama would have a proper home here, when he returned, one way or another.

“Is there anything I can do for the Uchiha Clan?” Hatake-sama asked. It was a routine at this point. He would ask and she would demure. She wondered sometimes if it was more for her sake or for his. She had never accepted and hadn’t intended to ever accept because she didn’t want to ever even imply a sense of payment for services.

But for the first time, she didn’t demure immediately. His eye sharpened. “Tell me.”

“In the last fifty years, there have been just fifteen Uchiha with confirmed deaths whose bodies were not returned to the clan for burning. I believe you know the last stand of Uchiha Obito.” She watched him watching her. “Can you bring back his bones?”

“You’re cleaning up the shrines.”

“Yes.” It had taken too long to get around to that task. It should have been a higher priority, especially given the massacre that had first brought her to this compound. But Sasuke had shrunk away from discussing any but his family shrine and she had not pushed him. He could barely deal with the grief of losing his parents and his brother. The rest of the clan, the hundreds of cousins and in-laws were too much. But she was dealing with it now.

“Obito was crushed in a cave-in twenty years ago. His bones will be dust.”

“Can you return that dust to the Clan?”

He sighed. “Yes.”

That evening was only the second time that he allowed her to brush his hair for long enough that it tuned into a scalp massage instead. She wondered if maybe she should have allowed him to do something more for her or for the clan, if he felt he needed to earn even this small pleasure.

She didn’t see him again for five months, although a ninken still came by every week. When she did see him again, he appeared suddenly in the kitchen, his Sharingan eye open and spinning, and demanded, “How did you know?”

She was caught off guard. He never appeared like that before her, she had never before seen his Sharingan eye, and she had no idea what he was talking about.

“How did you know? How could you have? You didn’t know, did you. And you still don’t. This isn’t a conspiracy, at least not on your part.” He actually grabbed his hair and pulled it. “This is about homemaking. Homemaking done by civilian women and records keeping done by shinobi men, but it all comes down to the same thing, doesn’t it?”

She made sure to look offended by that. Homemaking involved a lot of records keeping, but it was also a great deal more. And there were few shinobi men who could manage to make a proper home.

He lowered his forehead protector to cover the Sharingan eye again and sunk into his customary slouch with obvious effort.

“Mah,” he said with contrived casualness, as he waved his hand, as if shooing away her unspoken objections and questions. “You said there were fifteen Uchiha with confirmed deaths, whose bodies were not returned to the clan. I need a full list with details of their deaths: time, place, manner, witnesses. Everything you have.”

She wasn’t able to suppress her gasp at that request, although she managed to bite back the questions that came afterwards. What had Hatake-sama found when he went looking for Uchiha Obito’s bones? What had happened to those missing shinobi? Were they dead or not? Were their eyes destroyed or not? Were they truly mission related deaths as the records declared or murders?

Instead, she said, “Would you like to wait as I collect the information for you, or shall I have it delivered to you?”

“And how many Uchiha disappeared without confirmed deaths? Missing in action? I need those records too: places, dates and circumstances. I can stick around and get it now.” As if he were doing her a favor.

She nodded, led him into the office, and allowed him to watch as she carefully made full copies of the records so that he could take them with him.

“Iruka-sensei is never going to let me live it down when I request records information from him as well,” Hatake-sama said, mostly to himself.

He paced as she wrote down the information, muttering to himself in ways that she couldn’t let herself get distracted by for fear that she’d mis-write any of the records. When she offered the papers to him, he nodded his thanks, and then vanished, not even a swirl.

She was putting the papers back in order to be stored away again when she realized that despite everything that had happened, she had not once been afraid or even concerned for her own welfare. She finished storing the records away and went to the shrine. She started a new stick of incense and knelt to pray for the Uchiha, dead and missing, and pray for the lives of those still living and effected by those losses.

Chapter Text

She looked at the arm. The arm did not look back at her, because it was dead. Most arms didn’t look back at a person regardless of their state of life. This one had, she paused to count them, ten eyes in it. They were Sharingan eyes, identifiable even dead, although she was glad to have seen Hatake-sama’s living Sharingan eye for the comparison.

For the last several months, she’d been receiving intermittent scrolls, some from Hatake-sama, some from the records department of the Tower, regarding the fates of the Uchiha she had listed. She had updated the Uchiha records with the knowledge. Occasionally she was also delivered the remains, old bones covered in scraps of mummified flesh.

She’d already had a plan on what to do in those situations, given her original request to Hatake-sama. She’d hoped to receive Uchiha Obito’s remains. This, however, was different.

“Is this the result of mutation or theft?” she finally asked. It was a lot of eyes to have acquired by theft. Maybe there was a Uchiha who had developed extra eyes in other parts of the body. The Aburame had insect entrances all over their bodies. A cross clan match might have produced these results, or just the development of some new kekkei genkai.

Senju-sama looked bemused at the question, but answered readily enough, “Theft. And in case you’re wondering: the thief has been killed.” She handed over a jar with another dead Sharingan eye in it. “He apparently orchestrated the clan massacre to get most of these.

“This doesn’t look like Itachi’s arm.” The arm looked old: thinner skin, more corded muscles, more faded scars. But then again, maybe implanting eyes in an arm caused the arm to age.

“No, Itachi was just the tool used.”

“Ah.”

Naoki continued to inspect the arm for a while before finally dragging herself back into the present, which meant being in the presense of the Godaime, Senju Tsunade, and an Anbu guard with a Cat mask. It was the Anbu who had carried the package and unwrapped the fabric to reveal the arm.

“Thank you for bringing back these Uchiha dead, Senju-sama, Cat-san. I will see that they are given a proper funeral pyre.”

“Each clan in Konoha has rights to their own dead.” Senju-sama deflected.

Naoki smiled faintly. She knew that clause of the village charter quite well. She also doubted that it was always enforced, especially when a body could be slipped into the labs of another clan without raising too much of a fuss.

The conversation was now over, however, and the eyes delivered, and yet the Godaime continued to sit, making no move to leave. Normally Naoki would have offered tea, and she had when they’d first arrived. Senju-sama had turned it down then, and Naoki really didn’t want to reiterate the offer now, with an extra arm still lying on the table.

“You have an interesting way of looking at the world,” Senju-sama said.

“… thank you?”

“You notice loose ends.”

Naoki wasn’t sure how to respond to that so she didn’t, just waited to see where the Hokage was going with this.

“I’ve been told that if I request that you have an official T&I interview with a Yamanaka, not only would any Yamanaka assigned to the task consider themselves shamed, but that you would likely leave the village the next day.”

Naoki felt like her blood had frozen. She bowed low and didn’t rise, she spoke to the wood grain of the table. “I will do what is necessary.”

Senju-sama snorted. “I’m not going to ask for that interview, so sit up and don’t mess up anything for Uchiha-kun who’s expecting the village to take care of you in his absence.”

She slowly raised back to upright, but she would remember the threat.

“Instead, I’m going to offer you a boon. Your work identified a threat to the village. The normal rewards for that type of thing are either money or positions of power in the administration, but I don’t think you want those. And I’m interesting in hearing what you’ll request. So tell, me what would you like from the Tower?”

“May I have some time to consider this?”

“Tell me the first thing that comes to your mind.”

Naoki blinked and looked down and tried to think, off the top of her head, if there was anything she wanted that she had dismissed due to an edict from the Tower? Despite the arm, she wished she had a cup of tea to sip in contemplation. She didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about things that were impossible. She worked around the Tower relatively often, but she never, ever went against it. The only exception to that was when she had told Uchiha-sama as much as she knew about Uzumaki Naruto. And that answered that.

“Lift the edict of secrecy around Uzumaki-san.”

She left it at that. She could argue that the edict harmed the village, that it harmed Uzumaki-san, that the knowledge of the demon fox was a festering wound that needed to see sunlight if it were ever to heal. But those were justifications, and Senju-sama had told her to name a boon. She didn’t need to justify her response.

“Hmm,” Senju-sama hummed, and then said. “It’s no little thing to reverse an edict from a prior hokage.”

Naoki found her eyebrows lifting without her intent. Had Senju-sama expected her to ask for a little thing?

Senju-sama laughed at the sight and then said, as if she did have the ability to read minds after all, “But then again, it was no little thing that you did for the village, either. And I wonder if this might be for the best as well. We shinobi love our secrets, but sometimes they do more harm than good.” She nodded decisively. “Very well, I’ll lift the edit. It will take a while before I can arrange a situation to do so. Possibly Naruto-kun’s birthday, whichever his next birthday is when he’s in the village.”

Naoki bowed low, “Thank you, Senju-sama.”

“But I will also tell you now: Uzumaki Naruto is the first born son and only child of Namikaze Minato, the Yondaime, and his wife, Uzumaki Kushina…”

Naoki stilled. How in the world had no one known that the Yondaime was married? That should have been common knowledge.

“… who was the prior container of the Kyubi.”

Ah, Naoki thought, that would be a secret that could keep even a political marriage hidden. The Kyubi had already lived in the village.

“The container?”

“The Kyubi was sealed inside Kushina-chan after my grandmother Mito got too old to hold it anymore. It escaped while the seal was weakened due to childbirth. After Kushina-chan died, Minato-kun used his own life energy to seal it into their newborn son.”

Senju-sama’s grandmother Mito, meaning Uzumaki Mito, wife of the Shodaime and the fact that Naoki had failed to put that together on her own was a horrifying lapse. And a reminder that she would be well served to study the village genealogies with more intent. And “escaped”, Senju-sama had said: the Kyubi “escaped” from having been “sealed” into a person. Naoki could understand, now, why that night of fire and screams had happened: a prisoner attempting in vane to escape endless slavery might do much.

But Senju-sama was waiting for Naoki to respond, and so she licked her lips and said, “Thank you for telling me this.”

The Kyubi had lived in the Uchiha Compound for several months, unacknowledged and imprisoned. Naoki had thought she had welcomed the demon in the same way as she had welcomed Uzumaki-san because she had thought they were the same being. Instead, she had welcomed the container and ignored the prisoner. She would have to find a way to acknowledge the Kyubi next time the occasion arose.

She did not want to be in a position of dishonorable prison guard to any spirit, much less one as grand as the nine-tailed fox.

But that was a problem for after she dismantled the arm and built twelve funeral pyres, one for each eye and an extra for the arm. She had not asked who the arm had once been part of, but she wanted to ensure it left no ghosts or brought no extra resentment to the clan.

She thought about the options for honoring and apologizing to the Kyubi off and on for a month before making her way to an artist studio.

Kon Yataro had once been considered a prodigy, his work highly sought after. And then he had done a series of paintings of the Kyubi attack: the walls of the village shadowed and crumbling around the awe-inspiring magnificence of the snarling nine-tailed fox.

His studio had been on the far side of the village from the attack, high enough to get good lighting on most days and high enough to have seen the attack like a spectacle on the night of the attack.

When word of the paintings had made it to the streets, a mob had ripped his entire studio apart. He’d been beaten nearly to death and his hands had been broken. It had been nearly twenty years since then, and while his hands had healed, his reputation had not.

He mostly painted flowers now, sometime song birds, and sold them unsigned. But she knew from her correspondents outside of the village, that he still painted figures sometimes, so lifelike that they seemed to be watching one. Foreign courts would commission portraits of the diplomats they would be expected to recognize on sight. Given his placement near the tower, she expected the Tower administration also made use of his skills.

He looked startled when she entered his new studio, a small room in the shade of the Tower. He looked concerned when she closed the door behind her.

“I wish to commission a painting from you, Kon-san. You may sign it or not as you prefer.” It was a warning that the painting had the potential to be trouble.

“What would this painting be of?”

“Two figures in profile looking at each other. Honorable enemies sharing a campfire.”

“Hmm,” he said, but she could see his fingers twitch. She wondered how long it had been since he’d been commissioned for a piece of art for the sake of art. “Which enemies?”

“On one side, the Yondaime, yellow hair, wearing an orange robe, holding in his hands a bowl of fish ramen.”

The man smiled at what likely seemed to him a bit of whimsy.

“On the other side, the Kyubi.”

That wiped the smile right off his face. He just looked at her and she looked steadily back.

“Do you know what happened to me the last time I painted the Kyubi?”

“Do you know what happened to me the night you illustrated then?”

He looked away first.

It took a while longer to negotiate the medium, the cost, and the time it would take, but she would have the painting: an apology gift for the Kyubi and Uzumaki Naruto both.

The timing could not have been better. She was actually walking home from Kon-san’s studio a month later with the finished painting rolled up over her shoulder, when she heard her name.

“Naoki-san!” Three voices all called out in chorus and that was the first she knew that Uchiha-sama had returned.

“Uchiha-sama! Welcome home!” She spoke with real relief. It wasn’t until she saw him that she realized exactly how worried she had been that he would die somewhere out in the world, unknown and unmourned.

She was even more surprised to be wrapped in three pairs of arms as Uchiha-sama, Uzumaki-san, and Haruno-chan all hugged her at once, with strong shinobi grips. She found herself looking rather helplessly at Hatake-sama who wasn’t even bothering to hide his face in his book this time.

“Welcome home, all of you! Let me make you lunch.”

“Nope!” Uzumaki-san said, “we only just came back and haven’t even had ramen yet! We’re going out to Ichiraku and you’re coming with!”

“I am, am I?” She’d never gone out with any of them before.

Surprisingly, it was Uchiha-sama who replied, and it was odd to see his I-will-fight-the-whole-world glare on a more adult face. “Yes, you are.”

She looked at him questioningly, wondering what he was thinking.

“I’ve heard how the villagers treated you when I was gone. Well, I am not gone anymore.”

She was surprised into a quick look towards Hatake-sama and he looked blasé right back at her. She wasn’t sure what he had told Uchiha-sama and even less sure why, but it was clear that he had. She kept response to a pleasant, “Thank you, Uchiha-sama.”

Uzumaki-san broke any tension with his brightly demanding, “So come on, Naoki-san! Ramen!”

She wasn’t actually all that big a fan of ramen, not on warm summer days, but it turned out she was a big fan of the looks of dismay on the faces of various individuals who had previously excessively scorned her. There was an appropriate way to treat people who did not fit into proper society, both to avoid lowering oneself and because one never knew when the tables might turn. Several individuals who had lowered themselves excessively now looked a bit sick.

She studiously ignored them, allowing her eyes to pass over their faces as if they weren’t there. As far as she was concerned, they weren’t. And what had previously been the act of a fallen civilian woman was now and once more the act of the Uchiha clan homemaker, backed up by Uchiha-sama, Sakura-san, and the demon child.

Not being acknowledged by her had the potential to be a punishment all of it’s own.

It was surprisingly pleasant to go out for a meal at a restaurant and to see all of the team 7 alive and cheerful together.

“I’m glad to see you all safely home.”

“I’m really glad to come back. We thought of you a lot!” Uzumaki-san yelled, pretty much right in her ear, then turned the other way to yell at his teammates, “Hey! Don’t hit me!”

Haruno-chan ignored that said, “We really did think of you.”

“We were weeding,” Uchiha-sama added.

“Weeding with fire!”

“And very sharp implements”

“And pulling those weeds up by the roots.”

Then all three of them shared a look and a solid nod of agreement before turning to her. “We thought of you while we were weeding.”

Naoki could feel her eyebrows just wanting to get higher and higher as this continued. Apparently it had been too many years since she’d kept her face as strictly calm as it had once been. She finally turned to their sensei to see if he would offer any addition to this.

Hatake-sama gave her a one-eyed smile, shrugged, and said, “Weeding is a very important job. There might also have been some pruning. Another important job.”

“Indeed it is,” Naoki agreed. “Both weeding and pruning are very important.”

“Yeah, they are!” Uzumaki-san yelled.

“Also,” Uchiha-sama added rather abruptly, “I’ve brought back Uchiha Madara’s body. Kakashi-sensei said that you’d show me how to make a proper funeral pyre for him.”

“Of course, Uchiha-sama,” Naoki agreed. It was a process the clan head needed to know. She wasn’t sure what the relationship was between weeding and acquiring Uchiha Madara’s body but she sent up a quick prayer that it didn’t result in anything as disturbing as plucking eyes out of an arm for a series of miniature funeral pyres.

Uchiha-sama continued rather belligerently, “No matter what he did, he was still the leader of the Uchiha and a founder of this village. He deserves a proper funeral.”

Naoki blinked a bit at that but allowed his teammates to reassure him that of course his ancestor deserved a proper pyre. Uchiha Madara had been the oldest of the names on her list of Uchiha missing confirmed deaths. What had he done that there was any question of him deserving a respectful funeral?

Luckily, after that, the conversation turned to lighter matters of what they planned to do now that they were all back in the village.

All five of them returned to the Uchiha compound afterwards and she was able to formally welcome them back to the compound. The head of the Uchiha clan was back in residence.

It was also the chance to finally bow and say, “Uzumaki-san, Kyubi-sama, I was only recently made aware of my failure to give you proper respect.”

All four shinobi before her froze at her words, although Uzumaki-san responded most quickly with a shouted, “WHAT?”

Hatake-sama’s voice was chilling in its calmness, “There’s a secrecy edict.”

Uchiha-sama was turning to snarl back at his sensei when Naoki managed to quickly add, “Godaime-sama was the one to inform me after deciding to lift the edict. I,” Naoki winced a bit at this, “hadn’t realized that she had not yet informed any of you.”

“She’s lifting the edict?” Uzumaki-san sounded strangely lost in a way that she had never heard from him before.

“As an apology for my past ignorance, allow me to present the two of you this painting.” She offered him on both hands the rolled up painting that she’d only just acquired.

Uzumaki-san still seemed unsure, so it was Haruno-san who finally lifted the painting and got Uchiha-sama to help her unroll it and hold it for them all to see.

It was a beautiful painting, the threat inherent in both the Yondaime and the Kyubi obvious but restrained much like the banked coals of the fire between them. The ramen bowl was an incongruous sign of settled peace, a dish that was as unwarlike as possible. The bowl decorated with the Uzumaki swirl and a small piece of naruto visible among the noodles.

Uzumaki-san started crying, but then moved too quickly for her to see and had his arms wrapped around her in a hug, now crying into her shoulder, but also saying, “Thank you! I love it! Kurama likes it too! I’m going to hang it in my room so I can see it every day!”

She relaxed and returned the hug even as she memorized the name ‘Kurama’. “I’m glad.”

Hatake-sama coughed. “Before you hang it up where anyone else can see it, go check with Hokage-sama to confirm that the secrecy edict is lifted.”

“Yes! I’ll do it right now! And show her the painting too!” But rather than racing off, he very carefully supervised Uchiha-sama and Haruno-san in their rolling up the painting again, as if it were the most fragile thing in the world.

Then he was off, and it was time to turn to Uchiha-sama again. She was relieved to see him smiling at her: he hadn’t been offended or upset by any of her actions just now. He looked pleased instead, and even said, “Thank you, Naoki-kun. He deserves more recognition.”

Hatake-sama coughed again. “Sasuke, Sakura, why don’t you two get settled in. I need to chat with Naoki-san for a moment.”

Naoki smiled in reassurance at the two genin. “Why don’t Hatake-sama and I walk the garden path while you two settle in.”

“Hmm.” They both looked suspicious but agreed readily enough. From the way all three of the genin had been interacting for the past few hours, clearly comfortable in each others personal spaces, she wondered where exactly each of the three would be settling. It would be interesting to see how they arranged themselves without her there. The curiosity was also a distraction from what Hatake-sama wanted to say to her.

They had become much more comfortable with each other over the years. She enjoyed the evenings when he would come with his ninken for brushing.

She would miss those nights, if she had damaged her relationship with him. She expected she would miss those nights regardless now that Uchiha-sama had returned and Hatake-sama no longer had a reason to check in on the compound. Maybe his ninken would still visit her sometimes.

They had walked a good portion of the way along the garden path before Hatake-sama finally said, “Tsunade is going to lift or has lifted the edict of secrecy?”

“On Uzumaki-san’s next birthday.”

“So it’s not lifted yet.”

“In safe company, I referred to shared knowledge. There was no treason.”

“That was quite the painting. It looked like something by Kon Yataro.”

“It is by him.”

“Hmm.”

They continued to walk.

Hatake-sama started on one of the longer paths that branched off from the short house path, and she followed his lead.

When he finally spoke again, it was just as utterly emotionless. Whatever his thoughts or emotions were, he was actively suppressing them. “I need you to tell me why you came to the Uchiha Clan after the massacre. You had an established position at a reputable tea house. What made you change?”

He wasn’t looking at her, still staring ahead at the path. In all the years since then, no one had asked her that. She suspected that many people were curious and had their own suspicions or ideas, but this was the first time anyone had directly asked her.

If Hatake-sama needed to know, then she would tell him, but it took a while to get her thoughts in order, to be able to tell him. She had to sort through her own motivations from nearly a decade ago.

Finally, she started with, “There was a man, Tsuchida Nobuhito,” but then paused. It was hard to put together.

“I don’t recognize the name.”

She shrugged. “You don’t have any reason to. He was an evening delivery man, a regular at my parents shop. It had been a successful shop: there were always deliveries being made.”

Hatake-sama blinked at the seemingly random story, but didn’t interrupt her.

“After the Kyubi attack, a couple of years later, he came to the tea house and I served him. He gave his condolences about my parents, said they had been very clever but also very kind. I offered my condolences in turn or his wife and daughter. I said his daughter, Oriana-chan, had been very curious despite her shyness, because sometimes I would see her peak around corners before darting away.”

Hatake-sama nodded his understanding, and Naoki thought that maybe he really did understand. A lot of shinobi wouldn’t. Shinobi culture often stressed putting loss behind one and moving on, while a lot of civilians wanted to remember their lost ones, to keep what they could, even if it was just shared memories.

“Tsuchida-san broke down crying. His daughter had been so young and shy and our neighborhood so devastated, that I was the first living person he’d found who could remember her. After that, he came to the tea house as regularly as he could afford. Mostly every other week. It was a high class tea house and he was a laborer.”

Hatake-sama nodded again, probably doing the same calculations in his head that she had done the second time Tsuchida-san had come to the tea house. He hadn’t earned a lot but he also hadn’t had many expenses.

“When he didn’t show up for three weeks after the Uchiha massacre, I went to his apartment. I knew where it was although I had never been there. I was two weeks too late to attend his funeral.”

“His funeral was a week after the massacre?”

“Mm-hmm.”

“A night delivery man.”

“Mm-hmm.”

Hatake-sama sounded resigned when he asked, “He was killed in the massacre?”

“No,” Naoki sighed. “The Uchiha were dead and Itachi gone by the time he arrived to make a delivery that night. The delivery form was signed off by an Anbu.”

“Ah.”

“He killed himself the following day.”

“Had he been part of the conspiracy?”

Naoki shrugged. “I don’t know. If he had been, I’ve never found any evidence. I doubt it, though. I think he just felt like a ghost. Like his place was among the dead rather than the living. I could sympathize.”

Hatake-sama froze. He was like stone. Nothing moved, not even his breath. He understood. There had been that moment, standing outside Tsuchida-san’s apartment, speaking with his neighbor, when she had completely understood Tsuchida-san’s decision to stop. To stop trying to struggle among the living, and instead to rest with the dead.

“I saw my future in him. If I stayed where I was, doing nothing more than surviving, there would come a day... And so I went to the Uchiha Compound, that place of death and did my best to bring it back to life.”

His breath when it finally returned was a shuddery thing.

“I will not go early to greet my dead.” It was a vow. She would never go early.

“No. No, you wouldn’t. Fearlessly but not early.” Hatake-sama spoke the compliment seemingly more to himself thana to her. Then, “thank you for your honesty with me, Naoki-san.”

They were silent for the rest of the walk and Naoki appreciated it. She wasn’t sure what Hatake-sama was thinking of, but she thought of Tsuchida-san and Oriana-chan and living as best she could for as long as she could.

Hatake-sama took his leave of her at the gates to the compound and went on his way and she returned to the main house to prepare dinner for Uchiha-sama.

The next week, when she saw Hatake-sama again, he didn’t say anything to her, just collected Uchiha-sama for a mission briefing. But before following Uchiha-sama out of the house, he turned back to her, smiled with his one eye, and left a red-wrapped present on the table by the door.

Then he turned and left.

She had privacy in the house to see what he had left and she appreciated it because she had no idea how she should respond.

A square of embroidered red silk, wrapped around a decorative comb. The comb was carved wood, two wolf cubs gambling on either side of a flower. Their eyes were tiny jewels and the flower was tipped with gold.

In any other circumstances, between any other two people, this would be a courting gift.

Hatake-sama still offered her gloves before she ever brushed his hair. He emphatically did not want a lover. The comb included a symbol of his clan. A gift for seduction wouldn’t have that anyway, or the red fabric.

This was the kind of gift that started marriage discussions.

She remembered telling Haruno-san that shinobi married civilians because civilians were better at allowing themselves to be protected and more skilled at performing homemaking activities. That was true, but it was also incomplete.

There were shinobi from civilian families and civilian members of shinobi clans, and social interactions could get complex about how shinobi a given shinobi really was and how civilian a given civilian really was. And then there were the ranks. Of the shinobi, Chunin had the most options, because Jounin and Genin did not have official relationships with one another. Almost any shinobi adult could physically overpower almost any civilian adult, so the power dynamics were even more fraught there, but money and social power often counterbalanced to the civilian side of such relationships.

Powerful jounin often looked for marriage prospects among the civilian members of Clans to maintain a household in village. So shinobi and civlians did marry.

But kage-level heads of shinobi clans did not marry civilians from civilian families. Secret lovers, probably. Official spouses: no.

He was Hatake-sama, Sharingan Kakashi, man of a thousand jutsu, and a strong contender to be Rokudaime. A famous and infamous war hero.

But he was also Hatake Kakashi who liked it when she brushed his hair, who read porn in public to avoid speaking to people, and who’s ninken loved and teased him.

It couldn’t be a courtship present because that was insane. If it was a courtship present then she needed a way to respond.

She left the present on the table for now, laying open on the red silk wrap, obviously seen but neither accepted nor rejected, she wanted to make sure she was prepared. Which meant that she would stop by one of the village bookstores.

Luckily the owner’s second daughter, Chinatsu-san, was in. Chinatsu-san had been one of the fake-fangirls who’d come by to perform a tea ceremony and check out the Uchiha compound. She combined the characteristics of being discreet, being competent, and having no shame, as long as she wasn’t in mixed company. Naoki liked her a lot.

She was alone in the shop at that point so Naoki was more blunt than she would normally allow herself to be. “Can I skim the Icha-icha books in your back room where no one can see so that I know what’s going on with them?”

“Does this have to do with Hatake Kakashi?”

“It does.”

“Then I’ll trade you the use of our back room and the Icha-Icha series for the gossip.”

“Without then spreading it around?”

Chinatsu-san shrugged but also nodded and Naoki decided to take it as agreement, if only because she really did want to tell someone just to say it aloud. “I think he’s going to ask me to marry him.”

The expression on Chinatsu-san’s face was about right. Surprised, dubious, suspicious, and uncertain. “No shit?”

Naoki shrugged rather helplessly.

“Well,” Chinatsu-san pulled herself together. “On the one hand, he’s Hatake,” meaning it was highly unlikely that a kage-level clan shinobi would ever marry a civilian, “but on the other hand, he’s Hatake,” meaning he’s known for being unknowable. “Well, you know I won’t be spreading that gossip. No one would believe me.”

“Do you believe me?”

“I’m not even sure if you believe you.”

“Fair enough.”

She went to the backroom and sat in seiza to one side as Chinatsu retrieved the books for her.

“I’d offer you some tea, but since you’re not buying these, I’d prefer you not have food around them.”

“Of course. Thank you. I also have a commission for you.”

“A commission? That you waited to tell me about until we were in private? Do tell!”

“Have any of the ladies of the Daimyo court printed a pillow book recently? One of the beautifully illustrated and barely fictional accounts?”

Chinatsu-san barked a laugh but quickly stifled it. “There’s always a few rumors about who’s writing what, but they have private publishing runs and are very expensive. Not even the Tower intelligence department buys copies.”

Naoki rolled her eyes just a bit at that. “Of course they’d create a mission to sneak in and take notes rather than just buy a copy. That’s pride rather than frugality.”

Chinatsu-san shrugged her agreement.

“How much would it cost for you to have an agent get confirmation of whatever book is making the current rounds of gossip, and purchase a copy for me?”

“For you? Not for the Uchiha? If he needs a sex-ed book, there are better, cheaper books that set more realistic expectations.” Chinatsu-san paused, “I sure hope those books are unrealistic. There’s even better porn out there, or at least porn with fewer political secrets.”

“The porn with political secrets is, unfortunately for my savings, the point. Hatake-sama left me a courting gift. I need an appropriate response. If I decide to respond.”

“If you decide, huh. If? Well, a pillow book for a courting gift is going to set an interesting precedent but given who it’s for…”

Naoki shrugged her agreement right back at Chinatsu-san.

“Okay, I’m beginning to believe you. This is going to shake things up. A lot. An elite jounin courting a civilian? And that particular jounin too?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, I’ll keep my ears open and my mouth closed. And find you the most elegant book available in the capital. In the meantime, enjoy the Icha-Icha. It’s… something.”

“Thank you.”

She skimmed the books quickly. They were romantic adventure novels. Nothing particularly off-putting or worrisome. The sex scenes seemed fairly juvenile really.

She doubted she’d want to re-read them, but eventually she’d probably read them all through at least once. If she got access to them. She wasn’t planning to spend either money or space on them. But they didn’t constitute any warning signs.

She thanked the Chinatsu-san, confirmed her order for an elegantly bound and illustrated pillow book of her choosing, and bought a book of new recipes so that she would have a reason for having stayed in the bookshop for so long.

Since Uchiha-sama was out on a mission, she continued to leave the comb on the table.

Her mind whirled for three days before she finally decided that she needed more information.

Hatake-sama had been remarkably accommodating of her safety concerns ever since their first meeting and she rather thought he would not appear again in her presence until Uchiha-sama was home as a chaperone. She appreciated it. But she also wanted to have an actual conversation on this with the man most directly involved before bringing it up with Uchiha-sama.

It had been a while since she’d last written an invitation, but the Uchiha office had plenty of cards and high quality inks, some of which weren’t actually intended for seal work. She wrote Hatake-sama an invitation to flower viewing the following day and sent it off with one of the career genin runners who made themselves available for the purpose.

She told herself not to worry. This was just a day like any other, with things to prepare for and the estate to maintain. This meeting could very well wind up no different from any of their other conversations walking these paths.

She kept herself busy for the rest of the day and then lay in bed for several hours with her eyes closed, counting her breathes and refusing to think too much about the future.

The morning came both faster and slower than she wished. She hadn’t gotten a response, so he might not even show up. It was quite possible Hatake-sama was out on a mission or simply had different plans for the day.

At least it was a beautiful garden. It hadn’t been a priority originally in getting the Compound in order, but she’d finally been able to make time for it in the last year.

She always had more to do than she had time to do it in, so that didn’t change anything. She’d do what she could in the time she had, triaging her work to do the most important activities and postponing, possibly indefinitely, anything she didn’t have time for.

She had changed into something a bit fancier than her normal dress a good half hour before the time she’d invited Hatake-sama to arrive, and spent the next half hour meditating to get her thoughts in order, her intentions clear, and her mind calm.

Hatake-sama knocked on the front door exactly on time.

She opened it with a welcoming smile. “Thank you for coming.”

“Thank you for the invitation.”

His eyes flickered sideways to see the comb laid out on the table, where it had been for four days, but he didn’t mention it and she walked him through the house and into the back garden.

They walked in silence for a while, to genuinely enjoy the flowers. He was as attentive as any high bred samurai and matched his pace to hers, giving nothing away and allowing her to set the tone of this meeting.

"You do realize that if we were to marry," she carefully started, making it an equal statement rather than the more demure, 'if you were to marry me', because this was a matter of equals. "I would become the matriarch of a shinobi clan, even as a civilian."

"A clan of one."

"If we were married, it would be a clan of two. But a clan with its own compound in Konoha."

He nodded.

"Are you aware of the power that comes from that type of position?"

He paused to consider before answering. "I expect I'm not as aware of it as you are. I look forward to finding out."

"You don't want to know ahead of time?"

"Not really, no."

"I expect putting me in that type of position could be considered treason."

"Do you plan to harm Konoha?"

"What is harm? What is Konoha?"

He stopped their slow walk and turned to face her directly as he repeated. "Do you plan to harm Konoha?"

She stopped as well and faced him back. "I do not plan to harm Konoha, but my idea of what would help Konoha is quite different from what the Sandaime considered helpful to Konoha.” She paused, before continuing. "I am loyal to Konoha and will do nothing that harms her, in my own view, but there will certainly be others who will consider me intrinsically harmful for being a civilian in a shinobi position of power. And they will consider you a traitor for putting me in that position." She finally looked him dead in the eye. "Your father killed himself when people thought him a traitor, though he had only acted to protect the Konoha as best he could. I will now allow myself to be the reason for your suicide."

He looked… she wasn’t sure how he looked really. After a moment, he said, “You won’t be.”

“I need more than that.”

She continued to watch his face and he didn’t look away. It was awkward to stare someone in the eye in silence like that, but this was not a conversation that could be set aside. Not if there was any chance that she might say “yes” to his proposal. If he couldn’t discuss this, then she couldn’t say “yes”. If she couldn’t make the demand, then she couldn’t say “yes” either.

He finally spoke. “You continued to run the Uchiha estates while Sasuke was a nuknin. You held your head high even with lowered eyes as you were turned away from respectable establishments and instead made deals with the lesser businesses just struggling to get by. You stared death and disrespect in the face and didn’t flinch.”

She knew he had noticed, and knew he had even told Uchiha-sama. She hadn’t realized he’d been paying such close attention. It had been worse than the shunning that had taken place when she’d first gone to the Uchiha compound as a concubine. Then, civilian ladies would have had their morals questioned if they’d supported her. After Uchiha Sasuke had left in questionable circumstances, civilians and shinobi alike would have had their loyalty questioned if they’d supported her.

Hatake-sama looked away before he said, “I didn’t realize that kind of strength was possible.”

She blinked at that. Surely he’d dealt with other people who’d lost their reputations before. At the very least, he had to have dealt with nuknin before. Although, she considered, possibly never dealt with someone who lost their reputation and yet remained. Nuknin left their villages, after all.

He started walking down the garden path again, the same slow pace that she had set before, and she moved to match it.

“I’ve been Friend-Killer Kakashi since I was thirteen.” There wasn’t any pretense at looking at the flowers, as he kept his face turned to the horizon, not looking at anything much.

“After living with my father’s reputation both before and after his suicide, I knew no relationship I had could survive my reputation. When I die, I expect it will be messy and disavowed and anyone who survives me will have to deal with the rumors.”

She was glad they were walking again. She couldn’t use her hands to wipe her face, but she could keep her eyes wide and looking forward as any tears that she couldn’t control rolled down her cheeks. She was glad she wasn’t wearing any make-up. The tears would dry soon enough in the breeze and a few tears wouldn’t disrupt her composure. She wasn’t quite sure what Hatake-sama was seeing as he spoke, but she was fairly sure it wasn’t anything here or now.

“You are the first person I’ve ever met who I thought could survive. Could survive me. Who I could leave my estate to without destroying them with my reputation.”

“You’re talking about getting an heir.” She kept her voice as emotionless as possible, the only privacy she could give him in this soul bearing she had required of him.

“I don’t want a child.”

“As your wife, I’d be expected to provide you with an heir.”

“Not by me. I don’t want a child,” he repeated.

She shrugged. “You didn’t used to want a wife.”

“I can have it added to the marriage contract that you are not obliged to provide an heir.”

She hesitated before her next statement but this was a time for honesty. “I am fairly sure you don’t want to touch or be touched by another human being.”

“And neither do you.”

She shrugged but was honest. “I am ambivalent about the matter.” She had been perfectly prepared to do her duty to her first fiancé way back when. “But there are more ways than one to get an heir. And not all of them involve physical intimacy. But I have already sacrificed Sasuke-kun to the shinobi lifestyle.”

She could feel his eye suddenly jerk to her, at her rare use of Uchiha-sama’s given name.

“What I am not ambivalent about is the role any child in this village, either ours or others, are required to fulfill.”

“Explain.”

“No child of a shinobi clan is considered successful or gains respect without becoming either a murderer or a torturer. Or both. How much would our society have to change in order to create another path towards honor?”

“Civilians have the option. Not all members of shinobi clans are shinobi…”

“But to be a shinobi is synonymous with pain and death?”

“Yes.” He spoke with heavy certainty.

“No,” she refuted. They’d stopped walking again and stood looking at each other.

He looked surprised.

“No,” she repeated. “No. I’ve watched the shinobi children play, and the sparring between friends, and they are a joy to behold. There’s beauty and competence and so much talent! Shinobi are capable of being so much more than just killers. Shinobi have the best healers in all the land, send the quickest messages, are capable of building houses in a day. There is, somewhere out there, a shinobi who shares the skills of the first Hokage and the first Hokage built the forest! Why is that shinobi fighting rather than building basic houses for refugees and elaborate temples to the glory of the gods? Where are our farm fields and our decorative parks? Why is Konoha’s reputation that of the first shinobi village and not as the most beautiful city in the world? Why does Konoha pay tribute to the Daimyo rather than the Daimyo paying the village for the honor of hosting it in his lands?”

She was panting. And with that realization she winced. At this point, Kakashi would probably consider her a traitor as well. She took a deep breath and let it out as she folded her hands, and lowered her eyes.

“Well, now you have to marry me.”

Her eyes jerked back up to his. He seemed to be smiling, although it was tempered with grief.

“There have been arguments about who should be the next Hokage. I’m one of the options because I’m strong enough and old enough, with famous enough students, but none of us who are, want the position or have any particular vision of what to do with the power. You have the vision. If you marry me, I’ll accept the position, and you can guide it.”

“A civilian matriarch to a shinobi clan is one thing. The wife of the Hokage is something else entirely. You’d be considered a traitor to the shinobi.”

“Then I will be in good company with the Shodaime, who ended the clan wars by a treaty with his clan’s enemy.“

“You will make enemies and you will have to work with them anyway.”

“I do know how politics work,” he said rather dryly. “And I will have the support of every other potential Hokage who desperately doesn’t want the job.”

“Do you know what kind of life you’d be setting me up to live? As a civilian wife to the Hokage, not just Hatake-sama but Hokage-sama? With clear evidence that you take my political thoughts as your own?”

“Being able to look underneath the underneath is an important skill.”

“I’ve heard you tell your genin as much.”

“You’ll face a great deal of prejudice and even more ‘pranks’ from people jealous or offended by your rise in status. And all of them will be done in ways they think I either won’t see or will consider you at fault for. I can make myself terrifying enough to protect you somewhat but not entirely. But if you cared that much about such things, you wouldn’t have set your respectability aside in order to become a caregiver to a child you’d never even met before. And I wouldn’t be a Hokage candidate if I weren’t ruthless enough to use you regardless of the unpleasantries it subjects you to.”

She nodded her understanding of that. In ruthlessness, shinobi and civilians were often evenly matched.

“Let me think about it.”

“Of course,” he said, but they both knew there was no ‘of course’ about it.

She got two days of peace to think about it. Mostly to drive herself crazy with the various possibilities. Knowing that she wanted to say “yes” but wasn’t sure if that was the right call or not. Realizing that she was probably going to say “yes” regardless.

Then Uchiha-sama came home looking a bit wild-eyed, like he sometimes had as a younger child, when confronted by some new oddity of the world that he hadn’t yet had a chance to analyze and form an opinion about. She could sympathize.

“Kakashi-sensei asked me for your hand in marriage!”

She hadn’t been precisely expecting it but it didn’t come as a surprise either. Hatake-sama was shinobi, and even among shinobi known as the man of a thousand skills. He did not approach a situation from only one angle.

“He spoke to me as well.”

“I didn’t even know you were dating!” He exclaimed, and then added more puzzled than anything else, “I didn’t think either of you dated anyone…”

“We weren’t and I don’t. It would be an arranged marriage of sorts.”

“But, what’s to arrange? He’s him and you’re you. And I remember you saying before about how you’d need my permission, but I’d give you anything you need to make you happy.” He looked at her so earnestly she wasn’t sure what to do. So she reverted back to formality.

“Both Uchiha-sama and Hatake-sama are the last remaining members of noble shinobi clans. This is an opportunity to create close ties that support both. You in particular, Uchiha-sama, have a choice to make here: do you wish to have a subordinate clan or an equal partner. Hatake-sama likely doesn’t care enough to have a preference.”

He looked at her with worry and she wondered how it had come to this that the traumatized boy she had helped raise had gained an emotional sensitivity that she was unlikely to ever develop herself and certainly never desire. But he followed her lead in the conversation.

“I… wouldn’t know what to do with a subordinate clan. And,” he looked at her, “you would act differently, wouldn’t you? You would make different choices as the matriarch of a subordinate clan than as an equal partner.”

“Yes. A choice that doesn’t have repercussions is hardly a choice at all.”

“Hmm. What do you suggest?”

“I think,” she found her lips quirking up in humor and didn’t bother to keep the humor out of her voice either, “that you should adopt me as your daughter.”

Uchiha-sama choked despite not having been drinking anything. “I should what?”

“You should adopt me as a daughter of the Uchiha clan. Not your heir, but as a daughter none the less. And then, as two equals, arrange your daughter’s marriage to the head of the Hatake clan.”

He was blinking hard and still trying to get his breathing under control but he was also thinking it through. He should have enough political understanding at this point to realize that a marriage tie like that was a sign of equality between clans, while at the same time putting himself as the father of the bride and thus the father-in-law of the groom gave him a bit more rank.

“But wouldn’t it be kind of… weird?”

“Politics are often weird. What part are you thinking of?”

“You’re, um, older than me. By a lot.” He flicked his eyes to her face and then away again a couple of times, most likely worried that he was being insulting. Which was a bit of a novelty for him, really. Usually he didn’t show any sign of caring about that type of thing. He had grown up a lot in his time away from the village.

“A lot of politics consist of polite fictions. And having adults refer to you as their elder will give you rank that you might not otherwise be able to achieve until you’ve reached an older age yourself.”

“That’s why you always called me Uchiha-sama, isn’t it, even when I was a pre-genin.”

“In part. Also, to remind you that you were the head of a clan.”

“And what about, um, you currently, um…” He was blushing and finally trailed off, mumbling to himself.

“I’m currently your concubine?”

“Yes, that. And then my daughter? Isn’t that, well, gross?”

“There are a lot of things that are gross if they are true, but powerful if they are fictional. And in this case, everyone is well aware that while I have been your concubine for many years, it is very unlikely that I have ever been or would ever be your lover.”

“But people say…” he trailed off again.

She could imagine. “Are they saying it because they believe it, or because they are trying to unnerve you before a fight?”

“The later. Okay.” He managed to squeak out that response. “I got to go train.” And then he was out the door.

In the empty room, she finally let herself a rare giggle as the sheer hilarity of the situation. She expected that Hatake-sama would also find it amusing.

That evening, Uchiha-sama invited her into the office and officially wrote her name in the genealogy of Uchiha as his daughter. They filled out the forms for submission to the tower as well, so that the village records could be updated.

She was not surprised when the Hokage showed up two days later.

She was surprised with how Senju-sama started the conversation.

“There cannot be a civilian Hokage.” Senju-sama looked and sounded faintly exasperated by making the statement, rather than furious or particularly lethal, which was good, but Naoki was confused.

“Is there a civilian claimant to the title?” Naoki didn’t expect there to be one. She hadn’t heard any rumors like that and surely Hatake-sama would have mentioned something about, if only to lighten their last conversation briefly with humor. Although upon consideration, if some idiot noble or merchant was going to make the attempt, it wouldn’t surprise her if his death occurred before the rumors reached her, and Hatake-sama might have considered it in poor taste to mention.

The Godaime sighed. “I should have realized that Kakashi wouldn’t say anything to you. He proposed you.”

She could literally feel the blood drain from her face. She gripped the table in front of her to try to fend off the light headedness. “Hokage-sama… I would never…”

“Yeah, I knew that. Kakashi-kun was being an idiot. Or attempting to joke. Mostly.”

That was more than being an idiot, in her opinion. “That is setting me up to be killed.”

“Not as much as you might think.” The Godaime looked her up and down, and said, “I thought you were aware of how of many Clan Heads are paying attention to you.”

“...”

“You took over a shinobi clan. You walked in and ran it and when Sasuke walked into the clan council and asked who the next Hokage was going to be, it set the cat among the birds.”

“I’m a homemaker,” she said rather helplessly at that accusation. Sure, she’d been intending to stir things up, but when it came down to it, she was a homemaker. She made sure Uchiha-sama had a nice home to return to.

“And the home you made was the Uchiha Compound: one of the most powerful clans that had been brought to ruin. And you used the scraps to make it powerful again.”

“... It had possibilities?”

“Yes, it did. And now I’m interested in seeing what you do when you have Konoha itself.”

“What are you saying?” A civilian could not be a Hokage.

“You won’t actually have Konoha. Hatake will have Konoha. But Hatake will also have you. Because after he told me that you should be my successor, he said that he’d accept the Hokage position as long as you accept his proposal. And I want to be the first Hokage to not die in office. So you’re going to marry him and he’s going to treat you very, very well if he wants a chance to not die in office himself.”

“Ah.”

“I am, at this moment, still the military dictator of Konoha and you are still an orphan and a concubine. You’ll agree to the marriage I arrange for you. But it doesn’t have to be anything other than paperwork if you don’t want it to be. The way things are going with Sasuke, I expect you’ll be the wife of one Hokage and the adopted mother of the next.”

“Daughter, actually.”

“What?”

“Daughter. Sasuke has adopted me as his daughter so that he’ll be Hatake-sama’s father-in-law.”

The Godaime stared at her for a moment and then burst into the kind of raucous laughter that only a kunoichi could get away with.

“The paperwork should be on your desk.”

“This is the first time I have felt any desire at all to go do my paperwork. My god! Does Kakashi know yet? Tell me he doesn’t! Tell me I get to be the one to tell him!”

“As far as I am aware, he doesn’t yet know. What that actually means…” she shrugged.

“I’ve got to go do paperwork. Right. Now.” And the Godaime disappeared.

I was just a few hours later that Kakashi walked up the path with Pakun trotting along beside him.

Kakashi paused a few feet back and slouched in a particularly dramatic fashion.

Pakun, on the other hand, walked right up to her and begged for ear scratches which she delivered, even as she sent a particularly innocent look of inquiry in Kakashi’s direction.

“She’s laughing at me, isn’t she?” He asked Pakkun.

“We’re all laughing at you, boss.”

The following week the book came in, and after a quick skim at the bookshop and some chortling with Chinatsu-san in the backroom, she took it home.

She used the same red silk wrap that Kakashi had sent his courtship gift to her to wrap her gift back to him, but added a golden ribbon. She dressed in her formal robes and spent an inordinate amount of time getting her hair just right, to display the comb Hatake-sama had given her. Then she walked through the village all the way from the Uchiha compound on one side to the old Hatake compound on the other side.

It would have been a significantly shorter walk to just go to Kakashi’s apartment near the tower, but that wasn’t the point. The fact that the Hatake compound had been closed for more than two decades was also not the point.

She also carried a small folding table discretely by her side, so that she wouldn’t have to leave the gift sitting on the ground.

The walk gave plenty of time for people to see and speculate and start rumors. And, as it turned out, plenty of time for Hatake-sama to learn of it and get himself to the gate, lounging against one side, and pointedly ignoring the audience of observers who had also gathered somewhat further back.

She gave Hatake-sama a small smile and kept her eyes lowered. She wasn’t sure if she managed a faint blush or not. Probably not.

She offered the present to him, holding in both her hands. He unwrapped it, while it sat in her open palms, leaving the ribbon and red silk with her.

The book looked elegant and clearly expensive with a title that didn’t mean anything much to anyone not in the know, and Hatake-sama wouldn’t be. Yet. He sent a sharp look to the side, so she guessed that there was someone in their audience who did recognize it and had either laughed or gasped. She’d have to ask Hatake-sama later who it was. That kind of information was interesting.

He thanked her for it and then flipped it open randomly to skim a bit, as was common for shinobi, to check it’s contents. He saw one of the illustrations and slammed the book shut again.

There was a distinct blush moving up from his mask and extending all the way to the very tip top of his one visible ear.

She kept her amusement entirely internal.

He coughed and managed a, “Thank you, Naoki-san. It’s beautiful.”

“I’m glad you find it so, Hatake-sama.”

“Please, call me Kakashi,” he said with some irony, like he was reading lines from a play and thought them ludicrous. He may have had a point.

“Kakashi-sama.”

“May I offer you a tour of the Hatake Compound?”

“I would enjoy that, if it’s no trouble.”

“No trouble at all,” he lied. But he also seemed pleased to be able to get them out of sight of the increasingly obvious crowd of rumor mongers.

The tour of the Hatake Compound was quite interesting although Hatake-sama was trying hard to hide his embarrassment. It was much smaller than the Uchiha Compound with only five residences, and in significantly worse repair as well. Given that it had been closed for the last two decades, that was hardly a surprise. But it had good structure and the size made it more manageable. It shouldn’t be too hard to get back into shape. Her fingers itched for a pen and paper to make notes and start plans.

“I take it you’d want to live here?”

Obviously, she thought with some asperity, but kept her response to a simple, “Yes.”

“Would you prefer that I get it into shape to welcome you or would you like the management of it immediately?”

She forced herself to hesitate here because the correct answer was that he should get it into shape before any marriage, but the truthful answer was, “I’d like the management of it, if that’s acceptable.”

“Whichever you wish. You may also commission genin teams for assistance, or not, whatever you want.”

“You’d be okay with other shinobi in your compound?”

“Whatever you decide,” he avoided answering, which was answer enough.

“If I need shinobi assistance, would you prefer that I ask one of your students or yourself?”

His slouch got more pronounced, and he muttered, “Just ask me, please. I never did many D ranks as a genin, but I know the skills.”

“I will. Thank you, Kakashi-sama. Shall I start immediately or wait until after the marriage?” It was the first time she referred to the marriage as a certainty and she thought he relaxed a bit at that as well.

“Whichever you prefer, but you shouldn’t live here until after the marriage.”

She smiled a little bit at that attempt to be proper. Of course she couldn’t move in until after the wedding, but he was trying.

“Then we should schedule a time when I should come back for a more careful review and make some lists in preparation but won’t do any actual work on it until afterwards, if you find that acceptable?”

He agreed to it readily enough, although it turned into weekly visits to the Hatake compound that he walked her to and from.

She wound up wishing they could have been more often. She had never spent a lot of time thinking about the impossible, but now it was possible. She could have more days like this. And she would, in the foreseeable future even. Just not right now. Each visit ending and knowing the next was a full week away was remarkably frustrating. Both because and despite how much else she had to accomplish.

Her days at the Uchiha Compound were busier than ever before. Kobayashi Naoki was no longer a concubine, but Uchiha Naoki, a daughter of the Uchiha Clan. Everyone who had previously ignored her now arrived to introduce themselves anew.

Uchiha-sama had also been away from the Uchiha Compound for years and needed to be fully briefed on all the changes that had happened and brought up to date with the status of the compound. He needed to be brought up to date not only for the current situation but also for the future when she was no longer present all day, every day.

Uchiha-sama met with Moto Tadako and Kimio Sayo to give his approval of their apprenticeships under Uchiha sponsorship, which was easily done. Then he and Inuzuka Tsuma met to confirm Kuni-san's position within the Uchiha Compound which became a lot more complex and ended with another Inuzuka moving into the compound as well. Naoki had been explicitly dis-invited from that particular negotiation, mostly, she was fairly sure, to force Uchiha-sama to stand on his own as an adult clan head. Having not been witness to the negotiation, she wasn’t sure who had won or lost by the results, but both clan heads had looked smug at the results.

Uchiha-sama demanded that she find him a live-in housekeeper to cook and clean for him before she left the compound, and Uzumaki-san made valiant and repeated efforts to convince Uchiha-sama and Naoki that one of the apprentices from Ramen Ichiraku would be a perfect candidate.

Luckily for everyone but Uzumaki-san, after an increasingly unpleasant search for a decent housekeeper, Tomanaha-san, the Uchiha baker, had a recommendation. He had met Soma Isha at her restaurant, complimented her cooking, and learned that she loved to cook and hated running a restaurant. Soma-san explained to Naoki that she was an indifferent house-cleaner but she would do her best, and her cooking would more than make up for it. After a trial run, Uchiha-sama strongly agreed.

Through the whole process, Naoki was never more grateful for the afternoons when Shikhako-san whisked her away for a few hours of cloud watching.

She had also sent letters to her correspondents in other cities and villages to update them on her status, which had likely caused a lot of consternation and celebration. Those who had broken tied with her after her parents and fiancé’s deaths regretted having to try to restart conversations while those who had maintained correspondences for twenty years were vindicated. Correspondence with poor relations were often useful for just being a foreign contact, but a high ranking adoption and marriage of a previously poor relation was beyond valuable.

The responses from those contacts were beginning to come in with elaborate and expensive gifts.

She was sorting through some of these, a set of jade figures that glowed beautifully in the sun, when Kakashi-sama and Umino-sensei entered the Uchiha compound together.

She nodded at Kakashi-sama and offered him one of the figures. “Please decide if you like it or not.”

Before turning to greet his companion. “Umino-sensei, welcome.”

“Kobayashi-san.” He bowed, but spoke with gentle exasperation, “I think you had better call me Iruka. I came to warn you, in case this one didn’t, that you should expect some rather extreme wellness checks from the members of Team 7 within the next few days.”

“Oh?”

“Kakashi-sensei can explain himself. The question is: will he. If he doesn’t, come find me.” The exasperation was clearly evident. He directed his next comment towards Hatake. “I’ll add that conversation to the mission report, at need.”

“Shoo, missions are supposed to make life easier for the client, not harder.”

“That is exactly my point,” Umino-sensei said. But then nodded a goodbye to her, and started walking back towards the gate. Apparently he had only come as an escort for Kakashi-sama. It seemed unlikely and yet.

Sometimes the direct approach worked with shinobi, so she just asked, “What was that about?”

“Mm. It’s getting chilly out here. How about a cup of tea?”

Of course, most of the time it didn’t work. “Of course. Come in, and I’ll put the water on.”

They were drinking their tea in companionable silence when Kakashi-sama started talking again.

“You know that if you ever betray me or Konoha, I’ll kill you, right?”

“We’ve had that conversation, yes. Especially about what constitutes a betrayal of Konoha.”

He waved a dismissive hand. “Betrayal that I haven’t previously approved of.”

“Hmm.” She sipped her tea, feeling remarkably unthreatened by a kage-level shinobi threatening to kill her.

“Anyway,” he waved a hand again, “I wanted to make sure that you know: if I ever betray you, at least half of Konoha shinobi will rise up to kill me.”

She put her tea cup down. “What?”

He gave her a pleased smile. “Yup!”

“I’d like a bit more information. Or should I go ask Umino-sensei?”

“You’re no fun.” And he literally pouted enough that she could see the shape of his lower lip through his mask.

“Well?”

He sat up and actually looked serious, finally. “I was concerned. When shinobi form relationships... friends and family members who are also shinobi keep a close eye on new relationships. There’s often a bit of unofficial competition in making increasingly creative threats if any harm is done to fragile emotions. It’s fun.” His one visible eye smiled at her, but then the smile went away again. “But it’s also serious.”

“Mm-hmm?”

“We’re trained to hurt people. And trained to hide any damage to ourselves. Intimate partner abuse is too easy a habit to fall into when stress runs high.”

“It’s a problem in civilian society, too.”

“And what do you do?”

She shrugged. “It varies. Family and wealth can deal with a lot of problems. Or create more.”

“You don’t have family anymore, and not enough wealth to escape me.”

“No.” It was about trust. Trust in him, a little, but also trust in herself, to be able to deal with whatever came her way. Plus trust in the Godaime who had said Hatake-sama would not survive to retire if he didn’t treat her well.

“No one had been threatening me.”

“Hmm.” She wondered if the Godaime actually hadn’t threatened him to his face or if he wasn’t counting her among the ‘no one’.

“I started a courtship and no one threatened to hurt me, if I hurt you.”

“Who could possibly threaten you?”

“At the very least, Sasuke should have.”

“I’m not sure he knows that. And it’s not exactly something I can tell him.”

“No. So that’s why I arranged a mission for Iruka-sensei to teach all three of my cute little students about their responsibilities.”

That’s one way to go about it, she supposed. “And what did Umino-sensei have to say about that?”

“He said I was insane.” Kakashi was grinning with his eye again. He honestly looked genuinely pleased. “He also said I should warn you about expecting wellness checks, but then didn’t trust me to actually do so.”

“I appreciate the warning,” she conceded.

“He warned me that I had better be extremely careful if you ever hurt yourself cooking.”

“It’s happened before,” she said, because what cook didn’t cut or burn themselves periodically. Presumably better ones than her. “But I expect you can take care of yourself.”

“Maybe. Maybe not.” He sounded pleased about it. She looked at him suspiciously, but he looked pleased too. “Iruka has apparently already been keeping an eye on you. According to him, every clan head and most Chunin administrators, are all keeping a discrete eye on the situation.”

“Ah.” She said. She’d always known that privacy in a shinobi village was more of a polite fiction than a reality, but it was a bit much to have it presented so plainly. And she would not have expected Kakashi-sama to be pleased about the surveillance either. But he clearly was.

“He said he wouldn’t be alone in dealing with me, if i ever act against you.”

“Dealing with you?” It was an ominous phrase that she suspected shinobi used to mean killing and hiding the body.

“Yup!” He actually bounced a little in pleasure. “The lack of threats is to make sure they’d be able to ambush me.”

“And you’re happy about this… why?”

“They’re taking us seriously. You will become Hatake-sama. You will be acknowledged as my wife.”

She found herself smiling at him and he was smiling back. She was thirty-three and getting married for the first time, and it was a very different perspective than marriage at seventeen had been. Less excitement maybe, but more pleasure at the expectation.

The wellness checks were just as awkward as expected.

Uchiha-sama was the first, arriving home that evening to the dinner she had made and staring at her.

“If he does anything to you, you have to tell me. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“Okay.” He nodded abruptly. And then sat down and stared at her through the entire meal.

Uzumaki-san showed up the next day to give her a rousing speech about how Kaka-sensei would never hurt her but that if he did, he, Uzumaki Naruto, would destroy him and the Kyubi would burn him to ashes for the affront, and Kaka-sensei would allow it because he would clearly have gone insane beyond repair to have hurt a single hair on her head, which he would never do.

Naoki managed to get though the experience, which was probably the best that could be said about it.

When Haruno-chan showed up the following day, Naoki began to think that they’d arranged the schedule.

“Naoki-san. I hope you’re doing well. How are you doing?” Haruno-chan started out.

“I’m doing well. And yourself?”

“Are you really doing well? I know how to give you a full check-up now. And it looks like your hand has a burn on it. How did you get it? And how come your shoulder is bruised? And your feet, that looks like some old scarring on your legs! What happened? You’re civilian!”

She waited a bit to see if Sakura would eventually pause long enough to allow her to answer.

It did happen. Eventually.

“I appreciate your care. And a check-up to make sure someone is in good health before a major life change is always a good idea. I had a check up at the local hospital a week ago. In arranged marriages it’s particularly important.”

Sakura pulled in a deep breath in preparation for a rant, and Naoki continued before it could get started. “Not for the reason you’re probably thinking. Virginity is something of a social fiction. Any good doctor will have a discussion with their patient, if that question comes up, and provide the report that best maintains their ongoing health. But no, arranged marriages are arranged for a purpose. And that purpose is almost never going to be helped by one of the participants dying prematurely of some undiagnosed medical condition.”

“Hmm. I still want to do another medical exam because I bet I’m better than they were and I’ll be around more so better able to notice any changes.”

Privacy was really not something provided to civilians in relationships with shinobi. She was increasingly understanding of Kakashi’s desire to wear a face mask.

“As you wish.”

It was a series of interactions that had to be gotten through. She got through them.

And once a week, Hatake-sama came to the Uchiha compound in the morning to walk her to the Hatake Compound and let her talk about changing the village and let her watch him do magic.

She arrived with paper to make lists and they toured the grounds together as she made notes about roofs that needed repairing, doors that needed rehanging, walls that needed repainting. But she also made sure to mention the things she liked: the airiness of the main kitchen, some beautiful tile work, an ancient tree. The elaborate wood carving on each of the houses.

The Uchiha Clan grounds had been in relatively good shape, no need for any massive repairs. What repairs were needed, she mostly did herself in a civilian manner. She had intended to do the same for the Hatake Compound, but instead, Kakashi-sama would take her lists at the end of each day and the next week, they would be completed.

She had been tentative when she had asked to watch. He had seemed confused at first but agreeable. Watching Kakashi-sama perform massive repairs in moments was an amazing experience. She didn’t hide her appreciation of the visible competence in addition to the results.

But even more than focusing on the compound itself, as they walked around it, he would ask her about the village. What could or should be changed. What weaknesses did she see.

He walked with her and stopped with her as she meandered the new grounds, trying to get her thoughts in order.

“A village can’t accomplish a long standing peace when the only path to honor is war.”

“There are plenty of highly honored civilians who’ve never resorted to violence.”

“Can you name any that you know of through means unrelated to shinobi missions?”

Even with his mask in pace, she could see his grimace. And his lack of response to that was all the response she needed.

“The Godaime is the most successful medic in all the land. She can heal sickness and injuries that would be mortal under the care of any other healer. There is absolutely no one who can match her skill. Why is she best known for her ability to kill?”

“She’s pretty much unmatched as a fighter as well.”

“There are other kage-level shinobi. Not many, but some fighters who can challenge her. Yourself included, I believe, Kakashi-sama. But no one even tries to claim to match her ability as a medic.” Naoki considered it for a moment and then said, “Second place probably goes to Orochimaru.”

Kakashi-sama winced and slumped some more. He knew she was speaking the truth, it just wasn’t a truth he wanted to hear. It wasn’t a truth he wanted to be true. He told her like a confession, “Kunoichi complain about being trained as medics.”

“I imagine they do.”

“What would you have us do?”

“For a start: don’t make learning medical skills gender based.”

He winced again. For the first time, she wondered if it was intentionally visible. As soon as she wondered, she realized that it had to be. There was no way a shinobi of his skill would show his reactions so obviously that a civilian could read them unless it was intentional. It was a sudden and tangential realization: he was compensating for covering the majority of face, accentuating his body language. It made her appreciate him even more.

“But also, allow missions for medics. Allow the nobility and civilian towns and farmers or whoever to hire medics.”

He shook his head. “They’re too valuable. Medics are a kidnapping risk.”

“Then make the customers come here. Or send the medics with bodyguards. Don’t most genin teams include one trained healer and two fighters?”

“Mm, that was the intent for a while. Another problem: the results of medical skills can’t be guaranteed in the same way attacks can be. A mission to kill someone is pretty straight forward, in theory at least. A mission to guard someone is significantly more complicated, but we generally call it a success if the client is alive at the end of the time period. A mission to heal someone? How would we even tell the difference between a success and a failure?”

The more he talked about the problems, the more she realized that he was going to do it. He was trying to talk through the possibilities.

“Could you make the clients pay up front? They pay for an attempt at healing to be made, not for the results to be successful.”

“Maybe, but it opens up a lot of possibilities for fraud.”

“I bet Haruno-chan or the Godaime herself would also have ideas about different ranks of medical skills. Diagnosis versus healing, maybe. Or healing an injury versus an illness. Treating an illness versus a condition.”

“I’ll talk to Tsunade about it tomorrow.”

It was intoxicating the power he was handing to her. She reminded herself to never take it for granted. There would undoubtably be times she disagreed with a decision he was making. Kakashi-sama would be the Rokudaime and she his adviser but never his master.

But it was still a joy to direct Kakashi-sama around and to tell him her ideas and watch him achieve impossible things.

One day, he also brought one of his friends, Tenzo, with him to fix a fallen wall and to start working on the gardens, because Tenzo was the shinobi capable of the Shodaime’s mokuton.

She must have not lowered her eyes quickly enough to hide the gleam in her eye at that realization because Kakashi-sama looked smug at the introduction and Tenzo-san looked resigned. But not unhappy, she noted. The lack of unhappiness in his resignation was reassuring to her plans.

She tried to be gentle in her questioning regarding the extent of his abilities and control. It turned out that no one else had made him focus on the aesthetics of wooden buildings and furniture or the mechanics of wooden tools.

“If my future husband who will be Rokudaime agrees,” she said, a phrase she was practicing saying, “Tenzo-san, you will travel with a bodyguard to the capital to train with some artisans there. It will not start off as a diplomatic mission, but it will quickly turn into one.”

“I… don’t need a bodyguard?”

“An artisan on a diplomatic mission requires a bodyguard, regardless of their defensive or offensive abilities.”

“... I’m not an artisan.”

She considered that for a moment and knew that the Godaime would have rode right over it and declared that it didn’t matter and he was going to be an artisan, and it would have been for his own good. It was tempting to do the same, but it wasn’t how she worked.

“Do you want to be one?”

“... I don’t know how to.”

“I want to send you to the capital, where the best artisans in ever guild gather to impress the Daimyo with their work and imagination and every noble seeks to distinguish themselves with unique items. I want to set you as a lure of impossible accomplishments before the men and women who have dreams of beauty beyond anything I can imagine. The nobles will clamber to have unique creations that set them apart from anyone else. The craftsmen will clamber to train you and claim your work for their guilds. The opportunities to gain favors owed will be immense.”

Given the looks that both Tenzo-san and Kakashi-sama were giving her, she was looking a bit too pleased with the visions. She calmed her breath, and then added practically, “And you will absolutely need a bodyguard to defend against civilians who want to kill you for the changes your presence makes.”

Tenzo-san continued to look daunted. Kakashi-sama, however, was considering.

“Maybe a Nara,” Kakashi-sama added, “who can also keep track of the political waters and advise on who should be favored and who offended. I’ll ask Sarutobi Asuma to brief you about the court. He might even want to return to the court to introduce you around.”

“I’m,” Tenzo-san started then paused, “I’m not good with,” he paused again, “people.”

Kakashi-sama just smirked at his friend. “It will be interesting to see,” Kakashi-sama murmured, “how the other hidden villages react to that kind of power display.”

“What do you think will happen?”

Kakashi-sama shrugged. “I have no idea. That’s why it will be interesting.”

The days working at the Hatake Compound were joyful. She thought Kakashi-sama and Tenzo-san were enjoying themselves too.

Tenzo-san was already experimenting with what he could do with the mokuton and it was amazing. Not always attractive, but always amazing. She was careful never to give him any negative feedback.

Kakashi-sama would pause sometimes to just look around the compound as if he were seeing it for the first time. He had strong opinions about defense and protective measures but deferred to her in all things stylistic. She wanted him to feel safe in his home but she also wanted him to feel happy, to feel welcome. It took her a few false starts but she discovered that if she used one of his ninken to ask the question instead, he would sometimes tell them his preferences. He eyed her suspiciously the first time Bisuke asked him about color preferences, but finally gave in and had a preference. The Hatake Compound was beginning to come to life around them and it was beautiful.

It had been a long time since there was anything she truly looked forward to. Something she wanted for herself and had expectations to achieve it.

It felt very odd to realize how very much she looked forward to marrying Hatake Kakashi and moving into the Hatake Compound.

Chapter Text

She thought about the wedding her parents had planned for her. It had been intended to be extremely elaborate and her mother had spent years preparing everything. Less than what a clan or noble house could have afforded, but very high end for a merchant household. A week-long event that would have included a parade through the streets and at least three changes of clothing per day.

She knew without needing to even think of asking that Kakashi-sama would hate such an event. And yet, the marriage of a Hokage was a public event. It had to be. 

The Yondaime's marriage had been done without public fanfare and Naoki wondered how much of a bad omen had that been.

There had been lasting repercussions from the lack of public acknowledgement. 

She spent a long afternoon with Shikhako-san contemplating options. It had been too cold really for laying out in a field, but she brought blankets with her and Shikhako-san had gone along with it, without comment. Shikhako-san's presence had a way of relaxing her own mind to start making connections she wouldn't otherwise think of. 

Weddings were such a big deal that it was easy for them to become too big to even think about in any reasonable fashion. But there with the infinite sky above her, it was easier to realize what was and was not necessary. Shikhako-san had said that “the Nara way is to let the enemy do the heavy lifting. They mostly volunteer, if you give them the opportunity to come to you.”

It was true: Nara didn’t tend to attack first, at least in the exhibition matches Naoki had watched. Rumor had it that when Nara did start an offensive, it was in the dead of night and with overwhelming force. Nara were slow until they weren’t.

But it was something to think about: not deadly assassinations but allowing others to carry the weight of the event.

The next day, she went to the main Konoha temple.

She had burned incense at this temple, in honor of her parents and her first fiancé, once a week for sixteen years. Even as her reputation rose and fell, as eyes passed over her or followed her avidly, she had come here, without fuss and rarely much interaction. This day, she made her way to one of the priests and asked them, in public, to arrange for the head priest to augur the best date and time for her wedding to be held at this very temple.

Most clan weddings happened on clan grounds, but neither Uchiha-sama nor Hatake-sama would appreciate that encroachment by audience members and such an event would make security issues a major concern. The main temple was a public space, even for reserved events. Temple security was a matter of village security. The audience would include by default anyone who desired to show up, excluding none. 

The main priest had been surprised but pleased by her request. It was an honor and a recognition of the Temple that they didn’t often get. The augry, Naoki was unsurprised to find, identified a perfect day and time to fit with the priests' schedules. 

The rumors were already spreading by the time she left to speak with Kobayashi Risu, her old boss at the tea house. Naoki would not be arranging catering, but there were bound be to be crowds and if Risu-san arranged a stall for that morning, the teahouse would benefit. Her old boss nodded her understanding and said she would let all the other small food vendors know, especially those from Naoki’s family’s old neighborhood.

When she saw Team 7 that evening, she let them know the time and date of the wedding.

Uzumaki-san burst out with, “You’re the fourth person to tell us!”

Haruno-san winced.

Uchiha-sama shrugged his agreement, but then said, “My mother had a favorite seamstress. I asked her to make your wedding robes. Since you’ll be marrying as a daughter of the Uchiha.”

“Thank you, Uchiha-sama.” The thanks was both for the robes and for knowing to order the robes. She hadn’t been sure how to bring up the question with him: whether to wear new robes, or find old robes among the vast quantity of Uchicha clothing that stayed in storage.

Haruno-san said, “I’ll tell Kakashi-sensei that he needs to order his own new robes. Proper Hatake clan robes!”

Haruno-san looked a bit overly fervent about the idea, but Naoki decided that Kakashi-sama could deal with it. Haruno-san was his student after all. So she just bowed her appreciation.

The wedding, when it finally happened was large but not elaborate. It was held in the morning at the main village temple. The bride was escorted by the three genin shinobi of Team 7, one of whom was her adopted father, a boy who was still waiting on his final growth spurt to reach adult height. The groom was escorted by the Godaime, Konoha’s Sublime Green Beast of Prey (a shinobi who actually introduced himself as such), and Tenzo.

The invited audience consisted of a genin Nara, a chunin school teacher, two retired shinobi, eight civilian residents of the Uchiha clan grounds, and eight ninken.

The uninvited audience contained every single clan head, every Jounin who wasn’t currently assigned on an away-mission, and every other shinobi and civilian who could squeeze their way into the temple to witness. None of them were officially invited, but it was a public temple and since none of party members had made any attempt to keep the time or place a secret most residents of the village had, correctly, identified it as an unofficial invitation to witness a historic event.

Outside the temple had a fair-like atmosphere with stalls from dozens of food vendors congregated to sell their wares to the gathered crowd.

After the vows were said and the prayers made, the Hatake clan head and the new Hatake matriarch returned to the Hatake Clan Compound to finally move in.

Uchiha-sama had given her a storage scroll to contain her personal goods but she didn’t have much that was actually her own. She didn’t need much, but she wished she had more if only to stretch the time of putting her belongings away. It was done quickly, though, and then she went out to familiarize herself with the kitchen.

That first night at the Hatake Compound was unbelievably awkward. 

She had been there many times, once a week for months, but this was the first time she cooked dinner for herself and her husband in their kitchen. 

They'd had meals here before, but Kakashi-sama had always ordered the food in to be delivered. This time she cooked. 

After dinner, the ninken broke the awkwardness of the descending twilight by demanding brushing. She gave them all a thorough brushing but when she glanced at Kakashi-sama, he merely shook his head. He didn't want to be touched. 

"I played Sasuke-kun to sleep every night for the first six months I lived at the Uchiha compound. I sat in his doorway so he could see where I was. I shut his door only after he was asleep and I never stepped into his room. Would you like me to play you to sleep as well? With or without the door open."

"I," Kakashi-sama looked uncertain, then, "yes. With the door open." 

"Okay." She had bought herself a new lap harp for just these types of occasions and she took her time getting it out and preparing it so that he had plenty of time to get into bed. 

He was covered in blankets but also had a different facemask on. 

She made herself comfortable in the doorway, so he could watch her in profile as she played. 

She had learned more lullabies since the first time she had played for Sasuke-kun, but it had been years and she had lost some of her knack for playing for hours on end. By the second hour, her hands were cramping and Kakashi-sama's eye still glittered, aware and awake. When she finally stopped to massage her wrists a bit, he spoke softly and apologetically. "You should go to sleep." 

She sighed but nodded her acceptance. She kept her own voice low, little more than a whisper, "Would you like me to keep my door open or closed?" 

"Will it bother you if I open it to check on you in the night?" It was a kindness to ask: he could undoubtedly sneak into the rooms of sleeping civilians with ease and no one the wiser unless it ended with someone finding a body later. But this wasn't an assassination, this was checking on his wife. 

She shook her head. "You won't bother me. I may be a bit restless due to the new space, but I sleep well and return to sleep easily. I'll see you in the morning." 

"I'm sorry." 

She shook her head. "I'm sorry I can't soothe you to sleep, but it is not a matter of fault, yours or mine. There is nothing to apologize for." 

"I'll see you in the morning." 

"Good night." 

She went to bed in her own room down the hall and it was unnerving to go to sleep in a new bed, in a new compound in a new section of the village with sounds she didn't expect, with her new husband in a separate room where she knew he was present but couldn't see or hear him. But it had been a long day. She slept well and woke up with the sun peaking into her room. 

She was making breakfast when Kakashi-sama wandered in to the kitchen. She paused to smile at him, with practiced casualness.

As awkward as it was for her to be in a new place with a new companion, it had to be even more difficult for him, returning to his childhood home and being a shinobi with a new person in his space.

“I should,” he waved at his face before starting to tug at his mask. She put her hand over his to stop him and he flinched back. It was quickly hidden, but it was a flinch and she removed her hand immediately.

“I know I rely a lot on what is proper, what is the known correct action in any given situation, but this is not. In this situation, there is no ‘should’.”

“A woman should know her own husband’s face.” There was a thread of self-loathing in his voice that she disliked immensely.

She shook her head. “A woman should support her husband and make him comfortable.”

He stood, uncertain.

She offered him a smile and then said, “What do you know of Aburame mating behaviors?”

He boggled a bit at that distraction. “I have never given them any thought and now that you’ve mentioned it, I think I’ll go back to not giving it any thought at all.” Then, highly reluctantly, he added, “… what do you know?”

“Nothing. I don’t give it too much thought either despite my understanding that individual Aburame are each essentially a hive and the hives breed and the shinobi breed, and the hives are in the shinobi… But what they do or don’t do with others is beyond my purview.”

He continued to look boggled.

“We are a clan of two, the Hatake clan. And no one in all the world has the right to tell us what we should or shouldn’t do in our relationship with one another.”

“You said you were ambivalent.” Kakashi-sama said abruptly.

Naoki really hoped he would say more because she couldn’t recall what he was referring to. She had spoken to him of hundreds of things, and had been ambivalent about many of them.

After a moment, he did specify, “about physical intimacy.”

“Ah.”

“Someone said, since the pillow book, that you would have high expectations. I’m capable. If you need something physical, I can.” His words were disjointed and awkward and she wondered how many people had teased him about their wedding night.

She’d had her own fears that maybe she had read him wrong, that maybe he would want more from her than she wanted to give. Concerns that the people with their sly winks and knowing smiles might actually know more than her.

But when it came down to it, she had to settle her mind into calmness and trust her own lived experience and trust in Kakashi-sama’s honesty.

“I gave you the pillow book because it acknowledged your habit of reading porn in public, which I will not act to change, and it gave you political knowledge, which I hope will support your future position. I want nothing described in that book.”

He visibly relaxed but still said, “Gai said.”

She waited him out when he stopped.

“Gai said that a husband’s mission was to satisfy his wife in all ways. He was sure that I would do so.” He grimaced a bit. “With youthful vigor.”

Naoki shook her head. “What happens between a husband and wife is between them. In that regard alone, I am the only person in all the world who can tell you what you cannot do, and there is no one in the whole world, not even I, who can tell you what you must do.” She paused for effect and then stated, “And the reverse is true as well.”

His glance sharped. “People have been saying the same kind of things to you too, haven’t they? About your… duty… to me.”

She nodded.

“You know I don’t want…”

“They can think whatever they want. How we live our life is our decision.”

“I do like it when you brush my hair.”

“I like brushing your hair.”

“Is there anything you like? Do you like getting your hair brushed?”

“I used to go to a massage parlor every few months, before moving into the Uchiha Compound. Get my hands and feet and sometimes my back rubbed. It was nice, and it came with no expectations of anything else.”

“I can give massages.”

“I don’t want to receive anything from you that makes you unhappy to give me.”

“Trading massages is actually pretty common in Anbu, to make sure we stay in top shape.”

As it turned out, Kakashi was very good at giving massages. That night Kakashi-san gave her a massage and the ninken only complained a little bit about not getting brushed, because she was way too relaxed afterwards to do much more than wander her way to bed and fall asleep.

The evenings were more comfortable after that. Most evenings, they simply shared space, chatting about their days, lounging with the the ninken.

During the days, Kakashi-sama went to the Hokage tower, while Naoki stayed at the Hatake Compound. For the first three weeks, she mostly focused on reviewing all the documents in the main house office.

Kakashi-sama escorted her to the bank once, where she introduced him to Jinnouchi-san and he introduced her as the Hatake clan member in charge of clan finances. After that, he left all his personal financial matters in her hands. It was not nearly as much money as the Uchiha Clan finances, but it was still enough that it required attention after decades of benign neglect.

Kakashi-sama had been supremely disinterested in the general clan records and gave her free range to do whatever she wanted with those records, up to and including “set them all on fire, if you want to." 

She gave him a quelling look at that but he just smiled back at her. 

Instead of setting the on fire, she reviewed it all, learning the Hatake family history, genealogy, and contacts to whom she could potentially reach out and introduce herself. 

The records were all at least twenty years old, although at her request Kakashi-sama had also rather sheepishly given her a couple of boxes that consisted of all of the personal documents he'd had in his apartment, accumulated over the course of his adult life.  

It was honestly somewhat amusing to sort through them.

Iruka-san also looked half-amused, half-annoyed, when she made her way to the Shinobi mission office to submit some of Kakashi-sama’s old, forgotten mission reports. 

She updated the records and started new journals, filing in the prior decades as best she could. She also kept her pattern of going out into the village at least once every other day to prevent even a hint of her hiding away.

It was helpful that she had a reason for leaving the Hatake compound. As the Hatake matriarch, she needed to acquire more clothing, appropriate to her new station in life.

She went to fabric stores and seamstresses to arrange her new wardrobe and stretched the process out as much as was reasonable because it was easier to ignore the whispers and looks when she had a goal.

She was certainly used to being a subject of rumor, but there always seemed to be new levels of that to experience. The speculation of how exactly she’d seduced Hatake Kakashi with her amazing bedroom skills were sadly nothing new but the knowing leers and smirks were decidedly unpleasant.

It was generally easy enough to ignore, and in those cases where someone got a bit too aggressive, an Anbu would sometimes appear by her side to be a visible warning. People backed off when that happened.

The Anbu assigned to her protection had a good sense of what she could and could not deal with herself, though, and she learned to trust their actions. If they didn’t appear, then she could handle it herself.

“So, what does Kakashi look like without his mask?”

Naoki frowned a bit at the sense of deja-vu. Hadn’t this exact conversation happened before with this exact kunoichi? “No.”

“You can’t say it’s inappropriate for a wife to see her husband’s face.”

Naoki considered sticking to her previous response of just saying ‘no’ and then ignoring the woman, but the lack of any Anbu coming to her defense meant that they didn’t see this woman as a threat. Kakashi-sama had been concerned that no one was threatening him on her behalf, but hadn’t mentioned anything about anyone threatening her, or at least testing her, on his behalf. It seemed a concerning lack, now that she considered it.

“It is highly inappropriate for a wife to be a weakness in her husband’s defense.”

“That’s not what they teach kunoichi,” the kunoichi said salaciously.

“It is what they teach civilians homemakers.”

The kunoichi paused a moment, mid step, “Do they?”

“A wife should be part of a husband’s defense, not a break in it.”

“Huh.”

Naoki continued walking.

“So, you’re not going to tell me what he looks like, are you.”

“No.”

“Huh.” They walked together a bit longer. “I guess Kakashi really did luck out. Well, congratulations to him, then. And good luck to you.”

Then she was gone.

Naoki continued her shopping.

Once the new clothing came in, she started to make the rounds, meeting the other Clan matriarchs. It was the first time in decades that she’d met with any of the civilian merchant and guild clan matriarchs and Tsuma-sama was the only shinobi clan matriarch she’d ever had direct contact with. 

Most of the clan matriarchs were kind but watchful. The visits opened up conversations that would hopefully continue fo years and decades. Maintaining semi-unofficial ways for the clans and the Hokage to communicate.

Naoki was pleased to learn from Akimichi-sama that Akmichi Uki was well established in the capital and would welcome some direct correspondence from her as well.

Taniuchi Rea, matriarch of the carpenters guild was delighted to have a nice long tea with her to discuss the potential of a mokuton user. Naoki made a note to herself to speak with Tenzo about what he wanted in life before Taniuchi-san discovered who he was and decided to arrange his life for him. He could very easily find himself with a lover with a child on the way if he weren’t aware of the interest some might have in acquiring a bloodline the civilian way.

The meeting with Hyuga-sama was the most fraught of the visits. The Hyuga had fraught relationships with both the Uchiha and the Hatake going back generations and Naoki would have to think carefully about how to cultivate a relationship with that clan.

The Uchiha and the Hyuga had apparently had generations of quasi-conflict based on the having clan kekkei genkai that were too similar. Historical snobbery could be either the easiest or the hardest to change, since it wasn’t based on anything that could be resolved. She hadn’t bothered trying to address the issue at all while staying in the Uchiha compound, only partly because it didn’t seem important. Mostly she had ignored the conflict and the Hyuga clan in its entirety because that’s how they had been treating the last remaining Uchiha.

In contrast, the Hatake records included information about the Hyuga caged bird seal in their genealogy notes: specifically saying that no Hatake was to ever marry into the Hyuga clan and steps would need to be take if ever a branch member Hyuga wished to marry into the Hatake clan. 

No Hatake would ever allow themselves, or their children, to be sealed in such a way. Other than those notes, the Hatake left the matter of the curse alone as a potentially exploitable weakness in a foreign clan.

Naoki mulled over the ways in which the caged bird seal put the good of a small number of clan members above the good of the village. She made plans to commiserate, at some point, with the Hyuga matriarch regarding how it was a pity that no Hyuga could ever become Hokage due to that matter of split loyalties and clan weakness. 

While Naoki was making the rounds with the matriarchs, Kakashi-sama was dealing with similar visits at the Hokage tower from the patriarchs of all the clans.

And sometimes, those visits overlapped in interesting ways.

“This is Naoki-san, huh? Interesting.” The older shinobi looked contemplative, but waved Uzumaki-san away to train, leaving the two of them to converse.

"Sage Jiraiya" Naoki bowed carefully. Enough to show respect, not low enough to even hint at subservience.

"Tsunade told me that my reputation would count against me with you." 

"Reputations are introductions that we can't control." Naoki said, leaving the implications up to him. His reputation did count against him. He had left the village behind while maintaining nominal loyalty, which was worrisome. She was more concerned by the regular and very public perversion he displayed with strange women.

"I work hard to maintain my reputation." 

"Is that a defense or a confession?" 

"Your reputation is that you soften the shinobi. But your husband said that if you were ever made uncomfortable by my gaze, he would burn my eyes out of my head and assume I could continue doing my work using sage sight alone." He spoke bluntly, an obvious test.

Naoki considered his words and her husband’s threat. Most blinded shinobi struggled to stay off the disabled lists for their honor but had the safety net of being able to rely on the village for support when they needed it. Kakashi-sama had warned Jiraiya-sama that he would be blinded and forced to work through it if he spied on her. It did make her feel safe, but she kept her words to, "Kakashi-sama is Hokage." 

"You don't appear to have softened him."

She smiled at that, as if it were a compliment. It should have been a compliment, for a shinobi, although Jiraiya didn’t seem happy about it.

After a few more pleasantries, he went his way and she went hers, and she was comforted by the fact that he’d been given a line not to cross. Jiraiya-sama was too famous and too powerful for every village woman’s comfort to be taken into account, but the honor of the wife of the Hokage could be an ultimatum. She might need to make a habit of using the public baths when he was in town, to extend the protection given to her to the other women of the village.

In the evenings, she spoke with Kakashi-sama about what she had learned or what she had considered, and asked him what he could tell her about his work in the tower.

Sometimes he would run ideas by her, but mostly just sighed and said that there was a lot of paperwork involved.

It was odd being married to Hatake-sama instead of being the concubine of Uchiha-sama. In many ways, her work didn't change: the Hatake compound was significantly smaller and with fewer people, but the relationships she needed to manage became more overt and political. But living in a home with a man like Kakashi was significantly different from living in a home with a boy like Sasuke.

Kakashi-sama was used to living alone. To being alone, even when surrounded by companions, to not touching others, to not even displaying skin that could potentially be touched by others.

But he had married. He had married a woman who slept in a separate room, but who was present in his house, and he was slowly, consciously, becoming accustomed to it. He still wore his mask around the house, but sometimes he was more casual about shifting it to eat or drink in her presence rather than moving out of her line of sight.

After the first rush of trying to get everything organized, she settled into a pattern.

She spent an hour in the Hatake office in the morning, getting as much done as possible, but not allowing the time to stretch. She then spent an hour cleaning in the morning, then an hour gardening around mid-day. The afternoons were for going out, if needed, or focusing on a larger project, either in the office or on the clan grounds that needed more time, but also included at least one hour to relax. She started cooking dinner and preparing the following days lunches in the time before Kakashi-sama was expected home.

The time that Kakashi-sama was expected home, however, was getting later and later as the weeks passed. 

As Naoki settled in and became increasingly comfortable with her new position, Kakashi-sama was looking increasingly tired and unhappy with his. 

After a month, she decided that enough was enough. She was settled and it was time to do her part to support Hokage-sama as well as Hatake-sama.

She made Kakashi-sama’s favorite dinner, salt-broiled saury and miso soup with eggplant, packed it up and walking to the Tower. 

Her Anbu guard, who were normally invisible, to her at least, physically appeared to flank her as she entered the Tower and matched her pace as she made her way up to the Hokage's office. With their presence, no one dared to say anything to her. 

Kakashi-sama looked up at the door opening and was out of his seat and by her side within a moment. "Are you okay? What happened?" 

She smiled at him and finally got up the nerve to say, "Husband, you are working too hard. I've brought you dinner." 

He looked unnerved but pleased at the intimacy of her greeting. But he rallied quickly to say, "Thank you for dinner. I do need it. But I knew what I was getting into when I accepted the hat." 

"Hmm," she acknowledge as she laid out a blanket for a picnic on the floor. She pulled out the boxes of food and laid them out as well, making it clear that this would be a proper meal that he would sit down to eat, rather than inhale at his desk. 

He watched her set everything out before saying, "there's only one place setting. We've always eaten together." 

Naoki took a breath to fortify herself before looking at him, and saying, "with your permission, Hokage-sama, I will organize your desk while you eat." 

It was a gross infringement of security. 

She knew it and he knew it, but she was also beginning to suspect that he just didn't know how to manage paperwork. He had been a front line fighter for his entire career, and after a month, the Hokage desk looked like a disaster zone. 

He looked tempted but shook his head. "It's not that I don't trust you, but you just don't have the knowledge to make these kinds of decisions." 

"I won't make any decisions. I'll just organize the requests so that they're easier for you to review and make the decisions." 

He sighed again and just looked so exhausted. Finally he nodded. "I'll observe." 

"Thank you, Hokage-sama." 

"Please," he said, "please don’t call me that. Call me husband." 

She stepped next to him and carefully leaned slightly against his side so that she could feel the strength and heat of his side. "Of course, husband."

He carefully wrapped his arm around her for a moment. They rarely touched skin to skin and she had only seen glimpses of his face although she was fairly sure he was actively working on becoming less strict in the way he wore his face mask within their house. But despite all the ways others might think they weren't close, there were different ways of being intimate and this was one of them. After a short squeeze of her shoulders, he said,  "Okay, show me what you do with this paperwork, my lady wife." 

She cleared the desk first by simply moving most of the piles of paperwork to the floor. Then she had space on the desk to set her own pad of paper and pen. Then she started taking inventory, separating the remaining pile into multiple stacks. 

  • Post-Mission Reports: 23
  • Mission Requests Awaiting Approval: 37
  • T&I information reports: 15
  • Budget concerns: 7
  • Departmental Updates: 16

She was flipping through the papers too quickly to look at any of the details, just what they were in the most general sense of it. 

Kakashi-sama had finished the miso soup and started on the saury, she was pleased to see as she lifted another pile from the floor and put onto the desk to be sorted through. He was taking his time eating rather than simply inhaling it as he sometimes did. 

By the time she was finished with all the stacks, the food had all been eaten, the dishes and blanket repacked, and the window showed it was dark out. 

  • Post-Mission Reports: 338
  • Mission Requests Awaiting Approval: 435
  • T&I information reports: 178
  • Budget concerns: 98
  • Departmental Updates: 164
  • Civilian complaints: 104
  • Shinobi complaints: 54
  • Foreigner complaints: 18
  • Court correspondence: 5
  • Other Shinobi Village Correspondence: 3

Kakashi-sama looked at her list over her shoulder and then picked up the pile of 3 letters from the other Shinobi villages. "These are the most important. They should not have gotten lost in the mission reports." 

Naoki nodded, appreciative of the confirmation. 

Kakashi-sama broke the seals on the three letters, read them quickly and sighed. "I need to think about these but I can respond tomorrow. They won't be any more late then than if I do it today. Tonight. Whatever." He hesitated a moment and then said, "Will you come in with me tomorrow?" 

"Of course, husband." She practiced the new way of addressing him. He startled again but seemed pleased. "Tomorrow, while you respond to those letters, I can continue to organize the rest. The departmental updates should be organized into their individual departments so that you can review each department at once."

"That would be simpler wouldn't it?" 

"And you can also tell me if you would like the mission reports organized by rank or by location. Or by some other feature that will make it easier for you to review them for approval or denial." 

"Thank you." 

"Paperwork is a skill. I'll come in with this office as often as you'd like. But, Kakashi-husband, come home for dinner. Unless there's a true emergency, come home for dinner at the Compound and train in your own training hall and enjoy Tenzo-san's gardens. There is always more to do than you have time to do it with. So do what you can, when you can, and no more."

"I knew that.” He sighed. “That's basic mission assessment."

"Being the Hokage is just another mission. A long term one. Pace yourself." 

When they finally left the Hokage's office, the rest of the tower admin was still hard at work, at least to all appearances. From the wry look in Kakashi-sama's visible eye, she was guessing it was largely for show. She, or rather they, were very much on display as they walked out together. She would have walked slightly behind him, but he offered his arm to her and so she walked by his side, her hand tucked into his elbow.

The Anbu guards flanked them both. 

When they had left the Hatake Compound the following morning, rather than swirl away as he normally did, Kakashi-sama had offered her his arm, tucking her left hand into the crook of his right elbow. She had never seen a shinobi give anyone the use of their arm for such long periods of time, but he had shrugged and blushed a bit as he said, “I like it.”

It would not have been hard for him to realize that she actively tried to identify the things he liked.

So they walked together, her left hand on his right arm.

He was still reading a book held in his left hand.

They both ignored the whispers around them. ‘She’s slowing him down.’ ‘Why doesn’t she just let him kuwarmi her.’ ‘She’s so… civilian.’

They were testing the waters as it were. In a few weeks, maybe she would take up the habit of performing tea ceremonies again, as she once had. Speed was an amazing ability of shinobi, but timing was the more important skill and anyone, shinobi or civilian, could learn timing.

As they approached the tower, she asked, “Is there a storage room for extra furniture that the Hokage can select from?”

“Hmm. Several of them. Shall we take a tour?”

“Please.”

They walked.

The storage rooms were a crowded mess of mostly standard office furniture, but there was also some decorate furniture mixed in. They walked through all of the storage rooms without saying much, just pausing here and there so she could run a hand over some table or desk. One of the items she paused at was a large map table with the whole of the land displaying on top. It was large enough that if papers were put on top of it, it could easily fit two rows of four or possible squeeze in five in a row and a third row of pages turned sidewise.

Kakashi-sama considered it as well and explained, “The map itself is too general for much use, but the table is used to review large scale conflicts. Someone puts another map on top, showing the place we actually care about at the time.”

“I’m wondering if it might be helpful to separate out the mission reports into regional stacks rather than just the one large one.”

“Hmm.” Kakashi-sama said, but then, “Spider.” An Anbu with a spider mask appeared and Kakashi-sama just pointed at the table. The Anbu picked it up and then he and the table disappeared.

“Any other thoughts?”

“Do you mind if I try changing your office a bit?”

He waved a lazy hand to give her permission but looked significantly more curious than that lazy permission implied.

She smiled at him and then started pointing to other items she had noticed. A few decorative tables that could each a single stack of papers. A couple of bookcases to get the stacks of books off the floor. A low table that she just admired and could imagine herself performing a tea ceremony at.

Each time, an Anbu would appear, pick up the item and disappear in a small swirl.

When she had finished her second tour of the storage rooms, she had identified ten items and they made their way at her own walking pace to the Hokage’s office.

There were three high ranking shinobi waiting with various degrees of impatience to meet with the Hokage when they arrived but Kakashi-sama ignored them so she did as well. She did notice, however, as they passed, that they looked less impatient and more curious after seeing her than they had when they’d first seen Kakashi-sama.

The furniture was all in the office and Kakashi-sama squeezed her hand before letting it go from his arm. It was just like rearranging the furnishing at the Hatake Compound as she directed exactly where he should place each one. The tables created a loose series of obstacles between the entrance and the desk, book cases further back, with the tea table under the windows to one side with plenty of space for her to comfortably sit behind it.

Then she moved the piles of paperwork from his desk to the various tables. She had noticed that Kakashi-sama rarely sat at home. He stood and walked, slouched and crouched, and sometimes even lay down. But he rarely sat in a chair.

He should apply his particular habits to the Hokage’s office, and not allow the office to force him to work in a way that wasn’t his preference. Maybe if he could walk around the office and read as he moved, it would be easier for him to get through it. With different tables, it should also be easier for him to see at a glance what the priorities were.

He picked up the largest pile, the pile of mission reports, and took it over to the map table and starting sorting it himself between regions. Although, after a moment of consideration, she realized he was also reviewing them as he went.

She left him to that and started putting the stacks of books into the short bookshelves. There was still plenty of space and she made a note to herself to bring in some pieces of art and a flower arrangement.

A few of the books had bookmarks and those she placed, open, on the top of the shelves, were the top surface could be used as more small tables.

Kakashi-sama was still looking through the mission reports when she had finished putting all the books away.

“Anbu-san?”

Kakashi-sama looked up sharply at her query but didn’t say anything as two Anbu appeared: Spider and Cat. After a bit of tenseness, Spider disappeared again and Cat bowed to her.

“Is there a way to bring my tea cabinet from the front room of the Hatake main house to here?”

Cat bowed again and did some quick hand signs with Kakashi-sama before disappearing again.

“Tea?” Kakashi-sama asked, but he was smiling at her and seemed relaxed.

“I thought I’d make use of the tea table there while you reviewed the paperwork.”

“Make me a cup too.”

“I will.”

They fell into silence as they waited but Kakashi-sama didn’t go back to his own papers. It wasn’t uncomfortable, but it was surprising. She finally asked, “Are you… guarding me?”

It seemed so improbable, and yet…

Kakashi-sama shrugged. “Just while Cat is gone.”

“What about Spider-san? And aren’t there other Anbu here as well?” She’s virtually sure she saw other Anbu take tables although some of them were there and gone again too quickly for her to identify their masks.

Kakashi-sama smiled his teasing one-eyed smile. “There are five Anbu in the office with us at the moment. If anything happened to you in his absence, Cat would kill them all but would definitely blame me most.”

She wasn’t at all sure what to do with that.

Kakashi-sama smiled again.

Then Cat-san was back with her tea cabinet. He set it gently down by the tea table, exactly where she wanted it to go, without any direction, and then disappeared again. Kakashi-sama looked back down at the papers he had been reviewing.

If Kakashi-sama didn’t consider any of this situation a problem then Naoki wouldn’t either. She started setting up the tea table with the contents from the cabinet. She’d leave everything here in the Hokage’s office and get herself a new set for home. Lighting a small fire to warm the pot was easy with her own firestarter and a fresh pitcher of water had appeared to one side without her noticing.

She noted that Kakashi-sama had distributed a number of piles of mission reports on the map table but was taking about half of them back to the desk. He put them down but then went to the office door to summon, with apparently delight, “Ah, Yamakawa Tadahisa! And Magohachi-chan too! Perfect! Come in!”

Naoki kept her face completely calm and her eyes focused on the small fire and warming water as a sheepish and concerned assistant came in, with a small child.

“Ah, Hokage-sama,” Yamakawa-san said with a wince, “his mother is feeling poorly and Hachi-chan is really very quiet…”

Kakashi-sama spoke with bubbly pleasure that Naoki wasn’t sure if he realized made him seem all the more dangerous, as in dangerously unstable.

“I’m delighted that Hachi-chan can be here. How does he feel about stamps?”

“Ah, stamps, Hokage-sama?”

“Yes, stamps. Now, Hachi-chan, how would you like to do a day’s work, just like you father and earn a day’s pay too?”

The child looked awkwardly between his father and this strange man who was talking to him, but finally said, “I like stamps?”

“Excellent! I’d like you to sit at this big desk here, where my name stamp is, and I’m going to give you a pile of papers. Can you go through and make sure my name is stamped on each one?”

The kids eyes were big and round with growing excitement. His father’s looked like they were about to fall out of his face. Kakashi-sama looked completely pleased with himself, Naoki thought with amusement, but was also impressed herself.

There really wasn’t any reason for Kakashi-sama to spend his time physically dealing with a stamp and ink.

The child was soon established at the massive Hokage’s desk, stamping his way through the piles of paper under his father’s supervision. Yamakawa-san was then in charge of getting those stamped papers delivered to their next destinations. Having to get back to the office to ensure his young son didn’t mess anything up too badly was also keeping his deliveries extremely speedy.

More reports were being delivered but the staff of Hokage’s assistants had quickly picked up the new organizational structure and even introduced a few additional tables for issues that she hadn’t separated out before. The first assistant to come in with a whole table, a few pages sitting on top of it, looked scared but determined, glancing nervously between her boss and her boss’s wife.

Naoki kept her attention on her tea, but was fairly sure Kakashi-sama at least could sense her amusement.

Kakashi-sama met the assistant, directed her where to put the new table and read the papers on it immediately. He spent some time writing a response to it, while standing over it. The pages were then returned to the assistant for additional work, but the table stayed.

For the rest of the day, Naoki stayed mostly to one side while Kakashi-sama and the various visitors to his office, circled around and among the tables talking about various issues. She rose only to offer small cups of tea as they were done to her husband and, if they were being particularly pleasant, to whoever else was in the office with them.

The following day, Naoki stayed home at the Hatake compound and returned to her own schedule while Kakashi-sama left in the morning. He returned home even earlier than expected, checked to make sure she was doing well, and then went out to train with Tenzo.

They both came to dinner that evening.

The following evening, when he returned home at the same earlier time, looking pleased with himself, she asked if he would like to offer one of the empty houses in the compound to Tenzo.

“Would you be comfortable with another shinobi here?”

“If you are comfortable with it.” She smiled, “I’d probably give him gardening tasks to do.”

“He’d probably like that. And if I’m sending him to the capital relatively soon, it might be easier for him to have a place in the village that’s not an apartment.”

The following week Tenzo moved in, so the compound held occupied houses out of five. She was still considering the remaining three, when another resident was presented to her.

Nara-sama arrived in the afternoon, after Kakashi-sama had returned to the compound but before dinner.

“Shikaku,” Kakashi-sama greeted him, “did something happen?”

“Not yet. I came to the Hatake Compound to speak with you and your wife.”

Naoki left the house to greet him, “Nara-sama. Will you come in and have some tea?”

“Hatake-sama,” he returned the greeting. “Thank you.”

They settled, all three of them, to have tea, and it was quiet for a while before Nara-sama said, “My wife and Shikhako-chan have told me a great deal about you, Hatake-sama. I’ve been impressed.”

“Thank you, Nara-sama.”

“I’d like to give Shikhako-chan to you, if you and your husband agree.”

“A genin, Shikaku?” Kakashi-sama asked rather pointedly.

Just as pointedly, Nara-sama ignored the interjection. “Her first loyalty would be given to Akanishi Naoki. Only after that, would it go to the Nara and Hatake clans, and from there to the village.”

Nara-sama paused to let them consider that particular order of loyalties. Akanishi was the name of Naoki’s family before they came to the village and given their loyalty to Konoha. She was Hatake Naoki, but prior to her loyalty to Hatake Kakashi, she had been Kobayashi Naoki, a loyal civilian of the village. But prior to even that loyalty, she would have been Akanishi Naoki.

Kakashi-sama slowly nodded his agreement. “A genin is a good choice for that.”

It was, Naoki realized, and she really hoped Shikhako-san had been aware of this proposal. A genin’s oath of loyalty was the most flexible of all the shinobi ranks. It would take the Hokage to approve a shift of loyalty to someone outside the village hierarchy, but it wasn’t impossible for a genin.

It would give her a personal attendant who could give her access to shinobi skills that every other Hokage’s wife had had.

Then Nara-sama smirked and said to Naoki, again pointedly ignoring her husband. “You were curious about a Nara technique some years back. You were right. And I’ve made sure that Shikhako-chan is capable of it, at need.”

Naoki felt her eyes widen. She hadn’t thought of that in years: the question of question a Nara shadow user could freeze a whole land on an overcast day. Shikhako-san had said that even the suggestion of such an ability would create enemies. Now Nara-sama was admitting to it and implying that if ever Naoki needed it, she could command the ability. She really hoped it would never ever become an issue.

“Oh?” Kakashi asked.

If the Kyubi ever attacked again, she would have a suggestion. But for now, she would keep it a secret, as she had before.

“Ah,” Naoki said. “I’d be delighted to have her company. But may I ask, why this gift?”

Nara-sama contemplated her for a moment but then turned to include Kakashi-sama in his response as well. “Give my people missions that are worthy of their skill sets. Shikhako knows us. We can create as well as destroy.”

“You’ve seen the proposed new mission protocols,” Kakashi-sama stated.

Nara-sama nodded. “I’ve seen them and I want them.”

Kakashi-sama nodded. “I was planning on presenting them at the next clan council meeting. If you come to my office tomorrow, you can see them before then.”

“Thank you, Hokage-sama.”

Naoki bit back her own questions and thoughts and hopes. Kakashi-sama knew her thoughts and hopes. He would tell her what she could or should know when he was ready.

It was pleasing to have Shikhako-san as a more frequent companion, especially as she immediately assured Naoki that, “I volunteered.” Less reassuring was when she continued, “And Nara-sama knows that if he wants the changes to come, you have to stay alive. Anbu are impressive, but it’s the Nara way to include some redundancies.”

It was a month later than Kakashi-sama returned to the compound for dinner, grinning at her with his whole body. “We ran our first successful N rank mission!”

“N rank?”

“Non-militant. M rank missions are Medical, N for non-militant. There was some argument for making them P rank for Pacifist, but the jokes were a bit much even in the meetings.”

“It was successful?”

“Yes. And we think it was a test. In multiple ways. And we passed. The client was paying with someone else's money for something that they didn't actually need. They were being paid to take a risk dealing with shinobi, and see the quality of the work. The shinobi who ran the mission took the initiative afterwards to identify the shadow client. It seems benign so far. It was interesting enough that T&I now wants every N mission to include a fact-finding aspect but don't think they should have to apply any of their budget to it since there are customers paying.”

As he spoke, the original excitement leaked out of his voice until there was more irritation than pleasure. He looked and sounded tired, as he continued.

"I assigned this first mission to a pair of experienced jounin partners, since it was always going to be a test, one way or another. Now the jounin corp is arguing with each other about whether N missions are beneath their dignity or whether they should have first refusal of all N missions since any of the could be a trap but they're also a nice break from the regular. The chunin commander is unhappy that chunin weren't assigned this first N mission and given all future N missions as well. They argue that chunin are perfectly capable of protecting themselves and that the work fits in more with their skillsets. The genin corp is also sniffing around, looking like they might be willing to join the fight since the missions might well end up being more to their skill sets rather than either chunin or jounin, and they rarely get access to missions outside of the village or the pay that comes with such missions.”

“I take it they’re all mostly correct and you still have to choose?”

“We’ll probably need to divide the N missions into their own separate ranks, which will require more committees to create more protocols and more assistants to implement those protocols. Meanwhile,” Kakashi offered a tired smile, trying to add lighten his own mood more than anything else, “Naruto is trying to claim that he's a master bridge builder since he wound up building a bridge for the guy we guarded in team 7's first C rank mission. He thinks this qualifies him for all future construction jobs.”

He rubbed at his eyes, tiredly. “It's almost too much trouble to make the changes.”

"Is it?"

He sighed. "No." 

"Is there anything I can do to help?" 

"Be here. Let me complain to you. Tell me it's worth it. Tell me that not every shinobi has to be a killer." 

"Always. You can always come home to me and tell me your thoughts. This is worth it. You are making a better world." She was sincere even as she responded to his request. The struggle and the frustration was worth it. 

"My respect for the Nidaime has gone up."

"The Nidaime?"

"He established the A thru E ranking system." 

Kakashi had slumped so much by this point that it was easy enough for him to slide to the floor and place his head in her lap. The level of trust he showed her was astounding, as he closed his eyes and to all appearances went to sleep. She was virtually sure he wasn’t, just taking a short break from the rest of the world.

She wound her fingers through his hair and gently ruffled it, this way and that.

He didn’t open his eye, and when he spoke, his voice low and groggy. “There is something you can do. Come to the tower office with me once a week.”

She blinked, but said, “Of course.” She thought about asking, but didn’t.

She was fairly sure Kakashi-sama smiled as he guessed the question, and answered it anyway. “Iruka-sensei tells me that the black market price for information on when you'll be there has been inconsistent enough that he hasn't been able to tell who's trying to ensure you're presence when they present to me and who's trying to avoid it. A month or so with a regular schedule should help establish a few motives and biases.”

“Should I do tea ceremonies or play the harp or something else entirely?”

He shrugged against her lap. “Whatever you prefer.”

So one day a week, she went to the Tower with her husband.

She listened to what was happening around her but while she was there, she tried not to comment on anything until they were back at the Hatake compound unless he asked her something directly. But during a meal that was either a very late lunch or an early dinner, on a particularly busy day, she said, “If there are twenty people coming at you in a fight, I imagine you do have to deal with them all at once. But if there are twenty people coming at you in your office, tell them to stand in line and wait.”

“Some of them are emergencies.”

“Then make them tell you that: is anyone's life on the line if you don't deal with them within the next hour? And if so, why didn't they bring it you the day before?”

“Huh.”

“As the Hokage, you're the last and best fighter, but you're also the first defense: you should be dealing with problems before they become problems. If people are only bringing issues to you after they've become a problem, then that needs to be dealt with.”

“Hmm.”

“I'm pretty sure I had this conversation with Uchiha-sama years ago: about the tea ceremony and the value of timing over speed.”

“I can see why the Nara like you. I still want to know what mysterious Nara jutsu you figured out and that Shikhako now knows.” Kakashi-sama commented, carefully not asking. If he asked, she would tell him.

“I hope the situation never arises where you'll need to see it.”

He considered that. "Yeah. I hope so too." 

"Just, you need to have enough time in your schedule so that if an emergency ever does come up, you have time to address it immediately without creating even more problems."

"I'm fairly sure I've had that conversation with every shinobi I've ever had under my command: on a mission always maintain your reserves for anther fight and another after that." 

"Mm."

"I was always a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do type of commander with that." 

"Well, now you have to do as you say." 

"Or my lady wife will come to drag me home."

"Exactly." 

"Okay. Well, I think it's time to drag me home now." 

It turns out that he was the one to lever himself up and then offer her a hand to lift her to her feet as well.

Most days, however, she stayed at the Hatake compound, keeping it clean and organized and thriving in all the ways a clan compound can thrive.

The compound still had two empty residences that she was contemplating. Nowhere near the number of empty houses in the Uchiha compound, but that just made their future assignments in need of more careful thought.

She had established a regular order of Tamanaha-san’s fruit tarts to the Hatake Compound before she had even moved away from the Uchiha Compound. Shikhako-san had quietly taken over the delivery aspect so they arrived still warm.

Naoki missed having access to a clan baker, but the Hatake compound was significantly smaller than the Uchiha compound and she intending to be careful with how she grew this new clan space. 

"Do you want me to seduce an Akimachi baker to your service?" Shikhako-san asked rather dryly. 

Naoki looked over Shikhako-san. "Would you?"

"You're turning into a monster, aren't you?" Shikhako-san looked and sounded decidedly amused.

"Just taking my options into consideration. I'd never ask you to go against your desires, but since you brought it up, maybe you should visit the Akimichi Clan and see if anyone catches your fancy. You could guard cooling pies from young children or supervise rising dough." 

"I'll keep that in mind." 

The regular visits to the other clan compounds to visit the matriarchs of those clans and hosting the visits of those matriarchs to the Hatake clan grounds kept the clans in contact and maintained a whole separate network available to all participants. She could tell Kakashi-sama things that no one could tell the Hokage, and in return Kakashi-sama could tell her things that no Hokage could say.

One thing that Kakashi-sama could say to her that the Hokage could never way, was how irritating the previous Hokage was being.

“The hospital is this close to staging a revolt and I can't even figure out what the issues are. Everyone wants to go on missions? No one wants to go on missions? Some of them are threatening to leave if Tsunade leaves and others are threatening to leave is she stays. And Tsunade seems torn between taking all the missions that she doesn't have time or energy for or none of the missions at all, because, and I quote: ‘what's even the point’.”

Naoki found herself laughing slightly at Kakashi’s dramatic recitation of the problem, but could still recognize the real problem there. "Shinobi can do impossible things. Kage level shinobi such as yourself and the Godaime especially. But learn from a civilian: knowing your limits is important. Do what you can, when you can, and don't get distracted by what you can't." 

“Try telling that to Tsunade.”

"I'll have a chat with her."

"Please"

The following day, Naoki visited the hospital. There was always more to do around a clan compound but the sign of a well run one was that the work was flexible enough to accommodate priority tasks. Assisting her husband in not getting overwhelmed and assisting the village in keeping a running hospital, definitely counted as a priority task.

"Naoki-sama!" Haruno-san greeted her cheerfully as soon as she stepped into the hospital building. Then concerned, "are you okay?"

Haruno-san’s hands whipped through some hand signs and suddenly all Naoki could see what the back of an Anbu uniform. 

"Ah, sorry, Naoki-sama!" Haruno-san sounded only mildly apologetic, the kind of apology that came after someone had been forcefully prevented from doing what they wanted so they might as well apologize in the hope of getting permission after all. "I just wanted to make sure you were okay." 

Naoki raised her voice just enough to be heard over the Anbu but didn't move or ask him to move. Naoki mostly trusted Haruno Sakura to have her best interests in mind, but allowing shinobi to flash hand signs in her direction was just not a good habit to get into. "I'm doing well and have no concerning symptoms."

"Hmm, but can't I run a quick check-up?"

"I actually came to talk with Senju-sama. Is she available?" It was a courtesy request. Unless there was active surgery taking place and potentially even then, Senju-sama would be available to the wife of the Hokage. 

"Yes, she's in her office." Haruno-san spoke rather mournfully, although Naoki wasn’t sure if it was because of Senju-sama’s activities or Naoki’s own refusal to even discuss having a medical check-up.

Senju-sama was indeed in her office, but seemed to be only half-heartedly reviewing some paperwork while mostly fighting with Shizune-san about getting another bottle of sake.

Senju-sama greeted her with a glare, “Are you here to nag me too?”

“Should I be?”

“Why else would you be here?”

“Maybe to congratulate you on your success?”

“What success? All my patients die!”

Naoki considered that she had very much stepped into the middle of a conversation, but it was easy enough to go along with it. “Every mortal dies eventually, so yes, I imagine all of them do die. Eventually.”

“Then what’s even the point?” Senju-sama… whined.

“The point is how much a person can accomplish in the meantime. And you are giving hundreds of shinobi and civilians years more to their lives, and better lives for their years, by healing them.”

“Not all of them.”

"You can do anything," Naoki started before being interrupted.

"I can't bring back the dead! I can't fix everyone." 

"With surprisingly few exceptions, you can do anything," Naoki amended her previous statement, and then quickly added "But!" even as Senju-sama was opening her mouth. She gave her best glare, which wasn't much in comparison to what most shinobi could manage, but Tsunade looked amused at the attempt and closed her mouth without saying anything. "You can't do everything." 

Tsunade scowled and said rather sulkily. "I should be able to."

"As a medic, especially a battlefield medic, you must have learned how to triage." 

Senju-sama’s shoulders slumped. "Yeah."

"You are the best medic in the world, so you have to also know that the one thing we can't afford is to have you burn out. If a tool is irreplaceable, it must be cared for rather than used to destruction." 

“Why are you here?”

“And even if a tool is replaceable, you shouldn’t destroy it without reason.”

“You are unbelievably irritating. I can’t quite believe I had any part of putting you in power.” There was real bite in Senju-sama’s words but also a world of weariness. “Do you even know how many people have died since Kakashi became Hokage?”

Naoki shook her head. “No. I know how many shinobi died performing missions. I don’t know how many targets died because of those missions.”

Kakashi told her when one of his own died, because he couldn’t hide the way it pained him. He didn’t tell her about the targets because she couldn’t hide the way it pained her.

“I could tell you,” Senju-sama said. “At least a good guess. It’s not as many people as died in my first few months of Hokage. So there’s that.”

“No one can accomplish a perfect world. The best you can do, the best anyone do, is try to accomplish a better world.”

“Go away.”

“I’ll go away when you stop destroying yourself and everyone around you for not accomplishing the impossible.”

“When I made impossible demands, sometimes I get impossible results.” Senju-sama said tiredly.

“And that’s why I hear that half of the hospital staff are in love with you.”

“And why the other half hate me.”

Naoki shrugged. “It’s not how many people love or hate you, it’s having the right people do each.”

Senju-sama was surprised into a laugh. “That’s politics in a nutshell.”

They fell into silence and Naoki had to bite back the need to say more, to reiterate the points she had already made. She had spoken her piece and Senju-sama needed to come to her own conclusions.

“Okay,” Senju-sama finally said, as she levered herself up, moving like the old woman she was rather than the young one she looked like, “I’m going home. Tell Kakashi that I’ll be more reasonable on the M mission protocols.”

She grabbed Shizune-san by the arm to walk out with her.

“What’s a few dead patients, after all, when they’d have died anyway without the treatment.” It was a jab but nothing that Naoki couldn’t deal with, and hadn’t dealt with before. Naoki had never been a medic but she knew more than enough about triage, about choosing who to help and who to walk by, sacrifice for the greater good.

Shizune-san paused to look back and mouth silently, "Thank you" before being firmly pulled through the door by the Godaime.

Naoki stayed in the now empty office for a few minutes, long enough for Senju-sama to leave the premises, before she left herself.

She stopped by a market on her way home to the Hatake compound to pick up some fresh ingredients for dinner, including some stew meat for the ninken.

That evening she brushed the ninken as she told Kakashi-sama about her visit to the hospital. Maybe the conversation would do some good. Maybe not.

He lay down next to her and she shifted her attention from his ninken to him, to the ninken’s quiet complaints. But they all settled down soon enough.

After a while she found herself asking, “Why did you agree to be Hokage? You dislike it a lot.”

“It’s not so bad now that you’ve organized it and I’ve gotten used to it. And I wanted to marry you.”

“I would have married you regardless.”

“Would you?”

“I placed the order for that pillow book the same day you gave me the comb. I didn’t even wait. It took eighteen days to arrive.”

“That book….”

“Did you like it?”

“How do those nobles even stand during the day?”

“With the support of their retainers, of course.”

“The number of favors I am now owed from loaning it out is ridiculous.”

“Good.” She was pleased that he was making good use of that book. She wanted to ask again about accepting the Hokage’s office because surely it hadn’t been done for her. He wouldn’t put himself through this for her, would he? She loved being able to direct him, but that was too much. He had to know his limits because she didn’t.

He seemed to understand even without her saying anything, because he finally said, “I was almost certainly going to be forced into the Hokage’s hat regardless. It was only with you that I took it willingly. Because I could do something with it rather than just kill time before the next generation.”

“Why are you taking this seriously?”

He sighed. “I’ve done a lot of awful things during my life and somehow managed to come through it mostly sane. As sane as I am, at least.”

“Sane enough to lie here and talk about it.”

“Yeah.” He sighed. “There are others who weren’t so lucky.”

“I can imagine.”

“One of the less lucky ones was Uchiha Itachi.”

She felt her breath catch in her lungs at that. She carefully let our her breath and took another one.

“He was my trainee in Anbu. He never wanted to kill. He didn’t even really want to fight. He wanted to stay a chunin and run B and C ranked missions. But he was the heir to the Uchiha Clan. So he had to be Anbu.”

“He’s still around, isn’t he?” She had never told anyone about her brief meeting with Itachi, when he came to the Uchiha compound and she had closed her eyes and refused to acknowledge him in any way. Uchiha-sama hadn’t mentioned his brother to her at all when he returned to the village and she hadn’t asked.

“Do you want to know?”

“I think I had better.”

“Then yes. Tsunade healed him and Sasuke refrained from killing him. Sasuke offered him a house in the Uchiha compound again, although only after you move out.”

“Is that for my benefit? Or his? Or Uchiha-sama’s?”

“For your benefit mostly and for Sasuke’s a little bit. Itachi…” Kakashi sighed. “Tsunade put him back in Anbu. Gave him a mask to live behind.”

“Is that wise?” She honestly wasn’t sure. Situations like this were so far beyond her ability to understand shinobi culture and psyche.

“I hope so. Maybe living behind a mask again will help him remove the mask when he takes it off.”

She wondered if that was something that he felt, but didn’t ask.

“Anbu are known for doing the most dangerous jobs and the most deadly ones, but they also do the most long-term guard jobs. I don’t want him to ever have to kill again unless it’s in defense.”

She had to smile a bit at that. That was the shinobi philosophy, that a peace-loving person was one who only killed in defense.

“I assigned him to your guard.”

There went that smile. “You what?”

Kakashi was smiling instead. “I assigned him to be captain of your Anbu guard.”

“I…” she started, and then wondered if there was any way to put this tactfully. She couldn’t think of any way so continued regardless, “had expected him to be one of the people I would have to be guarded against.”

Kakashi blinked up at her in surprise. “No.” It was apparently real surprise, because he actually levered himself up so that he could look at her and make sure she could see him when he continued. “No. He would have guarded you whether or not I made the assignment, but this way he’ll hopefully be too busy to assassinate anyone who talks badly about you. He is possibly your biggest fan.” He smiled an elaborate eye smile at her. “And I say that as your devoted husband.”

She found herself blinking at him, not knowing what to say.

He lay back down again.

“But… how? Why?”

“Because you protected his baby brother. Because you continue to protect his baby brother.”

“Even from him?”

“Especially from him. And because, even if he can never go back to what he once was, other children who are similar to who he once was might get a chance to not grow up to be like who he is now.”

He smiled up at her again before closing his eye.

She went back to brushing her fingers through his hair.

“Thank you, Kakashi-sama,” she whispered down at him. “Thank you, husband of mine. Thank you for doing this, for yourself, for me, for Itachi. For children who will have the chance to grow up great without growing up killers. Thank you.”

She had lost a lot in the Kyubi attack: her parents, her fiancé, her neighborhood, and her faith in the protection of the village, in the concept of an easy peace that could be enjoyed without effort.

When she had first gone to the Uchiha compound, she had done so because she had to. Because someone had to and because actively trying to achieve something had to be better than passively waiting for nothing. But it had been a desperate attempt at hope rather than any true belief. But somehow, she had gained something back.

Here with her husband, who could call lightning and command armies, but instead exhausted himself creating opportunities for peace and then rested under her hand, she knew she had been given a miracle.

A peace made by hard work and constant upkeep was a peace she could trust, a peace she could work towards.