November 7, Yondaime Year 5

They were eating breakfast when it happened. A late breakfast, because Naruto’d had bad dreams again all night long. 

He’d heard Dad in the kitchen talking to Ogata-san about it before breakfast. “They keep getting worse,” Dad was saying. “I don’t think there’s been a good night since Kakashi left. A couple times he’s woken himself up enough to come climb in bed with me, but last night he was shouting in his sleep and I had to shake him awake. And I thought we were past bed-wetting, but… Well, you saw the laundry this morning.”

“My sister’s boys were much older than Naruto-kun before they slept dry every night,” Ogata-san said firmly. “Give him time.”

“I don’t think it’s just a matter of time,” Dad insisted. “His mother had nightmares too. She didn’t like to talk about them. But I’m starting to worry…” His voice dipped low. 

Naruto had never heard this before. He was supposed to go straight to his room to get dressed after he left the bathroom, but instead he crept mousy-quiet towards the open kitchen door. Dad never said Mom had bad dreams. He told lots of other things about Mom. Why hadn’t he told this?

But he only heard Ogata-san say regretfully, “All I ever knew about seals was summoning, Hokage-sama—and I never cared how something worked, as long as it did. I’m not the one to consult on such matters.”

“No,” Dad said bleakly. “I’m supposed to be the expert. Damnit, Kushina!”

They were both quiet for a moment. Naruto’s nose started to itch. He scratched it with both hands so he wouldn’t sneeze. 

“I’ll ask Jiraiya-sensei next time I see him,” Dad said finally. “Or Kakashi, once he comes back from Suna. Guess he’ll have as much practical experience as me by then.”

“And I’ll buy a mattress-cover for your bed too, in the meantime,” Ogata-san said. “You should go lie down on the sofa and get some more rest now, Hokage-sama. I can give Naruto-kun his breakfast and take him out shopping with me.”

“No, I’m awake enough already.” Dad’s yawn pulled the end of his words all skewy. He and Ogata-san both laughed. “Just pour me another cup of coffee, please. You can stop listening and come in now, Naruto.”

Naruto came in, indignant. “You didn’t know I was there! I was quiet.

“Very quiet,” Dad agreed, setting his coffee cup down on the table so he could scoop Naruto upside down. “But I’m still the best ninja there ever was, and you’re wearing a cute little nightcap with poky bunny ears on it—”

“I’m not a bunny, I’m a puppy! Fukafuka is the bunny.” 

“I thought you were a ninja?”

“I’m a puppy ninja. Like Pakkun.”

“Ah, well, if the puppy ninja wants breakfast he’d better go get changed. I’ll help.” He carried Naruto out of the kitchen. “No pre-school today, right? What do you have planned?”

“I’m going to Shikamaru’s! To the Nara Clan Forest where nobody’s allowed to go,” Naruto bragged, shedding his nightcap and allowing Dad to help him out of his footie pajamas. “The boy deer’s antlers are all falling off and it’s time to go collect them and make medicine and I get to help. Kiba can’t come ‘cause he always smells like dog and he’d scare the deer. And nobody else is invited, only Ino an’ Choji ‘cause they’re Shikamaru’s best friends since they were babies. And me ‘cause I traded Shikamaru my bento at lunch every day this week.”

Dad crouched down and held up pants for Naruto to step into. “Practicing your negotiation skills already? I’m impressed. Make sure you bring some antlers home. We’ll make you a hat, and then I’ll see you wherever you’re hiding.”

“Are you mad I was hiding?”

Dad lowered his empty hands slowly. “No, I’m not mad. Did you think I was?”

“No…” But he’d been upset before that. And his smile when Naruto came into the kitchen was the one that covered up all kinds of things. Naruto tried a different angle. “You told Ogata-san things you never tell me.” 

“Ogata-san has big ears, so they can hold lots of things. You have little ears, so they can only hold a few things at a time. Maybe if I stretched them out…”

“Noooo don’t stretch them!” Naruto clapped his hands over the sides of his head, but that left his sides open for Dad to tickle instead. He fell over, howling. Dad gave him a good tickle and then snuggled him up tight.

“I’m worried about your dreams,” he said quietly into Naruto’s hair. “I know they’re scary. There are a lot of scary things in a ninja’s life, and right now I can keep you safe from most of them. I want to keep you safe from this one too, but it may take me a little while to figure out how.”

It was warm and cozy inside the tight circle of Dad’s arms. Last night Naruto had fallen asleep like this, after a bath and a warm drink and two very boring bedtime stories, and his dreams were so bad anyway that he’d screamed and wet the bed and didn’t even know until Dad woke him up. Dad had cuddled him and cleaned him up and taken him to the big bed for the rest of the night. And Naruto’s dreams were still full of teeth and storms and cages and blood, even there. 

“Did you keep Mom safe when she had bad dreams?”

Dad sighed. “No. Everybody has nightmares sometimes. Especially shinobi. But your mom’s were…”

He was quiet for a moment. Then he moved, settling down cross-legged with Naruto snuggled in the hollow of his legs, where he could look up to see Dad’s face. “You remember what I told you about the Nine-Tailed Fox?” Dad said. “It was a Tailed Beast, a giant being of pure chakra and flame, and it was too dangerous for anyone to let it run around free. So it had to be sealed inside a very powerful shinobi who could take care of it, and protect everyone else from it, and be trusted to stay in control when the Hokage decided on the right time to use it.”

“That was Mom,” Naruto said wisely. “Because she was amazing. She was the best.”

“She was.” Dad took another deep breath. His eyes were shiny. “The Fox didn’t like being sealed up. It obeyed Kushina, because she was strong, and sometimes she could even get it to work with her as a partner. But it never stopped trying to get out. She was so strong that it couldn’t do much, but sometimes it made up dreams to hurt her. It told lies, or mixed up lies with truth, or told her things it wanted to be true, like what it would do if it ever escaped. She knew not to listen to it, but that didn’t make the dreams not hurt.”

Naruto knew not to listen to his dreams either, at least when he was awake. But he couldn’t remember that when he was asleep! They didn’t seem like dreams then. They seemed real. 

“And sometimes… Sometimes it told Kushina things that she found out afterwards were real. Things she couldn’t have known, and the Fox shouldn’t have known. But the Tailed Beasts don’t always work by the same rules that the rest of us do. Or even the rules that chakra-rich beings like summoned beasts do. Still, when it talked in her dreams, Kushina knew not to trust it.”

“I don’t have a Fox in me,” Naruto pointed out. “It got out and hurt people when I was born, so Mom killed it.”

“Right.” Dad looked sad and serious. “But before that happened, when you were growing into a baby, you lived inside Kushina. Your blood system was connected to her blood system, and your chakra system was connected to her chakra system. That’s how every baby grows. But since the Fox was sealed inside her, it was connected to her chakra system too. And that meant it was connected to you. So…maybe there is a little bit of the Fox’s chakra in you. But there’s also a lot of Kushina’s chakra in you. And even if the Fox’s chakra gives you bad dreams, your mom will protect you. You’re her son and mine, and that means you’re strong too.”

Naruto thought this over. There was a lot to think about. “So me and the Fox lived together in Mom before I was born. Like…like Kiba’s sister’s puppies.”

“Uh…yeah, that’s one way—”

“So we’re brothers!”

“Um,” Dad said. 

“So next time it sends me bad dreams I can say Stop that, niisan, let’s play something different instead. If I remember. Sometimes I forget it’s a dream.”

“If that works,” Dad said slowly, “you come and tell me right away, okay? I need to know if you ever have a dream that responds to you. If you ever hear something back.”

“Okay!” That was an easy promise. Naruto began to wriggle free. “Breakfast now?”

“Wish I could do all my thinking with my stomach,” Dad grumbled, but he got up off the floor, and they went to the kitchen for breakfast together.

Ogata-san was dishing up Dad’s second bowl of rice when the thing happened. He had his hand out for the bowl, his mouth all ready to shape the words ‘thank you,’ and then his face changed. His eyes weren’t seeing the kitchen anymore. 

He said just one word: “Kakashi.”

Then he was up, already in the doorway before his chair finished crashing over. His voice echoed down the hall. “ANBU! Who’s on duty— Turtle, I need you here. Panther, get whoever’s closest and geared up— I want at least five bodies, I don’t care if you have to drag Lynx along with his clipboard. Three minutes. Move.”

The front door slammed. Turtle came skidding into the kitchen with her kodachi drawn. And Naruto burst into tears. 

Nobody tried to console him. Nobody even seemed to notice. Ogata-san had put down the rice bowl and picked up her big cleaver that could chop through bone. Friendly playful Turtle was checking the windows and behind the pantry door, serious and terrible with her mask and sword. She wasn’t Chie-neesan right now; she was ANBU. 

Naruto hiccuped himself into silence.

Dad came back. He wore his flak vest and his white coat with the flames at the hem. Panther came behind him with three other ANBU. Green-masked Frog, tall Vulture, broad-shouldered Boar. Lynx stood in the hall, and he didn’t even have his clipboard. 

“I’m going to Suna,” Dad said. He was looking at Ogata-san. “I don’t have time for messages or questions. Please inform Sagara; she has protocols for the rest.” He looked back into the hall. “Is that it? Fine. Panther, you’re with me, too. Turtle—guard my son.”

“With my life, Hokage-sama,” Turtle said quietly. 

He didn’t even say thank you. He came around the table and knelt by Naruto’s chair. “Your niisan is in trouble,” he said, “and I’m going to help him. I’m going far away. I may be gone for a while. Sagara-san and the Council will take care of the Village, and Turtle and Ogata-san will take care of you. Don’t be too scared. And don’t listen to your dreams if they tell you lies. I’ll come back. And I’ll bring Kakashi with me.”

Dad,” Naruto hiccuped. That was all he could say.

Dad hugged him so hard it hurt. Then he stood up and pushed the table back. “Lynx and Panther to my left. Vulture, you’re a kenjutsu user? On my right. Boar and Frog at my back. Take hold.”

The ANBU surrounded him. Almost all of them were taller than he was, and Naruto couldn’t see him anymore. In sudden terror he screamed: “Don’t go!”

“Hold tight,” Dad said, in a voice like iron. And then the air was empty, and they were gone. 

Naruto tumbled out of his chair and ran to the spot on the floor, but he couldn’t follow. The air wouldn’t open for him. He stamped and yelled and pounded the floorboards until Turtle caught him up, still kicking and shouting. She said very low and fierce into his ear: “Listen to me, Naruto-kun. No one can know your father is gone.”

Naruto was so shocked he stopped yelling. “H-he’s the H-Hokage,” he hiccuped. “Everybody will know.”

“Not yet. Not if we’re clever and quiet. Do you remember when he had to go away to Hikouto? No one knew what was happening and everyone was scared. And when people get scared sometimes they make mistakes, Naruto-kun, they do things they wouldn’t otherwise do. Things that might make it harder for your dad to take care of everyone when he comes back.”

Another sob wobbled up Naruto’s throat, but it was the last one. He sniffled against Turtle’s shoulder. “So I gotta protect everything for him.”

“Oh, Naruto-kun,” Ogata-san said, rubbing a warm hand over his back. “You don’t need to take that weight on your shoulders.”

Ogata-san was very smart. She knew how to do everything. But this time she was wrong.

They needed to pretend like everything was okay. So Ogata-san took off her apron and put on her padded red hanten coat. She tied up an extra bento box in a furoshiki, like a present, and went to visit Sagara-san. 

Naruto got the other bento box with his lunch inside it, and Turtle walked with him towards the Nara estate. There were other ANBU on the rooftops but Turtle said “Pretend not to see them,” so Naruto did. His back felt all shivery, and his stomach was cold, even though he was wearing his new warm hanten too, with its beautiful orange and blue stripes.

The streets were beginning to get busy, with the shopkeepers opening their stalls and uniformed ninja hurrying to get breakfast or go to work or set off on missions. Lots of people waved and called “Good morning, Naruto-kun!” He had to wave back and smile as big as he could and hurry on, clutching Turtle’s gloved hand.

They were hurrying so fast that they arrived at the Nara estate early. The big wooden gates were still closed and the crinkly orange and brown leaves that fell from the towering oak trees overnight hadn’t been swept away. Naruto got ready to knock on the gate, but Turtle just picked him up under the arms and they jumped. She landed, light as a bird, on the roof-ridge over the gate, then jumped down on the other side. 

She called out, “Nara Shikaku!”

The front door of the house slid open. Shikamaru’s dad stood there, with his spiky black hair messy and his dark kimono loosely tied. A green hanten hung over his shoulders as if he’d just thrown it on without bothering to put his arms through it. 

He looked at Turtle, and then at Naruto, and then at Turtle again. One of his eyebrows went up. But he didn’t say anything, just waited. 

Turtle said, “Naruto-kun will be safe here.” It wasn’t a question. 

“Yes,” Shikamaru’s dad said. “Should I summon my team?”

“It might be wise.”

His other eyebrow went up. “You’d better come in.” He leaned back into the genkan and called, “Honey! Guests for breakfast.”

“How many times have I told you—” The sharp voice broke off as Shikamaru’s mom came into the hall and saw Turtle and Naruto taking off their shoes in the genkan. 

She looked quickly between them, too, then at her husband, and then back at Naruto. The pinched line between her brows smoothed out. She put on a bright smile. “Naruto-chan! I wasn’t expecting you so early. My lazy son is still asleep, of course.” She knelt down on the polished floorboards of the hallway, so she was the same height as Naruto, and leaned in like she was going to tell a secret. “Why don’t you go to his room and jump on him?”

“I had breakfast already,” Naruto informed her politely. It probably wasn’t any good asking her to call him Naruto-kun instead of Naruto-chan. She’d be calling him Naruto-chan when he was as old as Dad. “But I’ll go wake up Shikamaru! Can Turtle come with me? Shikamaru’s never seen an ANBU before.”

Shikamaru’s mom and dad looked at each other again. Nara Shikaku scratched a long scar on the side of his face. Nara Yoshino’s smile went thin. She looked back at Naruto and said, “Of course Turtle must go with you. That’s why she’s here, right? But maybe she can just stay a minute and tell me what she likes for breakfast, first. You may go ahead, since you’ve already eaten.”

“Yes!” Naruto handed Turtle his wrapped bento and plunged up the hall. He had to turn right, then left, past sliding paper doors and through a narrow roofed corridor that was open to the garden on either side. He’d only been here to play twice before, but they’d played Hide-and-Seek everywhere, so he knew all the rooms and some of the gardens. Not the forest on the other side of the estate’s walls, though, where the deer lived. That was special; that was where they were going today.

After he woke up Shikamaru!   

He found the right door, wrestled it open, and ran inside. Shikamaru was a spiky-haired lump on the futon under a puffy warm quilt. His room was very clean, with all his toys in a box and his clothes for today laid out neatly on top of the low chest by the window. Naruto dragged the quilt off and pounced. “Wake up, wake up! I’m here early. I brought an ANBU for you to see!”

Fortunately Turtle arrived at the door by the time Shikamaru, bleary-eyed and sulky, woke up enough to really complain. Shikamaru’s dad leaned against the doorframe behind her.

Shikamaru shoved Naruto off and looked at them. His eyes got wide, then narrow. “How come you had ANBU bring you?” he demanded. “Old Ogata-san always brings you places. Did you get her fired too?”

No! She’s doing an important mission! Turtle’s my guard. She has a tortoise summons that eats fingers.” 

“Bekkou-san is resting right now,” Turtle said quickly, which was what she always said whenever Naruto wanted to know if her summons would come out to play and maybe eat fishcakes instead of fingers. 

Shikamaru’s dad said, “Naruto-kun may be staying with us for a few days, so there’ll be plenty of time to meet summons later. I’m having a couple of coworkers over, too. Don’t worry, you’re still going antlering. No getting out of it this year, son.”

“It’s too much walking,” Shikamaru complained. “You should just use your shadow jutsu and make the boy deer come up and drop their antlers in a pile.”

“Now who’s talking about too much work?” his dad asked. “Your old man’s not made of chakra. And you need the exercise. Up and at ‘em.”

It took all three of them to prod Shikamaru out of his futon and into his clothes. Shikamaru’s dad did his hair, while Shikamaru protested about the comb. Turtle said, “This will be easier when he’s old enough for caffeine.” 

“I’ve got a caffeine sensitivity,” his dad said wearily. “He probably will, too.”

“My sympathies,” Turtle said, sounding as if she meant it.

They went back into the main house for breakfast, which Shikamaru’s mom served in a big old-fashioned tatami room with the shoji doors standing open on one side to the engawa and the garden. Shikamaru’s grandparents were both away, and his great-grandma took her meals in her own room, but there were extra breakfast tables because several more adults had arrived: two burly men and two women. One of the women was short and muscular too, with spiky blue hair. The other was tall and pretty, with a long black ponytail and a sword on her back. 

They weren’t on duty like Turtle, Naruto decided, so he was allowed to try snuggling in their laps during breakfast.

The black-haired woman looked alarmed, but the blue-haired woman laughed and held out her arms to him. “Ayane’s a youngest kid, so she’s not used to it, but I’ve got three little brothers at home. I’m Yua.”

He snuggled comfortably in. “I’m Naruto. This is Turtle. She’s not allowed to take off her mask or eat ‘cause she’s working. We’re here to pick antlers with Shikamaru. My dad’s safe at home.” His voice wobbled a little bit on that, like it didn’t believe him either. He scowled and said it again: “He’s safe.

Yua’s arms closed warm and strong around him. “I’m sure he is. So are you. All of us are here today to help Turtle see to that. Can I tell you a secret?”

Naruto loved secrets. He nodded, rubbing his cheek against her shoulder. She was wearing a fuzzy sweater, soft like a cloud, but he could feel her muscles beneath.

She bent over him and whispered dramatically: “I’m ANBU too. So are my friends. We’re here to protect you, just like Turtle, but without the masks.”

“So you can be sneaky?” He sat up, interested. The other grown ups were gathered around, ignoring their breakfast tables. Shikamaru was watching with big eyes from his seat beside his dad. Naruto pointed at them. “Are you ANBU too?”

“I wear the Deer mask.” Nara Shikaku’s eyes crinkled when he smiled. “You’ve seen me talking to your dad, sometimes.”

“I didn’t know it was you!” Naruto looked accusingly at Shikamaru. “You didn’t tell me. You said you’d never seen an ANBU close up!”

“I promised I wouldn’t tell.” Shikamaru stuck his lower lip out sulkily. “I can keep secrets better’n you. Everybody knows your dad’s gone now.”

“Shikamaru!” Nara Yoshino said sharply. He shrank back behind his dad. She turned to Naruto with a kind smile. “You did very well, Naruto-chan. Even I didn’t know anything had happened until Shikaku told me.”

“Nobody is supposed to know! People will make mistakes an’, an’ they’ll make it so he can’t come back—”

“Not while we’re here,” Nara Shikaku said. His voice was calm, but low and hard. “Sagara-sama and your father’s other advisors will help the Village Council look after Konoha. My team and I will help Turtle look after you. If you want to go back to the Palace with Ogata-san, we’ll put on our armor and come with you too. But I think for today, and until we know more about why your dad left and how long he’ll be gone, it might be best for you to stay here with Shikamaru and have the day just like you planned.”

“I won’t tell Ino,” Shikamaru put in. “Or even Choji.”    

Choji was Shikamaru’s best friend. That was a big promise. Naruto thought about it. 

“I don’t have my pajamas,” he said. “Or my toothbrush. And…” 

He didn’t want to say it in front of everyone. Yua was nice, and her arms were snuggly, but what if she laughed at him? He looked up at Turtle. Her eyes were kind behind the round holes of her mask. 

“Ogata-san will bring your things over tonight,” she said. “Including Fukafuka.”

That wasn’t exactly it, but right now he really really wanted to squish Fukafuka and chew on his ears, and he was so glad Turtle had thought of it that he forgot about the other thing. 

They went back to eating breakfast. Turtle and Shikaku and Yoshino all made plans for the day, talking out loud about things like they weren’t keeping secrets anymore. Yua made suggestions too, even though she kept Naruto snug in one arm and fed him pieces of her own breakfast whenever they thought nobody was looking. He figured out eventually that she was lieutenant on this team, like Shiranui-san was on Kakashi-niisan’s team, and that meant Ayane and the other two men had to listen to her. 

Ayane was quiet but nice. After breakfast she showed Shikamaru and Naruto her sword, which was almost as long as they were tall, and so sharp that it could cut a single falling leaf out in the garden. She could do a flurry of spinning dances with it, and she could send her chakra out from the blade to cut a leaf without even touching it. She let Naruto try to hold the sword, but it was too heavy and long; the tip kept falling on the ground. “When I’m bigger,” he decided, and gave it back.   

By then the other two men on the team had gone out to do whatever Shikamaru’s dad told them to do, and everybody else was standing up and stretching and talking about getting started with the day. Shikamaru’s dad carried all the little dining tables into the kitchen to do the dishes. Naruto got to help. So did Shikamaru, although he complained about that, too.

Shikamaru’s mom reappeared as they were finishing the dishes. She was wearing a dark green jacket with the Nara clan symbol on each shoulder, and she carried an armful of heavy canvas rucksacks. “I packed more bento,” she said. “They’re on the table. Naruto-chan brought his own but there’s one for each of the rest of you, in this front pocket here—thank you, Naruto-chan, that’s very helpful—and now all the rest of the bag has room for collecting shed antlers. Are those shoulder straps comfortable? Here, let’s tighten them.”

Naruto stood still while she fussed. He liked being told he was helpful. He liked Shikamaru’s mom and dad, and Yua-fukuchou and Ayane. And he loved Turtle. He hoped Ogata-san would come this afternoon; she would like everyone, too. 

So would Dad, when he came back.

But the day passed, and Dad didn’t come home. 

Ino and Choji arrived, and they all went hiking through the woods, tramping on crackly fallen leaves and jumping on rocks to cross silvery little streams. They looked for tall grass and brushy thickets where the deer would have bedded down, and where shed antlers might have fallen; they visited salt licks and berry patches and acorn-rich oak ridges where the deer met to feed. Sometimes Naruto even saw a wary buck or a pair of delicate does watching from the tree-shadows, but they always bounded away when he tried to make friends.

Shikamaru bragged that he could pet the deer, they only ran away because everyone else was so noisy. He said the best way was to sit very quiet and still in the oak mast, so that when the deer came up looking for acorns they’d see him there already and wouldn’t be surprised. 

Choji tried eating an acorn. Yua-fukuchou told a story about a boy who ate an acorn and then grew oak trees out of his ears. After that everybody wanted to try one. The shells were too hard to bite, but if you smashed them between flat rocks you could pick out the kernel of nutmeat, which tasted terrible and made Naruto’s mouth feel like his tongue and teeth were growing fuzz. Of course then Choji remembered that his mom always soaked acorns in water to make them less bitter, before she ground them up and made them into noodles. 

Turtle very quickly suggested eating their lunches, before Ino could pound Choji flat. 

So they sat in the crunchy leaves and ate their bentos, and then they played Hunter Tag and Shadow-Catcher, and then they went looking for more antlers. The antlers were hard to see; sometimes they just looked like dried sticks, and sometimes they were caught in low tangled branches hanging over Naruto’s head. When you did find one, they were hard and heavy, covered in bony little bumps at the base, and then branching out into many sharp points that Shikamaru’s mom called tines. 

She had to check every antler they found to see if it was a good one to bring back and make into medicine. Lots of the antlers were already chewed by mice and squirrels and porcupines. Even bears and foxes would eat them, Shikamaru’s mom said. The deer put lots of calcium and protein and other nutrients into growing the antlers, which was why they made good medicine, but also why other animals liked eating them in the autumn and winter. If there were any toothmarks at all, they had to drop the antler back in the leaves and keep looking for more. 

Even so, everyone had a full rucksack by late afternoon. They trooped back to the Nara estate, and Shikamaru’s dad filled up the big cedar bathtub while Shikamaru’s mom made dinner. After baths and dinner Choji and Ino went home, but Naruto got to snuggle under the warm kotatsu and play cards with Shikamaru, Turtle, and Yua. 

But Dad still hadn’t come back to Konoha.

Ogata-san arrived in late evening, just before bedtime. At first no one even knew it was her. The person who knocked on the gate was a young woman with two good eyes, not an old iron-haired lady with an eyepatch. She only dropped the henge and became Ogata-san again when she came into the house and saw Naruto sitting under the kotatsu.

Turtle got up like a flash. “Aunt,” she said. “What’s happened?”

“Nothing,” Ogata-san said wearily. She knelt on the tatami and put down the big furoshiki-wrapped bundle she’d been carrying. “Yoshino-san, I’ve brought a few of Naruto-kun’s things. I hope you won’t mind if he stays with you for another day or two.”

“Of course,” Shikamaru’s mom said. “We’ll keep him as long as he needs. Is the palace—” She stopped, looked at Naruto, and changed what she’d been about to say. “My father-in-law is traveling right now, or we’d have a better insight into discussions within the Village Council. Has there been any… tension?”

“Not yet,” Ogata-san said, her mouth very thin. “But I wouldn’t count on being able to say that tomorrow.” 

“What about my dad?” Naruto burst out. “And Kakashi-niisan? Has Dad saved him yet?”

Ogata-san took a deep breath before she looked at him. “Sagara-sama had a message from Lynx this afternoon. The situation in Suna is very complicated right now, and Hokage-sama may not be able to return home for some time. Sagara-sama agrees it would be best for you to stay with the Nara for now.” 

“What does that mean,” Naruto wailed. “Is Kakashi-niisan hurt? Is Dad hurt?”

Even before Ogata-san opened her mouth to reassure him, he could see in her eyes that she didn’t know.

Naruto sobbed himself to sleep that night. Everyone tried to help: Ogata-san had brought Fukafuka, and Shikamaru offered all sorts of toys, and Turtle tried to talk about how strong and tough and unbeatable Dad was. But Shikamaru’s mom just said, “He needs to cry. Let him.” 

She spread out a futon for him in a small guest room, and she sat there with him, resting a warm hand on his back, while he screamed and wailed and finally snuffled off into sleep.

That night in his dream the Fox who was sometimes the size of a house and sometimes the size of the Hokage Mountain said, The spaces are tearing wider. Soon they will be wide enough for me to pass through.     

Naruto wasn’t there in his dream to argue or ask questions or cry. He just seemed to be watching, like on TV, except there was no TV screen and no safe comfortable living room behind him. Instead there was an immense grassland that went on forever, with feathery seed-fringed blades that waved and bent in the wind, tall as trees.  

The Fox lay in the grass and watched as a dust-storm in the distance writhed and spat and tore itself apart. The Fox’s long red tongue ran out between its teeth and its white jaws split open and it laughed. 

Rage, little fool. Rage and spin yourself out. Perhaps I shall eat the tatters that remain.

The dust-storm heard. It changed direction and came spinning through the grasslands, flinging torn seedheads into the sky. 

I WAS FREE, it howled. I was nearly free!

And now you are free again. On this plane. With me. The Fox yawned and licked its teeth. Nine fiery tails waved gently behind it and left ashes in their wake. How long has it been since I tasted your soul’s blood? Too long, One-Tail.

I will scour the fires from your bones, the dust-storm raged, and now it was a tanuki, monster-tall, with sandstone teeth and eyes like pits. I will drink the marrow of your soul. And then I will find that Golden One, that ant-like one and his toad, who DARED—

The Fox was on its feet, crouched to spring. It was red as fire, red as blood, and its tails were a hurricane behind it. The Golden One. The Yellow Flash? 

I will crack him open! the tanuki screamed. I will pick my teeth with his bones!

The Fox opened its jaws and roared. A beam of white-fringed black light left its mouth, splintering the air. 

The tanuki became a dust-storm again and fled, as grass and soil exploded into nothingness where it had stood. 

And then the Fox was gone too, and a red-haired woman stood where it had been, watching the horizon with eyes like a firestorm.

She said, Minato.

Naruto woke up.

7 thoughts on “Sleep With One Eye Open


    Man, there’s some big plot developments happening at the moment, huh? I’m so curious about what kind of connection Naruto still has to the Kyuubi. Will he ever be a full jinchuriki, or not? Also, the way you are able to get into his head and both believably represent the headspace of a four-year old and still have me on the edge of my seat throughout is masterfully done. I also loved seeing the Nara family and the other ANBU looking after little Naruto. The poor thing needs it.

    Can’t wait for the next installment!

  2. Oh my god !
    You got me crying. OK, it’s not too hard to achieve but well…

    Poor little kid. It’s so hard for him !

    Il love to see Nara family and how Shikamaru is already so smart.

    And the connection with Kyubi and next… Kushina !!!

    Thank you so much for this so soon chapter !

  3. Omg Naruto!!!! I’ve been ITCHING to get more from his side, especially recurring nightmares, and now we know!! well, not that we truly know, but there’s definitely something funky going on with the nine tailed fox in him. gosh, as much as i hate having to break from the chaos over in suna, this update just presents more problems. minato is off dealing with one unleashed bijuu, how in the world is he supposed to deal with some form/vestige/remnant of one giving his son terrifying nightmares?

    another thing that i love love love about this chapter is how much community we see. minato is hokage, yes, but he’s also a single father, and it’s great to see all the different resources that band together to take care of naruto! baby shikamaru is amazing as well as the other baby canon characters, and i love all the other anbu who pop in and out, but wearing their masks and not. as always, you all do such a great job at showing nuance through limited POV, and this is all so so great!!!

  4. oh my goddd. I’m so on edge now. I can’t wait to see what happens in Suna but at the same time Konoha’s side of things is equally as riveting. I’m wondering whether the sketchy things Danzo has planned will manifest with this new development…

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