A/N: This chapter was written for the Sumigakure Halloween Event of 2016 prompt "Skeleton Army."


Tick tock, the clock quietly repeated for hours on end. Tick tock, it told everyone who bothered to come in.

Gaara ignored the clock, and just kept sweeping the floors.

"You know," a familiar voice intoned, "People might get the wrong idea if you never leave this place."

"And what idea might that be, Naruto?" Gaara put his broom to the side and turned to face his oldest friend. He leaned against the counter and crossed his arms, mindful of his incredibly bushy tail. Naruto was perched on the edge of another counter, one that went against an adjacent wall.

Naruto grinned, fangs glinting in the light. Nine tails swished through the air behind him, and the pale orange ears on his head flicked forward. "Why, that you don't like people, of course!"

"Naruto, it's almost three o'clock, and I run a candy store. As soon as the schools let out, I'm going to be swamped with customers that barely scrape four feet tall and have enough pocket money for a lollipop or two." He frowned. "Which reminds me, don't you have work?"

"Eh," Naruto waved a hand dismissively. "Baa-chan got drunk again. Nothing's going to get done whether I'm there or not, so Shizune gave me the day off."

"Regardless, I do have a point about the time, and you know it." Gaara didn't quite make little shooing motions with his hands as he went over to Naruto, but it was implied. "Get off the counter, I have to wipe it down."

"Maaaaan," Naruto whined, hopping down from his spot, "whoever said all Tanuki only knew how to have fun never meet you."

"I know how to have fun, Naruto," Gaara said as he grabbed a wet cloth and started cleaning up the counter. "I just also know when it's time to work."

"Fiiiiiine." Naruto pouted. "But I'll see you when you close at seven, right?"

"Seven-thirty, and yes." Gaara corrected. "Now go entertain yourself."

Naruto grinned and disappeared in a puff of smoke, just as the door burst open and let in a gaggle of elementary-school-aged children. Gaara only barely managed to get his own puff of smoke cleared away after transforming to hide his tail and ears, looking wholly human as he smiled down at his tiny customers. They bustled around him, exclaiming over the sugary goods and just generally being tiny children faced with the option of buying candy.

A tug on his sleeve caught his attention, and he turned to see a frequent customer. He crouched down to be on eye-level with her.

"Ah, Isaribi. You wanted the—"

"Yes, Mr. Suna." Isaribi whispered, fingers twisting in the hem of her shirt. "Zabuza's been getting a craving."

"Yes, well, vampires do tend to get them just as much as the rest of us. Go ahead and grab a box of blood pops from the back. You know where they are."

Isaribi grinned and scuttled off, and Gaara stood straight again. Isaribi scales couldn't quite be seen from here, on account of the wrappings she put on every morning, citing eczema to the humans, but Gaara knew they were there. For a half-human, half-mermaid girl like her, there always were. Not as many as on a full mermaid taking human form, but certainly enough to draw questions.

Even before Isaribi was ready to go, though, someone came to pick her up. The shop was nearly empty by that point, as Isaribi had opted to wait until there were fewer classmates to question her purchase, and that had made her late getting home.

"Haku, lovely to see you." Gaara nodded at Isaribi's adopted older brother, who was carefully staying away from the heated displays with the pastries. Haku's control over his Yuki-Onna powers was impressive, but there was always and aura of cold around him nonetheless.

Yuki-Onna. Snow woman. Haku definitely embodied the first part, even if he'd decided the latter half of the species name was optional at best.

"Indeed," Haku replied with a smile. "I was wondering why Isaribi was taking so long."

"Just getting some snacks for Zabuza, Haku." Isaribi held the box up to show him. "Think we should get anything for Mei?"

"I'm sure she'd like some of the chocolate croissants," Haku assured her. "Perhaps the fish-flake biscuits as well?"

Isaribi nodded enthusiastically and turned to bounce at the pastry counter.

Gaara liked his job.


"And it's just, like, yeah I know I need to put in the effort and everything, but would it kill her to be sober a little more often?" Naruto waved a hand around, flinging bits of soup everywhere.

"I'm sure she has her reasons, Naruto." Gaara reached out and grabbed Naruto's wrist, pulling it down to the table. "Also, you're getting ramen everywhere. Stop moving that hand around so much."

"You're so responsible, Gaara. It's kind of a downer sometimes." Naruto ignored Gaara's amused snort. "Don't get me wrong, it's definitely kind of hot sometimes, but it's also a total downer, dude."

Gaara raised an eyebrow. ""Hot."

"Totally." Naruto nodded. "And not even, like, bro hot? But like, 'I'm questioning my decision to remain friends when there's a chance we could be banging' hot."

Gaara thought that over for a moment, then closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Naruto, did you just proposition me?"

"...Maaaaaybe." Naruto sounded like he was grinning. "Is that a problem?"

"You put over a decade of friendship in potential jeopardy, and decided to proposition me by simultaneously complimenting and insulting my tendencies to be responsible, while getting ramen."

"...Yes? Is that... Is that more of a problem than I thought?" Naruto's voice had taken a turn for the worried. "I swear, if I made you uncomfortable, I can just never mention it again, and—"

"I... That's not... Dammit, Naruto, would it have really been that hard to ask me out the normal way?" Gaara put down his hand and looked Naruto in the eyes. "I'd have said yes either way, but really?"

"Wait, you'll go on a date with me?" Naruto brightened up, apparently completely missing the point. 'So it worked?"

"Would have worked a lot better if you—"

"Can I kiss you?" Naruto asked with bright eyes and a wide grin, leaning into Gaara's personal space. "Only, I've kind of been daydreaming about this for like a year and a half, so it's mbphmb."

Gaara cut off his best friend, apparently now boyfriend, by closing what little distance was left and pressing their lips together. Naruto's eyes widened and then immediately scrunched shut, Naruto clearly having decided that kissing was a better waste of his time than talking. Gaara closed his eyes and followed suit.

Now he just had to figure out how to avoid death at the hands of a protective Kitsune woman and her creepy older brother.

(While Kushina and Kurama would likely object to what had just occurred, for reasons he really didn't feel like thinking about, Gaara had a feeling that Minato would just squint in confusion, shrug, and move on with his life. Unlife. Whatever.)