Things are… hectic, to say the least, but thanks to JustBeingAPotato who was ever so kind to buy me a coffee, I managed to finish this chapter. Thank you so much, this chapter is completely dedicated to you and your amazingness.

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto. I do, however, own Chiyuki, any original characters, and this story's plot.

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She is made of iron and fire, and she will forge herself.


Becoming Hokage 101

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Eighth section: Allow yourself to stop and take a step back sometimes.

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Chapter Forty: to be human

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A Kage is a village's strongest, most powerful shinobi, but at the end of the day, we are all just human. You and I are made of the same fragile and easily breakable flesh and bones, so keep in mind that no one is immortal, no matter how strong they may be.

Rejoice in how normal and human you are, for the burden the gods bear is too much for us. Sometimes, taking a step back and regrouping is the best decision you can make, regardless of what anyone might say about it.

Rely on those around you, for that is not a weakness, but a strength. A Kage is only as strong as their people, their village, and that which they fight for. If you do not have anyone close you can rely on, just what kind of person are you?

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The next two days are spent inside the compound.

She wakes up on the next day some time after eight, lying on top of Tooru's chest. It's a quiet, peaceful time spent mostly in silence, and even though she wonders if he doesn't have work, she doesn't ask.

Her eldest brother, for his part, seems resolute to treat her as if she's the most precious treasure he's ever encountered, as if she's a soft-skinned toddler and not a war-hardened ninja. Chiyuki doesn't feel like a 14 year old jounin, who's been through near death experiences and a war involving all the shinobi nations; she feels like a child, small and vulnerable, and the change is strange.

But not unwelcome.

The clan head presses cold towels to her red, swollen face, and gets her an entire cake for breakfast. He brushes her hair gently whilst humming an unknown tune under his breath. He picks out the softest, warmest hoodie she owns and helps her put it on. He makes her tea and brings her snacks, and lets her nap on his lap while he reads.

Tooru doesn't let anyone see her, and Chiyuki, for her part, doesn't feel like seeing anyone either. Her ANBU - Zou - hovers at the edge of what seems to be his sensing range, respecting her privacy now more than ever. The blonde girl appreciates it, even though neither have ever said a word to each other.

On the third day, she goes to the main house, where her parents live.

She takes naps on her mother's lap, suddenly feeling like a small toddler all over again. Biwako, strangely enough, hadn't said much ever since she came to visit, and merely welcomed her inside after a brief, but tight hug.

"Can you cut my hair?" The 14 year old had asked, the memory of Madara grabbing her by the hair still too vivid in her mind. Sometimes, when she closes her eyes, she goes back to that time-

"In need of a change in hairstyles, I see." Her mother's raspy voice has a slight teasing tone to it, and she's grateful for the obvious attempt to lighten up the situation.

'What, am I Sakura now?'

'Sakura's hair was shorter than how you want yours to be.' Chou's voice murmurs in her mind, and her snark snaps shut.

"Yes. I want it short, like shoulder-length."

"We can do that. Come here."

Biwako's hands expertly brush and part her hair, and neither of the two speak as the sound of the scissors fill the room. The now retired member of the Council braids a few strands behind her daughter's ear and keeps it in place with the hair ornament she'd gotten from Nagato.

Her mom also helps her paint her nails with the nail polish Konan had given her, giving a hum of appreciation for the color and the poison in it. She also presents her daughter with some pink lip balm, and when the teenager looks at herself in the mirror for the first time in many days, she feels-

"Do you like it?"

"Yes." She breathes out, a small smile pulling at thin, slightly pink lips. "I like it."

After dinner, she has dinner with her father, and asks for advice in dealing with Black Zetsu - who's severely wounded but very much still alive - and the weight of the two lives she now carries with her.

Really, who better to help her understand what it feels like to have someone quite literally die so you can live?

"How do I deal with this pain, father? How do I handle this guilt?"

Hiruzen looks at his youngest child with impossibly sad eyes and lays a hand on her head, brushing his wrinkled fingers through the thin strands of ash blonde hair. She feels impossibly small, but doesn't mind it one bit.

"Sometimes," he begins, "you just have to let yourself feel it, my child."

"But it hurts, father." The teenager clutches at her chest, eyes closing for one pained second, and almost misses the time when she'd felt nothing.

Almost.

"I know, my child. The gods know I do." The old man also closes his eyes, a tortured expression overcoming his features. "And that is why you must feel it."

After a nanosecond of hesitation, the previous Hokage beckons his daughter closer, and she slowly shuffles closer to him. He wraps a strong but tired arm around her shoulders, and sighs when she hides her face in the crook of his neck.

It comes to her that her father is not an immovable mountain - none of them are. They're all human, made of flesh and bones, who get hurt and bleed and feel happiness and sadness just like everyone else.

And, boy, do they bleed.

"Feel the weight of that sacrifice, and honor it. Mourn those lives lost for your sake and live, my child."

Perhaps the fact that her parents are not perfect is a blessing in and of itself. She wouldn't have been able to stand the weight of being the daughter of such perfect beings, and she most definitely wouldn't want to.

"Live your best life; not only because of them, but because of yourself as well."

Quite belatedly, a newfound appreciation for her parents grows warm in her chest, lighting up all of the dark corners of her heart. Both of them made mistakes, yes, but in the end, they're all just human - just like she is, just like Ensui and Takuto had been.

"That is the best way you can honor them - and yourself."

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On the fourth day, she rests.

On the fifth, she plots.

'Chou, show me the situation in the major ninja villages.'

The huge peacock seems to sigh, wings fluttering behind them.

'We were hoping you would never ask that.' The insect confesses. 'It might overwhelm you.'

'I'll get over it.'

Chiyuki makes sure Zou is far away enough that he can't see her before she lies down on her bed with only her right eye closed. Chou then lands on her open left eye and shows her the world.

As it turns out, Kumo isn't actually that bad, as they are slowly and quietly rebuilding their village since A has become the Raikage. Iwa is a little worse off, as they have to send money to Konoha and Ame, but since they weren't exactly poor in the first place, they aren't struggling that much.

There's also the fact that the Tsuchikage is an absolute menace who knows very well how to run his village, but well.

'The old man definitely needs to die. He's too set in his old ways for my plans to work the way I want them to, but that can wait.'

Kiri's civil war keeps raging on, with not yet an end in sight. Yagura is still the Mizukage, even though he's been chosen as Madara's proxy and seems to disappear under the earth more often than not.

'Chou mentioned Black Zetsu keeps doing that. It's likely the two are plotting together.'

Then there's Terumi Mei, someone who's two years older than Chiyuki herself and a jounin. She's still too young to become the Mizukage, although the blonde girl has plans for the village surrounded by mist.

'Well, let's keep an eye out for Kiri's situation, for now. Tell me if there are any changes or suspicious movements.'

'As you wish.'

The people are desperate, but not enough. When the population is at their most miserable, most hopeless self, Chiyuki - or a proxy - will show up as someone who will save Kiri and put another Mizukage in their place, but not yet.

'Speaking of proxies…'

It'd be good to have one or two, in case she does end up stuck inside Konoha for the unforeseeable future. Nevermind the fact that Nagato (who still hasn't woken up and worries her endlessly) would gladly do anything she asked for, she can't keep relying on a village leader to do her dirty deeds.

She needs a proxy who will act in her place, who can act as a messenger; someone loyal enough she'd never question their motives. Immediately, three people come to mind: Kisame, Kabuto, and Kimimaro.

'I need at least one of them on my side. All three of them, preferably.'

She already knows how things will go; Kisame's a shinobi working for the cypher division right now, and in a few years, he'll find out Fuguki is selling village secrets, kill his mentor, and flee from Kiri.

The cogs in her mind turn rapidly like a well-oiled machine, and her eyes shine with something dangerous.

'I'll show up then - as a savior, a pariah, someone he can trust and swear allegiance to. I'll be his Tobi and recruit him before Black Zetsu has a chance to.'

Kisame is the perfect proxy for her: strong enough she won't have to worry about him getting hurt - unless he somehow crosses paths with Killer B -, loyal enough she won't ever have to question his motives, and, once he deserts Kiri, someone with no allegiance to any village.

'Keep an eye on Kisame, as well. Tell me if there are any changes anytime.'

'Very well.'

Kabuto lives with his adoptive mother, who takes care of the orphanage, just like Before. He's four right now, and since Orochimaru deserted the village before the boy was even born, the two never even met each other. With Danzo and ROOT out of the picture, there's no one who'll threaten Nono's life, which means there's a high chance he'll grow up to be a regular Konoha ninja.

Although…

'Kabuto has great intelligence gathering skills, not to mention his proficiency in healing jutsu. He can be put on a genin team whose primary objective is intel gathering, and I can make a medic-nin their jounin sensei. That way, we can nurture his talents, challenge him, and give him enough freedom to find out who he is and who he wants to be. Perhaps I could even ask Tsunade to take him as an apprentice.'

That leaves Kimimaro, who is now a two year old toddler living with his family in the edge of Water country. In a few years, the Kaguya clan would attempt an attack on an impoverished, but not quite so weak Kiri, and would lose spectacularly, choosing to fight to death instead of backing down. Kimimaro would be its sole survivor.

As sad as it sounds, it's necessary for him to lose his clan - else, how would she be able to pick him up and bring him to her side? She just needs to do it before Orochimaru can.

'Keep an eye out for that child, as well. As soon as his family attacks Kiri, let me know.'

'Of course.'

That reminds her - what about Jugo, Karin, and Suigetsu? Frankly speaking, she does not care about Jugo or Suigetsu. If it weren't for Orochimaru's experiments, Jugo would be an average boy, and Suigetsu was a Kiri shinobi in the first place. She has no need for him.

'Karin, on the other hand…'

Karin's mother is somehow still alive, which is great. They aren't in Kusa yet, and the mother carries a one year old Karin around as they stay in a small inn between Rain and Wind country.

'Wait, what's the snake doing now?'

'Right now, Orochimaru continues to lay low in Rice Country, gathering a few followers.'

'Ah, he's choosing to keep quiet for now.'

'It does seem that way.'

However, she knows he'll soon try to convince the daimyo to let him take control of the country and found a ninja village, which he might already plan on doing.

Well. Orochimaru is far away enough that Karin and her mother won't catch his attention so quickly, and she can always ask Konan or Yahiko to pick the two up if push comes to shove.

(She winces slightly when the possibility of the two not wanting to do anything with her crosses her mind, but she leaves that for Future Chiyuki to deal with.)

Suna's situation is extremely delicate. A young Rasa is the Third Kazekage, and he's struggling with a poor village that is suffering heavy losses from the war and needs to give reparation money to Konoha and Ame. There's also a young Gaara, who already has the Shukaku sealed inside of him, but remains a happy child for now.

Her best bet lies not in befriending Rasa, who already resents Konoha far too much; she needs to have Gaara on her side asap. Before, Suna spent three years without a kage, and Gaara became Kazekage when he was 15. If she befriends the Shukaku jinchuriki and makes him the Kazekage just like Before, she won't have to worry about Suna ever again.

Before, the one to kill Rasa had been Orochimaru, but Otogakure is a village she cannot allow to be born, under any circumstances.

'Chou, show up to Gaara every once in a while, preferably when he's alone. Play with him often enough he thinks of butterflies as good things.'

'Understood.'

And then, when he's 12, when Shukaku's eaten at most of his sanity, she'll show up to him as a savior, someone who can introduce him to Kushina and her wonderful seals - maybe throw Naruto at him, as well - and win him once and for all.

A small part of her feels bad for using him like that. He's a child, born and raised in awful circumstances - but ultimately (unfortunately) he's not as important to her as Sasuke and Shikamaru are, and so she has no qualms about using a child to get what she wants.

The cherry on top of the cake is Ame. The village suffered no losses from Black Zetsu and Madara's attack, thanks to all the drills done beforehand with the civilians. Konan, Nagato, and the Ame ninja did a wonderful job of keeping the White Zetsu army on the perimeter of the village, which means the buildings suffered little to no damage.

The reputation of the three leaders of Ame has only gone up in the people's eyes, and Nagato is seen as a god who kept the main culprit away from them along with his angel - Chiyuki herself. The only problem is that Nagato still hasn't woken up and continues to sleep in the room he shares with his two partners. Chou had assured her that Tsunade checked him time and time again, and that he was merely asleep, but the blonde girl wouldn't be fully relieved without seeing him up and about again.

'Well, that's the gist of it, I think.'

The butterfly leaves its summoner's eye, and the teenager suddenly feels as if there's an entire truck pressing down on her, feeling heavy and exhausted all at once. A headache reverberates inside her skull, a dull sound that makes her wince every so often, and all of that combined makes her feel nauseous.

'Ah. So this is what you meant when you said I'd feel overwhelmed.'

'Knowledge comes at a heavy price. Never forget that.'

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"I see you're feeling better already." Minato looks exasperatedly at her figure standing in front of his house, but there's no denying the hint of relief shining in his blue eyes.

"I'm truly sorry to bother you late at night, but this is important."

"Of course it is." The blonde man says, voice dripping with irony, but ushers her inside his house with a gentle hand on her back.

As soon as she takes her shoes off, a little blonde hurricane greets her enthusiastically at the genkan, saying a blubbering of words not even his parents can understand.

"Hi, Naruto." Her lips turn slightly upwards, and even though that is too little to be called a smile, Kushina's is enough to light up the entire room.

"Hi, Chiyuki-chan. Have you come for dinner?"

"No, Kushina-san, thank you. I'm very sorry for intruding."

The red-haired woman waves a hand dismissively and picks up her two year old son in a single movement that speaks of experience.

"I'll bring some tea to the study later." She chirps, and Minato looks at her, completely enamored, before giving her cheek a chaste kiss, and another to his son's head.

"Thank you, dear."

"Of course. Now, shoo."

"Shoo!" Naruto repeats, and both the toddler and his mother giggle at each other. The Yondaime glances at his family, love clear in his blue eyes, before he turns to Chiyuki with a sigh.

"Alright, then, you little monster. Let's see what you have to say."

They sit themselves in Minato's study, a cozy little room that smells like paper and lavender. He activates sound-proof seals with a flicker of his hand, and turns serious eyes to her.

"I know you wouldn't come to my house at this hour for no reason - not after what you've been through."

'Be aware of your privileges, is what he's trying to say, huh.'

The ash blonde girl nods, matching his somber expression. "Of course, and I truly am sorry to bother you like this. However, I have a proposition for you."

Both his eyebrows go up to his hairline, and he no doubt must be thinking how she has the nerve to make a proposition to the Hokage. Regardless, he lets her speak freely.

"I've seen how things are currently in all of the nations, and I've got a plan. Well, a few. To put them in action, I need your help, and to be declared your official successor."

"What's in it for me?" He asks immediately, knowing that a proposition means there's something advantageous for him as well.

"Early retirement and the right to choose any mission you may take in the future."

"Very well. Go on."

The fact is that Minato is tired. He'd been expected to take the Hokage's seat ever since the war broke out, all those years ago, and he'd had to keep this fragile peace with an iron fist since it ended. Nevermind her shenanigans, he's had to deal with their alliance with Ame, Konoha's economy, the daimyo asking for explanations, rebuilding the village, keeping everyone safe and happy and well-fed and disease-free and take care of his shinobi population and-

She'd be exhausted if she were in his shoes.

'Fear isn't peace, however, and he's tired of keeping this façade up.'

"When I turn 18, I'll become Hokage and you'll retire from active duty, only taking missions if necessary. Your retirement money will, of course, be the same as the salary you earn now, with the necessary adjustments."

"Mhm. And what do you want?"

"I get to use the power and fame that comes with being labeled The Next Hokage, and all that entails. I plan on laying some traps down and wait until it's time to see the things I've caught."

"You sound like you don't know what you're laying traps for."

There's a dangerous glint in the man's eyes, but she didn't come here to play around.

No, she most definitely isn't gonna play around anymore.

"I've got many traps, and they're all layered with traps within them. I know exactly what I want to catch, but if something else manages to come along, well. Who am I to say no to that?"

"That's a pretty ambitious plan."

"We've played safe before. Look how that turned out."

Minato exhales, heavy and loud, and the air clears. Breathing becomes a tad easier, even though she never noticed when it became slightly harder to.

There's something in the Hokage's eyes she can't quite identify - respect? wonder? fear? - but she doesn't care enough to try and figure it out.

She has things to do.

"You're a monster, Chiyuki." He says, only half joking.

"Thank you."

"Alright, then. What are your plans?"

"Well, see, the situation in Kiri right now is this-"

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A month later, Namikaze Minato announces Sarutobi Chiyuki as his successor.

All the important people are there - including the daimyo's wife, somehow - and the Yondaime makes it a Big Deal™. A huge part of it is, of course, for their plan to make her as important as possible in the eyes of the village and the world. In exchange, all the plans she comes up with have to go through the Hokage plus the Big Three before it can be put in motion.

A pretty fair deal, if she says so herself.

There's a festival right after the announcement, people congratulating her left and right, and each of her teammates on her sides acting like bodyguards, not letting anyone get too close.

It's quite cute.

Both her parents give her a tight hug, and she shares a meaningful glance with her father. Nearly all of her clan members are there as well, giving her heartfelt congratulations, and oh, she really has been a fool all this time, hasn't she? A whole support net right under her nose, and what has she done? Absolutely nothing.

'You were almost murdered in your own house.' Chou murmurs, not liking it one bit when she puts herself down like that.

'My aunt was one relative in dozens.' The blonde answers.

'You did your best back then.' The peacock butterfly's words open the nearly healed wound a little, making blood slowly ooze out of it. She did her best back then, yes, but couldn't she have trusted her family members a little more?

'Not everyone was out there to get me.'

'Enough were.'

A part of her still feels guilty for not having gone to Hiruzen first, but there's no guarantee he'd have listened to her and investigated Danzo properly. There's a very good chance he'd have scolded her and told her to not stick her nose into the 'adult's business', and how would she do anything else after that?

Naturally, the Big Three are also there.

Shikaku and Fugaku couldn't look more smug even if they tried, and Tsunade looks especially pleased as she counts money in her hands.

'I can't believe she made a bet on how early I'd be announced as the successor.' Is what she thinks, but there's only fondness in her words.

All the toddlers are there as well, but the two boys that want to catch her attention the most are Sasuke and Shikamaru, her little angelic troublemakers.

"Oneechama, congratulations!" The young Uchiha gushes, even if Chiyuki sees in his eyes that he doesn't quite get what this is all about. All he knows is that there's a huge party for his godmother, and hells, he's all for it.

"Congrats, oneechama." Little Shikamaru drawls, having the exact same smug look in his eyes as his father. Now there's a toddler who knows exactly what this is all about and just how important she's become. Regardless, she kisses each of her godsons' cheeks, managing to give them the smallest of smiles.

"Thank you, Sasuke-chan. Thank you, Shika."

"I must say my heartfelt congratulations as well." Satoru Mina, someone she sees once in a while shows up with tears in her eyes, slowly putting a hand on her arm. "I always knew you would do great things, dear. I'm so happy for you."

Her eyes let the Sarutobi Princess know she's being completely honest, and the fact warms up her heart. "Thank you, Mina-san. I'm glad you remember my promise."

Many, many more people congratulate her.

Team Kakashi is by her side as much as her own team, keeping her surrounded by a protective chakra web as Chiyuki makes her rounds and greets people. Yamato is there as well, standing awkwardly next to his aunt, and Choza-sensei, and Inoichi, and Shizune-san, and-

"Congratulations, peanut." There's something in her brother's voice that nearly chokes him up, but they both choose to ignore it as they hug each other. "Or should I say Godaime-sama?"

"Ugh, please don't." They all chuckle, and she takes note of the way Genma looks at her brother with his ears tinted red. It gets worse when Tooru's smile widens, and she bites her lip to prevent herself from saying anything.

'Not my circus, not my monkeys. Not my circus, not my monkeys.'

If her teammate has a crush on someone he knows is already engaged - and he does, because she told both Gai and Genma two weeks ago - that's his problem, and his only. Her eldest teammate is already 17 years old, a man in every way that counts, and though he may seem emotionally constipated sometimes, he's spent enough time around Chiyuki and Gai to be comfortable talking about feelings.

"Also, Asuma sent this." The Sarutobi clan head pipes up, handing her a scroll. She receives it with both hands and holds it close to her chest for a moment, thinking fondly of the brother that's still serving the daimyo. It makes her feel as if he's close to her in this important moment, and the feeling brings relief.

With festive cheer in the air and lighter than usual hearts, the village parties and celebrates the beginning of a new era.

(Unbeknownst to all, Konoha is in for a wild ride with their soon-to-be Godaime Hokage.)

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To no one's surprise, she spends a lot of time at the Uchiha Police Force, mostly to see in detail how they deal with civilian cases. It's one of the things she'd asked Minato about, because even though she knows how things work for the ninja, the civilian population is just as important.

The one who got assigned to explain the ropes to her is none other than Shisui, who sometimes looks at her a little too unnervingly for her liking.

The young chunin (because Minato prohibited people younger than 12 to be promoted to jounin) is all of 11 years old and stands nearly a head shorter than her, but for all it's worth, his presence is enough to make him seem ten feet tall.

"-and this is where we file the cases. These are the closed cases, and these are the ongoing investigations."

"Are there no cold cases?" Chiyuki asks, glancing at all the files meticulously arranged. They're organized inside of huge files by year, and inside of them, the papers are in alphabetical order.

"Nope. If a case isn't closed, then it's ongoing. Fugaku-taicho allows no cold cases." He answers, letting her look around as much as she pleases.

"I see. Is there no one assigned to the KPF's archives?"

"There isn't a specific person. We're all 'heavily encouraged' to keep everything organized if we take out or put in any files."

The jounin hums at the boy's small joke, giving him an amused glance. He, in turn, grins at her, but remains in silence after that.

Uchiha Shisui is, as expected, an extroverted and bright child. He's got many acquaintances, and everyone speaks fondly of him. He's particularly known for always sticking with his little cousins, Sasuke and Itachi, and pestering Obito to spar with him.

All in all, he's very much what she thought he'd be, except-

"Shall we go, then? Fugaku-taicho mentioned he wanted to see you after our tour." Again, there's something in his dark eyes before it's gone, and for the life of her, Chiyuki can't figure out just what it is. He talks to her with a little bit of pomp, always calling her Chiyuki-hime, and there's a hint of teasing whenever he speaks to her.

Whatever it is, she's sure it'll pass soon.

"Sure, let's go." She nods at him, and as they exit the KPF's file room, they encounter Itachi, who's coming out of his father's office.

"Chiyuki-hime." The seven year old greets her politely, and makes no move to hide his stare. She's his rival for Sasuke's attention, yes, but she's also important, and it's honestly cute how he doesn't bother hiding how much he respects her.

"Hello, Itachi. How are you?"

"I'm good, thank you for asking. And how about-"

"Wow, you two are really gonna pretend I don't exist? Nice." Shisui huffs and rolls his eyes dramatically, and the sight reminds her a bit of Genma. The blonde girl shares a conspiratory glance with Itachi, and he continues.

"-and how about you, Chiyuki-hime? Have you been well?"

"I have, yes. I'm just finished with my tour of the KPF's quarters and now I'm on my way to see the captain-"

"Wow. Really?" The boy next to her mutters, looking incredulously at the two of them.

"-but I was wondering if I could stop by later. Mikoto-san told me to not be a stranger." There's a hint of a small smile on her expression, and for a second, the two boys stop and stare at her pale face, as if witnessing a miracle.

"I- yes. It would be an honor if you could stay for dinner."

"I'll see you later, then. Shall we go, Shisui?"

"Ah, yeah, sure, let's go."

If Shisui can tease her, then so can she.

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"You're getting married?"

She lets the surprise show openly to her face, because she definitely hadn't thought Tooru was going to get married so soon. He's still only 21, after all.

"Ah, yeah." Her eldest brother scratches the back of his head, bashful. "Before you ask, it's not because of the clan elders or mom and dad or anything of the sort. We've been thinking about it for a while and thought, why not do it now?"

'Very Tooru-like, I must say.'

Silence hangs in the kitchen, but for her, it's not an uncomfortable one. She raises both eyebrows, thinking about this situation she could never have predicted, and wonders how that will affect her brother, their clan, and her plans.

'Well, since he's become clan head, the chances of him dying on a mission to Iwa like he did Before are very slim, so I clearly don't have to worry about that. I don't imagine the clan is thrilled with his decision, but they don't have any say in Tooru's engagement since father prohibited it. On the other hand…'

"What kind of girl is she?" Chiyuki supports her elbows on the table and her cheeks on the palm of her hands, looking like the embodiment of innocent curiosity. Her brother, however, is having none of it.

"Now, don't bully her. She's a nice girl." If possible, her eyebrows go even higher up, almost reaching her hairline. Her soon-to-be sister-in-law is clearly important to him if he's drawing a line before they even meet each other.

"I never said anything about bullying. I'm just curious." The blonde girl replies honestly, and Tooru sighs, a hint of red painting his ears.

'I don't know about y'all, but I'm loving this new side of my brother.'

'Are you talking to us?' Chou asks, confused.

'Who knows.'

"She actually went to the Academy with me for a while, but she'd had to quit because of her parents. Don't make that face, they're alive, running business in a village close to Konoha, which is how she got to attend the academy in the first place. So yeah, even though she did graduate, she moved to the Land of Iron to live with her parents for some time, because they'd had to take care of her father's uncle, but they recently moved back after the end of the war."

"And you guys saw each other and it was love at second sight."

"Chiyuki." The clan head groans, now fully red in the face, and his sister huffs out a small laugh.

"Well, I know you don't do anything half-heartedly, and if that's what you decided on, I'm gonna support you."

"I-really?" The brunette stares at her, baffled, and Chiyuki feels takes just a pinch of offense to that.

"Of course. You're my brother. I trust you and I trust that you know what you're doing. If you wanna marry her, do it." She says, matter-of-factly, and a very thin sheen of wetness covers her brother's eyes before he blinks it away.

The man leans down and presses a chaste kiss to her head, holding it gently in his hands. "Thank you, Chiyuki darling. You've got no idea how much this means to me."

"Of course, niisan. I got you."

'Chou.'

'Suzuki Nozomi, 21, whose grandmother was an Uzumaki who'd ran away from Uzushio to marry a merchant. As your brother stated, her grandfather's family had its origins in the Land of Iron, where she had been living up until recently.'

'I wanna see her. What does she look like?'

Suzuki Nozomi, soon to be Sarutobi Nozomi, has reddish brown hair and eyes a blue so dark they almost seem black. She's nearly as tall as Konan and has a gorgeous smile, and, oh, she has dimples.

'Oh, no. She's a cutie.'

"Chiyuki? Chiyuki, what-"

"She's adorable. I can't wait to meet her." The Sarutobi Princess very nearly grins, looking like the cat that caught the canary. She can't bring herself to laugh freely - not yet, just not yet - but it doesn't mean she can't amuse herself teasing her brother.

"I- did you see her?!"

"I did. I really like her smile."

"You're lying-"

"She has really cute dimples."

Somehow or another, Chiyuki and Tooru end up rolling on the kitchen floor, picking at each other's clothes and teasing one another loudly.

(If this means she now has contacts in the Land of Iron, she never tells her brother out loud. She's truly happy for him, and Chou has nothing bad to say about his future bride, but it doesn't mean she can't take advantage of it.)

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Time passes.

Chiyuki turns fifteen, in the middle of crisp Konoha winter, and Nagato regains consciousness a day after her birthday.

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Constructive criticism is more than welcome, but there's no need to be an asshole about it.

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If you could choose someone to be your proxy, who would it be and why?

Shisui is finally here! Get used to him because we'll be seeing a lot of him from now on. A warning: yes, there will be nsfw chapters, but they will only be available to p-treon members. Say what you want, but it's an attempt of mine to avoid having minors read it.