A/N: SURPRISE!

I had great plans for this story, then Super went and derailed them. I suppose it didn't help that I nearly DIED due to a nasty accident, one I'd rather not speak of. No, before you ask, it wasn't another shark attack. I've already suffered one of those while diving and got away-thankfully I was carrying a knife at the time-but this one made that pale by comparison. Could have been a hell of a lot worse, so I've decided to count my blessings.

Still, I'm walking again, and I'm back to take another crack at things!

I return my loyal subjects! So, I've been going over reviews, and an anonymous reviewer said something that really resonated with me. I love to write. But sometimes, I feel that this gift owns me, rather than I, owning it. Its like a beast inside me, this urge to create, but I can't control it very well, which results in a LOT of new stories. So as of last night, and continuing throughout the week, I'm rededicating myself to my work.

Not so easily done now that I'm working TWO JOBS but hey, I'm nothing if not determined!

LET THE BRAND NEW ERA BEGIN!

Also, a lot of you guys pointed out that we really haven't gotten to see what happened to Naruto's world after he left. Yes, he came back for a day and happened to eradicate a certain sannin who he crossed paths with during that time. To clarify, his little visit occurred during the chunin exams, and he didn't exactly stick around. He saw the world -at the time- doing well enough without him and didn't want to interfere. He didn't really MEET anyone, stop in, or say hello. Orochimaru bit the bullet back then to be sure and he's gone for good, but think on this for a moment.

If Naruto was gone, just how much might his world change?

Without him, Gaara wouldn't understand friendship.

Without him, Sarutobi wouldn't have a successor.

Without him, Tsunade would never return.

Without him, Sasuke never had a rival.

Without him, Akatsuki's plan fails.

Without him...

...see where I'm going with this?

So now, we get to see just how Naruto's absence truly affected his world...

...and what might happen if he pokes his head back in.

As to his current level of strength, well...

Get ready for some fun~!

It's meant to be entertaining, so I hope ya'll like it!

Enjoy this sweet return to an old favorite tale!

And the little hint of dialogue below!

"Hey, that's unfair! I still remember some things."

"Such as?"

"Small stuff. Sunlight on my skin. The scent of favorite foods. A sprawling village. The scent of Ramen. Laughter. Her hand on my head, mussing my hair."

"Ah. This is why gods don't get attached to mortals, you know. Desire unbalances you. You would have done better to find yourself a proper mate. Perhaps if you had, then-

"You misunderstand everything. To see her again...to experience those simple pleasures again without this damnable responsibility weighing me down...would be worth anything."

"You're right. My apologies, I spoke out of turn. That was rude of me."

"Fine. Just forget about it...and stop hogging the sheets."

...I haven't the foggiest idea what you mean, dear."

"No, seriously! Its freezing out here!"

"Sorry, can't hear you!

"OI."

~Naruto and Vados.

In Thy Name

What's in a name?

There is strength in names, power in speaking them. To have a name-no, a title-is to be known the world-universe!-over and to never be forgotten. Renowned. Feared. For example, if one was known as an 'executioner' of sorts, you wouldn't want to mess with them right? I certainly wouldn't! This wasn't a lesson I learned until much later in my training-my life, actually. Names possess power. Prestige. They can end a fight through the raw strength of reputation alone. Without so much as a single punch.

Think on it, for a moment.

God of Destruction.

Fire Shadow.

King of All.

Imposing titles, right?

Terrifying.

Back then I didn't have any such names to speak of beyond my own. Didn't want any, either. Why should I? I was perfectly content to hone my skills under Whis's determined tutelage-and eventually, his sister once he deigned to introduce me. Yeah, looking back, that part miiiiiight have been a mistake. I'll not lie, I fell for her. Hard and fast. What can I say? I was young! I learned more from Vados then I ever thought possible, and not just in the realm of combat. What? Why are you looking at me like that? What's with that pitying expression? Stop!

That bit didn't come till later.

Still, mine was a good life and I wanted for nothing. I trained everyday, protected the weak, and had a concrete goal to reach for. Throw in three meals a day, a warm bed, and I was content. It never once occurred to me that others might think ill of me; or even how incredibly lucky, blessed even, I was to be trained by two supreme beings. My thoughts were seldom with my old home or my friends. In another life I might well have mourned and missed them, but in this one? When I never knew them?

My life as a ninja had ended before it even began.

I think I can honestly say I'm happier like this. Life's simple.

But if I had one regret, one thing I wish I could have changed, it would be that day.

The day I realized just how much I'd unwittingly surrendered when I chose this new life...


(...Konoha...)


Another day, another order.

As ever, the afternoon lunch rush hit Ichiraku Ramen like a raging typhoon, sending chefs and waiters alike scrambling to keep up with hungry customers. Ayame soon found herself caught up in the chaos, forced to forsake shelter behind the counter to aid the rest of her beleaguered staff, lest they find themselves overwhelmed. From there, time flowed like water. Hours flitted by in the blink of an eye and before she realized it, she found herself faced with dinner and another onslaught of customers. Time blurred yet again and suddenly the sun hung low in the sky, informing her it was time to go home.

And so the cycle went on.

Life hadn't been the same for her Naruto vanished.

For anyone, really.

Rambunctious troublemaker though he might've been,nearly everyone in the village had known him in one capacity or another. His pranks annoyed many to be sure, but they seldom hurt anyone and Ayame always found them amusing. He'd always been a staple of Ichiraku, a happy customer, always wanting to chat.

He'd been a dear friend and with time, might have been more.

Then one day he was gone without a word, never to be heard from again. That had been...how many years ago now? Ayame couldn't bring herself to remember number. Sometimes she couldn't even recall what he looked like. As if someone had simply reached deep inside her and snuffed the memory out. Putting aside the turmoil caused by his sudden disappearance, she missed her old friend. More than words could say. She'd been just a little girl back then. Now, she was nearly a grown woman, with responsibilities. She had no time to think of such foolish flights of fancy but still, a part of her wondered...

Perhaps Naruto had been cursed.

A small part of Ayame had to begun to wonder if she was cursed as well; destined to spend the rest of her days wiling away in her father's shadow while the rest of the world marched on without her. It was so very hard to surpass the dead. Teuchi's death felt like a lifetime ago, when in reality the passing of her beloved father was only just now nearing its second anniversary. Had it really been that long? He'd left Ichiraku to her in his will despite vehement protests from the competition. And much to their charign, she turned the once humble stand into a thriving business. Of course she'd inherited it. Who else would it go to-

THUM!

"What the hell?!"

An earth-rattling crash shattered Ayame's thoughts like so much glass, lifting her from her feet and plunging the room into darkness. In the next instant the mighty tremor ceased altogether, leaving her to land hard upon her rear; only narrowly remembering to catch the bowls she'd been holding before they struck the ground. Flailing in the shadows, the young woman struggled upright, mind reeling from the sudden assault. Fear grappled with anger as another tremor hit, forcing her to scramble behind what she hoped-prayed!-might be the counter. An earthquake? There hadn't been any this season. She'd already paid Danzo's "tax collectors" last week, so it couldn't possibly be them, or so she reasoned. Was it an enemy attack, then? Relations with the other nations were still tense of course after Suna's assault, but for them to go this far seemed...well, absurd.

Emergency power kicked in a heartbeat later, the sudden light stinging her eyes.

"Ah, excuse me!" A rough male voice called from the partition behind her. "Pardon the intrusion. Is anyone here? This is Ichiraku, right? I barely recognize it...

"Ahem." a soft yet sharp voice intruded over his rough words. "Have you forgotten the reason we came here in the first place?"

"Right, right. Sorry, Vados." his tone dipped in apology. "Yo! Anyone home?" Could I have one miso ramen, please?"

"Two, if you don't mind." the woman's voice echoed him.

"Right, then. Two!" he amended reluctantly. "You might want to wait outside, though."

"Ara, and whyever would I want to do such a thing?" came the smoldering reply.

"Because I asked nicely and our landing made a huge fucking crater?"

"I fail to see the problem with any of that-

"Three bowls of ramen. Final offer."

"Oh, very well...

Ayame's eye twitched dangerously.

She'd heard enough.

Troublesome!

Not an attack, then.

Just a loud, unruly guest.

"Of all the damned, irresponsible...!"

Growling at their insolence and more than a little infuriated, she snatched up an empty bowl and stormed out from behind the counter, simultaneously stifling a small sigh of annoyance and fixing a firm smile in place. Earthquakes aside, last-minute customers were commonplace these days. Ordinarily she would've served them regardless of her disposition, but today she simply didn't have the heart for it. Her only thoughts were of home and a bottle of sake. That and breaking this bowl over their heads!

"I'm sorry, we're clo...

Ayame's words trailed off in silent disbelief as she crossed the threshold and beheld the intruders-rather, the young man-standing in the entrance. Her world stopped and she blinked. It was the only thing she could think to do. Once. Twice. Three times. The empty bowl in her hand suddenly felt like a lead weight and she dropped it with a dull clatter, leaving it to shatter at her feet. She barely noticed it. She knew that face...no. That was impossible. Her mind shut down all at once then rebooted, momentarily unable to equate the towering stranger standing before her and his spiky blond mane before her with the reed-thin boy who'd frequented Ichiraku in the past. Yet those eyes were still the same, and there could be no mistaking his whiskered face, nor that roguish smile.

Spirits, it was him.

Her hands flew to her face.

"Naruto?" she whispered quietly.

That got a reaction out of the young man.

Pausing, the stranger wearing black and blue robes regarded her in confusion for long moment, trying to place her teary visage.

Then comprehension dawned.

"Yo, Ayame!" he raised a hand lazily. "Long time no see! I almost didn't recognize you?!"

The rest of his greeting warped into a strangled yelp as Ayame vaulted over the counter and tackled him to the ground, welding her lips to his. Locking her legs around his waist she rode the bewildered blond to the floor and pinned him there, uncaring of his startled exclamation. In hindsight, she didn't know why she'd done that. Not the kissing, she knew the reason for that. The tackling bit was another matter. There was no thought to her actions; no rhyme or reason to why she did it. Only simple, pure delight at seeing an old friend again.

Said friend certainly didn't protest.

Not until she pulled away at any rate.

"Is it really you...?"

"That depends."

"On?"

"Do I still get ramen if I say yes?" he managed with a small smile.

Ayame couldn't help herself any longer after that; the reply was just so...Naruto. She hadn't been mistaken after all. A wave of grief and joy swept the last of her suspicions aside and she burst into hysterical laughter. Not a moment later she began sobbing loudly, unable to stop. A strange, happy sort of sorrow writhed like wild snakes inside her dashing all hopes of resistance.

"Idiot!" she wailed, striking his chest-ineffectively-with a clenched fist. "Stupid! Where have you been?! Do you have any idea what you did?!"

"Yeah, but-

"Shut up! I'm not done being angry with you!"

Naruto sighed in wordless acknowledgement as Ayame awkwardly traced one hand over his vest before her emotions got the better of her again and she buried her face in his chest to cry anew. Physically the abruptness of her kiss hadn't so much stunned him as it had startled him. Not in the least. He hadn't realized his absence could possibly affect her this much. Still the the idea that his crush had become this sexy, gorgeous creature floored him as surely as any blow. Mustering what remained of his faltering resolve, he returned the embrace, slowly rubbing the small of her back.

"Will you stop hitting me if I apologize?" he drawled, a hint of exasperation coloring his tone. She could just hear the arched eyebrow in his words. "Or am I going to get another kiss?"

"I should clobber you even harder for that!"

"Dying in the arms of a lovely lady?" a shrug rolled the living mountain beneath her. "Not a bad way to go."

Steam.

Some distant part of Ayame was distantly aware of the compliment; even as her face turned a thousand shades of red. Dear god, she wanted to die.

"Then...don't move."

"Eh?"

"Isaidnomovingstupididiotihateyou!"

Ayame bleated out the words and buried her face even deeper into Naruto's robes, refusing to look at her old friend. Never had she been so keenly aware of how she must look than in this moment. Instead she clutched at his vest all the harder for it, her face burning all the while. Stupid, stupid, stupid! What had she been thinking, lunging at him like that?! Naruto probably thought she was some kind of lovelorn fool, leaping at him as she'd done! Her only recourse was to hold him down until these foolish thoughts let her be and she could look at him again without going mad. Yes, that was it. She'd no ulterior motive or anything like that. Nope. Not at all. She half-expected him to laugh at her.

In the end Naruto simply sighed and slouched back against the ground.

"Jeez, fine!" he groaned. "Gut you'd better treat me for this, ya know. Mind if I tell what I've been up to in the meantime?"

Unable to trust her tongue lest it betray her yet again, the owner of Ichiraku managed a mute nod.

"Great!" Just like that, his boyish enthusiasm came rushing back. "Y'see, it all started when...

They laid like that for a very long time indeed.

A/N: Aaaaaaaaaaaand there we have it!

PAIRING IS STILL WHOLLY UP IN THE AIR! VOTE, YA'LL!

At this point in the story, Naruto is being mentored by Whis and Vados alike. Once again, the pairing is up in the air folks, as this story will range far and wide across the cosmos. Naruto will indeed become a god, but he's not going to confine himself to one world, of course!

Who knows what might happen?! Hells, Naruto could end up with one of the few DBZ girls for all we know. If so, I'm leaning towards Videl. The Hinata pairing may be one of my favorites, but I've got Beyond the Shadows for that that, and I feel NarutoxSakura has been done to death as it is.

And yes, Naruto is crushing hard on Ayame. But whether anything comes of it remains to be seen. Shall we go with that?

Or, do we need something new?! Refreshing! Something that'll sink its teeth into you and shake you like a T-Rex! Something that'll make ya laugh, giggle, smile, and saw AAAAAW! You know what I'm talking about, right? That's we're ya'll come in! Enlighten me!

NOW VOTE!

So...in the Immortal Words of Atlas...

...Review, Would You Kindly? And of course, enjoy the preview! Thar be FOUR this time! YUP, BLATANTLY AMUSING TFS reference here, folks! As well as something else... AND AS OF NOW, AN OMAKE FOR EVERY CHAPTER! REMEMBER, VOTE FOR THE PAIRING!

(Preview)

Vados sighed into her hand.

"Oh, dear. They pushed the ramen button."

"Wait," Ayame swallowed thickly. "I'm sorry, the what?"

It was like flicking a switch; Naruto's face closed down, his once open expression locking itself behind endless barriers. He stood slowly, bits of broth still dripping from his hair. If he was at all concerned about the show of deadly force, he did precious little to show it. If anything, he seemed to welcome the conflict these two were inviting. Wait? Was he...glowing? Ayame squinted, suddenly noticing the faintest azure aura stemming from the blond's shoulders, watching as he rose to his full towering height.

When he finally smiled, the very sight of it curdled Ayame's blood. It was not a pleasant sight.

"Well now." he purred softly. "I believe mistakes were made. And they were yours."

To their credit, the Anbu captain somehow didn't falter in the face of it.

"Enough of your wit! Come with us now or Danzo-sama will have-

A hand snapped up, clenching around his masked face.

"Hmm, let me think about tha-nope."

And all hell broke loose.

R&R~! =D