NOTE: Hey guys, wazzup!? I'm SOOOOO sorry for that extremely long wait for a new chapter! Life has been extremely hectic over here on my end and I've been dealing with a lot, so I lost my motivation to work on this. But I promised you all that I wouldn't quit on this story, so I would really like to see it through. I just…Might take some time in finding my bearings with this and getting back into the swing of it. It's been so long that I've sort of forgotten some of the details I had worked out XD. This chapter was a bit hard to do because things in the story were moving slow when I'd started writing it, and I'd stopped somewhere in the middle. So imagine picking back up on something you started over a year ago and never touched again. I hope it turned out? And I've been able to explore other fanfiction platforms out there on the net, so I've been heavily considering possibly moving over to AO3. I haven't decided yet. I may also be throwing up another fanfic here soon, for a different fandom that I've been following during this hiatus, it's had my attention when I've been meaning to get back to this one. For those that messaged me a couple times in the past few months asking how I was and what was going on with this story, I appreciate your concern c;. But, try not to ask when a new chapter will arrive because I don't know, I post them as soon as I'm done with them, so there is no set schedule. And I'm a college student on the final stretch to receiving my degree so things have really been crackin' down on me over here, I don't get much time to myself anymore. Things are going to be slow until at least June. When I'm done with college then, I'll try to get things going again. I can't promise anything, but that is the plan. SO! Without further ado! I give you the long awaited chapter 21 of LLLIDY!

Legends Live Long, Idiots Die Young

Chapter 21

"Naruto! Sakura!", Ino greeted upon seeing them, obviously a bit more cheerful than she was yesterday.

"About time you two arrived! We were starting to think you guys weren't gonna come by!", Kiba sneered, crossing his arms over his chest, and Akamaru gave a bark.

"Shut up Kiba! Shouldn't you be with Hinata?", Sakura told him, half bitterly.

"She chose to stay home today, she didn't sleep much last night…And, she's been kinda on the moody side lately", Kiba answered sheepishly, scratching the back of his head.

Naruto chuckled lightly at Kiba, crossing his arms too, and then rolling his eyes before turning his gaze to look towards Shikamaru, the figure lying in the hospital bed, who was awake.

"Good to see you made it", Naruto said.

"I'm happy to say the same", Shikamaru answered in a weak but hoarse voice and with a small smile. "And I thank you, for saving my life", he said.

"Heh, word's gotten around that quickly huh?", Naruto gave a shrug.

"Ino told me the whole thing", Shikamaru chuckled a little.

"Just as I thought. Can't tell the pig anything without her bladding it to the whole world!", Sakura remarked in a teasing way.

"So then bite me Forehead!", Ino snapped back. "I have a right to tell my future hubby anything I want!".

At that, the room broke into laughter, and even Naruto laughed a little. Sakura couldn't help but notice it and smiled about it, it wasn't his full laugh but she still heard it in what little laughing he did, and it made her heart happy. His laugh was one of the things she had missed.

"It looks like you're starting to turn around…Naruto", she thought.

For a while afterward, when the laughing had died down and Ino had been made a fool for being a gossiper, the group of friends conversed. They spoke about life, how it's been lately, how it was, and for some, how it's going to be. Although, Naruto didn't speak much, and just listened to the others. The topic had been moved on to about pregnancy when Kiba had said something about Hinata having mood swings, and the girls had to explain to him that it's a natural thing, though he shouldn't be so quick to ignore it just because it's a phase. This made the guys in the room feel rather uncomfortable, including Naruto, which hadn't gone unnoticed by Sakura.

"I just don't understand why being pregnant does that to you. I mean, you women already can't make up your mind on a regular basis!", Kiba commented. But, that wasn't really the smartest thing to say.

"Watch yourself Kiba. Don't be so mouthy!", Naruto warned him, like how a parent scolds a child, knowing far better than to anger a woman, and especially the two that were present in the room. Though, Ino wasn't nearly as scary, nor as monstrously strong, as Sakura was. Yet, he knew it was smarter to keep his mouth shut, even if he did agree with Kiba to some degree.

"Well well well! Looks like Sakura's got you all tied up like a chained dog! What's the matter? Too afraid?", Kiba teased, laughing at Naruto.

"No. I'm just smarter than you", Naruto remarked, with a shrug as if it were nothing.

"PAH! That's the first time I've ever heard that fly out of your mouth, idiot! You must have really screwed up any brains you had left while you were gone!", Kiba just laughed harder, making sure to insult the blond, but it didn't seem to have an effect on Naruto.

WACK!

Kiba was suddenly gripping his head, and leaning forward in his chair, as he groaned from being smacked by Ino.

"Sure didn't take me long to decide on whether I should hit you or not, did it Kiba?!", Ino said, rather proud of herself.

Kiba just rubbed his head and looked up at her with a steely glare of fire. Not only was he proven wrong, he was also just humiliated, by both Ino and Naruto.

"You were warned, man", Shikamaru spoke up, shaking his head disapprovingly at Kiba. Why didn't anyone heed warnings anymore? He turned his eyes away from the Inuzuka and over to the Uzumaki, and asked, "So, what did you do while you were away? And where did you learn that technique you used to save me?", and almost immediately, all eyes fell on Naruto with hungry curiosity.

Naruto scratched at the back of his neck as he felt a little stage frightened. He hadn't told anyone just what he had been up to in the time of his absence. Not even Sakura. "Well…", he hesitated. But the pressure of being stared at broke him into talking. "I…I was a mercenary. But I only went after rogue nin, never an innocent person. Or I guess I can't really say 'mercenary', since it wasn't really the bounty as it was making sure that the target's village secrets stayed secret, as requested. That's why sometimes, a shinobi is ordered to be put to death if they leave their village and go rogue, because they know too much and there's too many enemies out there who would just love to get a hold of that knowledge any way they can. But rogues don't just leave and stay silent. Or at least, not often. I was only doing what I was asked to do, under the cover of an ANBU mask. It's ironic really, because I was under the training of an old Leaf shinobi gone rogue himself, and he taught me everything there is to know about Konoha's ANBU", he explained, looking between his friends from one to the other to the next, and then at Shikamaru. "As for that technique, that's just something Kurama and I came up with together, when we started working as a team", he said.

This earned him a look of shock. Naruto, their beloved idiotic and rash knucklehead, as a mercenary? No wonder he was so different, he's probably seen death and drawn blood more than any of the others that it's made his own blood run cold. That kind of life style would turn anyone into a hollow shell of themselves, especially if they're someone like Naruto, a loving and compassionate person. But Sakura knew in the back of her mind that he committed the acts of a mercenary for good cause, so in a way it wasn't entirely against his nature. Or rather, she made herself believe that was true. Her Naruto as a killer, with the blood of others on his hands. It was the life of a shinobi, regardless of if the enemy lived or died, and this they all knew. But she didn't want to think of him in that light.

"And since when did you and that Nine-tails start working together anyway?!", Kiba pitched, leaning back in his chair, arms crossed, with a goose egg where Ino had struck him on his head.

"That", Naruto chuckled a little. "Being a rogue nin hunter isn't that easy, ya'know. It didn't take either of us too long to figure out that we'd both like to live just a little longer. The unfortunate thing about being a jinchuuriki is that if the bijuu is extracted from my body, I would die. However, if I'm killed while the bijuu is still sealed inside, then it dies too. But working against one another wasn't helping with that. And on top of it all, the man that trained me in the way of ANBU required that I learn to control my emotions, since that was what the Nine-tails fed off of, and that's what made it easy for me to lose myself to him. Besides, ANBU shinobi aren't supposed to have any emotion anyway. But I never protested. I'd been so tired of fighting with him that I put my foot down. Surprisingly, Kurama agreed, and it didn't even take much effort to convince him. That's when he started working willingly with me, even if he didn't like what we were doing. If it meant the both of us would survive, then my will was his will. Sometime after working as a team, the two of us were good friends. And I'll tell you, it's one of the greatest things that ever happened. He was the friend I needed to get through being away from Konoha, and in turn, I showed him what it was like to be a part of something, a team that trusts in one another", he explained, yet again.

From the sounds of it, Sakura deduced that Naruto still felt very much alone while he was away. And who wouldn't? To leave the only place you've ever called home, all the people that loved you, into a world where you had no one else. She knew Naruto was more than familiar with being lonely, but she couldn't imagine how that must have felt. And besides the note he'd left behind for her, she still didn't understand why he actually left, which was why she felt it had been all her fault.

Naruto caught her thinking on his words. She'd been looking down at the ground, and her expression was blank. He wasn't a mind reader, but by trained intuition, he could tell what she'd been thinking, and spoke on it.

"Aside from having my ANBU sensei and Kurama at my side, I still felt alone. More than alone. At times, it was a suffocating feeling. I'd often wondered if my choice was really for the best, or if all it did was hurt myself and the people that knew me. Eventually, the flashbacks stopped, when I'd finally learned how to let go of what I was feeling. But from that point on, I never saw myself again every time I looked in the mirror", he said, bringing Sakura's attention back to him with a small gasp of surprise. "I was dead inside. And to be honest with you, I don't know which was scarier. The fact that my reflection was a stranger, or that I made myself believe that stranger was me".

The room filled with silence. Even Kiba looked a bit concerned with the explanation they just got out of Naruto. With the way he spoke, it sounded like this was who he was now, that the Naruto they once knew was never coming back. However, with what he said, it sounded like he was well aware of his change and that he was none too proud of it. Yet, he still accepted it.

Their chitchatting continued into the late afternoon, and eventually, everyone had to depart. They said their goodbyes to Shikamaru, wished him the best of luck in making a full recovery, and gave him light pats on the shoulder. Sakura decided to stick around and help out at Shikamaru's personal nurse, as well as Ino. The rest of the group went their separate ways, even Naruto had left.

The sun was setting over the village, turning the sky brilliant yellows and oranges and golds. Some of the villagers had already retreated to their homes for the day, while some others still walked the streets, such as two particular shinobi that did nothing more than insult each other out of friendly spite.

"So...", Kiba raised a brow with a sly glance at Naruto, who walked beside him.

"Hm?", Naruto looked at Kiba from the corner of his eye, wondering what the Inuzuka could want now.

"Did you meet any pretty women while you were gone? I mean, four years is plenty time to travel almost half way across the world. Surely you had to of met at least a few?", Kiba chuckled, putting his hands behind his head as they walked on.

This actually caught Naruto by surprise that he'd be asked such a question, and by Kiba no less. But he certainly wasn't afraid to answer it, and he did gruffly. "No. I was a mercenary, I killed more ninja- and specifically, men- than you could probably comprehend with that dog brain of yours. You'd be surprised how scarce female rogue ninja are, but even if I had come across any, I wouldn't have even thought about courting with them. If there is to be any woman I'd be with, it's Sakura", the blond said, in all seriousness. And then he added, "Besides, you're married, aren't you? Shouldn't you be thinking about your wife and not the matters of anybody else meeting women?", he said with a smirk.

Kiba snorted and crossed his arms at the insult of having a dog brain, and that Naruto pinned him in a corner about being married, lecturing him about it.

"At the rate you're going, Sakura's gonna get bored of waiting for you to make a damn move...", Kiba mumbled, now smirking. "Are you ever gonna man up and grow a pair so you can ask her out? Last I remember, men are supposed to chase the women they love, and women play the hard to get role, not the other way around", he teased.

"She's not playing hard to get! And I'm not cowaring about it! We're just...Focusing in other things", Naruto said, turning his gaze away from Kiba.

"Don't you go turnin' mysterious on me now! You're just too afraid to make the first move!", Kiba grumbled as he pointed at Naruto with the finger of accusation.

"No Kiba, it's not like that...", Naruto sighed, taking a few steps away with his back turned to the Inuzuka. "Believe me, from the day I discovered my love for her I've wanted nothing but to be who she sees, to hold her close in my arms. Why do you think I always fought so hard to protect her as I did? During the time Gaara attacked and then some? I always got lost in her eyes, and her smile...It was probably the brightest thing I'd ever seen. And ya'know, I would have given anything to be hers. Still would today. But if I still can't keep my promises even after all this time...Then why should she be with a guy like me? Promises unkept are as good as broken, and that's not what I'd want her to feel the consequences for, as she may already", he said.

"Tsk! You don't even know half of the story, do you?!", Kiba said, a bit smugly as if he knew all. "You should'a seen how much she really missed you when you were gone, she was completely broken the day you left this place and with only a note of short words explaining why. Every day she didn't let go of the hope that you would come back, and that went on for four straight years. I think it was probably just before you actually did return that she was beginning to give up all hope she had", he said, and then continued again. "Ha! I remember this one mission she'd gone on, and when she came back she couldn't stop talking about this fellow her team had crossed paths with, because apparently he reminded her of you, so much that she thought it was you!", he laughed.

"That's because it was me", Naruto said, looking over his shoulder at Kiba, who stopped laughing and looked back at the blond a bit shocked. Naruto had to smile just a little at the Inuzuka's face. "The guy behind the mask, some spiky blond hair, hidden blue eyes...That was me. And before you point your finger at me again, yes, I did want to say something...But I couldn't. The laws of ANBU forbids revealing your true identity, even to others you know. That is why I held my tongue and didn't move, and it's why I was addressed by another name by my partner, he was my Sensei in learning the ANBU ways while I was absent from Konoha. If I wouldn't of been breaking any laws, I would have opened my mouth. And knowing Sakura, I probably would have ended up with a crushed spine and a nice lump on my head", Naruto said.

"You know, it's funny", Kiba grinned.

"What is?", Naruto asked, turning around so he was facing the Inuzuka.

"That you worked as a ninja mercenary under the disguise of an ANBU Black Op, basically murdering rogue ninja for payment, and yet you STILL can't make a move on Sakura!", Kiba said, laughing at the end in a teasing way.

Naruto realized Kiba had a bit of a point and blushed lightly with embarrassment, knowing now that until he and Sakura make their relationship official, Kiba had something to tease him about. And probably even after it's all said and done too. Seeing the pinkness in the blond's cheeks, Kiba laughed harder, gripping his stomach and wiping away tears.

"You are so weak! If I were you I would have asked Sakura out by now!", said Kiba.

"Will you ever grow up? I thought you were over the teasing?", Naruto asked, raising a brow. Even if Kiba was right, he was still acting a bit immaturely about it.

"Why, you got a problem Street Fox?", Kiba asked, standing tall and crossing his arms over his chest with another smug grin plastered on his face, an eyebrow cocked in that "cool" fashion.

"Yeah, I do actually. It's five foot seven and smells like wet dog!", Naruto grinned back, waving his hand in front of his nose as if he were smelling something bad as he spoke, and he couldn't help but chuckle about his comeback.

This made Kiba blush more than Naruto had, but not out of embarrassment, rather more out of anger, as the insult from the Uzumaki got under his skin quickly. "First of all dumbass, I'm five foot eight! And second of all, Hinata makes me shower every day!", Kiba said angrily.

"Hehehe, you need your wife to remind you to shower daily? What a shame. She must not like that dog smell either", Naruto continued. Now he was just being contradictory to his question from earlier, acting immaturely himself by throwing insults back at the Inuzuka.

Kiba just bristled more and his face turn even redder. Steam would be coming from his ears if it were possible. "Why YOU!", he growled and ran at Naruto. But, the blond flashed from where he stood to behind Kiba, leaving nothing but a cloud of dust for the Inuzuka to pounce on, and he fell in the dirt.

"You're still too easily offended", Naruto chuckled as he watched Kiba faceplant.

"And you're still an asshole!", Kiba grumbled as he rolled over to look up at Naruto with a glare.

The blond chuckled again with a shrug, then lent a hand to the Inuzuka, to help him up. Kiba looked a bit surprised by the kind gesture after he just took a nose dive into the dirt, out-bested by the Uzumaki once again, when he was just being insulted by him. When he looked up at Naruto, he saw he was smiling at him like a friend would, so he smirked back and took Naruto's hand, pulling himself up and brushing dust off himself. The two continued on walking with each other, in silence. Until Kiba chuckled again.

"You know Street Fox...You still owe me an even rematch!".