DISCLAIMER: 'Naruto' is not mine, that happy honour belongs to Kishimoto Masashi! All I own are the new characters and my continuing plot and storyline.

HELLO!

This whole story is set after Chapter 172, when a new Hokage is chosen …

Storyline follows the manga up to Chapter 217-219 …

For the most part, whichever one you follow, the anime or the manga – or both, like me! – I seriously think you will be able to follow this story without any problems whatsoever.

And I sincerely hope it puts a smile on your face and a glow in your heart, like it does me!

Enjoy, Chapter 1: Flower Of Konoha
Background Music: 'I Turn To You' – Christina Aguilera

This was the song that was the inspiration for this entire story …

When I'm lost
In the rain
In your eyes I know I'll find the light
To light my way
When I'm scared
Losing ground
When my world is going crazy
You can turn it all around
And when I'm down you're there
Pushing me to the top
You're always there giving me all you've got …!


It was a cool autumn afternoon. Konoha was beautiful, with multi-coloured leaves and relative tranquility hanging over the lives of its inhabitants. Many were out still enjoying the serene beauty, the glory of the weather. Chattering masses of people were streaming towards the teahouses, restaurants, the public baths – anywhere, just to be with their husbands, wives, children, friends, families, lovers, and enjoy this heavenly day. There were, of course, those more hardworking ones, who diligently, earnestly applied themselves to their work, trade, occupation, but that didn't stop the beautiful feeling that rose up within them at the beauty this golden afternoon had brought. What could be so special about this afternoon, of all afternoons? It wasn't as if Konoha hadn't had such glorious, sun-blessed days, but today seemed really special ...

Sometimes it is said that a flower is most beautiful at sunset, when the last rays of the golden chariot kiss it goodnight before descending into their heavenly gates …

Indeed, this particular afternoon, a flower had indeed blossomed, a flower that had remained hidden for so long … upon touching the beautiful light of the Hidden Leaf …

Sparkling, intense blue depths gazed fixedly at the centrepiece of Hidden Leaf, at the Pride of Konoha, carved for eternity into the mountainside, the guardians of Konoha, the foundations to the great bridge that had raised forth such a mighty force, a spirit of fire, the guiding hope …

Her dress rippled as the soft fingers of the wind raced throughout its favourite village, causing the little leaves to twirl and dance in the street far below. The young woman gazed at the stone monuments, an echo of the glory of Hidden Leaf's past, the pride of its present, a whisper of its future …

In her hand, she gripped the forehead protector that symbolized the passing into adulthood for ninjas in the village below. Bright blue eyes slowly lowered, fixing upon the glimmering metal, the proudly engraved symbol of Leaf … as a child, how many proud, brave men and women she had seen, this beautiful symbol upon their foreheads … the joy with which they wore it, proudly carried it out, to their deaths, to their glory … the pages of history they had written upon, the eternal, everlasting legacy they had created … the love of person, of village, the way of life that was indeed – the way of the Leaf …

A figure approached the girl, her own golden honey-brown hair caught up in two twin tresses swaying in the gentle caress of the wind. Her robes billowed behind her, robes she had donned only a few months previously. She watched the slight figure of the young woman, and from the way the girl's body tensed, Tsunade felt that she was aware of her approach.

Memories, both joyful and painful, raced and danced throughout Tsunade's mind as her honey-brown eyes settled on the young woman. Her mind went reeling back to long-forgotten years, before all the terror had happened, way back to a time when ...

The memory of a beautiful, lively young woman, long golden hair always up in twin tresses, a cheeky smile gracing her delicate features... a handsome young man whose breathtaking deep blue eyes, which had sparkled with mischief in his younger days, would soften with love when he'd looked upon her ... two consecutive bursts of sunlight, two soft little bundles of happiness that she had presented to him in his eager arms, and that he would drop everything at work and rush home to see ... a baby daughter, a baby son, the exact copy and image of their parents ...

... Gone ...

... Gone for so long ...

... And all that they had left behind ...

Her lips formed the girl's name almost unconsciously ...

"Danah …"

It was slowly that the figure turned. Her backdrop the four guardians of Konoha, their likenesses carved, etched forever into the cliffs surrounding the Hidden Village. As their eyes met, Tsunade felt a little, just a very little of the heartache her memories had brought up leave ...

A legacy ...

All you have left us with are your legacies ...

And she looked upon the baby daughter standing before her, all grown up. Ready to face the world ...

Slowly, ever so slowly, a little gentle smile played around the young woman's lips, lighting up her large blue eyes. Those same achingly familiar blue eyes.

Something caught painfully in Tsunade's throat.

… Those familiar eyes I never, never wanted to look upon again …

Whatever emotions they'd been holding back with difficulty was erased as the young woman suddenly found herself in Tsunade's warm, tender embrace, something which shocked even Tsunade herself, who hardly ever showed such emotions so plainly.

The silence and warmth may have lasted split seconds, or a lifetime, they didn't know. Danah quickly drew back, her eyes turned away, but still shimmering with the white crystals of unshed tears pooling in the blue depths. Gently holding her shoulders, Tsunade smiled. Her words, formed from a paining throat, were mere whispers ..."You miss him, don't you?"

Danah lowered her head slightly, her long golden hair falling across her eyes, picking up the slight breeze and dancing to its inaudible tune. Her voice too, when it spoke, was heavy with a million things, but most of all, the weight and sadness of memories. "How could I not miss him ..." Slowly, those deep blue eyes lifted and locked with the golden-brown ones. "Truly, these last thirteen years ... it's been impossible to ..."

Tsunade sighed, gently letting her hands slip off Danah's shoulders. "You were but a child then, Danah ..."

Danah turned slightly, her gaze fixed once more on the grandeur of the stone monuments. Her whisper was still pained, her voice hoarse. "Nine years ... nine years old for a child of the Leaf is not so much a child …"

Tsunade could only imagine how she felt. Despite the number of fathers this village had had, despite everything it had been through, some things really did not change ... its children change, new buildings, old ones ... but there was something about the very essence, the atmosphere, that was truly eternal. And coming back to it after an absence was always going to cause that love to spring up inside the returning wanderer ...

A silence hung between the two as the Konoha wind danced around, as if curiously inspecting this new visitor …

As if … remembering …

A soft sigh suddenly escaped Tsunade. "You were always watching over him. From the distance. You've always been in Konoha, one way or another. You've been taking care of him all these years, even if he doesn't know about it, or remembers you," she said. A small smile crept to the corner of Danah's mouth.

"Perhaps …" she whispered.

Tsunade straightened, cleared her throat. "Perhaps it's time to 'blow the cobwebs' as they say. A lifetime has passed … you must consider yourself in a new era, a new generation …"

Danah still kept her head bowed. Tsunade's voice faded away as she quietly watched the young woman, golden strands of hair swaying across her face, her tense posture.

And yet …

Look at you …

You're no longer weak, confused, insecure …

You're all grown up … all ready to face this world …

But first …

Tsunade smiled.


Danah stared down, frowning slightly, at the small bundle of papers in front of her. The afternoon sunlight streamed in through the Hokage's vast windows, and the sweet gentle breeze wafted in, playfully rustling the papers piled around the office.

She stared dully down at the titles of the sheets, all stating something along the lines of assigning permission for her to once again resume activities and responsibilities of a citizen of Konoha, the Hidden Village of the Fire Country.

Tsunade, flitting around the office moving and sorting through her piles of paperwork, glanced across and couldn't help grinning at the squinting, puzzled and irritated expression as Danah shuffled her own papers, putting a signature here and there, sighing as she was required to fill in yet another page of details.

"It's exactly what I had to fill in when I returned, except mine was probably more intense. Standard procedure, bunny!"

Danah started visibly at the old familiar yet half-forgotten pet name, and raising her eyes gazed across the room. Tsunade also froze, her back to the young woman. There was a few moments of silence, but upon turning around again, Tsunade was smiling fully.

"Lucky for you, Konoha is short on housing. Buuut …" Danah blinked in pleased surprise and shock as Tsunade approached and leaned over, her hands behind her back, grinning cheekily at her. "I think I know where you were planning on staying anyway …?"

Danah's lips parted but no sound came out. Grinning wickedly again, Tsunade brought her hands to the front and suspended an insignificant-looking little silver key in front of the young woman's large blue eyes, open in amazement and recognition.

"That's right, a cut of the very same key you thrust into the hands of the Housing Official so many years ago … the safeguard you left for your little brother …"

Danah's memory suddenly swirled, bringing her back to a night, so very, very long ago …

Rain …

Dismal, dreary … almost a foreboding of the two lonely hearts she was to create …

The little girl of nine, small for her age and barely able to see over the top of the table …

The gentle, harassed-looking face of a man on the other side of the table, the flak jacket and forehead protector symbolising a Shinobi Official and Jounin … burdened down by his own paperwork, peering down at this tiny child …

And behind her, in the shadows, away from the bright lamplight mounted on the Official's table, stood a young woman, long twin golden tresses, her face in shadow …

The girl's tiny hands clasping a large silver key, large to her fingers and totally brand new … a key that had been cut not that long ago that grey afternoon …

… Not many days after it had all been over …

The Official had to lean forwards to catch what the frozen lips were saying, to try to comprehend the emotions swirling with a furious force in her large blue eyes …

"I … this is … a-apartment key … it's – it's right in the middle of … so he should be safe …"

The Official frowned in incomprehension, confusion blanketing across soft brown eyes.

"For my … my brother … to-to have …"

The man, frowning a little, stretched out his large, calloused hand, and watched her small, tiny little fingers hover over his palm, watched a silver glint as her precious offering was placed earnestly into it …

"To look after him until he can … until he … I mean, until I …" The little girl's voice trailed away, miserable.

"Until she returns."

The firm sentence had been finished with softness and determination, the voice with all the strength of the young woman behind her.

Tsunade stepped into the light for the first time, stepped up behind the little girl, who now had her head bowed, ragged strands of dirty golden hair falling across her face, plastered against her forehead, . The Official started a little when he recognized who the young woman was, but Tsunade was already leaning over, placing her hands on the little girl's thin, slender shoulders.

"Keep that key, and the apartment that belongs to it, safe for when the owner comes to claim it. He's only small now, but …" Tsunade raised her eyes, beautiful golden-brown eyes ..."But that will be the place he will be waiting until he is found again, until he is … claimed by the only one in this world he belongs to … now."

The young woman's slender fingers gently shifted on the girl's shoulders, directing her away from the enormous desk, and the confused Official.

"Keep him safe, until she returns …"

Until she returns …

Tsunade quietly watched the emotions that were now raging throughout the young woman. Watched the way her eyes were now gazing into nothing, the way she clasped the pen, the tense grip of her hand …

Danah felt rather than saw the Hokage place her papers down and approach her. Blinking, she seemingly came out of her trance. Her fingers dully slid off the sheets on the desk as Tsunade quietly collected them into a bundle and walked away, examining them for the entries and the signature.

"I believe they had a training session earlier this afternoon. Usually they train in the field, but that's up to the judgment of their sensei. As it's Kakashi, I think he'll make them train anywhere."

Danah's eyes widened …

Oh …

… Him …

… I had … almost forgotten-

Danah jumped visibly as Tsunade's bright honey-brown eyes peered into her face again, a smile playing around the beautiful woman's pastel pink lips.

"You didn't really forget did you? Didn't you two used to get on each other's nerves a lot? Way back when?" Straightening, another cheeky grin spread across Tsunade's lips. "The tricks you and your friends used to play on him …" An evil glint shining in her eyes, she squinted down wickedly. "I should have known back then that it was something deeper than just wanting excuses to think up practical jokes –"

"T-Tsunade-sama!"

Tsunade couldn't help grinning at the way Danah had suddenly gone bright red with embarrassment, and squirming in her seat – how much fun this was!

Still smiling as the young woman before her squirmed, now and then shooting furtive glances, Tsunade seat herself on her chair and pushed aside another stack of forms to be reviewed. "Although, there was a special reason he was assigned that team. However, that was entirely up to him whether or not he'd accept. Hatake Kakashi," Here her eyes took on a keen glint, "Has of late become quite a hard case. You wouldn't believe how many teams he's failed. He has … developed very high set of standards, and I believe everyone's the better for it. As a boy, I never remember him being like that …"

Tsunade already knew she was on dangerous ground, and decided to let the matter slip as she saw the young woman's eyes suddenly become glazed.

Pulling out an official seal, she brought out a red inkpad, and stamped it on a final document, which she now slid across to Danah.

"Take this to the man just on the very left of the entrance, then take your things to the apartment."

There was a stunned, tense moment before the words sunk in, and Danah rose slowly. Slender, delicate fingers fingered the official document. And although large blue eyes failed to meet hers, Tsunade could feel the hesitation, the apprehension in the girl's voice.

"And … And if he asks why …" Danah began softly.

Tsunade brought her hands together, lightly resting her chin on her interlinked fingers and thoughtfully surveying the young woman standing before her.

"You may tell him I assigned you as his roommate. He won't question that." Tsunade finished the sentence. A slight nod was all that showed that Danah had heard that at all.

Still averting her eyes, Danah stepped aside from the chair, absent-mindedly pushed it back in and slowly made her way to the door. Her hand rested on the door handle, a few moments passed. Then she turned again, facing the beautiful woman seated on the desk. And this time Danah's eyes were a little clearer, a little brighter.

"Thank you, Hokage–sama," She whispered, bringing her palms together and bowing gracefully.

This time, the emotion swirling within Tsunade's eyes were more apparent. She also needed a few moments to clear her throat before she could reply. She finally nodded at the girl.

"Dismissed."

As the door slid closed behind the departing figure, the afternoon sunlight caught a glimpse of something rare. Something rare and precious and beautiful …

It sent in its final rays to alight up a single glistening crystal stream that was running down beautiful golden honey-brown eyes …


His sandals scuffed on the ground as he dragged them despondently, sending up small clouds of dust that went swirling away into the street. The fading chatter of children's voices, answering delightedly as their mothers called them in for dinner, the sound of the shop doors being slid shut and locked up for the night, shop-owners giving their windows a last clean and disappearing into the dark interiors to finish up inside. Presently, a warm, welcoming glow appeared within the windows and curtains of the houses he passed. The warm glow signaling the beginning of the evening, when children scampered inside, delightedly being chased around by their mothers to have their dinner, then being washed, jumping into their fathers' laps to snuggle up and listen to his voice, then gathered in their mothers' arms to be put to bed ...

The afternoon hadn't stopped being beautiful, the air was still warm and gentle, beckoning. And it was filled with the sounds of other families and couples answering that beckoning call …

No one paid attention to the small figure, and he paid no attention to them. His body was wearied from the intensive training, and his heart was now beginning to be sore as he faced the prospect of going back to his lonely apartment on such a beautiful evening …

"Not like I have anything else to do, anyone else to be with …"

It escaped his lips in a whisper before he could stop it, and he sighed in resignation, slipping his hand into his pocket for his keys. There was really no point in thinking like that, what made this afternoon different from any other –

Naruto froze a few steps before his door, one hand still in his pocket.

His empty pocket.

Eyes widened in shock as he desperately searched his other pocket, his jacket pockets. A few minutes of scrabbling continued before his hand slipped limply, his body sagged as he stared at his now seemingly giant, forbidding door, which absolutely refused him entry.

Naruto's eyes narrowed.

Oh no … no stupid door is NOT going to …

His eyes then fell upon the tiny opening in the kitchen window.

He grunted as he tried to shift the catch, trying to input just enough strength to move it, not bend or break it. He didn't want to be back in the social office, trying to explain away why he had a broken metal catch this time, as opposed to the entire smashed window last time, and that he was quite sorry he couldn't pay for it right now but –

There!

Triumphantly, Naruto pushed open the window inwards a bit wider, then leapt lightly onto the window ledge, balancing wildly before managing to slide his feet easily through the opening.

The sudden change from the bright light outside to the darkness within made him blink rapidly, forcing his eyes to adjust quickly as he stumbled –

"Ouch!"

Naruto didn't immediately see what he'd tripped over, but he only had time to know it was something very strange, and something that shouldn't be there – a suitcase! – before he felt the second presence.

The combination of his weakened physical state, and his eyes adjusting to the poor light, and the sheer surprise were what made him the perfect target.

He barely had time to fight back before he gasped and found himself pinned face-first against the wall, his cheek bring pressed almost painfully into the whitewash. Slight fingers found his arm and pulled it tightly but not viciously around his back while another surprisingly slender arm had wrapped around his chest, forcing a strong hold.

All this happened in the time it took for the bathroom door to fly open as the second presence had sensed him and exited from it to grab him in a stronghold. Naruto automatically scrunched up his eyes to avoid the bright light now pouring on them both.

He heard a startled gasp from the person behind him.

Before he could comprehend what happened, he was abruptly released and spun around, his back to the wall and groaning in pain and confusion as his body caught up to his attacker's swift movements, he slid down, into a crumpled heap, the bruises and muscle spasms from his afternoon training catching up and complaining loudly.

He only vaguely felt the sudden soft cold fingers on his face, slender fingers that trembled, and a continual sobbing, sobbing …

Blinking again, he was getting ready to retort furiously and was opening his mouth to angrily demand what the hell were they doing in his house when he caught sight of his attacker.

His mouth froze. His eyes widened …

A woman. A young woman. Long, golden hair … sort of … like his own … Large, bright blue eyes … also like his own …?

Crouched before him, it was obvious she had just had a shower, and had slipped on a bathrobe before, evidently, she had sensed his entrance. But there was no time for either to be embarrassed …

Her eyes were widened, a mixture of horror, of surprise, of alarm … and something else, something he was puzzled about.

Something had brought tears to those large blue orbs.

She's crying …

He allowed her to help him rise, and when they were both standing, saw that he reached just up to her shoulder. Her hands lingered for a moment longer on his shoulders, fingering the collar of his jacket before dropping down to her sides, her fingers rubbing nervously together.

His throat dry, he still cleared it, and in a surprisingly soft voice, he managed to ask, "Who are you?"

She's beautiful, he thought as he watched her blink, the tears swimming around the corners of her eyes. She seemed to suddenly snap out of the intent gaze.

"I'm … um … I'm Danah … I-I'm – I'm new to the village."

Her voice was low and hoarse, just as if her throat was closed up … either that or she was trying to hold back tears, but why on earth would she do that?

It seemed the few words she'd spoken had somehow broken through whatever strange emotion was raging through her. She quickly wiped her eyes and tilted her head slightly, a bright smile now hovering on her lips.

"U-Uzumaki Naruto-kun … Hokage–sama assigned me to this apartment as your roommate …"

Once again, they found themselves locked in each other's deep blue gazes. Perhaps it was a strange familiarity, maybe it was her sweet, gentle smile or it could even have been the ridiculous situation of her dress and the bathroom light flooding them both, but Naruto felt a curious lightness of heart towards this stranger. A large, happy grin split his face.

"Well … onee-chan … I'm not really used to getting attacked while climbing through that window. Often I leave my keys somewhere and I have to do that, but no one is ever there to care." Raising his hand to rub the back of his head, he grinned cheekily at her.

Danah's smile had frozen in place after the very few words he'd said, the title he'd addressed her with … onee-chan … sister

But a frown settled on her features at the rest. Swallowing down another surge of pain, she responded quickly, her own smile returning, "W-Well, we can't have that anymore can we? I'm not accustomed to room-mates, but I was not expecting you to come through the window on our first meeting …" Her eyes suddenly widened and she absent-mindedly reached forwards, clasping him on the shoulders, fingers lightly touching his cheek, feeling his arms. "Oh! I'm so sorry! I didn't even apologise, I must have hurt you when I – I mean I suppose I just thought you'd come through the d-door, when I felt someone at the window, I thought it was …"

Naruto stood stock still, unable to do anything but gaze at the girl, the concern, the worry, the guilt in her eyes …

No one … no one's ever …

Danah's hand stopped when she suddenly felt his little fingers close around hers. "Eh, don't worry nee-chan, you actually didn't hurt me! You were just so fast, and I was already weak and tired from the training and …" He trailed off and grinned again, and his bright eyes slowly dropped and looked down at their interlinked fingers.

She couldn't stand it anymore. She just couldn't … stand … it …

Naruto didn't even have time to gasp, didn't even have time to register anything. But the next thing he was aware of, was long strands of golden silk falling over his face, mingling with his own hair. And a warmth, a gentle, absolutely beautiful warmth as he felt himself wrapped up in her embrace …

For a shield, from the storm
For a friend,
For a love to keep me safe and warm
I turn to you
For the strength, to be strong
For the will to carry on
For everything you do
For everything that's true
I turn to you ...

He could only stand in stunned amazement, but even that couldn't stop the strange mixture of delight and raw, ragged pain spreading throughout his body. Within her arms, his head barely reached her shoulder, his eyes only just able to peer over them. Slowly, ever so slowly, and almost without thinking, he shifted his head to one side, resting it more easily against her shoulder, leaning more closer to that beautiful, beautiful warmth. He felt her tighten her arms around his shoulder and waist, tilt her head against his.

Everything just faded away in that moment. All he could feel, all he was aware of in that moment of time was this …

This … what I've always wanted …

Something I've always wanted to know what it really felt like …

Why they all liked being hugged … all those at school …

What was that good about a mother's hug, a sister's hug …

A sister's … hug …

It was Danah who drew away first. He felt the warmth abruptly leave, and as he stared at her, found that she'd completely turned her face away. Instead, she was walking towards the light in the other end of the room, the one nearest to the stove.

"I … er … I was just wondering what to … I mean I bought some things on the way here …"

Numbly he watched as she lit the stove, went to some paper bags on the counter and started riffling through them, watched as she pulled out the cutting board … and all the time, her hands were shaking, her voice was stuttering … and she seemed to be avoiding his gaze.

"… So I'll just p-put them together and it'll take about a few … so if you want to have a sh-shower and come … it'll-it'll be ready …"

Naruto stood quietly watching her for a minute. But as she went about his small kitchen, using this saucepan, that cutting-board, this knife, that slicer, emptying some packets into the pan, others into the bin, he felt another strange, beautiful sensation … It was something he couldn't describe but one he knew he'd always, always …

"Umm … nee-chan?"

Danah froze again then quickly turned again before her throat had another chance to close up. A lovely smile hovered on her lips. "Yes, my little one?"

Naruto blinked at the affectionate way she'd addressed him, then grinned shyly. "Are – Are you sure it's all right for you to … I mean, since you're the new one here, I should be the one cooking … or maybe …"

Danah watched in delight as the boy's handsome face changed as he fought his shyness, frowned as he thought, looked confused, then bewildered, then puzzled. Without even thinking, she stepped forwards, and gently, tenderly pressed her finger against his small nose.

"Eh? Well, what would you be making if you wanted to cook?"

Naruto blinked, his hand stopped rubbing his head. He now looked sheepish. "Erm … well I only know how to make one thing …" Spreading his arms out wide, he grinned cheekily again. "Ramen!"

Danah winked at him. "Well, tonight, as of this very moment, I also know how to make only that one thing. So since we're agreed on what we want to eat, it won't really matter who makes it, ne?"

This time Naruto froze, hands in mid-air. He blinked.

The next second, it was Danah's turn for surprise as she found herself in a Naruto-style embrace, and this had none of the fearful, hesitant but still warm hug she had given him. This one was full of joy, of happiness and pure, raw pleasure. It was a breath-taking (literally), warm embrace that reflected this boy himself – a cuddle of pure sunshine.

"Ehhh! How wonderful that you love ramen that much!"

Before she could properly respond, he was off, skidding back to the doorway. "I'll be as quick as I can, onee-chan!" He called before disappearing from view.

The rest of Danah's dinner preparations passed mainly in a blur – her eyes were watering from a steady stream of tears for her to notice fully what she was doing. It seemed even more of a haze when a small golden tornado swept into the kitchen, scrambling delightedly into his seat, his mouth chattering excitedly. But Danah could only see his lips moving; her eyes saw only the vibrancy of the boy, the beautiful brightness of his eyes, the delight …

And she was swept up into a powerful memory …

Adoring little blue eyes watched a tall, slim, beautiful woman move around the kitchen, humming softly to herself and chattering joyfully to her little girl now and then. A little nose sniffed appreciatively at the delightful aroma wafting throughout the house, the wonderful dinner preparations. When she grew up, she was going to be as wonderful at cooking as her darling mother!

"Danah–chan!" Big blue eyes had gazed up as the beautiful young mother had leaned down, hands resting on her knees, a huge, beaming grin right across her face, her deep blue eyes sparkling. "Mummy's almost finished the dinner. Can you put out the chopsticks?"

Grinning delightedly and completely thrilled to be able to help, Danah leapt up from the table and pulled a stool to stand on so she could reach the utensils drawer. She grabbed three pairs of chopsticks and set them on the table, two big pairs for her parents, and one tiny pair for herself.

Now the table was all set for dinner, save for one missing person. Daddy wasn't home yet. Danah's mother looked at the clock, at the same time taking off her apron and letting her long golden hair down, which usually was tied up in twin tresses ... She sighed, slightly annoyed. "Daddy's late," she announced as she picked up a frying pan and washed it. Danah giggled at the scowling expression on her mother's pretty face, knowing her 'perfect shinobi' of a father was going to be told off by his wife.

Danah delightedly watched her mother pause slightly, put down the washcloth after rinsing the final saucepan, and her long, slender arm rested on her belly, and the beautiful swollen promise within … Little Danah had been watching it for some time now, carefully, meticulously following its progress every day. Following strict orders from her father, she'd been scampering into her parents room every night, a mug of warm milk for her mother. She'd been taking the pile of folded clothes and determinedly staggering with it by herself to place it in their respective places, even struggling up the stairs. And every night, before she was allowed to leave her mother's side, the beautiful young woman and taken her baby girl in her arms, and asked her to press her little head against the soft bulge and ask the little angel within what it was doing …

Danah sighed in pure enchanted happiness as she watched her mother's soft, tender touch trail around her stomach, the sweet caress for an unborn promise. She especially loved the vision in her mother's eyes at moments like this … the look in those lovely, lovely eyes …

… I want to be as beautiful as Mummy one day …

… I want to be just as good at doing everything as she is …

… And if I ever become a mummy, I want to be as wonderful a mummy as she is …

Suddenly, both mother and daughter 'felt' the tardy father arrive outside the door.

"Daddy's home!"

Delighted little feet scampered to the door, just as a tall, handsome figure walked in, his golden hair like a halo against the fading sunshine outside. A deep, cheerful laugh as he saw his little princess appear. Long golden hair trailed behind her as she flew into her daddy's arms. Laughing again, he hugged her tightly and kissed her on the top of her head.

"Danah-hime, how was your day, little bunny?"

Tiny arms struggling to find their way fully around her father's neck. "Ooooh Daddy, it was wonderful! How was yours?"

A little light tap to the child's tiny little nose. "It was fine! Wonderful, but very, very tiring! And how is mummy? Is she looking as pretty as ever?"

Pressing her cheek against his. "Yes Daddy! Isn't she always! But maybe you should know …" Her voice dropping into a conspiratorial whisper. Grinning at her, he playfully tapped her little nose.

"Know what, princess?"

Trying not to burst into giggles, the little girl pointed solemnly at the clock.

Her father's beautiful dancing bright eyes followed the direction, and suddenly paled. A sheepish look spread over his face as they unwittingly entered the kitchen, to be met by a beautiful young woman with a terrible glare on her face, hands on hips and looking completely menacing.

Warily eyeing her, he gave his little girl another kiss, set her down, and closed the door behind them, then looked almost pleadingly at his wife. One hand rose to rub the back of his head.

"Err … darling, I'm …" He started.

"LATE!" He blinked. Even wolves couldn't produce a snarling sound better than that …

She sounded extremely dangerous, her soft voice unusually low, always a warning sign … she accompanied this with a quick flick of the dishtowel with which she had been drying off the pan. She walked closer to the man, who took a step away and held up his hands. The little girl moved to her seat at the dinner table and watched the little show from a safe distance away, her hand clamped tightly over her mouth, trying to stop her giggling.

"Dinner's getting cold," the young woman continued, still advancing on her retreating husband with what looked like a slightly murderous glint in her flashing blue eyes. "Do you know how long little bunny and I have been waiting? You know we would never start eating without you … look at your poor little bunny …" Gesturing without looking at a giggling Danah, who didn't look in the least hungry at all.

"A-Ayame? Please! Let me explain," the man said as he scooted away rapidly, "Today was really busy and – and I got piled with paperwork that had to be finished before I left, s-s-so I had to do them before I could come home. I'm really sorry I'm late coming home – oops!" He jumped as he felt the couch directly behind him and realized with a sinking feeling that there was no escape ..."I really am and I'm sorry for letting dinner start to get cold. But honey, please…could you…please PUT DOWN THE FRYING PAN!" He sank into an immediate crouch, covering his head.

Danah stared at the vision of her mother standing, towering over her father, the frying pan poised over his head. She beamed when the young woman suddenly bent down and dropped a light kiss on the golden sunshine, then straightened, a pretty little smile on her lips.

A few seconds of silence passed, then his head raised slowly, a confused look gracing his slender features, and when he met her once again dancing blue eyes, he rose and chucked deeply, not only with delight but with relief as well! Her mother then she herself joined in the laughter. The young woman put the frying pan away and deftly pulling her husband to the table, seated him and announced, "Let's eat!"

Within seconds, after much laughter …

"Itadak–"

" –imasu!"

Danah blinked.

She stared.

A boy, a mere baby was sitting cross-legged on the chair of the small kitchen table. A large bowl of steaming hot ramen swirling before him, a steady stream of delicious aroma wafting up in smoky tendrils. Small fingers grasped his chopsticks, brandishing them triumphantly and delightedly in the air. Slightly damp strands of golden hair stuck out messily from his head, and with a combination of the most beautiful blue eyes and the cheekiest, most enchanting smile, Naruto was wishing her a 'happy feast'.

Barely did Danah remember joining the chair by his side, watching in a strange mixture of wonder, enchantment enjoyment and most of all amusement, as Naruto chattered away at top speed, talking all sorts of nonsense about the particular styles of cup ramen which took so-and-so minutes to cook, and others which still had that rubbery taste …

But even as he chattered, even as that loud, vibrant, exuberant little voice filled the kitchen, lightened the atmosphere and lifted her spirits, the very sight of him, the very pretty vision that was seated before her… the images conjured up by that vision just would not leave …

The first few years of my childhood …so joyous, so happy …

And how much I looked forwards to having a little bunny to share it with …

And then …

It was momentarily, only for an instant, that the deep blue eyes darkened …

… The Kyuubi …

We hardly ever saw Daddy after that …

And Mummy was looking to expecting our second little bunny … Mummy and Daddy were so looking forwards to watching us grow together … into watching me look out for you, defend you, scold you, love you … always love you …

Those last few months … those months leading up to this darling coming to us at last …

… 'Danah-chan! You have to look after Mummy now, you hear me, little one?' …

… 'Yes Daddy! Of course!' …

… 'Make sure she rests and eats well and is happy, and both of you wait for Daddy to come home to his two princesses, yes?' …

… 'Daddy! You're forgetting about the third little one!' …

… 'Ah! Well, maybe it might not be a princess …It might be our little prince, ne …?' …

And as her eyes refocused again, they alighted on the boy before her, who had quietly stopped talking, and was watching her curiously, worried …

His eyes …

His beautiful, large, blue eyes …

…Oh …

… I'm remembering again …

"Oh, s-sorry …" Danah managed unrealistic laughter through her hoarse, quiet voice, clogged up with tears. Suddenly beaming, she stood up and taking his empty bowl started re-filling it from the pot enthusiastically.

For once, Naruto's eyes weren't on the delicious contents of his favourite food spilling into his bowl. Instead, his eyes, worried and thoughtful, alighted on the young woman's face.

"Um … onee-chan … did you say that you're new to this village?"

Danah stiffened again, then slowly put down the large pot from which she'd been ladling food. She slowly sat back down, her mind racing.

"W-Well … I'm …" He looked alarmed again as her wandering eyes settled on him, with an accompanying depth of sadness that startled him. "I'm not really new, I'm returning after a very … very long absence …"

A very, very long silence seemed to follow this. Quietly, without any form of rehearsal, and surprising even herself, the words that seemed to come from Danah's lips gave nothing away, and yet would have revealed everything … everything, if only the boy seated before her could have known just one truth … and even recalling it later, Danah would remember only vague phrases of her own words, as if it was a story she was listening to over a great distance …

" … a little boy, a sweet little baby boy …

" … but I couldn't … my heart was breaking …

" … he reminded me so much of my father … my mother … and our now broken family …

" … Within the space of a few days, I had changed completely. I was no longer the same little girl, so cheeky and mischievous … I felt that I couldn't love again, my heart was so broken …

" … Inside the space of one week, I'd had to bury my parents …

" … I had to stand there, at that gravesite, my poor, motherless, fatherless brother in my child's arms, and say farewell for the last time …

" … And since that day I was never the same. Something had died inside …

" … And I threw myself into my work …

" … Then, the year I turned eight, I graduated from the academy …

" … And somehow, some way, I knew … I knew all along what my path was going to be. I knew then what else it was that my father had concealed from me. The fact that my mother had known I would leave. She had known I had my own path to follow, even before perhaps even father knew it …"

A deep, thick silence followed her dying, hoarse words. The pot was no longer steaming, bowls and chopsticks and soup ladles lay forgotten. He was sitting cross-legged, unnaturally still and silent. She had her knees drawn up, arms wrapped around them and chin resting on them.

Slowly, slowly her eyes rose, fixing on the boy, this mere child, seated so quietly before her.

"You might be wondering … no, I know you are wanting to know … what became of that little baby, our long-awaited prince …?"

Naruto blinked, startled. Then slowly, he nodded. "Hmm …"

"The truth is …" She paused as her tears escaped from the pools that had been gradually building up around her eyes. "The truth is, I don't know …"

Naruto looked up, staring at her, stunned. Her face almost hidden in her arms, it was her steady, deep royal blue eyes that gazed intently back into his, eyes so full of a strange emotion he wasn't familiar with …

"I left behind a helpless child, a poor little baby. I left behind a weak little angel, whose wings hadn't developed yet for him to spread them and fly … I left behind a child who had nothing and no one to turn to …"

They were now locked in each others' gazes, unable to tear away even if they'd wanted.

"And now, upon returning, I've looked, and looked for him, little one. I know that the passage of time causes a many changes in people, but I could not have expected much to come from the terrible pit in which I left him, could I?"

Naruto still couldn't move, even as he watched her slowly unfold herself, as her feet daintily touched the floor and as she dropped to her knees. Even as she slid up next to his chair, where he still sat rigid and immobile in exactly the same position … even as her hands came up to gently, tenderly, almost timidly collect his little ones in their cold but soft and adoring hold … even as her fingers wrapped firmly around his and her eyes continued to gaze up at him …

… almost as if willing him to understand … to understand … but what …?

"I tried looking for that helpless child, for a lonely and insecure little boy, for a boy who repelled everything and everyone, because he was abandoned … a boy who hated the world for not caring enough to take him under a protective wing, a loving, secure embrace … I looked for a bitter and resentful nature … the kind of nature that would befit a boy who has been rejected, who has been left in the cold, harsh hold of Loneliness …"

Yet another silence followed, but this was full of a suspenseful tension, and of very short duration …

"And do you know what, little one?" Danah took a deep, slow breath, forcing herself to control her voice. And with the calming, a lovely little smile returned to her face, her eyes … the smile like the soft touch of a butterfly's wing …

"I can't find him. I have looked around me, in this village, and I can't find that kind of boy …"

And then, strangely, she smiled, almost as if she was … happy …

Happy that she can't find her brother …?

"There doesn't seem to be any child in this village like that … there is no child who seems to have lost faith …"

A soft, sweet little laugh, and Naruto felt a strange tightness in his throat as he watched her, as the tears continued to cascade down her face, as she gently rested his cheek against his hand. This strange, but lovely presence in this house, somehow lighting up the heightening the usually depressing mood and feelings he felt when he was in this kitchen by himself. In the light of the single bulb, he gazed at her, her tall, slender form folded into a heap as she knelt beside his chair, as she rested her head against his hands, the long strands of her straight golden hair, curling softly here and there down to her waist …

"Your past has been a painful story, Danah nee–chan," He whispered. "I hope that – coming back will make it better."

Everything seemed to just stop in place. Her fingers, which had been slowly rubbing in between his, her smile, her gaze … Then, she suddenly rose, and placing her hands on his shoulders, gently shifted him out of the seat. Naruto stood before her, confused at the tension in the atmosphere, the strange but beautiful expression in her face, that expression he'd never seen in anyone before …

Then once again, with the gentleness of a butterfly, he felt himself enfolded into her embrace. Once again, his head was slowly pulled against her shoulder and chest, her trembling hand gently, slowly stroking back his golden hair, her chin resting against the top of his head … and a soft, halting, whisper, a voice that was struggling against tears …

"You know … It think it already has."


He hadn't been able to sleep for a long time. It wasn't just the fact they'd both turned in late anyway, but that neither could seem to be able to keep away from the other for long …

Naruto would wander into his quiet bedroom to pick up his mission scroll and clothes for tomorrow, then suddenly decide to run back to where Danah was packing foods into the fridge and cupboards, only to almost crash into her as she made her way to his bedroom, her arms full of newly washed and dried clothes, which she had also suddenly decided to fold while sitting on his bed. Or about close to midnight when he sat up from bed, unable to sleep, and would stagger into the dark hallway and collide into a robed figure, just emerging from the second room and who had decided to go on a midnight walk of the small apartment, and wonder if he'd been awake. Dragging him into the kitchen, she laughed delightedly at his nightcap, giving the golden tufts of hair sticking out from under it an affectionate tug before setting about making a cup of warm milk for them both while he gleefully seated himself at the table …

Even after she'd finally shooed him back after catching sight of the clock and utterly furious at herself for letting him stay up that late, he'd lain in bed, listening to the sounds … It was the most wonderful feeling – was this what his classmates went home to every night? The rustle of robes as she still moved about, washing up sounds, sweeping, a low, sweet singing, the windows pulled shut and curtains drawn across, shutting out the night for the precious warmth of companionship indoors …

Then she had quietly peeked into the room again, her long hair like a straight curtain as her head appeared behind his room door. He'd sat up eagerly, only to be frowned upon as she came closer.

"Aren't you asleep yet? What will your teacher say if you turn up for your mission tomorrow with enormous black bags under your eyes?"

He'd opened his mouth to answer when she shushed him. Gently leaning forwards, she started tucking him in, pulling the sheets around him and arranging his pillows, all the time chattering away about how much trouble he was.

Then it seemed she paused while leaning over him, gazing deep into his eyes, then suddenly bent down and dropped a light kiss on his forehead. She leaned back and a beaming grin spread across her face, her hand gently stroking the strands of hair from his forehead.

He gaped up at her. It was just the sort of thing he pictured his mother may have done to him when he was a baby. It was the sort of thing that his classmates experienced everyday, the love from a mother or an older sister...

"See you in the morning, little one." Turning, she made her way to the door.

"Goodnight Danah nee-chan," Naruto had whispered into the moonlight–filled room.

But many hours passed before he finally did fall asleep … Danah sat up on her bed for a long time, sleep refusing to come despite her tiredness, despite knowing that she'd have to turn up herself to the Shinobi Offices tomorrow to officially register. But her thoughts just swirled around, one leading to another, thinking, remembering …

When she couldn't sit still anymore, she quietly slid off the bed, her feet silent on the timber floor …

Peering into the dim room, the moon's bright rays pouring generously onto the bed, the small form huddled beneath it, caressing the silky golden strands, as if determined to make them silver …

She could only gaze … the curled up, helpless, adorable little form …

She wasn't aware of her feet carrying her to the bed … of her knees slowly giving way to crumple up by his bedside … of her arms folding upon the side of the bed, her head resting in them as she continued, relentlessly, gazing, gazing at his face, feeling that her hunger could never be appeased …

So small … so … fragile …

… Almost, if not more fragile than he looked …

… At the hospital …

… The first time …

A little girl, sitting in the waiting room of the hospital impatiently, her fingers nervously rubbing against each other, bright eyes darting to the maternity door now and then, waiting for someone to beckon her and tell her about her new younger brother. She waited for a long time, then upon hearing the doors swing open, a tall figure emerged slowly, dejectedly …

He walked as though burdened, the usual brightness in his blue eyes replaced by a deep sorrow, the slump in his tall frame. Alarmed, the little girl leapt off her chair and ran over to her father. "Daddy ..."

Dull, glistening blue eyes rose, settling on his little girl. She paused, watching in horror as a single jewel trailed down his eyes …

As he dropped on his knees and held his arms out, almost instantly she was tightly in his arms, and that's when the tears started …

"Where's mummy? Where's my little brother?" she whispered, tugging on her father's long jacket.

She watched anxiously as he took a deep breath …

"Your brother's fine," he told her, "But mummy —" he choked on a silent sob "— w–we lost mummy , Danah. She – she died, my little one." His grip on her tightened as he began to tremble. Frightened, horrified blue eyes stared into identical ones, uncomprehending …

"So I won't be able to see mummy again?" She whispered, her mind failing to truly grasp the meaning of death ...

"No, Danah," her father whispered hoarsely, wiping away his tears with his hand.

"And she won't tuck me in or read me a story or make dinner for me?" Her voice had also become raspy and broken. Terrified eyes, panicked little fingers gripping the jacket …

No … no …

"No, my love … mummy's – mummy's … gone." Danah's eyes watered and her lips quivered.

It was the most terrible silence of her life. Unseeing blue eyes, a tiny trembling frame …

Then her father's warm, powerful arms swept her into his chest, her head pressed against it, his heartbeat thundering in time with her own …

"Daddy …"

The strong arms wrapped around the small figure, and picked her up into his arms and held her close.

"My precious little darling … I – I was with her, princess. I was with her all the time ..."

He noticed the desperate, absorbed attention of the little girl, so he slowly sat down, pulling her closer to him, whispering into her golden hair, her tiny little fingers clasping his jacket …

"He's … he's the sweetest little boy, my love … he's as beautiful as you were, angel ..."

She stayed silent, her heart thumping madly as she listened. She could see he wanted to tell her, and it was less painful for him as well …

"She said … that he looks just like me ..." A pained choke, and she tightened her grip, tilting her head, gazing up at him. "T–That he'll be just as big a troublemaker as I was as a boy …" Tender lips descended lightly on her soft hair. "Just like you ..."

Tears intermingled now as he lowered his head, his cheek against his little girl's. "My darling girl … she said she had wanted to watch him grow … to see his cheeky smile … to read stories to him … watch him play with his beautiful sister … watch both of you earn a reputation as the most troublesome troublemakers … she said now she'd had everything she'd wanted … a little version of herself in you, of myself in him ..."

No child should have to see such terrible grief in their parent, and not be able to do anything …

Suddenly he had drawn back, placed his large, strong hands on her tiny, slender little shoulders. His gaze was deep into her eyes, into her soul …

Willing her to understand, but she didn't …

Didn't until it was too late …

"My precious little Danah–hime … it's up to you to look after him, my darling, my precious, sweet love ... It's up to you … you must always ..."

Eyes wide with confusion and horror, she had gripped him tight. "D–Daddy? N–N–Nothing is going to happen, is it? You'll be there too! We'll watch over him together, my darling Daddy! We will, won't we! We will!"

Gasping sobs, his chest heaving, his had nodded mutely and pulled the tiny figure to him. Presently, he rose slowly, still clutching her to him, and walked back to the doorway of the maternity room, where all the newborn babies were kept …

She didn't really register the nurse's whispered, "Second from the back, third from the left ..." A trembling finger pointing to the crib where a precious, precious bundle lay …

Crouching down beside the cot, the little girl gazed through her tears. Gazed into the most beautiful little angel she had ever seen …

Bright, soft golden hair that put the sun to shame … alert, delightful blue eyes, just like her father's, her mother's, her own … the tiniest fingers and toes in the world …

A sob escaped her as she stretched out her hand, her fingers lightly touching his …

… The sudden movement, and the next second those tiny little fingers had wrapped firmly around her own, a proud, delighted expression lightening across the beautiful little face …

"Mummy will always be here in your heart, my love" he whispered painfully. "Always remember that she loved you, she loved you so much. She will always love you, and will always – always – continue to watch over you … both of you, forever and ever."

If only she could have understood what he'd been trying to say …

If she'd only read between his words, and noticed that one vital word had been missing from what he'd said …

… Both of you …

He hadn't included …

… Himself …

"Mummy is an angel in heaven now, isn't she Daddy?" Danah whispered, her tears overflowing again as she watched the tiny baby.

"Yes, my love ..." A soft, equally pained whisper …

"Mummy will … she'll make the most beautiful angel heaven has ever seen, won't she Daddy ..."

He hadn't answered, only gathered his daughter in one arm, his baby son in the other …

That memory, of the man sitting by the window, the dying twilight outside, his arms wrapped around his children … the pained sobs gradually dying down as he fell into a wearied, exhausted, troubled sleep …

But she never did sleep herself …

She had watched over them both all through the night …

Daddy …

You knew you were going to die …

That's why you told me to look after him, my darling, precious Daddy …

She hadn't noticed how long and how much her silent tears had been pouring. She was only aware, as she felt herself draw closer to the sleeping bundle, of the wetness around the sheets where she'd lain her head.

How soft and vulnerable he was … how tender his skin looked, in this bathing moonlight. The strands of silvery gold hair falling carelessly over his face, silky wisps stroking his forehead. And look, look at his hand … curled up into a little fist …

… Once the tiniest fingers in the world …

It may have been on an impulse, or it may have been just a sudden thought, but she wasn't really aware of stretching out her trembling hand, of her quivering fingers suddenly touching his motionless ones …

And then …

A sudden movement, and the next second those tiny little fingers had wrapped firmly around her own …

And this time, a softening of his features, a strange little glow, a slight tilting of his lips …

a proud, delighted expression lightening across the beautiful little face …

And then, everything came to a crashing full circle, and she buried her head in her arms again, shifting closer, the tears coming until she must have cried herself to sleep …

Never …

… Never … again …

I …

Promise …

For the arms to be my shelter
Through all the rain
For truth that will never change
For someone to lean on
For a heart I can rely on through anything
For the one who...
I can run to!