Title: The Return Home: Embracing Change

Author: joryuu

Summary: The boys of Konoha return home after being away for six years to find that the girls are looking better than ever. Drinks are on the house!


Chapter 1

It had been six years since they had seen the lush trees of the Konoha Village. Only a few more miles now until we reach the town. I wonder if they are expecting us? His pace quickened at the thought of seeing all his old friends again. His three other companions matched his stride with the same inner excitement. He reached up and took off the Anbu mask that had been on his head and ran his fingers through his longer blonde hair. Yep, they all had changed during the mission. Naruto looked over at the line of his comrades: Sasuke, Lee, and Shikamaru, all three were staring down the road as they walked. We've all grown. His eyes rested on Sasuke, especially him.

A lot had happened before they left the village. Naruto and Sasuke were selected to become members of the Anbu, and Lee followed a year later. Then the war broke out. Their ally the Country of Earth was under attack by ninjas from the Cloud Village. Earth's Hidden Village of Rock was taken completely by surprise. Almost all of their ninjas were killed and many civilians died as a result. Konoha sent out reinforcements and finally defeated the Cloud's attack. The Country of Earth was left in shambles, and their ninja village was extinguished. The Hokage decided to send a team of Anbu from Konoha over to protect those that survived and to help restore their ninja academy. The four boys were chosen, Shikamaru serving as the Jounin team leader.

"Yo, Shikamaru! Are you excited to see Ino again?" The blonde smiled brightly at him.

"Hai." It had been a long time. She would be twenty now, just like him. He knew she was doing well, as they had corresponded through letters while he was away. He stuffed his hands in his pockets and stared at the road ahead. He imagined her waiting for him just at the edge of town so he could take her in his arms and be alone with her before dealing with the frenzy that would follow their arrival. Every night he had fallen asleep thinking of her. She entered his dreams from time to time, always delivering a sweet kiss to his lips. It has been a long six years.

He looked over at Naruto. "What about you? Who are you waiting to see?"

"Oh, geez, where to startâ€Well, Iruka-sensei of course, and Konohamaru—he'd be like 14 now—and Kakashi-sensei and Jiraiya-sama—if he's around—and OH YEAH!! SAKURA-CHAN!!!" He sang the last name. The pink haired girl had always held a special place in his heart. "I hope she'll be happy to see me again."

"I'm sure Sakura-san will be happy to see all of us," said the optimistic, fuzzy eye browed figure beside Naruto. "Everyone will be happy to see us again." He thought of Gai-sensei. I will show you how much I have improved, Gai-sensei, just like you asked me to do.

"Do you think Gaara and Temari will show up?" Naruto asked the group. They had sent a letter inviting the two sand ninjas to stay in Konoha for a while. It would be nice to see how Gaara is doing; I'm sure he looks upon the world with new eyes now. Naruto thought back to his life-altering fight with the boy who was once filled with such hatred. We are your friends now too.

"It's hard to say with those two. That Gaara guy still gives me the creeps," Shikamaru thought of the trademark cold stare that the boy always had on his face.

"Nahâ€they've changed, I'm sure of it," Naruto reassured him. He glanced over at Sasuke who hadn't said a word the last few hours of their trip. I bet he's thinking about Itachi. Itachi had found them a year ago while they were in the Rock Village. Sasuke had known he would be coming and prepared to avenge his brother. One morning the three woke up to find Sasuke gone. His fighting gear which had begun to collect dust in the corner of his room was missing as well. Shikamaru had said he overheard several villagers talking of a strange man dressed in a black trench coat that had been spotted around the village. They all knew then that Sasuke went to fight him. It was several days before they saw him again. His arm was badly wounded but he did not let the pain show in his face. He approached them with a serious face, all of them wondering what the outcome had been. Then Sasuke let out a small sigh, "It's over." He had finally accomplished his life's goal by killing the man who murdered his clan, murdered his own blood. The three of them felt a weight lifted off their shoulders for their dark eyed friend. Sasuke was finally at peace.

Naruto shook his head recalling that day and glanced over at the quiet face. A small grin was now apparent on his pale features. Yes, Sasuke, now you can enjoy life.

Naruto shot his fist in the air startling the others out of their quiet thoughts, "I've got dibs on Kakashi-sensei for the first fight!! He's an old man now; I bet I can beat him in five minutes! Better yet, I'll tie one hand behind my back to give him the advantage! Ha Hah!!"

"I wouldn't be so sure, baka" Sasuke's cool voice interrupted Naruto's jubilant image of Kakashi's face down in the dirt as he towered over him with his foot on his head.

"Hmmph! I've been doing nothing but working hard all these years, as you can see" He flashed his muscular arm at Sasuke's doubtful face. "And all he's been doing is lying around reading those naughty novels."

"Kakashi's got more tricks up his sleeve than you'll ever know...he can still beat you...I can still beat you," his last words sent that old rivalry anger back through Naruto. He gritted his teeth and glared at the smirking face.


"Hey look, I see the village!" Lee cut him off, pointing ahead. All of them stopped to look down the hill.

A crowd of people could be seen gathered in front of the Hokage's quarters.

"Mendoukusai na, they're going to have a celebration for us," Shikamaru frowned. He hated being the center of attention at things like this. I'll have to give a report on how everything went. He had to go through this when they appointed him Jounin leader of this mission six years ago. The paperwork was going to start up again, that was the worst part of the job. I guess it can't be helped.

"Well, team...Shall we?" Shikamaru commenced by slipping his vest back on. The others nodded and they descended the road to the Village of Konoha.


A/N: Thanks to clicke for catching my mistake in the second paragraph of having two different village names. Oooops!! : /