"Geez, how many people do you think are here? It looks like--"
"There are exactly twenty-thousand four hundred ninety seven people visiting Konoha for Naruto and Hinata's wedding. Of that number, two-thousand six hundred five have been admitted for the formal ceremony. My destruction bugs have been keeping tabs on all of them."
Kiba regarded his former teammate with a sour scowl. Behind his dark-glasses the Aburame Jounin's eyes remained inscrutable.
"You know," Kiba began with a sigh, "You really know how to kill the joy in a conversation. I was just speculating--"
"Speculation can lead to inappropriate conclusions, Kiba," Shino interjected, "I believe you once 'speculated' it would be a 'warm day in the Hidden Mist before Naruto would ever get Hiashi-san's blessing to marry Hinata.' " Akamaru barked with agreement.
"Meh, you just like to rub it in whenever I'm wrong," Kiba replied with a toothy grin, "It's probably the high point of your day, since you spend the rest of it alone with your insects."
"Again, your speculation is incorrect," Shino replied stoically, "As of yesterday I have become engaged." Kiba's eyes popped out with astonishment.
"Are you talking about that hottie with the brown hair."
"Her name is Otani Amaya," Shino replied a shade impatiently, "Her clan is well established in the Hidden Rock Village."
"I remember now," Kiba replied with a barely contained scowl, "Why are you marrying one of the enemy? We've been in conflict with the Rock for the last several generations… In fact, wasn't this Otani girl a prisoner?"
"Correct," Shino replied nonchalantly, "I bested her on a mission several years ago and brought her in for interrogation. She was extremely reticent at first, but I was able to convince her cooperation was in her best interest."
"Sounds like she had a thing for you," Kiba interjected with an insinuating voice, "Can't understand why, though… She must have a thing for creepy guys that play with bugs."
"Our marriage," Shino replied calmly, "Will serve to secure the treaty that Tsunade-sama negotiated with the Hidden Rock last year. If our two villages can settle their differences, Konoha will know a peace that hasn't existed for the last hundred years." Kiba snorted with laughter, Akamaru joining in with a smarmy sounding series of barks.
"Wow, that sounded so well rehearsed, even you believed it."
"What do you mean?"
"Shino, we've been teammates for longer than me or Akamaru really wants to remember, and I can safely say that I know you…. You do things that are logical… and you do things that serve the greater good…. This marriage of yours…. Are you sure you can make it work?" Shino regarded his friend for a long moment – the sunlight glinting off of his dark glasses – before nodding thoughtfully.
"Amaya is a smart person, and she is very committed to seeing things through. I believe our marriage will succeed."
"But do you love her?" Kiba pressed stubbornly. Shino frowned at him.
"Love should not play a significant role in this arrangement." Kiba groaned feelingly.
"That is exactly what I expected you to say."
"It shouldn't play a significant role, but it certainly is present," a calm sounding voice put in from behind them. Kiba spun around with astonishment to regard the lithe, brown-haired kunoichi from the Hidden Rock Village he had just been talking about.
"Amaya," Shino said quietly, "This is a surprise. When did you get here?"
"Just this morning," she said comfortably as she slipped her arm around his, "I'm acting as the official representative for the Rock."
Akamaru barked once, snapping Kiba out of his stupor. "So you actually want to marry this guy?" he asked with sly twinkle in his eye, "You're either very brave, or extremely stupid."
"I see, you must be Kiba," Amaya said with a twinkle of her own, "I've heard so much about you."
"What is that supposed to mean?" Kiba growled indignantly. Amaya only smiled and shrugged. The ghost of a smile seemed to dance on Shino's lips as he regarded the exchange between them. Married life might not be as 'troublesome' as everyone kept warning him.
For the first time in her life, Izanami was feeling overwhelmed. One of the most talented shinobi in the entire Hyuuga clan, she was quickly being routed by the chaos of a wedding ceremony one hundred times larger than anyone had ever imagined.
"Hanabi-sama! You look wonderful in that kimono… so please stop running around near the mud! Osamu, the silverware does not go with the dishware I specified. Please get it replaced as soon as possible. Where did Ryota go! I told him to get me the caterer ten minutes ago!"
"You're a lucky man, Ryota," Hiashi commented quietly to the younger Hyuuga, "It's rare to find such an outstanding person." Ryota nodded with pride until Izanami caught him watching her.
"Ryota! Stop standing around and get over here! I told you to find me the caterer!"
"Yes Hiashi-sama," he said with a wince, "It is rare indeed." With a bow, the newly appointed Council member ran – no, scurried off to placate his significant other. Hiashi's face broke into a grin momentarily before he caught himself and reset it back into an inscrutable mask. He cleared his throat and walked back into the crowd.
"Iruka!" Shizune exclaimed with astonishment, "Are you getting teary-eyed?"
"What? No! No, of course not," Iruka replied in a husky voice as he furiously swiped at his eyes, "Why should I be crying?"
"I don't know," Shizune replied with exasperation, "Why should you?" She was slightly miffed that she had gone through the trouble of getting her hair done and picking out an exquisite azure silk dress with gold trim only to have her boyfriend completely oblivious as he cried his eyes out over his former student. She gave him a jaundiced look, eliciting a blush from the tall Instructor with the top-knot.
"I-I'm sorry Shizune. I'm being stupid again, aren't I?" Shizune couldn't help but smile at the contrition on his face. Iruka's devotion to his students was one of his qualities she found most endearing. Iruka wasn't the strongest or smartest shinobi she had met in her life, but he was probably the sweetest. That was fine… Shizune was strong and smart enough for the both of them.
"You're being cute again," she replied before planting a kiss on his cheek, giggling at the blush that formed, "I know how much this day must mean to you. I still owe Naruto an enormous debt for bringing Tsunade-sama back to Konoha."
"We all do," Iruka murmured as he wrapped his arm around her waste and drew her closer, "And I owe Hinata my pension for finally brining the blonde monster under control."
"It's always the shy, quiet ones that surprise us," Shizune answered didactically as she rested her head against his shoulder.
"Yes, Hinata has come a long way since she graduated from the academy. I'm very proud of her as well."
"I wasn't just talking about Hinata," Shizune said in an innocent tone of voice. She poked him in the side gently and failed to contain her giggles as he began to blush even more brightly.
"That's harsh Shizune! I--"
"Shhh," she replied, placing a finger on his lips, "The ceremony's starting."
The buzz of conversation ground down to a halt as Naruto and his entourage of groomsmen led by a swaggering Jiraiya walked into view. For both practical and sentimental reasons, Naruto and Hinata had insisted on having their wedding ceremony and reception on the training field where they and the rest of the Rookie 9 had started out as Genin. For Naruto, his day of triumph would be held in acknowledgement of the dedication and frustration required for victory. For Hinata, the field represented the courage and defiance she learned to cultivate as a means of completing herself. For both of them, the field represented the bond that brought them closer.
Initially, when Hinata cheered Naruto on before his match with Neji, and later on, when Naruto returned to Konoha and inadvertently took Hinata on their first date. Presently, the typically unimpressive field had been re-landscaped for the special occasion, and close to a hundred different tent pavilions had been set up by various caterers and villagers. The official guests sat in chairs arranged in rows facing the three wooden posts at the far end of the field. The wooden posts themselves had been decorated with streamers of white – the traditional colors of the Hyuuga clan. Mixed in with them was the bright orange of the soon-to-be Uzumaki clan. A spontaneous cheer rose up from the Konoha villagers and was soon picked up by the other guests, heralding Naruto's arrival.
The blonde Jounin in the black wedding kimono gave everyone his trademark grin and threw up victory symbols with both hands for good measure. The crowd erupted with laughter and applause when they noticed the Uzumaki crest displayed on his forehead protector. The more conservative in attendance frowned or harrumphed at the lack of decorum on display. Next to Naruto, a mildly amused looking Shikamaru elbowed him lightly. Kiba and Shino brought up the rear, Kiba tossing predatory smiles at all the gathered females in the crowd. His canine grin spread from ear to ear, until he accidentally blew a kiss at Temari. Amidst hundreds of dignitaries from the Hidden Sand, the icy glare of the Kazekage lanced outward and impaled itself on the back of Kiba's head. The Inuzaka Jounin blanched at the feeling of impending doom, and subsided in his antics. Shino hid his smile behind a cough.
When the males finally reached the end of their long walk, Tsunade walked up from the sidelines to preside over the ceremonies. Naruto made an admirable, but ultimately futile attempt to stifle his laughter at the tri-corn hat sitting on her head. A vein bulged out of her head, and she quickly doffed the marker of her station. Jiraiya gave her a small grin and bowed low before stepping down back into the crowd. The conversation began to pick up again until after a few minutes, a loud bell tolled the arrival of the bridal procession. Everyone who was seated quickly got to their feet with expectant glances at one another.
Leading the procession were Hanabi and a younger Hyuuga girl. They were both dressed in matching black kimonos. Because it happened so rarely, the marriage of a Hyuuga outside of the clan was treated as a loss to the family. As such, the attire worn by Hyuuga clan members during such ceremonies took a tone of mourning. A week earlier, Hanabi had very cheekily informed Naruto that while she had no problem with him marrying her sister, she mourned for Hinata's unborn children, whose father, in her opinion, was more often than not an idiot. Naruto had grinned in reply and simply bid her goodnight. The next day, Konohamaru – the Chuunin she had a fierce crush on – politely asked her why she thought he would be interested in a sulky, sullen faced grouch like her. For a moment, the proud Hyuuga daughter's entire world seemed to be collapsing in on itself, and she felt the hot wash of tears beginning to form in her eyes.
Konohamaru started laughing, and sat down next to her, leaning close. In truth, he admitted, he had always found her exceedingly pretty, but he never had the courage to ask out a girl with such illustrious heritage. When his old mentor, Naruto had mentioned in passing that she had taken a fancy for him, he found the courage to finally make his move.
"But Naruto insisted I tease you with a script he prepared," the lanky Chuunin had admitted with a puzzled air, "And he wanted me to tell you something about 'idiot's often laughing the hardest.'"
Hanabi made no mention of the prank/proposal Konohamaru played on her before they started dating, and Naruto made no inquiries. From that day on, however, Hanabi began to treat Naruto as if he were a full-fledged member of the family.
Konohamaru, who was standing in the crowd with Moegi and Udon, gave her a bright smile and winked, causing the Hyuuga teen to blush fiercely, reminiscent of her older sister. Following behind her, Hiashi was resplendent in dark gray robes bearing the Hyuuga crest. The crowd murmured with delight as Hinata floated into view.
Her hair was done up in an elaborate braid held in place by two ornate, pearl tipped pins, while her white kimono caught the light of the midday sun and made it seem as if she was glowing. A spontaneous hum of admiration rose up from the thousands of guests, and the normally shy Hyuuga burst into a bright smile, emanating the sunny warmth that matched her first name. Behind her, Sakura, Ten Ten and Ino grinned at each other, never more happy for their petite friend than at this moment. Naruto caught the eye of his approaching wife, and gave her a wink. Hinata giggled softly in return and winked back.
"The marriage of two shinobi is a rare occurrence because in truth, a shinobi of Konoha has a duty to the village above all else," Tsunade's strong voice rang out over the training field. "Marriage is a sacred oath that binds two people in a commitment that could threaten that duty. As such, only the most dedicated shinobi who have proven their loyalty time and again, can even consider the prospect of marrying one another."
A wide grin split the normally serious Hokage's face. "Naruto and Hinata have demonstrated service above and beyond the duty of Konoha shinobi on countless occasions. It is because of their unwavering dedication to the protection of this village, that they have found an equally unwavering love for each other." Kiba elbowed Shino with a grin of his own, which his former teammate chose to ignore with great dignity. Ten Ten, Sakura and Ino all sniffled loudly as they nodded with enthusiastic agreement. Hanabi and Hiashi watched with detached reserve, though a soft glimmering in both their eyes betrayed the emotions that surged beneath their calm exteriors. For his own part, Neji wore a soft smile of approval he refused to reign in for decorum.
Lee and Gai were sobbing with unashamed joy, alternately resting their heads on each other's shoulders, while Asuma and Kurenai stood a good distance from them pretending not to hear. Kakashi sat with Ayame and her grandfather, his one visible eye crinkled in an utterly delighted smile. Next to him, Iruka and Shizune sat with clasped hands, Iruka barely in control of his own sniffles. In the honor box under heavy ANBU guard, the Kages representing all of the shinobi villages all watched with impassive silence. All except one. The Kazekage of the Sand, Gaara, beamed with a proud and loving smile that overpowered all the hatred and loneliness which had once filled his life. Flanking him, Temari and Kankuro wore more understated expressions, but smiled nonetheless.
"Have you worked out your marital oaths?" Tsunade addressed the two fiancées standing in front of her with a tender expression on her face. Hinata nodded once in a dignified fashion, while Naruto's jerking nod of assent nearly sent his Uzumaki forehead protector flying off. The crowd laughed with appreciation for his usual exuberance. Tsunade rolled her eyes and cleared her throat hastily.
"Hinata…" The two spoke in a dialogue that addressed themselves as much as it did the other – their words melding together to form a single complete oath.
"I never noticed you before because you were always so quiet, timid, and a bit weird."
"I never stopped watching you because you were always so loud, strong, and brash."
"You never stopped believing in me no matter what others said."
"You never stopped encouraging me to rise above the doubts of others."
"Your kindness and humility have made me a better person."
"Your tenacity and spirit have made me a stronger person."
Their eyes met and an infinite current of understanding passed between them. With twin, foxlike grins, they turned away – Naruto to Shikamaru, and Hinata to Ino. When they turned back around, Naruto held the silver pendant bearing Hinata's name, and Hinata held the gold one bearing his.
"The idea of spending my life without you as impossible."
"We are one."
Hands holding the glimmering pendants, they extended towards each other slowly until the two separate pieces united. Tsunade performed a series of lightning quick hand seals and stabbed her index finger on the united pendants. There was a flash of dazzling green light, and when the gathered crowd cleared the spots from their eyes, it became clear the two pendants had merged together. A single piece half gold and half silver, bounded by a gold and silver chain sat in Hinata's hand.
"Not even death could do us part," Naruto whispered proudly.
"Not while this pendant sits on the breast of our firstborn," Hinata replied with a slow rub over her belly. Naruto's eyes went wide as dish plates and he snatched up her hand with surprise.
"Gotcha," she said with a soft smirk. Tsunade snorted with laughter as those sitting closest erupted in howls of mirth. Naruto grinned at his wife and swept her up in his arms, kissing her with an ardor that left her gasping. She blushed a deep crimson, and then after a moment's hesitation, grabbed his face and pulled him in for a powerful kiss of her own. The crowd hooted with appreciation, and a thunderous wave of applause erupted from nearly thirty thousand people. Naruto and Hinata turned to face the crowd and bowed in greeting. Naruto's eyes widened with surprise as he made out a face in the crowd. Stoic and uncommunicative to the last, Uchiha Sasuke stood off to the side, flanked by his ANBU team. The Uchiha gave his old comrade a single, tight smile. It was the ghost of a smile – flitting across his face so quickly, few would have remembered it. But for once, it was a smile free of derision, malice or bitterness. It was a smile that allowed hope and trust to gain a foothold. Naruto grinned back and tossed him a cheery salute.
"He owes it all to you, you know," Hinata murmured, "No matter how far he slid into the dark, you were always there to show him the way out."
"I believed in him," the head of the Uzumaki clan replied as he brought his eyes back to his beloved, "Just like you believed in me."
"I guess you owe me then."
"So you want to see the bed again, hmm? It's always the quiet ones," Naruto said with the air of a didactic lecturer, "I suppose Uzumaki Naruto, Elite Jounin of Konoha, and Future Hokage might be able to fit you into his schedule sometime tonight."
"It's not a problem," Hinata replied without missing a beat, "He'll only have to set aside a tiny bit of time." The emphasis she placed on 'tiny bit' was too obvious for even Naruto to miss.
"I think I've created a monster…"
"Afraid I'm going to be a troublesome wife?"
"Uzumaki Naruto is not afraid of trouble."
"Good…Neither am I." Tsunade covered her sniffle with a cough and turned to address the crowd.
"As Hokage of the Fire Country, I announce the addition of the Uzumaki clan to the shinobi registry of Konoha!" The tumultuous applause that overtook the crowd had Naruto and Hinata plugging their eyes and grinning like fools. Tsunade turned to regard them like a proud parent.
"The days ahead will be filled with terrible sorrow and loss… but you can never lose hope. You must stand firm behind the vows you have made today."
"We don't go back on our word," Naruto replied proudly.
"It's not our ninja way," Hinata finished.