Title I Won't Look Far into the Future
Author Uozumi
Genre Angst/Drama/Romance
Rating PG-13
Disclaimer I do not own nor claim to own this. The characters, ect...contained within are not my property. This is an act of fandom and I do not make a profit from this endeavor.
Summary Naruto likes aggressive girls. Once he found one, they managed to get together and took one moment at a time choosing to live in the present instead of the future. Ino/Naruto
Note -ojisan is uncle. I thought I'd say something since I haven't seen it used in fic ever.

I Won't Look Far into the Future

Uzumaki Naruto has many faces. From before he can remember anything, he's had his grin. The big grin designed to fool everyone and himself. It was his way of throwing the hate in other people's faces. He wouldn't let them see how much it hurt. Ever since he has made new faces, building on personality flaws so that when he grew out of some, he still could bring them back and fool the world.

Sometimes, even now, there he doesn't understand what's going on. Blatant things still happen in front of him and he is oblivious to it all. Yet, for a while now, he knew that Hyûga Hinata liked him but he played dense for her sake. At first, he thought he was imagining things, especially after the first year of his failing attempt to win Haruno Sakura. One day he heard someone saying something about "You like Naruto, don't you?" and he turned to see a really little girl. He thought she was years younger than them at the time, but she was just the smallest of their second-year class. He saw her blushes and he saw her watching him and then quickly looking away. It felt different from other people. It felt comforting.

He asked Iruka-sensei over ramen about girls. Why did they do "some weird stare thing and then look away" and other questions the way only an eight-year-old could work them. Iruka-sensei said that it was just the way shy girls acted, but that was all he said. He knew who Naruto was talking about.

So Naruto went from excited to depressed to excited again. Some girl might like him. She had been doing some weird stare thing for at least a year now and she went all red, which he knew he did around Sakura if she was remotely nice to him. Yet, doubt prodded him. As he walked back to his apartment amid glares from those he passed, he knew that perhaps he was imagining everything.

He began to watch Hinata when he knew she wasn't looking. She had grown fast over the year and she was taller than him now. He knew boys did the whole grow five inches in a year, but he didn't know girls could do it. Although, quickly most girls were getting taller than him pretty fast. He made a note that he needed to find a jutsu to make him grow taller, even taller than that snobby Uchiha Sasuke or that boring Nara Shikamaru. They were the tallest boys in their class.

Hinata was cautious and quiet. She had trouble meeting some people's eyes and had no trouble with other people. She also seemed to be the only girl without a major crush on Sasuke. Her handwriting was deliberate and neat, but the ink wasn't as dark as most of the other classes as though she didn't want to press her pen too hard to the paper to avoid blotches and smears. He watched her during recess and developed a way to do so without attracting attention or let anyone catch on. He made a mask. He pretended he knew absolutely nothing about this whole staring and blushing business and everyone of course believed him and some people called him dense for it.

Their next to last year at school, he decided she was boring. Well, boring was harsh, but she just wasn't a Sakura. She didn't really have any of the traits that he was attracted to. She was too quiet, too shy, but it was nice to know she did fancy him. He had learned that much accidentally walking by her on Valentine's Day that year hearing her practice trying to give him chocolates. He had wanted to confront her and take them, but he decided not to. He didn't want to scare her or unnerve her. Besides, he wanted to pester Sakura for hers when Sasuke would refuse them like every year. He always managed to get them if he was loud enough and persistent enough. Sometimes he got a few of the other girls who would simply give up after a shouting match and hand them over. He always made sure to pay them back on White Day, but most never accepted his gifts.

They all became Genin. After the graduation ceremony, Naruto saw Hinata standing outside the academy. She was playing with her fingers and glancing at him every so often. He pretended to be waiting for someone too and stood by her. The more he stood, the more he fidgeted. He wanted to give her a chance to say something to him. Yet, she never did, and so she didn't catch on that he knew, he immediately started jabbering at Choji when the larger boy got out the door. Choji was a bit surprised but then said some nice things. He didn't like being mean to people.

Hinata hadn't said anything. At least Sakura said things. That's when Naruto decided that Hinata wasn't the girl for him and he put up the permanent mask of oblivion so he never had to tell her.

Naruto cheered Hinata on at he Chûnin Exams. Her cousin was a stuck up bastard who made Sasuke the embodiment of all things good and peaceful. Well, maybe not that far, but Hyûga Neiji did make Sasuke look like he was at least a decent person. He knew that she still liked him, but he also wanted her to kick her cousin's ass. The boy was screaming to be defeated by a girl, especially one he hated. Yet, Neiji beat Hinata and Naruto paid him back. It was his way of thanking Hinata for being the first girl to like him, even if she wasn't his type. It was also to beat up the creep because Naruto hated creeps as well.

Then everything went crazy and he forgot about crushes and such. He focused on the goal of retrieving Sasuke, but it never worked out. Then he went away for two and a half years to train with the "Open Pervert" and again, crushes were the last thing on his mind. He was forcing himself to grow up, even though he decided to mask some of the major changes. He didn't want to worry everyone when he returned.

When he returned, Hinata was dating Kiba and Sakura was dating Fuzzy Brows. Fuzzy. Brows. Naruto passed them on the street one day and then did a double take after they passed him. It just was weird. Very weird. Too weird. But, he knew his crush was over, even though he had a strong urge to protest. He was just protective of Sakura now; he didn't want to lose her too. So he gave them a grin and told Rock Lee that he would answer to Naruto if he screwed anything up with Sakura. The girl merely watched and noted another change in the blonde. He seemed to be very different everyday, a ninja chameleon.

No one knows how, let alone why, Naruto hooked up with Yamanaka Ino two years later. No one asked and no one volunteered, but there was talk of a random visit to the flower shop which turned into a few other random visits and then frequent visits. To their friends, it seemed that one day Choji was the one coming and going from the shop every so often, but now it was Naruto and he came and went more times. Sometimes the three of them were in there doing whatever they did. No one ever went in to spy, although one time Sakura was in there to drag Naruto to see Tsunade-sama, and after much prodding she told the curious that the three were talking over normal things. There wasn't anything scandalous going on.

Then Choji started leaving when Naruto would show up. Naruto started making the flower shop his first place to stop after missions rather than Ichiraku. That was the sign. Naruto and Ino were obviously dating or something. No one was sure what since the pair never appeared together. They were like Shikamaru and Temari, trying to hide the painfully obvious, but Ino and Naruto were a bit more obvious. If Naruto was visiting a girl before eating ramen, things were definitely serious.

When asked, Naruto would laugh slightly and put a hand behind his head. Ino merely changed the subject in a warning tone. Several of the villagers waiting for a fight in the Yamanaka household. Most knew that they would needle her for dating the Kyûbi if she was their daughter. Even if the townspeople had a bit of respect for the boy and acknowledged him as something more than a demon, they still wanted to protect the girls from him. The last thing the people wanted were little Narutos running around Konoha. One had been quite enough.

Hyûga Ten-Ten saw the pair walking down the street first, but kept it to herself. She found the gossip over the past two years ridiculous. Whatever twenty-year-olds wanted to do was their business and no one else's. Sakura saw them next and then more people. The pair was headed in the direction of the Yamanaka's house. Naturally the village women began to speculate and the heaviest of gossipers wander nonchalantly by to see if they could hear the protesting yells.

There was no yelling. Her parents had accepted her decision and respected it. They had known that the pair was official for about a year and three quarters. The only other people that knew almost everything were Choji and Shikamaru because they knew Ino well enough that no one had to tell them. Team Ten were horrible at keeping secrets from each other. Once someone did something secret, they knew the others would know soon enough without anyone saying anything about it. They only thing they didn't know was why Ino and Naruto stayed so quiet about it. Most would have thought Naruto would loudly charge after her like he still did most things, but he remained quiet and secretive. Most found it disconcerting. Naruto wasn't one for doing things quietly.

Sakura confronted him. They were getting ready for a mission to Ishi when she asked, "What's going on between you and Ino?" She pulled her glove down so that it fit tighter.

"Eh?" Naruto placed his ambo mask on his forehead. "What do you mean?"

Sakura gave her friend of ten years a dubious look as she picked up her Anbu mask, the long beak sticking out like a spear. Looking away, the twenty-two-year-old spoke quietly. "Shikamaru knows, Choji knows…" she paused and then strapped her mask on. "Why don't I know?"

Naruto slid his mask down. "I don't know…Choji and Shikamaru figured it out on their own?" He shrugged casually, but frowned behind his mask. Ino wouldn't have told them, although they were a team. Shaking himself internally, he put on his internal Anbu mask and then said, "Let's go."

They returned from the semi-successful mission several weeks later. Walking into town, the worn ninja parted ways. Naruto looked around at the darkened village. It was two in the morning. Wandering the streets, Naruto brushed his hair out of his eyes and looked around at the empty streets. When he was younger, sometimes he spent nights wandering when he couldn't sleep.

Clasping his hands behind his head, he made his way to his apartment before he stopped. In a leap, he landed on the roof and sat down.

"Shikamaru knows, Choji knows…"

Naruto frowned. The only people he had told officially were her parents. There was a silent agreement between Ino and him about just staying quiet and out of the spotlight. Both were experienced with openly chasing after people, calling an amazing amount of attention to themselves and whoever they were with or wanted to be with. That's why they didn't make a production out of it. Productions would get in the way and neither would really know what they wanted in the end. That was why Choji and Ino broke up after going out for a year; they just didn't know if they were using each other or really liked each other.

Ino never said anything about telling people; actually they hadn't even talked about it. Intertwining his fingers, Naruto rested his elbows on his knees, his hands resting near his ankles. He hadn't answered Sakura because he wasn't sure what to say. Of course they told her parents, which was only right. He would have told Iruka-sensei and Kakashi-sensei, but Iruka-sensei was dead and Kakashi-sensei was one of countless missing ninja from a hazardous mission where Kakashi-sensei's group never returned.

The only people he had left were his friends. Even then, he knew that the deaths that would hurt the most would be Ino, Sakura, and Gaara. Gaara was Naruto's best friend. Even though Gaara wasn't around, Naruto knew that they were best friends. Gaara had been dead for several hours long ago, but now he was alive for the time being at least. Sakura was his other best friend and the only person left from his Genin team. Then Ino was his girlfriend, and he wanted to keep that secret at least for a bit more. Once he had found friends, once he found the acknowledgement he sought, people began dying. He didn't want to be alone again. He wanted to try and forget what that felt like.

Growling under his breath at the thoughts running through his mind, the tall young man stood up on the roof and flashed his best and brightest grin. He considered cheering his unfaltering ambition to be Hokage, but now that he was older, he had enough sense to simply say it quietly, the mantra bringing a small but genuine smile to his lips. "I'm going to be Hokage! I will!"

It was later that day when Naruto caught up with Ino. He had overslept and almost forgot that Tuesdays were her training days. Standing just outside the south training grounds, he leaned against a tree watching as Ino went at Hinata. The Hyûga heiress slid backwards swiftly, dodging Ino's attack. Ino managed to block Hinata's counter attack, gritting her teeth slightly. The pair trained without aid of their special techniques. Ino promised not to enter Hinata's body, and Hinata promised not to use the gentle fist on Ino. The bouts were merely strength training and training outside their kekki genkai.

Hinata made a motion and then both young women turned in Naruto's direction. "Naruto-kun," Hinata greeted him with a smile and wave. She wasn't blushing and her voice was a bit louder and stronger than it used to be when they were younger.

"I didn't mean to interrupt," he said, his hand behind his neck, sheepish grin on his face. "I just was wandering through."

"It's okay," Hinata replied. "I had to leave anyway. I need to get ready for a meeting tonight." She waved. "I'll see you two later."

After she left, Naruto let out a breath and murmured, "And Hinata-chan knows."

Ino glanced at him. "What?"

Naruto stuck his hands in his pockets and looked over at her. "How many people have you told?"

"'Told…?'" Ino gave him a questioning look and then her eyes narrowed. "Only my parents." She paused and then asked sharply, "You?"

"Your parents," Naruto replied in a similar tone. "But somehow Shikamaru knows and Choji and Sakura-chan and now Hinata-chan!" He made a sweeping gesture as he said the names. "How did they all know? It's not like I told anyone."

"Well I didn't either!" Ino snapped. They glowered at each other and then she brushed a long strand of hair from in front of her eye so that it was tickling her nose. "Well, Choji and Shikamaru probably knew a long time ago. It's not like we can hide things from each other. We always know what's going on with the others. It's a – " she stopped herself, amending, " – a thing you know." She almost said "team thing" but the word "team" never went over well with Naruto.

Naruto gave her a rather dark look. He hated when she brought up Choji and Shikamaru as her team. It hurt. Her sensei was still alive, her team still had a strong bond together, but Naruto didn't have a sensei or a team anymore. All he had was Sakura, which wasn't bad but just wasn't the same thing. Then he sighed. She hadn't used it against him, where she could have. He took it as the closest thing he could get to an apology.

"Ino-chan…" he ran a hand through his pointy hair that was growing out slightly. "Look, I…"

"It doesn't matter," Ino interrupted, her voice calm. They had managed to avoid shouting at each other; she didn't feel like ruining that. "It's probably time to just admit it." She folded her arms as she spoke.

Naruto withdrew slightly, Ino's eyes instantly on him. His grinning for the sake of grinning always worried her, but when he didn't bother to put on a face, she found it even more worrisome. "Ino-chan…" he began and then he shook his head.

"What? Look, we don't have to – "

"No, no, it's okay," Naruto interrupted. Then he nodded. "Yeah, we should let people know."

There wasn't an announcement. They didn't call their friends together and admit to anything. All they did was walk together in town, have dates in more public places, and other normal couple things. This was comfortable, this was safe. They went on dates with some of their friends. With their friends, they sometimes held hands or let their guards down. Subconsciously they kept from displaying things in public. The stares of people were unnerving and the whispering more so. At least for Ino, and she envied how unaffected Naruto seemed.

A few months later, Shikamaru left for Suna permanently. He avoided people and made a quiet exit, saying goodbye to his former team before he left one morning. Temari was pregnant and since he rarely got missions in Konoha and she held an important position in Suna, he moved there. The rest of his friends found out second hand. He didn't want to play twenty questions. Over the years, he became more removed from the others as they advanced and he stayed where he was. He had the papers he needed from Tsunade-sama, and that was all the trouble he needed before leaving.

Naruto was away on a mission when Shikamaru left. He came back oblivious and after making the usual 'Oh Temari must be in town since I haven't seen Shikamaru around' joke, Ino ordered him out of the flower shop and purposefully took her time locking up so she wouldn't have to think about it. She thought she was being childish, but it just felt different only seeing Choji in the streets. Part of her team was gone, not like Naruto's team, but team ten wasn't going to have the same dynamics anymore.

Two more years passed and more of their friends married off. Fuzzy Brows and Sakura had been married a year and Kiba was now a part of the Hyûga clan. Even Kankuro was married to some Suna girl, although Temari and Shikamaru still weren't married but they were living together and had two children.

When Shino announced that he was getting engaged to one of the ninja who was two years younger than they were, the pressure mounted.

Naruto and Ino had been together for six years. They had never talked about marriage or where they were really going. They had just gotten together and took each day at a time, focusing on the present and not the future. It had just happened without them thinking. They did have arguments and sometimes some of the biggest fights that on occasion rivaled the worst of Shikamaru and Temari's fights. Yet, they were still together.

Sometimes when Anbu got married or got very serious with someone, they went back to being a simple Jônin. Anbu had the most dangerous of all the ninja jobs and the death rate was highest. Naruto was still an Anbu and Ino had been a Jônin for three years now. She was preparing to be a Genin instructor that next year. Neither talked about stopping their careers, no one talked about Naruto going back to Jônin because it wasn't Ino's decision to make and if they started talking like that, they would have to talk about marriage, which meant talking about the future past what they were doing on Friday night or how long a mission might last. They didn't want to think that far ahead.

One day Naruto didn't come back. Konohamaru appeared at Ino's apartment late at night, being the squad's second-in-command under Naruto. He stood outside her door thinking of things to say. Naruto was so much better at this than he was, but since Naruto wasn't here, he had to inform Ino and a few other people about various deaths and missing ninja. Naruto was a missing ninja at least, he tried to steel himself. After several minutes of prepping himself, Konohamaru finally knocked on her apartment door.

Unlike most of their friends, Ino and Naruto had never moved in together. That was the thinking of people who looked far into the future, who had plans, who talked of marriage and what happens next. Naruto's apartment was on the other side of Konoha deep in the market district whereas Ino lived rather close to the residential district. Neither apartment was big enough for two people to live in together and they didn't have time to look for a bigger one regardless.

Ino answered in a long purple night down and white robe. She knew before opening who it was, but still her guard was up slightly. Just because she was sure it was Konohamaru, didn't mean that it really was him. She opened the door, thinking about snapping at how late it was or at least snapping, but at his expression, she asked in a rather subdued voice, "What are you doing here?"

"Ino," Konohamaru said quietly, "uh…I really don't know how to say this." He found all his preparation slipping. He was convinced that this was the hardest of all Anbu jobs.

"What?" Her voice was firm and alert. She straightened slightly, coming up to his neck. She didn't like this, although Konohamaru wasn't the most direct person. He was an excellent Anbu on the field, but saying hard things wasn't his strong suit.

"Naruto…" his voice trailed and then he sighed. "We were on a mission and – "

The door slammed in his face. Konohamaru cursed inaudibly. He hoped this wasn't how all of these were going to go. He was too tired to deal with four doors slamming in his face after this. Standing close to the door, he hoped she hadn't gone too far as he spoke loudly, his voice carrying through the wood. "Ino, Naruto is missing, not dead. Just thought you'd want to know that." Then he stood a bit away from the door incase she opened it violently.

A small "Thank you" came from the other side, indicating that he could go and do the rest of his job.

Ino was a Jônin so she used her training and put up a neutral façade in the morning, hoping no one would ask her about Naruto. She wasn't one to cry, she was one to lash out verbally. She went to her training to be a Genin instructor where they covered what to do if a three way rivalry happened in the team. She knew that her friends and Naruto's friends were watching her. Luckily none of them tried to say anything, they all knew better.

Two months passed which turned into three. That October Ino received her Genin group. The group looked like there wasn't going to be an internal problem, at least right up front. They all seemed relatively normal, very much like Hinata's team eight. One of the boys seemed shy and the other looked rather nerdy with large glasses. The girl had a kitten on her shirt and clips in her hair. She had a semi-confident look to her. It would be a good group. She tried to figure out who might be the whiner but she didn't think she had one. If there was one, she had a feeling it would be a surprise like the nerdy boy.

They went around with introductions but before she could tell them to meet for their first training session, a messenger came up to them.

"Yamanaka Ino-san?" he asked.

"That's me," Ino replied. "What is it?"

"You need to report to interrogations soon," the messenger stated. "It can wait until you're done with this though." He glanced at the three twelve-year-olds as he said the last sentence.

"Thank you," Ino stated and watched as he left before turning back to her students. "Now, we're going to meet at eight on the East practice fields. Alright?"

The Genin nodded and then the group parted for their separate directions.

Ino arrived quickly at the interrogation department. It wasn't her first time there. Mostly Jônin with families or retried Anbu worked the station, but sometimes they brought in others for processes. It all had to do with psychology and even some times Chûnin interrogated the prisoners. Moegi looked up when Ino appeared, having been directed towards a cell by one of the ninja at the front desk.

"Ino," Moegi addressed her. They knew each other very well since Naruto considered Konohamaru's gang part of his group of friends. They had even double dated with Moegi and Konohamaru back when the younger pair was together. "I was asked to prep you before you went into the cell. You won't need a guard we don't think. It's a case of a returning missing ninja. As you know, we can't simply accept who he is until we're absolutely sure."

"Alright," Ino nodded, "but who is it?"

"Naruto." Moegi didn't look at the blonde's reaction but concentrated on her clipboard of data. "We called you because Sakura is still in the hospital and still can't be moved. We thought it best not to tell her because we know she might try to come here after giving birth."

"So what do you want me to do?" Ino wasn't sure how to approach this. She was used to the actual interrogation process, using force sometimes to get prisoners of war to speak. She had never been involved with confirming the identity of a missing ninja.

"He hasn't posed much of a threat," Moegi consulted the clipboard. "He's whined a few times. Hyûga Neiji-sama went to see him, but he thought that you should confirm it. He thinks it most definitely is Naruto."

Ino resisted asking, "How am I supposed to confirm this!" but instead said, "Alright. Can I go in?"

"If you're ready. If a problem arises, we'll come in and help you."

Ino nodded and then slipped inside the cell room.

She closed the door behind her, her eyes on the room. It was brightly lit and there was a bed on the far side of the wall. "Hi," she said as her eyes fell on Naruto who was sitting on it.

"Hi," Naruto returned. He wasn't sure what to say. He had been in the cell for one week. All he had done was report to Tsunade-sama and then he found himself in here. He understood why, but he didn't understand why Neiji hadn't sprung him out yet. Now Ino was here. He wondered if she also thought he wasn't him.

Ino wasn't sure what she was supposed to be thinking. He felt like Naruto, he looked like Naruto, he sounded like Naruto, but that of course didn't mean he was Naruto. The duck rule didn't apply to missing ninja. A little voice nagged at her that Iruka-sensei was killed by someone trying to be Kakashi-sensei. This Naruto could kill her maybe. She shook herself mentally. Thinking like that was not going to get her anywhere. She had to figure this out.

"Where's Sakura-chan?" Naruto asked. "You can at least tell me that, right? Neiji didn't really answer anything he just kind of stood there and said some stuff…" Naruto made a face at the memory.

Ino debated if she could answer this. Sakura's whereabouts weren't really a state secret but the woman had once been an Anbu. Ino decided for a truth that didn't give away Sakura's exact location. "She's busy with her baby."

"Baby!" Naruto's jaw dropped. "She and Fuzzy Brows had a kid!"

"Well, yeah," Ino snorted, "they are married you know."

"Does he look like Fuzzy Brows? I mean…you know…I hope for his sake he looks like Sakura-chan because you know…" Naruto fought for a way to make it not come out in a mean way.

"It's a girl and she has dark hair if you're wondering," Ino replied. She could tell Naruto this. It wasn't going to jeopardize anything. At least, she hoped so.

"But does she have the unibrow thing? You know caterpillars and then those weird eyes…" Naruto asked.

Ino let lips turn up into something between a smirk and a smile. "No, she looks like a black haired Sakura, although I think she has his nose."

"Good," Naruto sighed in relief, "poor girl if she looked just like Fuzzy Brows." They fell into silence and then he asked, "Is Shino married yet?"

"Just last month," Ino told him.

"Oh," Naruto sighed. "I got them something. "It's in my room in the left cabinet behind the flour." He tossed her a key. "Can you give it to him?"

Ino looked at the key and then at him. Normally people in the cells were searched for such things. She decided not to ask where he had it hidden. "I can do that." She decided to withhold that the Aburames weren't back from their honeymoon yet.

"Good," Naruto said, smiling ever so slightly. Then he grinned. "So what have you been up to?"

Ino observed the grin and then smiled inwardly. It had to be Naruto. No one could grin like that! Well except for maybe Tsunade-sama and Iruka-sensei and Temari and…She decided not to base her decision off the grin. "Nothing really. Just Jônin things." She kept the answer cryptic. If it was Naruto, it wouldn't be fair to just ignore the question – which she suspected Neiji did – but if it wasn't Naruto, she couldn't tell him details.

"Ah," Naruto replied, nodding. "Do you have your team yet? I think it's October…but I wasn't really keeping track out there." He put a hand behind his head. When on missions, Naruto had a way of ignoring what day it was and just live in the present of the mission and think a bit ahead of himself much like he treated his relationship with Ino.

"Yes, I have." Ino figured that couldn't hurt either. It wasn't like a spy could go back to say Hakka and say, "Yamanaka Ino has a Genin group" and spell disaster for all of Konoha. At least, she hoped not.

"Are they brats?"

"No!"

Naruto grinned again, laughing slightly. "Good. You get any lazy bums?"

"No," Ino replied. It was as though he was asking if she got team seven or team ten. She resisted likening the Genin to team eight. "Anyway, I have work to do." She made her way to the door.

Naruto opened his mouth to say something and then changed his mind. "Okay."

She opened the door a crack and then looked over her shoulder. "Naruto?"

"Yeah?" He met her eyes.

"Happy birthday."

He gave her a blank look of shock which then morphed into a genuine grin.

That's when she knew he was truly Naruto.

It happened. One night in late winter, they finally discussed the future, something beyond Ino's C-rank mission with her Genin group in a week. The air was frigid but there wasn't any snow. They were standing on the hill Shikamaru frequented years ago and then sun had set long before. It started out as training and then after they wore each other out, they started talking.

It started out simple enough and then someone mentioned something and the conversation turned to what happens next? They had been together for so long and had seemed to blindly flow together. Neither could say exactly when they decided to not see anyone else, neither could say when they first kissed or first held hands. Everything had a natural flow, they had never really thought about it. The only thing they ever maybe thought about was the time he met her parents, but other than that, they simply did what felt right.

That's why they were discussing the future. It was time, it felt right.

"What do you want to do?" Naruto asked after a bit of dancing around the topic. "You know, after your Genin become Chûnin and even a bit after that."

Ino sat on one of the training poles and adjusted one of her sandals, shivering slightly as the wind blew at her sweat. "Probably take missions. Continue being a Jônin." After a few minutes of silence, she let her leg dangle down and asked, "What about you?"

"I don't know," Naruto answered. "I will be the Hokage, but not yet. I'll wait until Obaasan is ready to give up the title." The twenty-six-year-old put his hands deeper into his pockets.

"Are you going to stay an Anbu?" Ino looked up at the moon which was an almost invisible crescent.

Naruto didn't say anything. Ino looked over at him, noting his downcast eyes. She regretted the question, she hated when he looked like this. Part of her was glad that he didn't wear his masks as much with her as he did with others, but it still bothered her. Besides, she could tell when he was faking something, most of them could really. "I don't know."

Ino wanted to ask why but didn't. Finally she jumped down from her perch. Looking at him, she waved. "I have to meet my team early." She kissed him and thought about commenting on his expression but decided not to. Whenever she did, he would always try to hide what he was thinking. She gave him another wave and went to leave but he grabbed her arm before she got too far.

"Naruto…?"

"Marry me."

She stared a moment and then tried to think of something to say. Neither had said the word. It's true they just had a conversation about everything that had to do with it but not marriage itself, but still Ino hadn't expected the word ever or even thought about it. "Wha…?"

Naruto dropped her arm and took a step back. He seemed as shocked as she was. "I mean…" He tried to think of a less forceful way of putting it. That just hadn't come out the way he thought it would. "Uh…" His face took on a 'oh crap' expression as though he expected her to start shouting about how he was ordering her or something.

"What do you mean?" Ino prodded him slightly. She had been put off at the order, but since he seemed to have realized the blunder, she would give him another try. She folded her arms, daring him to try the commanding tone again.

"I meant," he began and then laughed uneasily, a hand behind his head, "will you marry me?" He gave her a hopeful and apologetic look.

She drew the moment out, looking like she was still somewhat offended by the command as her mind whirled. This just came out of nowhere! Weren't people supposed to at least talk about it first? She resisted furrowing her eyebrows in thought. She didn't want to give him the wrong reaction. She knew that the expression she wore right now made enough sense that he wouldn't know what she was thinking.

"You don't have to answer now," Naruto interrupted her thoughts. "I mean…you know…just…" He continued backpedaling, "Think about it. No rush."

Ino nodded. "I will – I mean think about it," she added quickly.

Naruto nodded.

"Anyway, I have to go," Ino said waving again. "I'll see you later."

Then she was gone.

"Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid…" Naruto mumbled to himself and then grinned slightly. She hadn't said no. At least, not right out, he added to himself.

Ino told him yes after she returned from the C-rank mission with her Genin group. She told him just before he left to prepare for a mission and he grinned brightly amid strange looks from his group. All she had said was "Yes!" and nothing. No one was sure what "yes" meant, and could only begin to guess from the couple's expressions. With Naruto, a "yes" from Ino could mean anything from "I'll see you at the Ichiraku after your mission" to "I forgive you already." None of the group thought marriage. Ino and Naruto just wouldn't think like that. If they did, they would have been married long ago. Not many twenty-somethings dated for almost seven years and not hinted at marriage unless they had started dating in their early or mid-teens.

Naruto was bouncing off the walls through the mission, at least as much bouncing as an Anbu could do. Konohamaru admired the older man's restraint, but wished that Naruto wasn't pushing the group to the max to get the mission over with quickly but not sloppily. Sometimes their leader forgot that his group didn't have an extra power boost to tap into to keep up with him. He would put a hand behind his head and tell them he was going slowly so they could keep up, which only earned disgruntled looks behind masks. None of the other Anbu wanted to know what "fast" would be.

They got the first part of their mission completed successfully in less time than the estimate even though there had been one slip up, which was never really explained in any reports. The group then left for Suna to finish off the mission, surprising the gate guards with their papers when the guards had been told to expect them three to five days later.

The Anbu moved through Suna with a sickening dread poking at them. Some buildings were demolished and others lay half-standing. The specifics of their mission had been withheld by Tsunade-sama who said that the Kazekage would give them more instruction when they arrived. The group kept up with Naruto's long strides towards the Kazekage complex. The group had foregone their masks and had changed from Anbu clothing to Jônin. Tsunade-sama had instructed them to go to Suna as Jônin, and they could make the decision from there what was called for next.

Naruto was about three strides ahead of everyone else. He wanted to know what happened and he was worried for his best friend. A guard met them at the main entrance. "The Kazekage would like to see you, but he is in hiding." He looked Naruto in the eye. "You will know where. You go ahead, the others will wait."

Naruto turned to the group. He didn't want them just sitting there, it would be too boring. He frowned and then said, "Look around for Shikamaru, Temari, and Kankuro. I want to know if they're okay."

There were nods and then the young men dispersed, Naruto taking off after everyone had left for Gaara's hiding spot. It was close to the village that he could quell disturbances, but far enough that he couldn't easily be found. Naruto hadn't been here for four years when it was first constructed and Gaara showed him. Naruto wasn't sure how many other people knew, but he thought that most likely the others would be only Temari and Kankuro.

He looked around and then made a face. He couldn't remember how the hell to let Gaara know he was out here. There was some special something or other and he knew that he knew it for months after he had been told, but he just couldn't remember. He knew he was in the right place, so at least that was a start.

"I knew you would forget."

Naruto turned around and then grinned slightly. "Uh…ah…hi."

"I knew you were coming so I waited," Gaara explained as he walked over to Naruto. The redhead was shorter but looked older and a bit worn. "You've probably been to complex since you're here." He paused and then said, "Let's talk in a better place. Follow me."

The pair raced across the landscape and then finally reached a canyon where Gaara stopped them. "This place is good enough."

Gaara explained the situation to Naruto. Suna had been ambushed by the Cloud and Stone working together. Many of the townspeople were dead and the rest that had been left alive had been evacuated just in time for the second wave of attacks. He told Naruto that they were expecting a third attack and the only people left in Suna were high ranking ninja and the Kazekage guards. There were also some townspeople, and he was still trying to figure out how to get them to leave. He had been forced to hide so that the country couldn't fall into further chaos if their leader died.

Naruto stared. He wasn't sure what to say or do. "How does the Leaf fit in?"

"The first wave of refugees went to Konoha," Gaara replied, "and the second went to other allies. Hokage-sama sent you incase we needed backup. I didn't ask for aid."

Naruto watched him and said nothing. After a while he spoke. "What do you want us to do? I have a group of five Anbu-level men with me."

Gaara remained quiet, thinking. His greenish-blue eyes looked out at the canyon and he shook his head. "I want you to go back and protect Konoha. Suna can fend for itself now, the people who need protection are in Konoha." He looked over at Naruto. "You need to go back. Don't stay here, there's nothing to protect."

Naruto went to argue the point and then nodded. "Do you want us to take the villagers with us?"

Gaara studied him and then nodded. "If you can convince them, take them. If not, leave them. It's their choice."

Ino and Naruto had finally moved in together just before he asked her to marry him. They were in her apartment which was slightly bigger than his was. She had just finished training her Genin and told them they had a week break during the winter festival. Walking through the market district, she started on her shopping when she stopped. She knew that brown haired man up ahead but she couldn't place where she knew him. 'Turn around and let me see your face,' she thought as she tried to watch him inconspicuously. Finally he did and she squinted slightly. He was familiar, definitely, but something just wasn't right.

"Kankuro-ojisan," a little girl tugged at the man's pant leg as she asked for yet another time, "when is Kassan and Tôsan coming?"

Kankuro cleared his throat trying to hide the annoyance in his voice. "I don't know, Hôki-chan."

Instantly, Ino placed Kankuro's unique nose in her mind. Then she looked at the small girl. Hôki was about three, maybe four. Her black hair stuck straight out like a porcupine in several directions and looked as thought it hadn't been brushed ever. She had dark eyes that looked up at her uncle before looking down at her sandals. "How troubling."

Ino resisted laughing. The girl was definitely Shikamaru's even if she had modified his eternal saying. Her small face scrunched up looked rather funny too. Stepping out from behind a stand, she greeted them, "Hello, Kankuro-san." She wasn't sure how it would go over, let alone if he would know who she was, but she wanted to know why he was here, especially if Temari and Shikamaru weren't.

Kankuro looked over at her as Hôki instantly put his leg between her and this Leaf ninja. He studied Ino a moment and asked, "Yamanaka?"

"Yes," Ino nodded, "but you can call me Ino." She looked down at Hôki who buried her face in her uncle's pant leg. Ino took the hint and looked back up at Kankuro. "Why are you here?" It was a valid question. They were from another country and there was a war going on.

"Suna was invaded," Kankuro explained. "Gaara had everyone sent here. He told Temari and me to come here, but she didn't." He put a protective hand on the girl's head. "This is Hôki. Tochi is at the Nara's house with Rika-chan."

Ino wasn't sure what to say. She had never really talked to Kankuro that much. The last time she had was back when she was about seventeen or eighteen, just before she and Naruto got together. "How long have you been here?" It was the only thing she could think of to ask.

"About two days. It was a long journey since it was mostly villagers, elderly, and children. Not everyone came with us." He left unsaid that he didn't know what happened to those who stayed. "I don't know when we'll get to go back."

Ino nodded. She had noticed the rise in people on the streets in the past couple days, but she attributed to the winter festival nearing. People always seemed to be out and about leading up to it.

"We should let you go back to your shopping," the twenty-seven-year-old stated and picked up his niece.

Ino nodded and smiled disarmingly at the shy girl who put her face in Kankuro's shoulder. "I'll see you around then," she said.

"Probably," Kankuro returned and then gave her a small wave before walking through the crowd. Ino watched him leave and then continued on with her tasks.

Naruto came home three days later, instantly reporting to Tsunade-sama with the others. They told her about the success of the first mission and then the information from Suna. Naruto delivered a coded message from Gaara, which Tsunade-sama said she would read later. She dismissed them all and decided to return to the issue of the refugees.

Naruto and Ino slept in the same futon that night, clinging to each other. They slept past lunch and woke late in the afternoon to noises from the beginnings of the festival. Dressing quickly, they went out and into the crowd to enjoy the biggest event in Konoha without a connection to the Hokage or any clan.

Three years later, Ino and Naruto still weren't married. They never seem to have the time to plan let alone figure out when to have it. Telling people wouldn't be an issue. All they would have to do would be to tell one or two people and everyone who needed to know would know. They were getting closer to finally deciding when knocking came at their apartment door.

Ino went to answer it, Naruto watching and listening from where he still sat at their small table by the window. When he saw the messenger from the Hokage, he stood and came to stand a bit behind his fiancée.

"Uzumaki-san," the young Chûnin said looking past Ino, "Hokage-sama would like to see you immediately. She also says that it's not a mission, so you can come as you are."

Before the teenager could say the last sentence, Naruto had a few weapons in his pockets and was out the door and down the hallway.

He made the Hokage complex within seconds and walked right past Shizune and into Tsunade-sama's office without knocking. "You wanted to see me, Obaasan?" he asked without even bothering to check to see if anyone was in the room with her. Tsunade-sama never sent such messages and all thoughts of protocol flew out of his mind.

Tsunade-sama was over by the window, looking out at the walkway that led up to the main entrance. She was still quiet, her appearance unchanged since Naruto met her sixteen years ago. "Naruto…" she began and continued after a moment without looking at him, "I have to tell you something."

Naruto resisted making a joke to ease the situation. He felt like he was drowning and his heart pounded in his throat. His senses screamed something bad was coming, but he managed to use all of his willpower not to make a crack. He knew it wasn't the time.

"Jiraiya is dead," she said quietly and then paused as though she expected him to suddenly turn twelve and start shouting at her, demanding to know if she was lying or not. When there was silence, she continued, "It happened early this morning. He had a – " She heard the door slam and she closed her eyes. She would have preferred shouting.

Naruto ran. He passed by many people and knocked a few down not pausing to stop and check to see if they were okay. Older villagers glared at him muttering something about unchanging things. Younger villagers stared at a strange thing that flew by them, unsure of why their grandparents were muttering.

Sakura took the occasional mission, but only when it was absolutely necessary and usually involved protecting the village. She was playing with her daughter in the front yard, using basic play as a form of training when she straightened. Something was coming towards them. She thought it was Naruto, but it seemed deadly. "Go hide, Shobu-chan." She watched the girl do as asked without question. The three-year-old had been taught early on to hide on cue. Her parents were well known in many lands and were always prepared for the unexpected threat even with the war's end in sight.

She prepared herself for anything. She had an uneasy feeling and always relied on her gut instinct. When Naruto appeared the instant Shobu disappeared, she relaxed slightly but not completely.

"Sakura-chan," Naruto surveyed her and then let out a breath, his intensity diminishing greatly. "Good."

Sakura stared. "What…?" She could only imagine what was going on. Naruto still did strange things like when they were younger every so often. She heard a slight shift in some bushes nearby and then she said, "You can come out now, Shobu-chan. It's only Naruto-ojisan."

The little girl instantly darted out of the bushes happily and hugged the blonde around the leg. "Naruto-ojisan!" she squeed. He was her favorite person in the world and if Ino didn't marry him, Rock Shobu would happily. Such was the mind of a three-year-old girl.

"Hey there," he put on a mental mask and gave her a warm smile as he patted her head. "Hey, you're getting really tall," he added, trying to make it more convincing. "You're going to be able to beat up your mom soon."

Sakura snorted. "Naruto, don't corrupt her. Or at least wait until she's a Genin."

"Awww, Sakura-chan…" Naruto put on a 'you're running my fun' face. Then it became more serious. "Have you heard?"

Sakura raised an eyebrow. "Heard what?"

"Let's go inside," Naruto said after a moment.

Sakura nodded and looked down at her daughter. "Let's go inside, Shobu-chan."

"Okay," Shobu happily said and led the way into the house. Once they got inside, her mother told her to go play in the family room, she and Naruto-ojisan had to talk to each other.

Watching as the little girl did as she was told, Naruto looked over at Sakura. "She's really obedient." Some of their friends had to force their children to do anything or at least shout a bit or make ultimatums.

"We're lucky," Sakura said and motioned him over to the couch in the living room. The house was small with a staircase to their right that led up to the attic and the kitchen behind the far wall, the family room just off of that. The yard was small as well with a fence around it. After they both sat down, she looked Naruto straight in the eyes. "What's wrong? Is it Lee-chan?"

"No, no," Naruto shook his head, "as far as I know, Fuzzy Brows is just fine."

"Naruto, don't call him that!"

"Sorry," Naruto murmured. Neither doubted that he would ever stop calling Lee Fuzzy Brows when the Jônin wasn't in hearing distance. "Anyway," he shifted his weight in the seat and said quietly, "I just talked to Obaasan."

"What did she say?" Sakura sat straighter. Something horrible must have happened if Naruto was dodging the subject.

The younger ninja looked down at his hands. He hated these things. It was easier to do with a mask on, easier to do when he wasn't telling one of his friends. "Ero-sennin…He's dead."

Sakura's eyes widened. "How…?"

"I don't know." Naruto seemed to make himself take up the smallest space as humanly possible as he spoke. "She was going to say something and I left. I just…Dammit…" he clasped his hands and rested his elbows on his knees, his hands touching his forehead. "Why…?"

Sakura remained silent. She understood why he charged over to her home. She knew that over the years Naruto had constructed a family for himself. Tsunade-sama and Jiraiya-sama were his grandparents, Kakashi-sensei and Iruka-sensei both father figures, Sasuke his brother, and Sakura his sister. She looped her arms around his shoulders. She hadn't really known Jiraiya-sama that well, but she still felt sad, especially for Naruto.

After silence, she finally said in a whisper, "We're still here, Naruto." She thought about adding "We'll always be here," but that was too optimistic, especially with Tsunade-sama getting older.

They sat like that for a long time even after Lee returned home, exchanging a look with his wife that said she would explain later.

Four months later, Naruto and Ino got married. They didn't want wedding gifts only something simple. Also, it had been a 'well it's that moment or not at all' and they took it. In true Naruto style, their guests had about a week notice except for their guests from Suna. They were notified two weeks in advance. The Kazekage was the best man, Sakura the Maid of Honor even though she was married. The flower girl was Shobu and the ring bearer was Tochi, the youngest of their friend's sons.

After the ceremony, there was a large party held at the branch house of the Hyûga so the clan heads wouldn't grouch about using the main house for "something trivial." Many of the heads were adults when the Kyûbi attacked and were still very weary of Naruto almost twenty-nine years later. The children ran around playing together while the adults enjoyed laughing and talking together.

As the moon rose, Tsunade-sama walked over and drew Naruto away from his wife. "Naruto, do you still have it?"

"'It?'" Naruto gave her a 'what are you talking about' expression. Then his eyes widened slightly and he said, "This?" He lifted up a chain that was hidden under his stiff collar.

"Yes."

"What about it?" Naruto asked, trying to follow her train of thinking.

"Just hang onto it," the seventy-one-year-old smiled and then put a hand on his shoulder, guiding him back to Ino. She said some nice things to them and then excused herself back to the Hokage complex.

She died ten years later in her sleep of old age. Konoha's council gathered themselves and began debating who they wanted to become the next Hokage. There was a list of names of those they thought were worthy. The list hadn't been updated for a while and as they came to name after name, they had to cross it out, the ninja missing or dead.

Then they began debating the other names on the list. There were only a handful and after much discussion, they decided on Sarutobi Asuma. Their second choice was his wife Sarutobi Kurenai. The pair were fifty-three-years-old and had outstanding Jônin careers. Neither had a record as an Anbu. Asuma was even the grandson of the Sandaime, which instantly put him ahead of many choices.

So the selection process began. Konoha buzzed with rumors over who would be the next Hokage. However, the only person not paying attention to it all was the man who wanted to be it more than anyone else.

"Tôchan, what's wrong?"

Naruto looked down at the seven-year-old girl holding his hand. He always walked his children to school in the mornings if he was home. His oldest son, eight-year-old Iruka walked a bit ahead of them far too cool to be seen walking with his dad. Naruto had his five-year-old son's hand in a very firm grip as the boy tried to run off after something. Out of his four children, Jiraiya was the one that no one was allowed to let out of their sight. Even before he could walk, Jiraiya got into everything. The youngest was Ukine who was two and most likely still asleep at home. She was the quietest of all the children.

"Nothing, Tsu-chan." He gave her his grin. "I'm still tired, that's all."

He had been gone on a simple mission over the past few days. He returned home only three hours ago but still wanted to walk his children to school. Family was very important to the Jônin.

"Do you have to come all the way with us, Tôsan?" Iruka asked irritably. "No one else gets walked to school anymore."

Naruto spoke in a calm voice. "Just tell them I'm walking the others to school. You simply come with us because you can."

Iruka shook his head. "You just don't get it, Tôsan. It's not cool to come to school with your parents."

Naruto sighed inwardly. This had started last year and he doubted it would ever stop. If Iruka wanted to go ahead or wait until they had left to go to school, Naruto would respect the decision, but the boy always went with them without prodding. He decided not to push the subject.

"Are we there yet, Tôchan!" Jiraiya whined, pulling at Naruto's arm. He hated waiting and the fifteen minute walk to the academy was so boring. First, he couldn't play with the neighbor's dog, then he couldn't go after this ball he saw in the ditch, and the list kept going. His dad always seemed to have a hold of his hand keeping Jiraiya from having any fun to and from school.

"Here we are," Naruto let go of Jiraiya's hand and watched his son shoot off for a group of his friends in the pre-school class. He got a hug from Tsunade and Iruka was nowhere to be seen. Satisfied that he had gotten his children to school, he started back for their home. As he neared his block, he saw Konohamaru running over to him.

"Konoha – "

"Come with me, Naruto," Konohamaru said hurriedly. "They're going to pick the next Hokage."

"But – " Naruto went to protest but the younger man grabbed his arm and started to try and drag him towards the Hokage complex.

"Just come on! You'll find out when we get there!"

Two days later after much debate, Naruto was named the Rokudaime. He hadn't been on the list and the council wanted to keep him off of it. The youngest members of the council were sixty-two and all still considered him just the same as the Kyûbi. They hadn't much of a choice. They first tried their prime candidates the Sarutobis. They both declined politely. The council moved down their list with names ranging from Ebisu to Sarugaku and Kamizuki. Everyone declined.

When they asked Konohamaru, the thirty-four-year-old told them to let him think about it and then he ran out of the room. When he returned, he had Naruto in tow. He said he had thought about it and wanted Naruto to be Hokage instead. The council lectured him right there. They told him that the Yondaime hadn't fought bravely for the Kyûbi to take his position someday. They told Konohamaru that it was a disgrace in the name of his grandfather who had named the great Yondaime when he retired so long ago.

Naruto stopped listening after a while. These old men weren't worth getting angry over. He ignored them and took the pendant Tsunade-sama had given him so long ago out from under his shirt. Turning the gem over in his hand, he felt eyes on him. Looking up, he heard comments of how he didn't have the decency to pay attention. Then one of the men asked, "What is that you have?"

"This?" Naruto held up the pendant so that the men could see it clearly. He saw some eyes widen, especially from the older in the group. He put it back under his shirt and then smoothed the fabric out. "Just a pendant from Obaasan." Then he turned away and left the room having had enough of the council.

When they asked him to be Hokage, he almost said no but agreed. He wasn't going to throw away his dream over a handful of old bastards. Besides, the best way to get back at them would be to take the position. That way they would see him everyday and would have to respect him. Ino was there when they came to the house to ask him to be the Hokage. Umine sat on a blanket nearby and quietly played with her dolls, not paying attention to the important men talking to her father.

The worst part about being Hokage was the paperwork. Mounds of it. Naruto surveyed the pile on his desk on the first day of his job and took a deep breath. He could do it. He was Hokage and had always wanted to be. He had to do his job, especially if he wanted to be the best Hokage ever.

There wasn't enough room to put his face on Hokage Mountain. Naruto told them he didn't care. He wanted to be remembered without having to have a hint on a mountain. He wanted the history books to talk about him and schoolchildren to know who he was without looking outside at the mountain to cheat on a History exam. Yet, the true reason was that he wasn't sure if he belonged up on the mountain. He had known two of them and he wasn't on their level, let alone his idol Yondaime. He looked at the pendant that he still hid under his shirt. The first Hokage had worn this when he was Hokage. Naruto had to live up to him to, and the Nidaime also.

War came and went and the people bonded with their Hokage. He had a family just like they did and they shared similar concerns. He went and walked amongst the public at festivals and tried to more often than that. He made time for his family and came home every night even though home was a sectioned off area of the complex. He wasn't the youngest Hokage, but he did have the youngest family.

His children grew up. Iruka bemoaned the tortures of being the son of the Hokage. "It's so not cool" seemed to come out of his mouth frequently over most topics. He couldn't wait to get out of the house and become a Genin. At least then he'd get C-ranked missions maybe and have an excuse not to be seen with his parents places. Then he would become a Chûnin and move out permanently and advance from there. He would talk about advancing but he never mentioned moving out around his dad. He had once and at his father's momentary falter before his trademark grin, Iruka decided never to say "I want to move out of here as soon as I can" around his father ever again.

Sakura was the first to point out that Tsunade looked very much like Naruto's sexy no jutsu only with clothes on and her hair cut to her shoulders. The girl worked in the Yamanaka flower shop and had a very close relationship with her maternal grandparents. She loved hearing stories about her paternal "grandparents" especially since her name came from her "grandmother." She vowed to live up to her name. She didn't want to be Hokage, but she didn't want to be a mediocre ninja either. She worked hard and made Chûnin with Iruka on her first try and his second.

Jiraiya had his mother's hair and father's spirit. He embodied Naruto if he had grown up with a loving family and respect from the village. He was loud and played pranks on various people, mostly because he enjoyed the thrill of the chase and hoping not to get caught and punished. He was always loud and first to speak up if something wasn't right. It took him three tries to make Chûnin, but he was good with his losses. He would grin and congratulate the winners but sulk in his room and vow to win next time. His over confidence and loud manner usually kept him from advancing quickly.

Umine decided she didn't want to be a ninja. She went to the academy and gave it her best try but when she was seven she approached her father.

"Tôsama," she always addressed her parents with the most respectful terms since they were very important to her, "can I ask you something?"

Naruto set aside some work he had brought home with him and nodded, smiling fatherly. "Sure, Umine-chan." He had given up on asking her to not call him something so respectful. "What's on your mind?"

The lithe platinum blonde pulled over a nearby chair and sat down facing her father. "Tôsama, do I have to be a ninja?" Her voice carried a slight whine to it indicating she was nervous.

Naruto blinked. He was a bit taken aback by the question. He then smiled. "No, you don't have to be a ninja, Umine-chan."

"Good," Umine said, closing her eyes. Then she frowned, her eyebrows knotting before she looked up at him again. "Tôsama, what will I do if I'm not a ninja? I don't want to work at the flower shop."

"I don't really know to tell you the truth," Naruto replied, laughing lightly. Then he turned serious. "You should at least finish the academy. It's the right thing to do, finish what you start before moving on." He also knew there weren't any schools for her to got to other than the academy.

Umine nodded. "Thank you, Tôsama." She kissed him on the cheek and wandered off to find her mother.

Umine went from job to job trying to find what she wanted to do with her life. Nothing seemed to fit. Finally she forced herself to stay as a waitress at a restaurant in town. She knew that if she didn't find stability, she would never know what the right thing was.

Years later, Ino and Naruto watched their children move on and marry. Tsunade was the first to get married when she was twenty-two. She married one of the academy teachers in a small ceremony in the Hokage complex's gardens. She never gave up being a ninja, but took missions that kept her inside Konoha and only took missions that sent her outside when there was an emergency.

Iruka married next to a fellow Jônin. After two years of marriage, they went on a joint mission together and never returned to Konoha. Naruto insisted that they weren't dead, even when Ino tried to coax him to sign the papers decades later. He knew his son, he knew that Iruka had always wanted to escape Konoha so he never marked the young man as dead.

Umine got married just after Iruka disappeared. She married the manager of the grocery store in the market district. She continued working at the restaurant for years afterwards and they looked very happy together. It was clear that Umine had found what she wanted to do with her life.

Jiraiya was last to get married. He always seemed to be the last in everything. He was a successful Jônin and had been chasing after a classmate for decades. They got married in their thirties and never had any children. He went on to become a sensei and produce the finest ninja, forming strong bonds with his team. Some in the village said that Jiraiya's children were his students.

Naruto was at the pinnacle of everything he dreamed of just before Iruka left. Even then, he still was riding the success of obtaining what he had wanted for so long. He never received glares in public. People would smile and call out to him in pleasant tones. It was like he had dreamed only this time he was older since he had always been about twelve in his dreams.

One morning he looked in the mirror and then frowned. Leaning closer, he poked at his cheek and then smelled at his wrist. Ino came into the room and gave him an odd look.

"What are you doing?"

He looked over his shoulder at her and he said, "I'm old."

The white haired woman sighed inwardly.

"I even smell old." Naruto wrinkled his nose slightly and then looked back in the mirror. "I wanted to look like Ero-sennin when I got old but I think I look like the Sandaime." He paused and then added, "Or what I remember of him."

Ino sighed audibly this time. Naruto never noticed gradual changes. He had a way of waking up and saying to one of their children when they were young "You're so tall! Weren't you like up to here?" It was as though he didn't notice anything until something had changed completely. "Well you are old, Naruto." She never called him chan or kun. He just didn't strike her as either and she felt that she could express her love for him through other means.

He studied himself in the mirror and then nodded in defeat. He was seventy-two. His children were in or near their forties and his oldest grandchildren were nearing twenty.

"I guess we'll eventually start throwing parties in the nursing home soon," he joked.

Ino simply buttoned up her sweater. "We're going to be late."

Hinata's son was now the head of the Hyûga clan and she was an elder. Many people gathered at the main house for her birthday party, but her closest friends went inside the mansion and to the room she stayed in. What was left of the Rookie Nine and Gai-sensei's team sat with her in the room. They talked about past adventures and of their grandchildren. Kiba still had his mischievous grin and proclaimed that they would be the first to be great-grandparents. There were congratulations and laughing.

Five years later Hinata was dead and the annual get together kept getting postponed. It was becoming harder to get together with friends. Some were in the nursing home and a few of the remaining were dying.

As Naruto neared eighty, he made his decision. He would let the council begin to pick the next Hokage. He threw in some names of young people he thought would want the job and would be good at it. When they found a successor, he would retire. They picked Aburame Ichigo, a fourty-two-year-old Jônin with an impressive record and an interest in the job. He was distantly related to Shino who was staying in a room with his daughter's family aging as gracefully as he could.

Tsunade put her parents up in her house after some argument. She wanted to pay them back for caring for her as a child she told them. Her mother smiled and told her that it was more than necessary. Her father merely grinned and said that they would be just fine in their own place somewhere. Yet, they ended up staying with Tsunade in the end. No one outside of the family learning exactly how that happened.

Ino died when they were eighty-five, Sakura when they were eighty-seven. Yet, Naruto kept living. He was watching his great-grandchildren go to the academy. The smallest of which always proclaimed that they would be Hokage someday and be even better than their great-grandfather. She was the loudest of them all and Umine's granddaughter.

When he was ninety and the talk of how to immortalize the Shichidame, the council decided to engrave the names of the Hokage that came after the Godaime on the mountain since there was no more room for carving more heads. Naruto's name was at the top of the list, the first name to be seen when scanning.

He died two years later in his sleep.

The End