After being bitten by a rabid plot bunny last week and writing off and on for the last few days, what had originally started off as only a short one-shot has now spawned into a multi-sectioned beast of a one-shot! I'd apologize for the length, but after I started writing, the ideas just wouldn't stop coming, and the more and more I wrote, the more I wanted to explore the idea of a Yon-Daddy/Naruto relationship.

Waiting For You Beyond the Light

It hurt.

That was the main thing that occupied Naruto's thoughts as he lay in a disjointed haze of pain on one of the hospital's many emergency room tables. A small army of doctors and nurses were currently working over him in a fevered swarm of barely controlled chaos - pushing, prodding, sticking him with needles and tubes, calling for blood and more units of drugs Naruto had never heard of before or could ever hope to understand how they were suppose to drive back the encroaching darkness or patch the gapping hole in his stomach that was steadily draining him of life.

One medi-nin moved forward to press a square of gauze to his shredded stomach. As she leaned back again to give one of the doctors access to the seeping wound, Naruto saw that her latex-gloved hand was now painted a disturbingly vivid shade of red all the way up to her wrist.

It was cold.

That was the second major thing to register in Naruto's fading conscious. He supposed it was only natural seeing as how they'd stripped him of all his clothes from the waist up after Kakashi had carried him through the emergency room doors screaming for help.

Beyond the wall of ever-shifting bodies that surrounded him, Naruto caught glimpses of said copy-ninja standing off to one side of the room, out of the doctors' way, with his one visible eye shadowed with some emotion Naruto couldn't exactly name but reminded him of some kind of mixture of fear, guilt, despair and unwanted memories. The front of Kakashi's vest was stained with sticky patches of dark wetness where Naruto's body had pressed against him as he'd carried his injured student back to the village from the edge of Konoha's outer defenses.

It was suppose to have been a simple mission. A simple C-class mission to deliver a scroll to the leader of one of Fire country's smaller merchant villages. The mission itself had gone off without a hitch and would have been a complete success if it hadn't been for a band of highway thieves they'd had the misfortune of running into on their way back to the village just inside of Konoha's border.

Although better trained than the hogepoge group of criminals, Team Seven had been caught by surprise and grossly outnumbered. Faced with enemies outnumbering them at least seven to one, it had taken all their skills not to simply be overwhelmed. They had been doing fairly well fighting back the waves of enemy-nin until Sakura had suddenly been cornered by three burly men and disarmed. Naruto wasn't sure what would have happened to her if he hadn't jumped in to intervene, but he had a feeling it wouldn't have been him laying on an emergency room table right now steadily bleeding out.

He knew he'd probably acted recklessly jumping in to protect Sakura like he had, but couldn't imagine having done anything else. She was his teammate. He would have never forgiven himself if he'd just stood by and let something happen to her. He would willingly sacrifice his life without a second thought to protect one of his teammates (even that smug bastard Sasuke). They were his teammates. His friends. His precious people. He knew many would probably call him idealistic and naïve for living by such a creed, but then again that was just his ninja way… It was who he was.

He didn't know how they'd ultimately escaped the bandits, or if they'd even technically won. Everything after feeling one of the thieves' crudely made knives slice his stomach and collapsing to the ground in a rapidly growing pool of his own blood was uncertain and blurred. All he really remembered was Kakashi lifting him into his arms and ordering Sasuke and Sakura to follow him. They had to get back to Konoha as soon as possible, the older ninja had shouted as he'd leapt into the trees and taken off with Naruto's bleeding form cradled against his chest. He supposed even then Kakashi had known how serious his injury was. There were just some wounds, it seemed, not even Kyuubi's healing powers could fix…

"Dammit," one of the doctors on Naruto's left swore as he threw a blood soaked rag to the floor and snatched a new one from one of nameless, faceless nurses assisting him and pressed it to Naruto's stomach. "The kid's bleeding out. Someone call for more packs of O negative blood. Stat."

"I can't see where he's bleeding from," another doctor across from the first one said, his forehead glistening with sweat under the bright florescent lights overhead. "His stomach's a complete mess. If we don't find the major source of bleeding soon, he's never going to make it up to surgery."

"Just keep working," the first one snapped and turned back to what he was doing.

Naruto weakly blinked his eyes, struggling to keep them from sliding close. It was getting so hard to keep them open. They felt like they each weighed a hundred pounds. A fuzzy ring of darkness had begun to form around the edges of his vision, taunting him with the seductive call of sleep. He was so tired. So very, very tired. All he wanted to do was close his eyes and let himself slip away into that painless void of unconsciousness. But he knew how dangerous doing such a thing would be. He wasn't sure if there was any guarantee he'd actually wake up again. He had to stay awake, had to find something to focus on to help him keep the darkness at bay…

On the far side of the room over the tops of his toes, Naruto could just make out a set of double doors with large glass windows. On the other side of the glass, standing outside in the hallway looking in, were his other two teammates Sakura and Sasuke.

The pink-haired kunoichi stood with her face almost pressed right up against the glass, desperately watching the knot of medi-nin working over him. Her eyes were bloodshot and red, her cheeks wet and streaked with uncontrolled tears. She was shaking violently, the back of one hand pressed against her lips as if struggling to hold in her ragged sobs. Naruto could almost feel the guilt radiating off her, could almost feel the tangible weight of it on him as she stared at him through the window with watery green eyes as if silently begging him to somehow pull through.

Off to her side, standing slightly back from the door more near the middle of the hall, Sasuke looked on in blank silence. Naruto would have probably been miffed by the Uchiha's apparent lack of concern for him or his well-being if it wasn't for an odd look he noticed shining deep inside the other boy's coal-black eyes. It was hard to say what that look was exactly. Naruto had never been very good at reading his arch rival's subtle range of expressions (or lack thereof). But if Naruto had to guess, he would have said Sasuke almost looked… upset. As if the Uchiha heir was secretly trying to convince himself what he saw wasn't really happening.

But then again, like he'd said, he'd never really been any good at judging his other teammate's thoughts or emotions…

It was starting to get hard to focus his wandering thoughts. Everything was beginning to feel fuzzy and gray, like he was partially detached from the rest of his body. The pain in his stomach felt less sharp now, more distant and dull as if it were really nothing more than an annoyingly deep scrape. Naruto wasn't sure if that was because of painkillers or something else. The doctors and nurses continued to frantically work over him, fighting to save his life, but strangely Naruto could no longer bring himself to really care. It just didn't seem as important anymore. His body felt heavy, like it was nothing more than a fleshy shell encasing the core element of his actual being. The darkness was beginning to creep in a little closer. And he was just so tired…

"Blood pressure seventy over fifty-five and dropping!" a nurse standing near Naruto's head called out.

"Dammit!" the doctor on his left shouted again and hurriedly grabbed another unidentifiable medical instrument from one of the nurses and leaned back down over Naruto's shredded abdomen. His hands and the lower portion of his forearms were completely covered with blood and clotted gore. "Ichise, call Saito up in surgery and tell him to have an operating room ready for us. Once we get this kid stabilized we're going to have to move him there fast."

"Blood pressure sixty-five over fifty!" the nurse called.

There was suddenly a loud bang on the other side of the room as the double doors flew open and banged against their adjacent walls; and before Naruto knew it there was suddenly another presence beside him, leaning over him.

"Naruto? Naruto, look at me!" a familiar voice yelled as an unnaturally strong hand began to shake his shoulder.

Groggily blinking his eyes up at the one so insistently calling his name, Naruto gave a weak, twitchy smile under the oxygen mask that'd been fitted over the lower portion of his face. "Tsunade- baasan…" he whispered in a watery cough. He was taken aback by how weak his voice sounded even to his own ears. There was also the faint taste of blood now in the back of his mouth, as if speaking had dislodged something and released the proverbial dam.

The Fifth Hokage stared down at him in unconcealed horror. Her amber eyes were filled with panic, her usually immaculate blonde hair mussed and tangled as if she'd just run there all the way from Hokage tower.

"Naruto, what happened?" she demanded, unconsciously gripping his shoulder tighter as she frantically stared into his eyes. Her grip was beginning to verge on being painful, but Naruto wasn't about to say anything about it. The look in Tsunade's eyes instantly silenced anything Naruto might have said. It was like she already knew what she was about to lose, and Naruto couldn't help but feel guilty for being the one to put that frightened, pain-filled look on her face…

"Highway bandits," Kakashi said from the far side of the room. Naruto couldn't see him anymore with Tsunade blocking his line of sight. "We were caught by surprise and outnumbered near the village border. We barely managed to get away without any more injuries…"

Tsunade nodded, almost distractedly. She still had yet to tear her eyes away from the young boy she had come to see as a little brother. "I just received a report from one of the guards at the gate. It said that your team had returned with one member seriously injured. I don't know why, but I'd just had this feeling… I had to come see for myself who it was…"

"Lady Hokage," the doctor on Naruto's left said, actually pausing in his work to look up and address her. "Unless you intend to assist, I will have to respectfully ask that you leave or at least stand back. I know you're a skilled medi-nin, but your presence is distracting us from helping my patient."

A fiery, possessive look flared in Tsunade's eyes and she speared the doctor with a poisonous glare that would have instantly turned him to ash if it were physically possible. Straightening from over Naruto, she turned to the nearest nurse and hissed, "Get me a pair of gloves. I'm taking over."

None of the doctors or medical personnel dared contradict the female Sannin as the nurse timidly handed Tsunade a pair of latex gloves and scurried to the other side of the emergency room to get as far away from her as she could.

"Don't worry, brat," Tsunade said as she snapped the gloves on and forced one of the other doctors to give up his spot by the table with nothing more than a glare. "You're going to be alright, I promise."

But Naruto wasn't too sure. Tsunade's reassurances sounded hollow. He supposed that was because she couldn't feel the oppressive tiredness pressing down on him, or see the ring of darkness that was slowly spreading across his plane of vision.

"Blood pressure sixty over forty!" the nurse behind him called.

Tsunade and the other doctors were working frantically, as if their own lives somehow depended on their patient's survival. Her hands, just like the other medics, were stained scarlet. Through the foggy haze that had settled over his senses, Naruto saw the first true look of fear enter Tsunade's eyes as if she was finally beginning to understand the hopelessness of the battle she was trying to win.

There was a sharp mechanical beep somewhere off to Naruto's right.

"Blood pressure still dropping!" the nurse cried.

"We need more blood!" someone else yelled.

The tunnel of darkness was growing larger, like a bottle of spilt ink seeping across his vision.

"Come on, Naruto, hang in there!" Tsunade screamed, throwing aside a bloody rag and snatching up another. "Don't you dare give up on me!"

He wanted to listen to her, he truly did. Under normal circumstances he would have never dared disobey her. But it was getting so hard to keep his eyes open, and he was just so tired…

Another warning beep from one of the many machines they'd hooked to his weary hurting body.

Would it really matter if he closed his eyes, he wondered. It really didn't seem like that bad of an idea anymore…

"Stay with me, brat!" Tsunade screamed. "I almost got it!" But it was like hearing her from the end of a long, narrow tunnel. The machine began to beep faster, as if trying to convey the urgency of its patient's deteriorating state, but this too sounded muffled and distant.

"Naruto, stay with me!" Tsunade cried, the unshed tears of desperation in her eyes almost audible.

But Naruto could no longer fight the tiredness. And as his eyelids became too heavy for him to keep open anymore and the darkness swept over him like a heavy black veil, Tsunade's voice and the frantic beeping of machines seemed to fade into the distance like the last traces of a dream right before crossing over the cusp of sleep back into full awareness. Only this time, Naruto doubted he was ever going to wake up again…


That was the first thing to register in the dull, cottony gray fuzz that filled Naruto's mind. Blinding white light. It seemed to surround and cosset him like a physical presence, filling him with a sense of peacefulness the likes of which he'd never experienced before. Groggy blue eyes swiveled in their sockets to take in the details of this strange new place he'd woken up in; but for all he could see, nothing else existed here except himself and the endless white void of light that seemed to stretch out into eternity all around him.

He was laying down, or at least it felt like he was laying down. It was hard to tell since there was nothing to really give him a clear indication of up, down, right or left. Something warm and soft cushioned him from behind, almost like a bed, but Naruto couldn't help but feel he was really floating on a thick blanket of clouds.

Slowly, Naruto tried to pull himself up to sit and maybe figure out where he was. But as he tried to summon the strength needed to make his weary muscles answer his brain's call for movement, he found himself barely able to even twitch the tip of his right index finger. His limbs felt unnaturally heavy and weak, like they'd all been filled with lead and weighed a thousand pounds. Naruto strained to move, but found himself utterly incapable.

It was a strange, this paralysis. It felt like something had completely stolen his ability to move. But oddly, Naruto did not find himself becoming frightened or scared. Merely… curious as to this latest turn of events. He felt weak and utterly exhausted, yet it did not seem to bother him as he knew it probably should. It was so peaceful here. So quiet and warm. He felt like he could willingly stay in this endless void of light forever and never have to worry about pain, hunger, loneliness or fear ever again.

That would be nice, he thought with a tired smile. It would be nice to rest and forget about all the more unpleasant things he'd left behind.

But before Naruto could let his conscious drift away, he suddenly heard the echo of approaching footsteps, like those of soft soled boots on polished tile floor. (How footsteps were possible in this empty eternity of light, Naruto wasn't about to even try to figure out.) He tried to turn his head towards the sound, but once again found himself unable to move.

The footsteps came closer, and then suddenly there was a man standing beside him, staring down at him much the same way Tsunade had done when she'd rushed into the emergency room what felt like a lifetime and a half ago. It was odd how long ago it felt. It was like time didn't really exist in this peaceful, colorless place; or as if the memories of everything that'd happened before he's arrived were really nothing more than hazy dreams that no longer held any real importance to him.

The man was tall. Whatever Naruto was laying on was barely even as high as the man's waist. Young and handsome - surely no older than his late twenties - the man wore a long white overcoat with red flame trim around its sleeves and neck line. He had wild, spikey blond hair that reminded Naruto strangely of his own, and bright blue eyes the same color of a clear summer sky.

"Hello, Naruto," the man smiled, his voice warm, gentle and loving. His eyes slowly scanned Naruto's face, as if trying to memorize every inch and detail of it. "My, you've grown…" he murmured, almost as if in awe. He reached down and carefully brushed a lock of hair away from Naruto's forehead with the tip of his finger. With his other hand he lifted Naruto's own up from where it lay beside his paralyzed body and squeezed it between his fingers. "The last time I saw you I could hold you in the palm of one hand," he affectionately mused.

"Who are you?" Naruto asked.

The man chuckled. "I'm hurt," he said, playfully. "I would think after staring at my ugly mug carved into the side of that mountain everyday it would have made me at least a little bit more memorable."

Naruto groggily stared at this strange man smiling down at him for a long moment of silence. "You're the Fourth Hokage," he finally said. He didn't know where that sudden flash of clarity had come from, but it was strange how passive he was at the realization he was speaking to possibly the greatest ninja to ever live in the five Elemental Countries.

The Fourth flashed him a brilliant grin. "That's right. But don't you know who I really am?"

Naruto stared at him for another laden pause, and weakly shook his head.

The Fourth's grin faltered and fell, a strange look of disappointment flashing across his face. "No one ever told you who I am?" he asked.

Naruto tiredly shook his head.

Frowning, the Fourth stared into Naruto's half-lidded eyes, his own heartbroken and unbearably sad. "I'm your father, Naruto," he said, and gently took up the rhythm of smoothing back the unruly blond spikes from the younger shinobi's face.

"Father?" Naruto rasped.

It was strange. Although surprised and slightly taken aback, Naruto did not feel any real jolt of shock or complete severance of reality at this unexpected bit of news. Since coming to this empty white place, it seemed he'd gained a strange new sense of passive acceptance and peace.

The Fourth nodded, his eyes shiny with unshed tears. "Yes. I'm sad no one ever told you the truth. You were suppose to be my legacy, Naruto, my lasting gift to the world. I wanted you to be safe and happy, but it seems I was too trusting in the villagers and how they would see you after I was gone. I'm so sorry, Naruto," he whispered, gently gripping Naruto's hand in his own. His voice was heartbreakingly sad, filled with the anguish of a parent who'd ultimately failed his child. "I'm so, so sorry… I know how badly they treated you. You were suppose to be seen as a hero, not a monster like the one I sealed inside you. I should have never left you, Naruto. I should have found some other way to protect the village so I could have stayed and taken better care of you. I'm so sorry…"

"Dad," Naruto croaked (the word felt strange coming off his tongue, like a foreign word he'd never tried to pronounce), "it wasn't your fault. You did what you had to do. There's no other way you could have saved the village if you hadn't sealed Kyuubi in me. I don't blame you for anything that happened." His lips twitched into a tentative smile. "I'm just glad I finally got to know who you really are and meet you…"

The Fourth smiled, his eyes suddenly filled with a look of such pure, unadulterated love it looked almost physically painful. A small thrill went through Naruto at the sight. Never had anyone, anyone, ever looked at him like that - like he was somehow the most precious thing in the world. Not even Iruka had ever looked at him like that. It was in that single moment that Naruto suddenly knew what it felt like to be truly loved.

The Fourth continued to gently stroke Naruto's hair, carding his fingers through the locks of golden hair that were so similar to his own as if desperate for the reassurance of physical touch. "You're so brave," he murmured, lovingly staring into his son's face. "I'm so proud of you. I know how you jumped into that fight to protect your teammate. You will make a fine Hokage someday, I know it."

"But," Naruto murmured, lulled by the tender feel of his father's fingers in his hair, "if I'm here with you then doesn't that mean I'm dead? How can I be Hokage if I'm dead?"

The corner of the Fourth's lips twitched, as if inwardly laughing at some heartbreakingly ironic joke only he knew. "Yes, normally," he said. "But it is not your time to go just yet." Staring into Naruto's eyes, he explained, "You must go back, Naruto. There's still so much for you to do there. You're still so young with your whole life ahead of you. You must keep fighting, son. It's not your time."

"But," Naruto whined, a faint prickle of tears stinging the corner of his eyes, "I don't want to leave. I want to stay here with you. It's warm here. I don't want to be alone again."

"I know, son, I know," the Fourth whispered, his own eyes shiny and wet, his lips twisted in an expression of barely concealed anguish. "There's still so much I want to say to you. Still so much we have to catch up on. But it's not your time to go. What about your friends Sasuke and Sakura? Or that woman Tsunade, or Iruka-sensei? They'll all miss you if you don't go back."

"I don't care!" Naruto cried, tears now streaming down the sides of his face. He feebly gripped his father's hand, desperate to somehow convince him to let him stay. "I want to stay here with you! I'm tired of being alone! I finally found someone who actually wants me. I don't want to go back."

"Oh, Naruto…" his father whispered, "I know it might feel like no one cares about you at times, but it's not true. I've seen how much your friends and teachers care about you. They love you more than you'll ever know."

But Naruto didn't want to listen. All he wanted to do was stay here in the light with the father who he'd only just discovered existed and actually cared about him. Closing his eyes, he let a single sob escape the angry knot that'd formed in the back of his throat.

"Son," the Fourth whispered, coaxing Naruto to look up at him again. "Your time here is running out. You have to go back. I know you don't want to, but you have to. It's just not your time. But if it'll give you any comfort, know that I'll be waiting here to greet you again when it is your time. And then we'll have all the time in the world to talk. You've made me so proud, Naruto. I know I haven't always been there for you, but know that I love you more than you'll ever comprehend. Never forget that. I will always watch over you and care for you, no matter how far away I may seem. You are my most precious person, son, the one true reason I gave my life that night to seal Kyuubi. Never, ever forget that…"

For several moments of endless silence, Naruto could do nothing more than stare up into his father's face, stunned by the words he never thought he'd actually hear except maybe in his most fanciful lonely dreams.

Choking back a wet sob, Naruto gripped his father's hand tighter. "Is this real?" he asked. "Not just some kind of dream? I don't want to go back if it's really nothing but a dream. If it is a dream then I just want to stay here and keep dreaming forever. I don't want to go back if it's just a dream…"

Without a word, the Fourth snaked one arm under Naruto's shoulders and lifted him up off whatever he lay against so that his upper body now rested against his father's chest, circled in the safety of the older man's arms. A soft chuckle rumbled the Fourth's chest as he hugged Naruto's frail, powerless body close and whispered in his ear, "Why, of course this is a dream, Naruto. But why should that mean it's any less real or true? Death is just a different form of reality."

Leaning down, he pressed his lips to Naruto's forehead in a gentle kiss. "It's time for you to go, son," he whispered. "You can't stay here any longer. Everyone's waiting for you."

A sudden wave of tiredness washed over Naruto, as if someone had just shot him full of anesthetic. He tried to fight the overwhelming urge to drift away, but his eyelids seemed to droop lower and lower on their own accord, unconcerned with their owner's desperate desire to delay his departure even if only for a few more seconds.

"Dad…" he murmured, plaintively, scared. His fingers uselessly clutched at the front of his father's jacket.

"It's alright, Naruto," his father whispered, hugging him close. "Take care of yourself, son. I'll be waiting for you here. Tell Kakashi hello for me when you see him. I love you…"

And just before he lost the battle with his own treacherous body and his eyes slipped fully shut, the last thing Naruto saw was his father - his face haloed in warm, ethereal light - smiling down at him with a soft, bittersweet smile and pure, immeasurable love shining in his eyes.

And then, there was nothing…

Night had long since settled over the hidden village of Konoha. The moon hung low in the sky like a swollen ball of muted white light. The village was for the most part quiet - the majority of its inhabitants already, or at least in the process, of making their way to bed. Konoha's main hospital seemed almost deserted, manned at this late an hour by only a skeleton crew of nurses and doctors. An oppressive silence filled the air, as if the slightest noise might somehow attract the attention of Death, who prowled the empty halls searching for its latest victim amongst the hospital's sickly patient population.

But in one of the hospital's many recovery rooms, a small group of people kept watch over their injured comrade, unwilling to give the cloaked reaper any opportunity to steal their teammate's life without a fight.

Kakashi stood near the foot of Naruto's bed, his one hip leaning casually up against the footboard. By his relaxed body language and pose, one would have half-expected to find him with a small orange book propped open in front of his face. But no such book was anywhere to be seen. Although outwardly calm and collected, the copy-ninja's thoughts were too confused and jumbled to even think about pulling out his dog-eared copy of Icha Icha Paradise to pretend to read. He was just too rattled. Concern and the lingering touch of fear from his student's near-fatal brush with death were still too fresh in his memory to put up such a farce.

It had been such a close call. Even now - hours after Tsunade had come out of emergency surgery, weary and stained, and proclaimed Naruto safely out of the woods - Kakashi still couldn't shake that queasy knot in the bottom of his stomach. The could-haves and what-ifs of how close they'd come to losing his student were still too much a frightening a reality for him to let go of just yet.

Beside him in the room's only bed, the usually hyperactive bundle of energy lay disturbingly still, the soft beeping of machines keeping careful track of the young shinobi's vitals. Naruto's complexion was deathly pale - a lasting reminder of the near-fatal injury that'd almost claimed his life. In the dimmed light of the room, his skin appeared almost the exact same shade of white as the sterilized sheets he lay against.

It had been close. So very, very close… Kakashi still didn't know how Tsunade had managed to locate that nicked artery in Naruto's stomach before he'd had the opportunity to bleed to death right in front of their eyes. Before she'd finally found it and stabilized him enough to rush him to surgery, Naruto's heart had stopped beating for three minutes. And for those three agonizingly long minutes the doctors had spent struggling to restart his heart, Naruto had been officially dead…

On the other side of Naruto's bed, Sakura sat close beside the unconscious shinobi, tightly clutching Naruto's IV riddled hand in her own. She'd calmed down a lot since they'd first arrived at the hospital with Naruto hanging limp and near-dead in Kakashi's arms, but Kakashi could still sense an almost tangible aura of guilt radiating off her and see a faint glaze of tears shining in the corners of her eyes. He doubted the girl had ever had someone almost die trying to protect her like that. He also doubted she'd ever expected their team's number-one hyperactive ninja to be the person to almost give his life for her. It was going to be a long time before Sakura treated Naruto like a nuisance like how she always used to, Kakashi suspected. It was sad how no one ever seemed to realize how much someone really mattered to them until they came so close to losing that person…

Across from Sakura on the other side of Naruto's bed, Sasuke stood leaning against the far wall with one foot crossed over the other at the ankle. His arms were folded across his chest, his demeanor indifferent and bored. But for one who was skilled at reading the Uchiha heir's subtle range of facial expressions like he was, Kakashi could easily detect the barely noticeable gleam of repressed concern in the boy's eyes for his unconscious teammate. It was amusing, Kakashi thought, how the two boys went on and on about their supposed rivalry, but when one of them got hurt it was so easy to see how much they really cared about each other. He could only assume part of Sasuke's feigned indifference was because of his continued stubbornness to admit he'd found a friend in the blond whirlwind. After all, admitting to something as human as caring for another person was simply not conducive to the boy's carefully cultivated image of emotionally distant Avenger…

The atmosphere in the room was tense, choked with a number of emotions too powerful to actually be spoken. Over the years, team seven become a small family of sorts, whether any of them had realized it before now or not. Kakashi just hoped Naruto woke up soon. They'd come so close to losing him. None of them were going to be able to rest easy until they were sure the youngest member of their group was safely out of danger. He wasn't sure what they would have done if they'd actually lost him. As much as it had startled him when he'd realized it, the rambunctious knucklehead had wormed his way deeper into their hearts than any of them had first imagined…

Consumed by these thoughts and others, it wasn't until Kakashi heard Sakura suddenly give a tiny gasp of surprise that he realized that Naruto was beginning to wake.

A murmured groan sounded somewhere the back of Naruto's throat as he weakly shifted underneath the blankets. His eyelids fluttered open before promptly sliding close again as if they were too heavy for him to keep open for any amount of time. Another groan, this one a little louder and more pained, sounded; Naruto's eyebrows knotting together in the middle of his forehead.

Kakashi quickly moved closer to Naruto's bedside across from Sakura. Behind him, Sasuke also stood straight from against the wall and began to move forward, but then abruptly stopped several paces away from the bed. He hesitated there a moment in the middle of the room as if unsure if he really wanted to betray such shameful emotions like concern or worry; but then his features hardening with resolve, he joined Kakashi at Naruto's bedside.

"Naruto?" Sakura called, gently squeezing his hand between her own. "Naruto, can you hear me?"

Naruto sluggishly lulled his head towards her, his eyelids weakly fluttering. With great visible effort he forced his eyes apart and groggily focused on the pink-haired kunoichi leaning over him. "Saku… ra…" he whispered, his voice barely even audible over the background chorus of machines.

At the raspy whisper, an almost painful sigh of relief slipped past Kakashi's lips. His shoulders sagged at the sudden release of so much pent-up worry he hadn't even been aware he'd been carrying until now.

"Oh, thank gods…" Sakura moaned, her eyes swimming with tears as she tightly clutched Naruto's hand as if afraid to let him go. "I- I thought you might never wake up again," she sobbed, tears now streaming freely down her cheeks. "I was so worried… I'm so sorry. It was all my fault you almost died… I'm so sorry. You shouldn't have jumped in front of me like that. It's all my fault. I'm so sorry…"

Naruto silently lay there as Sakura continued to loudly sob over him, his half-lidded eyes glazed and distant. Kakashi suspected it was because of the pain killers and sedatives he'd been given. It had to be, because otherwise Naruto would have been practically beside himself with joy at the fact he actually had Sakura, his long-time crush, crying over him like the heroine of some cheesy romance novel. But instead, all he did was lay there and stare at the ceiling as if he were still a thousand miles away in some other place.

"Naruto?" Kakashi called, leaning closer to his injured student, "do you know where you are? Do you remember what happened to you?"

For a moment, Naruto just laid there staring blankly into the distance. But then:

"Hosp'al…" he slurred, groggily blinking heavy eyelids. "Bandits…'ttacked us…"

"That's right," Kakashi nodded. His one hand snaked out to grip Naruto's own that wasn't currently being sobbed over by his relief-stricken teammate. "You were very lucky Tsunade showed up when she did," he said. "She barely managed to save your life before you could bleed to death. It took her almost three hours to patch you up."

Naruto gave a soft grunt that was probably suppose to be some kind of acknowledgement but really came out as nothing more than a pained groan. "W'ere's she now..?" he murmured.

"Sleeping," Kakashi replied. "Your little near-death experience scared her a lot. She didn't want to leave you, but we promised we'd look over you until she was better rested. Shizune practically had to drag her out of here. I have to admit, you had the rest of us pretty scared there for awhile too…"

"Sorry… didn' mean to…" Naruto slurred. His words were becoming more and more difficult to understand. Kakashi doubted the boy was going to last much longer before the medication became too much for him and he drifted off again.

"Don't apologize, Naruto," Sakura immediately took the opportunity to interject, her face still wet with tears. "If anyone should apologize for what happened, it's me. I shouldn't have let my guard down enough for that guy to get behind me and take my kunai. It's all my fault."

"'s okay…" Naruto said with the feeble attempt of a reassuring smile.

"You almost died, idiot," Sasuke snarled. "It most certainly was not okay."

"No…" Naruto whispered, weakly shaking his head. He groggily blinked his eyes up at them as a smile wider than what Kakashi would have thought the drugged boy capable of slowly spread across his face. "'s okay… got to meet my father…"

For a moment, Kakashi wasn't sure who was more taken aback by this; him, Sasuke or Sakura. Kakashi felt an uncomfortable twinge of apprehension form in the bottom of his stomach.

No… Surely Naruto couldn't have found out, Kakashi told himself. There's no way he could know. The Third ordered that no one tell him until he was eighteen...

"Naruto, what are you talking about?" Sakura said, shooting Kakashi a confused look out of the corner of her eye. "I thought you were an orphan."

"No," Naruto said, shaking his head. "Met 'im in the light… after it got all dark… Told me who he was… Never guess who though…" Despite his exhaustion and pain, a wolfish grin twisted Naruto's face as he stared up at them, his drugged features etched with a look that could have only been described as ecstatic joy. "My dad's the Fourth Hokage…"

Kakashi wasn't exactly sure what Sasuke and Sakura's reactions were because he was pretty sure his heart had just momentarily stopped beating.

No... How did he find out? There's no way he could have found out. But then how...?

"Naruto, who told you your father was the Fourth Hokage?" Kakashi demanded, leaning even closer to his injured student. "How did you find out?"

Naruto just gave him a tired smiled. "'e told me…" he grinned. "Said 'e was sorry… Told me I'd make a good Hokage someday… Asked me to tell you hi for 'im…"

For several minutes of stunned silence, Kakashi felt as if someone had just hit him over the head with a sledgehammer. How could Naruto have possibly found out about his father? How could he possibly know that he - Kakashi - had once known his father who had once been his own gennin sensei? Surely… surely there had to be some kind of explanation for how Naruto had found out about his true parentage. Yes, there had to be some kind of explanation - something a little more reasonable than what the boy wanted him to believe. Because the idea of him having actually met his father, who'd been dead now for almost fifteen years… Well, it was a little bit beyond belief to say the least...

But then again, Kakashi had never known Naruto to lie, even in situations where he was suppose to. What reason would Naruto have to make up such a fantastic tale if he'd actually just found out about his father from one of the villagers or other sensei? There was no reason for it. Naruto had always been an honest kid. Plus Kakashi doubted Naruto was really creative enough to come up with a story like that on his own if it hadn't actually happened. Maybe it was the drugs. Yes, that was possible. He'd heard stories of people being on strong pain killers and having weird hallucinations and dreams. But that still didn't explain away the biggest thing weighing on Kakashi's mind: if Naruto hadn't really crossed over Death's threshold, then how else could he explain is old sensei's unexpected greeting from beyond the grave?

Naruto was still tiredly smiling up at him, as if basking in the memory of his brief encounter with his father. But as Kakashi stood there - stunned by the implications of everything Naruto just told them - a sad look flitted across the younger shinobi's drooping, half-lidded eyes. "Just wish I could'a stayed with 'im a li'l longer s'all…" he murmured, his smile faltering a little around the edges. "'e said he'd wait for me though… So I guess 's alright…"

And then, his eyelids finally becoming too heavy for him to hold open any longer, Naruto let sleep rush up to claim him - a small, bittersweet smile still tugging at the corners of his lips - while Kakashi, Sasuke and Sakura could do nothing more than look on in stunned, lingering silence.

The End

So what's the verdict? Good? Bad? Somewhere in between?

I know it's a somewhat overdone idea of Naruto somehow meeting the Fourth Hokage and finding out he's really his father, but I wanted to try and give it a little bit of a new twist. Hopefully I succeeded. If not… well, at least I had fun writing it.


All reviews will go to the 'I support the Yon-Daddy Conspiracy' fund!