Three years. It had been three years since that awful, horrible day when both of their worlds were shattered. He had lost a wife and the boy had lost a mother. There was no bloodshed, there was no death, and there was no yelling or profanity, although he wishes at times there had been. She had came into the living room where he and the little four year old boy were and had said that she was going. When asked when she would be back she simply replied never. Heartbroken, the little boy had asked if he could come with her and she had looked him dead in the eye and said no. It was not just a simple no, but a no that dropped a nuclear warhead on the feelings of him and the boy. The poor little thing had run back to his father and wrapped his arms around his neck, crying like there was no tomorrow. Looking at her with pleading eyes, he broke down in tears himself when she turned her nose up at him and walked out the door. Turning back to the sobbing bundle in his arms, he began to comfort the boy and rocked him to sleep. The loss of his wife wouldn't have been so devastating if not for…certain circumstances he would find out in the morning.

After waking up and shoving breakfast into himself and the boy, he was getting him dressed when a messenger bird pecked at the window. Quickly reading the message he picked the boy up and they trekked to the Hokage's office to see what might have been the problem. Tsunade, upon seeing the little boy she considered her grandchild, scooped him up and gave him a kiss. He didn't giggle like normal though, just hung there in space. She noticed his father had the same hangdog look as well. Furrowing her brow, she decided to get to the bottom of this.

"Naruto, what's the matter? Why do you and little Hikaru look so sad? Did something happen?"

"Yeah something happened alright. Sakura came home last night and said she was leaving us. For good. She didn't even have the slightest look of remorse for leaving Hikaru. If it was me I could understand, all I've ever wanted was her happiness. But to do that to her son. I don't know what to think. Anyway, I'm sorry Baa-chan, I'm rambling. What did you have to tell me?"

Tsunade was dumbstruck. The poor little boy in her arms had began sobbing against her chest at the mere mention of his mother and she looked down in sadness at him. He looked just like his father in every detail down to the whisker marks, except for the streaks of pink at the ends of his golden hair and his silver eyes. 'God, this kid's gonna be quite the looker when he grows up. Hope I'm around to see great grandchildren.' She thought to herself. Turning her gaze back to Naruto, she sighed heavily and walked back to her plush office chair, motioning him to sit as well.

"Naruto, I'm not going to lie, that is very sad. The fact that it was my apprentice and your childhood sweetheart who did it makes it very hard to accept. Since this is a domestic issue all I can do is notarize the divorce papers but I want you to know that I will make her life a living hell on the professional level. To abandon her child is unforgivable. To abandon you, when you've given her everything, should be a crime punishable by death. As for what I called you here for, I think it may explain why she left you."

At this Naruto's head snapped up and tears came to his eyes. All he could think was 'No, she wouldn't leave us for him. Not him. Please, Kami, no, not him.' Seeing the tears falling, Tsunade hung her head and whispered that it was indeed him, Sasuke had come home. He was her apprentice's one true weakness, the one thing that could make her give up a loving husband and beautiful child for a small chance with the traitorous Uchiha. That was all that needed to be said as Naruto gathered Hikaru from her arms and giving her a small peck on the cheek as thanks, exited her office. He never was the same after that. That was three years ago.


Presently, Shikamaru was talking to Ino about everyone's favorite blonde. No, not Ino herself, they were discussing Naruto's appearances in the village, or the lack thereof.

"Look Ino all I'm saying is that we need to get him out of that house. For Kami's sake all he does is do missions anymore. He doesn't come out on Saturday nights anymore, he doesn't socialize, he doesn't do anything for himself anymore. Everything he does revolves around his son and that isn't healthy. The only time we ever see him outside anymore is when he takes the boy to the park or out to eat. And while he's happy to see us, it's like he's forgotten how to talk to us."

Ino swept the hair out of her face and scrunched her nose. She wasn't sure where Shikamaru was going with all this. It was true that they all missed the blonde whirlwind, but he had responsibilities now that none of the rest of them had and she voiced her opinion on that.

"Really Shika I don't see what the big deal is. Sure we all miss him but he was dealt a really devastating blow you know? He's taking care of his son and he's trying hard. It's not like he disappeared completely. Sure I wish he would get out and do more with someone, try to move on but he can't or he won't. He was completely devoted to Sakura and I just don't see him moving on. Besides that, why are we having this conversation? If you want to try to get him outside then why don't you just ask him? Why involve me?"

"Because you're the only one of his friends that isn't involved with anyone. Come on Ino, I know you like the guy. You damn near started drooling when you saw him after his training trip with Jiraiya, and I know you like him now. And don't even try to deny it. Despite your denying your feelings you were one of the most disgusted with Sakura when she took back up with Sasuke. The two of you mended though and your friendship continued and eventually Sasuke and Sakura were let back into the fold. Naruto hasn't come back in yet and damn it; I miss him and his smile. As for you, you haven't smiled as much since he went and became a recluse either. I want my friends happy and if I have to force you to go to his house with my Shadow Possession Jutsu, I'll do it. Now go ask him out."

"But Shika…"

"No buts, GO!"

That was the end of that argument. Shikamaru could be forceful when he wanted to be. Ino currently found herself outside of Naruto's estate. After finding out that he was the son of the Fourth, all of his father's assets became his, including the family estate. The house was huge and more than accommodated Naruto and Hikaru. Ino smiled as she thought of Naruto as a father. He had always seemed like such an idiot and the thought that he was a warm and loving father made her smile. It was late already, close to ten o'clock and she didn't want to be a burden, but Shikamaru had left little to no bargaining room for her. It was now or never. She was about to knock on the door when she noticed a light coming from one of the windows. Curiosity getting the better of her she crept to the window and peeked inside. There sat Naruto on his couch as he watched Hikaru playing with a two-tailed fox. She took in his looks from her hidden position and sighed. He really was handsome. Erratic blonde hair, whisker marks, deep blue eyes, sweet body, sexy voice, he was a complete package. The fact that he was a loyal and caring person was a bonus to all that. She looked with fondness at the small smile he sported while his son wrestled with the fox and settled down to watch what happened. She couldn't honestly say she wasn't curious about Naruto and his home life. He had become such a recluse in recent years. Not that she could blame him. His ex-wife was always around town flaunting the fact that she was now the wife of the last Uchiha and the two children she had with him didn't help. Ino scowled at the thought. Did Sakura jump the guy as soon as he got in the gate and start making babies or did she have the decency to wait until the divorce was final? She shook her head and got rid of those thoughts when she heard Hikaru speak up.

"Daddy, do you think Mommy will ever come back home? I miss her."

'Oh Naruto. That's a question you shouldn't have to answer. No one deserves what you've got in life.' Ino winced at the question and thought that like any normal person Naruto would skate around it. There's a reason why he's known as the number one surprising ninja of Konoha though. Sighing, Naruto gave one of the most straightforward answers he could possibly give to a little seven year old.

"Son, I'm not going to lie to you. I don't think Mommy's ever coming back. It's just you and me from here on out. I thought back in the beginning she would see the error of her ways but it appears that Uchiha Sasuke is too great a prize to give up. I'm really sorry buddy, but it's you and me against the world."

This nearly broke Ino's heart. No one should have to suffer like these two were. Naruto had suffered his whole life and it just wasn't fair that fate was bitch slapping him left and right. His son was innocent as well. Didn't the boy deserve a mother? What caught her attention next was a totally new voice.

"Lord Naruto, I believe it is time for young Master Hikaru's bedtime. He will need his strength for his training in the morning. I do not want him passing out from lack of sleep."

That had come from the fox. Ino took another gander at the little thing. The timbre of the voice was such a deep bass that it was almost surreal. It sent shivers up her spine. And why did it address Naruto as Lord? That was weird. Wait, why the hell was a fox talking in the first place? Her thoughts were interrupted when Naruto laughed. This made Ino happy since she was probably the first to hear him laugh in a long time. Suddenly Naruto and the fox stared at each other and began to converse in a squeaky, guttural, yipping language that she couldn't decipher. She tensed thinking she had been found out, but they both relaxed and turned their attention to a now yawning Hikaru. The little boy was so cute with his hair and whisker marks. 'A future lady killer.' Thought Ino. Her process of thinking was shattered however when she was almost discovered. Naruto had crossed the room and threw the window open, nearly brushing her arm when he leaned out to sniff the night air. She held her breath and tried not to make a sound. Finally he turned and scooped Hikaru into his arms and the fox followed them to the boy's bedroom. Ino heard them talking and just when everything was quiet the boy exploded.

"Daddy sing me a song. I want a bedtime song."

The fox, which was curled at the end of the bed, growled at the little boy and had his tail pulled for his efforts. It yelped and glared at the boy, who glared back.

"Don't growl at me Genmaki. I want a song. You know daddy always sings the best songs at bedtime."

Naruto laughed at the two and told them to settle down, he'd be right back. He walked back to the den where they had been and Ino heard him shuffling around. She heard a snapping sound and a creak and then whatever he opened snapped shut again. She was about to lean back and peer through the window again when Naruto stuck his face out not two inches from hers. She squeaked and nearly rolled off the roof but he caught her arm and snickered.

"Ino, you don't have to hide in the shadows. I assume you're here for something so don't wait outside in the cold. Come on in and sit down. I'm just going to sing Hikaru to sleep and then we can talk about whatever you need to."

"How did you know I was out there? And how long did you let me sit out there in the cold when I could have been in here in the warmth?"

He couldn't help smiling at this. Same old Ino. It made him miss his friends and their antics. He gave her a foxy grin and pointed to the couch.

"Wait here. I'll be right back and then you can verbally castrate me, but my son needs his sleep. So keep it under twenty decibels ok?"

He disappeared down the hall, and it was only when he turned that Ino noticed the guitar in his hands. She cocked her head to the side and wondered when Naruto had taken up music. She shrugged and thought it wasn't like he had anything else to do. He couldn't be that good though and she couldn't remember him having all that great a singing voice either. She shuffled down the hallway and pressed her ear against the door.

"Ok son. Only one song tonight. Daddy had a friend come over and we have to discuss something. Now anything in particular? Or just something random?"

The little boy yawned and snuggled into his pillow. The lump of fur at the end of the bed rose and flopped down behind him, pushing itself against his back. Naruto smiled and strummed the guitar.

"Alright then son. Shadow of the Day it is."

I close both locks below the window

I close both blinds and turn away

Sometimes solutions aren't so simple

Sometimes good-bye's the only away

And the sun will set for you

The sun will set for you

And the shadow of the day

Will embrace the world in gray

And the sun will set for you

In cards and flowers on your window

Your friends all plead for you to stay

Sometimes beginnings aren't so simple

Sometimes good-bye's the only way

And the sun will set for you

The sun will set for you

And the shadow of the day

Will embrace the world in gray

And the sun will set for you

And the shadow of the day

Will embrace the world in gray

And the sun will set for you

And the shadow of the day

Will embrace the world in gray

And the sun will set for you

Naruto strummed the guitar a final time and smiled down at his now sleeping son and his furry guardian. He patted the fox's head and kissed his son on the forehead and walked out of the room.

Ino had heard him strum the guitar one last time through the door. She was entranced. She had heard what was quite possibly the most beautiful voice in the world and the guitar playing wasn't half bad either. The song was very soft and almost mournful and she was so caught up she almost forgot to return to the living room before she was caught eavesdropping. She innocently sat on the couch and pretended to take in her surroundings when Naruto walked back in and sat the guitar down again. He flopped down on the chair across from her and gave her a weary smile.

"So Ino, what brings you to my humble abode at this time of the night? I take it this isn't a social call?"

Ino shook her head when she heard something buzzing in her ears and realized that Naruto was talking to her. She was still caught up in the music and wasn't paying attention to him in the slightest. Her only thoughts were how she could hear that heavenly voice accompanied with that guitar again. But for now she was on a friendly mission.

"Actually it is a social call. We, and by we I mean everyone, wants you to come out with us Saturday. We miss you. Just come hang out for a few hours. Please?"

Naruto scowled at the request. He didn't want to be anywhere near society on Saturdays because he knew that all his friends gathered at whatever local venue they could to catch up. But that would mean seeing Sakura and Sasuke again and he didn't want that now or ever. He couldn't face them, it hurt too much. He turned soulful eyes to Ino and shook his head.

"I can't do that Ino and you know why. I can't face those two. They destroyed my dreams and hurt poor Hikaru. I just can't. I miss you all very much but I won't go. I have nothing to go for."

This did not settle well with Ino. She was too used to getting her way with Shikamaru and Choji and she'd be damned if Naruto was going to throw off her perfect record.

"Naruto, you're going and that's final. We want you to come back out and have fun. For Kami's sake Naruto, all you do anymore is missions and watch your son play. You need more from life. You need a life. We all miss you."

"Yeah right. If you all miss me then why is it just you here? None of you really miss me you just miss the idiot who made you all laugh. I've grown up Ino. I've had to grow up fast and I have responsibilities the rest of you don't."

"Naruto, please, don't say things like that. We want you to have fun, we miss you…"

"None of you really miss me."


Ino clapped her hand over her mouth after she shouted that to the heavens. Partly in fear of having woken Hikaru and partly in realization of what she said. She had been saying 'we' the whole time and had finally just let it go. She missed him. She missed his smile. It had been damn near three years since anyone had seen it and she missed it more than most. She was all by herself and that smile was always a constant in her life. Whenever she had a bad breakup, there was Naruto with that smile and a quick hug, saying everything would be all right. Whenever life was getting to her, there he was with that radiant smile. She looked over to see his reaction and saw his face pointed toward the floor, staring at his feet.

"Do…do you really mean that Ino?"

She could hear the desperation in his voice. He wanted so badly to know that he was missed, that he wasn't an outcast.

"Of course I meant it. I miss you Naruto. Of all the guys in my life you were always there for me. Hell, I'll even admit that when you came back I thought you were extremely hot. I miss your smile Naruto. The world has been much dimmer without the sunshine of Konoha in it. Please come with us Saturday."

He looked up at her and she could see the dam starting to break. Three years of seclusion had done him no good. And at his most vulnerable, Ino saw him for who he was. A person who had bottled up everything and shoved it aside, threw aside his feelings for the sake of his son. To ensure that no matter what shit pile life shoved at his son he would take the blow. He had removed himself from society so that he wouldn't have to face his ex wife and ex best friend and it broke her heart. She immediately got up and drug him back to the couch and hugged him while he cried and let it all out.

"You don't know how much it hurts Ino. He's taken everything from me. He took Sakura, he took my little boy's mother. He took my self-respect again and again. He's looked down on me forever. My brother. But worst of all, he took my dream Ino. He took the only thing to keep me going over the years. I just don't think I can face the two of them with my head held high after I've been down in the dirt for so long."

Ino just held him and her anger at her two friends washed over her again. It was all true. Those two had destroyed Naruto's ambitions and dreams. Sakura destroyed his family when she left and Sasuke was basically given the title Hokage even though he was a traitor. The Council simply wouldn't let the Demon have it. Tsunade fought tooth and nail but it just didn't matter. Sasuke was the next Hokage, despite the uproar from the majority of the town and ninja who had come to see Naruto as the only logical choice. The man had made strides his whole life to erase any doubt that he was Naruto, a hero, and not a demon. But logic doesn't work in politics and he was cast out. Ino came out of her thoughts just as he stopped sobbing and hiccupping on her shoulder. She looked up and her eyes were caught in that soul-searing gaze of his. The only thoughts running through her head at that moment were 'beautiful' and 'I would never have done that to him'. She felt him slide away from her embrace and he sat upright again, his resolve back and his posture from the past finally returning. He turned and gave her a smile that nearly made her melt in her shoes.

"Alright Ino. I'll go Saturday with you. But only if you accompany me yourself. I don't want to go alone."

Her eyes widened and her brain nearly short circuited. Here was Konoha's most eligible bachelor telling her he would go out but only if it was with her. The gods of fate would get many sacrifices in their honor later. With just a little bit of hope in her voice she managed to squeak out her reply.

"Naruto, are you asking me out on a date Saturday?"

"Yes Ino I am. I think that after three years, I need to get back out into society and there is only one person I can think of right now worthy of me returning to society with. And she's sitting right here. So how about it? Call it a date?"

Ino did something then that she hadn't done since Naruto's self imposed exile. She smiled. Not a fake smile, but a genuine, happy smile that warmed the room. In less than a second, mopey Ino was gone and the old, self assured Ino was back, the smile widening into one of her Cheshire cat grins and Naruto knew he was screwed.

"Oh Naruto, of course I'll go with you. But you have to do me one favor in return."

"For the most beautiful Kunoichi in the Konoha, anything."

That pulled the old heartstrings. Ino hadn't been called beautiful in years. She simply hadn't attempted to be. She was still a knockout but hearing the hottest guy in Konoha say that was enough to flush her cheeks immediately.

"Thank you Naruto. That means a lot to me. My only request is that you play your guitar for me. I want to hear you sing again. I, I was listening while you were playing to Hikaru. It was angelic. I loved it. Play for me, please?"

Naruto chuckled and reached for his guitar. If this was all it took to win over a lady he had it made. Not to mention that the girl he was going out with Saturday was the most eligible bacholorette in Konoha. (The guys and gals of Konoha all have an unofficial bingo book of who is the hottest and most eligible singles in the village and Naruto and Ino had topped that list for several years now.) He strummed the guitar and gave Ino another smile.

"Well then beautiful, do you have any requests?"

"Just sing whisker boy. We'll iron out the details of our date later."

"Yes milady."

The song is Shadow of the Day by Linkin Park.