Chapter 170: Two Endings, Two Beginnings

"Hurry up, Lee," twenty-four year old Sakura Haruno demanded, pulling the simple sundress over her head, "or we're going to be late."

"That is hardly my fault," Lee told her, tightening his belt and reaching for his t-shirt, "You are the one who insisted we return home instead of going straight to the chapel."

"I wanted to take a shower to get off the road dust," she shot back, grabbing the garment bag with her dress and a backpack with accessories.

"And as I said, I am quite certain the chapel's changing rooms have showers," he reminded his girlfriend again, jogging towards the door of their apartment.

"But then we wouldn't have been able to shower together," she smirked at him.

"Hence the true reason for our potential tardiness," he grinned back appreciatively.

Sakura and Lee sprinted past Ichiraku Ramen, causing Ayame to look up at the clock on the wall. She brushed off her hands and lifted the curtain to the back of the shop.

"Dad, we'd better close up," the attractive chef told her patriarch, "It's almost three, and we still have to get ready."

The shinobi couple raced past a familiar flower shop as Inoichi and Minako Yamanaka exited. The Jonin carried two trays of floral arrangements, while his civilian wife held a single smaller platter.

"I guess that means we had better hurry up," the florist noted, recognizing the pink blur that streaked by. The former model nodded.

Sakura and Lee angled away from the front of the chapel, where early arriving guests were already beginning to conglomerate. The ushers, Kiba and Shino, were escorting the invitees to their seats. The hurried lovers darted around the side of the building, hoping their mad dash went unseen. The two shinobi slowed to a respectable pace as they reached the back entrance. Once inside the church, they were forced to split up, the women's dressing room being up a floor, while the men were in the basement.

"See you in a little while," she said, and kissed him quickly. She hurried up the stairs, taking them two at a time. But when she reached the landing outside the changing room, Ino Yamanaka was waiting for her, tapping her foot in annoyance. The blonde kunoichi wore a simple yet flattering sheath gown in a deep purple, with a modest slit in the right side up to her knee. Her pumps were the same color, as were her elbow length gloves. Ino's long hair had been pulled back into a tight braid. A single, purple rose was resting over her left temple, its dethorned stem tucked behind her ear and wrapped in her hair to keep it in place.

"You are late," the mentalist Jonin told her friend smugly.

"Sorry," the senior medic bowed slightly, "We were a little delayed getting back, and we had to go home to get our stuff."

"I'm not the one you should be apologizing to," Ino said sharply, reaching to open the door.

"Is she angry?"

"Of course not," the notorious female pervert scoffed, "But she is worried, and that's the last thing she needs today."

"Sorry, Hinata," Sakura stated without preamble, as she entered the room. The others paused in their preparations and turned to look at her in varying degrees of annoyance. Like Ino, Tenten Hyuga and Temari Nara were both all ready. Except for the color of their dresses and roses, they were outfitted identically to Yamanaka, ven down to their braided hair. However, instead of purple, Tenten wore a deep blue sheath, while Temari's frock was a lighter azure. Shizune Inuzuka was also already dressed, though the older medic wore yellow. And she had not yet put on her gloves, she was trying to work the matching rose into her short hair. Due to the length of her hair, Shizune was exempt from the braid the other women wore, as were Sakura and Keiko Takamichi. Sasame Fuma, still in her lingerie, was managing help both Hanabi Hyuga and Keiko slip into their respective lavender and pink dresses. The thread user's green gown was still on its hanger.

Hinata Hyuga looked at her teammate with relief.

"Thank goodness, Sakura," the twenty-three year old retired clan leader said gratefully, "I was beginning to think something might have happened to you and Lee."

"No," the pink-haired woman reassured her friend, "We were just delayed a little getting back, and I had to go home to get my dress."

She held up the garment bag as justification.

"Uh-huh," Temari said knowingly, continuing her work on Hinata's make-up. The Hyuga Jonin was wrapped in a sheet to protect her gown, while the Sand Jonin lightly applied a soft, water-resistant blush to her cheeks. Behind Hinata, Tenten braided small white roses into her friend's long purple hair.

Sakura quickly shed her traveling clothes, and hung up her gown next to Sasame's. The healer took over getting Keiko zipped up and adjusted, while the Fuma clan Jonin finished with Hanabi. Haruno could not help but be annoyed that both younger women easily overshadowed her own curves. And since giving birth, Shizune's breasts and hips had also expanded pleasantly, leaving Tsunade's junior apprentice easily the most boyish woman in the room. But she dismissed her jealousy, reminding herself that Lee liked her body. She took out her red dress and shoes, and Shizune brought her the red rose for her hair.

The eight attendant kunoichi finally finished getting dressed, coiffed, and made up just before the camera man arrived. As the activity slowed, Tenten and Temari carefully removed the cloth covering Hinata, and the bride stood. The bridesmaids all studied her appreciatively.

"You look lovely, Oneesan," Hanabi whispered in awe, and the other women nodded carefully in agreement.

"Lovely doesn't even begin to cover it," Temari said enviously.

"You'll knock Naruto's socks off," Tenten informed her.

"Thank you, all," she told them sincerely, blushing modestly.

"Alright, ladies," Ino called for their attention, "Mom's outside with the bouquets, and the photographer is waiting."

Naruto tried his best to stay still, as the music started, and Gaara began to slowly escort Shizune down the aisle. Instead he focused on the crowd, taking in the most familiar faces.

The front row on his side of the church was filled mostly with women. Tsunade was in the position where Yukihana should have sat. Next to her were Yugao Hatake, Rei Uchiha, and Minato Hatake. The seven-year old was kneeling on the pew so she could see past the taller people seated behind her, while her mother held her three-year old brother so he could watch, too. Next was his other 'uncle's wife, the moderately pregnant Anko Umino. Hana Inuzuka had been mildly surprised when her brother had escorted her and her two children to the front row. But Kiba had given her Naruto's spiel about how "Shizune-neechan's wife is my oneesan, too." Hana was so happy that she had not protested further, and lead Momo and Toshiro to the end of the first row.

As Rock Lee and Sasame begin to move towards the alter, he reflected on the fact that, other than certain Daimyos, he was probably the only man to ever have five sitting members of the Conclave of Shadows at his wedding. The fact that there were now seven Shadows mitigated the fact slightly, as did the fact that he had only directly invited two, three if he counted the fact that the Kazekage was one of his groomsmen and thus not a guest. Tsunade was of course in the front row, and he had also invited the Hanakage Ayameko. In addition, the Yukikage Hisame was present as the date and bodyguard of Daimyo Koyuki Kazahana of the Land of Spring; and Mizukage Yasuo Mizuno had escorted his daughter Kaede.

Nor was Koyuki the only Daimyo present. The rulers of the Lands of Fire, Birds, and Greens were also in attendance, though Naruto was not quite sure if Hisoka Honokata had brought Nyoko, or if it was the other way around. He noticed Nyoko's expression of sadness with surprise, despite Hinata and Sakura's insistence that the princess's feelings were genuine, he had never though her affections to be much more than a crush. And after their first meeting, he had always been careful to let Nyoko know she was only a friend, and that he was committed to Hinata.

Konohamaru and Keiko had reached the front of the church and split to take their respective positions. Shikamaru and Temari stepped into the aisle. The still sometimes dense young man noticed for the first time that the vests and boutonnières of his groomsmen matched the respective colors of the dresses, bouquets, and accent roses of the bridesmaids they were escorting. He hadn't even thought to ask why his fiancé requested that specific groomsmen wear a specific color.

The groom's eyes drifted to the back of the church, where Nagato and Konan sat with their ward, Jiraiya. The Rinnegan bearer had mostly recovered from the damage Pein had done to his body. However even Tsunade had not been able to repair the fact that the drain on his life-force had left the former Akatsuki leader unable to father children. As a consequence, not long after Kakashi and Yugao's wedding, the defector couple had taken in an abandoned baby. However they had not adopted the infant, whom they named after their first teacher. And Jiraiya referred to the couple as 'Aunt' and 'Uncle' rather than 'Mother' and 'Father'. Sakura suspected that Jiraiya was the son of a Shozoku, and that the legal and social detachment was because they feared and hoped that someday the boy's birth mother would be able to unmask and reclaim him. Naruto thought she was probably right, while Hinata and the Hokage remained silent on the issue.

Uzumaki was mildly surprised that Jiraiya was not sitting between Konan and Nagato; instead the origami expert was in the middle. Naruto's eyes drifted curiously to the other woman sitting next to the boy. But his eyes slid past her, and his brain decided she was no-one important.

Naruto frowned lightly, trying to keep his sudden displeasure from being too visible. He was a trained ninja, and he should have at least been able to connect the unknown woman to her date. She was on his side of the church. He forced himself to focus on her, and found it oddly difficult. The woman was so nondescript she was hard to look at. She appeared to be a few years older than the groom's twenty-three years, but not yet in her thirties. She was slender, yet fit. And her face was plain. Not pretty, not ugly, just there. Nothing stood out about her.

And yet, there was something familiar about her. The strength in her dull, brown eyes. The way she sat, relaxed but at the same time ready to react. The happy yet melancholy expression she wore. As he started to recognize her, it triggered his memories, of a brief description he had been given just after the war.

Choji and Ino had passed half of the pews, when Naruto's eyes snapped back to Tsunade. After he had her attention, his blue orbs flicked back over to the mysterious, unassuming woman. The Hokage followed his gaze. It seemed to take her twice a long as Naruto to even see the woman, and longer still to recognize her. Finally realizing the cause of his distraction and worry, the Hokage shook her head to indicate he need not worry. Then she inclined her head slightly, and he followed where she indicated. And his jaw almost dropped in surprise.

Naruto realized in all the times he had played with Jiraiya or helped Hinata babysit, he had never really paid attention to the boy's appearance. The combination of blonde hair and blue eyes was fairly common on this side of the continent, so he had never given it much thought. But Jiraiya's hair was a shade darker than Uzumaki's, or any of the Yamanakas. And there was a certain, familiar sharpness to the boy's blue eyes. Naruto's locked the gaze of the plain woman with his own. He smiled kindly at her, and nodded once. She nodded back, tears of joy filling her eyes.

Neji and Hanabi reached the front of the church, and Iruka and Sakura began to make their way down. As the second to last pair of attendants followed the song forward, Naruto focused on the aisle again, knowing the moment of truth approached. Though he knew it was not the case, in anticipation time seemed to speed up for him. Iruka and Sakura, and then Kakashi and Tenten appeared to be almost sprinting. As the best man and matron of honor took their places, the music changed.

Hinata and Hiashi stepped into view, and Naruto say his bride's gown for the first time.

The main portion of Hinata's gown was a shimmering, medium-weight, pure white silk mikado. The edges of the fabric were all stitched with a golden filigree of small, overlapping triangles. The bride's dress was strapless like those of her attendants. But the pale beauty's bodice was so perfectly fitted it almost appeared to be paint instead of fabric. It clung tightly to every curve of her exquisite breasts, dipping slightly between her cleavage. The gown wrapped around her toned stomach, revealing the slight indent of her navel. The upper portion of the dress also had short sleeves connected under her arms, covering from the middle of her biceps to just above Hinata's elbows. Unlike her friends, the young woman wore no gloves, and her engagement ring shone brightly on her finger.

The ivory material split just below the waist, creating a wide slit in front while the rest of the dress flared out dramatically, flowing around her in vertical pleats. A cape-like extension off the back of the bodice and sleeves added an additional layer to the back of the gown. The silk ended a full six-inches above the floor. Underneath there was an underskirt of pale lavender, but unlike the white silk this part of the dress had a matte finish. The second layer went all the way to the floor, and as was also visible through the gap in the front.

The bride wore a simple silver circlet on her head, with a veil of lace hanging out of the headpiece down to just below her chin.

She was without a doubt the most beautiful woman Naruto had ever seen. Hinata smiled happily, but still blushed noticeably under his scrutiny.

Father and daughter walked carefully up to the front of the church, where Hiashi passed Hinata's hand to Naruto. The former clan leader limped over to his seat in the front pew, opposite Tsunade and next to his aunt Hiroko. Hyouta Hyuga was also seated in the first row of Hinata's side of the church, and though he did not look happy, he at least had enough manners not to scowl. The couple turned to face the priest, who nodded to them before beginning.

"Dearly beloved," the holy man addressed everyone present, "We are gathered here today to witness the bonding of Naruto Uzumaki and Hinata Hyuga. Marriage is a contract; legal, spiritual, social, and emotional. In some cases I found couples standing before me who do not fully grasp the enormity of the commitment they were making. But I can honestly say that is not the case with Naruto and Hinata. They have been emotionally and socially married for many years. And now the time has come for them to formalize their union under the law and before the gods. So, if anyone present has just cause why these two should not be wed, let them speak now or forever hold their peace."

More than a few eyes turned to Hyouta Hyuga, but the deposed Elder wisely remained silent. After waiting a handful of seconds, the reverend inclined his head in acceptance and continued.

"Naruto and Hinata, your families and friends stand in agreement with your decision to be married. You may each now pledge your troth."

The couple turned to face one another. Naruto reached up and lifted Hinata's veil, moving it back over her head so he could look directly into her eyes. The lovers linked their other hands; left to right and right to left.

"Hinata," Naruto said happily, a single tear forming in his right eye, "I love you. Before we got to know each other, I didn't understand just how powerful those words could be. We have each waited for the other, for various reasons, but now the time for waiting is done. You have helped me to become not only a better ninja, but also a better friend and a better man. I love you more today then I did yesterday, and I am sure I will love you more tomorrow, and every day after. Thank you so much for loving me."

Hinata exhaled sharply, struggling to control her emotions, two lines of wetness running down her cheeks.

"Naruto," she told him lovingly, "My name might mean 'sunshine', but you are the light of my life. For almost as long as I can remember, you have been the beacon of strength and hope I have looked to when I thought I couldn't go on. And now that I am able to stand on my own, there is still no place I would rather be than by your side. That you came to love me in return is the greatest miracle in my life. I love you, and I will love you forever."

The priest motioned for Kakashi and Tenten to step closer, and each Jonin produced a single gold and platinum wrapped band. Kakashi followed the second gesture, and placed the ring in his student's palm.

"Naruto, do you take Hinata to be your wife? Do you promise to love her, honor her, cherish her, and forsaking all others, keep yourself only for her, for all of your days?"

"I do," the young man agreed reverently.

"Then repeat after me..."

"Hinata, with this ring, I thee wed," as he parroted the phrase, Uzumaki slipped the ring onto his bride's finger. The priest turned his attention to the bride, and Tenten handed her friend the matching band to the one Hinata now wore.

"Hinata, do you take Naruto to be your husband? Do you promise to love him, honor him, cherish him, and forsaking all others, keep yourself only for him, for all of your days?"

"I do," the pale beauty stated joyfully.

"Then repeat after me..."

"Naruto, with this ring, I thee wed," Hinata choked up slightly, but managed to get the words out, and sealed their union with the precious circle.

"Then, under the divine providence of the gods..." the priest paused, not entirely pleased by what came next, but he dutifully followed the special script he had been given, "and the legal authority grant me by that guy..."

He pointed into the audience, to where a mildly surprised Hisoka Honokata sat. A few of the guests looked annoyed or aghast. But the Fire Daimyo broke out laughing, as did most of the other unsuspecting victims of Naruto's latest prank. The groom grinned smugly, and his beloved smiled slightly and squeezed his hand.

"...ahem," the priest continued after the mirth died down, "I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss your bride."

Naruto swept Hinata carefully into his arms, oddly conscious of her dress. Then he pressed his lips firmly to hers, enjoying more than ever before the taste of her, and the feel of her body pressed against his. And he could tell from her reaction that she felt the same. The priest cleared his throat slightly, and the couple finally broke apart.

"It is my great honor and pleasure to present for the first time as husband and wife, Naruto and Hinata Uzumaki."

Tsunade Senju looked out over the crowd, and the last Sannin could not help but feel an intense sense of relief.

"All right, most if not all of you know I'm not one for public speaking," she started without ceremony, "so I'm going to make this short and sweet. Not quite fifteen years ago, two idiots hunted me down and dragged me back here. They, along with certain others, forced the thankless job of being Hokage on me. But that's all done now. I'm retiring, and one of those idiots is actually stupid enough to want to take my place."

She paused and the harsh inflection of her voice changed to one of gentle fondness, "And I can think no better man to carry on the legacy of my grandfather, my great-uncle, my teacher, and his own father's as well. So it is with only slight misgivings that I give you the sixth Hokage of the Village Hidden in the Leaves, Naruto Uzumaki."

From the bank of seats at the back of the stage, Naruto gently disengaged his hand from his wife's grip. He kissed her lingeringly, and his fingers brushed against her distended belly. After almost four years of trying, the couple was finally expecting their first child. He pulled the Hokage's hat a bit lower over his face, and strode out into view of the audience.

Cheers and applause erupted. Uzumaki scanned the crowd, taking them in. Sakura and Rock Lee were right in front, and like his own wife, the pregnancy of the current head of the medical corp has just entered the final trimester.

Next to Lee was an oddly unfamiliar pair of faces; Naruto had not seen Konohamaru and Moegi out of their masks since they had joined the ANBU. The couple had recently been placed in charge of the Black Ops division.

On the other side, Ino Akimichi stood next to her best friend. Naruto recalled immediately that her husband and his Genin squad were capturing bandits in the Land of Forests.

The last of his friends in the front row, Shino and Sasame had never married, due to his clans' prejudice against the thread wielder. But they might as well have been. Sasame held their first child, a girl, and according to Sakura, was expecting again.

From the second row, Kakashi and the three members of Team Hizashi observed, along with the newly graduated Genin Rei Uchiha, Kakashi and Yugao's son Minato and second daughter Rin, and Iruka and Anko's two sons and two daughters.

Also in that row were Hana, Shizune, Momo, and Toshiro Inuzuka. Momo and Toshiro had just started attending the academy, and both had recently received their clan tattoos.

A few lines of chairs back were the leader of the Hyuga clan, his wife, their two sons, and their daughter. Hanabi and her husband Kiba were also in that row, as were the head of the Takamichi clan and Hanabi's two teammates. Neji smirked at Naruto, noticing the instant the Hokage's eyes fell on his family.

Recognizing the need to acknowledge the special guests, Naruto quickly and neutrally locked gazes with the Tsuchikage, Mitsuru; the Raikage, Washichi; and the Yukikage, Hisame. From the Snow Shadow, Naruto nodded at his wife, Daimyo Koyuki. The Snow Ninja frowned slightly, but the leader of the Land of Spring just shook her head at her consort's jealousy.

Unlike his diplomatic exchanges with the first three members of the Conclave, Naruto exchanged happy looks with the Hanakage, Ayameko, and the newly appointed twelfth Mizukage, Kaede Mizuno. The incorrigible flirt winked at him, and Naruto could smell a hint of annoyance from his wife.

The last Kage, and Naruto's closest ally in the Conclave of Shadows, Gaara of the Sand chuckled slightly at the exchange. He nodded broadly to the fellow former Jinchuriki. But Gaara seemed to have forgotten his arm was draped around his bride, and his action dragged Matsuri down as well. The younger woman's reaction made Naruto laugh briefly in turn especially when Gaara began to apologize profusely. And next to them, Shikamaru shook his head knowingly, and Temari glared at her husband in mock annoyance.

Finally, Naruto met the gaze of the Fire Daimyo, and inclined his head thankfully. He knew his appointment also had to be approved by Nyoko Honokata, and while he had never doubted her trust in him, it did not diminish his gratitude.

The acclaim began to die down, and Uzumaki took his place at the microphone.

"Thank you all for coming," the blonde Jonin told them, "As you all know, becoming the Hokage has been a goal of mine for most of my life. Originally, my reasons were mostly selfish. I wanted to be respected. But I learned that that was the wrong for many reasons. If I did not earn the respect of my comrades, I would not be accepted as Hokage. And I should want to be the one to protect the Leaf ninjas, not to rule over them."

"But I don't just want to protect my Leaf comrades, or even the people of the Land of Fire" he said firmly, "Since the end of the Fourth Ninja War, I have made it my goal to protect everyone. It hasn't always been easy..."

His thoughts drifted back to the Summoning War, the battle between the ninja animal clans that had been hidden from those Human shinobi without familiar contracts.

"… and I can't do it alone," he continued, "I need the assistance of everyone here. Ninjas do have to be weapons. So long as there are demons and criminals in the world, that much will be unavoidable. We fight to protect people from the threats they cannot handle on their own. But that's not all we have to be. Shinobi exist to help people; whether that is as simple as doing chores they don't have time for, or critical as healing injuries that civilian doctors cannot."

"I pledge to you all, here, today, that I'll do my best to make sure to leave the world a better place than I found it. All I ask is that you do the same."

Shouts of approval and agreement shook the walls of the Leaf, and Hinata moved forward to stand at her beloved's side.

"Jiraiya and Gouki would be proud," she whispered into his ear, "So would your parents."

"Thanks, Hinata," he answered as he took her hand again, "Now we just need to make it happen."

She noticed that he included her as part of him unconsciously, and she wrapped her arm around him tightly. Without meaning to, he had once again reaffirmed their bond.

"I love you, Naruto."

"I love you too, Hinata."


Author's Notes:

Well, after four years, two months, five days; and not quite seventeen hundred pages, it's done. My vision of Naruto's world, after the point I feel Kishimoto began to go astray. It's been a labor of love (and at times revenge), and I wish to sincerely thank everyone who took the time to read this monstrosity. Especially those who took the time to review, and extra especially anyone who pointed out any spelling or grammar errors, or internal continuity guffaws. After so long and so much, sometimes it blends together... But I digress.

Thank you, and I hope that everyone enjoys my next project as well, even if it is not Naruto related. Whichever one I decide on...

Oh, one more thing; actually there's a bunch of things I would like to mention, like all the name drops in this story. But I'm trying to keep this short and sweet...
I had two external dreams for this story, and one has been fulfilled. If not quite in the way I hoped. I always hoped that someone would draw fan-art of A Growing Affection (without being asked or paid by me), and, well... I found an H-doujin based on my story. I'm not going to post the link, since this is a T rated story. But if you are really curious, you should be able to find it. As to the other dream... well, it is dying slowly, but I won't finish it by stating it here...
Or not. My second dream has now come true, my story has a page on TV Tropes.