Two lone figures strode swiftly across the worn, dusty path leading to the outskirts of Konoha. Their dark ANBU cloaks billowed out behind them as they walked, giving the illusion that they were floating rather than walking. One of them was a full body's length ahead of the other, and neither of them showed any signs of slowing down.
"Why are you in such a hurry?" one of the figures asked, breath coming noticeably faster than his partner's.
The man in front turned his masked face enough to look at the other. "You know why."
An exasperated sigh escaped the other man. "She'll be there no matter how fast you try to get home."
"Yeah, but the sooner I get home, the more time I have to spend with her."
Sasuke rolled his eyes from behind his mask. "I can't believe you just said that."
Naruto was just about to retort when a small, dark blur from the corner of his eye caught his attention. He lifted his mask and turned with a wide smile to see his four year old daughter running full speed in his direction, arms raised high in her signal to be picked up.
"Daddy!" she yelled, eyes bright and piercing as she looked up at him.
In one smooth motion he crouched down, reached out one arm, and raised the giggling girl up to his shoulder, planting a playful kiss on her chubby cheek. "Did you miss me?" he asked, knowing full well what her answer would be.
She threw her tiny arms around his neck, smiling from ear to ear. "Yup! Did you bring me a present?"
Her frosty blue eyes stared into his expectantly, and laughing on the inside, the blond raised his hand enough for her to see. He watched amused as her eyes intently followed his gloved hand on its way to his carrier bag, her tiny hands gripping the front of his cloak in anticipation. Just as he was about to reach into his bag, his hand suddenly froze above the clasp.
"Have you been a good girl while I was away?" Naruto asked, eyes narrowing with accusation.
The little girl eagerly nodded her head, gaze never leaving his frozen hand.
Narrowing his eyes a bit more, he fought down a grin and asked again. "Really?"
His daughter was practically buzzing with impatience. "Really!"
This time he did laugh, and fully allowing his hand to drop into his pouch, he rummaged around for a bit and produced a small, black-haired doll. It wore a light blue sundress similar in color to Nana's own, and a wide brimmed straw hat adorned its tiny head.
"Thank you!" she shouted, hugging the doll to herself. She then reached over to hug Naruto for a second time. After she finished hugging her father, she turned her icy gaze on Sasuke.
"What?" he asked, glaring at the expectant little girl. She didn't say anything for a few seconds, eyes still boring into Sasuke's. Finally, he sighed and reached into his own pack, handing her a second, smaller doll. This one had bright blond hair just like Naruto, black button eyes, and a pair of loose, red coveralls.
"Yes!" she shrieked, almost snatching the toy out of his hand.
"What do you say, Nana-chan?" Naruto asked, shooting a grin at Sasuke.
"Thank you! Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you!" She hugged both dolls tightly to her chest, causing the Uchiha, despite himself, to smirk.
"I swear, she's gonna be a man-eater when she grows up," Sasuke murmured, earning himself a glare from Naruto.
"Don't say that about my Nana-chan! She won't be dating any boys. Ever."
Sasuke snorted. "Say that again in ten years." He glanced over at the setting sun and sighed. "Sakura's undoubtedly heard that I returned by now, so if I'm not back within the next ten minutes, she'll come looking for me." The way his face grimaced as he said it told Naruto all that he needed to know.
Somehow, he felt as if he'd dodged a bullet by losing out to Sasuke.
"Alright. You up for training tomorrow?" he asked, lifting Nana to sit on both of his shoulders. The girl squealed at the sudden sense of vertigo, nearly dropping her new toys in the process.
"Sure, if I can get away from the house long enough. Noon?"
The blond nodded and waved as his friend walked away. "Noon!"
He glanced up at his daughter and poked her in the stomach to get her attention. "Ready to go inside?" When she nodded, he walked towards their two story house at a leisurely gait, listening to Nana chatter on about how much fun she was going to have with her new toys.
The smell of something good cooking met his nose as soon as he opened the front door. He walked into the living room and pushed open the door to kitchen to see Hinata wiping down the stove, a dark blue apron wrapped around her shapely hips.
"Look, Hinata-chan! I got new toys!" Nana exclaimed, holding the dolls out for her to see.
Hinata turned away from the stove and smiled. "Did your daddy get you those?"
The girl shook her head, sending her chin-length, brown hair swishing across her face. "Uncle Sasuke got me one too!"
"Did he? Did you make sure to tell him thank you?" When Nana nodded her head, she reached her hand up and cupped the child's cheek. "Good girl."
"Thanks, Hinata-chan. I owe you one," Naruto said, motioning towards the playing girl on his shoulders.
The Hyuuga shook her head, wiping her hands off on her apron. "Not at all! I love taking care of Nana-chan. She's such a sweetheart."
Naruto's small grin dropped slightly. "Why won't you let me pay you? I feel horrible having you watch her so often."
Hinata shot him a deadpan stare. "Naruto-kun, I'm next in line to inherit the Hyuuga clan – also known as the wealthiest clan in Konoha. No offense, but anything you could afford to give me would barely cover my lunch for a day." When his smile fell a little more, she sighed and rested her hands on her hips. "Fine. If you're going to be so difficult about it, then take me out to dinner next week. You'll be in the village next Thursday, right?"
His smile returning full force, he nodded once. "It's a date, then!"
She put on a wide smile to match Naruto's own and pulled off her apron. "I'd better get home. I've already bathed and fed Nana-chan, and there's dinner in the fridge if you haven't eaten yet." She leaned forward to hug Naruto and stood up on her toes to kiss Nana on the cheek. "Don't stay up too late, you two." With that, she waltzed towards the door leading to the living room, turning around only once to wave back at them.
When the door shut behind his longtime friend, he stifled a yawn and looked up his daughter. "Daddy's tired, so what do you say we go to bed?" he asked, watching her viciously slam the dolls into each other as if they were fighting. She never was very gentle with her toys; probably a mixed result of her upbringing and DNA.
The little girl's cheeks puffed out into a pout. "Now? But it's early!"
"Do you want daddy to fall asleep on his feet and drop you?"
"No," she reluctantly sighed, resting her chin on his head.
Naruto held back a chuckle and walked towards the staircase. "How about I take you to the park tomorrow to make it up to you? Maybe your friends will be there."
His suggestion immediately perked her up. "Really?"
"Yup, right after I get done training with your uncle. Deal?" he asked, raising his hand so that she could grab it.
She shook the offered appendage with a smile. "Deal!"
He slowly walked her up to her room, listening to her talk about what she'd done during the two weeks he'd been away. It was all well and good until she mentioned that one of her little friends had tried to kiss her; when he took her to the park the next day, he'd have to make sure that those little punks understood the consequences of putting their grubby lips on his little girl.
Being careful not to bump Nana's head on the top of the doorframe, he stepped into her room and threw her down onto the bed, causing the girl to break out into giggles.
She scrambled up to the head of her bed and curled up next to her pillow. "Can I sleep in my dress tonight?" she asked, trying to convince him to say 'yes' with her large, blue eyes.
He was far too tired to try to force her into a pair of pajamas, and it wasn't like she didn't have a dozen other dresses that looked similar if not exactly the same; to him, anyway. Hinata was the one who did all the shopping for Nana since he apparently had no eye for style.
"Fine, but only for tonight. Tomorrow, you can forget it." He grabbed her thick comforter and pulled it up to her chin, tucking her in as tightly as he could with her new dolls. He then leaned down to kiss her on the forehead. "Goodnight, Nana-chan. I love you."
"I love you too! 'Night, daddy!" Despite saying that, she pulled her dolls out from below the comforter and began to make them dance on top of her stomach, earning an amused smirk from Naruto. He should've known she wouldn't go to sleep just like that.
He tiredly walked out of her room with a sigh. Now that Nana was tucked in, all that was left was to shower and hop into bed. For the first time since he arrived in Konoha, he realized just how exhausted he was. His legs felt far too weak to support his body, and it seemed like he was two seconds away from passing out.
Not bothering to close the room door behind him, he slowly shed his clothing on his way to the bathroom. He stepped underneath the shower head and turned the knob as far to the right as it would go, reveling in the feel of the hot water against his sore muscles.
He leaned his head down far enough so that his head was right below the steaming jets of water, and frowning slightly to himself, realized that he'd need a haircut sometime soon. It'd been a few months since his last one, and it was really starting to show.
After a few more minutes of just relaxing under the water, he washed, dried, and slipped on a pair of fresh boxers. The feel of the cool air against his now clean skin as he walked into his bedroom relaxed him even more, and he plopped down onto his bed with the full intention of going to sleep.
Alas, it was not to be.
"Daddy," a small voice called from his open room door.
Naruto stifled a sigh and sat back up in the bed, pasting on a small smile for the sake of his daughter. He turned the lamp at his side on to look at her and winced lightly at the suddenly bright light. "What's wrong, Nana-chan?"
The girl shyly walked into the room, both hands clasped loosely behind her back. Before he could protest, she dove onto his bed and sidled up beside him. "I want to sleep in here with you."
The man's face dropped. It'd probably take more effort to force her back into her own bed than to let her have her way, and quite frankly, he didn't even have the energy to walk at the moment. "Do you promise to be quiet?"
When she beamed up at him and nodded, he grabbed his comforter and pulled it over the both of them, turning over on his back to get more comfortable. He barely noticed when Nana snuggled up next to him, and he certainly didn't notice when she turned her large blue eyes up to look at his sleeping face.
"What was mommy like?" she asked a couple of seconds later, unable to hold in her question any longer.
Naruto's eyes popped wide open. He knew she'd ask eventually, but he didn't expect it to be so soon. He'd been careful not to leave any of her pictures out where Nana could see them, and he never brought Tenten up whenever she was near his friends. The only things she knew about Tenten was her name and the fact that she was in heaven. "Why do you ask?"
"I heard Uncle Neji and Uncle Lee tell Hinata-chan that I looked just like mommy today."
Hearing this, he snapped his head around to look at her. His eyes narrowed as he studied her face, and a second later, they widened. "I never really noticed until now, but they're right; you really do look like her." Now that he thought about it, her personality was also eerily similar. He reached into the drawer next to his bed and rummaged around for a bit, digging his hand underneath his clothing to find something. He pulled out a worn picture frame and handed it to the curious little girl, smirking when her face took on a mystified expression.
"That's my mommy?" she asked, eyes running over the photograph. It was a picture of both Naruto and an obviously pregnant Tenten, both smiling widely at the camera in front of their newly bought house. If he remembered correctly, it was Sakura who had taken the picture, claiming that it was a must to keep track of important milestones.
"Yeah. I wasn't planning to show you for another couple of years, at least. It still kind of hurts for me to see her face." He watched her face drop slightly as she stared at the photo, and furrowing his eyebrows slightly, he lightly poked her in the cheek.
"If I marry you, will you be happy again?"
The blonde laughed out loud. "I appreciate the thought, but I'm fine. Having you as my daughter already makes me the happiest man alive." He paused for a moment to gather his thoughts, letting loose a small breath through his nose. "Nana-chan, if you ever find someone you want to spend the rest of your life with, don't hesitate to tell him that you love him. Make sure you tell him as many times as you can, even if you feel like you hate him at the time. It doesn't always end up like it does in the movies; if you wait too late, you'll just end up regretting that you didn't say it sooner like I do." When she didn't answer, he looked down to see the little girl clutching the picture frame to her chest, eyes closed and mouth half open as she slept.
Naruto felt the corners of his mouth twitch as he stared at her sleeping face. "Tomorrow, I'll show you her photo album. I'll tell you everything I know about your mother, and what I don't know, I'll get Hinata-chan, Neji, and Lee to tell you. I bet they have dozens of stories about how great of a kunoichi she was, and even more stories about how she was as a friend. For now, though, let's get some rest," he murmured, more to himself than Nana. Looking one last time at his sleeping daughter, he tiredly reached over and turned off the lamp, enveloping the room in darkness.
AN: And that is the official end. It's been fun, and though I'll miss writing this fic as I do Melody, I can safely say that I'm satisfied with how things ended–except for Tenten dying, of course. That part sucked, and the author deserves to get her ass kicked for that shit.
Also, all answered reviews from now on will be done by my beta, Amrun. Although I know it's probably a horrible idea, I'm going to trust her with my password and let her do what she will.
God help your souls.