When Naruto was released from the hospital, it was with a collective sigh of relief. Happy townsfolk cheered in solidarity as he waved with a slight smile upon leaving the building he'd been far too acquainted with in his earlier days.
As always, seeing the people smiling at him always made him pause to consider the fickle natures of humanity. The same people laughing and waving and more than a few girls blowing kisses, to the Uchiha's silent ire, were the same that had taunted him as a child, had looked the other way when those more violent had beset him, and had instigated his windows being broken, or worse, every anniversary of the Yondaime's death and Kyuubi's imprisonment.
Ironically, this new and almost unconditional acceptance of him, not only as a citizen of Konoha, but its highest leader, gave him an even deeper distrust of humanity enmasse. Especially now that he was no longer one of them, if he'd ever really been. Deep down inside, he knew that when he woke tomorrow, it was entirely possible that once more the wind would have changed, and he would again be the town's pariah.
And once more, he drew in a shaky breath, and wondered if he was even fit to rule them, and even more dismaying, wondered if he really wanted to anymore. It grew increasingly harder to deal with them fairly, much less love them as unconditionally as he had before.
But as these dark and bleak thoughts descended upon him, a noisy row of children pushed through, banners and streamers waving, and shouted their delight that their new Hokage was better. And Naruto's heart softened. As he had in Sound, so to he made it so in Konoha. There were no homeless children, no unloved children, no lonely children, and most of all, no hungry children.
Part of the Uchiha District/Uzumaki Compound had been given over to them. Buildings were strengthened, playgrounds sprouted like weeds, and people flowed through like water. Naruto had garnered the uncanny ability to look into people's hearts, and discern those things he most wanted to know. It was especially easy for him when dealing with children, something most dear to his heart. Several had applied for positions within the new 'orphanage', and Naruto hadn't given them a second glance. Most of the rejects were those that applied simply to have an 'easy' job, or wanted to endear themselves to him and Sasuke, also deeply involved with the children. A very few were predators of the worst sort, and though Naruto dismissed them with civility, they vanished soon thereafter. And not all of them were eaten by Kyuubi. Naruto had dug more than one deep grave in the wilds.
But as much as he distrusted and looked askance at the vacillating adults, he had no reservations about children. He saw himself in each and every one of them, and yearned to reach out, to soothe the hurt of abandonment, fill empty bellies, and touch lonely hands that reached out and tugged so on his heart strings. If only he'd been loved like this, when he was lonely and hungry and sad. Well, at least he now knew what growing up with such love and acceptance felt like, in his second incarnation. He would see to it that no child he knew of went hungry, or cold, or lonely, or scared.
And the warm, unconditional acceptance of the innocence of childhood warmed him and washed away the chill instilled by the same regard of the adults. He stopped, and allowed them to crowd around him, all of them; the noisy, sticky handed children that tugged on his robes as fiercely as they did on his heart, the older and slightly more restrained children, some almost ready for the academy, eager to show and tell him all the latest news, to the diffident, but secretly shy and heart scarred teenagers, who pretended aloofness, yet watched him with hope flickering in once dim eyes.
Very few knew how often he passed through the dormitories of these lost souls, when the skies were dark, and hearts that were wary by day opened freely under the moon, and these same coltish teens wrapped skinny arms around his neck, and poured their tears and tales of woe out to a heart that knew and understood them to the very bottom of their souls.
So Naruto let them flow around him now, and drew in not a shaky breath, but a deep and reaffirming one; this is why he was Hokage now. Not to protect those who changed their alliances as often as they did their minds, but to the children of Konoha. The ones who needed him most, because the rest of the world had been content to forget they had so many needs.
Sasuke stood behind him now, and watched him with a gentle smile. Not overly fond of children himself, nevertheless the import of what they stood for struck him to his very core; dozens of little Naruto's that would never be hungry again, never be lonely, never be afraid again. And because of this, it was easy to open his heart and his home to them, and not just because his other half wanted it so. But because, in this small way, perhaps he could atone for all the suffering his blonde had survived in his short and violent life. Sasuke could cheerfully spend the rest of a very long life trying to make up for what Naruto had experienced, and not just at his hands, but at the village that was supposed to protect him, and instead, hurt him.
In this one small thing, Sasuke was more than willing to give all of himself. For all the little Naruto's of the world.
Besides, someone had to watch over these heart hungry souls, and carefully steer them away from what was his, that he would never, ever relinquish. More than a few of the budding adolescents, of both genders, looked at the tall and stunning Hokage, with hearts in their eyes.
Of course, the tall and gangly teenagers of the orphanage weren't the only interlopers he had to be wary of. Men and women both, of almost all ages, often smiled at the blonde goofily, wanting some of that bright and sunny warmth for their own. Naruto had grown into his brightness with such grace, so strange for someone who'd been so clumsy and awkward in his own youth. Like an ugly duckling that became a swan.
Sasuke's lip curled internally. Shit, but he'd become soft in the head! Waxing poetic of all things. Good thing his mind was still his own, lest he die of shame were it to become known that under his arctic, steely façade, he'd become warm and soft and gooey as a perfectly toasted marshmallow.
This was all Naruto's fault!
But all his derisive reflections melted like ice in the summer sun when he watched Naruto cradling his youngest acquisition, a year old toddler found half starved by the burnt out shell of a shanty shack. Those big blue eyes were so soft and warm, that pouty mouth he so loved to kiss curved into such a wistful smile as he buried his nose in play tossed silvery locks.
Naruto was a natural father. Heart as big as the universe, and no little ones of his own to ever lavish all that love on. It just wasn't right. Sasuke didn't care if he ever spawned. In fact, as he'd said to the council, he really didn't think he even wanted his own line to continue. However, he had no such reservations about Naruto procreating. The blond should have children of his own. Little blonde haired, blue eyed children sleeping in beds just down the hall from their own. Children to bounce on his knee as babies, tussle with as children, guide as adolescents, and be protective of as they launched their own lives in the world.
Naruto should have children of his own.
Once Naruto had been willing to step aside, break his own heart, so that Sasuke could have children, and achieve the last of his goals.
Well, Sasuke was no starry eyed dreamer, like his blonde. Hell no. No one was going to take his greatest treasure away. Sasuke would never give Naruto to someone else. But he might just loan him for a single night every few years.
Once the loving shepherds Naruto had hand picked to watch over his little treasures had gently and smilingly shooed the little ones, and not so little ones, away, and they had resumed their journey to Ichiraku's, Sasuke began eyeing the women of their acquaintances speculatively. He'd given himself much food for thought.
They arrived in due time, the crowd finally smaller as it had become just them and their closest friends at the ramen bar. Naruto, naturally, dug into his ramen like a starving alley cat. Huh, some things never change, comfortingly enough. And Sasuke took the opportunity to again look over the women they knew.
Naturally enough, Sakura first came to his mind, but he very quickly discarded that notion. She was too obsessively fixated upon Naruto for both Sasuke's and Lee's comfort. To be sure, both men knew it was the ferocious protective urges of a mother over her child, not a jot of sexual desire in her for the blonde at all. But still… it was somehow even creepier than when she'd stalked the Uchiha.
Hinata was out, and not just because she was currently carrying Gaara's child in a far off land. As much as the unlikely couple had come to love each other, they still carried deep rooted desire for Sasuke's golden fox. That was one door he would never, ever open.
Hanabi was out; she was the crown princess of the Hyuuga clan. Any issue of hers would naturally find its way into some sort of bid for succession. Not to mention, Sasuke would never, ever, allow the Hyuuga clan to get its claws in any child of Naruto's. Hiashi would salivate like a slavering dingo at the notion of Naruto's seed in his daughter's belly. Simply no way in Hell.
In the hour or so it took to assuage Naruto's monstrous appetite for ramen, Sasuke had ample time to ponder the rest of the women they knew. He rejected this one and that one for a multitude of reasons, and was just pondering that it might be appropriate to take his search outside of Konoha proper, when his eyes fell upon Ino.
She was still single, obnoxiously so, but her hair, almost as sunny as Naruto's, and her eyes, though of a different shade, were likewise blue. Hmmm… it would ensure any of Naruto's children would indeed be blue eyed blondes. Something that would please Sasuke enormously. And she was a sensible girl, having long given up her fangirl tendencies over Sasuke soonest. In fact, she'd been the warmest of Naruto's friends, as she had a relationship with Naruto very similar to the one he himself had when they were younger; an amiable exchange of insults and elbow jabs.
Hmmmm… he would definitely have to ponder this more carefully. The decision as to who should carry Naruto's child was a weighty one that deserved much deep thought and careful analysis.
He was brought out of his musing by a soft laugh, and looked up to find that they were now alone. He'd been so lost in thought, that not only had Naruto finished his hefty meal, but the others had departed, and even the dirty bowls were gone, cleaned by the ever efficient Ayame.
"Wake up, koi," Naruto called softly, his blue eyes warm and alight for him alone. "Come back from whatever far away lands you're lost in."
Sasuke gave a wry chuckle, leaning forward to thoroughly kiss his now pink cheeked mate. If only Naruto knew just exactly how close those lands he was wandering in really was.
And if Kyuubi had known what close at hand yet exotic lands Sasuke had journeyed to, he would laugh himself sick.
Sasuke always was an impatient cub.