To Live is So Much Harder…
It was a beautiful day in Konoha…one that reminded everyone just what a great thing it was to be alive and well. The markets were just beginning to open as the children rushed down the streets on their way to school, be it civilian or shinobi, it didn't matter. A light breeze caressed everyone and everything as it carried the light scent of cherry blossoms across the sprawling village which had grown so much since threat of Madara Uchiha had finally been ended. Everywhere you looked life was moving and life was worth living.
Breathing deep, Naruto Uzumaki Namikaze smiled as he strolled down the sidewalk as folks turned and greeted the Toad Sage happily with none of the malice he had experienced growing up in the Village Hidden in the Leaves. Things had changed greatly over the years and even the last of his detractors had to finally admit that not only was he an extremely powerful shinobi but an extremely loyal one as well. Even the fact that he had survived the hell his ex-wife had put him through was enough for them to show him some begrudging respect.
A day like this reminded him of that one perfect day, a little over four years ago, when Ino Yamanaka became Ino Namikaze. The joy he had felt that day was indescribable, as was the beauty that radiated from his bride that day. Weird thing was, knowing how energetic, loud, and brash the bride and groom were known to act, it had to be one of the most sedate, tranquil, and in some ways…bizarre… weddings Konoha had ever seen.
To start off, there was no way this wedding was anything close to traditional. Normally, when two clans were joined together, both clans' primary colors would be well represented: Orange and Black for the Namikaze, Purple and Lavender for the Yamanaka. Instead, everything was white which, in this case, represented purity rather than death. It stood for the purity of the love the two had for each other…plain and simple.
Naruto stood at the dais alongside his groomsmen, each and everyone of them decked out in white battle cloaks, white cargo pants and white silk shirts. Even the Hokage was dressed in white robes especially made for the event. Shikamaru, Gaara and Iruka stood by his side while across the aisle stood Temari, TenTen, and Hinata who, strangely enough, was holding little Hizashi who was asleep in his mother's arms. Little Ruto was the ring-bearer and was doing his parents so proud by being such a good boy and not fidgeting around or making a fuss. Kushina performed her job as flower girl very well, and made sure that the aisle was properly covered in light lavender and white rose petals.
The Toad Sage's smile grew even wider as he recalled how beautiful his bride looked as she was led down the aisle by her father…both blondes draped in white like the rest of the wedding party. He remembered how Ino would go on and on as a little girl about how she wanted a huge fancy wedding gown for her big day, but what Naruto saw took his breath away. The young mind-walker wore a simple white peasant-type, off the shoulder dress that was made of a light gauzy material that waved gently in the small breeze that blew over the top of the Hokage Monument, where the wedding was being held.
In her arms, sleeping peacefully, was Tsunade Namikaze…much to the surprise of many of the people present. While little 'Nade was a beautiful baby that could melt even Orochimaru's black heart, nobody expected to see her, nor Hizashi, at the wedding. Naruto and Ino weren't your typical bride and groom, however, and decided that they wanted the wedding to be a family affair. Gaara and Shikamaru were like brothers to both the bride and groom while Iruka was the only father figure Naruto ever really had in his life ( Jiraiya was more like a perverted uncle or grandfather!). Little Ruto was like his little nephew he loved to spoil rotten. Temari was Shikamaru's wife and she and TenTen were like big sisters to Naruto and Ino both, while Kushina, Hizashi, and Nade were his children. As for Hinata…well, she was very special to he and Ino both.
There were other things about the wedding that others found odd, but they seemed to fit for some reason. For one, nobody wore shoes: not the wedding party, not the Hokage, not even the guests. The guests, too, wore only white for the wedding while the bride neither carried a bouquet nor wore a garter. The reception was catered by the Ichiraku's and the Akimichi's who served…ramen and barbeque. No surprise there. But the most notable oddity , at least in some people's eyes, was the lack of a certain Uchiha and his family.
The Sage frowned for just a moment as he thought about his ex-wife and his ex-best friend. About two months after the wedding, the Uchiha and Haruno finally decided to get married. Sakura, wanting it to be the social event of the century, went all out in her preparations. She was determined to show Konoha what a proper wedding should look like…despite the fact she had tried to do the same thing when she and Naruto had gotten married.
Engraved invitations were sent out while she had her and Sasuke's wedding kimonos made from the finest silks that money could buy. Her kimono sported her personal colors of red and pink while his matched the clan colors of black and blue, and just to make sure that everyone knew exactly who was getting married, the Uchiha fan was embroidered very proximately on the backs. Sakura ordered thousands of dollars worth of flowers from all the flower shops in Konoha with the exception of Yamanaka Flowers…and this was mainly due to the fact that Inoichi refused their business. Despite her fiancé's reputation in the village, she was able to hire some of the finest restaurants to cater the event…it's amazing what the proper amount of cash can accomplish!
Next, the pink-haired medic tried to get the Hokage to allow the wedding to take place at the same spot as Naruto's and Ino's had been, but she had to settle for the largest dining hall in Konoha when Tsunade refused. Sakura even sent a letter to the Fire Daimyo himself, offering him the privilege of officiating over the wedding of the last of the Uchiha. And just to prove that there were times when Sakura's greatly admired intelligence simply seemed to shut down, she sent a servant over to deliver an invitation to the Namikaze estate. The pinkette hoped that they would show up to see what a proper wedding looked like…and to make them feel bad for not inviting them to their wedding.
The Uchihas were sorely disappointed. After sending invitation to virtually everyone in Konoha, only a handful of Sasuke's most ardent supporters showed up. The Fire Lord refused the 'honor' they had offered with a rather tersely worded letter, so they had to scramble and finally found a priest who reluctantly agreed to perform the ceremony. With so few guests, the great hall looked empty and most of the food went to waste. Sakura went to bed that night in tears despite the fact that she was now married to the man of her dreams.
Naruto chuckled as he thought about the day Ino had walked into the office with a worried look on her face and something hidden behind her back. It took quite a few minutes of cajoling as well as one hell of a tickle fight before Ino finally turned the scroll she had hidden over to the Sage. It turned out to be a petition of marriage from Sasuke and Sakura. Seeing how both were still shinobi of the Hidden Leaf, the Hokage or her representative had to approve and sign it. Ino bit her lower lip as she looked on worriedly while her husband sat stock still and continued to read and think.
It was with a grin and a shrug of his shoulders that Naruto signed the documents, knowing that it was going to shock the stuffing out of the couple after they saw who signed it. Before Ino could say or do anything else, Naruto grabbed up a blank scroll and scribbled a few lines on it before stamping it and sealing it and the marriage documents in yet another scroll. After a questioning look from his wife, he explained that he had merely added their wedding gift to the happy couple. Ino began to explode at the news until Naruto caught her up in a deep kiss and had a clone seal the room as the Hokage-to-be swept his wife off of her feet and properly initiated the office.
"Damn, Grandma beat the snot outta me for that one," Naruto murmured, remembering the pain he experienced when Tsunade discovered that he had moved Sasuke back up to probationary Jounin as well as supplying Team Thirteen with the paperwork for the upcoming Chunin exams. Despite the fact that none of Team Thirteen made Chunin, they all did rank pretty high up in the standing. Sasuke swore they would make it next time…and to his credit, all three did!
Just as Naruto came to the crosswalk and stopped for the immense amount of traffic that plowed the roads of Konoha at this time of day, he sensed something coming in his direction at high speed. The Sage took two steps to the right just as a blur of red and black smashed into his legs from behind. The demon container never flinched…the offending object, however, bounced backwards a good six feet before landing with an 'oof'.
"Hey, are you okay, little one?" Naruto asked as he turned to look at the small boy who was currently rubbing the back of his head. The Toad Sage had deliberately put himself between the young one and the massive amount of carts, horses, and oxen that were barreling down the street. He reached out and helped the small child to his feet.
"Oooo….man, you're strong," the boy moaned as he reached out and took Naruto's hand. His eyes bugged out when the blonde lifted him off the ground and back to his feet with no effort whatsoever. He had never met anyone that was so strong…other than parents, that is. "S-sorry sir. I didn't see you. It was my mistake."
"That's alright," Naruto replied as he reached back and scratched the back of his head. The little boy started to bow to him, causing a reddish hue to appear on the Sage's cheeks. "You just need to watch where you're going next time…otherwise, you could end up as miso paste." With that, he stepped aside and let the boy see all the horse and ox drawn carts that were hurdling down the streets with clear disregard to anyone who was on foot. The child turned whiter than Sai as his dark eyes grew as large as saucers.
"Whoa…I could have gotten hurt really bad," he whispered as he looked up to Naruto, who quickly gave him a smile and a thumbs-up. "Saya would have gotten so mad at me!"
"Saya? Is she your mom?" Naruto wondered why a child so young would be outside with no adult supervision. Of course, then he remembered back to his childhood and mentally shrugged.
"Huh? Oh, no…she's my nanny," the dark-haired child replied as he looked down at his feet, appearing just a little sad. "Momma and Father are both shinobi…so they don't have much time for me. Father is with his team all the time and Momma spends most of her time at the hospital. I only get to see them around dinner time…if I'm lucky."
"Your folks are both shinobi?" Naruto asked as the little boy re-affirmed with a nod. The Jounin got a cold feeling in the pit of his stomach as his mind slowly digested the information the kid had supplied him. His father was a Jounin…his mother a medic. The Sage studied the little one for a moment: he appeared to be about five or six years old…had long black hair pulled back into a ponytail…and had coal black eyes. The only time he had seen eyes like that they always appeared to be brooding. The boy's eyes, however, appeared so innocent and full of life. "You know…I'm a shinobi, too. Maybe I know them and I can get you home. My name is Naruto Namikaze."
"Wow! Really? I've heard of you! You're the froggy guy, right?" the little boy gasped as his eyes shot open wide. Naruto had to fight back a laugh.
"Yeah, you're close," the Sage chuckled a bit before continuing on. He knew that Gamabunta would raise all sorts of hell for being called a frog. "I'm the Toad Sage of Konoha, just like my sensei used to be."
"I've heard my parents talk about you, they say that you're really strong! My name is Jiraiya Uchiha, but everybody just calls me Rai," the young Uchiha exclaimed as Naruto looked on in shocked horror.
"My God…it's Sakura and Sasuke's kid," Naruto thought to himself as his eyes flashed red for the briefest of seconds before another fact struck him like a Kyuubi-powered Rasenshuriken. "They…they didn't even change his name! They still named him after Pervy Sage!"
"Oh, cool! Your eyes turned red!" Rai yelped as he leapt up in the air, startling the blonde Sage. "I can do that, too! Just watch!"
"Huh?" Naruto looked on as Rai began to concentrate real hard, sweat forming on his young brow as he stood before the jinchuuriki with his knees bent. His arms were at his side with his hands clinched into fists in front of himself as a disturbing growl escaped his throat. To the Toad Sage, it looked for all the world like the young Uchiha had a horrible case of constipation.
"Almost there…almost…there…," Rai muttered as he squinted his eyelids closed to keep his eyes from popping out.
"Hey, kiddo, you might want to slow down or something," the blonde Jounin called out, trying to get the younger male's attention. "You look like you're about to drop a load in your drawers!"
"Grrrr…there!" Rai exclaimed as he turned toward the Toad sage with his eyes wide open. Naruto, for his part, was impressed as he watched a pair of red eyes pointed in his direction. The left eye held a single tomoe, while the right eye sported two. Naruto knew of no other Uchiha who had formed their Sharingan so early…not even Itachi.
"Yeah, you're right! That is cool!" the jinchuuriki complimented, drawing a smile and a slight blush from Rai. The young Uchiha opened his mouth to say something, but his eyes suddenly rolled back into his head as his legs gave out on him. Naruto caught the small boy with lightning speed before he could hit the ground. "You okay?"
"Whoa…dizzy…," murmured the child as he hung limply from the sage's arms, which were placed under his armpits. "Th-that happens every time I do that!"
"That's because you're using way too much chakra in activating that technique," Naruto observed as he picked the boy up and carried him over to a nearby bench and sat him down. "Hasn't your father shown you how to properly mould chakra and send it to your eyes?"
"No," Rai snorted before crossing his arms and pouting. "He say that I'm too young to make my Sharon…Sherry…uh…Red-Eyed thingy! The only thing he tries to show me is how to do fire jutsus and stupid stuff like that. If I don't do them right, he gripes at me and sends me to my room to study."
"Well, tell you what," Naruto said as he felt his heart beginning to go out to the little Uchiha. "How about I show you how to do it? After all…who better to teach you how to mould chakra than a Sage? Besides, to tell the truth, I can make my eyes turn other colors besides red and blue, too. So, I think I'm qualified to help you!"
"Really? You'd show me how to do that? " Rai asked excitedly before his stomach released a rather large growl, alerting the entire area that it needed to be attended to. "Heh-heh…sorry about that!"
"When was the last time you ate?" Naruto asked as he began to feel the pangs of his own hunger. In his rush to enjoy the day, he neglected to grab anything before he left the house.
"I dunno, last night sometime? I ran away from Saya before she could take me to the restaurant we normally go to for breakfast," Rai shrugged his shoulders. Naruto just rolled his eyes at the young boy.
"Alright then…before we start to train, we need to get some breakfast first," the Sage remarked as he looked at his watch and saw that it was close to nine o'clock. "Let's go find your nanny first and then we can get something to eat. Any idea where she is?"
"I don't know," Rai shook his head, looking around in vain, "I've been running and hiding from her since we left the house. She keeps telling me not to do stuff and she won't let me have any fun at all!"
"Yeah, grown-ups are pretty bad about that," agreed the blonde before he stood up and held his hand out to help Rai off the bench. "Are you ready to go to Ichiraku's?"
"Sure, I guess," Rai answered as he hoped down and began to walk next to the Sage. "What do they serve?"
"Ramen," Naruto replied, trying to keep from drooling at the thought of the Noodles of Life. It had been a few days since he last had some, seeing how Ino was trying to get him to cut back. Rai looked up at him strangely.
"Never had it before."
"Lord, you are in for a treat…."
"Wow, sensei! You're right! That was so much easier…and it was fun, too!" Rai sighed as he sat down on a nearby bench just outside of Team Seven's training grounds. Naruto walked up to him and handed the young Uchiha an ice cream cone to help cool him off and re-energize him.
"You don't have to call me that, Rai," the demon container said as he sat next to the young boy and began to eat his own dish of ice cream. " 'Naruto' is just fine."
"But…you're a sensei, right? You have a team that calls you that, and you showed me so many cool things today! So, to me…you're 'sensei'!" Rai stated as he looked up at Naruto with big, wide eyes full of joy.
"Okay, Jiraiya, whatever floats your boat," Naruto chuckled as the boy looked at him funny for using his whole first name. He had to admit, having someone around who was eager to learn was so refreshing, especially seeing how the current Team Seven cringed every time he smiled at them. "So, did you have fun today?"
"You bet! Getting to train with your team was so cool!" Rai yipped like a small dog as he bounced around in his seat. " Momo, Lara, and Kurina were fun to train with…even if they did want to hug me all the time! None of them could catch me in Ninja Tag, and I found all of them during Hide and Seek."
"Yeah, you definitely ran them into the ground," Naruto laughed, still wanting to put Tsunade in a chokehold for giving him an all-Kunoichi team. He was already exposed to too much estrogen at home as it was. "They thought you were 'really cute' to quote Kurina."
"Well…they are kinda pretty," Rai murmured as he blushed a bit. Naruto watched as Rai looked over at the members of Team Seven as they walked out of the ice cream shop. Suddenly, the Sage felt a small breeze pick up which then turned and rushed along the ground until it ran up Kurina's legs, blowing her skirt up and showing off her dainty undies for all the world to see. The wind died off just as suddenly as Rai turned his head away, a blush on his face that was very reminiscent of those that Hinata used to get when they were younger.
"Rai…did you have anything to do with that?" Naruto asked as his student screamed and ran down the sidewalk holding her skirt down. He had warned her before that she really needed to wear a pair of shorts underneath …or at the very least some wrappings like his wife used to in her younger days.
"I…I didn't mean to, I swear," the young Uchiha answered sadly with tears beginning to well up in his eyes. "It…just kinda happens sometimes, like when I get too hot a breeze shows up and cools me down. Or…or if I try to get away from Saya, a wind will blow something in her way. Please, don't be mad!"
"Shh, it's okay, Rai. I'm not mad at you," Naruto reassured the sad child, offering up a big smile as he reached into his hip pouch and pulled out a small sheet of paper. "If anything, I should be grateful…I think you just taught my team a valuable lesson."
"But…but it was bad of me to do that," Rai mumbled sadly. "Kurina is pretty and I shouldn't have made her scream like that."
"Look at me, Rai," Naruto said softly as the young Uchiha looked up gloomily. "Did you tell the wind to do that?"
"N-no, it's just she looked like she was hot a-and I wanted to help her cool off since there is no breeze today. I didn't ask it to, it just did! You gotta believe me!" Rai wailed, afraid that his really cool teacher was about to dismiss him like his father always did.
"I believe you, Rai! Calm down!" Naruto reassured as he patted the boy's shoulder. "Just relax, stuff like that happens sometimes. To tell the truth, it kinda gives me an idea about something."
"What's that?" the little boy sniffed as he fought hard to keep the tears from falling from his eyes. The Sage smiled at him as he handed Rai the small sheet of paper he had just pulled from his pouch.
"It's chakra paper," Naruto explained as Rai continued to look puzzled. "It's what shinobi use to discover their elemental chakra affinity. All you gotta do is concentrate a little chakra, just like you do your eyes. Go ahead…give it a whirl!"
"Oh…okay," Rai replied before he closed his eyes and forced his chakra into the paper. A small ripping sound was heard, forcing the Uchiha heir to snap his eyes open. "Aw man, I ripped it! I must have done something wrong…I'm sorry I tore it."
"Don't be sad, Rai, it was supposed to do that," Naruto nodded as his suspicions were confirmed. "You said that your father keeps trying to teach you fire jutsus?"
"Uh huh," the young Uchiha nodded his head furiously before a scowl covered his face. "They're really hard, and I keep burning myself. I'm lucky Momma's a doctor…she's the one who always fixes me up."
"Yeah, Sakura had to heal me up a bunch of times," Naruto sighed as he crumpled up his empty cup and threw it in the trash, using his wind chakra to make it do a little dance before it fell in the waste container. Rai looked on, awed at the skill of his sensei. "Well, I can probably tell you why you have so much trouble learning fire jutsus."
"Wow! Really?" the six year old asked incredulously, his eyes still wide from Naruto's display of prowess.
"Yep! It's because you're a wind type. Trust me, it's very difficult for a wind user to learn fire jutsus. It's like the wind just feeds the fire, so they get out of control really quick," the Sage shook his head at the memory of trying to learn fire skills.
"So…I can't ever learn fire jutsus, just wind?" the sadness that had left the child's face earlier quickly came back. Naruto smiled as he held out his hand to help Rai off of the bench.
"No, not at all," the demon container continued as he and the young child walked down the road toward the Uchiha home. " It just means that wind jutsus come easier for you. You can learn any jutsu you want just as long as you work hard for it!" Take your father for example: despite the fact that he is a lightning type, the first jutsus he learned and mastered were the fire ones that most Uchiha learn. Of course, that was before he discovered his element type, but trust me….the fire jutsus didn't come easy for him."
"Sensei, do you know my folks?" Rai wondered as a breeze picked up, cooling the pair. "I mean…you talk like you know all about them and stuff."
"Yeah…I know them, Rai," Naruto replied softly, trying to keep his emotions in check. Despite the fact that he saw Sasuke and Sakura occasionally at the hospital or the Hokage Tower, he hadn't spoken to either of them for several years. "We all were on the same team together back when we were genin. In fact, I'm the one who helped your dad defeat Madera Uchiha."
"You were on the same team as my parents? That's so freaking cool!" Rai yelled as he began to jump up and down in excitement. "Maybe they'll let you be my sensei since they know you!"
"Maybe, Rai, maybe," Naruto grinned, happy to see the boy's enthusiasm. Once more, he swore to get back at Tsunade for his current team. "After all, there aren't many wind users here in Konoha. The only ones I can think of are Temari Nara and myself…but to tell the truth, Temari is a lot better at it than I am!" The Sage laughed at the stunned look on Rai's face.
"Hmm…maybe I should ask her to train me," the Uchiha child smirked as he tagged Naruto and began to run down the road as fast as his little legs could carry him.
"Hey! That's wasn't cool!" Naruto barked as a similar smirk appeared on his face as he tore down the road after the young boy whom, at one time, he thought was his son…
"You cheated!" a familiar voice echoed down the road, causing Sakura Uchiha's head to snap up as relief banished the worry that had been residing in her heart ever since Saya had come back home to let her know that Rai had gotten away from her once more.
"I did not!" Sakura's eyes snapped open wide as she dropped the medical kit she had been holding. There was no way that she had just heard THAT voice.
"You did too! You did that weird flashy thingy… you know, the same thing you did to catch Kurina today!" Rai's voice accused. His mother cocked her head a bit, utterly confused about her son's conversation.
"You're imagining things, Rai!" There was no mistaking it, that voice belonged to…
"Naruto?" Sakura whispered as a familiar head of blonde hair appeared around the corner, walking side-by-side with her eldest child. As if he could hear her from that distance, Naruto looked up and saw the pink-haired kunoichi standing in her front yard.
"There's my mom! Hey, Mom!" Rai announced as he began to run up to his mother. For the briefest of moments, Naruto considered turning around and head off to his own home, but for Rai's sake he followed the young boy. "Look who I met!"
"Hello, Sakura," the Sage greeted softly, standing behind Jiraiya with his hands in his pockets. The memory of all the pain she had caused him briefly passed through Sakura's mind before she smiled sadly at her former husband.
"Hello, Naruto," she replied before she glanced back down to her son, who was currently hopping around like a madman babbling on about what he had done that day. "So…I see you met little Rai today."
"Yeah, he's a great little guy," the blonde replied as he patted Rai's head and began a mental countdown. " Three…two…one…"
"I'm not little!" Rai bellowed.
"So, Rai…just what did you do today after you scared poor Saya half to death?" the pinkette asked, getting a sheepish look from her son who reached back and scratched the back of his head, reminding the Uchiha lady entirely too much of her former teammate.
"Well…after Sensei kept me from getting run over by a bunch of dummies on the road, I showed him that I could turn my eyes red, then he took me for some ramen before he showed me how to mold chakra better so I can get my Sugar Gum without pooping my pants, then I got to play with some really pretty girls, then Sensei got me some ice cream and showed me how to tear paper with my chakra, then we played Ninja Tag all the way home…but Sensei cheated!" Rai said quickly, seemingly without stopping for a breath as he turned and shot Naruto a withering glare.
"Ramen? Pretty girls?" Sakura asked as her emerald eyes locked onto the bright blue orbs of the Toad Sage. Naruto smiled and rubbed the back of his head in embarrassment before he began to explain his actions.
"Well…he skipped breakfast this morning and was hungry," the blonde expounded quickly, intimately knowing the tone of Sakura's voice promised pain. "As for the girls, blame Tsunade…she's the one who gave me an all-kunoichi team! I think she did it to just get me in trouble with Ino."
"An all-kunoichi team? Since when did Konoha appoint all-girl teams?" Sakura asked as she magically produced a wet towel and began to wash Rai's face. The young boy began to sputter and spit like a cat that had been dunked in a washtub full of water.
"Just the luck of the draw, I guess," the Sage smiled as he watched Rai continue to fuss. "Most of the graduates this year were female, and if they are anything like my team…Lord help us! I can tell you this, however; my team seems quite taken by young Jiraiya here! And if I'm not mistake I believe someone has a small crush on Kurina…I guess he has a thing for pretty redheads."
"Sensei! Not cool!" Rai yelped before getting bopped on the back of his head by his mother for his lack of manners. Her evil glare made the boy realize what he had done wrong. "Heh…sorry sensei."
"Sensei?" a voice called out from the front of the house just as Sasuke Uchiha stepped out onto the front porch and into the yard. Rai's face lit up like a Christmas tree at the sight of his father.
"Daddy! You're home!" the boy yelled happily as he ran over to his father and wrapped his legs up in a hug. "Are you gonna eat dinner with us tonight?"
"Jiraiya, what have I told you before?" the Uchiha asked his son, who reluctantly released his hold on his father and took several steps back. Rai looked down at his feet as his spirits fell.
"Sorry…Father," Rai replied solemnly, which disturbed Naruto quite a bit. How could such a high-spirited child suddenly seem so…restrained.
"You missed you're lessons today," the dark eyes of his father bore down upon the young boy causing him to shrink even more. "You scared your mother and Saya half to death…I hope you enjoyed yourself! But to answer your question…No, I'm taking my team out for a mission. Now, get inside and help Saya with the twins."
"Yes, Father," Rai mumbled as he shuffled into the house, but not before turning back and glancing at Naruto…who gave him a thumbs-up. His mood much better, the young Uchiha bounded into the house.
"Naruto…why did my son call you 'sensei'?" Sasuke asked darkly, glaring at the Namikaze lord. Sakura looked on worriedly as she watched her former teammates.
"What? Not even a 'thank you' for watching your son all day?" Naruto asked cheekily, causing a shadow to pass over Sasuke's face before he closed his eyes.
"Sorry," he sighed before opening his eyes once more. "Thank you." The Sage could clearly see the conflict within his former friend.
"You're welcome," the blonde replied with a smile before turning serious. "As for why Rai called me 'sensei'…well, that's one reason I'm here today."
"What…is there something wrong with Jiraiya, something I missed?" Sakura asked worriedly as she stepped over and wrapped her arm around her husband's waist for support…an action that didn't go unnoticed by the blonde. Sasuke looked a bit worried as well. He knew that Naruto's abilities exceeded Sakura's and his own and he feared for his eldest child.
"Other than the fact he has the chakra reserves of a Chunin, nothing's wrong with him," the Sage replied, causing the Uchiha couple to stare wide-eyed with shock. "However, I think you need to ignore the regular order of his training…"
"What would you know of his training and what gives you the right to…" Sasuke interrupted angrily, his fist clinching tightly until Naruto finished and knocked Sasuke's world completely off-kilter.
"Sasuke…he's learned how to activate his Sharingan," the Sage replied flatly, causing the Uchiha to quickly go pale.
"Wha…how do you know? Th-that's not possible…the last person to develop it so early in childhood was…"
"Itachi, I know" explained the Namikaze lord, who was now afraid he'd have to pick the shocked couple up off of the ground soon. "Only Rai has developed it much earlier that your brother ever did. But it's true…when he ran into me today he showed me that he could 'turn his eyes red'. Only problem was that he didn't know to mold his chakra properly and sent most of it to his head before enough leaked into his eyes to activate the blood limit. He almost passed out when he succeeded…but it was there. One tomoe in one eye and two in the other. After I took him to the side and showed him the proper method of chakra control, he fully awakened two tomoe in each eye."
"Two tomoe in each eye?" Sakura gasped as she remembered that Sasuke didn't awaken his Sharingan to that level until after they were genin while they were on their first c-rank mission.
"Yeah…so I guess you need to work with him on that," Naruto commented as he scratched the back of his head, which told the Uchihas he had something else on his mind. "Which kinda brings me to another point. You probably need to find somebody to help him out with his elemental manipulations and jutsus…"
"What are you talking about, Naruto? Everyone knows that children that young…you actually saw it, didn't you?" Sakura asked as the Sage nodded his head.
"He sent a breeze toward my team when he thought they were too hot," he explained…not going into detail about the event. He didn't want Rai to get into trouble. "I gave him a piece of chakra paper and confirmed his wind element. That might explain why he has so much trouble with fire jutsus."
"Wind isn't a very common element to be aligned with here in Konoha," Sasuke murmured as he stroked his chin in thought. "Most wind users are from Suna, if I remember correctly."
"The only ones that I know of here in Konoha are myself and Temari," Naruto replied as he began to feel really uncomfortable. "So…you'd probably have to write to Suna and see if you can have one come over and work with Rai."
"Naruto, are you alright?" Sakura asked while remaining at her husband's side. The pink-haired medic had noticed the subtle flashes of pain in his eyes whenever her son's name came up, as well as the slight flinching of his muscles signifying that he was fighting himself to keep from running home. It hurt her to know that the man she was formerly married to and had been her friend and teammate for years before that really wanted nothing to do with them. However, after experiencing all of Naruto's pain and memories she could understand his reasons. Sasuke gave her a light squeeze, letting her know that he understood.
"I'm good, really…it's just…," Naruto paused to compose himself and to gather his thoughts. When he had awakened this morning to his wife's smiling face he never expected anything like what had happened this to occur. "It's just…I never thought that you would have gone ahead and given him my old sensei's name. I mean, after all, I wasn't his…"
"I had already had the birth certificate filled out and ready for when I delivered him," Sakura replied softly, her emerald eyes downcast as the pain of her betrayal hit her. "The only thing I had to change was…the father's name."
"We didn't want to hurt you any more than we already had," Sasuke added, feeling that ache in his chest from missing the closest friend he had ever had. The Uchiha fought a long, hard battle with his pride in the years since their betrayal and it was a war that was far from won. On one hand, he wanted to fall to his knees and beg his brother to forgive him like he had done when Naruto brought him home. On the other hand, the husband and father sides of his personality had no regrets for stealing his best friend's wife and having a family with her. It left the mighty Sasuke Uchiha a conflicted man indeed. "We thought it would be appropriate to keep his name in honor of your sensei."
"Uh…oh…cool, I guess," Naruto mumbled. "Well, uh, I guess I need to go and head over to the office before Ino and Tsunade hunt me down and chain me to the chair…again." With that, the Sage turned on his heel and called back over his shoulder. "It was…good…to see you two again, and to meet Rai. Give him my best wishes, will you?"
"Do you still hate us, Naruto?" Sasuke called out before said blonde could take off. The couple noticed his shoulders slump as he turned his head back to look at the couple who had shattered his world years back.
"I never hated you, Sasuke…nor you, Sakura. God, there were times when I wish I did hate you…it could have made things so much easier!" he replied as he turned back around to face them. "Why do you think I stepped aside without much of a fight? Why do you think I gave Sakura and Rai so much money and a house to live in? Why do you think I signed your marriage papers and re-instated you as a Jounin? It's because no matter badly you two hurt me, I still cared for you both. You both are, and always have been, some of my precious people…which is why what you two did to me hurt so very, very much."
"Can…can you ever forgive us?" Sakura asked, tears threatening to overwhelm the eyes that Naruto had loved for so long.
"Sakura," the Sage sighed as he closed his eyes for a moment before re-opening them and noticing the tension building up within their bodies. "I forgave you both a long time ago."
"Thank you…that makes us so happy, Naruto," the medic beamed until the blonde Hokage-to-be held up his hand quickly, silencing their celebration.
"I may have forgiven you, Sakura…but I have not forgotten," he watched the couple's spirits fall once more with his announcement. "I still have problems because of your actions…sometimes. Ino and I are still haunted sometimes about the night that I…she found me. The nightmares can be really…graphic. When she first told me about little 'Nade, I kinda freaked out which scared her pretty badly. Whenever she's gone for a little longer than she said she would be…sometimes an evil little voice, a sniggling little doubt, will speak up and suggest that she's out screwing some other guy…"
"Ino would never do that to you, Naruto," Sakura protested vehemently, but she winced when he answered back.
"I know she wouldn't, Sakura, and I trust her completely. The problem is…I used to think the same thing about you….that you would never step out on me. I can't help it, the damage has been done. I used to be such a self-assured kind of guy…you know, like I could take on anybody and anything by myself? Now…there are times when I have to lean on Ino like a crutch, and that's just not fair to her!" The Sage's head fell forward in shame.
"All married couples lean on each other for support…it's how they make it through the tough times," the lady-of-the-house said as she gave Sasuke a tight hug. Black and emerald locked on to each other for a second before refocusing on the jinchuuriki standing before them.
"I know, it's just…never mind. I'll see you around, I really need to get going," the blonde muttered as he turned to leave only to be stopped once more.
"Naruto, hang on a sec," Sasuke called out before he swallowed a red-hot molten mass that he called his Pride. "I really hate to ask and bother you but…do you think you could take Jiraiya on as a student? Look, it seems to me that the two of you get along really well, and I swear he seems to have learned more from you in one day than he's learned from me in six years. Plus, he already sees you and respects you as a teacher. So, how about it?"
"I really don't want to get between you and you son, Sasuke," Naruto replied, not wanting to cause a stink that could start a Namikaze-Uchiha feud.
"You won't," the Uchiha smirked as he could see Naruto's resistance weakening. "To tell you the truth, I wouldn't trust some stranger from Suna or anywhere else to train him, and I know that you would look out for his well-being. Besides, who better to teach someone with massive chakra reserves and a short attention span than somebody with the same problems?"
"Fine…send him over to my place at about twelve noon tomorrow," Naruto agreed, nodding his head once. "Team Seven should be done with tomorrow's missions by then and he can train right along with the team until I send them home. After that, I'll keep him around for some personalized training. Deal?"
"Deal," Sasuke agreed and then looked puzzled when Naruto smiled and gave someone a thumbs-up. When the Uchiha leader looked around, he saw his oldest son jumping with joy in his bedroom window. "Aw man, what the hell did I just do?"
End of Chapter 22.