"Can I stamp more, Daddy?"
He stared down into blue-green eyes and smiled.
"Sorry Moriko-chan, but I think you stamped them all."
The little blonde girl's eyes widened. "I did?"
Moriko was born adorable. She wore her blonde hair in two pigtails or a ponytail tied with pretty ribbons. The girl loved dresses and dolls and playing tea party and house—which seemed quite normal to him, but left Kushina rather out of her depth. Today it was two pigtails and her favorite blue sundress.
"Yes," he nodded gravely and carefully removed the stamp that produced the Hokage's seal from her tiny hand, "you did."
She pouted a bit. "But I wanna stamp more!"
"Maybe tomorrow," he chuckled.
"But Daddy!" she whined. "I want—"
"Is it a tantrum?"
Minato glanced up at his office doors to find Naruto peeking in warily. "No, not yet."
Moriko was usually a very sweet little girl, but when she got into a tantrum she morphed into a shrieking monster. She'd stomp and howl and make a scene and, being only three years old, she didn't care who saw or what they thought—all the mattered was that she got her way. It was an embarrassing, humbling experience for him when his daughter decided to have a meltdown in public. Kushina would just get irritated and start muttering about karma under her breath.
"Naruto-nii-chan!" Moriko squealed, immediately forgetting that she'd been drifting into a bad mood. "You back!"
"Yes," he declared boldly and strode into the office. "I'm back! Did you miss me, Mori-chan?'
"Yeah!" She slipped off her father's lap and ran around the desk to hug her brother's legs.
Naruto bent down to scoop the little girl up into his arms. "Well, I'm back now, so you don't have to miss me anymore!"
Minato smiled at the sight. Naruto hadn't been terribly enthused about getting a baby sister, let alone another new sibling. But the cute little girl had grown on him, and when she wasn't being a little monster he was the protective older brother.
The little girl giggled in her brother's arms before catching sight of someone that she liked ever better over his shoulder. "Sasuke!"
"Hello, Moriko," the Uchiha muttered as he slunk into the office with Haruno Sakura not far behind.
Moriko practically lunged from Naruto's arms and into Sasuke's, her blue-green eyes shining with absolute adoration. Sasuke suffered her attention with a pained expression. Sakura quietly cooed over the awkwardly cute scene of Uchiha Sasuke holding a toddler. And Naruto just looked annoyed.
"Cradle robber," the eighteen-year-old blonde muttered. "Don't you have enough fangirls?"
"If I tell her off, she'll cry," Sasuke shot back quietly.
"Huh, you never cared about making me cry, Sasuke-kun," Sakura pointed out with a sharp look.
"Welcome back you three," Minato chuckled. "I take it that your mission was a success?"
"Hai, Hokage-sama," Sakura and Sasuke nodded, while Naruto just flashed a broad smile with a thumbs up.
"Excellent," the Hokage nodded.
Team 7—now Team Kakashi, although Kakashi only led their missions about half the time anymore—had had some rough patches, but had matured into a fine shinobi team. Sasuke had the most trouble, but was now a jounin and Minato was considering the idea of allowing him the chance to try ANBU training. Sakura was a solid chuunin and an exceptional medic—first studying under Shizune before Tsunade herself took an interest in the girl. And Naruto was also a chuunin, maybe a month or two away from making jounin himself.
"I expect your written reports by tomorrow," he smiled and handed them their pay slips. "Dismissed."
Sasuke and Sakura left immediately, but Naruto lingered; partly to distract his sister so that the Uchiha could make his escape.
"So, nothing out of the ordinary happened?" Minato asked his eldest son curiously.
"Nope," the whiskered blonde shrugged and lazily twirled a kunai on his finger, much to Moriko's fascination. "We took care of the bandits and the missing-nin leading them with minimal injury on our side. Sasuke was a bit of a jerk, but what else is new?" As he spoke, his eyes drifted over to the clock that hung on the office wall.
"…Do you have somewhere you need to be?" Minato inquired curiously.
"No," was the immediate response. "…Well, maybe. It depends…"
"Depends on what?"
Naruto glanced nervously around the office. "Um…"
"I bet he's going to see his girlfriend."
"Hey!" Naruto immediately whirled on the blue-eyed, red-headed boy who had appeared in the doorway with a couple of manga magazines in his arms. "She's just my friend, Arashi!"
Minato was instantly curious. Girlfriend?
Arashi, the little surprise that had gotten his behind kicked, was five years old now, and a quiet, intelligent little boy who was looking forward to entering the Academy next year. While his older brother was loud and gregarious, and his younger sister was bubbly and out-going, Arashi was rather introverted. His red-haired son preferred to read or stay on the sidelines and watch other people. At times, he'd been so quiet as an infant that Kushina would obsessively check on him, just to make sure that he hadn't mysterious expired.
"Whatever," Arashi shrugged. "She's going to give you cooties."
"Girls don't have cooties," Naruto scoffed. "Otherwise you would've caught them from Mom or Moriko a long time ago."
"They're family, that's different!" Arashi insisted.
"No it isn't!" Naruto shot back.
The Hokage tried not to laugh as he watched his two sons bicker. Naruto had taken the arrival of his first sibling fairly well and had been rather intrigued (once the shock wore off) with the idea of having a little brother. The reality of a baby had been a hard hit to his senses, and Kushina had cheerfully noted that they would never have to worry about Naruto getting a girl in trouble. But, in spite of the wide gap in their ages, both boys got along great with each other…most of the time.
"Why do you hang out with her?" Arashi frowned. "She has creepy eyes."
"Hinata-chan's eyes aren't creepy!" Naruto hissed.
"Daddy, I'm hungry!" Moriko complained, tugging on his sleeve.
"Enough, boys," Minato sighed, cutting things off before it could spiral into name-calling. "Arashi, please take your sister and find some snacks."
"Okay," Arashi sighed and tucked his magazines under one arm so that he could take Moriko's hand. "Let's go find some potato chips Mori-chan."
"I want a cookie!" Moriko declared as she let her other brother lead her out into the hall.
When the two young children were gone from the room, Minato eyed his eldest with hidden amusement. "So you want to go visit Hyuuga Hinata?"
"I like training with her," Naruto replied defensively. "Going against Juuken and the Byakugan is a wicked challenge."
"Very true," the Yondaime nodded. "Just don't do anything with her that will have Hiashi on the doorstep demanding your head, alright?"
"Sure," Naruto muttered and slunk out of the office with a hint of pink on his face.
Minato smiled and settled back into his chair with a satisfied sigh. So far, today had been a good day. He'd had some fun with his daughter, his older son had returned safely and successfully, and he hadn't had to suffer through any meetings with irritating people.
I love my life…
He had pretty much everything that he'd ever wanted. He was married to the woman that he loved. He had three wonderful children. And he was the Yondaime Hokage of Konohagakure no Sato.
Life was never perfect. While the furor over his family had died down after his second son had been born, there would always be a segment of the village who disapproved. Uchiha Madara was still out there and still lusting after vengeance and the power of the Bijuu, putting Naruto and the village in danger. And there was always the thing to no one ever saw coming—a natural disaster, a sudden death or assassination, an attack from another ninja village, or something else undreamed of…
What if… he wondered, falling into an old mental rut. What if I hadn't stopped to speak with Orochimaru that day? What if I hadn't been sealed? What if I had been open with my friends about my relationship with Kushina? What if the Kyuubi hadn't come? What if…
Minato blinked to find his wife looking at him worriedly.
"Oh, nothing," he shrugged, dropping his gaze to his desk. "I was just thinking too much, again."
"Ah." Kushina set down the cup of coffee that she'd brought him and settled into his lap. "Don't do that!" she scolded and lightly bopped him on the head.
"Yes, dear," he chuckled and hugged her close.
"Would you trade everything that you have now, for one of your damn 'what if's?' where things might actually turn out to be worse?" she demanded.
"…No." He kissed the top of her head and clasped her hand so that their rings clinked together. "I wouldn't trade this for the world."
1) Have I "burned out", quit, etc?
No. I'm sorry if this end seems rather abrupt, but it's what I've had in mind since the beginning. And the reason I've managed so many updates is because I completed writing this story weeks ago.
2) Will there be more/a sequel/a prequel?
No, I currently have no plans for more. But who knows what the future holds...
Well, this is the end. I hope you all enjoyed the story; I certainly had a lot of fun writing it. And if you didn't, well...why on earth would you read it all the way to the end?!