Thanks for all my loyal readers and fans over the past few months. You have all made my days while I wrote this and I now present you with the final chapter of my version of our favorite knucklehead and his favorite teammate in ANBU. Enjoy.
Naruto belongs to Masashi Kishimoto. I'm sorry to say that this story is complete.
The sun had just started its assent when Sakura awoke to the cooing of a morning dove at of their window. The cream-colored bird cooed continually until it saw movement from the humans below. Normally, she would just roll over and ignore its song, but this dove was sending an early morning message to the ANBU that there was an emergency and that they had to get up and be at the Hokage tower in five minutes. The longstanding tradition for the use of birds as messengers helped the Leaf Village to alert specific ninja without startling the civilian population when there was an emergency and a dove was the preferred bird for the early morning alerts.
Sakura opened her eyes and saw the dove just sitting on the windowsill of their window that they had left partially open all night. Once she sat up on her elbows, the bird grew silent; bobbing its head, giving its most thoughtful look as it waited. Naruto had also apparently heard the dove's call as he rolled over and started mumbling something about 'Baachan' and 'Damn bird'. He rolled right out of bed and walked to the bathroom like a zombie. Sakura hopped up with a little more enthusiasm and stared to put her ANBU uniform on as fast as her sleepy mind would allow her to work. Grabbing their gear from a nearby dresser, she collected her uniform and threw Naruto's on the bed, knowing that in his stupor he might possible try to put on hers.
As she fastened her armor, she could hear a crash followed by muffled cursing. Naruto wasn't the most awake person in the morning and ANBU had only made it easier to wake him up, but he still needed about 10 minutes to get the fog from his brain, which they didn't have. She simply smiled and went back to her own rushed morning ritual. By the time Naruto emerged from the bathroom, he was now alert enough to start getting his uniform on, giving Sakura her chance at the bathroom.
"Hun, I left your stuff on the bed. Can you make some toast for me?" Sakura asked as she passed him on the way to the bathroom. Her stomach was growling more than normal and she knew she needed to get at least a little something in it before they left.
"Mmhmm," he mumbled in response.
He popped some bread in the toaster before throwing on the rest of his armor. Running his hand through his hair, he figured that would be good enough on a morning like this. Once Sakura emerged from the bathroom, she ran to the kitchen to get the toast, holding it in her mouth as she ran toward the front door, almost knocking over her husband in the process. This had been a lot easier when they had separate apartments, rushing around with another person in the same scenario made getting out the door quickly a challenge as they practically stumbled over each other again in the doorway while they got their boots and masks on. They had had only enough time to shove the meager breakfast under their masks as they flew over the rooftops.
Upon reaching the Hokage's office, they met up with their old team and were briefed on the situation. They had rejoined their original two ANBU team members since both of them had not been a part of Danzo's Root. For an ANBU it was a simple mission to bring back a kid from the academy that had been rather upset at not passing the last exam and since he didn't have any parents, he felt that he no longer wanted to stay in the village. The young boy had raided the weapons storage room earlier that morning which had set off the alarm, but the ANBU on duty had been unable to catch him. Tsunade knew that with Naruto's past, he and his team would be perfect for this retrieval mission. Once the Hokage had given them a brief rundown of what had happened earlier that morning, they vanished from sight in clouds of smoke as soon as their meeting was over.
Naruto was flying through the trees following the rest of his team. It was the redheaded member of their team that first spotted the kid; silently motioning to the rest of the team where he was. Their taicho gave the formation order in hand signals and the three of the four dispersed leaving Naruto to come up behind the kid. Somehow, this 12-year-old boy had managed to get a hold of a rather impressive looking set of swords, but obviously didn't know how to use them as he awkwardly swung one around when he heard a branch snap, alerting him to the presence of the tall blonde ANBU coming from behind. The sword was too heavy for him to handle and he stumbled forward as he swung it awkwardly. More than likely, he was hoping to use the swords as a method of gaining favor with whatever ninja he was hoping to join after leaving the village.
"Don't come near me!" the young boy yelled out of frustration. He was breathing hard and on the verge of tears. Naruto found it hard not to feel sorry for the boy.
"Just come back with us and we'll get this all straightened out. No one wants to hurt you," Naruto said trying to calm the young man down. He could sense his other three teammates nearby so he knew the boy now had nowhere else to go.
"No way! No one cares about me back there! I'm going somewhere someone will appreciate me!"
Naruto winced at the all too familiar words but slowly started to approach the boy. "I know it may be hard to believe, but I bet there is someone back at the village that will be sad to learn that you're gone."
"Nobody will even notice," the boy said as the arm holding the heavy blade began to relax.
Naruto knew that he was starting to get to the boy and kept his approach slow. "Well, someone must have noticed or else we wouldn't have been sent after you. What about classmates, maybe even a teacher or someone else from the academy?"
"Well, there is this one girl I really like," he began, but closed his eyes tight and yelled in frustration, "but I don't think she even knows I exist!"
'Damn, so close,' he thought. Speaking of which, he could see Sakura come up right behind the boy ready to grab him at any moment. "Now, come on, I bet if we just went home and grabbed some ramen at Ichiraku's we could come up with more than just one person," Naruto said as he stepped up within reach of the weapon. "If you leave like this, no matter who you join up with will only think of you as a nameless tool to be used for their own purposes. Don't you want to go back to where you can learn to do your best and work with people who care about you?"
"Well, I…" the boy began as Naruto quietly relieved the boy of the weapons. He didn't say it, but the boy had conceded and nodded his response. Naruto took the boy reassuringly by the shoulder and the five of them made their way back to the village.
The boy was surprised when the pink haired ANBU walked up next to him and placed a hand on his other shoulder. He hadn't even noticed the other three ANBU's presence and he was just glad he didn't have to find out what would have happened had he not decided to go back with the blonde. The mask hid her proud smile as she looked from the boy to her mask-clad husband. She knew he would make a good Hokage someday and times like this just went to show how much he really cared for the villagers.
Back at the village, Naruto bought the boy some ramen, as their taicho and other teammate went back to report their success to the Hokage. He didn't eat this time around because he was still in uniform, but he and Sakura sat with him as Naruto let the boy share his short life's story. It was a story very typical of orphans who lived in the village as his parents had been killed on separate missions. Iruka showed up a short time later, thanks to a message from Ayame, and the four of them showed the little boy the kind of people he had almost been willing to leave behind just a few short hours ago all for the sake of power.
Naruto couldn't help but feel a connection with this kid. War created many orphans and they all had to deal with feelings of inferiority and loneliness. No matter how many friends they had, there was always an empty home or room waiting for them when all their friends returned to their families for the evening. Wishing he could do something more for kids like these, he looked at Iruka who was listening intently to the boys story in between loud slurps as he ate his ramen with fervor. Iruka had played a huge role in his life early on, maybe there was something he could do for these kids in return.
He was patiently listening to the kid and thinking over the new idea that had popped into his head when Sakura had to excuse herself part way through the conversation as the smell of the ramen was making her queasy. Ayame watched with interest as the pink haired ANBU disappeared. Naruto also noticed, but she had signed that she'd be right back and he returned his attention to the boy.
When his early morning meal was finished, Iruka offered to walk the boy home. Naruto went to find Sakura and saw her coming up the street just as he turned toward the Hokage's office. She walked as if she was feeling better and he caught up to her as they continued on to report to the Hokage.
"What was that all about?" he asked his wife.
"I'm not sure, but I just felt a little sick back there. Don't worry about it, I'm sure it's nothing," she said giving him a reassuring smile behind her mask. "So, do you think he'll be OK?"
"Yeah, I don't think he realized what he was leaving behind. He really isn't a bad kid, just a little upset about not passing the last exam. Funny thing is that it wasn't even the final. They still have another week of school before then. I promised him I'd give him a little help after school this week on his jutsu."
"Won't it look a little strange for a masked ANBU to be working with an Academy student after school?" his wife asked since he obviously hadn't thought about the little detail of his identity and that he was wearing his mask when he made his promise. At the very least, they would be off duty by the time the Academy students would get out of school.
"Uh…, I'll figure something out," he sheepishly replied, scratching the back of his head as he realized his mistake. Sakura just shook her head at his lack of foresight.
By that time, they had reached Tsunade's office where she called them in as soon as Naruto knocked on the door.
"I hear you had a good morning," Tsunade said as the two ANBU made their way toward her desk.
"Hai Tsunade-sama," the pink haired ANBU answered.
"Ironically the kid just grabbed a set of random swords hoping that they would be valuable. I don't think he would have had much success in trading those off in an effort to become a rouge ninja," Tsunade informed them. Naruto shook his head at the irony. At least it wasn't the sealing scroll. "Have you two thought any more about whether or not you'd like to remain in ANBU?"
"I thought I had an answer, but after this morning I think I've changed my mind," Naruto began.
"Oh?" Tsunade said as both she and Sakura looked at him.
"I think I'd like to go back to regular mission duty if that's alright with you. I'd also like to apply for a Genin team," he said.
"I had a feeling this mission might make you change your mind. There are no open Jounin-instructor positions at the moment, but I will see what we can come up with. There may be something for you at the Academy," the Hokage said. She had known the blonde long enough to know that his big heart would want to help right the wrongs he saw, even if it was one Academy student at a time.
Sakura suddenly felt sick again and quickly left the room, much to Naruto and Tsunade's surprise. She returned a short while later waiving off any questions from her husband.
"Sakura, how are you feeling?" her concerned mentor asked.
"It must be something I ate Tsunade-sama," she replied.
"What did you eat, might I ask?" Tsunade said.
"Just some toast Shisou," the pinkette replied.
Tsunade studied the young woman before her for a few moments before speaking. "Sakura, I hope you don't hate me for what I'm about to do, but I'm relieving you of your ANBU duties until further notice," said the Hokage in a very serious tone.
Tsunade stood up and removed the young woman's mask so that she could look her eye to eye. "When did you start feeling queasy?" she asked.
"Only the past couple of mornings, but I'm sure it's just something I ate," the young woman replied. She looked scared as if she knew where this conversation was going, but didn't want to accept it.
"Do you feel like you can smell everything around you and that certain smells might drive you nuts, or make you throw up?"
"Have you noticed anything else different about your body lately, as in weight gain, or thicker and stronger hair and fingernails?"
"Hai...," Sakura replied tentatively.
"Sakura, what about your last cycle?"
"As your Hokage and a physician I think I have a right to ask that question," the older woman replied with a small smile on her lips. "Think about it, Sakura."
"What are you two talking about, Sakura," Naruto now asked. He had removed his own mask during this exchange and was looking into Sakura's jade green eyes hoping to figure out what was going on.
"You don't think…" Sakura began, the color slowly leaving her face. The Hokage only nodded her response as her smile started to get bigger. "But I can't be pregnant! There is just no way!"
The Hokage was trying not to laugh at the shocked look on Naruto's face and Sakura's indignant expression. "Sakura, are you absolutely sure?"
"Sakura?" Naruto said looking at his wife of not even two months.
"Well. OK. Maybe. But, I can still do missions, Tsunade-sama," she argued, color finally returning to her face as her emotions changed from shock to anger.
"Sakura, I'm sure Naruto would agree with me, that ANBU is far too dangerous for an expectant mother. You are welcome to come back to the hospital until you feel unable to perform your duties," the Hokage replied as she gently patted Sakura's arm in an attempt to console her apprentice.
Sakura's facial expressions ranged from shock, as she tried to mouth a reply that would not come, to a pout as she looked into the face of her mentor; Tsunade was obviously not budging from her decision. Naruto looked like he'd been slapped across the face before finally came back to reality with a shake of his head.
"Hai, Tsunade-sama," Sakura finally relented and hung her head, but not for long as Naruto swept her up in a great big hug bringing her back to the entire reality of the situation; not just the loss of being forced to leave ANBU.
"I can't believe it. We're going to be parents," he whispered into her ear. "I love you, Sakura."
"I love you too, Naruto," she replied in a whisper, still in shock, weakly returning his hug.
"Now get out of here you two. I would expect you'd want to get your lockers cleaned out before the day is over. I'll let your commander know your decision, but I'm sure he'll want to talk to you more later. Dismissed," She said as the two former ANBU saluted and exited the room, both still in a daze. Once they were gone she finally allowed herself to laugh at the soon to be parents. 'I don't know what I'm going to do if any more of my ninja end up pregnant this year. I guess it's time to go through the roster, just in case.'
"Do you have a reason for being here?" the ANBU asked the young blonde as he came to the door he was guarding at the halfway house. He really didn't like pulling this duty, but he knew that this man he was guarding was potentially very dangerous and he didn't want to let his guard down even though he knew the man before him.
"I just want to drop something off for the teme," he replied.
"May I ask what it is?" the ANBU said, looking suspiciously at the contents of the basket.
"Just some fresh fruit and a note," the man replied with a knowing grin.
"I'm sorry, but I need to inspect this."
Taking the basket, the ANBU guard made sure that everything was in order before he glanced at the note.
"Really?" the man asked the blonde, letting a little emotion show in his voice.
"Yep!" Naruto replied.
"Congratulations," the guard replied, a little better in control of his emotions.
"Thanks. Let me know when the rest of the guys are off work and we'll go out to celebrate."
The guard only nodded and let the man approach the door. The halfway house didn't look like it was in any better shape than the old apartment Naruto once had, but it was out of the elements and Naruto knew that the man he was visiting was grateful for that small fact. Knocking on the door, Naruto could hear someone grumbling ominously on the other side, sending as much killer intent as the chakra seal he was wearing would allow. Years of training told him that maybe it would be better to leave the basket and come back later. It was the cowards way out, but he wanted to heal their friendship, not end up in another physical altercation with him. Placing the basket in front of the door, he knocked again and vanished out of sight, the reaction-less ANBU watching nearby.
The raven-haired man on the other side was just getting ready for what could laughingly be called his job and he was in a rather dreadful mood. He was part of a work crew made up of both ninja and civilian convicts. They had been informed at the end of the day yesterday that they would be rebuilding the training grounds that Choji and Kiba had destroyed during a recent sparing match. Sasuke came to the door, looking like he was ready to kill whoever had disturbed his morning, but found no one but his escort there. Looking down, he saw the basket and picked it up. Bringing it inside, he closed the door and noticed the brief note in the basket, which read: "Teme, Figured you'd be tired of eating that stuff they call rations by now. Wanted to let you know that Sakura's expecting our first child and you're going to be an uncle." It was signed simply with a small whirlpool mark at the bottom.
"Hn. Dobe," Sasuke said with a smirk, before taking a bite out of the best tasting apple he'd had in a long time.
"Tsunade did what?" Ino asked her pink haired friend as they sat in the dango shop.
Sakura had felt the need to talk to someone and Naruto was just too excited at the moment to really listen. She needed girl time and Ino was the first one she found. Fortunately, for her, Naruto had promised to help the academy student from this morning after school, leaving her to her own devises for a while.
"Tsunade relieved me of my duties," Sakura said before taking a sip of ginger tea. Not only was her stomach still a little sensitive, but the excitement of the morning was making it worse.
"She thinks I'm pregnant."
"Are you?" the wide eyed mind walker asked.
"I didn't want to believe it until I took a test, but…" Sakura trailed off. She wasn't sure yet if she wanted to be excited or cry.
Ino was practically leaning over the table in anticipation of Sakura's answer. "Well?"
"Yes, OK?! And I'm scared to death, is that what you want to hear?!" she shouted at her best friend. Sakura didn't know why she was sounding so angry.
"But I thought you and Naruto wanted kids?" Ino asked ignoring her friend's outburst.
"We do, I just didn't think it would be this soon. I'm still getting use to having him around all the time. Don't get me wrong, I love being married. There are just some times that I still wish I could go do random things; like hang out at the library or go hang out with you guys without him wondering where I've been. Or go shopping without getting into an argument later about finances or do my morning stretches without someone watching me or even eat half a pint of ice cream right from the carton and not have him whining about his share," Sakura rambled.
"I'd actually like to see you eat half a pint of ice cream myself," Ino laughed, as she waved a half empty dango stick in her friends direction.
"Shut up, Ino-buta!"
"Just kidding, Forehead. You are defiantly pregnant because your emotions are out of whack," Ino said holding up her hands in self-defense even though she was trying her hardest not to break down laughing. "But in all seriousness, I'm happy for you. Just think, you'll have a baby before you know it. Something in the flesh to represent the love you two share," Ino sighed with a dreamy look on her face. Sakura could tell she was thinking about her own fiancé at this point.
"I guess I never thought of it that way. I'm going to be a mom," she said as reality finally hit and a single tear rolled down her cheek.
"This calls for a celebration. Just wait until everyone hears about this," Ino said as the Queen of Gossip side of her took over.
'Oh no, here we go again,' Sakura thought to herself, rolling her eyes as she let her friend work herself into a frenzy about the people she needed to talk to before the day was over. Sakura wasn't paying much attention now as she was thinking about the baby; a new little person that she was fully responsible for, she and Naruto. Ino was still talking as Sakura placed her hand on her still flat stomach. She tried to envision the little being that was inside of her. Would it have blue eyes or green eyes? Boy or a girl? Blonde or pink hair? Most definitely with Naruto's smile and heart. Hopefully without its father's love of orange. They could teach so much to the baby: the animals in the forests around Konoha, she could teach it some medical jutsu, Naruto would probably take it to Ichiraku's when it was old enough…
"Are you listening to me, Forehead?" Ino asked with her hands on her hips.
"I'm sorry, did I miss something?"
"I said, 'here comes Daddy'," Ino said with a smirk as Naruto walked up behind her.
Sakura stood up as he walked toward her and she practically dove into his arms. He reached around her frame and gave her a great big comforting hug, just the type of hug she had been longing for.
"I love you, Naruto," she said as she let her tears fall freely now.
"I love you too, Sakura no hana."
Well, not the very end. Feel free to read the rest in "My Father's Shoes"