A/N: I suppose the 'too much work' excuse is getting old by now, so I'll just say that I hadn't had any inspiration for this story in a while. It liked to come gradually.
For those of you who were wishing for a brief look into Naruto's ANBU days, thank yuis.
This is the final chapter. I thank each and every one of you that have reviewed, favorited, and/or alerted this story during the six months that it took me to write it. (Feel free to review some more!) I love you all .
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or anything associated with it, but if I did I would share him with my reviewers. Seriously. I love you guys that much.
The old oak door opened silently and Naruto stepped into the house, holding up an arm to shield his eyes from a lone ray of sunlight coming in through the bay window at the other end of the hall. Closing the door behind him and unstrapping his kunai pouch to hang on a hook next to the hall mirror, he kicked off his shoes and opened his mouth. A second later, he was pinned up against the wall with a foreign hand over his lips, blocking off all sound. Warm breath ghosted over his ear, sending a delicious shiver down his spine.
"I believe we agreed that there were better uses for that mouth than yelling, fox."
The blonde blinked lasciviously and then darted his tongue out to give Itachi's hand a leisurely lick, making the man pull back. "I was only going to say 'I'm home!'"
The raven chuckled. "No, you were going to shout the house down until I greeted you."
Naruto pouted. "What, you don't like my naturally boisterous nature? Nobody else complains."
Itachi smiled and led his lover into their kitchen. Decorated in pale blues and warm yellows, it was a calming place where he could think – and cook – in peace. "That's because they went deaf a long time ago from listening to you. Anyone would, really."
The jinchuuriki followed him over to the refrigerator and watched as the slender man pulled out a pre-prepared plate of onigiri and set it on the counter, only to be followed by two bowls of homemade ramen that only needed to be heated. "But not you." The blonde leaned in close, wrapping his arms around the other. Itachi only smiled and began humming softly, picking up the bowls and setting them on the stove to reheat. Checking the heat setting and covering the containers, he turned in the embrace and leaned up to give his fox a kiss. Naruto pressed in and deepened the contact, trying to taste as much of Itachi's mouth as he could. The Uchiha had been living with him for the past year and every day they'd get an overwhelming amount of each other, but to Naruto it was never enough.
The stove timer startled them out of their positions and they broke apart, flushed. Itachi went over to turn the heat off and brought the bowls to the table while his companion grabbed the plate of riceballs and two sets of chopsticks over. Pulling his chair out and plopping down at the light wooden table, Naruto watched as his black-haired love sat down smoothly and picked up his chopsticks to take the first bite of ramen. The blonde mimicked him and slurped up a good portion of the noodles happily before pausing and leaning his head on a hand. "How was school? Any of the brats give you trouble on their first day?"
The raven smiled and looked up. "No more so than usual, although Okina Natsumi – the dango-seller's daughter – seems to have an odd affinity for spitballs. It took her a few minutes to realize that I wouldn't condone such things in my class."
Naruto grinned. "A few minutes, now?"
A nod. "She was quite confused as to why her straws kept disappearing mysteriously until she noticed that they were appearing on my desk in little pieces. Scared her enough so that she'll be paying strict attention to my classes from now on, I should think. The techniques I refined last year during my classes are tried and true, in the end. And after ten years of missing-nin and the Akatsuki, children are unbelievably easy to deal with. It's not hard to maintain a strict, no-nonsense demeanor."
Naruto took another bite. "They still like you, though. Don't think that I didn't notice the little gifts outside the door the day school let out last summer!"
The Uchiha smiled nostalgically. "I am simply happy that I've been allowed to teach like this. I feel like Iruka-san; our efforts pay off after all the hard work. It's very gratifying to notice how the students progress over the year; they come in full of summer and fun and hyperactivity and they leave as serious but vigorous children that have matured. They're still quite full of life, though, especially Akito and his pranks. I swear, he'll never be stopped. He's inherited your title as the official academy prankster; I'm thinking of recommending him to ANBU Espionage when he's older. He certainly has the cunning for it, just like you."
The blonde slurped the last of his broth and laughed. "It's good to see that my talents have been passed on!"
Shaking his head with a smile and eyeing an onigiri, Itachi changed the subject. "Speaking of talents, how has your Hokage training been progressing?"
Naruto shook his head and snorted. "Impossibly well, actually. I was under the impression that it would be a hell similar to my ANBU training, but instead of that crazy bitch Anko overseeing Cavern obstacles, deadly traps, assassination training where I was the target and everything else she could think of, it's mostly just paperwork and a few new jutsu here and there to get me up to the one-thousand mark. Nothing that I can't handle. Heck, I could've done it years ago!"
Itachi grimaced. "You went through the Cavern? With Anko? I can see why you have so many bad memories. The Cavern is a hell on earth."
Naruto smirked. "Truer words were never spoken, 'Tachi."
The Cavern of Death was the ANBU version of the chuunin Forest of Death (and the genin Training Ground of Death, but that was only a fond name used by graduates), and it was the cause of many a nightmare within the ranks. Most training drills and tests simply skirted the outer edges of the network of caves, and some newbies weren't even aware of just how vast the actual complex was. There was actually a legend about the place; if you had the fortitude, strength, and ability, you could make your way to the very center of the whole thing. In the middle was rumored to be a potion that would give the drinker immortality. Or eternal youth. Or unlimited chakra; it all depended on who you heard it from. Of course, that was only if you could skirt the various deadly things and maze of trapsthat lay between it and the entrance without dying. Needless to say, nobody had ever managed it before, and nobody would ever want to do it. That had been Itachi's first clue that Orochimaru was insane, actually; he'd heard the immortality version and immediately gone in, only to return a week later with zero progress made.
The raven licked the last of the rice off of his fingers. "A fearful place indeed. Be glad that making it through isn't a requirement in the Hokage test."
"Oh, I am, trust me. Getting to the center once was more than enough."
Itachi stilled. "What?"
Naruto went on, oblivious to his lover's disbelief. "Yeah, it was torturous. Kyuubi had to help me out so many times that I shudder to think about what I owe him and I really almost died at that river of acid on the way out, but hey! I'm alive, aren't I?"
The Uchiha stared at him blankly. Naruto had clearly never heard of the scary legends surrounding the place or the taboo of getting to the middle or he'd be bragging it up all over the place. "Naruto, you're impossible."
The blonde answered with a fond smile. "I love you too, Itachi-koi."
Deciding not to worry himself over all the precedents the idiot had established that he had previously regarded as never-to-be-done and never-to-be-tried because even thinking about them was dangerous, Itachi got up and started taking the dishes over to the sink. "I have long since given up at attempting to understand you, but I suppose that only means that I accept you as you are."
Naruto watched him with a mix of curiosity and pride. "You understand pretty much everybody else though, right? It's a mark of your progress, you know. You've come a long way in just a year. Even Sasuke has forgiven you in some measure, and parents greet you just like any other teacher. You're respected, Itachi. People used to hear your name and think murderer, traitor, massacre, but now they hear 'Uchiha Itachi' and the sensible, practical Academy teacher comes to mind. One of the most loyal nin Konoha has. The one their kids go on and on about. You can be yourself now, and it really shows."
Itachi began to run the water to wash the dishes and grabbed a sponge. "I have noticed the change as well, and I am proud of it. But really, the same can be said about you, Naruto. You were the original prankster, the one everybody shunned, the village pariah, and now you're in line to become the seventh Hokage. The villagers look up to you, children ask for your autograph…Neither of us expected life to be this good, I think. I knew I had condemned myself, and you…"
"I had always wanted the attention, but I never stopped to visualize what things would be like when I finally received it." The blond continued contemplatively. "But now that doesn't matter; I have you."
Itachi snorted. "That is unbelievably…what's the word my students use…oh, right. That's downright cheesy, coming from you. But I admit that I know what you mean, because I feel the same. We've come so far since that meeting on the bridge a year and a half ago." Drying off the last plate, he hung the towel up on the dish rack and turned to Naruto. "And now that we've finished dinner and the dishes, I'm all yours."
An innocent look. "Oh, but I'm nowhere near finished with my dinner."
A smug smirk that had only recently learned its place on the raven's face. "Really, now. Would you like dessert? I think I might be able to scrounge up some of myself, a la mode."
A tongue swiping over slightly parted lips. "That would be…perfect."
Fingers creeping down to inch up a shirt, revealing just the slightest hint of creamy skin. "I know it's slightly against tradition, but how about I serve you your last course in bed? It is your birthday, after all."
Narrowing eyes, glazed with the promise of pleasure. "Have I ever told you how much I love you?"
A sensuous movement, and Itachi was leading Naruto to their bedroom. "So many times. But I've forgotten. Say it again for me, love."
"I love you. Now pull that damn shirt off before I go insane!"
The raven chuckled, and within three minutes every article of clothing the two had been wearing was laying on the floor next to a creaking bed.
I love you.