The Boy in the Team

Chapter Eighty-Three

The clock ticked the seconds by. The fact Naruko was grinning and squirming in his lap did nothing to abate the nervousness. She was playing it out like a cat, although Shinku would have rather been the one not taking this seriously of the two.

Jiraiya was looking at him with a serious expression —one that bordered on the 'I will break your neck, your spine and everything you hold of breakable if you make one wrong move'. Kushina, on the other hand, was grinning.

"So, 'ttebane," she said. "What makes you think I'll give my daughter's hand to you, uh?"

She brought her left arm forward, imitating a yakuza boss in both mannerism and accent as she gave him a nasty glare. All that she was missing was a sake cup, but that soon found its way onto the table, courtesy of Jiraiya.

"Yeah boy," Jiraiya replied —imitating the tone too and delivering his own death glare— "You don't mess with the family, do you understand? We need to make sure you're going to treat our little girl all good and proper."

"Yeah 'ttebane," Kushina added to that, "And if we don't like what we see, we have means to make you disappear."

Somehow, the fact Naruko's mother had chosen to bring a katana to the table actually made Shinku swallow nervously.

"Oi," Naruko grumbled, holding her thighs with her hands, her legs crossed as she sat on Shinku's lap. "You two are done playing the charade?"

"My baby girl is all grown up," Kushina had tears in her eyes the next moment, holding a tissue to her face. "She's getting married so soon."

Shinku's eyes widened, the abrupt change shocking him…until he remembered just whose mother the woman in front of him was.

"Isn't that a bit too soon anyway?" Jiraiya pointed out. "I mean, shouldn't you wait a few more years? What's the hurry? Not even your parents married this young, Naruko."

"The war is over," Shinku replied softly. "I love her, and that's…pretty much it?"

Naruko turned red.

"It's…sheesh, it's actually embarrassing when you say it in front of my mom."

Kushina just grinned.

"Well, as long as there's love there's a way."

"Now just wait a moment," Jiraiya brought up his right hand. "I hate to be the one to break dreams, but you do fully know the consequences, right? Naruko is the Kyuubi's Jinchuuriki, and she's practically guaranteed of becoming the next Hokage. What do you expect is going to happen when people find out she's married?"

Shinku frowned. "We settled on a peace agreement with the other countries," he pointed out. "It's not like they'll break it within the next hour or so."

"No, of course not, but it's on shaky grounds already. Ah…kid," Jiraiya sighed. "I really hate to pass off as the bad guy, but you need to know this. You probably won't be able to have a normal life again. I mean, Naruko's bounty is already reaching the ten zeroes, and with your simple association to her yours will rise pretty much the same way. It's…it will be a mess, kid."

"I know that," Shinku nodded sagely, before Naruko could butt a word in. "Which is why I took my time and thought hard about it. I can do this; I have reached the S-rank after all."

"There's also the problem with the seal," Jiraiya grimaced. "Listen, I'm sure you'd like to have a kid one day, or maybe even a horde, but the Kyuubi might just try to run away during that moment of weakness. It's how it ended up transferred from Kushina to Naruko in the first place."

Naruko squirmed, visibly uncomfortable.

"I know that too," Shinku replied. "It still doesn't change my mind."

"Even if in your selfishness you might bring pain to the rest of the village?" Jiraiya asked.

"We'll go somewhere far away until the baby is due and born," Shinku replied. "And if something happens, I will take responsibility for it and seal the fox myself."

"And how are you going to do that, kid?" Jiraiya asked, crossing his arms in front of his chest.

"The Death God seal," he replied. "I can learn it."

"You'd be willing to learn a suicide technique just in case something goes wrong?" Jiraiya asked.

"If I can live the rest of my life with the person I love? Yes, I will."

Jiraiya shook his head. "And what about the Akatsuki?"

Shinku's gaze hardened. "If they'll attack, they'll find me waiting for them."

He gingerly pulled Naruko off his lap and dropped her to his side, before bowing with firm resolve.

"Please, let me marry your goddaughter."

"I really don't want to look like the bad guy here," Jiraiya sighed, dismissing the issue with a wave of the hand. "If you've got the guts to see it through, then you're fine by my books. Just remember —I'm watching you."

"Honorable perverted master," Naruko said next with an icy tone, "If you try to peek during the wedding night or the honeymoon, I will kill you." She smiled then, brightly. "I'm the one who's going to write an autobiographical Icha-Icha entitled—"

"Not a chance in hell," Shinku said, smiling softly.

Naruko froze and hurriedly nodded.

Kushina snickered.

"So," Jiraiya clapped his hands. "When is the marriage going to be? Do you already have any idea on the best man? Will it be traditional, or something new?"

"I…actually had no idea," Shinku said. "We'll have to think about it. The best man's already decided anyway…"

"Sasuke." Naruko said, "And then we'll have a Ramen-flavored orange cake," Naruko nodded, barring no compromise.

"Two buffets," Shinku shot right back. "You can fill one with ramen and the other can be for the normal folks who want normal food and a normal cake."

"Can my marriage dress be orange?" Naruko asked, only for Shinku to shrug. "It's your dress. I think it's your call on that. I'm sure it will look good on you anyway."

She grinned broadly.

Kushina and Jiraiya quietly made their way outside as the two began to hash out the details. "They're so adorable," Kushina whispered as they closed the door behind them. "I'd better tell Mikoto."

"I wouldn't say adorable," Jiraiya grumbled. "I'd say one's mad and the other is delusional."

"And then we'll have fireworks explode in the form of ramen!" reached through the door with the loud voice of Naruko, making Jiraiya sigh.

"And I think we both know who the mad one in this is...poor boy. What does Naruko think a marriage is… a party?" he rolled his eyes.

Kushina chuckled. "Let her have fun planning it. I certainly couldn't plan mine —it had to be a quiet affair."

"Naruko's should be too," Jiraiya replied. "If I didn't know it would be a lost cause, I'd have suggested it already."

Kushina shook her head softly, a small smile on her lips. "My baby girl is getting married. I'm sure Minato would be happy…"

"He'd probably be sparring with Shinku right now, trying to castrate him," Jiraiya turned thoughtful. "Maybe I could—"

"I would like grandchildren one day," Kushina replied, giving Jiraiya a sharp glare. "Still...what of Akatsuki?"

"I'll find them," Jiraiya acquiesced. "They can't have simply disappeared. Someone is bound to have seen something somewhere. If they do lay low even with the bait of Naruko's marriage, or even after that…I don't know. They did manage to elude us anyway, so…they might have a technique or something. I'll look into it. I promise you this," he looked at her with fire in his eyes, "I'm not going to let a threat to my goddaughter's happiness live a moment more than necessary."

Kushina didn't reply to those words.

A few days later, and people began to avoid Sasuke Uchiha.

It mostly was because of his sadistic and evil-looking grin that seemed plastered on his face, the dark aura that surrounded him and the deep and threatening chuckles that escaped his throat.

The creepy laugh that he every now and then erupted into also had a part into that.

"Yes," he often hissed as he visited a patient at the hospital, "Yes, yes, yes! Revenge! Sweet revenge! And you need to eat more vegetables, Junko-san." He would later add the usual words of counsel for his patients, which made the effect all the creepier.

Shizune took over the hospital duties for a while. Although Sasuke still lurked the streets, preparing some sort of diabolical evil-mastermind plan.

The news of Naruko marrying spread like wildfire throughout the village. The announcement had been in public, and by the time a date was set people already flocked to buy the merchandise for the 'marriage' between the Konoha Jinchuuriki, daughter of the Yondaime Hokage —and hero of the village— and the lucky man.

"He's an Ex-Anbu," a villager pointed out to another in a nearby café, the newspaper in hand. "Fought in the war and all…bloody Ninja Journalists, they even got his mask and military history down."

"Paddy Fields? He's that Bird?" another shinobi exclaimed, reading the newspaper in a bar. "Oi! It's the Bird! The Demon of Paddy Fields!"

"Did you know he trained under Hatake Kakashi? No wonder the boy's such a young S-rank," a colleague remarked a few days later. "Seems his bounty is rising up; they're already placing it at six zeroes."

"He was the dead last of the academy? Really!?" a shinobi exclaimed, jumping through the roofs with his teammate to his side. "Well, Jiraiya-sama was the dead last too."

"The marriage's going to be the talk of the entire village for months," a woman said to another.

In the middle of it all, Shinku found himself doing the only honorable thing a shinobi could do when hounded by an entire village.

He hid.

Tsunade was furious.

"Who's giving off the confidential information on shinobi around here!?" she bellowed once to the staff of the shinobi archives. "This is treason! I don't care if it's hot news or whatever! You don't give off identities of Anbu! Do you have any idea what it means!?"

Shizune had to pull her out of there before she killed a few of the staff members.

Overall, the village was clearly livelier for a while, and it went on growing as the 'date' grew closer.

On a clear day of summer, with the village security upped to the max and shinobi monitoring who entered and left, the marriage would take place.

Until then, the everyday life —although limited to the borders of Konoha due to the Akatsuki threat— went on. There were random bouts of maniacal laughter from Sasuke, moment of quiet contemplation from Hinata who seemed to be softly coming to terms with the fact that she had married a madman —kindhearted, but still a madman— and teary eyed hugs from the mother of the bride that caught Naruko every now and then.

Shinku found himself one morning sipping tea at his mother's house, and while he was the poster picture of calmness, Naruko was the model of nervousness.

The tables had turned.

"Aren't you awfully young to get married so soon?" Mebuki said softly, a hand on her cheek. "I mean…you're both so young. Maybe you could wait a few years… unless there's a… is there a… you know… on the way?" she asked, her eyes slightly wide.

The fact Naruko turned crimson actually made drinking tea all the sweetest for Shinku.

"N-No!" Naruko spluttered out, "He doesn't even want to do it yet," she groaned loudly, bringing her hands up to cover her face. "Why am I saying this?" she added meekly. "Oi, mister!" she turned to give a sideway glance to Shinku. "Help me out here."

Shinku sipped tea. "Why? You're doing a great job," he smiled at her. "Feel the embarrassment. I'm sure you'll learn not to make others embarrassed in turn."

"Is this still about the book?" Naruko said. "I didn't mean anything with it!"

"No? Then please tell me why you had to name the protagonist of 'Fifty Shades of Pork Ramen' with the name of 'Crimson' and his trusty…tool 'Demon'."

He kept up his strained smile. Naruko began to sweat, before nervously chuckling and scratching the back of her head, looking sideways. "I don't know what you're implying! I really don't know, darling!"

"Of course not," Shinku nodded. "I'll keep drinking tea. You keep it up, love," he winked at her, before returning to his cup.

Mebuki had just the slightest of grins.

Until she connected the dots and decided that maybe she'd have to get rid of the book in question from her drawer.

"Anyway," Naruko pouted, returning to look at Mebuki, "Would you…bless our marriage, mother-in-law?"

"Of course," Mebuki smiled. "Please take care of Shinku for me, would you?"

Shinku's ears twitched, but he remained quiet.

"Yep," Naruko grinned. "I will. I know he's lost without someone keeping an eye on him."

There was a loud clack as the door of the house opened up quickly, before a loud slam closed it. "I'm home, mom!" Mai exclaimed, entering the room and stopping once inside.

"Big brother!" she tackle-hugged him, "Mom said you're staying for dinner!"

"Yeah," he chuckled. "How was your day?"

"Great! Takeo and I managed the tree walking exercise in less than an hour, but Hokuta is still there." She grinned.


"He's the dead last," Mai replied primly. "I don't know why he keeps on trying. He's got prosthesis rather than a foot, so it's not like he's going to manage any time soon."

"You shouldn't make fun of him," Shinku replied, only for Mai to roll her eyes.

"I'm not, but it's a given he's going to take more time. Sensei's still with him anyway, helping him out."

Shinku smiled. "That's good to hear. So, any C-rank yet?"

"No," Mai grumbled, taking a seat next to him. "Our teacher doesn't want us out of the village yet. Says it's too soon since the end of the war and there might be survivors out for blood."

She snorted.

"That's a sound argument," Shinku nodded sagely.

Naruko groaned.

"I know it already: I'll have to fight you to get our firstborn out of the village for his first C-rank," Naruko grumbled.

"You're expecting him to be male?" Mebuki asked. "You shouldn't put up expectations so soon… Especially if you aren't pregnant to begin with. You never know what might happen."

Naruko dismissed the issue with a hand wave. "I'm willing to write it down now how it's going to be. I'll say 'All right, your team is ready for a C-rank!' and he'll barge in due to his clearly overdeveloped senses of paternity and yell 'Objection! He's still too young for a C-rank!' and then, after a lengthy and long conversation where we'll embarrass our son repeatedly through the recalling of various shameful moments in his life, I'll win the argument in the end."

"You have a very vivid imagination," Shinku deadpanned. "I would not barge in."

"Right…you'd appear from the shadows like some sort of stalker."

"I would not!" Shinku exclaimed.

"Sure, sure," Naruko rolled her eyes. "You'd probably keep an eye out on the gardens to mow just to push them into his mission register. He'd become a gardener rather than a shinobi if you had your way."

"Are we really discussing a theoretical son's future right now?" Shinku asked, blinking once. "What are we going to talk when we get married, the prospective bride or groom?"

"No, that would be how to deal with his adolescence crisis. You know, the usual stuff like 'I hate you, dad, I wanted to be a cool shinobi and now I'm a gardener'."

"I would never force my son to become a gardener if he wanted to be a shinobi."

"Yeah mister, you say this now."

Mai watched the exchange with a perplexed expression.

Mebuki brought a hand to her mouth to keep her smile hidden.

"You're not going to believe me, right?"


Shinku groaned.

The night before the marriage, Shinku found himself following Sasuke through dark alleys.

In retrospect, he shouldn't have. However, he did have to play the game. "All right," Shinku said. "What did you prepare? A gay bar? Gay strippers? Gay geisha? Something to do with burly men and lotion?"

"You'll see when we'll get there," Sasuke replied. He emitted another awful bout of laughter.

"You've got the evil laugh down to part," Shinku deadpanned.

"I practiced it," he replied primly. "I needed to prepare for the great event."

"I'm so going to regret asking, but you're going to take pictures aren't you?"

"Yes," Sasuke nodded. "I am. And when I'll be old and crinkly, I'll tell my grandchildren about the day I humiliated my best friend at his bachelor party —I'll have to wait until they're older though."

"Is that the type of legacy you want to leave behind?" Shinku remarked, a grin on his lips. If Sasuke was willing to say 'old and crinkly' then it probably meant they were actually making progress on finding him a cure.

"Why not? Uchiha Sasuke, leader of the clan Uchiha, dies leaving behind the words 'The Uchiha always has the last laugh, Shinku'."

"If you really write something like that on your tombstone, I'm going to have to come by every day to point out that, with you being underground, it means I actually get the last laugh."

They were starting to reach slightly better off districts —if Shinku remembered correctly, there was a bookshop nearby.

They arrived.

"The lonely reader?" Shinku remarked, reading the…bookshop name. "It's a bookshop."

"Yes," Sasuke nodded. "It is."

Shinku frowned, but held his tongue. Maybe he had misjudged Sasuke. It wasn't as if he'd actually return the favor in the same way as he had. Maybe, just maybe, he was simply going to deliver to him an extremely boring time.

The half-naked males inside determined that to be a lie. There were at least fifty, the bookshop literally packed as they formed a long convoluted line that ended at a desk with a pile of books atop it, and the sign 'Autographs here'.

The book 'Fifty shades of Spicy Ramen' was apparently going to be on sale the next day, at the same time as his marriage. The advertisement read thus, 'Only at the Lonely Reader, autographed version from the book's inspiration'.

"Naruko decided to try to delve into male and male relationships," Sasuke said offhandedly. "It's going to be a hit, apparently."

"You did this," Shinku hissed out. "You suggested this to her, didn't you?"

"Now, now," Sasuke chuckled. "Don't let the fans wait."

The treacherous Uchiha stepped sideways, leaving Shinku to head towards the desk.

He froze a moment later.

"You realize that if you think I'm going to let you pinch my butt as I go, you are extremely delusional," he remarked frostily to the line of whistling men. "I am going to be perfectly clear. Anyone touches me, and I skewer him."

"It's for a good cause!" Sasuke yelled from the end of the bookshop. "The orphanage and the hospital need funds!"

"I can sell their organs if I skewer them properly," Shinku replied calmly, before taking the seat. "And when did she write this?"

"She has shadow clones," Sasuke rolled his eyes, crossing his arms over his chest as he moved closer. "Each writes a page in succession."

Fifty signed books later, and it was time for the pictures. Pictures he would have to take in a costume, of all things.

"The protagonists wears only a ramen topping to cover his shames?" Shinku remarked in disbelief, looking at the 'costume'. "No. I was willing to suffer through this but if you expect me to go out there stark naked…"

"It's not 'naked'," Sasuke replied. "See this? It's going to cover all the naughty bits. I'm pretty sure there isn't a need to make it any bigger anyway."

"Did you just…and I'm the one that took on Naruko's perversion!? You're just as bad as her!" Shinku blurted out. Sasuke patted Shinku's shoulder once, before whispering back into his ear.

"This isn't me being perverted, Shinku. This is an Uchiha enacting a mad and extremely vindictive revenge. We have this in our genes. Now wear the ramen topping…or I'll make you."

"Never," Shinku replied with a smile. "Why don't you wear one?"

"All right," Sasuke nodded. "If you wear one, then I will wear one too."

Shinku opened his mouth to retort, but then stopped. "You're awfully serious about this, aren't you?"

"Of course I am," Sasuke said. "I intend, on this very night, take my uttermost pleasure in having an absolute blast of revenge against the two persons who enjoyed humiliating me."

"I did it once! And not to this…wait, why do you say two persons?"

Sasuke smiled. "You didn't think the night was over yet, right?"

Naruko was laughing. She was sure now that Sasuke had brought out the costume. Of course, it wasn't like Shinku was going to wear it, but the absolute face of shock would be priceless. One of her clones was among the crowd —having also cupped a feel earlier— and would then deliver all the informations to her once it popped.

Still, the reason the Kyuubi Jinchuuriki was laughing was that her own bachelorette party was in full swing. Alcohol, soon to come food delivery, and friends gathered at her house for the night. She knew there had been the idea of hiring male strippers for the night, but since she had enforced a 'no strippers' rule for both sides, there wouldn't be any naked man dancing up and down on the table.

It was in that moment that her clone decided to pop.

Naruko fell backwards, completely red on her face as the memories hit her like a freight train…the picture stuff wasn't actually true. There wouldn't have been any pictures, and clearly no naked Shinku for it…then why, why did they begin by calling her —her clone was number one on the list, of course— to take a picture?

And boy was the sight something to behold.


She blinked, her face still crimson red and heated.

Did that mean they were actually going through with the raunchy pictures?

And…did Hinata know about that?

She gave a look towards the Hyuga heiress, who seemed to be enjoying sipping tea with ease. That clearly had to be some sort of tactic the 'opposite' side of the marriage —be it bride or groom— learned to execute to appear innocent.

"Neh, Hinata," Naruko said. "Do you know where your husband brought my future one?"

"Of course, Naruko," Hinata nodded. She took a sip. "They had quite the plan; they would head to a comfortable library and take some pictures with autographs…for the children, if I am not mistaken."

"Yeah, about that," Naruko said nervously. "There was this second part of the plan…"

"You mean the part where you would have Shinku-san wear a raunchy bikini of sorts?" Hanabi butted in, taking a chair nearby with a saké bottle in her right hand. "I just saw how it went down over there," she gestured to her eyes. She grinned a moment later. "Oh yes, I did."

Naruko's hair rose on the back of her neck.

"Oi, Chibi…you just didn't."

"Yes, yes I think I did," she grinned. "There was oil involved too, if I'm not wrong?"

Naruko turned crimson. "That's—You peeper!" the girl stuttered.

"Really?" Hanabi snorted, raising an eyebrow in her direction. "I'll let you know, they're going at it quite strongly right now."

Naruko's face heated up. "G-Gah!" She twitched, trying to find a reasonable excuse to leave.

"By the way, brother-in-law told me to push this button if you tried to leave," Hanabi said, gesturing to a remote in her hand. "It will apparently set off a chakra ink bomb that would release all the trash in your old room into the Hokage mansion."

Naruko's eyebrows twitched. "Please, Chibi," she said. "I have to go look. It's…inspiration. I mean…he won't be mad…I'm sure…"

Hinata sipped tea, her Byakugan now activated. "There is no need, Naruko-san," Hinata said. "I will keep an eye out on both."

"Damn you Hyuga and your Byakugan! It's an unfair eye advantage!" Naruko exclaimed, fake tears in her eyes. She wringed her hands, before biting down on a paper napkin and grumbling curses towards the clan.

"Oh, oh," Ino added to the teasing, a hand to cover her mouth. "Maybe I should take a peek? I could hitch-hike a body and go have a look…"

Naruko's head hung low a moment later, raising her hands in defeat.

Shinku crossed his arms over his chest once he was back in his normal attire. They had just done the 'pictures' with the clone of Naruko, and that had been all. Sasuke was humming as he walked along the streets, heading towards the Yakiniku restaurant.

"You know," Sasuke said suddenly. "I might be in need of a godfather soon enough."

Shinku raised an eyebrow. "Really?"

"Yes," Sasuke said. "I'm traumatized as it is," he shuddered. "I'm scared out of my wits."

"I suppose I'll be going through it too, eventually," Shinku remarked. He groaned a moment later.

"What is it?" Sasuke asked, glancing at him.

"Just thinking how Naruko is going to expect our kids to be a male and a female, so that they can marry each other," he brought a hand to his face. "I'm sure she's going to say something like that."

Sasuke chuckled. "Yeah, I'm pretty sure she'll say that too."

Hands in their pockets, the two men walked side by side along the street in the middle of the night.

"You know," Shinku exhaled. "I think the bachelor party is a way to make sure the groom doesn't disappear the night before."

"As if Naruko wouldn't be able to hound you to the end of the world," Sasuke said.

Shinku chuckled. "She doesn't need to go that far," he tapped at his shoulder. "I'm wondering," he muttered. "Tomorrow's the great day."

"Yes," Sasuke said.

Shinku's eyes trailed to the street's lamps, where large banners and decorations fluttered in the wind. "I would have like a simple ceremony," he muttered. "Something, you know, average…inside a small shrine…stuff like that."

"You are marrying the 'Hero of Konoha' and the 'Jinchuuriki of the Kyuubi'," Sasuke pointed out. "You should be glad it hasn't degenerated into a nation-wide holiday feast."

"I'd like to marry 'Naruko' rather than either of the two," Shinku replied.

Sasuke patted Shinku's shoulder. "We can't always have what we wish for."

"I know that," Shinku rolled his eyes. "Let's not make the others wait."

The actual bachelor party at the Yakiniku turned out pretty much like the one he had organized for Sasuke, but there was a noticeable difference. Kakashi was not there.

"I'd like to make a cheerful toast," Sasuke said midway through the dinner with the other shinobi of the leaf invited, "and a hope for a better future ahead for Shinku. I think, if there's anyone that deserves to be happy, it is the man I am toasting to."

He lifted his glass, "Being a shinobi is hard. You fight to protect your nation and your people, you kill, you obey your superiors, and you never know when you're going to die. Being a good shinobi is even harder. Becoming a good man and a good shinobi is something we all worked hard to achieve. The time that took us to become good varied. We had help, we had clan members eager to aid us, we had our friends by our side and we probably had teachers willing to help us out through thick and thin."

"You getting somewhere with this, Uchiha?" Kiba asked, "The glass is getting heavier."

"Shut it, you stupid mutt, and let me finish before I order you a vasectomy so you can't breed," Sasuke hissed back with enough of an angry glare to silence Kiba —and make Akamaru, in all of his 'giant' size, whimper.

"As I was saying," Sasuke said, before continuing, "We all had help. We all had innate abilities, strengths, and our generation is considered the strongest because of it. Shinku had none of this, and yet here he is. He stands by our side, as strong if not even stronger than many of us, because he never gave up."

He took a deep breath. "Frankly, that's probably the only thing the bride and the groom have in common. They're both headstrong imbeciles who see a wall and find themselves with the uncanny need to tear it down through head-butting against it."

"Troublesome," Shikamaru remarked. "But I agree with the sentiment," he lifted his own glass.

Thus, the men toasted.

The day of the marriage, Shinku was there, standing near the altar with his hands limp by his sides. Sasuke was grinning, holding the rings on a cushion. The Hokage was grinning too, apparently already expecting him to bolt out of there and run for his life.

"There was an unfortunate accident last night," he heard Kushina whisper to Mikoto, in the first rows on the side of the bride. "It was an awful, awful accident involving nerves, stress and ramen."

"Oh my," Mikoto replied. "How did it end?"

"She couldn't wear the orange dress after that. Thankfully mine fit her just right."

The doors opened, and Naruko walked in.

She was breathtaking. Her blond hair was in curls, running along her back. She wore a white veil, her lips red with lipstick. The dress was white.

Ino Yamanaka mentally thanked the gods it wasn't orange. She was sure the groom wouldn't have minded, but the blond hair on orange clearly wasn't fashionable, no matter who decided to wear it. She was holding on to the bouquet as the first handmaiden. Why, out of all people, she had to be the one chosen she'd never know.

There had to be some sort of inside-out joke about Hinata being the 'Second' Handmaiden and Hanabi being the 'Third'. Still, it did give her a reason to wear a nice eye-catching dress… Now she just had to catch the bouquet.

Naruko stood by Shinku's side as the Hokage began to speak.

Everything was, in her modest opinion, nearly perfect. Maybe she shouldn't have been walking near the dress while eating on her two-hundredth ramen cup, and maybe she shouldn't have slipped from fatigue and ended up face first on it. She also shouldn't have ended up half-retching on it after that.

As it was, she was simply happy.

She hoped nothing bad would happen, because if it did she'd have a word with whoever was in charge of destiny, random luck, fate, and whatever the hell it was.

Thankfully, nothing happened.

As the two kissed to seal the vow, the crowd cheered and clapped.

"Oi, mister," Naruko wiggled her eyebrows. "You took leave for the next month?"

Shinku nervously laughed. "You're going to be the death of me."

How right his words turned out to be…

…but that's a story for another time.

The End.

Hope you enjoyed it.

Yes. This is the end. No April's Fool or stuff like that. Honest-To-God Ending, right here. Seriously.

Why are you still reading past this? I mean, I did say the story was over, right?

No, really, it's over. It's done.

Fine, have at you…

The Author's notes

I had plans. I had great plans of war, death, despair. Then I realized there was too much fluff and rotting teeth stuff. Frankly, the purpose of this fiction —the title and the summary too— wasn't to write about an OC/Sakura replacement shinobi as powerful as Naruto and Sasuke. This was a story about an OC/Sakura Replacement shinobi managing to become as strong and powerful as the two title characters. This was, in practice, 'Sakura's' vindication.

I managed that.

Will there be a sequel? It's probable, but certainly no time soon –I have some time constraints recently, which is why it took me so 'long' to get this out. There are many loose plot hooks, but one can easily discern how they're going to go down…eventually. Still, to each their interpretations.

What else can I say? I finished it off with a wedding, as all 'fluff' stories should end.

And being the nice ball of fluff I am, I left you with a good enough inkling on what the sequel would be about —If I do write one.

I am currently following the Naruto Manga to see its end, although it is actually turning out to be quite painful to watch any more of it.

This is the End of this story. If I'd ever end up writing the sequel to this, it would be with another person's perspective.

Once more, I'll use this to also deliver upon you my personal thanks for having read, reviewed, criticized and otherwise 'stuck through to the end' with the story.

You have my uttermost thanks. I thank thee who made fanarts, thee who never failed to comment upon it every chapter, thee who fell in love with the story and even thee who stopped reading it halfway or after a few chapters.

I thank you lot a lot —I always wanted to use this 'lot a lot'.

The tentative title for the sequel would be something like this: 'The Man in the War'.

Make of it what you will…