The life of a shinobi was an interesting one, if nothing else. The blood, the glory, the power. They all came hand in hand with those who chose to follow the way of the ninja. It was a brutal life, but one with an exhilaration unmatched by any other lifestyle. You trained your body to its heights and pushed your spirit to its limits, raining fire, wind or earth upon your enemies. It was…thrilling.

And this, more than any other reason, is what keeps the brave men and women of Konoha willing to go out every day and risk their lives. The exhilaration, alongside the knowledge that you were protecting your home, friends and family, was more than enough to put up with the depressing bell curve that was the shinobi mortality rate. It was…addictive. And addictions were very hard to give up.

Naruto understood this. He really did. He had been the Rokudaime after all, the Sixth Hokage (He adamantly refused to recognize Danzo's pitifully short tenure) and had been a boon to Konoha in the war that stopped Obito and Madara's attempts to enslave the world. Even after that, he had been on the active roster of shinobi for years, taking S rank after S rank, only stopping when the woman he loved grabbed him by his shirt collar, sat him down and roughly shoved the Hokage's hat under his nose, proclaiming,

"Idiot! Could you slow down and attend your own goddamn inauguration?! We're not rescheduling again!"

He'd ruled as the Sixth for twelve years, submitting to the bureaucracy and paperwork that came hand in hand with his dream. And then, one day, it happened. The greatest day of his life. It surpassed his inauguration and his marriage (although that one was an admitted close second) by far.

"I'm pregnant."

Naruto lay back, smoking a cigarette and enjoying both the buzz of the nicotine and the mild burn of the kyuubi's chakra diffusing said nicotine. He stopped mid puff, and gasped, coughing up the smoke that had lodged itself in his windpipe. He blinked, looking over at his lover, who was lying beside him, stroking his chest absentmindedly. Clearing his throat and putting out the little cancer stick, he said,

"Uh…could you run that by me again?"

She looked over at the blonde, sighing and burying her face into the side of his chest.

"Me. Plus you. Equals baby. Apparently."

Naruto lay back, looking up at the roof of his apartment. He didn't say anything. Then, without a word, he eased himself from under his bed mate and left the room, without a stitch of clothing on, leaving her in a confused, worried state. She contemplated going after him, but he soon came back on his own, trash can in hand. He grabbed the ash tray from his nightstand, dumping its contents into the can before, after a thought, throwing in the entire thing.

He then went on to root out the six different packs of cigarettes that lay throughout his house, throwing each one into the trash. Throughout his little crusade, he still hadn't said a word, leaving the woman he loved to watch from the bed as he cleaned house. As he went to the door, he stopped then turned, reaching up behind his cabinet and removing one final pack, although this one was colored bright orange and white, and covered in little symbols and foil. He stared at it for a second, before throwing it the way of its brothers.

Only once he had laid the trash can outside did he come back to his room, easing himself back into bed. At the behest of her raised eyebrows, Naruto chuckled,

"Sorry about that, my love, I just…figured it was time to stop. You know, for the baby's sake?"

Rolling her eyes, she said "That was kind of dramatic, don't you think? The whole silent thing? Not the best thing to do after your wife just gave you the biggest news of your life."

Laughing, Naruto just smiled a little, and pulled her in close. Kissing her on the forehead, he said, "You're right, that was a bit thoughtless of me. But I made a promise to someone once. That the first thing I would do when I had kids was throw every piece of tobacco I owned away. And you know how I am about promises."

This caused her to chuckle a bit and smack him affectionately, "Well, I guess that was better than you going out on a damned Uchiha run."

Uchiha runs, as they were so affectionately termed, were periodic attempts by Uchiha Sasuke to leave Konoha, or at least they were. After the initial successful attempt, there were three others. The first occurred when Sasuke's then-girlfriend-now-WIFE proposed. Sasuke panicked and fled their apartment, and, at Hanabi's panicked request, Naruto, Gaara and Rock Lee went after him, finding the last Uchiha a few miles out from Konoha, pacing and muttering about things like "failed traditions" and "that damned feminist movement".

Naruto laughed, clapping his friend on the shoulder, only to get a swift backhand from the Uchiha. He stumbled back, wiping his now bloody lip and glared at his friend.

"What the hell was that?"

Sasuke, now focused on his would-be chasers donned his usual mask of apathy, "It's none of your concern Naruto."

"The hell it is, you just hit me. Your goddamned Hokage!"

Scoffing and rolling his eyes, Sasuke said,

"Oh, so now you're pulling rank? Please. Last week you went on a D rank mission. YOU. Oh high and mighty Hokage-sama."

"S-shut up. There was a good reason and you know it teme!"

Sasuke glared at the offending blonde.

"Watch it Uzumaki. You may be my Hokage but I can still kick your ass."

"I'd like to see you try! Or maybe I'll just find a woman to propose to you. That'll send you running won't it, you pussy!"

That was the final straw as Sasuke's eyes flashed red and he leapt at Naruto, who responded in kind. From there, the battle escalated, with Rock Lee proclaiming his interest in the "friendly sparring" as Gaara attempted to stop him, only to get singed by an errant blast of fire, which then caused him to attack the offending Uchiha.

The battle rampaged for a solid ten minutes before ANBU showed up on the scene, concern evident, only for the squad of black ops members to stop and look at each other, silently daring someone to be the first to jump into a four way clash between some of the strongest ninja Konoha had ever produced. As one, they all decided they liked their limbs right where they are, and left the scene.

It was an hour later when the four men made their way back to the village, scuffed and dirty and bleeding but laughing with each other throughout it all. The laughter was quickly cut short though, when they saw one Hanabi Hyuuga standing at the gates, her anger peaking at the sight of their carefree attitudes.

After a thorough chewing out, she left her boyfriend's comrades off the hook but sternly grabbed Sasuke by the ear, dragging him through the streets of Konoha, while he voiced his complaints. The tale of how the mighty Uchiha, a war hero hailed and said to be on par with the Hokage, was dragged through Konoha's thoroughfare by a slight girl half his size was the talk of the town thereafter.

Despite his humiliation, he knew better to contest his position, and instead used the time to explain to Hanabi why he'd run off, before stopping her and getting down on one knee.

"Hanabi Hyuuga, will you ma-"And with a slap, his proposal was silenced.

"Oh no, we've been dating for seven years! As far as I'm concerned, you've had the last eighteen months to man up. I asked you first, and now you're stuck being the guy who got proposed to by a girl. So bite me."

After that disastrous first attempt (and six more, that were all disastrous in their own way), Hanabi opened her home door, to see an impressive collective of their friends and family around their living room, with Sasuke down on one knee in his formal kimono. Hanabi looked around, opening her mouth to give her eighth NO but Hinata grabbed her hands, pressed the ring box Hanabi had purchased so long ago into them and whispered, "He's not asking."

And before the crowd, Uchiha Sasuke accepted Hyuuga Hanabi's proposal.

The second run occurred when masked assailants, high kage level, attacked Sasuke the night before his wedding. After a nine minute chase that culminated in at least two new forest clearings and an acre of chakra soaked devastation Sasuke was caught, blindfolded and restrained.

Only an hour later he was released, Sharingan blazing and ready to unleash hellfire on his captors, only to meet the males of the Konoha Eleven, a dimly lit hotel room and a woman who was most certainly NOT wearing enough clothing. Naruto clapped him on the back, releasing his bonds and welcoming him to his bachelor party.

With that, the debauchery commenced. Halfway through the sake-laced night, Naruto proclaimed how he and Gaara were two for three in their "Capture Sasuke" attempts, and how the first time he got away was a "fluke" and "dumb luck". Sasuke, who's only indication of his inebriation were his red cheeks and dull eyes, countered said accusations and, in typical rival fashion, the argument escalated.

Thus commenced the third Uchiha run, although this one was much less destructive and a lot more short lived as Sasuke found out the hard way that alcohol and the hyper-awareness granted by his sharingan did NOT mix. And Naruto held up his two hands, shouting,

"THREE FOR FOUR BITCHES!"

Naruto chuckled at the memories, snuggling in closer to his wife.

"Yes, this one's definitely a bit easier on all of us."

"Is it though?"

Naruto turned, looking at the suddenly sad eyes of his beloved, before sighing. He reached a hand up, cupping her cheek, before kissing her, tenderly.

"Ok, well, it's won't be. Not at first anyway. But I'm going to do it. For you…for us."

He put his other hand on her belly, affectionately stroking the collective of cells that would one day be his child.

Those first six weeks after he got the news were brutal. He'd been smoking for over a decade and a half, and the addiction was only worsened by the fact that Kurama took care of any of the harmful effects, and the buzz that came through the purging was addictive in its own way. He'd started back during the war, after Neji's death. He'd been talking to Shikamaru and, in between the tactics, asked him why, considering all they knew about the harmful effects and how important being healthy was to a shinobi, he continued smoking them. With a shrug, Shikamaru offered him one. The little jutsu that Shikamaru used to set his index finger on fire, in lieu of a lighter, was the first and last fire jutsu Naruto ever learned.

At first, it was fine. He'd talked to Kurama about it and was assured that his chakra took care of any negative effects. And, as a side note, when Naruto smoked, some of the chemical stimulation leeched down, giving the Kyuubi what was, effectively, a contact high. Meaning the Fox was more than content with Naruto's new habit. It cleared his head, which he more than needed at times, and helped him stay on track. Things were great. The war ended, the villages regrouped and rebuilt, and Naruto was a big part of it all.

During the efforts, he was asked out. By, of all people, Ino Yamanaka. She'd picked up Shikamaru's habit a year prior as well, although she lacked the jinchuuriki's abilities to mitigate the damage. So they would go out to dinner, come home, have amazing sex, and lay there, in an afterglow of cigarette smoke. Naruto was having a ball.

Things didn't get bad until Shikamaru died. Ino quit after his funeral, unable to continue the habit without being reminded of both him and Asuma. This led to a strained relationship with Naruto, who did couldn't curb his. Oh he tried, for her sake. But he'd make it for two, maybe three days, before the combined crooning of his body and Kurama would cause him to light up. It became a cycle. Fighting, then angry sex, then two days of withdrawal induced misery, then lighting up. And repeat.

After three months, things came to a head when, as they hit the angry sex part of the cycle, Ino said a name.

"Oh…Shika!"

Abruptly, they froze, as if they could just stay there forever, and not deal with what just happened. But eventually, Naruto rose from where he lay, looking down at Ino. She gazed back, tears in her ice blue eyes, and she said, "You…you smell just like him. All that smoke. I just…I…"

And it was at that moment, that Naruto realized just exactly what he was doing. He smoked. Copiously. That scent permeated him, his clothes and his apartment. So all Ino got, every time he was near, was a reminder of the men she'd lost in her life. Was it fair? Was it fair for him to put her through that? Was it far for her to put such an expectation on him?

With a sigh, Naruto shook his head and stood up from the bed, getting dressed. No, it wasn't fair. But who the fuck said love was fair?

Amidst tears, and kisses, Naruto told Ino how sorry he was, and how he would change. For her. But he'd said it before, she'd heard it before. But she took him in, holding him, accepting his words, despite how rehearsed they sounded. Then she broke the cycle.

"Promise me."

Naruto drew back, a question on his lips.

"Promise me Naruto-kun…promise me you won't smoke again…please. Or I'll be gone. I…It's not…I can't do this Naruto. I can't live this way. Not anymore. So promise me."

The Uzumaki opened his mouth, ready with more assurances, but closed them. He took his word seriously. He didn't break it. He hadn't given his word to anyone in years; he hadn't made a promise in…who knows how long. And as Naruto opened his mouth, to assuage her fears and promise he was done, a different set of words came out,

"I can't…Ino…I…"

But it was all she needed to hear and in a flurry of assembled possessions and clothing, Ino Yamanaka walked out of his life forever.

He got over it, he had really loved her after all, but he'd gotten over it. He'd made a few half hearted attempts to kick the habit but had even less of a reason to do so, and continued on.

He started dating half a year later, and fell in with a certain Hyuuga, one who'd wanted him for years. But one night, six months in, as he sat outside, holding her hand and kissing her fingertips, she pulled back. She asked him if he could quit, for her, for them. In a rare flash of anger, he yelled at her, asking why she couldn't accept him as he was, and how she had to take the good and the bad. Hinata shrunk back from his ire, experiencing it for the first time, and stammered out apologies.

Naruto instantly deflated, holding his head between his hands and telling her it wasn't her fault. She'd never asked anything of him, she'd been amazing. It was his fault, and his anger was misplaced. Holding her hands, he gave her a thousand assurances and apologies and, for a time, it was enough.

Unfortunately, Hinata had never had an amazing constitution. She was physically fit and capable, as any shinobi should be, but she had been blessed with a certain frailty. She wasn't very resistant to disease. And her stamina would never be quite what it should be. And the first time she coughed, after ten days of dating, they both thought nothing of it.

But it spiraled. Soon, every other week, Hinata was taken ill. She waved Naruto's concerns off, telling him she was fine. He talked to Sakura, who told him that she wasn't at liberty to discuss Hinata's condition with him, per her request, and to take it up with her. For months, Hinata constantly assured him that she was fine. She inhaled some dust. She probably ate something that wasn't quite fresh. She had excuses at every turn, leaving Naruto concerned, but unable to do anything.

Then, one day, Uchiha Sasuke stormed into Naruto's apartment, abruptly waking the Hokage-to-be. He grabbed the blonde by his throat, pinning him to the wall and shouting in his face.

"You idiotic, air headed asshole!"

"Sasuke! What the hell are you, get off of me!"

"Get off of you? I should kill you! Do you know what you've been doing to Hinata?!"

"What are you- Sasuke, calm down and just –"

"No! I don't care if you smoke, but I'm not the one living you, so get your shit together, or just get the fuck away from my sister!"

"You're not making any sense, teme!"

Releasing the blonde and stepping back, Sasuke glared at his best friend, murder in his eyes and started speaking.

This was how Naruto learned that, over these months, Hinata had been afflicted with a variety of ailments, of the respiratory persuasion. Her asthma had even reemerged. And it was all because of his smoking habit. Hinata hadn't wanted to worry him, and was too afraid, after his initial angry outburst, that any attempts to get him to stop would lead him to leave her. So she hid it, for his sake. But she'd just been admitted to the hospital for the fourth time in the past two months, and that was when Hinata had learned that she had been pregnant, but had miscarried, her failing health not permitting it. Hanabi had finally broken and told her husband what was going on. And Sasuke couldn't have been more pissed.

Naruto was, understandably, distraught, and went to her room. She was looking out the window, gazing at Konoha. He cleared his throat, and she turned to him. And he saw just how sad she was. And just how frail and weak she was. How weak and frail he'd made her.

She proceeded to tell him that she still loved him, but that wasn't enough. It never could be. Naruto had, indirectly or no, been responsible for her suffering and she'd said nothing. She hadn't been strong enough to even bring up the topic with him, and allowed herself and their unborn child to pay the price. After a night of tears and discussion, they decided that it was in both of their best interests to part.

They parted amicably, but part they did. And, as Naruto left the room, fingering the pack in his pocket, Hinata stopped him.

"Naruto-kun?"

He turned, and she gave him a sad smile.

"Could you…just…when will you stop?"

The almost whisper of Hinata's thin voice almost brought him to tears and he told her he didn't know.

"I just…do you want kids? Do you want a family, some day?"

Naruto nodded sadly.

"Yea, I mean…of course I do. I've wanted kids since forever. I wanted to be there for them, and be the best dad ever. Some day anyway."

"You can't…you can't do this to them then Naruto-kun. I may be weak, but I'm an adult and…just…I mean, look at me. Look at what's happened to me. To us. And babies are even worse. They're frail, and weak, and they can't…"

Hinata broke off, choking down a sob, as she thought about the child she hadn't even known she'd lost. Naruto's heart broke further as he looked at his love. Or who was once his love, anyway. She continued sobbing, turning away from him. Naruto looked for a few minutes onward, before silently making his leave.

As he closed the door, he promised himself that he would stop. Soon. Someday. Sighing as he realized he was full of the same excuses, Naruto leaned his head against the door, and listened to Hinata's sobs. Then his eyes sharpened.

If he couldn't do this for him, and he couldn't do it for his friends, then maybe for his children? Did he love them enough? Would he? He pictured it, his kids coughing and complaining about sore throats because of how weak he was. Gritting his teeth, he knew then. His love for his kids was enough. More than enough. And when the day came that he was starting a family, he would stop. He promised his future kids that.

So when she'd told him she was expecting, he immediately knew what he had to do. And he did it. Three days afterwards, he was walking home, nerves abounding and familiar withdrawal induced jitters running up his arm. Kurama's correlated whining didn't help either. It seemed that even ancient masses of old chakra could become addicts.

As he passed a stall, he looked over at it, and his eyes focused on the white boxes laid out behind the counter. Taunting him, calling his name, and before he could think about it, he'd reached over and snagged a pack, the owner only too happy to give a freebie to the Hokage. He withdrew a stick, putting it to his lips, and conjured the familiar little flame. As he raised it to his lips, someone bumped into his leg.

Turning, he saw a few children running past, playing ninja and laughing. With a rueful smile, Naruto turned back to his cigarette, but just stared at the flame. Holding it a few inches away from the unlit tobacco. After a few minutes of just standing, he let the flame flicker out, and he placed the cigarette back into its box. He tossed the box in a nearby trashcan and continued on his way home, every little symptom of his withdrawal taking a new meaning.

When his hands shook from the lack of nicotine in his system, he thought about how he wanted his children to be able to run around and breathe freely. When his pulse raced, unmitigated and without reason, he saw their smiles, their laughter, and their silent and unknowing thanks at him, for doing what he was doing for them. Even before they were real.

He would do it for them. All for them.

So Naruto knew what it was like, to not want to give something up. When your world subtly revolved around it, to the point where you couldn't even see that it did. To be addicted.

And that's why he could see especially through the bullshit that addicts gave. The myriad of excuses, assurances, promises…he got it all. He'd been there. He'd done it. And he regretted it every day.

That was why he was fighting with his wife. His love. His star. The woman who had saved him from himself, way back when he wasn't sure he was worthy. She'd shown him. And he'd taken her in, and made her his world. And him, hers.

They'd been wed, and she'd had children. Two in fact. A charming little boy with shockingly bright red hair and another boy with sharper features and soft blonde hair. When the younger had been born, Naruto handed in his resignation, and told the council it had six months to find a replacement. He'd given Konoha his due, and now he belonged to his family.

She…didn't share his sentiment. Their first fight. Their first REAL fight, occurred when she told him about her decision. She told him he shouldn't quit just because they had kids. That he shouldn't stop doing the job he was born to do. He told her he'd done enough. That over twenty years of service, and stopping a world war, was more than enough. She called him a coward. He called her a bitch. And they continued into the night, in the backyard so as to not disturb the little ones.

It was three years before they fought again. Naruto tentatively brought up the subject.

"Hey…I know you love being a ninja but you ever considered, you know…taking a break? Maybe, just for a little bit?"

They both knew that Naruto didn't mean for just a little bit though. He had grown worried. For her. She was more than strong enough to handle herself, but mistakes could happen. And he didn't want to lose her. He never had, from the first time he'd realized he'd loved her. He'd always worried, but held himself back, knowing that she was doing what she loved, and he wasn't nearly selfish or hypocritical enough to bother her about it.

But now, it was different. They had Itaru and Unato. He wasn't being selfish anymore. From the first time Itaru asked him why his mom wasn't home and he had to tell her she was on a super special mission for Sasuke-jiji (Even though he was only 43, Naruto figured he'd get his kids into the habit early) when, in reality, she was three days late from her mission, and he had no idea why, he started thinking. That he hated that thought. Despised it even. Of having his kids grow up without a mother.

She retorted scathingly, claiming that she was vital to Konoha, and one of their best jounin. Naruto countered, his words softer but cutting just as deep, and claimed she was vital to their family and its ONLY mother. And the argument continued.

He hadn't seen it before. But as the arguing grew more and more frequent, he saw that it wasn't about protecting Konoha. Or being an asset. Or keeping back "those damned Kumo ninja". It was about her. He only realized it when, one night, after their depressingly usual round of fighting and then making up, she asked him,

"Do you…do you ever miss it?"

Naruto looked down at the woman in his arms, before looking back up.

"What? Miss being Hokage? I mean…not really, to be honest. The administrative part was pretty dull. And the prestige was never really my thing. And Sasuke's doing a great job as it is, so Konoha's doing well. There's not much for me to miss."

She shook her head, her hair tickling the side of Naruto's chest.

"No, not that. Not really. The active roster. Do you miss it?"

Naruto frowned slightly, wrinkling his brow in concentration before looking up.

"Well, to be honest, there are some days I remember what it was like. Being on the frontlines, risking my life, slinging high powered jutsu around, and then yea. I'll miss it. But then, right after the nostalgia hits, I'll think about you. And the kids, at least, after they were born anyway."

Naruto's eyes lit up as he looked down at her, the love in them shining through the sadness that was becoming all too present in them.

"I think about how I like watching you sleep sometimes, when I wake up first. And how you can't cook for shit, but will still try some mornings when YOU get up first, only to come back and wake me up, and ask how to get burnt egg out of the whisk."

She lightly swatted him as he reminded her about her latest cooking faux pas but he chuckled, pressing his nose into her hair and breathing, inhaling the scent he'd come to know and love.

"I think about how I held Itaru when he was born, and how he didn't cry, and I was so scared, but you told me to stop being a baby and to give you ours. And then you held him and tapped him gently on his back, and he breathed in and gave the loudest cry I've ever heard. And about how Unato keeps asking me to go to the ninja academy, even though he's only four, and needs to be six. And how…how I feel needed."

Naruto sighed and pressed his forehead to hers, looking at her.

"I couldn't bear to leave you guys alone, and a bunch of cheap thrills on the battlefield just wasn't worth the risk."

When he said that, her expression fell, and she looked as if she'd slapped him. His eyebrows drew together in confusion but she quickly made an excuse, citing that she was just surprised at how far he'd taken his thoughts, before excusing herself to the bathroom. He lay back, pondering her reaction. Then a rumble came from within him, from within the seal that held Kurama.

Naruto's eyes skewed even further, as he thought about this new information. She was lying. What could it have been? And the smallest seed of a theory started to develop in his mind.

Naruto held his tongue for months on end, but the final straw was when his wife missed Unato's third birthday because she was out escorting a nobleman from Sunagakure. When she got home, he was waiting for her in the front room, despite the fact that it was past two in the morning. He told her about how she'd missed an amazing party, and how Sasuke's son, Itachi, had gotten Unata his first set of training kunai, even though he was too young to use them. About how Hanabi had outdone herself again and made a cake that was even better than the one she'd made for Itaru's. Midway through his retelling of Kiba letting the kids take turns on Akamaru, Naruto broke off.

When it was clear he'd stopped speaking, she questioned him.

"I shouldn't have to tell you this. You should know this! How can you miss your son's birthday?!"

And Naruto exploded. He told her how she had to be there. And should be there. She told him, again, how protecting Konoha WAS her being there. How she stood between the world and her children by protecting their village. It was an age old argument, one they'd had so many times before, but Naruto stopped. He was tired of the motions, of the routine. But mostly, he was tired of the bullshit.

"You're being selfish."

Her eyes widened.

"Selfish?! I'm risking my life, for the village you say you love! For our kids, so they can grow up safe and sound!"

"That's not why you do it! Don't give me that. We're not even at war, haven't been for over a decade. You do it for YOU! You love it. You love the fighting, the risk. The rush. You can't get enough of it. And you fucking KNOW this! It's the only reason you keep putting up this "For Konoha" bullshit. You know you're abandoning me, Unato and Itaru for your own selfish reasons. But you can't face that."

Naruto shook his head bitterly.

"You want it to be true, but it's not. You love us, but can't give up the life you love. You love being a shinobi, and you haven't decided if you love us more."

"There are PLENTY of shinobi families, in case you haven't noticed Naruto. Are they all abandoning their families? Or is just me?"

He turned to her, eyes flashing in rage.

"You're right, there are. And maybe those spouses can handle it. Handle their other half out to god knows where risking her life. Maybe they're strong enough to handle the thought of them never making it home. They're strong enough to risk their kids' happiness for the village. Well you know what? I'M FUCKING NOT."

Naruto grabbed her by the shoulders, gripping her. Not in aggression but in desperation. He wanted her to understand.

"I can't do it. I can't live with you not coming home. I can't survive like this. Every day when you're out on missions, all I can think about is what I'd say to the kids, if you never came back. I could live with missing you, with mourning you, but I can't do that to my kids. I refuse to. Maybe it makes me weak; maybe it means I'm a coward. But I could care less what it means."

He let go, staggering back, tears running down his eyes. He wiped them furiously, blinking up at her, giving her a display of the storm of emotions he was under, had been under, for so long.

"And I went on, being torn in two, going sleepless every time you weren't in the village. Because you claimed you were protecting Konoha. And I believed you. I believed you were out there for the village, for US. But you weren't. You love it. You love it. You loved it more than you loved us, more than you loved me…"

And at this Naruto broke off, a choked sob leaving his throat. He turned away from her, marching into the house. The protests she'd prepared, the excuses, the routine…Naruto had smashed it all into pieces. He had laid her open, shown her what she'd known but refused to admit.

He'd tried to appease her. He'd enabled her, bottled his feelings up for far too long. But everyone had their breaking points, even Naruto Uzumaki, who some hail as the strongest ninja to have ever existed. And he'd just hit his, after seven years of fretfully wishing his wife would come back, not for his sake, but for their children.

When Naruto woke up, he expected the cold right side of the bed he'd grown used to waking up to. She'd told him she had a mission the day before, and that usually entailed being gone before he got up. But he didn't wake up to that this time. He woke up to a form curled into his back, snuggled into him. Surprise rippled through him. And he didn't move, as if it would break the illusion.

She moved for him. As she woke up, yawning, he looked over at her.

"I…I didn't think you'd be home."

She grumbled and snuggled deeper into his back, unwilling to begin fully rousing herself.

"Silly…retired ninjas don't get missions."

He processed her words, tasting each one, as if to find some hidden meaning, before turning to her, only to see her with one of those devilish half smiles she'd perfected on him decades ago. She kissed him, holding his face in her hands, as if he was made of glass.

"You were right. I did love being a shinobi."

His heart jumped at the past tense she utilized, as he started to fully understand what she was saying. Naruto laughed, bringing her in for another round of kissing, stopping her. She relented for a few minutes, before pulling back and firmly shoving him away.

"No! After I'm done, then sure. But lemme say what I've gotta say."

She gazed into his eyes, fingers idly tracing the whisker marks he bore on his skin, as he grinned impishly, the sort of grin she hadn't seen on his face for far too long.

"Despite how much I liked it, I will always love you more. You and the kids. I just…I enjoyed it. I loved the rush, the fight. And I was being selfish. But you three are the most important thing in my life Naruto. Don't you ever doubt that. Ever."

Naruto smiled, his heart feeling lighter than it had in years, before he interlaced his fingers with hers.

"I'm sorry I couldn't be stronger, my love. But…we all need you. And we miss you."

She sighed, her heart wincing at the softness in her partner's voice.

"I know, love, I know. And I'm here now. Now and forever. "

He smiled, kissing her and laughing as he hadn't laughed with her in so long. He flipped her off, eliciting a squeal as he pulled her nightdress up above her head and committed to a rhythm he'd missed in their bedroom activities.

As they lay there, in the afterglow, Naruto thought about how he finally had her back. And how the kids were going to get to see her every day. And that made him smile even more. He looked over at her, and watched her sit up, slipping on a robe. Smiling, he asked her

"Where are you going?"

She tied the sash to the robe, looking back at him with a smile.

"To make breakfast obviously."

And Naruto groaned, before easing himself out of bed, prepared to go downstairs, only to be shoved back into it by his wife.

"No, NO! You don't get to make breakfast. I'm doing it this time, whether you like it or not."

Sighing but smiling (how does one do that, anyway?) Naruto acquiesced, watching her leave the room. He lay back, content and truly happy for the first time in God knows how long.

"Naruto," He perked his head up a bit at his wife's call. "So do I put the rice in the thingy with or without that plasticky stuff?"

Naruto could only laugh as he got up, pulling on a set of boxers as he went to, hopefully, head his wife off of burning the house down. As he walked to the kitchen, he heard simultaneous cries of "Kaa-san" before a bout of laughter and what sounded like vigorous hugging. He continue walking, turning the corner to see his wife hugging their children, who hadn't expected to see their mom today at all.

As the smoke detector went off, startling the trio and causing her to rush around in a panic, Naruto smiled and walked forward to help, explaining that oil was NOT the same as water, when it came to putting out fires. As she pouted, and he started properly preparing their breakfast, he smiled down at her and she smiled back. Turning to the rice cooker, he kept smiling.

They had their issues. God knows they did. But for the first time in years, he felt like he could breathe again. And was looking forward to breathing every day, for the rest of his life, with her.

There you go! Yet another one shot. I just can't maintain interest in longer stuff, I guess. I have so many little plot bunnies hopping around but they ARE bunnies. So they don't last as long as I'd need for anything longer than 10k words, haha. Anyways, just a bit of an offshoot fic, a kind of what-if of Naruto's life long after the war has ended. I'm sort of happy about how it came out, but not completely. But oh well, maybe you guys will like it? If you do, review! If you don't, review anyway, the numbers make it look pretty. Ja ne!