A/N: YO! I'm finally feeling better after that dang-blasted surgery! I'm going to be just fine! And with that being said, let us continue onward with the next chapter and a much needed update! Consider this a teaser of sorts, as I get the blood pumping in this marvelous story once more! After reading all of your reviews and Pm's, after being inundated with wonderful ideas, I'm ready to start updating again!

Here we go!

My love for you is like a rose... strong and forever.

~Shizuka.

Commitment (Part I)

"Shizuka!"

Naruto yelped, flattening himself against the rail as though he'd seen a ghost. Which, given the circumstance of Shizuka's sudden appearance aboard their ship, was quite the possibility. If he and Yamato-taichou ahd only just bid her farewell, then why was she here! So what was she doing here! She wasn't supposed to be here! She was supposed to be on the island with Tokiwa-san! Not on board their ship and scaring the living daylights outta him!

How on earth had she managed to sneak onto their vessel without being detected, anyway! Had he been so unfocused that he'd been unable to sense her approach? Or was it to be attributed to her own skills as a shinobi? Naruto didn't know whether to be impressed or embarassed. Eventually he settled on the latter.

"Sh-Shizuka-chan..w-what're you doing here, ya know?"

"Just now...you said 'chan' to me, didn't you?" the heiress of Nadeshiko inquired of him.

"Geh!"

...I liked it."

Naruto nearly fell over.

"Huh?"

The green-eyed kunoichi met Naruto's gaze evenly, the smallest of smiles adjourning her lips as the blond genin stammered and spluttered before her. Much to his dismay, that smile did not lessen in the slightest. Quite the contrary. it only grew. Her face began to brighten considerably, her cheeks dusted with the lightest pink flush as he did his best to comprehend this sudden conundrum.

"I said I liked it."

This time Naruto really did fall over.

"Huh?"

Shizuka burned as red as rose.

"I...um...well, you see...that is to say...

Naruto shook his head. He'd come to terms with Shizuka sneaking aboard their vessel. He could not, however, comprehend her reason for it. He'd left her at the harbour, and she'd seemed perfectly content to stay there. He hadn't expected her to follow them, least of all to stow aboard.

"Shizuka...what the hell are you doing here?" Naruto finally asked the one question he was dying to have answered.

It was the wrong question.

"Excuse me?"

The kunoichi's face crumpled, her hopeful expression narrowing into something somewhere between anger and disbelief. Yup, definitely the wrong question! Naruto braced for a slap, but when none came, he slowly forced his body to relax; to unclench, and his eyes to meet her gaze. What he found their genuinely frightened him. Shizuka had a aura the kind that women got when they knew you were up to no good.

"Are you saying you don't want me here?" she asked, her words deadly soft.

Naruto's face darkened and he stiffened all in one breath. Blushing, he turned away from the Nadeshiko kunoichi. What to say? And how to say it? It wasn't that he didn't want her here. Nor was he exactly pleased to see her. He was torn between the latter and the former and leaning toward neither. But Naruto couldn't just say it out loud. He'd since learned that lesson-painfully-at the hands of Haruno Sakura. Women had the tendency to misinterperet words in the blink of an eye. Best to be wary. Choose his words careful and slowly. Naruto was on thin ice at the moment and he knew it.

One false step and he would fall through.

"Well?" Shizuka's emerald eyes-so unlike Sakura's-pinnioned him with a gaze. "Do you want me here or not, Naruto? If not then, I'll gladly leave." Her words wavered towards the end, and her lower lip trembled ever so slightly. Inwardly, Naruto groaned. So much for the evil eye. Oh well. He was going to tell her straight up.

He took a deep breath and said,

"Shizuka...I...

Ah, screw it!

...don't want you to leave." Naruto finished, his face burning. He steeled himself against what he was certain would be a violent outburst, but yet again the Nadeshiko kunoichi proved herself worthy of the title. Instead of violently lashing out-as Sakura would have-Shizuka blinked, her eyes flying wide open. Her hands flew likewise, flocking to her face to stifle the small squeak of surprise that promptly emerged from her lips.

"You...want me to stay?" She sounded as surprised as he felt. "Truly?" Naruto blinked as she reached forward and took his hands in her own. They were a perfect fit. As if she had been destined to hold them-easy there tiger! His sex drive needed a serious smacking down. Damn you Ero-Senin! I blame you for this! The Sage continued to corrupt his disciple with these pervy ways even after death!

"I feel the same." Shizuka began earnestly. "I didn't want to leave, but I was afraid you'd send me away-

"What's going on out here, Naruto?"

Naruto froze as the hatch tore itself open.

"Uh-oh."

Apparently, his startled cries had drawn the attention of Aoba, Guy and Yamato-sensei. Naruto felt the life leaching from his face as the watched the three jounin emerge from below decks. I'm finished, he thought to himself. I'm done for. It was over. He was doomed! There was no way he could explain the situation away not under the scrutiny they would doubtlessly provide. Gah! He swore a blue streak, Here they come...

"Shizuka-san?" Yamato blinked upon recognizing the kunoichi. "What are you...doing here?" Oh crap. Shizuka had yet to release her grip on Naruto's hands and finally Yamato had noticed. And of course, he misinterpreted the situation horrifically.

"So this is why you snuck away before," Yamato began slowly, with his eyes of doom. "This is the third time you've fooled with me with shadow clones." If anything, his visage of death and doom became even more terrifying than before. "Naruto...I hope you're prepared for the consequences of smuggling her onboard our ship...

"I came aboard of my own free will." Shizuka interrupted, saving Naruto from Yamato's death face when she finally released his hands. "My arrival was unexpected and Naruto-kun did not participate in in the slightest." The blonde's relief was palpable. He was going to live!

Nice save, Shizuka!

Aoba, ever the peacekeeper, tried to reason with the girl.

"That may be so, Shizuka-san, but we're on an important assignment. Perhaps it would be best if you...

"I refuse!" The Nadeshiko kunoichi snapped back, reasserting herself before the Jonin could get a word in edgewise. "Naruto-kun is to be my betrothed! It is my solemn duty as his fiance to stand by his side, especially in matters such as these!"

Naruto fought the urge to bury his face in his hands.

I take it back! Not a nice save, Shizuka! Not nice at all!

"F-Fiance?" Yamato's left eye twitched. "You mean...?"

"Bwahahaha!" Might Guy laughed, making things even worse than before. "So you've decided to marry her after all! How incredibly youthful of you, Naruto-kun! I see that the wily ways of Lord Jiraiya are alive and well in his student!" Of all the times to miracuously recover from his sea-sickness he chose now to do it!

"I didn't decide anything!" Naruto wailed. "And don't drag Ero-senin into this!"

He cast a furtive glance at his companion.

"Will you please just explain to them what your bodyguard explained to me?"

"Very well, though there is precious little to explain." Shizuka said. "You defeated me in pitched combat, and I am to be your wife, as dictated by the law of my village and the promise made between my mother and the late Lord Jiraiya." She gave each of the jounin a scathing glare in turn. "Our marriage will form an alliance between our vilage, just as they intended and may very well create peace between both our villages. Do you plan to deny Nadeshiko that?"

There was a silence.

"Ah." Aoba slapped a fist into an open palm. "So that's how it is."

"Its not like that!" Naruto protested.

"Doesn't seem like there's anything we can do." Yamoto shrugged, eerily and perpetually calm, and still with the death face. "You've made your bed, Naruto. Now you have to lie in it with your beautiful fiance." Naruto knew his sensei's hands were tied, but it did little to sate his ire.

"Traitor!"

"May your marriage be blessed and youthful upon our return!" Gai laughed, still somehow immune to his dreaded sickness of the sea. "Until then you're more than weclome to travel with us on our youthful adventure, Shizuka of Nadeshiko!"

"Aargh!"

Shizuka smiled and graced each of the Jounin with a courteous bow.

"I'm in your care, then."

Shizuka looked into his eyes and deep within his eyes was something that made her want to gibber like a madwoman. It was like staring at the night sky after learning for the first time that the stars were not pinpricks in the raiment of heaven, but each its own sun, billions of leagues distant. To stare into the eyes of this boy-no to stare into the eye of this man was to realize how small one was.

It made her smile as she tucked an arm within his. He truly was a shinobi befitting of her husband-to-be. He was kind, caring, compassionate, and most of all, strong. While it remained to be seen if his strength was truly superior to her own, she looked forward to the opportunity of getting to know her fiance. She knew so little of him and was eager to learn more of him and his past. She would accept him, no matter what burden he bore nor painful past he'd shared. As his fiance, as his wife, Shizuke swore to herself that she would always accept him. Now and forever and always.

Naruto, well, he wasn't quite so enthusiastic about the prospect of marriage.

"Don't I have any say in this?" he begged.

"Not at all!" Yamato said with that eerie look of his. "None whatsoever!"

Naruto groaned.

What the hell had he gotten himself into?

A/N: FEAR YAMATO'S DEATH FACE! Oh man! Its been too long since I've updated. That being said, I apologize for the shortness. My painkillers are hampering my ability to write. Even so, I hope you all enjoyed the slew of updates I've provided leading up to President's Day. =D That being said, many more are to come! Just as soon as I can walk around without being doped up on pain pills.

Next chapter we'll get to see Killer Bee, Dark Naruto, and some much needed romance between Naruto and Shizuka! I can't wait till Kushina finally gets to meet Shizuka in the seal...

I'm very pleased that this story seems to be a hit with most people. I also want to thank those readers who take the time to leave a review for the tale. They're very helpful in letting me know how the story is progressing with all of you. And they really do assist an author out in knowing what people like about a story. Thanks again to everyone for all of your support.

R&R!