Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or any of its characters.

Warning: Contains major spoilers up through Chapter 614 of the manga.

Why He Sings

Naruto had always been a little intimidated by Hyuuga Hiashi. Part of it was the eyes: you could tell a lot about what a person was thinking or feeling from the look in their eyes, but for obvious reasons that was hard to do with a Hyuuga. Part of it was Hiashi's stern, no-nonsense manner that was so different from his own. And part of it was the nagging suspicion experienced by all young men at one time or another that no matter how much they accomplish, they'll never be quite good enough for their loved one's father. Not that Naruto had anything to worry about in that respect: he had saved the village and then the world, been named Hokage, and forged the only lasting inter-village alliance in history. But he could imagine Hiashi being the sort of man who would consider that the minimum requirement to be an acceptable match for his daughter.

The Hyuuga clan head was standing behind Hinata, looking even more imposing than usual in his formal kimono. His Byakugan was activated, allowing him to constantly scan his surroundings even though his gaze appeared to be fixed on Naruto.

In fact, all of the most powerful shinobi in Konoha were standing up on the dais. Besides Naruto and Hiashi, Sasuke was positioned behind Naruto, and Kakashi stood between the two pairs of ninja facing each other. It was a tradition that went back centuries. Marriages represented more than just the bonding of two individuals: they meant a bonding of clans, and alliances had often been sealed through such unions. Of course, in the days before the founding of the Hidden Villages when each clan was a political and military entity unto itself, the enemies of the clans involved in the marriage would see it as a threat. It wasn't uncommon for them to disrupt such weddings by any means necessary. As a result, it had become commonplace for the bride and groom to each choose a powerful friend or relative who would both act as witness and protect the couple from any dangers that arose during the ceremony. It was an extremely serious responsibility, as more than one such witness had been called upon to give their lives in defense of a young man or woman who was about to be wed.

Although the days of the clan wars were past, it was a plain fact that there were countries that had not joined the Great Alliance, not to mention missing-nin with no ties to any nation. And although the Fourth Great Ninja War had been a little over four years ago, so many people had died that the Five Great Nations were still nowhere near their peak strength. They wouldn't fully recover until the next generation of shinobi grew up. So while you might call Sasuke paranoid (and Naruto had), he had good reason for suggesting that Naruto stay in Sage Mode during the ceremony, and for insisting that the bride and groom each have the traditional protector-witness.

With Naruto drawing on the natural energy gathered by a clone sitting among the guests in the back row, plus the presence of Hiashi, Kakashi, and Sasuke, anyone who tried to prevent the union of Houses Hyuuga and Uzumaki would be well and truly screwed.

"Hyuuga Hinata, do you hereby affirm before these witnesses that you have come here freely, without coercion, to bind your fate to this man for the rest of your days?" Kakashi's voice had the same laid-back, bored tone it always did, but there was a glint in his one visible eye that suggested he was greatly enjoying this moment. Even if Naruto did suspect that he had a copy of Icha Icha Paradise hidden inside the Book of Ceremonies.

"I do."

With his Sage Mode active, Naruto could sense the chakra signatures and mental states of everyone present. He felt Hinata's habitual nervousness being overwhelmed by her conviction that she was making the right decision, and a gentle joy that shone through all of her features. He perceived Hiashi's protectiveness and a pride that the older man rarely allowed to show on his features. He sensed something from Lee, seated in the third row, that the green-clad man would no doubt have described as "the brightly shining flames of youth!"

And something else as well.

"Uzumaki Naruto, do you hereby affirm before these witnesses that you have come here freely, without coercion, to bind your fate to this woman for the rest of your days?"

He couldn't believe it. His Sage Mode must be malfunctioning or something. He recognized the chakra signature positioned next to Hiashi, and there was no way, no way at all, that it could be there. It was unmistakable, not just the Advanced Bloodline, but the experience of having overcome a lifetime of bitterness. The determination to thwart fate, to choose your own path even when everyone around you told you that you couldn't. It was the energy of someone who had started out as his polar opposite but who had become, in the end, more like him than either of them would have thought possible.


Naruto cut off his exclamation, but he saw Hiashi and Kakashi's eyes widen. Their own chakra flared, and his enhanced perception told him it was because they had jumped to entirely the wrong conclusion about what he had been about to say. Kakashi activated his Sharingan, assuming that only a powerful genjutsu could make Naruto deny his intent to marry Hinata. Hiashi's chakra, meanwhile, was projecting a very clear message of You'd best take that back, young man, or I will Jyuuken you into next Thursday, Hokage or not. And he was pretty sure that even from a distance of ten feet away, he could hear Sakura cracking her knuckles.

Luckily, the years Naruto had spent as Konoha's number-one prankster had taught him how to recover quickly. "Never fear!" (He immediately sensed the relaxation of everyone around him as he presented them with a new interpretation for his earlier abbreviated reply.) "I promise to love and protect Hinata for the rest of my life, and I never go back on my word! That's my ninja way!"

The skin at the corner of Kakashi's eye crinkled in the way that meant he was smiling under his mask. "Then before all the people here assembled, in the sight of gods and men, I hereby proclaim you husband and wife. May your union be prosperous and full of joy."

A loud cheer rose from the guests, and even the usually stoic Hiashi cracked a smile. Naruto knew he was supposed to kiss Hinata now, and he very much wanted to kiss Hinata, but he couldn't rip his attention away from that chakra (all spiritual, no physical, his Sage senses told him) still hovering at Hiashi's elbow. Just behind Hinata, sharing with her father the place of one who had accepted the sacred duty of witness and protection on her wedding day.

"Hey dead-last, are you going to kiss your wife or just stand there gaping at her all day?" Needless to say, that was Sasuke.

If your oh-so-powerful Sharingan could see what my Sage senses can, you'd be gaping too! What Naruto said out loud was, "Idiot, don't you know you can't rush these things?" Then he swept Hinata up into a bear hug and kissed her full on the lips. The cheers from the audience rose in volume.

Naruto and Hinata strode down the aisle between the rows of their families and friends, following a winding path through the gardens towards the large pavilion where the reception was being held. On the way there, they passed a small cage hung from the branch of a tree, with a multicolored finch singing inside. A wild finch of the same species was perched higher up in the tree, apparently attracted by the caged finch's song. Naruto reached out one hand and poked the door of the cage, springing the latch. The finch inside stopped singing, hesitated for a few moments, then fluttered out to join its fellow. Naruto glanced back over his shoulder, grinning at the space beside Hiashi that was, as far as anyone else could tell, completely empty.

The anomalous chakra flared, then dissipated, fading into some other place that not even Sage talent could perceive.

Naruto was fairly certain that Hyuuga Neji had just returned his smile.

A/N: I finished this two or three days ago, but it sat on my hard drive because I couldn't think of a title for it. The title I eventually picked is a reference to Paul Laurence Dunbar's poem "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" (the first line of which has become famous as the title of Maya Angelou's autobiography). Once I thought of it, it seemed like an obvious choice, given all the "caged bird" metaphors and imagery surrounding Neji.

Happy Holidays, everyone!