Hello, all. Another chapter of Love's Never Easy brought to you by Serious Sam, with a bunch of help and input from his co-writer and friend, Chewie Cookies.

We're winding down to the end of this whole thing, and honestly I'm a bit saddened about it. While I could use one less project on my table, I have to say I enjoyed finishing this for Ayrmed. I know right now she's looking down, happy that something she enjoyed doing so much was brought to a conclusion and published for everyone who loved reading her work.

Also, to reiterate what I said the last two chapters...

Take a minute. Leave a review. Not for me, but for Ayrmed's family who wants to see this story finished – not only for her, but for this community she loved so much. Show her family how much her writing meant, and that even though she's gone, she won't be forgotten. Make these chapters count.

Let's get to the story!



Chapter 32 – All is Revealed

The front door to the Yamanaka Flower Shop flew open and Naruto burst in. Kiba, Shino, Tenten, Shikamaru, Lee, Choji, and Ino were all there. They all stopped and turned to stare at their friend who was walking towards them, waving a bottle in each hand.

"Hey, everyone!" he shouted, grinning from ear to ear. "I'm a father!"

Any irritation they might have had over their conversation being loudly interrupted vanished almost instantly.

"Congratulations, knucklehead!" Kiba said, slapping him on the back.

"Yeah, man!" Choji punched him in his left shoulder. "Who'd have thought you'd be the first of us to have a kid?"

"Yosh!" Lee gave Naruto his classic thumbs-up. "You are surely overflowing with the power of…"

Tenten smacked Lee in the back of his head. "I swear, we're going to break you of that habit if it kills us." Then she smiled and hugged Naruto. "But seriously, congratulations. What did you have? Boy or girl?"

"It was a boy." Naruto handed one of the bottles to Shikamaru. "I brought some saké so we can all toast to my good fortune."

Shikamaru eyed the bottle skeptically. "You remember what happens when Lee drinks alcohol, right?"

"Yup! That's why I also brought this!" Naruto handed a bottle to Lee, who was still kneeling on the floor, rubbing the lump on his head Tenten gave him. "Ta da! A nice, safe bottle of good old grape juice!"

Lee mumbled the word 'thanks' and started uncorking the bottle, while Shikamaru did the same with his.

"What did you name him?" the Nara asked curiously.


Ino handed him a bunch of plastic cups from behind the counter. "How big was he?"

Naruto blinked in confusion. "Big? What do you mean?"

"She wants to know how long the baby is." Tenten took one of the cups and Shikamaru filled it halfway with some saké. "And how much did he weigh?"

"What's that got to do with anything?" He cocked an eyebrow at her. The question didn't make any sense at all. "Baa-chan said he's healthy, and he's got the right amount of fingers and toes. Why should anything else matter?'

"Because it does, you idiot!" Ino snapped while her own glass was being filled. "Women like to know these kinds of things. How long was he and how much did he weigh?"

Naruto scratched his head. He'd never understand how a woman's mind worked – but that was probably for the best. Shikamaru was way smarter than he was, and even he never solved that particular puzzle. Otherwise, he probably wouldn't be dating Temari.

"Umm, I guess about this long…" Naruto held his hands in front of him about two feet apart. "…and he weighed about as much as a medium sized ham."

"So about twenty inches long, and about seven to eight pounds," Ino stated flatly.

"Yeah. That sounds about right."

Tenten developed a nasty facial tick, and Ino glared daggers at Naruto. Clearly, they were both expecting more than the meager scraps of information Naruto just fed them.

"Troublesome," Shikamaru muttered. Naruto had no idea of the hornet's nest he just stirred up, and Shikamaru didn't want any part of it. "I really don't feel like drinking saké at ten o'clock in the morning. Lee, where's that grape juice Naruto brought for you?"

"Here, my friend." Lee offered him the bottle. "Help yourself."

"Anyway," Choji interjected, hoping to stave off any violent outbursts, "a toast!"

"A toast!" everyone else said in unison.

"Naruto, you were the dead last at the academy," Choji quipped, "and I don't know how you tricked Ino into helping you brainwash Hinata…"

"Hey!" Ino and Naruto protested, while everyone else laughed.

"…but you somehow managed to get married and have a kid before any of us. You finally finished first where it really counted." Choji raised his glass, and they all followed suit. "To the happy couple."

Everyone sipped their drinks, but for some reason Shikamaru scrunched his face. "Hey, this grape juice tastes funny," he remarked to no one in particular.

"So," Kiba piped up after downing his glass in one shot, "when do we get to see the baby?"

Naruto finished off his own drink. "Anytime you want. Baa-chan moved Hinata and Kiseki out of the secure wing of the hospital and into a private room a half an hour ago. She said we don't have to worry about the Hyūga council anymore."

"We have also heard rumors to that effect, but very little else," Shino said dryly. "Were they finally arrested for their crimes?"

Naruto shook his head. "No. All Baa-chan would say is that someone took care of the problem. And that it wasn't Hiashi."

That wasn't much to go on, and Naruto might not have put the pieces together but everyone else certainly did. Whatever happened in the Hyūga compound, they were being tight-lipped about it – even more so than usual. However, if Hiashi wasn't involved and the problem was 'taken care of', that meant the elders were more than likely dead.

Who had the power and skill to sneak into the Hyūga compound and take down ten high-level Byakugan users? The list of people who could pull that off had to be remarkably short.

"Hey, Naruto…" Shikamaru said with a slight tremble in his voice, "…did you even look at this grape juice before you bought it?"

"Umm, not really. I just grabbed a bottle off the shelf while I was buying the saké. Why?"

"So you bought it at the liquor store?"

"Yeah, but so what? It's grape juice!"

"It's fermented grape juice," Shikamaru explained. "Do you know what that means?"

"Nosh," a voice slurred from behind the group, "Whuts…whutsch that meansh, Shikemarroo?"

Ino, Kiba, Tenten, Choji and Shino blanched at the sound. Their day just took a turn for the worse.

"Alcohol, Naruto," Shikamaru groaned disapprovingly as he made a hand sign, preparing to use his signature jutsu to help take down Lee as quick, and with as little damage to the flower shop as possible. "It means alcohol."



"I'll kill him."

Ino sighed for the third time as she pushed Kiba's wheelchair down the hallways of the hospital. "Kiba, we've been over this. Naruto didn't do it on purpose. It was a simple mistake and besides, it's not like you're the only one who got injured." One hand came up and pointed to a large bruise on the side of her face.

"And don't forget, Naruto took more damage than any of us." Choji's crutches creaked under the Akimichi's weight as he walked beside them. "He threw himself at Lee right from the start."

"And that means jack shit, Choji! He's got that insane healing factor, which means he's probably up and walking around by now while I'm still stuck in this wheelchair! They said I'm gonna be here for three days!" Kiba continued to sulk. "I'll bet Akamaru is laughing his ass off at me back at the compound."

"Well, it isn't our fault that your fighting style is more physical than others." Shino intoned as he limped along behind them. "My bugs were mostly ineffective against Lee's drunken fighting style. I was only able to use them as distractions for you, Naruto, and Tenten until Shikamaru was able to hold him down with his Shadow Stitching Jutsu, which allowed Ino to enter his mind and render him unconscious with her mind jutsu."

"And don't forget, Shikamaru has three broken ribs and a dislocated shoulder," Choji added.

"Yeah, and he's home right now with Temari, nursing him back to health," Kiba groused. "She actually felt sorry for him! And all I've got is that battle-axe old nurse with the huge hands."

"Look Kiba, we get it." Tenten was moving slower than the rest of the group. Her left arm was in a sling, and her left foot was in an immobilizing boot. "You drew the short straw in all of this. But look in the bright side – at least we're all in the hospital together, and that gives us an excuse to visit Hinata and the baby."

Kiba immediately brightened up and a smile appeared on his face. "I guess there's that. Think Hinata will introduce me as Uncle Kiba?"

Tenten shrugged, and then winced as pain shot up her arm. "I don't see why she can't do that with all you guys. I mean, it's not like Kiseki has any real uncles…"

They filed into the room and stopped just inside the doorway.

"…left," Tenten finished as she, along with everyone else stared in complete and utter shock at the sight in front of them.

It wasn't the fact that Hinata had modestly covered her chest up with a blanket while she was breast-feeding the baby.

It wasn't the fact that Naruto was standing next to the bed, and that even though his right arm was wrapped in gauze and a few bandages were on his face, it looked like most of his body was healed, just like Kiba said.

"Oh, hey everyone!" Naruto smiled as he waved at them. "Glad you could stop by!"

It was the fact that Neji was standing next to Naruto.

Kiba blinked a few times and shook his head. "Okay, I think the painkillers they gave me were way too strong because I'm starting to hallucinate."

"Yeah, me too," Choji murmured.

"As am I." Shino pushed his sunglasses up the bridge of his nose. "However, if we are all seeing the same thing, I'd venture to guess that this isn't a hallucination."

Naruto suddenly remembered that none of them knew about Neji, since him being alive was a major village secret. Problem was, whether he got the all-clear from Tsunade or not, hiding it wasn't an option anymore.

"Oh, uh… Hey! Look who's here!" Naruto waved his hand with a flourish. "Neji! Turns out he's not dead after all! Isn't that great?"

"Okay, that settles it," Ino muttered, "we're definitely not hallucinating. But how the hell…"

Choji shushed her. Ino was miffed at being interrupted until he motioned his head in Tenten's direction. She was staring at Neji, her eyes open in disbelief and wonder. She stepped forward slowly, never blinking once as she pushed past the group, until she was standing right in front of the supposedly dead Hyūga.

"Hello, Tenten," Neji said warmly, his face remaining blank and expressionless, "it's good to see you again."

Tenten hesitantly reached out and touched his face, tracing her fingers over his cheeks. After fifteen seconds she frowned. "This is a trick," she said, her voice cracking with emotion. "You can't be real. Naruto, Hinata and Lee saw you die in the war."

Neji shook his head. "I assure you this is no trick, Tenten. I'm very real, and very much alive."

Her eyes filled with tears, following her fingers as she took in every nuance of his face. After a minute she took a step back and glared at him.

"Prove it," Tenten said, hoping beyond hope that the person standing in front of her was the real deal.

Neji blinked, startled by her intensity. "Excuse me?"

"I said prove it," Tenten challenged, crossing her arms defiantly over her chest. "Prove to me you're not a clone, or something Orochimaru grew in one of his labs."

He cocked an eyebrow. "How am I supposed to do that, if you won't take my word as the truth?"

"The last time we saw each other – the night before you died – what happened?"

Neji pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. This reunion wasn't turning out anywhere close to how he'd imagined it.

Well, maybe it was. He knew she'd be upset and angry, but he also hoped she'd be overcome with joy that he was alive and home. One thing at a time, he supposed.

"We spent a few hours away from camp, eating field rations and staring at the stars." Neji actually blushed and looked away sheepishly. "I…held your hand while we talked about what life might be like once the war was over."

Tenten pressed her lips together as the tears continued to fall. It wasn't the entire answer, but it was enough – at least for the moment. "How… How did you survive? Where have you been all this time?"

Neji smiled wryly. "That's actually a long story. Perhaps I can tell it to you over dinner? Just the two of us?"

She narrowed her eyes suspiciously. Something was off here – Neji was far too calm about all this. And when everyone walked into the room….

Realization struck her like a thunderbolt. "Wait a minute… You were just standing there, chatting casually with Naruto and Hinata like you were catching up on the day's events. They aren't surprised to see you in the least, which means they knew you were alive."

Everyone blanched as a wave of pinpoint killing intent slammed into Neji. Kiba even rolled his wheelchair back a few feet.

A dark aura of malice and feminine rage formed around Tenten. "How long have you been back in the village?"

Neji swallowed nervously and stared at her, eyes wide with terror. "Ummm… almost three months?"

Her left eye started to tic. "So you've been back in Konoha for almost three months – and you didn't let me know?"

"I didn't really have a choice in the matter, Tenten! My identity was deemed an S-Rank secret by Lady Tsunade. Other than her, the only people who knew of my existence were Hiashi, Hinata and Naruto!"

"I don't give a shit!" Tenten practically screamed. "After what we did together that night – I should rank higher than anyone else!"

Ino leaned over and whispered to Choji, "What do you think they did together?"

"I don't know," he whispered back, "but keep quiet and don't interrupt. You can find out later."

Ino glared at him, but did what she was told. Besides, she was surprised that Choji had the guts to talk back to her. His assertiveness was actually kind of… cute.

Neji fidgeted nervously. "What we did that night was rather private, Tenten. And it wasn't relevant to Lady Tsunade's decision…"

Tenten slammed her fist into his jaw, interrupting his pathetic explanation. "Not relevant my ass! I thought I was someone special to you!" she shouted furiously.

"You were! ARE! Still are! You always will be!"

"Then why wouldn't you tell me? You could've found some way!" Neji cowered on the floor, shielding himself with his arms as Tenten rained her fists down on his body. "You could've sent a letter! You could've had Naruto open his big mouth and let something slip like he always does!"

"Hey!" Naruto shouted defensively.

Choji and Shino stepped forward and pulled Tenten off of Neji. She struggled against their grip, trying to break free but they were stronger than she was. When she finally realized this she cried even harder, clutching at Shino's coat as she buried her face in his chest.

The bug user, unused to physical contact, patted her back in an awkward attempt to comfort her. Ino stared in disappointment at Neji, who was lying on the floor unconscious, swollen and bruised before leaving to get a nurse. Kiba laughed his ass off at the entire scene, wincing occasionally whenever he tweaked his sore ribs and surprisingly enough, Hinata never moved an inch as she continued to breast-feed Kiseki through the whole thing.

"Wow!" Naruto exclaimed, grinning from ear to ear like an idiot. "That didn't go anything like I thought it would. Good thing for Neji we're in the hospital." He raised an eyebrow and scratched the back of his head. "Anyone still want to see the baby?"



"I'm gonna kill him."

Ino groaned as she walked up to the table carrying two trays of food. She placed one in front of Kiba before sitting down with her own. "Didn't you say the same thing about an hour ago?"

"Yeah, what's the problem now?" Choji asked as he scarfed down two trays of his own food.

"The same problem as before!" Kiba grabbed a spoon and started shoveling mashed potatoes in his mouth. "I mean, I'm glad that Neji's alive and all, but now Tenten's sharing a room with him while he's here in the hospital. Neji's letting her fawn all over him like she wasn't the one who put him here in the first place!"

"And let me guess," Shino stated dryly as he picked at his blueberry muffin, "you're upset because another person has someone caring to tend to their injuries while you're stuck with – what were the words you used? A battle-axe nurse with huge hands?"

"Basically, yeah." Kiba huffed as he picked up his overcooked steak with his bare hands and tore into it. "I know I'm being totally selfish and childish, but why the hell do I always have to be the odd man out with the ladies?"

Ino pinched the bridge of her nose in frustration. "Okay, fine. You know what? I really didn't want to play matchmaker anymore, but there's someone I know that might be interested in dating you."

That caught his attention. "You serious? Who is it? What's she like? Is she hot?"

"Her name's Tamaki. Brown hair, brown eyes, a couple years younger than you. Sunny disposition but kind of shy. Oh, and she loves animals."

A grin split his face. "Really? She loves dogs?"

"Actually, she's got a thing for cats."

The smile vanished from his face. "Cats?"

"Yes, Kiba. Cats." Ino's lips twitched with suppressed mirth. Choji laughed until he almost choked on his food. Even Shino managed a dry chuckle at the irony of it all.

"Are you still interested?"



"Everything finally seems to be falling into place," Shino observed, pushing his glasses up his nose.

"It appears so, yes," Neji agreed. He had two black eyes, a swollen lip and a bandage across his broken nose. "However, I wish our reunion was somewhere other than the hospital. And I could have done without the injuries."

"You only have yourself to blame, Neji." Tenten sat next to him, clutching his arm as she rested her head on his shoulder. Her eyes were closed and she had a smile of contentment on her lips. "But I am sorry. Just a little bit." She held up her thumb and index finger two inches apart. "About that much."

"Neji's injuries and Tenten's lack of guilt aside, what are you gonna do now, Naruto?" Choji asked. "Raising a kid isn't easy, and your apartment isn't big enough for the three of you."

"He's got a point, whiskers." Ino fixed her hair and straightened her outfit as she stared into the full length mirror on the wall. "Unless you want to turn your kitchen into a nursery, that is."

Naruto scrunched his face. Choji was right – between the months waiting for Hinata to wake up, then the wedding and the birth of his son, he'd completely forgotten about a place to live. His apartment was cramped even for only one person.

"Don't worry so much, Choji." Hinata smiled as her hand snaked out and she intertwined her fingers with Naruto's. "My father has offered to buy us a house as a wedding gift. He even has a location in mind – someplace close to the compound."

Neji blinked his swollen eyes a few times. "I don't want to sound skeptical, but all of that seems very out of character for someone like Uncle."

"Yeah." Naruto narrowed his eyes skeptically. "When did that happen? 'Cause I don't remember it."

"It was when you went to dinner with Sakura and Sasuke. The night father and Hanabi kept me company for a few hours."

The same night of whatever the hell happened at the Hyūga compound, everyone else thought silently to themselves.

"Why someplace so close?" Shino was mildly curious.

Hinata shrugged. "I have a few ideas, but rather than guess I'd like to ask my father for the truth directly."

"Well, maybe you can ask him tomorrow. Baa-chan has me in meetings all day. Something about my parent's stuff, and then she's got me starting Hokage training." He groaned and buried his head in his hands. "Man, that's gonna suck."

"Our lives are changing." Shino pulled his hands out of his pockets. One of them held a Shōgi piece. Where he'd gotten it was anyone's guess. "The king is different now."

Hinata raised her eyebrows quizzically. "I'm sorry Shino, I'm not following you. What do you mean, the king is different?"

"It's something Shikamaru once told me." Shino's hand danced as he wove the piece rapidly between his fingers. "In Shōgi, the king is the most important piece. You defend it at all costs."

Choji motioned his head towards Ino. "Yeah, Shikamaru said the same thing to us too. But he never explained it any further than that."

"The King is the next generation of Konoha." Shino displayed the piece for everyone to see. "Until a few days ago, we were the still King, but now the next generation of Konoha has been born."

Neji nodded. "I understand now. The king has changed."

Everyone was silent as they thought about what that meant. After a minute went by, Naruto looked at everyone else and asked, "So then, what do we do now?"

"We prepare for the next generation, just like Shino said." Tenten sighed contentedly as she rubbed her cheek against Neji's muscular arm. "After all, Kiseki was just the first. There'll be more very soon. I'm sure of it."

Tenten's implication was anything but subtle, and everyone – including Naruto, who was usually pretty dense about stuff like this – knew exactly what she was talking about.

Shino chuckled from underneath his coat. Hinata smiled and Ino smirked. Naruto and Choji laughed as they pointed mockingly at Neji, who stared straight ahead, his eyes wide with apprehension as he stared vacantly at some random spot on the hospital wall.

The rest of his life just flashed before his eyes, and it was filled with images of Tenten. The first dozen or so were of them happily married and raising a family. Two children – a boy with Byakugan eyes and a girl with brown hair tied into a single bun – played on a nearby swingset.

The rest were filled with him running from his angry wife, while hundreds of weapons of mass destruction rained down on his head. Enough so that even his Kaiten couldn't protect him.

For a very brief moment he thought about running, but he knew he wouldn't get very far. Tenten, Hinata, Ino and every other female he knew – including the Hokage – would hunt him down and drag him back to face his… punishment.

Maybe coming back to Konoha wasn't such a great idea after all.



A/N: Once again, thank you to Ayrmed's family, specifically her husband and son for letting me finish this story. Thanks to Chewie Cookies for helping me write these chapters.

Next chapter is the last one – the Epilogue. We'll jump ahead and see a few years in the future, and then all will be finished.

Please don't forget to review.

Serious Sam