Well, this is it. The end of a long literary journey, one that I'm happy you guys were here to experience with me. I started this a few days into January, and here we are in the middle of April. Goodbye forever, friends.
Who am I kidding we all know That the sequel is already started lol. This little epilogue chapter here is mostly a heads up for everyone since I'm posting the first chapter of the sequel at roughly the same time. That being said, hopefully,aftere this I see you over in "Naruto: Changing Times, Darker Days". Also, This is day 14 from my last update, so I managed to be right on time!
This here is a mishmash of thought snippets from a few characters during the year Naruto is off training. Enjoy it or skip it, just know that I'm happy you were ever with me in the first place!
Ino leaned heavily over the counter of her family flower shop, her head resting on one hand and her hair being twirled in the other. The invasion had happened only a week ago, and yet everyone was back to an almost normal routine. Was that messed up or was it just her? There were more than a few people that died, and now everyone was laughing as they fixed buildings and holes in the walls.
The blond girl sighed to herself as she thought of people that 'died'. Everyone knew by now that Hinata's body was a fake, and now there was a surge of anger and hostility directed at both Kumo and Iwa. Ino didn't care too much about the political side of things, though. The whole situation had torn Naruto apart… twice. It was something Ino hated to see happen.
Try as she might, she couldn't shake her feelings for the crazy jinchuriki. While she was happy beyond words that he had secured the heart of the princess he wanted from before, her own heart was still sore from the day she had her own hopes dashed against the rocks. She knew he didn't mean to do it, but his lying to her about his relationship with the Hyuuga had given her a very, very poor hope.
Why did she start avoiding him again? Sure, seeing him laugh or even smile in her direction made her heart flutter and stomach drop, but she could accept that she couldn't have him. Sure, there was a burning pit of jealousy whenever she had seen Hinata seemingly attached to her arm. And sure, she felt like the most despicable person alive when she heard that Hinata had supposedly died and didn't dare approach him in fear of suspicion. Wow, she really wasn't all that good of a person, was she?
Ino left the counter as she found herself in her own head, trying to busy her hands around the store as she internally debated.
Was there a small glimmer of hope when she received the news of Hinata's passing? Eventually, yes. Two days afterward, actually. Hinata was her friend before her rival for Naruto, she had learned her lesson with Sakura about doing this the other way around. The same went for Naruto, and she had wanted nothing more than to find and comfort him while he was likely hurting the most he had in a long time.
If it wasn't for Shika she would have gone, too. Leave it to that lazy smart-ass to show her reason. Everything he said had been true, of course. Maybe if she wouldn't have freaked out when they found out of Naruto's secret relationship, she could have seen him. Maybe if she had remained his friend instead of avoiding him there wouldn't have been any suspicion of her being a heartless opportunist.
All she could do now was hope that Hinata was found unharmed, or else Naruto would start a war all on his own. And since her father had pledged the clan's support, she'd be dragged into it as well. That's not saying she wouldn't fight for Naruto or Hinata, but if it came to that someone was going to be wiped from the map. In Ino's humble opinion of the boy of her affections, of course.
It didn't matter too much anyway, Naruto would be gone for a year, plenty of time to get over a boy in any case. She did say hi to him the day she found out that Hinata was alive, and he seemed friendly enough. Apparently, Sakura had got him to come home to hear the news, and then he tagged all of the people he considered a family with his Hirashin. He's an impressive one, that's for sure…
Ino idly watered the plants as her mind wandered, thinking of other things to keep her thoughts from Naruto. She'd see him in a year, and she could start rebuilding the friendship then. It wouldn't be like when they were kids. She'd do things right this time.
Kiba felt the sweat running down his nose as he furiously went through another set of push-ups. His mind was a mess, his thoughts scattered by the haze of anger he felt, the anger he knew was likely mirrored by Naruto.
Who the fuck did Iwa and Kumo think they were, taking his teammate like that?
Kiba pushed himself through the shaking fatigue in his arms, finishing the set and setting himself about his laps around the training field with Akamaru. He had made one pass at the girl, back in the academy. Her response then was timid and meek, totally not his type of woman. But when they were assigned to the same team, he noticed how her confidence seemed to grow, along with her already impressive fighting abilities.
Kiba was the youngest child of his mother, so the closest thing he ever felt to brotherly protectiveness was to Akamaru, and that hardly counted. His sister could handle herself, so Kiba had never really had the kind of protective affection that came from having a younger sibling.
Until Hinata. With Shino being so emotionally distant, the majority of the bonding came from Hinata and Kiba. She confided her crush on Naruto to him long before that dolt had any idea of it, and he told her of his worries about being strong enough to earn his clan's pride. They grew close and eventually Shino was added into the fold, but Kiba felt the most connected to Hinata.
And someone had taken her. In the end, all that meant was that someone was going to die, and as long as Kiba drew breath it wouldn't be his teammate.
There was one thing for certain that every one of his graduating class knew: war was coming and they had to get stronger. Naruto had left to do so, and he was already a freak of nature as it was. Everyone had thrown themselves into some form of extra training between missions, even Shikamaru. There was no way he was getting left behind, and Akamaru agreed with him.
If the world wanted to come after Hinata or Konoha, then the answer was honestly quite simple. The world would pay.
Itachi stood upon the roof of his childhood home, overlooking both his old attached training ground and his rapidly advancing baby brother. Itachi was hailed as a genius growing up, and with good reason. That being said, it wasn't like he didn't have amazing teachers. Sasuke was almost similarly impressive, and under Itachi's tutelage, he would only grow stronger. Itachi held a hand to the side of his head, feeling one of the residual throbs from his new eyes.
Tsunade had insisted on having the Uchiha brothers swap eyes when she heard of the possibility of the Eternal Mangekyo curing his sight. In truth, he was in serious debt to the legendary medic, and for more reasons than just his eyesight.
Apparently, the sickness that had been ailing him since childhood was a rare form of a disease in his bones. He didn't bother learning the name of it, he was only concerned with how the woman said she was able to cure it. It would take her a week to gather the medicine needed to do so, but he was excited nonetheless. Sasuke even more so.
Itachi smiled as his thoughts drifted to the younger brother that was working tirelessly beneath him. He had made the best choice of his honestly miserable life when he decided to spare him that night. Sasuke was now working on mastering shape manipulation for lightning, an impressive feat for his tender age. Granted, Itachi had it down years prior, but it was a different time then.
Sasuke was for some reason hell-bent on modifying the Chidori as soon as he was able. Itachi saw the appeal, it was a jutsu that was designed to be most effective for wielders of the Sharingan after all.
Sasuke had a lot of plans on improving himself, many of which Itachi took an active role in teaching him. His genjutsu was improving, and once a few more days passed and their eyes were fully healed he planned to start teaching him the powers of their bloodline.
Checking the time, Itachi prepared himself to start dinner and send Sasuke off. As he cooked, Sasuke would go see Zabuza at the Uzumaki compound for his hour of kenjutsu, and when he returned Itachi decided to start telling him of the plans for the days ahead.
Itachi promised Sasuke that he'd be much closer to being Naruto's equal at the end of the year, and he planned to make good on that promise.
Tsunade sat down at her desk, the pile of papers in front of her making her feel very much how she imagined her sensei did every day. The hospital had been a busy place since the invasion, and there was a lot of paper to slog through. That being said, she wasn't upset. She was still in Konoha so she wouldn't say she was happy, but she definitely the most… content… that she had been in a long, long time.
The training wing had started out relatively slow, but a few months in and it was a raging success. Students also had plenty of practice, there were plenty of shinobi that were running themselves into the ground to prepare for the coming war. There was also the odd team that came in from active missions, but they were far less than the former type of patients.
Her best student, you could say apprentice at this point, was one Sakura Haruno. On her own she had blown by the beginner's course, months before Tsunade had ever seen her. With a few minor adjustments to her technique, Sakura was the only one in the advanced class, and she was halfway through it already.
In truth, the pink haired teen was the brightest up and coming medic nin Tsunade had ever personally seen, Shizune included. Sakura's rough usage of the strength multiplier was a testament to this since the chakra control required was on a higher level of medical requirements as well. In fact, Sakura was even reading up on Tsunade's own Strength of a Hundred seal, the first aside from herself to even attempt the technique.
Tsunade couldn't help but smile to herself when she thought of the girl's reason for wanting such rapid growth. That team of hers was something else, and she didn't want to settle herself on 'better than average'. Tsunade knew that Naruto would come back one of the strongest in the village, and Sasuke wouldn't be far behind him. If Sakura could accomplish the goals she has set for herself, then Tsunade saw the next set of Sannin becoming better than the originals. They were already closer as a team.
Tsunade got down to looking over papers, a bottle of Sake already open next to her. She never drank heavily while at work and limited herself to only two bottles. She was so responsible, it was honestly amazing.
The Third Hokage frowned in his large chair. Things were not going as smoothly as he had hoped. Orochimaru was a slippery specimen, and so far he and his entire 'village' had escaped every tracking team's notice. They had scoured most of Sound country, but the village proved harder to find than even Takigakure.
He couldn't even ask his predecessors for help, for they had both been dispelled within a week as Tobirama had predicted.
On top of this, both Iwa and Kumo were being difficult. Neither would admit to their hand in Hinata Hyuuga's capture, and both vehemently blamed the other. All in all, it gave Hiruzen a headache.
He was doing his best to buy the time he had promised Naruto, although he knew if war broke out sooner than expected they could get the blond back in a literal flash. The jinchuriki had left tags or kunai with several of his closest friends. As it was, a message sent to Hiruzen from a village in question could be held onto for roughly two weeks before his reply would seem overly tardy. With that timeframe in mind, he figured he had roughly three months before tensions broke, and almost four until Naruto was due to return.
It was manageable. Hiruzen could always ask for a month of reprieve, a month to talk with a reeling Suna. The poor village in the sand was a mess, and Hiruzen knew the only thing keeping them safe from an attack was the fact that they were still allies with Konoha. They needed to pick a new Kazekage, and soon.
Jiraiya was a whole separate issue. He had taken Kakashi and Anko to try and find Orochimaru, Akatsuki, or Hinata. They each had personal reasons for wanting to find each of the targets, and they were all more than skilled enough to take on the task. The biggest issue was that none of the targets were prone to be located.
Akatsuki was still a wildcard in the world. Jiraiya brings him occasional whispers of them wanting the Biju and the jinchuriki, but the only reported absence of either was Yagura of Mist. They were biding their time, and it worried Hiruzen to no end for what they could be waiting for.
His only real solace was the fact that Tsunade was home. She was home and she was as close to happy as she had been in years, and Hiruzen held onto a silent hope that she would take the hat. At least until a certain blond was ready for it.
With all this and more on his mind, Hiruzen Sarutobi turned back to the paperwork he had on his desk. Maybe a bit more strong-arming would get someone to fess up, but then again maybe it would expedite a war. Who knew?
Neji stood with an arm outstretched, his entire body covered in an angry sweat. There were three incapacitated clan members surrounding him, the sparring session finally having come to a close. His anger wasn't directed at the people he was fighting, surprisingly, and he could almost feel an equal amount of rage emanating from another on the edge of the field.
Neji was pissed. Hiashi even more so. Hinata was the root of both of the men's anger, but for a pair of different reasons. Hiashi was understandably upset at the attack and kidnapping on his daughter, and it wasn't even the first attempt. That was what made Neji so angry. Kumo had done this before, and they had the audacity to (unknowingly) steal his father from him.
It didn't help matters that Hinata was one of the few people from his clan that he respected. In the beginning, the respect stemmed from her relation to Naruto, but after Neji had a conversation with his uncle he started to see her as something other than a disgrace.
Even as Neji relaxed his stance and walked towards his uncle he could see the words his father wrote him dancing in front of his eyes. Neji had lived his life wrong, and Hinata had been the only clan member to never truly hate him for it. Like his father, Hinata had given up the life she knew with the clan for love. For sacrifice. Something Neji had never even considered doing. She was stronger than him in that regard, but unlike him, she didn't gloat about it.
Neji brushed past his clan head, satisfied with his own performance. He had spoken much less since his defeat at Naruto's hands, and Hiashi took it as a sign of improvement. Today was Neji's last test, and since he had beaten the three of the next strongest fighters around his age, Hiashi would train with him personally. Neji looked at it mostly as a means to get vengeance on Kumo… as much as he hated to do so. His father wouldn't be very proud of such trains of thought.
It was hard, trying to change one's entire lifestyle and habits of thought. He was trying, but he knew it would take a while. Neji vowed to change himself into someone his father would be proud of, and someone who can honestly apologize to Hinata and Naruto when he saw them again. And he was prepared to make the effort to change for as long as it needed.
Karin oversaw the construction of yet another clan building on the compound. Naruto had left her in charge, and she was going to make sure that he came home to a compound he could be proud of. She was, of course, watching the work from the comfort of one of the clan building's lounging rooms, but she was also training.
Her sensory abilities had only grown over the course of the last year. She wasn't a fighter like either of the other two people in the compound, but she was useful in her own ways. Karin had actually started a nice group of friends in the village, and they all came over Sunday nights for a kind of girl's night. At least dinner.
Haku was of course there, but so was both Ino and Sakura. Tenten was their most recent addition, and it wasn't until Tenten said something that Karin realized that she had fit herself into the graduating class that Naruto was a part of.
The girl's nights weren't too expensive, nothing Haku didn't contribute to the clan accounts in a given month. There were still millions upon millions left in the account as it was, and Karin had Naruto's permission, so she wasn't too worried.
The clan head had kept in touch with her, sending a clone for updates or at the least a toad with a note. Karin knew that he was getting ready to come home within the next month, and she was more than a little excited. She did promise to herself that she'd hold off on winning him over until after they got Hinata back because then Hinata could help her convince him of taking advantage of 'repopulating the clan'. At least, she hoped she would.
Sakura lay face down, panting into the dirt of the training field. It was late, much later than most people trained. In truth, this scene wasn't uncommon in the village anymore. The majority of active shinobi would literally train themselves into the dirt like this, the only difference for Sakura was the fact that she couldn't see the sun anymore.
She had taken up extra training on top of what Tsunade gave her. Again, many people were taking extra time to train, but Sakura really felt like she was taking it a step further. Not only was she completing crazy tasks from one of the village's Sannin, but she was also attempting to complete the impossible tasks from the village's resident taijutsu specialist. Yup, Gai was giving her instructions that left her body broken almost every night, but she simply saw that as more practice to heal herself.
She had completed the Strength of a Hundred technique as of a few weeks ago, and she had the outrageous idea to try and learn to open a couple of gates to augment her instantaneous healing. When she had brought the idea to Gai, there had been plenty of shouting about youth, and then she had to prove that she could manage to heal herself to the extent she said she could.
Sakura hoped to be able to open at least the first gate by the time Naruto came home, that way she could accompany him and Sasuke whenever they went to retrieve Hinata. It was honestly crazy that she hadn't been found yet, and she also knew that it wouldn't stand once Naruto was put on the case.
Sasuke was… amazing. He was a great boyfriend once he pulled his own walls down enough to be a human, and he somehow managed to balance small dinners and dates in between both of their rigorous training schedules. He trained every day with his brother, every other day with Zabuza, and the days he didn't study the sword he would train and spend time with her.
Naruto had better not be slacking because if he was Sakura figured she and Sasuke would give him a run for his money.
Sasuke sheathed the plain katana with a shaky breath. Zabuza stood across from him, giving a simple nod of dismissal before the older man turned and left. Sasuke fell onto a bench, leaning his head back and breathing loudly. The ex-Kiri nin knew his craft well, and Sasuke had yet to land more than a glancing blow during their spars. At least the man had stopped barking insults and corrections, so Sasuke knew he was making decent progress.
The thoughts of progress made him think back. Itachi had trained him very well, and Sasuke knew he could take on a pretty decent sized force on his own. He was also at the point where he could complete genjutsu on eye contact like the legends about his clan members. Sasuke doubted he would ever match his brother with 'genjutsu completion with a finger point', but it wasn't Sasuke's main strength in the first place.
Sasuke had also made a pair of modifications to the Chidori. When he showed it to Kakashi during his only visit over the past months the one-eyed man had been proud. Probably as proud as a father would have been.
Sakura also trained with him. Well trained until they usually had a small dinner date, but enough for him to see her own improvement. He honestly couldn't block her attacks anymore, otherwise, the training session would be over and she'd be healing his arms. Sasuke was proud of her too, and he no longer felt like that he'd have to protect her on a mission. She was more than capable now.
Sasuke had led a few missions over the last few months. Nothing as crazy as the ones he went on as a genin, but they were challenging enough. Sakura had even come along for his first one, something about easing the transition of leading near strangers.
Sasuke knew his growth was rapid. His Mangekyo had assured him of that. The techniques he had with his dojutsu was frankly quite unfair, but he would utilize them without hesitation. Since both he and his brother now had Eternal Mangekyo he also no longer worried about going blind.
And his brother! Sasuke thought he was amazing before, but after Tsunade had both swapped their eyes and healed his brother's illness Itachi had skyrocketed in his ability. It was like gravity seals had bogged down every aspect of his older brother, and now they were gone. Everything Itachi did was so crisp and flawless, Sasuke counted it as a victory if he landed more than two shots during training.
He hoped Naruto's training kept him in shape as well because it would be nice to spar with someone his age that he could go all out against. With Itachi, it could be disheartening since he never seemed to be able to hit his brother, but Sasuke knew Naruto would give him the fight he wanted.
Orochimaru sat in a lavish room, lounging in utter comfort in a large house in Mist. The last year had been more than entertaining to watch. His spies had reported that idiot teammate of his scouring the countryside of Sound looking for him. His old Sensei was struggling under the pressure of the Hyuuga heiress' kidnapping. Iwa and Kumo were getting fed up with the accusations and were geared for war.
Orochimaru sat up, stretching as he decided it was time to join the fray.
"Yagura, find Kabuto and tell him to bring me Sasuke. It's about time I got myself a new body."
See you in "Naruto: Changing Times, Darker Days"!