DISCLAIMER: 'Naruto' is not mine, that happy honour belongs to Kishimoto Masashi! All I own are the new characters and my continuing plot and storyline.

Chapter 57: Legends Never Die … They Are REBORN!

Background Music: Bon Jovi – It's My Life!

The Calling – Where-ever You Will Go


Fuzz.

"Reports … intelligence …"

Fuzz.

"… we repeat … lake … surge of …"

Fuzz.

"… red … powerful energy …"

Fuzz.

"… casualties …"

Pale blue eyes widened.

"North Sector Captain …"

Her sandal skidded roughly in the rubble, the remains of the nearest house. Her breathing suddenly happened a little faster. One damaged hand rose to her headset, fiddled with the reception tuning.

She winced as a sharp shrill sound exploded before the headset responded.

" … North Sector Captain down … casualty section of …"

Her teeth clenched, the girl crouched down, her fists tightened. During everything, her eyes had never left the shadowy figure before her …

The chill night air flew through her hair, ruffling the short ash-blonde tresses, misting as her ragged breaths evaporated before it. The sharpness of the night wind cut into her eyes, but she resolutely kept them forced open, squinting, her teeth clenched, her jaw set.

Because her fight wasn't over.

The loose rubble crunched under her sandals once again as she shifted, her eyes burning into the figure before her, etching every move he had made, reading every move he was about to make … her other hand reached up, her fingers brushed idly against the headset button.

"Come in."

Crunch. Her body tensed as the figure moved.

"I said, come in." Silence. "Does someone read me."

Her breath hissed as her foot came in contact with a depression on the road, a broken, gaping hole which had just been waiting for her heel to plunge through. Within split seconds, she had already regained her balance and poise, and her opponent knew it too, for he hadn't even bothered to move. Her skill and speed … too unpredictable …

Crackle. "We read you. Please state your number and –"

"I don't know. Unless you want me to ask the guy who used to own this headset."

Silence. "Without authorisation –"

The wind whipped through her hair as the girl suddenly leapt backwards, somersaulting and landing upon higher ground, pale blue eyes gazing intensely down at the snarling shadow which had decided to take advantage of her preoccupation, and leapt at her …

"Shut up. Shut up and put me through to Yamanaka-san."

The voice paused. "I'm sorry, I can't –"

"Damn it, just put me through to my father, will you!"

This time, the headset completely flew off. Ino winced as a flash of something electric green shot at her head, narrowly missing her scalp. As the girl once more felt the sharp bite of the wind as it whipped against her exposed wounds and bruises, the tiny shuriken stars effortlessly found their way from the bag at her waist to her fingers, and they cheerily whistled through the air.

As she landed, a grunt of pain signalling the silver stars reaching their target, she whisked the plastic headset off the ground, in time to hear the deep, calm yet urgent voice of her father.

"Dad! Dad! Dad, please tell me, what has been going …"

A crackling silence. Then …

She listened.

Her eyes widened.

A bead of sweat formed on her forehead.

Her body stiffened.

This ain't a song for the broken-hearted …

But her heart soared …


Their headsets had suddenly crackled into life.

One minute, the fierce, sparkling evil of shadowy opponents, and the next, unofficial intelligence seeping through the headphones, the calm, gentle and strong voice they recognised as Yamanaka Inoshin …

Kiba swore loudly as he lost his footing, cursing again as his teammate suddenly leapt up beside him, a powerful fist whistling through the air, meeting forcefully with a jaw.

Lying in the dusty ground, he froze as he heard the voice, the words … No way … this can't be …

Tense, Shino shifted his glasses up the bridge of his nose. He turned, watched the figure on the ground.

Their eyes met.

Their muscles tensed. Their hearts hardened …

No …

Then without a word, with any communication, they leapt up into the air.

The shadows looked up.

Two boys, framed against the backdrop of the moon, and a sudden awakening of fury that they had never seen before.

Fingers brought up in jutsus …

No silent prayer for the faith-departed …


The young Chuunin Captain didn't have time to even think about what he was hearing. His body tensing, it was all he could do to maintain his position, trying to hold the shadow jutsu, all he could do to rely on his partner to do her part …

… Even if she wasn't his usual partner …

Good thing Sakura hadn't heard clearly the situation leaking through the headphones. Good thing that at the very moment, the lithe body had launched itself into the air, slender arms reaching for the bag at her waist, the glimmering silver projectiles as they caught the moonlight one last time before racing, cutting through the night mist, cutting right through the shadowy garments of the opponent, right into the throbbing, pulsing, furious flesh …

Because as she fell back down to earth, the last few fragments of Ino's father's voice crackled softly into the headset …

" … Uzumaki … Naruto …

" … Uchiha … Sasuke …

Shikamaru released his breath, then cursing silently, shifted his body slightly, his fingers clenching, intelligent brown gazing intently at the screaming, agonised figure, the body yearning to writhe in excruciating torment upon the ground, unable to do so as the Chuunin captain held his ground, their shadows locked …

His eyes fell upon Sakura.

Frozen upon the ground. Blue-green eyes widened in pure, raw horror as the messages reached her brain.

And he stared at the sudden dark figures that rose behind her.

His own shadowy fingers had barely reached the opponent's neck, barely had the man's screams died down before Shikamaru already felt himself leaping towards the frozen rose-haired girl …

And barely had she herself heard his own desperate yell for her to look out behind her before something snapped in her eyes …

She thought about what she'd heard …

And the fire burst inside …

The next moment, the Chuunin captain had skidded to a halt, and blinked.

I ain't gonna be just a face in the crowd …


His large silvery eyes, turned electric blue by the chakra racing through his dilated pupils, calmly took in the frozen state below him.

Though his body was already poised, already in position to attack the shadowy would-be assassins who were steadily gaining on the girl, he also read his Chuunin Captain's moves slightly before Shikamaru actually finished his jutsu and starting moving, arm thrown back ready to fling his shuriken, complete with exploding tags at the dark grey mass rising up behind Sakura.

But then Neji calmly watched Sakura move …

A stirring in her deep blue-green eyes …

A stirring, of something awakening …

Her teeth set …

You're gonna hear my voice

When I shout it out loud …

Then a blur …

A scream of fury such as they had never heard before from the girl …

Her teammates were down. Both of them …

… But she didn't have to have seen them go down in order for her fury to awaken …

The stunned expressions of the glimmering white eyes of the shadowy enemy as they sensed her lightning swift presence behind them. Her lithe body, keeping close to the ground. Then, sudden silver sparks as the deadly point of her kunai sliced …

The screams of agonising pain as the young medic ninja sliced viciously, mercilessly through the fine tendons … the Achilles heel …

It's my life

It's now or never …

Neji rose slowly from his crouched position, his body straightening to its full height, one hand absent-mindedly re-tuning the headset's frequency, back to the channel where he had inadvertently, like so many others, heard the calm Yamanaka-san's voice. Long brown hair had come loose from its band, and it was now caught up in the sharp, biting night breeze, lifting it from his shoulders, his forehead …

His eyes, his heart untouched by the viciously cruel act he had just seen the broken, screaming girl perform …

Because he knew … he had known months ago what the rest of his teammates had learned in these past few hours …

The single most important rule of war …

… Show no mercy …

… For you will receive none …

And as a second wave of black madness rose behind the shadowy-cloaked men, screaming and writhing in pain, Neji still didn't move …

I ain't gonna live forever …

For he had already sensed the furious spinning whirlwind that inevitably heralded Lee's arrival, and he all but blasted right into the thick black mass, spouting his usual nonsense. Neji almost sighed in exasperation, and Sakura's eyes suddenly cleared, Shikamaru picked himself up off the ground where the sheer slightly misdirected force had hurled him backwards and yelled up at Lee, who grinned hugely and took no notice. He had successfully saved his lady, after all.

I just want to live while I'm alive …


Breathing hard, TenTen crouched upon the roof, gazing down at the silvery sea of her weaponry, at the occasional twitching body. Her chest heaving, she wiped perspiration from her brow and squinted through her fatigue, and picked out the slight, gentle figure …

My heart is like an open highway …

Like so many other unexpected allies this strange night, she hadn't expected Hinata to have come to her rescue. She hadn't expected the soft, sweet Hinata to have read her mind, wasn't prepared for the girl's razor-sharp and precise speed and accuracy … Certainly hadn't been prepared for her boldness …

Like Frankie said

I did it my way …

She wasn't ready for the mind-reading that had been going on, for the flawless way the heir to one of the most oldest and noblest clans had managed to cover her back, in return …

But she had seen a strange glow in those large silver eyes, and she knew that just lately, something had been stirred awake, something large, and powerful and beautiful …

She finally caught Hinata's eyes as the girl looked up. She saw TenTen framed against the backdrop of the giant pale moon, the silvery-white orb that had been watching over them all night …

Bloodied, bruised, definitely battered … a few sprains here, some more damage which would show up tomorrow …

But Hinata returned TenTen's smile.

I just wanna live while I'm alive …

Even when the earth shook violently in the next street, the girls just watched the giant shape as it continued to flatten the houses. And they watched the sheer look of shock and horror as the rider and his Summoning beast were brought down, the painful crack! as a powerful, spinning, rolling flesh met bone …

It didn't really matter about Chouji's devastating technique, the mass damage that surrounded his wake …

It's my life!

TenTen smiled a little more brightly.

We'll all rebuild this tomorrow …

Tomorrow …

It's now or never

I ain't gonna live forever

I just wanna live while I'm alive …


Her twin golden tresses caught the breeze … the silky lightness allowed them to be lifted … swayed to in the inaudible melody …

Beautiful golden-brown eyes surveyed the village … her village …

On either side of her, they stood, one tall, with long, white hair and ripped robes, that the wind did what it liked with … the other, gnarled, wrinkled yet still strong hands firmly gripping his staff, blood-splattered and streaked robes, and the largest, most brilliant green eyes …

Her headset was in her hand, one of her Jounin's voices playing out in her head … his words of the events reverberating in the cavernous walls within her mind …

Naruto …

Sasuke …

Danah …

All that had been happening, and we didn't even know …

And added to all that … what our new Genin have had against them … the way they have responded to this horrible …

Oh Kami-sama … exactly what had you planned for us this night …?

Her hand clenched.

For the second time that night, her fist closed tightly over the headset, shattering it into a million pieces.

"Jiraiya."

He didn't turn his head, just quietly registered the dead-sounding tone of her voice. The dead sound, and yet … something else, brimming underneath …

"Raidon …"

As if in answer to the Thunder-God's name, an enormous eagle screeched from the Cliffside top rising behind them, a proud, defiant eagle's scream that reverberated throughout the air, and even within their bodies …

This is for the ones who stood their ground …

"Don't you think our young Leafs have done enough?"

A smile twitched at his lips. A strong, calloused hand rose, clutched at his torn shoulder, the wound which had been freely bleeding before he'd forced it closed. He winced as he applied pressure once again, and pulled his robes into place.

"Yeah, Princess Washboard-Chest … I think you're right."

This time, Tsunade smiled. A full, complete smile. She raised her hand to her lips, a bead of blood hovering on her broken skin as she took her hand away … a smear against her wrist …

For Tommy and Gina who never backed down …

"Sparrow-fart, I don't think you'd want your daughter's almost-sacrifice tonight to go to waste, eh?"

The tiny little sage grinned, the youthful eyes glimmering in his ancient, wizened old face. My daughter, eh …

"Then I suppose we'd better get a move on, eh?"

He laughed. His hand already soaked in his blood …

The Dragon King leapt into the air, somersaulting backwards with furious speed. In answer to his silent summons, the giant, regal bird atop the cliff spread enormously monstrous wings, and soared down, meeting his Summoner halfway. As Raidon crouched down upon his mount, he heard the other two …

"KUCHIYOISE NO JUTSU!"

Tomorrow's getting harder make no mistake …

Luck ain't even lucky

Got to make your own breaks!


A calm ruthlessness. If anyone knew the rules of war, it was the silver Jounin.

Show no mercy. For you will receive none …

It's my life

And it's now or never …

The black and silver shadow warrior swept through the village …

There's nothing left anymore …

Nothing left …

Vicious slices and jabs here and there, as unfeeling, as emotionless, cold, unaffected …

This has to end …

… It's true, shinobi are tools of war …

I ain't gonna live forever …

A fatal stab, casual flick of his kunai here, swish of katana there …

… But not when you are fighting for something you love …

… Not when you are fighting … to defend your home …

… Because when shinobi fight to defend something they love …

A Leaf Chuunin narrowly dodged flying, whirling shurikens … he leapt nimbly in front of the shivering figure, another bored twist of his sword, a little dance of his feet …

… Then we are not tools …

I just want to live while I'm alive …

(It's my life)

Crouching down, he collected a bead of blood from a gash on his arm, slammed his palm against the ground.

"NINPOU …"

… We are defending something rare, something precious …

"TRACKING FANG NO JUTSU!"

Snarling, growling, roaring … the sleek, powerful bodies of his hounds shot away with incredible speed … they needed no shouted command from their master, no order … the understanding was complete, the bond was mutual …

My heart is like an open highway …

The beautiful silver-haired Jounin rose to his full height, and stood for a moment, just letting the sharp air relax his muscles, soothe his aching body …

… That is where true strength really lies …

… All my ANBU missions, every single mission I have ever completed with my team …

… They've taught me more in this past year, than I feel I've learnt my whole life …

… And now …

A vicious, furious, heated clash of swords, hands, feet, blasts of chakra in the village square, where only hours ago children had been building snowmen.

Tired, fatigued, wearied bodies, failing, falling, completely spent, knowing they were going to lie down and give their last breath for the village that was so precious to them … knowing they were never to see their families again …

… Wishing they had told those they loved more often that they loved them, because no could ever know when their last chance would be …

… Realised as they fell wearied to the soft, white blankets that they were not tools of war after all …

… They were not emotionless tools …

… Far from it …

… But too late –

Pained gasps, sharp cries, agonised thumps, groans, cracks …

And at that last, yielding minute, heaven had sent in its beautiful black and silver warrior. A shadow, a shadow that moved within shadows …

And as the wearied Leaf shinobi felt fire, life returning to their limbs, their hearts, the invaders saw the spark of a burning, raging, unquenchable fire, a spark of fury concentrated in the eye of a single man …

"… The Copy Ninja …"

… Their last words, their last sight before the furious beating wings of a thousand birds charged at them, the drumming of a powerful, overwhelming, conquering army …

It was time for the inhabitants of this village to decide how the battle would end …

Like Frankie said

I did it my way …

Hearts thudded forcefully, proudly.

The hearts of men who had watched their sons take first, proud little steps … had received butterfly kisses from their daughters …

The hearts of women who had brought forth life from within them, the little leaves of the village, the little leaves who were the beating hearts, the hidden strength, the guiding hope, the undying, eternal fires of Konoha …

I just want to live while I'm alive …

'Cause it's my life!


It was as if her heart would break.

It took all she had to climb, it took her own weak body's strength and more to climb …

But when Sakura reached the top of the Tower, and looked down upon the destruction, the damage and the sheer carnage below …

Her heart really did break …

If anyone had stood on that street and looked up to the giant Tower of the Shinobi offices, they would have seen a girl …

Short, rose-pink hair … clear, crystal blue-green eyes …

A girl, still and unmoving, eyes closed...hands trembling as they tightened upon a long, slender stick.

A stick she raised to her lips, fingers curled elegantly, holding it sideways …

But no one was there to see …

Because if they had been, they would have understood what had followed …


This is my home …

This too, is the only home I've known …

Naruto …

What Naruto did tonight …

To protect this home …

Her body quivered violently.

As her heart became full of emotion, her eyes opened. Blinking, she refocussed, forcing away the tears.

And once again, she saw the destruction. She saw that as fast as everyone tried to fight, as fast as the monsters were removed, more took their place …

And once more, just once more that night, the fire within her rose …

Raw, primal. It was the emotions that had surfaced when time had begun, when mankind had only lived to survive …

It was the most honest of her emotions that now bubbled, and made it clear, very clear, what her heart was telling her …

And it took from her all the gentleness, all the mercy and compassion that made her the flower she was.

Because this was a time she could show no mercy …

… For none would be given …

Anger. Raging, wild, violent emotions. Unabated fury.

They're destroying our homes.

They're hurting those we love.

I want to...

...kill...

Another earth–shattering tremor. She fell to her knees, defeated as she caught sight of the rising mass in the horizon...

...Claws. Wings. Talons. Spikes. Teeth. Rippling, powerful muscles...

We tried so hard...

It was then that it happened …

A song …

A frightening, haunting, lingering melody lilted into the air...it spoke of hate, of anger, of fury, of passion...

It spoke of loyalty, of love of home, of friends, families...

It spoke of powers stronger than anything, forces, it spoke of the greatest forces in the universe...

But then, the music changed … the melody became darker, frightening, haunting …

Now it was singing of a menace, a dark menace …

It was singing of a deep blackness that threatened to engulf, to burn, to destroy the happiness and beauty of that village …

And it was then, at around exactly that time, that beyond the threatening black shapes lining Konoha's gates, a quivering black mass rose out of nowhere behind them, a deep, guttural growl. Warning, threatening... a mass with no shape …

Shadows within shadows … that was what the people would say later, when they were asked to explain the sudden terrifying unseen alliesthat had turned up. When asked to explain how on earth they had escaped, when asked to describe what their rescuers had looked like …

They could only say describe the leaping, snarling, tearing, clawing, ripping.

And they would say something else, something more terrifying …

… That the unseen, unexpected help was responding … to music

A thick black death, controlled by the strange, beautiful, deadly, lilting melody from a flute …

People would say that out of the shadows, something had lurked. Out of the shadows, help had come.

They would say that from the shadows, maiming jets of water, of fire, claws and talons came flying out … aimed carefully at each of the giant rebellious, insubordinate summoning monsters, thrusting them backwards with unimaginable force, the power propelling itself painfully into ribcages, into thudding hearts.

The confused, pained, startled invaders at the edge of the lake tried running backwards, away from the double, syncopated attack. They ran right into the waiting arms of the beasts of the Fourth Summoning Dimension...

Attacks from front and back, above in the form of swooping, screaming gold...a magnificent golden eagle...attacks from below, as writhing snakes shot up out of the ground, deadly fangs embedding themselves up to the hilt inalready bloodied, pained, broken legs ...

It had truly been then, that the tide had turned. It had been then that the traitorous, confused, rebellious beasts had felt something leaving them … they felt the cruel, hard, cold abandonment, as the controlling force which had lodged itself in their brains, left, leaving behind something empty, vacuous …

Bodies which had been propelled until now, forced beyond their limits, suddenly felt the beginnings of the exhaustion that could only follow …

Exhaustion … but first, it was panic …

Then the screams started.

The most deafening sounds that had ever been heard...

Every Leaf clapped trembling hands tightly over their ears, trying to block out the screams, wails, agonised shrieks and squeals. They watched the invading mass fall, throbbing, twisting, writhing, squirming, and screaming, screaming, screaming...

They gritted their teeth, as the tremors from the thundering, crashing bodies reverberated through the ground, up through their bodies.

Then there was silence …

Slowly they drew away from each other, taking in the sight around them. Mangled, distorted, deformed bodies. Arms and toes lying metres from their owners. Twisted remnants of legs and feet, claws and talons still glinting red. Twisted, bloodied mess of fur, hide and blood.

They caught other wandering, staring gazes, all eyes taking in the carnage around them...

Because it was over...

And the music had stopped …


Deep, long, slow rattling breaths …

Golden-brown eyes were wide, her skin pale, tinged with the haunting fright of the moon's glow …

Kami-sama …

Was that …!

I can't believe … I just … can't … believe …

It wasn't the cold night air, or the sharpness of that fateful winter night. It was that thickness in the air …

It was that music … music which seemed to stretch beyond the years, beyond the ages … music that yearned to reach a time that no one, not even the maker of that music herself was aware of …

Music which had taken mere shadows, and formed shapes, breathed life into them …

The sounds around her were terrifying …

… Terrifying because the silence was screaming so loud, it was almost deafening …

Just mere minutes ago, she had heard agonised shrieks and screams of pain, there was now …

A grim chuckle as she felt the Dragon King land beside her.

"Do you understand now, Tsunade-hime, why neither of us wanted to take charge of the young lady?"

Tsunade's honey-golden eyes continued to gaze across her village – broken, shattered, maimed, unnaturally silent …

… Free, soaring, filled with and swirling in hope …

"All those months ago, when Danah fought the three of them, it was Sakura who was the most terrifying …"

The staff scraped against the ground as the little man shuffled forwards, coming to a stop at a giant hulking mound heaving itself against the ground, the shade of a giant tree shielding it from the bright moonlight.

Swiftly, before she could blink, he'd raised his staff and the point of it was brought down sharply, firmly on the Summoned creature's head …

With a deep, low growl, a puff of smoke and the creature was gone …

"The damage that these Summoned creatures alone did to our village … and yet, both Danah and I could see the true extent of the monsters that lived in that young girl's mind …"

Clasping both his hands around the staff, he turned slowly, and bright green eyes watched the Hokage intently.

"I know I have leapt into the swirls of history, I have meddled with the ancient souls of the priests and holy sages long since gone … but I do not possess the special abilities to provide any sort of training for Sakura. Raw strength, and sharpness of mind I can deal with, I can train these young men."

Raidon shuffled out of the shade, and turning slowly, looked towards the horizon. Following his gaze, Tsunade also looked out at the shadowy black and grey of the distant grandeur of the giant mountain ranges that guarded this country's borders …

The beautiful, snow-capped, treacherous, fierce, stunningly beautiful mountain ranges that she had ventured as a young woman … a strong-hold to which she had taken a tiny, frightened little girl …

… Where she had watched a true goddess descend, and come to hold her brother close to her heart …

"Our time at my Retreat proved that the boys are still … uncertain in their minds. They possess enormous, magnificent potential, but if they don't have the strength of mind to match it, then it will come to nothing. It will become a terrible liability, one that if our enemies latch onto, they will easily conquer them …"

Tsunade took a deep breath. "So … Sakura …?"

The green eyes crinkled into a smile. "If I may say it in one word. Indestructible."

Noting Tsunade's sharply indrawn breath, his smile broadened. "It is exactly as I say it. The strength of her mind is … invincible. But as you can see, it is also highly dangerous. The unusual strength that comes from that …"

Here, Tsunade felt her eyes forced downwards as she heard him grumble. "What? What are you saying?"

"Hmph. Doesn't that raw power you just witnessed remind you of someone else who possesses a similar demonic strength?"

At this, Tsunade felt her lips tilt upwards in a complete smile. Raidon scowled some more.

"Exactly. She's exactly like you. And like you, she has a knack of practically perfect, superb chakra control. Almost exponentially better than you had been at her age. She needs a guidance and supervision far greater to anything Danah could give her. That girl is only full of love at the moment … she's making up for all these years by taking the young Leaves right into her arms, and her heart. She's too soft, she'll never make a teacher of the sort Sakura needs right now.

"But that's why I'm leaving her behind this time. I'm leaving her here, because I have seen in the short time I've been here, that there are many beautiful little tiny plants. Delicate, lonely little souls that need only pure love and sunshine."

Clenching her fists, she had to try hard to fight down the enormous lump in her throat.

"I'm being generous here. I'm leaving behind something that is very precious to me, because it's about time this village and the people she loved and left behind so many years ago, can have her back. You shouldn't hate or blame me too much, because I'm being munificent, if I may say so myself, in giving her to you for a while … until I return …"

This time, Tsunade managed a smile. Raidon continued.

"And so, as for Sakura …you can see she has the makings of a fine medical ninja … the kind that you value and prize so much …"

Grinning wickedly again, he beamed up at her. "The kind that your very own sweet little flower has taken after. It was inevitable that she would follow in her grandmother's footsteps, after all …"

At this, the tears that had been building up for a long, long time, finally slipped form her honey-brown eyes …

As the tall, beautiful woman fell to her knees, as the joyful, terrible, delighted, painful tears slipped out, the Dragon King stood by her side, still gazing up towards his Mountains …

It'll be all right …

Everything is coming all right …


Her fingers were clammy, her palms damp. Her breath misted against the window, large pale blue eyes gazing into nothing …

… Indeed, it was almost nothing that was left of the village. Had her eyes focussed, they would have only seen ruin, destruction. Windows smashed in. Entire front portions of houses caved in.

And the utter, complete silence.

If she had told her teammates, they would have just looked at her weird. And he … that damned good-for-nothing Chuunin Captain would have gone –

"Hey."

Her body tensed as the figure entered the room. She didn't turn …

His eyes widened in shocked disbelief and horror as the girl launched herself at him.

"Sh-iiiiii-kaaaaaa-MAAAAA-RUUUUUU!"

"Bloody – GET OFF ME!"

Chouji poked his head around the door frame, terrified out of his wits to see Ino's fingers itching, angling to reach his friend's throat.

And they were both yelling and screaming anyway.

"WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL ME!"

"It-It was classified!"

"CLASSIFIED MY ASS! YOU'RE GOING DOWN, SHIKA, I SWEAR, YOU'RE –"

"I'm telling you, it was classified! That woman would have put me into orbit with the moon if I'd told –"

"I DON'T GIVE A FLYING RIP WHAT –"

By now, terror and the need to defend himself having given way to anger, he threw her off. Staggering back, Ino stared at him, her eyes glazed with fury and panic, her fingers trembling.

"D-Damn it, woman! Use your head! Would you go around telling people –"

At this point, when he heard her whisper hoarsely, Chouji crept in, relieved.

"But we … we were – were his -"

Blinking in shock, the Chuunin Captain spat out bitterly. "What? You were what?"

Her large, pale blue eyes widened. Her head lowered.

Straightening his clothes, wincing as he shifted the large bandage wrapped around his arm, the young Captain went and leaned against the wall next to the door, swallowed up by the shadows around the place. He had a feeling the electricity wouldn't be coming back to the Shinobi offices for a while – everything was being diverted to the casualties, the hospital and the wards …

Clearing his throat in the silence, he grinned bitterly. "No wonder no one gave him the time of day … it's only us who accepted him for what he really is – a classmate, another of Iruka-sensei's students, now a valued colleague and …" Taking a deep breath, he slid his hands into his pockets. "… Someone who just selflessly saved our sorry asses … saved all our lives …"

In the silence that followed, both young men gazed out of the window.

The moon …

That big, giant glowing thing in the sky … has been watching over us all night …

… And like the legends say …

… It was on just a similar clear night … thirteen years ago …

… That a vicious monster was conquered and sealed forever …

And as irony would have it …

That same monster, conquered by that child all grown up …

… Came back to save us tonight …

He only then became aware of strange, wretched, jerky sounds coming from the young woman …

Blinking, his eyes refocussing, he felt a cold panic settle in his limbs as he saw her. From the corner of his eyes, he saw Chouji rise, uncertain, fearful …

She's … crying …

Tensing, he could only continue watching her. The damned woman is crying … what the hell are we going to –

"I … can't believe … all this time … Naruto has been …" Fiercely wiping at her eyes, the roughness of her bandaged, sore hands scraping at her skin. She didn't care …

"So horrible … we've been so horrible …"

"Ino, you shouldn't worry about that too much."

Shikamaru blinked as he turned, and watched Chouji.

Bloodied. Clothes ripped, torn. A big, bloodied mess.

The biggest, brightest smile.

Uncertain, Shikamaru gazed intently between his teammates. The way she paused, the way she raised her head.

The way her eyes suddenly became bright, hopeful …

Shikamaru felt himself grinning weakly.

Man … I really admire you but …

… Better you than me …

"There was nothing you or any of us really did wrong. We weren't being horrible or anything to him. And if we were, it wasn't because we were being malicious. Not like the rest of the villagers …"

At this, Shikamaru's smile became a bit more definite.

"That's true. We all just yelled at him because he was a klutz, because he was just the clown element, as we were all growing up. Chouji's right. If you're going to go on the path of 'I should have treated him better', think of it just as it is, not because you did it with any malicious intent."

This time, both his teammates gazed at him.

"We were all of the same generation. We were all born around the same time as he was. So we don't know what happened, the events leading up to that night. We were just all told, that 'this is what the legends tell us, this is how that battle ended'. It's the adults who were around that time who knew … and someone decided that they would be the only ones who knew. I think that was a good strategy. Because we all grew up as equals – we grew up judging each other only on the way the other behaved. It didn't matter anyone's social standing or status."

Sliding his hands into his pockets, he wandered over to the window. He only vaguely noticed others entering the room, vaguely identified them as some of their own fellow genin …

"No one cared what our colleagues did when they went home after school. No one noticed that he always seemed to be alone, that he never talked about anybody from home … not the way we did. We just saw him as one big goofball, as just a sort of misfit, for no other reason than what we witnessed."

Turning, he noticed TenTen had taken his place near the door frame, her body sagging as she fought against her exhaustion. Neji had quietly slipped in also, retreating towards the other tall window on the other side of the room, quietly leaning his tall frame against the shadows beside the window. He looked just as much as mess as everyone else in here. Like TenTen, the band that held his long hair in place had come loose, a sheet of black ebony draped raggedly around his shoulders, shielding his face. TenTen's bloodied hands lethargically pulled at her hair, two long plaits that had always been pulled neatly into two tight curls on each side of her head.

Lee, for once, had had his boundless enthusiasm curbed. He'd slowly settled himself on the floor, back against the wall, head thrown back and eyes closed, just concentrating on his breathing. Shino, looking none the worse for wear except for the usual mud and blood stains that they all had, was leaning casually against a set of drawers a little further down, head intently studying the floor. Kiba had stumbled in, a large white towel wrapped around a small bundle in his arm, a bundle he kept looking at now and then, and relief would spread across his face.

"We didn't care, we weren't of the age to care about why he was a misfit – just that some people seemed better, some worse than others. Sasuke and Neji were always the 'genius' ones, for example; we just accepted that, looked to them as ones to strive for … Shino was just a mysterious creep, Kiba a hot-headed freak, me … well, I don't know what you guys thought of me, but I'm just saying – it's just the way we were … no one thought about what it was that made people like they were. I didn't know Sasuke and Naruto had been orphaned, that they'd been living by themselves in lonely apartments until only a few years ago. And even then I didn't really care, I didn't react. I'd assumed this village would be taking care of them. It didn't make a difference what their backgrounds were, only the kind of people they were …"

It was a long silence that followed, a silence and stillness which hung heavy within the room, and within the hearts of all in it.

Shikamaru raised his delicate eyebrows when he heard a loud sniffle, and blinked when he saw Ino rudely and completely unlady-like smear her wrist across her face. Then she abruptly turned and started heading towards the door.

"Um … where are you going? Our orders are to stay here Ino, and if that woman Hokage finds out I've let you wander off, no one's gonna save my ass –"

"That's your problem. I'm going to find Naruto." She flung open the door.

The Chuunin Captain blinked. "Erm … what for …?

Pausing, she glanced over her shoulder and grinned at everyone, taking in all the shocked, suspicious and surprised expressions.

"Well, first I'm gone beat the crap out of him, just because. Then secondly, I'm gonna find Sakura and we'll agree to treat him to ramen and a date with two beautiful girls –" She winked wickedly, " – He can't really resist that, and then –"

Sighing, Shikamaru closed his eyes lazily and smirked. "Well, you're going to have to do it within the next few hours. They'll be gone, I'd say before mid-morning."

He turned casually back towards the window, and smiled grimly as he heard the door click silently closed. And the tension in the room suddenly grew …

"Wh … what …"

"You heard me. They're leaving. Both of them are being taken away … to the mountains."

The room suddenly seemed very close and breathless, and curiously, he turned back. He blinked.

The girls had their hands clapped over their mouths, and Chouji had scrambled up from where he'd been curled up against the wall. Shino and Lee had reacted the same, heads suddenly raising, and Lee's large black eyes wide. Kiba still sat frozen upon the floor, a look of something unreadable drawn across his face. Neji was slowly straightening himself from where he'd been leaning against the window, his arms which had been crossed over his chest coming to hand limply on either side …

"What are you talking about, Shikamaru?"

Perhaps it was because he'd been informed of it long ago, that he'd already had the time to get over the shock, the strange feelings he had had then of unease, of a sense of abandonment … so he could, to some extent understand their feelings …

… it was just the full range of their reactions that was surprising.

"Just what I said. Why do you think the legendary Dragon King came down from the mountains? You may not have heard of him, but a lot of the ancient reports in the offices have a lot of stuff about him. I can only guess at the guy's age. He goes way back in Konoha's history … he's mentioned in the reports and diaries of the First and the Second, for goodness sake' …"

This time, the gasps filling the room were understandable. Another grim smile, and the Captain continued.

"But … he's a really, really special, practically highly classified thing here. Not only because he's Danah-san's teacher, but I suppose it's because of what's been going on with Sasuke and all … and I suppose, after the display tonight … Naruto's not really safe here either …"

"So … they're being taken away? What – what does that mean? Even if … even if things happened here, even if this village was rotten to them … they belong with us, don't they! Who cares what the village thinks, we were the ones who all grew up together …!"

"That's right! It's our generation who have to face whatever will come … not them, not those who knew the secret and kept it hidden all these years. It's our generation who has to stand together!"

Shikamaru's dark brown eyes intently watched both the girls, surprised that such an outburst would come from them.

"I know what you mean, but it doesn't have anything to do with how or what the villagers think anymore. Although …" Here, he allowed himself a rare, true smile and Ino's eyes widened.

"Although I don't think Naruto especially cares anymore, what the village thinks of him. Not anymore … not after he got what he always wanted. Once she arrived, you noticed how everything seemed to be filled, into his life …? When he found that he always had what he had always wanted, there's this strange sense of completeness …"

Shikamaru turned his head when he heard a deep voice, as Neji cleared his throat.

"Will they … come back?"

At this, the smirk faded from the Captain's lips, the rare smile died away.

He didn't answer, only turned back towards the window …

He didn't have an answer …


Pain.

Incredible pain.

And yet …

It was into a dark, dimly glowing room into which her eyes opened.

The soft moonlight, the bright, silvery beams cascading down …

Her eyes focussed with difficulty, registering a shadowy figure beside her. His large, broad frame was hunched over, elbows resting on his knees, hands limply clasped together. A ripped, damaged Jounin's flak jacket lay on the floor.

And the moonlight caught and was reflected back in his mass of bright silvery hair …

Even in her pained, weakened state, her heart lifted …

And even as she shifted, his head had shot up, and he was already beside her, seated on the bed, and strong, powerful arms supporting her, holding her tightly, warmly, close to his heart. In his rush of love, of yearning to hold her again, he'd effortlessly lifted her, allowing her body to do what it itself didn't have the strength for.

Wearied, pained, fatigued though her body was, she forced her arms to move, forced her body closer …

The tears started as she finally felt him against her, as tightly as her arms held him.

The room swam as shocks ran throughout her body, painful electric jolts that were only now impacting from what had taken place mere minutes before … but they faded in the pulse of his gentle heartbeat, thudding softly throughout her slender frame, smoothing it, calming it …

Her arms began to feel heavy, sore as they struggled to maintain their hold around him. Wordlessly, she felt him shift, and was about to summon up the urgency to scream at him not to go, when she felt herself being gathered tightly, securely into his arms, then gently lifted. Gentle and tender as he was in his care not to hurt her, she still winced, and her eyes slid closed.

When she tuned in again, she found that he had slid in beside her, his powerful, strong body sitting upright along the bed, supporting her weakened, slender, willowy frame. His arms fit easily around her, pulling her against him. Her head fitted perfectly, comfortably against his shoulder. A sense of completeness, wholeness began to glide across her, like balm to her tortured body. Her hands stopped their quivering, one slipping around his body, the other resting against his chest, calmed by feeling the tautness of his muscles, the rhythm of his even heartbeat …

In that lovely, comforting embrace of this man she loved so much that it hurt, her eyes closed, more peacefully this time. And her mind wandered …

I can't believe it …

Every single pore of my skin feels like it's on fire …

… What on earth happened? I can't understand –

Her eyes widened.

Painful, excruciating, agonising shock reverberated throughout her body, and absolute panic set into her mind. Panic brought on by guilt …

"Where …"

"Shh, it's all right –"

"He's all right, he –"

"Why isn't he here with me, why didn't anyone –"

"Because he didn't need –"

"Stop it! Stop … just – stop."

Even as she struggled, as her little hands tried to violently push away from him, as fresh, hot, painful tears poured from crystal blue eyes, he still held onto her. His arms tightening, he resisted her efforts to pull away as gently as he could, all the time trying to whisper to her, to get through her panic.

"Danah … Danah, at least listen to me first. If you still want to see him after that, I'll carry you the whole way. I'll take you myself. At least … please … please listen …"

At that, her struggling stopped abruptly, lethargically. Her body went limp, and she collapsed sluggishly back against him. But her tears didn't stop. Her soft, painful sobs once again started tearing at his heart.

It took all her effort, every shred of energy she had left to turn back towards him, to fit herself into that embrace, to slide against his body in that perfect fit they seemed to have.

If he says it's all right, then it must be. I trust him …

… One of the few I have been able to trust since so long ago …

"When we pulled you both out, you had both lost consciousness. But he recovered almost immediately. It must be that part inside him, the part that is a gift at times …"

She hadn't been aware, but he must have already slid off his mask, because the tender softness she felt against her skin was his own. Soft, beautiful skin that glided across hers, tender, soft kisses raining down … powerful, wonderful arms encircling her, protecting her, as he had always done …

"It was demonic energy that saved him … the one inside him. That red intensity coming from the depths of that lake was the expelling of the final vestiges of the demonic energy that dragon had … it would have killed you both if it hadn't been for Naruto …" Here, there was a dry chuckle, the deep, husky laughter that she loved so much, but this one tinged with slight bitterness, with pain … "And in a way, you saved him too, because the deadly power with which the Kyuubi responded would surely have destroyed his body's cells if you hadn't surrounded him with your healing chakra. And the Kyuubi's energy saved you both from the Dragon's …"

It chilled her, such dreadful words, such a dreadful account of what had happened, what would have happened …

"He's the one who tried to carry you out. He paid no attention to anyone else. He tried to revive you … but the Kyuubi's power is too unpredictable, the Demon's loyalties are uncertain … it's true that tonight, something truly, truly incredible was achieved by that boy … but …"

Tightening his hold around her, as if afraid she might suddenly rise and bolt. After all, she had the same blood running through her vein's as Naruto … and she was a woman … she too, was unpredictable at times …

"Raidon is watching over him. And Jiraiya is watching over your other brother …"

He grinned as she started, as her eyes grew wide. "You weren't there, you didn't see. Before you arrived, he had appeared out of nowhere, and …" The Jounin was silent for a moment, as if recalling …

"He did the most spectacular jutsu … they'll be talking about that one in between and while the other business with your brother is going on … they're both fine. It's – it's just you, that everyone is worried about now …"

Unseeing. Once more her eyes were glazed, listening quietly as her head lay against his shoulder, listening to his voice as it resonated throughout her body, the soft waves like calming silk …

She gasped slightly as his arms shifted, as his beautiful mismatched eyes suddenly came into view before her. Instantly, her body tensed, as if even the pained everything inside her was being dulled, the pain being pushed aside …

It was the closeness of this man she had loved for so long. A gentle warming began at the pit of her stomach, a languorous pooling of delicious feeling that thickened her blood and heightened her senses to nothing else but him. His touch. His scent. All of him …

Once again, her arms slid upwards, finding their way around his shoulders, locking in position, trying to pull him as close towards her as she could. As her arms crossed each other after slipping around his shoulders, she closed her eyes as her fingers slid slowly upwards, her slender hand sinking effortlessly into his thick silvery silky hair.

The pain in her body was forgotten as she shifted herself, trying to face him more fully. Her hands slowly slid down, pressing against his powerful, tightly controlled shoulders. As he buried his face in her neck, her eyes closed. In unconscious reaction, her hand crept from his shoulders to caress the hard planes of his chest as he continued to shower her face with soft little kisses, playfully evading her seeking mouth. Under her seeking fingers she felt the muscles jump in reaction to her touch, and the warmth that had begun somewhere deep inside slowly crept upwards, seeping into every pore of skin …

"I love you."

It had really slipped out without her really being aware, but she couldn't help it. It was what was in her heart, and it was what her heart was bursting with.

"I trust you." And she did trust him … so long ago, she had trusted him with her life. And then soon after, with her heart …

At her sound of her painfully quiet voice, her trembling, quivering words, he had looked up, raised his head, and found his eyes locked with hers. Her body, her soul so sated in her glazed love, she wasn't aware that he'd moved forwards, that swiftly, tenderly, he'd already claimed her lips.

At first, and as always, brushing, teasing, grazing them gently. Then, as she had expected, hot, wet, and dizzying in the pleasure that they sent pulsing through her bloodstream. It was the feeling under her hands, her hands caressing his back and his upper arms with all their innocent and pure, raw adoration, loving the feel of his muscles tensing reflexively under her touch. In turn, the way his rough, calloused hand, the baby tender softness with which it traced the curve of her cheek with his finger, the rough silk of his touch sending shudders of longing through her. She felt it trail over the arch of her brow, the flare of her cheekbones, the delicate line of her nose. She was so overwhelmed by the sensations of his mouth taking hers, of having him so close to her she could feel the pounding of his heart against hers …

It was he who drew back first. First and suddenly, and completely unexpectedly. The next second, she found herself blinking in shock, and also slight hurt that he'd been able to pull away that fast, never mind that he'd left her in a weak-everything mess. Because now he stood, tall, and straightened to his full height next to the bed, his hands swiftly and silently pulling his mask into place, his eyes fixed on the closed door.

She'd been about to open her mouth to ask something, anything, when in the same motion that he leaned over her and pulled up the bedsheets around her body, a Jounin burst inwards, without any warning.

Her eyes widened, she stared at the man's wildness in his eyes, the panic, the relief at seeing ANBU Captain Hatake Kakashi …

The man's panicked gabbling soon followed, furiously waving a scroll in Kakashi's face as the silver Jounin stood calmly, controlled and silent, listening with his usual restrained, guarded manner.

Danah wasn't really listening. She had already pulled up the sheets around her body, drawn her knees up, and was burying her head on her crossed arms, blocking out everything.

A sudden silence heralded the Jounin's absence, but she didn't look up. Her heart was once again heavy, as she realised fully, what had happened …

He'd turned, after silently closing the door, and he was watching her.

A lone figure upon the bed. Lost in a mass of blankets. Long, golden hair that even now the silver moonlight played with, a long curtain of golden hair that hung around her, as her head rested in the crook of her arms.

"It was a mistake."

Startled, he blinked in surprise and stepped towards her. "Danah?"

She didn't move. "I said, it was a mistake."

He'd reached the bedside, and he hovered next to it, gazing down at her, mystified … mystified, and yet, a little terrible knot of … something unpleasant stirring inside …

"Danah …?"

"I should never have come here."

This time, the knot exploded, and it really did seem as if his world came crashing down.

No …

I – I can't believe this …

I can't believe you're saying this …

"I should have come here, the dead of night, kidnapped my brother, and left. I should have taken him far away from this village. Oh yes, maybe I would have kidnapped Itachi's little brother too … after all, he's mine as well … I feel responsible …"

Something else was now settling in. his knees had grown painfully weak, and fighting down the sick feeling, he sat down at the end of the bed.

She raised her head.

And he wished he had never looked at her right then.

The terrible, terrible glaze in her eyes. It was as if the familiar stunning royal blue had changed colour. Into something terrible and black …

… and empty.

"But most of all, I'd never have had to face you."

A knife. A knife held in her little hands, a knife pressed right against his unrelenting heart …

"I'd never have brought something to life that – that was evidently never intended. From the first time I felt something inside me longing for you, I should have fought it."

The knife pierced. Brutally.

"I should have killed it."

He was dead. He was already dead. He couldn't move, even had he wanted to.

"I'm a fool, that's why. I'm a fool and a burden who just leaves broken hearts in my wake. Everywhere I've gone, there has been someone who has died … someone in whom everything died and faded … because of me …"

The lifeless voice, the uncaring tone … it really could have fooled him.

… As it did.

It was when he heard her tears, when he heard something in her broken, pained voice that he had never heard before, that the cold ice that had formed around him snapped.

Within seconds, he had reached her again, arms wrapped tightly, warmly, firmly around.

I'm not letting go this time …

"Danah …"

She didn't turn her head at the pain in his voice, didn't respond when she felt him bury is head in her hair.

"Danah, why did you say all that? I know you didn't mean it, I … I know that you –"

And it was then that she did to him what he hadn't done in so long.

But it broke her as well. It broke the incredibly stupid, arrogant wall she had frozen around herself.

He was crying.

At first, her shock left her speechless, stunned. Her body didn't move, she had been far too set in her distancing, in setting her mind somewhere to come back quickly enough.

But as her wall too, shattered, she was already turning. Already collecting him tightly into her arms.

This time, it was Danah who leant back, upright against the pillows, and pulled him next to her, pulling his head to rest against her shoulder and the pillows. It was she who cradled his body against her own, her arms having found their natural way around his waist, his shoulders, pulling him closer.

I wish we'd never met …

The bitterness, the lack of feeling in her voice as she'd said that … it brought to him an unusual memory, a memory of not all that long ago …

A night, when his heart had been so full, so full that he couldn't, hadn't been able to keep it to himself …

He'd taken her out, into the silvery-white world of a Christmas night …

… And poured his heart out …

… And listened to her beautiful, joyful tears, as effortlessly, she filled that place inside him, that empty place that had been lonely so long, that place that had been yearning, yearning …

And it was the very same words he'd whispered to her that night, that came back to him now … the very same words that hovered, just underneath …

As his broken, faltering voice, its agonised whispering reached her ears …

"S…Seeing someone … you may be … afraid … to meet … to meet them …"

Her eyes widened. A strange tremble began somewhere inside …

And his voice of that night echoed back … the soft, deep, controlled voice of a man very much in love … now blended in with the hoarse, pained, agonising plea of a man …

… Very much in love …

"Upon meeting them …

"… you may be afraid to kiss them …"

When her tears started again, they weren't the frigid, ice-cold rivers of before …

"And when you kiss them …

"… you may be afraid to love them …"

And now, the pained breaths, the quivering of her entire body against his …

"And finally, upon loving them …"

"… you will be afraid to lose them …"

His eyes slid open, the gaze going right through the window, into the night sky outside …

It had been her voice that had finished his memory …

And it was now her hands that held him, her warm, loving hands which tightened around him. And this time, the strange uncertain grip, and simultaneously the fierce strength which with she held him …

The tears had stopped. Shifting once again, his lips met the side of her face, and her eyes slid closed. Closing his eyes as well, he felt like he wanted to stay this way forever …

"What have I done to you … a man such as you – a man who can go through the most dangerous, most deadliest of missions, a man who is cool, unmoved and relaxed as always … I've brought you to tears … I've … I've …"

Now she too lowered her head, bringing a curtain of gold to shower around him, misting his eyes in a heavenly silvery-golden light, as the moonbeams tried to reach through the haze of gold.

"Look how much I'm hurting you. Look what I've done to you … I've broken you so much, that you're doing something that …"

Pulling him more tightly closer to her, her quiet, aggrieved whisper. "This is why I said what I did … don't you understand?"

He didn't. He didn't want to try to understand what she said. All he wanted, was for her to realise that she really, and truly was out of her mind, if she had thought for an instant, what she had said could be true …

"You really deserve someone better. You should have found a woman who wasn't bitter and twisted. This life we lead does that to you …"

This time, he shifted away from her. Pulling himself up, he sat upright, eye to eye with her. As she turned her body towards him, he made sure their eyes locked, forcing her to say whatever she would right, directly into his soul …

"A girl not battle hardened and bitter. Understanding, supportive of you in your life. Because life will never be 'all right'. It always holds secrets worth seeking out. A man who lives a life like you do, you need someone who hasn't been hurt in that way. A girl who doesn't think negatively like I do …"

"You're wrong."

Now, it was her turn for silence. Her turn to lift her head and gaze into his eyes. His mismatched eyes which now shone with a strange, strange light …

"They always taught us … they taught us knowing it would take years to understand, but … they said you can't help who you fall in love with. It's something completely and utterly predictable …"

Still gazing at him, wide-eyed, she felt his eyes claim her, fully and entirely …

"But there was a man … a man who was one of two I had ever really looked up to, in my whole life. And this man taught us …"

As Danah became slowly aware of who it was he was referring to, she felt something large and uncomfortable settle in her throat.

"And he taught us, Danah, that you'll know you've found the person you love when one day, they hear the song that you sing … and they can fill in the next verse …"

Danah gasped. As his words washed across her like the softness of silk, she felt her mind race backwards … layers upon layers fell away from them both, layers which had been carefully built up to conceal the precious time, the precious man they both had in common …

"No one else can hear your song except them … everyone else thinks you're insane, because you sing and dance to music they cannot hear. But the one you love … they not only hear the music, they fill in the next verse for you …"

She felt his fingers softly touch her chin, raise it up. When her eyes refocussed through her tears and met his, she saw him smiling.

"The other day, when I was in the offices, I noticed a small child sitting in one of the chairs – you know the small waiting room near the main staff-room?"

Bewildered, nodding, she shifted herself, sliding closer to him, sliding her arms tightly around and leaning back against the pillows, taking him with her.

"He was sitting down and swinging his legs, and he was singing. Somewhere along the corridor, someone had put on their radio, and a song was coming down … most people were enjoying it, but only he was singing along to it."

Wondering where on earth this was leading …

Smiling, intensely enjoying not only her intrigue but the rapt attention she was giving him, he chuckled, and shifted forwards, lightly brushing his nose against hers.

"And then someone appeared pushing a trolley down the corridor, a trolley packed with cutlery and food items … evidently heading for the tea room …"

Danah's mouth was slightly open, her large blue eyes glistening in wonder. Listen to him … he's so charming, I never believed I'd hear him tell a silly little story like this …!

"But, you understand, as he pushed it past the waiting room, it completely cut off the sound from the radio. You couldn't hear the song anymore, just the loud, unpleasant sound of the cluttering trolley."

Still, her eyes were wide, expectant, the child in her hanging on to every word.

"But you know what? The kid couldn't hear the music anymore. But he never stopped singing."

Danah's brow cleared. She stared at him, speechless. As he grinned back at her, his own eyes suddenly widened as her fingers slid from around his shoulders to his sides. Before he was aware, she'd pushed him down, her body hovering over his, and what was evidently a threatening glare in her eyes. Irritated confusion mixed with amused delight.

"Hatake Kakashi … I can't believe you spent all that time telling me a story that – that made absolutely no sense!"

"No sense?" Delicate silver eyebrows rose, his beautiful eyes laughed up at her, his hands gently gripped her wrists and pulled her down, her body coming to rest against his own. "The annoying little girl who loved telling another annoying little boy stories when they were children, and forcing him to find meanings in them, now doesn't understand?"

Danah was torn between mounting confusion, irritation that she was unsuccessful in trying to tickle him into submission (it had never worked, he didn't seem to be ticklish), was now caught up in her previous estimation of his charm. How unbelievably sweet …

"Try to understand." Suddenly the mischievous glint in his eyes had disappeared, replaced by something more serious, something … more beautiful, if possible. "I'm just trying to tell you … even when you left, I never stopped loving you."

And if it had been possible for him to break her heart any further, if it had been possible that he had poured so much love into her that it overflowed and made her feel weak, then he couldn't have done it any better …

And suddenly gone was the cheeky, childish beauty she had just witnessed in this man. Effortlessly, he pushed against her, sitting up gathering her into his arms and lowering her back against the pillows. This time, it was his body, his warmth that hovered above hers …

Once again, their faces inches apart, she barely had time to realise she was not quite breathing properly before he'd leaned forwards again, and something shot swiftly throughout her very being, alighting everything when she felt his lips brush lightly, almost carelessly over hers …

Again … and then once again …

And then when his lips pressed slightly harder against hers, his arms likewise tightened, this time pulling her up sharply flush against his body, enabling her to feel the incredible warmth from every single pore of his skin. A low sigh that escaped him as her softness was pulled up against his chest …

His arms slid up her back, one hand lightly running over her bare skin, having slid in between the cord against the back of her neck, the single flimsy cord that was all that was holding her dignity in place, away from the burning, smouldering feeling of his eyes …

Another sweet, beautiful gasp escaped her lips, and enabling him to pull her closer, press against her deeper, while his other hand slid more tightly around her trim waist. His body was tingling just from the way she was responding, from her way her little fingers had gone from being timid, soft feather-light touches on his body to holding him more firmly, but still so wonderfully shy, so pretty and affectionate. Her soft little sighs and moans that escaped her when he pressed against her even slightly caused delightful shivers against his own heart. Even when he pulled away from her, feeling they were both out of breath, and she still leaned forwards, lightly brushing her soft, shy lips against his nose, his forehead, he couldn't stop, didn't want to stop, the smile that tilted his lips.

"He also used to say that … when you loved a girl, when you loved her so much, so very much that it made you weak just thinking about her … then that girl became a goddess."

As if it wasn't already bad enough. His tenderness was already bringing painfully happy, joyful tears, and it was hard to focus on his face when her eyes were that blurred …

"Do I love you because you're beautiful … or are you beautiful because I love you? Well, in your case, the answer is clear …" That mischievous smirk …

"Do I want you because you're wonderful, or are you wonderful because I want you?"

By now, she knew it was futile. It was completely hopeless …

And once again, his eyes became grave, serious.

"I don't ever – ever – want to hear words like you just said tonight. Ever …"

It was then her final seeds of doubt spilled from her, the uncertainty only to be dispelled forever in the fire of his love …

"Kakashi … Don't you understand? I wanted to be with you for the rest of my life. Do you understand that? The rest of my life. But … but you can't marry me, can you? People like us … we're not meant to marry … because one of us one day … when we get sent out to a mission … one of us won't come back. And that will be the worst. My spirit … would never rest … never …"

"No."

"Danah … Falling in love with someone isn't always going to be easy … there will be so many emotions … anger … tears … laughter … But it's when you want to be together despite it all. That's when you truly love another. I'm sure of it."

Her eyes widened. Her hands slowly, slowly crept to her mouth. Wrapping his strong arms around her, he pulled her closer, resting his head against the side of hers.

"I also think … that it's impossible to fall out of love. The little time I've been with you, the flood of love that I felt, princess … Love is such a powerful emotion, that once it envelops you it doesn't let go, doesn't depart. I don't think …" His voice caught in his throat … "I don't think there are 'exit' signs in love … there is only the ramp that leads upwards. And continues upwards …"

And when his eyes, his beautiful, startling mismatched eyes, the strength, power and pure, raw love within them … when those eyes shifted into her blurry, unfocussed view again, something stirred, some long, forgotten place deep within …

"I'm not letting you go just like that … it'll take more than that, more than just unfounded doubts and hesitations … there's nothing that anyone could do …"

And as if to seal the weight, the heavy truth behind his words, a long-forgotten, much loved voice returned through the years …

A beautiful, laughing, golden-haired young woman … her hand laughingly, proudly, joyfully resting tenderly against the swollen promise of her stomach, the beautiful little creature just waiting to flower and bloom …

"My little girl, let me tell you something your father told me, a long time ago, when we were both children …

"Love doesn't hide, pretty one … It stays and it fights …

"It goes the distance … and that's why love is so strong …

"So it can carry you all the way home …"

And in his arms, she found that strength. That promise. It was something so powerful, so deep … It was indestructible …

Unbreakable …

Something firm, and strong, and true …

As dependable and reliable as the magic of twilight, as the returning dawn …

Forever and always as the brightness of the sun …


Once again, like it had done so many times this night, this long night, the night wind caressed his hair.

Silky sunshine it held between its invisible fingers, an eager taste of what it couldn't see, yet a delight, that the beautiful golden orb in the sky had left behind it its own love, shining in this boy's hair, for all to look and love as they waited until daybreak …

Bandages.

All he was aware of, all he could see, were the bandages … around his wrists, up and down his arms, a patch against his neck, a smaller one just below his ear. Tiny little square ones taped to each side of his face, one across his forehead.

And beneath his clothes, they had wrapped layers upon layers around his body, across his stomach and chest, tightly pulling against his shoulders, hoping that the blood circulation would get back to normal …

As he shifted his legs against the rooftop, he felt the tautness as they too swam in bandages …

"Yes, you do look like a mummy, if that's what you were wondering."

Naruto immediately stiffened. His eyes finally rose from where they'd been dully watching his white bandaged little hands, and stared into the horizon. He didn't even move, even stir, when he felt the Dragon King shuffle forwards, as the little man gathered his crisp white clean robes and gingerly sat down beside the young boy.

The boy who, this very night, had already become a man …

"I'll keep this brief, eh bratling. You'll be wanting to disappear in, I estimate, a few minutes. If you decide to run away before then, I'll make it so you don't actually sit down in those bandages for a week. Maybe more …"

Blinking, Naruto finally tore his gaze from the sky, and stared down at Raidon, whose face was all wrinkled up as if in deep thought. Then the brilliant green of the man's eyes clashed with his deep blue …

"I want you to think about why you were left alone …"

Naruto's eyes widened, and Raidon watched as a curious mixture of confusion and bitterness settled deeply within. Unperturbed, and quickly counting a precious few seconds in his estimation, he continued.

"When you leap away from here and go hide wherever you are going to hide, ask yourself … why she left you when she could have, say, taken you with her, brought you also to the mountain, where I would have had the benefit of both you brats."

Raidon watched keenly as Naruto lowered his head once again, his golden hair carelessly, delicately shadowing his eyes. He watched the boy slowly rise, saw the wince and the strain in his face as he hurt everywhere.

"But before you ask yourself that, you must know one thing. That there were two people who refused such a thing to happen …"

"One was Tsunade …"

Fists clenched, the boy was gathering his strength, at the moment all taken up with just balancing himself on the edge of the rooftop. His movements paused slightly as Raidon spoke, then in the silence, he staggered to the edge of the roof. He looked down at the sprawling mass of the housetops of a shattered, broken Konoha …

"And the other was myself …"

One second. Just one more second was all the young man spared this revelation before gathering himself together, he braced himself.

He leapt into the night.

He was gone.

The wind, so happily having played with a beautiful boy's golden hair, now dismally blew cold air against a giant bald head.

Raidon continued to sit quietly, oblivious to the wind, to the chill air, to everything … a steady, determined glow in his eyes …


He awoke with a start.

That is to say, he wished he could have. He wished he could have had the element of shock, of surprise at seeing a dull, dim white ceiling instead of the midnight black sky dotted with its diamonds. He wished he could have jumped up and stood alert, looking around …

But he didn't have the strength.

Closing his eyes tightly, wincing, he just managed to shift himself on his side.

Kami-sama … how did I get this injured …

Can't …

His eyes blearily opened, and was forced to blink as he stared right into the steady moonbeams that flowed cheerfully through the giant hospital window.

Midnight eyes widened, softened for a moment by the sheer beauty of the silver. The calming, numbing effect it had …

So taken up was he, that he didn't notice the tiny figure resting near him.

Blinking his eyes to refocus, Sasuke could only stare in wonder and shock at the tiny child, a stool pulled up near the foot of the bed, but tiredness and sleep had overcome him so much, he still hadn't shifted. Only slid forwards and having folded his arms near Sasuke's legs, he had laid his little head upon them.

Even now, it was the tiny frame and the glossy brown hair with which Sasuke could identify who this child was.

"K-Kawanari-kun…"

The voice coming from his throat certainly didn't sound like his, it was all grated and gravely. As the boy sat up sleepily, blinking and rubbing his eyes, Sasuke cleared his throat, annoyed at how injured he seemed to be.

Kawanari finally woke up completely, and almost squealed in delight at seeing Sasuke awake. Noticing the wince in the handsome dark-haired boy's face, he immediately quietened down, and Sasuke felt soft, eager little hands scrabbling for his own, adoring, caring little hands which rubbed his cold, rough and calloused ones.

"Sasuke nii-san! I'm so glad you're awake, we – we didn't know what we were going to do … you know, you know, Danah onee-chan, she's been here beside you the most of the night … the doctor finally forced her to go and get some rest, because –" Here, the little boy gulped, and his breathtakingly beautiful enormous brown eyes widened, fear, alarm, panic and yet, hope, creeping into them – "Because she was also hurt really badly, nii-san. But she refused to leave, and she – she could hardly stop crying …"

Kawanari's eyes flickered over to the machine mess beside Sasuke, and even despite his fatigue and confusion, he admired the way the boy, this tiny little mere baby, seemed to know all about the bewilderment of the machines, the monitors that measured one's heart rate, the finger glove that measured oxygen levels, the tall drip beside him with blood, should he have needed it, and the absolute tangle of wires criss-crossing and leading everywhere. Tiny little clever fingers knew exactly what each thing stood for, and rising, Sasuke watched numbly, still lying on his side, as the boy fiddled and turned a few dials, as the machine beeping stopped, and a quiet hum settled across the silent, dim room, lit only by the moonlight river pouring in through the windows.

"Only now, onii-san. Only about … an hour or so ago she left …"

"Where's –" A cold chill settled over him. "Where's Naruto?"

Kawanari paused slightly, and continued a bit more slowly. "Well … he was here earlier too. Both you and Danah onee-chan had been put here, in this room, and you'd both been unconscious … but he refused to leave and …" Here, Kawanari paused completely, and turned to look at Sasuke, a sadness in his large brown eyes. "He didn't talk to anyone. It was as if … he was just blank, sitting there."

Sasuke felt something cold creep over him.

It was anger.

What's the idiot thinking?

Why the hell does he have to be an idiot at a time like this?

… Maybe because of what happened tonight, moron, an irritating voice in his head said.

But still … he – he goddamn saved the village! I … I think it's still a shock for me, but … he needs to get over himself. After all, it won't matter will it? In a few hours, we'll be gone anyway …

Something painful lodged in Sasuke's throat.

Painful, but at the same time, apprehensive. Nervous.

Excited …

And then, when his mind drew up an image of a lovely, laughing young woman, deep blue eyes, a curtain of long golden hair …

Kawanari had silently continued to watch the dark-haired boy, watching the way his beautiful face remained so impassive and the features so composed, but the eyes … the way they flashed, stirred as the emotions raged within him …

Kawanari hovered by as he watched the boy struggle to sit up, watched as he wearily swung his legs to the ground, his bowed head, as he tried to summon the energy to rise …

Sasuke's eyes shot open, and raising his head, he looked into a pair of beaming brown eyes. And two tiny little hands wrapped once again around his own.

"Come on, Sasuke onii-san, I'll come with you."

Feeling slightly disconcerted, he was surprised to find the strength returning to his legs as he stood, his hand unconsciously tightening around the tiny ones. Hovering for a moment, he watched with amusement and a strange affection as the little boy suddenly let go of his hand to scamper around the other side of the bed, retrieve a large, warm jacket and scuttle back, beaming with joy as he stood on the bed and tried to help Sasuke into it.

Turning around, almost eye level for the first time, Sasuke gazed levelly at the child. He hadn't known him very long, but from the little that he did know …

The enthusiasm, the happiness and joy from the littlest things, the excitement, the way he loved hugs and cuddles and kisses … the rushing around for other people, the delight he took in bringing them joy … and the unbelievable store of affection in his heart …

He's become exactly … exactly like her …

I know of this boy, I've heard how he was raised in the Hidden Sand …

And then I know something terrible almost happened along the way but … now he's safe …

Kawanari's bright smile faltered slightly as he stood uncomfortably under the dark-haired boy's scrutiny, the piercing gaze.

If … if she hadn't left …

If she had stayed here with her brother, and he'd grown up under her wings …

… Naruto would be just like him …

Sasuke paused in his thoughts. Then he realised that even still, there wasn't all that much difference … Naruto's enthusiasm wore him and every other person out most days, the tiniest, most insignificant event could bring him delight for hours, and the contentment in his eyes just of late, ever since her return … and he hadn't been all that much surprised to see the boy whose hair was the home for sunshine loved hugs and kisses and cuddles …

Despite all that, despite the harshness with which this village had treated him, he'd stayed golden and pure …

"S-Sasuke nii-san?"

Sasuke blinked, and then, a beautiful, stunning, rare smile tilted his lips. The child stared in wonder for a moment, the way the genuine gentle grin transformed, almost lit up the otherwise grim and austere, nevertheless handsome face. Then Kawanari gave back one of his own, bubbly and delighted and bursting with sunshine.

"Look after her, when we're gone, won't you?"

Kawanari's brow furrowed, innocent confusion sweeping across his baby features.

"She'll need you, when that house is quiet. When that loud-mouth blasted fool and myself have left, it'll be so quiet you'll feel like screaming just to … just to …"

He found he suddenly had to swallow very hard, had to really fight down something painful that rose and lodged itself.

Memories … I'm remembering things I – that I never wanted to remember again …

"When we're gone … she'll – she'll need someone to … to …"

Suddenly feeling weak-headed, he heard Kawanari gasp before the tiny little hands grabbed him, trying to steady him back down upon the bed.

As he gazed once again at the ceiling, the night played through his mind. The true horror of this wouldn't come until a long time, he knew …

As his face wrinkled in agony again, he became aware of a strong, soft blue-green light, and blinking, he found a brown-eyed, brown-haired little angel peering down at him, a beautiful pulsing ball of chakra swirling around both his little hands.

"Forgive me, Sasuke nii-san. I can only imagine what's going through your mind. And I know what's ahead of you, too. In a few hours, it will be hard enough, saying the goodbyes …"

Sasuke could only continue staring, helpless and yet something aching in his heart as he saw the beautiful chakra, thudding to his own heartbeat, as it came closer and closer. And then at the first few feathery-light touches of the chakra, the most beautiful, beautiful peace … the lovely calm …

And the voice of this tiny little angel … a soft, loving voice …

"Don't worry, Sasuke nii-san. No one in this world can ever make it on their own. And no one, once they have found something good, will ever let it go …"

A soft little laughter.

"I know, we'll all be looking forwards to when you come back … and please don't think, for a minute, that anyone will ever be able to not want to be in her presence …"

Falling … although he was falling, his mind still was startled awake by the soft little voice. Forcing his eyes open, he stared into the smiling, beautiful brown eyes.

"Danah onee-chan used to tell me, that most people just look up and admire the stars, admire their beauty. But a champion … a champion actually climbs a mountain and grabs one …"

The sheer beauty of this child's words … are they a result of her teachings too?

"I think, I think I have finally met those champions … I'm so glad, so very glad …"

A single, gleaming little jewel … shimmering with a million colours as they caught even the dim light of the moon's rays …

A tear …

A tear from a man such as this … surely … surely it's precious …

Kawanari was the only one to see it, and he kept it to himself …

… Because he had a feeling, that this wouldn't be the last time. He hoped it wouldn't be.

Because this really was a tear of pure happiness. This was the heart's way of showing that it had been filled with so much emotion, that it needed to spill some of it out …

And as the beautiful dark midnight eyes finally slid closed, as the tensions and pressures fell away, as this beautiful young man became a child, a baby, even if just for that one night …

The child sat quietly beside him and thought … the child thought about what Sasuke had asked of him, thought about the day that was to follow … indeed, the weeks, the months …

… The years …

And a tiny, beautiful little smile lit up his face.

It was a smile filled with a painful lump in his throat as he thought of the empty house this time tomorrow … as he thought of the way her tears would continue through the night …

And the child, this little child who was wise beyond his years, whispered precious, precious words into the room … precious words that had been told him by a loving heart, by worshiping eyes, by affectionate arms and lips … pure, pure love to a little, lost, orphan, as she had held him so many years ago, and promised him the world …

Words that Sasuke did not hear that night, but nevertheless, were picked up and carried away thoughtfully by the wind …

"When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced for you …

"Live, so that when you die …

"You have rejoiced …

… And the world cried for you."


On one side, she saw the hospital. She saw the tall towers, its levels … the only building in Konoha that hadn't been touched … they hadn't let it …

And on the other, she saw the cliffside, the four faces, the four legends carved for eternity …

Is this where he would come sometimes? Did he come here, on his many lonely nights … this is one of the best views after all …

The wind playfully tugged at the short strands of pink hair, as the girl sat on the edge of the roof, her arms wrapped around her knees which were drawn up tightly against her chest.

She only managed a small smile as she felt the gentle presence approach her. As the timid little dark-haired beauty quietly slid down beside her …

Parched lips moved silently. "Hinata-sama."

Then surprise spread through her as she felt something large and warm draped across her shoulders. Looking up in surprise, Sakura's large blue-green eyes met sparkling silver ones as Hinata gave a lovely, shy little smile before sitting down, draping her legs across the battlements of the rooftop.

"You looked like you were really cold. I don't – I don't think you should be getting ill …"

Sakura was surprised when she felt tears in her eyes. Hinata looked alarmed, but relief flooded across the silvery lakes as Sakura beamed at her, pulling the blanket more tightly around her shoulders.

"You're so sweet, Hinata-sama …"

The dark-haired girl blushed, looking away. "No, I … just felt like doing …"

Her voice trailed away and looking closer, Sakura saw something flicker across her large eyes. Something fleeting. Something painful.

And Sakura understood immediately, because if she could have seen herself in the mirror, she would have seen the exact same expression …

And it was then that it struck the rose-haired girl … that however terrible it was to rejoice over it, here was someone who felt the exact same way she did … here was another heart that bled over the thought of what was to come …

Hinata looked up, startled and feeling slight panic again as she heard Sakura's soft laughter, and simultaneously, as a steady crystal stream flowed down her face.

Is … is she crying or l-laughing! What am I supposed to do!

"S-Sakura-chan …? Are you –"

"Hinata-sama. I suppose you've heard … about – about Sasuke-kun and Naruto …"

Hinata's worry, panic and alarm froze. Suddenly her eyes became blank, and a chill swept through her body, a chill that had nothing to do with the brisk night air around them.

"Y…Yes, Sakura-chan …"

"How they'll be t-taken away …"

Hinata's eyes widened, but her voice dropped, and she nodded. "Y-Yes …"

Slowly turning her head, she gazed at the rose-haired girl beside her, at her slumped posture, the drooping, wilting flower …

"But – but I suppose it's – it's a good thing, isn't it, Sakura-chan?"

She blinked. Raising her head slowly, wide blue-green locked in with large silvery ones. "W-What?"

Hinata managed a m ore realistic smile. "It's a good thing. Because – because that means they'll be kept safe … and – and they'll be in a place where they can't be reached … and they …" Her voice was dropping lower and lower, as were her eyes. "They'll be able to get stronger …"

Sakura swallowed slowly. How can she just say it so calmly … how can she just accept so calmly that –

"… So that … so that when they return, they'll be … they'll be ready … because when they return, they'll have been trained, and taught …"

The rose-haired girl gasped slightly, but Hinata didn't hear. A soft shimmer had glowed somewhere deep in her eyes and within her soul, a part of hear eagerly yearning to see the positive side of what this would mean, however much it would break her heart …

"Because … because what happened tonight shows – shows how weak, and … and vulnerable we are to our enemies. And yet – even in that state, we managed to defeat them, Sakura-chan … within a few hours, although this village is damaged and hurting … it can be fixed, and repaired …"

The well, deep within the flower, began to flow …

"And so … when they come back, there'll be … something new inside them, won't it? And that part will never go …"

Hinata was more than aware of the tears, but watching Sakura hold it in, watching the beautiful rose-haired girl struggle and struggle was painful …

"If only … if only we could follow them, Sakura-chan …

Hinata's arms moved as she felt the trembling, quivering body beside her. Sakura wasn't aware when a soft, comforting, timid little hand reached across her shoulders …

"But someone has to be here when they come back … because when they return, how will they feel returning to a time, a place and people they don't recognise, or don't know?"

It was a role she wasn't used to, a role she never imagined herself performing … but being comforter to the pretty girl beside her, gently calming her with soft words, the way Sakura's sobs died down as she listened to Hinata's voice …

"My – life will continue … everyday, I'll be able to live, to do something … But that part inside … I think it must be the heart, don't you, Sakura-chan? It's the heart that really does reach out. The secret places inside the mind. That part will reach out … that part can always continue dreaming … for all of the time that is to be …"

The coldness melted …

"And besides …"

Sakura slowly shifted back, and this time, there was the same, hopeful golden light in her blue-green eyes, the same cheerful dancing beam that was in Hinata's.

"Besides, you know they're leaving something precious behind. And I – I know that … that N-N-Naruto-k-kun will trust us to look after her … until he – he returns …"

Hinata's beautiful, soothing words did every single thing possible to calm her aching heart, and as it soared joyfully, she felt something else lifting, and lightening.

Because Sakura didn't fail to notice how sweet and fluent Hinata spoke when it was about something other than Naruto … but the sudden shyness, the stutter that crept into her lovely voice when she spoke of Naruto …

Well, that part betrayed her …

Hinata blinked in shock as she saw Sakura hurriedly wipe her eyes, and this time a wicked, mischievous glint sparkled in the glimmering sea-green depths.

"Hinata-sama …"

Slightly afraid of what that cheeky look in her eyes meant, Hinata numbly stared back as Sakura shifted her head, squinting now and then. Suddenly she brightened.

"Hinata-sama, I think you should grow your hair."

The beautiful spell Hinata's soft, lovely voice had cast seemed to be shattered as Sakura suddenly leapt to her feet, and laughingly pulled up the dark-haired beauty.

Ah, she's so sweet! And isn't she the baby of all Iruka-sensei's graduating genin? Yes, I think she is! I though Naruto was the youngest, but Hinata-sama is actually our little baby!

And how long … how long has she loved him …!

What she has done for me this night … the arrows she pulled out of my heart with just her simple words …

"Hinata-sama, I've just decided. Although you are a real beauty already, it's never too early to start …tomorrow …"

This time, Hinata really was positively alarmed. There was a sudden power, a confidence in Sakura. It was the strength that Hinata had always admired, and secretly envied, and although she was delighted to see it back now, another part of her wondered at the sudden transformation, especially the wickedly beautiful, cheeky glint in Sakura's eyes.

"T-Tomorrow? But Sakura-chan… tomorrow is when they are …"

"I know. So after we say goodbye to those boys, we'll start straight away."

Hinata's eyes widened, this time, a little panic creeping into them. Sakura seemed not to notice. Firmly holding onto Hinata's hand, she started hurrying to the stairs that led down from the rooftop they had been sitting.

"That's it. Tomorrow, I'm going to drag that good-for-nothing Ino over and she'll know what to do …"

"S-Sakura-chan! W-What do you mean? What do you mean, you k-know …"

Sakura suddenly paused. Turning, she tilted her head, looking thoughtfully at the wide-eyed, dark-haired princess. Then she smiled, a slow, soft, knowing smile.

"On second thoughts … the only true way for you to blossom, is to take you to a very good garden … to put you in a place where I know you'll be looked after so well, that when Naruto comes back …"

Here, Hinata squeaked in humiliated embarrassment, but grinning mischievously, Sakura pretended not to notice as they burst out of the stairwell and down the corridor.

"When Naruto comes back, he'll be expecting to see the beautiful little rosebud that he left behind, and only to find that he can't find it …"

Grimacing in delighted wickedness, Sakura smirked. "It will force that idiot to realise that he should not be looking for a rosebud, but a full-blown rose, in the height of its beauty …"

Hinata tried to open her mouth to protest, her face getting hotter and hotter at Sakura's seemingly careless words, but no sound came out.

But Sakura was also not really paying attention. Her mind was racing.

Her heart will break when she loses him … loses them both …

Giving Hinata to her, to raise as a flower will be the best … the very best thing that I could ever, ever do for her …

For them both …

"In a few hours, I'm going to take you to that person who'll keep you in that garden. And then one day, she'll hold a mirror in front of you, and you'll see that you have become a rose …"


This was the best place to see the sunrise.

It always had been.

It always would be.

He lowered his head and shivered as a particularly sharp gust of wind swept in, right inside his shirt, stinging at the pain around there, all over his body.

Damn it … should have brought a warm jacket …

He closed his eyes, as if that would block out the chill that was now cutting harshly against his skin, that would soon permeate his very soul within … as if it didn't hurt already …

What he really needed was something warm. What he really wanted was something that would slide around him right now, and hold him in warmth forever. Something soft, and tender. Fluffy hopefully, because fluffy things you could cuddle up to …

I'm going crazy … it's as if I really can feel something around my –

"That's got to be an improvement on before, my beautiful little shivering, cuddly bundle of love and delight."

His eyes shot open, but he didn't have time to turn around as he felt her descend around him, as her long, warm arms pulled him tightly against her slender body, as a second something was drawn up around them both …

When he finally struggled slightly free of the first warm and heavy thing to turn and look up into her eyes, he was met with a beautiful soft warm impression of her lips against his forehead. As his small hands reached delightedly for her hold, she laughed softly, lovingly, and pulled him up against her chest, arranging her legs on either side of him while the second blanket was pulled tightly around them both.

He had already half-turned, and the pain in his bandaged arms forgotten as he slipped them tightly around her trim waist, resting his head in their old familiar position underneath her chin, against her shoulder and neck.

Everything was whispered. She was right there, there was no need to talk any louder than right against her …

"Onee-chan …"

"Yes, beautiful …?"

"How did you find me?"

A soft, gentle laughter. "You're my little brother … I'll always know where to find you. Always …"

So lately, been wondering …

As his eyes slid closed, his own little body steadied by the beautiful warmth, the steady, rhythmic heartbeat of hers, something else gnawed inside him, something that matched the biting, harsh cold of the air beyond her embrace …

Who will be there to take my place …

Not many hours … it was something that had been biting, tearing at him ever since …

A few months … a few rotten, measly little months …

… Compared to years …

When I'm gone, you'll need love …

First it was her who was gone … now it's me who'll be gone …

How can I take back memories of only a few months…

… to last us the years we will be away …?

To light the shadows on your face …

Naruto's glazed eyes, lost in his miserable thoughts, suddenly blinked back to life when he heard the shuffling noise of fabric. Blinking, he felt a white fluffy scarf being tied firmly, tenderly around his neck, her cold fingers placing it in loops and finally twisting one end in the other, to keep it from sliding off.

She beamed down at him as he shifted his gaze upwards, the most enormous beautiful blue eyes. "The neck is where the cold seems to trickle away through the most, isn't it. Just thought we'll keep that part as warm as possible …"

She collected him firmly back into her arms, against her body, but he could already feel it … he could already feel … the time was near … if either stayed any longer like this, then their hearts wouldn't just break …

If a great wave shall fall …

They'd melt … and the remnants swirl away never able to be gathered again …

Danah felt his small body as gently as possible but determinedly slip away from her embrace, and acquiescing, she limply let go. Suddenly feeling the cold, the chill as his body left, she drew herself together, the blanket around her more fully. The sparkle faded slowly from her eyes as he drew away …

It would fall upon us all …

It was when Naruto almost tripped over whatever she'd first put on him that all his speech-making ideas went out the window.

His eyes bulged as he took a step forwards, only to meet the hem of the enormous robe that was positively swimming on him.

Danah made a start when she saw him trip, but she stayed her ground. And as the boy, now very still, straightened himself to his full height, and as he registered the true meaning, the true identity of the robe he was wearing, that was when the inky midnight sky suddenly became tinged with a speck of bluish-gray …

The enormous silver moon still hung in the sky, but now its silvery divine light was being bathed in a strange, almost unearthly blue-gray glow, as the sun sent forth its messengers to clear the path for the golden chariot, its rider and horses to rise into the sky.

Bandage little hands gingerly alighted on the material of the robe … his fingers were wrapped up in thick bandages, but the amazing sensations that went through him just at the touch …

She watched him in silence, and something painful and wonderful caught in her throat as she smiled up at him, at the expression in his eyes as he stared at the robe.

"Tsunade-sama thought … it was time you should have it …"

And between the sand and stone …

He stood, stiff, tense. At first, the robe hung heavily upon him, the ends trailing upon the ground, the sleeves so long they completely slipped past his bandaged little arms and hands. His breathing was suddenly irregular, his body was still … too still. It was as if something was hovering around him, as if he could see something that no one else could.

Could you make it on your own …?

As if … someone else was there, right behind him …

And it was then that the night wind awakened from its shock … the Konoha breeze was suddenly awakened by the mere memory of a man it had loved so much, a man it had thought lost forever …

A chain of leaves suddenly slithered towards his feet, and the wind joyfully picked up the chain, like it was a garland, and swirled it around and around the figure, upwards, its fingers teasingly, delightedly fingering the familiar golden strands of hair. The garland of leaves rose above the height of the figure where they exploded in a shower and fell back to earth, the first blessing, the first unofficial crowning of the king …

Because Konoha's winds remembered. They remembered the man they had loved all too well. They remembered a tall, handsome man, the sun in his hair and the sky in his eyes, the gentle wind of his breath and the world at his feet.

They remembered the man … the pride of the village …

A man who had loved so much, that he had sacrificed his son, his baby son …

Konoha's winds had always known, always felt this boy, and had longed and longed for this golden child to realise, it had longed for him to realise it as well. Because Konoha had acknowledged this boy long before any of its villagers did. From the moment the man's beautiful, dying wife had placed into his trembling hands the key to the hope of this village, the winds had swept in, had felt the baby's skin …

The winds had touched this child as he had carried it into the room, the room with the lighted candles. Oblivious to the screams, the raging, terrifying battle outside, unmindful of the massive, roaring Demon Fox that had sprung from the very bowels of hell itself to terrorise the beauty and peace of Hidden Leaf …

The night winds had just silently watched … watched and played with the boy, the son of the only man who could defeat that beast …

… And the winds had been there when the Seal, when the most fateful seal of all was performed, and the Fourth Hokage had locked the hell-born power of the greatest of all the Demon monsters was locked within the tender, innocent and chaste little soul of a crying baby boy …

… his own baby son …

The winds had seen the last breath of life escape from the man's lips …

The winds had been there, as the years had passed, yearning, longing, waiting, waiting for the boy to grow up, waiting for the moment his babyhood slipped away forever, and his tiny little feet would fit into the footprints left behind by his father …

And finally, now, today, the night wind lifted the hem of the blindingly shimmering white robes of the slim figure of the boy who stood upon the clifftops, above the stone monuments of the Guardians of Konoha, and the ancient robes swayed and flowed with the smoothness of silk, every fold and crease, every crinkle as if lovingly sculpted by the wind …

Even the embroidered fire raging all around the hem of the robes were as if they really had come to life again, a vivid orange-red brought to life by the breath of a legend …

… Because now it was a perfect fit …

… Because the previously lifeless robes had found their next son and heir, after having been enshrouded in darkness for so long … this robe had been sealed away, waiting, waiting for the return …

… For thirteen years …

… 'Long ago …

… A Legacy that had formed the very ground in which this village had been born …

… 'There was a nine-tailed Demon Fox who was so powerful that one swing of his tail … could cause mountains to crumble and tidal waves to form …

… A legend that had been spun into the fibres of the minds, the hearts of the people…

… ' To fight this Demon, the shinobis were formed …

… The reality of the legend that was the cause for what they were, the cause of the beating of their hearts …

… 'Finally, after a long and hard battle, the Demon was defeated by a shinobi, the Fourth Hokage, who sacrificed his life to do so …

… This legend now become reality …

And then, it was at that very moment, that the first specks of gold blasted across the distant horizon …And this child, this beautiful young man was suddenly bathed in a golden halo of light as the glow steadily, steadily increased …

If her heart could have broken by trying to contain her love, it would have. But her tears just would not hold back …

Soft, sweet little laughter was what stirred him from the strange, powerful emotions, the other-wordly presence that seemed to be around him …

If I could, then I would

I'll go wherever you will go …

Large blue eyes blinked slowly, and focussed on the young woman before him. Could only gaze as she shifted forwards on her knees, as the blanket fell off her shoulders, as she raised trembling hands, found his tiny bandaged ones, and brought them to her lips …

Way up high, or down low …

"I never thought I would see my father standing before me again …"

I'll go wherever you will go …

And as understanding dawned, even as he watched her finally break down, as he felt his hands pulled down, cradled against her face, even as he felt the ancient robes of the Fourth Hokage swirling around him, he realised it had all been a half-remembered dream …

That somehow, deep down in places he never talked about, places his thoughts never went to, he realised he must have known this …

… All along …

And maybe, I'll find out …

He realised every time he had felt the Konoha wind against his face, he should have felt the gentle, loving caress … because this Konoha breeze had done what no one else had done for a long time …

The way to make it back someday …

… It had acknowledged him …

… All along, its every touch, every time he would run out, a creature of the night, every time he would seek the vast plains, the forests, the fields of the Hidden Leaf, he was seeking out places that a man, a Legend before him had loved so much …

To watch you …

And the night wind had recognised that … it had always known … and it was telling him, in its own way, that the love had been handed down …

To guide you …

Danah felt his little baby arms slide around her as he knelt down before her. She felt, as if for the last time, the caress of a baby's arms, a baby's touch, a baby's kiss.

Because in that instant, the baby boy was gone forever …

… And in his place, stood a Legend …

Through the darkest of your days …

As he drew back, their identical blue eyes locked, deeply, firmly, forever …

They were shining, they were full of the golden light, of deep, deep love … a love that had always been there, part of a love that had transcended time, that had found a way to return to this place, to the child it had loved so much, treasured so deeply …

If a great wave shall fall …

"Did you know, my little one …"

Now Naruto was kneeling fully before her, listening to her soft voice that he loved so much, her soft voice that he fancied was exactly like their mother's had been …

It would fall upon us all …

Watching in wonder with his ancient, baby eyes as she laughed, as she cried, as every single part of her skin flushed with pure, raw, happiness and love …

"Legends never die …

The strange, beautiful chill, the electric jolts that shot through him …

"… They are simply reborn …"

Well then I hope there's someone out there …

Who can bring me back to you!

This voice he had come to love so much … the gentle softness with which it had sung and laughed, scolded and crooned lovingly to him in the short time he had heard it sing in his heart …

And even now, the softness of the invisible fingers of that twilight wind, the almost half-forgotten feelings it evoked …

… The tender caress of this wind, the way the empty, lonely night sky had looked after him when he'd had dreaded the thought of returning to his silent home … the way the stars sang their song to him … the quietness that surrounded him, the peace within his heart despite the aching hole of loneliness …

The strange feeling that there was always someone there …

… It was telling him, that in a way, his father had never really left …

"And there was something that I never told you … something that my heart seems to want to tell you now …"

Meeting her eyes again, he watched her expectantly as she smiled at him, a heart-breaking smile filled with so much love …

"When we said goodbye, for the last time … when we stood by his graveside, where our beautiful mother lay so long ago, where I was kneeling down on the ground, holding you for what I knew would be the last time … those last, painful days with my baby before they packed me away to the Mountains … I asked him a favour …"

If I could, then I would

I'll go wherever you will go …

"I asked him … that in the next life, whether it be a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand years from now …"

Way up high, or down low

I'll go wherever you will go …

His eyes had remained tearless until now, when something seemed to clutch at his chest. Eyes sliding closed, a single precious, silver tear trailed down his face as he leaned forwards, his forehead touching hers …

Runaway with my heart …

"And I asked him … I asked him, if he would give you back to me … but as my child …"

It broke, then.

"I asked if I might come back as your mother, and bear you as my child … because the way that I left you in this lifetime, it was as a sister. But a mother never, ever leaves her child …"

Runaway with my hope …

The tides of raw love, of the thundering heart, the gift to love, to feel that had been nurtured in him, the gates that held back the full force, now broke …

Runaway with my love …

When she felt him shift from her arms, she thought he would settle more comfortably against her, that they would both be able to watch the golden chariot rise, and welcome forth the new year …

The new hope …

But when she once again felt his gentle warmth leave her, and a shadow fall across her, she looked up, surprised.

I know now …

Eyes wide, she wordlessly watched him as the coat slid off his shoulders, slid down his young body.

She watched as his bandaged hands caught it before it touched the ground, watched how the baby boy gathered the heavy, large robe, holding it warmly against his body as he stumbled back towards her.

Just quite how…

Bewildered, she again wordlessly opened her arms welcomingly as the boy slid into them, against them … as her affectionate little baby nestled against her …

My life …

After a few moments of this, when he spoke, something had already changed.

That other-wordly presence that had been there, had touched him, and had left … content that his baby son was truly … truly grown up now …

And love …

And once again, he spoke. And as he spoke, that long-forgotten voice trailed back from the heavens, glided down and wrapped itself around this boy, this man …

"Onee-chan … I've been saying all my life that I wanted to be Hokage. Now I realise how far I'll have to go because I have to be the kind of person he was …"

Might still go on …

As her fingers stroked and caressed his face, which kept fading and swimming into view through the blur of her tears, a strange, divine blue-green glow radiated from her fingers … a strange glowing light that rose from her skin as if with a mind of its own, curling and wafting through the air …

"And I can't. Not at this stage. I can't give up my sister. Like he gave up his son and daughter, I can't give up my sister …"

Alighting on his skin, and surrounding it, permeating it, softly, softly sinking through it …

And as his bandages slowly came loose and fell off, revealing his beautiful, flushed, healthy, smooth baby skin, untouched and unmarred, healed and free from the painful scars and claws it had endured only mere hours ago …

In your heart …

His voice dropped to a quiet, gentle hoarse whisper as he drew his small body towards hers, as her trembling, eager arms wrapped around his baby body tightly, holding him as close as possible …

And he whispered against her as her head rested against his, as his soft baby hair caressed her skin … "Much as I love the village that raised me and gave me a home to belong to, I can't sacrifice my only precious thing I have left to the people …"

The golden rays had now lightly grazed the top of the distant mountains, were now rising, rising higher and higher, reaching the summits, over-riding them and lifting upwards, towards a clear, blue sky …

In your mind …

"But I know that I want to one day … so I have a long way to go … and I know that when we leave, something in your heart is going to break … and I wish I could stop that, but that's the way the wheel turns …"

And his eyes … something had died within them, something that would never be reborn …

It was an essence of his babyhood, his boyhood … it was that precious thing that left a boy …

… So that he would become a man …

"Onee-chan … I just want you to know … every day, I'll be thinking about you … every day, I'll be thinking about running back along this village, running up to the house and hearing your welcoming cry, your tears … the way you hold me, the way that only you can hold me, to make me feel so loved …"

I'll stay with you … for all of time!

She didn't know when it had ever hurt before, she couldn't recall a time her entire body felt like breaking …

But somehow, she had managed to rise to her feet, as his pretty little hands held onto her tightly, pulling her up as he too, rose. The robe draped over one arm, he once again gave himself in to her embrace as she drew his body near, as his beautiful little face rested against her shoulder, as both their eyes tinged with the golden dawn …

"I know … I now understand why I was left behind … Raidon-sensei told me to think about why … and I think I know …"

If I could, then I would

I'll go wherever you will go …

"Because I had to see for myself, I had to see the true village that I wanted to look after. I had to see for myself, while growing up in the worst of it, I had to find the best things about it. Anyone can see how wonderful our village is, just from a visit. But just be visiting, by looking at the outside, they won't know about its secrets, its suffering, struggling people …

"By living amongst the lowest part, I saw things from the bottom of the ladder … I saw the true struggles that people go through every day, I saw what everyday, ordinary do to get through their days …"

Her lips were parched, dry, pained …

But her heart was so full … she had to give him in return, something for what he was doing to her … for the pure, sheer beauty he was filling her heart with …

"My precious little one … you will learn that a future is planned by bringing people into your life. Not all of them will survive what you're facing, or even understand it …"

As his fertile mind listened to her soft, loving words, the freshness of her voice, his mind wandered, raced, soared, leapt as he recalled each and every person who had come into his life in some way …

The places they had been … their lives, their backgrounds …

For each and every one of those, he had taken away a part of them with him … the same way he had left something of himself in their lives …

"But those who do understand what you're going through … they're the ones, who'll be part of your life forever. No matter what, if you should fall, they'll be there to catch you. When you're hungry, they'll feed you … and when you're hurting, they'll heal you. And you'll do all the same for them. And that's your future …"

She tightened her arms around him.

"The ones who have touched you, and who you have let touch you in turn … they're the ones who have now formed an irreversible link to your past. And which will determine your future …"

Something lifted from her heart, and she managed a little laugh. "Something our mother used to tell me as a child … 'Trouble is a sieve through which we sift our acquaintances. Those too big to pass through … are our friends …' "

As a bright smile dawned across his face, his mind continued to eagerly receive her soft words, like water to a garden …

Way up high …

"In these terrible, troubled times to come, it is the alliances we have made in our lives which will see us through. Do you remember them all, my little one? Have you held onto them strongly in your heart …" Here, she allowed a smile, a smile as bright and as beautiful and sincere as the golden dawn which broke through the night sky, shattering the last remains of the darkness … "As strongly as I know they have held you?"

Or down low …

"Hold onto all these dear things … because they will be the ones who'll stand with you, when the time comes … they're the ones who'll go with you …"

A tall, dark-haired boy, mysterious spinning red eyes …

A beautiful smile, a rose-pink flush on her cheeks matching the cherry blossoms of her hair, glimmering blue-green eyes …

An irritating smirk, a lazy-as-all-hell asshole who only liked to sit and dream up at the clouds … a reliable friend …

A big loud-mouth, a trash-talker, pale blue eyes like a summer sky …

A fat-ass, his face continually obscured by an enormous bag of food … a fluttering of giant, enormous, beautiful wings within him …

An incredibly embarrassing, fiery-eyed, bowl-cut head … the beautiful Green beast of Konoha, yet another man he knew would be there for him, if ever he him …

A tall, imposing young man … silent, reserved, mysterious as the silvery orb of the moon which was reflected in his eyes … a young man who had broken free from a cage, and had spread his wings …

A bright smile, a tall, pretty girl, long brown hair caught up in twin curls either side of her head … enormous brown eyes, a glittering of silver metal, astonishing speed, accuracy … reliability …

A cheeky grin, dangerous slits for eyes, a dog-smelling bastard that was another he knew he could always count on …

A tall, mysterious, spiky brown-haired boy, eyes he had never seen … a cool calm mysterious ruthlessness that he knew he could depend on if this guy ever had to watch his back …

A sweet, soft, pretty, quiet girl … eyes as silvery-white as the moon …

If I could turn back time …

I'll go wherever you will go!

Deep, royal blue eyes blinked slowly, and as they refocussed, he saw others … a multitude of others …

The Sand, the ones who had turned tail at the last minute, and had stepped in front of Konoha's Five, defending them in the face of the pure evil the Sound had sent after them … especially that one with the piercing green eyes, the one that had scathingly put him down without even voicing anything … the one who had come to his rescue …

Their Jounins, because even Asuma and Kurenai and that loud mega-idiot Gai watched out for them as much as their good-for-nothing, handsome, mischievous, bored, irritating, reliable, dependable Hatake Kakashi did …

They were there … all of them …

If I could make you mine …

I'll go wherever you will go!

He blinked as he felt her turn him towards the rising sun … her soft hands alighting on his shoulders, then slowly sliding down his arms, covering his with her own …

A strange sensation, as if something mysterious, something wonderful was creeping into his skin … a wonderful tingling …

And he looked down, and saw his bandages fall off, just like before … and the skin underneath was his own, unmarred, untouched …

Soft skin that rubbed against his own, tender lips pressing against the side of his head, her soft laughter. "Naruto … where-ever you're going … we'll all be right with you …"

Another laughter, and this one filled with something more powerful than light laughter, something deeper and more painful …

"Just don't forget us …"

And the sunlight finally broke through the cover of the giant mountains, a trickle of the massive, giant golden orb, as the horses roared and raised the chariot into the sky …

"Because sure as anything … everyone here will miss you …"

I'll go wherever you will go …

And it was then that the dawn finally broke completely, and a piercing ray of blinding golden sunlight shot through the darkness of the night, banishing the misty twilight of the night sky. As she drew her first breath of the brand new era, she felt something melting inside …

It might have been happiness melting away, knowing, feeling the true depth of the time to come … but it was also pain …

… Something tremendous, magnificent had been achieved tonight, and though it hadn't sunk in properly, she knew in the days to come, it would be the memory of this night that would sustain them …

Shifting her arms, she whispered against his hair, "What are you thinking about, little one?"

A tiny, tiny, precious little smile tilted his lips and he tightened his arms around her, his fluffy silky golden hair nestling against her chin.

"I … I was just thinking about …" A slow, deep, even breath, and then his voice had faded to a soft, hoarse whisper. "…our father …"

And this time, there were no tears. No tears from her eyes at the memory …

… Because the memory, the dream had just come alive … and it had been reborn …

Reborn in the image of this tiny, beautiful, precious creature she held in her arms …

And it was then that the voice spoke. The soft voice of someone who had quietly come in search of two missing bunnies, only to find a true vision, the children of the sunlight …

And the figure quietly finished Naruto's sentence, but in her own, unexpected way …

You were thinking about your father …

And I was just thinking about the four Gods carved forever into the stone, the cliff-top that overlooks this village. The Gods solemnly watching over …

I was remembering how one of them was …

"… my son-in-law ... the man I gave my most precious thing to ..."

It was only then that Naruto was aware of the presence of the woman. She must have been there all the time, on a higher platform than where he was standing.

Lifting his head from Danah's shoulder, large blue eyes solemnly looked upwards at the tall figure.

Her robes billowed behind her, robes she had donned only a few months previously … robes that carried not only the responsibility and the love of a mother for her child, as did a Hokage for the Leaf … but robes that spoke of a heritage …

The robes that her Grandfather had worn first …

… Robes that she had not been there to watch her son be crowned with …

But now …

Hands on her tiny waist. Golden honey-brown hair caught up in twin tresses either side of her pretty, doll–like face, swaying in the gentle caress of the wind. Golden-brown eyes gazing straight ahead reflected by the distant gold of dawn …


He stood, her hand feeling warm and soft within his own grasp. Her closeness, the soft, delicate beauty of just her presence. The way she would shift towards him, the way her head gently, gently tilted against his shoulder. The softness of her hair against his cheek …

And this morning, the birth of the new era, it was something special … because now, standing by his side was a vision, a heavenly creature he had never thought, ever …

"Look … it's dawning …" Iruka whispered.

Mira slowly raised her head, and dropping her hand from his strong, soft hand, she linked her arm fully through his, holding tightly, leaning against him as they both watched the golden streams joyfully race towards Hidden Leaf …

Above them, and far below, everyone stopped, and turned, gazing into the slowly brightening gold horizon.

Three generations looked out from atop the stone monuments into the brand new day of a brand new year. A cheer rose from the joyful crowd below, as they too greeted a day they wouldn't have believed they would see. Grey haze hung here and there from the fires; broken windows, splintered doors, some collapsed roofs.

And hearts were breaking …

The people were remembering a gentle, kindly man who had taken them through the years. The man who had always kept the fire burning, the spirit of a guiding hope. The man who had taught them the importance of protecting the tiny leaves of the village; the children were the pulsing heart of the village, the life and the future.

But hearts were also soaring. Because surely, just as the sun rose, after a horrifying night, the light that had pierced the darkness was just another sign of the help they would always receive … the care, the love that showered down …

The days that were to come …

The constant, eternal wind that raced throughout its favourite village … The touch of ghostly fingers, of those long gone, of those who yearned, longed to reach back into this village …

The winds didn't pay any attention to the damaged houses, the broken, caved in shells that had only hours before contained happy, excited, laughing children …

The forests … the pure, untamed beauty of the trees, the woods, the fields … musical melodies as the winds whistled through the trees …

The bird and animals, as they awoke …

And somewhere, deep within the forest, beneath the thick, heavy white snows that were dislodged during the fights …

A single, timid green shoot rises slowly, almost shyly through the broken mantle of once deathly cold ice …

A proud little green tip, a single crystal dewdrop upon it from the melted snow as it joyfully burst upwards, reaching towards the sunlight … the precious little crystal sparkling in a million secret colours as it caught the soft, tender touch of the sun's rays …

A tiny little flower …

… About to blossom …


"The 'Will Of Fire' has been passed down to the small leaves of the Hidden Leaf …

"These small embers will eventually burn big and strong, once again lighting and protecting this village

"… as the new Hokage one day"


So lately, been wondering,

Who will be there to take my place …

When I'm gone, you'll need love …

To light the shadows on your face …

If a great wave shall fall

It would fall upon us all

And between the sand and stone

Could you make it on your own?

If I could, then I would

I'll go wherever you will go!

Way up high, or down low

I'll go wherever you will go!

And maybe, I'll find out,

The way to make it back someday

To watch you, to guide you

Through the darkest of your days!

If a great wave shall fall

It would fall upon us all

Well then I hope there's someone out there

Who can bring me back to you!

If I could, then I would

I'll go wherever you will go!

Way up high, or down low

I'll go wherever you will go!

Runaway with my heart

Runaway with my hope

Runaway with my love

I know now, just quite how

My life and love might still go on

In your heart, in your mind …

I'll stay with you for all of time!

If I could, then I would

I'll go wherever you will go

Way up high, or down low

I'll go wherever you will go

If I could turn back time

I'll go wherever you will go

If I could make you mine

I'll go wherever you will go

I'll go wherever you will go …


Well …

Should I say, 'The End'?

No, I can't …

I already told some wonderful people who took their time out to write to me (ALWAYS appreciated, let me tell you!) that I have planned Part 2 already

And it's true … when "Flower" first came into my head, I had wanted, upon its conclusion, to write a sequel, taking place 3 years after this story. Which is, as it turns out, the same thing the manga did …

Now, Part 2 is going to be a lot more romance-oriented. I know a lot of you asked for certain pairings, but … I have a thirteen year old sister, and I don't think she understands the full concept of love, and being with someone. They're too young for that!

Three years from now, our beautiful Naruto will be sixteen, which I think is a more appropriate age to see what changes are going on inside his mind …

ANYWAY!

Having blabbed all that … I sincerely, sincerely hope you enjoyed this story! In the entire truth, believe me when I say I would NOT have gotten through this without EVERYONE'S support.

Your reviews kept me motivated, and I was delighted to see that you were enjoying it and loving it so much. You don't know how much a simple review helps a writer, just how much support it gives them, the enthusiasm it stirs …

Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you …

Feel free to email me, I might take a while to respond, but know that I will!