Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or any of the characters they are the property of their respective creators. Please be aware that no profit is being made from this work of fan fiction.
It's been eighty years since that day, since all the dreams we once shared came crashing down, as all our hopes were shattered. I can't help but think I've held on for far too long, watching everyone I know passing on. I'm alone now, in this place, only my memories of him preventing me from joining them, from finding my rest. He fought so hard, for me and for everyone else, but in the end it was all in vein, he would not be brought back. As the battle concluded two people lay dead and things would never be the same again.
Looking down at the familiar form of the stone monument, letting my eyes trace the oh so familiar characters carved into it's stone surface, I remember. Remember the first time we came to this place, just after we became a team. He made a vow that day, one spoken, as always without thinking or knowing the true significance of about what he spoke. He never recalled it, even after knowing what it meant, he never did…that brings me back to the next time I stood in this spot, more than a decade later. There were no tears on that day either, he would never cry again…I can still recall the look on Tsunade-sensei's face as she looked at him before the sadness overcame her and she buried her face in Jiraiya-sensei's chest.
Although I had only met him on a few occasions, Jiraiya-sensei struck me as a man who was seldom depressed, always he seemed to have a smile on his face and a twinkle of mischief in his eyes. On that day had had neither, his face looking as if it were carved out of stone. I had watched as he looked at his former student, watched that single tear as it fell from his eyes and rolled down his cheek. So much was lost that day, so many tragedies and perhaps the greatest was that I was never able to say goodbye…
It was a dull day in the hidden village of the Leaf, the sky constantly overcast leaving a air of depression hanging over the whole village. With the destruction of Ataksuki almost a decade ago and the recent reports of the demise of the snake sannin, Orochimaru, combined with a renewed and strengthened alliance with the hidden village of the Sand, Konoha was seeing a time of prosperity it has seldom had, at least not since before the Earth Fire wars.
Many things have changed in this past decade, the most significant perhaps the most recent, Tsunade-sensei's decision to repeal the decree made by the forth and finally tell the village the whole truth behind what happened more than twenty years ago, on that fateful night when the Kyuubi attacked and the fourth gave up his life. There had been a mixture of shock and outrage at first, right up until the point when the most important part of the tale had been told, the sealing of the demon.
Over the years, people had come to believe that the forth had bound the demon into human form and that it had become the boy they knew as Umazaki Naruto. However, this was untrue. In reality, the forth had bound the demon in a great seal upon the new born Naruto's navel, using him as a human prison for the greater demon. Naruto never was nor had been a demon; he was simply an unfortunate child who had been chosen as a sacrifice in order to save the village.
There had been silence as she finished the tale, people stunned into silence by the magnitude of this truth and shamed by all that they had done. Amongst them, there were only a small group of dissenters, people who refused to accept him even knowing the truth.
"We have all heard stories of the other child who bore a demon, the terror he wreaked upon his village. Why are we to believe he is any different?"
At once the one who had spoken found himself confronted with a group of ninja, all of our friends had stepped forwards, speaking out to defend him. One stood before the others, it was he who would convey their thoughts and feelings as he was known to be the smartest of the group.
"If that were the case then we would already be dead. He has endured those torments all his life and yet he has never struck out at a member of the village, never sought retribution for what was done. All he has ever tried to do is earn the respect of the people who hated him by being the best ninja that he can. I would and have trust him with my life, each of us feels the same."
The others nodded in silent agreement, the man before them falling to his knees in shame, understanding the foolishness of his words. It was then Tsunade-sensei spoke up again, after silencing them with a word.
"The time has come for me to make my second announcement, one that is long overdue. As of one month from now I will be stepping down from my position as hokage, as is my duty I have already chosen my successor, I trust that he will be given your full respect and loyalty as you have given them to me."
Throughout this he wore and expression of mild surprise, he had known nothing of this. When she turned to face him I could almost feel the excitement radiating off of him, picture the grin on his face as she spoke her next words.
"Umazaki Naruto, I hereby announce you as my successor, the one who shall be rokudaime hokage."
Overcome by the moment he had embraced me fiercely, his lips capturing my own in a quick kiss, one that left me blushing heavily. Before I could say anything he was already moving away, embracing Tsunade-sensei and thanking her before receiving a hearty congratulations form his former teacher. We were to learn later that he and Tsunade-sensei had purchased a small plot of land on the outskirts of Konoha and it was there they intended to spend the remainder of their days, together.
It was less than a week later, a scouting patrol returned bearing bad news. They had encountered a small force of Sound ninja on their patrol, although they had been easily dispatched what they had learned from this small force made their blood run cold. The group they fought with were not equipped for long-range scouting; their equipment had been minimal, more characteristic of a scouting party for a larger force.
In order to confirm their suspicions they had ventured out further only to encounter greater resistance when they uncovered the bulk of the force camped on the edge of our border at the valley of the end. Of the four-person team, only one made it back alive and even then they died shortly after making their report. This news deeply worried Tsunade-sensei and it was no more than a day later that we were called to her offices to be informed of the full details of the report.
"Please sit down, both of you."
We took our seats, opposite the large wooden desk, taking note of the serious look on Tsunade-sensei's face. She rarely looked this serious, something I had learned from three long hard years as her apprentice. There was more to this than simply the appearance of the Sound on our border, without Orochimaru who was leading them and why would they choose to attack Konoha after so long…Naruto answered it in a single word, one that sent shivers running down my spine.
"Yes, Sasuke. According to the report given to me, he was spotted in the encampment; because of his previous status as Orochimaru's apprentice we have assumed that he has now taken control of the village and is the one leading this force."
Naruto's question was blunt and to the point but even so his voice betrayed his anger beneath the calm.
"We do not know exactly, although our best estimate is that he has come for revenge. You defeated Ataksuki and killed Itachi thus denying him his vengeance, now it would be logical to assume that he has come for you instead, to finish what was started all those years ago."
He stood up, starting to leave.
"Sit down Naruto, I'm still hokage and because of that I forbid you from going to face him on your own. This is a matter for the village now, not you alone."
Her voice was harsh; for a moment their gazes locked and in that instant I was deathly afraid, afraid that he would still go, despite her command. The moment passed and he sat back down, I at last allowed myself to breathe a sigh of relief.
"Already our forces are being gathered in preparation of travelling to meet them and settle this before they reach the village. You will both be included in this, I know there is no way I could stop you from coming along, but you must both remember that he is no longer the person you once knew. There can be no redemption this time, he is your enemy now and you must kill him, promise or no."
As she said that last part she looked hard at Naruto, obviously referring to the promise he had made to me long ago to bring Sasuke back. He glanced at me, as if seeking confirmation of this and I nodded, telling him it was alright, all I wanted now was for this all to be at an end.
"Good, now that things are settled I want you both back here tomorrow at midday, we have a planning meeting scheduled. Now, get out of here, both of you."
As we left her office we split up, he ran off muttering about some task or other he had to do while I decided to return home. On arriving I took a brief shower before changing into my sleeping clothes and curling up on the couch with a book I had been reading. I was surprised when he appeared before me, looking slightly the worse for wear but still grinning, mischief sparkling in his eyes.
"Good evening Sakura-chan."
Sighing in defeat at his cheery demeanour I closed my book and placed it on the table, knowing I would get no more reading done tonight. I looked up at him, taking in his expression before asking.
"So, what was it that is so important that you had to interrupt my reading, hmm?"
I was surprised when suddenly his gaze turned serious; the grin was gone from his face.
"Sakura…if I don't make it back…I wanted to tell you in case…I…"
I cut him off, afraid of the words that I knew would follow, of the finality of what would be said.
"Don't say it Naruto, just don't. You will make it back! Do you hear me? I won't forgive you if you don't."
Losing my composure I screamed at him even as I lost control.
"Yes you can! Promise me Naruto! Promise me that no matter what you will come back alive!"
For a moment amusement danced in his eyes even as he reached over to me and brushed away my tears with the back of his hand.
"Alright Sakura-chan, just for you."
He stood up, striking what Lee-san would refer to as his 'nice-guy' pose.
"I, Umazaki Naruto, hereby promise my Sakura-chan that no matter what happens in the coming battle I will return to her alive on the condition that she allows me to take her out for ramen afterwards."
I couldn't help but smile at his declaration, trust him to add something like that on the end. Even so, despite how corny it sounded I was glad he had made me that promise; another meal of ramen would be a small price to pay.
"Alright Naruto, it's a deal."
At once his face lit up, his grin resembling the one he often wore as a child although now it was harder see the pain it hides. I've seen behind the mask now, in those few moments when he let down his guard and I saw the scars that life has left upon him. There are times when I wish I could be the one to wipe them all away but all too often I recall that far too many of them were left by my own hand.
He left me alone, and for a moment I considered returning to my reading but found I could no longer concentrate. His words had affected me more than I would have wanted; the thought of him dying caused me to feel a terrible tightness in my chest. I've already lost so much, I cannot bear to lose him, not now of all times…in those few quiet moments as I sat there on the couch, looking up at the ceiling of my apartment I made a decision that I will finally tell him when we return.
That night, I slept soundly for the first time in months, my sleep undisturbed by the usual worries that plagued my dreams. I was up early, headed over to the hokage's office early, wanted to speak to Tsunade-sensei before he arrived. Much to my surprise, and slight horror, when I got to her door there were 'noises' coming from inside, ones that told me very clearly I did not wish to enter right now, it seemed that Jiraiya-sensei was with her. Quite seriously disgusted by the very concept of what they must be doing I hurried away quickly, hoping that they were too busy to realise I had been there.
When I returned an hour later those 'noises' were gone, replaced by the sounds of argument and debate, it seemed that they had already begun discussing the mission plan. Naruto and a number of the ANBU were already present, arguing over the strategy. Each of them wanted to be the one the assault, the only one not speaking for once being Naruto who stood silent off to the side. I could see the irritation on Tsunade-sensei's face just before she silenced them with a wave.
"Enough, all of you. I have already chosen a team to lead the assault, and that is final."
"But Tsunade-sama, they are not even a proper team, how can we expect this rag tag group of jounin and ANBU to achieve what a normal team cannot?"
At once she turned her fearsome gaze upon the man and he shrank back, despite his training.
"It is precisely because they are not a normal team that I am sending them. They are the ones who were responsible for the original mission to catch the criminal years ago, thus I believe it is sensible to allow them a second try. At the time they were very nearly successful, even though they were fighting considerably more powerful opponents. Their unorthodox combination of skills may well be enough to infiltrate the camp and eliminate him before the real battle begins."
Her tone left no room for argument and the captain simply nodded in agreement, not wishing to incur the hokage's wrath once again. They were all well aware of how she felt about Naruto; she treated him like a younger brother and would fiercely defend him against anyone as if he were her own blood. Once or twice, back when I was training I can still recall some of her drunken ranting, something about someone called Nawaki. When I had asked her later when she was sober her eyes went distant and she had not spoken, whoever he was he had been someone important to her and for some reason I got the impression she was reminded of him by Naruto. One of these days I must remember to ask Jiraiya-sensei as her team-mate he would know more of her background.
The meeting only lasted another hour, battle plans were finalised and roles assigned. When we left the offices of the hokage we all knew our roles and would play them perfectly on the morrow when the time for battle came. I returned to my apartment by way of the hospital, collecting what supplies I would need, I had been assigned to the attack team in the end, Tsunade-sensei had insisted they take a medic along.
Naruto had objected at first but shut up quickly when Jiraiya-sensei sent him a meaningful glare, what it was that passed between the two I do not know but after that he raised no further objections. Looking at the toad sanin had of course brought to mind the things I had heard earlier, causing me to fight down a blush. The thought of the two sannin doing those 'things' still brings a blush to my cheeks although I cannot help but wonder if we will be that way when we reach their age.
We organised to meet at the gates in half an hour, ready to begin the journey to the staging grounds, the rest of the force was already assembling there, ready to take on the Sound. When I finally joined them it was to find myself surrounded by familiar faces, each of them people I had know for years, people I had grown to trust. Each of them was the best in their field and were now among the most respected ninja in Konoha. For the duration of this mission Naruto would be in command with Shikamaru operating as his second and determining their strategy.
At once I found myself pulled into their formation, assigned a position near Naruto. Thought this was not the most tactically sound place for me to be, but the general consensus was that were anyone to try and go after me it was unlikely that Naruto would be able to hold himself back. At least this way he would not have to go far and could defend me without breaking formation. I felt a slight pang of resentment other the insinuation that I could not defend myself but a brief glance at the men around me, their hardened expressions, I understood why.
The last time they had done this they had been faced by opponents far beyond their level, one against whom they should have died. In the end they had won, every time, although it almost cost them their lives. Even if in the end it had all been in vain it had taught them all an important lesson, that no matter how strong you are, there is always a chance that someone weaker might take you down.
Finally Shikamaru too his place in the team and we were off, Kiba and Akamaru leading the charge.
The journey was made in silence, no speech was required. All communication was made by hand signs, ensuring that anyone watching would not know what we were saying, unless Sasuke had taught his troops Konoha hand signs. It was unlikely but possible; to that end we had developed some slight variations since then, for the most part using the same designs but with different meanings.
We encounter no patrols, something that immediately had us on edge, it was too easy, it seemed as if we were expected, that they knew we were coming. This belief was confirmed when we reached the perimeter of their camp, a group of Sound ninja were waiting for us there.
"Ninja of Konoha, we have been sent by our master to greet you. It his wish that none but the one named Naruto come any further, the others may leave unharmed."
Naruto was about to step forward when I caught his arm, he turned to look at me as I silently begged him no to go. He turned to face me then, his gaze boring into my own, trying to convince me to allow him to go, to do what he believed must be done.
My voice was little more than a whisper but I knew he had heard, his eyes widened slightly and he looked down, knowing that he had all but forgotten his words to me. He did not resist when I pulled him close, not caring about anything else as the others silently looked on.
"So, Team 7 is reunited again."
We both looked up at the sound of that voice, saw him emerge from the shadows, eyes twin orbs of crimson.
"This is an added bonus, not only do I get to kill you dobe but I also get to have her watch as well. What more could I possible ask for."
Naruto broke free of my grasp, moving at blinding speed, straight for Sasuke…rather than avoiding or intercepting the attack as I expected he retreated instead, leading Naruto into the forest. At once the group of Sound ninja attacked the remainder of our group and we were too preoccupied to follow. In the confusion Shikamaru told me to go after them, knowing that I too had a part in that battle as well. Even if he had not done I would have gone anyway, my place was at his side…
When I finally caught up to them they were already fighting, standing upon the water, trading blows. At once I was reminded of the scene he described to me long ago, the first time they had battled one another at the valley of the end. This time however, only one would be able to walk away…Sasuke made a set of seals, ones that Naruto saw too late to stop the blow aimed at his heart. Acting on instinct alone I leapt for him, taking the blow that would have claimed his life.
I slumped into his arms even as he screamed at me not to die, desperately trying to bind my wounds. It didn't matter by then, I could already feel the extent of the damage to my insides, without another medic to heal me there was no way I could be saved. It seemed he realised this too as tears streamed down his face as he cried for us both.
"So dobe, in the end she chose you after all, such a waste…wait, what is this?"
At once I felt my blood run cold, with my dying breaths I silently prayed that he would not tell Naruto, that he would not unveil the final truth I had kept from him. In the end they went unanswered…
"Hmm, it seems that I will have three deaths on my hands. You, her and your child."
He was lost then, lost in a ball of rage and grief, fully transforming he gave in to the blood lust of the demon within. Sasuke, not expected the ferocity of the attack, was given no time to defend, his body torn to shreds by the chakra forged claws that extended from Naruto's hands. He fell to the floor in pieces, what remained now barely recognisable as once being human.
When he returned to me he was normal once again, the last wisps of red chakra dissipating around him.
"Please Sakura-chan, you can't die on me, I can't go on with out you by my side…"
Gathering my strength I managed to raise my arm, gently brushing my hand against the side of his face.
"You can and you will…you promised me you wouldn't die…remember?"
"No. The village needs you, it's not your time to die."
"Please…let me see your smile…one final time."
The last thing I saw as the darkness washed over me was his face, a smile on his face even as endless sadness burned in his eyes as he watched the woman he loved for so long die in his arms.
Eight years have passed since that day and everyone I have waited here, waited for the day he would join me I we would go to the other world together. Everyday I have watched him as he came to this place, kneeling before the monument even as his fingers brush across the characters of my name.
One of the ANBU beside him questions, unsure if it is he who the hokage is speaking.
"The name of my wife, she died a long long time ago."
He waved a hand.
"There is no need. Just let me rest hear for a moment."
The man nodded in understanding an walked slightly further away. I was shocked when his head rose and he turned to face me, for the first time in eighty years his face alive with a genuine smile.
His body slumped forward, landing hard against the surface of the monument. At once the ANBU reacted, calling his name, checking for a pulse. Standing up he screamed.
"Someone call for help, the hokage has died!"
His soul stood apart from his physical form, lifting away as he cast of what remained of his former life, his form shifting and changing, reverting back to how he had been on the day we were married, joyful and full of life. He advanced towards me, holding out his hand, I took it at once, reassured by the feel of it against my own, a feeling I had been without for so long. Looking deep into my eyes he spoke one last time, his words no more than a whisper on the wind.
After all these years my time has finally come, now we are together once more it is finally time to say goodbye.
And with that we departed this world together, stepping into the place that lay beyond.
A/NA sad story, I can't help but wonder how many people caught both the twists before the end. Well, to follow this one I have a new, multi chapter Jir/Tsu planned although work on it will not begin until I finish some of my Eva ones.
Till next time,
Goodbye is not pre-read.