So…here we are: the final chapter. I kinda pulled a little double time skip on ya.
Anyway, I just wanna say thanks to each and every person who is reading this right now. This story started over a year ago when I jotted some things down during a biology class, and the only reason it kept going was because of you guys.
You have no idea how awesome you guys are.
This is actually the first non-oneshot I have ever seen through to the bittersweet end. It was rough in some areas, and I know I still have a lot of things I can improve on in my writing. For sticking with me through the good and the bad, and for all the constructive criticism, I sincerely appreciate it. This has been a great learning experience for me.
In regards to what is coming up next from me (if anyone cares), I've got all kinds of ideas for all kinds of things. I've got two big projects in mind, one of them being another Naruto story. I wrote out the first chapters but there are some things I want to rethink and rewrite. And as a huge Legend of Zelda fan, it was inevitable that I contract the urge to write a Zelda fic. The rough details for that are still a little sketchy, though, so I don't expect it out anytime soon. Other than that, oneshot ideas pop into my head all the time, and I've been meaning to get caught up on those FMA oneshots. I'm always reading new manga, watching new anime, reading new books, and playing new video games, so even I don't know what kind of oneshots I'll be wanting to put out there, so I hope to see more of you guys and girls in the future.
All that being said, I really hope you enjoy the last chapter of Promise of a Lifetime.
It's been fun.
The old swing was still there. Sitting alone just across from the Ninja Academy, the rusting chain links and fading wooden seat served as a trigger for one man's memories. The days of his childhood were not the fondest of his memories, nor were they the happiest of times. He remembered this swing. He remembered how lonely it was to sit in it and watch all the other kids smiling happily. The old metal and the decaying wood were very significant in his life.
It was while sitting in this exact spot that a dream was born.
They were staring at him again, with those eyes full of contempt. Those were the only type that he ever saw from people. They smiled at others -tenderly, jokingly- but whenever they saw him, their eyes would always change. No one smiled at him.
An outcast. He didn't belong here. He didn't belong anywhere. He was alone.
Just then, a commotion broke out among the villagers. A man in white robes had appeared, and the people rushed to see him. They were awed by the man's presence. Each one of them bowed to him, spoke politely to him, and looked at him with admiration and trust. The villagers respected him. The villagers loved him.
The boy began to think.
If one were to become Hokage, even someone who is hated, would the villagers treat that person with respect as well? Would they bow to him, would they speak politely? Would they show him respect?
Would they acknowledge his existence?
It was on that day, in that moment on that swing, when the boy decided. He was going to be Hokage. No one would look down on him. No one would disrespect him. They would all acknowledge him as the strongest; as the best. One day...
Uzumaki Naruto was going to be Hokage.
He gave the swing a gentle push. It creaked softly as it swayed back and forth.
"Look, Shinji-chan, what is your silly Oji-san doing now?"
The sudden voice was one that he knew well.
He turned to see exactly who he expected to see. It was Sakura, with Shinji tagging along a few steps behind her, holding on tightly to his mother's hand.
Naruto smiled as they approached, and he kneeled down and held out his arms for the young boy. With a gentle push from his mother, Shinji walked to him, and Naruto picked him up and twirled the now laughing child in the air.
"He can walk pretty far now, huh?" he said, finally bringing Shinji down to his chest.
Sakura sighed. "Yeah, and I'm the one who has to chase him everywhere. He was restless this morning, so I figured I'd let him wander around some."
"Haha…" Naruto laughed, "are you causing trouble for your mom, Shinji-chan?"
The little boy answered with a smile.
"I heard from Suki that Hikari-chan is a fast learner, too," said Sakura, taking a seat on the swing.
Naruto handed Shinji back to his mother, and she pushed off with her feet to rock the swing back and forth.
"Yeah," he replied with a laugh, "I think she started walking a little bit earlier than Shinji-chan did! I'll probably be able to teach her shadow clones soon. It might be pretty helpful if it turns out Shinji-kun has the sharingan…"
The back of Sakura's hand made contact with Naruto's chest, hard enough to make him grunt.
"Enough," she scolded, "You and Sasuke…you guys are already fueling a rivalry between them."
"Haha…we're just having a little fun," he assured her.
She seriously doubted it.
Shinji laughed out again as Naruto pushed them just a little higher, but a warning from Sakura made him hold back again.
This continued quietly for a few minutes until Sakura broke the silence.
"So, today is the big day, isn't it?"
"Yeah…I guess it is."
Sakura found herself smiling, incredibly happy for her long time friend. It wasn't just for the past ten years; he had worked hard his entire life. Making believers out of the doubtful, pulling people from the depths of darkness: that was what he had done to get here.
"You should thank Tsunade-shishou. She could have kept on going for another ten years, if she really wanted to."
"Gimme a break. That old hag just wanted to retire so she could go out drinking all the time together with that stupid Ero-sannin."
It was true, The Fifth was still perfectly able to running the village. But when Sakura had asked her why she was stepping down early, the Hokage's reply was, "He's ready. I know when it's time to step down and make way for a new, more capable leader."
As she was thinking, Sakura felt a thud as the swing's backward movement was suddenly halted. Holding Shinji tightly, she caught herself from falling. Looking back at what happened, she found Naruto jumping in place, clutching his leg.
"What happened? All of a sudden we just crashed into you!"
"Ow…" he whimpered, "I was just thinking about something, that's all."
So that's what it was. He had been thinking about something. In all the years she had known him, Sakura had learned that Naruto could actually be a deep thinker. Usually his mind was simple. But sometimes, when he thought about things that were important, he would dedicate his whole mind to it, which usually resulted in him becoming less aware of what was happening around him.
She laughed as he hopped on one foot. This man right here was a shinobi of considerable renown. The mere mention of his name could make enemy ninja panic. Young ninja everywhere aspired to be as strong and cool as this man. Yet here he was, looking like an idiot. Even though he had matured a little, it was nice to know that after all these years, Naruto was still Naruto.
"You see that guy over there, jumping like a maniac?" she told her son, "that's the person they call 'Konoha's one man army.' In reality, he's a pathetic guy, isn't he, Shinji-chan?"
He seemed to settle down a bit, the pain from the collision fading. When he felt like he could, he set his foot back on the ground. He frowned at being seen in such an un-cool moment.
"Geez…nice job sitting there while an injured person needs your help. And they named you the head of Konoha's medical division…"
Sakura just laughed again. "Just what were you thinking about, anyway?" she asked him.
"There should be another swing here. Whoever thought to put a swing here by itself must've been pretty dumb. After all, it is much better to play with someone else than to sit here alone."
He held his arms up and demonstrated where his new swing would go, using his arms to outline the shape of it. Sakura also knew what the seat she sat in now meant to him. Back then, she often saw him sitting here alone, longing for a friend. Regrettably, she had also been one of the people who tried to avoid him at all costs.
"I think it's a great idea," she said to him, standing and holding Shinji in her arms. "Well, you shouldn't waste your time around here daydreaming, you know. I know you have things you have to do before the ceremony."
"Yeah…but taking a break is good for you," proclaimed Naruto.
Sakura rolled her eyes. "Not if taking a break is the only thing you ever do. And besides, how can you take a break when you haven't even started yet, hmm?"
If she stuck around, he would only be distracted and never get anything done, and she trusted him enough to not have to stay at his side constantly to make sure he was doing everything he needed to. And so, she decided to leave him be for now.
"Yeah, yeah, I got it," he said, less than enthusiastic.
"We'll see you at the ceremony, then," she called back, helping little Shinji wave goodbye.
What she said was the truth. There was a lot of preparation to be done on his part. It wasn't like he was a stranger to hard work, but he felt like putting it off for a little while longer.
He bumped into quite a few people in his walk around the village, his friends who were all excited for him, especially those who had been his fellow genin so long ago. They were all full-fledged jounin now.
He bumped into Kiba first, who hollered something about never calling Naruto, Hokage-sama.
Neji and Hinata, the two leaders of the now un-separated Hyuuga clan were making preparations of their own, setting up a traditional clan ceremony that Naruto would have to take part in after the main one. The two of them offered him a quick congratulations, since they couldn't talk for long.
As usual, Shino seemed to appear and disappear in the blink of an eye, but not before a small conversation regarding his last mission.
He ate lunch at Ichiraku with Chouji and Ino, and Ayame gave them free ramen to celebrate Naruto's accomplishments. Ino's skills helped her fit in as an elite spy, and Chouji had become a sensei to three very bright genin.
On his second time past the Academy, the kids were outside practicing. It looked like Shikamaru was in charge of the children today, so Naruto thought he'd go have a little chat. He asked him how Temari was coming along, and how big she was getting. Shikamaru just sighed and told him it was troublesome with her being so picky and changing her mind all the time.
His walk in the forest let him bump into Rock Lee, who had dragged an unwilling Ten-ten with him to do some training. She was already a member of Anbu, and Lee's test was only a few days away. Naruto knew that if he stuck around for long, he'd probably end up joining them.
The next meeting was not by accident. Konohamaru and the gang had come looking for him, eager to talk to him before all the formal festivities began. Among the three of them, Konohamaru was the only one who had made it jounin, leaving Moegi and Udon as chuunin. They were having a nice talk under a shady tree before someone else who had come looking for Naruto stopped by.
It was Sasuke, and Konohamru and the others knew to leave Naruto and Sasuke alone.
"I was sent by Sakura and Suki to see how your preparations were coming along," said the Uchiha, looking around to see what kind of work Naruto could be doing out here in the park.
"I was just about to get to it, but I just wanted to see what everyone else was doing."
"What do you think they're all doing, idiot? They're getting ready for the ceremony, like you should be."
"I know. I just wanted to kill a little more time before I got started," said Naruto.
Sasuke knew Naruto wasn't being lazy. This was an important day for him, and he needed some time to just think about it and reflect on what he had done to get here.
"Fine. Kill some more time. But don't blame me when you look like an idiot at your own ceremony because you weren't ready. I'll be in the first row, laughing," commented Sasuke. "I'll go back and tell them that you are almost done so they won't come bother you, but you'd better get a move on pretty soon."
Naruto was alone again, and he figured it was about time to get started. First, he had to head over to Tsunade's and make sure they got the whole procedure down. She and Jiraiya were probably waiting for him.
The entire place was packed. There was hardly an empty seat to be had; the entire village had come to witness the ceremony. The streets were barren, the shops were closed, and only a few unfortunate ninja who were assigned to the city's perimeter security were unable to attend the event.
The Kazekage was also in attendance, sitting with representatives from Suna right above the regular citizens and overlooking the platform.
Right in front of the stage were Konoha's council of elders, ready to foresee the appointment of their new Hokage.
As was customary, Tsunade emerged from the back first, and the crowd went quiet. Wearing her robes, she walked on stage with a single candle in hand. Following tradition, she spoke to the audience and the council.
It was almost his turn to go out there. Naruto was never good with procedure, so he was making sure he remembered everything he had to do.
"Don't tell me you're nervous…" Suki smiled as she watched her husband pace.
"When the Old Lady hands me the candle, do I take it with my left hand or my right?" he asked.
"You take it with both hands," she corrected, "and then you raise it over your head."
"Right. And then after that…" he mumbled on, trying to remember.
"Don't you remember? That's when you have to take off your shirt and dance around."
Her kidding brought forth a frown. She laughed at him and placed a single hand on his shoulder.
"You'll be fine. Don't think about it, just do it. You've always done things better that way, anyway."
"Heh. You're right," he said with a smirk.
"Of course I am, Baka-kun," she whispered intimately, entangling her fingers into his messy, blonde hair.
They leaned in for a quick kiss before they heard his cue from Tsunade.
"Go on," she urged him, and he smiled back at her as he left.
When he saw all the people staring at him, an overwhelming feeling rushed through his body. They were all here to see him. They were all here to support him and welcome him as the new leader of the village.
Naruto managed to locate most of his friends without effort. Sasuke and Sakura were directly behind the elders, with Shinji looking up from his father's lap. Akiko was with them too, pointing at Naruto to make sure Hikari was looking at her father. When she noticed him glancing her way, she mouthed something to him that he made out to be, don't mess up, and winked at him innocently.
He glanced up at Gaara. Even though the Kazekage wore the same stoic face as always, he could sense his happiness for him. Kakashi was seated to his left, but Naruto couldn't really read his expression with that dumb mask of his.
Coming to a stop at Tsunade's side, he could barely conceal his wide mouthed grin. She smiled at him, too, before they continued.
One at a time, each council member rose and bowed, giving Naruto their approval and blessing. Then, he had to recite the oath that only five people had recited before him. And then, Tsunade handed down to him the white candle, which symbolized the will of fire. With this, she was entrusting the future of he Konoha and all of its people to him. He gladly accepted it with both hands and held it high over his head for everyone to see. Remembering the proper procedure, he lowered it after ten seconds. He bowed to Tsunade, who, in turn, bowed to him. Then, he turned to the elders and bowed to them. Finally, he turned to his left and his right, bowing to the citizens and shinobi of Konoha.
And they all rose out of their seats, eyes facing his. As one, they bowed, recognizing him as their Hokage: their leader, protector, and caretaker.
His emotions were overflowing, taking the form of a huge grin as he swept the crowd and looked each and every person in the eyes. Those who knew him the best smiled along with him, knowing exactly what this moment meant for him.
"Uzumaki Naruto, you are hereby approved by the council of elders, by me, the Fifth Hokage, and by all the witnesses here in attendance today to be the Sixth Hokage of Konohagakure."
He kneeled in front of her, and she placed her hat onto his head. Following her cues, he rose.
Tsunade turned to the masses and declared, "I present to you the new Hokage!"
The barrier of silence was broken. A roar of cheering and applause erupted from the villagers. This was the beginning of a new era; it was a cause to celebrate.
Naruto just leaned in closer to Tsunade and whispered, "Can you say that again, one more time?"
He wanted to hear it again. He wanted everyone else to hear it again. He wanted Baine and Sato and Takahiro to hear it. He wanted his mother and father to hear it.
Tsunade nodded her understanding. She turned to the crowd and announced it one more time.
"The new Hokage: Uzumaki Naruto!"
It was late, and the festivities had died down. Everyone had already gone home: their house on the east side of town. Suki, Akiko, and Naruto sat in what was now his office. Sakura and Sasuke had just left. Suki had put Hikari to sleep hours ago, and without his playmate, Shinji had grown grouchy and tired.
"Wow, Maki-san," admired Akiko, "so this is going to be your place from now on, huh?"
The tower was now his home, along with Suki and Hikari. They had finished moving all of their stuff in yesterday, and they allowed Akiko to move in to the old house for free.
Naruto spun in his chair to face the lights of Konoha. The entire village was his responsibility. It was a big task, but he knew he wasn't alone. He owed so much to these two people. They had followed, supported him, and taught him so many things. With everyone's strength, Naruto knew that he, as well as the entire village, would be just fine.
Saying their names like that, the two women knew that he was about to say something he thought was important.
"We already know, Naruto. An idiot like you could've never made it this far without us," said Suki.
"And since you'll probably be an idiot for the rest of your life, we'll help you out if you ever need it," added Akiko.
Naruto smiled. "You're so stupid...both of you. That's not even close to what I was going to say."
"Hmph," both girls looked at each other, unconvinced, "such a dishonest guy."
"Well, I'd better get going. I don't know what kind of crazy things Hokage-sama is going to tell me to do tomorrow," said Akiko.
She knew that Naruto and Suki hadn't had much time to be alone today, so thinking of them, she called it a night and bid them farewell.
"Oh," Naruto caught her in the door, "I've got a job for you, so be sure to stop by tomorrow, okay?"
"No problem, boss!" she called back, "I'll be there!"
"Can you check on Hikari-chan before you leave?" Suki requested.
With that, she left the new Hokage and his wife to themselves. They stared out at the village together, Suki leaning into him as they sat on his desk.
"Hmm…" she whispered, "so my husband is the Sixth Hokage…"
"That's right, so you'd better listen to everything I say," said Naruto.
"I'll be obedient, Hokage-sama," she dug her head deeper into his chest mischievously.
He held her closer; wrapped his arms around her to envelope her completely.
"Baka…" she murmured, closing her eyes and reveling in his warmth.
She opened them in surprise when she was lifted into the air, and he carried her back to their bedroom.
For various reasons, he was only able to manage a few hours of sleep that night, so in the morning, he wasn't exactly energetic. A Hokage's day started early: it had to in order to produce maximum productivity. He was still unready when Shizune came to knock on his door.
"Naruto-kun," she said brightly, checking in for the first of what would be hundreds of times, "it's time for you to get up."
"Shizune-nee-san, you're up already?" he said groggily, "I already told you this, but you work too hard."
He had never asked her to continue her service to the Hokage after Tsunade left. She could have gone and done whatever she wanted to, but she volunteered to stay and work for him.
"Come on! This is your first day as the Leaf Village's Hokage! I'm here to tell you you're schedule for today. You have a meeting with the Kazekage in an hour."
He kissed Suki on the cheek before climbing out of bed, and Shizune immediately turned away.
"N-naruto-kun! Your clothes!" she yelped.
"Eh? Oh, sorry, Shizune-nee-san."
"Nevermind! Just hurry up and get dressed. I'll be waiting in your office."
Shizune left the room in a hurry, and Naruto, still half asleep, clumsily put on his clothes. Slipping on the two precious pendants that had been given to him as gifts, he was finished.
Just before leaving bedside, however, Suki grabbed his hand gently.
"Do your best," she said simply.
Looking deep into her eyes, he smiled.
And he was off to live his dream.
(Several years later)
The afternoon sun was hotter than usual for this time of year. Still, the almost unbearable heat could not diminish the playful spirit of two children. Playing together and running around the village, the two friends found a convenient pair of swings located under the cool shade of a leafy tree. From this spot in the Village, they had a clear view of the mountain; the faces of the Hokage looking over the city with watchful eyes. The two best friends looked at each other and laughed, knowing that the sixth face definitely looked a lot cooler than the actual person deserved.
"Hey, let's see which of us can swing higher," the girl challenged the boy.
"You're on," he replied, confident in his ability to win.
Both kids tried their best to go as high as they could, but the girl ended up falling backwards out of her swing.
"Hikari-chan, you're so clumsy," the boy laughed, letting his swing come to a stop.
"Shut up, Shinji-kun!" the girl cried, "The only reason I fell out is because I was going so high I was almost upside down!"
"Tch. You're such a liar. Now here, let me look at your head."
There was a decent sized bump right on her forehead, and Hikari winced when he touched it.
Shinji's hands began to glow, and soon the bump, along with the pain, was gone.
"My mom has been teaching me some medical ninjutsu," said Shinji proudly, "I'm getting pretty good, even though I can only heal bumps and bruises…"
"Oh yeah!?" came Hikari aggressively, "well my dad's been teaching me how to make shadow clones. I can already make five, easy!"
"I know, Naurto-oji-san let's you practice kage bunshin…My dad said I'm too young to be learning his fire jutsu," said Shinji with jealousy.
"That's no fun. Your dad can be strict sometimes," his friend agreed. "But even if you knew all the fire jutsu in the world, you'd never be able to beat me!"
Instead of firing back like Hikari expected, like saying that he always hits more targets than her when they practice shuriken with Akiko-oba-san, Shinji thought for a few moments before raising his eyes to meet hers.
"Hey, Hikari-chan. When we graduate from the Academy, let's be on the same team. That way, we can get stronger together."
She didn't know where this kind of talk had come from all of a sudden, but she thought it was a good idea, too.
"Fine," she said, "It's a promise."
The two of them hooked their pinky fingers.
That day, on the twin swings, two friends sat in the calm shade of an old tree. Much like the sun above them, the will of fire was burning strongly in Konoha.