And finally...the epilogue...
The few weeks after the attempted attack, unofficially known as Sound's Suicide, went by quickly as both the ninjas and civilians rebuilt their homes. There was going to be an award ceremony the following weekend but the working ninja didn't think about it. Though there were no deaths within the Rookies, there were deaths in the ranks above them as well as civilians. People mourned, people grieved, and people rebuilt.
"Hey Itachi!" Naruto called as he entered the house looking for his friend's brother. Sasuke rolled his eyes behind him.
Itachi leaned around the kitchen door to meet the eyes of Sasuke and Naruto and Sasuke felt his heart clench as he had for the last little while as he saw the blindness starting in his brother's eyes. "You yelled?" Itachi drawled, raising an eyebrow.
Sasuke laughed as Naruto blushed lightly. "Jiraiya and Sarutobi would like you to come to the Third's office." Sasuke explained. He wasn't told why the two old nin wanted to see his brother but his fingers were crossed that they had finally tracked Tsunade down. He had given them all the detailed information about treating his brother's condition that he had remembered from his old life and hoped that Tsunade, as talented with healing as she was, would be able to decipher that information into a cure for Itachi. When Itachi exited the kitchen, Anko was close behind him causing a light dusting to brush Sasuke's cheeks. That pairing was not something he had expected. But he saw how happy they made each other and refused to comment on anything.
"Oh, hello Anko! What are you doing here?" Naruto asked oblivious.
Sasuke coughed as Anko raised an eyebrow, mirroring Itachi's expression. "Never mind. We are going to meet Sakura. See you for dinner!" Sasuke said, grabbing Naruto's arm and dragging him from the house.
Naruto chuckled as they left causing Sasuke to believe his comment wasn't so 'oblivious' as he thought. Sasuke snorted when Naruto looked up and winked and linked fingers as they headed to the bridge where they usually met up.
As they approached, they examined the village around them. No one commented on the fact that their pinkies were entwined. A few people looked askance at them, a few smiled but no one spoke of it the few days they went out amongst the villagers. It was as if they believed that, as heroes and still children, however they might find comfort, they should take it. Much like the way Sasuke tried not to yell at Ino whenever she flirted outrageously with him.
As they reached the bridge, Sakura and Ino were standing there talking quietly. Sakura had her arms full of flowers, supposedly delivered by Ino who was back at her part-time job in the flower shop. The two girls looked up and smiled before Ino ran off. "No time to show you up today, Billiard Brow! See you tomorrow at the ceremony Sasuke!" She called over her shoulder.
Sakura sighed as her two teammates reached her side. "Do you think she'll ever stop calling me that?"
Sasuke chuckled softly as they turned and started off. "No I doubt it. It is definitely a pet name for you now."
Sakura and Naruto laughed and they spent the next few minutes in silence. Finally, they saw their fourth companion a few feet ahead, already waiting at the monument. "Kakashi! We have the flowers!" Sakura called out rushing ahead the last few steps. She laid them down at the foot of the monument and looked over at Kakashi. Kakashi knew a few of the ninja slightly but fortunately none of them had lost close friends. The line that bisected Kakashi's eye had gained a new cut beneath the eye though it was still covered by the mask he wore so Sasuke had been unaware of it before. Tenten had taken a kunai through her left hand and there was a faint dimple on the back of the hand but it had no effect on her abilities. The biggest injury for their group, according to Kiba who was trying to lighten their moods during one of the Rookies now weekly-gatherings, was that for almost a whole day, Chouji had not been hungry.
Team Kakashi spent a few hours in silence at the monument of heroes. Bonding together, spending time remembering the Will of Fire of their lost comrades. Naruto seemed to concentrate on his fathers and mothers names, finally knowing what they were. Sasuke gripped Naruto's hand in comfort when the boy sniffed and let his presence comfort him.
As they left Naruto grinned. "It's time to celebrate with Ramen now!" The others groaned. It was hard to believe Naruto won that bet. Sasuke bopped Naruto gently on the back of the head and they headed off for their food.
The ceremony was long but deeply meaningful. The genin became chunnin and though many of the older ninja felt that they were unsure about so many being promoted at once, no one spoke against the Hokage when he spoke of their daring, their skills, and their calm in the face of a war they had known was coming. He spoke of his pride in them for being able to participate in the planning and execution of protecting their village. He spoke of the amusement he felt when their Enemy realized that they were ready for them. The speech was long but, it was extremely touching for those listening. It filled them all with inner strength and what the Hokage called, 'The Will of Fire'.
Sasuke watched as each one of the Rookies moved to gain the arm band that designated them as chunnin and had to fight a grin at Naruto's unusually serious expression. Everyone felt pride, in themselves and each other; joy, in their accomplishments; and awe, that the day had finally come. This day was a thousand times better than it had been the first time through. They were all together in celebrating; he hadn't run off, the others hadn't tried to rescue him, Naruto wasn't gone while the others progressed: everyone was here.
The two things that made it best of all: Naruto standing proudly beside him, and Itachi in the audience having begun his healing regime. There was nothing more important on this day than these two people being with him, the two people he loved, his family. Sasuke let a soft smile drift across his face as he received his arm band and moved to stand with the other new chunnin. It was a great day.
A week later, Sasuke asked for an audience with the Hokage. Itachi stood beside him and Jiraiya sat on the ledge of the window behind the Hokage. Also in the room were Naruto and the recalled Baki and sand siblings.
"Orochimaru is gone, but there is another threat. Not just to this village, but to all villages. And more particularly, to the Jinchuuriki." He looked at Naruto and Gaara as he said this. He remembered hearing tales of Naruto giving his life force to bring Gaara back from the dead after his beast had been stripped from him. It was something he was not going to let happen again. "Itachi and Jiraiya have been spying on Atatsuki, but they may not know the true threat behind the group. The true threat is Tobi. His real name is Madara Uchiha. He is practically an immortal, having been born before the villages began, and he intends to take over all nations using the spirit powers of the tailed-beasts."
"What else can you tell us of them?" The Hokage asked after a moment to let it all sink it.
Sasuke gave him a smirk and began to talk.
That's the end folks. I will probably be creating a sequel that goes past this point but I will need to catch up with the manga. I am WAY behind on my readings. I want to thank everyone who has been with me so far. I know there was a long gap there but I was never going to abandon it! I hope you all enjoyed the story as much as I did! It definitely took on a life of its own. Let me know if a sequel is a good idea. I will be working on Art of Love next and then posting some other new stories.
I am working on getting an AO3 (long wait list) because of all the drama going on here. I do not think I am at risk of being kicked off but better safe than sorry. I hope you all enjoyed this!