For the last time in this fic, I don't own Naruto.
Hard to believe that it's finally come down to the last chapter…an epilogue to wrap things up. Short chapter, but…most epilogues are.
Onward to the final chapter!!
There was a crowd…mostly of ninja…and they weren't just there for the inauguration ceremony of the Godaime. No, there was more to the ceremony than just the appointment of the Fifth Hokage…there was the unfinished business of the interrupted Chuunin exams.
Tsunade had gone over the list of candidates, what the judges said, and what various ninja said afterwards about them once she got statements from them. Shizune, who was appointed as her apprentice (still) but also her right-hand, helped.
And, their conclusion was that there were a few that deserved their Chuunin vests.
Tsunade looked at the people that had come out to see her appointed. She had already given a small speech, which she hated to do, but couldn't help but smile when she saw the amount of kids in the audience.
Apparently, Naruto had rallied some of the children of the generation to cheer her on…and for the Chuunin hopefuls up on stage.
"Now, I suppose we have another bit of business to attend to…despite the attack, there was an exam that was given. And even though it was cut short, and the matches weren't displayed, there were a couple Genin that shone above the others. So, we're going to congratulate them on becoming the newest members of the Chuunin rank."
There were a couple Chuunin on the stage, as well as the examiners, that were ready to hand out the Chuunin vests.
Tsunade paused. "I don't think I have to say that if you don't get promoted, it's nothing against you…we aren't children, after all." She glanced at the group of 15 year olds on the stage, then sighed. "Or, you are, but…well, you know what I mean."
There were a couple chuckles.
"First up…Gekkou Hayate. For an exemplary display of swordsmanship and the ability to work with a group he wasn't familiar with. Congratulations. You're a Chuunin."
Hayate coughed a couple times, then bowed to the crowd and Tsunade before he picked up his Chuunin vest and returned to the line amongst clapping.
When the applause died down, Tsunade looked at the sheet. "Next, Hagane Kotetsu, for excellent teamwork and the ability to follow orders during a crisis. You've made Chuunin."
Kotetsu looked a little surprised, as he had been losing to Hayate when the snakes attacked, but still smiled goofily and went to retrieve his vest. The other candidates and the crowd clapped.
"Also, Kamizuki Izumo…for the same reasons as Kotetsu. Excellent teamwork and following orders without question. Chuunin."
Izumo looked more surprised than Kotetsu…after all, he had been caught in the Genjutsu that downed half the other finalists. Still, he claimed his vest and let out a cheer of joy. And best of all, he didn't have to fight against the creepy Mitarashi girl!
"And finally…" Tsunade smiled at the last name on the list. "Umino Iruka."
Iruka felt his jaw drop. Anko and Itachi poked him with proud smiles on their faces, though.
"For keeping calm during a crisis…calm enough to sort out who was needed where, and taking into account everyone's ability to work together when doing so. That is the best quality that a leader can possibly display. A Chuunin, for sure." Tsunade smiled at the stunned teen.
Anko and Itachi had to give Iruka a little push, but he finally got his legs working as he walked over to where Ibiki, Kurenai, Aoba, and Genma were handing out the Chuunin vests.
The crowd was cheering, and Anko whooped. Itachi clapped for the first time since all the announcements, and even Iruka's old classmates, once they got over their shock, called out praises and congratulations.
Naruto's voice could be heard over the crowd. "That's my Ru-Ru! He leveled up! I knew he would!"
Sasuke had to hold the boy's hand to keep him from running up to the stage.
Iruka caught a proud glance from Kakashi, and couldn't help but smile back even though he was still stunned. In fact, he was still somewhat shocked as he moved back to the line of those that had participated in the Chuunin exam finals.
"Don't just stand there like a dummy…put it on! The others put on their vests!" Anko prodded him.
Iruka's hands trembled, but he was able to put the flak jacket over his gear.
Itachi muffled a laugh.
Anko barked outright. "You need the rest of the uniform to match…I'm sorry, but green flak doesn't go with that white outfit of yours."
Iruka gave his teammates a look of exasperation.
Anko smiled and clapped him on the back. "Like I said before…if anyone deserved Chuunin out of the lot that participated, it was you."
"Congratulations, Iruka." Itachi gave the guy a friendly punch on the shoulder.
"Thanks…" Iruka smiled brightly. I…did it.
"Now, if I hear you call yourself dead weight again, I'll kick your ass," Anko informed their Chuunin teammate.
Iruka laughed and sheepishly scratched at his scar. "Don't worry…I'm over that phase, now."
"Good! Hey, Ita-chan! Just another six months, then we'll try again! We'll just team up with Oukei or something, since he's the only Genin on his team, too." Anko held out her hand.
Itachi took the hand and nodded. "We can't let Iruka surpass us too much."
"Right on!" Anko laughed.
Iruka put his hand on top of theirs and smiled. "It's far from over, even when you two make Chuunin."
"Well, sure…there's Jounin after that…maybe ANBU…" Anko mused.
Iruka shook his head. "That's not what I meant…"
Just then, the new Chuunin was glomped by an overenthusiastic blond child.
"RU-RU!! You did iiiiiit!" Naruto cried happily.
Iruka laughed and picked the boy up. "Yup! Thanks, Naru-chan!"
Naruto laughed and hugged his hero.
Anko crossed her arms, then smiled. "Yea…I see what you mean, Ruka-chan."
Itachi chuckled as Sasuke managed to climb onto the stage as well to congratulate the one that always took care of him in his brother's absence.
"It's just begun, huh? And here I thought it 'began' when we all met that one day in the Hokage's office…" Anko chuckled.
Itachi bobbed his head in agreement.
Some people stared in shock to see an Uchiha smile, but with Tsunade as the new Hokage, and four new Chuunin to add to the ranks, change was already in the air, so…why not?"
Kakashi walked over and smiled at them. "Well done. And, congratulations, Iruka."
"Thanks." Iruka beamed.
Naruto giggled. "Ru-Ru is awesome!"
"Hey, we'll get promoted soon, then we'll be awesome, too!" Anko pouted.
Naruto grinned. "Kay! Level up quick, though!" He looked at the pendant around his neck, then smirked. "Or I might, first!"
Kakashi laughed at the gaping look Anko and Itachi gave the blond. Even Iruka cracked up.
"There's gonna be a party!" Sasuke exclaimed.
Kakashi nodded. "Because of the new Hokage."
"I don't think we're party people…but Iruka might have to go." Anko winked.
Iruka shrugged. "Nah. How about a picnic? Our usual spot?"
The group nodded.
"I'll bring the sake!" Anko stated.
"We're too young to drink!" Iruka protested.
"Oh, come on, Ruka-chan…" Anko groaned.
Itachi shook his head. "Not me…how about sparkling cider, instead? Or soda."
"Soda!" Sasuke and Naruto cheered.
"Soda, it is…" Iruka chuckled.
Anko shrugged. "Okay, okay…"
"But why sake, anyway?" Iruka asked. "That's a bit much to celebrate a promotion…"
"We're celebrating a new era, Ruka-chan!" Anko replied with a wink. "That is what these parties are all about, anyway."
Kakashi nodded. "I suppose I can come, in that case…"
Itachi placed a hand on his brother's head. "Yep."
Iruka glanced at the beaming Naruto, then smiled just as brightly. "You bet!"
"All shinobi of Konoha have the will of fire…the strength and power that you use to protect Konoha with. As long as we have this strength, this will of fire, all people in Konoha are family. Don't you have it, too?"
I want to extend a special "thank you" to everyone that made it to this point of the story. I know I lost some readers when the pairing became more into Iruka/Anko rather than Kakashi/Iruka…so for those that continued to read it despite what came later, thanks a bundle!
And also, an extra special "thank you" to all the nice reviewers!
I've deduced that about 10% of the people that read a fanfic will actually review it. I call the other 90% "phantom readers". I thank the phantom readers, of course, but extra thanks to the reviewers that actually took the time to write a review…whether it was feedback for a chapter, or to point out an error.
Sometimes, it was a morale boost to check the reviews and see such positive feedback. And extra-extra thank you to those that pointed out corrections, since my version of MS Word doesn't recognize "hemophobia" as a word in its dictionary and changed it, and when I kept mixing up "thy" and "thigh". Those mistakes have been fixed, but wouldn't have if they had not been pointed out since I didn't get a beta reader.
I hope to see you all in the sequel…I've already started on it. I'll start to post it when I've gotten at least halfway through to be fair and to try and avoid nasty cliffhangers and such.
I'm looking forward to writing it (as much as you are to reading it, I hope) since I know I totally rearranged the timelines. I have a few events planned, and I will have to deal with Akatsuki for Naruto's generation…but it'll be different from the cannon. That much, I'm certain of.