A/N: Last chapter, everyone. Thank yous go out to all of you who've stuck with me this far, and especially to: Yokura, Silvergem88, micah.n10, melissa, VescaWithoutWings, deerang88, The Laughing Phoenix, Fritter, DarkRavie, ShiroLight, DarkAuroran, SilverWhiteDragon, Thealie, kerumica, Rangerfan58, iNsAnE nO bAkA, incensedance, dundee998, Belladonna-LaMorte, Tara La'Quinn, Hebi R, Kasumi9-9, Wolfkun, zalablack, kittycat5261, WhyMustIWrite, singing ferret and Weavers.
Now if you'll indulge me, I have a question for you readers. As some of you know, I'm planning on writing two tie-ins to this story. One will be a sort of prequel, with the war and Danzo's rise to power. The other will follow this story, with the rebuilding and all. Now, I will write both of these - just one at a time. So, anybody have a preference on which one you'd like to read first?
After the scare with Naruto, everyone except Iruka and the blond himself - who wasn't feeling well - split back up to rejoin the battles still raging in their Village. But once the fighting ended – save for a few minor skirmishes being finished near the village's outer walls – the Sanctuary crew gathered again at the pre-designated rendezvous point. And for many, their families gathered with them.
Iruka looked around, finally relaxing as he saw all of 'his' kids with only minor injuries. The teenagers, however, were ecstatic. Each teen or child reported to their sensei, and then split off into their own smaller subgroups. The reactions of his Shinzui and his undercover allies were particularly notable.
Sai stood on the edges of the group, watching in wide-eyed wonder as the friends and families interacted. Iruka couldn't help but snicker a little when the former ROOT operative pulled out a small pad of paper and actually took notes.
Shikaku stood back, hiding his grin as Shikamaru was alternately hugged and shaken by his mother.
Ino settled down beside her father, chatting animatedly about everything prior to the fight – including the day he had nearly given her a panic attack by handing her one of Sanctuary's carved trinkets.
Choji eagerly accepted a bag of snacks from his dad, apologizing for telling Iruka that they could continue to raid Chouza's store.
Hanabi ran to be folded into her father's arms, and after a moment of hesitation, Hinata stepped up more slowly. "I'm sorry, daddy" the young heiress whispered, tears clogging her throat. "I'm so sorry, for everything." The man just pulled her close, shaking his head and shushing his eldest as he held his daughters tight.
Tsume slung an arm around each of her children's necks, her grin wide as she listened to Kiba brag to his sister.
Shino got more pats on his shoulders from the team then he had ever received in his life, and he shared a proud smile with his father.
Sakura quickly checked over each of their injuries, healed a gash on Lee's arm, and then made her excuses and bolted. She raced into the civilian shelter nearest to her house and immediately sought out her parents. "I'm home" she cried, embracing her astounded mother as her father crowded close. "I've missed you both so much, but I'm home."
Lee hesitated, but a casual question soon had him engaged in a lively discussion with Gai on taijutsu.
Neji stood beside his father, quietly talking as they watched Hiashi and his daughters reunite.
Tenten followed Sakura, but broke away at the shelter to find her own family. A broad grin spread over her face at their dumbfounded expressions as they took in the sight of her battle gear and the hitai-ate proudly tied around her forehead.
Kakashi was surrounded after the arrival of his ANBU squad, Hare giving him a quick hug. Drake – half supported by Boar due to mild injury – reached out to punch the Copy Ninja on the arm, and all four of them laughed.
Sasuke ducked his head and grumbled when Itachi placed an arm around his shoulders, but everyone kindly pretended not to notice the tiny smile on the teen's lips, or the faint blush dusting his cheeks.
Naruto leaned up against Iruka, and the teacher put an arm around the shoulders of his first ward. "We did it, didn't we, Sensei?" the blond asked, his voice unusually gentle, even slightly awed.
"Yes, Naruto. We did it."
Two days later
"YOU WANT ME TO DO WHAT?!" The sharp cry rang out, letting everyone in the Tower know exactly what the speaker thought of that idea – whatever it was. Inside one of the conference rooms, Tsunade folded her arms across her chest. "No. Absolutely not. You talked me into helping you save this town, but that's it. I won't do it. I-"
"Fine." Tsunade blinked, brought up short by the surprisingly cold tone in the young voice. All of the Jounin turned to look as Naruto continued, his words oddly calm. "Go then."
Kakashi's tone was sharp. "Naruto, that's enough!"
"NO!" the boy snapped, sounding more like his usual self as he gestured to the other Sanctuary fighters around him. "We've worked too hard, for too long to hand Konoha over to someone who doesn't give a damn about it! If you don't want to lead, or even be here, then fine. Go. We don't need someone like that. We had a Hokage who only cared about what he wanted, and look where that got us! We-"
"Naruto." Iruka's voice was calm, the hand he laid on the blond's shoulder gentle. But it quieted the boy faster than any screaming could have. All of Iruka's children could hear the steel under his words. "You've made your point. I'm sure she understands." Serious eyes raised to meet shocked ones. "But he's right. The office shouldn't be taken by one who has no desire to protect."
Naruto tugged on his teacher's sleeve, confidence slightly tinged with anxiety. "It's okay, Sensei. I'll be the Hokage! You can all help me, and we'll make Konoha a home again."
Tsunade stared, looking into the eyes of the people around her as the other Genin agreed quietly. From the battle-hardened – and, in some cases, battle-weary – gazes of the Jounin, to the gentle steel in the Chunin's brown eyes, or the fire and determination of the children, all she saw was strength.
She lowered her eyes, shame welling up from some long-forgotten place inside of her. "All right" she nearly whispered. All eyes turned back to her, including those blue ones that had just looked at her with such disappointed anger. Tsunade straightened her spine, pulling her shoulders back as she looked up at them all.
"All right" she said again, more firmly this time. "This place needs a healer almost as much as it needs a leader, so I'll be your Hokage." She looked straight at Naruto. "But you'd better grow up fast, so you can take the title yourself when I'm ready to retire, you got it, brat?"
Tsunade laughed, buoyed by the nearly blinding smiles that broke out on so many young faces.
Hinata squealed, lightly hugging Naruto as Sakura did the same to Sasuke. Kiba pulled Lee into a headlock, ruffling his friend's hair as the older boy laughed. Ino pulled her fists close, hissing "yes!" as Chouji, Shikamaru and Shino shared broad grins. Tenten pushed Neji playfully on the shoulder while Iruka smiled in relief.
Naruto punched a fist in the air. "I will! You can believe it!"
In that moment of celebration, no one noticed when Shizune took a snapshot of the gathered Sanctuary shinobi.
It took much hard work, with many violent battles and less bloody, though still bitter struggles before Konoha was returned to its' former glory. But all those years later, when Konoha's children had only a theoretical understanding of war and the adults laughed freely, two things remained the same.
Once a year, during the festival honoring the triumph of the Will of Fire, an older, scarred Academy instructor would always pull out a treasured photograph, gathering wide-eyed children around him. He told the story of Konoha's Legendary Heroes, frequently augmented by the visit of one or more of said Heroes – who always scolded "Sensei" for not including himself among them.
And the Seventh Hokage would always have his wild blond hair ruffled fondly when old friends – and new families – gathered together.