A/N: So, I have arrived at the final chapter. I am a bit sad, actually. I've really enjoyed writing this story, and I am very pleased with how it ended up, considering that I had one scene in mind when I started and it became all of this!
BEFORE YOU READ:
1.) To make the events below fit in with my alternate universe, I am having Shippuuden start when Naruto and the others are roughly 17 and 18 (and they are all chuunin or jounin by this point!)
2.) ALSO! THERE ARE PAIRINGS! NaruSaku and a mention of ShikaTema. Like I mentioned before, I actually prefer NaruHina, though I like to think that the events of this alternate universe have changed Sakura into a better character (in my opinion) so I could see them together here. As for ShikaTema, if you don't like it…well…boo because it's my favorite!
P.S. There are a few random references in here to other things that I love. I will give you a cookie if you can find them and name them!
Seventeen-year-old Naruto shot upright in his bed, gasping for breath and sweating profusely. Glancing around in the darkness, he began to calm, the only sound his irregular panting underlined by peaceful breathing from Sasuke on the bunk above his.
Exhaling, he raked a hand through his hair, ignoring his body's trembling.
"Geez, I haven't had a nightmare that bad in ages," he muttered to himself quietly, knowing that Sasuke hated to have his sleep interrupted.
Shakily he got to his feet, trying to erase the images from his mind that had assaulted him. It had been a terrible collage of his life, highlighting all of the most painful moments – Sasuke almost dying in the Land of the Waves, the genin struggling to survive the Chuunin exams, fighting against the Sound Four and having Choji nearly die, fighting a few Akatsuki members and almost losing Ino, trying to save Gaara from those psychopaths and barely succeeding, and most recently dealing with the death of Team 10's sensei, Asuma.
It was a lot to have in your mind all at once, and Naruto had to take several deep, steadying breaths before he felt strong enough to exit his bedroom into the kitchen to get a cup of water.
While all of these events had passed and everyone had recovered from them, Naruto wasn't so sure the same would apply to Asuma's death. He knew how close Team 10 had been to their sensei, and he knew that his death had hit them hard, especially Shikamaru. He was worried that the Nara would do something stupid, and turn into how Sasuke used to be, bent on revenge.
Naruto sighed. It was also getting close to that time, when his mind liked to dredge up memories from the past so that every night he would wake up after dreaming that he was falling, falling…
"What do you think you're doing?"
Naruto started and spit water all over himself, glaring at Sasuke whose red eyes flashed as he laughed.
"Hey!" Naruto whispered angrily at him, trying to be quiet, seeing as Iruka was sleeping in the next room.
Sasuke snorted as his Sharingan retreated.
"You really suck if you can't even sense my chakra a few feet away from you!"
"Oi! I was…distracted!" Naruto stammered furiously.
"As usual. What are you doing awake?"
"Uh, hello, drinking water!"
Sasuke wasn't fooled. "You had another nightmare."
Naruto rolled his eyes. "Okay, so I did. It doesn't matter."
"You haven't had one in months."
"Yes, well…you know what's coming up. Just like you sulk about the Uchihas every year, I sulk about…that."
"But it hasn't been this bad in years," Sasuke persisted relentlessly.
Naruto grinned. "Aw, come on, I'm fine! It's been ten years. I can handle heights now." Even as he said it, he knew Sasuke was thinking about that time a few years ago at the Academy, when they had had an evacuation drill and students were filed outside and up the Hokage Monument to secret caves. Naruto had had a difficult time trying not to panic, and in the end, he had instead hyperventilated and fainted.
"I'm not talking just about heights, you moron. Don't play dumb."
"But I am dumb! I was still dead-last and ended up on your team," Naruto pointed out, grinning wickedly.
"Well, that may be true…" Sasuke conceded, a smile tugging at his lips.
"Don't worry about me, idiot. And before you ask where I'm going, Mom, I'm just going for a walk."
"At night?" Sasuke raised an eyebrow skeptically.
"Yup!" Naruto nodded vigorously.
"Because you can see at night?"
"There are such things as lights, Mom."
Sasuke scowled at him.
"Besides," Naruto continued lightly, ignoring Sasuke's death glare, "Foxy here lets me see in the dark." He indicated his stomach and Sasuke actually took a step back.
"It…what?" he stammered, flustered.
Naruto took one look at Sasuke's expression and burst out laughing, clapping a hand over his mouth to muffle the loud sound.
"You should have seen your face!" he gasped.
Sasuke did not look amused. Suddenly, he smirked evilly.
"Well, I don't think Iruka would like you to be wandering around alone," he threatened.
Naruto's eyes narrowed. "Fine. You want to play the hard way, huh? Well, you wake Dad and tomorrow morning I tell Ino that you whispered her name in your sleep last night."
Sasuke sucked in a breath. "You wouldn't!"
"Oh I would," Naruto grinned.
Sasuke jutted out his jaw. "Fine," he spat.
"Though I'm still going to tell her anyway!" Naruto choked, delighted, as Sasuke lunged for him and he sidestepped, watching in amusement as Sasuke was stopped by a huge yawn.
"Oh, go back to your beauty sleep," Naruto chuckled as he headed for the door. "I'll be back soon."
Sasuke, stifling another yawn, gave Naruto a look.
"I'll be here when you get back," he said seriously, his eyes tinted with worry.
"Yeah, yeah," Naruto said, waving his hand.
He lightly hopped down the stairs and let his feet take him where they would in the moonlight. He already had some vague idea of where as he passed the Hokage Tower and began to ascend the steps cut into the cliff behind it, ascending the Hokage Monument and making it to the top fairly quickly. Naruto's heart began to race as he walked through the picnic area and traced the familiar trail to the clearing at the edge where he had to stop.
He had made it this far after years of forcing himself, but never, never, had he been able to get himself to stand on that ledge and stare down into the abyss where he had fallen.
Naruto sighed. "How do you always find me here?" he said suddenly.
A pink-haired teen appeared from the forest and wound her arms around his body, hugging him from behind.
"Because I know you," Sakura replied. "And I was just on my way home from Ino's."
"In the middle of the night?"
Sakura shrugged as she nuzzled closer, resting her chin on his shoulder. Naruto could feel her breath in his ear.
"I didn't mean to fall asleep. We just got to talking and then…you know."
"How is she?"
Now it was Sakura's turn to sigh. Naruto shrugged out of her embrace and turned around to face her. Sakura's green eyes regarded him sadly.
"She's really upset, obviously. I mean…I couldn't even imagine losing Kakashi-sensei!" She shuddered and Naruto reached out to hold her close.
"Have you seen Choji or Shikamaru yet?" Naruto asked.
Sakura murmured into his chest. "Yeah. I talked to Choji earlier. He's dealing with it okay, I guess. Honestly, I'm more worried about Shikamaru. I tried to go see him yesterday but he wasn't there. I think he's avoiding us."
"Yeah. That's what I was afraid of," Naruto confessed.
There was silence for a while before Naruto spoke up again, teasingly.
"Wow, this is the longest it's been since you've scolded me for being up here. Usually you start yelling at me right away."
"I never yell at you, Naruto," Sakura said pointedly.
"Tell that to my bleeding eardrums!"
Sakura rolled her eyes. "I just think it's stupid that you keep making yourself come up here, as if it's going to help!"
"Well, do you know a better way? You're studying to be a medic nin. You tell me!"
"Idiot," Sakura gently rebuked, playfully punching him in the arm (though she didn't hesitate to put some force into it).
"Ow!" Naruto whined, poking out his lip. "I knew I shouldn't have let you study with that Old Lady!"
"Well what was I supposed to do while you left me to train with Jiraiya-sama?" Sakura returned, smiling snidely. She always won this fight.
"I don't know," Naruto mumbled, glancing back at the ledge and swallowing heavily. Sakura sensed his turmoil and squeezed him comfortingly.
"You idiot. Stop coming up here! You've made it so far, what does it matter that you can't get all the way out there?"
"Because if I don't, every year I'll keep getting these stupid nightmares!" Naruto exclaimed. "I'm so sick of them!"
"You only get them once a year now, though. That's a huge improvement."
"Yeah, but they still happen and I still have to see all you guys worry about me, and Sasuke tell me that he's there for me and Iruka say that he's willing to talk with me and even Kakashi-sensei go easy on me for a few days! He doesn't go easy on Sasuke when it's the anniversary of the Uchiha massacre!"
"That's because Sasuke-kun would probably kill him if he did. You know how he is about wanting to get stronger."
"Yeah, but I don't need any special treatment! I'm a jinchuuriki for crying out loud!"
"Just because you're a jinchuuriki, it doesn't mean everyone's going to stop caring for you," Sakura said, her tone serious.
"Aw, but why not?" Naruto answered playfully in a high-pitched voice, breaking the tension of the moment.
"Oh, I don't know. Maybe because some people…love you. But not me, of course," Sakura teased.
"Well I better get going then. Can't let my girlfriend know I'm here," Naruto whispered, chuckling as Sakura began to giggle.
"Can't have that, can we?" she agreed.
Hand-in-hand, they walked down the Monument and parted ways at the village square.
Naruto, on his way back home, abruptly decided to take a small detour to the Nara establishment. As he paused outside the gates, he could smell cigarette smoke and pictured the lazy chuunin slouching on the deck.
Without hesitating, Naruto leaped over the fence and landed right before Shikamaru, who, in his surprise, accidentally inhaled his cigarette.
"I told you those things were bad for you," Naruto intoned as he clapped the Nara hard on the back.
"Yeah, when you swallow them of course they're bad for you!" Shikamaru retorted sourly, coughing. "What are you doing here? You're lucky my parents know you and your chakra signature or the alarms would've been blaring by now!"
"Oh yeah…oops," Naruto said sheepishly, scratching the back of his head.
"How did you even make genin?" Shikamaru wondered aloud.
"Umm…it helped that Mizuki was an idiot. He thought I would be freaked out by the whole Kyuubi thing, but I had known for a while so too bad for him that I beat him up!"
"You still stole the scroll! And read it!"
"Who am I to pass up an excellent, educational opportunity?" Naruto quoted proudly.
Shikamaru rolled his eyes. "Iruka's been spoiling you, I see."
"If you call no ramen for a month being spoiled!" Naruto exclaimed before chuckling. "Yeah, wow, was he mad after that!"
Shikamaru let out a small laugh before settling back into his position. He took out a cigarette, lit it, and took a nice long drag, blowing the smoke into the air.
Naruto wrinkled his nose in disgust before remembering his real reason for being there.
"Enough about me. What about you? Are you okay, Shikamaru?"
"Yeah, I'm fine," Shikamaru replied immediately.
Naruto glanced at him skeptically. "Really?"
"Yes," he repeated patiently.
"…I don't think you are."
"So? What do you want me to say? Yes, Asuma was my sensei, and yes, he's…dead," Shikamaru's jaw tightened at the word. "What else is there to say?"
"Well, I know this is the first time you've…err…lost someone, so I thought maybe you'd be a bit sadder."
"First time?" Shikamaru repeated. "This isn't the first time." He stared pointedly at Naruto, who comically looked over his shoulder, trying to figure out who Shikamaru was looking at. "Ugh," Shikamaru moaned. "What does Sakura see in you?"
Naruto grinned, but there were strong emotions in his eyes.
"Listen, Shikamaru. You can't just be like this. Don't…run from the world. Let out your grief."
"I don't need you telling me that," Shikamaru sighed, taking another puff of his cigarette.
"Just don't become a Sasuke, okay?" Naruto pressed.
Shikamaru snorted. "Are you kidding? You know I'm too lazy to be getting so worked up over revenge. Besides, I can't get nearly angry enough. Heh, Sasuke's probably pissed at me now for holding up his vendetta. You guys were going to leave soon, right?"
"Yeah, but we can wait a little while longer. Itachi's not going anywhere."
"You don't need to wait just for me, you know."
"I know. I'm just…worried about you. Not only you, but Choji and Ino too. You guys were there for me so…" Naruto trailed off, embarrassed at how emotional he was getting. He perked up as a new topic came to mind. "So, you and Asuma-sensei used to play shogi right? Want to play?"
"…Do you even know how to play, Naruto?"
"Uh…no, not really. But you can teach me?"
Shikamaru groaned at the prospect but acquiesced. He produced the board and pieces and began to explain the rules. Part way through, he realized that Naruto was nodding off, and simply watched in amusement as the blond fell forward onto his face and dozed, a puddle of drool collecting next to his chin.
"He's right, you know."
Shikamaru sighed. "I know, Dad," he said as his father appeared behind him. He smirked at Naruto's ridiculous position and had to struggle not to choke on his cigarette again when the blond began to mutter in his sleep.
Naruto spouted words like "banana king," followed up by what sounded disturbingly like "hamster jelly" and then mumbles about a man who turned into a cat after being hugged by a girl.
Even Shikaku raised an eyebrow at that last bit before smiling at seeing Shikamaru chuckling helplessly. He made a mental note to thank Naruto later, though the blond might not remember just how he had helped his son…
When his giggles subsided, Shikamaru snuffed out his cigarette and leaned back, sighing once more.
"It's going to be alright, Shikamaru."
"I know," Shikamaru whispered.
Shikaku cleared his throat gruffly. "Well, so, I think I'm going to go back to bed now. Unless you want to talk about anything else…What was that Suna shinobi's name that you've been seeing?"
Shikamaru groaned. "Temari, her name's Temari. And no, I don't want to talk about that, thanks. Good night, Dad!"
Shikaku chuckled, amused at the blush creeping onto Shikamaru's face.
"Alright. Good night." Shikaku disappeared into the house.
"Sheesh, why bring her up now of all times?" Shikamaru mused to himself in the silence, broken only by Naruto's gentle snoring. Shikamaru felt a lump come to his throat as he reflected on how childlike Naruto was being – it reminded him very much of what Asuma and Kurenai's unborn child might be like, and how he needed to protect the real King of Shogi.
Tears streamed down Shikamaru's face as Naruto snored away, blissfully unaware. Shikamaru's chest constricted as he let out a sob, trying to remember the good times he had had with his sensei instead of reminding himself that they would never happen again.
As his tears dripped onto the porch, he couldn't help but smile as he recalled some rather scathing words from his ex-girlfriend. Would she have mocked him for crying now? Call him a crybaby again?
"Nah," Shikamaru said aloud, sniffling. Though she was still oftentimes scarier than his mom, she had a softer side too…though she rarely showed it. He felt somehow that she would understand.
"Wonder if she's back from her mission yet?" Shikamaru wondered aloud.
"You talking to me?" Naruto slurred as he sat up abruptly, blearily rubbing his eyes.
"Sure, now you wake up," Shikamaru huffed.
Naruto shrugged. "Sorry. I just—" he yawned widely, "—didn't get much sleep."
"I figured that, seeing as you arrived around two in the morning."
There was a short silence as both chuunin stared at the moon.
"What are you thinking about?" Naruto spoke up.
"A lot of things. Asuma obviously. And Temari a little bit."
"You going to get back together with her?"
"We never really broke up. She just kind of needed space, and she had to go on a mission anyways."
"So, how far have you gotten with her? I mean, she's pretty hot—"
Naruto grinned wickedly, completely unashamed.
"I'm just wondering."
"Pervert. Clearly Jiraiya-sama's rubbing off on you, too."
"You brought it up!"
"Yeah, so you going to answer or what?"
"Only if you spill about you and Sakura," Shikamaru compromised.
Naruto pouted. "No way."
Shikamaru rolled his eyes. "You're so troublesome!"
Naruto stood up, laughing, as he straightened the cricks out of his spine.
"Well, I better get going. That stupid idiot at home's gonna be worried and then bitch at me for staying out too late."
Shikamaru snorted. "He really has turned into a mom, hasn't he?"
"Don't let him hear you say that. He only lets me say it."
"So what is he going to do? Fight me?" Shikamaru slouched backward and grinned crookedly. "Bring it on."
"I'll let him know. He's an awfully bad morning person though, so he won't come looking for you until later."
Naruto walked to the gate and paused before it. He glanced over his shoulder and stared at Shikamaru meaningfully.
"You should go see Choji and Ino," he suggested, though Shikamaru knew it was an order more than a suggestion.
He gave the blond a half-hearted smile. "I will. Promise."
Naruto nodded and waved as he vanished.
Shikamaru watched him go, running through his schedule in his head. He would have to visit his team after the meeting.
Geez, why does everything have to happen all at once? he thought sourly.
Now he had way too much weighing on his mind.
"Okay, is everyone here?" Sakura called, scanning the group before her. The Rookie Nine were assembled in various seated positions around the table at a restaurant off the beaten track. It seemed that all were present, though there was a conspicuous lack of a certain blond jinchuuriki, though that was how she had planned it. Sakura just hoped Konohamaru would hold up his side of the bargain. She had paid that brat enough!
"Why did you call us all here?" Kiba demanded, raising a hand lazily before letting it drop onto Akamaru's head to scratch the dog's ears. "I have better things I could be doing."
Sakura glared at him.
"It's about…N-Naruto-kun, right?" Hinata spoke up, ignoring her teammate's rudeness.
Sakura nodded at Choji, who rose.
"Yes, it is. Now, I don't know how many of you know what happened almost ten years ago but…"
"The incident with Yamanaka Hanako," Shino spoke up. "I am aware of what occurred, but why should it be brought up again now? Is it not a sensitive subject?"
"Does everyone know about it?" Sakura asked, looking pointedly at Team 8.
"Duh. Of course we do," Kiba muttered.
Hinata's lips pressed tightly together as she nodded, looking pained.
"Well, the reason we're bringing it up is this: Ino?"
The group turned to Ino, whose face was pale.
"My mother's going to be released in a few days. Her…sentence has been served," she strained with a weak attempt for a smile.
"She's going to be in the village again?" Kiba burst out, aghast.
"Where else would she go?" Sasuke cut in, giving the Inuzuka a look.
"Part of what she did was to protect me," Ino clarified in a shaky voice, "So Sasuke-kun is right. She's not going to be living with us, but she will still remain in the village."
"B-But she could still hurt Naruto-kun!" Hinata protested, flushing. Naruto was her hero, her inspiration and her first crush. She did not want that woman to hurt him again, to defeat him and crush his spirit. Her heart would break.
"Well, she couldn't hurt him physically," Shikamaru pointed out. "She's been in prison for a whole decade while Naruto's become chuunin. She's not a threat to him that way, especially with the Anbu on the lookout."
"Though, emotionally, she still could pose a serious problem," Sakura added. "We don't know how Naruto will react to seeing her again."
"And considering how he reacted when he first saw me, we kind of have to expect the worst," Ino confessed sadly.
There was silence as everyone processed this information.
"So what do you propose we do?" Shino asked.
Sakura smiled grimly. "Be prepared, I guess. Don't let him be alone. Keep an eye out for her and don't let him near her until he's ready."
"Oh come on!" Kiba scoffed. "He's a chuunin like the rest of his. Surely he can take care of himself!" The Inuzuka suddenly had to face the cold stares of most of his fellow shinobi as Sakura's particularly icy green orbs leveled with his.
"You weren't there right after it happened. You don't know what's at stake here. I won't let Naruto go back to how he was! He's come too far, made too much progress…We can't just let it all go to waste!" She emphasized her words by smashing her fists into the table, leaving a sizable dent. "I invited you because somehow Naruto considers you his friend, and you owe it to him to help."
"Okay, I get it!" Kiba squirmed uncomfortably under their gazes. "I'll do what I can. Maybe Akamaru can get her scent and warn us away from her whenever she comes too close."
"I can place a female Kikai on her to track her," Shino offered stoically.
Sakura smiled at him gratefully. "Great. Thanks, guys. Just one more thing though – we can't let on that this meeting happened or that we're looking out for him. He's too prideful like that."
"I don't think you have to worry about that, Sakura. He's an idiot after all. He wouldn't be able to recognize something suspicious if it screamed in his face," Sasuke remarked flippantly, causing Shikamaru and Kiba to snort.
Sakura smiled sweetly at Sasuke, though there was a deadly glint in her eyes.
"Yes, well, just keep it all in mind when you see him."
There was a round of serious nods as the meeting dispersed.
"Do you really think this will work?" Choji spoke up anxiously as he caught up to Sakura outside.
"I hope so," Sakura said, her brows furrowed in worry.
Luckily, for three weeks straight, Operation Distract Naruto worked like a charm. Not only was Naruto oblivious to Hanako's presence in the village, but he was also ecstatic to have overcome his nightmares and surpass yet another anniversary. His thoughts were far from troubled as he concentrated on his new techniques, spent time with his friends and generally enjoyed himself. He didn't even question why one day Kiba started flailing at him and Sakura from down the street and a suddenly tight-lipped Sakura immediately turned them around. Instead, he simply attributed the Inuzuka's strange behavior to, well, the Inuzuka himself.
Naruto was as happy as he could be and suspected nothing…until one day a familiar face found his in the crowd.
Naruto was on his way to the Academy to surprise Iruka when he saw her. At first he thought he was seeing things. That was Ino in the distance, right? But…if it was, she was different. Older, wrinkled, with harsh, glaring eyes…
Naruto's heart froze in his chest and he immediately flashed back to his seven-year-old self, staring fearfully into those eyes as the world fell away from him…
He felt like he was going to be sick.
He staggered to the side and leaned on a building for support, feeling as if his entire body wanted to drag him to the ground. It was as if he couldn't feel the earth enough beneath his feet.
Naruto couldn't breathe. His nightmares returned full-force, replacing the younger images of Hanako with this gaunt, older and even more ghoulish version. Raw terror enveloped him, even more so when he realized that most of the villagers still hated him and wouldn't help him, would refuse to save him from her.
Just as he was about to panic, reason slammed into him.
What was he afraid of?
She was an old woman whose hatred had once been threatening but now…look what she had been reduced to! He was a chuunin! She had rotted in prison for ten years while he had only gotten stronger. He could defeat her. He wasn't a child anymore. He wasn't helpless.
Besides, where was the danger in this situation? So she was standing across the street with hatred in her eyes, what did that matter to him? She couldn't do anything to him even if she tried. He knew what she was really like, and he knew he couldn't trust her. He wouldn't make the same mistake his naïve seven-year-old self had.
Naruto had something precious now and he would never give up, especially facing this old hag.
With bravado that didn't quite penetrate his insides, Naruto straightened and boldly approached her. He chastised himself for flicking his eyes toward possible escape routes and reminded himself who the more powerful person was now.
"You survived," Hanako spat as he stopped before her, lifting his head high.
"Yes, I did," he returned, noticing just how pale she was, how dirty and limp she appeared. Only her eyes held the same spark, the same burning desire for vengeance that reminded him all too much of a certain Uchiha.
"You should have died. You deserve to die," she snarled. "You killed so many people! I was doing this town a favor!"
Naruto bit back his fury and decided to channel Shikamaru's inner poise.
"I'm just a kid. Why do you think killing me would help?"
Hanako stared at him then burst out into harsh, barking laughter. The insane glint that appeared in her eyes only told Naruto just what prison had done to her mind.
"You actually think you're human?" she sneered. "Who told you that lie?"
"My father, and brother. My friends. Your daughter," he reminded her, wondering if he should feel bad at relishing the distraught expression on her face.
Hanako appeared stunned at this revelation and he could almost see the gears frantically turning in her mind.
"Inoichi corrupted her. He was always too…tolerant," she spat at last, the insanity in her eyes overwhelming.
Naruto met her eyes and wondered how he had ever feared her. She was nothing now, nothing but a sad old woman who had sacrificed everything for a misconception. Instead of being afraid of her, suddenly he was just very sad, knowing who she had been and seeing now how far she had fallen. The proud matron of the Yamanaka home was now an old crone, desperate for something to hold onto when all hope and reason had abandoned her.
How Naruto pitied her.
"You hear that, demon? I will find a way to get rid of you! This village may not see what I do, but I will make them! They'll realize that you are a monster and that monsters should be eradicated!" She was practically frothing at the mouth.
"I'm not a monster, and I'm not dangerous," he said, though a fraction of mind reminded him of the few times Kyuubi's chakra had leaked out and overpowered him. Luckily, while he was with Jiraiya, he had learned all he could about the seal on his stomach and how to strengthen it. The Sannin himself had even perfected the markings for now, at least until it began to weaken again with time. While it was a never-ending process, Naruto knew enough about it to realize that he was in control, not the Kyuubi.
"I won't put Konoha in danger," he said aloud. "I'm going to protect this village, my home! One day, I'm going to be Hokage like my father," he added to himself, "and I will put everything into making sure everyone, including you, is safe."
"Lies! LIES!" Hanako screeched. "You are nothing! You will never become Hokage! You are a monster, a demon, a freak!"
Naruto eyed the hysterical woman with a pitying expression, his eyes clouded with sadness.
"You're wrong," he said quietly. "I'm not nothing. My name is Uzumaki Naruto, and my head is going to be on that Monument." He pointed toward the faces carved into the stone and smiled. "I know who I am."
And with that, he turned and walked away, ignoring the seething woman who shouted curses in his wake. Naruto was filled with a sense of purpose now, and a renewed sense of himself and who he was.
Warmth bubbled inside of him, invigorated him. He could do anything, be anything, and no one could stop him.
His name was Uzumaki Naruto, and no one could take that away from him.
A/N: Well everyone, I hope you enjoyed this! And yes, this was always how I was going to end it. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU to all my fantastic reviewers! You guys really inspired me, made me laugh, and gave me the confidence to write angst, as many of you admitted crying (and screaming!) at points in the story, and that's the highest praise an author can receive – emotional investment! I am honored by your tears, haha!
Thanks again reviewers:
First and foremost, iheartmwpp, my amazing beta-slave who has endured so much of my insanity…I AM SO GRATEFUL FOR YOUR EXISTENCE!
Laine Squirrel (Your long, long reviews always made me smile!)
Dark-Syaoran (Sorry you thought it was ridiculous…I wish you'd continue it!)
Surgery With Smiles
SmileyHalo (It was awesome IMing you about our insanely similar interests!)
Killing Curse Eyes
To Lazy to Login
bobby the anonymous dude
KitsuneNaru (Did I update enough for you? Haha!)
Neko of death (Thank you for pointing out my stupid mistake! I appreciate it!)
In The Mix
Hanzo of the Salamander
Blaster (Your reviews humbled me! Thank you so much!)