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A/N: The story finally ends. Minor spoilers for the manga. Thanks to all my readers and a special thanks to every reviewer out there for all the much needed constructive criticism.
Chapter 34: Tomorrow's Promise
The main market of Konoha buzzed with activity as the sun sank below the horizon. Red laterns illuminated the ran laughing through the streets.
"I want yakitori!" commented Naruto as he passed the stand, Sakura at his side.
"What happened to ramen?" inquired Sakura. "Or red bean soup when we passed that last stall?"
"Yakitori is closer," retorted Naruto.
"We'll get food after we meet everyone," replied Sakura. "You do not keep the Kazekage waiting."
"Gaara would understand! We share a bond no other people would understand."
"Him having been a fellow jinchūriki would not excuse rudeness," replied Sakura. She took Naruto by the hand, half-dragging him to the meeting place.
'Good evening," said Gaara. He and Kankuro stood by the entrance to the inn, waiting for the others.
"Hello," muttered Kankuro, moving into the light, revealing a black eye.
"What happened?" asked Sakura.
"A certain Suna jonin hit on a maid," replied Gaara. "Only the influence of the Kazekage kept the innkeeper from pressing charges against said jonin."
"Are there any women in Konoha who can't throw a punch?" asked Kankuro, wincing.
Naruto and Sakura began laughing after exchanging a glance.
"That's my fault. That innkeeper asked me to teach a self-defense seminar to his staff after a drunk ninja tried to take advantage of a maid," Sakura commented. "Was it Ami?"
"I think that was the chick's name," replied Kankuro.
"You act like that was the first time that happened ototo-kun," teased a familar voice. Temari was behind them with Shikamaru, Ino and Choji. The latter had a skewer of yakitori.
"Ino let Choji get food!" whined Naruto.
Ino glared at Naruto.
"I am his girlfriend, not his mother," she replied. "Unlike certain idiots, my boyfriend doesn't treat his girlfriend as a parent."
Choji nodded for emphasis. Shikamaru rolled his eyes at his teammates, too used to them as a couple to care.
"Old habits die hard Ino-Pig."
"Shut it, Forehead!"
"We should be meeting our friends on this most youthful night?" asked Lee as he, Tenten and Neji stood at the entrance to the main Hygua estate.
"We'll go when Hinata is ready," replied Neji, his Byakugan active and tone cold.
Tenten and Lee exchanged glances, noting who Neji had not mentioned.
"I'll go check on Hinata," offered Tenten, who left quickly before Neji or Lee could reply, leaving the two ninja in each other's company.
The resulting silence was uncomfortable. Lee had learned long ago to not babble when Neji's tone grew so cold. Lee walked over to his comrade, but didn't speak, instead merely sitting near his teammate.
"I don't trust that mutt," he said at last.
"He saved your life during the war, a true comrade," replied Lee, a smirk on his face.
"I trust him with my life, not my cousin," he answered, his wide eyes narrowing haughtily.
"It's her choice as she's in the springtime of her youth," retorted Lee. "Would you prefer I dated her? Then we could be family!"
Neji glared at his teammate, recoiling at the idea. Before he could answer, his girlfriend returned .Hinata, Kiba and Akamaru were in tow.
"You miss us boys?" asked Tenten. "I found these three asleep at the training grounds."
By the time Teams Gai, Hinata, Kiba and Akamaru made it to the festival, they could spot their group's table easily. It was the one groaning under the weight of the people leaning on it and the dozens of empty ramen bowls, mostly Naruto and Choji's work. Sakura and Ino were sharing a bottle of sake, singing horribly off pitch. Temari and Kankuro were in the misdst of a drinking game.
"Time for round three!" shouted Kankuro.
"You won't survive another game," replied Temari calmly. Despite being smaller than her brother, it was obvious which sibling could hold their liquor.
"How did those two get ahold of sake?" inquired Hinata, her pale eyes lit with amusement.
"Temari," responded Naruto. He was eating yet more ramen ignoring his girlfriend.
"So this is the Tsunade-sama's student. Doesn't the Hokage disapprove?" inquired Gaara. He was sharing a seat with student Matsuri. The Konoha ninja burst out laughing.
"Who do you think taught Sakura how to drink?" responded Ino.
The festival glittered with bright lights and the sound of merrymaking by shinobi and civillians alike. Chimes sang in the wind as laterns swayed. Many couples walked hand-in-hand through the crowds. One particular couple was less than harmonious.
"I thought we were meeting your friends tonight," commented Usagi. Her purple yukata suited her well as did the rabbit clip in her brown hair.
"We will as soon as I can locate them," replied Sai. His casual clothes blended-in well with the darkness.
"Greetings my comrade," said a familar voice.
Sai jumped in his skin, being caught off-guard so easily. Shino was behind him, along with a youth he had never met before, but could only asume was of his clan as well. Her clothes covered every inch of her skin. Her blue qipao dress had unusually long sleeves that hid her hands and ended at her feet. Her eyes were hidden behind glasses. Only her long dark tresses were unbound.
"Good evening, Shino-san," said Sai. "Who is your lovely companion?"
"She is my fiance, Sayuri," he responded. "Who is your lady friend?"
"I am his girlfriend Usagi," she interjected. "Nice to meet you," she continued, offering her hand.
"Nice to meet you too, Usagi-san," responded Shino's companion. She took Usagi's hand in her gloved one.
"Aburame clan?" she inquired.
"Both of us. Unrelated families as Sayuri's family was adopted into the clan recently," Shino responded. "Shall we find the others?"
Before the two pairs could decide a direction to take, the wind died down, revealing the obvious path.
"BELIEVE IT!" shouted voice familar to both males.
"That was one of my teammates," Sai commented to Usagi.
"Is he drunk?" she inquired, aprehensive about meeting such a loud person. Root training had always emphasized the importance of silence, the one part of herself he could not deprogram.
"NO YOU INO-PIG!"
Sai sighed, knowing what that likely meant. He put on his best fake smile.
"I'd say my other teammate is most likely."
Despite her argument with Ino, Sakura was far from drunk. She had only a quarter of the bottle of sake before Ino had grabbed it, spilling most of it in the process. It was for the better as she had to be ready to play medic if any of the others got too drunk. Kiba and Ino were reaching that point steadily. She saw Sai and Shino approach, each accompanied by a member of the opposite sex.
"Lee's the only bachelor left," commented Kiba
Ino started giggling.
"No, Kankuro-san is a bachelor too," she commented. "Based on that black eye, by every lady's choice!"
"But Lee is the only Konoha bachelor," Kiba replied. ."Is it by choice or does he not like girls?"
"No. He likes Forehead, remember?" she asked.
"I remember that," added Tenten. "He declared his undying love to her upon first seeing her. Then he got into a fight with-"
Neji cupped hishand over her mouth, noting the look in Naruto's eyes. The blonde jonin was not ready to relive those memories just yet.
"Bushy Brows got into a fight with Sasuke," Naruto supplied. "However if he had fought me, he would have lost in less than a minute." The group started laughing.
"So who is your friend Sai?" asked Sakura.
"This is my girlfriend Usagi. She is from Root as well," he replied.
"Nice to meet you," Usagi said, once again offering her hand. Sakura's eyes followed the path of Usagi's own. She seemed to be sizing up the group.
"This is Sayuri," stated Shino, not bothering to wait for the obvious question. "She is my betrothed."
"As in arranged since before either of you were born?" inquired Hinata
"That explains why you were never interested in anyone!" yelled Naruto. Sakura slapped him gently.
"Volume, Naruto. You are outside, but everyone is close by. No need to shout. Someone will think you are drunk!"
Usagi and Sai exchanged a glance.
"Hello," greeted yet another voice. Gaara had moved from his place next to Matsuri to in front of her, in the center of the group.
"Now that everyone is here, I have a request and possibily an announcement," he said.
The redheaded Kazekage took his student's hand. She stood in front of her teacher.
"I told you they were together," Ino whispered to Shikamaru.
"You act like I didn't know already," he mumbled. Choji had to restrain himself from laughing.
"After your performance in the Chunin Exams, I can no longer be your teacher."
Matsuri gasped. Her eyes narrowed in confusion.
"Are you promoting me?" she asked, her voice low.
"Yes, to Chunin-rank," he responded. "I also want you to take another role in the village, one that has been vacant for almost twenty years. That of Lady Kazekage."
Matsuri stood silent. The rest of the group stood silent too, unable to break the silence. Before the Suna kuniochi could properly respond, she was interrupted.
"Good evening to all the guests here tonight," said Tsunade. "Tonight we mark the end of the Chunin Exams, an event of great celebration."
The Hokage was standing on a platform erected in front of the Hokage mansion. Crowds of ninja and villagers alike gathered to listen to Konoha's leader, the hostess of the event. They cheered, good spirits present, due likely to the presence of good spirits at my stalls.
"Tonight, I am making an announcement that I was going to delay initially," the Hokage continued. "I am an accomplished medic, but even I am not immortal. Therefore I must choose my heir."
Naruto readied himself, taking care to make sure his outfit was perfect. This must have been why the Hokage had sent him the package. He grasped Sakura's hand and instinctively led her towards the stage, knowing what would come soon.
"I consider my greatest successes to have been the lives I saved as a medic. My heir to this legacy is the most talented I have ever trained, a kuniochi of great intelligence and strong will. She is Haruno Sakura, my younger apprentice"
Sakura removed her hand from Naruto's and walked onto the platform, taking her place beside Shizune. The latter whispered something to her, causing the former to smile.
"My second legacy is the role of Hokage. I have chosen a second ninja for this task. He is my distant kinsman, the son of a previous Hokage, a master Sage, and the vessel of the Nine-Tails, Uzumaki Naruto."
Naruto did not remember walking on the stage, but there he found himself, next to Sakura, the crowd cheering for him. Sakura extended her arm around his waist. Only one phrase came to mind.
"Believe it, teme," he whispered.