A/N: Final chapter alert! You'll also find some crazy-long notes about the making of the fic at the bottom. Enjoy!
"What do you want to do to this guy, Minato?" Jiraiya's voice drew our attention.
My dad - and I couldn't believe that I was finally happy to call someone by that title - reluctantly shifted his gaze to where the white-haired giant had Jiro trapped against the wall. I only got a sneak peek at Minato-sama's expression as he turned away to face the pair, but his eyes were looking glacial. The little frog on Jiraiya's shoulder must have felt the same way because it shuddered and leapt away from that corner to join Kohana and me.
"Scary..." it whispered. I laid a hand on its head and wondered what would happen next.
"Lord Hokage... I have no words to-" Jiro was saying, when Minato-sama stepped close enough that their faces were inches away from each other. The man I had called "father" for most of my life quickly shut his mouth.
"How dare you speak to me?" The Fourth's voice was low, dangerous, and even though I knew the words were not meant for me, I could not help but have the same reaction as the little frog when I heard them. Still, I'd bet the chill that ran up my spine had nothing on what Jiro must have been feeling at the moment. "You call yourself a man? You have the gall to call yourself one of my ninja?... I'd tear you to pieces right here and now if I weren't the Hokage."
Each word was clearly enunciated, as cutting as a kunai, and Jiro was surely feeling the effects. I could see him trembling all the way from where I sat.
"Jiraiya, would you please take this low-life piece of scum from my presence and make sure he is thrown into the deepest and darkest prison cell you can find?"
"My pleasure, kiddo," Jiraiya said as he roughly pushed Jiro towards the cottage's only door. With a flick of his wrist, a loop of steel wire closed around Jiro's hands and, if the binding was tight enough that it was almost cutting into skin, the white-haired man chose to act as if he didn't see it.
I noticed the Fourth taking a deep breath as soon as Jiro was gone. A great weight lifted from my chest as well and I finally realised just how battered and sore I felt all over. The only things keeping me awake were the remnants of Kohana's borrowed energy and simple adrenaline. I was ready to collapse at any moment, but managed to hold on a bit longer after Minato-sama faced me once again. His face was grim and there were the shiny beginnings of tears in his eyes.
"I am so sorry I took so long to find you," he said to me. "I hope someday you can forgive me."
I was struck speechless, I had no idea what to say to that. All I wanted now was to forget about the years I had spent with Jiro. Somehow, some way, my greatest wish had come true: I had found my true family, and if that had happened, then anything was possible. I knew everything would be all right. My mouth opened to say as much, but no sound came out until Kohana nudged her head against my side in gentle prodding.
"I'm glad you did..." I said before the stress and exhaustion of everything that I had gone through caught up with me and the world started to blur at the edges. Minato-sama - my dad - put an arm around me and I clung to the security of his embrace as if nothing else existed beyond it. My head became lighter and lighter and, within seconds, I had passed out.
"I'm taking you home," was the last thing I heard.
"You're cute," the sound of an obnoxious voice broke through the sleepy haze enveloping my mind.
"You're a frog," another voice replied, female this time. It was familiar.
"Aww... can't I get even one kiss?" the first whined. The words were slowly starting to come together into sentences that made sense to my poor, abused head.
"Not on your life," was the answer, and the knowledge of who was talking suddenly clicked into place.
"Kaughh..." My body was as sleepy as my thoughts, unfortunately. I had meant to say "Kohana".
"Sora?" the little fox called. I tried to move my hand in the direction of the sound, but my limb was as unwilling to respond as my vocal chords. At least I got my eyes to open.
I was in a bedroom of burgundy walls, laid out in a comfy bed I immediately recognised as the one from the bedroom I had occupied at the Hokage's house. The curtains were pulled so the room was dark and I was thankful to whoever had thought to do that as my eyes were taking some time to adjust to even that much light.
"Sora!" A furry red blur jumped on top of me and started licking my face furiously. "Sora, Sora! You're awake! He's awake, everyone!"
"Him you kiss, but not me..." the first voice complained. "Minato, I want candy!" Looking beyond Kohana, I was able to see Jiraiya's funny yellow frog sitting on the bedspread with a pout on its lips and pudgy little arms crossed.
"Dad...?" I rasped. Was he there? A mop of blond hair entered my field of vision, answering that unspoken question, and soon a gentle hand was combing through my hair.
"Hey, there. Take it easy. You had chakra exhaustion, you've been out cold for a while."
"Sorry," I said, even though I didn't know what exactly I was apologising for. The chuckle that came my way made it worth it, though.
"Sora!" This time Kushina was the one who had spoken and, before I had so much as a chance to see where she was coming from, she had thrown herself at me and pulled me up into an asphyxiating hug. Well, not really asphyxiating, it was actually quite nice. "We were so worried, baby..."
Pressed against her bosom, I closed my eyes and relished the proximity. She is my mother!, I reminded myself. A mere week ago, who would have thought I'd ever get to say that about anyone? It was unbelievable.
"Mum... dad..." I said, out of a fancy to try using the words. Just the sound of them filled me with warmth.
"My baby..." the red-head called back without hesitation. "My heart almost broke when I realised you were gone yesterday! Why did you run away?"
I hid my face for a second, ashamed to admit that I had been eavesdropping on her conversation with Minato-sama, but now that she had mentioned it, it was hard to ignore the last traces of doubt that lingered of whether or not she would have me. Jiro's hateful words were still lodged deep within me. "I... I heard you talking. You said you were going to make me feel sorry I was ever born..."
"What?" She sounded scandalised, at least, a good sign for me. "I would never say that! Where did you hear that?"
"That morning, when you were with Minato-sama in your room. You said you were going to kill the demon..."
"The demon...?" Kushina looked like she really didn't know what I was talking about. Minato-sama, however, took note of the words I was using and chose that point to re-enter the conversation.
"She was referring to the man who took you from us, Sora. Is that what you think you are, though? A demon...?"
"It's the truth, isn't it?" I replied and even though I tried to keep the bitterness from my voice, it was still there. "You should know, you're the one who put the Nine-tails in me."
"Baby," Kushina cut in, "you're definitely not a demon! Like, you may have the Nine-tails locked away inside you, but that's not who you are. You're our son, Naruto Namikaze... well, or Sora, if you prefer that name."
I stared at her. I wasn't sure I understood her explanation, but I wanted to believe her, to believe that there was a difference between being the demon and the human that happened to hold it. After all the years of believing otherwise, though, it sounded almost too good to be true. It was another one of my impossible wishes, to be human just like everyone else. Tears came to my eyes and, in an attempt to stave them off, I chose to think of the second piece of information she had given me instead.
"Naruto..." I rolled the name off my tongue. "Hm, I like it. Can I really use it?"
"Yeah, it's a cool name!" Kohana piped in.
"But I'm still hungry..." the little frog moaned.
Minato-sama placed a hand on my head. "It was yours all along," he said with conviction.
I felt like the name reached some deep corner inside my heart that had been empty until now, strengthening my connection to these people. It was proof that I really did belong there, with them. Even before I knew who they were and before they knew who I was, "Naruto" had been there in their hearts. I would definitely use the name.
I grinned as Minato-sama ruffled my hair, then froze as I caught something in my peripheral vision.
"What happened to my hair?" I grabbed the longer tips and crossed my eyes until I could see the strands clearly, to make sure that I hadn't been imagining things. Nope, it was definitely blond. "Kohana, did you do something?"
The little fox shook her head, but she was smirking. "It was your pendant!"
"My..." I started to say, before instinct kicked in and I reached a hand towards my chest. There was nothing there... Despair washed over me. I'd lost my mother's pendant! I looked at Kushina with fear. Would she be mad? "I lost it... I'm sorry..."
My mother looked a little confused at the words, but told me to look at Minato-sama. Dangling from his hand was the pendant that had never left my neck, ever. I was relieved to see it, it was my most precious possession. I tried to grab it, but my father held up his other hand to stop me and instead turned the medallion around so that the strange writing was visible. Then he put it around his neck and his hair turned brown.
"Huh? What the..."
"The inscription is a seal that casts a low-level genjutsu on whoever wears the pendant," he explained. "It's pretty crude, but that's part of why it works so well. It uses so little energy that it's mostly undetectable to anyone who isn't paying attention. I assume that man gave you this?"
I was struck dumb. The one thing that I had taken every care not to lose was the very thing that had been keeping me hidden from my family? All the care that I had put into never taking it off, that was the very reason why the truth about my identity was hidden? "No, he... well, I thought that... I don't know where it came from... I always sort of... had it..." I finished miserably, feeling a little sick.
"It makes sense. After you went missing, we only knew to look for a blond baby, and then when you were old enough that other signs of your heritage started showing, we had already given up the search here in Konoha. As you grew bigger, the genjutsu stopped being strong enough to hide the marks on your cheeks... that was how I knew who you were from the moment I saw you outside the gates of the Academy."
The revelation had me reeling for a bit. "You... knew? All along?"
"Of course!" Kushina said, pulling me back towards her. "That morning you ran off, that pervert Jiraiya had just stopped by to deliver the results of a blood test we did to confirm it. There was really no need for it, though. I knew who you were too, as soon as you stepped foot in the house."
"Told you!" Kohana made her presence known.
"Croak?" the frog squeaked, not wanting to be left out, possibly in case any chocolates might be forthcoming.
Meanwhile, Minato-sama was taking off the pendant. His hair faded back to its natural colour as he smiled at the perfect picture of mother and son together at last.
"You're our son, Naruto. Bonds like that are stronger than distance. Even if we had never met that day at the Academy, we would have surely found our way back to each other in some other way. And even if you had looked completely different, we would still have known you, somehow... because we love you."
I had spent my life up until that point being afraid: afraid of the beatings, afraid of Jiro, afraid of what others might think if they found out I wasn't like them and, most of all, afraid of hoping for vain wishes to come true. But now they had, and the happiness I felt that those wishes had become reality was greater than anything I could have imagined.
My parents were right, I realised. Even now, as I looked into Kushina's eyes, I recognised her. She was familiar to me and had been even before I had known her in person. Her voice touched my heart and the depths of her eyes could have been reflections of my own. The warmth of her skin clung to mine and stayed there long after her touch was gone, and her arms felt like they could and would shelter me from all the evil in the world. There, I was safe. Minato-sama was no different. I remembered how I had idolised him and wanted to be just like him, even before I had any idea of what a ninja was. He had always been my hero and my role-model. I had been drawn to him by some inexplicable force originated at core of my being.
They were right. In my heart, I had known them all along. I had only forgotten about it. But now that I had found my way back to them, I was never letting them go again.
And here we are at the end of "Negai ga kanau" (Wishes do come true). Hopefully, it wasn't too corny. I'm not one to add long author's notes, but since this fic was written (read completed) under special circumstances, I hope you'll indulge me while I write a few words about the experience and give some answers to a few reviewers.
(Psst...! Hit the back button. The words are not few at all!)
I was first introduced to "Negai ga kanau" as a reader, and as a reader I cheered whenever I saw that a new chapter was up and moaned when the scroll bar reached the bottom of a page. Every update was a surprise – who could guess what would happen to Naruto next? (He was named Naruto then, not Sora.) Not me, that was for sure! So when Soul-Kit524 (the original author) announced that she would no longer continue the story and that it was up for adoption, my hanging-on-the-edge-of-the-seat self said "no way! I need to know how this ends!"
Within five minutes, I was contacting her. I had to know. The trouble of writing everything down was nothing if only I could know that! As it turned out, she had no idea either and so it fell on me to figure out how everything was supposed to come together for the finale – how Naruto could go on to live a happily ever after while Jiro rotted in some dark, (preferably) dank hole. It was a difficult task on more than one account.
At first, I had no idea. Every minute I spent editing Soul-Kit's chapters I wondered: should this happen? Should I bring that guy into the story? Will this end up leading the plot to a place that has nothing to do with Soul-Kit's original concept? It was nerve-wrecking to post Soul-Kit's chapters, knowing that I still had no idea what I would do after I ran out of those pre-written lovelies.
I thought of having Orochimaru and Kabuto make an appearance as the ultimate baddies who then killed Jiro when he was no longer of use to them (it would be poetic in a way for Jiro to fall to someone who would do the same thing to him that he had done to Naruto, while Minato remained "pure", free from entangling himself in the mess that was Naruto's past), I thought of Madara wanting to keep Naruto under his control until he was prepared to extract the Kyuubi (though that didn't leave much of an argument for Naruto to still be in Konoha), I even thought of involving Iwa nin somewhere... (it's a sort of "thing" of mine to try to insert Iwa nin and their half skirts in every god-forsaken thing I write). In the end, though, I felt those outcomes deviated too much from the feel of the story that had been given to me.
It was a story about Good, so I had to keep the Evil side as simple and contained as possible. I think of it in rather "Disney-ish" terms, really. The story had to be believable, but not realistic (the nitty gritty details of exactly what kind of effects Jiro's abuse would have on a child were not to be laid shockingly bare – in answer to a reviewer who mentioned this, Minato and Kushina will have plenty of opportunities to deal with Naruto's healing process after he moves in with them; please do write such a fic if the subject interests you, I'd be an avid reader!), and Naruto's innocence and the way dreams and wishes were so important to him (it's the title, duh!) were to be at centre stage. If I have succeeded in this but marginally, I will consider myself accomplished.
I should say something about the POV. It was a source of trouble from day one to have to write a story entirely in Naruto's voice and from his point of view. (And I mean this quite literally. I still don't know what the grammatically correct verb tenses are for chapter one! If any grammar genius would be so kind as to enlighten me, I beg you... please do!) Naruto was privy to so little information about what was going on around him... He never knew that Minato was 95% sure that he was his son the moment he saw the whisker marks – or that the Hokage had run tests on his blood after his fainting episode – or that Jiraiya stopped by the house to deliver the results and that was why Kushina screamed in chapter 8 and he knew to follow Naruto to the Academy! I tried to hint at all these things (and others) throughout the narrative as I had no way to state them outright, so I hope that at least part of those efforts were noticed by the readers. (Regarding the first situation, I know for sure my hints went completely over everyone's heads, as 99% of your reviews then consisted of "when will Minato find out?" My answer: "uhh... he sort of... always knew...?")
Speaking of reviews, I've never had that many in my fics, so I have to say that you, dear readers, were absolutely wonderful in the support you gave me here. Your enthusiasm for this story was contagious! :) That said, there were also a handful of comments sent my way that did make me wonder if I shouldn't just abandon this project and leave it for someone more capable to finish (and I'm not referring to the lovely constructive criticism that a few left along the way, here). To be honest, I think the authors of some of these comments didn't even realise what they were saying, but in any case, my answer to them is: "I appreciate the honesty, but think before you type. You don't want to bite the hand that feeds you."
In conclusion: I hope that those who first read "Negai ga kanau" under Soul-Kit's account (and Soul-Kit, in case you ever read this) thought this a satisfactory ending and didn't find that it became an entirely different story half-way through. For those who read it for the first time after the story had been handed over to me, I just hope you enjoyed it.
Thanks for reading, guys. You're all amazing people! ;)