Endings & Beginnings

Naruto woke up in a pitch-dark room, the sky just beginning to show signs that it was closer to morning than to night. He felt Sakura safe in his arms and despite his joy surrounding that fact he couldn't help but shiver. The last clear memory he had of this feeling before last night was of Sakura pinning herself to him, her guts spilling out around her fingers despite her attempts to keep them inside. He wasn't happy about the thought that these horrifying memories might taint his experience of holding her forever. When Sakura stirred and he told her about these thoughts she shared similar feelings. The memory of his face when he said he loved her that particular time haunted her. She confessed to being worried that this wasn't real, the only thing Naruto could do was to hold her close because he felt the same way. If it was real though, they decided they had things to do, so they made their plans and searched the room for wearable non-hospital clothing.

It was early dawn when Naruto and Sakura slipped out of the window at the hospital. They bounded through the streets unseen, flexing their sore muscles and enjoying the fresh early morning air. They snuck into Tsunade's personal chambers with smiles on their faces and slightly more convinced that this was reality in truth. They woke her up to give an update on the situation. Tsunade nearly died of shock at seeing them both healthy, standing there in her bedroom at the crack of dawn, grinning like idiots at her reaction. She would have shouted but she was so relieved they were both ok she let it go, this time. They checked a few details against what they believed to be true and laid to rest the worry that this wasn't real.

After Tsunade's shock wore off Sakura sent Naruto to wait on the roof while she explained things. He assumed they were embarrassing things that yesterday would have made him blush. Today, they made him grin like a genuine lunatic. Life couldn't get much more perfect. He now had almost everything he had ever wanted. For the first time he was glad he had the kyuubi sealed in him, even if it was only to heal him this one specific time. All of the suffering he had endured because of the fox was worth it if it meant he got to keep Sakura and since she seemed to be completely fine now, Naruto couldn't be too angry with the bastard for helping them out. Alive again, happily married and to the woman of his dreams, Naruto nearly had to put his head between his knees to calm down as he processed that information.

When the women were finished with whatever embarrassing talk Naruto had been excluded from the couple was sent back to the hospital to wait until Tsunade had arranged for their discharge. It was a case of public interest and it would take a little bit of finagling to get them out without detailed explanations. Could they avoid detailed explanations since when would this situation ever come up again? It's not like they needed to know how to fix this the next time. Tsunade grinned and cracked her knuckles. Today would be a good day. There was a lot to get done!

It wasn't quite noon when the nurses came in and told them they were free. The nurses had found them rummaging through wedding presents and smiling. The couple was assured their things would be taken care of, if they could just 'come this way now please'. There was an odd buzz in the air and the closer they got to the exit of the building the faster their hearts raced. They would have run down the halls to get out, but Sakura was a little apprehensive of what was up ahead, something was going on that much was clear. As they reached the main doors of the hospital, just as she was about to push open the doors and reach their freedom, Naruto scooped her up in his arms and carried her out. It wasn't quite carrying the bride home, but the effect was the same. Sakura was beaming as the sunlight hit her face.

Outside it seemed like the whole town had gathered to see them released. People were watching with anticipation and it made them a little self conscious. Sakura blushed as a corridor appeared in the crowd. It was made for them to walk through and the ground was being covered in leaves, Naruto noticed two little kids running around flinging them on the ground. He chuckled as he leaned down to kiss Sakura. The crowd erupted in hoots and cheers. Everyone was overjoyed that they had lived; they were heroes in their own rights and beloved by the town. After all of the pain, horror and death, anything to celebrate was welcomed and this was a particularly sweet moment. The story of their final moments was well known and this was the ending everyone had dared to hope for, even when the future seemed grim in comparison.

Naruto was shocked that this had been arranged so quickly and he looked down to see Sakura just as surprised. This must have been all Tsunade's doing. He would have to thank her later. Naruto began to walk slowly through the crowd, not wanting this moment to pass too quickly. He had gone from an unwanted outcast to someone everyone loved. That in itself was more than he had expected out of life, but having Sakura in his arms and knowing that she was his forever, was almost enough to make him cry. Losing Jiraiya, Sasuke and even Kakashi, although the latter wasn't permanently, was enough to break any man. Losing Sakura, and then getting her back only to watch her suffer had ripped his heart out and he had wept then. He had lied helpless in bed at night watching pain wreak havoc through her body while he finally got the chance to cry.

He would mourn the losses from the war; he would stand at Sasuke's grave holding Sakura's hand one day and remember everything. But now with the future ahead of him and Sakura safe in his arms, it was time to move on. He would watch Shikamaru fulfill his promise to Asuma and raise the baby. He would work side by side with his friends to rebuild Konoha's defenses and he would do his best to help heal the wounds they all shared. He would finally be a part of a life with Sakura as more than just a team. As he stepped out further into the sun he realized that today was for the future and it seemed to be exactly the future he had always dreamed of. No war, complete acceptance by the town and Sakura. He smiled as he took the next step.

Suddenly out of the crowd stepped Sai holding something behind his back. It shook Naruto out of his thoughts and brought him crashing back to the present, with Sakura safe in his arms and the entire town cheering for them. Sai knelt before them, like some stupid gesture he had found in one of his books and lay what looked like a wrapped katana on the ground in front of them. He looked up expectantly.

"What's this?" Sakura said, still comfortable in Naruto's arms, happy to show everyone this was where she wanted to be.

"A wedding present". Naruto looked confused, neither he nor Sakura used katana, although the gesture was nice coming from Sai. He was about to say so when Sai continued.

"It's the blade of the man who did this to you" he continued, seeing their confusion. "I would have brought his head for you, but I was forbidden to do so". He grinned then. There was a pause as they considered this information.

"But how…he was so strong…" Naruto trailed off as laughter drifted from different parts of the crowd.

"I never said I killed him by myself" Sai said, as if this were obvious.

"Then who…?" Sakura questioned

"Just about the whole town helped in some way. Intel, supplies, and then the fight itself."

"Whoa". They uttered as they looked around for signs of who helped, but the entire crowd was smiling.

"Our wedding gift to you is freedom from worrying about pursuing him and maybe satisfaction that you were avenged…" he trailed off, looking up in a questioning way, he still wasn't sure of himself with personal interactions. Sakura struggled a little bit and Naruto let her down. She knelt down next to Sai and hugged him. Sai's eyes widened.

"Thank you." she said loud enough for all to hear. Sai was clearly uncomfortable so when Naruto walked over and slapped him on the back and said thanks, he pulled Sakura off as he backed away, giving Sai his personal space back. So the true fighters wanted to stay anonymous for now, Sakura wondered why. Perhaps no one wanted to be singled out because everyone had worked so hard together. Sai disappeared and they continued down the aisle.

Naruto and Sakura had barely taken another step when Hinata stepped forward. Naruto froze, he respected Hinata deeply but he was worried that she might still have feelings for him. She smiled shyly and reached into her deep pockets. She produced a small box and cleared her throat.

"This isn't just from me either…"she was unsure of how to continue. She shuffled her feet uncomfortably as she struggled for words. She let out a squeak of alarm as Kiba threw his arms around her from behind. She gained confidence from his presence and Naruto smiled, happy that they appeared to be a couple. The evidence from all of their visitations pointed to that, but he had wondered and honestly, his thoughts had been elsewhere. His attention was pulled back to Hinata and her little box as she held it out towards Sakura, smiling again.

"What's this?" Sakura said, stepping forward to take it.

"It's from all of us. Neji and Tenten, Ino and Shikamaru, Choji, Lee and Konohamaru too." As she had said their names, they had all waved or grinned, making their presence in the crowd stick out for the first time, clearly they were ok with being singled out now. In a cloud of awe and mild concern Sakura opened the box and let out a gasp. Inside were wedding bands. She backed up to show Naruto, who looked down with great interest at what else all of his friends had done for them.

Inside the box were two rings, made up of leaves of different colored metals. The ring for Sakura had diamonds scattered around in the leaves and Naruto's was a little thicker, like it was designed to take more damage. They were very beautiful and the couple gasped in near unison. Sakura considered running and hugging each one of them, hugging Naruto or even doing something really mushy and putting it on his finger in some sort of ceremonious way but Naruto beat her to it. He simply smiled and said "Thank you" in a voice loud enough for all to hear. He took Sakura's ring and held it up to her.

This was it; this was the ceremony they never had, the ceremony they didn't think they would ever get. Sakura saw Tsunade grinning in her direction, she was elbowing Kakashi in the ribs. Kakashi was also smiling, but he looked like he might swat Tsunade away if she kept it up. Shizune looked like she might faint, but Sakura didn't have time to feel bad for her. So this is what they had had to wait for, Tsunade was herding everyone towards the hospital. Sakura's shocked expression melted away and was replaced by one of gratitude and love.

Naruto simply stared at her smiling and waiting, she held her hand up and let him slide the ring onto her finger. It fit perfectly though she imaged it wouldn't have been hard to measure her for this while she was unconscious. That meant that her friends had never given up hope and it made the moment even sweeter. She then did the same thing for Naruto who was putting the sun to shame with his beaming smile. The second the ring was on, Naruto whirled Sakura around like he had always dreamed of doing and the crowd erupted again, this time in congratulations. Hinata and Kiba smiled at them and backed back into the crowd. Kakashi then materialized in front of them, as fast as always, with a piece of paper showing that their marriage was legally recognized. Sakura hugged him then too and thanked him, not that anyone could hear it over the cheering.

Kakashi disappeared as quickly as he had shown up only to be replaced by Tsunade. Who gestured for the crowd to quiet. This had been planned for a long time now, but this was the formal announcement, rushed to coincide with their release to make it all the more special.

"Naruto." She said, sparing a sideways grin for her confused subordinate.

"It seems all of your dreams have been realized". He smiled then, and took Sakura's hand.

"That's not the only dream I was talking about." Naruto was genuinely confused but Sakura inhaled sharply. She had figured this one out awfully fast.

"I have decided to retire Naruto." She said waiting for the realization to hit, but she grew impatient with his confusion. His eyes grew wide and his mouth hung open but he made no move that suggested he was going to speak first.

"The Jounin council have appointed you the new Hokage!" His eyes were wide, mouth hanging open still, and a little drool had meandered down his cheek.

"But…but… what about you Ba-chan?" the crowd waited anxiously for his response and he was being agonizingly slow. Ever since the Pain incident many had wanted this to happen, it had even been suggested that he should be appointed as Hokage while Tsunade lay comatose instead of Danzo. Tsunade laughed and slapped him a little too hard on the shoulder.

"There is sake to drink, gambling to be done and people to catch up with." She smiled sadly then and Naruto knew she was thinking of his teacher and what she had missed out on.

"The position is yours, if you will take it." She said loud enough for everyone to hear and he knew he had to decide now. He took one look at Sakura, who was grinning at him and he jumped up into the air and shouted "Dattebayo!" there was a sound of approval from Lee and Gai, who were making thumbs up at the youthful display of energy. Tsunade had no worries that he would have more than enough stamina to handle the job. She hugged him and offered her congratulations; her eyes glimmered with tears that would never be allowed to fall. Naruto wondered if they were happy or sad tears and imagined that they were likely both.

Sakura looked towards him slowly with happy tears of her own in her eyes. When she made eye contact with Naruto she ran the few steps to him, he caught her, scooped her up and started to run.

"Where are you going gaki!" Tsunade shouted at him.

"To my office Ba-chan!" He heard the crowd laughing but he was already gone, faster than the wind.

It seemed all of their friends had survived the war. There were certainly faces in the crowd that seemed to show sorrow, to show loss, but everyone was smiling today. The couple knew lots of people had died, they had seen them die, but it seemed that those most important to them were alive and well. But most importantly, they were alive again. And they now had their whole lives ahead of them to live, to love and to make peace in the world. They had already made their mark on the world, but they would go down in history as great ninja with an even greater love story. Today was the start of the reign of Uzumaki Naruto, one of the greatest Kage to ever live. It was also the start of his beloved family, but he didn't know that yet.

*I want to thank everyone for reading and reviewing. This story came to me in a daydream as a one shot, just the first chapter. Darker stories are not my normal style so I decided to try. It turns out that this was much easier to write for me than I expected it would be. But, I refuse to end on a dark note, I love these characters and I can't voluntarily end things any other way but happily. They do not deserve more pain and I refuse to do anything permanent to them that would be cruel. I really fussed over this chapter and I can't thank Japboix1 enough for reading and re-reading this one. I know it might be too drastic of a change in tone from the first chapter but after several attempts at re-writing and tweaking it, this is how I envision the end. I hope that you can understand that.