Part 15:

"Everyone knows why we are here, correct?"

Shikamaru nodded his head although he was the one who had asked the question, looking out at the faces of his friends and comrades- minus one very important member.

Sakura was at his side, her smile lighthearted. Shikamaru was too anxious about the coming event to straighten out the crease between his eyebrows and relax.

"Come on, Shika," Kiba said, stretching his hands behind his head and yawning. "It's not like anything's gonna go wrong. What're you actin' so serious about?"

"Yeah Shikamaru," Ino added, her hands on her hips as she stared up at her teammate, amused. "Of course we all know why we're here. There's not a person in the village who doesn't know what today is."

A few of the other's nodded, Lee and Tenten shared a smile. Even Neji was relaxed for once, leaning against a wall.

"Naruto better not be late," Shikamaru growled, checking his watch.

"Sasuke'll make sure he gets here on time, won't he?" Choji asked, reaching his hand into his bag of chips and tossing a few into his mouth.

"Sasuke can only do so much. Naruto seems to have inherited Kakashi's bad habit."

"I resent that," the one-eyed copy-ninja said lightly as he landed beside Sakura on the rooftop of the Hokage tower. He stood up straight and stared into the bright sky, lifting one hand to shade his eye. "I'm on time today, aren't I?"

"Because you know how important this is," Shikamaru said seriously. He looked at his watch again.

"And Naruto does as well," Kakashi said pacifyingly. "He won't be late on a day as important as this one."

It was almost ten o'clock and a beautiful day outside, the sun already hot as it reflected off the roof of the Hokage tower where all of the important Leaf shinobi were gathered, waiting for the day's great event to begin. Anbu were stationed randomly around the edge of the roof, just in case, though no one suspected anything to happen that would ruin or interrupt this day.

They waited another few minutes, Guy challenging Kakashi to another "battle" and loosing, once again, at rock, paper, scissors. Sai was having a deep conversation with Izumo and Kotetsu off to the side that no one really paid any attention to. Shino and Neji listened as Hinata nervously explained to them an idea she had for a new jutsu as Kiba tried to take a quick nap atop Akamaru before Ino woke him up with a sharp pinch, laughing as he scrambled about sleepily. Only Shikamaru seemed in a bad mood, everyone else felt happier then they had in a long time.

Finally, a hushed whisper flew through the rest of the shinobi sitting and standing near the covered entrance to the rooftop. The white curtains were pulled aside and Tsunade came marching out with Iruka and Shizune behind her. Everyone let out his or her held breath as she smiled and walked directly over to Shikamaru.

"We've just seen him," she said, pride shining through her voice as she spoke. "He's trying to pretend he isn't nervous. Uchiha's with him."

"When should we start?" Sakura asked with an excited smile.

"Give him another few minutes."

Sakura nodded but Shikamaru didn't seem to be as patient. Iruka was nervous as well. He kept pacing between Kakashi and Tsunade and glancing back towards the entrance where the most important person of the day was waiting.

"Are we sure he's ready?" He asked for the twelfth time.

At least ten pairs of eyes were rolled at him in reply.

"He's been ready for years, Iruka," Kakashi replied gently. "We all know there was only one thing holding him back."

Shikamaru made a "harrumph" noise and turned to stare off at the Hokage monument. A few people laughed quietly and Iruka blushed.

"Can we start already?" Shikamaru asked, walking to the front of the seats that were crowding the roof. He might have gone on walking inside if Saru, Kurenai's young son hadn't stopped him by asking loudly,

"Why grumpy, Shika?"

Kurenai smiled at him as Shikamaru stopped and looked down fondly at his past teacher's child. He sighed, feeling stupid for being so worried about todays' big event. It wasn't his style to get so worked up, but he wanted everything to be perfect. No more mistakes.

He looked up into the sky and Saru mimicked him.

"No clouds," the young boy remarked smartly. He had gone cloud-watching many times with Shikamaru and when he saw the lack of clouds he rightly assumed that that was why the usually laidback man was in a bad mood.

Shikamaru smiled, astounded once again at the astuteness of the child. He hadn't noticed that there weren't any clouds but as soon as he realized it his bad mood made a lot more sense.

"No clouds," he said, kneeling down to the boys level and giving him a what-can-you-do shrug. He then smiled and Saru smiled back. "If there are clouds tomorrow would you like to come cloud-watching with me?"

The boy's eyes lit up and he nodded. Kurenai smiled wider. She enjoyed seeing people interact with her son- especially Shikamaru. Everyone loved Saru, but no one loved Saru like Shikamaru did. They just fit together, two peas in a pod. She secretly hoped Temari would get pregnant soon so that Saru would have a friend and Shikamaru would be able to be a father to his own child. She imagined that he would be very good at it.

"Saru was just wondering why everyone was gathered up here, weren't you Saru?"

The boy nodded rapidly as though he just remembered and turned back to Shikamaru.

"What going on?"

"Today is a very special day," Shikamaru began cheerfully. Talking to Saru always improved his mood. "A lot of people have been waiting for this day for a long time, so we're all gathered up here and waiting a bit longer for this special something to happen."

"What is it?" Saru's eyes were wide in wonder at what could possibly be this special something that everyone was gathered and waiting for.

Shikamaru smiled, and just as he did, the crowds began to hum with chatter and everyone turned to look excitedly towards the covered entrance to the rooftop. A figure appeared, pushing the curtains aside and walking out into the bright sunlight.

Sasuke stepped to the side, smiling very faintly. Everyone on the roof was now silent.

It was finally time.

The white curtains ruffled again as another figure began to emerge through them. A shock of blond hair came first, followed by a body wearing a signature orange jacket that was mostly covered by a long, billowing, white and red cloak.

Naruto stepped into the sunlight and lifted his tan hand up to cover his eyes. He looked out into the crowd of all of his friends- friends who had supported him for years, all hoping they could witness this wonderful day- and he smiled.

The rooftop exploded into cheers, even Shikamaru stood and clapped as Naruto, red with embarrassment, walked to the front of the crowd where Tsunade, Kakashi, and a few elders were waiting for him. Tsunade held tightly to her Hokage hat as the wind tried to blow it away. She smiled at Naruto when he stopped just beside her, like a mother looking proudly at her son. She could feel herself getting emotional as the cheers continued and told herself it was just because she was getting old. She leaned towards Naruto and he leaned back so that she could whisper just loud enough for him to hear over the cheering,

"They would all be proud of you."

His bright blue eyes grew wide as she leaned away from him and stared out to the Hokage monument that loomed at them from its mountainous home on the edge of the village. Naruto sniffed but made himself stay strong as one of the village elders quieted the still cheering crowd and then began reading some long, pointless speech about the importance of leadership in the ever-changing ninja world. He then continued into a speech about the formation of the Leaf village and the many trials the village had gone through. Naruto stood up straight and smiled the entire time.

About halfway through, Shikamaru noticed Naruto's eyes flicker over towards the entrance. He followed the gaze and saw Sasuke still standing in the slight shade against the wall. When he caught Naruto's eye he smirked and Shikamaru saw Naruto smile a little bit wider when he turned back and pretended to pay attention to what the elder was saying. Shikamaru had to chuckle softly to himself.

The only thing he could think of when he witnessed that was: everything happens for a reason.

He looked up towards the sky and smiled. If I hadn't decided to attack Sasuke, things might have turned out a whole lot differently.

He was glad Temari was supposed to be accompanying Gaara when he visited the Leaf in a few days to formally meet the new Hokage. He missed her and he hadn't seen her in a few weeks. Maybe it was time for him to take their relationship to the next level…

The speeches went on for a bit longer, Kiba finally got to take his nap, Saru dozed off a bit as well, and then everyone in the audience perked up when it was finally time for Naruto to make the pledge, to pledge his life to protecting the Leaf village.

He took a deep breath and with one last glance towards the Hokage monument, began repeating his oath loudly and proudly as his friends watched in awe. Everyone in the audience knew how much this meant to Naruto. No one felt like they weren't witnessing something great. Iruka's eyes began to glisten about halfway through Naruto's pledge. Konohamaru was emotional through the entire ceremony but only openly bawled when Tsunade carefully took off the Hokage hat and gave it to Naruto. In what felt like slow motion, Naruto took the hat from her and placed it o his own head. As soon as he did, the audience all stood to their feet and broke out in raucous applause.

Naruto's courage and determination not to cry broke in that moment. He let tears flow freely down his face as he was swarmed by every one of his friends, teachers and companions, all giving him words of congratulation and praise. Tsunade felt as though she had never been more proud. Sakura found that she felt the same way.

After everyone was out of breath from so much cheering, people began to leave. Tsunade and a few elders spent a while talking to Naruto and tying up any loose ends as the rest of the crowd left.

Quite a few people still remained once Naruto was finished. He looked almost completely drained and though the few that remained; Kakashi, Sakura, Tsunade, and a few others, wanted to say a few more things to Naruto, they understood that they could do so another time. Because as soon as Naruto's eyes found Sasuke's, it was clear that neither wanted anything more than to just be alone.

They deserved that.

"I really hated you," The blond teased, walking a safe distance, the other side of an abandoned dirt road, from his raven-haired companion.

"I hated you more," the other countered with a signature smirk, his hands held lazily in his pockets as he faced the setting sun, his feet moving along at a leisurely pace.

After the Hokage ceremony Sasuke offered to treat Naruto to Ichiraku. He didn't, of course, offer this nicely, but the gesture was appreciated. Ramen was always appreciated if Naruto had anything to say about it.

While at Ichiraku's, after Teuchi and Ayame gave their new Hokage a round of applause, Sasuke and Naruto sat together mostly in silence; something they did quite often when they were alone together. If they began to talk, they began to argue and, although it did make their sex especially hot when they were angry at each other, they had grown tired of senselessly bickering. The things they could say to each other just through looks and light touches were always of a much more loving quality than what came out of their mouths. Their mouths weren't very honest (at least not when they were out of the bedroom).

But the gaze Naruto gave Sasuke once they had finished dinner said to the quiet Uchiha, "we should talk."

It wasn't the scary kind of "we should talk," it was just a simple request from Naruto to Sasuke. The pensive man took it that Naruto wanted a nice, playful conversation with a bit of lighthearted teasing; Sasuke's favorite kind of conversation.

So they walked to a rather deserted, but strangely beautiful part of the village that had a wonderful view of the setting sun through the trees and over the rolling hills that carried out into the distance. They then proceeded to have a conversation about how much they had hated each other.

"I'm lying. I never hated you," Naruto corrected his previous, false statement ruefully. He paused as Sasuke smiled at him from the other side of the road. "I was jealous of you, and I was angry at you, and I was frustrated with you all the time! And I-"

"You had a lot of feelings towards me, mostly bad ones."

"They weren't all bad," Naruto muttered, pausing beneath a flowery tree so Sasuke stopped walking forward as well. "I liked you too. Enough to go after you about a billion times."

Sasuke silently watched Naruto through those dark, obsidian eyes, then looked away and shrugged.

"I just hated you."

When he turned back around to flash a joking smile in Naruto's direction he found that the blond, newly appointed Hokage was already coming towards him, halfway across the road that separated them, smiling. When he reached him he shoved Sasuke and then Sasuke shoved him back.

"Oi! Don't shove the Hokage!"

"I told you this Hokage thing would go to you're head, Dobe," Sasuke said, rolling his eyes, his hand holding tightly to Naruto's wrist as Naruto clutched his shirt in his fist.

Naruto just laughed and pulled the darker-haired boy into a deep kiss. When they broke apart the mood had shifted. Naruto's eyes seemed somehow a deeper blue than normal, and his brows were creased as though he were contemplating breeching a difficult subject.

"What is it?"

Naruto seemed to pop out of a daze as soon as Sasuke spoke, and his eyes focused onto Sasuke's. They pulled away from each other but that allowed them to become more centralized on each other.

"I was thinking about the oath I had to take today."

Sasuke nodded, vaguely unsure as to where Naruto was going with this. He seemed hesitant, and it made the Uchiha worry.

"I want you to swear an oath too," Naruto finally murmured just low enough for Sasuke, though no one else was around to hear him if he'd projected.

Sasuke's expression didn't change. His eyes were locked on Naruto's as the blond unflinchingly continued.

"I swore to protect the village, to never abandon it, and to make sure the village was first in my heart."

Sasuke lifted his head the smallest degree. It surprised him, less now than it did when they first reunited, how much Naruto had changed, how serious he could be when he really meant it.

"Sasuke, I trust you," Naruto added, though it wasn't necessary. Sasuke knew that, of every person in the Leaf, Naruto was still the one who trusted him the most. "But I feel guilty, because sometimes the village isn't first in my heart… You are." He paused again, but Sasuke could see where he was going.

"If you swear an oath to the village as well then at least I will feel a little bit less guilty. You don't have to swear that the village is first in your heart, you just have to promise that you will do everything you can to protect it, and that you won't abandon it. Ever."

The two finely trained shinobi heard noise coming from down the dirt road that was now glowing orange in the brightest moments of the setting. They froze as a young mother, carrying one baby in a sling across her chest while another boy skipped along behind her, ambled cheerfully down the road, most likely coming home from shopping at the market.

It was moments like these, when he was with Naruto, or when he was quietly observing he workings of the Leaf village, that Sasuke felt his shell, hardened from years of hate and rage, soften and begin to melt away. It occurred to him that his family probably walked down these roads. His mother and father, others of the Uchiha clan- his brother. Itachi probably walked down these roads and saw the beauty of the people who lived there and recognized his calling. He turned back to Naruto and, as with every time he looked at Naruto, saw nothing but beauty and light.

Sometimes he wished he wasn't so in love with Naruto. He wondered what life was like to people who weren't in love; was it easier, simpler to live life alone? Not to be complicated by emotions and caring and not being so reliant on another person for your happiness?

But then he thought about the feeling he got in his chest whenever Naruto was around him, whenever they kissed, made love, or even just sat together in complete silence. He wouldn't give up that feeling for anything; it was like the air he breathed.

He nodded his head and took a deep breath.

"I swear to protect you with all of my strength so that you can protect this village with all of yours. I won't swear to be loyal to the village, but I swear to be loyal to you until the day I die." He paused, then took Naruto's hand in his and smirked to lighten the mood. "Satisfied?"

The mother and her two children seemed so preoccupied with getting home and having a nice, big dinner with all the food they had just bought they didn't even notice that they were walking right past their new Hokage. Naruto smiled as soon as they disappeared around the corner, their voices still echoing through the trees.

"I'm never satisfied," he said with a lecherous grin spreading across his face.

"We'll see about that," Sasuke replied, pulling on Naruto's hand to get him closer.

"Sasuke, do you know what I'm scared of more than anything?"

It was dark. Sasuke and Naruto were lying in Naruto's bed with the blond's head gently across the other's bare chest. Sasuke stopped the repetitive motion of his finger's trailing up and down Naruto's whiskered cheek. He wondered where the question came from.

"Don't ask dumb, rhetorical questions, Dobe," he replied. "Of course I don't know that."

He felt the corners of Naruto's mouth rise in a smile against the flesh of his chest.

"Teme," the blond replied, his breath warm as it tickled Sasuke's skin. His smile then fell and Naruto seemed to curl closer into Sasuke's body. The Uchiha felt eye lashes brush against him, meaning the blond had closed his eyes as well.

"Being alone," came the fragile whisper from Naruto's lips. Sasuke stopped breathing. He stopped moving altogether.

Being alone.

Yes, Sasuke was very familiar with that particular topic. He was afraid of it too, but it'd been a while since he thought about it the way Naruto seemed to be doing now.

As it usually does, the fear took hold of him, gripped him inside and froze him, made him feel helpless. He'd been so alone for so long.

And it was his fault. He knew that. He was so good at pushing people away it made it seem like he liked to be alone but that isn't true at all, he just never knew how to be with someone.

He felt cold, and then he felt Naruto's arms clasp tightly around him, and all of the sudden there was warmth, and light, and Naruto's voice whispered in his ear.

"Sasuke, don't," he seemed to plead. There was a sadness in his voice and it caught Sasuke's attention, it made him stop for a moment.

"Don't hide, alright? I'm here. You aren't alone, so don't try and- and pretend-"

"I'm here too," Sasuke replied, cutting Naruto off because he knew where the blond was going. He sat up, looking down at Naruto's bright blue eyes with a strength he rarely got to show. So rarely did he get to show it that he wasn't even sure he still had it, but there it was.

"We aren't alone. So don't think about being alone anymore, okay? Don't be afraid of it. Find something better to be afraid of."

It took Naruto a moment, but he understood Sasuke's message. It was comforting. It meant that, after everything he went through to protect and change Sasuke, every pain he suffered, both physical and mental, Sasuke understood, and he wouldn't let those pains hurt Naruto again.

The blond finally let a slight smile onto his face.

"Something better to be afraid of? Like what?"

Sasuke relaxed and laid back down, Naruto resting again on his chest as it rose and fell evenly.

"Like being a bad Hokage," he said jokingly.

Naruto bit him and Sasuke laughed quietly, then it was silent for a moment before he spoke again, this time more serious.

"You won't be a bad Hokage, Naruto," he muttered, his hand once again trailing along his favorite part of Naruto's body, the whiskers on his face. "You're going to be the best Hokage, and I'm going to be here with you."

Sasuke had never wanted to mean a statement more than that. He would be with Naruto, watching him, protecting him. He would do nothing else. Nothing else was even worth his time! Naruto was what wanted his life to be. That was what he wanted to be remembered for.

Have I finally made the right choice, Brother? He thought silently into the darkness. There was no reply, but somewhere deep inside Sasuke's heart he felt better, as if he were finally the person worthy of Itachi's undying love and protection.

That was what he wanted to be for Naruto, like Itachi was for him. But he wouldn't make the same mistakes that Itachi made. He wouldn't lie and he would never, ever leave Naruto. And he would make sure that there was no doubt in Naruto's mind about the way he felt.

"I love you," he whispered softly into Naruto's ear.

He waited for a moment for some sort of reply but it never came. He then felt long, even breaths coming from Naruto's chest. He was asleep.

Sasuke didn't mind. They had forever and ever in which to tell each other how they felt, and he knew that the way they felt about each other would not change.

How did he know?

It was impossible for them not to love each other.

They had no choice.

The End.

Sorry this is kind of a short chapter, but I like how it wraps up here. :)

Thank you for reading!