Hello everyone! I hope you guys are all doing fine!
First of all, my apologies for the delay of this chapter. Things outside the internet got a bit freaky so I couldn't really focus on writing much. Gomen nasai, everyone! ^_^"
Here are the final 18 pages (barely proofread... so it's full of typos, probably... sorry!) of THP!
Thank you for sticking with this story til the end, for reviewing and talking to me! I hope you enjoyed the story as much as I enjoyed writing it!
The light was blinding him.
It was blinding him so much that he had to shut his eyes again, else he thought they'd be burnt by the glaze. Groaning, he turned his head away and moved a heavy hand to protect his face. The smell of grass reached his nostrils when he realized he was laying in – a forest? A clearing, he figured, with intense light like this. But how did he get here, unconscious of all things?
Forcing his aching body to move, he sat up and stretched creaking bones and strained muscles. He tried to pull memories to the surface of his mind, but there was a black pool of nothingness inside his head. He checked his body for any injuries – why was he wearing something else than his orange jumpsuit? - and why was there a hole in the shirt, above his belly, somewhere around his navel? Had he gotten in a fight?
Naruto mouthed a silent 'what the?' before shaking his head; why was his memory wiped clean like a blank canvas?
Something was there, in his head, a dull memory – of what? He closed his eyes and tried to remember more, but it was foggy and clouded, causing him to feel fed up by the failed attempts to remember.
"Damnit.", he cursed and started to walk. He didn't know which way to pick, so he just let his feet do the work and headed in any direction he liked. The more he walked, the more he could recognize were he was, this clearly was the forest surrounding Konoha. Relief let him sigh, at least he was home and not somewhere completely else.
He walked on for what seemed to be fifteen minutes maybe, until he reached Konoha's Main Gate. There was no Jonin guarding it, which he thought was suspicious, but he entered nonetheless. The few people he passed didn't mind him and he tried to find one of his friends. It was strange, he had just woken up in the middle of Konoha's forest and even though he had no idea what had happened, it felt as if he hadn't been here in ages. The sounds of the reparations, the screaming and shouting of the craftsmen and shinobi building houses, it all didn't seem familiar to him. He somehow had the blurred out pictures of houses in his head, but not the ones he had seen before Konoha's destruction either.
Besides, he had no idea where he should go – where was his tent again? Beneath all those countless, identical looking tents, he felt as if he was walking through a maze instead of his home village.
He was ready to give in to his frustration and just sit down on the spot, when, "Oh my God...", he suddenly heard Sakura's voice, "Naruto? Is that you?"
He swirled around on his feet and saw her running towards him, getting fast the nearer she came, "Is it really you?", she asked before she jumped upon him, almost tackling him with a hug, "We were so worried!", she whimpered, before her temper got the better of her and she slapped him over the back of his head, screaming,"Where have you been, you dumbass? I thought you were dead! How could you do this to me? Did you think it was funny or what? Huh? Huh?"
"Sakura...", he muttered and tried get her off him, "What's going on?"
"What's going on? Are you serious?", she asked angrily, stemming her hands on her hips, "You've been lost for three weeks! Three entire weeks, Naruto! We've been searching all over for you, but you were nowhere to be found! We all thought you'd never come back!"
"Tsunade-sama did everything to find you, she dispersed every shinobi available to search for you! It was as if you had just vanished!"
"Sakura-chan, calm down-,"
She wouldn't listen, "And I thought, that can't be! He can't be just gone! He had to be somewhere! And now you just walk back in this village as if nothing had happened!"
He placed his hands on her shoulder and tried to shut her up, "Sakura-chan! I have no idea what you're talking about!", he yelled at her, "I just woke up in the middle of the woods, I have no memory of what had happened!"
She looked at him, flabbergasted, "Wh-what? B-But-,"
He let go of her and sighed, "The last thing I remember is finding-,", his eyes widened. The scroll. He found a scroll, right? Narrowing his eyes, he tried to follow the clue... where had he found the scroll, and what had happened to it it?
He mouthed a soundless, 'what the?' and his eyes danced around, focusing nothing in particular. Sakura cocked her head to one side, "Naruto...? What's wrong?"
He bit his lower lip, "I found a scroll.", he muttered to himself, rubbed his nosebridge with two fingers, "But where...?"
She shook her head, "Do you really remember nothing? About the mission we had been on?"
Her words stirred something in his memory, but it wasn't enough to dig up what was buried deep beneath the darkness. "A mission?"
"Yeah.", she answered, "We were ambushed and you used a jutsu and then you were gone."
"A jutsu?", he asked, "What kind of jutsu?"
She shrugged, "I have no idea. Not even Kakashi-sensei had seen it before. At first we thought the enemy had done something to you, but Ibiki-san did whatever he could and he couldn't find anything, so we figured it had to be a jutsu you used.", she then grabbed his arm, "Come on. We better go and see Kakashi-sensei, he's worried sick about you."
She dragged him over to Kakashi's tent and the two entered. The gray-haired jonin sat on his sleeping bag and was reading Icha-Icha.
"Kakashi-sensei!", Sakura cheered happily while shoving Naruto inside, "You won't believe it! Look who's back!"
When Kakashi looked up to see who Sakura meant, Naruto was sure he looked like he had seen a ghost. The book fell from his hands and jumped to his feet, "N-Naruto!", he gasped and pulled the boy in a tight embrace, "Thank God you are safe!", and then he let go of him to check for grave injuries, "Are you alright? Where have you been?"
He shrugged when he moved out of the embrace, kind of having a strange feeling when seeing his sensei. His memory – or subconscious? - told him that Kakashi had really grown a lot taller in that short amount of time, which seemed so ridiculous to him that he shook his head, "I don't remember anything."
Kakashi widened his visible eye, "You don't?"
He shook his head even more, "Nope. Nothing at all. I woke up in the forest and then walked back here. That's all."
"Weird. Do you remember using that weird jutsu"
"Do you remember anything about the ambush we got into?"
"Okay, you really don't remember anything.", he concluded, "Alright, I guess the most important thing is that you're back, safe and sound. We better go and see Tsunade, she'll be happy to see you and she can do a quick check-up on you."
Without getting a say in it, both Kakashi and Sakura dragged him over to the Godaime's tent, which didn't bother Naruto that much, he had no idea where he should go either way. Once they reached her tent, they entered without asking for permission to do so.
It was Sakura who said, "Shishou, you won't believe it!", her voice was bubbly, "But Naruto's back!"
"N-Naruto?", the Godaime asked incredulously, as if his name was difficult to pronounce, "What?"
Naruto was being shoved inside the tent and when he saw the stressed Hokage hunched over her desk, he felt as if he had really arrived home – on the other hand, he thought it was strange to see her doing the work someone else had been doing all the time-, wait, what the hell was his memory doing? This wasn't very funny, he thought grimly, and then he waved a bit at Tsunade, "Hey, baa-chan."
"You dumbass!", she screamed at him, nearly breaking her pencil, "Where the hell have you been? I've been worried sick over you and now you just walk back in and say, hey baa-chan? How about a, I'm honestly, sincerely and deeply, endless and forever sorry to have disappeared for three full weeks, Tsunade-sama?"
"I'm sorry!", he said quickly, "And before you start asking, I have no idea what happened!"
She grimaced at him, "What?"
"Yeah. Complete memory loss."
Then she frowned, "That's strange.", she walked around her desk and scanned him thoroughly, "Do you have any other symptoms? Headache, nausea, dizziness?"
"Hm.", she frowned, "Anything else that feels weird?"
As if her words had been some sort of trigger, he felt a weird throbbing in his belly and his hand absently wandered towards the mild pain, "Uh, my stomach kinda hurts...", he replied and Tsunade didn't waste a second to pull his ripped shirt up. When he felt her cold hand against his warm skin, he gasped and winced away.
"There is a scar on your belly, looks pretty fresh, as well as a few bruises around your ribcage.", she replied with a skeptical look, "Considering you heal abnormally fast, I'd say the wound's probably a day old."
"A day old?", Sakura asked, "So, he was engulfed in battle?"
"Probably.", Tsunade replied and let Naruto dress himself, "Actually, you seem fine to me. Whatever happened, I have no idea why you can't remember."
The three standing in front of Tsunade looked a bit disappointed, but she only smiled and patted Naruto's head, "I'm glad you're back. Maybe your memory will come back over time, and it all will clear itself."
"O-Okay.", he replied, feeling a slight bit of anger that she didn't know why he couldn't remember when someone else had found out what had been wrong with him in less than five minutes. He frowned – did that mean this had already happened before? Maybe he was trapped inside a genjutsu, and the Kyuubi hadn't been in the mood to break it, which wouldn't surprise him, really.
Tsunade walked back to her desk, "For now, just go back to your tent and rest. I'll have some food be brought over. I want to see you first thing in the morning, maybe by then, some of your memory has recovered."
"Kakashi, Sakura, the two of you bring him back.", the Godaime said, "I will go through the report of the mission again, maybe I missed something."
Kakashi and Sakura escorted him back to his tent, and Naruto still had the strange feeling that he had never even left Konoha in the first place, but that this wasn't the Konoha he been the past three weeks either, which of course, didn't make any sense. The thought was itching in his mind, wondering why he felt as if he had eaten Ichiraku the past three weeks, as if he had seen the Hokage monument – wait, have there really always been five heads? – Naruto shook his head, feeling even more frustrated, and even the Main Gate seemed foreign to him.
Where the hell had he been?
"Alright, here we are.", Kakashi smiled, but his expression changed when he noticed Naruto's cluelessness, "Is everything alright, Naruto?"
He slowly shook his head, "I don't know. Everything seems so foreign. It's so strange, I can't really explain it."
The gray-haired placed a hand on his former disciples shoulder, "Maybe you should just rest and by tomorrow, things will look better, I'm sure."
Kakashi was ready to leave, but then turned around and looked as though he was about to ask Naruto something, but shook his head, "Ah... never mind."
"I just had this weird deja-vu feeling. You know? When you think something happened but it's not really possible?"
Naruto blinked at him, "Yeah. I'm kinda witnessing the exact same thing right now.", he said flatly and Kakashi scratched the back of his head, "Ah, doesn't matter really. Now, sleep well, Naruto."
Naruto sat down on his sleeping bag and wondered why he didn't feel happy to have returned after three weeks of absence. Something was missing, something he had forgotten to take with him from wherever he had been. He inhaled the stale air in the tent and then let himself fall on his back.
Crossing his arms under his head, he stared at the fabric ceiling covering him and wanted to remember so badly that his head started to hurt. Where had he been? And why did it feel as if he had been in Konoha, when he clearly had left Konoha?
People appeared in his memory, blacked out, blurred faces, similar to a wet painting where the color was smearing. Their voices were dull, distorted, not sounding human anymore and Naruto closed his eyes, decided it was time to lay down and sleep, but sleep wouldn't come to his plagued mind, no matter what he did to fall asleep. Sighing, he decided he should take a shower and then take a nap, even though he felt too exhausted to walk. He searched for his shower utensils and left his tent, headed for the bathing facilities provided for everyone in Konoha.
Once he entered the men's dressing rooms, he stripped down to his bare skin and took a quick shower. Having finished, he wrapped a towel around his waist and used another to rub his hair dry. Once he approached the mirror, however, he spotted something black on his right arm.
Narrowing his eyes, he moved closer to his reflection, moving the skin of his arm a bit to see clearer, but what he saw couldn't be what he thought it was. Shaking his head, he looked closer, deciding his sleep-deprived brain was playing another trick on him, but his feelings said him he was right.
There it was, in deepest black ink, drawn on his arm: The seal for the famous Hiraishin no Jutsu.
"What the-,", he muttered to himself, blinking. There was no mistake about it, it was the seal, he knew it.
Scenes flashed before his inner eye – his father's face (father? But he was-) while carrying a box, the concentrated look in his eyes while he drew it on his arm-,
Naruto stumbled backwards, clutching his head with his hands. Could this be real? Had his father, of all people, painted the seal on his arm? Taking deep breaths, Naruto tried to calm himself. His father was dead. Died in the night of his birth, sealing the Kyuubi inside him. Shaking his head, he tried to find a logical explanation for it all, but there was none. Instead, the memory of what happened seeped slowly through his mind – and it all became clearer and clearer.
His father, his mother, Kakashi. Konoha at the time before his birth. A trip to Kumo, meeting the Raikage, finally – the night of his birth.
I love you, son, always remember that.
His memories struck him like a lightning bolt, "I have been to the past...", he muttered, then stared at his reflection again, "I have traveled to the past. I have traveled to the past!"
Never had Naruto dressed faster than he did now, and with dripping wet hair, he ran out of the bathing facilities and straight to Tsunade's tent. Stumbling inside, he slammed both his flat hands on her desk, eyed her sternly, "I have been to the past!"
She looked at him, raising both eyebrows at his appearance, then looked back at her documents, "Yes, and I'm Santa Claus.", then she waved her hand at him, signalizing him to just go again.
"No!", he almost screamed, "I've remembered! I have been to the past! I've met my parents, and my Mom was already pregnant and my Dad was Hokage and it was so cool, and we went to Kumo with Kakashi and I got to show the Raikage who's boss, and I met Sasuke's family, and then there was Madara, and I tried to stop him, but then I lost the Kyuubi, but my Dad found me and he saved me and he brought me back and now I'm here and – baa-chan, don't you get it? The jutsu I used was a time-travel jutsu!", he caught his breath and panted heavily while looking at her with excitement in his eyes, "See? I remembered!"
"The past?", she raised one eyebrow.
He nodded eagerly.
Tsunade looked as if she was even considering his words, and his hope was sparked, but then she said in a voice cold as steel, "Go and bother someone else, Naruto, I have no time for your jokes."
"It's no joke!", he said and started undressing; Tsunade covered her eyes with her hand, sighing.
"See!", he said and pointed at the seal, "My father drew this on my arm before we headed to Kumo. In order to always be able to get to me should I be in danger!"
She looked at the seal and frowned, "Is that-,"
"The Hiraishin seal!", he nodded and then dressed again, "And the jutsu I used, it was on the scroll I had shown you, remember? It wasn't finished, and I finished it! That's how I landed in the past!"
"Oh my God...", she whispered to herself, "You've been... to the past... and met your parents..."
"That's what I'm trying to tell you!", he said and was by the door again, "I found the scroll at the old weapon storage. I'll be right back!"
"Naruto!", she yelled after him, but he didn't listen anymore, he swirled around on his heels and dashed out of her tent and away from the village. He ran and ran until his lungs seemed to be on fire, until he doubted his feet would ever recover from the strain he put them under. A rush of excitement and exhilaration rushed through his veins, finally having remembered so much – what a waste it would've been, should all that happened be doomed to be trapped in his mind's blackness. Naruto's lips formed an almost crazy smile, tears of joy sparkled in the corner of his eyes. He had met his parents, if he didn't know it really had happened, he would've believed it was a long and happy dream. But none of this was a dream, it was reality, and for that, Naruto was more than grateful.
He arrived at Minato's weapon's storage and was feeling exhausted beyond the possible, drained in sweat and gasping for needed breath, but once he pushed the door open, he felt as if he had truly and really come home. With a smile on his lips, Naruto wandered around and let his memory blend reality away. He walked over to the bed, where there still stood the picture of his parents. This time, he would take it instead of a scroll, and he picked the frame up, opened it and removed the photograph. He turned around and wanted to walk towards the table and sit down in order to rest, when he saw a shoebox standing on it.
Blinking, Naruto realized that this hadn't been there the last time he had visited. He walked towards the box and opened it. Inside was a notebook – the notebook – a set of sealed kunai, a rather thick and large scroll, another book titled The Legend of the Gutsy Ninja, and (Naruto burst out in a short laughter) a bottle of shampoo suited for blonde hair as well as the matching conditioner, another journal entitled Kushina's Badass Super Yummy and Awesome Recipes (even for Dummies) and two packages of seeds, one would grow peonies, another olive trees.
Naruto teared up when he sorted all the items on the table, examining them and treating them as if they were made out of glass or expensive China. The first he took was the notebook, which suddenly didn't seem that interesting anymore, not since he had taken it without Minato's permission. Aside from the fact that he couldn't read anything, the thought of Minato giving him a diary keeping his most private thoughts made him feel as if the wall he had felt between them had been torn down once and for all. He flapped the first page open and read something other than strange words in a foreign language: Dear Naruto, I hope you one day, you will find all the answers to your questions. Minato. P.S.: You might want to use a mirror instead of a dictionary.
Naruto basically felt the urge to slap himself in the face – now that he had the hint, he realized that the words weren't out of a different language. He probably should have just been smarter, but he was through with being a genius. He sat down on the table, took his hitai-ate out of his pants pockets and used it as a mirror to read what his father had written inside the notebook, starting with the first page of the diary. Despite being confused how one person actually could write like that, Naruto placed his make-shift mirror on the middle of the page and started reading.
Feeling a bit like an intruder nonetheless, Naruto smiled when the diary began with only small entries, like Kushina came over for lunch, we picnicked in the park, the rest of the day was the same, meetings, paperwork, meetings, paperwork and so on., over to Jiraiya-sensei's biggest fan (aka Kakashi, aka, my former student) missed his mission because of the latest Icha-Icha release. That boy... I really wonder what I did wrong with him., back to more meaningful and deeper entries like, I hate it when we fight like this. I know I'm right, she knows she's wrong, and yet I act as if I had done something wrong and she's right. Either that's what marriage is about or I'm really an idiot.
Naruto had a smile on his face when he read funny entries, and a sad expression when he read the melancholic ones; he never knew he was so empathic, but he felt as if his father's emotions were something he could identify himself with, despite not being in a relationship, nor Hokage, nor a soon-to-be father.
And after he had read countless entries about how happy he was to become a father, how he actually loved his job despite all the problems and anger it caused him, how he had stood in the drugstore and his favorite hairspray was out of sale, he finally reached the entry of the 21st of September, the day he had arrived in the past.
If I didn't know any better, I'd say my sixteen-year-old son is currently sleeping in the soon-to-be nursery. Strange things happen lately... he really managed to finish my time travel jutsu., and later on he read, The fact that he is an orphan doesn't have to mean the seal broke during his birth. We live in a world of shinobi – I could die everyday. Maybe Fugaku really managed to kill us all, who knows. It is a stupid joke, but I don't want to believe that all I do will still fail.
Biting his lip, he flapped the pages until he reached the entry he actually had wanted to read by sneaking himself a way to the notebook, to the entry he had written in the night in Kiri. Swallowing, Naruto awaited with mixed feelings what he would read, Nights like this are the worst. Sleepless nights, far away from home, with worries plaguing me. In nights like this, my optimism fails me and I feel... lost.
Lately, I wonder what I am even thinking. Instead of keeping Naruto at arm's length, I keep him close, simply because it feels good having him around. Having a son, it's completely different from having a student. I see him, and I see myself, I see myself in his eyes, in his face, and the way he acts reminds me more and more of Kushina when she had been his age. But by doing so, all I do is hurt him. I can see he doesn't know what to do, he's confused, he's miserable, but instead of easing his pain, instead of helping him, I do nothing but pretend I don't know who he is and that only adds fuel to the fire. It may be funny on the first glance, playing this game of cat and mouse, but it's not. I can see the need to call me 'Dad', how badly he needed me, misses me, just like I always have missed my father.
And Kushina – I'm sure she has it figured out despite acting all dumb, she can't be that ignorant. But maybe she's hiding it out of the same reason I do – because we're both scared. And I'm so very scared, I have never felt more fear in my life. Not because I'm going to die, I have been close to death more than once to not be afraid anymore. Somehow, I kind of wanna forget he's my son, because I'm scared of having to let him go much too soon.
Sometimes I feel as if it would be better to make him tell me everything, but there is a part in me that knows better. My mother once said to me that there aren't always words needed, sometimes, you don't need to say anything to someone else, sometimes you just know. And just like this, I just know. It's a feeling inside me, deep down somewhere, maybe not even in my heart, but it's there. It's there, and everytime I look into his eyes, I know how precious that feeling is. And it makes me feel as if, in the end, I'm still doing what's best for my family. Because just like it's the Hokage's job to die for the village, it's a father's job to die for his family. I am willing to give my life for him and the only comfort I have is him alone. The way he is, who he is, how he is, it is all like I had wished it to be. That is enough for me.
To know that, despite it all, he has the strength to move forward instead of being trapped in the past and look towards the future, because he has Kushina's endless determination inside him. And he is my son after all! I should have faith in him. And then, maybe, one day
The entry stopped, probably because Naruto had shown up at that moment and he had stopped writing, but the words, no matter how often he read them, both tore his heart apart and warmed him from the inside. He wanted to put it away and explore more of what his father and mother had packed inside the box when he found another entry on the very last page, and it wasn't his father's mirrored writing, but a very messy, yet girly handwriting.
Naruto, this is your mother writing. Before you ask, of course I've figured out who you are, and yes, I have borrowed the notebook without Minato's permission, but I thought if you could do it, I should give it a try! Besides, I'd bet my last bowl of ramen on it he'll give it to you, so this is a nice way of telling you something. So, I've been thinking really hard what to tell you, but I guess I would need more than a lame notebook like that, but you disappeared all of the sudden, so yeah, a notebook will have to do.
(I kind of have the idea that Minato said something wacky again and you left, all pissed off. Really, that man.)
Just let me tell you that there is no-one – not even your father! - who loves your more than I do. Having been with you for three weeks was one of the best things that happened to me. I mean, yeah, I probably should've told you I know who you are, I'm pretty sure you thought I was a sucky mother, but well, I guess I did it out of the same reason you kept your mouth shut, right? I didn't wanna be a whiny and melancholic stupid pregnant woman around you, so, yeah, I hope you can forgive me about that, hehe.
Anyway, Naruto, never forget that I love you, never, never, never ever doubt that! You were loved, ever since I knew I was becoming a mommy, got that? Besides, you have grown to be exactly how I imagined you to be – blonde hair, tanned skin, blue eyes, handsome, cool and no red hair, in short: you are perfect, even though I lied about listening to classic (sorry) and didn't drink any tomato juice (sorry again). So, don't ever change, sweetheart, and always remember that you are never alone, no matter what will happen – we're always with you, always and forever.
I once have told myself that I would do everything I want, with no regrets. I would live my life to the fullest, despite being chosen as the Jinchuuriki of the Kyuubi. I would never give up, no matter how bad the situation was, I would never lose my faith in myself, no matter how many people would try to make me.
But right now, I have to break one of those rules. I do have one regret, and it will stick with me, no matter where I go from here on – and it's the regret of not being able to see you grow up.
Hehe. I don't know. I guess I suck at this. I'm not good with words, like your father is. But, well, I tried.
(Oh, and please forgive your father for being such a pansy and not having the balls to finally open his eyes and admit that his future son lives in our house. I mean, geez, even I got that far, and it was worth it. So, cut him some slack, he has issues, that's it.)
Lots of love, your mother.
PS: Happy Birthday! The shoebox idea was Minato's. But I put the shampoo in it!
"Hehe...", he wiped the spot between his nose and upper lip with his finger, fighting the tears in his eyes, "I really have the best family...", he chuckled to himself before he flapped to the next page. Minato's girly handwriting said, Kushina, this will have consequences. And what do you mean, I have issues?, and on the next page was Kushina's handwriting again, Oh, really? I wonder what you will do. Try and kill me with an overdose of hairspray in the morning? Oh, we all know you have Daddy-issues! Don't even try denying it! PS: Hiding your notebook under all your other books is really stupid, honey., and the bantering ended with Minato again, I might consider that, babe, I recently have this extra-firm-holding hairspray which actually might be bad for your health if you inhale it. PS: You never even read one book in your life, I thought it was pretty safe hiding it in foreign territory for you. And I have no daddy-issues!
"Yeah, absolutely the best.", he nodded and then put the notebook away. He took the copy of The Tales of the Gusty Ninja out, and found it smeared with notes and highlighted parts. The pages were torn, looking as if they had been turned multiple times. His father really had been fond of this book, he thought, it was rampaged beyond the possible, a clear sign he had carried it with him on nearly every mission and trip. There even was a handwritten dedication from Ero-Sennin on the first page, saying, To Minato. I hope this book will mean as much to you as it does to me.
He found a piece of folded paper sticking between the pages, and when he removed and unfolded it, he found it was a map with all the constellations. Smiling, Naruto folded it again, rummaged through Kushina's recipe journal, grinning at the recipe for salty ramen and chocolate-chip cookies, the only two recipes she managed to personally pass down to him. The bottles of shampoo and conditioner managed to get a second laugh from Naruto, for it were exactly the ones he had secretly used, too. When he opened the scroll, he had already expected it to be the famous Hiraishin Jutsu, since he also had the special kunai delivered with it. There was a blue post-it sticking on the inside of the page, on which stood, When you read this, Naruto, please do me a favor: Take all of my scrolls from the weapon storage and burn them. The one you're holding right now is the only one I'd like to remain – so that I know it's in good hands. Happy Birthday, Naruto.
Naruto was a bit shocked at his father's request – burn it all down? Everything? Scowling, Naruto put the scroll away and instead, took the seeds for both the peonies and olives, and looking at them made him feel fuzzy and warm as well, and he knew the perfect place to plant them already.
Feeling as if his parents really had never left this world, Naruto packed everything together again, closed the box and carried it with him when he left the weapon storage. He then followed his father's wish, and with the help of a few bunshin, took all the scrolls and documents he could find, threw then on a pile and set it on fire. Sitting down in front of the cracking fire, he watched it all burn down to shreds, regretting he was wasting his father's work, but it had been what he wanted, and Naruto respected and even understood it – Minato had known the protection around the storage would fade with his death, he probably wanted nobody to mess around with his ninjutsu scrolls.
"Why did you do that?"
He was startled by Kakashi's voice and turned around to see his former sensei approaching him, hands in his pockets and a bored expression on his face, just like he always looked, but very different from the Kakashi he had met in the past, "You do know that's pretty disrespectful. After all, I had helped my sensei to get all those scrolls inside that house."
Naruto chuckled, "Hehe, too bad, I guess. But no-one should mess around with unfinished business, I guess. And besides, this wasn't my father's legacy."
Kakashi nodded, "I know.", he replied and put a hand on his shoulder, "Tsunade told me what happened. So, time-travel, huh?"
Naruto grinned widely, "I'm pretty cool, huh? Finishing yet another jutsu my father invented."
"Well, it must be in your genes, then, ", he sat down next to his former student and watched the fire for a few moments before he said, "You know what's strange?"
"Ever since Tsunade's told me... I can't help but feel as if I remember a blonde boy looking like Minato having been there before his son's birth. You think that's just some sort of imagination now?"
"Hehe.", the younger chuckled, "I doubt it. We had a really special relationship, teenage-Kakashi and I. Your younger self really was a smartass, and I doubt you forget being with another smartass. They usually get along after sometime, you know"
Kakashi laughed, "I got it, I got it.", he said before he took a deep breath, "So, you met your parents, huh? For real, this time, I guess?"
"Yeah.", he answered, "I did."
Naruto leaned back, resting weight on his hands, the shoebox on his lap. Then he answered, "It was horrible and it was awesome. You know?", he sighed, "I wish I had never been there, and at the same time, it had been the best three weeks ever. I wanted to stay, I wanted to go, I wanted to laugh, I wanted to cry. I loved it, I hated it. And basically, it all was pointless. They died anyway."
"Heh. Changing the future isn't that easy, huh?"
"I guess it's impossible. And maybe... maybe that's not the point of my Dad's jutsu. Maybe it's just another way to really grow up and to understand each other.", Naruto shrugged, "But it's okay, I've learnt a lot from them, you know, and those three weeks, they were enough. Far more than anyone else could ever wish for."
"True.", Kakashi said with a nod.
They both watched until the flames had consumed it all before they headed back to the village. Naruto got inside his tent and laid down to sleep, the shoebox standing next to his sleeping bag.
The next morning, Naruto decided he needed to start fulfilling a promise he had never made, but that was still there. He took a shower, got dressed and took the two packages of seeds with him. He sneaked out of the village without anyone noticing and walked towards Jiraiya's grave. He sat down in front of the tombstone and told his sensei everything that had happened to him the three weeks he had spent with his parents, feeling as if his story was being heard.
"You know, Ero-Sennin, about all that Child-of-the-Prophecy business, I did some thinking about that: maybe it really had been my father, and never me, or even Nagato. I mean, maybe it had been neither of us, or even all three of us, but I guess he was more of a hero than I am, hehe. Or maybe I just say that because he's my Dad. And he was pretty cool. Even though he was a bit strange. I thought my Mom was way cooler. I'm sure it was your training that totally whacked with my Dad's head, hehe.", he chuckled to himself and paused, listened to the sounds of the forest, "Either way, without him and Mom, I would never be who I am today. And not without you either – I'm really happy you wrote that book, sensei."
When he was done talking, he got up and took his two packages of seeds, then bent down and planted the seed of an olive tree and a few peonies inside the soil in front of the tombstone, "Strength and persistence.", he muttered to himself and took a kunai, carved the names of his parents next to Jiraiya's.
He looked at the azure sky and smiled widely at himself, feeling as if, for the first time, he was able to take matters in his own hands and it felt right to start walking on without someone to guide him. It felt right to start walking as someone who was guiding now.
Weeks passed, weeks turned into months, months to years. The olive tree he had planted was growing stronger with every passing day, surrounded by pink peonies every spring, and Naruto cared for both dearly, watering it on hot days, nutritioning the soil around it and cutting back barren branches. Thanks to his mother's journal, he even became a fairly good cook, not only impressing Sakura with his salty ramen. Everytime the olive tree carried its fruits, he picked them all and made dozens of jars of olive pesto, stored them and ate pasta with pesto every Tuesday.
One day, when he was returning from Jiraiya's grave, an old friend (or enemy, depends of the point of view, actually) waited by his front door. An amused smile appeared on his lips, and while carrying a watering pot and a shovel in one hand, Naruto was smart enough to hold his free hand over his kunai pocket, just to be on the save side.
With Sasuke, you never knew in what mood he was in today.
"I heard you're able to cook now.", he said, "I heard you started to become a real pansy, with all that stupid gardening and all. Really, Naruto... you are disappointing me."
The blonde chuckled, "Me, a pansy? I'm not the one who repeatly runs away from Konoha's ANBU squats, right?"
Sasuke snorted, crossed his arms in front of his chest and leaned against the wall, "Running away is not what I do – I just use a bit of genjutsu and entertain myself, that's all."
Naruto grinned, fumbled for his keys and unlocked the door, "Genjutsu? God, Sasuke, that's so old. Do you ever change?", he let the door swing open and nodded towards his house.
The two stared at each other for quite some time and Naruto had his fair share of problems trying to see whether the Uchiha was here just for a visit or even here to finish what both had started three years ago.
He took his chances and tilted his head, nodded towards his apartment, "I take it you're here to stay for a few minutes?"
Sasuke briefly looked inside the apartment, then towards Naruto. With a flat expression on his face, he said, "Why should I?"
"Well,", Naruto shrugged, "I do wonder why you went through all the trouble sneaking inside the village after all this time, Mr Nuke-Nin."
Sasuke looked like he pitied his former teammate, "It's nice training, nothing more."
Naruto smirked, "If so, then why did you wait here for me?"
The Uchiha didn't see the need to answer.
"Admit it, you miss this village. And your friends.", grinned Naruto.
A moment of silence passed in which Naruto tried to figure out how to deal with Sasuke's behavior.
"I fear you'll never change, Sasuke.", he sighed and then, when he was about to enter his apartment, turned around to him and frowned, remembering what he wanted to say in order to tease him for three entire years, "Hey, did I ever tell you that I fed you a bottle of baby-milk when you had been four months old?"
Sasuke grimaced as if he was being amputated a leg without being knocked out beforehand, "Are you finally losing your marbles?"
"You drooled on me, too."
"What the hell is wrong with you?"
"And your brother was a lot cooler than you."
Sasuke shook his head angrily and waved, "I'm leaving this place, I knew it would be a waste of time. Why did I even come here?", he muttered below his breath and was ready to leave, when Naruto said, "Ne, Sasuke...", he bit down on his lip, "Let me ask you a question - if you could travel to the past, what would you do?"
Sasuke stopped before he slowly turned around on his heels and stared at Naruto for a long time, "That's a stupid question, dobe. No-one can travel to the past.", he snapped, but his gaze spoke different words. In fact, Naruto saw that his old friend was believing him when it came to time-travel and that itched under his fingernails to try and get any info of how to do so out of him. However, he then decided to leave once and for all, walking away. The blonde let him walk a few steps down the hallway until he decided to stop him a second time, "Sasuke."
"What now?", he asked, but didn't turn around to look at him. Naruto was left to talk to his back, but he didn't mind, it probably was better than talking to a tombstone, "One day, maybe, I'm Hokage. And then I'll change this village... I'll create a Konoha even you can call home again. That's a promise."
"Pfh.", came the answer, "I have no home, Naruto, and I don't need your stupid promises. Besides, why should they make a dumbass like you Hokage?"
"Because dumbasses are those people who manage to even trust the bad guys.", he chuckled, "You know, Konoha is nothing but a tree full of leaves, each contributing to its strength. Even the fallen ones, Sasuke."
He watched him closely, and Naruto wished he could read minds (and here was a new idea for a new justu), because Sasuke's expression was almost a perfect pokerface. He wondered if the past three years had changed his old friend as much as they had changed him. At least, he hoped he had changed for the better, and then he watched how the nuke only shook his head before he walked away. Naruto smirked to himself before he entered his apartment, cooking some salty ramen, for two people - he was almost sure Sasuke would be polite enough to actually ring his bell when returning a few minutes later.
When the bell rang, Naruto opened the door and grinned at this friend.
"Okay, usuratonkachi.", he said, scowling a bit, "What the hell did you mean, you fed me a bottle?"
"You see, Sasuke, once upon a time there was a boy who found a scroll..."
Both had ramen over a story that actually no-one would believe; only people who knew Naruto had no doubt that he was telling the truth. It was nice to sit here with Sasuke, talking as if nothing had ever changed, as if Sasuke was a shinobi of this village as well.
After their lunch, Sasuke got up, "It's better for me to leave."
He had a tiny smile on his lips, "Take care, Naruto."
"You, too.", the Uzumaki replied and watched how Sasuke placed down a scroll on his table. With raised eyebrows, he asked, "What's that?"
"You'll see.", the Uchiha replied and turned around to walk to the front door. Naruto grinned a bit and his eyes fell on the shelf where he stored his jutsu scrolls. He sighed – really, what was it with Sasuke that he still behaved like a stubborn child?
The doorhandle was pushed down. Naruto looked back at Sasuke and said, "Yo."
"Mind giving me back my time-travel jutsu?", he asked.
Sasuke turned around, a grin on his lips as well, "What do you mean?"
"You know very well what I mean,", Naruto replied and held out his hand, "If you intend on using it, don't waste your time. It's a useless jutsu, it doesn't bring you back to the past anymore. My father changed its structure, did you not pay attention to what I was saying?"
Sasuke answered nothing.
"Fine,", Naruto shrugged, "Take it. But don't expect it to work. I can guarantee you it won't turn out like you want it to."
Sasuke reached inside his shuriken sachet and took out the scroll, threw it to Naruto, who caught it swiftly, "Good-bye, Naruto."
"See ya, Sasuke.", he answered and could only shake his head. He watched how Sasuke left and let him leave without a further word, even though he knew very well that he probably had copied all the info with his Sharingan already (probably the reason how he could identify the scroll in the first place; it had, after all, Kyuubi chakra stored inside). Maybe he should follow him and watch secretly how he despertaley tried to travel into the past.
"Really, Sasuke,", he sighed and paid more attention to the other scroll his friend had left, "You'll never change, right?", he muttered and opened the scroll only to see it containing all the secret intel Sasuke had gathered on the other villages.
When the sun started to vanish behind the horizon, Naruto sat atop of his father's monument carved inside the Hokage mountain and watched how the little sea of houses was drenched in a soft, orange light. A nice summer's breeze played with his hair, the last rays of sunlight warmed his skin and while he let the day pass revue in his head, he had a notebook laying on his lap, and he was writing eagerly.
Dear Mom and Dad,
I'll be receiving my first genin-team tomorrow. I wonder what they will be like... but I totally know what I'll teach them first, hehe.
Anyway, I asked Sakura out on a date yet again, I wonder when she will say yes. I mean, Ero-Sennin once told me that rejection makes a man stronger, but geez, I'm starting to lose it here. She should just let herself get kidnapped, that's it.
Oh, and, I'm renovating Dad's old weapon storage, it really needed some make-over. I'm pretty sad it's too small to live in, maybe I'll change that, hehe. Either way, I've looked up some fuuin-jutsu and decided I could renew the protection Dad make around it and use it as a storage for my scrolls as well. Oh, by the way, I met Sasuke again after three years. He's never gonna change, that idiot. But I'm glad he still sneaks inside the village every now and then... maybe he really does care, right? Maybe he'll come back for sure one day, and stay. When I make it to Hokage some day, I could make him an ANBU, I mean, he as enough experience with them, haha. Tsunade is mad as hell because he escapes everytime and already suspects me to have something to do with it.
Well, who knows... maybe all of this really is fate. Maybe it's not some lame excuse to make things easier to endure, answers easier to accept. Maybe it's not capricious either, but helping you in the moment when you need it the most. I still think it's pretty fateful that, instead of taking your photograph, I took the scroll with me, right? Maybe it's fateful that Sasuke came back in the moment we needed him most, only to disappear when his task was done. Maybe it all was fate. And if not, I'm happy it all had happened. Happy to be here, where I am today, happy to have made it this far, happy to be your son, happy to be a shinobi of this village.
Yeah. I'm happy.
Naruto smiled when he re-read his entry.
Come to think of it, the same thoughts had floated around in his head three years ago when he had found the scroll in the first place. Funny how things always seemed to end in a full circle. And when he considered the rebuilt Konoha before him, peaceful and lazy in the summer evening, when he thought of what was behind, and what ahead of him, when he thought back on the medium-sized scroll he had found in the weapon storage three years ago, Naruto knew there at least was some help involved when it came to living your life.
He wondered if all of this would one day really be his to protect, like his father had protected this village, wondered how it would be to step in his father's footsteps, whether he would fit in, or whether they'd be too big. He asked himself if he'd wear a coat as well, if he'd experience the very same his father had. If he had to summarize his life up til now, it probably would be a string of questions; some he had found an answer for, some were still pending and others just needed no answer in the first place. With some things, you didn't need to have an answer for, after all – some things, you just know.
With a smile, he looked at the notebook, considered it for a moment before he stored it in his shuriken sachet. He got up, smiled, and then, with flash of gold, he disappeared.
Someday, Naruto would find all his answers.
For now, he was content to know he was not alone.
A/N: And here we go, it's over, zu Ende, owari, finito. Let the ending credits roll. I hope the end was meeting your expectations!^_^
(And, for those who didn't notice, the shoebox has already come up in the first chapter. ;D)
Thank you and thank you again for reading up til now! *everyone gets a Janie-hug*