Epilogue- Divergent paths
Naruto awoke to the sound of a heart monitor. He opened tired eyes and took in the sight of the sterile walls of the hospital. Then he groaned. Why did he have to end up in this rotten place.
"If you weren't already injured not to mention a village hero I'd hit you." the blond glanced over to see Sakura standing at the edge of his bed with her arms folded.
The Namikaze smiled, "Hey Sakura. How long was I out?"
The pink-haired girl shrugged, "Just a day. But you got lucky. From the look of the room you were fighting in your fight with Danzo was anything but easy. Especially since we found copious amounts of your blood all over the room."
"Yeah." the blond said, "It certainly wasn't easy. I even almost died once. Like really almost died, not the, I get hit by a supposedly fatal injury and then Kyuubi heals me, but the oh crap this is it kind."
Sakura looked a bit pale as she sat on the edge of his bed, "What happened?"
Naruto told her about the fight and ended with, "That was hands down the hardest thing I've ever done. But I got to meet my parents, and that pretty much makes up for the almost dieing part. So what happened with the root we were hiding? Danzo said he was sending everyone who was still loyal to him to kill them all."
The Haruno nodded, "He did. Fortunately Ino was able to warn us in time. It was a pretty bad battle, but casualties were minimal, and much lower than they would have been had we had no warning."
The blond nodded in relief before he let his thoughts turn to Ino. The last time he'd seen her she had been going into a fight with her boyfriend. He was worried about how that would affect her, "How's Ino?"
Sakura frowned, "Not so good. Apparently the only way to get to us to warn us was to go through Sai, and she had to kill him before she could get around him."
Naruto winced. Poor Ino. "Where is she now?"
The pink-haired girl shrugged, "No has seen all that much of her since yesterday."
The blond nodded absentmindedly, "Hey Sakura? I'm pretty hungry could you go get me something?"
The Haruno looked at him in suspicion but nodded, "Of course. I'll go see if I can't get some ramen in the hospital cafeteria."
Naruto's eyes brightened, "Thanks Sakura!"
The pink-haired girl smiled and shook her head, "What else would I do for my crazy teammate?" then she stood up and walked out of the room.
The blond waited until the door shut before he hurried out the window not even bothering to change out of his hospital clothes, if Sakura was onto him she'd make sure he was still there before going to hunt down ramen which meant he had to be long gone. As he took off over the roofs he used his transformation to give the appearance of him wearing his normal clothes. But he winced as the jutsu came into effect. His chakra was still pretty low. Even with the Kyuubi apparently having his injuries healed and his chakra back up to normal levels the day after a major battle with no food for fuel was too much to ask.
Still even if he was hungry enough to eat a horse he was mostly healthy. Definitely healthy enough to look for Ino.
Back in his hospital room the door opened and Sakura peeked inside, then shook her head in exasperation when she found Naruto gone. That idiot. Still it wasn't hard for her to figure out what he was up to. She just hoped he could help Ino.
Naruto had looked for Ino for hours with little lucky, but finally he had found her. And now he stood quietly in the cemetery behind Ino as she wept. Completely at a loss of what to do. There wasn't even a gravestone where she knelt yet, for Sai wouldn't be buried until tomorrow. Yet here his friend knelt in sorrow.
The boy took a hesitant step forward, "Ino?" He knelt down nest to her and put a hand on her shoulder. Dozens of words filled his mouth and got caught there. There were so many things he wanted to say, but they all seemed trite and uncaring. The Yamanaka turned her watery eyes to her friend and Naruto thought he knew what to do. With gentle hands the boy pulled Ino into his arms, and as he hugged her he whispered, "I'm sorry."
Ino cried. All the guilt and pain at the loss of her boyfriend; all the tears she'd already cried came out tenfold as she let herself be held by Naruto.
For hours Naruto sat there, not speaking or moving. But simply holding his friend, and grieving with her.
Everyday for the next month Naruto would kidnap Ino from her house and try to cheer her up. Sometimes he offered to be her personal slave as he dragged her out shopping, other times he did something as simple as taking her on a picnic. But not matter what it was, everyday the blond boy showed up on her doorstep and tried to drag her from her gloom. And today, he succeeded. As she opened the door and saw him there she gave a weak little smile. Naruto beamed, and dragged her off to Ichiraku, for a "surprise". Ino rolled her eyes even as she let herself be dragged along. The "surprise" was a new fattening type of ramen no doubt. After all her friend had been trying to get her to eat more this last month.
Ino froze in shock as she entered Ichiraku's, "I-Iruka-sensei!"
The chunin smiled at his startled former student, "Hello Ino-chan."
The stunned blond girl turned to look at her friend, who just shrugged his shoulders and said, "Surprise!" with a grin.
Ino shook her head, "I don't understand, I thought you and Iruka-sensei weren't on speaking terms."
Naruto nodded, "We weren't, at least not until I finished my mission to oust Danzo. But we've patched everything up now, and I thought you could use a more experienced sympathetic ear than I can be. Iruka-sensei helped me a lot after I got tortured, and I thought that maybe he could help you to."
Ino looked between the blond boy and the academy instructor and her face softened into a small smile, "That's really sweet, thank you." she turned to look at the chunin, "If it's alright with you Iruka-sensei I really would like to talk to you about this. I'd talk to daddy, but he's so protective I didn't think he could just listen."
The academy instructor nodded in understanding and gestured to the seat next to him, "Why don't you come sit down and order a bowl of ramen. I always find things easier to share over a good bowl of ramen."
Ino eyed the calorie packed meal in front of Iruka-sensei distrustfully before she nodded and went to take a seat. She needed to gain some weight anyway.
Naruto looked at the two with a satisfied smile. Now Ino would finally be able to talk to someone who had the experience to help her. Knowing that Ino was in good hands he turned to exit the ramen stand, but he was stopped by Ichiraku's voice, "Naruto? Aren't you going to order anything?"
The boy turned to look at the ramen stand owner and shook his head, "Nah, I just came to drop off Ino, besides I'm taking Jiji out to lunch. I... I've got some things to workout with him." Then he turned and walked out of the shop, missing the surprised and proud looks on the faces of those inside.
Ichiraku smiled, "He grows more everyday." He turned to Ino, "Now what kind of ramen would you like young lady?"
Naruto knocked on the door to the Hokage's office and entered when he was invited to do so. He walked in and saw the Third and Fifth hokages sitting together pouring over something, "Excuse my interruption Hokage-samas, but I was wondering if you had time to go get lunch with me Sandaime-sama.
Naruto wasn't sure whose look of shock was more amusing, but Tsunade answered first, "He is absolutely free. Take as much time as you need."
The Third looked to the Fifth in surprise, "I disagree this treaty in very important, and time sensitive, besides, we've already had lunch ordered in, it should be here in a few minutes."
Naruto looked a bit crestfallen, "Oh, well alright, it can wait. Good luck on your treaty." Then he turned and walked out of the room.
As soon as the door closed behind him, Tsunade turned to Sarutobi and glared, "That wasn't necessary sensei. I could have handled things here long enough for you to go out and have lunch with your honorary grandson."
"Getting yelled at once again by Naruto would take me out of the diplomatic frame of mind I need to be in for this treaty." Was the Sandaime's rejoinder.
Tsunade shook her head, "Can you even remember the last time Naruto really yelled at you? You know about his mission with Danzo. If he had tried to reconcile with you his mission would have failed, but I'd bet my hokage hat that he wanted to take you out to lunch to rebuild you're bond."
The Third shook his head, "First of all, you can keep the hat. It took me fifteen years to get rid of it and I have no desire to have it back. Second, don't take that bet. I don't want there to be some horrible disaster if you're right. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go see why Naruto wanted to take me to lunch. I should be back in an hour."
"I won't count on that." the Fifth said with a smile and, as soon as the door shut, she muttered it's about time.
Three boring hours for Tsunade, and emotionally intense hours for Sarutobi, later the Third walked back into the Hokage office with a smile on his face.
The blond Hokage looked up with a smirk, "I take it your lunch went well."
Hiruzen smiled, "Indeed it did. Naruto and I are by no means as easy in each others company as we once were, but I believe that that awkwardness will easily pass with time."
Tsunade smiled, "Good."
It had been three months since the fall of Danzo. The stars were twinkling over head and team psych was on top of the hokage monument watching them.
"Ahhh, it's nice to just be able to relax for once." Sakura said, "To not have to worry about our jobs or what we have to do tomorrow."
Shikamaru groaned and sat up, "Now you've ruined it. Now I'm back to thinking about how tomorrow I'll be leaving to go join the twelve ninja guardians for a year."
"It's better than me." Naruto grunted, "At least you'll be back in a year, and you'll be living in a palace. I'm gonna be stuck traveling with Ero-sennin for two years on the road as he tries to cram everything he knows about spying into my head."
Sakura sighed, "And I'll be stuck here in Konoha without my two best friends. How is that fair?"
The blond shrugged, "You could come with me, but I don't think you'd want to leave your apprenticeship with Tsunade-sama."
"And Jiraiya-sensei's a pervert." Shikamaru added.
Sakura nodded, "No no, I'm good here. I'll just really miss you guys. This is the last night we'll have to spend together for two years. And Shika and I won't be able hang out for a year, unless something takes me to the capital city or the Damiyo visits Konoha."
"Which has been known to happen." Shikamaru said.
The blond hopped to his feet, "But still, if this is our last night together we should go out with a bang! I say we prank... anyone we want to!"
"Uh-huh." Sakura said disbelievingly, "Than you and Shika can run off for a long time and I'll be stuck with the blame."
Shikamaru shook his head, "No, we'll only do things that Naruto and I could do on our own and then tomorrow you can act shocked and upset that we did all this without you. You could even cry and moan about how you can't believe your best friends had a midnight party the night before they left without you. Besides, You only have to worry about taking the blame if we get caught."
The Haruno thought on it for a moment then grinned, "I'm in."
The next day was a day of insanity for Konoha. Tsunade's sake was replaced with vinegar. One unpleasant sip and she was out for blood. The Sarutobi clan woke up to an estate overrun with the primates from the zoo. The Nara's were all disturbingly energetic ( it was found later that someone had switched out their de-caf coffee for the coffee with the highest caffeine possible).
The Hyuuga were all sporting curly hair. As their normal shampoo had been replaced with an idiot proof home perm. The Inuzuka's woke up to find that all their dogs chew toy's were gone, and spent the majority of the morning hunting them down.
Ibiki walked into work bright and early to find that all of his torture implement's were gone. In their place were kids toys. He was spitting mad at first because a prisoner had already been brought into the room, but he quickly discovered that the toys made a better intimidation tactic than the torture implements ever had. So when his tolls were found later. He left them off the wells in favor of the toys. This earned his some ribbing from his comrades. But no one could deny the results as his success rate jumped by fifty percent.
The team had discussed pranking the Akamichi's but they got there at breakfast time and after the clan generously shared their breakfast with them, it was decided that the Akamichi's would be left in peace.
Pranking the Yamanaka's was also discussed, but in the end they decided against it out of concern for Ino.
Then there was Gai. He was strangely calm, even tired that day, and was in fact tired for the next several weeks until it was discovered that someone had spiked the orange juice that he religiously drank every morning with a sedative.
By ten that morning Konoha was in chaos, but team psych still stood at the gate saying their goodbye's. Sakura hugged one boy then the other, "I'm gonna miss you guys."
"Yeah, me too Saku." Naruto said.
Jiraiya plopped one his hands down on each of his students heads, "I know it's hard saying good-bye, but we need to get a move on soon if we want to make it to capital city by nightfall."
All three chunin nodded and said their final good-byes and promised to write each other. Then Sakura watched as her two best friends walked out of sight. She knew they would all grow and be different people by the time they saw each other next. She just hoped that they would still be friends.
Well, that's the end. I have to admit this end is a bit bittersweet for me. I wish I could have spent more time on this story, and given it the attention it deserved, but I don't have it. The main reason this end is bittersweet for me is because in two day's I'll be leaving my family and friends for a year and a half as I go on a mission for my church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and I'll only be able to talk to them through letters( that's also why I can't give this story more attention, I won't have access to a computer).
I would like to end by thanking everyone who read my story, alerted it, or Favorited it. I'd like to give a big thank you to everyone who reviewed or added my story to a community. And I'd like to give the biggest thank you of all to Nex-thanarak. This story would have gotten nowhere without him.