Chapter 20: The Legend of Naruto and Sakura

It had been less than a year since Sakura disappeared. The most popular theory behind it was that she had run off with a blond-haired man she had been spotted with before her disappearance. There was no foul play suspected and nobody had any leads as to where the couple was presently. Kushina and Mikoto devoted much of their free time to helping search for her. It was an obligation born partly out of guilt, but also because they cared in their own way.

Her friends thought about her everyday. A picture of Sakura from their college graduation hung in Ino's office. They both had vowed that day to go into their respective fields to try and make a difference in the world. Ino was happy working for ICHA, but it was bittersweet knowing that her best friend wasn't there to share the experience. The picture was a reminder to Ino of how hard she needed to work: for Sakura's sake. She hugged a small plush fox she kept on her desk. It was one of Sakura's.

Ino looked at the plush fox and sighed. "You better be taking care of her."

They hadn't been able to find any trace of Sakura's boyfriend or adopted pet. Ino knew in her heart that Sakura was with the fox somewhere. She hoped that she was healthy and happy; wherever she was.

A shrill scream followed by the incessant banging of doors knocked Ino out of her reverie. She looked out the window in time to see Karin throwing Suigetsu off of her. The Lightning Lakes employee had taken a shine to the quick-tempered tracker. A flash of green appeared and Lee joined the fray, arguing with Suigetsu over Karin. For her part, Karin took this moment to run away from both of them. The strange love triangle was a constant source of amusement for the staff. At least it got them to stop talking about her three-way relationship with Kiba and Shino. She couldn't help it; they were both talented and willing to share.

Meanwhile, in Jiraya's office, the three heads of ICHA were in a meeting discussing some serious issues.

"They should be a threesome and then everyone would be happy. I mean, look at how Konan and Ino turned out," Jiraya said.

Orochimaru shook his head. "I don't know, some people might question the integrity of our organization."

"They already question it. The tabloids apparently think the three of us are together."

"No offense Tsunade, but the only one I'd be willing to have sex with is Jiraya." Orochimaru winked at his business partner, who only blanched in response.

Tsunade laughed. "None taken."

"I think I'm going to puke."

"Oh Jiraya, you know you love me," Orochimaru cooed.

"No I don't."

Karin's shrill shriek echoed through the ICHA camp, once again.

"I don't know why those boys chase after her. It's obvious she's not interested in either of them," Tsunade said turning away from the window. "That and she's dating that big guy, Juugo."

"It's the beauty products I invented. She volunteered to be one of my test subjects," Orochimaru smiled.

Jiraya shook his head. "Is this the stuff made out of the white snake skin or the fox dung?"

"It would be the skin cleanser. Honestly, I don't know why you make fun of my products. They've helped keep ICHA's finances in the black and even Tsunade likes them."

"Only the skin cleanser. Since you use the shed skin of the white snake, I can market it, but I won't even touch the conditioner. Only the really desperate or crazy would put shit in their hair."

"Why not? It works? Haven't you seen how my long luscious locks have gotten more shine in them?" Orochimaru grabbed the end of his hair and held it up to Tsunade's face. "Take a look! No split ends!"

Tsunade pushed the hair out of her face. "I can see. Just be lucky that your personal projectshappened to give us the funds we needed. At least you made your discovery on an indigenous animal of the mountains and not something else. By the way, has your boyfriend been able to get the test results on the medicinal properties of those flowers?"

"Kabuto is doing the third batch today. So far so good. We should be able to submit samples for government testing soon."

Jiraya shuffled through some papers and smiled. "Sounds like we're getting ourselves onto solid ground then. I just heard from Shikaku that the Courts in Kiri ruled in our favor. Both father and son are personally handling the case. Akatsuki has been in damage-control mode for almost a year now. Their Suna enterprise just folded after not being able to viably build."

"Serves them right. That's what they get for kicking me and my team out of Lightning Lakes the way they did."

Tsunade nodded her head in agreement. "They're finally getting what they deserve. By the way, I got a call from Professor Sarotobi. He wants to meet with all three of us for lunch to catch up on how things are going. I told him we'd meet him today at the café near the park. Shall we?"

"It'll be just like old times again."

"Except this time you won't be failing," Tsunade said.

Jiraya mocked hurt. "You wound me."

The trio laughed and chatted, making their way out of the office. They owed their close friendship to Professor Sarotobi. They also owed their current professional path to his teachings. If things were different, perhaps the trio wouldn't have remained as close as they were. But in this time and era, the fates decided to be kind to them.

In a cozy house on the edge of the city, a newlywed couple sat together. They had walked down the aisle and exchanged vows less than two months ago. The couple were going through photos of their big day, smiling over the many memories that were made. But there was something that was missing.

It was apparent in the wedding photos. Between TenTen and Hanabi was a noticeable space where a bridesmaid should have been standing. That space had been reserved for Sakura. Hinata was thankful that Ino, TenTen, and her sister were more than willing to honor her wishes to keep Sakura's spot open. The wedding wasn't the same without her, but both she and Chouji knew that wherever she was, Sakura was much happier now.

In the Kyuubi Mountains, a family made their way to the Uzumaki shrine. A new face was joining them on their annual pilgrimage. Sasuke held Naruko's hand the entire way up. Despite their unorthodox start and the criticism from Sakura's friends, their relationship was still going strong. The pair complimented each other in a strange way. As a testament for how far their relationship had progressed and how much they appreciated him, Minato and Kushina invited Sasuke to join them.

Sasuke was honored. It probably had something to do with being the catalyst that ensured the Kyuubi Mountains would be protected for an indefinite amount of time. It was unfortunate that the news had to come around the time of Sakura's disappearance. Some of his more optimistic friends seemed to think that she and Naruto had run off to get married and start a new life together. Even Naruko believed that Sakura was living her fairy-tale ending. But Sasuke never liked Naruto. He had only met him that one time, but the guy rubbed him the wrong way. So until he heard or saw otherwise, he would always fear for his former girlfriend. He still cared for Sakura's well being, even if they ended on bad terms.

They made their way to the back of the shrine where Naruto's grave was located and all stopped with shock at what they saw. Greeting them at the foot of the grave was an orange-red fox. It looked like the fox had been waiting for them. He swished his tail back in forth, eyes dancing with merriment. The fox bounded forward towards the woods and looked back at the group expectantly.

"I think it wants us to follow," Minato said.

Sasuke stared at the fox. "He looks vaguely familiar somehow."

"Well come on guys. If the fox wants us to follow it, we better follow it," Kushina urged the group forward and plowed to the front.

With Kushina in the lead, they followed the animal. The fox bounded around the forest in excitement and lead them to a small clearing a short distance away from the shrine. He hopped back and forth looking behind a fallen tree. Curious, the group looked behind the log and smiled at what they saw. Resting on her side was a vixen nursing four kits. The kits were only a few days old, barely able to hold their heads up. The proud mother raised her head up upon seeing the human guests and lolled her tongue out in greeting. It was almost like she was smiling at them.

"How cute!" Naruko said. "Though it's strange that the foxes are letting us get this close to their babies."

"It is unusually strange. Vixens are very protective of their young," Kushina said.

Minato smiled. "Perhaps it's because they know they can trust us. Or perhaps these foxes are spirit foxes and they recognize you. You were the shrine maiden here once."

"I was, at least until you convinced me otherwise," Kushina teased her husband.

Sasuke studied the two foxes carefully. There was something uncanny about the way they watched them. It was almost like they understood everything that was going on. He also noted how the vixen's fur was a reddish-blonde, but if the light hit it a certain way, it almost looked pink. He wasn't sure if he should point out his observations. As if the foxes could read his mind, the male looked at Sasuke and nodded his head. The action didn't go unnoticed by the rest of the group.

Kushina smiled thoughtfully and held her hand out towards the foxes. "Sasuke, did you know that Naruto would have been around your age if he was born alive?"

"I remember my mother telling me that."

"I had dreams of you two playing with each other and becoming best friends. When he died, I prayed to the fox spirits to look after him." The male fox gently rubbed his head into her hands. Kushina affectionately scratched him behind the ears. "I think the spirits heard my prayers that day."

Minato crouched down and joined his wife in petting the male fox. "I think you're right honey. I think you're right."

Sasuke stared at the two foxes intently. There was something peculiar about them. He wondered if the male fox was the one that Sakura had kept in her apartment before she disappeared. If he was, at least he knew that her pet was fine. The sun shone through the leaves and hit the fur on the vixen briefly. For a minute, Sasuke could have sworn that the fur looked pink. He looked again, but the color didn't stand out as much in the shade. The vixen simply looked back at him with a coyly.

"Come on guys, we should get back to the shrine. Let's leave the new family alone," Kushina said.

"They were so cute Sasuke. Almost makes me wonder when we're going to get married and have kids," Naruko sighed.

Minato choked. "Now sweetie, let's not get ahead of ourselves. After all, Sasuke hasn't even proposed yet."

Sasuke smirked. His fingers brushed against the velvet box hidden deep in his pockets. He was going to propose, just not yet. He hoped that Minato didn't mind that he was going to ask permission tonight. He spared a glance back at the foxes and briefly entertained the thought that Sakura was much closer than he thought, but that was impossible. Those were foxes, not humans. Even if it were impossible, he couldn't help feeling that she was safe and happy.

"Take care guys."

The family left the woods as the fox family watched on. Once they were far enough away, the two foxes transformed into their human forms.

"Were you glad to see them?"

"Yeah, I was."

The lands of the Kyuubi Mountains prospered. Plants and animals lived freely, never fearing that their homes would be taken from them. The spirits of the mountain kept the ground fertile and the air pure. People would come to call the Kyuubi Mountains a paradise in Konoha. The residents of Suna would try to downplay those claims and state that the Suna Desert held many hidden treasures such as a lush oasis and crisp clean air. There were also sightings of a family of tanuki, a rare desert creature thought to be extinct. It was said to be good luck to spot the creatures. Slowly, the world transformed as more and more hidden treasures of the world appeared. The spirits of the world thrived, bringing balance to the world for years to come.

A/N: Had to get the last chapter out before Hurricane Sandy takes out my power. I hope everyone enjoyed the story. Thanks for everyone who reviewed and read. Special thanks to Proteus DMC, who deserves the props for getting me to write this story for him in the first place. :)