Final Author's Note
This is the last chapter of Ghost, and it's a bit shorter than the others but it wraps everything up nicely. This is just a quick note to say thank you for all the reviews, favs, follows, support (or hate mail :P) that you guys have provided. 1300+ reviews is an epic amount more than I expected and I hope I've written something worthy of your attention, affection and time.
I don't have any more plans for this 'universe' as such, so if anyone wants to use any of the ideas or concepts (will of shadow, crossbow stuff, dark Root etc.) then I happily give you permission, but would really appreciate a PM about it if you do! I'll happily discuss any such stuff if you want to.
Enjoy this final chapter and I will be back in a bit with my next story.
Fireworks blossomed into life over the Hokage Monument and the people cheered as Tsunade placed the hat onto the head of the new Hokage who blushed briefly before raising their head to the people below.
They acknowledged the crowd almost hesitantly at first before growing into the adulation as if they drew hidden strength from somewhere.
The face hadn't been chiselled into the mountainside just yet, but it would be soon. Then it would be fully and truly official.
The lands of Konoha had been relatively peaceful since the war. No great conflict was sparked and treaties with Suna and Iwa to provide trade had begun. The village prospered in the later summer sun.
Tsunade nodded to her successor and put an arm around them as they walked back towards the office of the Hokage tower.
"You do realise that you've made a terrible mistake in accepting this position?"
"It is something I felt I had to do."
Tsunade shook her head.
"Ah well, it does do crazy things to people doesn't it?"
Tsunade smiled and opened the door.
"You have a visitor it seems, I'll wait until you are finished to help you ease into your new job."
The candidate closed the door behind her and threw herself into the arms of the waiting man who clutched her tightly.
"Hinata-chan. Congratulation Hokage-sama."
She pulled back before kissing him like he was air she needed to live. He pulled back after a few long and tender moments.
"You know this can never become public, I will merely be a close advisor. There is still time for you to find someone else who you can be public and happy with, to have children with."
"I think I can live with that Naruto-kun. We could always get married in secret, I can do that myself."
"Sounds acceptable. The years have been long without you. I see now how Danzo-sama became so fatigued and dark."
She put a finger to his lips then pulled him tighter into the hug.
"Then I will stop you becoming him."
He kept her close and treasured the moment.
Many years later
The rain fell at the funeral.
He watched as the people of Konoha poured out their grief at her grave. Two years since she had left the position as Hokage and a heart attack had ended her life. It had been peaceful. He had been with her the night before. She had been content and happy.
He allowed himself a single tear. That was right for an advisor who had remained strong for her all those years. It was fitting for the leader of Root. It was a fitting public image for the figure he had cultivated for people to see.
He lingered at the grave with Shino as the rest of Konoha moved on with their lives.
In the rain, the head of the Aburame clan spoke softly.
"Your love for each other was always strong Naruto. It must be hard to lose her."
"It was always going to happen eventually, it will happen to all of us some day."
The man stood beside him and placed a hand on his shoulder.
"So what now for you? Is it not time you moved on from Root? It is not something we speak of I am aware, yet it is important."
"I understand that it is time for that. I only need wait for the return of my successor."
"Wise. I think he is ready. Shiko thinks highly of him as a friend and a shinobi. I think he suspects something about him is different, much as I did those years ago about you. His friendship for him will endure."
They held the silence for a little longer.
"You know this means I will not see you again Shino."
"I surmised. It has been good knowing you friend."
He handed the kursurigama back to Shino.
"So that it may continue to serve another. Allow me some sentimentality."
"At last you understand a little more."
They shared a quiet laugh together.
"Farewell Naruto. See you on the other side."
They shared a final nod before Naruto made his way back to the Root complex.
The world had been stable for the last fifty years, and peace reigned in the land. There were less missing nin in the world, and in fact the rate of required shinobi work was declining. Root had been refined and changed and made better. He suspected that one day Tsunade's dream would nearly be accomplished and there would only need to be three or four Root left.
Right now though, one of the children of Root was missing in the light. He had been there for at least four years. Yet Naruto knew he would return.
He waited on the same spartan throne where Danzo had sat. He never had got around to changing this particular place in Root. A part of him knew it had to remain the same somehow.
He ran his hands over the features of his bow. It was the same one he had used his entire life. Parts of it had been replaced or improved but it was the same bow. His bow. One of the few things he genuinely felt was a part of himself like his skin or hair.
He was older now certainly. He didn't go on field missions unless he absolutely had to, which he hadn't for several years.
He had been able to grow old with Hinata and that had kept him sane. He had somewhat perfected what his former master had begun.
The sound of the doors swinging open made him smile. He stroked his bow one last time before putting it aside. He made sure the note was on the spartan desk, hidden to anyone not looking for it. He had only one last part to play in this life.
"You have returned Akato. Come to your senses have you? Or come to overthrow me?"
"And how do you plan to do that? I could shoot you dead four times over where you stand, or trap you in layers of genjutsu that would break you to my will."
Four shots were deflected by flashing knife blades mere instants after he fired them. A fifth caught the figure and turned it to smoke. He smiled at how similar it all was to how he had performed this duty.
"Very good. Guards."
There were none.
"They cannot hear you, and if they could they would not recognise your voice. You have changed Naruto. You have lost squads and made mistakes you would not otherwise do. Give in."
He rose from his throne and tossed aside his cloak.
"Should I force you to fight?"
"It will end badly for everyone in Konoha. You must yield."
"Make me. I will overthrow the weak Hokage they have placed in Hinata-sama's place and control both Root and Konoha."
His successor walked forwards, knifes drawn, their dark metal surfaces rippling in the darkness. He could see the genjutsu rippling around them, hiding the majority of the blade or displacing them entirely.
"I cannot allow that to happen, you know it cannot be done! I have studied your documents, your writings. I know this conversation has happened before! I must end this now."
Naruto grabbed him and the ghastly figure rose behind him once again.
"Fool. I had such hopes for you."
The arm reached for his foe but found nothing to grasp. With a roar the figure withdrew the arm and disappeared, leaving both men unharmed.
"I too have passed through death. I have seen the abyss. You cannot harm me with that jutsu."
He stepped away from Naruto who kept his face stern. He had to keep that to the end.
"I still have no reason to leave this position."
"The incident with Kumo. The losses Root and Konoha suffered."
"That was an accident, nothing more than poor fortune."
The young man before him shook his head.
"We lost two squads, Konoha lost three. Fifteen shinobi lost and Kumo antagonised. The new Hokage nearly lost control and I had to change his mind. I am not tainted by emotion as you suspect, I am strengthened by it."
"In the long term my plan works out better."
"It does not. You know it does not. It is time to accept that fact."
He realised it was. He turned and shut his eyes. He allowed himself a smile that he had completed his part.
"Then do what you came to do."
He didn't feel the kiss of the blade's sharp edge on his neck; merely saw the dark of his eyes being closed and then a different darkness.
He had often wondered what lay beyond life the second time. Certainly it felt different. This did not feel as cold and as alien as it had the last time. This felt right. Maybe it was how you felt entering the place beyond that determined how it was.
Colour began to drift into view and he felt strength in his limbs once more. He was standing somewhere where the world was bright around him. He flexed his body and it felt real and strong.
There was a figure running towards him, a figure he knew from long ago, but one that couldn't have been. There were others behind him that he recognised but the closest one had a smile that lit his life anew.
The brown hair, the bright eyes. The smile. He was definitely older yet he looked like Naruto had always remembered him despite this.
The figure bounded to him and embraced him tightly.
"Welcome to what lies beyond. Let me show you around."
He spoke the name that had been with him for years, but he'd never been able to voice.