By the time they got back to the village, Naruto was fully back to his old self. He was walking on his own and his voice was back to normal.
Hinata stayed close to Naruto, but it wasn't like before. However, Naruto seemed to gravitate towards her.
They stepped through the gate of Konoha. Naruto stopped.
Sakura, who had also been staying close to Naruto, came beside him. "Naruto?"
Naruto got a big smile on his face and looked over his shoulder at Hinata. "Gaara's here! Come on!" He reached out his hand to her.
Hinata blushed, but she put out a shaky hand and grabbed Naruto's. They took off.
"Naruto! Wait!" Sakura called after them. She shook her head, then took off after them.
"I think I liked the quiet Naruto better." Shikamaru remarked, not really meaning it.
"Well, the village is going to be lively again. Come on Akamaru, let's go" Kiba added with a big smile, he took off in a different direction.
Everyone else smiled and took off after Naruto.
In Tsunade's office were Shizune, Iruka, Gaara, Temari, and Kankuro.
"Kazekage, please be patient. My team will be back soon." Tsunade said in a soothing tone. I hope.
Gaara shook his head. "I cannot feel his presence nor hear his voice. He is gone." Gaara's voice reflected a range of emotions.
"Kazekage…" Tsunade started when the door flew open. Naruto walked in with Hinata, hand in hand, followed by Sakura.
"Gaara! What are you doing here? Don't you have a village to run?' Naruto said with a big smile and a playful tone. He walked up to Gaara and grasped his hand.
Gaara's eyes smiled, "So you are alright."
"Of course!" Naruto then looked at Tsunade, Shizune and Iruka. "You all look like you've seen a ghost. What's up?"
Tsunade was confused, "What's going on?"
Sakura had a big smile, "Lady Hokage, you know, Naruto is full of surprises."
Iruka stepped forward and looked over Naruto. He was wearing his forehead protector back in its normal place, instead of around his arm. Iruka tried to say something, but nothing would come. Is this real?
Naruto saw the concern on Iruka's face. "Don't worry about me Iruka-sensei. I'm fine."
Iruka smiled and nodded.
Shizune was trying to fight back tears, but wasn't winning.
Tsunade wasn't ready to believe it quite yet. "Alright! I have a lot of questions for you!"
The sound of the nickname made her heart pound harder. Her voice shook, "Who are…"
At this point, everyone came in. "Now, now Tsunade…" Jiraiya started.
"BE QUIET! I need some questions answered before I'll…" She could hear the emotion in her own voice.
"QUIET! Kiba! Go get…"
"I've already have Kurenai-sensei with me." Kiba said playfully as he walked in with his sensei.
Am I getting that predictable? Tsunade wondered.
"Very well, let's start off with my questions. First, who are you?"
"You heard me! Who are you?"
"Naruto Uzumaki, of course."
"That's not good enough! Anyone could come barging in her claming to be Naruto! So how do I know you're who you claim you are!" Her tone was harsh and unyielding. She stared fiercely at Naruto.
"Lady Tsunade…" Sakura started.
"QUIET! From him! I need to for him to answer the questions, not you!"
Sakura smiled and backed down. I understand.
Naruto, however, was confused and getting angry. "Listen! I am Naruto Uzumaki. I love ramen, specially at Ichiraku, even more especially when Iruka-sensei buys it for me. I'm part of Team Kakashi that went after Gaara when the Akatsuki kidnapped him. Then I went searching for Sasuke, who was once part of my team. Is that good enough."
"NO! That's all general information anyone could get a hold of!" Come on, say it!
Naruto's brows furrowed in thought. "When we first met, I challenged you because you were disrespecting the Third Hokage."
"You asked me why I was so touchy about the title of Hokage."
Tsunade just stared at him.
"I told you that you were looking at the next Hokage. To be Hokage, that is my dream. Then you bet your necklace that I couldn't master the Rasengan in one week. Which I did!"
Tsunade let out the breath she didn't know she was holding. She walked over to Naruto. He still had a determined look on this face. She smiled at him and pulled him into an embrace. He said it with the same passion as always.
"Granny Tsunade! What! Why!" He didn't pull away. He realized that something big must have went down for everyone to react like this.
Tsunade let him go. "Ok, Naruto. I have more question for you."
Naruto looked in her eyes and could see the tears that she wouldn't let fall. He nodded.
"What's the last thing you remember?" She completely let him go and went back behind her desk, a slight smile on her lips.
"I clearly remember using the Self-Imprisonment jutsu that Old Man Uzuki taught me. Then things get a little fuzzy.
"I talked with Kurenai-sensei about…about protecting the village, I think." He paused, gathering his fragmented thoughts. "I remember someone singing. Running into Hinata and Gaara. Watching the new Chunin exams…" Another pause.
That's when he ran into Kabuto and suppressed all of his memories. Tsunade thought.
Naruto shook his head, "Then nothing's really clear. I can almost remember images, but they are distant. Like trying to remember a dream from a year ago."
"And Orochimaru?" Tsunade noticed that he hadn't mentioned Orochimaru at all.
Naruto got very quiet and still. The look on his face was that of someone trying not to remember something disturbing. In a very quiet voice he simply said, "He's gone."
So he doesn't want to think about Orochimaru. I can understand that, but I need to make sure. Tsunade looked over to Kurenai and nodded.
Kurenai nodded back and walked up to Naruto. "This is getting to be a habit."
He looked at her questioningly.
She smiled, "Just close your eyes and clear your mind." Once again, Kurenai entered Naruto's heart and mind. She found herself in front of the huge gate again. This time, it was closed with a simple sealing sutra holding it closed. "Orochimaru! Don't think you can hide from me!" She waited for a response.
"That vile snake is no longer here." A deep and evil voice came from behind the gate.
Is that Nine Tailed Demon Fox? Or could it be Orochimaru in disguise? "How can I be sure of that."
"I don't need to answer to you! Just know that the boy and I pushed out the snake's chakra."
"The boy? Naruto? You helped Naruto? Why?"
"I didn't help him. That snake never belonged here. So we got rid of him."
"And why not get rid of Naruto, too?"
"You have your answer! Now leave!"
Kurenai stayed a moment longer. She couldn't feel Orochimaru's presence anywhere. "Well, for whatever reason, you did it, it helped Naruto and that's all that matters.
As Kurenai left, the fox made one last remark. "Beside, the time is soon coming where the boy will serve my purpose." The demon laughed in a very sinister way.
Kurenai opened her eyes and smiled at Naruto. She turned to face Tsunade, "Everything is as it should be. The Nine Tail is sealed and there is nothing left of Orochimaru's presence."
Tsunade smiled. "Ok! Now, can someone fill me in on what happened?"
"Wait! I have some questions too!" Naruto said anxiously.
"Ok, Naruto, you start." Tsunade smiled. I guess things are going to get back to normal. She looked at Jiraiya. He must be thinking what I am, what about his past should we tell him. We almost missed our opportunity.
"WELL!" Naruto's voice snapped her out of her thoughts.
"I'm sorry Naruto, what was that."
"What kind of Hokage doesn't even listen when asked a question."
Normally this would have made Tsunade mad, but his time it just meant that everything was back to normal. "If you want your questions answered, you better ask it now, or lose your chance."
Naruto started again. The questioning lasted all morning. At first, Tsunade was going to keep the details back from Naruto, but she changed her mind. "He has the right to know what happened to him." Besides, there is enough that we are keeping from him.
Naruto was very upset when he learned that Sasuke had left the village again. "Damn it! I'll just have to tie him up next time!"
"No you won't! Just let him go Naruto!" Sakura yelled at him.
"But Sakura, I made a promise…"
"Which you kept!" The thought of Naruto going after Sasuke again scared Sakura. What else would Naruto do to keep that promise.
Naruto nodded, but he was clearly still upset. He continued on with the questions.
Once they got to the Akatsuki, Tsunade took over asking questions.
Kakashi and Jiraiya filled her in. "Well, that's one way to stop the Akatsuki's plan. I wonder what that idol was? Shizune, I want you to find out. They may try for something similar, again." Tsunade instructed.
"I just wonder what the tailed demons are going to do now." Jiraiya asked.
"As long as they are left alone, they will keep to themselves. Let's just hope no other village decides to make a new Jinchuuriki." Tsunade stated as she looked at Naruto. "I guess you're one of a kind now, Naruto."
"I hope it stays that way." Naruto said, but he was lost in thought. Hinata and Gaara had come over to him. "I don't want anyone else to go through what Gaara and I did. I want it to end with me."
Tsunade smiled. Still thinking of others. You'll be a great Hokage, someday. "Well, it seems that Orochimaru has been dealt with as well. I think the Leaf Village can breath easy for awhile." She looked over to Naruto, he looked troubled. I wonder if he's thinking about Sasuke, or about the possibility of new Jinchuurikis being made. Probably both, he usually carries to much of a burden "Naruto you realize the Akatsuki aren't the only ones who will come after the Nine Tail so don't drop your guard."
He nodded, but the troubled looked didn't leave his face. Then his stomach growled.
"Ok, well lets wrap this up. It's lunch time." Tsunade said, still watching Naruto. "Well, if no one has any thing else to add, I think we are done."
Iruka stepped forward, "Well, Naruto. Do you feel like ramen at Ichiraku?"
Naruto's face brightened, "As long as your buying Iruka-sensei."
"Actually, I think I'll buy." Tsunade said. "For everyone."
"Really, Granny Tsunade?" Now Naruto was beaming.
She nodded. Naruto grabbed Hinata and Gaara's hand. "Come on Gaara, have you had Ichiraku's ramen? It's the best!" Then he headed out the door.
Sakura shook her head, but followed, as did everyone else.
"It looks like the bond between those three isn't completely gone." Tsunade remarked to Jiraiya and Kakashi as they followed everyone out.
Kakashi nodded, "It's seems that Naruto still has it the strongest. Probably because it was his chakra that was influencing the other two."
Now Jiraiya nodded. "Although, it bothers me how uncomfortable Naruto gets when Orochimaru is mentioned."
"Well, not only did that man torture Naruto, but then Naruto had to share his dark memories. I would probably be uncomfortable too. Let's not push. If he needs us, we'll be here to help." Tsunade said as they approached Ichiraku Raman Shop.
Naruto popped his head out. "Hey! What took you three so long! Teuchi said the ramen was on him!"
When Tsunade, Jiraiya, and Kakashi walked in, there was barely any room left. Tsunade made her way to the counter. "Teuchi why are you…"
When he turned around she could see the tears in his eyes. She smiled at him and then looked around to everyone. A village is made up of many different types of people. Each on special in their own way. You think that no one person is more unique than the other, but sometimes that's not quite true. Sometimes there is one person who comes along that embodies the heart of the village. Naruto is that person. Yes, the village functioned without him, but it felt like something was missing.
As Naruto laughed with his friends, Tsunade and Jiraiya looked on. "His parents would be very proud of him." Tsunade said in a hushed tone.
Jiraiya nodded, "We should tell him about them soon."
"I know, but right now let him enjoy this moment. The day will come when he will have to carry an even greater burden. As promised to his parents, let him have a normal life until that time comes."
At that moment Choji and Akamaru were fighting over the last piece of pork in a ramen bowl and Naruto was referee. Everyone was laughing.
"Normal for him."
As the night wound down, people began to leave. Hinata went over and said good night to Naruto. He grabbed her hand without even thinking about it. She blushed furiously, but she didn't faint or pull away.
"Do you want me to walk you home?"
"Thanks Naruto, but you should stay. Neji will walk me home. After all, we are going in the same direction."
Neji came over. Naruto looked at him and smiled, "Take good care of her."
"Like you need to ask." Neji was as cool us ever. But anyone who knew him could tell that he was happy.
Neji and Hinata finished saying their goodnights and then started walking home. "Hinata, are you sure you don't want Naruto to walk you home."
She shook her head. "He has something he needs to discuss with Sakura. It's important, so I don't mind."
"Can you still hear his thoughts?"
"No, but once you've been that close to someone, you just know how to read them."
"Are you alright having things the way they used to be?"
"Part of me is sad that I've lost that connection. But overall, I'm happy to have Naruto back the was he used to be."
Neji had never heard Hinata so talkative. It was nice to be able to talk to his cousin.
Suddenly, she stopped and turned to Neji, "Besides, I won't lose to Sakura. Not now, not ever!"
The determination in her voice surprised Neji. I guess the influence of Naruto's chakra still lingers. He smiled at her and then they continued home.
Next Gaara said goodnight. "We will need to leave early tomorrow."
Naruto smiled, "Hinata and I will be there!" They grasped each other's hand, like two brothers saying farewell.
Temari and Kankuro followed behind Gaara. Once outside they too asked Gaara how he was doing. "It's strange not being able to feel his presence or hear his thoughts, but it is nice to have him back the way he used to be."
"I think it would be better if he would visit us next time. I think the council is getting concerned about how much we are coming here." Kankuro said through a smile.
Gaara stopped and faced them. "I think it is time to start meeting the other three ninja nations. A joint venture with the Sand and the Leaf Villages."
"But, as Kazekage, you can't leave the village that much." Temari remarked.
"But my most trusted shinobi, who are also my siblings, can. I would not want anyone else to accompany Naruto on that mission.
Temari and Kankuro smiled at each other. "If Naruto has the same affect in the other villages as he had on ours, the future is going to be interesting." Temari said.
Gaara smiled slightly and nodded. The three continued to their lodgings.
The last two to leave were Sakura and Naruto. He was walking Sakura home. She was waiting for Naruto to say something. Naruto had been glancing at Sakura all night. She knew what was bothering him. She didn't want to push, so she waited.
Half way to her place, Naruto finally spoke. "Sakura…about Sasuke…" They stopped walking and turned to face each other. "I…I mean…" Naruto didn't know how to start.
"Naruto listen to me. There is something very important I learned over these past few months." She looked at his blue eyes. His eyes are always so honest. You can tell everything about Naruto by his eyes. Right now he is confused and sad. I said that I wouldn't let Sasuke hurt you any more and I meant it.
"I learned that there are two kinds of people. The first are the ones that you desperately hold on to, but the more you hold on, the further and further they run from you." She paused and took a step forward. "The second are the ones that are always by your side. You forget to hold onto them because you just get used to having them there." She reached up and kissed Naruto on his check and then turned and continued walking.
I now know the difference and I'll never let you go again. That's a PROMISE I make to YOU. She smiled to herself. You'll remember THAT kiss. She kept walking.
Naruto stood there, his face beet red, his hand to his cheek where Sakura had kissed him. What did she mean? Why did she… He blushed even more.
Then his face fell a little. What should I do about Sasuke. He turned to go home and saw the Hokage images in the mountain side. He thought about what being Hokage meant. He clenched his fist with re-enforced determination. I've never broken a promise and I'm not going to start now. If I did, what kind of Hokage would I be.
Naruto smiled and headed home to prepare for the new challenges the days ahead would bring.
Did you enjoy my story? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, TawnyShyrellWrite a Review