A/N: Hey everyone… just something to say before I start writing this and you start reading. A friend of mine was killed in a car accident a week ago and I just haven't been able to focus on my writing ever since. Nothing I type seems any good to me. Finally I just decided to write a fan fiction in hopes of getting my feelings down in a different, yet hopefully helpful way. I'm listening to Enya's songs Exile and May It Be while writing this, listen to them sometime (or while you read this) they're gorgeous.
Disclaimer: I don't own any Naruto characters.
The glow of a thousand candles flickered in the light breeze blowing through the village, ruffling the clothing of the citizens as they stared ahead in mournful silence. Six people moved slowly forward through the parted crowd, two carrying between them a casket laced with flowers and intricate designs, a flame pattern adorning the bottom.
On one side stood Sakura Haruno, tightly clasping the hand of the returned rogue ninja Sasuke Uchiha, tears streaming down the woman's face. Sasuke himself was pale, his eyes bloodshot from tears held back and lack of sleep. On the other side was Sai, an old teammate of the man, while Hinata Hyuuga walked beside him, the wife of the newly deceased. She held her head high yet could not hide her grief stricken face or blood shot eyes. Kakashi Hatake held the frontal end of the casket, the teacher of the newly dead, while Iruka grasped the back, a father figure to the young man.
A man lay within the casket, his eyes closed, blonde bangs blowing slightly in the wind. His lips were folded into a peaceful smile making it seem as though he had carried his cheerfulness with him into the next life. The three whisker marks that could be seen on each side of his face were nearly covered up by the collar of the white flamed jacket he wore identifying him as the Rokudaime, better known as Naruto Uzumaki, Konoha's sixth and strongest Hokage.
He had died a true warrior's death, protecting his village and his comrades in battle. The war with the Sound was finally over, Konoha emerging the victor but only at a great price. Naruto had lead the village with a strong heart, fierce determination, and an unwavering loyalty that had kept him going until the very end. He had passed on to the next world surrounded by his closet comrades, his head resting in his wife's lap, his hand grasping Sakura's, and his eyes meeting his best friend's, the man he had tried so hard to save and had finally managed to in the end.
It was the only time anyone had ever seen Sasuke Uchiha cry.
Everyone bowed their heads as the procession moved past them, the sounds of choked sobs and sniffles breaking the sorrowful quiet that had come to rest over the village. Naruto's childhood friends stood where the coffin would reach its final resting place, a single white lily in each of their hands.
Shikamaru Nara blinked his eyes rapidly in order to keep the tears threatening to spill over at bay, his wife Temari standing close by and holding a candle of her own, Kankuro beside her. Ino Yamanaka had given up holding back long ago and now let her own tears flow freely down her face, Sakura's obvious grief choking her up even more. Choji Akimichi had his arm around her, his lips set in a disciplined frown yet his own sorrow clear in his eyes.
Kiba Inuzuka stood with Akamaru at his side, one hand resting on the ninja hounds head, the other clenched around the flower in his hand, his lips quivering with the effort it was taking to keep his emotions at bay. Shino Aburame stood as calmly as ever, his own feelings hidden behind the large collar and sunglasses he always wore.
Rock Lee was an absolute mess, large tears falling freely down his face, his shoulders shaking with the sobs racking his body. For once Neji Hyuuga ignored the shinobi rules of conduct and let his friend grieve, allowing Lee to cry enough for the both of them. The man's arm rested around his fiancé Tenten whose eyes were red and watery yet she held her emotions in as best she could.
Last but not least stood Sabaku no Gaara, Kazekage of Sunagakure and dear friend of the late Rokudaime. His cheeks were dry of tears, his mouth set in its usual stern line, yet in his eyes was all the sorrow revealed on the faces of others.
The casket bearers reached the designated spot and stopped at once, as though some unspoken command had been given but not heard. The spot they had chosen was on the top of a hill overlooking the village; flowers sprinkled across the grass in the spring time while beautiful pure snow rested there come winter. No matter what the season the place was beautiful and it was here where Naruto would be laid to rest along with the five who had come before.
The crowd filled back together, the space that had been when the six shinobi had passed through now replaced by the villagers come to pay their respects to their beloved leader. Kakashi and Iruka laid the casket down on the stone table designated for this occasion, a space left in front for the flowers prepared by those in attendance. Wordlessly the six parted to two opposite sides, Iruka, Sai, and Hinata on one, Kakashi, Sakura, and Sasuke on the other.
Following this action everyone else slowly filed forward, placing their flowers down before Naruto's peaceful form and stepping back to the side to allow another their tern. The minutes ticked by as person after person came forward, barely a dry eye to be seen.
At long last the line of villagers dwindled down until only the Rokudaime's closest friends remained. Mutely they formed an arc around the casket, each holding a flower and a burning candle in their hands. Without a word Shino stepped forward first and lowered his flower onto the others resting there.
"You were a great Hokage Naruto, and an even better man. You will be missed," he murmured before moving to the side, allowing for the next person. When no one else went Choji approached the casket and set his flower beside Shino's.
"You never gave up on us Naruto, even when we'd given up on ourselves…" He paused and sniffed, wiping a tear from his cheek with a massive hand. "I'd give up eating meat forever if it would bring you back." With those words he stepped away and moved to stand next to Shino. Tenten was next, hoping to get what she wanted to say out before she lost control entirely. Putting her flower down she hiccupped and wiped her eyes on the back of her hand.
"You were the best Naruto. Everything you did in life you put your whole heart into. You protected us all to the very end, we owe you everything. Thank you." With those words she stepped back beside Neji who wrapped his arms around her, holding the girl close. Ino stepped up next, giving Sakura a meaningful look as she did so. Laying down her flower a small smile formed on her lips and she shook her head.
"You were so annoying…probably the most annoying Hokage in the history of Konoha. At the same time though, you were the happiest, most full of energy, most knuckleheaded leader we've ever had and probably will ever have. We won't forget you…" she trailed off at those words and stepped back next to Choji who placed his arm around her. Neji murmured something into Tenten's ear before stepping forward and placing his flower down.
"You have obtained everything you ever said you were going to and much more. You were right; you can change your destiny for the better. I have you to thank for the life I have now and I will do everything I can to never forget your words. Thank you…Naruto Uzumaki," he murmured before joining Tenten once more. Kiba approached next with Akamaru in tow.
"You idiot," he said quietly, a small smile on his face. "You would decide to play the hero and save us all in the end wouldn't you? Never could stay out of the spot light…" he trailed off, having to take a second to get his voice back. "Anyway thanks for everything that you've done as Hokage, and for everything you've done as a friend. We'll miss you…you crazy idiot," he murmured before laying his flower and joining Shino. Lee hiccupped and approached next, wiping his eyes rapidly on his green sleeve.
"Y-you have touched so many Naruto. I do not think even you truly knew the full effect you had upon people's lives…the power to change them for the better. You will be missed very much but we will all try our best to continue on with laughter. I believe it is what you would have wished. Good bye Naruto…" he choked off and had to step back before stepping forward again to place his flower on the pile.
"I guess it's my turn then." Everyone turned to see Shikamaru step forward, the lazy shinobi staring sadly at the peaceful face in the casket. "Man I'm jealous of you Naruto, getting to sleep like that and be the center of attention at the same time." He shook his head and shoved his hands into his pockets, his eyes at long last brimming over. "I promised myself I wouldn't cry at your funeral 'cause I know that you wouldn't have wanted it. Hell to be totally honest you'd probably rather we all throw a ramen party and forget about mourning you completely… You were never good at staying down for long; you'd always pick yourself up. I wish the rest of us could be like you, follow your example. The truth is Naruto, you're gonna be missed for a long, long time. Thanks for everything you've done for us, we're going to miss you kid," he murmured finally before placing his flower beside all the others and stepping back.
Sai stepped up next; instead of a flower he grasped a small canvas. On it was painted two boys, one blonde, holding out a helping hand to the black haired boy who had fallen on the ground. The blonde was smiling and the other was staring up at him, a look of happiness in his eyes as he held the other's hand in his own. Scrawled across the bottom were two simple words: thank you. Sai set the painting beside the flowers and stepped back without uttering anything.
A slight breeze picked up as the next person stepped forward, none other than Sabaku no Gaara himself. He stood before his friend's casket for a long time before finally setting his flower down and murmuring.
"We were so much alike, as much as you said we were. You showed me how important friendship and bonds can be…thank you, Uzumaki Naruto." With that he stepped back beside his siblings, his glittering eyes the only visible sign of his own grief. Iruka moved forward next, his own eyes swimming with tears.
"Naruto, to me you will always be that little boy I used to take out for ramen all the time. I never dreamed that I would live to see this day, the day of your death. Rather, I prayed I wouldn't. The life of a ninja is not generally a long one yet I couldn't help hoping that with who you were, you would live longer than what was expected. I know now that with the fate you chose, this end was unavoidable. Yet you…" he stopped for a moment, having to swallow before continuing. "You chose it willingly. I almost wonder if you knew stepping into this battle that you wouldn't live to see the sunrise of the next day and even so… You put your life on the line for your friends, for your village. You have matured so much; I know your father is proud of you. Wherever you are now, I know you're with him and now join him in watching over us. We will miss you Naruto, more than you know. You were a brilliant ninja and a wonderful Hokage, just as you always said you would be… rest in peace," he whispered the last three words, his face contorted into a mask of grief. The man raised his hand to his eyes and covered them as he stepped back, his shoulders shaking almost as much as Lee's. Kakashi approached next and stared at his former student for a long time. Finally he chuckled a little.
"You did it Naruto; you achieved everything you strove for in life. You lived so you had no regrets, passing each moment with so much enthusiasm. I guess I'm a little jealous that Jiraya, Minato, and Kushina get to have you join them so much earlier than we would have liked. Even so… you were an exceptional student, an exceptional teacher, and a man we can all take something from. Take care Naruto, may our one and only number one hyperactive knuckle head ninja rest in peace." Kakashi bowed his head and closed his eyes to show his respect to the man lying before him, then stepped back into the crowd, his candle's light mixing with the others.
Hinata turned to Sakura and Sasuke and smiled before stepping forward and staring at the casket holding her husband's body. It was now that pearly tears slid down her cheeks and splashed onto her beloved's face, seeming to run from his eyes as well. She knelt down beside him and stroked his cool cheek with her hand.
"Naruto…" she murmured her voice thick with emotion. "The others weren't lying when they spoke of how you changed people for the better. How inspiring you were. Back in our younger days all I could do was watch you. You filled me with such awe and admiration and I think that's the reason I fell in love with you. You were always my proud failure back then. Then you grew up and you weren't a failure anymore. You came so far and worked so hard to get to where you ended up. The day you became Hokage was also the day you proposed to me and I don't think I've ever been happier. Your eyes were sparkling and you cried Naruto because you had finally achieved your goal of a lifetime. I always knew you would… Naruto I don't like to think about never being held in your arms again or waking up in the mornings and you're not beside me. Even though that hurts, even though it feels like I may never fully heal, I know I'll see you again. You're still with me in the air that I breathe, the wind in my face. You're alive in the hopes and dreams of the villagers, the innocent dreams of children. I love you Naruto, and I know I always will love you." The woman stroked his face one last time before setting her flower with the others. Staring at him she knew this would be the last time she saw his face in anything but a photograph or a memory and it was that thought that finally sent her reeling into her grief. Falling to the ground the woman covered her face with her hands and sobbed.
Kiba and Shino were at her side in moments, Kiba wrapping his arm around her and gently guiding her to where they were standing, holding the girl close to him as she cried. Shino gently placed his hand on her shoulder and kept it there, letting her know he was there for her as well. Then there were two.
Sakura and Sasuke approached the casket together, flowers held in each of their hands. Words could not describe the emotions felt by the two of them as they stared at their former comrade and best friend. What could they say that would cover everything they had experienced together? The fun times, the bad times, times of separation and times of unity. Now there was an empty space where the blonde used to stand, silence where his laughter had been, an empty chair he should have filled, an empty room with a neatly made bed.
Never again would they hear his feet pounding excitedly towards them down the street. Never again would they see his sheepish face when he was found eating ramen on the job. He wouldn't be there to make them laugh when times were hard, or bring up their spirits when they felt like they couldn't go on. Naruto was the glue that had kept them all together and now he was gone, leaving only pain and emptiness that would never be filled. The memories flashed through their heads like a movie in fast forward. Everything from day one, the very beginning of team seven, to his final breath two days ago. It had all gone so fast and now it seemed they had been left behind by time.
"Naruto…" Sakura finally breathed, her mind flashing back to his final moments.
The man stared up at them, his head resting in Hinata's lap as her tears fell on his face, his right hand held tightly in Sakura's, his blue eyes glancing up to where Sasuke was staring at him, horrified.
"Wh-what's wrong Sasuke? You look like you did that one time you found out that meatloaf you ate was actually some of Gaara's left over gizzard," he murmured, his voice husky and fading. Sasuke flinched before his legs gave out and he fell to his knees beside his friend.
"Don't try to talk you idiot. You'll only make things worse," he murmured. Sakura had tried to heal their friend moments after he had finally fallen, yet it was only too clear that nothing she did at that point would make any difference.
"It's alright. Even I'm smart enough to know I haven't got that much time left," the Rokudaime whispered, his eyes fluttering. "It's okay though, this is exactly how I always hoped I would die. Victorious on the battle field as Hokage and surrounded by my friends and loved ones. I was always afraid that I would die alone but I guess…I guess I had nothing to worry about after all." The man coughed and a small trickle of blood flowed out the corner of his mouth.
"NARUTO!" Sakura gasped, squeezing his hand harder. His eyes opened again and he smiled at the girl before turning to Sasuke.
"You better take care of her you idiot. If you do anything to make her cry I swear I'll come back to haunt you," he murmured. Sasuke mutely nodded, unable to find the words to reply. Naruto's eyes swiveled to Sakura and he gave her hand a light squeeze.
"Take care of her for me okay?" he asked quietly, indicating Hinata with a slight jerk of his head. Sakura nodded and bit back the sobs that were beginning to choke her. Sasuke slammed his fist into the ground, the first tear sliding down his nose and into the blood stained grass.
"DAMMIT! If only I had been near you to help. You wouldn't be, this wouldn't have…" he trailed off as Naruto shook his head.
"You would have ended up worse than me. I would have had to be watching your back the whole time…would have only…slowed me down." His voice was fading with every passing second and the three knew he was almost out of time. "H-Hinata…" he murmured, his eyes fluttering rapidly as he tried to keep them open. "I love…you," he whispered. The girl nodded, trying to smile through her pain.
"I love you too Naruto. I always will," she replied resting her forehead against his for a brief moment. Naruto smiled before murmuring his final words:
"Sakura…Sas…uke… thank you." And then he was gone.
"We said our good byes to you that day Naruto," Sakura whispered, placing her flower on top of the others. Sasuke nodded and set his next to hers.
"You take care wherever you are, you loser," he said quietly, his lips quirking in a ghost of a smile.
Long after the casket had been placed in the ground and the dirt piled on top of it, the crowds of people dispersed and the last candle whittled down to wax, three people still stood at the grave of Uzumaki Naruto. The remaining members of team seven huddled together, arms around each other, the last of their tears falling and watering the flowers resting on top of the mound. A wonderful friend had passed from this world and gone peacefully to the next, leaving behind a mark that would last forever. The years would pass by as quickly as they always had but never would this man fade from the memories of those who loved and cared for him. He would always be a part of them for as long as they continued to breathe the air of this world and he would never, never be forgotten.
In loving memory of Michael, 1988-2008.