A/N: This is a mini-series set between my story, "Fighting Dreamers," and it's sequel, "New Promises." It is a collection of letters written by Iruka, Tsubaki, and Naruto, along with journal entries from Kakashi and Sasuke. To see these letters as images, you can visit my livejournal—the link is on my author page. Thanks, and enjoy!


Letters

(Sticky Note)

Kakashi –

I'm sorry to do this to you, but do you think you could keep these things for Naruto and myself? We have to pack light, but I can't bear to throw them away.

Iruka

(Letter)

Hatake Kakashi
Apartment #36
Konoha, Fire Country

Dear Kakashi,

I don't know that you'll want to talk to me tomorrow, so I'm leaving you this letter. When we last spoke, I feel like I was unnecessarily cruel to you. I can't say I wasn't being honest, but my feelings for you aren't as shallow as I made you believe. I do care about you, sweetheart, and I hope…well…I hope you find happiness. You were right when you said I needed time. I've spent my whole life burying my grief and sadness so that I can just get through the day. Now it's my time to heal.

Kakashi, I have to say this, even though I don't want to. Please don't wait for me. If life presents you with a chance to move on, grip it with both hands and go with it. I don't want you to take this the wrong way, but part of why I can't be with you is that you have a lot of growing to do. I think if you're really honest with yourself, you'll see that I'm telling you the truth. You've had to grow up too fast, and that fact didn't do you any favors in the relationship department. But I guess you probably don't want to hear this. It's not like I was perfect and am in a position to judge. God only knows I've done my fair share of messing up.

There's so much more I want to say, but I wouldn't be able to find the words even if sat here until the ink dried up in my pen. Just…be safe and take care of yourself.

Iruka

(Letter)

Tanaka Tsubaki
174 Lazy Lane
Konoha, Fire Country

Dear Tsubaki,

We've reached the hot springs and found Jiraiya-san. That's the name of Naruto's new teacher. All I have to say about him is that he's a shameless, horrid, crotchety old pervert. I don't care how great of a ninja he claims to be. I'm spending all my time trying to counter-balance the negative influence he's having on Naruto.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. We spent the most relaxing few days of my life here before we found Jiraiya. Tsubaki, you just have to come and experience it for yourself. The springs are so relaxing. I'm sure you've been thinking about what happened in the woods, non-stop if you're like me. When I was in the springs, I found some relief. You can't do anything beyond just relaxing. I felt so much better afterwards. It was like the stress just melted away.

Naturally, Jiraiya had to come along and wreck it. He's terribly hard on Naruto, but my son takes it like a soldier. I'm proud of him. Jiraiya tells me he has a great deal of potential. Of course, I already knew that.

I think about you often. I hope the pregnancy is going well and you're feeling fine. Remember, even if I can't read your letters yet, I still want you to write me. I think it will help. Writing has certainly been helping me sort through what I'm feeling. I've never had this much time to just think and figure myself out. Naruto and Jiraiya keep themselves busy, and most of the time I'm just waiting in the village for them to finish. Although I have regrets, I still think I made the right decision to leave. I really needed this, and I can't express in words how badly. I almost feel like a person again.

Naruto's tenth birthday is coming up. I can hardly believe it. Since I found him on the tenth of October, that's always been the day we celebrate. I'm going to do something special for him, but I haven't figured out just what yet.

Love,

Iruka

October 3rd

(Letter)

Uchiha Sasuke
Uchiha Complex
Konoha, Fire Country

Deer Sasuke,

Dad says I'm gonna have to work on my righting. I showed him one letter, and I just got a huge lecture 'cause I didn't spell anything the right way. Now I'm not showin' him, cause I don't want him making me do it all over agin. You don't care that I don't spell good, right?

I'm learnin' lots of stuff. I'm so gonna kick your butt!

Naruto

October 3rd

(Letter - Unsent)

Dear Iruka,

The hot springs sound heavenly. As I usually do when I fall onto hard times, I find happiness in my garden. I'm doing a bit of experimenting, and the extra work is keeping me busy. I seem to get tired so easily, though! I've gone to a few checkups at the hospital, and my doctor says I'm doing fine. I was so relieved. I was worried that the stress of losing Mizuki would be bad for me, but I've been trying to take care of myself. Some days it's not easy. I know you know what I'm talking about.

I visit Mizuki's grave often, but not for the reason people think. I visit because I like to stare at the stone and know that he can't hurt me anymore. Is that wrong? I don't know, and I'm beyond caring. I cleaned out his apartment yesterday. It was like realizing that he was dead all over again. I cried and cried until I just couldn't anymore. I hate that it came to this. My only solace is that I know you were with him when he passed, and that you showed him kindness. The rest of the world may never understand why I loved him, but I did with all my heart. It hurts me so much to think of him suffering before…

Enough about that. Even I'm getting tired of thinking about it incessantly. Everyone looks at me with such pity now. I can hardly stand it. These stupid people don't know anything, and they're still gossiping about you and Naruto. They say he has a demon inside of him. It may or may not be true, but I know Naruto would never hurt a fly. The rumors about you are harder to hear. They say such horrible things—as if you aren't a person with feelings just like them. I don't know how they can hate something so much that has nothing to do with them. I'm glad Naruto isn't here to listen to all of this. Trust me, you made the right decision to leave.

Please give Naruto a big Birthday Hug for me. What did you end up doing for him?

You're in my thoughts as well,

Tsubaki October 11th

(Letter – Unsent)

Hatake Kakashi
Apartment #36
Konoha, Fire Country

Dear Kakashi,

I miss you. I didn't expect that. What are you doing right now?

(Letter)

Hatake Kakashi
Apartment #36
Konoha, Fire Country

Dear Kakashi,

Naruto's training is going well. Jiraiya-sama is working on his basics and tells me that he'll be ready for more advanced techniques soon. They did this exercise where Naruto had to walk on water. He kept falling in. I guess you just had to be there to appreciate how funny it was. Naruto will be ten years old in five days. It's hard for me to believe!

I hope you're doing well. I'm doing okay.

Iruka

October 5th

(Sasuke's Journal Entry)

Dear Journal,

I think writing in here is stupid. Kakashi says I have to do it, though, and he even bought me the journal. I don't have much to say. Unlike Naruto, I'm still stuck in boring old Konoha with all the stupid girls that won't leave me alone. It's bad again, because I'm all by myself now that Naruto's gone.

I got a letter from the Idiot today. His writing is pathetic. I don't know why I spent so much time with someone so dense. I kept the letter. I don't know why.

Sasuke
October 6th

(Letter)

Tanaka Tsubaki
174 Lazy Lane
Konoha, Fire Country

Dear Tsubaki,

Naruto had a good time on his birthday. I bought him some new clothing and a watch. He already broke it once, but I managed to get it running again. Now he only wears it when he's not training. Jiraiya, that stupid idiot, gave Naruto a pornographic novel for a present.

I swear, Tsubaki, this training might get cut real short. I'm going to strangle the lazy pervert in his sleep.

I've tried to stay focused on Naruto's birthday, but I haven't forgotten who else had a birthday this month. Will you put some flowers on Mizuki's grave for me on the 21st? I know it's asking a lot, but I don't want him to be alone, despite everything he did. He always loved his birthdays. It was always an event when we were younger. I miss those days.

We've left the springs, unfortunately. I don't think it was planned. I suspect it's because the bathhouse owner caught Jiraiya spying on women. I told you—he's horrible. We're headed to one more town in Fire Country before we leave the border. Jiraiya says he has a friend he wants to track down.

Speaking of friends, how is Kakashi doing? I know it's silly to ask, as your letters can't reach me, but I just have to. I'm worrying about him more than I thought I would. I'm starting to fear…well, I'm not quite ready to go there yet. Maybe in another letter.

All My Love to You and Baby, Iruka October 20th (Letter – Unsent) Iruka, Curse you for leaving your stupid shit here. I can't put it away. It's just sitting there wasting space in my damn bedroom. You had no right to leave a letter like that. It didn't even make sense, and no, I didn't want to hear your opinion about why you don't care about me. I could have done without the salt in the wound, thanks. Tsubaki showed me your letters to her. Well, she didn't show me so much as I visited her and happened to find them on the table and accidentally read them. Then she explained how she's writing you even though you won't read her letters until you get back. Just what are you starting to fear concerning me? Worried that I'm still going to be hung up on you when you come back? Think again. And quit talking about me to Tsubaki. You don't like being called a woman, so don't gossip like one. Gossip. I swear I'm going to lose it and just start killing people. Kurenai is first on the list for the irritating habit she's developed of telling me at every opportunity what everyone's saying about us and Naruto. Next is going to be Tenzo, because he's been following me like a lost puppy for no apparent reason. But there's no point in telling you all that. It's not like you'll ever read this. Get out of my head, already! Sick of hearing about you, Kakashi P.S. I'm taking care of Sasuke. At least I'm trying.

(Sasuke's Journal)

Dear Journal,

No word from the retard. I wonder what he's doing. Kakashi won't leave me alone. He doesn't know the first thing about taking care of a kid. Most of the time, I feel like I'm taking care of him. When I was at his apartment yesterday, he showed me a letter he wrote to Iruka. When I say 'showed' I mean that I happened to find it when I searched his bedroom. Then I accidentally read it while he was on a mission.

Something bad happened between those two. I guess it's up to me to sort it all out. I tried to find the letter he mentioned that Iruka wrote to him, but I couldn't. He's probably framed it, the stupid loser.

Sakura framed some of my hair. She cut it off during class while Ino used her Mind Transfer jutsu on me. What's WRONG with these people?

Naruto would never do something stupid like that. Now I have to worry about this Kakashi-Iruka thing and figure out a way to get my hair back from Sakura. I hate girls.

Sasuke
October 21st

(Letter)

Uchiha Sasuke
Uchiha Complex
Konoha, Fire Country

Sasuke,

Dad made me write this letter better than I wrote the last one. Everything's spelled right and everything! I'm learning a new technique. What's Kakashi teaching you? Anything good? My teacher is named Frog Hermit. He knows good stuff, even if he has a dumb name that I can't spell.

I wish we could spar and eat ramen. When I get back, let's eat a bunch of ramen together, okay? We had to leave the last town cause Frog Hermit got caught staring at naked girls. Wait till you see what I came up with to keep Frog Hermit in line! Dad hasn't seen it yet, but since I don't change into Kakashi, I don't know if it would work or not. I saw a girl's boobs. Have you seen them yet? I bet you haven't. Loser.

Naruto

November 2nd

(Letter – Unsent)

Dear Iruka,

It's been more than a month, and you still are gone. I guess I knew it would take longer than just a few weeks, but I was hoping you'd be home soon. I feel very alone, and I feel like you're the only one who understands how I'm feeling.

Still, I know you're safer and better off wherever you are. The gossip about you has finally died down. I have to tell you something. Kakashi-san came to visit me and found your letters.

I wish I could tell you he's doing well, but I really can't tell. He hardly ever speaks. I haven't seen him without Sasuke-kun with him, so that's something at least. I cooked for him the other day and took it to his house. He was gone, but Sasuke was there. He's turning into such a young gentleman! It seems he grows taller every time I see him. I think Sasuke is living with Kakashi now, but he still returns home to check for Naruto's letters. There was another man there when I visited. His name was Tenzo. He was polite, but I didn't like him. He moved around the apartment as if it were his own.

I don't quite know how to tell you this, and it may not have any significance at all. The last time I saw Sasuke, he was wearing your mother's ring on a chain around his neck. Did Naruto give it to him, I wonder?

I'm beginning to gain a little weight. I feel fat, and now people pity me even more when they realize I'm pregnant with a dead man's baby. A trip to the hot springs is starting to sound like a wonderful idea.

Feel free to talk about Kakashi. Could it be you cared for him more than you thought? No one would blame you for being confused. It wasn't exactly an easy time for any of us.

Fat and Tired,

Tsubaki
November 3rd

(Letter)

Tanaka Tsubaki
174 Lazy Lane
Konoha, Fire Country

Dear Tsubaki,

How's Baby? I feel like mine has grown up overnight. There was a festival in the village we're staying in, and he stayed out late because we got separated in the crowd. When he came back he said Jiraiya had let him taste alcohol. Naturally, I lost it. But for once I was patient. I knew I couldn't beat or strangle the man, so I waited until he returned that night—so drunk he didn't even know his own name.

I shaved him bald while he slept. Keep in mind that this is a man that used to have hair down to his waist. Needless to say, he hasn't teased me or taught something perverted to Naruto since, and he's using a jutsu to keep the image of his hair. Naruto knows he's bald though, and he takes great pleasure in telling all the pretty girls we meet that Jiraiya is so old he's gone bald and that he wears a wig. Serves the big toad right. Tsubaki, you don't know how much that man gets on my nerves. Raising a child is hard enough without Jiraiya trying to corrupt my son at every opportunity.

I've discovered something else about him. He's the author of those perverted books Kakashi was always reading. The other day, he called me a prude and said I was too virginal to handle his writing. That night I took his latest book and edited it. I left detailed notes in the margins explaining why most of the sex positions he chose were impossible and made suggestions for new ones. He hasn't looked at me in the same way since.

Maybe Kakashi will forgive me if I send him a copy of Jiraiya's latest book before anyone else gets it? I think about him all the time. I miss him terribly. Has he found someone new?

Missing Konoha,

Iruka
November 17th

(Letter)

Hatake Kakashi
Apartment #36
Konoha, Fire Country

Dear Kakashi,

I have a surprise for you, but you'll have to wait until I come back to Konoha. It concerns a new job I've found. I have to occupy myself somehow while Naruto and Jiraiya are off training, after all. How have you been? Naruto is excited to show you everything he's learned. How is Sasuke-kun?

Jiraiya has a good friend in the next town we're visiting, and we'll be staying with him for most of December. I'll give you his address just in case anyone in Konoha would like to write to us. We should be there long enough to receive letters. We've wandered quite far from Konoha, and the weather is freezing where I am. Since it really snows in this country, most of the villages have big winter festivals. I remember my parents celebrating the end of winter vaguely, but it's been a long time since I went to a Konoha festival. I hope you relax some and enjoy the cool weather.

Kakashi…have you forgiven me yet? I've had a lot of time to think about what I really want, and…well…never mind. It's late and it's been a long day. Forgive me if I don't make any sense. In case our card doesn't reach you in time, I send warm wishes to you for the winter holidays. If I were there, I'd make you some gingerbread and decorate for you. Please visit Tsubaki during the holidays. It's going to be hard on her. If you don't have to work, take Sasuke to the festival. I bet he'd have a good time.

Hoping you're safe and sound,

Iruka
December 12th

P.S. – Here's the address:

672 Mountain Pass
Yukigakure, Snow Country

(Letter)

Uchiha Sasuke
Uchiha Complex
Konoha, Fire Country

Dear Sasuke,

Happy Holidays! Are you going to the winter festival in Konoha? Dad says they put on a fireworks show. Wish I could see it with you! Man, a hot bowl of ramen would taste great right now. It's been snowing all the time, but Frog Hermit still makes me train, stupid bastard.

Don't tell my dad I called him that, okay?

- Naruto

December 12th

(Letter)

Tanaka Tsubaki
174 Lazy Lane
Konoha, Fire Country

Dear Tsubaki-san,

Is your baby out yet? I can't wait to see him when we get home! Don't get too cold during winter. It's snows all the time here, but I'm still training. I'm definitely going to be Hokage now! Dad says I've grown taller, but I can't tell. Hey, hey, when I get back will you cook for me again and let me play in your garden? That would be really fun.

Happy Holidays!

Naruto
December 12th

(Letter)

Umino Iruka
672 Mountain Pass
Yukigakure, Snow Country

Dear Iruka,

I'm so glad this letter will reach you. I'm afraid I have some horrible news. Kakashi was badly injured on a mission last week. He's been in the hospital ever since, and the doctors say he'll probably be there for the rest of the month. I visit him almost every day, along with Sasuke and Tenzo-san. Tenzo-san is the young man that Kakashi has befriended. I think they work together. I know you'll be worried, but the doctors say he will recover just fine. It's just going to take time.

I've been faithfully replying to each and every letter, and saving my replies for you to read. Sasuke tells me that Kakashi has written you a letter, too. When I asked him if he would like me to send it with this one, he told me Kakashi probably wouldn't want it to be mailed. Perhaps he still has feelings for you, too? Sasuke has been so grown-up about the whole thing. He's had a huge growth spurt.

I'm almost four months pregnant now. Can you believe it? The time sure flies by. Before the mission, Kakashi and Sasuke-kun were building me a crib. Lately, I've been craving ramen all the time. I'm starting to believe I'm carrying a twin of Naruto-kun! Stay safe, and have a lovely winter holiday.

Love,

Tsubaki
December 19th

P.S. Has Jiraiya-san's hair re-grown yet? I bet his head is cold in all that snow. Oh, and congratulations on your new editing job. I haven't told Kakashi, so your surprise is safe!

(Letter)

Umino Naruto
672 Mountain Pass
Yukigakure, Snow Country

Dear Naruto,

My training was going well, but Kakashi landed himself in the hospital, so now Tenzo's teaching me a few things. When you get home, you'll have to think of a prank to play on him. Tenzo's an idiot, and he deserves whatever we can dish out. I still have the ring, and it still works. I haven't forgotten you yet. I hope you come home soon.

Sasuke
December 19

(Letter)

Hatake Kakashi
Apartment #36
Konoha, Fire Country

Dear Kakashi,

Are you recovering well? I've been worried sick about you, even though Tsubaki said you'd be fine. I was so relieved to hear that you're taking care of Sasuke-kun, too. I wish I could help you out while you're injured, but I guess Tenzo-san is doing the job.

I'm really happy that you've found a new friend. Really, really happy. I mean, that's just great news. Really.

Rest up, Kakashi. I miss you…and Sasuke and Tsubaki, too, of course.

Worried about you,

Iruka
December 26th

(Sasuke's Journal Entry)

Dear Journal,

Kakashi nearly died on his last mission. Tenzo has been driving him crazy in the hospital. He acts like Sakura and Ino. I get irritated with Tenzo. He thinks he can boss me around like he's my big brother or something. If he keeps doing it, I'm going to hurt him. Seriously. And Kakashi can't do anything about it because he's stuck in a hospital bed.

Naruto's letters are getting further and further apart. I don't understand why he can't train in Konoha. When I mentioned Naruto the other day, Tenzo asked me if I had a crush on him. I tried to hit him, but I couldn't. Stupid ANBU asshole. I need to get stronger.

I don't think he and Kakashi are together, but I've been talking about Iruka a lot lately just to make sure it doesn't happen. Kakashi usually gets really quiet when he's mentioned, and then he tells Tenzo to leave him alone. They think I don't know what's going on, but I'm not stupid.

Sasuke
December 26th

P.S. Tenzo doesn't know anything. Naruto's just my best friend.

(Letter)

Tanaka Tsubaki
174 Lazy Lane
Konoha, Fire Country

Dear Tsubaki,

How are you feeling? I'm sorry this letter is so late. We left Yukigakure and we camped out for almost three weeks in the mountains. Then we left Snow Country and traveled to Honey Country. Don't be fooled by the name. After freezing solid for nearly a month, Honey Country sounded like it would be warm and heavenly. It's just as cold as Snow Country—maybe even colder. The honey, however, was just as delicious as it sounds. I'm saving you a small bottle.

I miss winters in Fire Country where things stay warm. Once I get home, I'm never leaving. The traveling is good for Naruto, though. He's sparring with ninjas from all different places, and he's making lots of new friends all over the world. He's pretty good about writing them all letters, too. We've had so many adventures. When we finally get home, you and I will have to curl up with something hot to drink and I'll tell you all about it. I've started a diary so I don't forget anything. I'm thinking about writing a book. Goodness knows enough has happened to us to fill hundreds of pages.

We encountered a Konoha ninja for the first time last week. He said he didn't know Kakashi personally, but that (like everyone) he's heard of his reputation. He'd heard of ours, too, and was rude to us at first. We helped him with his mission, though, and he eventually realized we aren't terrible people. He sparred with Naruto and said he's going to tell all his friends that Naruto is going to be Hokage some day. I guess his strength really has become impressive. I don't even notice. To me, he's still my little boy. I guess things have changed a bit. I don't have to help him as much, and instead of protecting him, he usually ends up protecting me. He's getting to be so handsome, Tsubaki.

Hoping you're well,

Iruka
February 3rd

(Letter)

Uchiha Sasuke
Uchiha Complex
Konoha, Fire Country

Dear Sasuke,

I'm sorry I haven't written a letter just for you. I've been telling Naruto to give you messages from me in his letters, but he let it slip the other day that he hasn't been including what I say because it's "stuff you already know." He got in big trouble, just so you know.

Tsubaki says Kakashi is taking care of you, and that makes me glad. I didn't want you to go back to being alone. I worry about how you're doing. You know you're like my second son, so I miss you very much! How is school? Are you keeping your grades up and trying hard? Tsubaki told me about the crib you were building for her. That was a very kind thing to do, Sasuke-kun. Naruto talks about you to all of the new people he meets. If you were worried he might have forgotten about you, that's definitely not the case! He and I look at the stars at night and try to guess which ones you might be seeing in Konoha. We both can't wait to see you again. Naruto wants you to tell him stories again when we get back. He says you're still better at it than I am. I love you, and I hope you're taking care of yourself.

All my love,

Iruka
February 6

(Sasuke's Journal Entry)

Dear Journal,

Iruka is definitely better for Kakashi than Tenzo. I figured out that they are a couple, so I talked to Kakashi about it. I asked him if he'd forgotten about Iruka. He told me that if I didn't like his choices, I could move back home. So I did.

Tenzo came to talk to me. He said that he cared about me a lot and didn't want "his little brother" to be upset. I told him to fuck off, and that I only have one older brother, and Tenzo definitely isn't him. He left after that, and I haven't heard from either Kakashi or Tenzo for a few days. Good riddance. Iruka deserves better than that lazy ass anyway. Iruka said he loved me in his letter. I haven't heard that in a long time. It made me feel better about everything. I miss Iruka, too, but I miss Naruto even more. I want my best friend back. Tenzo may be stupid, but I think he might have been right. I like Naruto. I'm never going to tell him, though. He probably wouldn't want to be my best friend anymore if he knew.

Sasuke
February 13

P.S. Valentine's Day is coming up. I hate Valentine's Day. Naruto would have liked eating all the chocolate I always get, though. Too bad he's not here.

(Kakashi's Journal Entry)

I realize now what you were talking about, Iruka. I was fucking Tenzo, and sometimes he said and did the stupidest things. He's only 19. What's scary is I realized that I don't act much better than he does, despite the fact that I'm almost 26. Is it too late to say I'm sorry? I will say it to you when you get back, no matter how awkward it is.

I've made a mess of things with Sasuke. I need you here to help him. He's a smart kid and he picks up on too damn much. I can't talk to him like you do. He respects me, but he doesn't open up to me. I bought him a journal, but I don't know if he's actually writing in it or not. I'm going to try to sort things out with Sasuke. Please come home soon. I've learned my lesson. Trying to take care of a kid is harder than I thought. Doing that, and then being in a relationship with a child in an adult's body would wear anybody down.

Tenzo got angry with me and threw away your things – I hadn't touched them. I nearly strangled him, but I ended up dumping him instead. He's young. He'll find somebody else. I'm quitting ANBU. Sasuke got really upset when I came back like I did. He didn't say it, but I could tell by the way he spent all his time in the hospital with me to make sure I kept breathing through the rough patches. I've had a long run in ANBU, but I feel like I have someone to come back home for now. I actually care if I live or die, and you can't be like that as ANBU Captain. Did you know I would start to care about Sasuke as much as I do? I bet you did. It seemed like you knew me better than I knew myself sometimes. I hope I can convince Sasuke to come back home. I wish you were here to help me. He'd listen to you.

(Letter—Unsent)

Dear Iruka,

How quickly things can turn from good to bad. Things have gotten a bit messy here. I'm at the six-month mark, and you don't know how much I wish you were here. Kakashi recovered and came out of the hospital, and now I know exactly what happened between him and Tenzo. I heard the story from Sasuke, who was very upset and came to me to talk about it (though he pretended he came just to finish the crib). I've watched as Sasuke and Kakashi trained together almost every day, frequently by my house so that they could stop for drinks and lunch when they got hungry. The two of them are so alike – they just understand each other. Five months of this and they were acting like father and son. Sasuke even slipped once and called him "dad." Kakashi had a big smile on his face that whole morning, and Sasuke blushed afterwards, but he said it again a few more times in my presence. The two of them have been doing well, Iruka, really wonderfully.

I haven't written about Tenzo to spare your feelings, because I know you still care (love?) Kakashi. But Tenzo is the one who made Sasuke and Kakashi become so close by constantly encouraging both of them and communicating between them. Tenzo isn't perfect, but he loves Sasuke. After you left, everyone knew about Kakashi's preference, and maybe that gave Tenzo the courage to approach him. Maybe it just made him curious. At any rate, he started following Kakashi around and distracted him from your leaving. At first I didn't like how familiar he acted with Kakashi – like they were intimate before they really were. He instantly liked Sasuke. Tenzo was constantly teasing him and playing with him, even sneaking him into scary movies every so often. For a while, I honestly thought the three of them might become a family. Then problems started. Tenzo took his brotherly attitude a bit too far, and with Sasuke's history, it became a sensitive subject. The two of them began to fight. Tenzo didn't understand why Sasuke was suddenly shutting him out. Sasuke tells me it was when he found out Tenzo and Kakashi were sleeping together. Sasuke wants you to come back and be with Kakashi. He has it in his head that you're his other father, and he doesn't like Tenzo trying to fill your shoes.

Tenzo has been talking to me, as well. I know you won't judge him just because of your past with Kakashi. You aren't like that. If he made Kakashi happy, I know you'd be the first one to welcome him into our circle of friends, but he and Kakashi are constantly butting heads. Tenzo wants Kakashi to take him seriously, but Kakashi thinks of him as a kid still. It's not that Tenzo's immature. It's just that he hasn't had a relationship before. He doesn't know when to pick his fights, and I can tell he irritates Kakashi to no end. Tenzo doesn't realize this, but Kakashi is used to the kind of attention you gave him. Tenzo is young and self-centered, and sometimes he doesn't realize he's saying something that hurts Kakashi's feelings. He's just not as sensitive and caring as you are. Things finally reached a boiling point and it ended in the worst possible way. Sasuke had a melt down and called Kakashi all kinds of terrible things. He told him he didn't deserve you, and that he must not have really loved you if he'd already forgotten about you. He told Kakashi he was childish and stupid and that he never wanted to see Tenzo again. Kakashi lost his temper and told him if he didn't like it, he could move back home. Tenzo was angry that Sasuke chose you over him (he's terribly jealous of you, Iruka) and he and Sasuke got into it after Kakashi stormed out. Sasuke moved home for a few days and then came to see me. Tenzo tried to apologize to him, but Sasuke won't hear it. I've asked Sasuke to stay with me for a few days, and I'm helping him sort out his feelings. I think it helped that Kakashi came by and told him he and Tenzo were done. Sasuke's willing to forgive Kakashi, but he's still angry with Tenzo. Tenzo said something to him that he won't repeat even to me.

It's a mess, Iruka. I guess it would make things worse if you were here in the middle of it, but it would certainly make me feel better. My back has been killing me, and I'm starting to lose my courage. I just keep thinking of how Sasuke yelled at Kakashi, and I wonder if my child and I will ever have fights like that. What if I'm not a good mom? I'm still young, and the whole experience with Mizuki has taught me that sometimes I can be so stupid. I'm scared, Iruka, and I miss you terribly.

Love,

Tsubaki
February 28th

(Letter)

Tanaka Tsubaki
174 Lazy Lane
Konoha, Fire Country

Dear Tsubaki,

Finally, we've found some warm weather! We're moving in the direction of Konoha again, so it could be a sign Naruto's training is almost done. Jiraiya won't tell me anything substantial. He always says it just depends. I think he's waiting for Naruto to plateau. That's a scary thought. We'll be traveling for years if that's the case! Naruto has become ridiculously strong. We've had some nasty scrapes, because we're in unfriendly territory. Naruto just blows the enemies away in battle. I was worried Naruto was using the demon's chakra, but Jiraiya assures me it's sealed completely. Naruto's strength is all his own, and I can tell it amazes Jiraiya. Naruto works hard, and he never gives up.

I might have to admit that Jiraiya is a good teacher for him. His books aren't half bad either. We sent off his newest one to the publisher and he raved about it. He said Jiraiya's not allowed to ever fire me as his editor. Jiraiya's publisher said I improved Jiraiya's writing so much that he wants to partner me up with some of his other authors once I'm back in Konoha. I couldn't be happier about it. I haven't had time to work on my own book. I think I'm going to write a travel guide. Life has been precarious, to say the least. Naruto and Jiraiya are trouble magnets, and even more so lately. It seems every time I turn around we're in some kind of predicament.

I will say this about Earth Country. The people might be hostile, but sometimes we'll be walking along in the mountains and we'll come across a meadow or a waterfall that just takes your breath away. I invested in a small camera (it was expensive – ridiculously so) and I'll be sending you some pictures once I get them developed. Spring is like a living, breathing beauty in this place. It rolls down through the mountains and breathes through the water, melting the ice. The transformation is a marvel to watch. This place brings out the poet in me!

I bet your tummy is getting very big by this point. Maybe we'll be back in time for me to throw you a baby shower. Jiraiya has finally gotten the story out of me about Kakashi and myself, and about my unsavory past. God help me, but he wants to turn it into a special edition of his series. I'm telling him no, but he's going to do it anyway.

Love,

Iruka
March 1

P.S. I'm trying not to think about Kakashi so much since you told me he's getting close with someone else. It's been hard, but life has kept me distracted. I think I'm almost to the point that I could meet his new lover and not feel jealous. Then again, maybe I'm being too optimistic.

(Letter)

Uchiha Sasuke
Uchiha Complex
Konoha, Fire Country

Dear Sasuke,

I've had so many awesome battles! A rich lady paid me a ton of money because I found her daughter. She had got lost in the mountains. Jiraiya-sensei had given me the day off, so I told her I'd find her. She was really worried and didn't want to waste time going all the way to Iwagakure to hire a ninja. I tracked Junna-chan down easy, but she'd been kidnapped by a Stone ninja named Masami who'd gone rogue. He was tough! We fought for hours and I even fell off the side of the mountain! Dad found out where I'd gone and then he found Jiraiya. They came and Jiraiya helped me finish him off, but I coulda' handled it without him. Guess what? Masami was a Chuunin! I held my own against a Chuunin! Awesome, huh?

Then guess what happened. Just guess. Junna-chan gave me a kiss! It was only on the cheek, but she wants me to write to her and come see her again. Sakura-chan was cute, but Junna-chan is already a teenager. She's blonde and has huge boobs. Jiraiya-sensei says if she'd been older, he would have put her in one of his perverted books – that's how pretty she was! Have you been kissed yet, Sasuke? You better not be kissing on Sakura-chan. Even if Junna-chan's prettier, I still have dibs on Sakura!

Naruto
March 1

(Sasuke's Journal Entry)

Dear Journal,

Naruto is stupid. I definitely don't like him, and I probably won't even hang out with him when he gets back. All he cares about is boobs, and I don't have any, so I guess he won't like me anymore. I bet he gave a ring to that bimbo Junna, too. What kind of girl goes around kissing just anyone? She's probably just as annoying as Sakura and Ino. I should kiss him on the lips like in that movie Tenzo and I saw yesterday, just to show him how good of a kisser I am – way better than him. Well, I would do that if I still liked him, but I don't so it doesn't matter.

Kakashi and I are okay now. I'm letting Tenzo talk to me again, but I don't talk to him much. I try not to encourage him. I did tell him about my brother. Now he says he won't be my big brother – he's going to be my uncle instead. An uncle is okay, I guess. I don't really care. I'm just so pissed about Naruto and his stupid bimbo. I hope Jiraiya-sama beats the crap out of him during training.

Sasuke
March 5

(Letter-Unsent)

Dear Iruka,

Things have sorted themselves out here, but it's still stressful. I wish I could be in the mountains with you enjoying a picnic. I'm looking forward to your pictures. I've never been out of Konoha. Your travel book sounds like such a good idea. I'd love to read about far off places. Sometimes Konoha gets so boring. Sasuke is working for me now. I pay him to help me in the garden and to cart my vegetables to the market. I'm getting too fat to do anything. Tenzo is helping me out as well. I had a bit of cramping when the three of them were here, and I think they're afraid for me now. Tenzo is a good cook, though, so I'm not telling him that I feel better!

Kakashi and Tenzo have come to some sort of agreement. Maybe it's just an act for Sasuke's sake, but if it is, Sasuke hasn't picked up on it. Who knows? Maybe they're back together again and they're just keeping it a secret. I've given up on trying to make sense out of those two. I hope you're finding some spring romance of your own. Men haven't looked twice at me since my belly ballooned, but Tenzo is a darling and always makes a big show of complimenting me around other people and taking me to lunch when he's not working. White Day is coming up, and I have three handsome men to expect chocolate from! I made chocolates for them on Valentines, so I'm expecting them to return the favor! My cravings for all things sweet lately have just been ridiculous. The ice cream vendor can tell what flavor I want by the expression on my face. That's how bad it's gotten.

Sasuke was not happy to read Naruto's last letter. Iruka, I may sound silly, but I think Sasuke has a crush on Naruto. He protects that ring with his life, and he was so moody after he read about Naruto getting his first kiss from a girl. Kakashi, Tenzo, and I all picked up on it. Kakashi thinks the situation is hilarious and called Sasuke "cute." That didn't go over well. Tenzo read Naruto's letter over Sasuke's shoulder and has been teasing him mercilessly. I'm trying to make them be sensitive, but it's a lost cause, I'm afraid.

I met another friend of Kakashi's the other day. She bought some vegetables from me in the market. She and her boyfriend, Asuma, have been working with Kakashi a great deal lately. I invited them all to dinner, and they were lovely company. Kurenai and I are going shopping together tomorrow. I'm excited!

Hoping you'll get home soon,

Tsubaki
March 8

(Letter)

Uchiha Sasuke
Uchiha Complex
Konoha, Fire Country

Dear Sasuke,

I really miss you. I don't get homesick like dad does, but everything I've seen and done would have been better if you'd been here, too. I'm writing this at the ramen stand in Takigakure, but my ramen just doesn't taste good. Not because of the chef, but because I just kept thinking of how good the ramen was in Konoha, and I think it was so good because that's where you called me weak for the first time, and that's where we ate after school. I guess I'm just bummed out today. I asked Jiraiya-sensei when I would get to go home, but he says it won't be for a while. I hope you haven't found a new best friend, because you're still mine. I hope the ring still works. Jiraiya-sensei has been trying to teach me a new technique called the Rasengan, but I can't do it. I'm getting sick of training. I just want to hang out with you again. Dad loves the mountains, but it's just dumb flowers and rocks. I want to climb up our tree again and play Missing Ninja in the forest. Oh, yeah, dad says he loves you, can't wait to give you a big hug when we get back, blah blah blah.

Naruto
March 20

(Letter, Pictures Included)

Tanaka Tsubaki
174 Lazy Lane
Konoha, Fire Country

Dear Tsubaki,

I finally got my pictures developed, and it is the neatest thing! I took a few of Naruto, but he moved during the flash and they came out blurry, so I just threw them away. The best pictures are of the landscapes, and those are the ones I'll use in my book. Will you hold onto these for me so that I can save them for my travel guide?

Naruto is getting a bit frustrated. His training is very difficult at the moment, so I'm trying to keep his spirits up. I wish he could get a letter from Sasuke. That would cheer him up. How is Sasuke-kun? How's Kakashi?

I feel a bit guilty, even though I have no reason to feel this way. I have a new lover here. There, I wrote it. Please don't let Kakashi see this letter. I don't want to cause trouble or upset him, even though he's probably moved on. It's really nothing serious, but we've stayed here a few weeks and one thing just led to another, and before I knew it we were sleeping together. Naruto's a little upset about it, but mostly because he doesn't want to share my attention. He's warming up to Takuma and his friends slowly. He asked some questions, but doesn't mind that I'm gay. I'm amazed at how mature he's being about it. I guess we've just stuck by each other too much for him to push me away just because of my sexuality. It feels like a weight off my shoulders.

Takigakure is much more relaxed than Konoha, and I've seen several gay couples walking about in the open. Most of them are friends with Takuma, so I'll have lots of friends to write to when I leave. I almost wish I could live here, tucked away behind a waterfall. Naruto doesn't like it though. He says the ramen tastes bad. Plus, I wouldn't be so mean as to take him away from Sasuke when all he's wanted lately is to be around him.

Takuma took me swimming the other day. We ended up doing…other things. A waterfall was involved. I hope I'm not giving you too many details, but I'm so excited by how romantic he is! Also, I've been reading so much of Jiraiya's porn that I've become desensitized as to what's appropriate to say and what's not. You'll have to forgive me for rambling about him, but Takuma is just…perfect. Tall, dark, and handsome…and he has an accent, too. I'm serious, it's like he walked out of a romance novel. Of course, I don't think things would workout between us long term. He's got a bit of a wandering eye, if you know what I mean. Still, for a spring fling, he's a nice catch! I think I've had a dreamy smile on my face ever since we met.

Much love,

Iruka
March 26

(Sasuke's Journal Entry)

Dear Journal,

Maybe Naruto isn't so bad. I guess I can forgive him. I'm irritated with Kakashi and Tenzo again, though. I came home yesterday and I'm positive they were kissing before I got there. I just pretended like I didn't notice. I don't want them to be together, but I'm starting to feel like Iruka and Naruto are never going to come home, so Kakashi may as well be happy. Tenzo reads the same perverted books Kakashi does, and they laugh about them all the time. Plus, Tenzo's really strong. I think Kakashi likes that he and Tenzo can fight with fists if they get really mad at each other.

I guess this family wouldn't be so bad if I can't have my first choice.

Sasuke
March 25

(Letter—Unsent)

Dear Iruka,

I'm so happy for you! I wish you could bring Takuma home with you. I bet he'd make quite the souvenir! I must admit that the real reason I'm glad you've moved on is because Kakashi and Tenzo seem to have fixed whatever was wrong between them. I know it would be hard for you to see that if you still cared for him. Sasuke has accepted it. I admit the whole thing makes me a bit sad. I was hoping you and Kakashi would find that time was all you needed. Then again, if the both of you are happy, then I'm happy, too.

It seems that I'm the only one who hasn't found romance this spring. If I didn't see you still dating, I would think that having this baby was the end of my love life. I think things would be different if Mizuki were still alive, but his death has given me closure. I haven't visited him since his birthday. Sometimes I have to really resist the urge. I want to move past him and live in the present. It's easier to say than do, I'm afraid. Sometimes I think finding new romance will help me forget about the past, but other times I catch a glimpse of the truth inside my heart. I lay awake at night and know that the greatest love of my life is gone. For all his flaws, I was at his mercy. Would I really have had the strength to leave him if he were still alive? Iruka, forgive me, but I don't think I would have. Lately, I've been fixated on all my weaknesses. I just feel so gloomy all the time. I wish I had someone to share this pregnancy with. The baby moved for the first time last week and instead of being happy, I just broke down into tears because I felt so alone. It was so selfish and silly, Iruka. I've been like that all month. I've gained 22 pounds and 16 stretch marks. Even chocolate isn't helping at this point. Come home. I just want someone to hold me, and I'm too embarrassed to ask Kakashi or Tenzo. They'd just look at me as if I'd grown a second head.

Miserably yours,

Tsubaki
March 31

(Letter)

Hatake Kakashi
Apartment #36
Konoha, Fire Country

Dear Kakashi,

I hope you're doing well. I don't quite know what to write in these letters. Not knowing what the situation is in Konoha…it drives me crazy sometimes. I worry so much about Tsubaki. You're taking care of her, aren't you? She needs lots of rest and attention. Tsubaki is a lot like me when it comes to getting by. The brighter she's smiling, the more she's hurting inside, so don't assume she's okay just because she keeps up a cheery façade. She probably doesn't want to worry you, but I know she has to be feeling upset. I don't even know what I'm asking you to do exactly, but I just feel helpless where she's concerned. I wish I could be there for her.

Naruto's training has come to a halt. I don't know what's gotten into him lately, but he's been about as pleasant as a crocodile with a sore tooth. He sassed off to Jiraiya, who's now refusing to help him anymore until he changes his attitude. I've tried talking to him, but he insists that I won't understand. I'm not ready for my baby to be a teenager if this is the kind of behavior I have to look forward to. If he weren't so damn strong I'd take him over my knee and spank him. He told me to stay out of his business yesterday. He's ten. I was so surprised I didn't even know what to say. A year and a half ago he was asking for bed time stories and begging to be tickled. Now he's telling me to stay out of his business.

I guess I'm just frustrated. Everything was really wonderful in Takigakure. Now we're in Bean Country and still moving – no end in sight. I'm getting very tired of saying goodbye to friends. I still miss you and think about you daily. I worry about you, too, you know. I hope someone is taking better care of you than I did. You deserve…I guess 'love' is the word I'm fishing for. I'm sorry. I'm not even making sense. I'll just stop now before I have to re-write the whole letter.

Iruka
April 4

(Letter)

Uchiha Sasuke
Uchiha Complex
Konoha, Fire Country

Dear Sasuke,

I can't do it. I'm trying really hard, but I just can't make it work. Jiraiya-sensei told me not to worry about it, because it took this other guy years to get Rasengan right, but I can't do it at all. My dad's not a ninja, so he doesn't understand about being weak. He's always good at everything he does, and he never messes up. I don't want to tell him that I can't do it. I bet you could help me if you were here.

Naruto
April 4

(Letter—Unsent)

Dear Iruka,

If Naruto's training isn't going well, why are you still traveling? I wish you could just tell Jiraiya to bring you home. Kakashi says the same thing. He says there's no way Naruto can learn that technique, so you're just wasting your time. I don't mean to sound rude, but I could have this baby any day now, and I'm having to face the fact you might not be here to help me. I know I sound desperate and ridiculous, but I'm frightened. I'm beyond frightened. I'm terrified. I never thought you might not be back by now. What if I can't handle the pain? I'm so tired all the time – how will I juggle working and taking care of a newborn at the same time? I was hoping…and I know this might be strange…but I was hoping since we're both single parents…you could come live with me? I'm having another room built onto my house. My uncle is going to pay for it. He agrees that the baby and I will need more space, and you and Naruto could use the room until the baby is older. I know this is selfish of me, but I just can't do it alone. You're my best friend, Iruka, and I don't know who else to ask for help. When I told Kakashi and Tenzo about it, Kakashi thought it would be a good idea. Tenzo's in a snit about it, but I could care less. Tenzo gets on my nerves sometimes, and now is not a good time to get on my nerves. I feel like a bomb just waiting to explode on someone who looks at me wrong.

Love,

Tsubaki
April 3

(Letter—Unsent)

Dear Iruka,

It's been weeks since you sent a letter to Kakashi. What has happened? Are you okay? I'm worrying myself sick. I don't know if you're hurt or sick or…I can't even think of that possibility. Kakashi tells me you're with Jiraiya-sama, who wouldn't let anything happen to you, but there are rumors going around the village. They're saying Fire Country might not be peaceful for much longer. Iruka, this is just crazy! I don't want to bring a baby into a world that might go to war soon. The doctor suggested I stay in bed all the time so the baby isn't born too soon. Sasuke has been staying with me to help me. He's such a sweetheart. Kakashi and Tenzo come every day if they aren't on missions to cook for me and help me finish getting ready, and even Kurenai came to visit me yesterday, but I can't talk to them. I want you here desperately. I hope you're safe.

Worried senseless about everything,

Tsubaki
April 18

(Letter—Unsent)

Dear Iruka,

Still no word from you. I had a breakdown. Tenzo was here and he said something completely insensitive, like he always does. He said that maybe you wouldn't come back, and he sounded pleased about it. I guess he thought I couldn't hear him. I know he thinks when you come back he's going to lose Kakashi, which is just such a stupid, childish, and selfish thing to be worried about. Can't he see that I need you? Can't he see how worried we all are? I heard him through the bedroom. He was talking to Kurenai in the kitchen. I got out of bed and when he came to try and put me back in bed I slapped him as hard as I could. I don't think I did much damage, but then I just started screaming at him. I was just so angry and worried about everything! I started sobbing, and they put me in bed and Kurenai went to get Kakashi. He asked the other two to leave and he held me until I calmed down. After that, we had a really long talk. I told him what Tenzo said, and how worried I was about you. He just listened. He's a good listener, but I guess you already know that. He stayed with me all afternoon, but I couldn't bring myself to talk about the baby. I just don't think he'd understand, and he's not the one I want here with me anyway. I did something very selfish, Iruka. I asked Kakashi to find you. I know it could just be that you're in between towns, but something in my gut tells me it's more than that. I'm worried you're hurt. Kakashi said he'd take some vacation time and try to track you down. I feel much better now. I hope you aren't angry with me for what I've done.

Losing it,

Tsubaki
April 21

(Letter)

Tanaka Tsubaki
174 Lazy Lane
Konoha, Fire Country

Dear Tsubaki,

I'm sorry it's been so long since I've written. We arrived at Getsugakure, Moon Country, almost two weeks ago. The whole country is just a small island relatively isolated from the rest of the world.

Just our luck, we get here and then they have one of the worst hurricanes in their history. Everything was destroyed. Thankfully, we were in the ninja village. It was slightly better fortified than other areas, but some of the outlying farms and fisheries were just swept away by the water. I can't even describe how horrific the situation is. Jiraiya, Naruto and I are helping as best we can. Moon Country's only ally is Water Country, and their ninjas are preventing any foreigners from either coming in or going out. We're effectively trapped here. They didn't get mail service back up until today. They're saying we might be stuck here for a month. There is only one boat from Water Country taking people off the island, and currently it's just taking the injured. After that, they'll be taking the dead and the people that have the money to pay the outrageous fee. All private boats are being driven away. I don't blame them. The rules are strict, but they're just trying to re-establish control of the area.

Water Country is bringing in food, clean water, and building supplies. Once Getsugakure is stabilized, we might have a chance of getting a ride out. Nothing is certain right now, I'm afraid. I don't want you to worry, though. Getsugakure flooded, but it's not too bad. Naruto, Jiraiya, and myself are all perfectly healthy – just a little wet. I wanted to protect Naruto from all the devastation, but he's been so grown-up, Tsubaki. He runs around the village helping whoever needs it, and he and Jiraiya have built a makeshift boat to search for survivors in the nearby village. It took a much harder hit because they were nearly sea level. All you can see is the roofs of the buildings. There are people clumped together on the roofs, and since the Water Country ninjas are so busy, the civilians in Getsugakure have been trying to help the stranded people out. We're bringing them back by boat a few at a time.

I've been put in charge of taking care of everyone brought to the inn, which is where we were staying before the hurricane hit. I'm trying to keep things orderly. There are lots of children that have lost their parents. My heart goes out to them, and I'm doing everything I can to keep everyone calm and fed. Needless to say, it's a full time job. I haven't forgotten about you though, love. I might not make it back in time to welcome Baby into the world, but I know you will tap into that strength inside of you and do a wonderful job delivering him. I have faith in you, and I'm sending you a big hug in this letter.

Stay strong,

Iruka
May 1

(Letter—Unsent)

Dear Iruka,

I nearly collapsed with relief when we received your letter. Kakashi brought it here personally. We heard about the hurricane, but no one knew how bad the damage was. When we heard the news, Kakashi headed your way instead of going towards Bean Country. When he got to the port, he said it was chaos. People from all over that had loved ones on the island were trying to get to them, but no one was being allowed to go to the island. A Water Country ninja appeared with a sack of letters and called out names and then gave the rest to a mail carrier to deliver. Kakashi brought your letter home as fast as he could. He read it before he brought it to us, but I couldn't blame him. I would have, too.

All I can say is how relieved I am that you're safe. Suddenly giving birth doesn't sound quite so bad in light of your situation. If you can be strong there, I can be strong here. It will be any day now, but now that I know you're safe, I'm fine. I'll make you proud and when you do finally get home, you'll have a gorgeous baby to greet you.

Love,

Tsubaki
May 3

(Sasuke's Journal Entry)

Dear Journal,

Naruto needs to come home now. That stupid teacher of his took him into a hurricane. I wasn't too worried at first, but I was staying with Tsubaki to take care of her and she was so upset that it got to me. The past few days just kind of blurred together. Tsubaki and I were waiting, constantly, for word from Kakashi. Tenzo hasn't been around since Tsubaki told him off. He deserved it. I'm not speaking to him either. Naruto's trained enough. He and Iruka need to come home.

Sasuke
May 3

(Letter—Unsent)

Dear Iruka,

Tanaka Hotaru was born yesterday!!!! You read right – baby is a girl! So much for maternal instincts, hmm? Oh, Iruka, she's the most beautiful baby I've ever seen! I had a boy name picked out, but then we were all so surprised…I can't even find words! It was like…like…I've always pretended to be strong, but every time that my strength has been tested in the past I always fell apart or needed help from someone else. When I was giving birth, I knew that there was no one that could do it except me. I found that inner strength you told me about, and I was invincible. When they put her into my arms, I felt like I could take on the world. There was this little, precious person in my arms that was so perfect, and that needed me as her protector. The loneliness was gone. I just felt like there was this brilliant explosion of light inside my heart. So I named her Hotaru – my own little firefly, my beautiful light. I could go on and on, but the whole experience seems like it's just beyond words. I'm certain that when you hold her for the first time, you'll understand just how amazing she is. I'm exhausted and she's constantly hungry, but nothing can tear me down. I feel like a mountain of strength.

Love,

Tsubaki
May 19

(Letter)

Tanaka Tsubaki
174 Lazy Lane
Konoha, Fire Country

Dear Tsubaki,

It's my birthday today, and we're getting off the island. It's hard to leave, because I've gone through something amazing with these people that's melded our hearts, but I'm constantly thinking of you. For all I know, the baby could have been born already! Jiraiya says we can come home now. Naruto and I are both so relieved and happy that nothing can touch us. We're both beyond ready to finish traveling. Naruto is still disappointed about not mastering the Rasengan, but when I tried to talk to him about it, all he said was that it doesn't really matter to him what he learns as long as he can be strong for people who can't be strong for themselves. Can you believe that? Sometimes he just amazes me.

He's learned a lot this year, and in this past month especially. When this all happened, I was worried he would see too much. Instead of being upset and complaining, he made every younger kid in the inn feel like he was looking out for them and protecting them. He's growing up, and I'm very proud of him.

Everything is hectic here, so I'm going to have to cut this short. I hope everything is well in Konoha. If you're still pregnant, hang in there!

Love,

Iruka
May 26

(Letter)

Uchiha Sasuke
Uchiha Complex
Konoha, Fire Country

Dear Sasuke,

I'm coming home!!!!

Naruto
May 26

(Letter—Unsent)

Dear Iruka,

The Hokage has died. The villagers are being told it was an assassination. He struggled, but he was elderly and it's rumored the assassin was one of his former pupils. Everyone is so saddened, and the village is on high alert for further attack. Temporarily the counsel has taken over. We aren't sure who will be the next Hokage. Kakashi and Tenzo are working pretty much around the clock, and even Sasuke has been given duties to do, despite still being an academy student.

I'm upset about the Hokage, but I didn't really know him. Kakashi and Tenzo are taking the news much harder. Hotaru is doing a fine job of keeping everyone smiling during breaks, though. I didn't realize how aware of everything she would be. If I open my eyes wide, she opens her eyes wide, too. I know it's not a big deal to you, because you've seen what's under Kakashi's mask, but now the rest of us have, too, thanks to Hotaru. The first time he held Hotaru, he was so nervous about dropping her that when she pulled on his mask he was too frightened of letting go of her to pull it back up. It was only Sasuke and myself that saw, but it was funny all the same. Are you sure you want to give him up to Tenzo? You didn't tell me how gorgeous he is under that fabric!

I'm so glad you're coming home. Taking care of Hotaru is difficult on my own. I have to tend to my gardens, or else we won't have any income, but she doesn't like being put down. She wants someone to hold her constantly. I love her to pieces, but my arms are getting tired!

Love,

Tsubaki
June 5

(Letter)

Tanaka Tsubaki
174 Lazy Lane
Konoha, Fire Country

Dear Tsubaki,

There's been a change in plans. Jiraiya was sent word about the death of the Hokage. The counsel has asked him to take the position, but he tells me his friend, Tsunade, would be much better for the task. No doubt he's just too lazy and too addicted to writing porn. At any rate, we've agreed to travel with him to find Tsunade and persuade her to return with us. It's shouldn't cause too much of a delay. Jiraiya asked around and thinks she's in Rice Field Country. It's a dangerous area, and I feel nervous about going. Jiraiya told me that it's probably where the Hokage's assassin is from.

On the other hand, if we can just find this woman, we'll be done. We can come home. That's the only thing keeping me going. And, of course, the knowledge that you must have had your baby by now. I want to see him and give him lots of kisses. I bet he's very handsome. I'll need something to distract me from seeing Kakashi with someone else. I tell myself that I'm over him, but I dream about him at night. When I was with Takuma, I was picturing Kakashi. I don't know how I fell for him without realizing it. It's almost funny, because he told me once that he could make me love him. I nearly laughed at him. Now the joke isn't so funny anymore.

I don't know if it's really love, or if it's just been so long that I can't remember what he's really like. It's becoming harder and harder to remember what I didn't like about him. I did this with Mizuki, too. They say time heals all wounds, but sometimes I wish my heart wasn't so forgiving. I don't want to get hurt again. I guess it won't even be an issue. He's probably head over heels for this new guy anyway. No doubt he's younger, stronger, and more attractive than I am. No kids, I bet, and he probably appreciates all the romantic things Kakashi does. Sometimes I feel like such an idiot.

Love,

Iruka
June 10

(Letter)

Hatake Kakashi
Apartment #36
Konoha, Fire Country

Dear Kakashi,

I was sorry to hear about the Hokage's death. I know you must have been close to him, seeing as he was your boss. I hope you're not working too hard, and that you're taking care of yourself. Tsubaki must have had her baby by now. You're so lucky to get to see him when I can't! Is he cute?

I'm sorry I haven't written you very often. I know you've moved on, and I don't want my letters to cause any trouble. Kakashi…do you love him? I bet he's a really wonderful guy. I hope I get to meet him. I'm glad you've found someone that appreciates you. What I'm trying to say…and it's coming out all wrong…is that I'm sorry. You did a lot of wonderful things for me, both as a lover and as a friend, and now that I've thought about things for a long time, I can see that I didn't always treat you like I should have. I expected you to be perfect, and that's an unfair expectation to put on anyone. I guess I was just so stressed and hurt at the time that little things that really shouldn't have bothered me did. So I'm sorry. I wish I could do this in person, but I have a feeling that when I see you, if I don't pretend that I'm meeting you for the first time, I'll do something I'll regret in front of your new boyfriend. Please don't be hurt if I can't…if I have to put some distance between us. You probably have a really good thing going for yourself, and I don't want to ruin that. Does that make sense? It probably doesn't. As usual, I try writing you a casual letter and I end up with this. I'm sorry. I know I shouldn't send this, but I'm going to anyway. You deserve more than a few, emotionless sentences about Naruto's training.

Iruka
June 10

(Letter)

Uchiha Sasuke
Uchiha Complex
Konoha, Fire Country

Dear Sasuke,

I thought we were coming home, but now we have to go get the next Hokage. I don't see why they can't send someone else. I really want to see you again. Are you going to graduate soon? You can't graduate until I get there, okay? We have to be on a team together, remember? We promised.

Naruto
June 11

(Sasuke's Journal Entry)

Dear Journal,

The Hokage died, and I have to do a lot of work around the village. The counsel tightened security to the point that I hardly see Kakashi or Tenzo anymore. I talked to Tenzo about Iruka. He asked me how I would feel if Naruto found a new best friend and brought him home with him. When he put it like that, I guess I can see why he doesn't want Iruka to come back. He doesn't know him like the rest of us do. Kakashi cares about Tenzo. I can tell. I caught them fighting the other day, but they didn't know I was watching. Tenzo was mad about something Kakashi had done, and then Kakashi asked Tenzo if he cared about what other people think about them. Tenzo said no one would do anything to Kakashi, but that he didn't have rank or experience to protect him.

I don't entirely know what's going on, but I think it has something to do with what happened a few weeks ago. We were at the ramen stand, and Kakashi said something girly to Tenzo. Some strangers were eavesdropping and shot them weird looks, and Tenzo told Kakashi to quit joking around. I could tell it hurt Kakashi's feelings. Why do people in this village have to be so stupid? Just because Kakashi and Tenzo are both guys – why does it matter? If I had a chance with Naruto, I wouldn't care what everyone else said. I would never treat Naruto the way Tenzo treats Kakashi. I still think Iruka would be better for him, but it's Kakashi's life, I guess.

Sasuke
June 15

(Letter)

Tanaka Tsubaki
174 Lazy Lane
Konoha, Fire Country

Dear Tsubaki,

What a mess! We finally found Tsunade, but some creep named Orochimaru got here first. I guess I need to go further back than that. Alright, so apparently the Hokage had three students – Tsunade, Jiraiya, and Orochimaru. According to Jiraiya, Orochimaru was the Hokage's favorite, and he wanted Orochimaru to take his position one day. All three students grew up with legendary powers. Tsunade became a healer, Jiraiya became a wandering author, and Orochimaru ended up as a mass murderer. He's held a grudge against Konoha – I don't know why – and Jiraiya suspected that he was the one who killed the Hokage. He's got some bigger plan, but Jiraiya doesn't know what it is.

During his battle with the Hokage, Orochimaru hurt his arms. The only person talented enough to heal him is Tsunade. He hunted her down and found her about a week before we made it to Rice Field Country. By the time we got to her, Orochimaru had offered to resurrect her dead boyfriend and little brother if she healed him. Can you believe this? As if that weren't insane enough, the situation became even worse! Naruto lost his temper because she slandered the Hokage position, and he tried to use that technique Jiraiya was teaching him against her. It didn't work, but she made a bet with him; if he mastered the technique in a few days, she'd give him some priceless necklace and take the Hokage position. Who puts that kind of pressure on a ten year old? I tried to help him, but he shut me out. This technique has been frustrating him for a long time, and he thinks I just won't understand since it's a ninja thing. So while Naruto was trying to learn the stupid technique, she drugged Jiraiya so he wouldn't interfere and went off to tell Orochimaru her decision. I found Jiraiya (not for the first time) passed out in this seedy bar with no chance of waking up any time soon. I didn't know what to do, but I knew she couldn't be allowed to heal Orochimaru. He wants to destroy Konoha. So I told the bartender to look after Jiraiya and tell him where we went if he woke up. Naruto and I tracked down Tsunade and we found her already fighting with Orochimaru.

Naruto, Tsunade, and her friend Shizune fought him with everything they had, but then he cut his wrists and Tsunade froze up. Whoever heard of a doctor who's afraid of blood? Thankfully, Jiraiya showed up at the last second and summoned his frog friend. Naruto's attempts to summon him hadn't worked out so well. It turned into this huge battle between Tsunade's giant slug, Jiraiya's toad, and Orochimaru's summoned snake. It was the most bizarre thing I've ever witnessed. In the midst of their battle, I saw a stray attack going Naruto's way, and I reacted on instinct. I jumped in front of it and the next thing I remember is waking up to see Tsunade leaning over me, scolding me for doing something so foolish when Naruto was perfectly capable of dodging the attack safely. Apparently, seeing Orochimaru's attack barbecue me pissed Naruto off enough to perfect his Rasengan and use it to tip the battle in Tsunade's favor. He got the necklace and she's coming back with us. As for me, I'm one gigantic bruise. Tsunade healed the major cuts so I didn't bleed to death, but I'm still covered in smaller ones. I broke my left arm, shattered my leg, and fractured four ribs. Tsunade's suffering from chakra exhaustion, and that drug did something strange to Jiraiya. He's having trouble keeping food down. The medics think it's an allergic reaction of some kind. At any rate, all of us are stuck in the hospital except Naruto and Shizune. The last I saw of Naruto, he was trying to find out how much ramen he could buy if he sells the necklace Tsunade gave him. Tsunade is trying to make a speedy recovery so that she can skin him alive for even thinking about it.

In pain,

Iruka
July 6

(Letter—Unsent)

Dear Iruka,

I'm so sorry. That's quite a story, though! I hope your entire trip hasn't been that exciting all the time. I wish I could come see you in the hospital, since it's only a few days of travel, but Kakashi says you're still in enemy territory and you're probably only getting treatment because the ninjas are too afraid to deny it to Tsunade and Jiraiya. Now I'm worried they might try something underhanded. Kakashi's worried, too, I can see it written all over his masked face. I think he would have come see you, but Tenzo would have pitched a fit about it. They're back together, but I almost don't pay attention anymore, because they're only going to break up again in a few days. Those men drive me crazy.

Sasuke would have graduated this week, but because of the death of the Hokage, the final exams have been postponed until August. He's excited. He hopes it means Naruto will be able to test with him. He wants Naruto to come home so badly. Sasuke isn't a big talker, but he mentions Naruto at least once a day. Now that the security fright is over, I'm seeing Kakashi and Tenzo more and Sasuke's helping me with my garden again. I think it helps calm him down. He's good with the plants, and he shows a real interest in it when Tenzo and Kakashi aren't around to make fun of him. Recover quickly and come home. Hotaru is getting big, and I'm worried she'll be all grown up before you even get here!

Love,

Tsubaki and Hotaru
July 10

(Letter)

Tanaka Tsubaki
174 Lazy Lane
Konoha, Fire Country

Dear Tsubaki,

This will be my last letter to you. We've all healed up (with only a few new scars to show for our battle) and our group is moving towards Konoha. We should be there in a few days. I have a feeling Konoha won't know what to think of their new Hokage. She's tough as steel, and certainly smart, but she's the unluckiest woman I've ever met. We played quite a few games of poker in the hospital, and I won every game. I never win at poker. Even Naruto beats me, and half the time he doesn't even know what the cards mean.

Tsunade has a pet pig that she dresses up and totes around with her. Naruto loves playing with her, and all I've heard about lately is how much he wants his own pet. Now that I can afford one, I'm inclined to indulge him. He can't make up his mind about what he wants, though. He's telling Shizune he's going to get an alligator, and rather than cause a fight about it, I'm just waiting for him to change his mind. It won't take long.

I'm so excited to see your baby, and to see you. How much have you changed this past year? I feel like a different person. I've seen so much and met so many new people. I read my diary and a part of me can't believe that I've seen so much of the world. Not even three years ago I was worrying about putting food on the table. Now I'm traveling the world with famous ninjas and planning to write a book. It almost feels like a fairy tale. I never thought I would make it to this place. I never thought I'd be able to give my son a good life. I'm so grateful for everything, for the good friends I've found, like you and Jiraiya, for meeting Sasuke and seeing Naruto grow so much. I think I can finally visit my parents graves and know that they'd be proud of who I've become.

Love,

Iruka
July 17

P.S. Tell Sasuke we should be home in time for his birthday, and that we're bringing him a surprise. Tell him I love him, too, and I can't wait to see him!


A/N: So, there you have it. A year's worth of letters that bridge the gap between "Fighting Dreamers" and the sequel, "New Promises." Look for "New Promises" to be posted soon. To everyone who reviewed "Fighting Dreamers," I send you a huge thank you and some Kakashi Cookies.