Chapter Seventeen

"If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story."

--Orson Welles

A few weeks had passed and everyone had seemed to settle back into a normal routine. Naruto had taken the exam and passed. He was more than surprised at how great he felt over it. Gaara had watched him from the stands, sitting next to Tsunade-sama and Ero-Senin. His friends had cheered him on. For the first time in his life, everything was seeming to fall into place. And when he walked through the long corridor, exiting the stadium, it was Sasuke who greeted him.

He stood, leaning against the cold gray wall, hands in blue pants pockets and one leg charismatically pressed against the wall behind him. He wore a knee length black coat with a high collar that stopped just below his lips which were twisted into a smirk. His undershirt was a dark red button up Henley which was untucked about his waist and slightly bunched because of the hands in his pockets. His hands were covered in fingerless gloves, the top of them emblazoned with the red and white fan--the symbol of the Uchiha clan.

But most of all, what Naruto found was the most startling about his appearance, was the blue and silver adornment on his head.

The Konoha forehead protector.

He stopped, coming to stand in front of him, and flicked a playful finger on the protector, making a clink sound as his nail connected with it. "It's good to see you wear it again."

Sasuke watched him and smirk played on his lips. He hadn't changed that much after all. It was good to know.

"You remember the last time I wore this?"

It was an odd question, but Naruto smiled and answered nonetheless. "You told me no matter what I wasn't going to make a scratch on your forehead. Because you were wearing it."

He nodded, smiling wryly. "For what it's worth, I want you to know I'm sorry."

Naruto arched a brow, and then understood. He shrugged. "It's history, Uchiha. You're back. We're together. You, me and Sakura. And that's all I ever wanted in the end. So, don't worry about it." It seemed the serious moment had passed, because Sasuke smiled and patted him on the back as the moved to walk down the dimly lit hall, the sound of fans cheering on the next match heard faintly in the background.

"So, how does it feel, dropout?" He kept his arm wrapped over the smaller blond's shoulder in a purely friendly manner. They'd never been able to be this comfortable with one another. It was nice.

"To pass? To accomplish yet another foothold in my dream?" He grinned. "Perfect."

The two men stayed that way, walking out and back into the stands. The matches lasted a few more hours until early afternoon. And then everyone was leaving, preparing for a day of celebration.


The day was ending perfectly. The festivities would go long into the night and none of them were in any hurry. The sun wasn't setting just yet, but it was starting to droop in the late afternoon sky.

Each one of them lay, stood about or snacked on the high hillside overlooking Konoha. It gave the watcher a perfect view of the Hokage monuments. Some of the group was laughing, some were playing; like Kiba, who was no where near being worn out as he played in the grass with Akamaru. The dog barked happily. Neji sat on a red and white checkered picnic blanket as Tenten chatted with Shino, smiling. Ino was scolding Choji again, although only lightly, as he inadvertently hogged a picnic basket that she'd she made for the group this afternoon. But, one could note the blush in her cheeks because he wanted her cooking to himself so badly.

Hinata and Kankuro seemed to be arguing about something and all Neji could do as he watched them under a shady tree was sigh. Tenten caught his gaze and followed it to the couple arguing and she laughed. There was much still unknown about what would become of the lovebirds, but Hiashi hadn't disapproved. Quite the opposite, he'd actually got to witness his daughter's outburst at the young man when Kankuro announced he wanted to court her and sought the head's permission. He hadn't been sure if he should have been angry at her for the use of so many colorful metaphors or happy she was showing a stronger side of herself.

Sakura and Lee joined Kiba, and all three began to talk amongst themselves. Well, they did until Akamaru, thinking he was still playing with Kiba, tackled all three of them, leaving a dazed pile of bodies as he smiled and barked above them.

And Sasuke, well, he laughed seeing the folly of the group. It drew everyone's attention as it had been the first time since his return anyone had heard him do so. But, soon, they too all smiled and laughed at the three friends in the grass. Well, Neji smirked.

Shikamaru sighed, leaning against a tree and Temari leaning on his shoulder, crossing her arms in much the same fashion as his. She smiled. "This is what it should always be like."

"Life as a shinobi? Little too peaceful, but a nice ideal."

"No," she grinned, "we should all always be as happy as we are right now."

"Going soft on me, woman?"


And then he laughed at the irony of her words.

Lower on the hill, two figures sat on a blanket, watching the Hokage monument while everyone a few feet behind them enjoy the day. Naruto smiled, inhaling the fresh air as a wind swept past his face, rustling his strands. He looked over at Gaara, grinning.

He smiled back, barely, his eyes softening. They still didn't know how they were going to do it, deal with being apart once the Sand shinobi left. But, they would. And Naruto would take any and every mission that sent him to or near Sand just to see him.

He leaned in towards Gaara closely and the red head looked shocked. He blinked as he realized Naruto meant to kiss him, his hand reaching for his cheek. "Naruto... you friends..." He still didn't think the blond was ready for all of his friends to know, not just yet.

"I don't care, I want to kiss you." And he did.

And everyone watched, utterly silent, as the two men engaged in a soft and tender kiss. Even Hinata and Kankuro stopped arguing long enough to realize why everyone else had shut up. Did any of them know how to react?

And then Naruto felt something smack--hard--against the side of his head. It splashed and left him and Gaara dripping wet. He pulled from the kiss, in shock, and realized Kiba had taken advantage of the moment to throw a water balloon at his head. He was laughing hard at the two, pointing as he held his stomach, not seeming the least bit bothered by their public display og affection.

"You're so getting it now, dog breath!" And then he stood, running up to the basket to pull out some of the balloons that were meant for later in the day and grabbed a handful, quickly attacking Kiba with his barrage of water filled ninja bombs! "Stand still, mutt!"

But, when Kiba did get hit, it wasn't by Naruto. But, he did stand there, soaking and shocked. Naruto blinked. "I didn't..." And he turned, looking at Gaara with a balloon in his hand and a flare of anger in his eye as he glared, humorously, at Kiba.

"Kiba.." he started, as if he were going to kill the man.

Kiba looked ready to shit him self. "Oi, Gaara, I'm sorry, man. Seriously, I didn--"


It hit him right in the face as Gaara smiled, yes smiled, really smiled, for the first time. The whole event left everyone laughing or smiling too. Especially when everyone else joined in, soaking each other, grinning in the sun.

At last, the Kazekage, the former keeper of the one tail, Gaara of the Sand, had found not only a family and friends... but peace as well.

...The End...