Chapter 25: Home

Here we come a-wassailing

among the leaves so green!

Here we come a-wassailing

so fair to be seen!

Tsunade was late to the Uchiha compound-- it had been an eventful morning and early afternoon-- and as she was staying for dinner, she didn't feel that bad that the special jounin had already started their singing by the time she walked through the door. A few waves greeted her, but most people were already involved with the party itself, the three rooms filled to the gills with ninja of all ages, and even some civilians scattered throughout.

As she made her way by the Christmas tree, she over heard Tenzou—who must have stopped by at the end of his shift-- and Sai talking, the latter holding the gift he'd given to Naruto with a frown.

". . . I wanted to put them in, but there wasn't enough room. So, I didn't. But, there they are, and the jutsu I used to seal the frame hasn't been breached, so how the hell--?"

Tenzou shrugged as Shikamaru came over. "Oh, them. How troublesome. He came and talked to my dad yesterday, I'm not surprised he screwed around with your gift. . ."

She moved on. She'd heard rumors of certain activity, of course, and the letter in her hand supported that. She supposed that with Naruto involved, she really shouldn't be surprised.

She walked up to the sofa in front of the television, Izumo skipping through parts of his recording of the concert. "Look," he said. "They weren't there when I was filming, but--"

She heard Kakashi's gasp, seeing his grip on the Iruka—sitting in his lap-- tighten. There, frozen on the screen, was Iruka's serene face, two transparent faces leaning over his shoulder with smiles. Those orange goggles were recognizable anywhere.

Really, she should stop being surprised at this point. Not only was her predecessor going about, but his students also seemed to have a knack for, as Shikamaru had said, being "troublesome."

Finally, she made her way into the kitchen, where Sasuke was stirring a pot of Uchiha cocoa while Naruto devored Gaara's mouth.

"I'm glad to see you're feeling better, Gaki," she smirked. "I want your mission report on my desk by noon tomorrow."

Naruto looked up, looking only slightly chagrined. "Sure thing, Baa-chan . . ." he gave into a little grin. "Thanks for standing up for me to the council. . . " he was looking at a rather distinct sparkle on his hand. "For the, um, Hokage stuff and for this. . ." He looked back at her, and she could see his happiness shining out of his eyes like the sun in a summer sky.

"C'mon kids," she said. "I've got something to tell everybody, and I want you to hear."

Dutifully, they followed her out as she shouted for everyone's attention. Soon, the house had quieted, and Tsunade stood on a chair to ensure that all could hear.

"This has been an eventful day!" She began. "Not only is it Christmas, and not only has my successor gotten engaged, but--" she paused at the cheer that rang through the house. She held up her hands for silence.

"But," she continued. "This morning, I received a bird from Iwagakure, and just an hour ago received a confirmation from Suna that they received a letter with the same intent as well. I would like to read to you what it says."

There was a rustling murmur-- news from Rock was rarely good, but she seemed happy.

She cleared her throat and began.

"My Dear Hokage-Sama,

I hope this letter finds you well. I also hope that when this letter arrives, that the good Fox-san and Wolf-san have arrived safely home, and specifically, that Wolf-san has recovered from the wound he gained on our behalf. When last I saw him, he was still under the effects of that horrid venom, and though recovery was sure, it is always good to have confirmation of it.

Our people suffered horribly in these past weeks, and when I wrote in desperation, begging for assistance, things indeed looked bleak for the survival of not only Iwagakure, but most of Earth Country as well. Thanks to the extraordinary efforts of your ANBU, however, this is no longer the case.

When they were first sent, they thought it a simple assassination mission, but as is too often the case, it soon evolved into something else entirely. Families from all the villages effected now rejoice in the return of their lost daughters. I would ask that you pass word to Fox-san and Wolf-san that Nakita is doing well with her new family, and that little Agnessa has started eating again.

It is still hard to credit it, but this was not all they did for us. With our storehouses and defenses ruined right at the start of winter, despair crept upon my people like a pack of hungry wolves. Here, again, your ANBU did the impossible. For not only did we receive the aid sent by Suna and Konoha, but we also received literally miraculous help from the inhabitants of the City of the Dead, once known as New Amsterdam. Let me be clearer-- somehow, your Mr. Wolf and persuaded the dead themselves to come to our aid, rebuilding storehouses and filling them, rebuilding walls, and leaving behind the medical miracles of the ancients.

They left us notes, and I would pass along a section of mine, and ask that you pass along the message as well. The one who signed the letter, a Father Patrick O'Reilley, asked that the following message be relayed to The Fox, and so I now quote:

'Little Fox, I have spoken to the one who's picture we looked at in the ruins. He has confirmed my theory, and he would know. Which is to say: I'm right, you're wrong, so there, you owe me a Guiness! Or would, if there were any to be had. For now, I'll live with the sublime joy of being right.'

Well, I have no idea what that's about, but I suspect Fox-san might. Now that all of this is out of the way, I will get to the point of this matter.

I would like to open diplomatic relations with Konoha, and Suna as well (I am sending them much the same letter, so you will be able to confirm this). I have seen how both your nations have prospered from your alliance, and I cannot but desire the same peace and prosperity for my own people. To this end, I ask your permission to send one of my men to your city to lay the groundwork for alliance and, after the spring thaws, I would like to visit you in person, that we may deal face to face.

It is long past time that the enmity between our people was laid to rest, and I know full well that the fault of this has laid with Iwa these past decades. But the actions of your ANBU prove what a surpassingly good and honorable people you are, and further conflict between us does no good, only harming us. I have seen how you treat your friends in Suna, and I have seen what you have done for your would-be enemies in Iwa, and I cannot but be overwhelmed at how very noble a people you are.

We ninja are often looked down upon by the rest of the world. The Daimyo and their courts fancy themselves nobler, more honorable, and more refined than we. But this morning, as I looked out at our suddenly whole wall, as I passed by comrades laughing and singing where yesterday they lay near death, as I peek into storehouses full of fragrant herbs, spices, and other delectables, I know that they are wrong. None of them would have given a second thought to enemies on the brink of starvation. None would have rescued their daughters-- and especially not with the care, the kindness and compassion our girls received from your ANBU.

In closing, Hokage-sama, let me express my extreme regret and sorrow for all the years of violence and pain that have passed between our new villages. I know that no words I can offer can heal the wounds given, or replace the loves torn away. But I hope that I can offer a new beginning, that all that sacrifice not be in vain.

I pray that you have a good Christmas, and and exceedingly happy and peace-filled New Year.

With the Greatest Respect,


Rokodaime Tsuchikage

The stunned silence that followed was punctuated by a few sniffles. Tsunade smirked, looking at Kakashi and Naruto. "I can not wait until I read that mission report. Saved their daughters and made arrangements with dead people? This is gonna be good . . ."

Hinata raised her hand. "So, um, does this mean . . . does this mean we may have peace with Rock?" she asked.

Tsunade smiled. "For the first time in a long time, it looks like we finally have a chance at it."

"Alllllright!" No one knew who shouted it, but the silence was broken, and cheers and shouts rang through the house.

Soon, guests started leaving to take the news to the rest of the village. An hour later, Iruka and Gaara were putting the finishing touches on dinner, Naruto and Sasuke were stuck under the mistletoe –again!-- and Kaksahi had his nose buried in a new book which Tsunade was surprised to see wasn't one of Jiraiya's. Looking over his shoulder, she saw large, bright, glossy pictures of stars, and groups of stars, and clouds in the stars. There was writing too, that looked like the ancient writing, but as she looked, shifted to Naruto's handwriting.

". . . to understand the scale, one must first understand that light in a vacuum travels at a speed of 299,792,458 meters per second. At this speed, the space traveled by light in a year is called a lightyear, and this is the basic unit of measure when dealing with deep-space entities. . ."

Kakashi reluctantly closed the book as Iruka and Gaara called them over to dinner. It was a full spread the two had put out, dominated by the huge roast beef in the center, with numerous sides and several bottles of wine. As his plate was loaded up, Kakashi looked around. Here were those who were alive that meant the most to him and, if what he'd seen not only in the past month, but the past twenty-four hours was any guess, the rest of them weren't far. Iruka, Naruto and Sasuke, even Tsunade and Gaara were dear in their way, and the only one missing was Sakura, who was spending the evening with her mother and father. Nodding minutely to himself, he made a decision.

It took Naruto and Sasuke a moment to realize what they were seeing.

"Huh, neither buck teeth nor fishy lips," Sasuke smirked. "I believe somebody owes me free Ichiraku."

Naruto simply gaped, before peeling his jaw off the table. "Damn!" he exclaimed. "Kakashi sensei's hot!"

Kakashi wasn't sure how he felt about that, but smirked as he heard Iruka reply "Well, I could have told you that . . ."

He sighed, relaxing into the chair, watching as Naruto and Sasuke started to fuss over the debt of Ichiraku, Gaara watching with fond amusement, Tsunade ignoring them all for the wine, and Iruka with his bright, always-dazzling smile.

This was good, he thought.

This was better than good.

This was home.

* * *

FIN (for now. . .)

Merry Christmas, everyone.