Reaping the Harvest

Konoha Advent "Prelude: Reaping the Harvest."

Rating: Ahm. . . Ah, PG I guess . . .

Shonen-ai, Established KakaIru, Not yet established Naruto/Sasuke/Gaara, WAFFles, minor drunkeness, singing Shikamaru, halfway eloquent Naruto. . .

This is a one-shot prequel for Konoha Advent: I'll Be Home for Christmas. There's not really a plot to this, it's more of a sorta-reflection. It takes place several years from the end of the manga, when Sasuke has returned, Gaara has retired from being Kazekage and is now an ambassador, Naruto is a member of ANBU, and some of our boys have finally started to grow up. Granted, it's a bit AU. But really, isn't every fanfic?

Also, this is so . . . sentimental. My inner Snape goes into convulsions whenever I reread this, complete with mouth-frothing, carpet chewing, and mutterings about "Hufflepuff saccharine". It's quite amusing. But you should be aware, nothin' but fluff and waff and maudlin sentimentality ahead. And some drunks singing. ~_^!

Recommended Music: Flogging Molly's "Death Valley Queen" from Drunken Lullabies, any good Celtic fiddle dance music . . . yeah, that'll do. . .

* * *

It had started a few years before, the autumn after Orochimaru's invasion. Word had gotten out to many of the other villages, towns and cities in the Fire Country that Konoha's fields had been destroyed, leaving them without a harvest before winter set in. In addition, recuperating and rebuilding the defenses of the village left them without funds to buy food, leaving them in for a very hard winter ahead.

And all on their own, those villages, towns and cities had all hit upon the same thought—that the only reason they had abundant harvests and over-flowing larders was because Konoha had repelled the attack, keeping them safe and productive. And in all these places, this thought led to another—that since Konoha had given up so much to keep them safe, the very least they could do was deliver some of their excess to help see the village through the winter.

And so, that first autumn after the invasion, as the harvest ended, a small army of farmers, ranchers, craftsmen, and other common people arrived at the gates of Konoha, bearing gifts of rice, goats, cows, bread, soy, fruit preserves, butter, cheese, beer, sake, and pretty much every other food grown, raised, or made within the borders of the Fire Country. In addition to these were gifts of iron for the weapons smiths, bolts of wool, cotton and silk for the tailors and seamstresses, and cartloads of granite to help in rebuilding the wall.

It was all very disorganized that first year, and the newly installed Godaime Hokage had been very confused when, protesting to the people that the village could not pay for everything, the people responded that it had all been paid for already. It finally took a young goat-herder to take her by the hand and walk her out to the Memorial Stone to see the growing pile of maple-leaf and pine wreathes before Tsunade finally realized what, exactly, was going on.

The same thing had happened in the years that followed, with more and more villages participating, until last year when it was thoroughly organized in the capital by the Daimyo himself. It had long been said that the Daimyo bowed to no one—but now there was sometimes added the caveat "except at the Harvest when he visits the Hidden Village, and thanks the ninja for their service."

It had become a full-blown holiday for Konoha, because now it wasn't just food that flooded the city, but servants of all sorts, doctors, musicians, dancers, artists, and five-hundred samurai hand-picked by the Daimyo himself. And all these people, for three days, gave all the shinobi in the city those days off, to relax, to sleep, to feast, and to know the gratitude of the rest of the Fire Country. Most of the people slept outside the city gates (indeed, there wasn't room in the city to hold them), and the samurai replaced many of the watch posts on the wall—though not all, for this was one duty that Tsunade refused allow be completely taken over by well-meaning but maybe not as skilled people.

As with the previous year, the Daimyo had courteously sent word in advance they he (and seemingly a good portion of the rest of the country) would be arriving at the gates of Konoha exactly one month and three days before Christmas, at the official end of the harvest, to recognize the efforts and sacrifices made for their protection.

And that was why Kakashi was not alone that morning at the Memorial Stone. He, along with all the other ANBU, stood flanking the Hokage as she stood waiting to welcome the Daimyo – and what looked like half the rest of Fire country as well-- to Konoha. But first, before he approached the gates, he stopped at the Stone, lighting incense and candles, and laying pine and maple-leaf wreathes. Kakashi was interested to note that the number candles and incense sticks each equaled the number of shinobi lost since the Daimyo's last visit.

After an extended silence, in which Kakashi assumed the Daimyo was saying prayers for the fallen, as there seemed to be a great deal of bowing involved, the man finally stood and approached Tsudane, followed by two of his body guards.

"Hokage-sama!" He intoned, bowing deeply. "This year has been bountiful to our land! From shore to shore, range to range, we have been blessed with abundance, and moreover, trade with other nations, most notably Wind, has doubled or even tripled, making Fire more prosperous than ever before. We know full well that this is mostly due to the undying vigilance of the Hidden Village, and the ceaseless efforts of her people. In gratitude, then, we bring these gifts, a token of our appreciation and thanks!" He bowed again as his hand swept out toward the several hundred people and scores of wagons and carts -- and five hundred samurai-- behind him.

Tsunade stepped forward to answer. "Daimyo-sama!" she bowed in reply. "We are overwhelmed my the generosity and kindness of the people of Fire Country. Please, be welcome to our humble village."

And so started the Konoha Harvest Festival. Tsunade and the Daimyo entered the village side by side, followed by only five of the samurai, and nearly all of the ANBU, most of whom peeled of to other destinations as they made their way through the city, save for the first five, made up of Ibiki, Anko, Kakashi, Naruto, and Neji, although those names where never used when the masks were.

Soon, all twelve were ensconced in the Hokage's office, enjoying the tea Shizune had ready when they entered.

"So, Tsunade-hime, how fares Konoha?" The Daimyo asked.

Tsunade gave a small smile. "Surprisingly well, Kisho-san. Deaths by other than natural causes is down, births are up, and our alliance with Suna is growing stronger everyday. Enough so that the other Kages have started to take notice, which could be good. . . or not. But overall, Konoha has done well this year."

"Good, good!" the man replied. "I noticed some new faces in your escort. . ."

Tsunade allowed herself a bit of surprise that the man remembered who she'd had accompany her the year before. "Well, you remember Bear-san, Cobra-san, and Wolf-san from last year, of course" she gestured to Ibiki, Anko and Kakashi in turn as the Daimyo nodded. "The new faces next to Wolf-san are Fox-san and Snow-san." Naruto and Neji bowed in turn. To their surprise, the man bowed back.

"I am, of course, honored to meet all of you. I have heard," he looked somewhat slyly at Tsunade, "that the ANBU have decided to spend their precious free time running a home for the orphans of this village."

She quirked an eyebrow. "It's true. In fact, the idea was Fox-san's. They don't take care of the day to day running, of course, but most all of the ANBU donate a portion of their salary to its upkeep."

"Well,"Kisho-san looked positively delighted. "How fortunate that the good Fox-san is here, for when we heard of this in court, Yasashiku here decided that his gift to Konoha this year would be for the orphanage. So, he took up a collection among his comrades, and. . .well, Yasashiku, why don't you give Fox-san what you collected for his little ones, hm?"

Naruto glanced over at Tsunade, and she nodded, giving him permission to quietly move to a kneeling position between her and the Daimyo, meeting Yasashiku halfway as he brought forward a large box. It was opened to reveal a large pile of silk quilts beneath a smaller casket, which the young samurai opened to reveal a stunning and rather mind-blowing amount of gold and jewels.

The shinobi were speechless, causing the Daimyo to grin. "You see, Fox-san, Yasashiku grew up an orphan in the capital, until the captain of the guard noticed him one day and adopted him. For this reason, he seems to have an obsession with helping out those in similar situations. Once he heard of your orphanage, he used his charm to get his comrades to donate, and they got their girlfriends and wives to contribute, and in a matter of a few days, this is what we had to bring to you."

Naruto glanced over at Tsunade again, this time for permission to speak, which she gave with a nod.

"We thank the Daimyo," his voice was slightly rough. "Yasashiku-san, and all his friends in the capital for their thoughtfulness toward our children. It is as unexpected as it is needed, and we shall use this great gift to ensure that they are aware of how much they are cared for not only by Konoha, but by all of the Fire Country."

Kakashi saw the slight motion of Neji lifting an eyebrow beneath his plain white mask. While it was true that without the mask, Naruto was still the loud, brash person he'd always been, he had also learned manners and diplomacy under Tsunade's not-so-gentle tutelage, and sometimes even managed to remember it when the situation called for it.

Sometimes. Like this time. Luckily.

Several hours later, the preliminary meeting broke up, and Naruto and Kakashi took the large box to the orphanage, stopping by the bank to add the gold to the orphanage's generally meager funds.

After leaving the kids, both removed their masks as they were no longer on duty.

"Well," Kakashi said. "I'm off to find Iruka. You have any plans?"

Naruto shrugged. "Gaara's got a diplomatic meeting with the Daimyo this afternoon, and Sasuke's got a meeting with Hyuga-sama , so I'll probably be wandering around with Chouji and Shikamaru. Or Kiba. Or, I dunno, whoever I run across."

"Right then, see you later!" Kakashi leapt off into the city, and Naruto decided that something smelled good from the direction of the Academy.

* * *

It was early evening when Iruka and Kakashi were walking down the street, hand in hand, when they heard the unlikely sound of Shikamaru. Or rather, Shikamaru singing. Ducking their head into the bar, they saw that the Jounin was already smashed, standing on top of the bar --to his team's delight, singing a passable version of "Death Valley Queen", while his friends kept time by hitting their fists on the bar.

"Death Valley Queen, where have ya been

since they crowned you in glory

Filled yer head with dreams
But it still goes to show in every desert
There's a rose that's bloomin' for all ta be seen
I remember ya well from that town
You did dwell with the face of an angel
In a dump hot as hell . . ."

"Hm. Fitting," Kakashi commented.

Iruka was wide eyed. "Shikamaru sings?"

"If you can call it that. . .it's always the quiet ones, isn't it?"

"When I asked for a kiss
Ya kindly dismissed
So I lead my poor heart t' the slaughter . . ."

"All my pretty illusions. . ." Iruka whimpered.

"C'mon," Kakashi pulled him back. "No more scarring your psyche."

* * *

They ended up at a different bar-- The Wobbly Star-- which was quieter when Kakashi and Iruka arrived and ordered themselves a round of sake. Soon after, though, several rather jovial samurai walked in and sat down at the bar next to the ninja, slapping down a hefty wad of bills, with a hearty "Barkeep! Beer for all these fine gentlemen and ladies!"

This was, of course, greeted with a healthy cheer by the jounin and chounin filling the bar, and gained the samurai at least ten new friends each.

"So," started one. "we all know what we visitors are thankful for. I'm curious, though, what shinobi are thankful for. . . "

And, like any open ended question asked in a bar full of off-duty ninja, it was quickly converted into a drinking game, with drunken shinobi standing one footed on wobbly bar stools, while proclaiming for all to hear what they were thankful for.

"Ibiki!" the crowd cried.

The scarred man stood up on his stool, holding out one foot, and somberly proclaimed, "I'm thankful for women who are proud and generous with their natural . . . abundance." His chest level gesture left no doubt to his meaning.

"To abundant women!" The men crowed, knocking back a mouthful, while the kunoichi all wondered if they were sufficiently abundant to be counted. "Anko!" was the next cry.

"Hmm," weaved on her stool nearly—but not quite-- giving the samurai and everyone else an eyeful. "I'm thankful for . . . masochists."

"To, er, masochists!" the crowd replied, if a little hesitantly, but still drinking with gusto. "Sasuke!"

The last Uchiha stood carefully upon his stool. "For yet another chance," he spoke into the silence. "And for people who will always come after you, no matter how much of a n ass you are."

"For friends and second chances! . . . Ambassador!"

Gaara was surprised to be included in their game, but took a deep breath and stood upon his stool like everyone else. He thought a moment, before softly saying "For everyone who has been helping me learn what this really means." He tapped the kanji on his brow.

"For Love!" was the reply. "Naruto!"

He was up and ready before they were done saying his name. "For friends who never leave, and friends who come back . . . eventually."

"For friends! Sai!"

He stood on his seat with a smirk. "I'm thankful that I'm not like dickless here."

"Oi!"

This was met with some disconcernment, until Genma finally put forth "For social ineptitude!"

"For social ineptitude! Kakashi!"

Kakashi stood, starting to feel a bit buzzed by this point. "For bipolar school teachers who don't know when to keep their mouths shut, and who give me a reason to keep fighting and come home."

"For bipolar lovers and happy homecomings! Iruka-sensei!"

Iruka stood, still blushing prettily from Kakashi's pronouncement. "For sadistic silver haired bastards that smell like dog and read too much porn, who don't care that I'm just a chounin, make delicious sandwiches, and always make me feel like someone worthy of being cared about."

"For sadists!"

* * *

The two days that followed were raucous, peaceful, and relaxing for the ninja of Konohagakure. Aside from turns at guard duty, and keeping an eye on things at the hospital, they had the time off to enjoy the fact that they'd made it another year alive. Kakashi and Iruka spent almost all of that time together, enjoying a precious few days with no obligations or duties keeping them apart.

The second night, they walked out to the Memorial Stone, surprised to find the field around it covered in small, twinkling candles, the breeze heavy with the spice of incense. Walking closer, they saw a gaggle of small children in formal kimonos taking small pieces of paper and charcoal sticks, each carefully making a rubbing of a name on the stone. Kakashi was at a loss, wondering what a bunch of children who weren't from the village were doing at the Stone. Thankfully, he had a lover who wasn't afraid of children.

"Hey," Iruka said softly with a smile. "What are you doing?" He was careful to convey only curiosity in his tone, so as not to frighten the chibis.

The tallest boy turned around with a start, none of them having heard the ninja approach. "Nothin' bad!" he said defensively. "We just. . . well, Okaasan always says that we must pray for people who have died, especially brave warriors who die in battle to protect us from bad people, so we were just, um, taking some names to take back with us, to put with our grandparents, so we can pray for them, too. . ." He fidgeted, hoping that the shinobi wouldn't be offended at their presumption.

Iruka blinked. "Oh! Well, that's okay then." He gave his patented Super-Kawai-and-Charming Grin. "Just make be careful with your robes around the candles so they don't catch, alright?"

The boy nodded.

"Hey, Hiroshi, I picked Minatao Namikaze, who'd you choose" one of the smaller boys asked.

The boy fumbled to read his scrap in the candlelight. "Um, Uchiha Obito." Iruka saw Kakashi's slight stiffening at the name. "Dad says the Uchiha's are great fighters, so he must have been pretty good, huh?"

"He was . . ." Kakashi's voice was low, but the children still heard.

"Cool, did you know him? Can you tell me about him so I can tell grandma and grandpa when I say my prayers? Pleeease?"

Kakashi choked, looking to Iruka for guidance. What did he know about little kids?

* * *

In the afternoon of the third day, people started leaving, leaving behind many gifts and memories, but being sure not to leave behind a mess. Ninja gradually replaced the samurai at the rest of the watch positions, and the medic nins woke up from their much deserved naps and returned to their regular shifts. The ANBU came out again to see the Daimyo and his men –all five hundred-- off, and things returned back to normal in Konoha.

And although Iruka had to return to teaching the pre-genins, and Kakashi knew he would soon be getting another mission, they were both thankful for the three days of rest they'd had with each other.