And so at last, we come to our final Sword. Perhaps it was not written in the same style as my previous chapters, but I'm rather proud of it nonetheless.
As always, thank you for reading and I hope you'll review. Please check out my profile page for a link to New TFF, which has been moved to a brand new site under new leadership. It's inspired me to write once more.
Kakashi stared out at a sea of faces from the podium.
Not since the last Great Ninja War had Kakashi seen so many representatives from nearly every nation on the continent in one place.
Even in death, Kakashi reflected wryly, his student lived up to his moniker of Number One Most Surprising Ninja of Konoha. Only Naruto, son of the equally revered and hated Yellow Flash of Konoha, could have brought together strangers, mortal enemies, and even royalty in one place and given them a common bond: himself.
He glanced down at the carefully written speech that some clerk had no doubt slaved over for days. No doubt, it hit all the right emotional notes. No doubt, it was politically correct to the point that no one could possibly be offended by its content. No doubt, it painted Konohagakure in the best possible light. It was, for all intents and purposes, the best politically charged eulogy the brightest minds in the village could come up with.
He crumpled up the pages and tossed them casually over his shoulder. A groan emanated from the seated dignitaries behind him, probably from a council member. A few faces in the crowd before him smiled in approval.
"Naruto," Kakashi began, "died in my arms in the pouring rain. He was my subordinate, a genin of Konoha."
He paused, his mind's eye superimposing his student's form over that of the teammate he'd lost so very long ago. Had it been nearly two decades already? He shook his head, willing away the blood and the sorrow.
"He was a soldier. He loved this village and all of its peoples down to the very marrow of his bones. For those of you who know his origins, you cannot even begin to imagine the character it took for this man to love this village without first being loved in return. I've laid awake many nights, wondering where this world would be had Naruto chosen to hate instead of love. I'm glad that I wonder instead of know."
A sob drifted up to the stage, borne on a gentle breeze. Maito Gai laid a hand on his protégé's shoulder and said nothing. There were no theatrics here. Only the sound of mourning.
"Look around you. Look at your neighbors. Look at your friends, your family. Look at your enemies. You were brought here by love, not hate. It is a testament to Naruto's indomitable spirit and his drive to protect not just his village, but everyone in this land. We are here because he represented hope for a lasting peace for all of our nations. He dirtied his hands and threw every fiber of his being into breaking the cycle of war and hatred that has plagued us for generations."
Two seats were empty to either side of Haruno Sakura. In her hands, she held two hitai-ate. One was dented, scratched, and dull nearly beyond recognition. The other had a deep gouge across the Leaf symbol. She gripped them so tightly that her knuckles bled white. Her lips trembled, but no tears fell. She was a bride who had lost both of the loves of her life.
Kakashi cleared his throat. He could not recall the last time he had spoken for so long. What had made him feel that he deserved to speak at Naruto's funeral?
"I was not the teacher that Naruto wanted, nor was I the one he deserved. I can't tell you how many times I brushed him off, telling myself I had no time to waste on such a lackluster student or reasoning that there were others who could teach him. No one will say it aloud, so I will: I failed Naruto. I failed him as a teacher, as a commanding officer, and as a friend. All he ever really wanted was for someone to acknowledge him as a person and for the longest time, I treated him as a nuisance."
Kakashi lowered his head and added bitterly, "It's no doing of mine that made Naruto into the man he became."
His vision swam slightly and he hurriedly faced the crowd again. Hyuuga Hinata's gaze bore through him. It was said that she had secluded herself in her mother's chambers for three days and when she emerged, she was cold, unsmiling, and silent. Her father grieved the loss of his gentle daughter in the Hyuuga way: by formally re-designating her as the Clan Heir.
"Naruto died with his brother's heart in his hand and a gaping hole in his chest three handspans wide. He died weeping because he could not save the one person that he wanted to save the most. Which of you here would weep for your enemy, even as he killed you?"
The sound of wind rushing through the leaves covered his melancholy sigh.
"I'm old. I'm tired. I've seen too many people die because of old grudges and lines on a paper." Kakashi gripped both sides of the podium. "I'm tired of killing. But I know that it will continue, because only Naruto was naïve enough to believe that everyone wanted peace as badly as he did. All of you here will leave our village, vowing to change in my student's memory to honor what he fought and died for. But I'm a soldier. I know better."
The crowd began to mutter and grumble. Kakashi knew that this wasn't what they wanted to hear.
He raised his voice above the sullen crowd. "Oh, you think you're better than that? Then prove it. Prove to Naruto that the enemies he defeated, the friendships he made, the trials he overcame was not in vain. PROVE that you're just as dedicated to peace as he was. PROVE that my student, who I came to respect and love as the son I wish I'd had the honor to raise, did not die a mere footnote in a book of bloodshed."
"My name is Hatake Kakashi. I am the Rokudaime Hokage. I am a poor substitute for Uzumaki Naruto, but I will have to do. If it's the last thing I do, I will drag us all into peace and prosperity kicking and screaming."
The sullen muttering grew to a dull roar. Someone behind him was shouting, but he ignored them.
"Uzumaki Naruto will be buried with all the ceremony this village can afford him. His name will be written on the Memorial Stone beneath that of my father."
With nothing further to be said, he left the stage with a flicker and dusting of leaves, reappearing before the Memorial Stone. In the distance, he could hear the outraged shouts of literally half the nation. He smiled slightly. Naruto would have loved that.
His eyes traced familiar paths across the stone until it alighted on a familiar name.
"It should have been me instead, Obito. It should have been me."