Chapter 8

A week passed before Sasuke was well enough to travel. During that week, hehad been quiet and subdued, mostly staying in his room, and he hadn’t said asingle word to Naruto in particular. Naruto himself was unsure how to behaveafter everything that had happened. Kakashi-sensei, who as a member of theolder generation had already known about the Nine-Brains, was still treatinghim normally, while Sakura was originally somewhat freaked out but seemed tobe adjusting. The fact that she’d been the one to break him free of the DemonFox’s hold seemed to be a big deal to her, and he thought that victory helpedher be a lot less scared of him than she might otherwise have been. Everyoneelse, who’d received a much less detailed account of the events at the bridgethan Sasuke, treated Naruto like the rest of the team - as a great hero whohad risked his life to save their country. It felt good, in a “help, why areall these people acting like they like me? It’s freaking me out!” kind of way.

The mood in Wave as a whole was changing. After initial disbelief that Gatōwas really gone, there was general jubilation. Even though change would beslow until the economy started to recover from the damage he’d done to it,there was already a sense of hope blooming among the people. In addition,although the bridge would not be ready to take proper traffic for months yet,there had been an official decision to hold the dedication ceremony today, inthe evening, before the group responsible for its salvation set out on theirjourney home tomorrow.

In the meantime, everyone was free to spend their last day as they would. ForNaruto, this meant a walk to a certain clearing, and along the route of hisfirst date with Haku. He still couldn’t quite get his head around the factthat Haku had turned out to be a boy, and had no idea what it meant, or whatit said about him or anything else. Trying to figure out that part of him feltlike looking into a black hole, and also a bit like it was disrespectful tothe memory he had of his time with Haku to prod and poke at it with analyticaltools. The one thing he knew was that he still hoped to see him again one day.

That and the fact that nobody else must ever know. He didn’t expect anyone tounderstand (certainly not given how much difficulty he himself was having),and the best he could hope for from his friends, he suspected, would beendless and insensitive teasing. But somehow… that was OK too. It would be asecret for just the two of them.

-o-

“Hey, Sasuke, can I come in?”

“Inari? Yeah.”

Inari looked at Sasuke, lying on top of his bed staring out of the window.

“Sasuke, I wanted to say… I’m sorry for what I said back then. You were rightabout everything.”

Sasuke looked at him. “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Inari nodded. “There are real heroes, and you’re one of them, and I’mreally glad I was wrong about you.”

Sasuke didn’t say anything for a bit.

“Were you?” he suddenly asked.

Inari gave him a look of incomprehension.

“I didn’t do anything,” Sasuke told him. “Even with these eyes, all I could dois get beaten up until somebody else bailed me out. If you want a hero, golook elsewhere.”

“Weren’t you the one who told me not to look down on people who were trying todo the right thing, even if they failed?”

Sasuke didn’t have anything to say to that.

“You told me that if I was too weak, I should man up and train until I gotstronger,” Inari said. “And that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to getstronger until I’m a hero like you. And then the next time someone threatensmy country, I’ll be strong enough to protect everyone.”

“Man up and train, huh?” Sasuke echoed.

“You can do it, Sasuke!” Inari exclaimed. And then he ran off, his missionaccomplished.

A few minutes later, Sasuke sighed, got up, and headed out to the woods.

-o-

March 31st. Sunny.

Dear Diary,

Sorry I haven’t been writing. I kind of… dropped you behind the chest ofdrawers on my first day here, and only just found you again. Please don’t hateme!

Hey, I just saw Sasuke leave the house. Yay! I’ve been worried about him allweek - his injuries must have been so much worse than I thought if he hasn’teven been able to leave his room. I bet he fought that Haku like a lion.

Haku was weird. I swear he and Naruto had a “romantic moment” before he left.Only… he is a boy, right? And that sort of thing doesn’t happen in real life,only in books and movies. And even if it did, Naruto doesn’t swing that way.He’s been asking me out for as long as I can remember. He’d better not thinkI’m boyish. I think I should hit him a few times just to be sure.

Did I mention I saved everyone’s lives last week? It’s true! Kakashi-senseiused his Sharingan, and he was all like “you’re the only one who can do this,Sakura”, and I was like “leave it to me!” And then I snapped Naruto out of hisweird demonic possession thing and everyone was like “wow, Sakura, you’re thebest. We’re sorry we ever doubted you”. OK, maybe they weren’t, but theytotally should’ve been.

Anyway, tonight’s the night of the big dedication ceremony. There’s going tobe dancing, and fireworks and stuff, and it’s going to make the perfect firstdate for me and Sasuke. He hasn’t said yes yet, but I just know he will! Afterall, I saved his life. That means we’re meant to be together, right?

-o-

“And then the west wing is going to extend over here, and we can have guestrooms over there, and a conservatory there, and if we split up those…”

Tazuna was waving his arms and pointing to random features of the landscapenear the family home, while Tsunami was looking on in bemusement.

“But Dad, what are we going to do with all that extra space?”

“You’ll need it when you’ve got your husband, and lots of children runningaround all over the place,” Tazuna explained matter-of-factly. “And then I’llcertainly want some room to myself without them getting under my feet.”

“Husband?” Tsunami queried. “Even if I was going to remarry, I don’t have myeye on anyone right now.”

“What, you mean you’re not done seducing that ninja fellow yet?” Tazuna askedin surprise. “Well, hurry up, girl, before he buggers off!”

Tsunami blushed. “Dad! We’re not like that.”

Tazuna wagged his finger admonishingly. “You’re missing a golden chance there,Tsunami. Men like him don’t come along every day. But anyway, I was thinkingwe could have a courtyard branching off there…”

-o-

It was the early evening, still light, and most of the population of theentire Country of the Wave appeared to be gathered in front of the platformerected in front of the Wave end of the as-yet-unnamed bridge. There was asuggestions box nearby with “ideas for bridge names” written on it.

“… and now, it is time for the speech from Team Seven, without whom thisbridge would not exist right now. Captain Hatake, would you please grace uswith a few words?” the official in charge of the ceremony asked.

Kakashi tried to look happy at the honour, while inwardly panicking. No-onehad warned him he would have to make a speech in front of an entire country.Or at all. Ever. Big emotional inspirational speeches were what he kept Gaiaround for.

“Um… yes, well, of course, that is…”

“Kakashi-sensei, would you mind if I said something?”

“Go ahead, Naruto!” It was, perhaps, the most enthusiastic anyone had everheard the man sound about anything.

Naruto took centre stage, and took a deep breath. He’d been preparing forthis. And even though the only people present to whom it might matter alreadyknew, and none of the rest were even going to pick up on how different thiswould sound from the Naruto up until now, it still felt like coming out atlong last.

“People of the Country of the Wave! My name is Uzumaki Naruto, and I wouldlike to say a few words about courage. When I came to Wave, I’d heard a lotabout its beauty, its culture, its once and future wealth. But I had not heardabout its courage. The courage of the bridge-builders who risked their livesas they worked day after day. The courage of everyone who gathered the goodsfor reopening trade with the outside world, giving up everything they had fora brighter future. The courage of Tazuna and those who helped him take hisjourney, even knowing that discovery would bring a tyrant’s rage down on them.And, just as importantly, the courage of you, the people, who lived for yearsunder Gatō‘s oppression, in unimaginable poverty and suffering, without evergiving up hope.

“I know suffering. I know how tempting it is to give in, to stop trying tolive and instead just try to survive. And I salute the great courage youshowed in continuing to live, and hope, day after day.

“Your courage is what inspired me and my fellow ninja to fight the way we did.It kept us going, no matter what Gatō tried to throw at us. And it’s inspiredme to dream in a way I’d never dreamt before. I’m going to become the Hokage,the champion and protector of the Hidden Village of Leaf, and I’m going to bethe greatest Hokage in history! I will live up to the standard of courageyou’ve displayed, and I will not be beaten by even the strongest enemy, justas you refused to be beaten by Gatō and his minions.”

The applause was uproarious.

-o-

As Team Seven walked down to the site of the main festivities, watching thefirst Gatō effigies being lit up in the distance, Sakura leaned over towardsNaruto. “Laying it on a bit thick back there, weren’t you?”

Naruto shrugged. “It’s what they needed to hear. Tazuna’s bridge is going togive them back their prosperity, but they also need to regain their pride.” Henoticed that his register had shot up once again from excitement, but, justthis once, he didn’t try to restrain it.

“So, Hokage, huh?” Kakashi said. “Does that mean you’ve decided to work hardto make everyone in the village acknowledge you?”

“Acknowledge me? Screw that!” Naruto laughed. “They’ve long since forfeitedthe right to have me care about their opinions. No, I’m going to become aHokage the likes of which the world has never known. I’m going to protectthem, and save their lives, over and over and over again. And the innocentwill merely be grateful to me… and the guilty will live every moment of theirlives knowing that they owe everything they have to the man they hated andtried to break.

“That,” he told them, “is how Uzumaki Naruto does revenge.”

And Team Seven walked down towards the sounds of singing and dancing, leavingthe Bridge of Courage behind them.


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