It was a bitter, cold day, as it often was in late December. The idea of a holiday during this
time, Naruto thought, had to be due to the relentless cold. Something about it had depressed people, so they had decided that,
during one of the shortest days of the year, a celebration would occur to bring smiles to people’s faces. Presents would
be handed out, wrapped in bright colors to stave off the pure white and black of the world around them. Monochrome wasn’t
in style, ever.
But Naruto had never had cause to celebrate it as a child. There had been no one to celebrate
with. He, the hated child, the monster, had always been on the outside looking in. Iruka would come see him during the holiday,
to take him out to dinner on Christmas Eve. It had been Naruto’s first gift. And his only knowledge that the special
day had come.
Oh, he saw the townspeople dress up, shop, play, laugh. He saw them gather together and exchange
gifts. But for him, the holiday had never existed. It was just another day. Another time to be alone.
With Jiraiya, during those years when they had trained together, things had been so very different.
Granted, Jiraiya had flown the coop on training, and when he had been around, training had been about as far from a
holiday as one could get. But still, Jiraiya had been there, almost like a father – well, at his age, grandfather. The
ero-sennin had been with him to celebrate the Christmas holiday that had always been a bitter poison on Naruto’s thoughts.
He had received a gift for the very first time in his life at the hands of that man. Even Kakashi
and Sakura-chan hadn’t taken it that far. They’d wished him a Merry Christmas and had waved good-bye. Granted,
Kakashi would accompany him on his dinner outing with Iruka, but Naruto suspected a hidden motive.
No. It had been Jiraiya who had laid him down that day, just another cold day among cold days,
and had given him his very first present. It hadn’t been much. It had been ridiculous, and Naruto had griped and complained
and shouted at him. After all, what the hell did he, an underage genin, want with a pass into one of Jiraiya’s favorite
hangouts? It had been a scene to remember, as Naruto had absolutely freaked out. He remembered screaming in outrage and jumping
up from the thick piece of paper as if it were a vicious animal. He’d turned on Jiraiya as if…
But that was in the past. All of it was in the past. The memories were there, as strong and
sure as he – as the man who had made him strong.
Years ago. It had been years ago, and something he wasn’t likely to forget. When everything
had shattered around him. Not only had the Akatsuki gotten so very close to their plan then, not only had Sasuke gotten into
his next fight with Itachi, but during Naruto’s blind obsession with his best friend, his mentor and teacher had gotten…
For him? For the village? With Jiraiya, one could flip it off as a whim of his. The man had
acted so very childish. But beneath that had been a kind, noble heart. Naruto had seen it. He knew others had. Tsunade had
fallen into depression just as bitterly as he had. He had felt so torn about, as if the world around him had burst. His parents
had been lost far too early for him to have known them well. But Jiraiya had been with him for years, standing beside him.
Naruto couldn’t help but remember that one day, that cold December morning. And he remembered
that he’d had nothing in return.
The day was just as cold as the one he was thinking of, just as bitter and chilly. It was a
day in which pedestrians strived not to be out for long. Ninjas took a wise break from their outdoor training and stuck to
the heated houses in which they lived. Sakura-chan, he knew, was spending the day with her parents. Tsunade had convinced
Shizune to allow her to gamble, since it was the day of giving and Tsunade couldn’t help but do that. Neji had been
invited to the Hyuuga main branch’s house by Hinata herself. Lee and Gai were doing gods only knew what together, probably
exchanging presents and exclaiming over the bounty of youth or some such.
Everyone was with family now. Later, when night fell, as it would in about an hour, they would
all go to Ino’s flower shop, which would be closed for the evening, and they would hang out together and party past
midnight. There would be food, hidden liquor, and general merriness. Naruto avoided each year, for the villagers who didn’t
care for him and out of respect to those who couldn’t attend.
Sasuke. Naruto wondered if he would come. Still bitter, still angry with the world, Sasuke tended
to hole himself up. Usually Naruto took it upon himself to break Sasuke out of his ‘Avenger’ funk, but he wasn’t
up to it today. Sasuke, he knew, could take care of himself.
It was a cold, lonely walk to the church, to those who waited unattended during this day of
festivities. Snow, which had fallen the night before, lay undisturbed around the graves. He could see them, not far in the
distance, standing strong. He wondered if they could feel one another’s presence, whether the graves themselves could
get lonely, watching the world to which they had been a part of continue on so merrily without them.
“Ridiculous,” he muttered. He knew very well that graves were merely stones, and
those beneath them lifeless. He knew it. He just didn’t like it.
He remembered so many. Asuma, for one, who had already received a rose from Kurenai and her
baby. Shikamaru had also paid the man a visit, probably giving the man an update, as he was often wont to do. He wished idly
that he could put a marker on Haku’s grave, but there was no way.
No. It was most important that he do this.
He wasn’t stopped by anyone, as no one came to this part of the town at this time. Yesterday
evening had seen some churchgoers, but Naruto had no intention of coming on Christmas Eve and quietly celebrating a day that
never held any true meaning. Christmas Eve meant nothing. Only Christmas, and only for this.
He reached the cemetery with practiced ease. Every Christmas met him here, just before the sun
set. As if, on that day on which Jiraiya had brought him that ludicrous present, he had raced out and had only just now been
able to return.
The box was gently cradled in his hands, carefully, gently led to this one place. Such a large
grave, and so close to the Third Hokage’s. A place of honor. Jiraiya would have laughed at that, saying it was a waste
of space that should be taken by someone more important.
“You are important,” he told the gravestone. He wished he could say it to the man.
He had heard what the ero-sennin’s sacrifice had been, what he’d done for the village.
He’d heard. He’d never doubted. After all, despite the pervert’s attitude, no one could doubt his love for
He kneeled down, carefully clearing the stone of snow. He clearly saw Jiraiya’s name engraved
just over his birth and death. Words had been placed on his tomb, but they were not what Naruto would have put. He no longer
read them. They were apt; they were true. But they weren’t the man. There was no way to simply state who Jiraiya had
been, what he had meant.
His godfather. Tsunade had informed him of that, of how Jiraiya had unwittingly named him Naruto.
As always, the thought of everything Naruto had lost brought tears to his eyes.
And as always when he came here, he thought back to the days he’d spent with this of the
legendary Sannin. He thought of the training, thought of his first meeting. Jiraiya’s stupid dance as he introduced
himself. He saw the man come to stand between him and Itachi. Thought of his drooling as Naruto used his henge, changing himself
into a sexy broad. He remembered. He remembered it all. He wouldn’t allow himself to forget.
In his desire for Sasuke to come back, in his insistence in stopping Akatsuki, he had gotten
himself and his friends into serious danger. It had worked out, in the end. But not without casualties. Not without losses.
This was a loss he hadn’t expected to have to live with. Not this soon.
“Sorry, ero-sennin,” he murmured. “I never meant to let you die.” Like
he could have stopped it. Ridiculous. He had been too weak at the time. Too weak to force Sasuke to return, too weak to stop
the Akatsuki, and far too weak to save his godfather.
There were no words he could say, no words he hadn’t tried to say. It was an old tradition
now, three years in the making. He had already said everything he could, and far more than he should. As a shinobi, it was
inappropriate to grieve. As a human, it was impossible not to.
There was nothing to say. So he stooped there, looking at the gravestone. Remembering. He didn’t
know how long he sat there, muted and still in his suffering, but finally he laid his precious burden on the grave, as he
had the years before and will the years to come. It was a small thing, wrapped in silver foil and tied with a light, lacy
red bow. Inside was a pass to a certain hotspot, and, of course, a coupon for a free meal at Ichiraku Ramen. The same as the
years before. He didn’t know what happened to the gifts; maybe some malicious soul came and got a good meal and some
fun. Naruto didn’t care. It was about the giving, about the memory. Nothing else.
As he sat there he became aware of someone near him, someone watching. When he tensed, the person
moved toward him. Somehow he knew exactly who it was without having to turn, but turn he did, and wearily.
Sasuke looked magnificent in the snow, his pale skin looking paler, his dark hair and eyes looking
even darker and thus more roguish. His eyes, now as dark as midnight, not dripping the color crimson, were turned to the small
present. Naruto had never told anyone about his trips out here, but surely others had learned. Sakura had given him a sad
look yesterday when he’d given her her present, and Iruka and Kakashi had deliberately kept from asking about his plans
for Christmas. Apparently it was news to Sasuke.
Of course the Uchiha could piece together what was going on; the man wasn’t stupid. The
gaze turned to Naruto, still as hard as always but now seeming to soften, to question. To understand. Better than anyone else,
Sasuke would understand his pain. That had always been the way between them. Even if Sasuke refused to see it.
“Dobe,” he greeted, “what are you doing out here in the cold?”
As if it wasn’t obvious. Naruto quirked a sardonic brow and stood, wiping the snow off
his pants. “And you aren’t out here either, are you?” Usually Sasuke refrained from going outside, as far
as Naruto knew. Maybe he actually did come outside, but only where there were no people. Keeping himself isolated and
alone so that he could brood in peace. That sounded like Sasuke.
Sasuke snorted. “Where’s your coat?” he asked.
Naruto shrugged. It was true he wasn’t wearing a coat, but it wasn’t that horribly
cold. And more importantly, he hadn’t been wearing one that day. He was about to ask where Sasuke’s was before
he realized that the bastard had his on him. It was black and form-fitting and far too suitable. Naruto was wearing nothing
more than the usual orange and black, the black only as outlines of seams. His forehead protector was on, as usual, and as
usual, Sasuke’s was not.
Things had changed in Konoha, but then they always do.
Finally Sasuke sighed. “Come with me.”
“No, thanks,” Naruto said quickly. “I have to be heading back.”
“To your apartment? Alone?”
Naruto jumped slightly. Apparently Sasuke knew more about his habits than he’d thought.
“So? You do the same. Minus ‘apartment,’ plus ‘mansion.’”
Sasuke scowled. “I’m not a part of the village,” he snapped. “Or haven’t
you noticed? What part of ‘missing-nin’ confuses you?”
“You are a part of the village, teme, and you always have been!” Naruto shouted
back. “It’s you who’s isolated yourself from the world!”
“And you’ve done the same!” Sasuke roared back.
They were standing nose to nose, leaning on their tip-toes with their fists clenched at their
sides. What was it about Sasuke that brought Naruto’s senses into overload? His emotions were confused enough tonight.
He didn’t need this. “Bug off, Sasuke,” he growled. “Go mope in your mansion and leave me alone.”
He turned to leave, but Sasuke’s hand snaked out and caught him in a tight grip. He turned
with a glare, but Sasuke’s icy gaze didn’t flinch in the slightest. It never did. “Baka,” he snapped.
“I don’t ‘mope in my mansion.’” He swept his arm out to indicate the cemetery. “You think
you’re the only one who misses someone on this day?”
What the hell? Stunned silence descended like a fog over them both. Sasuke never spoke about
this – the pain he felt at the losses he’d endured. Only once, when they had fought at the Valley of the End,
and Sasuke had accused him of not knowing what it was like. Something had drastically changed, and only just now. “Sasuke?”
With a muted curse, Sasuke let go of him and turned away. His broad, lean shoulders were tense.
“It was never a time of celebration.” Sasuke seemed to bristle in anger. “You weren’t supposed to
Wasn’t supposed to…? Naruto’s fury flared anew. “I always knew,”
he yelled. “Always. It’s you who never wanted to see. You always saw your own anger, your own goals. It’s
what made you leave, isn’t it?” The bitterness wasn’t supposed to lace his tone. He’d always kept
it strictly to anger and rivalry. Sasuke could never handle anything else, and honestly? Neither could he.
Sasuke hissed. “You aren’t like me,” he stated. A common Uchiha insult.
“Of course not.” Naruto turned in disgust. It was only then that he realized that
the sorrow of the day was tingeing his tone. He didn’t want to let it ruin whatever tenuous friendship the two of them
had been able to rebuild these past years. He turned back to face his friend’s back. “Hey, Sasuke?”
The sudden change in his tone seemed to make Sasuke curious; he tilted his head slightly to
show he was listening.
“Do you want to come to the party with me?”
Sasuke seemed surprised for a moment before he chuckled softly. It wasn’t the chuckle
of the young Sasuke, but of the hate-filled older one. It was a chuckle that Naruto despised. “Ridiculous.”
He flung out the olive branch with enough force to splinter. “We can both become something
to this village. You’re still many people’s hero, and I’m… I’m no longer detested. We can move
forward together, just as we had when we were kids.”
“Still dreaming, eh, Naruto?” Sasuke jeered.
“At least I haven’t given up,” he retorted. “I’m stronger than
that.” Sasuke turned, seeming ready to kill. “And so are you.”
Sasuke hesitated. Naruto couldn’t see clearly what his old friend was thinking; he had
learned to hide a lot from his eyes. It was sad to see.
“It’s Christmas,” Naruto whispered. “Don’t we deserve something
better than this?” It was his turn to indicate the cold, empty cemetery. “Not to forget, but…”
Sasuke smirked; finally, a reaction that hinted at the old him. “Yours was self-imposed
as well,” Sasuke stated. As if confused. Or testing.
“Yeah,” Naruto confirmed. “But…” He couldn’t say he didn’t
want Sasuke spending his Christmas alone, but that was exactly what he’d been thinking. He didn’t want to party.
He just wanted to sit in silent companionship with his best friend, the one who had taken away his solitude before. The one
who could, if he wished, take it away again.
“I don’t party,” Sasuke said firmly. At Naruto’s slumping shoulders,
he added, “I’d rather stay at my house.” He turned away again, then looked over his shoulder. “Are
you coming, dobe?”
Naruto beamed. With Sasuke, it was as simple as that. He ran up to him and playfully pounced
on him. Sasuke scowled, but it was a scowl that Naruto remembered from a lifetime ago. He sobered long enough to say, “Sorry,
Sasuke. I didn’t get you a Christmas present.”
“Usurutonkachi,” Sasuke muttered. “I don’t need one. And neither do
Naruto shrugged. “Yeah. You just gave it to me.” And proceeded to lead the stunned
Uchiha to his own house, gaily singing Christmas carols along the way.
After all, it was okay… for those who live to find joy, even if it meant entering a warm
house with one less person. He knew Jiraiya would understand.
Merry Christmas, Naruto thought, to all those left behind.
Just wanted a small little thing out there for Jiraiya. It’s sad that this happened during
this time, when joy is supposed to be breaking out everywhere. Just letting him and everyone else lost to us know that we
miss and love you all. Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope you have a great time, and sorry if this brings you down. It’s
just something I couldn’t keep inside.