Chapter Summary: The first few years back are difficult – peace aside, some old tensions are harder to get over than others – but everyone in the community pitches in to keep small feuds from turning larger.

Chapter Beta: None besides my own eyes. Editing will be done at a later date. (I'm currently going through my beta's comments on chapter 11, if that gives you any idea of where I'm at)


結語

The treaty between the Senju and the Uchiha is concluded that day, and for the first time in history, the two clans are equally dedicated to its conditions. The accord is already stronger than any other document signed into law, bound by the blood spilled by their leaders and the child that unites the ancient lineages.

Sasuke is required to bend knee to Sakura in a formal acknowledgement of the Senju defeat of the Uchiha, a stipulation which would have made him furious once. He is also expected to offer formal apology to each clan, both of his own allies and former enemies, before renouncing his clan name. His death—though it turned out to be short-lived and only symbolic—signals the end of the Uchiha clan.

He is led from the peace conclave by several guards, led by Neji, who promises to deliver him into his confinement without incident. Once the measure would have been for his guards protection; today it is for Sasuke's.

Later that day, Sakura visits him with Sarada—an occurrence that will repeated over the coming months—and informs him that in solidarity, she has renounced the Senju title.

"Those names are of the past," she tells him, and then snorts. "It looks like our daughter will grow up a civilian like me."

"The soul of a shinobi will not be changed by something so frivolous as a name," he tells her quietly, and they share a look over the head of their daughter.

"You're right."

"And Haruno Sarada…is a much more hopeful name in these circumstances."

Sakura smiles.

Their relationship is far from mended—it might take years—but the love that he can see etched into her features is real. Once he would not have known what that looked like, but now it gives him hope.

Sasuke's trial takes much longer than the peace accords, and by the time the verdict for his crimes is given, Sarada is a year old.

"By the power vested in me by the people of the Land of Fire," Naruto decrees in an official voice that makes him sound ridiculous, "You are hereby sentenced to a one year of exile, to allow the people of this land the time to heal from the lasting wounds you have caused. Should you return, you will serve the people you have wronged until the days when you are no longer physically able. You will build houses for those you have destroyed, and care for the graves of those whose deaths you caused. You will sup with the families of those you have wronged, and care for the children left orphaned by the war." He pauses here, and frowns at some of the members of the tribunal, as if he was not entirely pleased with this next bit. "And though your heirs will not be judged by your actions, you are prohibited from evert holding a position of leadership again, lest you fall into bad habits."

It's far better than Sasuke deserves, but he wisely doesn't say so.

Mostly because Sakura stands by his side, crushing his hand in warning.

She, of course, insists on joining him in his exile, but he convinces her that he needs the year to reflect and redeem his sins without her.

"Besides…it would be safer for our daughter here," he reminds her.

"And if in your reflections you arrive at the conclusion that it's better not to come back?" she asks, worried.

"I would never arrive to that conclusion," he informs her. "Not when my wife and child are here."

She processes this, and then turns red. "W-wife?"

He gazes down on her, amused by her astonishment. "If that future hasn't run its course. If that is something you still desire."

For once, Sakura seems beyond words, but when she grabs him by the front of his robes and drags him into a kiss, he comes to his own conclusions.

He has a week before he must leave, and in that time he and Sakura are wed. It's a quiet affair in the face of the uproarious celebration that was thrown for Naruto and Hinata six months earlier. Although Naruto's marriage to the Hyūga heiress is not quite as sensational as Sasuke and Sakura's (they have been courting almost since her defection to the Uzumaki's side), their entire community is still utterly shocked when Hinata announces her own pregnancy. Sasuke thinks it's because no one ever thought Naruto would be able to figure out how to bed a woman, but whenever he tries to say so Sakura gives him a warning look and he remains tactfully silent.

(At least in public.)

Sasuke supposes it's the logical conclusion of the whole affair – and a masterful diplomatic stroke – but he would be lying if he said he wasn't satisfied with the outcome. This is the future – albeit some of it a bit premature – that he once envisioned in the secret depths of his mind.

The one that his brother died to protect.

He allows himself one night with Sakura before leaving, if only to demonstrate with actions what his words can never quite convey. He doesn't wake her or Sarada to say goodbye, unsure if he'll be able to leave if he does. He knows she will understand, and thanks the gods that Sarada is too young to.

The year he spends on his own allows him to see a world that exists beyond the war and pain that was his birth right. And though he misses Sakura and Sarada, and sends them messages when possible, he tries to concern himself with making up for the sins of his past. Wherever he goes, he throws himself into helping those less fortunate, and those damaged by war. Some are the victims of his own family's legacy, others of conflict and disorder from beyond the borders of the fire country.

His efforts are equally appreciated and reviled—some people forgive his deeds, while others cannot. In the far reaches of the land no one has even heard of him, and he is treated with the same courtesy as any lowborn vagabond might be.

When he returns home, he finds not an isolated collection of camps and tents but a growing settlement of people from all over. In this new world, he discovers he is finally able to see beyond the monochrome world of Uchiha and Senju.

Sarada is walking and talking by the time he returns, but her face opens up with joy the day he walks through the gates. He is so stunned by her growth that he almost doesn't notice Sakura approaching him, until she stands by his side—once again carrying a swaddled bundle.

He stares down at the infant in her arms, noting the pink hair and black eyes, and can't help the stunned twitch of his lips.

"For a medic, you're rather awful about contraception," he informs her without even bothering about a greeting, and it's her that laughs now through happy tears.

"Or maybe your family is just unnaturally fertile," she counters, handing him the baby.

"You didn't say anything in your letters."

"It would have made your exile harder knowing you couldn't come back to see him," she replies, apologetic. She leans down to pick up Sarada, holding her close between them. "Sweetheart, you want to tell Papa what we named the baby?"

"Itachi," the tiny girl says proudly. "Like Uncle."

And Sasuke can find nothing more to say for this, but he pulls his little family close and silently thanks gods he never truly believed in for their existence.

The first few years back are difficult – peace aside, some old tensions are harder to get over than others – but everyone in the community pitches in to keep small feuds from turning larger.

Somehow, the news that Sasuke is the father of Sakura's children appears to endear him to the people. The cold, suspicious looks he was treated to before are still there, but only fractionally. He would almost prefer it, knowing that it's only due to the overtly romanticised version of events being circulated. Minstrels and poets have already spun their tales, the forbidden love and heroic acts, until Sasuke doesn't even recognise himself or Sakura in the stories.

Naruto—now father to his own son and daughter—mocks him endlessly about these, until Kakashi and Obito remind him that he too is featured in the legend of the village. Although Naruto is the leader of the people, he always has time to spend with those he considers friends—and by this time, Sasuke openly acknowledges the other man as just that.

His friend.

As the people of the Land of Fire recover from generations of war, construction begins on a new village for them all. The rest of the Nara, Yamanaka and Akimichi officially return to the fold, much to Sakura's pleasure as she and Ino renew their childhood friendship. Refugees from Oto and other surrounding villages also take up residence there, all vowing to protect the peace so many sacrificed for.

Sasuke is not sure if such a country can last. He still believes that humans are prone to corruption and conflict, and that one day there will be some other war that he and his descendants are caught up in.

And yet, as he watches Sarada and Itachi run and jump and play in the flowery fields where once men fought and died, he makes a vow. That for the sake of his offspring, he will ensure a time of amity that lasts as long as humanly possible. Alongside Sakura and Naruto, and their friends and comrades, he will protect the peace with everything that he is.

"What are you thinking about so hard?" Sakura asks, coming to stand beside him.

As she leans into his left side, he reaches over and gently places his right hand on the swell of her abdomen. He imagines he can feel the movement of their third child through the thick material of her robes.

"The future," he responds softly, gazing down at her while his children's laughter fills the air.

終わり


Thank you a million times to everyone who has been following this fic, especially those of you who left comments or PMed me just to chat or ask questions about the fic. You guys have been so involved in the writing of this, and you kept me on the ball a lot, bringing up issues I hadn't even considered and which I was able to address as the story went on.

Fans like you are the difference between a story being successful and resonating, and a story that's really just forgettable fluff. I'm so very proud of this story, and even though it's not technically complete until it's edited, I had an amazing summer writing it.

I hope you enjoyed reading and that this is one of those stories you can come back to. And I hope you enjoy my next epic. I don't know what it will be, but experience tells me it will probably start off with on or two chapters and then evolve, the way these things always do!

Also, this is not the end of this 'verse. I will be adding other stories and companion pieces over time, including but not limited to Sarada's birth and Sasuke grovelling...possibly during sexy times heehee. Although, the latter will probably only be posted on my Ao3 or tumblr.

So, thank you once again for everything, and I hope I have met your expectations.

XOXOXO

As always, reviews and constructive criticism are much appreciated! Also, if you are in a supportive mood, check out my tumblr!

クリ