Author's note: Welcome to my first Naruto fic. This is Sasuke-centric, and will contain SasuSaku. Hope you enjoy.


By: Yummei-sama no Hayashi

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.

It was a year after his brother's betrayal.

He went into each of the smaller houses surrounding his own, trying to remember who exactly lived where. He was alone, but he had learned to live with that fact. It was probably better this way; anyone who sympathized with him would end up being run through that man's katana.

There was an element of fear, of course; he still had the childhood phobia of ghosts, and the unshakeable feeling that he was coming for him. Yet he proceeded. If he could bear to burn and bury corpses on his own, he could bear the deafening silence of the empty, hollow houses.

He trod the quiet streets, shifting the box of incense sticks in his hand. He felt like he wanted to cry, but a larger part of him was repulsed at the thought. He was a man in a little boy's body, or so he wanted to believe. Real men didn't cry.

He went around into all the houses for the first time since he burnt and buried the corpses of his clan. In each house, for each person he remembered, he set aside and burnt one incense stick.

He entered a house with an overgrown garden, remembering his Ayame-baachan and her love for gardening. He had always watched her play music to her plants as he walked to school. He entered her house and, on a small vat, lit an incense stick for her and her husband.

He entered a house with toys still scattered within it, remembering how his little cousins Chi and Jiroshin tagged along with the older ones his age to go to weekend training. He lit a stick for both of them and for his aunt and uncle.

He went inside another house where wooden Buddhas and carving tools were gathering dust. He knew this house well; it was the home of Takeshi-jiisan, who loved tinkering with wood, often creating masterpieces with it. He remembered taking scraps of wood from the workshop and using them for training. He set his uncle's ashtray in front of his beloved woodworks and placed a burning incense stick on it.

From house to house he went, remembering exactly what was usually done in those houses. He remembered the little tea parties of the women of the clan, the drinking sessions of the men, and the games of hide and seek he used to play with his cousins, the only friends he had ever known.

He felt deep emptiness filling his soul and numbness from the cold that did not come from the chilly night wind at all.

It feels bad…

The pungent smell of the one-hundred and fifty-two incense sticks burning filled the night air.

He slowly trudged back into the main house, fighting back the hot tears that were burning behind his eyes. There were two incense sticks left, just enough. He was right when he counted how many Uchiha clan members lived – or used to live – in the estate, just the day before.

He entered the dark room, casting his eyes on the bloodstains he had tried so hard to scrub away. None of his attempts ever worked. Walking forward, he place two incense sticks on a small plate in front of his parents' shrine, their pictures beaming down on him, a vase containing both of their ashes in between them.

As he lit the incense, he remembered how his mother loved its soothing smell. She would always light one before taking a nice, well-deserved two hour bath, at which his brother and father would wrinkle their noses, and sputter and cough at the smell. They hated the scent, whereas he and his mother loved it. He often wondered when his father would finally shout at his mother to stop lighting incense, but he never did, only shaking his head amusedly when she would disappear into the bathroom and shout at one of her boys to light the furo from the outside, at which her husband would gladly comply.

Tears began spilling out of his eyes, he not being able to hold it back anymore. There was nothing that could be done. He had to admit defeat. He was crying like a girl. He knelt down in front of the little shrine, hiccupping and wrapping his arms around himself, trying in vain to comfort himself.

Kaasan… Tousan… Can't you please come back…?

It was two years since his clan was brutally murdered.

It had become a yearly habit now. He had spent most of the stipend he received every month from the Uchihas' bank accounts, which had all become his own, to buy his necessities and the usual one-hundred and fifty-four incense sticks.

A woman who lived near the estate asked if she could help in any way, if he needed any help in laying the incense sticks in each of the houses, but he only shook his head quietly. He didn't need anyone's pity or sympathy. He had made it alone for three years. How would one night of help make any difference?

He stepped into the threshold of one house, placing four burning incense sticks on a small plate set upon a small table that stood near the door. He could remember vaguely that the people who lived in this house often gave him and his family apples during summertime, when their tree was most plentiful. He couldn't remember their names, and their faces seemed to be fuzzy to him.

He felt a shudder of fear. Was he forgetting the people who were so precious to him before?

He entered house after house, trying to remember, as a ritual, how each person lived their life before it was cut off by that murderer.

Then he found himself wondering about a few things. Was it Kikyo-obaasan who knit socks for everyone, or was it Izumi-oneesan? Had it been Shinichi who played that prank on Anna, or was that Miruki-oniisan? Was it Renshu-obaasama who supervised the making of the lanterns for the annual Konoha founding festival, or was it Jounochi-ojiisama? Had it been Kisaragi-oneechan who topped the chuunin exams that year, or was it Makoto-oniisan?

He felt terrified. He didn't want to forget these things. These memories made him believe the Uchiha still lived, somehow, in his heart, mind and soul. Forgetting these things made him feel as if he was erasing the last imprints of his clan from the face of the earth, forever.

He tried to convince himself of the contrary as he burnt the incense sticks for his clan, saying a prayer as he went. He was never going to forget. He could never forget all the love and affection his whole family, the Uchiha, holders of the Sharingan for centuries, showered upon him.

Because of this, he needed to avenge them. He needed to spill his own flesh and blood to avenge his own flesh and blood. He had to shed blood for old blood shed. He was frightened of the thought, but he knew he needed to be strong.

He felt emptiness gushing into his heart and numbness from his toes to his fingertips that had nothing to do with how the wind blew.

I hate this feeling…

The overpowering scent of a hundred and fifty-two incense sticks made his head spin.

He went to the last of his stops: that room where he found his parents sprawled on the floor. The blood on the floor had somehow faded through constant scrubbing, but it was still there, refusing to be unnoticed.

He lit the last two incense sticks, remembering the time when his mother had caught him stealing her incense sticks away to that he could use them for his dirt fortress. He was four then, and he had no idea what those funny red twigs were for. To his horror, his mother struck a match and lit the end of the stick. Then, an ethereal smell filled the room, soothing his frustrated demeanor.

He breathed in the scent now, feeling better. He had not forgotten, at least, about his mother. He couldn't bear it if he forgot even her and his father. He uttered a silent prayer for guidance.

Kaasan… Tousan… help me with my mission to avenge your deaths…

Five years had passed since he became alone in the world.

The sun was still up, but he had to distribute the incense sticks already. He had training with Kakashi that day, and it was something he didn't dare pass up. It was, after all, part of his duty to his clan, and far more important than expressing his over-romanticizing about their deaths.

He walked the streets, lighting an incense stick for each person once more. He could hardly remember anyone nor did he care to. All he wanted was to get the task done. The training he was about to do was for them, after all.

The silent streets echoed in his ears, and the air of negativity seeped into his system. He looked around and saw only the blood that was spilt on that day five years ago. He could still picture out the corpses that lay strewn around the houses.

He saw himself as a little boy, crying and trying to convince himself that this person who had his parents' blood on his swords wasn't his brother, but the red eyes of the Sharingan were unmistakable. He found himself remembering the extreme fear he had felt when he experienced the ultimate genjutsu, Tsukuyomi, firsthand. The red sky was still vivid in his mind's eye.

As he lit stick after stick, the resentment and hate for his brother grew. He did all this. He was the one who caused his life to be as miserable as it was now.

He had to devoid himself of all things that had nothing to do with avenging his clan. All his previous sentimentalities were left unheard in his mind, all the cravings of a normal twelve year-old stuffed into a box and stowed away.

He looked around, not caring who had run the candle stand that was falling apart now. He couldn't have cared less for the old lady who used to ask him about his genius of a brother everyday, saying that he had the potential of being just as good. He didn't try to remember the name of the cousin who used to run around and play pranks on him and the other children.

He felt emptiness cascading like water down his spirit and numbness in his limbs that had nothing to do with the weather, since it was sunny anyway.

This is all his fault…

The strong odor of the one hundred fifty-two incense sticks only filled him with the dreaded feeling of loneliness.

He entered the room, emblazoned with the symbol of his clan, the same sign that was on his back. He was going to uphold the name of the clan and restore it to its glory. But first, he had to kill the one who had taken it all away from him.

He watched the smoke swirl up to the air, the tiny tendrils framing the smiling face of his mother on the picture. His father smiled beside her. He wondered when he would be able to smile like that again.

His teammates made him smile, but he never felt that he was free to do so since he had lost all the people he loved to the person he looked up to the most. He felt the need to hide any of the happiness he felt to himself. If he didn't, his purpose for existing would be voided. He didn't know any logical connection to this, but he felt this was possible.

He uttered a silent prayer that the next time he would see that man, he would be the one standing above the corpse. Little did he know what awaited him that day was utter shock and despairing failure, along with a broken rib and a scarred psyche.

Kaasan… Tousan… I'm going to kill him…

Six years had gone by since he was appointed avenger of his clan.

He had left Konoha. There was no turning back, not after nearly a year of becoming a missing nin. He was, as he had told his female teammate, on a path to power, and he was prepared to do anything he could to gain that power. She had sobbed it wasn't going to make anyone happy, but he wasn't doing this to make himself happy. It was to stop his family from turning in their graves at the abandonment of his cause.

He could not let go of the ritual, however. For days before the anniversary, he paced the floor and stared into space, deciding whether or not he should go back and light the usual one hundred and fifty-four incense sticks for his clan. Finally, confident of his abilities in keeping to the shadows unseen, he decided he needed to go back, just for one last night until he killed the one who chose him to avenge the clan.

He moved in the alleys of the estate, hoping no one was there, although it was obvious there wasn't anyone there. No one entered the Uchiha estate without permission. In his hand, he held a lighted candle and the bag of incense sticks, something he had Kabuto procure days before.

Quickly and quietly, he lit the incense sticks and placed them on their usual places. He felt a sudden pang of nostalgia; this would be the last time he would do this, for a very long time, at least. As he walked from house to house, memories began to pour in again, of the days of the clan's thriving life.

He couldn't get the scene of death and destruction out of his mind, however. Everywhere he turned, there seemed to be bloodstains. The negative air that hung in the atmosphere entered his lungs, making him feel heavy on his feet.

Suddenly, there was nothing he could feel anymore except the scent of blood passing through his nose.

He felt emptiness filling his soul up to the brim, and the numbness spread throughout his spirit.

Can emptiness fill…? Can numbness be felt?

The heady scent of the one-hundred and fifty-two incense sticks failed to cover the odor of blood.

He slipped into the room where his life was changed forever when his brother gave him instruction to kill him one he was stronger. It hadn't changed, only that there was more dust on everything. He set the incense sticks on the dusty plate in front of his parents' shrine, thoughts occupying much of his mind as he lit the incense.

He was undoubtedly stronger. His training was paying off. There was no jutsu he couldn't learn in a span of two days, except probably the ones that needed a huge amount of chakra, but with the curse seal, even that was beginning to end as a problem. The only complaint he had was that the seal seemed to take over his mind as well as his body when he used it.

A thought suddenly occurred to him. Now that he was back in the village, was it possible he stayed? He thought about the possibilities. He could stay in the Uchiha district and live without being bothered by anyone. No one would know.

He pushed this thought away. Someone would know. He had told Kabuto exactly where he was going. This would be the last night in a very long time he would get to pay respect to his clan.

He pressed his palms together in prayer, not realizing someone would find the incense sticks and guess he had been there, only focusing on the real matter of the thing: revenge.

Kaasan… Tousan… I'll shed his blood for you.

Eight years flew by since his life had come undone.

He struggled to walk, determined to see this job done. He had to get back to Konoha as soon as possible. He needed to survive. He walked the long miles home, hoping the Sound nins were only finding out about his trail.

He didn't want to be a vessel for some snake bastard's soul. It felt disgusting, and he felt this would not allow him to fulfill his duty as an Uchiha He fought those who had been his comrades and yet again betrayed a village for the other he betrayed once before.

His wounds were slowing him down, and he didn't have any healing gear with him. All he had were his few clothes and a box of incense sticks, and an arsenal of kunai, shuriken, and scrolls. He wished someone would bandage him soon.

As quiet as a mouse, he snuck into the village of Konoha without being seen. He moved quickly to the Uchiha estate, hoping he would not be bothered until he saw to all his wounds. It was about two in the morning, and he doubted the normal inhabitants of Konoha would only think him as some kind of haunting vision.

He entered the estate, only to find out there were wisps of smoke steadily coming out of almost each of the house. He took a whiff, and drew a sharp breath in surprise.

Everything smelled like sweet incense.

He dashed into the first house he saw. On the nearest table to the door sat quite a number of things: there were pictures of every member of the family, their names written neatly on a piece of paper, and a small plate filled with incense sticks, one for each member.

He began remembering all that he had forgotten, or else, everything he had hidden deep into his heart. He walked from house to house, marveling at the sight of the incense sticks and the pictures of the people in them.

Memories began flooding into his mind as he took in the faces of the people whom he had loved once before. There was his cousin Kisaki-oneesan, who was the most popular girl in the Academy during her time. There was Kira-ojiisan, who set aside a batch of tomatoes for him every harvest in his garden. There was little Haru, who looked up to him just like he had looked up to his own brother. One-hundred and fifty-two of them we're all honored in their deaths.

Who had found out that he had visited about two years back and placed incense in each of the houses? Who took all the trouble in naming all the members of the Uchiha clan?

The smell of blood faded away from his nose, to be replaced with incense. He could not even smell his own blood.

The emptiness in his heart began to dissolve. There was something serious going on. The feeling of numbness disappeared slowly.

What is this feeling?

The heavy fragrance of the one-hundred and fifty-two sticks of incense lingered in the air, but he sought for one other thing.

He walked with difficulty to the main house, holding a hand over his largest wound. Immediately, he felt someone had been inside, and was still inside. The footprints on the ground and the chakra signature that lingered in the air gave him a feeling it was someone he knew.

The place had been cleaned. The dust that he saw had settled about two years ago was no more. He stood in front of the closed door of that room, wondering if he had better prepare himself for an attack or just sidle in. He knew someone was behind those doors.

He expected someone, sitting on the floor, or standing up, but not without a kunai and a loathing expression at hand.

However, the very least thing he expected was pink silk splayed all over the floor, its owner snoring lightly, a box of matches still in hand. The sweet scent of the incense, so different from what he was used to, filled the air, coming from the small plate in which not two, but three incense sticks lay. On the shrine were three pictures: of his mother, of his father, and of himself.

He knelt beside the sleeping girl, wondering how to handle this. He had been prepared to get hurt, but he had not been prepared to see the girl who had cried a river for him. This was the girl who was prepared to cry blood for him, if necessary. Vaguely, he touched the soft pink locks, blinking in surprise when it felt so silky and so soft.

She had grown. Her body looked longer, and she had finally gotten the womanly form she often wished for. He found a kunai pouch on her thigh, and her hitai-ate was still tied the way it was, like a headband, so that meant she still served the village as a kunoichi. It looked as though the years of training did her well.

He cupped her cheek, feeling it cold against his fingers. She was freezing in the night air, he realized. Was he supposed to wake her up? Was he supposed to let her freeze on the floor? He was about to stand up and leave when a melodious sound floated from her mouth.

"Sasuke…kun…" she murmured, a miniscule smile on her lips.

This broke down his resolve. He glanced at the pictures of his parents as though for approval. They only smiled at him, smiles frozen in time, never to break into a frown. He felt this was enough. He put his hand on her shoulder and shook.

"Unhh…" she groaned, her eyes only slightly open. "Did I… did I fall asleep…?"

Before he could stop himself, he muttered, "Obviously."

Her eyes flew open in surprise. She stared at him for moments that seemed like an eternity. "You…" she rasped.

He braced himself. He knew she could very well say, "You monster! You bastard! You have some nerve to come back! You jerk!"

"You're back," she whispered instead, as though not daring to believe it. She reached out to touch his face. He felt her fingers skim his cheek. "You're real, I'm not dreaming… Sasuke-kun, is that… is that really you? Is this some kind of trick, a genjutsu? Or really just a dream…?"

He felt he had to let her know that he was real. "I doubt anybody else knows that you told me you'd do anything for me, that you'd abandon everything for me, on that night I left," he said in a mutter.

Her skin colored pink in the moonlight. "It… it can't be… it must be a dream…" She blinked, looked up at him in confusion, before tears welled up in her chartreuse eyes. She shook her head, fighting herself from believing the illogicality of the situation. She interlaced her fingers. "Release!" she cried.

"I'm still here," he said, a smirk tugging at his lips.

She shook her head again. "A dream… a dream…" she mumbled, hiccupping. "This has to be a dream…" He had no idea how to make her believe now. Her eyes managed to spot to incense sticks she had laid a few hours before. She took in a deep whiff of air, and he held in his breath, as though he expected something to happen.

Then began coughing, hacking so hard that her cheeks turned red. Her eyes watered as she struggled to contain herself. "I-" She looked up at him, a new hope in her eyes as she coughed, an odd combination. "I'm – not dreaming-" She gave another cough, and he watched her confusedly. "I – I can't stand the smell – of – of incense-"

He placed a hand over her as the sounds of her coughs quieted down. "Then why did you do this all?" he asked, frowning. "You were the one who lit all those incense sticks, weren't you? How did you do it without coughing your lungs out? Why did you do it?"

She gave him a watery smile from behind the hand she placed over her nose. "Because you didn't do it last year, so I assumed you wouldn't do it this year. I knew it could mean something to you… I also wanted them to be remembered, so I skipped practice the whole week… and looked for records of the Uchiha clan and put together their pictures and names… And it means something to me too… since I had the feeling the Sasuke-kun I knew was gone…" They both spared a look at his picture. "I set this up in your memory. But-"

It took him a few seconds to realize she had thrown her arms around him, sobbing hysterically. "It seems it's useless now – now that you're home… Sasuke-kun… I can't believe it…!" she cried into his shirt, not minding the smell of a few days' worth of blood, sweat and dirt. "I guess I'll have to take it down…"

Three years ago he would have been disgusted at her tears staining his shirt, but now, he couldn't care less. He let her stay like that for a while, not saying a word. Yes, he was glad to be home, glad of the irony that she was the first person to speak to him as he came back as she was the last person to see him leave three years ago.

She looked up, tears and questions swimming in her eyes, but it seemed she decided questioning could come later. As she quietly healed him without prompting, he cast a look at the pictures of his parents.

Kaasan… Tousan… is this the right thing to do?

Eleven years had trickled past since blood was spilled in the Uchiha estate.

He walked determinedly out of his house, ready to fulfill his minor duty as an Uchiha. The incense sticks inside the box in his hand clattered at his movements. He had donned his usual shinobi outfit, complete with the hitai-ate once more. He was not under probation anymore; he could do as he pleased.

He decided to start at the first house from the main gate of the estate, as he usually did. As he walked there, from afar, he could see pink fluttering in the night breeze. His eyes narrowed, but he felt no anger. Instead, he felt something akin to relief.

"Naruto couldn't come," were her first words as he approached her. "Prior commitment, he said."

"I don't care," he said, eyeing the box of matches and the handkerchief in her pale hands. "He'll have to catch up later. Besides…" he looked at her face, and her form covered in a dark red coat, "…it's always been only us ever since I came back."

She smiled. "He wanted to come, though. He feels we're leaving him out." He smirked. Her eyes, as expressive as ever, told him there was great anxiety in her soul. "After this… are you still going…?"

"I've waited for eleven years," he said curtly. "I don't want to wait any longer." He beckoned to her, and she followed. They entered the first house, placing an incense stick for each previous inhabitant of that residence. Their pictures smiled at them, and he imagined them to be approving of something. As he lit the sticks, out of the corner of his eye he saw her cover her nose. She was still sensitive to the scent of incense. He wondered why she insisted on coming with him every year if the smell bothered her so.

House after house they entered, a comfortable silence settling in between them. They had exhausted words already. He had told her much about his clan and there was more he could tell her, but he knew she understood now was not the time. And in each house, he felt a feeling of approval coming from them, as though whatever he was doing pleased their departed souls.

He felt the emptiness in his heart beginning to be filled in with a new emotion. Heat flowed back into his system, slowly, ever so slowly, undoing the numbness.

What is this feeling…?

One-hundred and fifty-two incense sticks burned through the night, but he made sure she did not cough again.

Finally, only his house was left. They passed through the foyer and went straight to the room. He saw her eyes watering, but whether it was from the smell of incense or the feeling of death, he didn't know. Before they entered the room, he stopped and faced her. Without a word or expression, he ran his finger under her eye, catching the teardrops that formed around it. She blushed and smiled. He felt their approval grow.

He opened the door and went through it. The floor still held pale bloodstains, but he stepped over them anyway. She followed him. Solemnly, he laid the last two incense sticks on the little plate in front of their pictures. He pressed his palms together, and watched her do the same.

After a short prayer, he turned to see her staring at him. "What?" he asked.

Her eyes curved up in worry. "Are you really going through with this? Sasuke-kun, you might… you might…" She turned to look away, as though she didn't want to let him see the deep anxiety he knew she felt. "You might… die…" she whispered, biting her lip.

"Look at me, Sakura," he stated quietly. Emerald eyes met onyx. "I'm going to survive this, all right? Not only that, I'm going to win. I gained the Mangekyou Sharingan without even killing my closest friend. This friend happens to be healthy enough to come with me and watch my back. I'll come back, and so will Naruto. So stop worrying."

She sighed deeply, giving him one of those smiles. "You had better," she said. "Or I'll dig you out of your grave and kill you again." He chuckled quietly, preparing to leave. Tonight, there would be bloodshed. Tonight, a showdown between brothers would occur.

Tonight, the vow eleven years ago would come to a conclusion.

She walked out of the door, then stopped when she realized he had looked back to the shrine. She waited as a thought ran through his mind.

Kaasan… Tousan… Guide my hands and eyes tonight…

Seventeen years had passed since the deaths of his precious ones.

He walked into the Uchiha estate, the materials he needed in his hands. Even after nearly twenty years, this ritual never left his system. But now the negativity he felt every time he did this was replaced with peace. He knew they were at peace now.

He entered house after house, silently regretting the fact she was not here with him right now. But with her current situation… it would not be suitable for her to be coughing at the smell of burning incense. But it didn't matter. It was a long time since he had performed this ritual alone, and he felt that it would be a bit better this way.

Silently he walked, taking note that the pictures she had managed to procure about eleven years previous were fading. Yet thanks to her, he remembered more clearly than ever the people who had once surrounded him and made him feel loved.

It was not that he didn't feel loved now, though. On the contrary, the entire village, or at least the ninja population, had become his extended family. Everything was better now. Everything had settled down. His goal of revenge had been completed, though nightmares still plagued him at some nights, especially after long, hard missions given to him by his best friend, who finally had gotten the authority and recognition he dreamt about since he was a boy.

The bloodstains on the walls had faded through time, weathered down by the years. He was glad no one had to see them now. He couldn't smell the blood anymore. They were happy for him, he knew.

The emptiness inside him had been filled. The numbness was gone because of the spark of fire that all his new precious ones seemed to exude.

I'm complete now.

The smoke of the one-hundred and fifty-two incense sticks rose up into the air, disappearing as they dispersed.

He walked to the main house, the box of incense sticks nearly empty. Three of the mentioned objects rattled inside the container. He slowly entered the room, again feeling the need for solemnity in the ritual. He set the incense sticks on the small plate in front of the shrine, and eyed the latest addition to it.

His brother's handsome, thirteen year-old face smiled faintly down at him, and he smiled back. Now that the job he had been given was fulfilled, he could now afford to set aside the hate and rage that had previously fueled him. It took him six years, but even six years was a long time for him.

He inhaled the smell of the incense, soothing his senses. Vaguely, he wondered why she had an allergic reaction to it. It smelled too good, but then she said odango was delicious as well, yet he despised them. They were opposites, yet he had been listening to her now more than ever.

Everything was quiet as he sat in front of the small shrine, doing a little reflection. He looked around, noting that the bloodstains on the floor had completely faded, as a result of her constant scrubbing.

The past few years had been kind to him, in its twisted kind of way. He had come back to the village after the big fight, wounded, exhausted, and emotionally drained, but she nursed him back to health. He had refused her when they were younger, but then, and even now, he hadn't had the heart to push her away anymore.

Suddenly, everyone seemed to be more likeable. His began feeling increasingly fond of his fellow shinobi, especially those who had been part of the so-called Rookie Nine. Life was something he was learning to embrace once more. Insanity was giving way to his normalcy, and he was learning to live life for once. Naruto wasn't as annoying as before, and she had definitely felt different to him.

They had guided him back to the realm of the happy. He hadn't changed on how he acted, but his outlook on life had been tweaked a bit. After all, his best friend and worst rival had dug out the hidden goodness in him, and his closest female friend held his fragile humanity with tender hands.

Everything had settled. In the end, he had actually gained more than he expected. Before, he thought that life would be empty after killing him. But now it was fuller than ever.

"Ne?" a small voice said beside him.

He jerked a little, getting irritated at himself, an old habit, for not feeling that someone had been beside him. Nevertheless, he pasted a calm expression on his face and turned to face his small, green-eyed clone.

"Ne, Tousan, you promised, ne, didn't you?" the small one implored, his wide eyes staring at him. He tried to resist its charms, but ever since this one had been born he had never been able to. "You help me with shuyiken practice?" he continued in baby talk.

He put his hand on the raven hair that matched his own. "Yes I did, Seiji-kun. But Tousan needs time to think for a while."

"And, and, Kaasan… she wants you to buy her chop sui."

He frowned. "Chop… sui…?"

The young boy nodded vigorously. "She says the little ones in her tummy want some." He grinned up at the young Uchiha patriarch. "Ne, I want them to be boys. And when I'm big, I'll teach them how to throw shuyiken. But Kaasan says they're girls."

"So then you'll have to learn how to protect them," he said seriously, knowing Seiji loved being treated as someone older than he really was. "Because big brothers protect their little sisters. You can show everyone you're strong." The little one beamed at this. His little hand tugged at his beloved Tousan's big one.

"Come on, ne, we can hear them kicking with Kaasan," Seiji said with urgency in his voice. The older male let his young son drag him off.

He was not alone anymore. He had a family now. He had a new goal because of this: he had to protect them at all costs, and love them without reserve. They deserved it. Sometimes Naruto would tell him he tended to be overprotective with his pink-haired wife and the young heir of the clan, but he knew it was better than leaving them unprotected. He loved them with no bounds. They were, after all, his humanity.

"Sasuke-kun!" a sharp voice shrieked joyfully. "They're kicking! They really are!"

He sprinted into their room with his son in tow. She sat on the futon, her eyes as wide as saucers. He knelt beside her, pressing his ear against her round stomach. Surely enough, a loud tump passed through his ears. His mouth curled up into a small smile.

"Aa," he said quietly. "They're going to inherit your insane strength, I think." She giggled girlishly. The youngest in the room pressed his own ears against her stomach.

"Aww, they stopped!" he cried disappointedly. The green-eyed woman patted him on the head.

"If you stay longer, maybe they'll kick again," she said encouragingly. Seiji broke into a wide smile.

He watched his small family laugh and anticipate the event of the twins kicking against her womb again. There they were the ones who composed his clan. His world needn't revolve around the dead anymore; he could now focus on the living, and the yet to live.

He could feel their approval. They were at peace, and they were happy. He had done what he needed to do. His goals were fulfilled.

And after all those long years, he was finally complete. He was finally allowed to be happy.

Kaasan… Tousan… have I made you proud of me?

AN: Well, how was it? I think I didn't do the end justice, though. Please tell me what you think with a review!