A/N: Well, this is it, this is the final chapter. And it's not with a little bit of sadness that I must bring my first fanfic to its conclusion. Thanks to everyone who took time to read it, and I am especially grateful to those who helped and encouraged me with reviews. I don't know what else to say except I hope you like the ending.
Disclaimer: I've reached the end, and never gained the rights to Naruto along the way.
Chapter 16: Epilogue
"I'm glad we finally got to have that dinner I invited you to a long time ago," Sakura commented after she, Naruto, and Hinata had finished their meal in Naruto's apartment. "We should definitely do this again sometime, and invite more people."
"Yes, we should get together with all 12 of us from the chuunin exams. I mean 11 of us," Hinata quickly correct herself, although she inwardly scolded herself for the slip up. Naruto glanced in Sakura's direction and quickly changed the subject.
"Say, who wants to get in a little sparring?" Naruto asked enthusiastically.
"I don't have to be home for another hour," Hinata replied.
"I pass," Sakura answered. "I need to get home and take care of my bundle of joy."
"How is she doing?" Hinata asked. "How old is she again now?"
"She's wonderful. Just over 8 weeks now, I can't believe how fast time has flown. I feel like it was only yesterday I was in excruciating pain giving birth to her. But it really was worth it. Well, have fun training, you two," she wished them as she stood up from the table and waved as she made her way to the door.
After Sakura had left the apartment, Hinata asked Naruto, "Are you worried about her?"
"She won't even let me ask if she's all right," he replied, sounding a little down about it. "Let's go practice. Unless you don't want to since it'll just be the two of us."
"No, it's fine," Hinata answered.
"Yeah, ok, it'll be fun. We haven't hung out in a while since we've been going on different missions, so I'm glad Sakura arranged this dinner," Naruto rambled.
"Yeah, me, too."
They walked to one of the training areas a few minutes away and sparred back and forth for a while.
"Naruto-kun, I'm sorry! You aren't hurt are you?" Hinata asked with concern. She was helping him practice evading taijutsu by attacking with her jyuuken, but she accidentally hit him with one of her strikes when he faltered in his footwork. She could tell he wasn't really concentrating on their fight.
"I'm fine! See?" Naruto replied as he quickly stood back up. "It's not your fault, I just don't think I'm in as much of a sparring mood as I thought I was."
"Yeah, I just can't stop thinking that I should have at least done something to convince him to stay. But once again I didn't even realize he planned on just leaving again. I thought for sure this time he was going to come back," he confessed as he kicked a small rock in frustration.
Hinata shook her head at him. "No, Sasuke-kun," she repeated, pointing behind him.
Naruto quickly whipped his head around to see that Sasuke was indeed standing there. "Sasuke!" he exclaimed. "You're…back." Feeling out of place, Hinata decided to quietly slip away.
"Yeah, I'm back," Sasuke replied.
"Have you seen Sakura-chan and-"
Sasuke shook his head. "No, you're the first person I came to see."
"And you're here to stay this time?" Naruto asked.
"If you and Sakura want me to."
"Of course that's what we want! That wouldn't change," Naruto assured emphatically.
Sasuke nodded, and walking toward Naruto, he asked in a quieter, "How's Sakura doing, is she ok?"
"She seems to be happy, but she refuses to talk to me about it. But why come to me, why don't you just go see her for yourself?"
"I wanted to make sure she…wasn't with anyone first. Or if she's mad at me. Because then I wouldn't bother her-"
"There's never been anyone else, when are you going to learn that? Now stop being an idiot and go see her. She's living with her parents again." Naruto started shoving his teammate in the direction of her apartment.
But not wanting to be the only one feeling slightly embarrassed, Sasuke piped up, "Well what about you and Hinata? Are you two finally dating?"
"What are you talking about? Hinata and I just have fun hanging out. She doesn't like me like that, where would you get that idea?" Naruto asked as he ceased his pushing.
And you're calling me the slow learner, Sasuke thought sarcastically to himself.
"Stop stalling, just go!" Naruto pushed him, with words this time.
Sasuke take a deep breath, and letting it out, he quickly said, "Thanks, Naruto," as he turned and started walking down the street. After about 10 steps, he paused and turned back around. "You're taijutsu could use some work. How about a real match tomorrow morning? And I certainly won't go as easy on you as Hinata was," he challenged.
"Just name the time."
Sasuke was about to suggest 7am, but then quickly change his mind as he called out, "Does 10 work for you?"
"I'll be waiting right here," Naruto called back.
Sasuke just smirked as he turned back around and once again started walking down the streets of Konoha. Naruto also started walking home, but was startled by a quiet voice pulling him out of his reverie.
"So is everything ok?" Hinata asked from the bench he had just passed.
"Oh, Hinata! Where'd you go? I didn't even notice when you had left."
"I figured you two wouldn't want me there, so I just came over here."
Naruto took a seat next to her. "You didn't have to leave."
"I didn't mind," she replied.
After a few minutes of awkward silence, Naruto asked her, "Can I ask you something? It's probably going to sound stupid, but I just wanted to know."
"Yes, go ahead and ask," Hinata prompted.
"Do you like me? I mean, as more than just a friend?"
Hinata's eyes grew big as she desperately struggled for the words she wanted to say. "I…uh…I wasn't expecting you to ask that. I…um…"
"It's ok, you can just say you don't. I only brought it up because Sasuke thought we were dating, but I told you definitely didn't like me like that," Naruto started to ramble. "I mean, you're just-"
"Yes!" Hinata cried out.
Now it was Naruto's turn to look shocked. "Huh?"
Sakura was just about to put the baby down to sleep when she felt a presence just outside her bedroom. She gently laid her in the crib and quickly turned around, readied for defense. Her heart just about stopped when she saw who it was standing at her balcony window, and she immediately ran over and opened the door. She wanted to throw her arms around him and kiss him, but she restrained herself; despite her confident claims before that she believed he did love her, she really didn't know if that had changed in the meantime.
She swallowed hard as she stepped aside to let him into the room and closed the door behind him. As she was trying to get past her nervousness in order to think of what would be the right thing to say, Sasuke surprised her by speaking up first.
"Sakura," he spoke softly, but he stopped at her name and never finished his sentence. She walked over to him and was about to ask him if everything was all right when he suddenly dropped down on his knees and wrapped his arms around her waist, pressing his face against her stomach, holding onto her as tight as he could.
Looking down at him, she gently placed her hand on his head in comfort.
"I'm sorry, Sakura. I'm sorry for everything, for always pushing you away. You don't know how much I wanted to be with you, the whole time. But I was too scared to let you or Naruto get too close to me. I was afraid to get hurt, and I knew I would only hurt both of you with the darkness I have inside of me. I never wanted you to see that part of me. But I need you, Sakura. I don't know if I can love you like you want, I don't know if I'll ever be able to give you what you want. But as much as I can, I love you," he confessed through a strained voice as he clenched her shirt tightly. "I don't want to be alone anymore," he whispered.
Sakura slowly lowered down to her knees so they could be face to face. "You were never alone," Sakura whispered back to him as she caressed his face. Naruto and I were always here for you. All you have to do is let us in."
Sasuke pulled her close to him in a hug and held on tightly. "But after everything I did, I don't deserve-"
"No! Stop doing that, Sasuke! Everybody makes mistakes," Sakura interrupted him with a firm voice, "and everybody deserves a chance to change. It's not too late! Stop letting the past control you; the future is full of possibilities, and it's up to you to either let the things of the past inhibit you, or use them to grow stronger."
Sasuke loosened his embrace and pulled back to face her again. "Sakura…"
But Sakura hadn't finished everything she wanted to say. "Yes, you messed up, you went too far, but we all do that at some point. Don't let your mistakes define who you are because you can be so much better than that. I know that's not who you really are."
"Sakura…I…" he trailed off for the third time, but this time because he heard the sound of a sniffle outside her bedroom door.
"Excuse me," Sakura requested as she stood up and walked over to the door, opening it wide to reveal both her parents crouched down, eavesdropping behind it.
But her mother didn't miss a beat as she quickly stood up and walked over to Sasuke, arms open wide to receive him. "Sasuke-kun! I've been wondering when I was going to meet you properly as our son-in-law," she greeted warmly with a hug.
Her father wasn't far behind with a friendly handshake, while Sasuke was still held by her mother, as he kindly expressed to him, "It's good to finally have you here. We've been looking forward to welcoming you to the family."
Sakura remained back by the door, utterly horrified. She was about to silently mouth the words, "I'm sorry," to him until she noticed that Sasuke was sincerely appreciating the warm welcome into a new family. But after a few minutes of chatter, Sakura grew impatient and pulled her parents away, insisting that he'd want privacy in meeting the newest addition to the family he had yet to see. After exchanging mischievous grins, they complied and left them alone once again.
"I think my parents are insane," Sakura confessed as she shook her head and let out a sigh. But then her expression quickly brightened. "Would you like to hold her?"
Sasuke, who had appeared rather cheerful from the interaction with his in-laws, suddenly dropped all expression from his face as he suddenly didn't know what to feel. "So…so it's…a girl then?"
"Yes, I'm sorry it didn't turn out to be a boy like you were expecting," Sakura apologized as she walked to the other side of her room and lifted their baby from the crib. Sasuke walked up behind her, and she gently placed her in his arms.
"No, this far exceeds my expectations," he replied as he gazed down at his daughter. Holding her close against his body, his lips curled into a small, genuine smile, as he was trying to figure out what made him stay away for so long.
"I named her Hitomi, but we can change the name if you don't like it. I don't think she'll ever know the difference," she commented from at his side. But instead of bothering to make any kind of response, he simply turned his head in her direction and nodded, letting his eyes take in the sight of her. Slowly, he leaned in toward her, his lips meeting with and caressing hers. Sakura raised her hands and placed them on his face and letting them slide back to run her fingers through his hair. But as he was about to step in a little closer to her, she abruptly pulled away, letting her hands drop down to his shoulders.
From her sudden breaking of the kiss and the way her brow was furrowed, Sasuke was about to ask her if everything was ok, if it was something he did, when she held up her index finger and walked out of the room and into the hallway. "Mom!" she called down the steps. "Would you mind watching Hitomi tonight? I'll come back in a few hours for the next feeding."
Sasuke heard her mother give affirmation and watched Sakura quickly walked back toward him. Carefully taking Hitomi back from him, Sakura laid her down in the crib before roughly grabbing his hand and practically dragging him out the room and the apartment, waving a quick goodbye on their way out.
She was practically running down the street, and Sasuke soon realized where she was leading him. The Uchiha district. Coming upon the familiar street, Sasuke was surprised to see the cracked wall from when Itachi had thrown the kunai had been patched up and repainted. Entering his old house, he noticed the walls had been recently scrubbed and the wooden floors waxed, the moonlight reflecting off the surfaces.
"It was part of my sentence of 6 months of tasks such as these. I hope you don't mind that I was in here," she spoke hesitantly. But Sasuke just grabbed her by the hand and led her to his old bedroom. Everything was just as he had left it that day, minus the things he had taken with him to the apartment they moved him to. When he just stood there for a few minutes, still holding her hand, Sakura rubbed his arm with her other hand as she asked him, "Are you all right? Maybe we shouldn't have come here. And I was just thinking, we should go see Naruto, he'd want to know you're back and-"
"He already knows, I ran into him already," he replied absently.
"Oh, ok. Well, we can go somewhere else, rent a room at the inn or something," she suggested.
But Sasuke just turned to face and she found herself staring up into his intense eyes. She reached up and caressed his cheek to try to comfort him when he suddenly swept her up in his arms, covering her mouth passionately with his. Without stopping, he easily picked her up and laid her down on the bed, and climbing on top of her.
But then he stopped and pulled back slightly. "Sakura, do you want this?" he asked her. She bit her lower lip anxiously as she nodded to him.
But then nervousness suddenly washed over him, also, as if this was their first time. But it wasn't their first time; he had already ruined that. And he made no move to go any further.
Sakura, noticing his hesitation, looked deep into his dark eyes, and whispered to him, "Sasuke-kun, I love you with all of my heart." It had been the same words she had cried out to him that night he left for the Sound village. Brushing away a strand of pink hair that had fallen in front of her face, Sasuke forcefully pushed away the urge to run away again as he lay all his emotions out in the open for her to see, murmuring as he bathed her in kisses, "I love you, too, Sakura." And all the apprehensions and reservations that had built up between them gradually melted away, leaving behind a familiarity and comfort that each of them had been seeking for so long.
The next morning, Sasuke tried not to disturb Sakura, who was still sleeping, as he slipped out of bed. Picking up his clothes that had been dropped on the floor, he quietly got dressed and was about to leave the room when he felt a tug on his shirt.
"And where do you think you're going? Can't you skip training for one morning and just stay here a little longer with me?" she whimpered playfully to him.
"I agreed to meet Naruto now. We're going to have a match."
"What?" Sakura yelled as she abruptly sat up in bed.
Yeah, I figured she wouldn't be happy about it. Well, I suppose I can make it up to her later. He relented that that last thought actually wasn't such a bad idea. "I'm sorry, but you're not going to stop me from going."
"Stop you from going? How could you think of not inviting me? Do you think I'm no one over here? I let you two have your fight back in the grass country, but I'm not being left out of this one. I'll take on the winner…just give me 5 minutes."
"You knew about that?" Sasuke asked weakly, but Sakura had already thrown on her clothes and was down the hall in the bathroom to finish getting ready. Sasuke just stared at the wall in shock; that wasn't what he was expecting at all.
And just as Kakashi had predicted, while things weren't quite the same as they were before the members of team 7 had taken their separate paths 3 years ago, they were finally restored as a team once again, and they still had plenty of adventures and choices ahead of them.