Epilogue: Heroes Survive

Yes, yes, I know what you're going to ask... how the hell should I know if Uchiha Sasuke lived or died, or what he was thinking in the moments before and after his death? I concede that I don't know for certain. I was not following him when he exited the base through the tunnel, and I can't read minds, so I could not possibly know beyond a doubt what was going on in his head when he appeared before us in that hour of our desperation.

So why did I write him off for a dead man, you ask? I'll try to justify myself as best as I can. When he came to us on the edge of the pit, and explained his plan, there were certain signs that he gave off that gave away certain little things. I may be blind, but I'm not as stupid as Haruka is inclined to claim. I can read emotions in people's voices as well as in the feel of their auras. Even without the Ghostly Arms, it was plain as day to me that Uchiha Sasuke was feeling the heavy weight of his wrongs, and he meant to atone for them, even at the cost of his life—which is almost certainly the case, given what he was up against. No body was found, of course, but then a man who is vaporized isn't likely to have any discernible remains, is he?

Investigators are still out there looking for him. In the extremely unlikely event that he is alive, they will not find him. In my opinion, he would have left this land, settled down somewhere far away, and lived out his life in peace and solitude. Outcast from all shinobi society and without anyone else to give him a base of operations—and with the crippling injury he might have and probably would have sustained—running around on a futile quest to penetrate Akatsuki and kill his older brother would not have been a life living. Having given back what little he could to his friends, he ought to have abandoned this life and begun a new one in a place where he could exist freely without troubling anyone.

If he is still alive, and if he is a sensible man.

You must understand that I cannot give this story anything other than a fictional closure. I have speculated over and over numerous other possibilities, as have the others who witnessed his actions. We all agreed that this was the outcome that seemed the most likely, and the one that did Sasuke the most honor. Plus, if he were to have survived, declaring him dead may help get the shinobi hunter teams off his trail sooner. If you hunters happen to be reading this, I beseech you to give up now. You'll run a wild goose chase and, should by some miracle you find him, may just lose your head.

The rest of the war is all history, stuff that you would have read in the local papers, if you were paying attention. Konoha and Suna forces, using the mountain villages as their base of operations, proceeded to the Hidden Rock Village and, along with their allied force from the south, easily crushed it. The surrender document was signed hastily, and the Earth Country was left—under heavy watch and a reparations tax—to rebuild its wasted lands. Shortly thereafter, both the Water Country and the Lightning Country requested a cease-fire with the Southern Eye's forces, to which Konoha and Suna both agreed. For now, a tenuous peace exists between all the countries, hopefully one that will last.

If you want my opinion, though, the Lightning Country is just waiting for another chance at Konoha. They may just convince the Mist Ninja to join them, a much better gamble than fighting on their own and relying on the other forces to exhaust themselves against each other; the neighboring countries are now well aware of that underhanded tactic, anyway.

Akatsuki's weapon was never used in the war. We know it requires a Sharingan user, the Bijuu, and the weapon mechanism itself to operate and, since we did not attack the mechanism and actually caused them to gain a Bijuu, we can only assume that Sasuke hurt or killed his brother. The odds drastically favor him hurting rather than killing Itachi, however, again considering his opposition, and neither Jiraiya nor his agents have uncovered any evidence that any Akatsuki members have died recently. As their strongest member, the evil organization certainly would have broken into a sweat and leaked something about his death. Again, investigations are being made into this matter, but solid information is not liable to come up for some time.

The group returned home to a large welcoming party, heralded as the heroes of the battle for the mountain pass. All of us were given special honors in a public ceremony by the Fifth Hokage, alongside Nara Shikamaru, whose genius tactics not only held the advance of the Water Country's forces, but drove them all the way back across the border before the cease-fire was signed. The Fifth told me in a private conversation that the people of the village were in need of new heroes to idolize, for morale had been lowered considerably since the Sound's recent attack and had only slightly started to rise since the war turned in a positive direction. With a bright and promising future, Naruto was a truly iconic choice for such a hero.

Ibara Ayaka politely refused to stay in the village, declaring her intention to return home to her clan and try to convince the Cloud's leaders that further war was not worth fighting. Shino, Naruto, Hinata, and Sakura saw her off, promising to keep in contact with her in case she needed their testimony or, in a worst-case scenario, their help in breaking out of prison.

Shino returned to his family, helping to rebuild the hive cluster that had been damaged at the start of the war. He returned to missions soon after, and commonly works alongside Kiba and Akamaru, who are highly compatible with him. Tsunade decided to make him the main liaison with Ayaka and her clan, a fact which Naruto relentlessly teases him about since he's learned of the previous agreement between the Ibara and the Aburame. Shino insists that he maintains no romantic interest, though quite often he is gone longer than seems required on missions to the north, and Kiba smiles quite smugly when the matter comes up.

Kiba himself has earned a glorious reputation as a hero and a protector of innocents the world over. Those people that he played such a huge part in rescuing came from all the corners of the Shinobi lands, and the word has spread like wildfire. As such, he always is treated well by civilians wherever he goes, and comes back from successful missions looking thoroughly pleased with himself.

Sakura has been continuing her study under lady Tsunade and has apparently adjusted to Uchiha Sasuke's death quite well. I've heard tell that she's even seeing someone now, though I can't confirm who it is. I suspect Haruka may know, but if she does then she isn't going to tell me.

Neji, Hinata, Haruka, and myself all returned to the Hyuuga family home to glorious welcome and hero-worship. We came in through the doors to find Hyuuga Hiashi waiting for us with open arms, and behind him the whole of the Clan, Main and Branch all mixed and mingled and unified in one body. They were equals, now, and Hiashi, in his reassertion of power, was not about to let that fade away. Even I was given a room and a bed and good treatment for my part in the Clan's restoration to glory, as well as a severe apology for the way I had been treated earlier.

As for the shining star of our group, the fantastic Uzumaki Naruto, my adopted little brother returned to his humble apartment and his ramen, albeit with a great deal more respect afforded to him. Young women talked about him behind their hands and grew shy and deferent when he passed them in the streets. Men saluted him in their various fashions, paying honor and respect to their heroic comrade.

The Hyuuga share this reverence. Naruto visits the house often, much to everyone's pleasure—especially Hinata's. The two of them are officially dating now, under Hiashi and Neji's close supervision. I know they can't watch everything, though, and Haruka routinely helps them give their observers the slip. Naruto's having the time of his life now, and nothing's going to get in his way if we have anything to say about it.

Finally, to report on myself, Uzumaki Keisuke. I am pleased to announce that in mere minutes, perhaps at the exact moment that I finish typing this, my prescribed bed rest time will have expired, Haruka will finally let me stand up, and I will return to service for the village that I gratefully call my new home. There will never be another Grave, as long as I am on watch, nor while there are good shinobi like Naruto and Hinata, the valiant Kiba and the stoic Shino, the courageous Haruno Sakura and the cunning Ibara Ayaka, and the masterful Hyuuga clan. Hell, I'll even praise the Sadist, in spite of all she does to torment me.

And, of course, one must not forget the self-sacrificing souls, the poor individuals lost between light and dark, who redeem themselves for the sake of their friends. Though they may die, their last brave actions honor us all. If they happen to live, may they live in peace for their sacrifice.

The clock strikes six in the morning, and my sick-in-quarters status is officially over. I remove the blindfold that protects my sensitive new pupils and look out into the glory of the rising sun, murmuring blessings for the Godaime and her medical genius. A new day has begun, and I walk gladly out into it, smiling with the contentedness of a man reborn into a shining future.

OoOoOoOo The End. OooOoOoO

A/N: It's over! But don't think this is the last you'll see of the Eyes crew; remain vigilant for the continuation of the series in Inuzuka Kiba Gaiden: Valiant Wolf and the third epic story in the series: Vision for the Future. I'll see you all there!