The last chapter. It's official… I'm lazy. Sorry it took so long. But to be fair, I had exams. Craming plus test taking plus major stress equals no time or inspiration for writing. But now… tada! I'm back.
Just wanna say thanks to all of you who kept reading and wanting more and especially withstanding my incredibly slow updates. And now it's summer when I should be getting them up faster. Go figure. Anyways, you guys are awesome, and I hope you keep reading my stuff. I should have my first chapter to the naruto/hp xover pretty soon, if anybody's interested. There will be lots of Kakashi, cuz he's awesome. ^__^
Btw, could you possibly bump me up to 300 reviews? It's a challenge, for sure, but I know you can do it. =]
And so, our journey comes to an end…
Chapter 28: Starlight
Three years later…
"Hey, guys! Calm down! Can't we just take it easy?"
Sakura was getting frustrated. They didn't have to run at the speed of light to get back in time; they would be there by nightfall. After a long mission, she just wanted to take her time getting back home.
"Oh, c'mon Sakura! This is fun!"
Of course, you really couldn't tell Naruto to calm down.
She looked to Sasuke, who was running alongside her, "Is this fun?" she asked him.
"Not really," he replied.
"See? It's not fun!" she yelled back to Naruto and Kakashi, ten feet ahead of her.
There appeared to be some conversation between Naruto and Kakashi, Naruto was complaining, but then they slowed down to a brisk walk and were shortly joined by Sakura and Sasuke.
"Thank you," she said.
"Why do you?—" Naruto started.
"Because everybody's tired accept you, Naruto. You have to remember that not everyone has as much chakra as you," she interrupted his question. She guessed that Sasuke wasn't tired in the least, but if it would help her argument, then so be it.
"You sound like Granny Tsunade," he muttered.
She punched him in the arm, earning an "Ow!" for her efforts. She actually chose to take his statement as a complement, but he meant it as an insult, so he deserved a punch. Sasuke rolled his eyes, and Kakashi chuckled.
"You know Naruto, Tsunade is usually right. Are you saying that Sakura is right, too?" the jonin commented.
"That's not what I… never mind," he gave up.
Sakura heard Sasuke mutter, "Idiot," under his breath. She grinned to herself.
Kakashi often told them how much they still acted like kids despite their age. It had been what, almost six years now since they had become squad seven, and still the arguments and conversations remained much the same. She wondered if it was because they had only spent four of those six years together. While everyone else was learning and growing up as a squad, they spent much of that time separated. They still had a lot of growing to do as a team.
It was almost three years to the day since they had taken Sasuke back to Konoha. She remembered how it had been touch and go for awhile, but he pulled through his injuries and made a full recovery. She had generally gone to check on him in the hospital every day, if only for a few minutes. She filled him in on anything and everything she could think of that had happened while he was… away.
Tsunade had not been as eager to simply accept Sasuke back into the community, however.
"Alright, bring him in," the hokage said from her office.
Slowly the double doors opened, and in walked team Kakashi. They lined up in front of her desk, from left to right, Naruto, Sakura, Sasuke, and Kakashi. For a moment, she stood and continued to look out through her window at the clear blue sky, and then turned to face her visitors. She took in Naruto's and Sakura's determined faces and Sasuke's distant one, his gaze directed to where hers had been a moment before. Kakashi was doing as she was, quietly observing, knowing that anything he said would not make a difference in this matter.
"So," she started, "We all know why we're here?"
"You can't make Sasuke go to prison, Granny," Naruto protested before anyone had a chance to say anything. Sakura quickly shot him a look that clearly said 'shut up'.
"I don't see any reason why I shouldn't," she replied, feeling a little remorse after seeing her apprentice's pale look. But it had to be done. "He broke the law, betrayed his country to gain power."
"He did it to protect himself, to protect us!" Sakura argued, "He saved my life!"
"I will accept any punishment that you chose, Lady Hokage."
Everyone's heads swiveled to look at Sasuke. He switched his gaze from the scenery to Tsunade's intense expression, his eyes just as serious.
"How can you--?" Sakura began to ask.
"Maybe I did save your life, Sakura. But I'm also the one who screwed it up in the first place. I caused you all pain that you shouldn't have had to feel; I abandoned my friends and my home. For that, I should be punished," he explained, "And if that means going to prison… so be it."
Tsunade considered his words carefully. He seemed to have given this a lot of thought and was truly remorseful of his actions, but so much so that he would agree to be locked up for most of his life? It was doubtable. Naruto and Sakura now looked equally nervous. But there was also a mixture of relief and pride on their faces. It was clear to them that he was trying to do the right thing.
Maybe she should have more faith in them. If Sakura and Naruto thought that he could turn around, maybe she should as well. If he were sent to prison, it was more than likely that he could just escape anyway, even if they put him in their highest security facility. But if he thought that he deserved it, then he wouldn't try to escape. And his considerable talent would be lost to a life of imprisonment. Alright, so he didn't go to jail. There would still have to be consequences until she thought that she could completely trust him.
"Very well," she finally said, sitting in her chair and folding her hands on her desk. "You will have four months suspension during which there will be an ANBU black ops agent with you at all times unless you are accompanied by your team. You will not leave the village for any reason unless there is an emergency. And you will help with various projects in the community. After your four months are up, everything will go back to normal, and you will resume your duties as a shinobi, but you are still not allowed to leave the village without my authorization. Am I understood?"
Sasuke's expression flickered surprise at her words, but he had soon regained his composure, "Yes, ma'am."
"Very well, you are all dismissed," she gave Kakashi a look on the way out as if to say, keep an eye on him, and he nodded. Just as they were all filing out she said, "Sasuke," he turned and looked back. She gave him the most meaningful stare she could, "Don't disappoint me."
"I won't," he said with finality.
They all left the room, Naruto and Sakura unable to hide the grins on their faces.
"Sakura?" Sasuke's voice brought her out of her reverie, "Are you okay?"
"Hm? Yeah, I'm fine. I was just thinking… I can't believe it's been three years already."
He nodded, "Yeah." Master of the one word response.
"Time flies when you're havin' fun," Kakashi spouted out randomly.
"Uh-huh," Sakura quirked an eyebrow at him, "Sure. I think the whole dad thing is getting to your head."
"Well, it's been a year."
"Are you sure we're not gonna miss the party, Sakura?" the resident blonde ninja asked.
"Yes, Naruto, I'm sure."
"Okay, good. I'm really looking forward to that cake."
Kakashi elbowed him in the arm, "You're just going so that you can eat cake?"
"Ow! Well, of course, I want to see the little guy, too, but you know…" he rubbed his arm, "That kid's hyper. And he's damn fast."
Kakashi grinned and exchanged looks with the other two, "That he is."
The gates loomed ahead of them. They were actually a little early; the sun was just beginning to set. Sakura stole a quick glance behind her at the orange circle slowly descending below the horizon. It was a sight that she never tired of.
"I'll race you, Sasuke," Naruto challengened as soon as the walls around Konoha came into view.
Sasuke rolled his eyes, "Does everything have to be a competition with you?"
Naruto made clucking sounds and danced around in his imitation of a chicken. Sakura giggled, and Sasuke sighed.
"Fine." They looked to Sakura to count down.
"Three, two, one, go," she said quickly.
They shot off at ridiculous speeds, using probably more chakra than they should to increase their acceleration. Sakura shook her head as she watched them tear down the road.
"What are we going to do with them?" she asked, half to herself.
"Whatever we're doing now seems to be working," came the answer.
She glanced at Kakashi and found him smiling at the sight of the two boys. No matter how many times she told herself that they were equals now, she couldn't help but still think of him as her sensei. Sasuke was the first of the team to become a jonin, shortly followed by her, and finally Naruto, who was only slowed because he had to take both the chunnin and jonin exams. Technically, they were all of the same rank now, but in terms of experience, Kakashi was still the leader by far.
"Something wrong, Sakura?" he asked, "You seem distant today."
"Just a lot on my mind, I guess," she replied, brushing off his concern.
"Such as?" he continued, ignoring her lame attempt to drop the subject.
She sighed. There was no getting out of this one. "I think Sasuke's going to join the ANBU."
"Yeah, he talked to me about that."
"Really?" she asked, surprise evident in her voice.
"Yeah. He had a lot of questions."
"What did he ask?"
"Wanted to know how long typical missions were, how many assassinations he'd have to do, how long he would be away from home, stuff like that."
"And you told him…"
"That it depends. Sometimes the mission only lasts for a couple hours, or it could be a couple months," he glanced at her, "The point is, he's not going to do it."
"Why wouldn't he? It's definitely something he'd do. It's what he does, and he's damn good at it," she rambled.
"Because," Kakashi interrupted her before she could continue with her list of reasons, "he doesn't want to be away from you that long."
She was stunned speechless for a second, then let out a strangled, "Ha."
Kakashi raised an eyebrow at her reaction, "What? Is that so unthinkable?"
"He cares about me, yes. Likes me, even. But saying that he can't live without seeing me? That's ridiculous. He's too independent; always has been. It's not like he—"
"Loves you?" Kakashi finished, "Yeah, I think he does. He just can't say it."
"Oh really," Sakura made a face at him, "And what makes you so sure?"
He smiled briefly, "I had the same problem."
"…Alright, I'll give you that one. But still, you can't know—"
"Why don't you want to believe it? You've been wanting to hear what I just told you since you were, what, twelve?" he asked.
"Probably closer to eleven," she joked, but her heart wasn't in it. She sighed, "I don't know."
"Yes, you do."
"...Are you just going to keep bugging me until I tell you?"
"It's for your own good."
"Fine. I…I'm afraid I'm going to run," she admitted.
"Ah, I see," he said.
She scoffed, "You're ridiculous. Thanks for your wise input."
"Why would you run?"
"Because I'd be getting myself into something I can't back out of. I don't know, really. It just seems like everything is going right lately, and I don't want that to change," she tried to explain.
"Makes sense to me. But if you don't figure it out, you will regret it."
She sighed again, "Yeah, I know. I will figure it out, somehow… Thanks," she told him sincerely.
"You know you sound like a girl when you give advice like that," she told him smugly.
"What can I say, the whole married thing must be getting to my head," he replied, repeating her words from earlier with a grin.
The sun was a sliver on the horizon when they reached their destination. They strolled up to one of the training fields where two small rows of tables were set and lights were strung to give the atmosphere a warm glow. Friends and family gathered around the tables or sat on the soft grass, talking and eating.
"Obito!" a woman's voice shouted.
Said little boy ran wobbly towards them shouting, "Dada!" as he went. Kakashi crouched down and held his arms out for him, lifting him into a hug as the child giggled with happiness.
"Hey, buddy," Kakashi greeted his son. "Where's momma?"
Obito looked back the way he had come in response. Kakashi found Rin in the crowd of people, watching them make their way over. She smiled and waved them over when she caught sight of them.
"You guys hungry?" Kakashi asked, at which Naruto got a "duh" look on his face, "Right, stupid question," he amended. Sakura rolled her eyes.
They entered the crowd, talking and greeting as they went. Sakura and Rin spent a good amount of time planning the party; officially it was Obito's birthday, but unofficially, it was an excuse to get everyone together.
"Hey, I was wondering about you guys," Rin said when they finally made their way over to her, "We were just about to have cake."
"Told ya we'd be here in time," Sakura told Naruto.
He nodded, his mouth full of food, "Tank oodess or at."
She made a face at him while Obito giggled, "Don't talk with your mouth full; you're setting a bad example." Obito puffed out his cheeks and blew them out, pretending to be Naruto.
Sakura chuckled, "You just want to make everyone laugh, don't you?" she ruffled his messy dark brown hair, "How old are you?"
"One," he replied holding out five fingers.
"One," Sakura repeated, holding out her pointer finger. Obito mimicked the action. "There you go."
She turned around and saw Akari run to her happily. She smiled and hugged the now seven year old. Akari was all smiles, usually shy and polite. She was doing wonderfully in the academy, and her teachers expected her to graduate at least a year ahead of her classmates. She was very proud of her schoolwork and was very intelligent.
They talked and laughed some more, and soon Rin brought out the cake. She set it down on one of the tables, and Kakashi carried Obito over and stood him on the bench in front of it, holding him there so that he wouldn't fall over. Everybody gathered around to watch.
"Okay Obito, you have to—" Kakashi didn't even finish his sentence before the one year old blew out the lone candle on his cake, probably using a little more force than necessary. People laughed and clapped, and the cake was cut and passed around.
Sakura ate her piece quietly and observed the people around her. Naruto and Akari both had good size pieces of cake and seemed to be beginning a race to see who could eat theirs fastest. Normally, Sakura wouldn't have approved and would have told them so, but she decided to let it go. She did wonder how Akari had picked up on Naruto's eating habits, however. She'd have to make sure it wasn't a pattern.
She saw many of her other friends having a good time. Ino, Hinata, and Tenten were talking amongst themselves. Gai and Lee were having a push up contest that could probably go on for days before either of them admitted defeat while Neji looked on with disinterest. Kiba was playing with Akamaru while Choji and Shino watched, apparently having their own conversation. What they were talking about, though, she couldn't imagine.
Rin sat with Obito in her lap, and Kakashi sat next to them. Obito's sky blue eyes never left the plate of cake in his father's hand. Experimentally, Kakashi moved the plate to the left and then the right. Obito followed it and reached out his hand in case it was being taken away from him. Rin rolled her eyes and Kakashi consented, giving his son another bite of cake. It wasn't long before the little boy had frosting all around his mouth and was starting to get sleepy. He dosed off in his mother's arms. His parents smiled tiredly at each other and then at their son.
Sakura watched all these exchanges and soon realized something was missing.
She turned around to see Sasuke standing behind her in the shadow of a tree. He quietly motioned her over when he got her attention.
"What?" she asked when she got to him, deciding to play along with whatever he was doing.
"Follow me," he said quietly, walking off into the forest.
'Suspicious.' She thought. 'Very suspicious.'
But she followed anyway. They crept through the trees, and soon the lights from the party were out of sight. It was nearly pitch black, and Sakura soon thought she would have to rely on her shinobi skills to guide her through the dark.
"Sasuke?" she asked the darkness tentatively.
"I'm right here," he said from somewhere in front of her.
A hand encompassed her own, and she fought off a shiver that had nothing to do with the night. She didn't realize she'd stopped moving until he gently tugged on her hand again, urging her forward. They walked for a few more minutes until they entered a clearing.
Her eyes finally adjusted to the darkness and she realized that they were at the memorial.
"Why are we here?" she asked, turning to his outline in the dark.
He looked around and turned back to her. He sat down and pulled her down with him, making her realize that they were still holding hands. She sat next to him, impatiently waiting for a reply.
"Look up," he whispered.
After a last look at his features and hopelessly trying to decide what he was thinking, she complied. The star-packed sky met her gaze, and she gasped at the vastness of it. Nearly everywhere she looked a bright dot blazed, almost as if someone had sprinkled diamonds throughout the night sky. Suddenly, it wasn't so dark anymore.
"It's amazing," she finally said.
He nodded slightly in silent agreement.
Since her conversation with Kakashi earlier, she had tried to put the whole Sasuke-loves-you thing in the back of her mind, preferring to mull over it at a more appropriate time. But now that she was out of all the commotion, it wiggled its way into her conscious thought. She glanced at him nervously. Who knew when she would get him alone again? She needed to know; there was no way around it. What was the worst that could happen?
Ha. She didn't even want to think about it.
"Sasuke?" she sort of blurted out. Not quite the way she intended.
"I have to ask you something."
He looked suspiciously at her, "…Okay."
Moment of truth.
"Well…do you…ah…" she sighed. Okay, attempt failed. Time to collect her loses and retreat.
Hold the phone. She was silent before finally getting out, "What?"
"I said, yes."
"But you don't know what I was going to ask."
"I think I do."
Silence. She looked into his eyes, tried to read his emotions, but as usual, they were unreadable.
Finally he said, "Yes, I love you."
Her world turned upside down at the implications of those words.
"Are you sure?" she asked, keeping his gaze.
"Do you know what you're getting yourself into?"
"Because I don't know if I can handle this," she continued.
"And you think I can?" he asked.
"But you want to go for it anyway?"
He nodded slowly.
The realization sunk in, and she flung her arms around him. He held her, and she laid her head on his shoulder, breathing him in. She finally pulled away, keeping her arms loosely around his shoulders.
"You know, I think I love you too," she told him, smiling.
He leaned in and kissed her, witnessed only by the stars above them in the night sky.
Hope you enjoyed.