Well, here it is...the last chapter of Miru Hoshi. I never really thought I'd make it this far, but I did thanks to the encouragement you readers provided. Thanks to you, this story has gained over five hundred reviews and over a hundred favorites and alerts. Thank you all so much for your support while I was writing this, and understanding when I was too busy to post a chapter.

I won't delay you any longer with sentimental nonsense. Enjoy this final chapter!

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto. I have merely borrowed them for my own pleasure, and now return them mainly unharmed since my fun is over (for now anyway).


Chapter Twenty-One

Sasuke stood at the window of the Hokage's office, eyes turning from where Naruto stood speaking with his assistant to the spot on the horizon where Kakashi had disappeared with his nin dog. Sakura stood next to him, the only sign of her concern the constant readjusting of the gloves she had pulled on in preparation for battle. For his part, Naruto was being extraordinarily patient with his protesting secretary, who was insisting that he would have to call a council meeting before going on such a dangerous mission. The Hokage knew that they could not spare the hours it would take his bickering advisors to come to a consensus. At last, mid-sentence, he cut the man off.

"We are leaving now. Nara Shikamaru is in charge until I return," he stated, turning and striding toward the window.

Sasuke was first to go, sliding out even as the assistant burst into loud objections. Sakura followed him at a signal from Naruto. The Hokage himself glanced back at the assistant, one sandaled foot already resting on the roof.

"Your Hokage has given you an order, Yoshido. If you continue resisting me, I will have to reconsider your loyalty to me and Konoha," he growled.

Frightened, the man shut his mouth and bowed.

"Safe journey, Hokage-sama," he squeaked.

The blond nodded in satisfaction, joining the other two nin on the rooftop. He had changed from his flowing robes into an all-black outfit similar to that worn by ANBU forces. His only concession to his childhood days of wearing bright orange was in the fabric of his headband.

Sakura wore tight black shorts and a sleeveless, high-necked shirt whose chief color nearly matched the emerald hue of her eyes. The fabric was patterned with shades of brown and darker green to blend in with the forest. Around her waist was an ash gray apron which contained her medical supplies. Her chin-length hair was held back by a green headband. The first time he had seen her in this outfit, Naruto had had the nerve to tease her about becoming another Gai-miniature. He had suffered a broken arm and a black eye for his impudence, though Sakura had ended up relenting and healing his arm so that he could fill out all the paperwork required of him as Hokage.

Sasuke was dressed very similarly to Naruto, though his black shirt bore the symbol of the Uchiha clan on the back. He wore no headband, having left his in Konoha when he betrayed the village. He also carried no weapons due to his probationary status. He caught Naruto scanning him and frowned slightly, lifting his chin as though challenging the blond to speak. The Hokage smile sadly, reaching into the pouch which held his kunai.

"I've been saving this for you, Sasuke," he said softly.

The Uchiha tensed as the man withdrew his hand, then his eyes widened. After a moment's hesitation, he reached out and took his old headband from Naruto's hand. It had been polished until the line which cut across the symbol of Konoha was barely visible and had obviously been well taken-care of the past eight years. Wordlessly, Sasuke tied it back on its rightful place across his forehead, amazed at how good it felt to have its familiar weight resting there. Naruto and Sakura were watching him closely, the latter with tears glittering in her eyes.

She leaned forward and hugged him quickly, whispering in his ear, "You have no idea how good it is to have you back with us."

"Let's go. Kakashi should have picked up Itachi's trail by now," Naruto said.

Sasuke was grateful for the man's focus on the mission. Judging by the emotions welling within him, he wasn't quite certain what he would have done if both his former teammates had continued watching him. He quietly followed the other two as they left Konoha.

.oOo.oOo.

The trio easily caught up with Kakashi, falling into formation behind the silver-haired man. They moved in total silence through the forest and Sasuke, in the back, was feeling his elation quickly fading. Watching the other members of his team, it was obvious to see how comfortable they were with each other. They moved as one unit, knowing what their teammate was going to do before the person even began to move. He had missed so much by leaving all those years ago. He was such a fool…

Naruto dropped back to run alongside him, glancing at him with those piercing sapphire eyes.

"If you hadn't left, Sasuke, none of us would be what we are today," he said quietly.

Sasuke could not stop the shock from spreading across his face. This man, whom he remembered as an obtuse moron, had practically read his mind. Naruto grinned at him, then quickly lapsed into soberness.

"Will you be able to control yourself?" he asked.

"I won't get anywhere with Itachi by losing my temper, if that is what you mean," Sasuke replied.

"An honest answer, at least," the blond said, "We will be right where we have always been, Sasuke—ready to back you up if you need us."

Sasuke waited for the familiar anger to flare, waited for the snarling words that would tell Naruto that he didn't need any help to defeat the man who had murdered his family, but nothing came. He had tried to do this his way once before and here Itachi was, threatening the one person he cared about the most. No, he would need help this time and he felt prepared to accept it. He simply nodded.

Naruto started back to his place in the formation, tossing something over his shoulder at Sasuke. Instinctively, the Uchiha caught it, glancing down to find a kunai pouch in his hands. It certainly was not his katana, but it was better than going against his brother totally unarmed. He started to secure it to his leg while moving, but the group abruptly halted.

The small pug Sasuke remembered as Pakkun had joined them and now he reported in his oddly deep voice, "They're just ahead of us, Kakashi. Hinata doesn't smell injured, but I couldn't get close enough to see anything without being detected."

Kakshi nodded and the dog disappeared with a puff of smoke. Naruto turned to Sasuke and nodded, his meaning apparent. The dark-haired man quickly finished tying the kunai pouch in its proper place and passed the other three members of the team. His eyes narrowed as he saw a clearing where undoubtedly his older brother was waiting for him. This was it, the final meeting that would decide everything.

Itachi would not escape him—no, would not escape them this time.

He was considering the best way to approach the clearing when a smooth voice carried out to him.

"Come along, little brother. You have kept me waiting long enough," Itachi said.

Of course the man would have pinpointed their location already. Without hesitation, Sasuke walked into the clearing to meet him. His gaze quickly took in the scene. Hinata was sprawled limply on the grass, looking even more pale than usual. Itachi sat only a few feet away from her, one knee raised. His elegant, long-fingered hands were crossed over his knee and he looked utterly relaxed. He met his younger brother's gaze with flat, obsidian eyes.

"Are your friends going to join us as well?" Itachi added when it became apparent that his brother was not about to speak.

Sasuke glanced back at Hinata, again noting how pale she appeared to be. She looked almost as though she was…dead. His hands clenched into fists, Sharingan bleeding into his onyx eyes.

"I'll kill you if you've hurt her!" he growled

Itachi dared to smirk at his younger brother.

"You already tried that once, Sasuke," he reminded.

Erupting in a sudden blur of motion the naked eye could not hope to follow, Sasuke darted across the clearing. His hand wrapped around his older brother's throat, jerking the man to his feet and slamming him against a tree trunk. Itachi flinched as though surprised by this, but his face showed no such emotion.

"I know I killed you," Sasuke hissed.

"It was…a replacement. Switched it at the…last moment, but you very nearly did kill me," Itachi explained, breathing in shallow pants as his brother's hand was cutting off the flow of air to his windpipe.

"Where have you been since then?" Naruto asked, having stepped into the clearing when Sasuke attacked.

Itachi's eyes lifted to the Hokage, then returned to his brother.

"My room. I sealed it…when I left Konoha…made it into a haven just in case…I needed to disappear for awhile," he said, "Been watching you…how I knew about…Hyuuga."

Sasuke suddenly shook him like a rag doll, crimson Sharingan narrowing in fury.

"Why are you being so cooperative? Curse you, Itachi, fight me!" he slammed the lighter man against the tree trunk a second time.

When the elder Uchiha made no move to resist, Sasuke drew chakra to his free hand. Soon, the sound of a thousand chirping birds filled the air. The young man drew back his hand, ready to drive his Chidori through the murderer's exposed vital organs.

.oOo.oOo.

Hinata was fuming. Even without his Sharingan, that man was a menace. Just after he had made his little announcement, Hinata had begun to rise so that she would be ready to stop Sasuke from killing his older brother on the spot, only to find that she could not move. Somehow, Itachi had managed to place her under a genjutsu during their conversation without her even realizing it. Thus, she was forced to watch as Sasuke stormed into the clearing and confronted his brother. She winced when her fiancé slammed Itachi into a tree, even knowing that the man probably deserved it. She caught his flinch and, activating her Byakugan, saw the real reason for his unusual response.

He wasn't exaggerating when he said that Sasuke had very nearly killed him. She could see fading cuts and bruises all across his body and, of greatest concern, he was bleeding internally. It looked like the wound had healed, but Sasuke's rough handling had reopened it. If Itachi didn't get medical help soon, Sasuke wouldn't even have to kill him.

The distinctive sound of Chidori filled the air, causing Hinata's eyes to widen. She could not allow her fiancé to kill his brother. Her lavender eyes narrowed and she released a calculated burst of chakra, shattering the genjutsu. Surging to her feet, she reached Sasuke's side and caught his wrist just as he was starting to bring it toward Itachi's stomach. As the sound of the Chidori faded away, Sasuke turned his head to look at her. His crimson eyes glittered with anger, but it quickly faded when he realized who had stopped him.

"Hinata!" he exclaimed quietly, releasing his brother to take the woman he loved into his arms.

Naruto stepped protectively closer to the trio, ready to defend his friends if Itachi made a move. The missing-nin, however, was content to lean against the tree, breathing slowly and evenly. His eyes closed as he gathered his strength. Hinata might have stopped this first attempt to end his life, but he was intent on dying today.

"You can't kill him," Hinata whispered into Sasuke's ear.

He stiffened, drawing back from her.

"What?" he asked, expression disbelieving.

"I will not let you kill your brother," she repeated, voice loud and clear.

Itachi's eyes opened and a tiny, bemused smile flickered across his face. He had expected her to be more subtle in her attempt to convince his little brother, but this was even better. Sasuke would never believe that she was protecting him of her own free will. Or, if he did, their father had done a good job of instilling in Sasuke that his brother was better than he was in every way. It would be no great leap for Sasuke to assume that Itachi had managed to capture Hinata's heart during the brief time he had held her captive.

However, the one thing Itachi had not factored into his plans was the love and trust Sasuke and Hinata had built during the weeks they had been getting to know each other. Obviously upset by her words, Sasuke still motioned for her to continue. Hinata took a breath, including Naruto in her gaze.

"He is your brother, Sasuke, the only member of your family that is left. You became an Avenger because you thought that killing him would ease the pain of losing your family but, after you thought that you had killed him, it didn't make you any happier did it?" she asked gently.

Sasuke's eyes narrowed, but he jerked his head to show that no, it had not.

"You have never heard his side of the story and, while it certainly does not excuse his crime, it helps you understand why he did it-" she was interrupted.

"He's a murderer, Hinata-chan. Not only that, but he is a member of an organization that has caused untold harm to both Konoha and our allies. He isn't some injured bird you can take in and heal. He's a wolf with sharp teeth and claws and no sense of gratitude whatsoever. He has to pay for his crimes," Naruto said, voice hard.

"He has paid, Naruto. He has lost the very ability he gave up everything to gain! He is blind and, more than that, I think he has suffered far more than we could ever imagine. You and your brother are so much alike, Sasuke, and it isn't fair that we should pardon one Uchiha because he was our friend, and condemn the other because we do not know him," Hinata argued.

Sasuke's eyes widened when Hinata announced that his brother was blind and he turned to face Itachi, staring into his obsidian eyes. Though it was hard to tell, since his dark eyes contained no pupil, by looking hard he could see that the man was focusing on his chin rather than actually meeting his gaze. Without thinking, he lifted a hand to wave it in front of his brother's eyes. Itachi smacked it away, suddenly appearing very similar to Naruto's description of a wolf ready to attack.

"I have lost my sight, not my skill," he snarled.

Sasuke was strangely pleased at the sudden loss of composure, but was even more thrilled at his realization. Itachi hadn't fought him earlier because he wanted to die. Despite what he said, he had to consider himself useless without his Sharingan. It would be a far better revenge to keep him alive than to end his humiliation by killing him. He turned his head to look at Naruto.

"I agree with Hinata," he stated.

"You do?" they said at the same time.

Sasuke simply nodded and Naruto appeared to seriously consider the proposal for the first time. The younger Uchiha felt an abrupt focusing of dark intent from where Itachi stood. He spun, intercepting the kunai that Itachi had been bringing toward his own throat. Following through with the motion, he twisted the elder Uchiha's arm behind his back and wrestled him to the ground. Itachi took in a sharp breath as Sasuke's knee landed on his back, face turning a shade paler.

"He's bleeding internally," Hinata said, turning her head to where Kakashi and Sakura stood at the edge of the clearing, "You have to heal him."

The silver-haired jounin held out a hand to stop his former student.

"What about the Akatsuki?" he asked.

Itachi was stubbornly silent, hoping they would just let him die. When Kakashi lowered his hand and Sakura came to his side anyway, he let out a tiny sigh.

"I put the ring on the replacement. They believe I died," he said softly.

The leader of Akatsuki would have killed him anyway once he realized that the battle had left Itachi's bloodline limit so weak that it would only be good for one more use before giving out completely.

Sakura's hands lit with green chakra, but she turned her head to gain Naruto's approval before touching the dying missing-nin. The blond Hokage considered another moment, then nodded at last.

"We'll give him another chance," he said quietly.

Hinata smiled in relief, while Sasuke felt an entirely different kind of pleasure. He could see his brother's face from where he stood, though the others could not, and he saw the flicker of despair which crossed Itachi's face upon hearing that he would live. The elder Uchiha closed his eyes as Sakura began to heal him.

As she worked, Kakashi stepped forward and put chakra-draining restraints on Itachi's wrists. Once his brother was secured, Sasuke rose from his position and drew his fiancée into his arms. He put aside all thoughts of revenge and simply held her, a tiny smile coming to his face. After a moment, they drew back from each other. Sasuke kept one arm around her as he surveyed his teammates. They had changed so much in the eight years he had been gone—well, except for Kakashi, he was forced to admit as the silver-haired jounin pulled out an Icha Icha book and buried his nose in it. His friends had gone on without him and grown stronger than he would ever have imagined. Somehow, though, their separate roads had brought them back together again and, amazingly, they were still a team. Despite what Hinata said, he didn't need Itachi. These four people were his family and their bonds were forged of far stronger things than mere blood. After eight years of wandering and an even longer time of brooding upon the past, Uchiha Sasuke was at last home.


It's not the end! The next story in this little trilogy (When You Say You Love Me) should be starting in the next week or two. This story will feature Ino and Shino on the mission that Naruto assigned them during the events of Miru Hoshi. After that fic is complete, I will return to the story of Sasuke and Co. though the third story will focus mainly on Itachi. Please stay tuned for these other stories!

NikkiTheHyugaChik: Don't worry, as you can see, Sasuke is not about to just up and forgive his brother after hating him for so long. He has realized that it is more painful to keep Itachi alive than to kill him at this point in time, so he is still after his revenge. It will take time for Sasuke to forgive his brother, if he ever does.

Zetnnik: Well, I'm letting Itachi live, but I wouldn't say it's a happily ever after as one big family. Itachi is on the outside for now, hated and under suspicion.

Akai-sora: Sasuke wasn't really crying, per se. He had tears in his eyes, but they didn't leak out. So technically, he wasn't crying. That's my stand anyway. Itachi was the disapproving eyes and the shadow watching when Sasuke proposed, so that's how he knew about Hinata. I apologize for not making that more clear in the story. And I had been back in college. I was out on spring break last week, but I had the joy of writing a ten-page paper, completing a LONG take-home exam, and finding a job for the summer to keep me busy. (some professors just don't understand the meaning of "break")

Show.me.the.stars: Actually, no, I do not read the manga. I just watch the anime. The only reason I know of for Itachi killing his clan was "to prove he was capable" or some such nonsense, unless the manga expands on his reasoning later on. Don't tell me! I'll find out eventually. n.n

Jjayno1: Sorry for not making Itachi put up more of a fight, but my version of him is quite depressed right now. He was famous for his bloodline limit and he had been using it almost continuously for the majority of his life. Now, he's lost it and he doesn't see that he is worth taking oxygen any longer. He doesn't believe he has any reason to fight, since he would be better off dead.

Please leave me a review! This is your LAST opportunity to do so for this story, so please take advantage of it. I would love to hear from all my readers what they thought of Miru Hoshi!