A/N: I chose this ending a couple years ago, so—complain as you like, but this is always how it was going to end. No, there will never be a sequel, a prequel, a spinoff, or any sort of continuation. This is the end.
It's been an amazing four years, guys, I can't believe you stuck with it. Even the people who didn't like it, I'm grateful for; this has pushed me so far as a writer, and I know I have to strive for yet greater heights. To those of you waiting for Sand Child—I will return to it. Not, you know, next week—I'm going to spend a little bit of time working on my own novel for a while—but gradually, it will come back. Please wait as faithfully as you have waited for The Obsession.
And in the meantime—
Enjoy the final chapter.
My mother's ghost did not immediately assault me upon the opening of the door, and I counted that as a Good Sign. Gaara was not very cuddly, but he held my hand as I took a deep breath and stepped inside for the first time since my mother's death—for the first time in almost two and a half years.
Dust coated everything like fog; our passing kicked it up until I could hardly see, nor breathe for coughing. Gaara courteously ordered down what he could, but not all the grime was sand—some of it was just… being forgotten. As if disuse yielded its own grimy residue.
Everything was as I left it, and as we walked, I concentrated intently on—other things. A decision I debated. I clenched my hand around Gaara's, wishing I could make things easier for him—knowing there was one concern I could keep out of his way.
"There's going to be a war, isn't there?" I asked softly. "I mean, that thing with Kansei, that wasn't a war, really—there's going to be a real one."
"I do not know what the Akatsuki are planning," he said, "but they are bold. And they desire the biju for something that cannot be good."
I purposely walked past my mother's old room, shuddering at the thought of that dusty old mirror and the ghosts it would reflect. "The information that burned," I said, "the Akatsuki would love that, wouldn't they?"
"Any village would, hoping to become the greatest military strength," he said darkly. "Unless its Kage knew the ache of being jinchuuriki."
"So the Council doesn't want it?"
"The Council does," he said. "I do not."
I nodded, tentatively pressing open the door to my room. It swung creakily back, revealing a foreign place. Nagi-sensei's couch was more home to me than this—and I did not think I would have the chance to move back in.
"The Council," I said. "They know I read the scrolls, don't they?"
He surveyed me silently, and I turned away from the sight of my dark, dusty bedroom, meeting his gaze. "I believe they do," he confirmed finally. "And I do not know if I can protect you."
"They still want to control you, huh? Still would go behind your back?"
"For now, yes."
I looked down at my hands, slender pale scars arcing out of my sleeves. "I wouldn't give it up willingly," I said. "I would make them fight me for it."
Once again, I raised my gaze to his. "But they would win, Gaara. And I don't want that many people to die."
She leaned back, furling the scroll, fastening it, twisting around in her chair. "I'm not sure why you think this is necessary," she said, holding it out. A handful of gold looped into the air, as if intending to accept it, and then a pale hand reached out for it instead.
"Because I don't know," he said. "And because I want to."
She rose, taking his hand, and they ascended the sentinel cliffs of Sunagakure to watch the sun drown itself in the distant golden sand. "Are you sure?" he asked quietly, and she refused to look at him.
"We've discussed it. We've talked about it for weeks."
"There are methods—"
"There is no way to rip it from my head so that no one will be able to find it," she interrupted. "We could bury it, we could smother it until I forgot I knew it, but their methods would be stronger, and they would dig it up." She suppressed a slight shudder. "And what would be left of my brain—it would be worse than death. I'd never leave the White Ward this time."
"You will never be ANBU."
She snorted, reining in a smile. "I was never going to be ANBU. Someone who failed the graduation exam six times—or whatever my ridiculous record was—just isn't ANBU material."
"Naruto did not pass at first, and he aims for Hokage."
With a laugh, she said, "I'm not Naruto material either."
"I do not wish—"
"I don't either," she said suddenly. "I don't want this. But wherever I ran, they would find me. However I hid, they would find me. I'm surprised they haven't dragged me in already, but maybe they're more afraid of you than you think. Maybe they were trying to find another away to circumvent your authority. But they'll come for me soon." A pause, a deep breath. "They think this will win them the war, if they know it, but it will only make it worse."
She smiled wryly. "And it's not in there, either," she added, nodding at the scroll that he still held in his other hand. "They would want to tear it apart looking for the code, but I didn't even record what the purpose of the secret is. I want it to die."
He raised the scroll slightly, looking down at it. "But is it the truth?"
"Would I lie to you?" She offered him a grin, and added, "Yes. To the best of my ability."
Then she turned away from the sunset, sliding her arms around him, burying her face in his chest. Hesitantly, still never certain about the contact, he raised his hand to curl it across her back. "I never wanted to be the shinobi hero who dies in battle," she said, voice muffled. "You'll see."
"I think," she said, "it gets easier to say."
"But I will have no one to practice on."
"Find someone," she advised. "But not for a while, or I might get jealous. Come on, Gaara." She raised her eyes, meeting his once more through her fringe of bangs. "No shinobi lasts forever. Look at Eiri. Look at Abura. I'm lucky I lasted this long."
"Look at your sensei. You might last longer."
"I won't, though." She ducked her head again, pressing herself against him as if she would meld into all the little shadows that lined his body. "I love you. I always have. I love you, too. Please stop drawing it out."
"I love you," he said again.
"See, wasn't that easier this time?"
"Yes," he agreed, and the sand coiled up her limbs, tickling over her scarred flesh and racing down her skin. She shivered against the gritty embrace, caught one last glimpse of crimson and gold—blood and sand, Gaara and the desert—and the brief, sharp agony brought darkness over her eyes.