Title: Curtain call (the final act)
Beta-ed by: MelissaRose85
Characters/Pairing: Haruno Sakura and Uchiha Itachi
Type: Continuous (Complete)
Word Count: 9278
Theme: LJ Community, 50-shinobi theme #49, Curtain call (the final act)
Rating: M (Contains content suitable for mature teens and older)
Disclaimer: Naruto belongs to Kishimoto-san.
Summary: Sequel to heart strings. It should be obvious by now that they were never meant to be together. Fate was doing everything possible to tear them apart, but one thing binds them closer together than never before. As long as hope never dies, life would continue to blossom.
Completed on: 10/04/08
Chapter Last Revised on: 13/06/08
Four years later.
Today was a very important day for everyone in Konoha.
The Godaime Hokage was finally stepping down, and in her place, she had already appointed her successor.
Her choice was not a great surprise to most of the nin in Leaf; everyone knew of Uzumaki Naruto, the orphaned Kyuubi brat who was wild and loud and had such an incredulous aspiration to become Hokage. Nobody believed that he would have succeeded in the end, and in the beginning, there were a lot of people who wished for nothing more than to see him fail and die, bringing that cursed demon sealed within him to hell as well.
But now, things had changed.
Step by step, one by one, the unfailingly cheerful, never-say-die blonde had at last won over the support of his village, as well as innumerous loyal friends who would gladly fight and lay their lives down for him as quickly as he would for them. Now, nobody could refute that Uzumaki Naruto was the strongest shinobi in the village. Now, all knew that there was no better candidate for the Rokudaime position than Uzumaki Naruto. He was the Jinchuuriki of the fearsome Kyuubi, he was the only son of the Yondaime Hokage and the last of the Namikaze bloodline, and soon, he would be the favored son-in-law of the proud Hyuuga clan.
Once the disgrace of the village, Naruto was now the pride of Konoha.
The most recent war against the combined forces of Iwa and Kumo had attested to Naruto's unchallenged right for that title. No sooner had the Akatsuki war against Leaf ended, the unrest among Stone and Cloud had proven to be near lethal to Leaf. The two large countries were eager to make use of Konoha's momentary handicap to turn the favor for themselves, but unfortunately for them, all of Konoha's elite ninjas had rose magnificently to meet the newest threat to their beloved country.
And so, the Fourth Secret Ninja war began with great violence and bloodshed.
Of course, every war has its share of tragedies, and all sides lost precious nin and innocent lives thanks to the two and a half year long warfare between the three great countries. Almost everyone had lost a friend or a loved one to the hands of the enemy, and whilst there were a lot of deaths there were also others, like the Gallant Jiraiya-sama, who had been lucky enough to survive multiple deadly attacks but unfortunately would never be able to fight again.
However, not everything was filled with gloom and terror during those dark days. Slowly, Konoha began to show everyone just why they were considered the best among the five Greats. The Leaf's powerful bloodlines and clans rallied together during that time of greatest peril, and at last, the Leaf's unwavering unity and unceasing support for all of its nin bore fruit.
Kumo was quickly sent packing without having any of Konoha's famed bloodlines, and Iwa…
The war had taught the Iwa-nin that the Konoha no kiiroi senko wasn't the only nin to be feared in the battlegrounds. The legacy that he had left behind, the only son who shared his blood, had turned out to be as much of a demon in the battlefield as the one that his father had sealed into his navel decades ago. The son had surpassed the father, it seemed, and had carried on the proud family tradition of being listed in Bingo Books around the ninja world as a lethal S-Class shinobi, where enemy nin were given the flee-on-sight order when encountered with the blond Jinchuuriki.
The Iwa-nin now have yet another Leaf-nin to fear, and Konoha could not be more proud to have Naruto as their newest Hokage.
Today would be his day of inauguration, where the Godaime would pass her Hokage hat, regalia and the 'Will of Fire' over to her successor. Today would be the most important day he had ever had. Today would be the day where the entire village would show their support for him—by appointing him the Rokudaime Hokage of Konohagakure no Sato, they would put their faith and trust in him, all in the firm belief that he would keep their village safe and protect all of their future generations for many years to come.
And that was the main reason why Sakura was back in Konoha today. Nearly a lifetime ago, she had promised her heart's brother that she would be there to see him attain his biggest dream, and there was no way she would break her promise now.
Besides, it had been over five months since they had last met. Now would be a good time to see him anyway; it would probably be another half a year or so after this before they could meet each other again.
"Kaa-san," Kurohyou asked with great concern. His mother had stopped halfway along the busy streets of Konoha and appeared to have spaced out for some reason or another. "Are you alright?"
Bemusedly, Sakura turned her attention to her now seven year old son. Kurohyou's pedigree was simply unmistakable by now, as was that of the swiftly approaching Kusabana. Their father's aristocratic features were evident in their own youthful faces as they looked up at their mother, their raven hair glinting under the mid-morning sunlight and two pairs of pure onyx and exotically mixed onyx/emerald eyes staring up at her.
"Kaa-san, are you tired already?" Kusabana asked as he reached his mother's side, concerned as well. Absently, he pushed his long hair away from his face as he glanced at his parent. The hot weather in Konoha always gave his hair so many problems.
The twins promptly disregarded all the noise and excitement around them in favor of looking their mother over and making sure that she was well; this was not the first time that they were in Konoha, anyway, and besides, their currently absent father was definitely going to make their training hell if anything were to happen to their mother in her current condition. Otou-san had taken personal interest in their training nearly two years ago and if anything else, they had learned that he was an even harder taskmaster than Kisame-sensei. Both boys, Kusabana especially, had no wish to make life more difficult for themselves.
Also, no matter how powerful their mother appeared to be with her chakra-enhanced punches and incredible control, she was still first and foremost their Kaa-san. Her wellbeing was just as important to them as it was to herself.
Sakura only shook her head slightly at her sons' questions. She looked exasperatedly at her two boys.
"You just asked me that less than half an hour ago. Of course I'm alright. I will tell you if I'm not feeling well, which I doubt will happen. Today is such a nice day, don't you think?"
Kusabana mere looked around briefly before turning his attention back to his mother and screwing up his face slightly. "Konoha is always so warm. I prefer the cool climate of Nami no Kuni so much better. Don't you agree, aniki?"
His aniki wasn't about to be dragged into an argument on weather, of all things, in the middle of the crowded street, however, and especially not so now in front of their mother. The older boy with the tousled mid-length raven hair merely hummed a reply before turning to their mother as well.
"Kaa-san, there seem to be more and more people gathering on the streets, even as we remain here. We should head for the Hokage tower now or we won't be able to get there at all."
Sakura agreed, and then looked quizzically at her two boys.
"Don't the two of you want to walk around the streets at all? They are having such a wonderful celebration today, and there are so many stalls." The kunoichi mentioned as her own interest was stirred as well. "In fact, maybe we should go take a look-"
"You can't, Kaa-san." Kurohyou interrupted calmly before she could finish. The older boy was becoming more and more like his father in terms of temperament, composed and unruffled. "Naruto jii-chan is waiting for us and is probably driving everyone up the wall asking just where we are as we speak."
Kusabana had to agree.
"The Chuunin guards at the village entrance have gone to inform them of our arrival already, unfortunately. We have to go there now."
"I can head toward the tower myself, you know." Sakura regarded her sons. They were only seven but they behaved with such intelligence and common sense that sometimes she wondered just who was parent and who was child. "Both of you can still go enjoy yourself and not spend the whole of today looking after your poor, unwell mother."
Both boys merely looked at her, and then Kusabana spoke for the both of them. "We will go look around later when we have delivered you to the tower, Kaa-san."
Once again, exasperated by her children's protective tendencies clearly inherited from their father, Sakura acquiesced at last. She was feeling a little tired, anyway.
The boys exchanged a swift glance with each other, and then, they guided their mother towards the tall landmark that was the Hokage tower a distance away.
Both of them had no intention of leaving their mother alone anywhere in Konoha. By now they were well aware of their parents' positions against Leaf; Sakura and Itachi had never tried to hide the unique circumstances that had led to the boys' births, as well as the many events that had occurred after. The boys knew that their father was a nukenin by choice and that their mother had chosen to leave her country to stay in Nami for him. They didn't find their parents' decisions disgraceful; on the contrary, they were aware that their mother and father were very powerful individuals, and why did it matter just where they were as long as they were all together and quite content to remain so?
Of course, there were some people here who were completely unhappy and even downright hateful to their mother because of what she had done, never mind that she had healed up and helped house and nurse back to health a good portion of Konoha's nin during their war against Kumo. Granted, they were mostly petty, small-minded civilians, but still, the boys could not understand why those bigoted people could not see anything past the fact that their dear, gentle mother had given birth to them out of wedlock, and to make matters worse, it was apparent from their appearance that they were the sons of their 'demonic' missing-nin of a father.
Kusabana really didn't know how bad the terms 'bitch' and 'whore' were until he returned to Nami from his very first trip to Konoha two years ago and had innocently relayed his findings to his father. There had been no visible reaction from his Otou-san as the older Uchiha listened calmly to all his child had to say, before walking out of the room, but then right after that, Otou-san had went on a solo hunting trip that had lasted nearly two weeks before he returned again, never mind that he had just come back from yet another assignment with Kisame-sensei that very day. Their mother had been understandably distressed when she found out what had happened, and then she had sat both the boys down to explain the nasty meaning behind those degrading terms as well as how sometimes ignorant people would hide their fear and lack of understanding behind hatred and anger. She had made them promise never to mention those terms before their father ever again, but they all knew that Otou-san was well aware of what was going on, anyhow.
Their first return to Konoha two years ago hadn't been well received by some of the villagers and even the nin living there, but Sakura had already expected that to happen. She was supposed to have died, after all, but then she had came back alive and with two children in tow—Itachi's. It was understandable that she would be subjected to anger and revulsion. Thankfully, Naruto, her two sensei, and all her close friends had stood by her side loyally, and just for their unwavering friendship and support she would always return to Konoha, no matter how others might despise her for lying with the now 'deceased' Uchiha Itachi and even bearing his sons, whom they were convinced were cursed by the seed of insanity, just like their father.
That was not true, of course. Her sons were certainly not identical copies of their father, they had their own personalities and were growing up to be wonderfully caring and thoughtful individuals—or she would demand to know why not.
Kurohyou was solemn but steadfastly loyal to those who had earned his affection. He was a natural born peacemaker and scholar, stunningly diplomatic in his dealings with people and always taking careful consideration of how his words might affect others before he spoke. Kusabana was the more flamboyant child when compared to his serious twin, seemingly charming and outgoing and even downright silly sometimes, but like his brother, his dark eyes were always watching, constantly accessing and cunningly searching meticulously for threats and weaknesses in people. Those who passed his stringent tests would earn his loyalty, and those who didn't would be promptly ignored or worst, constantly involved in the middle of pranks orchestrated by the genius little boy.
It was, therefore, no surprise that his older brother was constantly behind him cleaning up after his messes and apologizing to outraged people, but as vastly different personalities as both boys have, they were still the closest to each other, bound together by blood as well as an intangible bond that had existed between the two of them the very moment they were conceived. Though it may not seem like it oftentimes, they were the other's best friend and confidante, and no matter where one went the other was sure to be able to locate him quite effortlessly.
Sakura was very proud of her sons, and she knew that anyone who bothered to get to know her twins more would eventually understand that they were good children at heart, just like all her friends had already realized.
For the circumstances of their birth as well as their parentage, the young boys received their share of scorn and dislike, but they heeded their mother and normally ignored the occasional taunts whenever they came to Konoha to visit, especially after she had told them of Naruto jii-chan's story. Naruto jii-chan was once hated for something he had no control over when he was a young boy as well, but he never gave up and he never resented those who looked down upon him. Instead, he worked hard to prove them all wrong, and now he was going to be a Hokage. Kaa-san wanted them to learn to be like their godfather, and who would have thought that goofy, idiotic Naruto jii-chan had such a past?
Either way, the boys had learnt not to take those degrading insults to heart, and they never failed to accompany their mother to Konoha whenever she decided to visit.
"Sakura!!" A loud, familiar voice rang across the streets and made the family of three look up.
It was a heavily pregnant Ino, face red from her exertions and huffing and puffing as she made her way towards them as quickly as she could waddle. Trailing not far behind was her worried husband, ANBU tactician Nara Shikamaru. They were expecting their first child, and surprisingly, the normally indolent Nara was unexpectedly concerned and dedicated when it became known to him that his wife was pregnant, and unfortunately, it became even more so as her pregnancy progressed. Now all Ino wanted was for him to get the hell away from her and go play some goddamned Shogi so that he could get off her back for once!
"Are all of you deaf?!" the annoyed mother-to-be snapped as she finally reached their side. "I have been calling and calling you guys for a good five minutes already!" Then, she glared irritably at her approaching husband. "You can go now, Shika. They are heading towards the tower too." She tried to shoo the Nara away but to no avail. "Go do some crowd control or something!"
In response, her husband merely retrieved a bottle of water from the satchel that he was carrying, unscrewed the cap thoughtfully, and handed it over to his wife. Said wife who wanted nothing more than for her husband to leave her alone promptly forgot about the fact that she had been diligently running away from him at the sight of the blessed water, and grudgingly, she took the bottle from him.
"Ino-san, Shikamaru-san." The boys greeted them politely. Kusabana was no longer the little hellion that he once was years ago. Between his parents and Kisame, they had managed to cure him of most of his bad habits, though he could still be as charming and as sly as a fox if the situation ever called for it. Sakura merely went over to her eight months pregnant friend and started to fuss over her. Shikamaru nodded at her in greeting and received a smile in return.
"Ino! You shouldn't be running around in this condition!" Sakura clucked her tongue as she straightened the blonde's clothing and hair for her. Like she once was, Ino was blooming in her pregnancy, but the strain of carrying all that additional weight was beginning to discomfort the other kunoichi and she grimaced as she handed the bottle back to her husband. "You are going to induce premature labor if you keep doing this, you know."
Ino scowled irritably at her childhood friend.
"Well, I certainly wouldn't mind if my baby comes out early," she muttered and then stared at her friend's sons with mild incomprehension. "I feel like my back is breaking all the time; and just how did you survive carrying two of them?!"
"I believe she stayed put." Shikamaru too, was getting disgruntled at his wife and Ino glared at him.
"Well, I certainly didn't become like this myself!"
The poor Nara was not about to quarrel with his pregnant wife. He looked to Sakura for help, and she pitied him enough to give it. Ino was snappy enough without having hormones messing up her entire system, so Sakura could imagine that Shikamaru must have been going through hell the past months, but yet he had stuck close to his wife like a particularly persistent burr on a Shetland pony. It was such a very sweet thing to do.
Her lips twitched, and she looked at the Nara male and nodded her head slightly.
"Maybe you should listen to Ino for once, Shikamaru," Sakura advised. "You can trust me; I will take good care of her in your absence. You have some security details to see to, I believe."
Ino nodded quickly in agreement.
"Go, Shika! I will wait for you in the tower." Ino tried to convince him. "You act as if I'm going to pop soon."
"But you do look like it," Kusabana quipped. Sakura resisted the urge to sigh at her son's lack of tact.
"Shishou will be at the tower too, Shikamaru." She chose to reassure that Nara instead.
Shikamaru nodded at last, and pleased by his agreement, his wife leant over to give him an affectionate peck on his lips. The poor man promptly turned pink, but before Ino could retreat, he hauled his beautifully pregnant wife over to him and gave her a gruff hug. "Don't try to do anything extreme," he muttered.
Ino scoffed. All she was probably going to do when she reached the tower was claim the Hokage's reception couch for her lonesome and beach there for the rest of the ceremony. "Alright," she agreed at last, "I will control my overwhelming urge to walk down the tower's wall in my underwear."
Predictably, her husband was not amused.
"Maybe I shouldn't leave-" he started to say, but his mate cut him off before he could finish.
"No! I will be good, I promise!" Ino spoke swiftly. "Just go, or I'm never going to talk to you again."
Shikamaru really didn't think that his wife possessed enough control to not talk at all, but at last, he released her and nodded once more at an amused Sakura and her sons. "I will see you later."
Then, he flashed through a few hand seals and disappeared in a cloud of smoke, no doubt to accomplish his duty as quickly as possible so as to return to his expectant wife as speedily as he could.
Ino looked at her friend gratefully.
"Thanks, forehead." The blonde never did manage to rid herself of the tendency to call her friend by that particular childhood nickname. Sakura merely quirked a small smile, and the group of four continued towards the tower once more. "I never thought that I would actually get rid of him."
"He loves you very much, Ino."
Sakura could still remember a particular incident nearly two years ago, during the war. Ino and Shikamaru were not yet married then and her friend's information gathering team had been discovered and quickly overpowered by the Kumo-nin in a surprise attack. Ino had been inches near Death's door when her desperate teammates had brought her to Sakura for help. On the other hand, Shikamaru had just arrived at Suna to aid in controlling the waves of persistent Iwa-nin at that time, and he was simply unable to leave right away when news of Ino's fatal injuries reached him. It had been said to the Nara that she probably would not survive her wounds, and initially thought to be distraught by the news; he had asked to be left alone for awhile. Imagine everyone's surprise when the Nara reappeared half an hour later with a detailed strategy written on several pieces of paper which he proceeded to shove at Kankurou before taking off at full speed out of Suna and non stop towards Nami no Kuni. He reached Sakura's cottage in less than a week's time and nearly half dead from his efforts, but Ino survived her injuries and that reward itself was all he needed.
Sand decided to throw caution to the wind and follow what would soon become the infamous '30 minutes' plan that Shikamaru had proposed. It should be no surprise that it succeeded well beyond their imaginations. In the end, the Nara's name was boosted into several Bingo Books as well, much to his exasperation and proclamation of how even more 'troublesome' it was going to be for him from now on.
"I know," she admitted, as they neared the tower. "I love him too, that stupid man."
Sakura smirked slightly.
"Then you should show him, instead of yell at him all the time."
Ino merely shrugged, ducking into the tower's entrance as they finally arrived. There, she took her first good look at her friend, and then her eyes widened slightly at her own realization. Before she could say a word however, she was interrupted by a joyous yell.
Kusabana's eyes widened at the thundering mass of billowing white robes and blonde hair as it careened towards them at an astounding speed. Ino squeaked as Naruto appeared to literally leap over with joy, not considering, at all, the women's conditions.
Kurohyou jumped quickly in front of his mother and Ino-san. "Naruto jii-chan!" the normally composed boy cautioned in a near shout. "Please be careful!"
At that, Naruto skidded to a reluctant halt before the young boy. He smiled first at Kuro and then at Kusa. Behind him trailed his fiancée and exasperated predecessor.
"Naruto, you idiot!!" Ino screeched at the irresponsible Hokage-to-be. "You nearly scared me to death barreling over like that!"
The blonde Jinchuuriki grinned infectiously at the huffing female. "Aa, sorry, Ino. I didn't see you there."
Poor Ino looked like she was about to explode with anger. "What do you mean that you didn't see me?" she demanded, "I'm as big as a house now!"
But Naruto was no longer paying attention to Ino's annoyance. The tall, lanky blonde squinted at his heart's sister.
"Sakura-chan…" Naruto muttered as he looked her up and down. At the same time, Tsunade and Hinata arrived to stop by Naruto. Like Naruto, they too noticed the tiny bump on Sakura's belly. She was radiant as ever, her features glowing with health and her body well rounded and slowly adjusting to her developing pregnancy. Hinata's pale eyes widened slightly, whereas Tsunade's amber orbs narrowed. Sakura merely waited for them to pass their verdict.
Naruto was the first to speak.
Kusabana could not help himself. He snorted. Before his godfather could take affront to that, however, Tsunade easily smacked him upside the head. Naruto yowled in surprise.
"Ouch! What was that for, baa-chan!!"
Tsunade ignored him. She looked at her disciple instead.
"How many weeks along are you?"
Sakura laid a hand on her barely swelling tummy, a gentle look of soft radiance lighting up her face. "Eighteen weeks now."
"Everything healthy?" Tsunade pressed, much to Naruto's increasing bewilderment.
"What are all of you talking about?" the blonde asked at last. Ino looked at him like he was stupid.
Kusabana concurred privately. Naruto jii-chan may be an excellent warrior in the battlefield, but he was utterly clueless when it came to everything else.
Tsunade turned to look at her successor. She sighed loudly. As much as she wanted to ask Sakura right away just who the father was, she already had her own suspicions. After all, they had never recovered Uchiha Itachi's body, and Sakura had never indicated a romantic interest in anyone else before.
"Can't you see that she's pregnant?"
Naruto could not believe his ears.
"Huh?! Pregnant?!" he asked in disbelief. "But how is that possible?"
Tsunade was definitely not amused by that question, and Hinata blushed. That made Naruto blush too, but he quickly frowned to show that he was being serious.
"Sakura-chan! You never told us that there was another man!" Naruto accused immediately.
Kurohyou shook his head immediately. "But there was no other man, Naruto jii-chan."
Naruto's frowned intensified.
"Then do you mean to tell me that Sakura-chan got herself pregnant?"
This time Kusabana answered with a charming grin.
"No," the younger boy piped out, "That would be my Otou-san's job."
The celebrations commemorating Konoha's newest Hokage went on for three days and three nights. The streets were filled with merrymaking civilians and nin alike, and there were fireworks every night and free food and drinks were offered by restaurants throughout the village for the duration of the celebrations.
Needless to say, the appointment went smoothly, although a small ways before the ceremony the Godaime had to slap her successor awake after he fainted from the bombshell that his sworn sister had dropped on him. Before he could create an outburst regarding Sakura and her pregnancy, he was promptly ushered to the top of the tower, where was he was received by the roar of the entire village as they waited on the streets below for their new Hokage. The formal procedure went off without a hitch, for Naruto was still too dazed to do or say anything too outrageous on his first day in the office.
Of course, it was a different scenario by the time the ceremony was over. Then, there was the anticipated discussion/one-sided yelling match of 'just what the hell is going on here', 'how could this happen', 'didn't he die years ago', and last but not least, the desperate 'but you already have two brats by him already'.
Thankfully, Tsunade was on hand to calm him down. After another painful thump that had poor Hinata hovering anxiously around her previously near catatonic but now disturbingly comatose fiancé, the older blonde had sighed and admitted that she, together with Jiraiya and Kakashi, had suspected that the elder Uchiha was alive for quite sometime now. The fact that Sakura had refused to return to Konoha had merely further cemented their speculations, but they hadn't been able to investigate the matter further and at last had chosen not to interfere with what was going on. After all, they had another war on hand to deal with, and thus, the threat that was Uchiha Itachi was dismissed, and his name was struck off the Bingo Books due to his 'deceased' status.
Unexpectedly, their decision paid off. Tsunade could not be sure of the nukenin's involvement, but during the war, Nami no Kuni was one of the few areas around Leaf's border that had not been affected or taken over by enemy troops, as unbelievable as it seemed. Thus, the nin of Leaf and its allies had been able to take temporary refuge and at the same time receive medical attention without returning all the way back to Konohagakure, which was located right in the midst of the vast Fire Country, and as a result, many lives had been saved in the process. That was reason enough, Tsunade declared grudgingly as she looked at her surprised student, for Konoha to overlook the existence of Uchiha Itachi. His name would not be re-listed into their Bingo Book, because dead people were not threats to Fire Country, even though they were all well aware that it was probably going to be a well known secret, eventually, that the elder Uchiha was only as dead as his lover was.
It was apparent from the Godaime's tone that, like Naruto, she didn't approve of Sakura's relationship with the nukenin Uchiha, but she would tolerate it because of her student's genuine affections towards the S-class criminal, as well as the fact that her devotion appeared to be somewhat reciprocated. After all, the Uchiha had returned to Sakura in the end and had even stayed around to protect Nami no Kuni, not to mention impregnate the beautiful female for the second time, as evidenced by the kunoichi's now four and a half month pregnant form. Even the twins appeared completely at ease at the mention of their father, and it only revealed to Tsunade that the Uchiha had been around her apprentice's small family for quite some time already.
Naruto was understandably not pleased, however. He even dragged in the mention of Sasuke, of how the only Uchiha living in Konoha was definitely going to go on a rampage if he ever found out that his hated brother was evidently still among the living and happily going about his way being fruitful and multiplying with their Sakura-chan.
The younger Uchiha in question was not in Konoha at the moment. He was currently in Kumo and had gotten engaged mere months ago, but unlike Naruto's betrothal to Hinata, it hadn't been a love match. In an effort for the war with Konoha to end on more peaceful terms, the Raikage had proposed a marriage contract that would link the two villages together, and not surprisingly, he had requested for one of the clans with doujutsu abilities, completely determined to be at least related to one of the powerful bloodlines, since Cloud could not get their hands on it. Understandably, the Hyuuga clan was not at all keen to be related to the Kumo-nin, having never forgotten about the disastrous kidnapping attempt that had resulted in the death of the twin brother of the current clan patriarch. In the end, the duty to the country fell onto the shoulders of the last survivor of the Uchiha clan, and Sasuke had agreed to wed the Raikage's youngest daughter, a rather powerful kunoichi of her own right whom he had met seven years ago during a certain diplomatic exchange mission.
And so Sasuke was now over in Kumo, negotiating the terms of marriage with some of Leaf's village councilors and generally just following official protocols of both countries. He was supposed to return in time for Naruto's inauguration to Kagehood yesterday, but due to some unforeseen circumstances, he was delayed and would not be able to return until a week later.
Nevertheless, Naruto was convinced that Sasuke would definitely drop everything over at Cloud to return straight away if he ever learned of what was going on here, not that Naruto would be the one to tell his teammate, of course. The blonde had no wish to cause more trouble for Sakura-chan as it was, though he felt that he was not being loyal to his other friend by not saying anything at all.
Then, Sakura admitted that their Uchiha teammate was well aware that his brother was very much alive, much to everyone's shock. Deep down inside, Sasuke knew that his brother had not died in their battle; the fight itself had felt off and Itachi hadn't displayed the usual amount of concentrated killing intent that he always had whenever they clashed. That didn't mean their combat wasn't genuine. At long last, Sasuke was on even ground with his brother, and every single misstep from the younger male, his older brother had not hesitated in pushing his advantage, and there was no doubt that Itachi would have killed Sasuke had he dared let his guard drop for even a mere second.
The fight had been long and brutal to both brothers, and at last, it had ended in a draw. Sasuke had known better than to think that he had actually won against his prodigious brother, and he was well aware that a draw was probably as far as he was going to get to avenging his clan. Itachi was just too strong, and Sasuke was getting so very tired of it all. He had spent his entire life chasing after his brother, and worst of all, he had gotten nowhere near defeating him in the entire process.
Besides, Sakura knew deep down that Sasuke would never be able to go after Itachi with absolute killing intent now that he had seen and gotten to know his nephews. No matter how hard Sasuke tried to kill off that part of himself, her teammate had known better than most the anguished feeling of having lost parents and family. Sakura dare not claim to know Sasuke very well, but she knew enough about the troubled man to assume that he was probably too conflicted to attempt to instigate another death match with his brother now.
And so, the saga between the two Uchiha brothers would end—for now.
Sakura said nothing about her own opinions of course, not to mention the younger Uchiha's meltdown that day four years ago as well; instead, she chose to give some vague reason about how Sasuke had probably decided that it was well past time to quit hunting down his brother and to start repopulating his clan before it was too late. Nobody looked like they were convinced, but after three days of badgering from Naruto and still she had refused to budge regarding the topic of her lover and how she should move back to Konoha ASAP, her blonde fox brother was about ready to give up. Kakashi and Tsunade had long since let up on the kunoichi regarding the matter of her complicated relationship with Uchiha Itachi, the silver-haired male confident that his student would know which was the better choice for her self and her children, the busty blonde only concerned about her student's health and lack of proper medical care in Nami when she finally gives birth a few months down the road.
Sakura had managed to assure most of her concerned friends that she would be alright and had been quite alright living over at Nami no Kuni for the past seven years, but of course, Naruto was the last to be convinced. Resigned, she had put up with Naruto's well intended naggings up until it was time for her and her family to leave Konoha again. The children were not included in any of those conversations; they were always sent on their way before Naruto jii-chan could start to hassle their poor expectant mother.
"Sakura-chan," Naruto muttered as he stood by the village's gate in his new Hokage regalia. The pointed hat of Fire was nowhere to be seen, and there was only Naruto, her sons, and herself. Everyone else had already said their goodbyes, and Naruto had wanted this last moment with his heart's sister to himself.
"Sakura-chan…" The tall, lanky blonde muttered in a desperate, last-ditch attempt to dissuade the pregnant kunoichi. "You don't really have to return to Nami no Kuni, you know."
Sakura quirked a brow and merely glanced at her sons, both of whom were already a small ways outside of the village's gates. Kusabana was grinning at something his brother was saying, and as he retorted back, the look on Kurohyou's face indicated that the older boy wasn't at all amused by his otouto's comments. The twins were eager to finally return home after their brief stay in Leaf, and their exuberance showed. To be honest, she missed her mate too. For all his cold nature and seemingly apathetic character, he was always so gentle when it came to her, and he was even more so now that she was carrying again.
Sakura turned her attention back to her blonde best friend. Her eyes softened immediately as she looked at him. "I'm so proud of you, Naruto." She spoke with a genuine smile. "Have I told you that?"
Naruto appeared abashed for a brief moment, and then he scowled slightly. "Don't change the subject." He glared at his best friend. "I want you to stay here, Sakura-chan. The boys are going to have to return here a few years down the road to take the Genin exams, so you don't really have to leave. This is your home."
His heart's sister merely gave him a larger smile, and at the same time, she laid a hand over her barely swelling belly. She looked so serene and peaceful at that moment that Naruto's heart ached at the beautiful sight. "Naruto… he is waiting for me," she admitted, her gaze open and guileless as she discussed all over again the very topic that they had been arguing about for the past days. "My home is where he is."
The blonde frowned. "But what if he hurts you or the boys?" he burst out at last, finally revealing his greatest worry. "I'm the Rokudaime now; it's going to be a lot harder for me to get out of the village from now on. What if you are in trouble? You will be so far away and I won't-"
It was apparent that Naruto was turning green around the gills just imagining all the horrible things that could happen. Sakura merely shook her head and did something that she hadn't done for nearly a decade. She leant forward and flicked her sworn brother affectionately on the nose. He looked at her in surprise.
"Baka," she retorted softly. "If Itachi wanted to kill me he would have done so a long time ago." Her gaze was gentle and filled with such faith that Naruto could not help but believe in her judgment. "I trust him."
"Sakura-chan…" Naruto's gaze was helpless. Then he looked at her, really looked at her, and he slumped in defeat. "…at the moment, you are happy, aren't you?"
She nodded slowly.
Naruto's sapphire gaze looked straight into her own artificial blue ones.
"But you will be a lot happier with him."
It wasn't a question, and there was no reason to lie to her fox brother, her best friend. She nodded again.
Poor Naruto drooped further. "You really love him, don't you?"
Sakura could not help but smile shakily at the sad look on the blonde's face. "Naruto…don't act as if you will never see me again… Please."
Naruto quickly realized that he was upsetting the petite female. He looked pretty upset himself, but with visible effort, he pulled himself together. "I'm sorry, Sakura-chan," he whispered, voice rough as he pulled her into a tight hug. "What am I thinking, making such a beautiful, pregnant mama sad?"
It was obvious that her decision was really hurting Naruto, and a small strangled whimper of distress escaped her involuntarily as she clutched onto her heart's brother.
"Naruto… I'm sorry," she apologized softly, "I'm sorry."
In response, Naruto merely gripped onto her tightly for a brief moment, before loosening his hold again.
"Don't be stupid, Sakura-chan." He pushed aside his sadness away forcefully and smiled his foxy grin, albeit a rather watery one. "I just want you to be happy."
Sakura nodded forcefully. "I'm happy," she whispered fiercely.
Naruto's face softened. He loved his heart's sister so, so much.
"Then, I will be happy for you, too."
The journey back to Nami no Kuni took five days to accomplish.
Sakura had no intention of compromising the baby growing within her in any way, and therefore, she opted to travel in a standard manner—walking. Rest stops were frequent but her boys did not complain. Their mother was pregnant with another sibling, after all, and even now, two months after their Kaa-san broke the news to them, they were still awed and fascinated by her slowly expanding belly as well as the notion that there would soon be a baby emerging from within her womb. That made the boys even more protective of their mother, and Kusabana loved nothing more than to speculate just whether the newborn would be a girl or a boy.
The younger twin hoped that it would be a younger brother for him to plot pranks and roughhouse with, since his current aniki was usually such a spoilsport and a mommy's boy. Kurohyou, like Sakura, wished that this little one would come out a girl. Poor Kaa-san seemed to be overwhelmed by all the males coming in and out of the house all the time, and having a little sister to protect didn't seem too bad, according to the older twin.
To Sakura's inward relief, both boys appeared glad that they would soon have another sibling in less than half a year, and they were currently being very considerate towards their mother's lack of tolerance towards the smell of certain food, not to mention the fact that she was now unable to move as quickly as she used to. They trailed after her obediently, making use of the extra time they had and diligently doing some chakra exercises and practicing their hand seals. They had not been allowed to train at all during their three day's stay in Konoha and they knew that they were lacking behind in terms of training, which had to be made up for during their travel back to Nami or their Otou-san and Kisame-sensei were going to be kicking their backsides from one end of Wave country to the other when they returned home.
Their mother had explained on their first trip to Konoha that she had no wish for anyone to see that they had already successfully activated their Sharingan, and that they had now, at the age of seven, already evolved their doujutsu ability to the second stage. Their genius and training since age three had to be concealed, and although Kusabana didn't really understand why they had to hide the fact that they were actually quite (very) smart, Kurohyou had an idea that their Kaa-san just did not want them to be ostracized by the village any more than they already were. After all, their father had been quite the prodigy too, and Konoha was very wary of any child geniuses, especially those coming from the Uchiha clan.
The boys were aware that their mother was trying to protect them, so they heeded her warnings to only reveal their true abilities when in grave danger or left to no other choice. Besides, playing the idiot did yield its share of amusement, and their father's cryptic remark crept to mind: Secrecy is a ninja's greatest weapon. And he was right. There was no reason to show off and get killed in the process; it was always better to be underestimated than to be overestimated. If anything else, it had been demonstrated to them by their parents and sensei, repeatedly, that they were still decades away from being good enough to even attempt to show off; having parents and instructors of S-class caliber sure was an excellent way to keep oneself constantly humbled.
Sakura was left mostly content to watch her sons as they trained and interacted with each other, and as much as it warmed her heart to see her children so close to each other, she could not help but wonder what Itachi and Kisame were up to at the moment. The Kiri nukenin and her lover had left again on one of their assignments a week before their own departure to Konoha and probably wouldn't be back until a few days after the return of herself and her boys. The kunoichi tried not to worry about the duo; for the past four years they had been successfully tracking and bringing down S-class missing-nin for a living and whilst they had returned injured before, their wounds had never escalated to the point of near fatal. She had to admit that they formed a formidable team together, but still, she could not help but fret for their safety sometimes.
Despite the recent war, life had been good to them. They were all together still; they lived comfortably, albeit somewhat obscurely, from the rest of the shinobi world, but life was good. Sakura could not help but worry sometimes that something might happen to take her happiness away, but then she would always tell herself to have faith and trust in her mate.
After all, he had never failed to return to her yet.
"Kaa-san, do you need to rest?"
It was Kurohyou.
Kusabana was a short distance ahead, but he too had stopped to access his mother's condition. They had finally arrived in Nami, stepping foot on the famous Naruto Bridge, and by now Sakura was almost drooping with exhaustion. Despite the constant breaks and nightly stays in reputable inns, Sakura was not sleeping well in transit and wanted nothing more than to return home quickly, where she could enjoy a better rest.
She shook her head immediately, eager to return home even though she was aware that Itachi wouldn't be back yet.
"We will reach home soon; let's just keep going." She maintained a positive façade as she urged the children on. Changing the topic, she asked, "Have you mastered the Goukakyuu no Jutsu already?"
Kusabana bounded back towards his mother and brother. "Kaa-san, we mastered that when we were five! Did you forget?"
Sakura merely shook her head again. Of course she remembered that fateful day.
Nobody had expected that the twins would be able to puff out anything, when taught the sequence of hand seals for that particular jutsu that would mark them true Uchiha if they could execute it. Nobody except for their father, that is. Itachi had that strange, calm look in his eyes when he had told the boys to pay close attention as he showed to them once the six seals for the Grand Fireball jutsu. Then, he had left them alone to practice for the rest of the day. Early next morning, the children had surprised the adults by successfully performing the jutsu and each summoning a rather decent-sized fireball that had impressed their Kisame-sensei and worried their mother into hurrying over to them to make sure that they hadn't accidentally scorched their throats.
Itachi had looked at his sons with such quiet approval that the boys had swelled with pride. It was also from then on that Itachi had taken a more active interest in the twins' training.
"No," Sakura corrected. "You learned the technique when you were five. To master implies that one has attained great skill-"
"-in the use or application of anything," the boys chorused as they finished the sentence for their mother. Despite her increasing fatigue, Sakura's lips twitched slightly in amusement.
"Kaa-san, we read the dictionary too," Kusabana added, and then he amended reluctantly, "I think we have mastered the Goukakyuu reasonably enough to pass Otou-san's test when he comes back."
Kurohyou nodded in agreement. Their hand seal speed had increased, and they could easily perform the Goukakyuu no Jutsu at least six times before they ran out of chakra. "Do you think Otou-san would teach us some Genjutsu after this?"
Sakura suppressed a small yawn of exhaustion, and then she glanced down at her sons. "That would depend on your performance, don't you…think?"
The kunoichi paused slightly as she sensed an unmistakable presence just a ways ahead of them. She looked up immediately, and her eyes lightened with quiet surprise.
He was back.
And sure enough, there was Itachi, standing at the other end of the bridge, still as a statue as he regarded her with those unreadable eyes. He was dressed entirely in unrelieved black, and his crimson gaze glowed in the misty backdrops of Nami.
The boys followed their mother's line of sight to see what had caught her attention so. Their expressions brightened immediately at the sight of their father. "Otou-san!"
Packs bouncing merrily on their backs, they hurried down the last length of the bridge and to their other parent. Sakura followed at a more sedate pace, watching as Itachi accepted the children's greetings before calmly informing them to look for Kisame, who was in the village's local tavern at the moment. The boys obeyed immediately, eager to see their other sensei to fill him in about their stay in Konoha and not at all fatigued by their travel back home from Leaf. Sakura was most envious of their boundless energy, and she watched as they raced each other down the road.
Then, her lover's dark head rose up as he shifted his attention away from the swiftly departing twins and towards her, and their eyes met. She came to a stop a short distance away from him and gave him a swift once over. His leanly muscled form was subtly emphasized by the crisp cut of his attire, highlighting long, powerful legs and narrow hips, broad shoulders, and a sleekly delineated torso. At the age of thirty-four, his appearance hadn't changed much, save for the streaks of premature white hair that stood out most prominently from among his head of raven black, and even those made him look haughtily aristocratic, detracting not at from his natural good looks.
It was common for her to look him over for injuries each time he returned to her; thankfully, he didn't appear hurt anywhere this time around and she relaxed visibly.
He started slowly towards her then, his crimson gaze quietly watchful of her small, pregnant form as he drew to a stop by her side. Soundlessly, he relieved her of her satchel and she allowed him to do so.
"I thought you were still out on an assignment." She spoke at last, her tiredness leaking through her voice despite her best efforts to keep it concealed.
He glanced at her, not failing to take note of her apparent exhaustion. "It is completed," he answered eventually, his lilting voice calm and soothing to her senses. He urged her to walk, and she did so sluggishly, until he subtly lent her the support of his lithely muscular form. She didn't need to be told twice, and leaned against him thankfully, suppressing yet another yawn as she did so. Truly, she had forgotten just how hellish the first trimester of her previous pregnancy had been until she was expecting again recently. She was always so sleepy and nauseous and could never seem to keep food down. In fact, her first pregnancy had seemed so much smoother compared to this one but that was probably because she had been feeling so miserable back then, and hadn't had the heart to take note of her body's discomfort.
But now was different, and belatedly, Sakura decided that it was a good thing Itachi was around to accompany her through this second pregnancy. Having his silent, unwavering support was something she was utterly grateful for and suddenly, Sakura was completely looking forward to returning home and dozing the rest of today away like a lazy cat, with her lover curled protectively around her as she slept contentedly, luxuriating in his warmth and comforting scent. Just the thought of it made her sigh softly, and engrossed in her musings, the petite female didn't protest when one of Itachi's hands came up over her torso and started to rove almost carefully over her gently rounded body, silently checking and inspecting her health condition for his own assurance.
It was clear that she wasn't the only one who would look over her other half anxiously to ensure her mate's wellbeing; he did so too, and his actions spoke so much more loudly than words ever could, and she had learnt to decipher what each and every one of his behavior meant.
"…I missed you." She sighed again unabashedly as he continued to apply those elegant, talented fingers of his on her tired and aching body. His ruby, almost hypnotic gaze locked onto hers for a brief moment, and then he nodded imperceptibly, easily accepting her soft, genuine remark for what it was. It had taken him awhile to learn to accept her words at face value and to not attempt to suspect that she was saying those words just to gain something from him. She had never been one to hide her emotions, and throughout the past four years she had given him her affections so freely that he had grown accustomed to her open, guileless confessions of love and care. It was her way of letting him know of her unceasing devotion to him, and even though he could have told her that her constant declarations were not needed because he could easily read her affection for him in every line of her body language, he made no attempt to change her habit.
He was content, with the way that she was.
As was she.
Unlike her, she knew that he would never declare his affection verbally, but fortunately enough, she understood. What he would never say he never failed to show to her in the privacy of their bedroom, his touch achingly tender, his normally guarded gaze gentle and watchful whenever he looked at her. For that alone, Sakura was content.
Turning her head slightly towards him, she stretched upwards a little and nuzzled the graceful line of his jawbone gently. He was never one to initiate such openly affectionate behaviors in public, but then again, like always, he made no effort to remove himself from her, and she smiled softly as she leant a little more against him.
Yes, she was definitely content with her lot in life.
There would be no telling, of course, just what would happen tomorrow or the day after, but here and now, her little family was together, her friends and loved ones were safe and sound, and the smile on her face showed her simple joy, the quiet happiness shining from her expressive eyes as she looked at her mate with genuine peace.
"Let's go home."
I hear the wind call your name
It calls me back home again
It sparks up the fire - a flame that still burns
Oh it's to you I'll always return
I still feel your breath on my skin
I hear your voice deep within
The sound of my lover - a feeling so strong
It's to you - I'll always belong
Now I know it's true
My every road leads to you
And in the hour of darkness darlin'
Your light gets me through
Wanna swim in your river - be warmed by your sun
Bathe in your waters - cos you are the one
I can't stand the distance - I can't dream alone
I can't wait to see you - Ya I'm on my way home
Oh I hear the wind call your name
The sound that leads me home again
It sparks up the fire - a flame that still burns
Oh, it's to you - I will always return
—Lyrics from I Will Always Return, by Bryan Adams
Questions That I Would Like To Answer Before You Ask:
And there we go.
You have no idea how long I have been waiting to say that. Well, not that I didn't enjoy the process of writing Curtain Call (all the painstaking, writer's block-ish, finger-tapping-antsy-like-I-want-to-pee-but-not-really moments included) but there's really such a great feeling of accomplishment to know that I have finally completed an epic fic (one down, four more to go) from the FF Net fandom.
Still, sheer giddiness aside, I would like to inform any interested parties that there will probably be no more sequels, at least not the long ones anyway, anywhere in sight for the CC-verse. There may be a few drabbles here and there, and I will see what I can do to put them up on FF Net.
I don't expect to be able to please everyone with my fic, but I do hope that majority of readers did not find CC a complete waste of time. As a reviewer had so aptly put it; while this may not be the ideal happily-ever-after for Itachi and Sakura, it is still their version of a happily-ever-after.
At least, it's one that I can think of without all the characters being too overly OOC (which I have to apologize for, again!).
It's mostly a lot of tying up of loose ends in this epilogue chapter, mostly of Konoha's reaction to Sakura and her offspring, as well as various character interactions not completely limited to only the relationship between Itachi, Sakura and their children. I'm definitely a sucker for Ino and Shikamaru, obviously, and I hope that the lightheartedness of the reunion managed to offset some of the more somber topics like those involving Sasuke, as well as Konoha's less-than-genial reception towards the Uchiha twins. Unlike their uncle, Kusa and Kuro aren't going to have everything handed to them on a silver platter; they are going to have to work their asses off for what they want, and that's just going to make them even better shinobi.
And obviously, Sakura is expecting again!!
There had been quite a number of reviewers who had indicated (overwhelming) interest in seeing more additions to the Uchiha family, and so, as a partial concession, Sakura is four and a half months along after the four years timeskip, which I feel is time enough for Sakura to conceive again, realistically speaking. After all, as fun and amusing as the notion of a bewildered Itachi looking after a houseful of little Uchiha brats while wondering at the same time how that had happened, just think of how much backbreaking work poor Sakura would have to accomplish alone when her lover and his partner are off on missions!!
Last but not least, the gender of the baby would be for me to know and for you people to guess…for now. )
As most of you have realized by now, Itachi and Sakura are not formally married, nor are they likely to do so in the future. After all, Itachi is supposedly dead, and dead people can't get hitched, can they? For safety reasons, Itachi would have to assume a false name if they really were to register their marriage and that sort of defeats the entire purpose. Besides, Itachi isn't really too keen on advertising his weaknesses to the world, and Sakura and the children have received enough negative attention from Konoha as it is.
After all, what's a marriage certificate, compared to the unspoken devotion that the couple obviously shares for each other? It's just a piece of paper, proclaiming what everyone already knows, anyway.
Some readers had mentioned in their reviews about how upsetting it was that Kusabana was being punished for just a little bit of sass. Well, just a little bit of sass is going to develop into a whole lot of attitude if left unchecked, and I don't know much about families of other races, but Asian parents tend not to tolerate much disrespect from their children, even if they have to smack it out of their kids themselves. In that manner of regard, little Kusabana actually got off lightly; Sakura was too softhearted to be properly strict all the time and Itachi has no experience whatsoever disciplining his wayward son, and so all Kusa got was a good scare that he won't be forgetting for a long time to come.
Good old Kisame, to the rescue!
I think that's all the answers that I can think up of, at the moment. Once again, thank you all for remaining with me for the entirety of Curtain Call. I'm most grateful for all your unwavering support and kinds reviews.
Until the next time!!
Your reviews fuel my passion for writing. So please leave a comment if you like this fic, thank you.