To those who haven't noticed, there's a re-posted version of chapter twelve. There's been some fixing of spelling- and grammar errors, plus changes to the paragraph of Kimimaro and Hinata. Take a look if you're curious.
A/N: Uh-huh… Back for the last one! (faints with shock)
Before getting started, WOW - you guys, thank you SO MUCH for those AMAZING reviews you've posted! You've officially broken my 'most reviews per chapter' review! (gives HUGE hugs and tissues for those still recovering from the last chapter) THANK YOU! (Those who reviewed anonymously, feel free to take a look at responses to your reviews from below this chapter.)
Okay, without further babbling… Here we go, for a final time! I REALLY hope you'll enjoy of this epilogue!
CHAPTER 13: Epilogue
/ Heaven is a place nearby
So I won't be so far away.
And if you try and look for me
Maybe you'll find me someday.
Heaven is a place nearby
So there's no need to say goodbye
I wanna ask you not to cry
I'll always be by your side. /
/ You just faded away
You spread your wings you had flown
Away to something unknown
Wish I could bring you back.
You're always on my mind
About to tear myself apart.
You have your special place in my heart. /
(Lene Marlin: "A place nearby")
Twelve Years Later.
Even though the band in which he played guitar had been quite famous for four years already, Naruto still hated interviews more than anything. While their interviewer, a brunette named Momiji, pestered Shino, their singer, Chouji, their drummer, and Kiba, their bassist, he drifted into a little world of his own, wanting out of the situation.
He didn't hate these things only because the interviewer always seemed to make the most personal and inappropriate questions, but because it was inevitable that at some point there'd be poking around what the band's female fans wanted to know everything about: his love life. So far no one but his very nearest and dearest ones knew about Sasuke, so it was a reason for a lot of gossiping that he never went to dates with anyone, and many questioned his sexual orientation. Most of the time that didn't bother him, really. At least it kept some of the craziest female fans nicely at arm's length.
" So, Naruto…" Momiji's eyes were like that of predator's that'd sensed blood. " You write all the lyrics to your songs, right?"
He nodded stiffly, not liking where this was going. " That's right."
" I must confess I found your newest single very interesting – especially with the messages of thank you you've all written." She fished out their latest album, and he felt very cold all of a sudden when she waved it before his nose. " Who's this… Sasuke you wished to thank?"
All colour disappeared from his face.
He'd known from quite beginning that it was a mistake to put Sasuke's name there, especially with how hard he'd worked to never let public get onto her tails. But now that the question was thrown at his face…
Fortunately, Gaara – their manager – appeared for rescue. " Alright, I think that was very well enough for now." The redhead's eyes left no room for arguments. " Send me the article so I can take a look at it before it's published, will you?"
Gritting her teeth tightly, Momiji nodded, obviously fuming. " Sure." Her eyes were sharp with annoyance when she looked at him, then the rest of the band. " Thank you for the interview." So saying she left, slamming the door shut behind her.
While he sat completely numb and this ache appearing to everywhere inside him, the rest of the band emitted sighs of relief. " Geez!" Kiba scoffed, scratching his dog's – Akamaru's – head. " I seriously thought that woman would eat us up alive!"
Shino – the sharpest of them – seemed to sense that there was something strange going on with him, for the man got up with an odd expression. " Let's go, guys. I'll buy you some breakfast from that new restaurant."
Naruto cast a look of gratitude towards his friend, already well used to meeting eyes only behind dark glasses. Thank you. " I'll follow you guys in a bit."
Shino nodded, whereas Kiba and Chouji were too distracted to even hear him.
Once the three were gone, he sunk deep into dark thoughts. His eyes swept towards a calendar hanging nearby.
Twelve years, huh?
It was almost ironic that no matter how scared he'd been before that first surgery, in days like this a tiny part inside him still wished he wouldn't have woken up after it.
He hadn't been told about Sasuke's death until three days from his surgery, but deep in his heart – despite all medication and blissful denial – he'd known from the moment he'd woken up. Even though his heart had just been successfully fixed, a part of him died that day. It certainly didn't make things easier that his condition hadn't allowed him to even take part to the girl's funeral, to say goodbye. One week after the funeral, Jiraiya had told him that'd he'd finally get a heart transplant. He was probably the only person who'd cried bitter tears after hearing such news.
" Naruto?" He shuddered, having forgotten Gaara's presence. The redhead was looking at him with worried eyes that clearly told the man hadn't slept properly for a couple of nights, either. " Are you okay?"
He emitted a laughter that sounded quite a bit like wheeze. " No." He swallowed thickly, fingers fiddling a treasure he always held hidden right above his heart. " I… I'm finally going to do it today, Gaara. And…" Another wheeze. " I've never been this un-okay in my entire life."
Gaara remained silent for a longest time, visibly thinking. " Do you want me to come along?"
He shook his head surprisingly firmly. " Thanks, but… This is something I have to do alone."
The redhead nodded with a look of sympathy. " Okay. I'm supposed to go and see if Temari and Shikamaru have blown up the orphanage, anyway."
To his stun, he managed to crack a thin smile, which disappeared quickly. It took his all to force himself into getting up from his chair. " I… I'll see you at the practise, tomorrow."
Gaara nodded. Usually, they called each other every day. This was the only day during a year they didn't.
While walking out of the room, he used all his willpower into trying to believe a single, simple fact.
This would probably be the hardest thing he'd ever done, but he'd have to do this – for the sake of himself and Sasuke. He owed this one to them both.
That thought was the only thing keeping him from falling to his knees screaming.
Ino, who was currently standing on a balcony, had always loved Paris, long before she'd decided to spend a year studying there. She particularly enjoyed of the slowly approaching summer, and these sunny early mornings that carried a promise of a bright day to come – well, almost every time.
Today, it seemed, was different.
" Mommy!" her five years old daughter's teary voice sounded, and in a matter of seconds a small girl with long, at the moment quite messy black hair and huge blue eyes was hugging her leg. " Koji-teme's bullying me!"
There was a huff, and once turning her head she found another five-year-old – a boy this time, the girl's twin – with short, ruffled blonde hair and big, expressive black eyes. The boy's arms were folded. " Well Aimi-baka started it. She stole my book."
She took a deep breath, desperately trying to remember why it was again she'd agreed to become a mother. " Koji, Aimi, stop running around and insulting each other right now, or I won't take you to the opening of daddy's gallery tomorrow. Understood?"
Both of the twins sulked when starting to return indoors, each firmly and loudly announcing that this hassle was the other's fault. In a moment, however, those sounds were replaced by squeals of delight, and she could hear Sai's familiar laughter when the twins undoubtedly charged to tackle him.
In a couple of minute's Sai entered the balcony, and gave her a sympathy-filled look once spotting the expression upon her face. " Hard day?" Obviously, he remembered exactly what day this was.
" Hmm." Despite everything that was bouncing around inside her skull, she felt shivers of pleasure and almost managed to smile when he gave her a long kiss. In moments like this, she definitely didn't regret moving to France a week after Sasuke's funeral to start over – that, although she'd had no idea of where Sai was, for he'd never heard her scream at the airport. This kiss reminded her of the one they'd exchanged when she'd finally found him after five days of searching. " But there's hope of it getting better."
Sai smiled a bit. " Well, in that case…"
Her eyes widened when he pulled out a perfect white rose. " That's… beautiful!" She then came to think of something. " It is for me, right?"
" Techically, no." There was a mysterious look in her husband's eyes. " What would you say if Karin would watch over the twins for an hour longer than usually today? I want to take you somewhere before you go to work."
Ino was mildly surprised upon discovering that Sai lead her to the edge of Seine. " It's beautiful here." She gave him a sideways glance. " But I'm still curious… What are we doing here?"
Sai gave her a somewhat sad smile. " I'm trying to help you let go."
She frowned, cold shivers running through her. " What?"
" Ino, it's been twelve years." She'd never seen Sai's eyes as gentle as they were when he offered the rose towards her. " I know Sasuke wouldn't have wanted you to hang on to her memory. You have to let go – for both of your sakes."
Her eyes widened with disbelief at first, but in the end she found her trembling hand reaching out towards the flower, finally grabbing it. She stared at the river for what must've been at least five minutes until her still shivering fingers finally opened.
Letting go of the rose was the hardest thing she'd ever done, and she could've sworn something inside her broke.
Even after all the years passed, it was ridiculously hard to watch water take a firm hold of the flower, carrying it away. She felt unbearably cold.
She was just about to break down when without a warning Sai's hand appeared and grabbed hers, holding on. Once she finally managed to squeeze back, she was baffled by how all coldness disappeared from her.
At that moment, although tears were streaming down her cheeks, she smiled just a little.
Goodbye, her mind finally managed to whisper. Her tear-hazed gaze rose towards the clouds drifting high above. Who knows, maybe I'll see you again someday.
It was still rather early while Kakashi walked rather lazily through a park in Konoha, one arm wrapped loosely around Shizune's waistline and a two years old boy with silvery hair and pitch-black eyes dangling on his shoulders.
" Why did we come here again?" he inquired. He didn't mean to be grumpy, but he'd just had two nightshifts in a row, and all he would've wanted was to spend some nice, quiet time with his family at home.
Shizune smiled mysteriously. " Because Daiki wanted to come and feed birds. Plus, there's someone in here I want you to meet."
He frowned, but before he could ask a thing he noticed someone very familiar sitting on a bench nearby. He had to blink his eyes for ten times before he dared to believe them.
Shizune gave him a meaningful look after planting a small kiss to his lips. " How about if I'd take Daiki to see birds?" she suggested while gently taking their son from his shoulders. " You can catch up with us later."
Daiki waved happily. " Come soon, daddy! I wanna watch birds with you!"
He could only nod. It took several seconds before he managed to walk up to Iruka.
The brunette had a smile upon his face while the man watched his distancing family. " Daiki's grown up a lot from the last time I saw him", the other observed.
He couldn't help smirking. " They grow up scarily lot in four months." He then came to think of something. " How about Anko? Has she already…?"
Iruka's smile grew even wider. His heart swelled a bit at how his childhood friend's eyes sparked like back when they'd been kids. " She went into a labour two days ago. I'll go into the hospital soon to see if she and our little princess are ready to go home."
His grin turned into a heart filled, genuine smile. " Congratulations." They were silent for a while until another thought crossed his mind. " What are you doing here, anyway? How did you manage to rip yourself out the hospital?" He was pretty sure that the mysterious aura that'd been hanging around Shizune lately had something to do with it.
Iruka's expression turned solemn – so serious, in fact, that it scared him a bit. " Because… there's something I have to do, now that I'm a father at very least." Very slowly, the man pulled out two yellow roses – Rin's favourite type. " I think we should go together this time around."
He was too stunned to speak for a very long time until a wheeze agreed to come. " Are you… sure?"
Iruka nodded determinedly. For a first time since Rin's death, he saw no bitterness or hatred in his friend's eyes. Past was finally where it belonged. " Yeah, I am."
It was the first time in several years they walked side by side, and after that neither of them went to visit Rin alone for as long as both of them lived.
(There was never another months long, let alone longer, gap between their meetings.)
At first, Naruto didn't have a slightest clue of where he wanted to go – there were so many places, so many precious memories, he wanted to visit once more that he didn't have any idea of where to start. In the end, his legs did thinking for him.
He wasn't all that surprised when he found himself standing before the houses in which Sasuke and he had lived once upon a time. (Itachi had moved away as soon as he'd managed to gather strength for that after Sasuke's funeral, and he'd also moved with Iruka as soon as he'd recovered from his second surgery.) As though working free of his will, his eyes moved to the yard between the houses. Without being called hellish burning appeared into his eyes, and a lump that forced him to gasp a bit took its usual place in his throat.
/ He could still remember the first real conversation they'd had, so clearly that it scared him. /
/ " Bach, Sonata No. 1."
It was the first time he'd had Sasuke confused. " What?"
He recalled smirking victoriously. " That song you played earlier. Bach, Sonata No. 1."
Sasuke's arched eyebrow had given him a sensation of pleasure. " How did you find that out?"
His grin had turned into a mysterious one. " You're not the only one has a thing for music."
He'd come close to making Sasuke smile. " You have far too much free time, dobe."
He'd held her hand that late evening, to which she'd agreed after having tried to vigour off for a while. He didn't know exactly for how long they'd spent watching stars, but it'd been one of the best evenings in his life so far. /
Blinking furiously to rid the painful burning in his eyes, he made sure no one was at home in either one of the houses – what he was about to do would've certainly seemed… bizarre, to say the least, to the new inhabitants – then approached.
Once he was stood on the lawn with his legs trembling pathetically, his shuddering hands pulled out a tiny, extremely beautiful silvery container he'd worn on a necklace right above his heart for almost twelve years already. Careful to not pour out all of the grey, dust-like substance – the last remnant he had left of Sasuke – he allowed a small amount to drop to the ground. (Two months after Sasuke's funeral, Itachi had visited him and given the container to him, saying that it held a small piece of Sasuke he'd have to let go of once he was ready.)
Memories came immediately, making the already hard event even more painful, almost excruciating. It felt like his heart had been shredded to pieces.
/ Their very first meeting, the looks of recognizing in their eyes when they faced each other. /
/ " You have exactly five seconds to come up with a decent excuse to why you're breaking into my home, before you'll end up your head's height shorter", Sasuke had snarled. /
He closed his eyes, tightly, but it did nothing to help him with the searing sensation.
/ He and Sasuke playing together, melodies mixing suavely. /
/ " Sasuke? Was she that girl playing a violin?"
" Yeah." Already then, it was hard to keep his emotions in check. " Apparently she thinks she can play or something." /
He could still almost hear the sound of Sasuke's violin, and ache-like tingle crossed his skin.
/ " Feel that, teme? I'm still alive and kicking. Everything's okay." /
/ Their first kiss, sweet and full of emotion, which he'd been so very embarrassed by later on. /
He made another gasp-like sound, unaware of the fact that he was being approached.
/ The last days they'd spent at home, those quiet hours he'd always value beyond anything else they'd spent laying in each other's arms. /
" Uzumaki Naruto?"
His eyes – very blurry although he couldn't figure out why – snapped open, and he whirled around, quickly hiding the container. He blinked quite owlishly at the brown-haired, excited looking teenager he faced. " Um… Hey."
The teen's eyes sparked. " Are you really Uzumaki Naruto? That rock star?"
Yes, he loved his fans. But right now they were just about the last thing on his mind. " Sorry, kid." His voice was hoarse, barely anything human. " I'm afraid you've got the wrong guy." With that he turned on his heels and started to all but sprint away.
He still had many places to go, and he'd have to keep moving while he still could.
As per usual, the orphanage (which Tsunade had given to Temari and Shikamaru's care six years earlier) was filled with loud noise when Gaara entered. He stood by the doorway for a long time, enjoying of the hassle that wiped away all the gloomy thoughts hanging on his mind.
" Damnit, Nara!" Temari groaned, causing some of the kids around her to giggle. " How many times do you have to be taught something as simple as how to put on a diaper? Kira's soaking wet." Gaara wasn't exactly surprised that he could remember exactly to which of the building's inhabitants the woman referred. He'd spent so much time with these kids that he knew them down to a very last trick by now.
He forced his legs into moving just when Shikamaru replied with a groan. " I'm still pretty hopeless, aren't I?"
" Yes, you are." He entered the room just in time to see Temari give the man's lips a firm kiss. Forcing his eyes elsewhere, he shuddered yet again upon discovering just how huge his sister's bump had become. " It's your luck you're also adorable."
" Gaara-kun!" Kira – a tiny girl with red hair a lot like his and radiant dark eyes – suddenly squealed from Shikamaru's arms, outstretching a pair of small arms towards him. " Gaara-kun!"
" Hey", Shikamaru greeted with a small smile – clearly still a bit afraid of him, no matter how many years the man had been dating Temari – while giving Kira into his arms.
Temari gave him a look that stated loudly that she knew exactly what day it was. " I thought you wouldn't come today."
He forced himself into smiling just a little while Kira squirmed to get into a better position. " I didn't think I could stand being alone", he confessed, although it required swallowing a huge amount of pride.
Temari nodded, then hissed, placing a hand to her belly. " Damn…", she snarled, making circling motions with her hand. " The little one's been practising judo a lot lately. I really hope he won't decide to pop out before we've pulled through the wedding."
" 'She'", Shikamaru corrected matter-of-factly, earning narrowed eyes from Temari.
Gaara understood his sister's concern. It was only two weeks to she and Shikamaru's first child's due to date, and a week to their wedding. It was a real close call.
Talking about children… " Kankuro called this morning", he stated, the memory floating into his mind all of a sudden. " Haku went into a labour yesterday. It's a boy."
Hormones taking over, Temari emitted a loud sound of delight, pulling Shikamaru and him – as well as somewhat startled looking Kira – into a huge hug. Once she was done, his sister stroked her abdomen once more with a grin. " Hear that, little one? You just got a brand new baby-cousin."
He swallowed thickly, another piece of that mentioned phone call coming to his mind. He searched for words until all but whispering. " He… also asked me to come to New York, if only just for a visit." Facing Temari's look, he went on. " I'm leaving right after the wedding."
Temari didn't seem surprised, although sad. After Sasuke's death, living in Konoha – where all memories of both that one year he'd known the raven and events long before that lingered – had become almost impossible for him. He needed an escape, desperately.
Kira made a loud gasp in his arms, grabbing a stunningly tight hold of his shirt. The child's eyes were shimmering. " Gaara-kun can't go!"
He forced himself into smiling. " Sweetie, I'm not going forever. I'll still be coming to see you." Feeling a need to leave, he started to put the mildly resisting girl back to floor. " I… should go. I'm already running late from a meeting, anyway."
Surprising him, Temari took his hand. There was an odd look in his sister's eyes. " Stay, for a little while." She grinned, although it hid something. " We'll start preparing a birthday party for one of the kids, and there'll be a lot of chaos. It'd be nice to have you around."
He opened his mouth to argue, but then – before he could even wonder why – closed it again, instead let Temari lead him away with Kira's help.
He was in a need of some distraction, anyway.
Naruto's steps were heavy while he continued his lonely, sad journey, all the while using every ounce of his willpower into not breaking down.
The next place his mind chose to lead him was school. Beyond relieved by the fact that the kids and teachers were on classes, he dared to approach. From quite a distance, he could hear music coming from gym hall.
Memories slashed so deep that he had to grit teeth.
/ He and Sasuke dancing, tingle between them he'd denied at first, how they shuddered under each other's hold. /
/ Sasuke's eyes flashing fire. " Sneak that hand of yours an inch lower and you'll lose it."
His snort that hid away so much. " Don't flatter yourself, teme." /
He'd never danced with anyone else after that – it just wouldn't have been the same.
Futilely trying to swallow down the lump that once again returned to his throat, he poured another tiny bit of Sasuke to wind's mercy, watched as a gentle breeze made it dance nearby the wall.
He emitted a tiny moan.
Why the hell did I make myself do this?!
It too a lot of him to turn around and walk away from Sasuke, to leave what was left of her dance alone.
The journey had to go on.
TenTen sighed heavily while looking at a fat file in front of her, went through photographs of bruises and injuries after another. In each picture, the teen's auburn eyes were so filled with unvoiced, helpless rage that it tore her heart.
Tyakuki, Ranmaru, said a sticker placed on the file's cover.
The girl had been in different hospitals for almost fifty or sixty times although she was only barely thirteen, and had been arrested for several times for small crimes. Now, her father had been arrested for several assaults, and bottom had fallen from the girl's world.
She'd been working as a therapist for children and teenagers suffering from domestic violence for years already. This was definitely the most broken child she'd come across so far. At times like this, it was excruciatingly hard to not let work get under her skin.
Sighing again, she closed the file, then allowed her fingers to move to a extremely beautiful rose in front of her, finally playing gently with the flower's petals that held the strangest shade of red she'd ever seen. Her eyes met another rose – bright red – but she refused to touch it.
Maybe today, after all the years passed, she'd finally be strong enough to visit Sasuke's grave – and her father's, who'd died from all the drinking he'd done five years earlier.
Life… would have to move on eventually, right?
She gasped – not having even heard the door of her office being opened – when soft, tender lips suddenly touched her neck. Despite darkish thoughts, her lips formed a slight smile. " I see you got out of work early."
" Yeah. The client was easier to handle than I thought", Neji's voice all but purred right into her ear, the soft breath of warm air almost enough to drive her insane. " Besides, it's already late. We should be headed for the party."
" Hmh", she emitted, not exactly pleased by the idea of leaving this comfortable room.
Neji distanced himself from her a little to take a look at her face. His eyes revealed that he understood exactly what was going through her head. " So today's the day, huh?"
She could only nod.
Not saying a word, Neji leaned down and placed a small kiss, almost like that of comfort, to her lips. " It'll be okay", he murmured, then kissed her again. " I love you." His hand brushed her still quite flat abdomen. " Both of you."
Again, thin smile refused to stay away. " We love you, too."
There was a loud sound of displeasure from the office's doorway. Turning her head, she found already thirteen-years-old Aki, and was once again baffled by how much the boy looked like his father although he'd inherited her hair. " Would you two cut it out? I don't want to become traumatized for life."
A tiny, welcomed chuckle erupted through her throat. Forcing herself into standing up, she put away the files that'd been laying on her table and started to prepare herself for leaving, mentally as well. " Alright, then… I suppose it's time to go." Her voice was croaky and unfamiliar.
Aki frowned, taking the two roses to help her. " Where are we going, exactly? To that christening you've been talking about?"
" Yeah, but first…" She was pretty sure that although there was a faintest of smiles, her eyes shimmered a bit when she looked at her son. " First, I… want you to finally meet a very dear friend of mine."
Backyard of a small, beautiful house on the very edge of Konoha was bathing in late spring's bright light, and enchanting scent of flowers was clear in the air while Hinata walked slowly towards the small table that'd been placed in the middle of all. The tiny baby-boy in her arms gave a small sound of displeasure, waking up from his slumber.
She couldn't keep herself from smiling when a pair of pale eyes inched open to greet her. " 'Morning, sweetie", she greeted in a soft tone she didn't use with anyone else but her children. She brushed the baby's cheek with one finger, causing him to chirp with delight. " This is an exciting day. You'll finally get your name. Daddy will come any minute with a priest."
While she kept talking to the baby, her thoughts drifted elsewhere. For a longest time, she'd been firmly against having the christening today of all days. But eventually, common sense and TenTen's words had convinced her otherwise. After so many long, at times painful years, she had to learn to remember this date from something else than Sasuke's death.
" Mom!" Her older child's – eleven years old Takara's – voice snatched her out of those thoughts. She suspected it'd never cease baffling her how much like both of her parents the girl looked with long hair just like hers and Kimimaro's sparkling eyes. " Aunt-TenTen and Aki-kun came."
She smiled a bit upon seeing her friend, who was walking behind Takara and Aki. She was almost sure her friend also wondered if their children noticed that they were holding hands. " Hey", she greeted. " Where's Neji?"
TenTen flashed a grin her way. " Parking the car. I was starting to get a little nauseous from all the spinning around so he let me out." The woman thought for a moment, then went on. " Oh yeah, and Sakura called. She should be here soon."
It was then she noticed that there seemed to be a change of some sort upon her friend's face. It didn't take long before she understood. It was apparent TenTen had cried, but it also seemed like a weight of some sort had been lifted from the brunette's shoulders. " So you finally visited her?"
TenTen nodded, her smile quivering a bit. " I had no idea of how hard it'd be." The woman then walked closer and tickled her tiny son's chin. Both of them laughed when the baby made a loud sound of happiness. " I really hope you're ready for all this hassle, little one. Today's a big day."
" Mom." Takara's voice claimed her attention once more. The girl still hadn't let go of Aki's hand, and the boy wasn't making a move to change that. " Since everyone's not here yet, can I introduce Aki-kun to Basco?" The girl was referring to her cat, which she'd – after having begged to have one every day for the past year – finally had the day before.
She was just about to respond when something – or rather, someone – she would've never expected to see came out of the house by Kimimaro's side. TenTen took a step closer to her.
Hiashi Hyuuga seemed so much older from when she'd last seen him in that cheap motel-room that it actually startled her. His eyes suggested that he hadn't slept at all for a long time.
At the moment, though, her father's physical appearance wasn't the first and most important thing on her mind. She swallowed thickly. " What are you doing here?"
The man opened his mouth, but Kimimaro beat him to speaking. " Remember that day a month ago, when I came home from work badly late? I met him then, and we talked for a long time." Her husband's green eyes – which seemed even older than usually – were filled with something unfamiliar to her while the man walked up to her and talked so quietly that others couldn't hear, wrapping a pair of supporting arms around her. " Life is too short for carrying hatred like this. You have to try to forgive eventually – for your own sake."
She could only stare, yet gain bewildered by her husband.
" Mom." Takara's eyes were filled with confusion and near-fright, and she found a deep frown from her daughter's face. " Who's that man?"
For a longest time tense, expectant silence hung above the backyard. Then, surprising even herself with the action, she spoke in a stunningly soft voice. " Takara… I want you to meet your grandfather."
Naruto was stunned to discover how different the small park on the edge of Konoha looked from the one in his memories without wintry ice on it. Noticing some kids playing football, he stayed hidden in the shadows to be able to carry on his dark quest in privacy.
He found himself emitting a tiny sniff when letting go yet another piece of Sasuke, and watched it make its way to the park, twirling around as though remembering.
/ Sasuke trying to teach him skating, the two of them ending up falling into the ice, he on top of Sasuke. /
/ " I told you that I've never tried this before, right?"
Sasuke's near-smile that'd caused a warm flutter inside him. " Somehow, I have no trouble with believing you." /
" Mister?" Turning around with startle, he found a small girl that couldn't be older than four looking up at him with a great deal of concern. " Are you okay? You're crying."
Wiping away the moisture he hadn't even realized forming, he did his best to smile reassuringly. " Y – Yeah, I am. Just… a bit sad." In any other occasion, he might've laughed at the huge understatement.
" Sweetie!" a woman, undoubtedly the girl's mother, shouted, rushing towards them. The woman's gaze held a scolding look while she grabbed the child. " What have I told you about talking to strangers?" She flashed him an apologetic look, fortunately not seeming to recognize. " I'm sorry."
He forced himself to smile, just like so many times during the past twelve years. " It's alright. She was no trouble."
Once the mother and daughter had left he remained there, eyes following the never-ending patterns Sasuke's ashes made while being carried by wind.
He didn't realize it wasn't until an hour later he finally managed to move again.
Although he'd lived in the house for almost twelve years already, Itachi found himself feeling lost while standing behind a door he hadn't dared to open up since closing it two days after moving in. He took a deep, nearly desperate breath and pulled it open with a trembling hand.
It wasn't dust formed during all the years that made his eyes and throat sting when the sight greeted him.
Pretty much everyone had told him that it was a mistake to take all of Sasuke's things along to the new house, but he hadn't been able to leave them – all he had left of his sister – behind. Now, all those mementos were staring at him right into eyes.
At least two full minutes passed until he finally managed to enter the room, carrying several empty cardboard boxes. It was finally time to do what should've been done years ago.
Putting away all those things that'd been precious to Sasuke felt almost like losing her again, and memories flowing in a constant river made it thousand times more painful.
Memories of pain, of happiness, of helplessness, of tears, of joy, of sickness, of health, of love.
He trembled as though in great deal of pain upon suddenly realizing that every single item had been packed up.
Sasuke was really gone, nothing but a memory, all her things packed up and on their way away.
At that moment, he did something he hadn't managed to do since the day Sasuke died. He finally broke down and cried.
" Daddy?" He shuddered at his daughter's – Minako's – voice that brought comfort into him even now. Turning his bleary gaze slowly, he trembled again when facing a four-year-old that was an exact replica from Sasuke, looking at him with worry-filled black eyes. " Why are you crying? Are you hurting?"
He gave a somewhat teary chuckle while wrapping his arms around the child when she came to hug him. " Yeah, sweetie", he breathed out. " I am. But it doesn't hurt as much now that you're here."
He could imagine how the child's face brightened. " Really?"
He lost track on for how long they'd been there – with their roles switched – when there was a distant sound of door being opened. In a couple of minutes Sakura was stood by the doorway. The pinkette seemed taken aback for a moment once seeing what he'd done, and it took several seconds before she could speak, threatening tears in her eyes. " So… you finally did it."
He nodded, unable to form another word and feeling completely worn all of a sudden.
He'd never felt that empty in his entire life.
Sakura knew she should've been hurrying towards the christening of Hinata's son, but right now, with tears almost falling…
They all needed this more.
Without saying a word she walked up to Itachi and Minako, wrapping her arms tightly around both of them. Tears finally broke when she felt Itachi's body shudder with sobs. This time, they weren't tears of loss, but of a new, painful beginning.
She was almost sure that somewhere up above Sasuke smiled, relieved by seeing them finally let go.
That late afternoon – after finishing a day of work that'd been practically off no use with how distracted he'd been – Gaara found his feet dragging him to a café.
Since he wasn't too much into the idea of numbing himself with alcohol, caffeine sounded like a nice option. Or… so he thought.
For as soon as he entered, what he first thought was a hurricane was dashing towards him. A young woman with brown hair and dark eyes that were looking towards anything else but where she was going stormed towards him, holding a takeaway-cup of coffee. " … and make sure the door's locked before you go, okay?"
Then, before he could take a single step sideways to avoid the impact, she collided with his chest, sending the coffee flying all over. He hissed a little despite resistance when burning-hot liquid met his skin.
The woman's eyes widened and her face went chalk white when she noticed the damage done. " Oh… crap…" Then regaining some of her sanity, she hastily pulled out a napkin from her handbag and started to try and clean up some of the mess on his clothes. " Oh no, I'm so sorry! I should've looked where I was going!"
Suddenly, it wasn't all that hard for him to find a smile. " It's okay." After hesitating for a while, he added. " I'm Gaara."
" M – Matsuri." Radiant blush on her cheeks, the woman put away the napkin as rapidly as she'd pulled it out, evidently in a hurry to get away. " I… I should go." With that, she started to all but sprint away.
He found himself smiling faintly while watching her distancing back. Already then, a distant part of him wondered if leaving Konoha was such a smart idea after all.
(He came to that café a lot since.)
Afternoon had already progressed far when Naruto finally made it to his last pit stop, his legs so weak that he could barely stand and his eyes aching mercilessly.
The beach was just as beautiful as he'd remembered, and for a longest time he stood there, watching how water sparked like a field of crystals under sun's tender touch, caressing soft sand.
After having enjoyed of the sight for a while, steeling himself for the inevitable, he took a little look around. Relief flooded over when he discovered that no one was there to prove this.
The last thing he needed was audience.
His steps were slow and wobbly when he walked towards the very spot where he and Sasuke had sat a little over twelve years earlier, remembering the place and every single moment of that day so clearly it hurt. His hand was quivering even worse than before when he closed the silvery container to it, then poured out the last drops of Sasuke.
Even this time, he wasn't spared from memories.
/ That day on a beach just before they'd ended up into a hospital, when it'd been so very easy to pretend that everything would turn out alright. /
/ Sasuke's forehead against his, the girl's hand holding his tenderly. " Don't worry about me, dobe. There's still hope. You need to keep holding on." /
It felt like world had been crashing down around him as he watched wind grabbing the remnants of the person he still loved beyond everything, carrying them away.
At that point, he finally became all too aware of the fact that tears were streaming down his cheeks. He closed his eyes, almost whimpered at all the flashes passing by before them. " I love you", he choked out, hoping from the bottom of his heart that those feeble words reached their destination. " I love you so much. I miss you."
There was no response, no magical sign from universe that he would've been heard.
He buried his face into one hand, allowing all ache to flood out in an overwhelming burst although it was just about more than he could stand.
" I miss you", he all but cried out, bringing his free hand to his burning, throbbing chest. " I miss you so fucking much."
At that moment, came what he'd desperately wanted to feel. There was what felt like a gentle touch on his shoulder – so light that it could've been his imagination.
One last memory came.
/ His heart had already known that something was coming to an end when he'd looked at Sasuke's face for a one last time. " Wish me luck, will you?"
If he focused, he could still hear Sasuke's voice in his ears. " Always." /
Still crying, he finally managed to remove his hand from his eyes and dared to open them up. He blinked a little when seeing a tiny bird hopping on sand nearby, looking at him with its head tilted. Seeing him looking, the bird made a surprisingly loud sound and rose to its wings, rising towards sun shining high up above.
/ " There's still hope. You need to keep holding on." /
Even through tears a small, badly shuddering smile came to his face while he kept following the seemingly insignificant being, then moved his gaze to the sky. " Bye, for now." His voice crackled, but that didn't stop him. " I'll come and find you someday, I promise. I… I won't stop looking until I've found you."
He could've sworn he heard one more triumphant scream from the bird until it disappeared.
" Naruto?" Iruka's familiar voice managed to startle him. Turning around, he met worried brown eyes. " Gaara called, and I decided to come and see if you're here before going to pick up Anko and the baby." The man frowned. " Are you okay?"
It took a while, but eventually he managed to nod, still smiling palely through tears. " Y – Yeah", he whispered and wrapped a hand around the now empty silvery container, starting to realize that he'd finally let go of its contents. " I… I think I will be, eventually."
Sixty years later.
Umino Mari had always been very close to her big brother Naruto, regardless to the facts that they weren't related by blood, had quite an age-difference and there was always this sadness around the man. It was only understandable, seeing as the man had been her only living relative for the past forty years, after Iruka and Anko had died in an accident. That's why it pained her beyond everything else to see the formally lively, now aged man this weak, helpless, and tied to a hospital's bed.
To avoid looking at the now frail man she allowed her gaze to travel on all the pictures scattered all over the room, offering evidence of a long, eventful life.
Places from all around the world – Tokyo, Paris, New York, Sydney, several places in breathtakingly beautiful Africa she couldn't even name anymore. Stunning amount of friends having fun together, family members enjoying of each other's company, and one particularly precious snapshot of a raven-haired girl who's name her brother had never wanted to reveal.
She'd heard many amazing stories from her older sibling, and wondered how many more would disappear along with the man.
She jolted out of thoughts to a feeble movement. Seeing as Naruto hadn't even had the strength to open up his eyes for the past three days, she was mildly startled when they suddenly inched open, already hazy and unfocused. " Sasuke…?"
It stung badly to once again break that desperate hope. " No, Naruto. Just me."
Despite her words Naruto kept smiling, obviously seeing something she couldn't. The hand she'd been holding twitched slightly, as though trying to squeeze. " I'll be there soon, 'Suke. I'll see you soon."
Although some tears spilled to her cheeks and her chest ached almost more than she could bear she smiled, stroking the old hand in hers. " I know", she whispered softly, her voice crackling. " Now hurry."
Still smiling, Naruto closed his eyes and sighed, sounding and seeming more content than she remembered him being ever before. She already knew those eyes would never open again.
Naruto felt like he'd woken up from a longest sleep when his eyes suddenly opened. Blinking with utter confusion, he lifted his hand and gasped.
No wrinkles, no signs of all the hard years he'd spent on earth after Sasuke.
" Naruto." That voice – so familiar, so badly missed – sent shivers of pleasure, relief and joy through him. Lifting his gaze, he saw a figure unearthly mist hid so well that he couldn't even see the face. A hand he recognized so very well despite all the years passed was outstretched for him. " Do you want to come?"
A bright smirk appearing to his face, he took the hand without an inch of hesitation.
A/N: (wipes eyes)
I seriously can't believe it's over! (starts bawling) Gosh, I've enjoyed of writing this story SO MUCH, although it's been a bit challenging at times. I'm way beyond thrilled if you guys have had even tenth of that fun with reading this (although 'fun' can't exactly be associated with this story…)
Once more, THANK YOU – for reading, for listing, for reviewing! (gives ENORMOUS hugs again, along with all kinds of sweet special treats and tissues for those who need such) I've really loved writing to you guys – you've been a FANTASTIC audience! (bows with respect)
Until we shall be typing again!
All the very best!
blah81691: The first femSasu story you enjoyed – AND poignant?! Holy goodness, THANK YOU!
Hmm… Due to my time spent on writing is constantly monitored AND heavily criticized by certain someone most of the time, I'm afraid it'll take a while before I'll be able to launch another new fic, especially since there's a currently rolling project I'm trying to finish. (winces) BUT, as soon as I possibly can I'll TRY to ship out a new femSasu work. (There's a lil', already closed poll on my profile that includes the ideas that've been rolling around in my mind.)
MASSIVE thank yous for the incredible review! I really hope you'll stick around for the epilogue.
stephanie: Chapter twelve was heartbreaking, eh? (sniffs)
HUGE thank yous for the review - 'happy to hear you liked the chapter! I really hope you'll enjoy of the epilogue as well.
tragic fate: Oh no! (gives out plenty of tissues)
Massive thank yous for the dazzling review - gosh, how glad I am to hear you liked the chapter, as well as the whole story, and to that extend! I sincerely hope you'll like the epilogue, too.