A/N: Guess what? It's time for the FINAL chapter – gosh, I can't even believe it!
But, before sealing this story… Thank you from the bottom of my heart for those fantastic reviews! (huuugs) You guys have given me tons of inspiration, ya know? Thank you! And monumental special thank you to my wonderful proofreader Serenityofthematrix! (hugs)
Awkay, I bet you all want to know how this ends, so without further… Let's ROCK! (grins) I really hope you'll like this ending.
The beginning of the tape was nothing but a confusing blur of people running around and chuckling, and most of the time only a pair of filthy brown shoes could be seen. Then – with the one filming apparently remembering their job – people actually appeared.
The first person appearing was an extremely beautiful girl with pink hair, extremely dark, huge eyes and pale skin. She grinned brightly, obviously enjoying the attention, and waved at the camera, practically pressing her face to the lens.
"Sora!" The camera moved, showing Sakura's all but exasperated face. She scooped the five-year-old into her arms. "Don't you think you've been in enough pictures already?"
The child pouted, but nonetheless clung to her. "Mommy!"
The one filming snickered, and unfortunately to the poor soul Sakura heard it. She cast a nearly murderous glare towards the camera. "We'll see if you look that smug when you have kids", she all but snarled under her breath.
For a few moments the camera lingered on random moments. It captured Sakura sliding into the lap of Sai – who was sitting in a wheelchair – and the two of them sharing an intimate moment, a somewhat torn looking Kakashi hugging Yugao who had her back to the camera, along with Kimimaro and TenTen dancing.
Finally, the camera stopped to what it had most likely been looking for all along. On the dance floor's edge – far away from everyone's sight – a very happy married couple was dancing. The husband's hungry hands were moving wildly on the bride's white dress and long, black hair.
Whether the sound erupting from Sasuke was a chuckle or a groan was impossible to tell. "If you don't stop that, there's no way we'll make it to the suite."
Naruto grinned like a very satisfied cat in the sun. "Would that be such a bad thing?" The man then leaned to Sasuke's ear and whispered something that made the woman wrap her arms tightly around him and lean close. Smiling extremely happily, the Uzumaki held his wife tenderly.
It was then Naruto finally noticed that there was someone filming them. The flash in those blue eyes was nothing compared to that in Sasuke's when the woman noticed the prying eyes as well. "Kiba, put that camera away now!"
There was a small scream from Kiba before the film was cut.
CHAPTER 13: Epilogue
Eight Years Later (1)
Naruto, who was currently wearing a black tuxedo, smiled fondly while taking the wedding tape out of the recorder. To think how many things had changed…
After Sasuke and he had recovered from the battle with Orochimaru, they'd spent a couple of years traveling around the world, trying to mend the cuts and bruises on their relationship. In the end they'd succeeded during the darkest hours of one hot night in Barcelona. When they'd come back to Japan, Sasuke had talked things through with Kakashi – and left ANBU's active force. She now instructed new agents, and he taught psychology to high school students. Finally, after years of working things out, they were both happy. Shadows of the past had been defeated.
The familiar voice appearing startled him out of his thoughts. "Don't tell me you were watching that again?" There was an amused expression on Sasuke's face while she leaned against the doorframe, her arms folded. "You're hopeless."
Grinning somewhat sheepishly, he walked up to her. Despite the black dress she was wearing it was very easy to spot her mightily swollen bump. He caressed her stomach fondly. "Pregnancy suits you, you know?"
Sasuke's expression softened a little. "Hn."
It was then he remembered once again what today was about. His eyes were solemn when searching through hers. "Are you okay?"
She nodded stiffly, no longer meeting his gaze. "Yeah. Let's just go and get this over with, okay?"
He could only nod.
A nursing center's small, surprisingly comfortable room was almost exhaustingly hot while two people sat on a bed.
Yugao's eyes carried something close to desperation while she showed Hayate one picture after another. Each time she got dishearteningly little reaction as a response, but didn't let that discourage her. "Do you remember this?" she tried, showing him the picture of a butterfly. "Can you tell me what this is?"
Hayate's eyes moved, and for a long, almost still moment he observed the picture carefully, as though he'd never seen the animal it represented before. Then, very slowly, his eyes grew dull once more and he looked away, as though someone had flipped a switch. He'd slipped away again as deviously swiftly as he'd appeared.
She felt like crying, but smiled instead although it hurt. "Okay. Maybe you'll remember tomorrow." Already then she knew better than to really expect that.
After the car-crash – which had almost killed them both – the Hayate she'd known was gone, for good. Doctors couldn't tell if it was because of brain damage or something Danzou had given him, but either way it was almost like Hayate's head had been wiped blank. During the darkest of days, Yugao wondered sullenly if even death had been more merciful.
"Mrs. Hatake?" A rather gentle male nurse's voice chased those thoughts away, and Yugao forced herself to focus on his words. "I'm sorry, but it's time for you to go." There was a look of sympathy on the nurse's face. "These sessions do him good, but they also put him through a lot of strain."
She nodded, a bitter taste filling her mouth. "I understand." She then turned towards Hayate, feeling a harsh stab of pain when finding no recognition from his unfamiliar eyes. "I have to go now, but I'll come back as soon as I can, okay?"
She hoped from the bottom of her heart that Hayate's move of the head had been a nod, not a sign of the man falling asleep.
As soon as she was out of the room she grit her teeth to hold back tears and balled her fists, lifting her gaze towards the roof she'd learned to hate years ago.
Gosh, how it still hurt sometimes!
Hurt to see him like this.
Hurt to treat him like a child when he most certainly wasn't one.
Hurt like hell to know that he knew less than her son, who was only two years old.
But she figured that she owed Hayate enduring this ache. She'd been the one driving that day – it was her fault that things were like this. Therefore it was also her duty to try her hardest to make things right, although all doctors had given up long ago.
"Yugao?" Kakashi's voice was hoarse, and his guilt-ridden eyes softer than usual. "How is he?"
She merely shook her head as a response. She couldn't bring herself to resist when he wrapped his arms around her, although it felt like she'd been cheating on Hayate.
A part of her hated this, although she knew this was right.
It'd been eight years. Why were they still feeling like this? Would these feeling ever go away?
Gritting her teeth, she held on to her husband as tightly as she could. "Let's… Let's just go home, okay?" She blinked to rid the stinging in her eyes. "I'm tired."
Kakashi's arm was wrapped supportively around her as they left, using all their willpower not to look back. The building's doors closed like prison's gates behind them.
Sasuke didn't know how to feel as she stood at the very edge of the cemetery, watching how a funeral service proceeded slowly yet inevitably.
There weren't many people – only a few friends, one of which she recognized as Kisame, along with a brunet woman she'd never seen before, sitting beside a boy who looked so familiar that it hurt. Whereas the woman was crying almost hysterically, the boy fought with his all, much too familiar black eyes filled with such agony she knew from experience would never really fade away.
Very slowly her gaze moved to the coffin that'd just been laid to the deep hole, and something that almost crushed her with its power flowed over her.
She'd never expected to grieve today, but now that reality started to sink in…
Itachi was gone, forever. She'd never see her brother again.
And for some reason it was hard to hold back tears, so she closed her eyes.
"Sasuke?" Her eyes flew open to discover that at some point the mysterious woman with brown hair had appeared before her. It was easy to see that the woman was still fighting against tears, but she was composed. "I'm Hana – your brother's wife. Itachi… told me a lot about you."
She frowned and folded her arms, not sure how to feel about those words. Suddenly her heart was much heavier than before.
Most likely seeing what was going through her mind, Hana went on. "I know Itachi did many things you consider unforgivable. But… He also loved you – more than you could ever imagine. Maybe you'll be ready to accept that and love him again eventually." The woman blinked rapidly, obviously fighting against emotions. "When you do, I… I want you to find me – us. Because I'll never forget him, and I really hope you won't, either." With that Hana walked away, back to her son and the other guests.
She didn't know how long she'd been there – oblivious to how moist and warm her cheeks became - until she was startled out of her thoughts by a hand that was laid to her shoulder. Turning her gaze, she met Naruto's sympathy filled eyes. "Are you okay?" he all but whispered.
She turned her gaze towards the freshly made grave, feeling like there'd been a storm inside her. "Hn…", was all she managed while her eyes strayed to examining how Itachi's name looked when it was engraved in stone.
Just then her thoughts strayed entirely elsewhere when a harsh jolt of pain crossed her body, soon followed by another. She couldn't restrain a tiny gasp while bringing a hand to her mightily swollen stomach.
"Sasuke?" Naruto then shuddered, realizing what was going on. "Oh shit…"
"Take me to the hospital." Her eyes flashed as a yet another stab came. "Now." Because this was no false alarm.
Naruto was feeling embarrassingly dizzy while he watched how Sasuke pushed and screamed far more times than he could count, all the while squeezing his hand so tightly that he was fairly sure bones had already been fractured.
"When this is all over with I'm going to kill you, do you hear me!" she all but shrieked, her eyes squeezed tightly shut as pain ravished her. "I'll never forgive you for this!"
If possible his dizziness intensified, and he was ridiculously relieved that Sasuke didn't notice how he swayed on his spot.
The midwife didn't seem all that fazed by all the havoc. "It's almost over now, Sasuke! Right now I need you to push hard so the baby's shoulders come out, all right? Push!"
With a loud scream that almost destroyed Naruto's eardrums Sasuke did as ordered. The single push seemed to take forever – until there was a frail sound that smothered absolutely everything.
A baby's cry – shrill and reassuring.
Naruto's head was spinning so badly that he could barely see while he looked towards Sasuke, who was obviously exhausted. "Do… Do you hear that, 'Suke? It's… It's our child!"
The midwife smiled at them. "Congratulations. You have a healthy little baby girl."
With those words he finally did what'd been inevitable for a long time.
He passed out to the hospital's floor.
About half an hour later, a rather nervous group sat in the hospital's waiting room.
Sakura was focused on walking around the room and blabbering constantly, and Sai – having grown used to his wife's antics during five years of marriage – did his best to calm her down. TenTen was watching all this with a tiny smile on her face.
It felt like it'd been ages from the time when the four of them had been members of ANBU, and they'd been so very sure about everything. Now…
Well, during the past years they'd all learned that in life, there's rarely anything clear and certain. She'd learned that with three miscarriages, with Sakura and Sai it'd taken the man losing his capability to walk. For Naruto and Sasuke the road had been even longer and harder.
But now… Now, they were all here together – they'd survived. Perhaps that meant they were stronger than they'd thought.
Kimimaro's warm breath felt incredibly good on her skin, the man's voice made her shiver with pleasure. "What are you thinking about?"
She smiled, examining his face with her gaze. "Nothing in particular."
It'd taken a lot of time and hard work before Kimimaro had learned to trust her again, finally as the person she really was. Now they'd been married for two years, and even without children she knew they couldn't have been happier.
She wrapped her hand gently around the man's.
"Well finally!" Sakura's voice brought her back from her thoughts. "What took you so long? What's going on?"
Looking towards the same direction as the pinkette, she found Kiba who had a goofy grin on his face. "It's a girl!" the brunet declared.
In a flash they were all moving.
In a room not all that far away, Naruto – who'd just come to – and Sasuke – who was utterly exhausted – marvelled at the tiny baby-girl, who was yawning softly in her mother's arms.
"Are you sure she's okay?" Naruto's clearly apparent concern was almost amusing to Sasuke – the blond had been fretting since waking up. "Is she warm? Are you sure she's not hungry? What if we hurt her?"
In the end she rolled her eyes with a smile. "Stop fussing, dobe. Don't you see that she's fine?" She then looked towards her daughter, and her eyes turned into such that'd never been seen before. She's perfect.
Naruto kissed her hair, wrapping tender arms around her. "I know." The blond mused for a moment before speaking. "What do you think we should name her?"
She found herself smiling when the child opened her eyes just a little bit, revealing pools of onyx. "How about Takara?"
Naruto never had the chance to comment, because just then there was a knock and Kiba peered in with a somewhat sheepish grin. "Guys… You don't mind that I brought company, do you?" Before either one of them managed to respond the whole gang barged into the room, gathering to take a look at the newborn.
As from that moment a full-flexed havoc erupted. Sasuke, however, barely even noticed anything but her family, which had recently expanded.
Finally, after so much struggle and grief, she was happy. And she remained that way for the rest of her life.
Thirty-Two Years Later
With a deep sigh, Naruto caressed the picture of him and Sasuke Aiko had just shown him. The memories were still painful and retelling the story to his granddaughter had been exhausting, but he wasn't tired.
He glanced towards Aiko, who was sleeping soundly in her bed, then pushed himself up. For the first time in years his steps led him to the house's attic.
It wasn't all that hard to find the photo album he'd hidden so very carefully. Although he already knew it'd be almost unbearably painful he started going through the precious mementos.
The pictures revealed countless wonderful, dear memories. Snapshots of happiness, of celebrations, and even one picture of him and Sasuke sleeping in each other's arms. So many good memories he wanted to salvage, no matter how much they hurt.
Despite all the years passed, Naruto's eyes flowed over a little when he found the last picture. It represented Sasuke, who was obviously exhausted to the core and very sick while resting in a hospital-bed. Nonetheless she was holding an oblivious, grinning Takara. The girl was only seven.
It'd been shortly after Takara's birth they'd found out just how little time they might have left – that the pregnancy's toll on Sasuke's heart had been too great. She'd fought bravely, of course – with all her vigour. But in the end…
Sasuke had died less than twelve hours after that picture was taken, sleeping soundly in his arms.
He'd only taken one picture since, after Aiko had been born.
Suddenly a familiar presence seemed to fill the room and his body. "You shouldn't keep going through those, you know?" Sasuke's voice was so clear in his ears that it was nearly impossible to imagine that it wasn't real. "It's unhealthy to cling to the past."
A huge lump immediately formed in his throat, making him emit a choked sound. His eyes stung and blurred. "I… I miss you", he managed. "Do you have any idea how hard it's been alone?"
Gosh, how real the arms wrapping around him felt…! "I know – I've heard all those times you've tried to talk to me."
Although he knew it to be irrational, he felt a small flare of anger. "Then why didn't you answer me?!"
Did Sasuke just chuckle? "Because you wouldn't listen. Don't tell me you didn't even notice that I've been here all along."
Attempting to calm himself and to keep himself from breaking down, he glanced towards the photographs before him. "Takara, and Aiko… They look just like you."
"Hmm." With that sound, he wondered if Sasuke would've wanted to touch the pictures as well. "You've taken a good care of them, you know?"
The lump from before reappeared to his throat, making it almost impossible to speak. "I… I wish they'd gotten to know you."
"I wish so, too." Sasuke sounded almost sad for a moment. "But sometimes fate just doesn't work the way we want it to."
He snorted bitterly. "Tell me something I don't know."
"Naruto." Sasuke's voice was so stern that it claimed all his attention. "Stop that – bitterness doesn't suit you."
He sighed heavily, closing his eyes. "I know." He wished he could've turned to look at Sasuke, but he didn't dare to. If he turned, he'd have to face the fact that he was looking at nothing but a ghost, a figment of his imagination – perhaps he'd even meet nothing but thin air. And that was a thought he didn't think he'd be able to face.
"I love you", he then whispered almost fervently, afraid that the time they had together was running short. This time, he felt a couple of tears break from his hold. "I love you so much."
He hoped from the bottom of his heart it'd been a real kiss he felt. "I love you too." Something cool caressed his trembling hand. "And… I'll see you again soon. I need you to be strong until then." With that the voice and presence disappeared, as though never having been there.
For a full minute he sat there, completely paralyzed. Then, very slowly, he smiled through his tears. "Yeah… I'll see you soon."
Five days later, a friend found Naruto, who'd died in his sleep.
There was a smile on the blond's face.
1) After the last chapter, in case you're wondering. (grins)
A/N: Gosh… (sniffs) I can't believe this story is over! (sniffs again) Man, it sucks letting a story go. (pouts)
But now… Thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading, listing and reviewing! This story would've never been completed without you guys, you know? So thank you! (hugs, and showers you with treats)
I've gotta get going now, but PLEASE do review and let me know what you thought about this ending before taking off! I'd love to hear from you guys, ya know? (bats irresistible eyelashes)
Once more thank you! 'Hope I'll see ya all someday!