A/N- Please take your time reading this final chapter. There is quite a bit of detail that will leave you confused if you read too quickly.
Disclaimer: The world of Naruto and all its characters belong to Kishimoto.
If I can bear your love like a lamp before me,
When I go down the long steep Road of Darkness,
I shall not fear the everlasting shadows….
-The Lamp by Sara Teasdale.
Cold flat stone stared back at him, generations of Uchihas reduced to ash and carvings in marble. In the chilled vault of the family mausoleum, everything suddenly seemed so pointless. Power only took one so far before someone younger, faster, and stronger took it away.
There was nothing honorable about the Uchiha Clan. Their history was ripe with blood and betrayal but because they were born with the ability to rip minds apart with the flicker of a glance, they were praised and worshiped. Strange, how something revered by the entire shinobi world could fall to silence in one single night by the hand of one of their own.
Maybe Itachi had seen it coming and only hastened the end. The Clan had never been kind, demanding more than one could give; succeed or die even by the hands of your own kin. There was no room for weakness in an Uchiha.
It'd taken him so long to see it.
"Are you sure you want to do this?"
Sasuke glanced at the man standing beside him, more brother than his own had ever been. There was no one else he would rather have with him just then.
Naruto shuffled his feet. "Do you, I don't know, want to say any words or anything?"
Sasuke snorted. "It's all been said. Let's just get this over with."
Pulling a small square box from his pouch, he placed it in the niche. Kneeling down, he grabbed one side of the heavy marble plate and Naruto grabbed the other. Carefully fitting it into place, Naruto held it still while he activated the seals. Steam hissed from the cracks, locking it airtight.
Stepping back, Naruto eyed the name engraved into marble, the sole remnants of the man who turned Sasuke's world upside down. Scratching the back of his head, he finally lost the battle with curiosity and turned to his friend.
"I don't get it. I thought you hated him."
"So why bury him in the family tomb?"
Shoving his hands in his pockets, Sasuke stared at the newly sealed niche. He'd actually forgotten he even still had his brother's ashes until Hinata stumbled upon the box. She'd made no specific suggestions as to what he should do with it, though he suspected she wasn't too pleased with finding a dead man's remains in their closet.
He almost chuckled at the memory. Her little nose had wrinkled in a faint show of pique and then she'd handed him the box and told him to find a better place to put the past to rest.
"He was still an Uchiha," he finally said. Perhaps too much of one.
Blue eyes turned speculative. "You've forgiven him?"
"No." Turning his back on the marble plate, Sasuke stepped back into the tunnel. "I've forgiven myself."
Casting one last glance at the niche, Naruto smiled and hurried to follow. The transition from darkness to light took a moment of adjustment, but soon they both were standing topside again. Four men stood waiting, watching them with open interest until Sasuke gave the order they'd been hired for.
Moving aside, the two shinobi looked away as the contractors began welding the steel doors shut on a history best forgotten. If Sasuke had his way, never again would anyone venture into the vault and learn the malevolent truth of the Sharingan. He would bury it under stone and dirt until time itself forgot all that lay within. They would regain the honor no one knew they'd lost and that would be the legacy people remembered of the famed Uchiha Clan.
In a little over an hour, two feet of fresh dirt was raked over the three ton cover stone, leaving nothing but a bare patch of ground in the small field. It would be sown over with wildflowers, a tribute to the innocent who had no choice in the family they were born to.
The contractors left, their job done and only speculation to feed their curiosity. They wouldn't dare return to where they were not wanted. Shinobi Clans were notorious for booby trapping their crypts.
Naruto's hand clamped on his shoulder. "So it's done?"
Tilting his head back, Sasuke stared at the puffy clouds in the afternoon sky. Had it really been two years since he'd been pinned to that tree, wavering on the brink of death, only to be pulled back by the memory of lavender eyes?
Itachi had insisted he would never be free of him but he was wrong. He'd learned something that day, something priceless, and somewhere in the darkest part of his soul, he thanked Itachi for opening his eyes. For that, and to put his own ghosts to rest, he gave his brother the burial first meant for him. He'd been his aniki after all, and that was the man he chose to remember.
Meeting Naruto's inquisitive gaze, he smiled. "I'm okay."
Naruto grinned and thumped him on the back. "Let's go, ne?"
Without a backward glance, they left the circle of trees and strode through the Uchiha district towards the Main House. The original had been torn down, along with a number of other buildings falling into disrepair. One almost felt like they were strolling through the countryside when they were in fact in the middle of Konohagakure. It was like a curse had finally been lifted for one could not help but feel the peace and contentment saturating the area.
"You have the kids tonight," Sasuke said and Naruto scowled.
"Again? One I can handle, but the two together?"
"Sakura won't be home?"
"Obaa-chan has a bunch of last minute administrative stuff she wanted to go over with her before leaving for Suna."
"Not too much. It'll be weird sitting in that office when nothing's official yet, but Obaa-chan thinks it'll be good training for me for when she steps down."
Naruto scratched the back of his head and sighed. "Didn't you guys go out just a few days ago?"
"If you're going to whine about it, you never should've made the bet in the first place."
"I really don't think this one should count. Sakura got pregnant first."
"You said whoever had a kid first, that implies birth, not conception."
Naruto scowled. "I still don't think it's fair. Hinata went early."
Sasuke grimaced. He still had nightmares about that.
She frequently missed her monthly because of the trauma she'd experienced only four months before. It wasn't until the bouts of nausea hit that he took her to the hospital, thinking she had contracted some kind of sickness, or worse, been poisoned behind his back again.
The test had been run three times to be sure and Hinata fainted in his arms when she heard the results. None of them had truly expected her to get pregnant, especially so soon. It was the most stressful time of his life. He refused all missions that kept him away longer than a day and hovered enough to put Neji's over-protectiveness to shame. More often than not, Nanami had to shoo him away with a snapping towel for both his sanity and Hinata's.
He nearly died when she went into labor an entire month before her due date. Naruto almost punched him out to keep him from storming the delivery room. Knowing she was in pain, fighting for her life and that of their child's and there was nothing he could do was the worst thing he'd ever experienced.
The baby had been so tiny and…prune-ish. To be honest, it was one of the ugliest and most beautiful things he'd ever seen. Apparently some miracles were red and wrinkled and squawked like chickens. Hikari's pinky was barely as long as his fingernail and staring at her in the incubator with tubes attached to her little body, acute fear took his breath away. He'd almost lost her before he even had her and there were so many ways he still could. How was he to protect this little person from the entire world?
Two weeks later, Sakura gave birth to a bouncing, blue-eyed, strawberry blonde boy and he had one more thing to worry about if the kid proved to be anything like his father. The thought of possibly mixing his bloodline with Naruto's in the future still gave him indigestion. Takeshi was already inordinately attached to his daughter and had mastered Sakura's glare of death by the time he could crawl.
Still, that didn't prevent Sasuke from taking advantage of the bet. One year's worth of no-strings-attached baby-sitting was nothing to sneer at when he had to vie with a cute little kid for Hinata's attention.
"So where are you two going?" Naruto asked.
"That new travelling troop boasts some skilled musicians."
"Hinata will like that," Naruto agreed. She'd become especially fond of music and storytellers given her lack of sight. One could hardly enjoy an acrobatic display when it appeared to be nothing more than a mass of glowing dots flitting back and forth.
There had been no repercussions to her version of recovered sight. The use of chakra was as negligible as maintaining a stage three Sharingan for a true Uchiha. Practice had enabled her to sharpen her focus enough that she could sometimes see behind her, something that came rather useful with actively curious children underfoot.
The fragrance of lilacs washed over them on the breeze as they passed one of the larger bushes and Naruto stared at the flowers thoughtfully.
"Say, did you ever find out what Hinata's favorite flower is?"
Sasuke smirked. "Hn."
Azure eyes turned to him. "And?"
"All of them."
Naruto snorted and shook his head. "How you ended up with the easy one, I'll never know."
"Sakura giving you problems again?"
The blonde scowled. "She's put me on some kind of a tofu protein diet. Says it'll make up for the ramen I can't eat."
Sasuke chuckled. The expression on Naruto's face the first time Hinata threw up on him had been utterly priceless, but it wasn't nearly as entertaining as when he found out it was actually the smell of the ramen he'd had for lunch that made her pregnant stomach heave. To this day Sasuke was still convinced the man was happier than them when she finally gave birth and he could start eating his favorite food again…at least for a little while.
Besides, it wasn't like Naruto was the only one to make sacrifices. The mere sight of tomatoes made her queasy too.
"I don't mind giving it up for a while, for Hinata-chan," Naruto amended at his incredulous glance, "but at least give me something that doesn't taste like soggy cardboard to replace it with."
"At least Sakura didn't mind the smell."
"Man, I don't know what I'd do if that happened."
"Start wondering who the real father is, I'd imagine." He ducked under Naruto's swing and sprinted ahead, smirking at the obscenities thrown at his back. Through the whole length of the district he dived and ducked, always staying one step ahead to the blonde's increasing frustration until the gates of his home came into sight.
Suddenly halting his steps, he watched Naruto slide right past him, arms flailing.
"Oi, you just wait until I tell Sakura-chan what you said!"
"I can always tell her about the bet."
Naruto snorted. "As if you'd want Hinata to find out."
He shrugged, striding into the compound. "She seems to be enjoying the together time you've been giving us."
Naruto muttered something unsavory under his breath as he followed him to the central courtyard. Who knew a bet made in jest would pay off so well?
The soothing mix of herbs and lavender drifted to them before they even stepped out on the porch. Hinata's garden hadn't taken over the grassy space like he'd half expected it to, mostly because he'd built her a large greenhouse on a nearby lot. She still kept some of the essentials in the courtyard, though, so she could work while watching the little one. If she was ever anywhere to be found in the house, it was here.
She and Sakura sat chatting companionably, a tray of tea and cookies between them. Hinata at least knew they were there but didn't look up until a loud squeal erupted from the pudgy little girl at her feet.
Little hands reached up, opening and closing. "Tou-tou!"
Chuckling at her attempt to say father, Sasuke picked her up and set her on his hip. She immediately latched onto his hair and stuffed the collar of his shirt in her mouth. The strawberry-blonde at his feet glowered at him and he glared right back until Naruto scooped him up and plopped him on his shoulder.
"You being good, Takeshi?"
The boy secured his hands in Naruto's blonde mop and continued to glare at the man who'd taken his playmate away. If that one proved to have even half of his father's determination, Sasuke knew he was going to have his hands full when Hikari blossomed.
Looking down at the little dark head resting on his shoulder, he smiled and she smiled back around her mouthful of clothe. Releasing the soggy mass, she reached up and patted his cheek, wide amethyst eyes swallowing her elfin face.
It was impossible to tell if she inherited the Byakugan or the Sharingan, or even an amalgamation of the two. There was no rush to know. It wasn't her abilities he adored and he'd promised himself when he first found out Hinata was pregnant that he wouldn't measure his children by what they could or couldn't do. Only will and determination mattered and Hikari had that in spades. She was a survivor, just like her mother.
From birth she simply just wanted to be and he would let her. Besides, with the way Takeshi continued to bore holes into his head, it was unlikely she would ever have to fight her own battles.
"Naruto offered to watch Hikari tonight."
Hinata's face brightened, immediately forestalling all grumbling from the blonde.
"Oh, Naruto-kun, that's very kind of you."
Naruto blushed and glanced away. "It's no problem." Bouncing his shoulder, Takeshi halted his glaring long enough to giggle. "The kids like spending time together. Besides, you'll have them next wee—."
Sasuke kicked him sharply in the shin and Naruto swore, slapping a hand over his mouth a half second too late. Sakura glared at him and then shook her head as he grinned sheepishly. She'd been plenty explicit about what would happen to him if Takeshi inherited his mouth.
"Next week?" Hinata asked, standing from the step.
"Nice going, dobe," Sasuke hissed out of the side of his mouth.
With a sigh, Sakura stood and stretched. "I guess we better go. Thanks for the tea, Hinata."
"Oh, you're welcome."
"Bye Sasuke, Hikari."
Sasuke nodded and the little girl in his arms twisted to watch over his shoulder as her friend was carried away.
"Do you want some tea?"
Looking down at his wife, Sasuke nodded. She sunk back down to the porch and poured him a cup while he seated himself next to her and situated Hikari in his lap.
"Did everything go well?" she asked, handing him the cup.
He quickly lifted it out of the reach of tiny hands and took a sip. "Hn."
She didn't ask for details, knowing that whatever he and Naruto had done was more than personal. There weren't many secrets between them now, but those that remained, Sasuke would take to his grave if only to protect her and Hikari.
"So what is this about next week?"
Sasuke winced and downed the rest of his tea in one gulp. "I was going to tell you tomorrow."
"Is it that bad?"
With a sigh, Sasuke deposited Hikari on the grass and gave her a cookie before the waterworks could start.
"It's just a mission. Nothing I haven't done before."
"With your team?"
Her stiff posture relaxed. Team Kakashi worked like a well-oiled machine, perfect in fluidity and efficiency. Their risk of injury was high due to the ranking of missions assigned to them, but their success rate was unrivaled, thanks in part to Sakura's medical prowess. It was the best any shinobi could ask for.
"When do you leave?"
She fiddled with the edge of her shirt. "How long will you be gone?"
Her fingers stilled. "A w-week?"
With a sigh, he slid the tea tray back. "Come here."
She shifted towards him and he pulled her into his lap. This was why he didn't want to talk about it tonight. Now she would be all worried and unable to enjoy the evening he'd planned.
Tucking his nose into her hair, he breathed her scent to settle his own insecurities before attempting to sooth hers.
"I've already asked Neji if he'll be around. He and Tenten are willing to stay here if you want, or they can just stop in every day and give you a break from the kids."
She plucked listlessly at his sleeve. She'd never wanted to be one of those wives who worried endlessly every time their husband was away, and she had become accustomed to his increasing number of missions though none of them ever kept him away so long. He didn't like the extended separation anymore than she did. It was just that…so many things could go wrong in a week.
"Hinata." He tugged on her hair, but she only buried her face in his shoulder, just wanting to be as close to him as possible.
Sighing softly, he kissed the nape of her neck. "None of us would be going if this wasn't a vital mission." Both Naruto and Sakura would be leaving their son behind, but they'd all agreed protecting the future of their children was worth the sacrifice. Team Kakashi was only ever called upon when no one else could get the job done.
His hand slipped down to caress the swell of her stomach that could be felt but not yet seen. One had been a miracle, but two? And so close together? Sakura assured him Hinata's body had fully recovered from Hikari's birth and while there was a possibility this one could be born premature as well, if it had an ounce of the willpower overflowing in its parents, its survival was assured. For this little life and all the ones that came after it, he'd accepted this mission without hesitation.
The world looked different through the eyes of fatherhood; every corner was too sharp, every floor too hard, every piece of food too big. How he was going to survive Hikari's enrollment in the Academy without turning as gray as Kakashi, he didn't know. But at least, for his part, he could make the world a little safer for them.
Hinata's petite hand covered his and she looked up. He brushed a soft kiss against her lips and she tangled her fingers in his hair, pulling him back for more. They seldom needed words between them anymore. Their action and touches said it all.
What if you don't come back?
I will always come back.
But what if you don't?
Sasuke crushed her against him with a growl, but his hand remained gentle on her belly.
She whimpered and softened in his arms, choosing faith over fear. He had defied death more than once to come back to her and, stubborn man that he was, he would do it again.
Something grabbed hold of his pants and pulled, penetrating the hunger Hinata never ceased to stir in him and Sasuke reluctantly pulled away to look at the little person trying to climb up his leg. With two fistfuls of clothe, Hikari dragged herself up onto wobbly legs and grinned happily at them.
"She been doing that a lot?" he asked.
Hinata smiled. "Yes."
"Remind me to baby-proof the house before I leave." The last thing he needed was for her to get into his kunai.
Hinata giggled and reached for their daughter. "Come on, Hikari. Let's get you a bath so you'll be all pretty for Takeshi-kun."
Hikari squealed and clapped her hands excitedly.
Pulling a knee up to his chest, Sasuke draped his arm over it and watched Hinata bounce the babe up and down.
This was never the future he imagined for himself when he first set out on the path of revenge, but somewhere along the broken road, a light flickered in the darkness. He couldn't help but turn his steps to follow and before he knew it, that light was all he could see, all he ever wanted to see.
"Could it be, little brother, you have found something else to live for?"
Hinata looked back at him and smiled. "Are you coming, Sasuke?"
Picking up the forgotten tea tray, he strode across the grass and slipped his arm around her waist, fingers brushing against a tiny foot.
Yes, I have.
Aniki- older brother/big brother
I want to thank everyone for their fabulous reviews and support throughout the posting of this story. It truly did become more epic than I anticipated. Also huggles to all my chibi shy shadow readers that always enjoy my work regardless of where you are hiding.
I have no current plans for another story so please continue to enjoy the ones I have already posted until the muse strikes me again.