Thank you for all
who stuck with me
and supported me
and loved me with all the
fierceness and ability
that you did.
I cherish you all so much,
but now things are changing,
and it's not sad.
It's a new beginning.
You all taught me so much.
Thank you, from the bottom
of my heart.
I'll say good bye with a smile,
because we had so much happiness!
xoxo, forever and always,
Naruto never got his final wish.
Pneumonia when she was seventy-six. How he ever made it through the last four years without her was something he could not vouch for – he must have been sleep walking through at least half of it, he knew that much.
He had stayed in the house despite his daughter's insistence. He had listened to her, and he knew that he should, but he couldn't.
No. He couldn't leave it.
"Her flowers, Hana-chan…who will take care of them?" He'd asked Hana softly on the porch. She was badgering him to go; it was too big. He shouldn't be staying somewhere so large. He was becoming so good at lying to his daughter – it had taken years of persistent practice, but he was an actual expert by now. Her flowers were only part of it.
He would not speak of the long walks through the empty hallways, the trail of his hands on the wood of the walls. The beams of the house he had raised two children in with her. The garden, the kitchen, the feeling of her there with him in the cool shade of hot days and the warm sun through the screens, the little clock on the window sill that had seen a decade and more and kept ticking.
Their last moments replaying over and over in a lazy loop.
"Naruto-kun…can you open the window?"
Her voice was so soft, but softer than it always had been. Weak. The last few weeks had been the most difficult. He waited on her with pleasure, but she grew more and more distant, staring out the window or sleeping, woken in fits of coughing that left her gasping for air. She smiled less, until that morning. She had seemed so peaceful with her request he couldn't have denied her.
He'd risen from his place by her bedside, stroking her hand to see her smile at him faintly, and her fingers twitching for a moment to grasp his.
"I want to see the sun."
He smiled back, worry tainting it.
Her hand gently pulled from his own and he moved to the window, opening the curtains to let the sun stream in onto their bedroom, creeping onto the bedspread. He knew, before he turned around.
"Arigatou, Naruto-kun…the sun feels so wonderful…"
It was a simple thank you. So, why was his breath caught in his shallow lungs?
He whipped around, but it was too late. Her eyes were closed, gently against the curve of her cheeks, her silver hair wisped over the pillows, gently coming out of its long braid. She smiled in her sleep. A staggering step shuddered up under Naruto's feet as he went forward, stumbling to the bed.
He was already sinking into the mattress, grabbing her arm. He could barely make the words come out, trapped in his mouth. The sun brought bright columns of dust with it, swirling. Her hand was folded onto her abdomen, on the quilt, snowy and delicate and traced by light-blue veins. Light piqued off of the wedding photo and the graduation portraits, off the framed letter from Tsunade (the last she'd ever send, wishing Naruto her best), off the bookcase and the slippers at the bedside. It glinted on amethyst hair pins halfway out of a wooden jewelry box, it soaked into the robes hanging out of the closet. The breeze ruffled the curtains, rippling the light over her face for a moment before settling.
Naruto felt his fingers sliding to her hands, holding them.
There was no response except the quiet. Surrounding quiet, enfolding him.
"…Arigatou, Naruto-kun…the sun feels so wonderful…"
Her breathless voice – a tear hit the back of his hand. He stared at her face, the gentle curve of her eyelash against her cheek. Another hot trail landed on the coverlet. His mouth was trembling as he felt the heaviness of her fingers in his own; he rubbed them, trying to keep the warmth for as long as possible before she became cold. He felt a laugh bubble to him, but the sound broke out oddly, like a cry.
"You didn't grant my wish, Hina. Don't you remember?" He asked her, still holding her hand firmly, "I wished to never have to go…to go without you…"
The silence consumed him. She wouldn't ever answer him, though he could easily imagine her reply. So calm, so steady. He bowed his head in shame, the tears coming faster. He would be grateful later that he was the one who beheld the precious moments of his wife's death – that he would be the one to hold her close.
"I am a shameless man…I am a selfish man." He whispered, "I gave you happiness, though, didn't I? We did well…we…we…we had a lot of happiness!"
His smile broke through his tears, wavering. He kissed her palm and pressed his cheek into the shallow dip of her knuckles.
"We will walk in the sun, again, so please wait patiently."
He had told her this in confidence, and so he could no leave her. Not yet, not until he was ready.
When he was, he was aware of himself only for a moment and then, like paper slipping from fingers in the wind, he was beyond himself. He felt completed, like he had reached the finish line after a lifetime of running.
It was nothing like he'd imagined it to be – death. It was like he had woken up from a deep sleep, or a dream. A wonderful dream. The place he was in was warm, and the leaves of trees above him shivered and shimmered with a breeze. It was green and bright and pleasant.
"Naruto-kun?" He looked up and she was standing two steps ahead of him. She smiled, her head tilting.
"Were you daydreaming? We have to go…but it's only a little further. Everyone's waiting!" She looked over her shoulder and he couldn't see her, but she waved to someone behind her.
"Everyone's waiting…?" His heart was swelling with joy and a nervous anticipation. Who? Who was waiting?
She blinked at him, and then her face gentled.
"They've waited for a long time Naruto-kun. We've all waited for a very long time, and we are so happy you're finally here, so we can all be together with you."
His head bowed. What if he was not what they…expected?
Her young hands, smooth and very young, like white, precious, ivory, came to either side of his warm, healthy, cheeks. She lifted his face to her, beaming, overcome by what appeared to be pride and so much love it was nearly palpable in the air.
"You are so beloved, my precious, wonderful, Naruto-kun." She whispered to him fervently, "You are so fiercely loved – you have nothing to fear. Nothing at all."
He hesitated, watching her hands retreat to hang before him in an offertory fashion. His eyes slid up her form. She was wearing a yukata and so was he, and the breeze was so inviting and there was something just ahead, he could barely see. She let her hands fall and came to him again, lifting his fingers into her own, pulling upwards. Her eyes shone with understanding.
"I'll be right by your side."
Their palms pressed together, fingers entwining. His worry shed from him and he took a step with her, in time. On the hill he could see the crowd, and all at once, he lifted his hand to wave at them, tears already falling.
The sun blinked over the horizon, warm and hot, full of promise, full of love, and full of hope.
Saying goodbye doesn't mean anything. It's the time we spent together that matters, not how we left it.