Readers, I have no excuse—none whatsoever—and I wouldn't even dream of trying to give you one. I am terribly, terribly sorry for the long delay, but I'm happy to announce that we are at the end of Keeping the Moon now.

Lots of love to you all—enjoy the last chapter. (:

NINE;

(in the end)

"H-hi," Hinata smiled nervously, awkwardly, and laced her fingers together the way she usually did whenever she felt like running away or digging a hole and jumping into it. He would know. He had seen it countless of times before, after all—just not with him, not to him, never.

A murmur escaped his throat, "Hinata."

"Hi," she repeated, taking a tentative step forward, a little bit closer to him. Their eyes met and her cheeks flushed red, "Can… can we talk?"

"There's nothing to talk about."

His voice cut in sharp, deep, and quick, and she felt like she had just been slapped. Her face contorted in hurt and surprise, and Sasuke immediately wanted to take it back, to say sorry, to run to her and put his arms around her, but instead of doing any of those things, he stood there, completely frozen, as time ticked by. It would be too easy, it would be too easy to do just that, and he couldn't. The sting from her words was still there, burning like it was inflicted a few seconds ago, and he couldn't just forget. It was too raw, too new, too close.

"M-maybe not," she agreed softly, finally, when she had finally regained her balance, as her gentle milky white eyes caught his, her expression hopeful, "I… I just want you to l-listen to me. J-just listen," her voice came out rushed, "Just f-f-five minutes of your time… and you can go after that," she desperately searched his face, "After that, you're… you're free, Sasuke-kun—Sasuke."

His name on her lips swayed his determination as he finally crossed his arms and arched his eyebrows, expectant.

Hinata fidgeted for a moment, wondering how to start. She had it all written down before, somewhere in her head, but standing in front of him like this, it was proving to be much harder than she thought it would be. Never in her life did she expect that he would act this cold with her, but it wasn't like she ever had the reason to—before. Now, with all she had said, with all the hurt she had caused him… it was a wonder why he didn't leave at the sight of her.

At least he was waiting—waiting for her.

Feeling a surge of newfound strength inside of her, she said, her voice coming out soft and a smoky whisper, "I'm sorry."

Sasuke just stood there, completely silent. Whatever Hinata wanted to say to him, he had actually expected this. Because if there was one thing about Hinata, it was that she apologized to everyone about everything. Even when it wasn't her fault, and sometimes, especially when it wasn't her fault. It was a bit like offering herself to be blamed, and above all, much to his chagrin and own surprise, Sasuke wanted to protect her for that.

"For what?" he asked, finally, "I thought we were done."

"S-Sakura asked me to think about you," she said softly, "a-about us."

Something snapped in him. "Oh, so Sakura asked you to think about stuff, and you do, don't you?" he asked, rather scathingly, "And when I ask you to think about… us, you just don't. Huh, isn't it funny, Hinata?"

Hinata flinched and her face turned redder, if it were possible. Sasuke was angry, and worst of all, he was angry at her. This, however, was something she should have seen coming, which was why she was going to take it all on. Because she deserved this for hurting him, for hurting them, for not trusting him while he had tried to give his all to her.

Sasuke looked away and massaged his temple, frowning, features darkening. He was not liking the way this was going, at all.

"O-on the day that we broke up," Hinata began again, her voice stronger now, "Y-you asked me if I wanted to be with y-you. I-I never did give you m-my answer, but… but it was a yes, Sasuke. It has always been, and… and it always will be. B-but I a-always also think that… that you're more suited to Sakura. Because," she paused here, "because… because what can I give to you that she can't? Because she can give you anything you want, a-anything you need, and I… I can't. I couldn't. Not then… and I don't know if I ever will. Because I think—"

"Do you know that I don't—didn'tdon't care?" Sasuke snapped, interrupting her. "I don't care what she can give to me, I don't care what you can give to me. I don't want you to give anything to me, Hinata. I never asked for, never wanted, never even needed anything from you except, except, well, you," he paused, looking frustrated, "All the stuff you told me about, Hinata—I don't see them. Because it didn't matter, and it wouldn't have mattered."

"I-I didn't know that then," she answered, her eyes wide in alarm, "I know that now, and I… I have been so selfish, I didn't look at what you… I didn't understand that you…" she trailed off, looking more than confused, but then shook her head, "I'm just… I-I'm sorry. I just… I want you to have the best you can have."

"But I wanted you," he rasped, "I wanted you, Hinata, only you. Do you know," he began, reaching out, fingers around her wrist in a tight grip, "where I would be right now if it weren't for you?"

She shook her head, completely numb.

"I wouldn't be here," he said truthfully, "I wouldn't be here. I'd be dead."

"D-don't say that!" she gasped.

"No, it's true," it was his turn to shake his head right now, a bitter chuckle escaping from his lips, "I would be dead. Six feet under. Up there. Whatever the euphemism, Hinata, I wouldn't exist anymore. Do you know what I wanted to do the day Sakura left?"

She shook her head again. "D-did you want to-to—?" she choked, unable to say the last bit of her sentence.

"Die?" he finished it for her, "No. Something like that, though. Just not dying. I'll be away from here, at least, and God knows what would happen to me then," he laughed a deep, throaty, sarcastic laughter here, "I've always been reckless. I didn't have a care for the world. For school. For people around me."

"T-this is what I mean, Sasuke," Hinata swallowed, "Sakura is a big part of your life, and-and when she left..."

"She is," Sasuke agreed, ignoring the way she winced under his gaze, "I would never lie to you, Hinata. You know she is. Just like how… how Naruto would always have a special place in you, putting it simply," his eyes softened, "She was my best friend, Hinata. I'd give my life for hers."

"I know," she said, "which was why I… I thought she'd understand you better than I did."

"But," he ignored that part as his grip tightened around her dainty wrist, "But I'd give my life for you, too. A thousand times over. Did you know that?"

Hinata blushed red and looked away, whispering, "Yes."

"She will always be a part of me, Hinata," he said, his voice deep, "And if you can't trust me—"

"I do," the girl cut in quickly, "I do, I do trust you, Sasuke. Perhaps I—perhaps… the one I wasn't able to trust is myself."

As soon as the words escaped her lips, Hinata froze, knowing full well the truth of her statement. The one she didn't trust was herself. She was the only thing standing in the way of happiness and herself. Ironic, how that happened—she would never have thought in her life that her biggest enemy would be herself, after all. It was always the world against her, or that big-boned bully against her, or someone else, but never herself.

And in this, she discovered, it was her against her.

Sasuke had been patient enough to wait for her to realize it during the length of their relationship. Sakura had been kind enough to push her in that direction. And now, all she had to do was… to reach out. To make peace with herself. To trust that she was enough. To love herself for what she was and what she wasn't, for who she was and who she wasn't. All this time, it was the only thing missing. The people she loved loved her—she was the only one not loving herself. She didn't even know that mattered, but it did, very much so, because it seemed to be causing everyone around her to hurt.

Hinata would never be like Sakura, for they were two different people. She might always be the quiet, calm girl who watched everyone and made sure they were safe. She might always be a little bit too nice to the wrong people, a little bit too gullible for someone her age, a little bit too insecure for a Hyuuga. She might not be as charming as Sakura, as brave as Tenten, as pretty as Ino, but that didn't matter.

None of those mattered at all—because she was Hinata, and she would always be Hinata. But even that didn't matter—because no one else, no one else, no one else, was better than her at being herself. If she let nothing come in between, this was a battle she would win, and perhaps—perhaps this was her chance at happiness.

"Hinata?"

"I-I had a revelation," she confessed, coming back to earth in a matter of split seconds. She blushed deeply at her statement, but tried to smile, "S-Sasuke-kun… I know now."

He frowned, "Know what?"

"I know that I'm alright now," she said, softly but surely, "I know that… that I trust you. And that I trust myself. Right now. I also know that… that I… I love you, Sasuke-kun."

His eyes widened only slightly at her last statement and his grip slackened.

She smiled shyly and reached for his hands with hers. Once upon a time this wouldn't be possible, for she was Hinata and she didn't trust herself and she let other people make decisions for her, for better or for worse. Now… now, she understood that it had to come from her. He had done enough, more than enough, up to this point, and this… this starting point, this new beginning, it had to come from her. She had to be the one. She had to.

What they had was too precious for her to just let go. Let nothing come in between, she thought, let nothing come in between. This was a decision she made, and this was solely hers. If he shot her down, then it would hurt, but at least it would mean something. At least she took all the chance she was given. At least she knew the outcome, instead of guessing herself to death. At least she tried, rather than giving up before she even started.

Besides, she really loved him.

So she closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and left her future in the hands of someone who loved her despite herself, "Let's start over."

I just wish—

That it wouldn't rain tomorrow so we can go on that ride Sasuke-kun has been wanting to since last week.

That I can finish this assignment by tonight so I can go tomorrow.

That Spring will come soon. I miss the warmth.

That Ino can pass her singing audition, because she wants it so badly, and she deserves it.

That Sakura can be our next varsity basketball captain, because we really do need someone, uh, better. And nicer. Someone who doesn't do dirty tricks and who isn't afraid to sacrifice a little more of her time. Not naming any names!

That Tenten will soon realize how much Neji-niisan likes her.

Or that Neji-niisan can finally gather up the courage to tell her that.

That Otousan wouldn't embarrass Sasuke-kun during dinner like last time! Seriously, having him eat all that food until he felt sick…

That Hanabi will grow up to be a strong and beautiful girl.

That… uh…

That even if there is trouble, we can learn to be thankful of what we have.

That in the end, eventually, we will all be happy.

Love, Hinata thought, several months after, was never meant to be easy.

Love was never meant to be easy. It was no walk in the park. It was never only butterflies and rainbows and sunshine and every other pretty thing in this whole wide world. It was never meant to be heart fluttering, knees buckling, stars in the eyes whenever there was a kiss. Sure, it included all of those things, but it was never just that. It was a lot more, she figured out. It was accepting someone despite his or her flaws, understanding someone who understood you better than yourself, and learning to love each other as much as yourself. In reality, it was many different things. Giving a piece of yourself to someone and risking it be broken. Feeling as if you might die without them. Missing someone so much it actually really, really hurt your heart. When you would try your hardest to make him smile. When you would trade her everything if he crumbled in front of you. When he meant the world, and all you could see was him, and all you could think was him, and all you could hear was him, and everything else.

Love was all those corny definitions in the dictionary, those love quotes you spent many nights reading, those poems you recited, those lyrics you sang wishing someone would hear you. Love was all that, and a lot more. Love was boundless, limitless, a little like the sea, and although she had given up on putting her finger on it right now—she was no philosopher, after all—she would never stop trying.

Because love was a glorious feeling, and today would be a glorious day.

Each and every single one, night and day, rain or shine—no matter what, they would all be glorious.

After all, it's a new beginning.

the end

And there we have it. The end of everything. Between you and me, it has been a wonderful (long, but with lots of pauses) experience to write this, and I must say, I couldn't have done it without all the support. So thank you. Thank you so much for all the support, all the reviews, PMs, alerts, favorites, and most especially thank you so much for putting up with a writer like me.

Since we're at the end of it—I'd love to know who's still here, so if you can, and if you have a little bit of time to spare, please do leave a little review.

Thank you again—see you someday! (: