Road to Redemption
by Ave Jane

I do not own, in part or as a whole, Naruto. All standard disclaimers apply.


Part Twelve: Salvation


Wedding finery suited Sakura. She was a beautiful bride. She was also so in love with her groom that she glowed on their wedding day with a vibrant aura. Her emerald eyes were clouded with tears as she gazed at her bridegroom's handsome face.

He was so striking in his black ceremonial robes that Sakura's breath had hitched when her eyes first beheld him. Tall, strong, and gentle he was. She had long ago realized that he was her knight in shining armor. His actions over the years had proven that beyond a doubt.

She smiled as she stroked his cheek.

She had been so blind. It had taken a coma to wake her up. He annoyed her to no end because that was how he made her move past her sorrow. He stood there and pretended to listen to her ranting because she needed someone there. He never said 'I love you' and tried to eat her charcoaled ramen because that was how he showed her he cared.

It was his unorthodox ways that made her love him in a way she never thought possible. His appearance in her life had been so sudden that she hadn't even realized that he had become the most important thing to her until this very moment.

And that is why should could not marry him. She loved him too much to sentence him to a life of repentance. He loved her yes, but he was giving her his life in atonement for the promises he thought he'd broken. She could not let him do that.

He had killed her first love, who he had vowed to return to her. He had failed and his honor made him repent by working everyday to replace the love he had considered absent at his expense. What he did not realize was that Sakura knew Sasuke had chosen his own path. She had known that the night he left the Village all those years ago. Just as she had known that the night the Last Uchiha had nearly killed her.

Naruto was willing to live the rest of his life undoing the wrongs of the past and he didn't even know it. She loved him even more for that and that is why she had sought him out an hour before their wedding.

Standing there staring up at his slightly stunned expression and hooded cobalt eyes, she was nearly overcome with the temptation to keep him. It was the same temptation that had wrapped around her heart when she had left that sake house with him in tow up until this very moment. She would not crumble now. This was her gift to him for being selfless enough to give her a taste of the happiness that fate had denied her.

"Naruto-Kun…"

"Sakura-chan, you're crying," he told her while wiping away the streams of tears running down her face.

She smiled sadly, "I guess I am."

"Why?"

She gazed at him, memorizing his features. This memory of his caring face would be her sole comfort in the lonely years to come.

"Because I am letting you go."


I need you to be happy. You will never be happy with me.

Naruto did not understand. Sakura's rejection left him with emotional turmoil and bitter confusion. He was scalded by her sudden change of heart. He had sacrificed so much for her and she had refused it.

He knew that he could not stay angry with her. She did not know of his pact. How could she? It was a childish thing he had done inside his head as he sat beside her sick bed. He had reported to her hospital room directly after his release. The pink haired woman had come to represent home to him. But sitting in the dim light of his fiancé's room, he thought of nothing but silver eyes and dark hair, agonizing over how he could set things right.

He had succumbed to his desires and betrayed both women in an unspeakable way. Hinata, perhaps more than her counterpart, since he only offer her nothing but one night. How could he do anything more for the dark haired woman when he had already pledged himself to Sakura? He had been a selfish fool whose weakness had exploited the vulnerability of a good woman in her time of need. The woman he had blindly come to love. So, he made a pact with the Almighty. If He spared Hinata from the negative repercussions of his moronic actions, then Naruto would devote his life to Sakura and never allow his shadow to fall cross the beautiful Hyuuga ever again.

She would never have to face him again, not after that night.

Argh, that night! He couldn't stop thinking about it, about her. Hinata had been a constant fixture in his mind. He had found himself thinking about her every second of everyday. At first he had assumed it was his own vulgarity that had him pining after her constantly, but the more he thought about her the more he realized Hinata had been a strong specter in his mind even before that night.

She had always been an enigma to him. A precious person he could not figure out. As a child he had dubbed her mystery as mere weirdness. With that done he had put her out of his mind, until his return after Baa-chan's death. He still remembered the first time he laid eyes on her with the baby on her hip. The image had reminded him of a mission long ago when he'd blurted out the she would one day make someone a wonderful wife.

She wasn't made for a shinobi's life, a life of blood and death. She was made for life, to create it, to nurture it, to love it. Hinata was made to love. She was everything love should be for love was kind and never cruel, forgiving never condemning, neither proud nor jealous or deceitful, only all encompassing acceptance. Loving Hinata was something Naruto had never experienced before, and he was afraid he was not worthy of experiencing it ever again. She was everything he had ever wanted, and everything he could never have. So that was why he had to stay away from her. Or so he told himself.

No matter, because the moment Sakura had released him from his promise, as Sakura so kindly put it, his wayward feet wandered right to her door. The pink haired medic had oh so slyly mentioned the ex-Hyuuga heiress's address before pressing a teary goodbye kiss to his stunned mouth. She had walked away then. He had not felt his heart break as he had expected. Instead, he had been engulfed by a tangle for indescribable emotion that threatened to topple him to his knees. He did not even have time to analyze the swell of emotion before they spiraled into the void that had plagued him since he left a sleeping Hinata in the early morning light. The void that was slowing swallowing everything left inside him.

Gripping both sides of the doorway in the empty hall of a civilian apartment complex two stories up, Naruto took a moment to breathe. He rested his head against the wooden barrier. He could feel her just on the other side of the door. Her calm, her patience. All the things he'd come to associate with her were steadying the rhythm of his heart as he just stood there too afraid to make himself known.

He stayed there, until the door opened.

She stood there neat and clean, in a crisp white yata. There was nothing extraordinary about her and yet she still managed to be the most amazing thing he had ever set eyes on. So he stared at her, completely content with doing nothing more.

"Naruto." Her breath was light and airy with shock.

"Hinata." He answered reflectively.

"You are supposed to be getting married." Her lovely face seemed pained. Naruto snapped out of his stupor and frowned. He had been a fool to come to her. She didn't want him here, not after what he'd done.

He felt his roughish demeanor fall into place as he planned his retreat. He was leaning away from the door as he answered her. "You know what they say, 'best laid plans' and all that…." He was ready to bolt when she spoke again.

"So … you are not… getting married?"

He turned his gaze snapped back to her, drawn by the subtle relief in her quiet voice.

"No."

"Why?"

Because Sakura thinks she isn't right for me… It was the only answer as to why he wasn't a married man right now, but he couldn't seem to voice it. Not when he was paralyzed by her eyes. She had that look again, the one that completely undid him. Her eyes were searching deep in the recesses of his soul, pleading for the answer to a question he couldn't quiet decode.

"Because I think about you all the time."

The dark haired woman reeled back at the exhausted proclamation. He hadn't meant to sound so frustrated, but he was and the release made him bold. He took a step forward.

"Because Sakura knows you did something to me."

He stalked forward as the Hinata retreated back shaking her head vehemently trying to form words to pacify his outburst. He gave her no chance.

"She knows you plague me. That being with you changed me."

He sensed the change in her rather than saw it as she stopped backing away. Something he said had struck a chord inside her and now she was angry.

"Plague you?" her voice was hushed, but her tone was intense and it was her surging forward and him falling back.

"I didn't force you. I didn't ask anything of you. I have nothing to feel guilty about," she challenged righteously.

He didn't feel guilty either and that's what caused him such grief. He didn't feel guilty at all about cheating on his once upon a time fiancée or killing his best friend. Those two facts that should be tearing him up inside, but they weren't. He should be ashamed of the fact that he had enjoyed making love to her until they were both lost in oblivion, but he wasn't. He was ashamed to say his only regret was that he could never do it again and that was wrong. It was all wrong and he couldn't take it anymore.

"You don't, I do." He was losing control of his defenses again, something that seemed to happen a lot around her. His voice was rising. "I want you. So much so that I can't bring myself to want to do the right thing anymore."

His confession stunned them both into a tense silence. For a long moment they just stood there staring at one another as his words and their implications sunk into both their understandings. The tension was broken by a distant sound. A sound that attracted Naruto's dulled senses and made Hinata's silvery eyes widen. Naruto began to move as if entranced toward the continuing interruption's source, brushing past the frozen woman on his way. Hurrying to will her sluggish body into motion, Hinata turned. Her restriction dried on her lips as Naruto pushed the slightly ajar bedroom door open and journeyed carefully within.

His attention focused on the tiny white crib in the middle of the room. He continued toward the fussy sounds emanating from the center piece. Gazing down into the crib, Naruto eyed the mewling infant that lay within.

"Why didn't you tell me, Hinata?" he whispered to the woman frozen in the doorway. His eyes were transfixed. Ten fingers. Ten toes. Head full of silky black hair.

"I couldn't…. I didn't know who….. You were getting married…" Her soft mutterings drew his stare. His cobalt eyes held hers before she looked away. A moment later her steady gaze met his and she whispered her answer.

"You were on the brink of achieving your happiness. How could I ask you to sacrifice that?"

There were tears in her eyes and her voice broke in the middle of her admission.

"I love you."

Naruto closed his eyes and gripped the rail of the crib before turning his body toward her. His face was solemn and unreadable as he faced her. He took a slow breath before opening them.

"Hinata. Have you lost your mind?"

Silent tears were running down her face. He ignored them as he steeled himself to finish. He needed to express this just right. Closing the distance between them, he stared down at the tiny woman. His voice was calm and slow.

"Hinata you and our son are my happiness."

It was then in the dying daylight amidst soft coos and gurgles that silver met cobalt and both realized that this was not an end, but a begining.

Fin


That's all there is there isn't any more. Thanks for everything, everybody!