Hey guys. Well, here we are – the final chapter. I can't believe this fic is coming to an end – after so many months of work, and the weeks of posting, it's over. And I can't thank you all enough for every review, favorite, alert...each one, each email notification, made me smile and really wonder at how many people this fic has connected me to, from all over the world – it truly is mind-boggling. There have been those of you who have followed this fic diligently since first reading the prologue, and some who caught on late in the game but still became one of my regular readers. It still amazes me how many hits and reviews this fic is up to, and those numbers will still continue to grow after this final chapter is finished. So, I just wanted to take a moment to thank you all, especially those who reviewed often and stuck with me, encouraging me, and making me smile. This is all for you guys – so, I hope you'll enjoy this final piece in this long, totally awesome puzzle :)

Now, a shout out for an anonymous reviewer: Thank you! I'm glad you liked it. SasuHina is my second favorite pairing – hopefully I'll be able to do some soon. I actually have a oneshot planned for that pairing, so hopefully you'll enjoy it once I get it finished :) Thanks for taking time to read and review!

Here is one for miaanb: Thank you! ^_^

And, for sayuri: Aw, I'm glad it made you smile! I loved writing Itachi being so romantic ^_^ While I did incorporate some darker themes, I did try to balance it out with the lighter humor – I think it would have been a very different story if I hadn't! And you're very welcome – it's been my pleasure to write, and very rewarding hearing back from everyone! ^_^

Now, for You-Know-Who: Aw, thank you! It always makes me smile to hear someone has enjoyed this fic ^_^ And because neither has really had anything positive happen to them, I thought giving Sasuke and Itachi some happy endings was the least I could do for them. I'm honored you think so highly of my writing – thank you!

So, I gave this fic about a week to gather up a few more anons and guests, and from now on I will not be updating this page to reply to them. I will still reply to those with accounts whom I can message, but if you review as an anon or guest, I won't keep adding to this page to reply – it would get really long, and be a bit of a pain to keep up with. But please know that I read each and every single review, and each one means the world to me. So don't let that discourage you!

Sorry for the long speech – but now I'll let you get on with it XD

~BlackRoseDragon13

*Disclaimer* I do not own, nor claim to own, any aspect of Naruto in any way, shape, or form. This is merely a fan work, and I receive no profit.

Chapter Nineteen

By the late afternoon, Hinata was granted leave from the hospital in Suna, though she never actually left. She refused to do so until she was granted access to her lover's room. The attending medical staff was adamant that no one but the Hokage, Kazekage, or permitted personnel were allowed inside, however, denying her access. She pleaded, giving them every reason she could think of, but they wouldn't budge.

"I'm sorry, Hinata san, but...this is a highly confidential matter," the lead medic told her somberly after nearly an hour of discussing it. "I just can't let you go."

Fighting back frustrated tears, she nodded sharply, turning on her heel and leaving the building.

The summer sun was terribly intense in the Wind Country's Hidden Village, and she leaned against the hospital where a bit of shade allowed her some respite. Biting her lip she sighed, sinking to the ground. The conflicts between Itachi's shinobi life and personal life were tearing her apart. Knees up to her chest, she folded her arms across them, burying her face into her jacket and sobbing quietly.

"Hinata san, I presume?"

Sniffling and wiping at her face, Hinata looked up to see a face she didn't really recognize. "Um...y-yes?"

The man, who looked about her age, offered a pale hand, pulling her to her feet as she accepted. "Are you all right?"

Doing her best to regain her composure, the girl replied, "I...I will be. I'm just...having some t-trouble with the, um...hospital."

Folding his arms across his chest, the redhead declined his head slightly. "I see. Perhaps I can help you with that. Follow me."

Bewildered, Hinata followed the boy back inside, curious as to who exactly he was.

Looking up, the receptionist behind the desk within allowed her eyes to widen. "Oh! S-sir! Can, can I help you?"

"I wish to visit the classified patients on the top floor," the man's gravelly voice replied. "And I am taking a guest."

"Oh, but..."

"She has my permission."

Hinata tilted her head, standing behind the man as he spoke with the young woman before him.

"Hai, Kazekage sama."

Turning from the desk, Gaara looked over at Hinata, whose own eyes had widened. "I believe this is what you wanted, Hinata san?"

Shocked at the Kazekage granting her such a request, she replied, "Oh, um...y-yes...I'm coming."

The walk up the stairs was terribly awkward. Hinata had never really met the Kazekage before, and felt completely embarrassed that she hadn't recognized him. He didn't seem to mind, however, maintaining a professional air and stoic expression. Once they breached the top floor, he murmured, "I apologize for any inconvenience, Hinata san. I have been informed of your connections to all three officers, and regret that you were kept from them. You have every right to make sure they are well."

Bowing, Hinata replied, "Oh, it's n-no problem. I know how, um, sensitive this situation is. But thank you s-so much for your help. And...for the note you sent me. I..."

"I will let Itachi san explain the note," the redhead cut in gently. "It was he who requested it be sent, but it is also he who must explain its origin. Now, if you will excuse me, I have other matters to attend to. Good day, Hinata san." He bobbed his head slowly in a small bow before turning back to the stairs.

"Y-you too, Kazekage sama." Biting her lip, she waited until he had passed the corner of the stairwell to rush into the first room.

Within, Sasuke had just woken up, sitting upright and holding his head slightly. Catching the door opening, he turned and looked upon the ex-heiress with a shocked expression. "H...Hinata?"

"Sasuke kun!" Rushing forward, Hinata embraced him tightly, apologizing when he grunted in pain. "Oh, I'm s-sorry...I just...I..."

"It's all right, hime," he replied, wincing slightly. "I understand. But...what are you doing here?"

"It's, um, a b-bit of a long story. I'll tell you later, I promise. I just...wanted to make sure you're all right."

"Hn...yeah, I'm going to live. But shouldn't you be using all your mushy words and feelings for Itachi?"

Giving the boy a smile, she replied, "Just because I l-love Itachi doesn't mean I don't care about you too, Sasuke kun." Hugging him one last time, she again promised an explanation before moving on to Neji's room.

The other ex-Hyuuga wasn't as badly injured, taking her hug without complaint. But like Sasuke, the brunette was curious as to how she had known he was there. "Our mission was sealed," he murmured.

"It's c-complicated. But I'm glad you're all right, Neji kun."

Once she had reassured her cousin that all was well, she left and stood outside the last door, hand resting on the handle. Something held her back for a moment, a feeling of tension and hesitation. But her worry won out, her hand twisting the knob and letting her inside.

Itachi was lying on his back, looking straight up, and didn't look over toward the door. Taking that as a bad sign, Hinata gently shut the door and approached his bed. Biting her lip, she finally asked, "...Itachi kun?"

Sliding his eyes over to observe her, Itachi gazed at Hinata, face devoid of emotion. He looked terribly tired. "...Hinata chan."

Trembling slightly, she moved one hand to embrace his. "Hey..." she murmured, trying to give him a smile. "How...how are you feeling?"

"...alive," he replied evasively.

Pulling up a chair, Hinata took a seat beside her most precious person, stroking his hand slowly. She wasn't entirely sure what to say. Something was inside her, needing to be expressed, but...she wasn't quite sure what it was.

"So...the Kazekage did as he promised..." Itachi noted. "I wasn't sure if he would contact you or not."

"He said that...you asked him to write me," Hinata noted softly. "Why did you? I mean...it seems like he n-normally would have said no. What happened?"

For several minutes, Itachi just stared at her, eyes taking in every inch of her face. She waited patiently, knowing that whatever he had to say was gravely important. Then, he sighed, eyes closing for a moment before opening again. "I...I don't know if you know this, but...when Tsunade sama took over my healing once she and the others arrived after the fight between Sasuke and I, I was..." He paused, looking hesitant. "I was...dead."

Flinching, Hinata's eyes widened. "You...you were?"

"Yes...she managed to revive me there, but...it was quite the struggle, and keeping me alive was extremely difficult. We decided not to tell you, as it wasn't too relevant. I didn't want to worry you further. When our caravan was attacked, the three of us – Neji, Sasuke and I – did most of the fighting. The numbers were far greater than we were expecting, and we were overwhelmed. I had not slept the night before, foolishly thinking that I needed to provide watch, and my exhaustion cost me. I made a severe mistake while fighting one opponent, which allowed him to land a heavy blow. From there the battle went downhill. Sasuke became distracted at seeing me gravely injured, which in turn allowed him to take heavy damage. Neji did his best to protect us both, but by then Tsunade knew we were outnumbered and called a retreat. We lost them in a sandstorm, and were found and assisted by a Suna patrol the next morning. They helped us defeat the last of our enemies, but...we had all taken damage. They brought us in to the hospital, and did what they could." Pausing again, he then said softly, "During my healing, I succumbed to blood loss, and died again. It wasn't for as long as my first encounter with death, but it happened all the same."

Tears had escaped Hinata's eyes, listening to the pain in her lover's voice. "Oh, Itachi..."

"Twice I have died, only to be brought back. Both times my mind has cleared, and my only thoughts have been what would happen to you and Sasuke..." Itachi's gaze was distant, seeing something Hinata would never see. "Death...it strips away everything that isn't important, letting you see, in your final moments, what truly matters. Both times, I have seen your face, and my brother's. Each time, I have felt terrible guilt at the thought of leaving you alone. I...I know that my life, without you in it, is nowhere near complete. I have lost everything but my brother, and you. For nine years your face has occupied my dreams whenever nightmares of my clan have faded. I could not kill you as the village ordered, just like my brother. I love Sasuke more than anything, and you...you were the epitome of innocence...everything I sought to protect. Something about you stayed my hand, though I had not hesitated to eliminate my clan. I...I was quite enamored with you from the moment I saw you. I know now that you and my brother are all I have...and without either of you, my life...is incomplete. I need you, Hinata. I love you. And I no have nothing else to hide, or wait for." Moving his gaze back to hers, he asked quietly, "So, I need to know...if you would do me the great honor of accepting my proposal of marriage?"

She had been waiting for so long to hear those words. Her heart leapt into her throat, and she nearly screamed out yes. But instead, her lip trembled, and she murmured, "I...I can't."

Itachi didn't move, simply continuing to stare.

"Itachi, I...I l-love you. More than anything. I've held you when you were dying...and you have saved my life more than once. You and your brother t-took me in when I had lost everything, and together...we healed each other. I owe you everything, and...and I know I c-can't live without you. But...I can't keep doing this." She gestured to him. "Every time you leave, I...I imagine this. You, h-hurt, far from home...and that...that I'll n-never see you again. I can't keep doing this. If...if I'm g-going to spend the rest of my life with you, I can't spend it worrying that you're g-going to die. I...I know that every shinobi takes that risk, and that...not everyone comes home. But ANBU have it s-so much worse, with the anonymity, and...vowing to, to...destroy themselves should they be dying. I don't want to make you have to choose, but...I don't think I can be with you...if you s-stay in the corps. My heart just c-can't take it anymore." She gazed pleadingly at him. "Does...does that make sense? Do you understand?"

Their gazes were still locked, but slowly, Itachi dropped his gaze. "...I know...and I do understand. I know that my position eats at you, and I have tried to assuage your fears, but...I can see now that it is fruitless. There is a reason why so few ANBU have romantic partners, or even many family members. It is a job that allows for the ultimate sacrifice, and exposes an officer to death nearly every time they slip on their masks. So please know, Hinata, that I understand your position, and I respect your opinion, and your honesty." His mouth twitched, managing to upturn into a crooked grin. "But it is not a choice, Hinata...have I not already told you? Being an ANBU makes me proud – to serve my village, and protect it. But there was a time when I chose two young children over it...and I always will. If being with you means giving up being an ANBU...then I will give Tsunade sama my notice. There is no force on this earth that would take priority over you, Hinata. Never."

Hinata hesitated. "Itachi kun, I...I d-don't want you to give up something you care for..."

"I love being an ANBU. But I love you far, far more. I will not hesitate. If it will earn your hand, then I will denounce it a hundred times over. You mean far more to me than a shinobi position. Besides...there are many more that are not active duty. I can still protect the village without putting myself in harm's way."

"Are...are you sure?"

"Completely."

The girl released a nerve-filled sigh, letting a smile bloom across her face. "If...if that's true, then...yes. I will m-marry you, Uchiha Itachi."

Something exploded within Itachi's heart. Ignoring the pain, he sat up quickly, wrapping his arms around the little female beside him. "Oh, Hinata..." Unable to say anything else, he simply settled for holding her close.

She in turn embraced him back, breathing in his scent. Itachi... He was her everything, just as she was his. And now, they would finally prove it to the world.

.oOo.

Several days later, the group from Konoha was ready to go. Itachi was still injured, requiring a slower pace, but the Hokage was willing to do so in order to begin the return trip home.

"I thank you again, Gaara sama, for everything you have done for use these last few days," Tsunade sad reverently, bowing lightly to the redheaded boy. "It is good to see proof that our alliance is still strong."

"I agree. But there is no need for thanks, Tsunade sama," Gaara replied, allowing a small, true smile. "We were more than happy to do what we could. I wish you and your people a safe trip home. And give Naruto my regards."

"Of course."

They departed early that morning, Tsunade walking alongside her people as her carriage had been abandoned in their retreat, the sands already claiming it. But it allowed for a slightly faster pace, though still not full speed to give lenience to the injured.

Hinata remained at Itachi's side for the entire journey, constantly checking his status to make sure the traveling wasn't aggravating his injuries. He placated her each time, assuring her that he could handle moving. "Besides, I wish to get home as soon as possible. There is much to discuss."

The trip took a bit more than three days, the group making it back in the middle of the fourth morning. Tsunade disappeared to her tower immediately, muttering something about needing "one hell of a stiff drink" after the entire ordeal, dismissing her attending shinobi to report at a later time. Hinata took her fiance home, forcing him to lay down as she fixed lunch, ignoring his protests.

"You should know by now," she told him, smiling from the kitchen, "that I'm a g-gently stubborn person."

Chuckling, he replied, "Oh, I know..."

To their surprise, both Sasuke and Neji invaded their apartment only minutes after they themselves had returned home, claiming they needed to check on their captain.

"I'm fine," Itachi assured them. "However...I doubt I will be your captain for much longer."

"What?" Sasuke demanded. "What are you talking about? You didn't do anything wrong, Tsunade can't -"

"It wasn't Tsunade sama's decision," Itachi interrupted, raising a placating hand. "It was mine."

Sasuke hesitated, face confused. "But...why?"

"I have my priorities, Sasuke. Sometimes you must give up one thing to keep another. And in this case, it is a sacrifice I am most prepared to make."

Neji, who hadn't spoken, was watching Hinata. She blushed at Itachi's words, and the older ex-Hyuuga smiled. "I see," he finally said. "You both have my congratulations."

Itachi, who was expecting Neji to understand, smiled. "Thank you."

Sasuke gave the other three an incredulous look. "Wait, what? What's going -" But finally, it clicked. Shoulders slumping, he slowly relaxed his posture, smirking. "Huh...all right then. I guess you're right – some things are more important. In that case, Neji's right – congrats, aniki...hime."

With the news out in the open, Hinata relaxed. She couldn't believe it...a year after being sought out by Itachi the Missing Nin, and nine years after being spared by Itachi the Murderer, she was going to be marrying Itachi the Innocent. Before that year had passed, had anyone told her where her life would have gone, she would have thought them mad. But now, she knew that it had taken a path it needed to take. Fate had finally smiled on her, and she was ready to accept it.

The boys left the couple alone, each claiming they needed to greet their own women. Once they were alone again, Hinata and Itachi sat down to have their lunch. It was quiet, but then again, they had always liked it that way. Itachi was still muted in his movements, occasionally pausing as he winced in slight pain.

"Are...are you okay?" Hinata tilted her head slightly as she observed him, eyes softening in concern.

Giving her a reassuring smile, he replied, "I'll be all right. Nothing time can't heal."

After their meal, another messenger hawk called Itachi in for a mission report.

"Do you really need to go?" Hinata asked. "I m-mean...wasn't it pretty clear what happened?"

"Even if I didn't go for the report...I still must address my leaving the force with Tsunade sama," Itachi reminded her. "And then...we can begin to move forward." Musing, he added, "And...I must get you a ring."

"Oh, you d-don't have to -"

"No, I must. Tradition is tradition. And perhaps I can arrange for a more...proper proposal. Doing so from a hospital bed was, admittedly, quite tacky."

Giggling, she replied, "Well, at least it's memorable."

"Nonetheless, I want to make it up to you. I'll be back later...take care while I'm gone."

Itachi wasn't alone when he entered Tsunade's room. His brother, Neji, and the jounin who assisted them were all present as well. Standing by his brother, Itachi looked on as a still rather-inebriated Tsunade addressed them. "So...this little catastrophe has been fully rectified. It was confirmed by my spies in Kawa no Kuni that the rebel force as been eliminated, the few who stayed behind disbanding after our...display of force. The Kazekage has given his full support and thanks for our action, and we can leave this all behind us.

"I realize that you all sustained wounds in this battle...some more than others." She gave a pointed look at Itachi, who did nothing in recognition. "As such...you all have been granted a week pf paid vacation, so...go out and enjoy it. I know I am." Lifting her sake battle with a grin, she added, "Dismissed."

The jounin all filed out, Neji doing so a moment later. Sasuke, seeming to know what his brother was there to do, lingered.

"You can go, Sasuke. Unless you want to stay."

"Hn...I'll meet you outside. That is, if she doesn't tear you apart."

He turned to leave the room, ignoring Tsunade's questioning glance.

"Tsunade sama...first, I must ask if you are sober enough to have a rather important conversation."

Head tilted, Tsunade replied, "Hn...yeah, I'm fine. I decided to wait and do my heavy drinking after I got you all in here."

Glancing at Shizune, who nodded with sheepish grin, Itachi continued. "As you probably know by now...I have become seriously involved with Hinata."

"Heh...yeah, I know. She came all the way to Suna and passed out to make sure you were okay. Add in everything she did for you before, and well...it's pretty easy to see. What are you getting out, Uchiha? Do you need a marriage license?"

"Actually, yes...but that is not the main reason I am here."

Tsunade considered him quietly, trying to read his infamously blank face. "So you did finally ask her. All right...what is it then?"

"I wish to resign from active duty in ANBU Black Ops, and, if I may, apply for something closer to home and without the risk of being out in the field."

For a long time, Tsunade didn't move. Itachi wasn't sure if it was a good sign. He was thankful she wasn't throwing a tantrum, but neither was she agreeing with him.

"I see...Hinata couldn't take being married to a walking dead man, could she? It's true that ANBU usually have notoriously short lifespans, so I can understand." Sighing, she added, "But I'm going to be losing one hell of an officer...and I have a feeling that with you leaving for domestic reasons...I may just lose all of Me-Han to the same thing. But...that's the way it goes. Love is quite the defining factor, isn't it? Some people will do anything for it." Pouting at him, she sighed again before replying, "All right...I'll take you from active duty. I'll have to look and see what I can dig up for you to do otherwise, but...I'm sure I'll find something you can do. I'll get the necessary papers lined up, and you can come in tomorrow to make it official. Oh, and..." She winked at him, grinning. "Congratulations, Itachi. It's about time."

Offering a small return smile, he bowed and replied, "Thank you, Tsunade sama. I'll see you tomorrow, then."

Sasuke was lounging in the lobby, and looked up as Itachi came down the last flight of stairs. "So, how'd she take it?"

"She is disappointed, but understands. Tomorrow I sign the papers giving up my position. But for now...I have something else I need to do."

"And that is?" Sasuke asked, standing and falling into step beside his brother.

"Find a proper ring for Hinata."

"You didn't get her one yet?"

"My proposal was a bit...improvised," Itachi admitted with a tired grin as they stepped out into the street. "But I plan on giving it another go, and being completely prepared this time around."

"Hn...you're so traditional, aniki."

"I'll take that as a compliment. Want to come with me?"

"To find a ring for your girlfriend? No thanks. Besides, I'm not a jewelry type of guy – I'd just get in the way." Waving, he added, "Good luck. I'll see you later."

It was the middle of the afternoon by that time, and Itachi walked down Konoha's main thoroughfare with his hands in his pockets, eyeing different jewelry stores as he went. He had no idea what to look for. She liked her other pieces, and both were silver...I'll assume I should stick with that. He could see her as a more silver type woman than gold, anyway. Taking a breath, he muttered, "Here goes nothing," and stepped inside the first store.

Itachi didn't consider himself to have any sort of eye for art or craftsmanship. He gazed at the different bands with a blank look, having no idea what he was doing.

But a certain female happened to see him from the street, smiling and following him inside. "Hey, Itachi san?"

Turning, he blinked as he saw Sakura. "Oh...hello, Sakura san."

Grinning, she asked, "Looking for something?"

The Uchiha blushed lightly across the bridge of his nose, murmuring, "I...yes. I am. But I have no idea what I'm doing."

Sakura giggled. "Most guys don't. Do you want a second opinion?"

"I would greatly appreciate it."

Sakura wouldn't call herself Hinata's best friend, but as Hinata wasn't close to many females at all, she considered herself the closest girl friend she had. So, she thought over everything she knew about the girl to help Itachi make up his mind. "Well, I don't think she'd want anything flashy – she's a simple person, so nothing too over the top. I agree that silver is more suitable for her than gold, so that's a good place to start." She pointed to a few, discussing price and style with both Itachi and the man behind the counter, who was more than willing to help. After a long time of debating, they had it narrowed down to three.

"I like this one," Sakura said softly, pointing to the one in the middle. It was simple, being a spiral shape with the two ends cradling a small, sparkling diamond. It was elegant, modern, and not as expensive as the other two. Itachi did his best to picture it around Hinata's finger, imagining it and seeing if he thought it would suit her.

"Hm...I agree," he replied after a moment. Nodding to the shop keeper, he sighed and gave Sakura a smile. "Thank you...your insight was most helpful."

She returned his smile, replying, "My pleasure. I'm happy to see that you two are going to get married – Hinata chan loves you very much, and I'm sure you'll be happy together. Good luck!"

There. He had a ring. Now all he had to do was plan something to replace that awful first attempt. Daydreaming as he walked, he played with the small box in his pants pocket as he tried to make up his mind. And after only a few minutes, he smiled. Perfect.

When he returned, he made no hint toward his plan, enjoying another quiet afternoon and evening with his fiance. He loved that word, fiance...she was finally his. Cuddling together with her on the couch, they read side by side until Hinata let loose a large yawn. Chuckling, Itachi suggested she head to bed. "You had a long trip as well," he chided lightly, smiling.

"I guess I did...g-goodnight, Itachi kun..."

"Goodnight, hime."

Once he was sure she was asleep, Itachi used all of his stealth training to sneak out of the apartment, putting on his ANBU attire one last time, slipping his katana behind his back. Going out through the living room window, he maneuvered his way to her bedroom sill, sliding it open silently.

The scene brought to mind a decade-old memory, the young woman before him shrunken to a tiny little girl. Making his way across the floor, he approached her bedside and looked over her.

She was beautiful.

Brushing back her bangs, he placed a feather-light kiss upon the pale skin. She didn't stir. He had come to know that she was a heavy sleeper, and gently slid his arms beneath her, lifting her from her bed and making his way back to the window. With his excellent chakra control, he leapt onto a nearby building, slowly hopping from roof to roof until he landed atop the Konoha wall, streaking toward a familiar clearing.

He had chosen it for their meeting place because it had been easy to find, but not far beyond was a bend on the river that ran near the village, a place where the water ran slowly and reeds grew along the bank. Fireflies danced along the surface, skimming and creating tiny ripples that grew and faded back into nothing. Walking up to the water's edge, Itachi nuzzled his cheek to hers, murmuring, "Hinata...wake up, my hime..."

Groaning lightly, Hinata slowly opened her eyes. "Itachi kun...what...?" Blinking blearily at her surroundings, she asked, "Where...where are we?"

Gently, he set her bare feet against the grass, her nightgown fluttering in the wind. Turning to him, she frowned as she woke up a bit more. "Why are you in y-your ANBU uniform?"

"Nine years ago, a boy in an ANBU uniform snuck into your room, and was entranced by the girl he found there," Itachi said quietly. "Then, one year ago, he taunted her into a clearing not far from here, once again intertwining their destinies. And now, he knows that the girl he saw all those years ago is the only one who could ever claim his heart." Approaching her, he brought one hand up to cup her cheek, and she leaned into it, closing her eyes. "I love you, Hinata chan...and it was a twisted, bloody fate that brought us together. But now, we can put that all behind us...and start fresh." Slowly, he sank to one knee, reaching into his pocket and revealing the ring he'd bought that afternoon. "Hinata...will you marry me?"

Smiling softly, Hinata replied, "I will...I love you, Uchiha Itachi..." She let him slide the ring onto her finger, looking at it in awe. "It's...b-beautiful..."

"Hn...a pretty ring for a pretty girl," he teased, standing. Drawing her flush to him, he buried one hand into her hair around the back of her neck, kissing her softly, yet passionately. Finally, after so many years of torment, unhappiness, and bloodshed...he had what he wanted. He was finally happy.

.oOo.

Their engagement was short, lasting until the fall. They left their top floor apartment, moving into a small house in the residential district. It wasn't a clan compound, despite each having been heirs to the two most powerful clans in the village, but...it was what they wanted. Itachi secured a job managing the paper pushing part of the ANBU, where he was safe from everything but paper cuts. Hinata continued her work at the academy, maintaining her status of one of the most beloved teachers. Then, when the Land of Fire lit up with burning colors as its famous trees' leaves turned brittle, they finally sealed their bond.

It was a small affair like that of Neji and Tenten, their friends invited to attend. Hinata was gorgeous in her glistening white kimono, each wardrobe change more beautiful than the last until she reached the final piece, a flowing kimono that began as white at the shoulders, fading into lilac, purple, and then black at the hem, bordered in silver with matching doves flying across the fabric.

"You look beautiful," her cousin said with a proud smile. "Congratulations."

"Th-thank you, Neji nii san..." she replied softly. Hinata not only looked beautiful, but she she glowed with pure happiness. Finally, after all of her trials, she had reached a point in her life where she had everything she desired: a job she could hardly call work, a husband who loved her dearly and whom she loved in return, and a family that supported her: her friends, her cousin, and now her brother-in-law.

"So, little brother," Itachi teased, smiling gently at the man as he came forward to speak with them. "When can we expect you to join our exclusive group of happily married couples?"

Sasuke, who had Ayame on his arm, blushed a bit across his nose. "Hn...not sure. I have a feeling the dobe is going to beat me to it, but...it isn't a race." Giving the brunette a gentle smile, he added, "We'll get there, but...I'm in no hurry."

Ayame giggled. "Yeah, things are pretty good for now. We're certainly not complaining!"

The reception lasted well into the evening, with the Konoha Twelve less than eager to stop celebrating the marriage of its kindest kunoichi and one of its strongest shinobi. The sensei of each team was also there, marveling at how things had changed since they were young, and feeling older as more of their students moved forward on the path of life. Kurenai was as proud as she could be, congratulating her daughter figure alongside the rest of her team. "I can't wait to see some grand kids," she teased, laughing at Hinata's blush. "That, of course, is a ways down the line. I'm sure they'll be beautiful and strong, like their parents."

Like her cousin's wedding, no other members of the clan were invited. But, to her surprise, Hinata felt a tug on her kimono, and turned to see her younger sister.

"H...Hanabi chan?" she asked incredulously. "W-what are you doing here?"

The younger girl gave her a sad smile. "I know we aren't close anymore, oneechan, but...I wanted to see you on your wedding day." Shyly, she brought a small box from behind her back. "It...it isn't much, but I hope you'll like it. I'm sorry things turned out the way they did between us, but I can see that you're happy, and...that makes me happy. Maybe...we can start to patch things up between us. I know that you don't want to see Father anymore, but I'd like to, you know..."

As her sister faded out, Hinata smiled with tears threatening to fall. "Oh, Hanabi chan...I'd l-love that..." Giving her little sister a tight hug, she murmured, "We'll p-plan something, okay? I'll see you soon."

"Yeah...bye, oneechan." Giving her older sister a genuine smile, Hanabi made her way out of the reception hall, waving from the door before disappearing.

"That sounded promising," Itachi murmured. "Reconnecting with your sister would be good for you, I think."

"Yeah..." Hinata gazed off after her for a moment before looking up into her new husband's face with a smile. "I think so too."

Their honeymoon was short, as each had duties to return to that were important to their village. Hinata returned to teaching, inviting Hanabi in to give a demonstration to her class, smiling as the young Hyuuga performed perfectly. It seemed to open the floodgates, and soon the two were seeing one another quite often, Hanabi telling Hinata of her genin exploits, the older sibling smiling in happiness as she listened. She still made no effort to see her father, and doubted she ever would, but she had the two people from her clan that she valued most, spending time with her sister and cousin, grateful to have them both back in her life.

Itachi, meanwhile, continued his work in the paperwork part of the ANBU, taking on many management responsibilities and reaching quite high in their ranks. It wasn't as glorious or exciting as being an officer, but he knew his work still made a difference, and as it allowed him to keep Hinata, he was more than willing to continue.

To everyone's surprise, the following spring saw something that didn't happen very often. A double wedding between Sakura and Naruto, and Sasuke and Ayame. Many feared disaster as the two childhood rivals weren't expected to be able to share the spotlight, but it went as well as anyone could hope. There was some tension as each pair had their first dance, the two male seeming to compete to be the best on the dance floor, but there were no serious injuries.

Life seemed to have reached its peak for the four clanless shinobi. And none of them would change a thing.

Epilogue

Ten Years Later

"Fugaku kun! Mikoto chan! Come on, it's t-time to go home!" Hinata stood at the edge of one of Konoha's large parks, a bundle cradled to her chest as she called her children in from a day of playing with their friends. They didn't seem to want to leave, however, and she sighed as she started walking toward them. "Please tell me you'll m-mind better than your siblings, Shisui kun..." she murmured to the drowsy babe in her arms, his nap interrupted by her yelling. "Uchiha Fugaku, you have th-three seconds! Mikoto, come on!"

Turning, the two siblings began whining. "Aw, Mom..." the seven-year-old boy moaned, pale eyes rolling beneath his fringe of messy black hair. "I want to stay a little longer!"

"Please Mommy?" his younger sister asked, her black eyes pleading as her long, purple hair fluttered around her face. "Just five more m-minutes?"

"Your father will be h-home soon, so I want to get back and start dinner!" Hinata replied gently, yet firmly. "And I need to put Shisui down for a n-nap."

"Can't we stay by ourselves?" the boy asked. "I'm seven and a half now! I can take care of imouto chan!"

Grinning, Hinata replied, "Well, seven and a half is pretty old, dear, but...n-not today. Come on, let's go."

Sighing in defeat, the pair followed behind their mother, waving to their friends as they left.

Their home was a bit bigger than the one their parents had first purchased, needing the extra room for three kids. But with two successful parents, they had little to worry about. Fugaku had just started his Second Year at the Academy, having graduated from his mother's class (which had been embarrassing – she had teased him every chance she got). Mikoto had another year to wait at five years old, but listened to her brother's stories about school with wide black eyes.

"I'm gonna be the best because of my Byakugan!" the boy would brag, sounding quite a bit like his uncle.

"Nu uh!" Mikoto would reply in her small, quiet voice. "M-my Sharingan will be b-better!"

"You'll both be strong," Hinata would say, stopping their quarrels. "Just like your f-father."

"But you're strong t-too, Mama!" the girl would reply, smiling cheekily as she tried to earn bonus points for sucking up to Mom. "Aren't you?"

"I suppose, in my own w-way."

While the children went to wash up for supper, Hinata laid Shisui down in his crib, his black eyes slowly closing. Kissing his forehead, Hinata turned off his light and quietly shut the door.

But before she could turn around, two arms wrapped tightly around her middle, a pair of lips gently nuzzling her neck. "I'm home," Itachi murmured against her skin, and she felt him smile.

Giggling, she put her hands on his, replying, "So you are...d-do you always have to sneak up on me?"

"Hn...I have to keep my skills sharp somehow." Releasing her, he let her turn to face him, planting a quick kiss on her lips. "What's for dinner?"

"It's a surprise."

"I see..."

The meal was rambunctious as usual, Fugaku having to tell his father all about his day while the Uchiha patriarch listen with a smile.

"And Sensei says I'm at the top of the class already!" he finished, waving his arms ecstatically. "Isn't that great Dad?"

"It is," Itachi replied.

"But don't let it g-get to your head, Fugaku kun..." Hinata said quietly, giving her son a gentle smile.

Looking sheepish, the boy sat down with a smile and replied, "Yes Mama."

Finally, the children were all tucked away for the night, their parents settling with tired sighs onto the couch.

"What a d-day..." Hinata murmured.

"Hn..."

Snuggling against her husband, she asked, "How was work?"

"Good. Tsunade sama approved two more officers this morning, so I had to get their files straightened around, but at least it was a break in the monotony."

Hinata paused, feeling a twinge of guilt. "Do you ever want to, you know...g-get another job?"

"You mean quit and find something else?"

"Well, yes...I just..."

Itachi smiled. "I never said I didn't enjoy my work...I know you still feel guilt over me quitting the force, but each time I see you or our children, I'm thankful that I quit. The thought of not seeing any of you again...of leaving you alone with three children to raise...well, it makes me surer every time."

"So...you're happy?"

"I am."

"G-good."

After snuggling and chatting for a while, the tired parents decided to retire, Settling into their bed, they exchanged goodnight kisses before submitting to sleep.

"I love you, Hinata..."

"And I love y-you...Itachi..."

Fin

And that's that. I hope you guys liked it, and found it to be a suitable ending. I hopefully won't blabber on like I did at the beginning, so I'll try to keep it brief. I just want to thank you all again for your support and dedication to this fic, and to me as a writer. Totally made me smile :)

Now, I've had several inquiries about another long-term fic. Truth be told, I have one that's...sort of in the works. It needs a bit of a revamp, but hopefully it's something that will take shape quickly, and become something you'll all be interested in. But even if that doesn't work out (or in-between now and when I manage to get it finished), hopefully I'll be able to at least get some one-shots written, or maybe a few shorter multichap fics like Matched or For You, either some SasuHina (my second OTP) or more ItaHina. Because that's all I really care to write anymore, to be honest ^_^ But anyway, so...be on the lookout for some more writing. Hopefully things will allow me to get some done – my life is a bit unstable at the moment, but I'll try my best to make time for Naruto fanfiction, because it's something that's been dear to me for quite a few years now.

Also, I would like to say that I am, in fact, open for requests – I've stated it on my profile, but have only gotten one since joining this site. So, if you have an idea for a plot or pairing and I happen to accept and have free time, I might give it a go. But please remember that a request is only a request – if I haven't the time, or find your suggestion to be something I don't want to attempt, please be respectful and don't badger me. I sometimes have trouble coming up with plots, but if you'd like to give me an idea for a oneshot (multichaps being another thing entirely), then I'd love to hear them. I currently have two I want to work on, but that doesn't mean I can't make list for anyone else who wishes to make a suggestion. I usually stick only to ItaHina and SasuHina for main pairings, but there is a CHANCE I will attempt another if you can justify it and give me a basic idea – if I can't think of a way to make the pairing mesh and make sense, then odds are I won't attempt it. I do not force myself to write – the quality suffers heavily for it, so if I can't make it work, I just can't make it work, so please try to understand. But, hopefully we can make things work~

So, if you would like to make a request, PLEASE message me. I would much prefer that to getting a little side note in a review – that way I can keep better track of who has asked for what. And as always, please be patient with me, and respect my right to refuse and manage my time how I see fit!

Anyway, back to my other rant, now that I've typed an entire other novel here XD Thanks again all my lovelies – each hit, fave, alert, and review has meant so much to me, and will continue to as well. I love you all, and hope to see you more later if – no, when – other works arise. Until then, my lovelies~

~BlackRoseDragon13