AU: Last chapter! Finally, after so long!

Please enjoy.

Chapter 23

"Naruto."

He whispered it, the name he sometimes couldn't bear to think of without hurting. With the name came the figure, standing in shadows as still as a statue, save for the electric blue eyes peering from the darkness like living things.

Naruto… and here Sasuke was, before the man he'd thought of every day for years, and he was just standing there?

Enraged at his own stupidity and cowardice, Sasuke found the will to move his limbs and plunged like an animal, dashing for Naruto and leaping at the last minute only to be caught in the most brutally strong embrace he'd ever experienced. It felt as if Naruto's whole body and not just his arms were holding him close, close to his chest, his erratically beating heart.

A loud, boisterous laugh bubbled from Sasuke's lips without his permission. In another moment and his laughter was echoed with Naruto's as they cramped their muscles in the fiercest hug either had ever experienced.

"Sasuke Uchiha," Naruto whispered his name into his ear with a chuckle.

"Naruto Uzumaki," Sasuke quipped back with a smirk, raising his eyes to meet the cerulean orbs above. His breath caught when he met Naruto's eyes, and all pretenses were dropped instantly. The smile on Naruto's lips faded.

The Jounin bent like a man starved of water and food and pressed his lips hungrily against Sasuke's, dragging the soft planes of his mouth over the smaller, paler ones beneath until Sasuke had to gasp for breath from the sheer ferocity. Yet something had changed within him; the years as king had shaped him somewhat. Where Naruto's striking advances would have cowed him in the past, Sasuke felt his heart soar at the ferocity of the embrace and returned it with equal if not greater fervor. His feet met the ground solidly as he groaned and shoved Naruto backwards, until the blonde's sturdy back met the hull of the cruiser behind him. The force of the blow paused Naruto's assault and began Sasuke's. Still comparably smaller than the Jounin, Sasuke had to extend his body to its fullest to eagerly claim Naruto's quivering mouth, even shoving his shoulders down to gain better access. He could feel Naruto's surprise at his sudden reversal of their positions, yet only a breathy moan and the encouraging squeeze of Naruto's hands on his shoulders was the reply.

Fevered, starved, Sasuke lost track of time and savored the touch he'd been craving for so long, willing for once to be spoiled and wanton. His fingers skimmed under Naruto's jacket, enjoying the hardened, warmed muscles beneath the soft fabric, consuming the opened, hot mouth that claimed his with equal fervor. He could feel Naruto's hands as well, perusing under his heavy jacket to his hips and sinking blunted nails into the sensitive skin there. He gasped at the contact, obeying Naruto's upward pull to loop his legs around Naruto's sturdy frame. Naruto gripped him like something precious, clawing at his shoulders and back and burying his head into the crook of Sasuke's neck.

"Sasuke," he heard his name slip from Naruto's mouth hoarsely. "Sasuke, Sasuke, Sasuke. Gods of fire, I missed you." He raised his mouth to Sasuke's, planting a long kiss across them. "Every day." A kiss. "I missed you." Another searing touch, licking across the seam of his lips. "Every memory of you, I held to me." He lowered his head to Sasuke's face, kissing every centimeter of skin, from his forehead to both cheeks to his lips and down a stubbled chin. "Every letter you sent me was an oasis. So long without looking at you, touching you. And now you're here. Finally."

"Naruto," Sasuke whispered, his eyes stinging with unshed tears as he clutched Naruto with all his might. "I've thought of you too. I never stopped thinking of you, not for a moment."

He thought he shuddered for a moment but realized the tremor had radiated from Naruto's body. Slowly, he pulled back to finally see Naruto's face up close. There was a thickness that hadn't been there before, a few wrinkles, just around his eyes. His hair was a lighter around the edges, while his eyebrows remained the darker, dirtier blonde they'd always been. The arms that Sasuke clutched desperately were heavier, stronger, while the torso pressed against his felt bigger than it once had.

"You've changed a little I see," he said with a smile.

"Not half as much as you," Naruto replied with another, slow kiss. "Are you ready to go?"

Go, Sasuke thought with a sudden thrill of fear, glancing behind him to the capital's skyline. Otogakure lay there, safe, happy, restored. The Missling Class was no more, Sakura had been both avenged and honored, his family was restored fully at the palace, and Anko would be a wise and beautiful queen.

"Yes. I'm ready."

Naruto smiled his old smile, so full of life and sunshine, and crushed Sasuke against him. The only warning he received to being suddenly lifted in the Jounin's strong arms was the short bark of a laugh Naruto released. He looked more like a child than Sasuke had ever seen him, the lines around his eyes creasing and somehow making his smile even wider.

Sasuke would have protested to being carried, but he was deposited easily into the familiar cruiser's cockpit before he had a chance to open his mouth. Obviously giddy, Naruto sprang into the seat next to him, vibrating with energy.

Sasuke allowed the light radiating off Naruto to sink into him, and as they both worked through the preflight sequence together, Naruto and Sasuke shared a brief, smiling glance between each other. But instead of programming a course for Suna, as Sasuke had initially expected, Naruto gave the navcomputer liftoff instructions only. As the generator came up, Sasuke felt the sweep of his awareness at the edge of his senses, passing over him like a warm, familiar wave of heat. Sasuke pulled in a breath and glanced sideways at his companion, the eye contact intensifying the connection. He didn't realize how much he'd missed Naruto's subtle, chakra-filled caress and suddenly confronted with it, Sasuke felt himself melt willingly into the touch.

Naruto reached across the controls and sealed his mouth against Sasuke's, the pressing sensation becoming deeper as they physically connected. The young king wrapped arms around Naruto's shoulders and welcomed every sensation, welcomed him, with enough desperation to even frighten Naruto, who pulled back and looked at Sasuke through hooded eyes.

"We have to takeoff," Naruto whispered, as if reminding himself. Sasuke nodded, a little bit of heat spreading up his face.

"Right."

"Sasuke?"

He glanced curiously at the Jounin. The ready-lights flashed.

"We're not going to Suna, or anyplace you've been before. We're going to Konohagakure."

Sasuke unconsciously pulled a lever to release the brakes. "Your home?"

Naruto nodded. "Konoha is the sanctuary of my people." Thrust caught them, and they lifted slowly. "It's almost like a retreat— like Naka Shrine, but more pastoral. Home-town-like. And it would be a beautiful place for a wedding. A simple one."

Naruto touched Sasuke's hand on the console. "You know what it would mean, if you want it, Sasuke."

Yes. Sasuke knew. Naruto offered the bonding like a gift, and others had survived it. There had been a time, he remembered, when he had fought for the right to die. Naruto had persuaded him to live, to live with him, and duty to his people had interfered. Yet in the most cynical part of Sasuke's mind he often wondered what had kept from accepting Naruto before, the responsibility of being king or his own cowardice?

"Naruto." Sasuke straightened. "If you're willing to take an outsider, the king of outsiders mind you, then I can face your pair bonding. You gave me back my life, and I've been waiting for too long to share it with you."

Naruto's eyes shone under the blue striplights as he gave the computer final instructions. Starpricks began to spring from the blackness of space, and Oto's horizon curved far below.

"Ready to slip?" Naruto asked with a smile.

Sasuke felt the nostalgic thrill that only came to him while he was flying and smirked haughtily. "Of course."

Like fire kissing water, their little ship winked out of space.

-oOo-

Konohagakure was a rural planet, and the capital city was surrounded on all sides by lush, thick forests, just as Naruto had said it would be.

A stark contrast to the orderly, sometimes cold streets of Oto, Konoha was laid out in a hubbub of mismatched old and new buildings, colored brightly and lining dirt-covered pathways which were too narrow to fit speeders along them. No one really cared, for no Konoha resident rode in speeders. The inhabitants, casually dressed in brightly-colored robes or simple slacks and shirts, ranged in all colors and sizes and milled about happily on the roadways or ducked into restaurants, bars, or cafes.

Sasuke was surprised by the amount of trees lining the sides of the roads. Despite the tropical climate, brawny oaks lined every road and sometimes clustered together between two buildings, creating a miniature park where children played freely. Unfortunately, for Sasuke was fascinated with the city, they didn't spend more than a few minutes over the streets before they passed the capital into the outskirts, where a massive mountain rose out of the roots of the city like an overhanging guardian. Sasuke's eyes widened as he beheld faces, imposing and strong, carved into the side of the alp, their watchful eyes facing the city and protecting it. One of the faces looked particularly familiar: the strong cheeks, curved eyes, wily hair, and even the customary whisker marks…

"Naruto!" Sasuke gasped, his mouth flung open in shock. "T-that's you!"

Naruto laughed as they passed the mountainside, glancing fondly at the structure. "Each Hokage's visage has been carved into that mountain, so their souls, both present and past, can watch over Konoha. I remember as a kid, I used to paint graffiti all over that mountain because I felt the previous Hokage were going to be nothing compared to me. Mind you, at the time no one thought I had a icicle's chance in a furnace to become Hokage." He put a hand to his head in embarrassment. "I can't believe I got away with what I did."

"You defaced that structure?" Sasuke asked incredulously before folding his hands over his chest in sarcastic judgment. "Truly a dobe."

Naruto's eyes brightened considerably. "Haven't heard that in a long time, Your Highness."

In defeat, Sasuke threw his hands in the air, unable to deny his status, and Naruto roared with laughter as they cruised farther out of the city into the dense, forested lands below.

-oOo-

His hand in Naruto's, Sasuke stepped through a sliding, wooden door and surveyed the traditional green courtyard to which Naruto had brought him. All wooden and covered in smooth stones except ahead, where there shimmered a bubbling man-made pond surrounded by a latticed rail, crossed and recrossed by paths of stepping stones and broken by islands of greenery.

Sunlight streamed down from open, blue sky, dancing and refracting on the water, and from somewhere he could hear more water rushing and splashing.

The Master Jounin that Naruto had introduced as Kakashi Hatake stepped around from behind them, very tall and thin, with brown eyes as pale as his white hair. Dressed all in white with an eight-rayed star, he wore his age well: forty, perhaps? or fifty?

"Have you eaten?" He touched a bell.

"Enough." Naruto squeezed Sasuke's hand as the younger man stood in motionless wonder.

A young girl in a pale blue gown with clear, blue eyes and hair that shone a shade lighter than Naruto's approached along a walkway, through a high arch on the right. "Go with

her, Lord Sasuke," said Master Kakashi. "She'll show you to a bath and give you a change of clothes."

Though loathe to leave Naruto, Sasuke followed the girl leftward along the side of the sparkling pool, to another wide, wooden corridor. His guide walked without hesitation to the fourth sliding door, opened it, and stepped aside. He noticed a sheen of red across her nose as she looked shyly up at him then down again, and he gave her a quick bow before walking in.

At first, the movement ahead startled him. It looked as though the inner wall were

quaking. Then he sighed, delighted. As his eyes adjusted to the pale light he saw that the long wall hid behind a pale curtain of water that cascaded endlessly over smooth white stone.

The girl disappeared through an open door, but Sasuke sat for a moment on the bed's white coverlet, watching and listening to the singing waters, wondering if he dared take the step ahead of him.

Then he rose and followed.

-oOo-

Kakashi lead Naruto across the stepping-stones toward his own quarters. Naruto, Kakashi subvocalized as his long legs swung him from stone to stone, yesterday we received formal word from Oto. It appears that a few of the elder council members have misplaced a member of the royal family, the former king I believe.

Naruto grimaced at first but then broke into a longsuffering smile. I told you who I was getting from Otogakure.

You gave me half a name. You could have mentioned he was the king of the place.

Former king, Kakashi.

The older gentleman gave an inward sigh so palpable that Naruto could have tasted his frustration. Naruto, don't you realize that kidnapping a member of the royal family could be perceived as a blatant misuse of your power as High Commander?

Kidnapping, Kakashi? Really? He hardly looks kidnapped to me. And I requested permission from Anko Uchiha, the current queen of Oto. If she's having communication issues with her staff, then that's hardly my fault.

At that, Kakashi broke into a smile, all pretenses of scolding dropped. "I'm glad to see you've gone back to your old self, Naruto. I was worried for you, these past few years."

Naruto actually giggled, bouncing on the heels of his shoes. "No worries, Kakashi! I just got a little impatient." He put a hand on the older man's shoulder.

"Impatient being the understatement of the century." The white-haired man turned a serious eye to the younger Jounin. In his youth, Naruto had spent a good deal of time under Kakashi's personal care, and frankly upon meeting him, Kakashi had thought him to be an incompetent troublemaker. Over the years, he watched Naruto gain enough confidence in himself to overcome his learning issues and become one of the finest Jounin Konohagakure had ever seen. Kakashi had never been truly worried about the boy, even through battles and wars, until he'd seen Naruto's face upon his return to Konoha from Otogakure years prior. Naruto's eyes had never appeared more longing, and the Jounin had been listless and void, as if the true Naruto had left his husk of a body behind to venture through the stars.

Naruto's voice had been empty when describing his love for the Otogakure king, whom he'd simply addressed as "Sasuke" in Kakashi's presence. In truth, he hadn't known about Sasuke's prestigious background or rank until his arrival, when he'd instantly recognized the dark-haired youth from countless scandisks of information he'd received on Otogakure's royal family. For some reason he hadn't made the connection between the once-lost and wily boy Naruto described in his stories and Otogakure's young but ambitiously wise king.

Eventually, Naruto's inner stasis had thawed, and the young Jounin immediately threw himself back into work under the Federacy. In record time, Naruto ascended through the ranks, performing beautifully on every assigned mission until finally he'd been appointed to the prestigious High Command— he was the first Jounin to ever obtain such a rank.

And now, with his military success complete, Naruto finally was receiving the one thing he'd pined for all this time. Kakashi shook his head. Such an odd story for a Jounin. Most of their kind pair-bonded on the same day they met. Naruto had waited years.

The blonde man, who looked younger and younger with such a wide smile plastered on his face, addressed Kakashi once more. "I can't thank you enough for helping me with taking time off. I can't believe you could actually get me two months here with him."

"It's nowhere near the time you deserve, Naruto," he replied with the upmost sincerity. "But I did my best. The Jounin are proud of you for getting the High Command. We'll protect you and your bond-mate no matter what. He'll be one of us, just as you are one of us."

"Thank you, Master."

"But there is one more thing I have to ask you about, Naruto," Kakashi persisted, meeting eye-contact with his student. What you told me about— what happened with Sasuke at the Shrine. Have you spoken with him about it?

Naruto's mouth straightened, his light-hearted demeanor vanishing. I haven't. I doubt he really remembers it or thinks it was him. But I've reviewed that memory at least a hundred times, and I'm certain it was Sasuke's energy that sent the Bunshin out of Orochimaru's hands. Not mine.

Do you think you should speak to him before…

Either way, Naruto interrupted quickly, he is mine, and I'm his. If he does have Jounin potential, we'll take it from there.

You don't need to think about it today, Naruto. Kakashi placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. This is a time to be happy, not concerned with the future. You both deserve this.

Naruto nodded, and smiled, some of his brightness returning. "Thanks, Kakashi."

-oOo-

The same blonde girl led Sasuke to Master Kakashi's rooms. Naruto stood inside, clothed in dress whites again, and on Kakashi's desk lay a long document, rough-textured like ancient parchment.

"I have completed all but one thing, Lord Sasuke," he said. "What name will you take?"

"Sasuke Uchiha Uzumaki." He twisted an end of the long blue belt the girl had wound around his loose-fitting tunic. A broad smile spread across Naruto's face.

"I like your name,'" Sasuke whispered as Kakashi filled the last blank space. "I would like to adopt it."

Between the Jounins he walked out upon the stepping-stones. As the sun sank, the hues of the courtyard dimmed, but a band of light began to gleam around the edge of the waters, reflecting blue and green off Naruto's whites.

They halted on a paved island. Sasuke faced Kakashi, his heart stirring nervously; Naruto drew close beside him.

"You have no doubts?" Kakashi asked softly. "You will hold this bond before all other loyalties, Sasuke? And you, Naruto? Your path may not be easy."

Sasuke saw Naruto nod slightly, and did the same. Master Kakashi placed his hands on their shoulders, speaking softly in a tongue he did not know. A blessing, he guessed, or an invocation.

Naruto answered briefly in what he thought was the same language.

Then Kakashi dropped his right hand, leaving one on Sasuke's left shoulder. "Sasuke," he said gently, "you have chosen a Jounin. Your culture has done nothing to prepare you for this."

Sasuke met the steady gaze of Kakashi's brown eyes. "That is true, Master, but Naruto has explained bonding to me. I have accepted it—and him."

"Then, I ask to touch your spirits."

Naruto stepped behind him at once, circled his waist with one arm, and pressed into his mind, far deeper than he had ever gone before. For a sweet moment Sasuke held steady, but the feeling became a hurricane inside him, tearing him from his moorings even as it filled him with the presence he had come to love more than flight, more than freedom, more than life. As it became impossibly intense Sasuke let his body tumble against

Naruto's.

The Jounin gathered him up into his arms. Sasuke sensed the approach of Kakashi's "otherness."

"Yes," the elder Sentinel's voice echoed above the joyous roar of Sasuke's senses. "It is right. I bless your bonding. It is yours to finish."

A burst of light filled his mind's eye as Kakashi spoke.

With a heavy groan and resting against Naruto's chest, Sasuke half opened his eyes. Naruto took a step backward.

"I can walk," he murmured.

"Let me. Please?" Naruto kissed him, then. Carrying him like a holy vessel, he walked back across the stones over the water, along the wide way, and through the open door of their bedchamber.

Star Fighters:

The end.

Or is it? I'm one of those people who like me some love-making. Give me a little time, and I'll pull something up.

Or not. I like the idea of pair-bonding, but maybe you'd like to leave the experience for your imagination to take over? You'll have to let me know if you want to read it!

Thank you so much for your continued support. I'm writing other stories. Please subscribe to me, and you'll know when they come out!