Thanks so much for being with me on this wonderful and magical journey through "Better Off Dead." Your readership and encouragement has meant the world to me. Special thanks to Uchiha.s, who has beta'd all the chapters of this fic; I couldn't have gotten this far without you, girlfriend!
I feel like it is so appropriate that the final chapter is being posted on Easter weekend—after all, Hinata and Sasuke have literally come back from the dead. I don't mean this flippantly, and I think for the first time, I'd like to share something deeply personal here.
A lot of the inspiration for this story comes from my own life. About six years ago, I was run over as I was crossing the street by a truck, and suffered brain trauma. Among other things, I went from being a person who graduated college with highest honors to a person who had no short term memory—I couldn't even follow a cookie recipe! During my recovery, creative writing became an amazing tool: not only did it help me process my feelings, but it also built up my cognitive skills again. Fanfiction, for me, has been a total lifesaver in that way.
When I was recovering, I lost a lot of "friends," my job, and indeed, my whole former life. In fact, my memory was so whack, I couldn't even remember a lot about my former life. I became, for all intents and purposes, a zombie. I was alive, but unable to enjoy or participate in normal life. Sound familiar? "Better Off Dead" ends with Hinata and Sasuke living again through the power of love. As cheesy as that sounds, I know that for me, I wouldn't have been able to come back to life without my loving family, my real friends, and most importantly, the love of the Great Spirit/Universe/whatever you want to call it.
That's what Easter and a lot of the spring holidays from many cultures are all about, aren't they? Love trumps death, every time:)
Your encouragement has been so appreciated and healing, my friends. Thank you for being with me on my creative writing and healing journey:) I hope you'll keep in touch. I do have some other stories in progress, and I do believe I'll publish a few more after that.
I feel moved to mention another thing that I usually don't. If you'd like to check out my blog, it's up at:
lettersandfeathers dot wordpress dot com
I actually just wrote a whole blog about an original novel I'm working on about—you guessed it—the undead. I also have links under the "publications" tab leading to original stories of mine that have been published, for your reading pleasure. I hope you'll check it out.
Well, sorry for the long author's note; just feeling all teared up at the end of this story. It's been an incredible ride. Thank you for traveling with me.
And now, as my beta says: Fetus!SasuHinaSprog FTW!
Chapter Thirty-Two: Sunwheel
The lonesomest night surely passes,
True true love never dies.
~True True Love Never Dies, Traditional
Hinata wishes she wasn't sweating, but she can't help it. It's unseasonably warm for autumn, and she is stuck in session with the council. Despite the open windows, there is no breeze. She's nine months pregnant, and no matter how she sits in her gods-damned chair, she cannot find a comfortable position. Sasuke snakes a steadying hand around her lower back and discretely massages her, but it does little to dull the pain.
"Outrageous—absolutely outrageous," Hiashi snarls, his upper lip curled. "It's bad enough that my daughter has seceded from the Hyuga. But this? No. This is going too far."
"Hiashi," Naruto replies in a warning tone, "new clans have been formed before, and they will be formed again. Every other clan head agrees to this proposal, and I—"
"There must be stipulations," Hanabi breaks in. "We will agree if you meet all of our stipulations."
Hinata resists the urge to brain herself on the table as Hanabi enumerates her demands once more. "One, Hinata must forgo any claims on her inheritance—"
"I've already done that," Hinata mutters, but Hanabi presses on as if she did not hear her.
"And of course, we would need her to do so officially, with the proper seals and paperwork," Hanabi proclaims. "Second, her children and her children's children and all of her future offspring are forever barred from entering the Hyuga clan. Forever barred. Third, Hinata needs the branch seal, as do her potential offspring." Hanabi wrinkles her nose on the last word, as if offspring is a euphemism for demon spawn.
Hinata closes her eyes. They have been going back and forth on these issues, getting nowhere, for hours. And Hinata has just sat quietly, twiddling her thumbs, while the Hokage and everyone else has argued her points for her. They have told her not to speak; they have assured her that Naruto and his counselors will do the work for her. But it's not working, and she's tired of the bullshit. Damn it all, she can speak for herself without stuttering or making a muck out of everything.
She's different, now.
Hinata pushes her chair back with a start, the loud dragging noise of the chair legs turning everyone's eyes to her. "Honored heads of the Hyuga clan," Hinata says into the sudden silence, "I agree wholeheartedly with your first two points. You can keep my inheritance. Neither I nor my children have any desire to be a part of the Hyuga," she mutters, placing her hands on her bulging stomach. The baby kicks, as if in agreement.
Hinata takes a deep, quavering breath, and forces herself to go on.
"But we will not—I repeat, will not—bear the branch seal. My eyes are no longer the eyes of the Hyuga," she says, quietly but with conviction. She activates her chakra pathways until her golden eye gleams and her Sharingan whirls. "You have no jurisdiction over me, and anyway, it would be ridiculous for the leaders of one clan to have control over another. You bring shame to the Hyuga by being so stubborn. Take what you can from these agreements, but do no overstep yourselves."
With blazing eyes, Hinata takes her seat and folds her arms over her chest. "Hokage-sama," she continues before anyone can speak, "please end this. If the Hyuga refuse to agree, put it to a majority vote."
"I agree with Hinata-sama," Naruto intones before Hiashi or Hanabi can get a word in. "I motion to vote."
"But—" Hanabi cries.
"All in favor?" Naruto asks.
Unsurprisingly, all but the Hyuga are in favor; the measure passes. Before anyone can congratulate her or adjourn the session, Hinata rises to her swollen feet once more. "As the first official act of the Sunwheel clan, I have three things I would like to ask of the council."
Hinata pauses to take a deep breath. She's never had to address the council before, and now that her anger is cooled, she's a little nervous. Hinata reminds herself that not long ago, she was the Hyuga heir, and was trained in this kind of thing. Sasuke, his eyes smokey and soft, shoots her a smirk—she finds it oddly reassuring. Smiling gently, she rests her hands on the table and clears her throat.
"My first request is that the lands previously deeded to the Uchiha be turned over to us."
"Done," Naruto agrees. "No one was using that land anyway. It's yours. And that's a decision I can make without approval from the council," Naruto says, silencing Hanabi with a glare, "since those lands reverted to the state ages ago. Next?" he asks, grinning wolfishly.
"I ask that the Uchiha fortune be—"
"Absolutely not," Hiashi interjects. "That money was supposed to go into the general fund! We voted on it, right after the war."
"Er…well," Naruto admits, his grin turning sheepish, "you see, I never actually had the heart to touch the account. The Uchiha fortune is still intact. And as the arbiter of the treasury—"
"Objection!" Hiashi cries, his eyes flashing.
"Objection overruled," Tsunade replies, leaning her elbows on the table and giving Hiashi a half-lidded, cat-like glare. "The Hokage does not need council approval to divvy out the Uchiha accounts to their rightful heir."
"So Hinata-sama," Naruto breaks in, blithely ignoring Hiashi, "what was that third thing you wanted?"
A wicked smile curves her lips. "As the newest clan in Konoha, we would like to open membership to anyone who wishes to join our clan. Fifth sons and daughters who don't have room for leadership positions within their own clans can enjoy such positions within ours. Can we all agree on that?"
"An excellent idea, Hianta-sama," Sakura, sitting on Naruto's right, calls. "There's been a huge baby-boom after the war. Too many ninja, not enough jobs. I think we can all agree on this piece, Hyuga-sama?"
Hiashi lowers his gaze, defeated. "Indeed," he rumbles. "The Hyuga agree."
The vote—for once—is unanimous. Hinata's smile broadens. Without sitting down, she ventures, "Very good. Who ever wishes to join our clan should know that we have the power to remove unwanted seals, granting freedom to—"
"What?" Hiashi roars, "I never agreed to—"
"I'm afraid you just did," Hinata interjects, her voice soft but cutting. "The vote has been ratified and bears your signature. If any from the Hyuga branch family wish to shed their seals—"
"—then they can do so," Hinata finishes. Exhausted, she plops down in her chair.
"Impossible," Hiashi mutters, raising to his feet, red-faced.
"It's all too possible, Hiashi," Naruto counters. "You just signed it. I've been begging you to do this for the past five years, but you always refused. Now, everyone finally can decide their own destinies without having to answer to you. I now adjourn this session of council. Good work everyone!" Naruto calls, giving Hinata and Sasuke a thumbs-up.
Sasuke helps Hinata out of the counsel chambers before her father can pounce on her. While Hinata sways with weariness, Sasuke is grinning from ear to ear. The expression seems both incongruous and charming to Hinata.
"First thing we'll do is torch the entire Uchiha district," he says as he leads her down the stairs.
"Not that there's much left, after Pein's attack," Hinata replies. "But feel free to katon away. We'll have to do one section at a time—make sure the fire doesn't get out of control."
"After that, we'll build," Sasuke continues, still smiling widely. "I've already lined up construction contracts with some lower-born Nara members. We'll deed them land for free, and they'll build extra houses for us in return."
"Makes sense. Their forest abuts the northern half of the district, anyway. Plus, they're good neighbors, and friends," Hinata adds, her eyes twinkling. "I've worked out the last few kinks in the seal removing jutsu. Neji-niisan said he'd be happy to be our first guinea pig and honorary clan member."
They exit the Hokage's tower and stride out into the bright sunshine. Despite the heat of the day, Sasuke takes her arm. She sags against him and leans her head against his shoulder. Gods, but she is tired. She tells herself that she should feel empowered—she has stood up to her family and won—but mostly, she just feels heavy and hollow. It feels like she has lost something precious.
She slides her free hand over her swollen belly, feeling the familiar chakra of her child under her palm. She wonders if Hiashi will want to hold his first grandchild; she wonders if her father will ever want anything to do with Hinata's new family, or if they will continue on as strangers, or enemies, for the rest of their lives.
Hinata and Sasuke walk in pensive silence, down the streets shimmering with heat. After a while, she glances up at Sasuke, but he doesn't meet her gaze. His eyes are glazed and hard, glinting darkly, and his brow is furrowed. Beads of perspiration run down his clenched jaw. Hinata bites her lip and slows her pace.
He doesn't answer her. His eyes are still fixed on the horizon, focusing on something that Hinata can't see. A sense of loss clenches her heart and lungs and for a moment, it is hard to breathe. Tears blur her vision. She wipes them away with sweaty fingers, the perspiration stinging her eyes.
Suddenly, like being caught in a strange genjutsu, Hinata has the sensation that she is standing on a dark precipice, and below her, all her old grief crashes like a roiling sea beneath a swollen moon. She is overcome by vertigo as the vision fades, leaving her blinking blindly in the bright sunshine.
She stands still in the middle of the street, and Sasuke, his arm still in hers, is looking at her, his expression masked. But as her vision clears, she can see the darkness in his eyes, like an ocean lapping wildly at the night sky, silver stars scintillating coldly in the depths. She doesn't look away.
She knows better than to ask him what is wrong. And anyway, she already knows.
"My family will come round," Hinata whispers, her voice hoarse with emotion. "They'll accept us…eventually." Not sure if she believes her own words, Hinata pats her pregnant belly and offers him a sad smile.
Sasuke looks away and scowls. He leads her to a park bench under a gnarled oak tree which sways in a gentle breeze. A few yellow leaves fall, landing at their feet in the withered grass.
"Hn," is all he says as he sits beside her, his shoulders slumped, his head bowed. He looks so…alone, Hinata thinks, though she is sitting right beside him.
Hinata sighs and falls back against the bench, squeezing her eyes shut against the tears. Then the baby kicks, and a smile flickers on her face. She curls her arms around her belly, and her sadness disappears like a shadow chased away by the sun.
She sits up straight then, head held high, eyes glinting with determination. She and Sasuke have overcome death itself; she has no doubt that they can conquer any other challenges that come their way. They will create a new family, a new clan—a new home. Hinata takes Sasuke's hands and places them on either side of her bulging belly, her hands covering his. At that exact moment, baby turns in her womb, sending a fluttering feeling through her body and making her giggle. She gives Sasuke's hands a hard squeeze, then looks into his eyes, now glittering like mica in the sunlight. A faint smile plays on his lips.
"Anyway," Hinata murmurs, releasing his hands, "we have what we need now. We're a real clan. I rather like the surname. Sunwheel. Sunwheel Hinata. Has a nice ring to it, don't you think?"
Sasuke gives her an inscrutable look, the brightness in his eyes becoming veiled once more. "Are you sure…?" he begins, but trails off, looking down at his hands.
Hinata knows what he's thinking. Officially, they are co-clan heads: nothing more, nothing less. She runs a hand through his hair, marveling at how cool and soft it is, twisting in her fingers like silk skeins. "I'm sure."
"Tch. You didn't even let me finish my question," Sasuke complains.
"Sasuke-kun," Hinata replies softly, "you don't need to marry me. I'm happy with everything the way it is." Hinata smiles and leans her head on his shoulder. She can tell he is sputtering even without looking at him.
"If we got married, we'd have to have this whole big wedding. It'd be a mess with my family and all the political pressure—I don't want that. It's much better the way things are. Don't you agree?"
Sasuke settles back against the bench. "Hn."
They sit like that for a long time, the cool evening breeze sighing through the trees and spilling golden leaves at their feet. Hinata hums in contentment.
"Hey," she ventures at last, "do you want to burn some buildings in the old Uchiha district? I'm in the mood."
He doesn't say anything, but then, he doesn't have to. His grin says it all.
Soon, they are standing in front of a flaming foundation—the old dojo, Sasuke tells her—watching the flickering reds and oranges reach up like tongues wagging at the twilight. Hinata wishes she had brought marshmallows, and makes a mental note to bring some next time they torch the place.
"Sasuke-kun?" she calls, taking his hands and drawing him out of his thoughts; she can tell that he has been brooding again. She brings her lips close to his ear and murmurs, "It's good to be alive."
His mouth slants up into a lopsided smile, then he leans down to kiss her. Their profiles are backlit against the fire, and it looks like one dark silhouette is reaching for the other, two shadows merging until they are one darkness standing at heart of the fire, its red fringes lapping at the purpling sky.
"Hinata?" he whispers into her hair. "It is good to be alive."
Again, thank you for reading;) Please review!