This story has some of Masashi Kishimoto's characters from Naruto in a universe of my own devising. I do not own Naruto. I do not make any money from these writings.
Welcome to the latest, and final, story in the space saga that began with In the cold of space you find the heat of suns. If you are a new reader, I strongly recommend that you go to the start and read from there. There are 228 chapters before this one, so rather a lot has happened and you may find yourself a little lost.
There is some reference data for the story (e.g. the children's names) in my profile.
Thanks, as always, to my beta and muse, Small Fox. This story grew from a plot idea he gave me.
Story warning: There are male-male relationships in this story.
This is a re-post - the intimate scenes have have removed. If you are over 18, the complete version is on another site.
Chapter warning: I draw your attention to the title.
Part 1: The pod
Sasuke's attention wandered again; away from the report on his desk to the portrait of Naruto and the children.
He sighed. He had chosen that particular picture because of the intensity of Haru's gaze; a touch of Shikamaru in a face that could be, despite the colour of the eyes, a little too like his own.
Now it reminded him of Haru standing on the other side of his desk trying to be formal and grown up while he blinked back tears.
Sasuke was certain that he had made the correct decision; a deathbed was no place for a child of eleven.
He would make himself tea and then tackle another report.
Kettle on, he studied the array of plaques on the wall; one for each of the two hundred and thirty-one crews who had made the transition from affiliated to allied.
Seven were missing; they had been placed in a position of honour in the Hall above the names of those who had died.
Losing only seven ships from well over two hundred was remarkable; a testament to the quality of the crews and the support Uchiha gave them. Nevertheless, it was seven too many.
All the current allied crews were on his wall. Each plaque started plain. Many still were, but some had acquired one or more of the inlaid enamelled panels that indicated promotion.
He touched one of the most colourful, the Ninken's, and smiled. If there was ever a crew that embodied what made New Uchiha different it was the Ninken.
Inviting them to Tarrasade had definitely been the right thing to do; he was looking forward to meeting them in person.
The kettle boiled. He filled the pot and carried the tray back to his desk. On the way his gaze lingered on the smoothed notch at its edge. It reminded him of how difficult it was to guess what was happening in Haru's head; how easy it was to get it horribly wrong.
He drank his tea and read another report. Again, his attention kept wandering. Now Naruto's eyes, as well as Haru's, were looking at him.
Time to admit he was no longer sure; he activated the intercom.
"This is Sasuke. Naruto, if you could spare a few minutes I would appreciate it. I am in my office."
There was hardly a pause; Sasuke could imagine Naruto moving towards the intercom as soon as it clicked.
"This is Naruto. On my way."
Naruto was through the door before Sasuke had poured them both a cup of tea. He settled into one of the chairs, accepted the cup from Sasuke and waited.
"Has Shikamaru left yet?" Sasuke asked.
"No," Naruto answered. "Soon."
"He is very young," Sasuke complained.
"Yes," Naruto acknowledged. "How old would be old enough?"
Sasuke felt himself flush slightly. Was his decision influenced solely by Haru's age or, as Naruto was suggesting, had he other reasons?
Part of him still regretted allowing Klennethon Darrent into Haru's life. Haru had changed. He was more intense, more willing to argue and less anxious about disappointing people.
Less worried about behaving in a way that would make his Papa proud.
More different; 'Klenn-sensei' had pushed him to explore the limits of his abilities.
Sasuke remembered Klennethon Darrent sitting where Naruto was now, arguing that Haru would never be the typed-genius he could have been because Sasuke did not want it. That Sasuke was holding one of his children back, limiting him so that he fit into some pre-determined shape.
It had reminded Sasuke of what his father had done to Itachi and the horror of that thought had pushed him into agreeing that Haru could see Klennethon Darrent.
Looking back, Sasuke realised that Klennethon Darrent had probably planned it that way.
"Sasuke?" Naruto prompted.
"What do you think?" Sasuke asked. He should have asked before but he had not wanted to hear Naruto's answer.
"You are trying to protect Haru and I understand that," Naruto began. "But he wouldn't have asked unless it was important to him and I think asking shows that he is old enough." He looked directly into Sasuke's eyes. "I think that not going could cause more damage than going."
Sasuke stood up. "Will you take him?"
Naruto's eyes communicated his approval. "Of course. You'll tell Haru yourself?"
"I'll go now. Can you sort out the escort?"
The big litter were in the gym performing paired kata. Sasuke was surprised anew at how much the kits and Ryuu had shot up; Ryuu was already a hand's length taller than Hikaru.
Most shockingly, Kazuki and Haru were the same height. Sasuke remembered the day they were born, when Haru had been the largest and Kazuki so worryingly small.
His hybrid sons had started their growth spurt two standards sooner than would be usual for purebred boys; Sasuke's stomach churned at the thought of the seven of them hurtling into adolescence.
He took up a position that indicated that he wished to interrupt the session and Terai, who was assisting Kakashi, sounded the bell that signalled a pause.
Kakashi turned to him and bowed. "Sasuke-sama."
Sasuke bowed back. "Kakashi-sensei. I apologise for the interruption. I require Haru."
Haru waited for Kakashi's signal before hurrying to Sasuke, which was good.
He bowed. "Papa."
"Haru-chan. I have thought more about your request and decided that you can go. You will need to be quick. Get showered and dressed. Your To-chan will be waiting for you in the lobby."
Haru bowed and hurried away. Sasuke went back into the playroom to have a word with Iruka or Kiba. It turned out that it was Kiba, who was covering for Naruto.
Sasuke thanked him and then told him about Haru. Kiba did not comment and Sasuke could not tell if he approved or not. He might have asked but was distracted by a blond missile.
"Papa! Papa! Look at my painting."
One of the sweetest things about his youngest was that Tsuneo was always so pleased to see him. To Tsu-chan he was just Papa; not the person who told him off and certainly not Uchiha-sama. He crouched down to admire Tsuneo's coloured blobs and listen to his description of what they represented. At the end Sasuke gave him a hug and was rewarded by a kiss before realising that Kiba was still standing there.
"I am sure you will want to see them off, Sasuke-sama."
Which was as close as Kiba would ever get to telling him what to do.
The lobby was full. Shikamaru, Neji, Terai, Hamaki and Fu had delayed their departure and had been joined by Gai, Asuma and Naruto.
Naruto was in uniform but without his tags, which felt a little odd.
"Haru-chan will be a few minutes," Sasuke explained. "He was in the gym."
"Here he comes," Naruto observed.
It was some time before Haru came into view. Sasuke was pleased at his choice of clothes; a fresh top and pants, calf-high boots and his formal jacket.
He was fastening his jacket as he jogged towards them and, as he came closer, Sasuke could see that his hair was still damp.
Sasuke rested a hand on his shoulder. "Your To-chan can bring you back at any time. That is why Gai-san and Asuma-san are accompanying you."
"Thank you Gai-san, Asuma-san," Haru acknowledged. "I will be fine, Papa. Thank you for allowing me to go."
"You are welcome, Haru-chan," Sasuke replied. He turned and hugged Naruto. "Later," he whispered.
"Later," Naruto agreed.
Then they were gone and he was alone. Sasuke sighed and started walking towards his office and his queue of unread reports.
Haru stuck close to To-chan as they left the household.
He had been surprised that Papa had reconsidered. He knew that neither To-chan nor Shi-chan would have questioned the decision, so it had to be Papa having second thoughts.
Ran had been right. He had told Haru to state his case but not to argue. It had been hard to stand there and say nothing when Papa said no but Haru had done it.
If he had argued Papa would have been too cross to change his mind in time.
They went up the Tube to Prime. Haru hadn't been there before; since Klenn-sensei had been too tired to visit they had met via a video link.
He had expected the lobbies and corridors to be expensive and modern, like Klenn-sensei's Arts Complex or the new public section of the Uchiha compound. Instead the floors and walls were weird, like they were pretending to be old when they weren't.
Haru wasn't surprised to see security personnel everywhere; he knew that Prime was completely secure like Level 1. They were dressed in dark crimson with different coloured piping to denote their ranks, which was very smart but a bit much.
He much preferred the mesh and leather of Uchiha.
"Are there always this many?" To-chan queried.
Shi-chan smiled. "No. They want to see you, Na-chan."
"And Haru," Asuma-san grumbled. "How far is it?"
"Only a few more minutes," Fu-san assured him.
Shi-chan was right; the further they went the more security personnel appeared. Luckily they reached Klenn-sensei's door before To-chan's protective instincts went into overdrive and he growled at them or, worse, insisted on picking Haru up.
Once they were through the outer door into Klenn-sensei's apartment everything was different. Everywhere Haru looked was beautiful: the doors, the floor, the walls, even the ceiling.
The inner door was opened by a smartly dressed woman. Haru knew who she was; Klenn-sensei occasionally mentioned her. He bowed.
She managed a smile for him, even though her eyes looked sad. "Haru-chan. Citizen Darrent will be very pleased to see you.
They all went into a lobby where they swapped their boots for slippers and Haru, Shi-chan and Neji-san shed their jackets. Next came a room with chairs and low tables.
Miriam-san started telling Asuma-san about the facilities and Haru realised that this room was for guests' escorts. Only he, Shi-chan, To-chan and Neji-san carried on into what Miriam-san referred to as the inner waiting room.
It was much fancier than the room for the escorts. There were pictures on the walls and on a low table there was a statue of two naked men entwined together. Haru looked closer. He was almost sure it was Papa and To-chan.
He glanced towards To-chan and decided not to mention it.
Miriam-san left and Garner-san came in. He looked even sadder than Miriam-san. He faced To-chan and bowed.
"Thank you for bringing Haru-chan."
"Haru asked and Sasuke gave his permission," To-chan replied. "Neji-san and I will wait here."
Neji-san looked at him. "We will?"
"We will," To-chan told him. He came across to Haru and went down on one knee so that their eyes were level. "Sweetie, it might be hard. If you need a time-out, that's fine. If you want to go home, that's fine too."
Haru nodded and then To-chan hugged him.
Then Garner-san took him and Shi-chan into a third room. This time Haru did not notice much other than that it was all very beautiful.
He was going to see Klenn-sensei, which was great, but Klenn-sensei was dying, which wasn't.
"I will go and warn him you are coming," Garner-san said and left.
Haru was suddenly aware that Shi-chan was too quiet; he had said nothing since they had entered the apartment. Haru studied him. He was very pale with dark circles under his eyes.
Before Haru could decide what to say or to do, Garner-san was back.
Klenn-sensei was in a huge bed with a post at each corner, supporting a lid, or roof, or canopy; Haru wasn't sure what to call it. The head end was raised like a treatment bed in the infirmary, so Klenn-sensei looked like he was sitting on a couch with a footrest.
Across Klenn-sensei and the bed was the most beautiful cover Haru had ever seen. He couldn't help thinking that Haku-san would shave off all his hair to own it.
"Haru-chan, Shika," Klenn-sensei acknowledged.
Haru relaxed. Klenn-sensei sounded the same. He didn't even look that different than he had over the video link; over the last standard Haru had got used to him looking older and older.
"Haru-chan, come sit next to me," Klenn-sensei invited, patting the bed beside him.
Haru decided to treat the bed like a couch. He took off his slippers and sat next to Klenn-sensei on top of the cover with his feet up.
Klenn-sensei chuckled, which was nice. He turned to Shi-chan and gestured to the other side of the bed. "Shika?"
Shi-chan hesitated, but sat in the same position as Haru on Klenn-sensei's other side.
Haru looked around the room. On the wall to the right was a fabulous tapestry. To the left there was a picture, Haru thought it was a painting, of a beautiful spacer with golden hair and deep blue eyes.
And opposite the bed, where Klenn-sensei would see it most often, was a drawing of Shi-chan.
"Do you know what is special about this bed, Haru-chan?" Klenn-sensei asked.
Haru looked about for clues and spotted the projectors and speakers concealed in the canopy. "It's a simulator," he replied.
"Indeed it is, Haru-chan," Klenn-sensei replied.
Then Klenn-sensei started showing him stuff and Haru realised that these were the things Klenn-sensei had chosen to show him before he died.
Some of them were things that Klenn-sensei enjoyed, like a scent poem and a touch sculpture, and some of them were things he thought Haru would enjoy, like an amazing four-dimensional fractal, and some of them were puzzles or oddities that the three of them could enjoy discussing.
It was fun.
Then, suddenly, Klenn-sensei ran out of energy. He seemed to sink back into the pillows.
"You took a stim," Shi-chan accused.
Klenn-sensei forced a smile. "It was worth it." His hand trembled as he deactivated the simulator.
Haru realised that it was now or never. "I have a present for you." He held up the leather wallet that Shi-chan thought held a tablet but actually contained the pocket array Klenn-sensei had given him. "I want to show you something. You will have to wear my goggles and earpieces, Klenn-sensei."
Klenn-sensei perked up a little. "A gift? How exciting. Shika, could you ask Garner or Miriam for some tea?"
It was risky but Haru had talked it through with Ran, Kazuki and Sai. The other three had agreed that Klenn-sensei deserved to know about Sai and that they could trust him.
As Shi-chan walked away, Haru activated the interface while Klenn-sensei put in the earpieces and donned the goggles.
Haru watched the parts of Klenn-sensei's face he could see. He saw some colour come into his cheeks and his lips quirk into a smile. Looking closely, Haru could see him subvocalising.
Shi-chan was coming back with the tea. Haru shook Klenn-sensei's arm to warn him.
Klenn-sensei reluctantly removed the goggles and earpieces while Haru put the array back in its satchel.
"Thank you, Haru-chan," he whispered. "It is a wonderful gift."
The present or the tea seemed to give Klenn-sensei another burst of energy but Haru suspected it would not last long. Klenn-sensei looked at him with serious eyes.
"This will be our last time, Haru-chan."
Haru nodded, not trusting himself to speak.
"I will be leaving you many things. A few you will receive soon but others will be delivered over the standards. Remember Garner. If you find yourself in a situation when you need help your family cannot supply, as unlikely as that seems, go to him." He squeezed Haru's arm. "I would ask you to look after Shika and the rest of your family but I know you will always do that. Thank you for being a good friend and allowing me to be your sensei.
"Now it is time for us to say goodbye and for you to go."
Haru allowed the tears to flow. "Thank you for everything, Klenn-sensei. Goodbye."
Shikamaru watched Haru walk away. He would go to Na-chan, who would comfort him and take him back to where he belonged.
Part of Shikamaru wanted to leave with them. Another wished that Neji would come to the doorway and insist on chaperoning him now that Haru had gone.
Neither happened; he did not leave nor did Neji appear. Instead he was with Klenn on a bed.
"How long ago were we last alone?" Klenn asked.
Shikamaru remembered that night in the garden and flushed. "Twelve standards; before Haru was conceived."
Klenn reached up and touched his face. "I have no regrets. This way I had a friend."
Shikamaru did not know what to say. He was not built for times like this. Inside his emotions churned, dragging his thoughts this way and that. New lines of reasoning began with every surge or drift; opened then divided and multiplied. His mind was filled with might-have-beens and still-could-bes.
"Try to stay with me, Shika."
He made a huge effort to focus on the present rather than the lost opportunities of the past or the myriad of possible futures.
"Haru's visit was fun," Klenn suggested.
It helped. Thinking about Haru or Sumiko always brought him back to reality. "Yes. Sasuke said no at first. I don't know why he changed his mind."
"Because, despite his many limitations, Sasuke Uchiha loves his children and tries to do what is best for them."
Shikamaru did not want to talk about Sasuke because they would end up arguing.
"I confess I expected the Hyuga to be in the corner," Klenn commented.
"His name is Neji," Shikamaru complained. "Na-chan suggested they stay in the inner waiting room."
"Naruto," Klenn acknowledged. "One of the few people I have known who has consistently exceeded my expectations. A truly remarkable and exceptional individual." He reached out and Shikamaru found himself leaning towards his touch. "Like you, Shika. Let me hold you. Just this once. You need it."
Shikamaru shifted position slowly, clumsily, until he ended up lying against Klenn with his head on his shoulder. The bedcover was between them, making what would have been awkward into something acceptable and comforting. Klenn's arm was around him.
It felt nice; like when Na-chan held him but different because it was Klenn.
They stayed like that in silence for some time; Shikamaru wondered if Klenn had fallen asleep but then the hand against his back began moving.
"I am going to give you the only thing I own that I know you want," Klenn told him.
His heart began beating a little faster.
"And, yes, I have a backdoor to the Central Civil Services' systems as well as a copy of their database but it would be best if you never used it."
Shikamaru understood; it would be a huge risk because Centre's typed-geniuses would be watching for him. "I understand and thank you."
"I would have left you everything if you had not been sworn to Uchiha," Klenn admitted.
"Klenn..." Shikamaru began, about to resurrect their old argument.
"Sasuke Uchiha is not Uchiha, Shika," Klenn reminded him sharply. "Hopefully you will live another century and who knows who will be Uchiha-sama during that time? Even if it continues to be Sasuke Uchiha, what will he become once he no longer has Naruto to guide him? I have left you some things and Garner will be custodian of the rest."
"What about the improver?" Shika asked. If improvers were widely available, it would change known space forever.
"I have created options. Garner will choose between them depending on circumstances as they arise," Klenn replied.
Shikamaru's mind exploded with possibilities. He raced down one and then another and a third.
"Shika," Klenn called.
He came back to the present. "Sorry," he admitted.
They spoke about some other things. Shikamaru would think about each of them more deeply later; he knew that Klenn would have left him many messages to find and ponder.
After another silence Shikamaru said it.
"I will miss you."
The arm around him tightened. "I confess I am glad I do not have to live without you," Klenn replied. "You have Haru, who will help fill the gap."
Shikamaru agreed but Haru was not Klenn. He did not have Klenn's experience and knowledge. There were none of the deep, dark depths that lurked, threatening to swallow him.
"You will have to leave soon," Klenn warned.
His hand tightened on Klenn's shirt.
"I must give Garner the time he has earned," Klenn reminded him.
Shikamaru relaxed his grasp. Garner had always been there for Klenn. It was fitting that it should be him who was there at the end.
"You don't want me to come back?" he checked.
"This time it is not a matter of what I want," Klenn replied. "This time it is about Garner."
"You don't have to go yet," Shikamaru argued.
Klenn's fingers stroked his spine. "My mind is beginning to fail."
They had a few more minutes together and then Shikamaru did what he knew he must do. He pulled away.
He hesitated and then placed one, chaste kiss on Klenn's lips.
Klenn did not kiss back but, when they separated, he smiled. "Thank you, Shika."
Shikamaru felt himself blushing. "Goodbye, Klenn, I shall think of you often."
"Goodbye, Shika. I love you."
Shikamaru nodded. "I know."