Please see first chapter for disclaimer, rating, warnings, pairings, etc.
Special Thanks: goes out to Guest (1), The Golden Lilys Secret, McKazekage, TheGirlWithNoIQ, rao hyuga 18, greetingsfrommaars, Anonymous, QueenP19, AnnaUmulie97, and Guest (2) for all your wonderful, encouraging reviews! And I also want to send a shout-out to everyone who's left me such encouraging reviews throughout this story, as well as those who have added this story (and me!) to their favorites and follows lists. You all have made writing and posting this story such a fun and joyous experience, and I appreciate every single one of you beyond what words can describe. Thank you.
Author's Note: And we've reached the epilogue! When I started writing and posting this story back in September, for Mama Jo's birthday, I never thought it would get this popular. But I have to admit, this has been one of the most enjoyable stories to write, and I'm so thankful so many of you have seemed to get equal enjoyment out of reading it. Thank you all so much for your support, for both my story and me, and I hope you enjoy this epilogue!
~Five Years Later~
Hinata closed her eyes. Breathed in deeply through her nose. Breathed out gustily through her mouth.
She could taste the excitement in the air. She curled her toes into the sand beneath her feet, allowing the rough grains to ground her. Her warm muscles, coiled tightly as a spring, sang in time to the blood pounding through her body. But mostly, she listened to the excited buzz of the crowd just on the other side of the wall, waiting, waiting...
The creak of hinges made her eyes snap open. Light spilled into the little nook where she'd been patiently waiting the past few minutes. As the doors settled back against the walls on either side of her, the ringing note of a gong met her ears, and she knew: It was finally time.
Her feet thrummed through the sand, throwing it up behind and around her, as she raced into the arena. She counted off the beat - three, four, five, six - and then threw herself into a forward sommersault, landing directly in front of the man who had entered the arena from the doors directly across from her own.
Everything - the music, the approving, excited roars of the crowd, even the pulse pounding in her ears - faded away. Her concentration narrowed, focused solely on the redheaded man whose hand raced toward her with deadly aim.
A laugh bubbled up in her chest as she bent backwards, her own hand flying up to allow her fingers to brush across the point under his arm which would have rendered it numb had she applied any significant pressure. As she straightened, she caught the flash of a responding smile on Gaara's face as he dove to his right, trying to get behind her. With the speed and grace of a ballerina, Hinata pivoted, the momentum of her right leg propelling it around so her heel could pass within an inch of her husband's beloved, trusting face.
They fell into a pattern as familiar as breathing: give and take, advance and retreat, attack and defend. Hinata knew at least a few people in the crowd would be thinking they were dancing around each other, but she knew the truth. They danced together, equals in every way.
Her breathing quickened in excitement. Ever since her first Founder's Festival in Suna, when she'd witnessed Itachi and Temari dancing with their dangerous mix of hand-to-hand and steel, she'd longed to emulate it with Gaara. Only they omitted the steel, using only their hands and feet in two entirely different, yet somehow still complimentary, styles.
Falling into a crouch, Hinata lashed out at Gaara's legs with her own left one. As soon as he realized what she was doing, however, he launched himself into the air, his head coming within a hand's width of hers as he vaulted over her to land in the sand behind her. She felt his fingers graze the back of her thigh as she rolled onto her shoulder, not quite ready for the fight to be over - not just yet. Ignoring the strands of hair straggling out of her braid to fall around her face, she smoothly leaped back up onto her feet, poised and ready for her husband's next strike.
It came in the form of a webhand toward her throat. Instinctively stepping forward and to the side, she smacked the flat of her hand against his arm, careful not to hit either of the points near there. Next she aimed her own strike at Gaara's solar plexus, but he cleverly dodged away, a teasing glint in his eyes as his own bare feet gouged into the sand beneath them.
The music continued to build, and Hinata sensed it was nearing its crescendo. It's time to end this fight.
She tautened her right hand, tightening her fingers as she aimed the knife edge of her hand toward the side of Gaara's neck as she leaped across the distance separating them. She saw her husband's eyes flare wide for a brief moment as understanding of her move registered. His left foot slid back. He reached out to grasp her wrist - tightly, but not painfully so - spin her around, and pull her back against his chest, arms folding tightly around her in a kind of cage just as the music ended.
"Mine," he growled teasingly in her ear, his hold on her shifting slightly as his arms briefly tightened around her in a hug.
She turned her head to nestle her temple lovingly against his jawline. "Always," Hinata replied honestly, the roar of the crowd easily keeping her whisper disguised. When Gaara let go of her, he twined his fingers with hers, keeping hold of her hand as the two turned in a full circle to bow to their approving audience.
They exited the arena through the doors Hinata had used earlier. She grinned when she realized everyone had slipped away during the applause and gathered to greet her and Gaara the moment they left the floor.
"That was amazing!" Hiashi and Hoshi, her and Gaara's firstborn twins, barreled into them, all arms and legs and grins. Their pale green-tinged eyes stared adoringly up at their parents as they bounced excitedly.
Hinata kept one hand on Hoshi's head as she accepted hugs from other, adult, members of the family. Temari used the opportunity to slip year-old Sayori, with her fiery red hair and sleepy green eyes, from her loving aunt's grip to her equally loving mother's.
Next came Shisui, a miniature of his father with his raven hair and big black eyes, and his thirteen-month-younger blonde sister Karura, arguing vociferously about who got to hug whom first. Gaara settled things by simultaneously placing a hand on his nephew's and niece's heads and ruffling their hair, the easy grin which now came far more naturally to him gracing his face.
Behind them Hikari waited patiently, her father's white eyes and her mother's twin-bun hairstyle proclaiming her parentage, holding the hand of her little brother Hizashi, who had also inherited the striking eyes of the Hyuuga. Tenten carried nine-month-old Yuuki, her velvety brown eyes closed in sleep. Neji, looking proud of his sister's abilities, kissed Hinata on top of the head and then hurried to corral Hizashi, who'd escaped his older sister's hold so he could get into yet another squabble with Shisui and Hiashi.
Kankuro enfolded Hinata in a hug which lifted her off the ground, declaring she should take up puppeteering next. When he set her down (Hinata suspected after receiving a pointed glare from his younger brother, though she had her back to Gaara and couldn't tell for sure), Matsuri crept up, her usual shy, sweet smile in place as she hugged Hinata past her own rapidly expanding stomach.
As Matsuri stepped back to join Kankuro, Hinata finally caught a glimpse of the person she'd been waiting to approach. Though she'd visited Hanabi several times in Konoha, her younger cousin hadn't ventured out of her home village - until now.
"Hanabi." When the girl hesitated as if unsure of her reception, Hinata stepped forward and wrapped her in a tight, albeit one-armed because of Sayori, hug. "Thank you so much for coming."
"You did amazing out there." Hanabi stepped back, a tremulous smile turning up the corners of her lips as she glanced away, then back. "Big sister."
The tight knot in Hinata's stomach eased at Hanabi's words. Since finding out she and Hinata were cousins, instead of the sisters they'd been raised as, Hanabi had grown distant. But apparently she'd decided she didn't want to stay remote from Hinata any more than Hinata wanted to distance herself from Hanabi.
"Thank you, little sister," Hinata whispered, pulling Hanabi into another hug. Closing her eyes, she clung to the younger girl a few moments longer, treasuring the feeling of the rift between them closing as if it had never existed.
Even when Hinata started to let go, Hanabi held on a few moments longer. "I know I wasn't here for your wedding," she said softly. Stepping back, the eighteen-year-old shot a quick, shy glance at her fiancé, who stood with his hands in his pockets, long signature blue scarf trailing almost to the ground, talking to Kankuro, Gaara, Temari, and Matsuri. "But - would you come to Konoha for mine?"
Fighting back the sudden urge to squeal - definitely undignified for the lady of Suna - Hinata grinned and grabbed Hanabi in another one-armed hug - careful not to jostle the half-asleep Sayori - and fiercely wished she never had to let go. "Of course I will! Thank you for inviting me, Hanabi."
The younger girl grinned. "Let's face it," she said, a glint of her old self reigniting in her pale eyes. "My wedding just wouldn't be the same without my big sister there."
When Hanabi wandered off to join Konohamaru and the others, Hinata caught Gaara's eye over Matsuri's shoulder. He smiled at her, holding out his hand in invitation for her to come join him. She slipped directly to his side, relishing the rightness of how his arm around her shoulders felt.
Standing there, with her family around her, her fellow villagers behind her, and the love for all of them inside her, Hinata knew there was no place she'd rather be.
At long last, she belonged.
Author's Ending Notes: Gosh, it's so bittersweet typing The End. This has been one of the most enjoyable writing experiences I believe I've ever had, and for all you who've reached out and left me reviews, and added me and Shadows to your favorites and follows, have been so encouraging and supportive, and I'm infinitely grateful to all of you. Quick shout-out to Mama Jo, for whom this fic was born for her birthday gift - I hope I managed to fit in everything you requested! And for everyone else, thank you again so much for your support. I've had such a blast taking this journey with you all, and I am grateful beyond words for this experience. Thank you.
Author's Ending Notes II: I will put this author's note here and at the beginning of the story (and yes, this is a new addition since the story ended). I have gotten several reviews (some of which, ironically, came after I completed the story) complaining about Hinata's stutter in Shadows: "But she doesn't stutter in the anime, at least not that much!" While essentially Hinata is quite similar to the character we see in canon, she has gone through several traumatizing events in her childhood in the Shadows universe, all of which combined to cause her nervous stutter in the story. There is a reason why she stutters, and if you pay attention, it does eventually begin to ease away and then vanish entirely as the story progresses and her confidence - both in her new family and in herself - grows. I'm sorry if that "annoys" or bothers you, but there is a legitimate reason why I gave Hinata that characteristic, and I ask you to please stop criticizing both me and my story about it. Thank you.
Author's Ending Notes III: Even though Shadows has ended, I'm happy to say I'm not quite finished playing in this alternate sandbox quite yet. I hope to see you all again in Light and Dark, the prequel to this one. I expect the first chapter to be up within the next week or so. I'm looking forward to diving deeper into the ninja portion of this universe, as well as outlining Itachi and Temari's stories - and clearing up a few more questions about their relationship and secrets that couldn't be addressed in Shadows. Also, I get to show a bit more of Gaara before Hinata comes in, and some of the events leading up to her arrival in Shadows, so I'm really excited about that, too! To all of you who have asked for a sequel to this story, I'll say this: Though I am not currently planning a sequel, I'm not entirely ruling out the possibility. If I get an idea I feel will be worthy of following Shadows, I'll definitely waste no time in getting started on it! For now, I wish you all adieu, and I hope to see you again for Light and Dark! Thank you again for reading Shadows!