"So this is the stuffed kitty cat that Ino-san got me when I was born! I mean I don't remember getting it but I've had it for like forever and I sleep with her every night. She used to be all white but like I spilled stuff on her a lot when I was littler so now she looks kinda grayish I think?" Shrugging the little girl set the stuffed toy down on her dresser. "Now this is my bed. My blankets used to be pink but I'm not a baby anymore so for Christmas I got some purple blankets 'cause purple is less girly."
"What's wrong with being girly?"
The child pouted, shrugging. "Girly stuff isn't tough."
"So pink isn't tough?" He asked, a hint of humor in his voice. "You better not let your mother hear that one."
Hana's pout deepened as she crossed her arms over her chest. "I didn't mean it like that."
"Yeah," Sasuke smirked, "well, I think you can have girly stuff and be tough at the same time."
"Maybe," she mumbled, her eyes drifting around the room. "I was gonna have Mom paint the walls blue but… I guess I can keep them pink."
Sasuke reached forward and placed a hand on her head, rubbing her hair playfully. "You can do them whatever color you want."
Hana screeched slightly, swatting his hands away. "Dad! You're going to mess up my braid!"
"It'll be fine," he said, biting back a laugh as he watched her scurry over to her mirror and try to make sure all the strands of her now-short, black hair were in place. "You look fine," he assured her.
"Yeah but it's my party so I've gotta look better than fine!"
"And you do," another voice chimed in from the doorway. Leaning against the doorframe, Sakura smiled as she watched Hana fuss over her appearance. "You look beautiful. And your guests are starting to arrive."
Her dark eyes widened. "They are?" Turning back toward the mirror she checked her reflection once more. "How many people? Are any of my friends there yet? What about Osamu?"
Sasuke wanted to roll his eyes at the mention of the Sarutobi boy, but he fought the urge. Sakura simply smiled knowingly. "He's not here yet, but don't leave your other guests waiting."
"Got it!" Running out the door, she quickly turned down the hall. "I'm coming!" She shouted to anyone in the house who could hear her.
Sasuke shook his head. "This is going to be a long day."
"It's already three o'clock in the afternoon."
"Doesn't mean the rest of the day won't be long."
Sakura laughed, walking into her daughter's room. "Quit whining and come on." Poking him on the shoulder she crossed her arms over her chest and began to walk out of the room. "If I recall you were just as anxious about today as she was."
Sasuke frowned. "I've never been here for a birthday, that's why."
"And now you are. So come on," she waved her hand toward him as she stepped out into the hallway, "I have eight-year olds to entertain and I could use some help."
"Can't you enlist Naruto's help?"
Sakura scoffed. "Naruto is dealing with a two-year-old and a newly pregnant wife. He's got a bit more on his plate than you do. I'll be surprised if they show up on time, let alone at all."
Even with his hesitance Sasuke still willingly followed Sakura through the hallway, down the stairs and out into the kitchen where she had snacks of all types laid out.
"Everyone who's here should already be in the backyard," she commented, picking up a few trays and even handing him a few, "help me bring out the food."
Arms filled with sweets and sugary foods that he was sure was a bad idea to give to small, already-energetic kids, Sasuke followed Sakura outside, surprised to see a few more people already there than he'd anticipated.
The sound of a barking dog is what got his attention first. Leaning against the back of the house with a disc was Hanabi, laughing as Akamaru ran up toward her excitedly before obediently sitting at her side.
"Oh, now you're just messing with me, huh?"
Turning his head Sasuke watched as Kiba jogged over toward them, his hair filled with twigs and leaves for some odd reason.
Hanabi just grinned wickedly before scratching the large dog behind the ears. "I don't know what you're talking about. You must be getting clumsy."
"Kiba," Sakura's voice chimed in from behind Sasuke, "you know you're not supposed to be running around." He couldn't see it, but Sasuke could picture the look of disapproval that she was probably currently shooting the wolf man.
"Yeah, yeah," he waved a hand toward her, "I'm fine. Just getting some exercise. It's boring just lying around all day."
Sakura frowned, "Yeah, well take it easy."
"You got it, Doc."
She then shot Hanabi a look, "And you. Make sure he actually listens."
Hanabi grinned, "You can count on it."
"Hey guys," another voice called from the edge of the yard. Sasuke turned around just in time to see Ino strolling toward them, smiling brightly. "Guess who got back from their mission early?" Walking in behind her were Shikamaru and Choji, nodding and waving toward the group respectively.
"Oh, my god! I didn't think you guys would be able to make it!" Sakura exclaimed, giving her best friend a tight hug before turning to embrace the two men by her side.
"Neither did we," Choji smiled, "but we got things done quicker than we thought so we figured we'd stop by and surprise Hana."
"Speaking of the birthday girl," Ino chimed in, scanning the wide yard, "where is Hana?"
Running towards the group, blue dress flying behind her, Hana jumped into Ino's arms, giggling as she shyly waved toward the men flanking her.
"Hey sweetie," planting a kiss on her forehead, Ino grinned down at the girl. "Happy birthday!"
"Did you see my cake yet?! It's got pretty flowers on it like the ones you have in your shop."
Ino laughed, "I haven't seen it yet, but I'll be sure to go take a look."
Hana grinned brightly in response, leaning forward to wrap her arms around the woman's neck once more. Looking at the two men behind Ino, Hana smiled brightly and waved enthusiastically. "Hi Choji-san! Hi Shika-san!"
Eyes widening she looked behind Shikamaru only to see a boy with tanned skin and a mess of dark hair running toward her.
"Osamu!" Wiggling out of Ino's grasp, Hana ran toward the boy, letting out an excited squeal before throwing herself at him, knocking him clean off his feet. As she leaned over his flattened body she merely giggled as she looked down at him. "Gotcha!"
Sasuke watched with mild amusement as the boy—now a chuunin, judging by his new vest—sat up, clearly trying to catch the breath that Hana had quite literally knocked out of him. Of course she could take him out; first year academy student or not, Hana was an Uchiha.
Allowing himself to smirk he watched as Hana easily hopped up and skipped away, leaving the Sarutobi boy to pull himself off the ground and, while trying to catch his breath, attempt to keep up with her.
The afternoon passed by quicker than Sasuke expected.
More people than he anticipated ended up showing up, both to his chagrin and to his luck. He didn't like the fact that there were so many people he didn't know there, but he did like how the afternoon seemed to fly by since there had been so much to do. They'd ran out of snacks after only two hours, so he'd accompanied Sakura in her kitchen in helping her scavenge up more snacks for the party guests.
Naruto had shown up more than fashionably late, making his entrance as he chased an overly-energetic two-year-old into the backyard.
Sasuke didn't know toddlers could be so evasive until watching Naruto try to grab hold of his son.
Many of their comrades were in attendance, but it couldn't help but be noted the absence of a particular silver-haired man…
"He would be happy," Naruto had remarked to him out of the blue, wandering over to him before the sun had set with a sleeping two-year-old on his hip.
Sasuke had given him a blank look. He knew what Naruto was saying and he obviously knew who he was referring to, but he hadn't known what had prompted him to say that to him.
"It's not just on your mind, Sasuke," he noted, glancing across the backyard to their comrades, "everyone is thinking about him. They're just trying not to." The Hokage smiled slightly, "I think it helps to think about him, instead of avoiding it, since he'd be happy. Seeing everyone here, okay, alive," he let out a light chuckle, "I have no doubt in my mind that there isn't anything that would make him happier."
Naruto had left soon after that, leading Hinata—who was obviously exhausted and dead on her feet—out of the backyard and toward their home. For the rest of the night, until the sun had set, Sasuke had chosen to stand to the side of everything and watch from the edge of the yard.
Slowly more and more people departed, some people dragging away tired kids, others not so lucky as they attempted to get their sugared-up, overly-energized kids to leave the party. Either way it was an amusing thing to watch.
He didn't see Sakura again until more of the guests had left and he saw her from across the yard attempting to clean everything up.
"Here," he'd said as he approached her from behind, holding out a hand, "let me help."
Gratefully, Sakura had handed over the trash bag and shot him a thankful smile. "Where've you been?"
"Around," he shrugged as he held the bag open for her. She threw away juice boxes and snack wrappers by the handful, stopping every now and then to wipe the back of her hand over her forehead, wiping away the sweat that formed as she worked.
"So what do you think?" She asked with a smirk. "Was it everything you expected?"
He shrugged, "I didn't know what to expect exactly."
"Well, did you enjoy yourself?"
He shrugged again, "I guess so."
Sakura scoffed, "So you're trying to tell me that watching Hana blow out her candles wasn't every bit as exciting as you imagined it would be?"
"I mean," he shifted on his feet slightly, "yeah."
Sakura laughed, "It was sweet. You know, to see her so excited about having you here. It's good to have her happy about having her dad here."
"One out of eight isn't exactly what anyone would call good."
Sakura paused and straightened up, turning toward him. "Hey," she said softly, reaching up and placing a hand against his cheek, "she doesn't care that you haven't been here before. All she cares about is that you're here now." She smiled, patting his cheek lightly before turning around and resuming cleaning her yard. "So don't go getting all melodramatic on me now."
Sasuke frowned, holding the bag out once more for her to deposit trash into.
It took them almost an hour to clean the entire yard, ridding the trees of streamers and deflated balloons, and picking up dropped pieces of cake off the grass. Sasuke was disgusted by the amount of trash that a couple dozen children could produce, but he hadn't exactly been exposed to kids for very long, so he supposed he had a bit more to learn.
Eventually he found himself in her living room with her, sitting by her on the couch, sipping tea contently. Hana had gone up to bed not too long before, exhausted from running around all day and playing with her friends.
He eyed her carefully from the opposite side of the couch as she leaned her head back against it, her eyes closed with a happy smile gracing her lips.
She looked healthier now. After returning to the village she'd gained some weight back and had gotten the hair cut she'd been wanting for months. Her hair was the shortest he'd ever seen it now, the pink strands just reaching past her ears. She hadn't admitted it to him, but he knew that she was still having trouble sleeping at night; the circles under her eyes had lightened a bit but they had yet to completely disappear.
"How was your week?" She asked after a few long, silent minutes.
She cracked an eye open at him, "Those two things don't sound like they belong together at all."
"Had another meeting with the council, now I have more papers to fill out and another evaluation next month."
Sakura frowned, opening both her eyes and turning toward him, sitting up more. "Another psych evaluation? What the hell?"
Sasuke shrugged, cracking his neck. "I don't know. I just want them to finish all this nonsense."
Sakura sighed, "Well, hopefully after your next eval they'll realize they're wasting their time. I bet Naruto's frustrated."
Sasuke smirked, "He started yelling at the council until Shikamaru shut him up."
Sakura laughed, shaking her head. "I don't know how Shikamaru has been able to handle him all these years, but either way I'm thankful he's there to keep that knucklehead in line."
"I still can't believe he's Hokage."
"Oh please," Sakura scoffed, "he'd been talking about it since we were kids. Did you think he was going to stop until he accomplished his goal? He's way too stubborn to give up on something like that. You of all people should know that." She then smiled softly. "He's living his dream right now. Sixth Hokage, Uzumaki Naruto." Her smile brightened. "I think it's great. He accomplished everything he's worked so hard for."
An old memory resurfaced in Sasuke's mind where a group of three genin sat in front of their newly assigned sensei, half-heartedly attempting to introduce themselves to one another.
"That was so long ago," he muttered under his breath.
"Yeah," Sakura nodded, clearly following his train of thought. "Over a decade has passed."
The words from his twelve-year-old self reverberating through his mind, Sasuke frowned, finding himself recollecting his old goals he'd worked so hard to attain.
"I was an idiot back then."
Sakura looked at him with a soft expression. "No, you weren't. You were a boy who'd been lied to all his life. You had to live through hell Sasuke, you can't blame yourself for what happened afterward."
"I could've easily stayed."
"There's no use thinking back on what happened now. It's all done and in the past now. What we have now is what's important."
He glanced at her quickly before turning his gaze away. "Even if I hadn't been told the truth about Itachi, even if I'd come back to Konoha after our battle I would've still been miserable. I would've still been the same, angry asshole I'd always been. Nothing would've ever changed—"
He was cut off abruptly as Sakura grabbed the back of his head and pulled him closer toward her, pressing her lips firmly against his.
Pulling back she looked into his eyes, her expression soft. "I told you. That doesn't matter anymore. You're here, aren't you?"
"And you're happy? Or at least content now, right?"
"Of course I am—"
"Then there's no point in thinking about the past and getting sad. There's nothing we can do to change it. So either you can stop thinking about things that you know are going to depress you or you can be happy at the life you have now." She grabbed his hand and held it tightly. "You have your old friends back. Your old comrades. Hell, you even have your old apartment back." She smiled. "You have a daughter who loves you, and a village who respects you. What more could you want?"
He didn't hesitate. "You."
Sakura's mouth hung open in shock for a moment before she recovered. "You—I mean, I'm here aren't I?"
"You know what I mean," he mumbled, turning away from her, sighing.
Eyes focusing out the window into the dark night Sasuke bit his lip, not exactly wanting to have this conversation again but feeling the overwhelming need to. When he felt her fingertips touch his cheek and turn his head back toward her, he could only focus on her sad smile.
"You really love me, don't you?"
He frowned. "Why would I lie about something like that?"
"I mean, you have to try and look at it from my perspective," she said. Turning her body completely toward him she pulled her legs up onto the couch, her arms wrapped around her knees as she returned eye contact once more. "I've been waiting for you for years now. Twelve years to be specific. I've seen you come and go more times then I'd like to and I've been under the impression that you couldn't give two shits about me for the longest time. It's just a little strange to think that you—that you actually love me."
"I've also never been one to lie," he added, knowing that she was well aware of that fact.
"Yes but, things are different now. We're different now. We're adults. We have a daughter. I just…" she hesitated, looking away for a few seconds before shooting her sad gaze back toward him. "I'm just not entirely sure you know me—the real me—well enough to actually love me."
"So what? I have to prove it?" He asked, both frustrated as well as mildly amused at the thought. He never, in all his life, figured that he'd have to convince Haruno Sakura that he cared about her. He simply assumed that if he were to ever reciprocate her feelings that she'd simply be happy and then just accept it. But like always nowadays, he had to keep repeating the same statement to himself over and over and over again.
Things had changed.
"Let's do something."
Sakura raised an eyebrow. "What?"
"Together. You and me."
"Is this your way of asking me on a date?" She asked, amused at the way he was wording things.
He ground his teeth slightly, not appreciating her mocking tone. "Yes."
"Why?" She asked, laughing. "We see each other almost every day. We spend enough time together as it is."
"You say that I don't know the real you enough. So I'm going to change that."
"You don't have to take me on a date to get to know me," she smiled softly at him, a soft pink blush on her cheeks.
"I want to," he insisted. "That's the way people do things, right? Take people on dates? Get to know them?"
"Then that's what I'm going to do." He said sternly, his expression serious. "I'm going to do whatever it takes to get you to believe me."
Leaning forward he grabbed her hand, holding it tightly between both of his. He wanted her—no, needed her—to know that he wasn't joking, that this was in no way some over-exaggeration or something he felt as if he was obligated to do. He needed her to believe that he honestly, truly, loved her with every cell in his body.
"Can I at least try and prove it to you?" He asked, his expression as genuine as his words.
Sakura stared at him—he couldn't tell if it was with shock or out of awe—with her eyes wide and mouth slightly agape. Looking into her bright green eyes there was no doubt in his mind that she was the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen or ever would see for as long as he lived. Half of him wondered if he was biased due to the fact that he loved her, but he knew that she'd always been beautiful for as long as he'd known her.
"Okay," she whispered with teary eyes and a smile on her face that was so pure and cheerful that it made Sasuke's heart swell. "Okay."
Leaning in toward her, Sasuke brushed her cheek lightly with the back of his hand, catching a tear as it fell from her eye. Kissing her forehead first he made eye contact with her before lowering his head and kissing her on the lips, as gently and as lovingly as he possibly could, with as much tenderness as he could muster up in all of his body.
He was going to prove that he loved her, even if it took him the rest of his life to do so.
"I'm not going anywhere," he whispered in between kisses.
And he never would.
And there we have it. The conclusion to my first ever Naruto fanfiction, Changing Skies.
I hope, more than anything in the world, that you enjoyed reading it as much as I've enjoyed writing it. I've never written something so lengthy over such a long period of time and to be quite honest, I'm actually proud of myself. It's been one hell of a year, as you can probably see through each of my previous author's notes, but I'm glad to say that writing this helped me get through it. It was therapeutic in a way.
I'd like to thank every single one of you reading this right now. Thank you for the follows and for the favorites. Thank you for the reviews and the recommendations. And most of all, thank you for all the love and kindness you have all extended toward me, I'll always be grateful.
I know I have only replied to a few reviews but I do read and greatly appreciate every single one of them. And now that this story is finished, feel free to recommend it to your friends who don't like reading incomplete fics (since I understand that totally).
As for future works, I'm currently working to finish my NaruHina mini-series Sleepless Nights, but after that I already have ideas for new, lengthy SasuSaku fics. So don't worry, this story may be over but I'll be working on writing new things for you all to read. You can always see my regular posts and updates over at my tumblr blog under this same penname.
As I finished this up, I wasn't expecting to get emotional about it, but I did find myself tearing up a little bit. It's been a long, bumpy ride, but it's been great.
Again, thank you so much. It's been a lot of fun. I hope you liked it.