Let it be known that this was almost the day that I missed an upload.

I didn't though! Got it with a few minutes to spare!

Anyways, without further ado, E3 is on in like a week, let's hope for some Xenoblade/Metroid news! Or, y'know, whatever else you're looking forward to.


Chapter 96: To End it All Right Here and Now


Naruto wasn't quite sure what to expect when he, along with several of his peers, filed into the Hokage's office. He was sort of hoping she'd say something like "congratulations, you have the next several days off!" but he had the not-so-good feeling that probably wasn't going to be it.

He'd come straight from the battlefield after perhaps only two or three hours of sporadic combat. He hadn't expected the summons, but then again, he imagined that was a fairly universal feeling with those who were standing around him. None of them seemed particularly informed on what exactly was going on.

He also noticed the group surrounding him was very similar to the group that had went with him to assault the Akatsuki's main base. A few were missing, those who'd taken substantial injuries during their trip, Dosu and Haku, and a few of the harder hitters who would still be needed on the battlefield, Tenzo and Guy, but aside from them, Zaku, Kin, Anko, Jiraiya, Kakashi, Tenten, Ino, Hinata, Sakura, Sasuke, Itachi, Fu and Kabuto all stood waiting, alongside himself.

"I understand this is rather short notice, and had I any other choice, I would've allowed you to rest before I'd summoned you. I'm afraid, however, that you will have to wait about a half hour before I send all of you off to bed."

Naruto blinked, realizing this had to have been a dream, because there was no way he was actually getting rest when the battle was still going on, right?

"Pardon me for asking, Lady Tsunade," Kakashi spoke up. "But… are you ordering us to rest after this meeting?"

"We'll get back to that later, Kakashi, but if you must know, yes, those will be your orders."

Several people let out satisfied hums at that information, Naruto among them. A few fist-bumped, and the overall merriment of this little impromptu meeting was drastically improving.

"For right now, I'm afraid I have far from good news. The Eight Tails has had a piece of its chakra stolen away."

They were dead quiet now, that positive attitude disappearing nearly immediately.

"I suppose you now understand why I am planning to allow you all to rest, then?"

Naruto could, actually.

"Because, as the elite of the Leaf Village, we're the ones who will be called upon to attack Black Zetsu, and the other members of the Akatsuki still remaining, to try and stop their plan of world domination?"

Tsunade nodded, pursing her lips a bit grimly. "Got it in one."

Several of their members seemed to be having trouble accepting the 'elite' moniker, but that really was the least of their issues at that moment, so they wisely decided to simply move on from that one.

"The plan is rather simple. We will be waiting for Black Zetsu to make a move somewhere in the world, whether that be in an open field, or in a major village somewhere. At that point, we will send you all out, and you will track the remaining Akatsuki down, defeat them, and, hopefully, steady the world once more. With luck, we'll be able to stop the revival of the Ten-Tails, and with it, the revival of Kaguya Otsutsuki."

They all nodded, though Naruto couldn't help noticing just how anxious each and every one of them looked.

"And what about defending the Village?" Zaku asked, piping up with the question they all had. "I mean… we're the strongest, right? Or, well, that's what Naruto said, anyway. If we leave, wouldn't the Village be a hell of a lot weaker than before?"

Tsunade shook her head. "The reason you were all so vital to the defense before was that we had neither Shizune's units, nor the Sand's help in defending the Village. Hell, even Suigetsu and some of the other remaining Orochimaru remnants we brought back have offered to fight if it means they get a pardon for their actions, and I've decided to give them one. Now, we've also had the time to set up some rather extraneous barricades, and we should be able to hold the Village for quite a while, provided Naruto can do a cursory sweep with the Nine-Tails' negative reading beforehand, to make sure we only allow in actual Leaf Ninja."

He nodded. That could be arranged.

"Then we'd simply not allow entry to anyone at all. Under no circumstance. Anyone who tried to come in would be barred from entry, and anyone who tried further than that would be killed. Brutal, yes, but effective in dealing with the Zetsu hoards. We'd be able to hold, in theory, indefinitely."

Naruto liked the sound of that, even if he wasn't sure if it was an entirely realistic plan. If a single hole appeared in their wall, if anything went wrong, then…

Tsunade knew that. She had to have. She'd run through the possibilities, and…

She'd determined this was their best option.

That she'd potentially doom the Leaf to save the rest of the world was…

Well, Naruto found he couldn't help but admire her selflessness, even if he knew had he been Hokage, it wasn't a decision he could've made in good conscience.

"For now… your mission is simple. Rest. Revivify yourselves, regenerate your chakra, and be prepared for the fight of your lives within the next few days. The fate of the world may very well rest in your hands."

Yeah, no pressure there. He thought to himself idly.

They exited out of the Hokage's office in no real hurry. Several went on ahead before the others, Zaku and Kin headed off towards the hospital to visit Dosu, and likely to tell him of the upcoming mission. Kakashi headed straight for his apartment, and Naruto couldn't begrudge the man that one bit. He'd been fighting on the frontlines, using his Sharingan for a good majority of the time. Exhausted probably didn't begin to cover how the men really felt.

For Naruto himself, however, he ended up drifting rather aimlessly. A few locations seemed to stick out to him. He could try and go and visit Tenten, but, well, he'd already seen the girl a few times this week, and maybe he'd come off as weird if he tried again. Sure they needed to talk, but that could wait til' this was over. He could head to Hinata's? See how she was doing? Once again though, the thought of accidentally getting between a conversation that needed to happen had him hesitating, and ultimately deciding against it.

Finally, as he was about to give up, a hand tapped him on the shoulder, and he turned to see.

"We seem to finally have some time." Sasuke smiled. "So… would you like to have that talk?"

He found a small smile blooming on his face almost immediately as he remembered back to what his best friend had to have been referring to, and nodded his head, turning towards the open road before them.

"Y'know… I think I would. Normally, I'd say we could just go to Ichiraku, but… well, I ate there only a few hours back. You got any other ideas for where we could go?"

Sasuke contemplated that for a moment, before a nostalgic smirk caught on his lips.

"Actually… yeah." He spoke as he turned.

"I have an idea."

/-/

"…And a happy birthday to you!"

Dosu shot the two of them what Zaku could only describe as an exasperated stare, before informing them quietly that "You do realize none of us know our actual birthday's, right?"

"Exactly," Kin smiled. "So, we get to make them up, and the two of us decided that today is yours."

"You couldn't have just… I don't know, made it a special occasion for me getting out of the hospital?"

"Nope." Zaku answered. "Would've been too easy."

Dosu could only sigh in a put-upon manner.

The door at the front of the room opened, and in stepped Kabuto, who looked not at all surprised to see them.

"Zaku, Kin." He spoke as he immediately set about re-wrapping the bandages on Dosu's chest, which seemed to be there for compression purposes, and not to insulate a wound. "How are the two of you?"

"Eh." Zaku let out weakly, almost subconsciously taking a step back from the man. "Y'know, the usual."

"Same." Kin responded, mirroring his action without realizing it.

"Huh, well, if something comes up, I'm always here."

He sat motionless for a second as he debated saying something that had been on the tip of his time for the longest time. Finally, after five or so seconds of silence, he thought to himself "Ah, fuck it," and spoke.

"What happened to you, Kabuto?"

The man turned his head, inclining it in a rather intrigued manner that told Zaku he was genuinely interested in what he would say next.

"What I mean is… you were Orochimaru's right hand man. You were a killer, one of the most feared in the organization. You… weren't really the kind of person who worried about what we'd be doing with ourselves."

Kabuto hummed after a moment, just before he tied a small knot over Dosu's bandages, affixing them to his chest.

"Hah, well… I think it all stems back to who I used to be, or, rather, it all stems back to who I used to want to be." He said as he pulled his office stool to the side of the bed, and sat down, making eye contact with him as he continued. "I wanted to be like Orochimaru."

He nodded, having sort of understood that fact.

"But… I didn't really want to be like him. I just wanted to be accepted, I just wanted to know who I was as a person. And whether or not I would accomplish that though Orochimaru or not… well, I didn't particularly care all that much back then who did it. But then… those damned kids, Naruto and Sasuke… they reminded me of someone who I'd lost. Reminded me of someone who would've been disappointed in the then current me."

"Who?" Kin asked, before shaking her head. "No, sorry, you don't need to–"

"That's all right, Kin," Kabuto smiled. "It was my mother. A woman named Nonō Yakushi. She… adopted and raised me. She gave me her glasses so I could see, her knowledge of healing so that I might help others… and through some rather complicated circumstances, eventually I paid her back by killing her."

Kin gasped quietly, and Zaku could admit that he wasn't much behind the feeling himself.

"But… Even so… I know she would've wanted me to be like I am now. Carrying on her legacy, not… not trampling upon it by killing more." He explained as he stood, and walked towards them, holding a hand out. "And, so… if you can, I'd ask your forgiveness, for the actions of the Kabuto you once knew. He was rather weak, I'm afraid… but I'm here now."

Zaku felt himself laughing as he held his own hand out and shook Kabuto's own.

"You're a weird one, Kabuto."

"Ah, well," Kabuto laughed as he scratched the side of his head.

"I've been told that before."

/-/

"HERE'S TO SURVIVNG ANOTHER DAY!"

"TO LIVING!"

The sound of an innumerous number of glasses clanking together somehow had Anko feeling far more uproarious than she had been just a few seconds prior, and she took a massive swig of the stein she held in her right hand, until the thing was half empty.

She had a feeling she would regret that later, but that was a problem for later Anko, not current Anko. Current Anko was enjoying the light-headed bliss currently coursing through her body as she looked over her comrades, all of them celebrating just as she was having survived another day.

Kakashi, Guy, Tenzo, and Jiraiya sat around her, members of the upcoming mission, alongside Kurenai, Asuma, and a few other more experienced Jonin.

Technically, this was a 'we might all die in a few days, let's pretend that might not happen' party, but hey, Anko was planning to treat it like she would any other occasion where alcohol was involved, which meant she was going to get black-out drunk and try and forget about most of it.

And honestly, that seemed like as decent an idea as any.

Still, there was another purpose to this here meeting, one which all but one of them knew about. Anko shot Kakashi a look, kind of quietly asking "is it time yet?" without actually saying the words. The man sighed, before he shot a similar look to Asuma, who laughed a bit nervously, nodding his head.

He cleared his throat and turned to Kurenai.

Anko was rather drunk, so she missed… well… almost all of what he said to the woman, but by the end, little miss Genjutsu had tears hanging around the edges of her eyes, and she had a hand over her mouth as windy-firey guy got down on one knee, and brought out a rather elegant ring.

They all cheered and clapped as the two embraced, and Anko joined into that, seeing this as a great opportunity to go ahead and have a few more sips of beer while she was there.

Idly, she found herself wondering what Sakura was up to. The girl and her… they'd become rather inseparable of late.

"You're someone I've looked up to for years and years, the idol I've wanted to overcome, and… also… You're the older sister I never had. I love you, Anko."

She tried to ignore the embarrassed blush that caught on her features as she remembered back to her students big moment to break her out of Orochimaru's control. She grumbled quietly to herself, taking another few sips, and wow, she was getting rather dizzy, but whatever, it was probably fine.

Gods, her student… she…

She felt the same way. She was the little sister she'd never known she'd wanted, hell, their bond was almost closer than that somehow. Or, well… that was actually probably the alcohol talking now that she thought about it.

The alcohol tended to do most of the talking once she was this drunk.

Regardless, as Kurenai and Asuma sat back down, she proposed another toast. She ignored the way Kakashi asked if she was in anyway fit to be doing such a thing, and instead clanked her glass against Jiraiya's, who laughed along with her.

Because hey, the night still felt young.

/-/

At a table, some twenty-five feet away from the rowdy bunch of older ninja, Tenten found herself sitting alongside Suigetsu, who she'd invited personally, Ino and Haku, who'd arrived before her and had, seemingly, just been chilling and chatting as friends, and Fu and Hinata, who'd come a bit later than the rest of them.

They were, like those hooligans in the background, partaking of barbecue, treating themselves before their mission to try and fight off the end of the world. Unfortunately, none of them were old enough to drink, which was a damned shame, since she could've used the feeling right about now.

Or, well… she'd never been drunk, but she imagined she could've used the… never mind.

She would readily admit that she hadn't exactly expected to be picked for such a mission as the one they were being put up for, but hey, she was definitely complaining. Seriously, she was in no way, shape, or form the kind of ninja who could–

"Y'know, Tenten, I don't think you should underestimate yourself so much," She remembered Naruto smiling at her as they enjoyed dinner by themselves at her mom's apartment, something having 'suddenly come up' that'd gotten her mother to leave them on their lonesome. "Just because you're not the strongest ninja around, doesn't mean you're not a helluva' lot tougher than you think you are!"

She could still remember hiding her face from Naruto's view at that, how red her cheeks had been from embarrassment.

Gods, could he hear himself sometimes!?

"Tenten, you doin' alright?"

She turned to see Suigetsu eyeing her cautiously, a small smile on his face.

"Oh, yeah, uh… what's up?"

"You just seemed rather lost in thought, is all. Also, your face is lit up like a tomato, so…"

She blushed harder as she bent down, trying to hide her expression.

"Right, okay, I no longer have any idea what you're doing," Suigetsu teased. "You're invisible!"

She slapped him on the arm "Oh, shut up!"

He snickered under his breath as they went back to chatting.

Tenten paid little attention to their conversation; not entirely because she didn't care, but more that she was distracted by paying attention to certain dynamics in their group. For one, Ino and Haku sat about as far apart as they possible could, one at the head of the table, and one at the end. Yet even past that, they didn't seem like enemies or anything, but more… she wished she could describe it.

Two people content in who they were, perhaps?

She also noticed how close together Fu and Hinata sat to one another, barely a few inches separating their shoulders from touching as they laughed along with the group.

She watched as Ino peered over at Hinata, and, seeing that joyful expression on her face, beamed as she tuned back into the conversation.

Tenten silently wondered just what that was about… well, up until someone called her out for 'crushing so much on Naruto recently', and at that point, she had to suit up and defend her honor.

And just for a while… everything was okay.

She could only hope that would last.

/-/

Itachi couldn't shake the feeling that he was the only person among those chosen for their so-called 'final' mission that would be actually obeying Tsunade's orders to immediately get some rest.

Well, aside from Kakashi, the only other responsible member of their group, but honestly, when it came to him, it was just as likely that he'd be up late reading adult literature as he'd be getting a good night's rest.

As he laid down in the futon Sasuke had set up for him, he used the experience allotted to him over his nearly decade and a half of work as a Shinobi, dating back to when he'd been only seven, and had graduated from the Academy, to immediately relax his body. As he did, he caught himself thinking more on his life.

He'd met so many people, and more often than not, had been confronted with the reality that their lives were a temporary pleasure, that their paths would end, while his would continue on.

Shisui's, Izumi's, his father's and mother's, hell, even Kisame in some ways, as terrible as the man could be.

He'd valued all of them in one way or another.

He reached up to his right eye, where Shisui's Sharingan laid in his skull. Once upon a time, the man had given him that Sharingan in order to hide it from Danzo, but he'd also taken it in much the same way, he'd heard, as Kakashi Hatake had about the eye of Obito Uchiha.

He would let the man see beyond his life, let him witness things he'd never been able to. He would act as the eyes of the now gone Shisui Uchiha… and eventually, one day, he would join him.

"Even still, Shisui," He remarked mentally. "I'll be your eyes just a bit longer, if you don't mind."

He thought of Izumi, the girl he might've loved once upon a time, he thought of his parents, supporting him even as he cut them down, he thought of Kisame, whose last words…

"Live the best life you can with what you have left."

…He'd not even been present to hear.

He sighed as he closed his eyes and laid back into the middling cushioning of the futon below him. He would do just that. He would live the remaining year or so of life that remained with him to his best ability.

He focused in on his breathing, settled down and…

Well, wondered why whoever was at the door, and incessantly knocking upon it, hadn't already gotten the hint that he wouldn't be answering it already. He was a rather hard man to anger, but even he would admit that, after the knocking had stopped for a moment, and he thought the prattling over, when it began again, his left eye had twitched.

He stood, and walked towards the door, answering it with what he could only hope was an even expression.

"What?" He asked to the…

Three children standing before him.

"Oh. It's you." Konohamaru… he was fairly sure that was the leader's name. "Uh… where's Sasuke Sensei at?"

"Likely out with Sakura and Naruto." He elucidated for them. "I believe they were planning on trying to relax during one of their last days off."

"Oh…" Konohamaru sulked somewhat. "Uh… okay. Well, uh, can we–"

"I am also trying to relax, though by sleeping."

"Okay. Can we come in?"

Itachi's eye must've twitched again, for the other two kids (Udon and Moegi he'd been fairly sure their names were) both took a step back, sweating nervously.

"I…" He took a deep breath in an effort to calm himself. "Surely. Why not."

The three figures stepped into the space slowly (well, the two that he liked did. The latter, Konohamaru, charged right in, immediately opening their fridge, and pouring himself a glass of juice.)

"Thanks!"

"Don't… mention it."

"We're sorry about him." Udon whispered his way. "He can be a bit, uh… brash."

"It's fine." He lied. "What are you all doing here, anyway?"

"Ah, well…" Moegi massaged her chin. "Y'see…"

"We heard Orochimaru wasn't dead!" Konohamaru yelled out, crossing his arms over his chest. "That he showed up and wreaked havoc at the Akatsuki's base! So we wanted Sasuke Sensei's help with coming up with plans to stop him!"

"Surely, why not." He shook his head, far too tired to argue. "Might I ask why this matters to any of you?"

"Uhm… Orochimaru killed Konohamaru's grandad, the Third Hokage." Udon revealed, making his eyes widen. "You weren't there the other day when we came by until the end. I guess you must've missed it."

"Yes…" He stared at Konohamaru, trying to somehow understand how a quiet and thoughtful person like the Third Hokage had, in any way, given rise to such an… interesting grandson. "I simply had no idea the two of you were related."

"Yeah, well, not the first time someone's made that mistake," Konohamaru was evidently bristling as he sat down at the table with the rest of them. "Still… how do we want to do this? I mean, you're stronger than Sasuke Sensei, right? You got any great tips!?"

He sighed wearily at the boy's completely serious expression and realized that the conversation he was about to have was not going to be a particularly easy, or a particularly quick one.

And he really wished he could've been sleeping, or really just being anywhere else.

It occurred to him like this was perhaps the punishment he'd earned for the life he'd lived as he thought on what his younger brother might be doing right now.

/-/

The Third Training Ground had not much changed since they'd last been back there around two years prior, Naruto thought.

At that time, they'd assembled a miniature stone tent, thanks to Sakura's help, and camped the night out. They'd been nearly eaten alive by mosquitoes, had had to trek back to the Leaf Village the previous morning even while exhausted from their experiences, and had just in general had a shitty experience if Naruto were being honest…

He looked back on it incredibly fondly, smiling even then as he sat down near the Memorial Stone. The wind toyed with his hair, and the grass beneath him was full of insects that flew around them.

It was… a nice morning, honestly. The sun had long since risen, but it wasn't quite as hot as the midday sun would bring along.

"Hah… we kept getting interrupted." Sasuke laughed as he sat down in front of him. "First it was that we'd talk when we got back. Then it was once we'd dealt with those Zetsu… never ended, did it?"

He smiled amusedly.

"Nope."

"So… I guess you can probably assume the decision I've made by now."

"Yeah. You… chose to forgive Itachi for what he did, right?"

"Mhm." His best friend murmured, leaning back, and bracing himself with his hands. "I… After hearing his story, I simply couldn't find a way to truly blame him for what'd happened. It just… it wouldn't have been fair to him for him to lose everything, have to take it away from himself, and end up with nothing besides sorrow. And so… I decided I'd give him some form of happiness."

He nodded.

"I… I'll stick by him. Itachi… It's rather plain to see that he doesn't have long, no matter what. If what Kabuto says is true, then Itachi barely has a year, if that, with the work he's done to extend his life."

"That…"

"Yeah, it sucks. It sucks an awful lot." Sasuke sighed out. "It doesn't exactly feel very fair. And… well, at least partially because of that… I'm going to allow him to stay with me. He won't need to find a house or anything silly like that."

"Yeah, I getcha'."

"It's just…" Sasuke sighed. "It's hard to simply forget about the goal you've set for yourself for your entire life."

He laughed. "I imagine it is, yeah."

"I had set killing Itachi as like… my metric for success. And now he's living with me in my house, and asking if Sakura and I are planning to have children–"

"What–"

"Don't ask. Basically, it's just… what am I supposed to do now? I feel a bit… aimless."

"Well… You certainly listed one of the things you've still got in your life. Sakura's not going anywhere, and you two are… well… I mean…"

"Don't you start."

"Right, sorry, I just… focus on what you have right now. Goals, aspirations, all that stuff… don't worry about it so much. For right now, let's focus on finishing off this shadow war with the Akatsuki. And then… once that's finished, we can worry about such things as our dreams, right?"

Sasuke hummed amusedly. "You're not really the most fun person to talk about when it comes to stuff like this."

"Rude."

"No, I just… you're right, and I know you're right, but I think I would've preferred if you'd been like "Well then, why don't you take up pottery!" or something."

He snorted. "Yeah, somehow you don't strike me as the type."

It was then that he heard footsteps, and both he and Sasuke turned to see another figure trotting up towards them. She raised a hand as she sat down, leaning forward, and resting her head on her elbow.

"Thought I'd find you guys out here." Sakura said. "Good to see you. We haven't really talked in a few days, have we?"

"Not since we got back." Sasuke confirmed. "I mean, we had the occasional chat on the battlefield, but those never really lasted any longer than 10 minutes. And Naruto was on the opposite shift from the two of us."

He nodded. They'd barely seen one another these past few days, aside from very occasionally. His Shadow Clones would, every once in a while, bring back memories of having spoken with them while he was resting, but he himself… no.

"Y'know… I can't help feeling like this is probably… it."

He turned to Sakura curiously. "What do you mean?"

"I mean… this is kind of what we've been headed towards our entire lives as ninja, right?" Sakura laughed. "We've been fighting against the Akatsuki for as long as I can remember. Sure, sometimes it was Orochimaru himself, or sometimes it was Danzo, but… there was always a trail leading back to them, y'know? Always something that linked back to this group of villains."

He nodded, sort of seeing what she meant. It felt like all their adventures, all their little missions, from D-Ranked to S-Ranked, had led to this.

Sasuke laughed all of a sudden, and they turned towards him to see a nostalgic expression locked onto his face.

"Funny… do you guys remember what we said, all those years back, when we first met Kakashi?"

"What do you mean?"

"When he asked us our likes and dislikes, our goals and aspirations, stuff like that. Do you remember what we said?"

Naruto thought back, and found…

He actually did remember. Somehow, that'd left an impression on him, even if he'd not thought about such things in… gods, nearly half a decade now.

"Things I like?" He had gone first. "I like Sasuke, and Sakura, and Ino… Oh, and Lord Third, and Ramen! So many different kinds, like tonkotsu, and-"

"Ok," Kakashi had interrupted before he could go off on a tangent, a rather smart decision, he couldn't help but feel. "Sasuke, how about you?"

He recalled the way his best friend had hidden his face from view, a bit embarrassed at being questioned in such a manner.

"I guess I like… mnph."

"What was that? You trailed off at the end."

"I s-said I liked… my friends…"

"And do you have any dislikes?"

He remembered seeing Sakura laugh at that, as if such a question were so ridiculous it was actually funny.

"I don't like a lot of things, but I guess… I don't like hot and sunny days. I don't like sweet foods, and I don't like people very much, nor do I appreciate interacting with them. I don't like when people make fun of my friends for not doing anything wrong, and I don't like-"

Once more, Kakashi had cut that off rather wisely.

"Ok, we'll cut that off there. How about dreams, goals?"

"I wouldn't call it a dream, not really. It's more… I suppose an ambition would be a better word for it. I'm going to get revenge for the slaughter of my family, and then, resurrect the Uchiha clan."

He remembered the cold air of that moment, the way Sasuke's face had morphed almost instantly into something darker, something he'd not seen in…

Something he'd not seen since that day in the hotel when he'd screamed Sasuke's name to break him out of Itachi's trance. He'd relinquished his darkness then, and he'd given into his greed later, choosing to overcome Itachi, and still live his best life.

He'd gotten everything he could've wanted, really, in the end.

He remembered Kakashi shifting awkwardly towards Sakura, searching for some semblance of normalcy in this odd grouping.

"Well, how about you, Sakura?"

"I guess I like my friends, specifically my best friend, Ino, I guess I like to draw sometimes."

"That's nice, drawing is nice. How about dislikes?"

"I don't really dislike anything in particular… I guess the people in the shopping district who are mean to Naruto," He remembered being so embarrassed at having heard that. "But other than that… I don't know."

"Goals?"

"I'd like to be… A strong ninja, I think. T-that's really all."

"Alright." He could just barely recall Kakashi's next words, the thing he'd said to them that, looking back, had so completely summed up their odd little 'Team 7'. "Well, you're each…"

"Unique."

"Yeah, I remember." He smiled, turning to each of them. "Hah… you were such an edgelord back in the day."

"Hey! I had every reason to be one."

"It's kind of true," Sakura smiled. "Even still, yeah, Naruto's right."

Sasuke sighed annoyedly as they laughed at his expense.

"We're kidding. Don't take it so harshly."

"I don't like this 'gang up on Sasuke' thing one bit, in case any of us were curious."

"We weren't," Sakura answered for the both of them. "But good to know."

They laughed as they continued to joke around with one another for the next several minutes, up until Naruto had a rather pedantic, if admittedly (in his opinion) cute idea.

"Hey, guys?" He asked as he stood up and walked to a spot that he was pretty sure was close to where Sakura had made her impromptu stone tent a good three or so years back. "What say we camp out one last time?"

"Really?" Sakura sighed. "You do realize that we have once again failed to bring any equipment that one would normally use for camping at all, right?"

"Once again… Earth wall!"

Sakura stared at him.

"I hate you."

"That's fair. Sasuke, your thoughts?"

"I'm down." He smiled nostalgically. "It'd be… nice."

"Oh, not you too…"

"C'moooon Sakura," he drew out the 'o' sound, his voice reverberating in the mostly empty clearing. "Pleeeeeeease?"

She glared his way before, finally, sighing, and slamming her hands down on the ground. After a moment, four earth walls rose in the general shape of a house.

"We're making it fancier than last time." She revealed, before she punched a massive hole in the front, that was, generally, the shape of a door. "What the hell do you two think you're doing? Get over here and help me with this!"

"R-Right!"

"Sorry!"

It was rather fun to assemble a terrible looking, one story stone house for the three of them to reside within over the course of the next two hours. By the time they all sat down inside of it, Naruto was ready to conk out, and luckily, the beds that Sakura had made them were equipped with support for their backs.

Unluckily, they were made of only stone, so, y'know, drawbacks.

"This blows." He heard Sasuke say after a while. "I forgot that that camp-out all those years back totally sucked."

"Yeah," Naruto admitted, laughing slightly. "But it made for some good memories, didn't it?"

Sasuke was silent for the longest time, before finally letting out a snicker of his own.

"It did, kind of."

"Can the two of you shut up!? Some of us did all the work making this place while you two twiddled your thumbs! I'd like to sleep!"

He laughed, another memory fluttering into his head.

"Hey, d'you remember when we were at Tsunami's and Inari's place, and you said that to us when we were trying to comfort Sasuke, and then Kakashi had to–"

"Naruto."

"Sorry, sorry. Sleeping now."

"Good."

"I remember, Naruto."

"Thank you, best buddy."

"'Kay, one more comment and I'm un-building the house."

"Technically you'd just be destroying it. You can't unbuild–"

"Unbuilding."

"Shit! Sakura, I was kidding! I was kidding!

/-/

Konan turned back towards him; the expression set upon her features grim.

"Black Zetsu has gathered the final piece. We are to summon the Gedo Statue here and commence with the attack post-haste. The Zetsu will begin their assault in earnest, no longer trying to simply bait out the One-Tail. Once he himself arrives via mayfly, he will add the final pieces, and the Ten-Tails shall breathe once more."

He hummed, trying to project the apathy he wished he were feeling onto his face. He began building chakra within his chest, in order to summon the massive husk. Just before he could, however, Konan spoke up, her voice wavering.

"Nagato… is this…"

She cut off, stopping herself there. Neither of them said anything more.

Neither of them had to; not now.

"This will be the end of it. The world we've been trying to create… It'll come as a result of our efforts here today. We must believe that."

Konan stood stock still for a moment, before finally nodding her head. "Y-Yes. I suppose so."

Whether she knew it or not, he felt the same way as her. Even still, it would not do to question their mission now. Not when it was so close to completion.

When their mission was…

"Hey, Nagato, Konan, don't forget who we are, ok guys!? We're not villains! We're to make the Rain, and the world for that matter a better place! We're to bring peace to the ninja world, just like Jiraiya always said!"

"Don't give up on 'em. Promise me that, Sensei!"

"I won't…"

Miles away, touching down in the middle of the third training ground, an arbitrary point that Pain had chosen on nothing more than a whim, his Animal Path touched down. It felt the chakra's of others in the area, but didn't pay too much attention to them.

They would be dead in but a moment, no matter who they were.

The long-haired man slammed his hands down on the ground, and a black pattern etched itself into the earth.

"Summoning Jutsu: Gedo Statue!"

"I promise I'll bring 'em home."

Nagato watched as a massive plume of white smoke shot up from a few miles away as he panted, the summoning of the Gedo statue having taken a good majority of his chakra away.

And other than a small, waning doubt in his heart…

"And so…"

He felt nothing.

"The end begins."

/-/

Naruto stared, wide eyed, at the massive, towering being that'd been summoned just before them, in the middle of the Third Training Ground. Just below it, staring at them in an apathetic manner, was a single of the Pain's, a long-haired man that he'd seen before. It slammed it's hands down once more, and a small deal more smoke emerged as five more Pain's stepped up, each equipped for battle.

They'd been awoken after barely three or four hours. It was just past noon, and as the sun rose above them in the sky, so too had their time of resting come to an end.

He wasn't at 100%. Hell, none of them were.

They would have to make do regardless.

"You three." Yahiko's body spoke, sounding different somehow from how it normally talked. "I suppose I should've known you'd spring up exactly where I wouldn't want you."

"What in the–" Sakura bit down on her bottom lip. "Whatever, I guess it doesn't matter what's going on. At least our mission is simple."

He and Sasuke both nodded, his best friend drawing the sword off his back, his Sharingan spinning into place, and he summoning ten Shadow Clones, four of which immediately retreated further into the woods behind him.

"Team 7!" Naruto shouted as the three of them prepared for combat, as Sakura reached inside herself, and the grass, the trees, the life surrounding them seemed to hum, as a new pattern, one he'd not yet seen, spun into the Sharingan in Sasuke's eyes, as his own were colored Indigo, the first of four Sage Clones sending its chakra to him. "Our objective is, as Sakura said, simple. For right now, we stop Pain. We won't give him a chance to attack our Village."

He took a step forward, the shadow clones around him doing the same as they drew weapons or other tools.

"After he's been dealt with, we move to end the threat of the Akatsuki for good; to stop their maniacal plans here and now. We won't let them utilize the statue before us, no matter what!"

"Sakura, Sasuke," He called as he charged forward, channeling a Rasengan into his right hand.

"We'll end this! Right here, right now!"

"RIGHT!" They called back.

End Chapter 96


On a serious note, not working on this story anymore (I finished writing it two weeks back now) definitely almost lead to me forgetting to upload this chapter haha. I'll make sure I don't cut it this close next week.

Aight, see you all next chapter, for more endgame shenanigans!