Damnit! I almost forgot to post this again.

Alright, for next week, I promise... Actually, I don't. I keep forgetting, so instead, I'll say I'll... Probably have it up in time.

Anyways, without further ado, second to last...


Chapter 99: Weaknesses, One Final Hit, and the Limits of Destiny


"O…bito!?" Kakashi took a step forward, reaching out almost absent-mindedly with his hand before pulling back, seemingly remembering that the last time he and his former rival had seen one another, they'd been enemies. "How are you… awake!?"

Obito did his best to try and shake his head, but Black Zetsu was resisting him, trying to fight back.

"Obito Uchiha!"

The Black Zetsu half of Obito's body strained terribly, his arm shaking as if trying to do a million things in a single motion. Instead, because of that, the shared body remained frighteningly still.

"There's only one way he could be awake." Itachi spoke, sounding equal parts shocked and vindicated. "He had to have conquered Izanami by accepting himself, by accepting who he's always tried to be. He had to remember who Obito Uchiha truly was, and face that."

Obito breathed heavily, even as Black Zetsu continued to rage against him.

Kakashi seemed to still have some doubts. "Are we sure he really did it? He could have simply tricked us somehow–"

"By its very nature, the Izanami cannot be fooled. It is the ultimate test of character; the ultimate confirmation of who someone is in their deepest thoughts. And that means… that the Obito Uchiha we see in front of us is likely completely different from the one we've been battling against for some time."

Kakashi's mouth opened and closed several times behind the face mask covering the bottom half of his head. Luckily for him, though, it seemed he wouldn't have to process this on his own, for in the next moment, Obito let out a small laugh.

"Hah… I don't know if I'd believe me either, Kakashi, not if I were in your shoes. But… I am, whether you want to accept it or not, closer to the boy you once knew a lifetime ago than to the man who's been fighting you these past few years."

Kakashi shook his head, his eyes wide as he seemingly contemplated the entirety of what he was being faced with all at once. Black Zetsu hadn't stopped rattling against Obito's strength, but it seemed like Obito had a hold on the being, for it'd been unable to effectively influence him for a minute or so.

"I… admittedly, I cannot hold Black Zetsu forever, but… I had measures put in place to make sure that I wouldn't have to."

"What do you…" Kakashi spoke under his breath.

After a second, Obito strained his Mangekyou Sharingan, and the lines of Kamui's distortion appeared in front of him. Instead of sucking something in, however, it seemed that he was pushing something out.

A device about as large as Obito's forearm landed in his right hand, and he made sure to keep whatever it was as far away from Black Zetsu as he could. The being attached to him tried to move the left arm he had control over to grab at it, but he failed to quite reach across Obito's chest.

"I… hah… I had this created for me as a secret project… by Orochimaru."

Naruto connected the dots, remembering back to the Snake Lord's words in the bowels of the Akatsuki's main base of operations.

"Oh, and you should know that at some point during this little tussle, Black Zetsu has likely already collected my chakra-stealing device and used it on the other Jinchuuriki." The man spoke in a 'what can you do?' kind of way. "And, well, perhaps he's done something even more heinous than that, what with what Obito asked of me."

Kakashi's eyes narrowed. "Obito asked something of you?"

"Yes, a personal project that was "to be done in utmost secrecy"."

"Well… What was it?"

Orochimaru merely laughed. "What, and ruin the surprise? I think not." He smirked even harder at Kakashi's annoyed growl. "Don't worry, I'm sure you'll figure it out before too long. It's rather relevant to current happenings, or, well, will be relevant."

"This device… has a rather simple function in actuality." Obito explained, his jaw clenched as he endured the Pain of whatever it was Black Zetsu was doing to try and gain control over him. "It purges any and all chakra's from my body… that are not my own."

The shock of that statement rolled through all of them, but none quite so much as Black Zetsu, whose singular eye widened to an inhuman degree as it turned towards Obito, his struggling revived now as he strained against the man's control.

"You… BASTARD!"

Obito let out a rasping yell, clearly in horrible pain as he panted breathlessly. He looked up at them, at all of them, and steeled himself.

The will of fire in his eyes… Naruto could see it.

"After this… I won't be of any help in the fight. Hell, I might not even…"

The words that were left unsaid there were still heard. Kakashi especially heard them, stepping forward and reaching out his hand limply.

"But even so… I won't falter. Not… not again."

Obito gritted his teeth, looked up at all of them, and, his mind made up, screamed out his next few words.

"KAKASHI…! EVERYONE…!"

He gave a gentle smile, a relic of who he once had been…

And perhaps of who he was now again.

"I leave the rest to you."

"NOOOO!" Black Zetsu screeched.

And he slammed the device into his chest.

Several things happened all at once.

Firstly, Obito immediately fell unconscious, giving a horrid noise as a blast of… something traveled along his skin, pushing Black Zetsu off of him, along with pieces and parts of Obito's right and left arms, which exploded off as well. Given his explanation, Naruto took that to mean they hadn't been made up of his chakra, but of someone else's. Still, that was something to think about later.

Once this was over.

For as Obito fell, Black Zetsu stayed stationary in the air, still flying high. Unfortunately for him, however, his body was undulating horribly, as if it were an ocean wave. Pieces of him bulged and shrunk, his eyes stuck out of his head, and he yelled and screamed as he seemingly tried to bring the full weight of the Ten-Tails' chakra back under control.

"The power of the Ten-Tails…" Naruto spoke as they watched what was happening. "It's too much for Black Zetsu alone! It's overwhelming him!"

Kakashi caught Obito's limp, armless body, jumping back and holding his friend in his arms, trying to see if he were healthy, or, as he'd implied might be the case, dying. Still, Naruto couldn't focus on that.

"Then we need to act fast!" Jiraiya commented, already beginning to charge a Sage Mode Rasengan into his right hand. "Let's move, Naruto, Sakura! We'll end this before he can recover!"

"Right!"

He and Jiraiya dashed forward, whilst Sakura slammed her hands into the earth, summoning her massive tendrils, which seemed to be thicker than before, as if she were pouring more energy into them. Then again, knowing that this might be it, knowing that if they won here, that it was over, might have meant Sakura was flooding her barbed vines with more chakra to make them harder to break, to make them harder for Black Zetsu to snap out of.

Even if it only bought them a half second, that was potentially the battle on its own.

The tendrils shot up, wrapping themselves around Black Zetsu's limbs and tighteneing. Unfortunately, they were immediately broken, not snapped, like they would be had Black Zetsu pulled of them, but quite literally disintegrated, as if merely touching Black Zetsu in his current state could burn away at life itself.

Naruto flinched somewhat, but ultimately kept moving. He would have to trust in his own instincts, and the instincts of Jiraiya, his master, beside him. If either of them hesitated, it could mean not just the death of the other, but of everyone around them.

He refused to be responsible for something like that.

But before they could get any closer, a massive wave of energy shot across all of them, knocking both he and Jiraiya back. It had originated from Black Zetsu's body, but it didn't at all seem like he'd meant to do it.

"You… YOU!" He shouted in rage, his body still horrifyingly bending in places it had no business stretching and twisting. "You weak human scum! You dare… You dare! I am the manifestation of Kaguya Otsutsuki's will, the Goddess of this world! I will not have my… perfect plan ruined by you wretched creatures!"

Another blast of energy, weaker, this time, but continuous, sent several of their number spiraling back. The White Zetsu forces seemed to want to take some advantage of that, but they couldn't, on account of being launched into the surrounding forests themselves.

And for some reason, seeing Black Zetsu whine and cry and shriek as his body undulated terribly, as he fought to resist the Ten-Tails' power, to control it… Naruto found his mouth opening, and the words pouring out.

"Y'know, it's almost funny… I think Obito might've been able to overcome its power through strength of will alone, but you…" He laughed, finding strength in his legs as he began pressing against the harsh field of air pushing them all back. "You're merely a manifestation of your mother's will. You have nothing of your own to fall back on. No inner strength, no motivation. Just an order. One you have no choice but to follow."

"Shut your damned mouth!" Black Zetsu screamed, a force of energy equivalent to the fervor of his voice pushing him back. "I'll kill you!"

Right as Black Zetsu's voice cut off, a rod formed from out of his flesh. It seemed just like the one's he'd created earlier, but something about it was different. It glowed with power, as if radiating off energy. He recognized that it must've been the same material that shield of black energy had been made out of before, that which he'd used as both a sword and shield to fend them off. It had been called a Truth-Seeking Orb before… and now, as Black Zetsu aimed it at him, he found himself once more realizing he was inches from death.

And yet, once again, someone stepped in front of him.

He recognized the man's blazing orange hair, the ringed, purple sclera of his eyes, and the piercings that adorned his body…

"He…" Yahiko's body, and thusly, Nagato himself, spoke as he was struck in the chest with the Truth-Seeking Orb. "He would've rather gone out like this… than to simply rot."

The body gave a final smile before it was eviscerated almost entirely by Black Zetsu's Orb. Still, it managed to give him enough time to fully avoid the hit.

"GAAAAAAAAH!" Black Zetsu screamed out in what seemed to be raw agony. "I won't allow it! I simply won't! You… You weak humans think you can kill me!? ME!?"

Once more, the energy for a witty comeback came to him, but… this time, it was more than that. He had something to say about Black Zetsu's choice of words, something that ran deeper than a mere pettiness towards their enemy.

He found himself smiling as he shook his head.

"Weak…" He muttered just barely loud enough for the spawn of Kaguya to hear him. "Weak, weak, weak. You keep saying that."

"Because you are WEAK!" It shouted back, it's eyes shaking in rage as it gripped onto its own body, trying to hold the sections that were flaring out as it kept Naruto and the others back with its wall of energy. "Because you puny humans are NOTHING in the face of Kaguya's strength!"

He shook his head again, taking another step into the wind, another step closer to Black Zetsu.

For some reason, Naruto almost couldn't feel the energy at all.

"You keep insinuating that our weaknesses, that the problems we carry are what hold us back. And sure, if you'd only ever interacted with people like those from the Akatsuki, I might agree. Their weaknesses stifled them, prevented them from becoming who they were supposed to be, but… hah…" He smiled as he turned around and stared at those behind him. "That's not the case for all of us."

Fighting against the wind, just as he was, was the entire group who'd come here. Haku, Ino, Kakashi, Hinata, Tenten, Kabuto, Itachi, Anko, Zaku, Dosu, Kin, Fu, Jiraiya, and…

Of course, Sakura and Sasuke as well.

"Our weaknesses… the things we've overcome…"

For some strange reason, it was Haku who decided to speak first. The icy man took a step into the wind, a small, peaceful smile adorning his expression, despite the grand battle taking place before them.

"The weakness I carried;" Haku began, looking at the massive blade slung cross his shoulder, his own Kubikiribōchō. "My inability to grow past my father's, Zabuza's, death, of trying to throw my own life away because of it." He turned to the girl beside him, and offered her an almost awkward smile, one she returned with a similar energy. "Of staying by Ino's side even when I should've tried to move past her, and, in the end, of denying that all I wanted to do was protect the people I cared about from ever being harmed again…"

Ino nodded from beside him, placing a hand over her own heart as she let out a quiet laugh. Despite the energy blowing them back, she didn't falter. If anything, she seemed all the more reassured in herself as she forced one foot in front of the other.

"The weakness I carried;" Ino spoke. "My fear of being left behind by Sakura, and by the rest of my friends. Of choosing to try and fight that fear by holding Haku close, despite what had happened to him. Never allowing him to grow, trapping him, and simultaneously, myself, from growing stronger as a result."

The two stared at one another, and then, finally, laughed. Perhaps it was wishful thinking, but Naruto genuinely thought in that moment that the two had overcome whatever demons had hung over them once upon a time.

Next up, seemingly, was Hinata. She took a step forward, but ultimately seemed to regress, to take another step back in fear…

But no. Fu took hold of Hinata's arm, supporting the girl as she faced forward. And because of that… Hinata smiled and did the same.

"The weakness I carried;" Hinata spoke evenly, her voice radiating a strength he'd never seen her show. "Of being meek and timid around those I wanted to impress, around my family, who disowned me, around my team and friends, who trusted me… but above all, of being untrue to who I really am… of lying to myself."

The two shared a longing look as they stared at one another, and Naruto watched as several members of their group seemed to put two and two together on that front.

The next to plant his feet was Kabuto himself, shaking his head amusedly as he took a deep, solemn breath.

"The weakness I carried;" The former right-hand of Orochimaru said as he looked not at them, but at the skies above. "Of shunning my mother's memory to try and earn approval from those who I thought could show me who I truly was... Of not trusting in the self that I'd become. More than that, of pretending as if I really wanted to serve those wretched people… when all I really wanted was to find me."

He sighed deeply as he allowed the wind to push him back somewhat, as if satisfied with the words he'd spoken.

Next up was Itachi himself, staring at his brother, who was just behind Naruto, and nodding as he seemed to make up his mind on something.

"The weakness I carried;" Itachi Uchiha, the man who'd murdered his entire Clan, who'd been feared as the prodigy of the Sharingan, who'd struck fear into the world itself… he sounded soft and kind, now. Naruto gathered that, no matter what he'd done, he always had been. "Of running from my brother, of not trusting him with the truth of the past, of believing too much in my own ability to make things right, entirely on my lonesome… and of believing my life already over, when I still have a while yet to go."

Sasuke shot his brother a melancholic, almost yearning look. As if he wanted to get back their past, what they'd had to sacrifice for the Leaf Village; for the world itself. But… No. No matter what they wanted, there was no going back. And yet…

Itachi smiled back, as if subtly communicating that, even if that were true, it didn't mean that the two of them had to be separate anymore.

They'd face the future together.

A semi-boisterous laugh emerged from out of Anko's mouth as she stepped up next, looking at Sakura, who, much like Sasuke, was stood just behind Naruto.

"The weakness I carried;" She took a deep breath, seemingly rather uncomfortable about revealing her insecurities to everyone, which Naruto couldn't exactly blame her for. "Believing myself inferior simply because my traitor of a master told me I was so… of not seeing that my relationship with my student, she herself hurt in that same way, was how I had redeemed myself, even if that bastard never considered it as such a thing."

Sakura looked back towards her master and shot the woman a teary-eyed smile. They shared a special bond, those two, one Naruto would admit that not even he and Jiraiya could measure up two.

They were family in all but name.

Next, funnily enough, were the other three with ties to Sakura. The Sound Trio, smirking at the idea of all this hubbub, took a stab at it as well.

"The weakness I carried;" Kin began, shaking her head as she turned towards each of her teammates in turn. "Of doubting my own power, of thinking I was trash to be discarded, of never realizing that together, the three of us could be more than that."

"The weakness I carried;" Dosu laughed quietly, nodding his head in agreement with Kin. "Of not trusting in the bonds I'd formed, of doubting the strength of those standing beside me."

"The weakness I carried;" Zaku came last, managing a quiet happiness in his expression even past the words he spoke next. "Of abandoning my friend, a long time ago… no… of choosing to forget that very event, to try and cover the stains of my past." a wide, beaming smile took the place of his previous expression. "And… of hesitating so long to bring these losers together with me!"

Kin and Dosu both rolled their eyes, but no one could doubt the emotions they displayed. Those three… They might as well have been attached at the hip.

Next up… was someone who looked right at him. And… Naruto stared back. He gave the girl a soft smile, and Tenten returned it with one of her own.

"The weakness I carried;" Tenten said as she gave a long sigh, before looking up, and facing forward. "Of blaming myself when everyone around me forgave me, of trying to earn appeasement from those long gone… and of not quite hammering the point home enough when I visited a certain someone's house a few nights ago."

Naruto blushed as everyone laughed at the girl's words, but as he turned back towards her, he gave a silent nod. Tenten's face lit up, and this time, He'd be doing nothing stupid to dampen the smile present there.

Jiraiya took a stand, slamming his legs into the ground as he stepped in towards Black Zetsu, the furthest forward of any of them.

"The weakness I carried;" Jiraiya huffed as he turned towards where Yahiko's brutalized body lay on the ground and nodded his head. "Of abandoning those kids when I should've stayed with them, of chasing around Orochimaru for years and years, even when I knew there was no point… of pretending, even for a moment, as if I didn't want to save both Nagato and Konan, no… not just that… of pretending like I didn't want to join them."

Naruto's eyes widened for a moment, before he gave a half smile, nodding his head. His master's words… He felt like he understood them more than well enough.

Next up was Kakashi, still holding onto the half-broken form of Obito Uchiha, who looked horribly desolate… but…

He was alive. And if that was the case…

"The weakness I carried;" Kakashi took a shaky breath, before what felt like forcing himself to continue. "The hatred I allowed to form for one whom I once thought of as a friend, whom I cast aside, even though, at the end of the day, it's still not too late to save him… No matter what reason or logic might tell me."

Naruto watched as Obito's eyes opened up somewhat, and he stared up at Kakashi with an almost stunned expression, like he couldn't quite believe the words he'd just heard. Even still, even past that, Kakashi offered the man a tiny grin, even if most of it was eaten up by the mask upon his face.

And finally… finally they'd arrived at the last three.

Sakura seemed to volunteer to go first. She tied roots around all of their legs, physically pulling them forward with her tendrils, even if Naruto would readily admit that having the spines running along them dig into his flesh was not in the least bit comfortable.

"The weakness I carried;" Sakura sighed, as if embarrassed with who she'd once been. Even so, Sasuke's hand on her shoulder, and Anko's words of affirmation, seemed to give her the strength she needed to continue onwards. "The fear that Sasuke and Naruto might surpass me one day, leave me behind entirely… and in response to that, my reliance on the curse mark branded on my skin that I thought granted me the strength to keep them in sight…"

Naruto and Sasuke both regarded Sakura sadly for a moment, but the girl simply shook her head, as if not accepting their pity. No… she would walk tall, and proudly, regardless. She'd become strong, truly so.

He smiled as he turned towards his very best friend.

Sasuke faced him with his Sharingan active, a plume of power radiating from him as the skeletal form of the Susanoo surrounding him gripped onto the floor beneath. He gazed back at Itachi, just as he had earlier, and nodded at some expression the man had shot him.

"The weakness I carried;" Sasuke opened, taking a deep breath. "My lack of greed when it came to my brother, and the friends I'd made. Of thinking that I had to choose between them, when in reality, I simply had to want harshly enough to grasp both in my hands." He turned back towards Itachi, regarding the man somewhat sadly. "…Along with the lack of power in my eyes that could not see the truth…"

The two shared one last look, before Sasuke turned back towards Black Zetsu, determined now to face forward once again.

And it was at that point that he realized…

It was his turn.

He found himself laughing as he dug his foot into the earth beneath him and felt the wind rush past his face. It buffeted him, all of them, backwards. He found himself afraid, he found himself fearful, he found himself feeling… weak. And yet… and yet…

He dug in further and took a shaky step.

"The weakness I carried…"

His voice was as even as it was going to be, and for some strange reason, it seemed to echo across the plains around them. No one spoke, not as they all, collectively, took a few steps forward, and Black Zetsu flinched, the energy flowing off of him only growing more intense.

"YOU FOOLS! YOU DAMNED WEAKLINGS!"

"Of…" He smiled, wanting to look back at his friends, to get the help he needed to keep going…

Before he could, though, he felt a skeletal hand on his back. He felt Sakura's tendrils pulling him forward. He could hear the others shouting their support…

And he could only smile as he advanced.

"Of never thinking I was good enough for the goal I had set, when everyone around me, my friends, my teachers, and my masters, all thought me perfectly fine." He began, perhaps only thirty or so paces from Black Zetsu's form now. "Of not having understood myself, of having misunderstood my own desire to become the Hokage. But… ultimately…"

He smiled as Black Zetsu focused his energy almost entirely on him, but even so, he took another step, and felt the Sage Energy from his final clone fill him. He could see it in Black Zetsu's eyes now, even past his shouts that they were weak, that they were pitiful creatures unfit to so much as touch him…

Fear.

"But… ultimately… Of thinking it was weakness to rely on the people around me to help move past all of it. Of… of trying to do everything by myself. Of trying to hold in the pain that I was carrying, and not allowing anyone else to aid me. The people at my back, behind me, beside me… they make me far stronger than I'd normally be. Far stronger than I've any right to be… and it's for that reason that I'm going to finish this, here and now."

"You said it yourself! You called yourselves weak!"

Black Zetsu's laugh was so terribly weak that Naruto almost felt some form of pity for the creature. Might've, had it not been the source of all their struggles, had it not been the final obstacle in their way. As things were, he would not hesitate to strike it down.

"What the hell were you trying to say!? If even you bastards think you're weak, then how could you possibly resist against–"

"It is precisely because of the weaknesses we all shared that allowed us to surpass ourselves, to grow stronger!" Naruto shook his head, laying it out for the creature who could not understand the truth of their newfound strength, that it had been forged from their weakness itself. "And, well… You, who couldn't grow past your own weakness, who couldn't move past your mother's imprisonment, the mission you'd been programmed for, who stood above humanity from your inception, who sought only the goal of bringing the world to ruin…" He found himself smirking a bit confidently. "Tell me, Black Zetsu, how could you, as weak as you are, possibly defeat us as we are now?"

Black Zetsu looked like, if it had teeth, it would've been grinding them together.

"You… YOU!"

"Naruto!" He heard Sasuke shout. "I'm going to throw you with Susanoo at the same time as Sakura's going to pull you forward with her vines. It'll be on your signal, OK!?"

He nodded his head without delay, finding himself surprisingly… steady as he prepared for the final hit, the final strike.

The end of it all.

"Gah…" Black Zetsu screamed as another piece of its body reacted to the energy boiling below its skin, likely eating away at it from the inside.

If they were too slow… then the Ten-Tails itself might be unleashed once more, and as powerful as they all were…

He had the sinking suspicion that the Ten-Tails by itself could level their entire village.

Perhaps the world.

And so… he resolved to end it here. He looked to the right and saw Jiraiya standing there. He'd been about to summon a few shadow clones for the job, but…

This would do just fine as well.

He reached his hand out towards the man, trying to communicate without words what it was he wanted him to do. Jiraiya seemed to catch his meaning, for he reached out his hand, and began spinning chakra into Naruto's palm.

The forming of a Rasengan made entirely of Natural Chakra.

It started small… but grew quickly, already growing too big for his palm. He outstretched his hand, allowing it the room it required to keep growing, to become large enough to encompass the entirety of Black Zetsu within it's diameter.

And in that moment, he heard them.

They were quiet at first, overshadowed by the blast of energy still billowing out from Black Zetsu, by the turning hurricane in his right hand, by the ringing in his ears, but they began to take over the noise after a few seconds, until…

"DO IT!"

"END THIS!"

"EVERYONE! GO!"

"YOU CAN DO IT!"

"C'MON!"

"FIGHT!"

"FINISH IT! END IT HERE!"

The voices of the Ninjas of the Leaf, of the Sand and Earth squadrons who'd come to reinforce them, of everyone who they'd relied upon to get to where they were… they seemed to reinforce the Rasengan growing in his right palm. He turned to look at how Jiraiya was still adding to it, because surely it was far too big for him to still be standing where he'd been before, and–

The man had stepped back. He wasn't even helping to form it anymore. It…

Now, it was just him.

But even so, he shot Naruto one last smile.

"Go for it, kid."

And, as the Rasengan grew to what he felt was the largest size he could maintain… he gave a silent nod.

"Do it."

And he was flung forward by his friends combined strength.

He found his eyes closing as the strength of the wind seemingly quadrupled in but a moment, and he focused only on arriving at his destination as he flew through the air. While doing so, he listened in on the shouts of his friends. He listened in on their assurances…

"GO, NARUTOOOOO!"

"C'mon, Naruto! End it!"

He recognized the voice. Smiled as he heard it, despite everything. But… there was another, one that he…

"Hah… you've grown up so fast, Naruto. Go. And know that we'll always be watching over you, no matter what."

Tears gathered behind his eyelids. He wanted to reach out to that voice, to try and confront it… but he could tell it was already gone, could tell it had moved on, decided it's job was fulfilled…

And besides, he had a job of his own to complete.

He opened his eyes.

Black Zetsu was just below him, staring up at him with wide eyes, trying to muster the strength past the Ten-Tails' maddening influence to reach up and attack him, but…

He couldn't. Naruto could see the moment where he realized that. He could see the moment where Black Zetsu realized he'd failed, that he was about to die, that his entire plan was going to crumble down around him…

And he didn't give him a second more time than that.

"RASENGAN!"

And as he screamed that final word of affirmation into the air…

He struck true.

His Sage Mode Rasengan ripped apart Black Zetsu's flesh, utterly annihilating his body as the will of Kaguya Otsutsuki strained against it. He could hear the man let out curse after curse, scream in agony and desperation… but no. He curled his hand, channeling even more energy into the Rasengan's blast, and leaned even further into it.

And whether he'd meant to or not, he was yelling himself. Whether that was the energy he was feeling escaping the only way it could, the exhaustion of the day finally driving him to the end of his rope, or any other manner of thing… well, it wasn't like it particularly mattered.

For he could see Black Zetsu being entirely eliminated from existence.

The healing element of the Ten-Tails' Jinchuuriki didn't seem to be able to save him, not past the heavy damage he was taking every millisecond as the Rasengan ate away at every piece of him.

In that next second, as the last pieces of Black Zetsu still remaining were absorbed by his Rasengan, the entire thing began to glow a dazzling white with lines running across it, glowing like rainbows, threatening to absorb him in its glow.

And yet, he felt no fear.

Whatever this was… he'd meet it head on.

He'd promised himself that, after all.

And as the last wisp of their enemy was purged from the world…

Everything went white.

/-/

He was wet.

Why, exactly, that was the case… well, upon further inspection, it turned out he was submerged in water.

Go figure, right?

He put an arm beneath him and pushed himself up into a sitting position. Upon further inspection, he found he actually did recognize the place. It was his mindscape, the place he went to talk with the Nine-Tails.

And…

There was someone there he'd never seen before.

"Tis' good to finally meet thyself."

He tilted his head as he stared at the pale-skinned stranger, who floated a good foot or so off of the ground, his legs crossed, looking rather… he didn't think it was proud, but perhaps… relieved?

Eh, he didn't really have the energy to worry about it all that much.

"Hello?" The man spoke, floating towards him, as if wondering if Naruto was going to answer him. "Thou art Naruto Uzumaki, art thou not?"

He remembered in that moment that he should probably say something, though his next choice of words was, admittedly, poor.

"…You talk weird."

The man across from him smirked somewhat, as if sharing an inside joke with an old friend, but there was a massive shift from off behind him, and Naruto turned to see the Nine-Tails glaring down at him from behind its cage.

"Oi! Naruto! Show some damned respect!"

The old man laughed. "It's alright, Kurama." He turned to look at Naruto after pacifying the Nine-Tails' rage. "Is this better? My speaking, I mean."

"Uh, yeah, kinda'." He said as he sat up, looking at the man oddly. "By the way… Kurama?"

"Yes. That is his name, has he never told you it in this plane?"

He turned to the Nine-Tails, ignoring most of the rest of what the man said. "Your name's Kurama?"

"Well… yeah."

"Huh. Neat, I guess."

The great beast grumbled, but otherwise stayed silent as he turned back towards Mr. Mc'oldguy.

"So, uh… Who are you?"

"I suppose that makes sense." The man nodded his head, before straightening up and introducing himself. "My name is Hagoromo Otsutsuki. Though, well, I suppose you would know me better as–"

"The Sage of the Six Paths…" He spoke, legitimately awestruck. "The… son of Kaguya, right?"

"Hah. That's different from when I first met you." He laughed, sounding surprised somehow, but… "I had to fully introduce myself the last time."

"Wait, wait, wait, wait!" He stammered, waving his hands in front of him. "Whaddya mean first time!?"

"Ah, well…" The Sage gave a tiny smile. "When I met you in the true reality, in the true timeline, where the destiny of my sons, of my mother, and brother, and indeed, of this very world, would come to a head."

He had no real trouble admitting that he was entirely lost by then.

"Uh… what?"

"This timeline… this world… it is not the lifetime that you, Naruto Uzumaki, heir to my son, Ashura's, power should have lived."

Once more, he was totally lost.

"Gesundheit."

Hagoromo gave a quiet sigh, as if kind of expecting this behavior, but still being annoyed by it.

"Around this time in the world that should have been, you would have been faced with my mother herself. You would have, also, been far stronger, but in turn suffered hardships that the current you has no way of truly comprehending. Still, because of that, you would have come out the other side a complete person. You would have fought and defeated my mother, sealed her away, achieved your goals, and ended the crises. You would have, inevitably, brought peace to the Shinobi World."

He nodded his head a bit dumbly. "I… see. And… what exactly is it that prevented that from happening? This… this other timeline or whatever you're talking about?"

"The only thing that can be blamed, truly," The Sage of the Sixth paths, who seemed so infallible, so above it all, cracked an amused, almost mirthful smile in that moment, as if the very concept of what he was about to say was too humorous for even him to avoid laughing at it. "Would be the root of a tree, upon a small hill."

Naruto… wasn't following. "…What?"

"Do not worry." And for some reason, Hagoromo seemed to enjoy that fact even more. "At this point, it is… inconsequential. Know only that who you are, what you have gone through, and what you will continue to face in the future is irrecoverably different, all because of a singular event."

"Okay, sure, why not."

"Do you understand any of what I just said?"

"Vaguely." He admitted. "…Mostly. I get that something happened that changed history, or whatever, I guess I'm just not following why that… matters?"

"Ksh. Dumbass."

"OI!"

"Hahaha," Hagoromo shook his head at their antics. "I suppose your words are fair. Allow me to elaborate. What I mean is, because of what this world has brought about, your destiny, that which you were supposed to accomplish from birth, shall now never be."

"Oh… okay."

The Sage of the Six Paths seemed almost… perturbed by his lack of reaction.

"I'm saying that your destiny will not be met this way."

And for some reason, it was his turn to shake his head, laughing confidently as he looked the man in the eye.

"Destiny? Hah. Who needs destiny?" He asserted, placing his hands on his hips. "So, what if I'm not going to 'achieve my destiny!' or whatever. Something like that doesn't matter. For me, the only thing that matters is that the people around me, my friends, my allies, and even I accomplish the dreams we've set out for. I didn't defeat Black Zetsu, or the Akatsuki, because it was my destiny to do so or whatever. We defeated them because they were standing in the way of our dreams, and of a more peaceful world. Sure… maybe in a different world, everything would've gone perfectly, and we could've accomplished even greater things, but… Inevitably, the person I am now wouldn't exist, would he?"

Hagoromo hesitated for a moment, before nodding his head. "That is the truth."

"Then all the more reason why I won't hesitate." He smirked as he sat down in the watery expanse of his mindscape, feeling… reassured. "I already promised myself that I'd keep walking forward, alongside my friends, and the allies I've made as well. That won't change, not even if destiny wants a say at that."

The Sage of the Six Paths could only stare at him for a long while, before a tiny smile once more blossomed onto his lips, and he gave a quiet sigh.

"Somehow, even here, you are the same Naruto Uzumaki I met before. Perhaps wiser in some ways, and perhaps duller in others,"

"OI!"

"But ultimately… yes. You are Naruto Uzumaki regardless."

"Uh… okay."

"It is a compliment."

"It uh… didn't entirely seem like one."

Hagoromo's lip curved upwards ever so slightly.

"I'm sure I've no idea what you mean." He spoke as his body began to look almost like it was made of flame itself, flickering and wisping as more and more of him followed. "Ah, well. It seems I'm out of time."

"Out of time?" He questioned, leaning forward. "What do you…"

"I am not of this world any longer, Naruto Uzumaki. I died long ago, leaving my legacy to my sons. As powerful as I am, not even I can transcend death for very long."

He understood that. Mostly.

"So… you will not falter? Even knowing the destiny laid out in front of you now is not that which you should've lived?"

He nodded his head. "Not a chance. I'll see it through, regardless of what happens. My weaknesses, our weaknesses… they're what made us strong. So, what if I'm weaker; if we're all weaker than we should be?" He crossed his arms over his chest. "We'll just have to overcome whatever's in our way, regardless. Just like we always have."

Hagoromo nodded slowly as his body began to burn away, fading into the ether as he smiled.

"In that case, Naruto Uzumaki…"

And as he disappeared fully, back to wherever he'd come from, Naruto watched as the world was once more engulfed by white.

"I wish you good luck."

/-/

He shot awake with a gasping sigh, immediately looking around to see where he was.

Dirt. Dirt as far as the eye could see.

He took a second, more detailed look.

He was inside a fairly sizable crater, perhaps double or so the size of him. If he was right, judging based on the size, then…

This was the crater his Sage Mode Rasengan had created; the final hit that'd annihilated Black Zetsu from the world…

That'd ended their conflict with him, with the Akatsuki, once and for all.

He took a deep, calming breath, letting the last of his nerves flee from his body as he climbed out of the dirt indentation, and back up to solid terra firma. He was… well, exhausted didn't really even begin to cover it, but at least now, he could take a rest and–

"NARUTO!"

And of course, he was barely even surprised as he was tackle-hugged back into the crater.

"You're alright!" Sakura laughed as she straddled him a bit awkwardly. "Thank goodness you're alright."

"My back…" He wheezed.

"Eh, you'll be fine." Sasuke joked, holding his hand out to pick Sakura up, which she took after a moment, giving him the room to sit up.

"Hey, so, uh…" He looked around. "Is it… over?"

Sasuke gave a 50/50 gesture with his hand. "Yes and no. There are still hundreds if not thousands of Zetsu left, but it feels like the fire fueling them has gone out. They're not really fighting anymore. They're mostly acting like mindless monsters now. Attacking anything they run into… including one another."

"So… what?" He asked. "We just let them kill each other."

Sasuke nodded his head. "That does seem to be the plan."

"Alright, I suppose."

"So… Naruto, where were you exactly?" Sakura asked. "Because your body was here, sure, and yet your consciousness itself wasn't present.

"Hah… long story." He admitted, shaking his head as he stood up, and they walked out of the crater he'd created, back towards their allies, who were hooting and hollering in victory. "I'll explain later. For now… I think I'd like to get some rest."

"You're certainly not alone there." Sasuke smiled. "Just about everyone here has had enough of fighting for a lifetime. If I have to draw my sword ever again, it'll be too soon."

"Same." Sakura laughed. "That… tendril-thing I can do… it uses natural chakra, so I can keep it up for a long time, but even still, that doesn't mean I'm not physically dead tired."

"So… what's the plan?" Naruto asked.

"I think you said it, Naruto," Sasuke smirked. "We get some rest."

"Yeah…" Sakura smiled his way, stepping between the two of them and interlocking hands with them both. She swung their arms as she led them back towards the Leaf Village, which, unfortunately for his legs, was still a frighteningly large distance away.

"Let's go home."

End Chapter 99


Let's go home indeed, Naruto.

Was the weaknesses thing too corny? Yeah, probably, but meh, I liked it. Black Zetsu is down, and as will this story be next week.

Alright, tune in next week for the Finale, and let me know how you felt about the final battle!

I'll probably have a much larger final thoughts thing here next week, so I'll save that for then.

See you all then!