AN: Here we are. Chapter 12. A longer wait than usual, but you all know why already. The unfortunate thing? The whole reason I took a hiatus was to focus on my original work and plan for the next arc of this fic. Oh, and to prepare for a move to Houston in early October. That was the plan. But what actually happened? I caught Covid and lost the vast majority of my month to it and the resulting bed rest. Almost everything got pushed back.

Let me tell you, September was just horrible for me. I still managed to get the next arc in order since that didn't require very much of me. I could do that in bed with my notes app. But actually sitting in my chair and typing? Nope. I tried and all I managed was painfully coughing the entire time. So, I lost my chance to get some real work in on my original stuff but hey, the world must go on. And I promised a chapter this month. Enough from me now. Let us get on with the show. Enjoy.

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XXX

Bonds

Sakura followed behind Sasuke alongside Kakashi. The two of them were wary of him. No matter what he said, they wouldn't feel completely comfortable with his words until they'd seen Naruto themselves. He also hadn't explained anything yet. That was something Sakura felt needed to be remedied immediately.

"So, if you and Naruto didn't… Finish your battle, what happened?" Sakura inquired.

"We're not entirely sure. We think it was some sort of interaction between my Amenotejikara and his six paths chakra. We ended up in another dimension for a couple of months. Not like Kaguya's. There was civilization there."

"And I assume some have returned with you. Are they strong? A threat?" Kakashi asked. He was beginning to see how the pieces were all fitting together. As was Sakura. Of course, something like that would unite her two teammates. Despite their differing ideals, neither wanted their home or their people to be in mortal danger. Well, for the most part in Sasuke's case. Speaking of him, he shook his head.

"No. They were weak compared to us. I don't think they'd be much of a problem for some jonin either; you two in particular wouldn't have any issues at all. No. The actual dilemma here is who we encountered while we were stuck there. Naruto and I ran into two more Otsutsuki. We almost bested them. They weren't as powerful as Kaguya. And they underestimated us. But they escaped and came here, although Naruto and I predict they won't arrive until two months from now, give or take a few days."

"Space-time ninjutsu is tricky," Kakashi commented. Sasuke grunted his agreement. Sakura sighed and didn't bother to ask about the specifics. She'd never done much research into space-time ninjutsu. Nothing more than a cursory glance anyway.

"So, Naruto stayed with these… uh… foreigners? If you ran into Otsutsuki I can't imagine you got off easy. Is he injured? Are they looking after him?" Sakura asked. The three of them weren't far from the valley now. Just a few more minutes of travel and they'd arrive.

"Not particularly. He kept us healed and we didn't get any injuries that would require your assistance. The one who's hurt is his girlfriend." Sasuke replied. Sakura could hear the note of annoyance in his tone. He'd scoffed near the end there. His words registered a second later.

"Girlfriend?" she asked. That is not what I was expecting to hear, she thought.

"It's complicated. And not my business to tell. She reminds him of his mom, though." Sakura frowned at his reply. That likely made whoever this woman was more important to him they she would have expected after only two months.

"How badly is she injured?" Sakura asked. If they needed her and Naruto couldn't take care of it, then she assumed it wasn't good. She watched Sasuke shrug.

"Lost a hand. Beyond that, I don't know."

"Okay," Sakura sighed, her eyes narrowing, "I'll just have to determine her condition for myself." She sped up, passing Sasuke by. She knew he and Kakashi could go faster than this and had likely only been keeping a slower pace to accommodate her and her fatigue from the battle and the genjutsu. Sakura didn't need their concern right now. Her medic's mentality had already focused her thoughts on her future patient. She wanted to quickly assess them. Besides, they were important to her teammate. She didn't want to let Naruto down.


Weiss walked up to her sister. Winter had moved away from them, her eyes roaming the valley. Weiss herself was also curious about the place. There was very little water in the center of the ravine, but every step she took was upon damp soil. There had been much more water here at some point. She wondered what happened to change that.

"Winter." Weiss announced. Her sister turned to her and Weiss watches how her eyes seemed to relax. Her narrowed gaze was no more.

"How do you feel, Weiss?" Winter asked. Weiss briefly rubbed at her arm but replied quickly.

"Sore... and a little dizzy. I have a few cuts and bruises from whatever it was Salem hit us with after Nora nailed her. I think I sprained my right wrist and back hurts too. I feel like we fell from high up. Although, that might have just been the fight against Salem. I will be alright, though. Training with Naruto was honestly likely to leave me with more injuries. Are you okay, Winter?"

Winter didn't say anything for a moment, her eyes raking over Weiss from top to bottom. Her lips were little more than a thin line and her brows were furrowed. Weiss supposed she understood. Winter never wanted to see her in pain, and she'd just admitted to a somewhat extensive number of injuries. Weiss was being honest, however. She was in worse shape on her days training with Naruto.

"I'm fine. I wasn't hurt as much as some others while fighting Salem." Winter responded, smiling. Weiss could see that the smile didn't reach Winter's eyes. Her sister was likely being strong for her, but she knew Winter better than the elder Schnee thought. Regardless, she would let it go. Naruto's teammate would be able to look her over. She hoped so anyway.

"I wasn't talking about that. You seemed very angry with Naruto. And I'm not sure why." Weiss replied. Winter's smile dropped. She turned away from her sister in silence. The seconds passed slowly for Weiss. She felt she overstepped her bounds somehow. Winter sighed.

"You are my dear younger sister, Weiss. It is my job to protect you when I can. But that man put you in danger. Maybe not directly, but your feelings for him and your concern for miss Xiao Long forced you into a rash decision that could have gotten you killed. I don't care how much stronger than me he is. I could not tolerate him leading you into danger like that."

Weiss felt her cheeks warm. Winter's response had simultaneously embarrassed and pleased her. Weiss loved her sister dearly, but neither of them was very good at expressing themselves. It was rare that she heard her sister speak of how she cared for her. Weiss knew Winter loved her, of course. What Winter didn't say, she showed. Her actions were reassurance enough but hearing how much Winter cared was always nice.

On the other hand, Winter could clearly tell she had feelings for Naruto. It bothered Weiss that it bothered her. Attraction wasn't exactly a choice. Naruto just happened to make her heart skip a beat. What could she do? Weiss at least kept her decorum.

"Winter… thank you. But it was ultimately my decision. The one who deserves your ire is me, not Naruto. He just wanted to protect his home. There's nothing wrong with that."

Winter sighed again and turned fully to her sister. "He still shouldn't have taken miss Xiao Long with him." Winter's response earned a faint smile from Weiss. Her sister was stubborn and didn't like to admit when she was wrong. Weiss did have to concede her point though. Naruto had made a mistake.

"I didn't say he should have. You're right. Naruto should have paid more attention to the fact he still had Yang with him when he chased after the enemy. He was thoughtless and that endangered Yang. I will not argue that but don't direct your anger over my choice at him. My faults are my own." Weiss replied. Winter huffed.

"Since when have you had the courage to scold me?" Winter questioned, a smirk on her lips. Weiss's flushed cheeks grew redder. She looked off to the side but replied regardless.

"I suppose I have grown a lot at Beacon. Even more so after Naruto and Sasuke arrived. Meeting the equivalent to gods in the flesh helps to put some things into perspective…"

Winter hummed and the two sisters enjoyed a quiet moment together. The breeze running through the valley blew some of Winter's hair across her face and she tucked it behind her ear absently.

"I imagine this valley was rather beautiful at some point." Winter commented.

"Yes… though I do wonder how it got to be this way." Weiss replied. Winter rose a brow.

"I find it's rather obvious. After the display of power against the Otsutsuki. Naruto and Sasuke said their fight is what brought them to Remnant. I imagine this was the battleground. They did this." Weiss considered her reply and then looked around again. There were all sorts of rubble about the ravine and the high cliffs looked to still be crumbling a bit. She noticed some scorch marks for the first time and knew Winter's words to be correct.

"I could never imagine being able to do this. To change the very landscape…?" Weiss was nearly speechless. Winter offered her sister a single nod in response.

"Naruto!" a voice called, prompting Weiss to turn. Her eyes locked onto her crush to see a pink haired woman landing next to him alongside a man with silver hair and Sasuke. Weiss remembered him mention his team briefly. It was only once, during one of their training sessions. He didn't say much about them despite Yang's inquiries. Though he did deign them with small descriptions and their names: Sakura and Kakashi.

"Who are they?" Winter asked as she watched Sakura briefly converse with Naruto before she kneeled next to Yang. Weiss watched as Sakura's hands glowed before she placed them upon Yang's body—her arm with the missing hand in particular.

"Naruto and Sasuke's teammates. Sakura and their teacher, Kakashi." Weiss replied. Winter nodded and began to move toward the group.

"I suppose we should join them. She is the healer of their group, right? We should probably get you checked out." Winter said. Weiss didn't think she'd phrased it as a suggestion despite the words she'd used. Her tone was clear. This was something Weiss had no choice in.

With a silent sigh through her nose, Weiss followed her sister. She hadn't asked Naruto to heal her for she assumed he must be tired after his bout with the Otsutsuki. She didn't want to be a burden when she was relatively alright. Though reluctant to bother a stranger, she supposed now was the best time to alleviate her soreness.

The closer the two of them got, the better they could hear Sakura.

"You're not proficient with your healing yet, are you Naruto?" Sakura asked. Naruto scratched at his cheek.

"Not completely. I'm definitely better than I was when I left, but I could still use more practice."

"I can tell… it seems like your healing is somewhat automatic, but I can see that based on what you told me about the severity of her wounds, you didn't do a perfect job. Nor did this Jaune you say she told you healed her. She's fatigued and despite the effort you and her friend put forth, her stomach could still use some work."

"And her hand?" Naruto asked. Sakura frowned.

"I… have an idea. Since this aura they have can favorably interact with chakra, it might work. There isn't anything I can do about it right now though. We'll have to wait until we're back in the village with Tsunade-sama. And even then, it could take some weeks to complete." Sakura replied as she finished her diagnosis and got to work on fully healing Yang's injuries.

"That's better than nothing." Naruto responded. Weiss and Winter were part of the group now, Cinder and Emerald were just on Winter's left. And none of them had understood a single word of what Naruto and Sakura said outside of the names of their friends.

This might be a problem, Weiss thought. How were they going to bridge the communication gap? They wouldn't be able to rely on Naruto and Sasuke the whole time, surely.

"What did she say, Naruto?" Yang asked. Her voice still sounded a bit rough, but Weiss was no longer worried about her recovery. She trusted Naruto and he seemed to have complete faith in his teammate based on his body language during their conversation.

"She said she's going to make sure all your injuries are taken care of. Just relax and let her heal you. Sakura can't do anything about the hand right now, but she said she has an idea. It just requires her teacher and some time. A few weeks she said." Yang's expression soured slightly, but with a sigh she replied.

"Well, that's better than nothing… I didn't expect I could be helped." Naruto smiled at her. Weiss smiled too.

"I'm glad you're going to be okay, Yang." Said Weiss.

"Can't keep me down." Yang smiled. Weiss couldn't help but notice that it was a tired one. The next moment, Weiss found herself looking up to the sound of a male voice speaking Naruto's native tongue.

"We can't have this communication block for too long. How easy would it be for us to learn their language? Or for them to learn ours?" Kakashi asked. Sasuke shrugged.

"It didn't take us long. But Naruto used shadow clones and I had the Sharingan at my disposal to make the process simpler. I'm sure you can learn it Kakashi. Any shinobi should be capable. It will just take a few weeks of hard study."

"That's likely too long. Could genjutsu be used to accelerate the process somehow?" Kakashi asked. Sasuke hummed in thought.

"Maybe I could show you my memories of learning the language through genjutsu… maybe I could do the same for them for our own. I'm not sure. I should test with you first, though."

"We'll make sure to look into it when we get back to the village and speak with Hokage-sama. Speaking of which… the two of you need to release the Infinite Tsukuyomi." Kakashi replied. Weiss watched Sasuke scowl and wondered what was being said that had upset him. Sasuke himself was thinking about how detrimental that would be to his plans, but he knew they had no choice. The longer they waited the more likely it would be that everyone would become a White Zetsu.

Sasuke didn't want everyone to die. Besides, with two Otsutsuki soon to be running around their dimension they would need all the assistance they could get. He highly doubted they would be underestimated a second time, after all.

"We'll handle it when Sakura is done checking on everyone here. They were in a difficult fight of their own. And then they fell out of the Otsutsuki's transportation technique when we arrived here. They could all use a look over." Naruto interjected. Weiss watched Sasuke's scowl deepen. Somehow. She didn't know it was possible for him to look even more surly. Weiss was clearly wrong.

Sasuke sighed and then grunted. Naruto smiled. Weiss? Weiss didn't understand. Was that supposed to be an… agreement of some sort? But to what?

"I'm done," said Sakura, standing up as her gaze slid over to Weiss and the other Remnants. "Naruto, ask them who is most injured amongst them. I'll evaluate them next." Weiss rose a brow. Was Sakura speaking to her? Surely not. She recognized that they had a barrier to conversation that could not be easily overcome.

"Sakura wants to know which of you is most injured. She's getting to them next." Naruto replied.

"I am just sore." Cinder responded simply, crossing her arms.

"My neck and my legs hurt. I have some cuts and bruises." Emerald replied.

"I have a headache. Some soreness. To be perfectly honest, I believe Weiss is the most injured." Winter responded. With a sigh, Weiss told Naruto about all her ails and watched him frown before saying something to Sakura. The pinkette's eyes darted over to her and she made her way over as she spoke.

"Sakura says to lie down, Weiss. She's going to examine you." Naruto informed. Weiss just nodded and did as she was told.


Ruby watched as her sister and her partner vanished into the inky blackness. That is not good. Those were the only thoughts running through her mind. Ruby could not follow them. First dad, now Yang and Weiss are gone too? What am I supposed to do? Outside her head, Ruby was starting to hyperventilate. Not that she noticed. Panic had already fully set in, and her focus was solely on the fact that she'd lost so many people in just a few short minutes.

"Ruby! Calm down, kid." Qrow said, grabbing hold of her shoulders and focusing her vision on him. "Deep breaths kid. Slowly. With me, alright? In—that's right. Now out." Qrow breathed with her until eventually, Ruby's breathing stabilized. Tears built up in her eyes. Then fell heavily as she hiccupped.

"Uncle Qrow! Salem she—dad and mom too! And—and Yang is—"

"Yang will be alright, kiddo. She's with Winter and Naruto. You said he could heal people, right? And they're dating. He wouldn't let her get hurt." Ruby nodded, though tears still wetted her cheeks. Qrow himself didn't believe a word of what he just said. He had no idea what that portal would do to Yang or where it would send her. But he needed to reassure Ruby. He was the only family she had left.

Raven doesn't count. He thought. It was petty, but he needed a distraction himself. He'd seen Taiyang and Ozpin's corpses—what was left of them in Ozpin's case—when he showed up and based on Ruby's rambling Salem had not only killed him but admitted to killing Summer too. This was all just too much. Even for someone with a semblance like his.

"We need to find everyone else and get out of here," Pyrrha piped up. "I don't see Salem anywhere, but there's no guarantee she'll not return. I don't want to be here when she gets back." Qrow scowled but nodded. He helped Ruby to her feet and spoke.

"We move as a group. No one stray. Once we find everyone we come back for Ozpin's and Taiyang's bodies. I refuse to leave them here to the grimm." Qrow ordered. The teens gave their ascent and they moved out. Qrow didn't want to be a leader. He didn't feel he was fit for the job.

But more than anything he desperately hoped his semblance wouldn't act up. Not now. Not after all this.


Winter's pale cheeks were stained red as she was carried at breakneck speeds through the trees. She felt like a helpless child and hated it. This is humiliating. Winter tensed as the man's grip tightened and he picked up speed. She could hardly believe he could go faster, yet here he was doing just that. Like it was nothing; effortless.

Kakashi glanced down at her briefly, almost as if he could read her mind. Winter proceeded to consider the fact that he just might be capable. She did not know his abilities. She dearly hoped he could not. Once she remembered that they could not understand each other's language, she relaxed—if only slightly. Even if he could read my mind, he won't be able to understand my thoughts. That's some small solace at least.

Soon their group was clear of the forest and entered another barren wasteland of upturned rock and dirt. Winter knew that this, too, was a battlefield. The damage here was even more extensive and widespread than what she'd seen at the valley. Naruto and Sasuke had change the landscape, but not drastically, though she considered that might only be due to their fight being incomplete. This, however, was different. Scorch marks and bodies of water that didn't seem to belong alongside an out of place deserts worth of sand clashed with an egregiously large tree and its twisting branches full of thick leaves.

None of these biomes should be right next to each other like this. Winter knew this was not natural. The battle here hadn't just changed the landscape, no. It would rewrite the maps. What kind of fight… could cause all this?

"This is… insane. What kinda landscape is this!?" Yang exclaimed. Though Winter didn't care for her boisterousness, she was happy to see the girl had gotten some of her cheer back.

"It's a result of the war… the five great shinobi villages versus the terrorist organization known as the Akatsuki. Eventually that turned into a fight against long-dead shinobi and a goddess." Naruto replied.

"You fought zombies?" Yang asked, incredulous. She had not heard about this from him, apparently. Naruto chuckled awkwardly.

"I mean… I guess. They were more like dead souls forced into artificially created bodies. And they wouldn't die no matter what you did. Had to seal their movements. The only way to put an end to their reanimation was by forcing the person who activated the technique to end it."

"That's… sick." Weiss replied, a little green in the face. Winter could only agree. To desecrate corpses was one thing. That in and of itself was horrible. But this went past even that. This was the very violation of someone's soul. To bring them back from the dead and force them to fight was absolutely unacceptable. Winter didn't even have words for how vile an act such a thing is.

"Shinobi are a lot less concerned with Morals than the people of Remnant. It's just how our world works." Sasuke replied.

"How can any of you stomach that?" Winter asked. She felt ill at the implications.

"It's just how we were raised. Believe me, we're not happy about things like this. I couldn't stand it. Some of us even had to do battle with past loved ones, but this is a generational issue. Our world has been fraught with war for a very long time. It molded us to jade ourselves against death and despicable things." said Naruto. Winter watched as Sasuke gave a shallow nod.

"Not doing so would likely only result in death as a shinobi. Atrocity after atrocity has been committed for as far back as our history goes." Sasuke replied.

"And… no one has tried to change?" Yang inquired.

"Of course they have," Naruto responded, "but hey. That's part of the problem. There is hardly any significant change without conflict of some sort. And with five villages of differing ideals, a clash is inevitable. The losing side then grows to detest the victors. Eventually they seek change too. And if they succeed? Now the people who they bested hate them. Grudges are inevitable and thus begins the vicious, all-consuming cycle of hatred."

"To attain true peace through change requires unity of all people. A unity that has never been seen. Not until there was a knife held at the throat of the entire world." Sasuke added. The Remnant natives lapsed into an uncomfortable silence as they ran on. Eventually, they came to a stop, allowing Winter to get a good look at their surroundings without the added motion blur. Kakashi set her back on her feet and she was thoroughly happy to be under her own power again.

There were cocoons of some sort all over the place. They were connected to what seemed to be thick roots, though Winter didn't see the tree they were connected to.

"What is all this?" Cinder asked. Tapping a cocoon lightly with her foot.

"These are all of the surviving Shinobi of the war, trapped within the effects of the Infinite Tsukuyomi." Naruto spat.

"Infinite Tsukuyomi…?" Cinder replied, the word Tsukuyomi leaving her mouth with some difficulty.

"A technique those who possess Rinnegan eyes have access to. It traps the entire world in a never ending genjutsu—an illusion; a never ending dream. And while doing so, it sucks the life force out of their bodies and changes them into identical, emotionless husks." Sasuke answered. Winter heard Weiss gasp. She herself felt her stomach flip flop at the response. She didn't think it could get worse than soul revival, but somehow… this was worse to her. Why do this? What kind of goal could require something this horrendous?

"Let's end this, Sasuke." Naruto said, drawing Winter from her thoughts. She watched the two of them approach each other as Sasuke grunted his agreement. They stood side by side and brought their hands together, weaving odd shapes with their fingers before they spoke in unison.

"Kai!" At first, Winter noticed nothing. Then she heard what sounded like grinding crunches. Eventually, she saw what was making the noise. The bark wrapped around the trapped shinobi was unwrapping itself and crumbling away. Many, many people were being revealed to her, their eyes slowly opening. Murmurs and groans filled her ears as some of the freed shinobi began to sit up. One of the voices caught her ears in particular. Not because she recognized it; that was impossible. No, it was because of how close they were and what they said.

"Naruto-kun?"

A moment later Naruto was rushing past her.

"Hinata!" Winter turned and just a few feet behind her she watched as Naruto wrapped a woman with long dark hair up in his arms. She hugged him back fiercely and spoke words Winter did not understand. Winter glanced at Weiss and Yang. Their faces were far from happy.

Once again, Winer found herself very displeased with Naruto Uzumaki.

XXX

I'm back! This chapter was a fun write. So, here we are. Weiss and Winter got to have a nice sisterly chat and Winter is pleasantly surprised by Weiss's growth as a person. Though, she is not pleased with one of the primary people who is the cause. The Shinobi of the Elemental Nations are free of the Infinite Tsukuyomi and Naruto and Hinata are about to have a reunion. The question is… how will Yang and Weiss take this?

Meanwhile, in Remnant, Qrow's taken charge and is rounding everyone up. Salem has slipped away somewhere, and they don't want to be around when she returns. They're going to regroup and attempt to escape Salem's realm. But how will that go for them? We'll all just have to find out next chapter, which will be out at the end of November. No hiatus this month despite how terribly September went for me as far as my plans went.

I hope the chapter's to everyone's liking. If there are any questions you all have, feel free to leave a review. If you want some sort of more in-depth discussion, then go ahead join the discord. Peace out.

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