The Hidden Heart of the Nausicaa Forest

Author's Final Note: 11 years later…After a very long hiatus, I have finally finished my very first fanfiction. I hope you like the conclusion to this story. This is the longest chapter I have ever written. It took a while to write but I did my best to give my readers an interesting story and ending. Thanks to all of you who were patient and waited weeks, months or even years for me to complete this story and for all the support. I don't know what else to say but that this was a very fun experience. I won't be writing any more fanfiction after this because I'm interested in original stories with my own characters, world, etc. for anyone who was wondering. Thank you for reading!

I do not own Naruto. This is a complete work of fiction. Enjoy.


Chapter 10 – The End: A Shinobi, A Friend

Neji's and Sasuke's fighting intensified. Nearby trees were bashed to oblivion, whether from the earlier fight with the creature or from Sasuke's rampage, Neji did not know.

It had happened in an instant when the Uchiha attacked him. In the back of Neji's mind he wondered where Ino and Kiba were tossed to, if they were close. He needed help and quick. But Neji had little time to think as Sasuke unleashed a barrage of shuriken. He tried his best to deflect and dodge them, but a few shuriken cut his arms and legs.

Neji winced at the pain, he had an inkling that Sasuke was under the influence of the forest, oblivious. I'm running low on chakra, Neji thought, I must try my best to fight off Sasuke without hurting him while conserving my chakra but…

The Uchiha boy was relentless, though, not allowing Neji an opportunity. At times Sasuke would holler his love for Ino, how she ultimately would be his, between attacks. Neji didn't know what to make of it, it angered him. Was the Uchiha using this as bait he wondered. Neji dodged yet another projectile thrown at him, and sprinted behind a tree, panting. "You won't get away that easy." Dark eyes closed and red ones opened, two black symbols circled the iris. Eyes scanned the area, more precise than before.

Sasuke launched a kunai knife with a paper bomb attached towards the tree and Neji jumped to avoid getting caught in the blast. At the same time, Sasuke grabbed on a thick branch, spun over it, causing him to vault of it. This caught Neji by surprise as Sasuke gained an advantage. "Gotcha! Fireball no Jutsu." Neji had to react quick as the flames came into range, before they could reach him, he spun his torso and pushed his palm towards the fire.

Chakra expelled from his palm creating a gust of wind that made a gap in the fire. Neji leapt through, surprising the Uchiha, and before he could away, Neji managed a few hits on Sasuke's arm, targeting his chakra points. Sasuke landed a few feet back, left arm in pain. He tried a hand seal but nothing happened. He became enraged, he stared with red eyes at his arm and with his right hand produced a kunai knife lunging it at Neji so quick, the boy almost didn't have time to deflect it.

"Sasuke! Snap out of it. You can't keep this up! We need to focus on what's important." Neji was starting to notice the mistakes Sasuke was making. Sasuke isn't himself which means he's not fighting as well as he normally would, even with the Sharigan activated he's being careless and making mistakes. I can still win but I must proceed with caution.

ﻌᴥﻋ

"Seriously, what the hell was that thing" Kiba said, wide eyed. They were running and jumping from tree to tree, hoping to locate Sasuke and Neji.

"I don't know…It just appeared out of nowhere…again."

"Again? You mean to say that huge worm went undetected and managed to surprise you more than once? Are you sure it won't come back then?"

"…I'm not sure…"

Ino sighed, she didn't know what to tell the boy. They were rushing to find the two stoic boys but she was unsure of the danger that lurked.

Suddenly…Whiiiizz.

A kunai knife flew across them. Kla-shing. The sound of metal on metal rang near. Ino directed herself to the sound.

There was a flash of shurikens colliding. Then two shadows striking and hitting their kunai knifes together before leaping back. "There they are!" Ino spotted the two shinobi boys. They were busy fighting to notice them. "Hey! Stop it you two!

Neji glanced at the two figures. "I'm trying to stop him, but he's out of-" Neji ducked, Sasuke's foot struck empty air.

"Listen Sasuke, we found out what is going on, it's the fruit, they have this negative effect. Like a genjutsu or-"

"-Yea, they make you do weird shit!" Kiba stated, cutting off Ino.

Sasuke continued attacking Neji, ignoring their presence. He yanked a kunai knife from the trunk of a tree. "He isn't listening…We need to try and subdue him before he hurts Neji any further. Sasuke please listen!" Ino begged. But the boy ignored her and continued his assault, hurling the kunai knife he had held.

Ino shot in front of Neji, shielding him. The knife pierced her shoulder, she yelped in pain.

"Ino! Are you alright?" Neji reached for the girl. Ino looked over her shoulder and smiled at him. "Don't worry, I'm doing fine."

Neji dropped his hand and clenched it into a tight fist. "Sasuke… he's not himself."

"Yea, we know," Kiba said.

"No, I mean, he's moves are erratic. His judgement is being clouded by whatever is inflicting him and he's not fighting as well as he should be. It would be easy to subdue him if done correctly."

Ino stared down at red eyes. It wasn't the Sasuke she knew. "He's like an even madder dog than you, Kiba." She grimaced.

"Heh. He wishes. Let's show him what a real mad dog can do, Akamaru!"

Kiba and Akamaru faced Sasuke. "Man Beast Mimicry!" Akamaru jumped on top of Kiba, transforming into a replicate of him. The duplicate then dove at Sasuke's heel, biting into his thigh and getting a tight hold of his legs, immobilizing him. Sasuke let out a sharp cry.

"Shoe Stink Bomb Attack!"

Kiba hurled the ninja shoe at Sasuke. It smacked right in the center of his face, knocking him back. Sasuke took a whiff of the shoe and gagged; the smell was overpowering. He leaned to the side and puked a blue purple fluid on the ground. The transformation was released and Akamaru reverted to his dog form.

"Yes!"

Kiba and Akamaru celebrated a direct hit. Ino pumped her good arm in triumph. Neji stood, blinking dumbfounded. Ino, still shielding Neji asked, "Are you okay Sasuke? Have you snapped out of it?"

The boy wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, his eyes back to normal, only nodding.

Ino settled with that response and turned her attention to Neji. She expressed an anxious glee. The Hyuuga boy blinked and smiled back. She approached him and asked if he was okay. He replied, that he was. They couldn't tear their eyes away from each other.

"Are you alright, man?" Ino heard Kiba ask Sasuke. It was all background noise to her, Neji was all she could focus on. "Neji…I'm sorry." He placed a pale hand on hers, almost knowingly. "It's okay…" He cupped, her shoulder where the kunai was still lodged in, he laughed.

"Here you are… worried about me when there's a kunai knife stick out of your shoulder… That's what I always liked about you besides so much more."

Kiba gave Sasuke a canteen of water while Neji treated Ino, carefully pulling out the knife. "Kiba do you have any bandages?"

Kiba handed over a wad of bandages to the Hyuuga. Kiba looked between Neji wrapping up Ino wounds and the wounded Ino. "Hey…is there something going on between the two of you?"

Akamaru sniffed the air and piped up, 'Someone is coming.'

"Where?"

'From two different directions.'

They heard footsteps, someone calling out names, through the thick trees. A spike of yellow hair is the first thing they make out, then pink and brown. On the other side, white eyed girl and a green suit boy appear from the foliage.

"Hinata!" Kiba sprinted to the girl.

"Are you okay?" Kiba touched Hinata's arm. She gave him a sweet smile. "Yes, I'm fine."

Kiba shook his head and grinned. "Of course, you're fine."

"Tenten!" Rock Lee beamed, running towards her with a crying face and extended arms. Tenten shrieked as he enveloped her in a hug. "Ugh, Lee!"

"Tenten, you're also here." Neji said. Tenten sighed and nodded, still in Lee's embrace.

Naruto and Sakura ran towards Sasuke. "Sasuke!" He stood up from where he sat, wearing his typical aloof demeaner, his team members shined with delight. Glad to know their friend was safe.

They had at last found one another. Everyone broke off and turned to one another, delighted to see each other.

"Ino!" Sakura finally noticed the girl and knelt beside her. "We heard a blast. And you're injured Ino. What happened? Are you guys really okay?"

"Slow down Sakura. I'm fine. It's just a small wound. It isn't as bad as the fall. The blast came from that damn demon worm."

"He attacked us again, but disappeared," Neji added. Several of the genin sighed, others stared at the ground.

"It seems most of us are okay but Naruto…why…where are your clothes? …Not that I care," Sasuke said.

Naruto grinned sheepishly, he had put on the shirt Tenten had found. Hinata face turned into a tomato, she stammered as she thrusted Naruto's folded coat and shoe at him. "He-here! Naru-naruto, I found these!" His eyes sparkled. "You found my clothes! Thank you." Naruto hugged her. Hinata felt like she was a volcano shooting lava towards the heavens, she smiled.

"Tenten, how did you manage to get down here," Kiba asked. Neji gave the pants he found to Naruto.

"Well, unlike you, I did not risk my life by throwing myself down a dark and deep hole. I'm surprised you're even alive…" Tenten told everyone how she found a way down. The forest ground from above hadn't completely broke into pieces. A section dropped, still attached to the top, creating a slope to climb up and down from.

"We need a better plan. The last one was ineffective," Neji simply stated after Tenten was done explaining.

"We were underwhelmingly unprepared…And that worm got the best of us," Rock Lee felt dismayed.

"It's the reason we're down here in the first place! We can't let that happen again," Sakura said.

"Maybe not a plan to defeat the creature but one to escape from here…" All eyes and ears were on Hinata as she elaborated. "Tenten said there was a way out. So, we can use that as our escape route."

"You mean to create an opening and bypass the creature? Might be doable," Neji said. Tenten and Sakura patted Hinata on the back.

"I agree and with the addition of Tenten and Kiba, I think we can pull this off," Ino felt triumphant.

"What exactly happened before," inquired Tenten. The other team members brought her up to date. Tenten pondered out loud, "sounds like it's playing a trick. Kind of like a genjutsu."

Rock Lee bounced in excitement. "Oh, yea? A worm that's a genjutsu user. That's Tenten for you!" Tenten exhaled and calmed down the boy.

Sakura contemplated it as well. "It would explain its abrupt appearances and how we can't seem to sense it…adding to the fact that it is huge yet it can conceal itself with such ease… This forest is full of mysterious."

Naruto sat on a rock as he put on the last piece of clothing on; the shoe Kiba handed him, which to Naruto, had a funky smell to it. Kiba poked fun at the fox boy and his foul-smelling shoes. "Seriously, you need to have your feet checked. That smell is not normal." Akamaru sniggered, agreeing with his master.

"Shut up. My feet are fine. I'm already annoyed to begin with. I have no idea how my clothes were scattered everywhere in the first place." Ino overheard Naruto and pulled her attention away from the group planning. "What did you say" She loomed over the boy.

"Eh?" He turned to Ino, confused, "just that my clothes disappeared when I went for a dip in a lake and somehow it was all over the place…Hinata and Rock Lee found my jacket and a shoe, Neji found my pants, Tenten found my shirt and Kiba had my-"

"-shoe. Hmmm. We were split up, in different locations and everyone found a piece of your clothes. How? They were in several places…even though you had them all?"

"Yea, I took them off to go swimming."

"You took them off?"

"Yea."

"Then each of us found one? Even though we were apart and in different locations…Your clothes were scattered without any knowledge to how they got there in the first place."

"Yea? What are you getting at Ino?"

"I feel like there is something there, it just has to… click…"

The Kyuubi boy scratched his head and tilted his head. He joined the girl in thought but he could feel his brain begin to hurt. "I don't get it Ino."

"I mean something as small as your clothes could easily get around compared to…Wait! I think I've got it!"

Ino interrupted the deep group discussion the other shinobis were indulged in. "What if the beast is in fact splitting itself up into pieces."

"Ino pig-I mean Ino…That…" Sakura stopped. Splitting into pieces, she thought.

"Wait, I think she has something," Neji said.

Ino felt reassured and continued, "Think about it for a second. Moving one large object undetected is near impossible. Remember what you said Sakura, how can it be so huge and able to conceal itself? The answer is, it isn't large, at least, not all the time. Imagine if a large object can be broken down into smaller parts-"

"-Then it would make it easier for it to hide and maneuver! That's how it vanished… and so quickly at that!" Sakura said, nodding.

"Ino your brilliant," said Hinata. Ino thanked the girl, "I think Shikamaru is rubbing off on me."

"This can also help explain why it was hard to detect," Sasuke said, "to continue from what you said, one large object would hold a large amount of chakra. Split that up and there would be smaller, almost undetectable sizes of chakra."

Naruto and Kiba nodded their head as if they understood. Rock Lee smiled giving the group a thumbs up, "we solved the mystery!"

"Hmm, then how can we find small traces of chakra? It tends to be difficult to detect the smaller it becomes. And this monster you're talking about seems like a pro in chakra handling," Tenten asked.

"Ah! Let's assume we want to find that creature, we would need to lure it out by locating it to get the advantage," Rock Lee said.

"Then we can lay a trap for it," Sakura said.

"Yes, my cherry blossom! You are smart as always!" Sakura groaned but a smile touched her lips.

"We can find it and lure it out," said Hinata, "with our Byakuugan, Neji and I can find the smaller chakra."

"Sorry, I'm low in chakra," Neji said. Everyone appeared dejected. "But I think you can do it alone, Hinata. It would be difficult…but I'm confident in your ability."

Hinata bowed her head, biting her lips, she peeked through dark lashes when Naruto placed a hand on her shoulder. "Hinata…You can definitely do it. We believe in you." Hinata eye's wavered but she smiled brightly, Naruto grinned back.

Tenten patted Rock Lee on his back as he grinned; Ino, Hinata and Sakura smiled at one another with a confidence; Neji and Sasuke smirked at each other; while Naruto and Kiba bumped fist. The group felt excited.

ﻌᴥﻋ

"Ino and Sakura would lay a trap. We lost most of our equipment during our fall but not all of it. It's up to the two of you to make use of the last of our equipment," the shinobi were in a circle, all eyes were on Neji as he directed them.

"Some explosive tags and we can manage an effective trap," said Ino. Sakura nodded.

"Understood. Next Tenten and Kiba. You're the only two with the greatest amount of chakra and stamina. After the trap goes off it's up to you guys to weaken the creature. Tenten-"

"Yes!"

"Use your most powerful weapon attack. Kiba-"

"Yea, I got it," Kiba grinned. Akamaru howled.

"After Kiba and Tenten have immobilized the beast, it would increase the chance for the rest of us to strike with better accuracy, hence, more damage. Hinata and I would attack, Lee would follow up by opening the first gate. And, finally-"

"Leave it to me," Naruto and Sasuke said in unison, a spark ignited between them but it was quickly diffused. "I'll blow that beast away with a rasengan," Naruto said, assuredly. Sasuke smirked, "Let's see it survive my chidori."

"One last thing, the worm can suck out your chakra, so be careful around the area of its mouth. Be aware of any tricks it might pull and proceed with caution, we won't allow that worm have the upper hand anymore. Hinata?"

"Yes?"

"Locate the creature," he said. Hinata bobbed her head and activated her Byakuugan. "Found it! At 2 o'clock, 10 meters from here. There's several of them! They are divided, just like you said Ino..."

Ino smiled. Hinata continued, "They are scattered but still close."

"Now we just need to lure it out."

"I've got an idea."

ﻌᴥﻋ

Explosive tags were placed on several trees in the vicinity. Ino and Sakura placed the last tags, and jumped away to a tree further down. Neji, Sasuke, Naruto, Rock Lee, and Tenten were waiting for them. "Is it still there Hinata?" Neji called out to the girl who was situated on another tree further down.

"Affirmative."

"Good. Now it's your turn Kiba and Akamaru. Lure it out," yelled Neji.

Down below stood Kiba with a transformed Akamaru at his side. "Roger that!"

Kiba positioned himself and then ran forward. Akamaru shadowed. The two ran until they were spinning and torpedoing along the surface of the ground. They scraped the ground several times until they heard a rumbling. "Yes! It's coming, everyone, get into position!"

The ground exploded, tossing debris of rock and dirt everywhere. One boulder crashed into a nearby tree causing some of them to flinch. They watched as the beast revealed itself, casting a large shadow over them.

Everything stopped around them. The glowing trees seemed to shine brighter, and it became eerily quiet. Then there was an ear-piercing screech.

"Now!"

Ino and Sakura activated the paper bombs. One by one they exploded, catching the beast in the blast. The creature let out another screech as Kiba fed Akamaru a food pill causing his fur to turn red. He then re-transformed into Kiba and the two shot at the beast. "Man beast ultimate Taijutsu; Fang over fang!" Two large spirals hit the creature in several close intervals, causing its armor scale to chip away.

"We're not letting you get away that easily!" Tenten pulled out two scrolls and tossed them in the air, she performed some hand signs and the scrolls transformed into dragons before it changed back into unraveling scrolls. "Twin rising Dragons!" She jumped in between the two scrolls, pulling and tossing weapons out of them; a parade of weapons cascaded down, striking the beast all over.

A large Ying and Yang symbol glowed green on the ground. Hinata and Neji stood next to each other, eyes closed. Simultaneously they opened their eyes and yelled, "Byuukugan!" They took their traditional stance and began their assault on the creature. "Eight Trigrams: Two palms! Four Palms! Eight palms! Sixteen palms! Thirty-two palms! Sixty-four palms!"

On the opposite side stood Rock Lee. He opened the fourth gate of the eight inner gates. His eyes turned completely white, his skin became red as thick veins protruded from his face. "Fourth gate of Pain open!" Rock Lee kicked the beast with all his strength. "Hidden lotus!" The force of the attack was enough to push the beast back a bit. He kicked the beast again and again in such a speed the creature couldn't utter a cry.

Off to one side was Sasuke, he wrapped his finger on his right arm, sharigan activated. "Good thing Neji's chakra block wore off or else I wouldn't be able to use all my power." A loud chirping noise and electric current formed on his hand.

On the opposite side of him, Naruto grinned at himself as his clone began forming a spiraling sphere on the palm of his hand. When Rock Lee relented on his beating the two unleashed their attacks.

"Chidori!"

"Rasengan!"

Naruto released his Rasengan at the beast, at the same time Sasuke's chidori connected with it. The power of the two attacks created two large holes in the creature.

A weak shriek echoed out of it. But before the shinobis could celebrate, the creature began to tremble. Its skin bubbled as it dispersed into smaller versions of itself, spreading everywhere. The young genins look to one another as they were swept by the crawling creatures.

Ino and Neji were backed into a luminescent tree. They gave a look of dismay as they were cornered by the horde.

Sakura and Rock Lee wriggled away and jumped onto a boulder, they couldn't escape as the grubs crowded the base of the rock.

Hinata and Naruto bump into each other and realized they were surrounded on all sides. They fought the larvae off as they launched themselves at them, back to back.

"Hn, you're not so bad dog," said Sasuke, he pulled back after an attack that left a larva in pieces.

"You're not so bad either hot shot," said Kiba, jumping back from slashing a worm open with his claws.

Tenten sighed, "Boys." She slashed at an incoming larva. The three had been pushed out of the mob of larvae.

"We are out in the edge, we need to make an opening and get in to help the others," Tenten stated.

"Concentrate your attack in one area. That should create enough space to get through," Sasuke swiped at some grubs and Tenten joined him.

"I have a good plan up my sleeves. Akamaru let's show these bugs what we're made of!" Akamaru jumped and twirled into the air, spaying all the worm with its urine. "Now you've marked them! They can't think of escaping. Beast Mimicry! Fang over fang!"

Kiba and Akamaru broke through some larvae in front of Sasuke and Tenten. The two took the opportunity and ran through, slicing larvae on the way.

Sakura and Rock Lee were still stuck on the boulder the beast had tossed earlier. "Sakura, I don't know if this is the end but I understand you don't feel the same. You don't see me the way I see you. But to me, you're still important. You are my friend and I'll do anything to keep my friends from harm's way. I'll protect you Sakura… no matter what."

"Don't say that Lee, I'm sure we'll get out if this…But thank you, for feeling so strongly towards me. I know I've been harsh but from now on I would acknowledge you as a close and caring friend. I'll try my best so I can return your feelings, you are my friend. Let's protect each other." Sakura grabbed Rock Lee's hand and squeezed it.

Rock Lee teared up but wiped them away. "… Let's do this!" Rock Lee jumped into the horde of larvae, kicking them away. Sakura pulled out a kunai knife and followed.

"Hinata, watch out!" Naruto leapt in front of a larva that had lunged at Hinata. It hit him and he disappeared. A clone, Hinata thought as she turned to hit back another larva. The two moved, touching backs.

"This situation is…Naruto... I have always watched your back. You were the one that gave me strength and a nindo of my own. Now I want to show you what I'm capable of."

"Hinata… I'm glad. You are strong regardless if I'm there or not. You can believe in yourself. Trust me."

"Then…please Naruto, watch my back."

"What are you-" Naruto twisted his head just as Hinata pressed her lips against his cheeks.

"Please, let me show you how strong I have become because of your strength." Naruto couldn't speak as he watched Hinata hit larva after larva with much strength and accuracy.

"Neji, I just wanted to say-"

"It's okay Ino. You don't need to explain. I figured something was wrong but I can tell the problem was fixed."

"Neji…"

"Ino…It's alright. I really care about you. That's why, no matter what happens, I'll always be by your side."

Ino stared at the boy, wide eyed, he seemed to radiate like the time she ran into him in the forest all those months ago. She wanted to cry as her heart filled with joy. Even though they were stuck in a dangerous predicament, to Ino it felt as if there was a lightness in her.

"I care about you too, Neji. I really do."

The larvae halted their assault and wriggled around, behaving strangely. Some launched themselves at the shinobis. Others bumped into each other and lay motionless. It hit everyone instantaneously. The slugs were weakening.

"Somehow, they're getting weaker," said Rock Lee.

"How's that even happening," asked Sakura.

"I'm not sure but I have an idea. Let's keep working together and fight them off with the others! We could win this now!"

Now's our chance!

"Mind Transfer Jutsu!" Ino transferred her mind to one of the worm. Inside, she controlled the worm, making it cry and causing all the other worms to rally and gather around her. Neji struck them as they gathered.

Sakura and Rock Lee reached Neji and Ino and joined them. Sasuke, Tenten, Kiba, Akamaru fought their way through and combined their efforts. Ino released her jutsu and fought off some larva.

The mob thinned as Naruto and Hinata killed off small groups of detached grubs. They spotted the others. All the shinobi were together once again as they sliced and destroyed every larva.

The shinobis were panting, visibly wounded but they prevailed as the last worm was tossed in the air. But then, in its place, a bright flash of light materialized. The shinobi covered their eyes, the light was intense. They were soon engulfed by it.

After a few seconds, they opened their eyes. There was a small field and large green trees surrounded them.

It took the shinobi a while to recognize where they were. They could see the clear blue sky above them. The young genin rejoiced, they were back at the great Nausicaa Forest.

"Wha-what happened?" Naruto said.

"Looks like we defeated the creature…" Sasuke stated.

"Huh? I suddenly feel better," jumped Rock Lee.

"Ah, my wounds disappeared!"

"Whoa, amazing!"

"This forest is magical, it completely healed us," said Hinata, awed.

"Hey look! What is that!" Naruto pointed at a wooden post. They approached and on close inspection saw that it was a sign. 'To whomever made it this far, showed greatness in harmony. For the flock stands stronger than the lone wolf.'

"Huh. I guess this was some sort of trial?"

A green, leafy squirrel like creature popped out from behind the sign and approached Naruto. It dropped a necklace at his feet. It was the necklace Tsunade had given him.

"It was you! You took my clothes!" The squirrel tilted its head then scurried off.

"This forest is really something," said Ino.

They stood together, quietly watching the sunrise. The arrays of colors cascaded over the Nausicaa forest creating a beautiful scenery.

ﻌᴥﻋ

"I wonder if Tsunade knew about the forest beforehand," pondered Rock Lee. The group was resting by the sign with the encrypted words.

"Maybe she had a clue. But why didn't she warn us?" said Sakura.

"I really don't understand the Hokage at times but she does like messing with people," said Naruto.

"Yea! You know, Inoichi told me this wasn't even a real mission," said Kiba.

"Ah, Kiba!" Tenten yelled. Everyone stopped walking, gawking at Kiba.

Tenten gave a nervous laugh and sighed. "Never mind, might as well let the cat out of the bag."

"What!" The other shinobis yelled. Several eyes twitched with irritation.

"Apparently it was to help you guys overcome your personal problems," said Tenten, "there was too much conflict between you guys and the Hokage wasn't having any of it. Or at least that's what Inoichi told me. You are shinobis that must overcome any obstacle, he said."

"Now that's just taking it far, even for Tsunade," said Sakura.

"Do you mean to tell me that this entire time there was no scroll? We risked our life for nothing?" Naruto bemoaned.

"Hey now, this mission wasn't all for nothing. It seems like we accomplished just what Tsunade wanted. We overcame our personal conflicts. Right?" Ino looked to each shinobi. They all nodded in agreement.

"Well…It makes sense now…the worm was hard to beat but when we became more harmonized the beast was easier to fight," said Hinata.

Rock Lee nodded fervently, "I was thinking the same thing. The worm was weak when it was divided just like we were but once we faced our problems and worked together we became as strong as the beast when it had been whole. Just like the sign said." They all turned to the sign. It stuck out of the ground in such a mystical way.

"Basically, it was our ability to achieve a resolution that defeated the worm," Neji said.

"Yea." A lull silence fell over the shinobi as they reflected on the message of the sign and on everything that was said. They smiled to one another, relief evident, before Sasuke spoke up to break the silence.

"Let's head back to Konoha." Everyone agreed. It was time to go home.

ﻌᴥﻋ

"Tsunade must have known, about the forest, and what it was capable of."

They stood by the entrance as they stared back into the forest. Remembering all they endured.

Naruto said, "We should definitely get that old granny back!" Sakura punched Naruto in the head, "Are you serious? You are doing no such thing!" Naruto rubbed his head as Sakura stomped off, following the others who had started walking away.

Hinata watched and went up to Naruto, comforting him. They gave the forest one last look before catching up to the group.

"Naruto…What I said back there was the truth. I hope you don't push it away." Hinata and Naruto treaded behind the group as they walked down the road leading to Konoha. "Well, that kiss…"

"Kiss?" Ino turned to the two. "What's this about a kiss?" Hinata's face became red.

"Th-that was just in the moment!" Hinata flailed frantically, trying to mask her embarrassment.

"No worries at all Hinata, Sakura and I shared a spring of youth moment as well," Rock Lee gave a thumbs up.

"What? Don't tell them that," Sakura said to Lee, "ugh, you know what… even though you can be a bit too much, I honestly am glad to have you by my side Lee." Sakura turned away, cheek tinted red.

"You too Naruto." Naruto smiled sheepishly. "And Ino-pi- I mean Ino-"

"Sakura, it's fine. Someone taught me that those closest to you would understand. I'm glad you finally accept us." Sakura teared up and hugged Ino. Naruto and Rock Lee joined, Rock Lee pulling Tenten and Neji in, Hinata and Kiba followed while Sasuke just watched. "Idiots."

"Get in here, Sasuke!" Said Ino.

"No…"

"Everyone, to Sasuke!"

"Augh! Get away! I'll use fireball jutsu, I swear I will! Noooooooo!"

ﻌᴥﻋ

The shinobis stood in front of the Hokage's desk just like they had done a few days ago except with the inclusion of Kiba and Tenten.

"So Inoichi sent the two of you to deliver a letter to Ino? I swear that man…" Tsunade rubbed her temples.

"Sorry, Tsunade-sama. I swear I wouldn't have done it if he didn't seem so urgent about it," Tenten said.

"It's alright then, not your fault. There's nothing you can do about it now. Let's just see that scroll," said Tsunade.

The shinobis turned pale and glanced at one another.

"…. Oh, about that…" The shinobis told the Hokage all about their adventure. Naruto stretched his arms as best he could as he gave a description of the beast, while Rock Lee jumped in glee about their survival and team work. Sasuke scoffed at the lack of danger. Ino and Sakura tripped over words to describe the underground forest. And Kiba spoke of his heroics and how he single-handedly, with the help of Akamaru of course, defeated the beast. Tenten could only groan.

"Basically…. you guys forgot the scroll!"

The shinobis tried to explain themselves but Tsunade's eyes glinted with rage. The genins immediately froze. But she eventually grinned at the group.

"Well, we can't exactly say it was a complete failure. You guys accomplished the overall goal of uniting and dealing with your issues. And that is what matters for now. I'll just send Genma, Izumo and Kotetsu to retrieve the scroll later." Tsunade laughed as the shinobi lamented.

After the shinobi left the office, Tsunade stared out the window. They did it…

Shizune spoke up, "so was it really okay for them to leave the scroll behind? Didn't you say it contained sensitive information?"

"The scroll never contained a list of unknown powerful jutsu, it, in fact, had the recipe for brewing one of the best sakes known through the shinobi world."

"Tsunade-sama…" Shizune sighed.

A lone crow could be heard cawing in the distance, almost mockingly.

ﻌᴥﻋ

As they left the Hokage tower, the group encountered Shikamaru, Shino and Chouji. Naruto told them about the mission in the great Nausicaa forest. "Sounds like it was bothersome," Shikamaru said.

"Eh? It was super fun! Ne, what did you do Shikamaru. Bet it was boring compared to us," said Naruto.

The three described their mission to Naruto who in the end had eyes bursting with awe and jealousy. "That sounds way cooler! Why couldn't I have gone on that mission…" Sakura shook her head at the crying boy. He just doesn't change.

"I'm off," Sasuke was gone before anyone could interject.

"Me too," Tenten said, as she waved at them.

"Hey, Shino let's go to the dog park and catch up,"

"Sure." The two said their farewells as they headed to the park.

"Hey, Ino, Shikamaru and I are going to celebrate another mission success with barbecue, want to join us?" Ino and Neji eyed one another before Ino replied, "No thanks, maybe another time. Neji and I have something important to do." Ino and Neji walked away, leaving a gawking Chouji.

"What? With Neji? What?"

Shikamaru sighed, "You'll understand later."

Naruto faced Hinata suddenly. "Hey, Hinata… I was wondering," Naruto rubbed the back of his head. "If you would like to go eat Ramen with me."

Hinata blushed and enthusiastically nodded her head. "Of co-I mean yes!"

Naruto played with his headband, "Great!"

Sakura turned to Rock Lee, "What do you think Lee? Want to join them on a double date?"

Rock Lee stammered, "Da-date? There's nothing else I would rather do, Sakura!"

Everyone laughed.

ﻌᴥﻋ

"Ino, my lovely daughter! Forgive me!" Inoichi bawled. Arms crossed, Ino blew away her bang. "Don't apologize to me, apologize to…" Ino pointed her finger towards Neji.

"Ah…It's okay actually-" Neji began but Inoichi bowed in front of him. "Please accept my most sincere apology. If it wasn't for my meddling then Ino and you..."

Neji stared down at the blonde man and smiled. "I accept your apology if you would allow me to date your daughter. I never got the chance to formally ask your permission."

Inoichi lifted his head and glanced at Ino. She seemed to glow, and Inoichi knew what he had to do. He stood up and embraced Neji. He pulled away and said, "I will say please treat my daughter well only because I have to but I know you would."

Neji and Ino waved goodbye to Inoichi as they headed to town. The couple found a bench to sit on and watched the dark night sky. The street lamps illuminated them. They watched as passerby went on with their nightly activities.

"You know the mission wasn't so bad. It did help bring us closer together than ever before," Ino started.

"You're right. It also helped me find the one I care about the most."

Ino couldn't help but smile. "You know that first day I ran into you in the woods. I had lost my way trying to find that which was dear to me. I was trying to right myself and find the correct path."

"Did you ever find what you were looking for?"

Ino stared at those pearly lavender eyes, at skin that seemed to shine as bright as the night stars, and at his soft long dark mane. She leaned forward and pressed her lips against his and whispered, "Yes, I did."

Neji held her hand and said with a smile, "That's good to hear because I have a present for you." He placed something in Ino's hand. It was the Yorugao flower, its petal shone with a dull light.

"The flower from the folktale. You found it!" Neji smiled at those bright blue eyes. "It's more beautiful than I imagined it would be…Thank you Neji. I'll always remember this moment."

Ino left a soft kiss on Neji's lips. The two embraced and settled back as they watched the fireflies dance. The Yorugao flower shining more brightly than before.

Genma watched them from the shadows, as he turned away to go he muttered, "Good for them."

-The End-