A/N: Well I already had this written so I figured I'd just post it. This is the end, guys! Thanks to all of my reviewers :D i hope you guys like this chapter. This is my second longest story, ever. How strange! I'm glad I went with the flow of inspiration and kept writing in such a short amount of time. I might write a oneshot for it after this, like a couple of peeks into the lives of the warriors. Maybe. Who knows! Anyways, enjoy.
Chapter 10 plus Epilogue
Naruto dropped into the crevice, landing perfectly in the dark, rocky area. This was Snake's hideout, he was sure of it. At least now he didn't have Kabuto to help him; he would be much easier that way.
It was nearly pitch black and as he moved, he heard the screeching of bats. His skin prickled in anxiety, but he forged on, ignoring his own fear. This, he reminded himself, was his destiny.
He traversed the cavern, creeping along and keeping himself ready to react to the slightest noise, the slightest movement. His muscles tense, he moved on.
"Ninetailed Fox...I was expecting to see you here with your little friends." A smooth, cold, evil voice echoed throughout the cave. Naruto froze, looking around for the source of the voice. At the end of one tunnel was a small light, like that of a candle. It flickered as bats flew about. Naruto began hurtling towards the light.
"No, I thought you might want some alone time." Naruto joked, trying to keep his humor at a high level. He couldn't let his fear show. He had to be brave.
"Excellent; I need help opening this scroll. I'm sure you know how?"
"I might have some inkling of how." Naruto said lightly, continuing to move towards the cave.
The man, Snake, was just as Sarutobi had drawn him. Pale, thin, and gaunt, with hollow, miserable eyes. Before Snake could even say another word, Naruto attacked.
"You dirty bastard, you've done enough damage to this world!" He yelled, preparing himself for battle.
He leapt to where Snake sat, which was on a settlement of rock that almost looked like a throne. He shot up once he saw Naruto coming at him, and Naruto missed, running into the rock. He grunted in pain but didn't recoil; he ran back at Snake again. He had a lot of rage towards this man; he had killed Sarutobi, who Naruto had greatly admired. He had also ruined the lives of the two last Uchiha, as well as the woman that Naruto had loved for so long. Naruto wasn't going to let him off easy for any of that.
He twisted in midair, letting both of his legs kick Snake in the side. Snake caught the second leg and hit it with his own kick, but Naruto was prepared. He kicked Snake's other foot out from underneath him. But Snake pulled Naruto down, and flipped him across the room into a solid wall of rock. Cracks and fissures formed around Naruto as he winced in pain. He pulled himself from the rubble and dropped into a fighting stance, considering what his next move would be. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted the jade scroll, which almost seemed to glow in the dark cave. He didn't dare show he had spotted it, however. Instead, he flexed his hands, and ran at top speed towards the enemy, clawing and scratching. Blood spurted everywhere as Snake cried out in pain, but he hit Naruto's hands, breaking some of the fingers. This was bad—Naruto carried no weapons. He'd have to use kicks for the rest of the fight.
Naruto kicked off the wall and flipped backwards, landing on Snake's shoulders. He wrapped his legs around his neck, managing to both cover his eyes as well as cut off his breathing. Snake choked and attempted to pull at Naruto's legs, but he wasn't letting him get away.
Finally, he released him by ignoring his pain and doing a brief handstand. This pulled Snake into the air and threw him against the wall. Naruto hadn't intended for it to work out this way, but Snake landed on a stalactatite that pierced through his stomach.
Naruto stared in shock as Snake's eyes rolled into the back of his head. His hands trembling, he turned to the Jade scroll, and picked it up, holding it in his hands: this was the key to the destruction of the world.
But he didn't even want to know the secret. No one should know, he decided. It was just too dangerous information. He wanted to rid the world of both Snake as well as his ideals, and that meant putting an end to all means of mass destruction.
There would be other ways devised to take over the world, but Naruto decided then and there that they wouldn't be put to use while he was still alive and kicking. He would do everything, everything possible in his power, to see to it.
He clenched the scroll in his fist, trying to ignore the pain that his hands felt. His fingers were broken, but he could rest and heal later. The scroll had to be destroyed now.
He heard the sound of frantic footsteps somewhere in the cave just then. Clutching the scroll in his bleeding hands, he turned, to see Poison Ink, Floating Blossom, Midnight Fan, Desert Flower, and Thunder Cloud, all running towards him.
He stared at them, and watched as they scrambled into the cave, getting ready to fight. All except for Sasuke. He stopped, and walked to Naruto, as everyone else gasped and fussed over Snake's cold, dead body.
"I knew." Sasuke confessed. He looked to the scroll, and spoke in a low voice. "The only way to destroy it is to take it to the blue flames at the oracle in Tea. She will be happy to see you again so soon." He smiled, just a bit. Naruto let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding, but the real shock came with the next thing Sasuke said. "Good job."
Naruto dropped the scroll and embraced his old friend tightly; he had missed the bond of respect that they had shared, before everything had gone wrong. Sasuke gave a more subdued embrace, and they let go, turning to the group.
"It's over." Sakura whispered, trembling. Naruto nodded.
"We did it." He said, smiling as tears of happiness welled in his eyes. Shikamaru shook his head.
"No, you did it, Fox." He said proudly. Naruto grinned even wider.
"Don't argue with me, Cloud." He warned jokingly.
They left the cave, and before they left Sand, together they put an enormous boulder over top of the crevice. Snake would be sealed in there, forever entombed by his own throneroom.
-- EPILOGUE --
--Five Years Later--
"No, you have to do it this way, Naruto-kun." The empress, former oracle of Tea, known by her friends as Hinata, lightly scolded her husband, guiding his hands as she showed him how to plant orchids in her private garden. Naruto growled in frustration.
"I think I'll leave the hard stuff to you, Hina-chan. I'm going to go yell at Neji and Shikamaru about those messages from Mist—you know about htat, right? Those morons didn't tell me that the emperor of Mist was pissed off at me!" Naruto said, grinning as he stood, brushing dirt from his robes. Hinata smiled.
"You weren't exactly the most polite at that ceremony of theirs." She said lightly, wiping dirt from her forehead. Naruto's handsome, tan face twisted into a grimace.
"How was I supposed to know you're not allowed to pick up food with your hands there? Ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous..." He muttered, walking back inside and picking up one of his daughters when he saw her. She shrieked with laughter as he lifted her up, high above his head, and began running down the enormous hall at top speed, stopping short and twirling. It wasn't normal emperor behavior, but then, Naruto wasn't a normal emperor.
Konohamaru, having seen the honorable way Naruto had handled the Jade scroll debacle, stepped down from the throne, his last order as emperor being that Naruto begin a new dynasty. Naruto had obliged, and under his fair, but tough rule, the country began quickly to return to its former prosperous self. After going to Tea to have the scroll destroyed, he spent a lot of time at Tea, using his interest in tea leaf readings as an excuse to see the oracle there more often. Within a few months' time, the oracle finally found the courage to tell the new emperor of her feelings, and it turned out that he had felt the same way all along. Their marriage was a beautiful ceremony that everyone attended.
Shikamaru had married Temari some time after Naruto appointed him as one of his advisors. Snow, better known as Neji, found Sakura in Leaf, and decided to ignore Hinata's words for a while, and let himself have something that he had truly wanted. When Sakura introduced him to Naruto, the blond saw almost immediately that Neji was a man of great intelligence. He appointed Neji as his other advisor. Together, Neji and Shikamaru were a formidable team. They advised the general, Uchiha Sasuke, in matters of war, and thus Leaf was the most powerful country in the world. Sasuke was a strong warrior and an excellent leader, and backed up by Shikamaru and Neji's strategies, he and his armies were unstoppable.
Sai joined the priesthood in Tea, in Sasuke's stead. Sasuke had intended on joining there, but Naruto had insisted that he was a man of action, and even Hinata agreed. Instead, Sai went, saying that he was tired of battle, but a few select people knew that it was really to escape Sakura. However, he excelled there, and soon forgot of his old passion. He met a woman and married.
Kakashi and Iruka lived together outside of Leaf. Kurenai had never remarried, but her child was old enough to no longer need the guidance of a live-in father. No one ever heard of either man ever again, and that was the way they had wanted it.
Sakura continued to train and learn new styles of kung fu. None of the warriors had accepted Sarutobi's original gift, a scroll containing kung fu secrets—because Sakura wanted to develop her own skills, and not simply copy those of the past. Eventually, she and Neji separated. He felt too guilty, going against Hinata's words, and their relationship no longer seemed to hold much meaning. Occasionally, she stopped by the palace, but most of the time she spent in a secret training area, as she and Temari taught other women the art of kung fu.
It had taken five years, but Sasuke finally felt his mind was clear enough and he was as best prepared as he ever could be. At thirty years old, it had been seven years since the accident, and he felt that he was as changed as he could be. He had become the man he had intended, and now, it was time for him to do what he had been waiting to do for five years.
He shed his armor, his medals—he would not boast to Sakura of his victories. These were meaningless, to both of them. He clothed himself in black pants and a black shirt, with white leg and arm wrappings. He washed his face, and stepped out. He steeled his will, reminding himself what he had reminded himself before every battle, for five years, which was that he had to be like Sakura. He had to be strong, unbending, unbreakable. He had to be quick like fire, but subtle like water; forceful like wind, but most of all, unchanging, like stone. He would tell Sakura of his feelings, and offer himself and everything he had to her.
After the jade scroll was destroyed, he had sought out the gravesite of his children and brother. It had been in the garden next to the house he and Sakura had lived in, before. There, in the soil that still held charred bits of wood and remnants of their belongings, he buried the ring with the pink quartz stone. Old things, he felt, could never be given new meaning. The ring was tainted, and meant pain and misery and suffering. He would never give her jewelry again, he decided, because it seemed absurd. What, after all she had been through, could a silly engagement ring mean?
So he went to her house, empty handed and without any of his decoration. He went to her just as he was, because that was all that he could give, and nothing more. There would be no pretense, no falsities or facades.
Her house was a small complex of rooms divided by delicate fusuma, surrounding a courtyard which she trained in sometimes. Flowers were everywhere, making the house seem like her: colorful, alive, perfect.
He rang the chimes she kept outside the front door, and then knocked. He set his jaw, and clenched his fists.
The fusuma slid open hastily; she was most likely expecting it to be one of her students pestering her. She was shining with sweat, she must have been training. Her hair was shorter than he remembered, and would not stay in the many pins she had arranged within it. She wore a loose, short yukata, and the hem flapped around her bare legs. Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes sparkled, but when she saw who stood outside, waiting for her, she dropped the two daggers she held.
The wind blew the chimes a bit as they stood there, regarding each other. Sakura regarded him with a wary expression, her eyes nervous and questioning, while Sasuke looked on, hopeful but certainly not expectant.
He turned his palms up, showing nothing but his calloused hands. He pressed his lips together before speaking.
"I...was wondering if you would mind if I dropped by for a bit." He said, his voice catching on each syllable. He held his breath, waiting for her response. He knew that she would know what he meant, and her response to this would be loaded. It would mean everything.
And then, she did the least expected thing. He had guessed so many situations, imagined every possible scenario, but never this. She smiled, a true, honest smile, for that was what true love was, to forgive, because she couldn't possibly do anything else. She bent down, picked up what she had dropped, and opened the fusuma wider.
"Frankly, I was wondering when you'd get here."