It's been a long journey, and this is the toughest and longest chapter I've ever written. I hope you enjoyed the ride, and I thank you for sticking with me. Please enjoy the last chapter of Naruto: Jedi vs Sith.
Naruto stared flatly at the person he had looked up to all his life. The greatest Jedi to ever exist. And, in light of recent events, possibly the first. All he could think about was wanting answers. He did not seek revenge - he did not share Hinata's blind hatred for him. He just wanted to understand. He wanted to obtain clarity.
"Why, Master? Why has all this come to be - is this all your doing, after all?" Naruto stepped forward, shaking his head. "Are you not who you've claimed to be all these years?"
"Expect you to understand, I do not. Come to explain, I have. The truth, before my death, I must tell." Yoda spoke softly as he knelt into a position of meditation, despite the clamor Hinata was making behind him.
Naruto limped forward and sat before him, taking the same position. "I am ready to listen."
"Hm. Naruto, the best of us, you are. Of the origins of the galaxy as we know it, to tell you, pains me it does. At the beginning, I will start."
Yoda trailed his Master as they walked through the stable regions of the swamp. Tobirama whistled a tune that the youthful Yoda was more than happy to listen to.
With a hand rested on the pommel of his sword, Tobi smiled down at his apprentice. "My brother says he has some plans to advance what we can do. He says he's found the reason we can do these things - he says we could even gain more power." And from a tall vine snaking around an ancient tree, a small fruit floated down to land in Tobi's outstretched palm. "Just imagine what lies ahead of us if we become stronger!"
"Trust him, I do not," Yoda said simply, though he trusted his Master more than his own feelings of distrust. Tobirama had taken Yoda under his wing long ago, and for that, Yoda was eternally grateful. "For many years, him we have yet to see. Suspicious, I grow."
"He's my brother, my young disciple. The only other human on the planet. I can't just cut ties with him - we crashed here together. Our bonds are too strong. It will be all right, Yoda." He smiled briefly before sinking his teeth into the flesh of the purple fruit. Azure juice trickled from the corner of the man's mouth.
Yoda furrowed his brow with closed eyes and concentrated all his thoughts into a single pinpoint, then unleashed his mind. A simultaneous string of pops sounded out, just before every fruit in the immediate vicinity fell from their bindings. Some splattered to the more firm areas of the swamp, others just sunk halfway into the thick, murky water. A small headache formed at the back of Yoda's skull.
"With training... with a boost in power, we could do so much more than this. We could... We could-"
"Get home, brother. My thoughts exactly. With the right amount of power, we could sail the cosmos, no man-made ships required." Madara stepped out from around a rather large, gnarled tree trunk. He placed his palm against the bark and rested his weight on the arm, gesturing his free hand at Yoda and his Master. "Unless you're content with gathering fruit for your meals, and leaving it at that."
"Hello, brother," Tobi said, tossing the last bit of his fruit aside. "Care to explain your plan to accomplish all of this?"
"I've discovered the source of our power. It's a microorganism that attaches itself to all life on this planet. It multiplies rapidly when closer to other members of its kind. The more of them there are, the faster they reproduce. Something in our genetic coding allows us to control them, feel them, even destroy them. Yet, once they attach themselves to a life form, destroying them will destroy its host as well." Madara gave a frown that didn't look very sincere to Yoda.
"You're saying we could kill anything on this planet with a thought?" Tobirama asked with incredulity.
"If skilled enough, yes." Madara replied, his frown deepening. He was now concentrating on one of the fallen fruits, and his look sent a chill up Yoda's spine. Yoda watched in awe and horror as the fruit began to shrivel and blacken. Madara's face was completely red as blood rushed to his head, and eventually his concentration broke. He grunted in pain, shaking his head as if to clear it. Smoothing his long hair back into place, he gave a victorious smile. "Need any more proof?"
Ominously, a bead of blood trailed Madara's upper lip for just a moment before he wiped it away.
A moment of silence passed between the three. Finally, Tobi muttered, "And what is your plan? How do you intend to use this knowledge?"
"We have to release these organisms from the planet. Allow them to spread across the galaxy. Eventually, they'll have multiplied enough that we'd have power nearly everywhere. Even if we didn't, we already have the ones attached to our own bodies. Manipulating those, we could have power for a limited distance in areas where none of these microorganisms can be found. I was thinking of calling them midichlorians. What do you think?"
"What you like, them you may call. Of destroying my planet you speak!" Yoda stepped around Tobi, his hands balled into fists. "Allow this, I will not."
"Ah, Yoda. I would have thought you of all people would understand. Your race is a savage bunch. Superstitious, unwilling to learn. They threw you out of your village for speaking to us 'outsiders!' Do you really think they are worth the galaxy? These microorganisms should belong to everything and everyone. These midichlorians have the potential to be the weapon of peace, domination, anything! We would be advancing this galaxy into a completely different era!"
"Your truth, laced with malice is. Allow this, I will not," Yoda repeated, striding forward faster than any human could track. Once upon Madara, Yoda lashed out wildly as the man toppled over. Something exploded into Yoda's chest, his eyes instinctively closing. He opened his eyes, finding himself in a wrecked brush, a trail of disturbed swamp led to where he lay. Every bone in his body was afire. "A monster, you are," he coughed out, seeing the two brothers several yards before him.
"I am truly sorry for your loss, Yoda, but you must see that this has to happen. And you cannot stop it." Madara turned around and gazed in the direction of the largest village on the planet – Yoda's old village. "I've discovered a type of stone that absorbs these midichlorians. And I've labeled our power – the effects of manipulating the midichlorians. The Force seems sufficient, don't you think? Nevertheless, I've dubbed this type of stone a Force Nexus. And I've been storing midichlorians in it for the last few years. It resides just below your village, Yoda. And it's overflowing with power… I can feel it, even from way out here. It cannot hold them all." He turned around, a grimace on his face. "I did not realize what I had done until it was too late. The Nexus will erupt, the midichlorians bursting forth, and this planet's surface will be vaporized and converted into pure Force power. The eruption will be so strong, midichlorians will be launched from this planet, released into the galaxy."
Yoda couldn't move, and he couldn't tell if it was completely from the horror of the situation, or his injuries. All he could do was gape at his master, whose hands clenched and opened repeatedly. Finally, his master sighed. "We have no choice, then. We need to leave the planet."
"I've been preparing our ships for this moment. We do not yet have the power to manifest a world as a ship. But there is just barely room for the three of us, since I had to use parts from both ships to repair just one. We cannot take anyone else." Madara looked towards Yoda, whose eyelids were slowly drooping as he began to lose consciousness. Yoda saw a look of sadness upon his face, but behind that, he could see… no, sense, a greed for power. And as he went under, he knew that Madara would not be satisfied with just this planet.
When next he opened his eyes, he had awoken just in time to witness his planet be consumed by the Force from the safety of orbit.
"This is the start of a new era, brothers." Madara looked towards Yoda. "For we are now brothers, sharing in the destruction of a planet, and the glorious creation of a new, better galaxy. We will find others like us." He turned his gaze back to the planet, which was now emitting a faint blue glow. "And we'll need to regulate this power. I suggest we form a faction for these people. Set guidelines. We could accomplish greater things in larger numbers." And now he was smiling, but Yoda could see Tobi stare suspiciously at his brother, frowning deeply.
"Yes, this will be a glorious time for us."
"And went on, it did," Yoda spoke softly, his head now bowed deeply. The temple shook violently, plaster, duracrete, and dust falling about them. "Formed, was the Jedi. The Code created. From planet to planet, we would recruit. And grow, our numbers did. Enough, it was not."
The clamor behind Yoda had ceased. The room went eerily silent as the Grand Master began speaking again.
"Brother, what have you done?" Tobi roared, flipping down the fur-lined hood of his heavy coat. Snow began filling his long, similarly colored hair immediately. Yoda pulled his cloak tighter around his small frame.
"The Force is not spreading fast enough, and has grown ever more thin. We need another injection of midichlorians into the galaxy." Madara took his hands away from the Nexus, which was actually an entire mountain. For years, he had been secretly filling the mountain with midichlorians, claiming to remain on the planet for meditation. Yoda and Tobi had only returned to seek him out for help with some Jedi that were abusing their powers.
"What is your excuse for not evacuating these people this time, brother?" Tobi demanded angrily.
Madara stared at him flatly. "You know as well as I that the midichlorians multiply faster in the presence of life. These people and the creatures of this planet are being sacrificed for the greater good."
"I will not allow this," Tobi said through grit teeth, drawing his long katana. Madara put his hand on his hilt, but did not draw.
"I don't wish to fight you, brother. What's done is done. Let us leave this place before it is too late – the time draws dangerously close."
"Yoda, take the ship and leave. I will hold my brother here. He will reap what he's sown." At this, Madara narrowed his eyes and drew his blade.
"Don't think me so easily held, brother." Madara swung low, but Tobirama parried. Many more times did Madara lash out, only to be blocked or parried.
"Go!" Tobirama called, and Yoda bowed deeply. He turned on his heels and ran towards the hangar that was built into the mountain.
As he ran, Yoda could hear the song of steel playing behind him. His own weapon clattered at his hip, though it was much shorter than his master's. Just before he reached the hangar, he heard his master yell out: "Illum is not your play thing, and neither was Coruscant. I will not allow this again!"
And then Yoda was in his ship. He felt powerful waves of the Force wash over him, and he knew the Nexus was overflowing, nearly ready to burst. His fingers worked swiftly across the terminal, and he lost precious seconds waiting for the engine to warm up from the subzero weather. Just when he thought he'd never make it in time, the ship was ready. He engaged the burners and put the craft at full power, erupting from the hangar and pulling several G's as he ascended. Below him, he actually felt the Nexus release its magnificent power upon the planet.
The Force trailed after him, a dangerous level of midichlorians bent on vaporizing all life in order to reproduce ever faster. Yet, something was strange about them now. He could feel a tug of two different kinds of Force – one that felt dark, and the other light.
Somehow, his ship made it out of range of the storm of midichlorians that was now consuming the planet. And a deep sadness overcame him from the loss of his master. Though he had trained for nearly fifty years with the man, and aged not a day, he felt it was too short a time.
Yet, he felt his master was with him. And he knew why the Force had now divided into two different streams – one made up of the converted midichlorians of his master, and the other side of Madara.
"That's just… it can't be…" Naruto shook his head, trying to wrap his head around it. "Your planet was Coruscant? The city-planet Coruscant? This planet?"
Yoda laughed. "By that fact, you are astounded? Of the origin of the Force, you are confused not?"
"Well, yeah. Everything was destroyed! And this planet is supposed to be swampy!"
"This, many thousands of years ago occurred. Chose this planet for the Jedi base, I did. Grew from that, this city planet has."
The temple shook again, breaking the silence between them. Naruto sighed. "Then how did they come back? They were vaporized…."
"The Force, they now are. Forever living, they will be. Every thousand years or so, amass enough midichlorians to revive, they do. Utilizing avatars, like Hinata and yourself, store these midichlorians they can. Yet, proper avatars, very rare are, hm? Special, the two of you." Yoda now sighed. "Destruction, their battles always bring. Prevent their return, I try. For this reason, I as a Jedi, and you, I have failed. Shino's mother, given a serum meant for your mother, was. Forcing him without midichlorians to be. Kushina, in the mixup, killing…. Hm…" He groaned again, and Naruto could see a small reflection of a single tear that trailed his aged face.
"Forced, in an attempt to stop Hinata as being an avatar, I was. Horribly wrong, it went. Bought out by Darth Sidius, her father was. Meant to kill her, Hiashi did. At that moment, how wrong I was, I realized. The entire family, out for Hinata's blood, they were. No other choice, I had…"
And Naruto could see the rest. Yoda had to slay all that attempted to harm her, destroying an entire family, a clan, and even a kingdom.
"You've been through a lot and had to make many tough decisions, Master." Yet, Naruto didn't know what to truly think. He was still just trying to accept everything he was being told.
"Your father, for the sake of Hinata never knowing the truth, I blamed. Turned on me, he had. Nothing I said, have changed him could."
And another silence passed between them as they brooded over the information that had been shared.
Hinata had long since ceased from trying to enter the room. Though the blastdoor was caved in and deeply battered, it was pointless to keep at it. She suspected that it was lined with cortosis, as well, since her lightsaber would short out each time she tried to penetrate it with the weapon.
"Hinata?" came an incredulous voice.
Hinata looked over her shoulder from where she knelt, sitting on her thighs. When she saw the pink hair, her eyes narrowed and her hand went to her lightsaber hilt. "Come to stab me in the back?"
"N-no!" Sakura said, waving her palms before her. "I just… why are you sitting there? Why aren't you out there leading your forces?"
Hinata couldn't hold back the snort of laughter. "My forces? All I ever cared about was Naruto… and revenge. I'm caring less and less about this place as time passes. I'm just ready to get this all over with, and to hell with the Confederacy and the Republic."
"Right… Hinata, I-"
"I don't want to hear it. You got what you wanted. Go be with him. Why should I care that the closest friend I had abandoned me when I was most vulnerable." Hinata turned her eyes back on the blastdoor that she had caved in, but couldn't quite break in.
"Hinata… I'm so sorry about everything. About what happened in the Getsuei system… about leaving you. But you were different. You weren't you." Sakura pleaded.
Hinata stood up, whipping around as she did so. She marched towards a now flustered looking Sakura, an angry, hurt tone tingeing her voice, "So your solution was to leave me? To just give up on me? I was in a bad situation, I had something in me, something influencing me. Instead of helping me, as a friend would, you condemn me for a lost cause and choose to believe the worst of me." And now Hinata was right before Sakura, who looked both regretful and fearful.
Despite Sakura flinching slightly, Hinata took her into a tearful hug. "I never wanted to destroy that planet," she sobbed. "I never wanted to cause so much suffering. I… I…" And now she became incoherent, her feet giving way from under her. Sakura took her weight in her arms and lowered the both of them to the detritus-ridden floor, pulling Hinata into a warm hug. Hinata heard Sakura sob with her, and could feel her hot tears on her neck. They sat there, crying into each other's shoulders for a while.
"I really missed you," Hinata croaked, hugging her friend ever tighter. She had steeled herself from the betrayal she had felt at Sakura's hand all this time, and had not allowed herself to think of the pink haired Jedi.
"I'm so sorry, Hinata. I've been so terrible to you…." Sakura breathed out between sobs, and suddenly more tears formed at the corners of Hinata's eyes.
And suddenly Hinata was laughing, crying tears of joy. Finally, something was going right for her.
"Kept Sidious close, I planned. The new avatar, him I thought to be. So sweet, little Hinata was. Mistaken, I must have been. Wrong, oh so wrong. Everything, my fault is, yes? Yet, end here, the sorrow does not." He bowed his head low. "Of the Republic, an enemy she now is. Naruto, to you, for help I now look." The old Master paused, laboriously bringing himself to his inconsiderable height.
"I will do my best, Master," Naruto said, feeling great empathy for the being that has watched the galaxy grow into what it now is, completely alone in that sort of responsibility.
"Protect her, Naruto. Remain the Planet Conquerer she must. That, nothing can change. Unite the galaxy, bearing this burden, you can. The love you both share, stronger than the entire Jedi Order is. With Kyuubi, end this war we can. Yet, the horrible truth, I have yet to tell." A rapid series of explosions didn't even phase Naruto, so concentrated on the Grand Master was he.
"End, at the cost of an entire planet's life-force, this battle between two gods will. Always has, always will. You, to unite the Republic and CIS, I need. Discovered the path between the Force, you have. The Pure Force, a form not even Tobirama or Madara use. Nor I, been able to completely separate myself from my Master's side, have. Special, you and your Uncle are. With great remorse must I ask this of you. Coruscant, Naruto, you must protect. Tobirama and Madara, to a CIS planet you must bring. With the destruction of the inhabitants, a truce, formed will be-"
"Against the Planet Conqueror," Naruto said, stunned.
Yoda only nodded, his grim face solemn in his request.
"She's suffered so much, Master. I… She'll never again be safe." He shook his head, not quite believing what was being asked of him. "I need to talk to her first."
"Running short, time is. Decide, you must. Stall their mutual destruction while you discuss it, I will." As he turned from Naruto, Yoda paused and looked back. "Thank you, Naruto. And good luck." With a wave of his small hand, the blastdoor was pulled free of its hinges, and tossed aside as if it were no more than a paper weight. Yoda strode through the exit at a speed any Jedi would be surprised at.
He was gone, and Hinata came rushing in, throwing herself onto Naruto, embracing him. He chuckled, stumbling back due to his injured leg. She smiled sheepishly when she remembered, but giggled anyway. When Sakura stepped uncertainly in, Naruto just raised an eyebrow at her.
As if insisting that time was a precious commodity, the temple shook again. With a deep sigh, Naruto said, "Hinata, we need to talk."
"Ino!" Shikamaru gasped, bursting from the lift. He spun in a wide circle, kicking out with his legs. Three lost their footing, and then his lightsaber was out. Two more lost their heads before the others could even react. Just as the heads landed on the floor, five more joined them. The last three were the ones he had tripped in the first place, but he had attacked so fast that they were only just beginning to regain their footing.
A volley of plasma bolts rained down on him, but his deft movements easily deflected all of them. Many of the bolts made their way back into the shooters' chests. He decided to leave the last three, dashing to where he felt, however weakly, Ino's life force.
"Shikamaru?" Ino whispered, just as the man slid in beside her. She was hiding behind a pile of Shock Trooper bodies in a corner. Many of the soldiers had been reluctant to move into close range after the first platoon was slaughtered.
"You're bleeding…" Shikamaru said, a physical pain overcoming him at seeing her hurt. He cupped her chin in his hand and examined the room. If not for the blood loss, Ino would have been blushing profusely.
"Eh, a scratch," She stubbornly pulled away from him, but her heavy breathing, slumped posture, and slight shaking did not escape Shikamaru's notice.
"I have to get you out of here." He said, determination perforating his voice. She looked up at him, crouched above her, and smiled.
"That would be nice, dummy."
With a single nod, Shikamaru stood to his full height, the bodies no longer providing cover. His lightsaber flashed before him instinctively, protecting his body from the incoming fire. He surveyed the hangar.
Ten troops covered each hangar, besides the one he had come out of. The last three soldiers there were shaken, but keeping their position. Another hundred were scattered into small groups around. He crouched once more, having taken out another ten while deflecting the bolts.
"This is looking grim. They've secured this hangar to bring in reinforcements from the air. The Temple is lost." At the sight of Ino's blank stare, only a small resemblance of comprehension in her eyes, Shikamaru knew she was in worse condition than he had initially thought. He nodded. He'd have to clear the room to get her safely away.
Breathing out, he sat, crossed his legs, and put his fingers together before him. He pushed away all thought of the war, of Ino's waning strength, of the hundred or so soldiers he had to deal with. All of it was emptied out of his mind. Nothing was left but his connection to the Force. And then he used this power, letting it explode out of him in streams, enough tendrils of concentration to touch every enemy in the room. Eyes closed tightly in concentration, Shikamaru stood up, the hangar eerily silent.
He knew, subconsciously, as he couldn't think of anything but the task at hand, that every body in the room was now directly connected to his own. And since he was in the corner furthest away from the open hangar bay, all he had to do was run for it, his enemies having no choice but to copy his own movements. So that's what he did, no emotion registering at the slaughter. The Force filled him completely.
Almost as if waking from a dream, Shikamaru's eyes slowly opened. He gazed out of the bay, where ships danced a deadly dance, firing constantly at one another amidst a setting sun, smoke rising from every inch of the Temple grounds. And now, directly below, over a hundred Shock Troopers had met their sudden ends. But the Force had hardened him to this fact, so it was easy for him to pick up the blonde girl he had come to save.
It was easy for him to carry her to the repulsorlift, her body lying limp in his arms.
What wasn't easy was that there was no way she would survive.
He cradled her in the corner of the lift as it made its shaky descent. "Shika," she croaked, and he gazed down at her face, which was as beautiful as ever, even though it was caked with blood. And pale, so pale...
"I can't live without you, Ino. Please don't go," he managed to say around the lump in his throat. He saw his tears splash down onto her cheeks. He roughly wiped his face on his grimy sleeve. Even through it all, she was smiling.
"There is no death, there is the Force," Ino said softly.
"Please, don't spout the Jedi Code at a time like this. Ino… I need you. Tell me you'll stay." It was no use trying to control his tears now; they flowed freely down his face, and the lump in his throat was constricting, suffocating him, putting him in pain. But nothing compared to the pain he felt in his chest as he watched her dying in his arms.
"I will… stay," Ino said, closing her eyes. "Pro…mise."
The Force couldn't harden him for this. His connection to the Force actually allowed him to feel it happen. Her essence, her being, her soul was no longer in that damaged body.
"Liar," Shika sobbed, holding her lifeless body close to his chest, burying his face in her blood-soaked hair. Not even the cacophony of war could drown out his anguished cry.
Kimimaro had been monitoring the blonde girl through the Force since they evacuated the hangar. He stood behind his mistress, who was in a playful conversation with the female Kiba, teasing and prodding him, making his entire face flush. He broke his deep concentration, giving out an uncharacteristic sigh. This made Tayuya become immediately silent. She glanced back at him, and knew what had happened at once.
The small child strapped into the seat beside where Kimimaro stood began to wail, balling her fists into her eyes.
Kiba grimaced, performing a particularly difficult turn, especially since the ship was damaged.
"That idiot…" Kiba choked out.
Kimimaro could only stand there as the ship rocked, and stare forward. He didn't know how to console the little girl, and so he wouldn't try, for fear of making it worse.
Tayuya undid her own fastenings, despite Kimimaro's own protests (since he was only standing due to there only being three seats in the ship), and took the girl into her arms. The small Hyuuga immediately latched onto his mistress, crying loudly into her shoulder while Tayuya whispered softly into her ear.
Truly, Miss Tayuya was the most caring person he knew. Granted, he didn't know terribly many people.
"I'm supposed to be the enemy... of everyone?" Hinata said in a voice so dumbfounded and struck with awe, Naruto grimaced.
"It seems that when the two of them finally finish their battle, whatever planet they are on will be... well, completely eradicated of life. All converted to midichlorians, strengthening the Force, yet ensuring their dominance over it." He paused, hugging Hinata to his chest, the poor Hyuuga too shocked or absorbed in thought to respond. "I never understood the prophecy, but it must have been made by Master Yoda a long time ago. There will come a time when someone will bring balance to the Force. In order to prolong this "balancing," Master has planted the... idea that balancing meant the absence of a Dark Side."
He took a deep breath, and nuzzled his face in her hair, which smelled of smoke and the slightly heady scent of her sweat. Whispering softly, he continued, "I will not defend him. If you hate him, I will help you destroy him, if you like. I would do anything for you, Hina. Yet, I don't see the extinction of trillions of sentient beings and a continuing war to be a viable solution. If they must consume a planet, it cannot be Coruscant. Not again. Not now."
Her voice was low, but it reverberated a strength deep within her, "Do it, Naruto. End this madness. Even on the run, I wouldn't mind going on. Not if it's you I'm running next to." She tilted her head up, a smile caressing her slightly dried-out lips. "Just promise me you'll come back for me."
He chuckled, stealing a quick kiss against those lips, which weren't so dry any longer. "You kidding? I wouldn't want to run alone." Running the back of his knuckles along her cheek line, and unable to bear any sort of goodbyes, he called upon the Pure Force. The world took on a yellow tinge just as the tears sprang to her eyes. Then she was gone, and Naruto was in the center of a storm.
Taking in his surroundings in one fell swoop of his gaze, Naruto crouched just as lander raced over head, trailing smoke, only to crash several meters away. Directly before him were the battling gods of the Force, hands locked together, feet dug into the crushed duracrete, and snarling faces nose-to-nose. Naruto watched in awe as rapid pulses of raw Light or Dark Force energy batted against the men. With each pulse, Naruto was pushed further away, arms crossed before his face to ward off the flying debris. He peaked through the gap between his wrists and saw bits of the men peel away and reform with each attack on the other.
Pulse. As if a strong wind whipped away at sand, Madara became translucent from the matter struck from him. Pulse. Tobirama's midriff almost entirely dissolved. Yet, depsite the rapid beat of the shockwaves, the particles came back together almost as fast. Almost. Bit by bit, the two were wearing away at the other. Naruto had the sneaking suspicion that if he didn't stop them before they became unable to reassemble themselves, he'd be unable to get them off the planet. After all, how could he pull anything through the Pure Force's gate if he could not touch it?
As the waves of power beat away at his body, Naruto made his way to an overturned TX-30 fighter tank, taking shelter on the opposite side of where the two men battled it out. Looking around, he could see Republic and CIS forces alike were doing much the same. The fighting, in this area at least, was halted.
Gritting his teeth, Naruto noted the cleared diameter that the pulses of power had created around the two men. He suspected that were he to get any closer than that, his body would be in a great deal of pain. He cursed inwardly. It was obvious that his time was running out, as the Temple itself couldn't take much more damage. Three of the surrounding spires were down, their monumental wreckage having done clear damage to both armies. The fourth spire looked about ready to tip itself, with the top quarter already missing. And the Temple at the center of it all was ablaze at several layers, large chunks blown inward with the fiery force of arsenal or wrecked vehicles. Each pulse of power coming from the brothers sent a shiver up its length. And all along its length, a buzz of fighter ships circled, spraying plasma bolts by the thousands.
Concentrate, Naruto told himself. He focused on drowning out the cries of the wounded, the barks of commanders ordering their platoons about, and the rain of arsenal fire falling from the sky. Concentrate. If you do this wrong, you'll break your promise to Hinata.
He knew what he had to do. He had to appear between the two brothers, disappear through the Gate onto a completely different world, light-years away, then disappear once more. And if he didn't do it fast enough, almost instantaneously, he would be obliterated by the sheer raw power they were expelling.
Concentrate. Yet, now he had to choose. He could feel the two embodiments of the Force, though they were losing solidity fast. That wouldn't be the hard part, he knew he could get between them. Yet, now he had to decide which planet would die. Which planet did he sentence to death, not a trace of life to remain, not a body to mourn over? Unfortunately, it had to be a world that mattered. One that would hurt the CIS immediately, make them vie for an immediate truce to face the new threat (at least, new to them). He couldn't pick the most desolate planet he could think of.
Physically pained by it, he knew the world he must choose. Tatooine. It had just a couple hundred thousand of people, yet was a large source of income for the CIS due to its black market, if not manpower. Though that wasn't what would set the CIS off. Tatooine held the title of having the most criminal-dense population. Crime lords with power and connections - and if they're gone, an entire system of trade goes down with them. People with these connections were in power in the CIS, and they were being hit where it hurt - their pockets. Not to mention any familial ties that would call for revenge.
And with that power to destroy entire planets, starting at the Outer Rim, who's to say the Planet Conquerer doesn't make her way closer to the Core, wreaking destruction as she goes? Naruto felt sick, having to follow this line of thought. And there was one more reason it had to be Tatooine. Though far away, he could feel a connection there, if only faintly. Someone who held the same genes as Anakin. It pained him to abuse his connection with the man, but he saw no other way, and his heart went out to his friend. There was nothing he could do at this point.
Everything drowned out, Naruto crossed his arms in front of his face and cradled his face between his tensed biceps. Hands outstretched, he estimated the length he needed. A crescendo of pulses erupted one after the other, a rapid-fire, and he knew his time was nearly up, that those renewed bodies wouldn't last much longer. Holding onto the attachment on Tatooine, as well as focusing on the brothers, he entertained one last thought. Hinata must have felt this way, just before Corellia was consumed. A part of it, but with no other choice. Yet, I do think I hold more responsibility for this than anyone...
And then reality parted. The pain was instant, but he paid it no heed as his hands closed on folds of clothing, simultaneously opening the Gate for another jump. Reality seemed to slam into him from below, and he briefly heard a shriek before he was gone once more, his hands unclenched.
And it was done. Rolling across the dusty floor, picking it up along the way with his slick skin, he could not stop the roar of agony from escaping his lips. Two gasps and a then a crying out of terror filled his ears, but all he could do was cease his rolling and curl into a ball. Yet, even that hurt.
Some small part of his brain that wasn't completely absorbed in his suffering noted that he was completely naked, and that his entire body was slick with his own blood. Having cradled his face between his arms during the trip, he noted that it felt slightly less tortured than the rest of him. Yet the thought didn't last long, as it was drowned out once more by the ocean of pain calling for every ounce of his attention.
A light filled the room, though he was only half-aware of it, so consumed was he in his misery. A blanket of relief engulfed him, and he suddenly felt as if he were floating. He was. He looked around, and saw only Hinata. She wore the dress that she did the last time they connected in their dreams, as long ago it seemed as the distance was between them at the time.
"Hinata?" He questioned, slowly making his way toward her, a tangible world coming into existence around him. He frowned at the pained grimace on her face, and was more worried when she smiled despite herself.
"Do not worry, Naru... I'm just trying to take away some of the burden." She fell to her knees, and sat there in the tall grass as Naruto ran over, quickly kneeling at her side.
"What's going on?" He knew what he was seeing around him was their dreamland... Drongar, or as close to it as it mattered. The sky overhead was gray, yet crimson cracks were racing across it, spreading rapidly, as if the heavens were about to shatter.
Hinata bit her lip hard enough for a trickle of blood to run down to the corner of her mouth, and it pained Naruto to witness it. In this world, they were but reflections of their minds, and Hinata's was in terrible distress. He cradled her in his arms, and his heart broke as he heard her try to suppress her whimpers. She couldn't speak, so consumed as she was in her work. He didn't try to dissuade her from whatever she was doing - he knew it would be to no avail, and would only serve to make her concentration harder to maintain.
"It's almost... done... Sakura is dressing your wounds. Naruto... it's bad." And a tear rolled down her cheek.
As the firmament seemed at its limits, the bright crimson shining through the cracks suddenly washed away, and a heavy rain poured down instead. Naruto felt Hinata go limp in his arms, and her gasps seemed to be as if she was relieved of a huge burden. He hugged her tighter to his chest.
"Sakura applied the anesthetic. Naruto, I'm so sorry-"
He made a calm 'shh' noise, and rocked her back and forth slowly. She went silent, and they sat there together rocking, him holding her and focusing on nothing but her. He was waiting. And waiting. And then it happened.
The Force bolstered slightly, then seemed to become very heavy on his heart, and he could tell it affected Hinata in a similar manner. Tatooine was now devoid of life, and he could already sense the aftershocks of what happened take hold in the Galaxy.
He sighed, and he wished there was some act of redemption in the universe that could atone for what he had done, but he knew there wasn't any. Yet, looking down at Hinata, he knew she knew his pain, and worse. Tears rolled down her face openly, and she sobbed silently. He cradled her for what seemed like hours, yet what did time mean in a place like this?
"You came back. You did." Hinata said, as if reassuring herself more than stating a fact. Naruto smiled dryly and answered anyway.
"We planet conquerors gotta stick together," he said, earning himself a flash of anger from Hinata. But she only sighed.
"It's our life now. Might as well accept it." She cast her gaze down to her hands, where she fiddled her fingers nervously. Something he hadn't seen her do since their training days on Ilum, where all tells of emotion are quickly subdued.
"For this to work, we can't be here on Coruscant. I need to come back, Hina." Naruto resigned himself to returning to reality. He couldn't let Hinata coddle him here in their connection, protecting him from the pain of his actions.
"Where will we go? You need help, Naruto! We have to-"
Naruto shook his head and interrupted. "We're on our own now. Anyone we contact would be put in danger, and if anyone is suspected of being our..." he chewed on the word for a moment, "accomplices, then they would have to go on the run, too. But, don't worry." And he smiled, looking around. "After the raids on Orochimaru's base, I doubt the Republic would have stayed for very long after cleaning up all the refined Bota they could carry."
His base would be the perfect area to hide out for awhile. It was lavish, due to Orochimaru's eccentric tendencies, and had all the facilities they needed to survive. Naruto looked around, and it seems to be the only place we've called home, at least in our heads.
"Okay... prepare yourself, Naru. You may have been given the anesthetic, but the extent of your wounds..." A painful grimace surfaced on her face, but Naruto nodded once.
And then he was back. A low moan escaped his seared lips before he could bring himself under control. Sakura was hurriedly wrapping gauze down his right leg, working her way past the ankle. He could feel his entire body was covered, excluding his mouth, eyes, and nose. The entire surface of his skin was hyper-sensitive, and a crawling sensation made his entire body itch. As a wave of cold engulfed him one moment, a surge of fire roasted him the next. He hissed through his teeth, and looked up at the frowning Hinata, who leaned over him. He gave her a pained grin, which sent searing pain up his face. He quickly resumed a neutral expression.
"Sakura, you never saw us," Naruto gasped, just barely able to make out her rapid nodding in his peripheral vision. At this point, Naruto noticed the eerie silence and the seeming stillness of the Tower, which had been shuddering since the battle began. "Hinata, place a hand on me."
He watched as she gingerly laid a palm across his chest, and he was surprised when the contact did not cause him pain, but instead created a cooling relief. "And off we go."
Tenten watched from over a mile away, observing everything through her scope. The ceremony had been long and boring, but the exciting part was coming. She had custom-made the sniper a month ago and was present for the siege on the Jedi Temple, but was unable to find her target. So she waited. A sniper's best friend is patience.
"Target 1703 meters away, wind due southeast at 3 kilometers per hour. I hope your new barrel is up to the task." Lee's voice crackled over her comlink, and she smirked to herself. She knew how this would play out.
The ceremony was taking place on the mostly cleared grounds of the Jedi Temple, and the truce was about to become official. Kyuubi strode up the lavish red carpet, making his way towards the senate and Council. The Republic representatives surrounded a pillar that commemorated those who died on that day, and the truce would be signed at its base.
Coming to a halt before the Council and senate, Kyuubi removed his helmet. Fully armed clones and Republic troops stood at one side of the carpet, while CIS forces stood at attention on the other side. Kyuubi stood tall, his dark armor not even reflecting a glint of light. Tenten watched the motions he went through, and could tell he was taking a deep breath, about to address the officials before him.
She pulled the trigger. Though to most people it all happened too fast to see, Tenten saw it all.
Kyuubi's lightsaber was out immediately, and the bullet dissolved against it - and she noted the slight widening of his eyes as comprehension dawned on him. A metal bullet. A bullet made of cortosis. His lightsaber shorted out, and the next bullet was right behind the first. Its tip entered exactly at the center of his pupil.
Tenten was up and moving, not bothering to watch the aftermath. Her quarry, as elusive as it had been, was dead. She jumped off the balcony just as her partner was zipping by underneath. The landing was rough, but she would live.
Sitting on her knees in the front seat, she rummaged in the back to put away her rifle. She had it tailored to fire two bullets at once, one right behind the other. She did her research, and knew this was the only way to kill the man. The cortosis needed for that caliber had cost her a small fortune, as she could only buy in bulk from an unsavory lot from the Outer Rim. She figured they were the ones who would undertake the rejuvenation of the black market, and make a large profit doing so. They certainly didn't cut her any deals.
She wouldn't bother contacting the contractor. The woman seemed in all sorts of distress last time, and anyone who did not hear about today's events would be dead or living under a rock.
"Well, Lee? What do you think about a long vacation, far away from this forsaken planet?" Tenten grinned openly at her partner, elated now that she had gotten revenge for her friend at the same time as killing their target. She wasn't one to keep business and pleasure separate.
"Ten, the fiery power of our youth will carry us anywhere you like!" He shouted, giving her a thumbs up and his best smile. A pose that she used to get embarrassed over, but now loved him for.
After the battle, the overwhelmingly dense atmosphere of midichlorians had forced Shino to depart immediately. He had no time to seek out the companions he had made along the way, and was running low on his serum. He had suspected that his time was near, and that his struggle against the galaxy was finally over.
He had made his way to the Outer Rim, as far as he could go from the Core without actually leaving the galaxy. And it was there that he made the discovery.
He was right all along to be interested in the insects of the planets he had visited, and his knowledge paid off. On a planet devoid of any sort of intelligent life, Shino spent an entire month cultivating a species of miniscule insects he called kikkai bugs. These insects had a symbiotic relationship with every animal on the planet, and fed on midichlorians. Through breeding and research, Shino created a method for his altered hive to move into his own body.
Though the process was painful, the results were immediate. The pain he felt his entire life, the pain of a microscopic war being waged on his body, was gone. And for the first time in his life, he laughed. And laughed. Lying on his sterile operating table, the man could do nothing but laugh, feeling a hum within him from the miracle bugs that would give him a normal existence. Well, sort of normal.
Sliding from the table, Shino began dressing himself, then walked out onto the small deck of his tree house. Taking a deep breath and for once not finding any pain in it, he let it all out in another laugh.
Staring up at the purple sky, grinning, full of joy he never thought possible, he wondered about the one friend he had made in his life. Though he knew he was as far from the Force as humanly possible, he tried to radiate some goodwill to the man.
"Wherever you are, Naruto, whatever is going on, I wish you well."
He may not live under a rock, but Shino wasn't one to keep up with current events. Hinata's and Naruto's face were constantly on every news network in the galaxy, and the search was in full force.
"May you find the peace I have now."
"You're disgusting!" she cried out for the thousandth time. You'd think she would have gotten over it by now.
"I can't help it," Shikamaru grumbled. "I'm a guy."
"It's awful! Every day, it's the same thing over and over! Don't you ever stop thinking such repulsive thoughts?" She huffed.
"I heard a statistic once... men think about sex every seven seconds or so. You're either going to have to get used to or it, or have the mercy to keep quiet!" He lowered his head into his arms and groaned. "I feel like I'm losing my mind!"
She sniffed, "What's to lose? Might as well use your skull for a trash bin for all it contains up here."
Angry, Shikamaru stood up and made his way to the bathroom. "I hope you're right about these people. I'm not sure how much longer I can take this."
"They made all those clone troopers, you remember? What's one girl's body in comparison?"
"They think I'm crazy," he sighed, just as he let out his stream, relief flooding his body.
"EWWWWWW!" she shrieked, and he could see a mental image of her beating on his back with her fists. It was all he could do to maintain his aim.
"Jeez, Ino, will you go easy on me? Just one day, try to hold in your disgust for all things me." And yet, as he said these words, a deep feeling of sadness welled within him. Yet, they were not his own emotions. He could see a very clear image of Ino sobbing melodramatically, tears streaming from her eyes. "Ah, man, I can't say anything right today."
"I'm sorry, Shika," she hiccuped, "it's just so hard to not have a body, you know? And to share the same mind as another person, even if it is this spacious."
He ignored her jab and flushed the toilet. A knock came at his door, and he hurried over to it, not bothering to put on anything. At this point, he didn't care. His boxers would have to do. Spending a month on Kamino in Tipoca city had made him care less and less for social etiquette.
Pressing a button, the door slid open, and he gave the tall being a flat stare. Its long neck craned slightly to look down at him. Or, more like, look down on him. When it spoke, it was clear it was a female. Shikamaru wasn't adept at telling them apart by looks alone. "Everything has gone smoothly, Master Nara. The clone will be completed to your specifications as soon as possible."
Unable to hide his annoyance, Shikamaru grunted, "It's been a month now. How long is 'as soon as possible'?"
Swaying slightly, the Kaminoan folded her hands behind her back and regarded Shikamaru with what he believed passed for disdain in their culture. "Six more months at the latest, I'm afraid."
Groaning, Shikamaru's shoulders sagged in defeat. He nodded, and closed the door in the Kaminoan's face. He heard a muffled huff come from the other side of the door. Getting on the being's nerves put a grin on his face. He wished Choji were here, instead of off taking odd jobs to make the money for this cloning process.
"Are you not going to fantasize about plowing her, too, Shika?" Ino asked with feigned innocence, earning another groan from the poor Nara.
"You owe me big for this, Ino. Big." He fell back into his bed and let out a long sigh.
A strikingly real image formed in his mind of Ino crawling atop him, completely nude except for the translucent sheet she clutched to her chest. Her cheeks blushed prettily, and she let out a soft moan, voicing his name.
Heart racing, laughter ringing between his ears, and face completely flushed, Shikamaru muttered, "You're an evil vixen, you know that?"
"Oh, Shika, you sap. I'm only giving you what you wanted."
"A teasing image to make fun of me, and call me a pervert?" He turned over onto his side, muttering to himself.
"No, not at all," her voice came, heavy and slow, and Shikamaru thought he felt a tickling at his ear, as if her breath brushed the tiny hairs there. "A vision of the future."
He swallowed hard, flushing deeper.
Jiraiya sat back, finished with the 'Forbidden Love Tales' saga. He glanced at the time on his display and saw it was early morning. He stood and stretched, making his way to his balcony. He had returned to his home planet, retiring from his position on the Council. Some members made a move to prevent it, yet with Yoda's approval, there was little that they could do.
He sipped at a strong tea, made from an indigenous leaf that foreigners found awful tasting, that a servant had brought up only minutes earlier. A hologram popped up from his desk, and he turned and stepped back inside to greet the caller.
"Ahh, Tsunade. How are you doing? You look as beautiful as ever." Jiraiya gave her a very toad-like grin.
She rolled her eyes at him. Being friends with his former student, Kurenai, Tsunade had run into the old lecher on numerous occasions, and so was not perturbed by his advances. "Your student is very distraught, you know."
Smiling sadly, Jiraiya set down his tea. "The poor girl has been through a lot, I confess. Not to mention she's gotten hell for teaching not one, but two Planet Conquerors." And so it was. With Hinata and Naruto's absence, the two are known to be together. Suspicions bred rumors that bred social fact that Naruto was responsible for Tatooine's destruction. Kurenai was officially exiled from the Order, removing her status of MIA. "I do hope her newly re-found boy toy is keeping her in high spirits, at least." The bright smile of Kushina's brother, Minato, flashed in his mind's eye.
Snorting, Tsunade shared a conspiratorial smile with the old sage, "That and a lot, lot more, I'm afraid. All on my ship, no less! The gall of some people."
"Maybe you should get back at them in much the same manner... I would be willing to lend my services-"
A derisive laughter pierced the air, and Tsunade's finger actually met her eye to remove a tear. "Not on your life, old man."
"Ah, well, can't blame a guy for trying." Jiraiya said, unmoved by her rudeness. "Though, I must confess to being confused about your intentions for calling me now, if not for the comfort of my embrace."
"I'm beginning to wonder myself. Hmmm." She paused, tapping a finger on her chin, seemingly staring off into the distance. "Oh yeah. Any trace of those two reckless brats yet?"
Jiraiya sighed deeply, settling heavily into his chair. "Not a trace of either of them since that last battle at the Temple. I heard Orochimaru was put in charge of the tracking squad. Seems he thinks himself an expert at chasing the two, heh. I'd be worried myself if I didn't have such confidence in the competency of my own student."
"Word is you got kicked off the Council for his 'competency', eh, old man?" Tsunade said, actually poking out at him.
"I much prefer the slow life of my homeworld. It's breeding season, after all," Jiraiya spoke with a pump of his eyebrows.
"Creepy old man, see if I ever call on you again!"
And then she was gone, and his laughter filled the room. He turned in his chair and looked out through the open door, over the balcony, and into the murky green sky, a grain of uncertainty in his mind for the first time in his life. "Wherever you are, Naruto... I hope you're okay. And happy."
Neji led the small girl by the hand along the beach line, stopping occasionally when she exclaimed at the sight of a pretty shell that she just had to add to the bag on her hip. She wore a pink kimono with purple floral patterning. A flower clip held the fringe of her hair out of her face, and let him a have a full view of her smiling face as she looked up at him, holding her new shell. He wore a simple, blue-gray kimono, devoid of any decorations. He let his long hair flow freely at his back, much like the girl's hair beside him, aside from the clip.
They spoke in their native language, though Neji was making every effort to teach her Basic. A month had gone by since the disappearance of Naruto and Hinata, and he knew they would appear one day. Until then, his responsibility was to take care of Hanabi and teach her all he could.
She asked in their tongue, "Where is mommy?"
It was a common question since he had taken custody of her, but grew less frequent by the day. She never seemed to accept any story he gave her, so he gave the same message in a different way each time.
"Off fighting to see you," he replied promptly.
"When will she see me, then?" Her eyes looked up at him, innocent and wide, a look that told him she knew he had all the answers. Oh, how he wished it were so.
He stopped and glanced out over the crimson ocean, watching a large bird dive underwater, then emerge moments later with a mouthful of fish. The sky was an eternal red, and the dwarf sun was just beginning to set on the horizon. Their home planet in the Getsuei system. The search parties came here a week ago and scoured the surface in their efforts, but to no avail. Indeed, the two most wanted people in the galaxy were nowhere to be found on this planet.
"I suspect she sees you every night in her dreams," Neji whispered, not taking his eyes off the sunset.
Hanabi giggled, drawing his eyes down to her. She smiled up at him, eyes closed. "I see her too, I think. And Naruto-nii-san, as well."
"Oh? And what happens in these nightly visits?" Neji asked, curious as to what sort of dreams his charge was having.
She laughed, pulling away from him, splashing out into the warm water. "Why, we play of course!"
And Neji laughed with her.
After the sun finally set, Neji led the small girl into the wooden shack they had called home for the last month. He made her brush her teeth, change into her pajamas, and then he knelt next to her cot as she finally settled into it. He held her hand in his, tracing smooth circles on the soft surface of the back of her hand with his thumb.
"Neji-nii-san," the girl began tiredly, "mommy appreciates what you're doing. She's glad she can rely on you to take care of me." With a big yawn, she blinked several times and rubbed at her eyes with her free hand. Then her big, pupil-less, lavender-hued eyes settled onto his own rather strikingly gray orbs. "And I like spending time with Neji-nii-san, too!"
He smiled gently at her, inclining his head in gratitude. "Sleep now, little one."
She mumbled a soft protest, as if she weren't already nearly passed out. But within minutes, she was in a deep slumber, a small smile playing on her lips.
Hanabi ran through the tall grass, which came up past her hips, making a mad dash for the two figures waiting on her. With a running leap, Hanabi flew forward, crying out in delight. She was caught in a warm embrace, her momentum causing the young woman holding the girl to spin in circles. The two laughed together as they spun, before the young woman became too dizzy and finally fell backwards.
With a soft thump, Hanabi and Hinata fell into Naruto, who caught them with a grin. He lowered the three of them to the soft ground. Hinata laid back against his chest as she cradled Hanabi in her arms, telling her a story about dragons and princesses.
Hanabi giggled and gasped throughout the story, absentmindedly running her fingers along the patchy skin of Naruto's arm, where his scars were still prominent. She smiled up at him, and he smiled back, and she made fun of his bald head. He acted horror-stricken, complaining that it was starting to grow back. Hanabi giggled, and Hinata turned her head to give him a kiss. He sported a stupid smile for the rest of the story.
As the hours passed, they played in the grass, told Hanabi stories, and generally basked in each other's company.
Yet, the Time had come, as it always did, and Hanabi's lower lip trembled. Hanabi hated the Time.
Language wasn't a barrier in this place. Thoughts were understood perfectly, no matter what.
"I don't want to go," Hanabi complained, voice trembling. Hinata knelt and took the girl into her arms, kissing the top of her head.
"It's only for a little while. We'll see you again soon," and then she pulled back, looking Hanabi in the eyes, giving her a wide smile. "I promise."
Naruto put a hand on Hinata's shoulder and smiled down at Hanabi, "You can count on it."
Smiling despite her tears, Hanabi nodded.