Hey, a quick question...what would you do if it started literally raining cats and dogs?

Hello, this is AProcrastinatingWriter with yet another time-travel fanfic to add to this section's huge collection. Yes, I know, I'm utterly unoriginal. Oh well! I still like the idea.

...and yes, you read right on the way in: Gaara and Ino. I admit it's an odd pairing that will almost definitely never happen in canon, but I find the idea intriguing. And you must find it at least tolerable, considering you clicked on the link to this fic.

A word of warning: the following chapter contains scenes of intense violence. If you watched Dragonball Z or any show with equal-level violence, though, you should be okay. And if not: the first chapter sets up the rest of the plot, but isn't vitally important to the plot in itself. If I write correctly, then one should be able to edit out Chapter One and still get a cohesive story. So if worse comes to worst, skip it.

Also: slight spoilers for chapters in the manga just a little ahead of where the Japanese anime is, perhaps a bit further, but not quite up to where the manga currently is. You dizzy yet? No? Then keep reading. You'll likely just get more confused if you don't already know what's going on. And if you do know what's going on, you'll probably just be able to tell me how wrong I am about the sequence of events that actually happened in the manga.

Now you can start reading! Yay!


CHAPTER ONE

THE WORLD'S LONGEST PROLOGUE

-OR-

HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR FINAL CLIMACTIC BATTLES WITH COPIOUS AMOUNTS OF MELODRAMA


It was the final stand of the Village Hidden in the Leaves.

The battle had raged on for several hours, and people had died as a result of it. Civilians had died as a result of it. Children had died. Tsunade, and Tenten, and Chōji, and Sai were all dead. Matsuri was unconscious, and Gaara, who had taken a metaphorical bullet for her, was bleeding and near death. Temari and Kankuro were alive and conscious, but not doing all that much better. Shizune, a hole in her upper shoulder and blood leaking from her mouth, was right next to Gaara, attempting to heal him, and yet she could almost swear the healing jutsu was making things worse.

Those who hadn't been mortally injured were still in pretty bad shape. Sakura had lost the use of both of her badly burnt arms, but that hadn't stopped her from doing all she could. Neji was badly bleeding and several of his ribs were broken, but his body had not gone into shock. His mind had taken care of that for him when he saw Tenten, his wife, exploding, atom by atom. And thanks to his Byakugan, he had seen every agonizing detail of her death in the worst way possible.

Rock Lee wished he could open his Eighth Gate, but he couldn't even open his first. His own chakra, which had been stored up heavily in own body over his lifetime thanks to his inability to use it, was now being used as chains to keep him from getting off the ground. Or even moving. Lee was lucky, though, as the majority of people on the battlefield were dead. Some were 'merely' heavily injured. And only three had managed to avoid almost all injury (or capture) altogether.

The first, and the one in best shape, was the single man who had singlehandedly destroyed almost all resisting ninja in his way, one at a time: Madara Uchiha, who was now heavily unbalanced thanks to the new influx of phenomenally dark power he received, shifting from calm and mirthless to manic, loud, and shrill at the drop of hat. Finally, with all nine Tailed Beasts in his possession, he had been able to reform the chakra of the great Ten-Tailed Beast. But he had been forced to reform it too early, and absorb it into himself, thanks to the interference of the 'cursed' Leaf Village. And honestly, that was the only thing that had saved any of the shinobi fighting him so far: the fact that it wasn't nighttime yet. As soon as it was nighttime, the darkest of the Uchiha (and that is saying something) would use his Infinite Tsukuyomi on the moon, and that would be the end of that.

The second was the other surviving Uchiha, who had recently (and long-past the appropriate time) managed to finally put the broken pieces of his psyche back together. He was still awaiting trial, but on the off-chance any of them managed to survive this battle, he would probably receive heavy leniency on the grounds of A) Insanity brought on by an unstable mind finally being pushed over the edge by curse mark and B) Saving the freaking world. Though he would also probably still serve some time; after all, the whole 'leaving the village for power' thing was a conscious choice on his part. Or at least, it was until he got into the coffin and was infected with dark powers.

The third person, who by all accounts should not have been alive at that point in time, was Naruto Uzumaki. He was the most heavily injured of the three, and yet he was the one who had taken the least damage in battle. Even less than Madara. Naruto had received his injury when he had the Nine-Tailed Fox forcibly torn out from his stomach by Madara's jutsu, and it really should have killed him. Yet, through sheer willpower, and chakra of his own comparable to that of the Kyuubi, Naruto had survived, and had been one of the first to overcome the fearful aura sent off by the visible black chakra now surrounding the evildoer and attack. He was also the first person to really injure Madara in several decades, as he was surprised by the unexpected attack.

So now, Naruto and one of his best friends/one of his worst enemies were some of the last people truly able to face down a being who possessed the power of a primordial demon on top of his own vast powers and nigh-immortality. A being who had slaughtered hundreds upon hundreds of people to accomplish his goals, and showed no remorse for doing so. A being of such power and fearsome jutsu that bending space and time to his will were child's play.

And, since Naruto had made several promises to stop the mad Uchiha and was more angry than he had ever been in his entire life and Sasuke was determined to atone for his many sins and had a few dark powers of his own to call on, it was almost an even fight.

"MADARA!" screeched Sasuke, high-speed-dashing towards the figure. In his left hand was a Chidori the size of a boulder, the largest he had ever made. Perhaps his last one.

Madara did not react until the last split-second he possibly could have. In that split second, he punched Sasuke in the chest six times, copying the small amount of high-speed jutsu he had Sharin-stolen from Lee. Sasuke staggered backwards, flinching slightly. The blows were superficial ones, but they were also painful enough that Sasuke lost his concentration, his Chidori fading quickly in a small, silent burst of lightning. "Pathetic," said Madara in a quiet voice that echoed off the faraway mountains they were fighting in the extra-long shade of. The sun would go down in less than an hour, and the moon would be fully visible. That would be the endgame."You leave yourself wide open."

"SO DO YOU!" shouted a voice behind the man. He half-turned before getting punched, hard, in the jaw. He felt a couple of teeth loosen, but they tightened again quickly thanks to his healing evil chakra. Since he was off-balance, he quickly used that chakra to smack Naruto away, then formed it into tentacles that grabbed at Naruto and tried to smash him into the ground.

Though he technically succeeded, the Naruto quickly burst into a puff of smoke. A clone. Madara turned as the next second passed, barely managing to intercept Sasuke's fist. He smirked under his mask. "Amatseru," he said simply.

Sasuke's eyes widened as he leapt away. -When did he learn how...-Then, he looked down at where he landed. "What the..." he began, alarmed, as Chōji's blood, very near Chōji's body, had suddenly risen up and hardened, pinning him to that spot on the ground. "What's going on here?" he asked, struggling.

Madara chuckled." You fell for it," he said simply. Then he raised his hand. "Ninja Art...Instant Death Jutsu!"

-The justu he used on Tenten!- thought Sasuke, panicked. He struggled to free himself for something significantly less than a second before suddenly exploding in a puff of smoke.

He reappeared very nearby, hidden behind a rock with Naruto. The clone Naruto had commanded to use Substitution Jutsu with Sasuke suddenly burst into millions of balls of white light, each of which then immolated. The flames that resulted from this widened, forming together into an explosion that destroyed several of the dead bodies nearby, including Chōji's. "You alright, Sasuke?" asked Naruto, barely restrained anger in his voice.

Sasuke looked over to the blond-haired 22-year old. "Yeah...thanks," he said. Ten years ago, and in fact not until recently, he never would have done that. But time had changed Sasuke for the better...and had changed everything else for the worse.

Madara cracked his neck. "Come, now," he said, looking around. "You're making this..." And he zeroed in on the rock. "...TOO EASY!" And he laughed maniacally, opening a portal that led to the center of a faraway erupting volcano. It wasn't like Madara to laugh maniacally. More signs of how the power he'd received had opened up whole new level of madness for him to delve down into.

The lava shot forward, cutting a graft into the continent it was on. Sasuke and Naruto crouched in the belly of the Mountain Toad, feeling the intense heat but not dying thanks to its heat-resistant body. "Well, this is gross," grumbled Sasuke. "But I guess it's better than dying."

Naruto looked at Sasuke. "I need time to summon up the Sage chakra," he said. "Think you can hold him off?"

"No," responded Sasuke, standing up. "But I can sure as heck try."

Naruto nodded, unsummoning the mound of flesh. It, presumably, went back into the body of the being it had come from. Madara slowly lowered his hand. "Aha," he said. "Perhaps this won't be so little of a challenge after all..."

Sasuke prepared himself for battle as Naruto slowly backed up, mentally preparing himself to stand perfectly still for a very long time. Another voice, weakened and failing but still there, suddenly came from under the ground near Madara. "Perhaps not," it said, as two hands reached up from under the earth, grabbing the elder Uchiha by the ankles. "In fact, I can almost guarantee it!"

Madara looked down, then shot his tentacles straight into the ground beneath him. A scream of pain was heard as Madara drew up the body, bringing the leaf shinobi to eye level.

"SHINO!" shouted Naruto, scared. Too many of his friends had been hurt already.

"Go!" shouted Shino, blood oozing from his freshest wound. "Regroup! I'll hold him off!"

"No, Shino..." mumbled Naruto, then running forward. Sasuke grabbed his arm and pulled him back. They suddenly disappeared, as if they were pictures being burnt away by fire. "SHINO!" shouted Naruto again as they disappeared completely.

Madara chuckled again. "So, your friends have abandoned you!" And he tossed Shino away on the emphasized word. Then, from some other dimension, he drew two swords, each one sinisterly curved. Shino stood up in a weird way, a blank look on his face. Madara blinked, once. -I see,- he said to himself, staring at Shino'sunflinching features and wide-opened mouth. -He is already dead. But as his final act, he ordered his bugs to take control of his corpse and fight me.- He chuckled as he got into his fighting stance. -How very...heh heh heh...- And he dropped the fighting stance, rushing forward whilst he swung his swords haphazardly and his blackened chakra rapidly increased in size. Shino's body burst forward, leaving the trail of bugs that propelled it behind him. "WHAT FUN! HAH HAH HAH HAH!" Madara laughed as his opponent delivered several quick, precise punches. They all passed through harmlessly.

The villain was suddenly all business again, slashing Shino multiple times with his swords. Where he slashed bugs burst out, chomping at Madara's chakra. Suddenly, the bugs attacking paused in their flight. Several seconds passed. Then, almost simultaneously, they all fell to the ground, dead. Apparently Madara's chakra was like poison to them. He cackled again. "Too easy!" he laughed, swinging again with his sword.

0-0-0-0

"So," said Sasuke, smirking slightly a couple of miles away. "You prefer Shino over me, huh?" He asked, referring to the fact that Naruto had been willing to let Sasuke fight Madara, but not Shino. He closed his eyes, tilting his head resignedly to the side. "Can't say I blame you."

"Shino..." said Naruto. He closed his own eyes and shook his head. "Shino can't handle him...you could."

"...I doubt that," Sasuke said, opening his eyes again. He turned to Naruto. "But you, Naruto? You're the one...the only one who can."

"...thanks for the acknowledgment," Naruto mumbled halfheartedly. He sighed, sitting down. "Guess I've got to get started." He looked up at Sasuke. "Protect me, alright?"

Sasuke looked down at him. "How on Earth can you trust me?" he asked.

"Beats me," said a limping Kiba, walking up to the two at the meeting place proposed long before the battle began. Akamaru was not there, as he had been buried alive. Kiba would be upset about this, but in battle you don't get that luxury. Especially when battling Madara Uchiha. He could mourn later, and maybe be angry now. "I know I don't trust you nearly as far as I could throw you." He winced, suddenly grabbing his shoulder.

"Now's not the time," said Neji from behind him, walking over the crest of the hill the three were standing on. Hinata was beside him, heavily bruised and looking worried. Neji was feeling the same things as Kiba at the moment, though he had a much easier time controlling his emotions. Still, losing Tenten hurt more than his flesh wounds ever could. "Enemy or ally, friend or enemy, whether we forgive him or kill him where he stands...all of that can wait." He stopped, narrowing his eyes, while at the same time Gaara and Temari walked into the picture, Temari carrying an unconscious Kankuro and Gaara an unconscious Matsuri. "Right now, he is a powerful weapon, on our side, in a fight against a nearly insurmountable enemy."

Kiba stared for a few seconds, breathing deeply. "...yeah, alright," he said, finally conceding the truth of Neji's words. He turned to Sasuke, his own eyes narrowing now. "But I don't like it."

Sasuke, meanwhile, had turned to the three sand ninja. "...what is it?" he asked, seeing the look on Temari's face.

She smiled, though it was only half of one and didn't seem all that real. "My fan broke...so did all of Kankuro's puppets." She looked over at Gaara. "And Gaara...he..."

"Shizune used the last of her chakra to heal me," he said. "She's gone." And while the news sunk in, he looked down slightly. "For the second time, someone else has died, so that I may live." And he let those words sink in as well.

Naruto was attempting to stay still. It was extremely hard to do with the blood and fire and death everywhere, and nearly impossible after receiving bad news on top of bad news on top of bad news. Still, he concentrated. He had to gather up that natural energy, otherwise more people would die. And he couldn't risk Shadow Clones to gather more; he needed all the extra chakra he could get if he was going to execute the one plan he thought could stop Madara, and hopefully stop him before sunset.

Kakashi showed up next, carrying an unconscious Ino. They both looked as if they'd been struck by lightning. Coincidentally, they had been. Everyone minus Naruto looked at the Copy-Ninja, all asking the same question with pleading eyes: Where is Guy? Kakashi, as a response, simply shook his head.

More bad news came with the arrival of Shikamaru, who slowly rose up, appearing in Temari's shadow. The 'Shadow Movement Jutsu', one of his own creation. His family was extremely proud of him for developing it. They'd be less proud if they knew he only designed it so he could get from place to place with much less effort. "Bad news, guys," he said, looking around at his teammates. "I tried to save Lee," he said. "But the old dude caught up to me. I was barely able to escape, but I'm sure he'll catch up soon." He scratched behind his head. "I'd have tried to lead him away, but I'm pretty sure he's headed after Naruto no matter what. As for Lee..." he paused. "I can't honestly say I have any idea what's happened to him. He could be dead, he could still be chained up but alive, he might even have managed to escape on his own. I dunno."

Naruto was struggling in his lack-of-movements. In the sad, sad silence after all these announcements, his horrified brain got angrier and angrier, nervous energy straining against his muscles, begging to be released in Madara's general direction. Everyone, Naruto included, was nervous of more bad news, and yet they still wished it would come. After all, for bad news to come, there must be a messenger. And a messenger means an ally.

"So," said Sasuke after several minutes, drawing his own sword. "That's it, then."

"Right," said Neji as he nodded. He got into battle position.

"Mm," said Hinata, getting into battle position as well, facing a different direction.

Kiba snorted. "He'll pay..." he mumbled, turning off in his own direction and getting ready.

"We're all that's left of the Leaf Village," said Kakashi, gently setting Ino down. He turned in his own direction as well, though his eyes focused on Gaara as he got into stance. "And the many ninja of the Sand. Sorry for dragging you into this."

Gaara waited for a bit before answering, searching in his brain for the proper way to phrase his answer. "If we had not come in to help," he said as Temari set Kankuro down, "We would eventually have been put in danger anyway. Madara will not stop until the world is under his control." He looked down at the girl in his arms. "I won't let that happen to my people." He closed his eyes as he gently lay her upon the grassy terrain. "I will fight. And it will be my choice, not yours."

"Mine, too," said Temari, getting in the best taijutsu pose she could muster. "I'll fight to the bitter end."

Shikamaru sighed. "I was wrong before, every time I've said this." He pinched his fingers around the bridge of his nose as he closed his eyes. "This. This is a drag." Despite his words, he still turned to his own direction.

Eight ninja, one facing in every direction. Naruto at the center of their circle. Their mission, their last and most important mission, had been wordlessly given to each one of them. Once Madara came, protect Naruto at all costs. Do not let him be moved. And run down the clock until Sage Mode could be reached. Then, optionally, survive.

It was a vitally important mission. And, despite the optional condition, probably not one they'd live through. So focus was needed. It was vital. And yet, at a time like this, one could not help but let their mind wander. "So," asked Sasuke, voice cracking slightly. "Any regrets besides mine in this circle?"

"A lot," said Kakashi. "Too many to mention."

Temari's face softened. "I wish...I'd gotten married sooner." And she looked to her left, at Shikamaru, her fiancee. Shikamaru smiled a sad smile at her.

"So do I," said Hinata, and then she stiffened, as if she had not meant to say that out loud. If he'd had a choice, Naruto would have grinned at this.

Gaara sighed. "I wish...I'd found someone to love me." Shikamaru raised an eyebrow, making sure he took a mental note of this.

Kiba smirked despite his inner turmoil. "Hate to be a buzzkill," he said ironically, "But if I could do it all again, I don't think I'd change a thing."

"..." said Neji, in his usual way.

Sasuke smiled despite himself. "Well...I"m glad at least one of us is happy."

"Me too," said a voice from directly above them. Everyone looked up. Nothing was there, and that Nothing was speaking. "That way I don't feel too bad about killing you!"

And then, with another bout of crazed laughter, the main antagonist dropped from the Nowhere in the sky, impacting the ground just behind the ninja at the center of the ring and sending everyone but Gaara and the meditating Naruto flying off in their various directions. Gaara quickly shot his hand forward, his vast amounts of sand imitating his technique and rushing forward to "punch" his target.

Madara waved his hand across the sand, creating a ball of chakra in the middle of it. All the sand was suddenly pulled into the ball, moving itself into the center in the densest way possible. All the sand in Gaara's gourd followed. "What?" Gaara murmured, surprised. His sand was not obeying him. This was a new and a very unpleasant situation. The sand his gourd was made from now broke apart and went the same way, as did his Sand Armor shortly after that. "NO!"

"You are defenseless," said Madara as the sand in the sphere hardened itself further. Soon, it was no longer sand, but a large rock. "So it is time for me to finish what I started!" and he shot the boulder forward. Gaara barely dodged, then pulled out a kunai from within his robe. Madara brought up his other hand quickly. "Speeding Shockwave Jutsu!" he shouted.

"Gah!" shouted Gaara as the aforementioned shockwave struck him, sending him skidding down the hill he was standing on. It also struck Naruto, but he did not flinch (though he really wanted to).

Madara, his work with Gaara finished, raised his bloodstained sword (his other one still stuck inside Shino's body) into the air and began bringing it sideways, intending to slice Naruto's head off in one fell swoop. He suddenly crouched down, seeming to both hunker and stumble at the same time. He looked behind him. Shikamaru smiled. "Shadow Possession: Complete," he said, lying on the ground where he'd fallen from the initial attack. The shadow-type jutsu wasn't anywhere near strong enough to hold Madara in the same position as Shikamaru, but it was strong enough to throw him off.

"PEST!" cried Madara, sending out several tendrils of evil chakra to attack Shikamaru. Shikamaru released the possession as he dodged, putting a little extra 'oomph' in at the last second to drive the Uchiha off balance even more. Kakashi came in next, copying Sakura's jutsu as best as he could. He punched where Madara was standing, but the blow was dodged and all Kakashi succeeded in doing was creating a large crack in the ground. Well, that and getting Madara away from Naruto, which was the real plan.

"Tunneling Fang!" shouted Kiba, rushing towards his opponent. "This is for Akamaru!" he shouted as he began spinning. He drilled towards his opponent, face full of rage though no one could see it. Madara simply phased the attack through him as he stepped forward. Kiba turned and attempted again, this time burrowing straight into the ground and through Madara. He did not put enough force into the move to crack the ground, though, as he wanted to spin exactly where Madara was and not drill downward. He was obviously hoping Madara could only phase-shift for a moment or two, but this was instantly proven wrong as the man stayed at the center of the spinning storm for several seconds before stepping forward again. Obviously mocking Kiba's 'ineffectiveness'.

"Pitiful," said Madara, not faltering in his step as he blocked a high kick from Temari, then grabbed her ankle and charged her with dark chakra. "Truly pitiful!"

"AAAH!" she screamed as Madara pushed the evil chakra into her body, poisoning her system in the most painful way possible.

"Temari!" shouted Shikamaru. He rushed forward, forgetting about strategy and his justu and simultaneously showing he cared about Temari greatly; enough to make him stupid when she was in danger. "You let go of her, you son of a-"

Madara turned, bringing an unconscious Temari down on Shikamaru like a club. Shikamaru took a few steps back, grunting. "HERE!" shouted Madara, throwing the fan-wielding sand kunoichi into the stunned Shikamaru's arms. "Take her!"

Shikamaru fell backwards, holding tightly onto his bride-to-be. "Temari..." he mumbled, dazed, as he looked at her. He suddenly looked startled."W-what the-"

Temari glowed black for a moment, and then all of the dark chakra that had been forced into her was forced back out, sending both her and Shikamaru flying again. Surprisingly, he manged to stay conscious even though he was flung back several feet.

Kakashi chose this time to re-enter the fray with a "Double Lightning Blade!" The Uchiha phased through both, simultaneously backhanding Kakashi in the face. Hard. Team Seven's sensei went down to the ground, struggled for a few seconds to get up, and finally fell unconscious as well. Normally (though Madara's punches were strong) that one punch wouldn't have been enough, but Kakashi had barely stayed awake as was through Madara's own lightning attack.

Kiba leapt onto Madara's back, intending to attack in the most feral ways he could think of. Before he could sink his claws or teeth into his 'prey', he suddenly gasped and fell off, choking. "What's the matter?" asked Madara mockingly. "You don't like the taste of my chakra?"

As the four ninja who had been knocked off the hill and therefore needed to climb back up returned, Madara raised his boot and brought it down on Kiba's head. Kiba gave off a scream of pain, then growled at Madara. Then he suddenly smiled, grabbing the fiend's boot. "Gotcha!" he said. "Tunneling fang!"

"Guh," said Madara simply as he was spun right along with Kiba, who was smirking though no one could see it. Kiba stopped spinning after letting Madara go. Madara kept right on spinning through the air.

"Hinata!" shouted Kiba. "Plan 13!"

"Right!" said Hinata, jumping forward. She landed, getting into Gentle Fist stance. "Eight trigrams," she began.

Madara's chakra, that jack of all trades that it was, suddenly burst outwards, sending Hinata and Kiba rolling along the ground. He managed to stop spinning and landed, chakra guiding him to the correct position, on the ground. Neji was there to meet him. "This is for what you did to Tenten," he said through gritted teeth. "EIGHT TRIGRAMS...360 PALMS!"

"GAAAAH!" screamed Madara as Neji's attacks actually made contact. Three hundred and sixty attacks, with pinpoint accuracy and painful to boot. Neji paused momentarily in his sound-speed onslaught, just long enough for a visibly quivering Madara to try and regain his balance.

Neji narrowed his eyes. "Plus one," he whispered, before delivering a final strike to Madara Uchiha's chest.

The villain made no sound this time, merely falling over onto the ground. A few seconds passed in which no one spoke, for they were awed. As the stunned silence continued, the dark chakra visibly surrounding Madara began fading away, slowly but surely. "Did...you just..." mumbled Kiba. Then he broke into a wide grin. "Dude, you beat him! That was so awesome!"

Neji breathed outward. "It's done," he murmured. He turned to Naruto. "You can stop meditating now. Thanks to Kiba and Hinata creating an opening, I was able to deliver the finishing blow."

"What kind of attack was that?" asked Sasuke, stepping closer but keeping a wary eye on Madara.

Neji closed his eyes, trying to hold in the sorrow he was feeling until he left the battlefield. "A last resort. The Eight Trigrams 361 Palms technique blocks off every single chakra point in an opponent's body. Without chakra, you die." He opened his eyes again, now suitably under control. "Simple as that."

Gaara sighed. "So...the battle's finally over."

"I won't feel comfortable until Naruto stops meditating," said Shikamaru, attempting to hide the pain he felt at losing so many trusted friends and allies. Everyone else was doing the same thing. "Could you get up, buddy? You're making me nervous." Well, except Sasuke. Sasuke was-

"LOOK OUT!" shouted Sasuke, pushing Neji out of the way.

"Blinding Flash Jutsu!" shouted Madara, who was now standing, Ten-Tailed Beast's chakra surrounding him again. A thin, purple "layer" of energy was in front of him, styled to look like a pupil and eyelashes. A laser beam shot out of the pupil.

Sasuke's scream was drowned out by the noise of the laser, which was too loud and high-pitched to be heard by human ears. "SASUKE!" shouted several people there.

Sasuke slowly reached up and grasped his right arm. It was badly burnt along its edge. "Ow..." he said, his turn to grit his teeth.

Madara lowered his hand. "Sorry about that. Looks like I grazed you with that attack. Oh well. At least most of it was taken by my true target."

"AAAH!" screamed Hinata, who had just seen the condition Neji was in. Everyone turned to look.

Neji was lying on the ground, eyes wide and mouth open in a silent scream. His left arm was completely gone, leaving a clean cut approximately where it would have met his shoulder had it still been there. Neji slowly reached up with his right arm, grabbing his left shoulder as his face contorted in excruciating pain. "Ergh...argh...ARGH! AAAH!" Neji's shouts increased in frequency and intensity as his brain slowly came to terms with what had just happened. He writhed in pain on the ground, screaming in ways that are impossible to recreate through text.

Hinata rushed over to help her cousin, whom she called: "Brother!"

Sasuke was used to seeing carnage like this. Heck, he had caused carnage like this. So he was mostly unfazed. "Not that I'm surprised or anything, but how did you manage to survive that attack?"

"I must admit," said Gaara in his usual tone, though his eyes kept glancing over to Neji. "I am curious as well..."

"Oh, quite simple, really," said Madara. "You see, Neji did almost have me, I admit that. But he paused before sealing off that final chakra point, and in that second or so I rerouted my chakra so it would take a different path through my network."

"So, in the end, he only ended up sealing a single chakra point of yours." Shikamaru said, as our heroes moved back into battle stances. "Then all you had to do was play possum..."

"And now your friend has been, shall we say, severely short-handed," finished Madara. He began laughing, long, loud, and not very lucidly.

Hinata looked up angrily. She had just finished Gentle-Fist styling the blood vessels and veins in Neji's "arm" shut so he wouldn't bleed to death, along with the nerves in his left shoulder so he wouldn't feel the pain of it. Neji was gasping and panting too much to even say 'thank you', though he really wanted to. "You monster," Hinata said, getting back on her feet. "How can you even joke about that?"

"What's the matter?" asked Madara. "I thought you Leaf Village types just LOVED the monologing and witty banter!" And he began laughing again.

"That's it," said Kiba. "Let's take this guy OUT!"

Sasuke charged forward, sword first. Hinata had one of her palms reared back and Byakugan ready as she ran forward. Kiba was, of course, using his Tunneling Fang. Shikamaru was using Asuma's old blades (which he only pulled out for special occasions), reach extended by chakra. And Gaara was stuck with a kunai, since he had lost his sand.

With their various distances and angles and terrain and running speeds, they all arrived at Madara at about the same time. Unfortunately for them, he suddenly stopped laughing and moved his hands into the 'Ox' (or 'Ushi') position. "Odinson Jutsu," he murmured softly. Though there were no clouds in the sky before, during, or after the jutsu, several spears of lightning suddenly shot straight down, striking where the shinobi were at and sending them flying back, shouting in pain. Except for Sasuke, who gritted his teeth and kept moving forward.

"Kusanagi Sword: Chidori Blade!" shouted Sasuke, bringing the sword down and aiming for Madara's head as it sparked with bright electricity. Likely Madara's own attack helped it. The odler of the two Uchihas simply reached up and grabbed Sasuke's hand. "Huh?" Sasuke started. He could not move his hand. "Grr...come on...come on!"

"Like I said before," said Madara in a dangerously low tone, "You leave yourself wide open."

As with Temari before him, Sasuke got to feel what it was like to have evil forced into every molecule of your body. "AAAAAAAAH!" he screamed. Madara eventually tossed him away with a flick of the wrist. Unlike Temari, Sasuke did not fall unconscious.

"I'm done playing around with you pathetic schoolchildren," said Madara, now seeming much saner and much more dangerous than he had only moments before. "There's only a couple of minutes left until sunset. I don't have any more time to waste. My plans will come to fruition tonight." He clenched his fists. "There is nothing you can do to stop it." The 'schoolchildren' he spoke of slowly got up, anger on their faces.

Suddenly, a cough was heard. Everyone, including Madara, turned to look. Neji was slowly, falteringly, standing up as well. "You're right," he said, pain evident in a voice that was muffled, and rightfully so considering the blood coming from his mouth. It was obvious he was now near-death too. "I see that now. We can't stop you." He paused for a moment, then turned and pointed at Naruto. "But him? He can. He will. I know he will." He turned back. "Even if we all die here, you will not be able to defeat him, Madara. I am certain of that."

Everyone else on the good side grinned. Except Gaara, who merely had a small, knowing smile on his face. "I agree with you," he said.

Madara was silent for a short time. "I'm going to kill you all now," he said threateningly. "Past-Present-Future Jutsu!" And suddenly one Madara with a sword became three slightly different-outfitted Madaras with three very different types of swords.

Everyone started. "What the-" began Shikamaru, before being interrupted by a giant blast of purple energy from underneath him. "GAAH!" he shouted as he was sent flying.

The 'past' Madara suddenly dashed forward...though strangely enough, he did so in slow motion. Gaara had suddenly started moving in slow motion, too. They clashed with one another, Past Madara slowly getting back up to regular speed whilst Gaara was stuck in his slower speed.

Everyone else (minus Neji, who was conscious but out of commission) was busy with Future Madara, who had turned into a giant snake that could breathe out the Ten-Tailed's signature Black Chakra. Sasuke lead the charge with Amaterasu, pure black impacting pure black as the others leapt around the two colliding attacks, which seemed to be on equal terms.

Gaara kept his defense up admirably as Past Madara toyed with him, purposefully timing his regular-paced attacks so that Gaara would intercept them in time. Finally, apparently deciding 'enough was enough', Past stabbed Gaara with blinding speed in between his ribs. Gaara snapped back to regular motion, rocking backwards. He gritted his teeth, but did not scream, nor did he cry out.

"Heh, heh, heh," said Past, admiring his handiwork. "Hmm?" The wound he had made wasn't bleeding. It didn't even look right. In fact, it almost looked like a crack...as if..."Your Sand Armor! How did you...?"

"Your attacks," explained Gaara. "They caused a lot of damage to the ground around here. Enough to grind up several of the rocks...and from there, it just took time for me to take the smallest ones and start grinding up the ground beneath our feet."

"I see," said Past, getting ready to start up the slow motion again.

"And then," finished Gaara, "I ground up the boulder you made with my sand." And as if these words were a sign, a wave of that sand suddenly blasted forward out of the ground in front of Gaara and into Past Madara. "Sand Burial!"

"Unh!" said Past Madara as the air was forced out of him. The sand drove and whipped itself around him, indeed burying him like the name implied. Gaara took a deep breath, preparing himself for the finishing blow. Before he could start in with that, though, Past shifted through the shifting sands. "Nice try!" he said, raising his sword. Gaara's sand barely managed to block it, and then they started moving slowly and awkwardly again.

Meanwhile, Sasuke had fought Future's breath to a draw, a dangerous draw wherein dark flames shot everywhere. Kiba was the main attacking force on the snake's body, using Tunneling Fang over and over as his fluctuating chakra and wounds would allow him. Hinata provided backup, distracting the giant beast with pressure strikes that didn't quite reach the chakra points, for its skin was thicker than it appeared.

Sasuke leapt back and bit his thumb. He went through the proper hand signs. "Summoning Jutsu!" he shouted, slamming his palm into the ground. Three snakes, each one larger than a house and having a bandana wrapped around its upper neck, appeared in a puff of smoke.

"Fight fire with fire, as they say," said Neji, who was nearby and sitting awkwardly on the ground with a small, weary smile.

"Right," said Sasuke as the snakes rushed forward, each one striking with as much speed as it could muster. He suddenly frowned. "Wait a second..."

"What is it?" asked Neji as the other shinobi moved to helping Gaara, as the three larger snakes had Future pinned in a snake-styled wrestling hold.

"This is too easy," said Sasuke. Suddenly, his eye widened. "It's a distraction!" he shouted, turning behind him. "Naruto!"

-Don't look away,- said a telepathic voice behind him. Sasuke turned again, redrawing his chokutō from its sheathe. The giant snake Madara was there, and it almost appeared to be grinning. The three snakes Sasuke had summoned had fallen down, dead from bite wounds to the head and eyes.

Sasuke's cheek muscles rose up, though his mouth stayed neutral. "You guys! Get back to Naruto!" he shouted, attempting to make himself heard above the din.

"What do you think we've been doing?" asked a voice. Sasuke looked over his shoulder, to see Shikamaru kneeled in front of Naruto, Shadow Possession Jutsu used on Gaara to override the slowness spell the Past had cast. Gaara, looking a little stunned and surrounded by sand, was now holding a kunai and had it thrusted forward. Into Past's head.

"...very clever," was all Past said before bursting into pieces, as if he were glass. The pieces were blocked by Gaara's sand.

Gaara was silent a moment. "A little warning next time?"

Shikamaru shrugged. "Sorry."

At the same time, and more closely watched by Sasuke (who was using Amaterasu as a shield to keep the giant snake and its chakra at bay and letting Neji use his Byakugan to tell him where it would strike next), the remnants of Team Eight were fighting Madara in the Present. Since they were both primarily taijutsu users and Madara could make himself intangible, they were having little luck. "Come on!" shouted Kiba as Madara walked through yet another of his attacks. "Isn't there anything we can do to stop this guy?"

"He has to become solid to attack," said Hinata. "If we keep trying, we'll at least be able to keep him from hurting Naruto."

Kiba chuckled as Hinata tried another palm strike, which of course passed through harmlessly. "You know, I have to say, this whole situation seems pretty darn familiar!" he shouted as he leapt forward, going for an elbow jab. It, of course, also did not work as Madara kept up his slow walking pace towards the Uzumaki clan member.

Hinata smiled in spite of everything. "You mean my protecting Naruto?" she blushed.

"While everyone else is dead? Yeah, pretty much," said Kiba, who could either make stupid, dark-humored jokes like that or start crying. Jokes were probably better in the heat of battle.

It was at this point in time that Gaara and Shikamaru rejoined them. "How's it going?" Shikamaru asked as the group formed into a defensive line between Madara and Naruto, who was close to having the needed chakra and getting closer every second.

"How's it look like it's going?" asked Kiba. Anger was probably also better than tears. "We're getting our butts kicked."

Hinata looked determined again, as Madara stopped in his tracks. Attempting to phase through all four of them to get to Naruto could easily result in his being walloped as soon as he tried the actual attack. "We're not giving up," said Hinata, the Will of Fire burning in her eyes. "Not now, not ever."

"Right," said Gaara, sand moving into a half-defensive position around him. Shikamaru drew his remaining trench knife. The other two members of their four-man squad were already prepared for attacking and defending.

Madara slowly raised a hand in the air. "Ninja Art," he intoned in a voice brimming with power. "Darkness Drive Jutsu!" His black chakra suddenly fanned outwards, cutting through all the four's defenses and into their flesh. They screamed in pain and renewed terror as the evil mass swirled around them, threatening their lives more and more with every second Madara kept up the attack.

But they did not budge.

Sasuke frowned, wanting to help but not willing to leave Future with a path to Naruto. -Think!- he thought to himself. -What to do...what to do...ah! Of course!- He turned his attention back to the giant snake, who was currently trying to draw itself into a coil around him. "Hey, Neji."

"What is it?" Neji asked, grateful for any distraction from the thoughts floating through his head.

"Sun's almost down. Naruto had better hurry."

"...indeed," agreed Neji after a few seconds.

Sasuke smirked. "We should help him the best we can." He suddenly looked up. "Fire Style!" he yelled, then took a deep breath.

-You're finished!- said Future, rising up to strike. He suddenly roared in pain as Sasuke shot a great bout of fire, shaped like a dragon, from his mouth with such suddenness even the elder Uchiha didn't see it coming. The great beast of fire rose higher and higher into the sky as Neji watched in awe.

Sasuke smiled as the dragon reached the upper atmosphere and exploded. The warmed air became an updraught, and quickly thunder clouds began to form. "Great Dragon Fire Technique," said Sasuke as the first few drops of rain fell.

Everyone looked up at the falling rain. Gaara frowned slightly. "Looks like I'm stuck with kunai again," he said simply. "After all, my sand is too heavy to use when wet." Then, to show he was just joking, Gaara smiled.

Shikamaru, Kiba, and Hinata smiled as well, for the rain had Madara looking up at the sky, and not focusing on performing his jutsu, and therefore not hurting the four. "Well, well," said Shikamaru. "Looks like Sasuke's bought us some more time."

Madara kept looking upwards. His sword fell to the ground along with the rain as it slowly sunk in that his plans had been delayed yet again. Lightning flashed in the sky as he clenched his fists. He took a deep breath in, through his nose and his mask. "Switch," he finally said.

Future suddenly struck past Sasuke at the four guarding Naruto. They dodged out of the way, keeping as close as possible to the blonde as they did so. Meanwhile, the true Madara dashed at Sasuke. "Oh no you don't!" shouted Sasuke, who was almost out of chakra but was no slouch at taijutsu, which Madara now seemed to be using. He dashed forward, sword raised defensively in front of him.

"You'll pay for this, boy!" shouted Madara as his sword suddenly appeared again in his hand from nowhere, another sword appeared in his left, and his chakra formed into several more hands holding swords around him. He attacked with all of them at once.

"To the left!" shouted Neji. Sasuke heeded his advice, receiving some scrapes but otherwise escaping the attack unhamred.

At this exact same time, the Future had knocked away each member of the four man squad and had turned on Naruto. It slithered forward at a rapid speed, intending to devour the boy. Hinata, recovering faster than anybody, least of all her, expected, leapt in front of the snake. "Gentle Fist Art," she stated, moving into a pose reminiscent of but not exactly like her usual one. A visible line of blue light ran down her arm, into her palm, and then slightly out of her palm, which began glowing with chakra so strong it was visible and even blinding. The snake suddenly struck with phenomenal speed. "Great Palm Strike!" Hinata shouted, moving her hand forward at speeds comparable to the limbless being she was fighting.

-AAAAAAH!,- screamed the reptilian behemoth, rearing back as the chakra was driven forward. He leaned back further, resting on his coil as his forehead began showing signs of third-degree burns, in a much larger area than the chakra had actually struck. He opened his mouth wide, spitting out a great gale of venomous chakra.

Hinata stood her ground, moving into a different Gentle Fist stance. "I won't let you hurt Naruto!" she shouted. Her arms became a blur as she rotated them, chakra becoming visible yet again. The other three had recovered by now, and were watching Hinata with an awe similar to Neji's watching Sasuke. "Eight Trigrams Sixty Four Palms Guard!" she cried as the black chakra impacted her blue chakra. Surprisingly for Madara and for absolutely no one else, Hinata's chakra actually appeared to be the stronger of the two, even when her dome of protection had so many holes in its drawn lines. The hatred moved dangerously around its intended target, scattering itself in various directions, but never actually striking her.

Sasuke (now bleeding from several fresh wounds, none even close to serious thanks to Neji's Byakugan) and Madara stopped their fight for a moment to look over at Hinata, whose defensive barrier was growing, slowly but surely. "Impossible," mumbled Madara. "No chakra is stronger than that of the Ten-Tailed Beast!"

Neji smiled, watching his cousin and not surprised at all. "Her chakra is good, and light," he said to Madara. "Yours is made of darkness. No matter how weak a light is, as long as it is pure and good it will always penetrate the darkness." He looked up at the Uchiha with an expression of pride that a fellow Hyuuga...his cousin...the one he called sister was stronger than the Beast. "You may be more powerful than Hinata, but you can never overcome her."

-Hinata...- Sasuke thought. -How could you have come so far while I have been away?- He slowly closed his eyes, looking shamed. -And how could I have been so blind as to what real power is?-

"Go Hinata!" shouted Kiba, smiling genuinely for the first time in a long time. "'Atta girl!"

"Amazing," said Shikamaru. "She's holding off one of Madara's clones all by herself."

"That is the power," Gaara said. The other two looked at him. "The power that comes from protecting someone. Someone precious to you." He looked past Hinata, at Naruto. "He taught me that. He taught all of us that." Shikamaru and Kiba looked back at Naruto, and nodded.

-Out of my way!- shouted the snake, opening its mouth ever wider. Hinata was completely engulfed by chakra now, but it did not overcome her justu. In fact, one could still see her, glowing, at the center of the raging storm. If one could look closely enough, one could even see the expression on her face. Determined as physically possible, calm, and concentraing.

-Focus,- she thought to herself. -Focus. Focus...focus...focus...- Her eyes snapped open. -Focus!- "Eight Trigrams!" she shouted as her protective bubble suddenly solidified, glowing ever brighter as she leapt forward, towards the snake's head. "Sixty Four Palms Charge!"

The Madara from the Future actually exploded when she impacted.

Everyone, the last remaining Madara included, braced themselves against the great shockwave that occurred upon impact. Under their feet, the hill slowly began to crumble. Boulders and tree went flying, and blood that had once been dry suddenly liquified. Those who were unconscious were swept away from the danger by the blast itself, landing at the bottom of the hill, relatively unhurt, and away from being caught in the crossfire of the continuing battle.

A second or two after the shaking stopped, Hinata landed, stumbling slightly. She took a deep breath in. Then, she smiled. "I did it...I actually did it." she mumbled. The other three members of her new "squad" ran forward to her, genuinely smiling. In his mind, though not on his face as he wasn't allowed to move, Naruto smiled as well.

Meanwhile, with the other group, there was a short silence. Madara finally spoke up: "This girl is dangerous. I have to kill her."

"Don't you dare-" began Neji, veins around his eyes popping ever more as he focused his Byakugan and aimed for his opponent's spinal column with his remaining hand. Madara interrupted him with a sweeping kick. Lightning flashed again as Madara dashed forward.

"Yaaaaah!" battle-cried Sasuke as he ran forward after his former master. Madara turned at approximately the halfway point, meeting Sasuke's blade with his own. His shoved Sasuke back a step, then raised his hand as Sasuke stepped forward again. Several portals appeared beneath Sasuke's feet, and out of each one shot a stalagmite. Now Sasuke screamed the same word again, though this time it was a cry of pain. The (rather large) pointy rocks stopped their movement as the portals closed , each tip having some blood on it and Sasuke in the middle, unseen in all the rocks that blocked the view. His hand, still gripping the sword, reached out from the rocks.

"Hmm. Good riddance, you annoying brat," said Madara, turning. He suddenly stopped, then turned back. "What?" Sasuke's hand was moving, though blood dripped down from it onto the sword he was holding. It slowly, agonizingly, moved into an attacking position. Madara blinked, though it remained unseen, and made the Serpent hand sign. Several more rock-spikes grew out of the stalagmites. Sasuke's hand suddenly started, held still for a moment, then finally wilted, dropping his sword. Madara stared for a moment, then continued dashing towards Hinata and Naruto, who were now very near to each other as the group had moved back into its defensive position.

"You're through!" shouted Kiba. He summoned up the last of his chakra. "GIANT TUNNELING FANG!" It was an accurate assessment of the attack that occurred, a larger version of his tunneling fang.

"Kiba, wait!" shouted Shikamaru. "We're on defense here, not offense!"

Madara raised his hand and brought it back down quickly. A purple barrier suddenly appeared in front of him for the split second necessary to knock Kiba away, growling in pain. Kiba landed 'on all fours', and dashed towards Madara again. "I'll kill you!" Kiba shouted as he leapt towards him.

"Out of the way!" Madara exclaimed, hitting Kiba away. Kiba landed upright again and dashed forward. "You little mutt," said Madara as the darkness around him increased. "If you want to die so badly!"

"KIBA!" shouted Hinata as the evil man's sword increased in length, ripping through Kiba's flesh.

Kiba stopped in his tracks, attempting to hold in his cry of pain. He slowly smiled , even as the followup attack of chakra attacked him as well, impaling him over and over again on small levels. "Looks like...I"m through, you guys..." he mumbled. Then, he suddenly started dashing again, faster than before, letting the sword rip into him more as his body moved naturally up and down through the process of running.

"What?" asked Madara, surprised. Before he could react, Kiba suddenly struck him in the face. With claws. "GAH!" shouted Madara, stumbling backwards. Kiba landed, panting, as the sword fell out of his wound and the heavy bleeding began.

"Kiba..." Hinata murmured as she stepped forward. Shikamaru raised his arm in front of her, stopping her from moving forward any more. She looked at him.

"Maybe you could do something," Shikamaru said, "If Madara wasn't there. Since he is..." and his eyes narrowed. "You'd just die too."

Hinata looked back at Kiba. "But..." she started, then stopped. Tears slowly began forming in her eyes.

Kiba took a few more deep breaths. -I can feel it,- he thought. -These are my final moments.- He looked at Madara, who had gotten back up and grabbed his sword. -Even if they weren't, I'm too weak to fight back. He'll finish me off.- Kiba sighed, looking up to the thunderclouds, raindrops dripping down his face. -No regrets. Not now. Not ever.- He chuckled, but just once. -See you soon...Akamaru...-

Madara raised his hand. "Ninja Art: Instant Death Jutsu!"

"NO!" shouted Hinata. Gaara and Shikamaru's mouths dropped open, eyes widened slightly.

Kiba looked over. Strangely, he didn't look at Hinata. He didn't look at Shikamaru, or even Gaara. He looked at Naruto, who he wasn't even sure could hear him. "You'd better take care of my friend for me, Naruto..." and he smiled, genuinely happy. "She needs you."

-I hear you,- thought Naruto. And the instant after he thought that, there was a loud explosion and another scream from Hinata. Shikamaru also yelled something, but Naruto couldn't tell what it was. -And I will. That's a promise.-

Everyone was crying now, except Madara, who had no reason to, and Naruto, who badly wanted to but knew he couldn't. They were crying for obvious reasons: fear of death, anger at the killer in front of them, great grief and regret, mental stress, seeing far too many of their comrades killed before their very eyes, and a lot of feelings that none of them could quite identify.

Gaara was crying the least, but the fact he was crying at all surprised him. -I thought I'd used up my tears long ago...- he thought to himself as put as much effort as he could into lifting his wet sand and, astonishingly enough, succeeded.

Hinata was crying the most, as Kiba had been one of her closest friends, and a teammate to boot. "I'm sorry, Kiba," she sobbed, kneeling on the ground and clutching her head in her hands. "I'm so sorry."

"If you're really sorry," said Shikamaru in a slightly choked voice, tears running uninhibited down his face as he moved into battle position. "Stand up and fight. He'd want you to."

Hinata sobbed a couple more times, choked, and took Shikamaru's advice, standing up and moving into the best Gentle Fist stance she was capable of using. "I'm almost out of chakra," she said.

"Me too," smiled Shikamaru, though the tears didn't stop.

"I'm not," said Gaara. "But it takes a lot of chakra for me to move this heavy sand."

Shikamaru sighed. "Alright, guys, we wait until he attacks. Hinata stops the attack with her Gentle Fist, and then Gaara and I will swoop in and try to finish him off. Quick strike, shoot to kill."

"Got it," said Hinata.

"Understood," said Gaara.

Madara stared at them for a few more seconds. He tilted his head. "Boy with the black hair...Shikamaru."

Shikamaru looked up. "Yeah, what?"

"Watch your shadow." In response to these words from Madara, Shikamaru looked down momentarily, expecting to see his shadow come to life and attack him. Or worse, expecting that his opponent had copied his Shadow Possession Jutsu. Neither was the truth, so Shikamaru looked back up.

Thunder crashed as lightning struck a faraway location.

In the split second between his looking up and Madara's boot impacting, Shikamaru realized the three had been tricked. "Ahrgh," grunted Shikamaru, though he did not step backwards. He felt teeth being knocked out of his jaw, then tasted blood.

Hinata was surprised by the instantaneous nature of Madara's movement, but Gaara kept his cool, swinging his sand at Madara. Madara merely shifted to the side, allowing Shikamaru's own weight to let him fall forward, right where he used to be standing. Gaara's sand hit Shikamaru, who screamed and was flung backwards. "Ah..." Gaara let out a note of surprise. Then another one: "ARGH!" This one of pain. Madara had struck again, landing atop Gaara and slamming him into the ground. He stood on the sand ninja of the Sand's chest, as the soil and dust and pebbles near Gaara tried to move itself to protect him. But on top of being sluggish at the moment, the wet sand could not break through the wall of evil chakra that surrounded Madara.

Madara raised his sword in the air, pointed down at Gaara's head. "Now I've got you..." he said in a low, murderous voice. "HINATA!" he said, turning and blocking her palm with the flat side of the blade. He turned it over slightly in his hand, then drew it quickly across her palm.

"Ow!" yelped Hinata, drawing her hand back involuntarily. Madara stepped forward off the Kazekage, his chakra grabbing the young man and tossing him, with great force, like a curveball around Hinata and into the ground in front of Shikamaru, who was just getting up. Mud and stone flew in various directions as both of them were pushed backwards a bit more.

"You're through!" shouted Madara, thrusting his blade forward. Hinata reached out with her other palm, using it to knock the sword out of his hand. He grabbed her wrist, pulling her forward. "Take this!" he said as he brought his fist forward to meet her jaw.

Hinata was sent sprawling through the dirt, a cry of pain conspicuously absent as she sprawled such. Madara waved his hand, and his sword flew back into it, hilt first of course. He started to move forward, but then stopped and looked over at Neji, whom he had left for unconscious.

The Hyuuga finished wobbly getting up and took a few weak zig-zagging steps forward. These few steps turned into a dash forward in which Neji used his off-balance momentum to guide him, allowing himself to "fall" into the dash, if you will. He arrived at Madara quickly, thrusting his hand forward. Madara phased, stepping away from Neji.

Gaara's sand was there to meet him, wet and getting wetter, heavy and getting heavier, all thanks to the rain. It piled itself onto the Uchiha, covering him completely. Gaara frowned and his eyes narrowed as he made sure he gave the Present Madara no time to escape what the Past one did. "Heavy Sand Funeral!" Gaara shouted, collapsing the structure with Madara in it. The satisfying crunch it made let Gaara know the attack had made contact.

Shikamaru slowly sat up from where he had fallen as Neji took a few shaky steps towards the three. Hinata got up as well, but she was trying to catch her breath and was rubbing her right cheek. Didn't look like she'd be wanting to join her companions any time soon unless it was necessary.

"Did that do it?" asked Gaara, unsure of his attack for the first time in his life.

"Doubt it," said Shikamaru. "But I sure hope so."

Lightning struck again as the thunder laughed.

"RAAAH!" Madara shouted, bursting from his prison. He ran forward, wet sand falling off his tunic as he went, sword raised high.

"Look out!" said Shikamaru, and he and the other two got into the best defensive stances they could. It didn't help much as Madara struck his sword into the ground, creating a small crater that threw our heroes off balance slightly. Then his chakra burst out in three different directions, sending the three in front of him flying.

"No more jutsu!" screeched Madara, throwing the sword away as madness seeped back into his voice. "I'll beat you all to death with my bare hands!" And he rushed towards the group again.

The first one to be hit was Gaara, for he was the first to get up. He gasped in pain, rocking backwards and clutching his stomach, where he had been elbowed "I gotcha!" shouted Shikamaru, the second to get up. Hinata was now up, too, and running towards them.

"FOOL!" shouted Madara, turning and surrounding his fist with chakra. He punched, hard, but Shikamaru was able to dodge the fist itself, leading to only a glancing blow. Still, with the Beast's chakra, that was enough to send Shikamaru to the ground again. "All of you are fools!" continued Madara as he turned again, backhanding Gaara across the face.

Gaara stumbled backwards. He wiped the blood off his mouth with his fist. "Alright, I'm out of chakra anyway," he said as Neji managed to get up and Hinata showed up, standing behind and a little to the left of Madara. "If you want taijutsu, I'm up for it." And he got into a basic fighting pose (for the basics were all he knew of any form of taijutsu, even though did know a lot of forms), signaling for Madara to come forward.

Madara chuckled, and that chuckle quickly increased in intensity until it changed into a full-fledged laugh. He suddenly stopped. "Better yet...you all come for me." The group of four hesitated. "Unless, of course...you all want me to go for Naruto now?"

That did it. All four of them charged, or at least the three who were battle-ready did. Hinata reached Madara's location first. She struck with her palm, but Madara dodged, turning on his heel to face her. As he did so, he blocked Gaara's strike with his left arm, then attempted to kick Hinata in the hip.

"I've got you!" declared Hinata as she caught his ankle with her free hand.

"Do you?" asked Madara, just before spinning his body partially around and using Hinata's hand as leverage. He leapt into the air with this leverage and his spinning, punching out a grazing blow to Gaara and blocking Shikamaru's first attack before digging his other boot into the side of Hinata's head. She went flying, but once again did not cry out in pain. Madara, chakra assisted, stuck the landing, spinning one last time on his heel to face Shikamaru.

A quick jab, one more, and then Madara turned to Gaara and knocked his punch away so he was off balance, then catch his spine in a cross block as he fell forward. An ominous cracking was heard. The cross block was released so Madara could block Shikamaru's wrist before his/Asuma's trench knife could hit, then twist his own wrist to grab Shikamaru by the shoulder joint, moving it upward. "AAH!" screamed Shikamaru as yet another ominous cracking was heard.

-I have to do something,- thought Neji, body going through the crest of his waves of pain, watching and attempting to make his body move forward. -But how can I when I can barely even stand?-

Gaara, meanwhile, was just getting up from Madara's last attack. If it wasn't for his sand armor, that one would have killed him. As it was...it hurt. A lot. "Hyaa!" shouted Gaara in order to release that tiny extra bit of energy that might just be what was needed. He shouted this as he moved into a high kick, bringing his foot down onto Madara's shoulder as he sprung up into the air.

Madara phased his shoulder, and wherever else Gaara's foot passed through on its way to the ground. The Uchiha chuckled. "That all you got, kid?" he asked in a deathly quiet voice. He moved his arm up again, completely dislocating Shikamaru's shoulder.

"AAAAAAAAH!" Shikamaru screamed in pain again as Madara let go and he fell to the ground.

"Heh, heh, heh," chuckled Madara as he dropped Shikamaru. He simultaneously brought his foot up into the air.

CRACK!

Now it was Gaara's turn to scream. He did not take this turn, instead choosing to just grit his teeth and "Un..." in pain a few times as he drew back his now bleeding ankle. Even with the sand armor, that last attack had been strong enough to break the ankle bone.

"And as for you," Madara said, turning to catch Hinata's wrist before her two-fingered jab could impact. She gasped. "I"ll deal with you later. One on one." And with these words, he tossed Hinata a few inches backward with a gentle push of the hand, and then his chakra slammed into her, sending her several yards away from the bottom of the hill they were standing on. She still refused to scream, much to Madara's irritation.

Madara turned to Shikamaru who, with a cry of pain, had relocated his shoulder again. "Nice job," said the shadow-nin, moving his trench knife into defense position and really wishing he hadn't gotten his other one destroyed.

"Thank you," replied Madara, turning away from Shikamaru slightly before suddenly turning and knocking the breath out of Shikamaru with an underhanded punch to the gut. He withdrew his hand and made a few jabs to Shikamaru's face.

This time Shikamaru vocalized his pain, though just barely. "Guh...argh," he said simply and eloquently. Madara smiled, though none could see it, and swung for an uppercut. It connected, and no glancing blow this time either. "GAH!" shouted Shikamaru. He landed several feet away on his back. He slowly sat up. "Great," he said wryly. "And on top of all that I had to go and bite my tongue, too."

Madara actually laughed at this, as Gaara managed to balance himself on his not-broken foot and leap, somersaulting in the air as he prepared to bring his foot down again. Madara suddenly turned, bringing his shoulder into contact with Gaara's under-knee. Gaara grunted and undid his somersault so as not to land on his back. "So, you're trying to copy Lee," said Madara, moving into a neutral stance. Suddenly, as lightning blazed in the sky again, he almost disappeared, appearing crouched below Gaara and shooting his leg upwards into the redhead's chin.

"Oof!" Gaara said as he went flying in the air and Madara crouched again. Once again, he seemed to disappear. Gaara continued soaring. "Not again," he murmured to himself as Madara appeared underneath him.

"Let me show you how it's REALLY DONE," whispered/screamed Madara, before suddenly slamming his body into Gaara's. By propelling his dark chakra into the ground as a boost, he was able to zoom straight into the sky, taking Gaara with him. Once they had attained a height of several hundred feet (very dangerous in a lightning storm), Madara rose slightly above Gaara's position. He delivered eighteen punches, each one creating a crack in Gaara's armor and forcing him back towards the ground. Finally, Madara connected both fists, raised them above his head, and slammed them into Gaara's body. Gaara went spiraling down, the earth both on and off his body cracking apart upon his impact with the ground. Madara came down quickly after him, but landed softly on his feet. He slowly unbent his back and knees as he turned to Shikamaru.

Shikamaru was frozen in shock and in awe. His eyes were wide and his mouth was open past any point he could have opened it naturally. His arms hung limply from his sides as he felt himself breathing deeper. In short, he was very impressed with Madara's newfound ability in taijutsu. -Holy crud,- thought Shikamaru. -We're really not going to survive this, are we?- Despite this thought, though, he stood up, ready for more battle.

He was quickly knocked back down by Madara, who let off yet another quick jab to Shikamaru's face. Shikamaru was sure his nose was broken by now, if not outright pulverized. There was no time to contemplate this as he got up once again. Looking over Madara's shoulder, he saw Gaara weakly trying to get up as well, and then fall back down into his pile of sand. His blood and the rain mixed. "Piece of advice," said Madara, raising a finger into the air. His chakra suddenly bolted forward, slamming into Shikamaru with great force. "Never take your eyes off your opponent. Heh. Not that it'll help you much against me."

Shikamaru slowly began pushing himself up, yet again. He picked up his knife-knuckle combo. The end blade had broken off. -There goes the other one,- thought Shikamaru. -Sorry, Asuma.- Madara slowly began walking forward. Shikamaru grinned. -I don't think I can lay a single finger on this guy. Sorry, Temari.- He chuckled to himself, moving into the best position to attack he could. -Man, I'm apologizing all over the place today. When's someone gonna apologize to me?-

"Sorry, Shikamaru," said a voice from behind him. Shikamaru looked, and so did Madara. Neji was standing there, looking proud and not wobbly at all. "You'll have to back down. He's mine."

"Neji," began Shikamaru.

Neji anticipated his question. "How am I standing?" he quoted Shikamaru before Shikamaru even spoke. He began walking forward. "I"m just imitating Naruto, is all."

"Neji, you shouldn't be doing this!" Shikamaru said in a voice that was almost scolding. If his mom could see him now. "You need to stand down...you're badly injured!"

"Exactly. If he's going to kill someone, it might as well be someone who doesn't have much chance of being a ninja ever again anyway," stated Neji with his usual calmness. Then, breaking that calmness, his eyes narrowed and his voice became strained as his lips deepened into a frown. "Besides, this man took away the most important person in my life."

-So that's what's driving him,- thought Shikamaru. "Believe me, I know the feeling," he said out loud. "But that doesn't mean that...what?" He said 'what' because Neji had suddenly advanced at his top speed with both arms at Madara Uchiha while he only had one arm and severe injuries. The attack struck home, Neji jabbing his fingers into Madara's throat.

"Ergh," gurgled Madara. Then he moved his head in a way that hinted he was smirking under the mask he wore. "Good job. That's two."

Neji furrowed his brow. "No words," he said simply, ignoring the intense pain his body was in.

"Very well," said Madara in response, raising his fists.

They clashed.

Shikamaru sat back on the ground without thinking about it, absolutely awestruck. -Amazing,- he thought to himself. -Neji's fighting Madara on...on equal footing!- And it was true. Neji's feet and fist were flying with fury, and Madara was blocking each strike or phasing it through him. Neji also blocked almost every attack thrown his way, and then dodged the few he could not block. Visible sprays of blue and black shot off where the attacks connected with the other's defense. Suddenly, Madara jumped back. Neji moved back into his neutral stance as Madara left his stance altogether.

There was a silence that Madara eventually broke. "Alright," he said, "You win." Neji raised his eyebrow. Madara moved two fingers in front of his face, held approximately in the usual place, but horizontally instead of vertically. "Nervous Breakdown Jutsu."

As lightning and thunder showed their faces once again, Neji suddenly twitched, then spazzed. "What have you..." he cried in agony before falling over to the ground, writhing. "What have you done to me?"

Madara put his hand back down. "I won't bother explaining it to you in detail, since you're going to die soon. Let's just say..." and he began walking back over to Neji, "That your body is very confused about what is what, and will be for the next several minutes."

-No chakra to use Shadow techniques,- thought Shikamaru. -But maybe I can fake him out...- Shikamaru formed his hands into the Rat seal ."Secret Ninja Art: Shadow Explosion Jutsu!"

Madara looked up at Shikamaru. Shikamaru moved from his position, throwing a kunai as he went. Madara caught it between two fingers. "Seriously?" he asked the shadow user. Shikamaru grimaced, stopping in his tracks. He threw something else. Madara instinctively threw the kunai he was holding.

"Gotcha," smirked Shikamaru.

As the kunai collided with the smoke bomb, a large cloud of yellow fog formed, growing larger than normal due to the rain present. "What the!" exclaimed Madara, surprised.

Shikamaru performed a strong right hook while leaping through the smog with his sharpened steel knuckles. Shikamaru actually felt the spikes go into the man's mask and flesh. -I can't believe I managed that,- thought Shikamaru, grinning as Madara was sent flying. Suddenly, he disappeared again, reappearing in front of Shikamaru. -I knew it was too good to be true.- Shikamaru thought. Madara twirled, bringing up his knee and striking at Shikamaru's ribs. -Well, there goes the third and fourth ones...- thought Shikamaru calmly as he felt them break. He landed several feet away, able to stand back up but worn out and really wishing he could be somewhere else.

Madara walked back over to the Hyuuga, who had finally regained some semblance of movement, though he was still even worse off than he was before Madara's jutsu. As he slowly pushed himself an inch off the ground, veins bulging all over his arm, Madara leaned over, pressing his head back down into the dirt with great force. "Aah!" Neji cried as the side of his head began bleeding. He looked up at the Uchiha holding his head with absolute hatred in his eyes. "I want to kill you," he said, matter-of-fact as usual even when delivering anger-fueled death threats.

Madara said nothing for a few moments. "Too bad," he finally said. His sword appeared, yet again, in his right fist as he rose it up into the air above Neji's neck. Neji struggled, though it was obvious from the look on his face it was more a desire to kill than a desire to avoid death.

"HYAA!" said Hinata, rejoining the fray with a quick attack to Madara's head, which had healed quickly though his mask had not. Instead of taking the time to phase, he merely sent his chakra tendrils to block and repel both Hinata and her attack. She still did not scream in pain or terror as the pointed chakra dug into her flesh, instead standing on her feet even as she skidded, using her gentle fist to break off the tendrils. She stopped sliding several feet from Madara, who turned his attention away from the no-threat that was Neji.

Shikamaru stood up and began rushing towards Madara, who was talking. There was, after all, some hope for helping Hinata, even if there wasn't for Neji. "Ah, yes," the oldest of the Uchiha said, as if remembering. "I promised a one-on-one fight between us, didn't I?" he questioned rhetorically before sending out more spiraling chakra arms to attack Hinata, simultaneously dashing in for closer attacks. Hinata repelled all the tentacle-like chakra and dodged Madara's first two strikes, backflipping out of the way. This was all accomplished through flexibility and Byakugan.

Shikamaru stopped running, strategic heart pumping a few times. "Not yet..." he mumbled. "Not until the last second. She can handle things."

"Don't ever underestimate me!" yelled Hinata, charging forth again. Madara had no time to dodge and barely any time to time-shift (ironically enough) out of being hurt by Hinata's attack, two palm strikes at once. He counteracted with a punch of his own, which Hinata blocked, simultaneously sealing off another chakra point. Only 358 to go. "Don't ever hurt my friends," she said as she spun around quickly, using the momentum to bring up her five fingers, touching each other, into Madara's stomach. For the first time ever, Madara shifted out of the attack, but actually felt the fingers on his body before the chakra could be transferred. That was new.

Madara stumbled back. -I let myself get carried away...this girl is trouble, remember, Madara?. I have to finish her off right now.-

Hinata's eyes narrowed as her hands glowed blue. "And don't ever even TRY to hurt my boyfriend!" she nearly screamed as she drove her hands not into Madara, but rather into the chakra visible around him.

Madara screamed, a first in this fight or...any one for a long time. His dark chakra flared and suddenly turned a bright blue that matched Hinata's. "RAAAAAAAAARGH!" he cried in pain and terror.

Hinata's fists became less 'Gentle' and more 'Literal', clenching so tightly they threatened to break the skin open. "I'm out of chakra," she said. "But that doesn't mean I can't do..." and she drew back her fist. "THIS!" And she shot it forward, punching Madara in his jaw. And again. And again and again and again. She wailed on Madara Uchiha.

Then, as suddenly as it had appeared, the blue chakra disappeared, and was replaced again by the black chakra, which shot forward like a wave, crashing all of its force into Hinata and lifting her into the air. She finally screamed, but it was muffled. At the same time, Madara sank to his hands and knees, breathing heavily and raggedly.

Shiamaru gritted his teeth. -Now's the time,- he thought, running again towards the natural disaster known as Madara Uchiha. In response to this, the evil man lifted his head, looking straight at Shikamaru. Perhaps he wasn't as unaware of his surroundings as Shikamaru had hoped. Thunder crashed again, blocking Shikamaru from hearing Madara's words as a familiar eye-shaped tattoo on the the skin of reality showed up from nowhere. -Oh shoot!- he thought to himself, falling backwards and purposefully rolling to go down the hill and dodge the laser. Unfortunately, this also put Shikamaru at a further distance from Hinata.

Speaking of Hinata, she had finally been loosed from the great blast of evil she had been subjected to. She stood for a few seconds, a faraway look in her eyes. "Na...ru...to..." she murmured as she fell down, unconscious.

Madara picked both himself and his sword from off the ground, breath coming in short, frequent bursts. "You little...twerp..." he breathed, having forgotten what it was like to feel genuine, not superficial, pain. "Just die already!" he yelled, raising his sword into the air as he ran forwards.

-No,- thought Gaara, who was conscious but too weakened to do anything.

-No,- thought Neji, also conscious but his body messed up in more ways than one.

-No,- thought Shikamaru, who was healthy by comparison but too far away to do anything.

"Point-Blank Chidori!" said a sudden voice from behind Madara.

Madara screamed in pain for the second time as Sasuke fired off a Chidori while touching his back. He stumbled, and nearly fell, then turned back and looked at the missing-nin. "You..." he said, as Sasuke smirked, arms crossed. "You should be DEAD!"

"Aw, you seem disappointed," mocked Sasuke. "Heh. Dead or not, Naruto would never let me hear the end of it if I let his precious little Hinata die." He shrugged. "So, I figured I'd better rescue her."

Madara looked at Sasuke some more. "Your Sharingan is fading," he said. "That was the last of your chakra reserves."

"You got me," said Sasuke, still grinning.

Madara took a few more deep breaths. He put his hand to his forehead. "I won't be distracted...not this time..." he mumbled in a wildly pitchy voice. Sasuke moved his arms up slightly, worried about what his ancestor might do next. "I'LL KILL HER THIS TIME, NOT YOU!" he shouted, turning and bringing up his sword.

"Dynamic Entry!" shouted a decidedly feminine voice as Sakura suddenly leapt into the picture, her boot making contact with Madara's chest. He was sent flying over Sasuke, who wisely ducked.

"'Bout time you got here," said Sasuke, somehow unsurprised. "Let me guess...you're out of chakra too?"

"Not nearly," replied Sakura, winking. "But my arms are shot. See?" And she moved her shoulders up slightly, therefore bringing up her arms as well. They were more than badly burnt. "No healing jutsu, sorry to say. Which is too bad, because it looks like you could use it." She shook her head. "Honestly, why aren't your arms shot?"

She had a point. Besides injuries received beforehand, Sasuke had been impaled several times by Madara's stalagmites and was bleeding all over. There was literally no inch of him left undirtied, whether by mud or by blood. Sakura, being a medical ninja, was unfazed by all this. "Beats me," said Sasuke. He was never one for words. Besides, Madara was slowly getting up.

"Status report?" asked Sakura.

"You, me, Naruto, and a few of our friends are the only ones left standing," said Sasuke, drawing a kunai from Sakura's pouch. She would have slapped him for coming so near her butt, except A) They were in battle at the moment and B) she didn't notice. Sasuke was good at pickpocketing.

"What else is new?" asked Sakura, crouching down. She didn't bother even trying to move her arms. If she survived, they'd probably have to be amputated later.

Madara finally finished getting up. He did not appear (before he did so) to be having trouble standing...it was more like he was taking his time. "You know," he finally said. "You all are really annoying. Always jumping in at the last second to save the day. It really throws me off."

"Hmph. That's what friends are for!" Sakura declared proudly, smiling her best smile at the evil Uchiha.

Sasuke looked at her, eyebrow raised. "Friends?" he asked.

"Ffriends," confirmed Sakura, turning to him. She moved her shoulders as if she could move her arms, gesturing in her mind out of force of habit. "I'm willing to forgive you for the things you've done for me." She looked at him. "So...let's both try and forget about it, okay?"

Sasuke sighed. "Sure. Right."

Madara stood still for a bit. "'What friends are for,'" he quoted. Another few seconds of silence as he seemed to contmeplate these words.

Thunder rolled.

Sakura was flung off of her feet by another wave of black chakra. "Sakura!" shouted Sasuke. His turn came next as the force of evil slammed into his side, driving him along the ground. He came to a stop next to her, pushing himself up with his hands. He reached over and gently placed two fingers on her neck. -Alive. Just unconscious. Good.- He turned to Madara, who had apparently taken him for unconscious, and had thus turned away.

The direction Madara had turned to was towards a now-scared Shikamaru. "Now you," Madara said.

Shikamaru braced himself as the attack hit. "AAAAAAAH!" he yelled for a few seconds before bursting into smoke.

Madara blinked, then was pummeled in the spine by the real Shikamaru. He stumbled forward, then turned. "A clone?"

"Hoped you'd get careless," explained Shikamaru. "You did. You know, you should really stop doing that. Just because you have all this power, doesn't mean-" Madara reached out and grabbed him by the neck. Shikamaru clawed at the iron grip, but managed to stay smiling, an irritating, mocking smile. "Something I said?" he asked the Uchiha.

-Shoot,- thought Sasuke, standing up. -Isn't there anything we can do to stop this guy?- He looked up at the sky, which was no longer pouring out rain, though thunder clouds were still...thundering. -The storm will break soon,- Sasuke thought. -Then it'll all be over.- He slowly closed his eyes. -Guess I've got to save Shikamaru...if I can. Unless a miracle shows up, that is...-

"Hey. Old guy," said a scratchy voice from a nearby untouched spot of hill...in fact, the only untouched spot on the hill.

-Well, speak of the number one hyperactive knuckleheaded ninja...- thought Sasuke, looking over with a smile. So did Shikamaru, as best as he could. Madara looked over, too, though he was frowning, not smiling.

Naruto was standing there, Sage Mode unlocked. His eyes almost glowed with the power he'd gathered, and they'd definitely changed color. His coat blew in the wind dramatically. "Put Shikamaru down. Now."

Madara chuckled, tightening his grip. Shikamaru finally stopped smiling and repeatedly grunted in pain as dark chakra slowly made its way through his veins. "Pardon me for being so clichéd...but what will you do if I don't?"

Faster than any movement, Madara included, so far, Naruto ran up and kicked the Uchiha. In the groin. With enough strength to break boulders. Madara stumbled backwards, making a small whimpering sound and clutching himself. "That's for what you did to Hinata," Naruto said.

"Nice one," choked out Shikamaru from the ground, massaging his bruised neck.

"Lucky shot," said Naruto, hands suddenly moving in a very blurred state. "He underestimated me. I couldn't have done that otherwise."

Shikamaru blinked, then smiled again. "Never thought I'd hear you take an opportunity to not brag," he said. Naruto smiled.

The others, meanwhile, watched Naruto's hands. -What jutsu is that?- thought Gaara. -And what hand signs?-

Sasuke had manged to gather up just enough chakra to use Sharingan to try and analyze the hand signs. He could not. -I can't even tell how many hand signs he's made so far...-

Neji and his Byakugan, however, could. -Ninety-six,- he thought as Naruto finished. -Astounding. And what exactly were some of those hand sings? I've never seen them before.-

As Madara finally recovered from the spirit-breaking blow he received, he raised his hand. "Ninja Art...Instant Death Jutsu!" he shouted out, seething.

Naruto grinned, raising his own hand. "Time Seal Jutsu!" And in that moment, the moment before Madara released his justu, Naruto released his, for his was much faster. And in that moment, Madara froze in place.

"Did...did you just..." Shikamaru gasped out.

"Was that a time-space justu?" Sasuke asked, surprised as all get-out.

Naruto looked proud of himself as usual. "Yep! I made it myself! He's frozen in time. No time-shifting if you can't even move from the moment you're stuck in!" He suddenly frowned, worry on his face. "That's why I know my last attack will hit. That is, it should..." He looked around. "But I need you guys' help. Thank goodness there's still four of you left."

Sasuke looked around. -Yeah, but two of us are near-dead, and one other should be near dead and isn't for some reason.- He smiled, just a tiny bit. -And the last one's so lazy he makes sloths look fast-paced.-

A groaning sound came from the crater Gaara was in. He was painfully trying to get up off of the ground. "What...can we do?" Gaara asked as he stood. He normally wouldn't have been able to stand, but every time he looked at Naruto, he remembered that one time...

"You've gotta stand at the same distance from Madara as I do," explained Naruto. "Make a five pointed star, one guy at each point!" He growled at the figure in front of him, feeling a renewed anger. "Otherwise the justu isn't gonna last long enough."

"Got it..." said Gaara, walking forward very very slowly.

Shikamaru blinked a couple times. "Hey..." he finally said. "Your leg's broken. Lemme help," and he ran over to Gaara and acted as his second leg, laying his friend's arm across his shoulder.

Sasuke, meanwhile, was also running, he to Neji. He picked up his comrade on his back. "Think you can stand?" he asked the Byakugan-wielder.

"...only if someone could get me balanced correctly...and then I stood perfectly still..." breathed out Neji. His injuries were finally settling in.

"Got it," said Sasuke, coming closer to the star where Shikamaru was now setting Gaara at a point. He was silent for a second or two. "You know, speaking from experience, the whole 'revenge' thing-"

"I know," gasped Neji, interrupting. "But...I could not properly mourn upon the battlefield...and I had to do...something..."

"I understand," said Sasuke.

Meanwhile, as they arrived, Naruto was slowly creating his attack. He had to do it slowly, for he was not used to creating this attack without Shadow Clones, and because of the fact that if he used too much chakra Sage Mode would run out, leaving him exhausted and useless. Then the whole plan would be shot. "There we go," said Shikamaru as Sasuke moved to his spot. Neji was trying to stand perfectly still. "Now what do we do?"

"Just watch," said Naruto, grinning as he rose his palm in the air, gathering more chakra. The ground beneath him and his four companions began to glow a bright yellow, and then filled in the gaps to create a true star. The star flashed, turning from yellow to a bright white. Even though they had never felt such a sensation before, everyone could somehow tell the timestream was becoming solid, rather than liquid, within the area the star occupied.

"Woah," said Sasuke. No one else spoke up, but they all concurred.

Just in case Madara could somehow hear him, Naruto began explaining his attack. (Hey, the maybe-not-so-immortal Uchiha could not escape, and there was nothing else to do.) "This," began Naruto as the attack slowly started taking shape, "Is my own personal Wind Style Jutsu: the Rasenshuriken."

His face became angry. "I based it off the Rasengan, which the Legendary Sannin and Pervy Sage Jiraiya taught to me." His eyes narrowed as a growl seeped into his voice. Though the Nine-Tailed Fox was gone, some of Naruto's traits he'd gained from the vulpine demon simply weren't going away any time soon. "The Sannin that Pain killed...because you manipulated him. Him and everyone else around you, to come one step closer to the end result of your own twisted goals!" He breathed in and out deeply, then calmed down, closing his eyes. He looked up with a small smile, though somehow it made him seem even angrier than when he frowned.

"You've hurt so many of my friends," Naruto continued. "You murdered them in cold blood because they got in your way. You thought because you had power, you had the right to do anything you wanted!" The wind was picking up speed now as the ball of chakra in Naruto's hand spun and spun, an additional ball of chakra forming around it to prevent it from cutting into Naruto's own hand. "Well, now I've got all the power. And I'm gonna use that power to do the right thing!" He raised his head to the heavens. "I'll finish you off!" he shouted. "For everyone who's ever been hurt by you!" He looked at the ball in his hand, which was slowly taking shape, a shape very similar to a Fūma shuriken. "This attack...even if your chakra does make you immortal, it'll finish you off! Because it destroys chakra, this attack." The clouds were slowly being fanned away by the wind, now, as the Rasenshuriken picked up in power and intensity. "You see, this thing attacks your body on the cellular level...millions and millions of tiny blades that cut into your chakra network!" He grinned again as the last of the clouds began slowly moving away. "It'll cut right through that stupid Ten-Tailed's chakra! It'll cut through you, too, Madara, and your own personal chakra. And without chakra, you die!" He looked at one of his friends. "Right, Neji?"

Neji slowly managed to smile, while everyone else had their eyebrows raised and their mouths open, astounded that Naruto had come up with not just one, but two phenomenally powerful jutsus, all on his own. "...that's right..." Neji quietly murmured.

Naruto stopped grinning now, looking utterly serious. Behind him, and in full view of Madara Uchiha, who was indeed still conscious of all that was going on around him, the full harvest moon shone. Perhaps it was only an optical illusion, but it seemed much brighter than it usually did. "This ends tonight, 'Tobi'." Naruto reared his arm back. "This is for Tenten...and Itachi...and Chiyo...and Asuma! For everyone who died here today! For everyone you ever caused to be hurt!" Naruto reared his body back as well as the chakra in his hand sharpened into its final form. "This is for the world, Madara Uchiha!"

He threw the Rasenshuriken.

Madara screamed in excruciating pain as the attack sliced into him, snapping him back into the present. The dark, evil chakra of the Beast absorbed much of the impact, keeping Madara's body from being destroyed, but enough got through. Inside his body, Madara felt each individual bit of his chakra lines being severed. One at a time. As if in slow motion. His scream died down, forming a whimper, then a gurgling, then a silence. The attack dissipated, slowly. The black chakra surrounding Madara slowly faded away.

A gentle breeze blew by.

Neji fell forward to the ground, then agonized his head to look up. He activated his Byakugan. "...he is gone. Madara Uchiha is dead. We have attained victory."

There was a silence, long and disbelieving. Shikamaru sighed. "Well, the battle's over, for real this time," he said. He brought the palm of his hand to his mouth, rubbing his face and trying not to cry again. "And we only had to sacrifice two village's worth of ninja to beat the bad guy," he finshed, bitterly and sarcastically and with a strained voice.

Gaara bowed his head. "Why did all of this have to happen?" he choked out, tears forming in his eyes again. It was both a relief and a horror to be able to cry. "This battle. These deaths. Everything. Why?"

Sasuke bowed his head next. "Because of me," he said so softly that no one could hear him.

Naruto looked up at the sky. He turned around, and looked some more. He finally spotted the moon. "There," he said, pointing to it. Everyone looked up at the moon. Once again, nothing more needed to be said. They stared for a short time before being interrupted.

"Guys!" shouted Shikamaru, drawing their attention back towards Madara. "Look!"

Everyone looked. The black demonic chakra was seeping from Madara's body in various places. "What's going on?" asked Naruto, getting back into battle position.

Before anyone could answer, a bright beam of white light shot from Madara's body, streaming in between Gaara and Shikamaru. "It's some kind of-" Gaara began, but he was interrupted by another, much louder beam of black light.

"Everyone get ready!" shouted Sasuke as beams of black and white began dancing around them, scattering themselves into the horizon.

No one could speak now as louder and louder and more and more frequent and more dangerous-looking beams of white and black shot from the dead Madara. The air around them seemed to ripple, and the ground seemed to distort. Images of people mourning, running, laughing, playing, crying, joking, training, fighting, loving, passed by the five ninja at extremely high speeds. The moon and sun rose and set, coming from different directions than they should, two suns appearing in the sky, half a moon here and the other half there. Planets and stars shone brighter, dimmer, disappeared and appeared in the sky.

Finally, with a flash of light that combined the black light and the white light and yet was some odd color besides gray, everything disappeared.


Gee, I wonder what's going to happen. [/sarcasm]. You know, Madara's right...there was lot of last-second saving in this chapter, wasn't there? Then again, he probably wouldn't haven't been forced to spare so many people if he deigned to finish the job instead of just messing around with his opponents. Well, he was insane at the time of this chapter, so perhaps I can forgive his stupidity. And/or my poor writing skills.

Anyway, thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed enough to take a peek at the second chapter (which may or may not be up when you read this), and have a nice day.

...well...one more thing...

OMAKE #1

What follows is a mildly humorous scene I considered putting in the chapter, but eventually decided against doing so because of fear it would break up the drama of the piece. Hope you enjoy it this, the deleted scene of Chapter 1!

0-0-0-0

"...to save the day. It really throws me off."

"Hmph. That's what friends are for!" Sakura declared proudly, smiling her best smile at the evil Uchiha.

Sasuke looked at her, eyebrow raised. "Friends?" he asked.

"Just friends," said Sakura, turning to him. She moved her shoulders as if she could move her arms, gesturing in her mind out of force of habit. "I'm willing to forgive you for the things you've done for me..." and she stuck out her tongue, winking and still smiling. "But there's no way you're ever getting any of this!" she finished, tilting her hip slightly.

Leave it Sakura to act bubbly when things were at the worst...even if it was just acting.

Madara suddenly laughed, uproariously so, as Sasuke facefaulted. "Well, then, Sasuke," the elder said to the younger, "Looks like you just lost the last chance you had to restore our clan!" And Shikamaru, coming up the hill again, laughed despite himself, as did Sakura. Neji and Gaara were too in pain to laugh, though they might have under different circumstances. Naruto didn't hear, which is probably good, as he was almost done meditating and saying something funny would more than likely get him laughing something he was never good at resisting. Especially if Sasuke was the butt of the joke.

Sasuke got back up. "Okay, I've changed my mind," he said. "I'm going to kill everyone after all."

"No you're not," said Sakura accurately as she turned back to Madara, bouncing on her heels.

Madara finally wound himself down. "Oh my..." he said, reaching up with one hand to move the mask slightly and then with the other to wipe his eye. He brought both hands down. "I needed that."

Thunder rolled.

Sakura was flung off of her feet by another wave of black chakra. "Sakura!" shouted Sasuke. His turn came...

0-0-0-0

That's all for now! Thanks a lot, good luck, and goodbye!