Do I Have A Purpose Anymore?
Chapter 35: "Returning Home"
Princess Koyuki and the people of the Land of Spring threw an amazing celebration in gratitude of Naruto and the Leaf shinobi with him, along with the shinigami who had helped to defeat Madara and his Akatsuki forces freeing their land from his tyranny. The party had lasted for two days, before the atmosphere of merriment finally began to subside. During the two-day festivity the shinigami had a wonderful time, as it had been centuries since any of them had been able relax and cut loose like this.
The two most active party-goers of the shinigami were undeniably Shunsui and Yoruichi, as they spent the majority of their time drinking and carousing with each other during the celebration. Byakuya was a hit with many of the ladies of the Land of Spring. Unfortunately, while he was polite about it, the stoic shinigami rejected all of the amorous invitations given to him. Head Captain Yamamoto preferred solitude and spent his time meditating in privacy in the room Princess Koyuki had provided to him. Yumichika had spent his time helping the princess plan and execute the celebration, while Zaraki had spent the most of his time draining the expansive wine-cellar Princess Koyuki had in her possession. Kira had played the role of babysitter at the behest of the eye-patch wearing shinigami, as he kept a watchful over Yachiru, while she played with Nelliel and many of the children of the Land of Spring.
As for the Leaf village shinobi, Kakashi and Kurenai had spent the majority of their time together, which seemed to set the mood for the rest of the shinobi. Sasuke and Momo had also chosen to spend their time together and get to no one another. Meanwhile, Naruto had spent his time getting used to his new burgeoning relationship with both Hinata and Ino, while also spending time with Yugito. The blonde Jinchuuriki soon realized that maintaining an equal relationship with all three women in the future would be difficult at times to say the least. However, Naruto also decided that having three beautiful women who loved him was not the worst of problems a man could have.
So after two days with the celebration was finally waning, Head Captain Yamamoto had sent out an invitation for all of the former shinigami and the Leaf shinobi to join him for lunch, as he had a serious matter he needed to discuss with all of them.
"Thank you all for coming; it is most appreciated by me." Yamamoto announced to everyone present inside the dining hall of Koyuki castle.
"I can't speak for the Naruto and his comrades, but the rest of us know from the past that your invitations aren't something to ignore ol' Yama. Not if you wish to remain in good health in the future." Shunsui replied in amusement.
"Hmph, still impudent as ever, be that as it may, the reason I called all of you here is discuss are next course of action."
"Why did you want us here Yamamoto-san?"
"Because young Naruto, I believe I will need you and the rest of your comrades help to achieve what I have planned for myself and the rest of my shinigami brethren."
"What do have planned for us Head Captain Yamamoto?"
"To go home Byakuya….to go home!"
This statement caused a collective gasp among the shinigami, who had long resigned to themselves that they were stuck in the human world forever. They all looked at their Head Captain in bewilderment and confusion, before he spoke once more with authority.
"I know many of you never believed we could ever return to the Soul Society, but I have harbored a theory for many years that we could. And now is the time for that to happen."
"Why is now the time?" Yumichika asked in curiosity.
"Now is the time because of the fortunate encounter of meeting young Naruto and his comrades."
"I don't understand Yamamoto-san, how does meeting me help you guys get home?"
"As you know the end of the Shinigami/Arrancar war came about when the Shinigami and the Arrancar released all of our powers out at once at one another. With the resulting explosion, ripping a hole through the fabric of time, space, and dimensions, which resulted in all of the remaining Shinigami being flung throughout the history of time into the human world."
"Yeah, I know about that." Naruto replied, still perplexed.
"Well at the time I met you young Naruto, I believed that myself, Shunsui, and Yoruichi were the only shinigami to arrive in this time period within the human world. It wasn't until I met your comrade Sasuke and learned of the existence of Byakuya, one of my most powerful Gotei 13 Captains that I began to gain hope."
"Hope in what old man?" Yoruichi questioned.
"Hope in gathering enough individuals of sufficient power to return all of us to the Soul Society."
"I don't understand?"
"When I discovered that Byakuya had also been thrown into this time period, I gained hope that perhaps there might be more shinigami roaming around in this time period. And indeed my hope came to fruition upon the discovery of not only Zaraki, but also of Ikkaku, Yumachiki, Kira, and Momo, five of my most powerful officers were also present. And though Ikkaku lost his life in battle, I still think with Naruto and his comrades help, that we have enough combined power to return all of us to our home."
Everyone in the dining hall remained silent, as they contemplated Yamamoto's words. After a couple of minutes, it was Naruto who finally spoke up and asked.
"Yamamoto-san, I'm more than willing and I'm sure so are my comrades to help all of you in returning home, but I'm not sure how we can."
"I must agree, as I to fail to see how we will be able to return to the Soul Society?" Byakuya stoically remarked to the Head Captain.
"Yeah, what's your plan ol' Yama?" Shunsui exclaimed in query.
"What I propose to send us back to the Soul Society is a reenactment of what sent us here in the first place." Yamamoto declared in earnest.
Everyone looked around at one another, wondering if they had heard the Head Captain right, before he spoke once more.
"I propose that if all of the shinigami present, along with Naruto and a few of his comrades. Unleash a simultaneous barrage of our most powerful attacks onto a specific point. I believe the resulting explosion from all of our powers converging onto a precise spot will rip a hole through the fabric of time, space, and dimensions as before and allow us to return to the Soul Society."
Once again, a pall of silence fell over the room, as everyone was stunned by what the Head Captain was proposing to return them home. It was an audacious plan to be sure, but many of the shinigami silently wondered if the plan could work. Finally, it was Byakuya who spoke up to voice his opinion of the plan as he formally asked.
"Head Captain Yamamoto, I will follow as always whatever command you give me, but I must ask. How confident are you that such a plan will even succeed?"
"It is not a matter of confidence, but more of I believe its the only chance we have to return to the Soul Society. We have spent too long within the human world and do not belong here. I will not order or force any of you to do this, but as honored shinigami, it is my hope that you will agree that if there is any chance we can return to the Soul Society, then it is a risk worth taking no matter whether we know if it will succeed or fail."
Each shinigami looked around at one another to gauge what their comrades felt about this. Slowly but surely, each of them nodded their head in agreement, except for one. When all of the other shinigami gazes fell upon Momo, she nervously gulped, before she stammered.
"Co-Commander Yamamoto, I will indeed add my own power to the task you've ordered, but afterwards I don't wish to return to the Soul Society with the rest of you."
"You wish to remain in the human world?" Kira asked in surprise.
"I-I do Kira-kun." The young woman replied, before she demurely flashed a small smile to Sasuke seated next to her.
Sasuke returned the smile, as he placed his hand over her own on the table and gave it a gentle squeeze in support of her.
"Are you sure of this young Momo?"
"Hai Commander Yamamoto, I'm sure."
The Head Captain noticed the close connection between his officer and the Uchiha youth and understood why Momo wanted to stay. Yamamoto inwardly chuckled, as once again the power of love proved to be a very formidable opponent. So, the wizened shinigami was not going to fight to keep her, but he also knew she couldn't stay as she was and said.
"I will grant your request to stay, but know if you do, you must relinquish your zanpaktou, which as you know also means giving up your shinigami powers and living the rest of your life as a normal human in this world. Are you willing to do all of this to stay?"
"If that is the cost of me staying, then I will pay it."
"Momo-chan, are you sure?" Sasuke asked in concern.
"Hai Sasuke-kun, I am."
Everyone remained quiet, as the tender scene of the young couple was touching, but after a minute Naruto finally asked the Head Captain.
"You said you wanted me and a few of my comrades to help you, which of us do you need?"
"I believe the collective power of you, Yugito, Kakashi, Sasuke, and perhaps little Nelliel combined with the power of the shinigami present will be enough to create the spacial opening needed to send us back home."
Naruto pondered this a moment, before he finally said.
"I will help you Yamamoto-san, but I can't speak for the others."
"I will help." Yugito announced.
"As will I." Kakashi followed in suit.
"I too shall help." Sasuke replied.
"Excellent, I thank all of you for this." Yamamoto expressed with sincerity.
"So when are we going to do this ol' Yama?" Shunsui lazily asked.
Yamamoto shot his former student a hardened glare, before he cleared his throat and said.
"Within the next few days, but we cannot do it here. We must seek out a desolate area devoid of human population, as the forces we unleash may come to harm nearby people of this world."
"I know of such a place, we can travel there as Naruto and the rest of my comrades return to the Village Hidden in the Leaves."
Naruto leveled a hard glare at his former sensei at the subtle reminder that he had promised to return to the Leaf village for a short time, as a condition for their help in defeating Madara and his Akatsuki forces to free the Land of Spring.
"I don't need to be reminded of what I promised!" Naruto curtly announced.
Kakashi flashed his patented eye-smile and waved his hands in front of him and said in defense.
"No, no Naruto, I swear I wasn't reminding you of that. I was just letting the Head Captain know that I knew of a spot where we could perform our attempt to send him and his comrades' home without endangering any people."
"Yeah, sure you were." Naruto mumbled under his breath.
"Then we will head out, as soon as you are ready young Naruto." Yamamoto declared, as he held a goblet high in the air to toast everyone to a successful endeavor.
Later that day, Naruto made his way to the Crimson Army encampment to give his final orders to all of the former bandits who had fought so bravely and survived in defeating Madara's Akatsuki troops so decisively on the battlefield. Naruto had to admit he was proud of them, not only because of their victory, but that they had elevated themselves from being lowly criminals to now honored warriors. Naruto ordered Daisuke to call the troops to formation. A scant thirty seconds later all 100+ Crimson soldiers were lined up in six orderly platoons with a single officer at the head of each and Daisuke in front of all of them. As Naruto stepped up to dais to address his soldiers, he felt a bit saddened as he spoke.
"Today, I want to commend and thank all of you for your bravery and honor in serving to free the people of the Land of Spring. I am grateful for your loyalty since I took over this command and I'm grateful for your friendship and support. When I first met all of you, you were nothing more than a ragtag vagabond group of thieves. However, in a short time you all proved to be so much more than that. You became fierce and respected warriors supremely determined and dedicated to fighting to the best of your abilities, not for yourself, but for the innocent who could not fight. Because of this I feel pride in all of you who served so selflessly."
Naruto took a moment to pause and exhale a deep breath, before he continued.
"So it is with a heavy heart that I now release your services to me and set you free to pursue your life. I cannot help but feel a great sense of loss by doing this, but all of you deserve no less for what you have done. You've all served me well and as your Commander, I know more than most what superb soldiers you have become. So although we are saying goodbye today, I know we are not saying goodbye to the qualities you now possess in abundance."
Naruto paused once again to collect his thoughts.
"Princess Koyuki with the blessing of the people of the Land of Spring have offered to all of you permanent residence within their land, if you so choose to accept it. Their generosity is above being commendable considering the princess has already provided to all of you a sizable monetary recompense, which will allow any of you to live in relative comfort for the rest of your lives."
Naruto took another deep breath and exhaled, before he said with reverence.
And though the people of the Land of Spring acknowledge all of you as heroes, let us not forget, our unsung heroes of the comrades we lost during the battle."
Everyone took a moment to lower their head in a moment of silence at remembrance of those comrades who fell to Madara and his Akatsuki forces. After a minute, Naruto raised his head and spoke once more.
"So although today I am sad to part ways with you, I am also glad that you are being given the opportunity to prove yourselves in the future, as you have proven yourselves in the past, by becoming loyal citizens to Princess Koyuki and the Land of Spring if you so choose. I know that those who do will serve her as you have served me in our time together with loyalty, professionalism and true hearts. May Kami bless you all and know you'll always be to me the best troops I could have hoped for to achieve the victory that we did."
Naruto exhaled one more heavy sigh, before he gave his final order.
"Honored Crimson army soldiers, you are now discharged!"
All of Naruto's Leaf comrades who had been watching Naruto give his final address to his troops, they were suitably impressed with his words and the leadership he was projecting. So much so, that even Sasuke openly commented in admiration.
"He really will make a great Hokage."
'Only if we can convince him to return to the Leaf village permanently and accept the position.' Kakashi thought grimly to himself, as he watched Naruto step down from the stage he had been speaking from.
Even the shinigami were impressed by the farewell speech Naruto had given to his troops, as Yamamoto smirked, before he asked to his former student and Gotei 13 officer Shunsui.
"Do you still doubt what I propose?"
"No, you were right." Shunsui answered in agreement, before he asked.
"So when are you to present your idea to them?"
"Before we make our attempt to return to the Soul Society." The Head Captain stoically replied.
The next morning, all preparations had been made to leave the Land of Spring and trek back to the Crimson army encampment to where they had left the women and children behind for their safety, before everyone went their separate ways. The shinigami had gathered at the burial site of their fallen comrade Ikkaku to pay their final respects to him. However, as this was going on, Naruto was caught by surprise when he entered the courtyard of Koyuki castle and found Daisuke along with several Crimson army soldiers waiting for him. Upon his arrival, all of the gathered troops bowed in respect, before Daisuke rose and approached Naruto.
"Naruto-sama, I have been tasked to speak with you on behalf of the men present before you."
Naruto cocked an eyebrow in curiosity at this, before he asked.
"Alright Daisuke, we do you wish to say?"
"Yesterday, Princess Koyuki and her people have offered us refuge and citizenship here in the Land of Spring."
"I know of this."
"Well, while some of the men have gratefully accepted their gracious offer to stay. I and the rest of the men here, while indeed appreciative that Princess Koyuki and her people would extend to us such a proposal. We must respectfully decline, as it is not what we want or desire for our futures."
"Ok, what is it exactly that you and the rest of the men do want?"
"To remain in the service of you Naruto-sama."
This response caught Naruto by surprise and he was confused why they would want to stay in servitude to him, instead of living their lives as free men. The blonde Jinchuuriki was unsure how to respond and took a moment to collect his thoughts before he asked.
"I don't understand Daisuke, what do you mean you and the rest of these men want to remain in the service of me?"
"Naruto-sama, what you said in your speech releasing our services to you was correct. Before you came along, the Crimson army was nothing but a ragtag vagabond group of thieves. We were the scum of the earth and cared about nothing other than what we could steal. We had no leader to command or control our wanton desires for ourselves. Even when Kenpachi-sama and his men came and he became our leader, he cared little about what we did and was only interested in having a place to call home. It was only when you arrived and took over command that you provided to the majority of us that which we were sorely lacking, but needed in our lives."
"What did I provide to all of you?" Naruto queried in curiosity.
"A purpose Naruto-sama,…..you provided to us a purpose."
"A purpose, I don't understand?"
"When you became our leader, you finally gave us that which we were missing, a purpose in our lives. You showed to us and believed that we could be something more than just lowly bandits. We took this to heart and strived through your training to become the men you thought we could be. I and the men behind me are grateful for this and the purpose you have given us."
"What is this purpose I've provided to you?" Naruto asked, perplexed by what Daisuke has been saying.
"Our purpose Naruto-sama is to still faithfully serve under your command for the rest of our lives."
"But why would you want to do this, I've given all of you your freedom to do as you wish in your lives. Are you sure all of you have thought this through?"
"But what we want is to continue to loyally serve you and yes Naruto-sama; we have thought and discussed this matter throughout the night. I and the men behind me will follow you straight into the bowels of Hell if you so command. Please do not just dismiss us, for if you do I fear many of the men will revert back to living a life without any purpose to it and regress back into the lowly scum they were, before you entered our lives." Daisuke pleaded, while he bowed his head to Naruto once more in respect.
Naruto scrunched his brow and thought in frustration to himself.
'Damn it, I don't believe this. When I left Konoha it was to live the rest of my life in solitude. Now I've got a daughter, three women who are in love with me, a baby on the way, and now over 100 men who are essentially telling me that if they can't continue to serve under my command they will be lost for the rest of their lives. Kami must be laughing his ass off right now, by doing this to me.'
Naruto looked up and exhaled a deep breath, before he addressed the men present with a voice filled with authority.
"Very well men, I am honored that you hold me in such high regard and reverence. I'd like to offer my thanks to all of you, you've served me well and though I don't know what the future beckons for me, it is clear that I will meet that future with all of you by my side."
A loud cheer erupted from the men present, before Daisuke sternly reprimanded them and they quickly returned to attention.
"Daisuke, have preparations been finished to return to the civilian encampment?"
"Very good, we will be leaving within the hour. You and the rest of the men are here dismissed!"
As Naruto walked back into the castle, he was stopped by Hinata who asked in curiosity.
"Naru-kun, what was all that cheering I heard?"
"I was nothing Hinata, just one hundred more headaches I have to deal with on top of the ones I already have." Naruto cynically replied, while rubbing his temple.
Before the caravan of soldiers, shinigami, and shinobi left to return to the civilian encampment. Naruto addressed the former soldiers of his Crimson army who had chosen to stay in the Land of Spring. The blonde Jinchuuriki essentially ordered them to serve Princess Kazahana Koyuki as faithfully and with as much loyalty as they had showed him. He then bid each personally farewell, to which the soldiers were most honored at such a gesture. Naruto then bid Koyuki goodbye and told her if she ever needed his assistance again, he would be there for her. Koyuki had tears in her eyes as she hugged Naruto and kissed his cheek, thanking him once more for freeing her country for a second time.
Several hours later the caravan arrived at the civilian encampment and many of the Crimson soldiers were reunited with their families and loved ones. Daisuke hugged and peppered both his wife and daughter with kisses upon seeing them once more. Naruto ordered a celebration to be prepared and there was a most joyous mood throughout the entire camp. However, in the back of Naruto's mind, he was contemplating what might happen the next day, when he and the others would attempt to send their shinigami allies back home.
It had been a festive celebration the night before when Naruto woke up the next morning. Looking down he couldn't help but smile at seeing both Hinata and Ino resting their heads on his chest and sleeping peacefully in his arms. Naruto grumbled to himself, as he wanted to just lay there in comfort, but he knew he had to get up, as he was an integral part in the plan to return the shinigami back to the Soul Society. The Soul Society, Naruto wondered to himself what that place was like and he held a desire to see it for himself. Alas he figured that was nothing but a pipe-dream, as he tried to extricate himself from Hinata and Ino's clutches without waking them.
However, Naruto was unsuccessful in this endeavor, as both women were stirred awake and rubbed their eyes, before Hinata asked.
"Naru-kun, where are you going?"
"I'm sorry I woke you up Hinata, you to Ino, but I have to meet up with Yamamoto-san and go over the plan to send him and the other shinigami back home."
"Well wait a moment Naruto-kun and Hinata and I will go with you."
"Alright Ino, but just to the meeting, like I said last night, both of you are to remain here at the encampment for your safety, when I head out to help them."
"We know, but I still wish you would let us come with you." Hinata softly remarked.
"It's too dangerous, according to Yamamoto-san, we need to get several miles away from the camp to the location Kakashi spoke about to avoid anyone not involved from getting hurt."
"So the only people going with you are you, Kakashi, Sasuke, and Yugito?"
"Yes, they are the only ones who can channel their power into a single shot or technique to combine with the shinigami attacks to try and create the portal needed to send them home."
"So Kurenai-sensei will also be staying behind?" Hinata questioned.
"Yeah, she'll be staying behind as well."
"Knowing Kurenai-sensei like I do, I can't imagine she's going to be very happy about that."
"Well, that's Kakashi-sensei's problem, not mine. Now hurry up you two and get dressed, if you want to come with me to this meeting."
"Oh pooh Naruto-kun, don't you like what we're wearing now?" Ino playfully teased, while striking a sexy pose in her bra and panties.
Naruto looked back and forth between Ino and Hinata who was not wearing a bra, but a very low cut and tight t-shirt, which was short enough that he could see the under swell of her ample breasts poking out from the hem of the shirt. Naruto instantly began to harden at the sight of the two women in their sparse entire, as he gazed lustfully at them. It took all of the sheer will he could muster, before he finally tore his gaze away from them and growled in aggravation, before hastily exiting the tent.
"Damn it Ino, just get dressed!"
"Ino, you shouldn't tease Naru-kun like that." Hinata scolded to her friend.
"What teasing, if he had wanted to take me right here and now I wouldn't be stopping him. Besides Hinata, it's good to keep our man on his toes whenever we can." Ino mischievously replied.
"Well, let's get dressed and go pick-up Nel, before we see him off. I know Naru-kun has promised us that he will be alright, but I'm still worried this might be the last time we see him." Hinata stated in a concerned tone.
Ino heard the distressed tone in Hinata's voice and leaned over and hugged her friend, while saying with reassurance.
"Don't worry about Naruto-kun, like you said he promised us he would be ok and you know he never breaks a promise once he makes it."
"I hope you're right." Hinata softly remarked, as she hugged Ino a bit tighter.
"Damn it Kurenai, it's not that I don't want you there, but it's too dangerous for you to be there when we open the time-space rift to send the shinigami back to the Soul Society." Kakashi declared in frustration, while he dressed, as Kurenai leveled a hard gaze at her lover.
"I'm a big girl Kakashi, I've told you before I'm not some damsel in distress who needs to be saved or protected!" Kurenai snapped in irritation.
Kakashi kneeled down and Kurenai was surprised when he suddenly placed a tender and loving kiss upon her lips, which she reciprocated, before he broke away and said.
"I know you're not a damsel in distress, but you are a stubborn woman. I love you and I'm not about to risk you getting injured or worse by accompanying me. I know this is hard for you to hear, but you can't help in this endeavor to send the shinigami home. If you could then you would be right by my side, but since you can't, I would prefer knowing that you're safe and sound back here at the camp, whether you like it or not."
Kurenai tried to glare at Kakashi, but found she really couldn't and could already see by the stern and determined look upon his face that no matter what she said, he was not going to let her come with him. Heaving a defeated sigh, as she wrapped the sheet she was holding a little bit tighter around her body and said with resignation, before threatening.
"Alright, I'll stay behind, but you damn well better return to me or I swear to Kami I will hunt you down in the afterlife and make it a living hell for you for the rest of eternity!"
"I promise Kure-chan, I will return." Kakashi lovingly assured the red-eyed Jounin kunoichi, as he placed a quick chaste kiss on her cheek, before he left the tent to meet Naruto and the others.
A short time later, all of the Leaf shinobi were gathered with shinigami, as Yamamoto began the meeting.
"As you all know, today is the day we shall attempt with the help of Naruto and his comrades to open a portal that will allow us to return home to the Soul Society."
A moment of grim silence enveloped everyone, before the Head Captain continued on.
"Kakashi, you said you knew of an area where we could attempt this without endangering any civilians."
"Hai Yamamoto-san, it is a barren land devoid of any people about half a day's journey from here."
"Very good, we shall let you lead the way to this place."
Yamamoto then turned to Naruto and the others and asked.
"Are you, Sasuke, Yugito, and little Nel ready for this?"
Both Sasuke and Yugito quickly nodded their heads in acceptance, before Naruto said in a stern voice.
"I am ready Yamamoto-san, but Nel will not be accompanying us."
Nel's eyes grew wide in surprise upon hearing this and scurried out of Hinata's arms and marched up to stand in front of Naruto and asked in a hurt tone of voice.
"Why won't I be coming Papa-Naru?"
Naruto knelt down to look his surrogate daughter in the eyes and tried to explain.
"It's too dangerous for a little girl Nel-chan. I would feel much better if you stayed behind and safe with Mama-Hinata and Ino."
The little green-haired Arrancar scowled at Naruto's answer and in a miffed tone of voice exclaimed.
"I'm not a little girl, I'm a big girl! I heard Yama-jii tay he needed my help to tend him home. I want to help Yama-jii Papa-Naru, pleath let me help!"
Naruto looked up to Yamamoto who said with resignation.
"Her power would help to increase our chances of sending us home."
"Are you sure?" Naruto asked with a little skepticism, before Yamamoto nodded his head in confirmation.
"Pleath Papa-Naru, let me go with you." Nel pleaded to her adopted father.
Naruto looked over to Hinata and asked with uncertainty.
"What do you think Hina-chan?"
"I don't like it Naru-kun, but if she can help, then I think you should take her with you."
"It might be dangerous." Naruto countered.
"I know, but I have faith that you won't let anything happen to her."
Naruto turned back around to stare at Nel, before he exhaled a weary sigh and said with a little hesitation.
"Alright Nel-chan, you can come with me to help Yama-jii."
"Yay…..!" Nel squealed in delight, before she leapt up and hugged Naruto fiercely around his neck.
Naruto returned the warm embrace, before he pulled Nell away from him and said in no uncertain terms to her.
"You can come, but you are not to leave my side…..ever, while were there and you will do everything I tell you with no argument, understand?"
"I understand Papa-Naru." Nel contritely answered.
As Naruto put Nel down and rose to his feet, Yamamoto cleared his throat and announced to everyone present.
"Before we begin our journey, there is one more matter I wish to propose to Naruto and his comrades."
"What is it you want to say?"
"What I want to say young Naruto is I have watched you and your comrades conduct yourselves with honor, respect, and courage. These are traits which I highly regard, which is why I'm offering to all of you this noble endeavor."
"What I propose is that when fate has deemed your time finished in the human world. All of you will join us in the Soul Society and become honored members of the Shinigami Gotei 13 Court Squads."
Yoruichi and the rest of the shinigami present except for Shunsui were stunned that the Head Captain was offering such an honor to Naruto and his comrades. Equally shocked were all of the Leaf shinobi, as they couldn't even begin to fathom what a life would be like as a shinigami. Finally Naruto in a stuttering voice asked in bewilderment.
"You, you m-mean you want us to become shinigami after we die?"
"Yes Naruto, if we are indeed successful in returning to the Soul Society, I already know we suffered heavy losses and many respected shinigami perished during the Shinigami/Arrancar war. Because of those losses, we will need many honorable people from the human world to replenish our ranks. And I believe that you Naruto and your comrades, among many others residing in your home village would be of immense value and needed to bring our shinigami forces back to full strength."
"So when we die, we would just become shinigami?"
"No Sasuke-kun, it doesn't work that way. You would first spend some time at the Shino Academy where you will learn and train how to be a shinigami, before you are officially inducted into the Gotei 13 Court Squads." Momo answered, for her Head Captain.
"Yamamoto-san, you mentioned also making others from our home village this offer when they pass on to become shinigami, how can you know they are worthy if you've never seen or met any of them? Also, how will we traverse to reach the Soul Society and become shinigami?" Kakashi asked.
"A valid point you make, but all I can ask you is this. Are there others within your village who demonstrate the honor, loyalty, respect, and courage I've seen in all of you?"
Kakashi paused a moment, as he thought of many of his comrades like Might Gai, Iruka, Anko, Shizune, even the Hokage and recognized that they did indeed possess the traits Yamamoto had just described, before he answered with certainty.
"Hai, there are many in the Hidden Leaf village that hold the qualities you ask for to become a shinigami."
"I thought as much considering the fine examples I have witnessed in all of you." Yamamoto offered in sincere compliment, before he added.
"However, we will make it a point to watch your village, as well as all of the shinobi villages of the Elemental nations for possible candidates to join the Gotei 13 Court Squads upon their passing from this plane of existence. And as for how you will traverse to the Soul Society, upon the time of your death, one of the shinigami you have met here today will ferry you there. Provided of course we are successful in our task of returning home today."
"Why will you just watch the shinobi villages?"
"Because those villages are the only ones in the human world who have a similar structure, as well as the principles the Gotei 13 Court Squads try to conduct ourselves as honored shinigami." Yamamoto declared with pride in explanation to Ino's question.
Once again, a pall of silence fell over the Leaf shinobi, as each one of them pondered what they have been offered by the Head Captain. After a minute, it was Kakashi who spoke up and succinctly remarked to everyone present.
"Well I accept Yamamoto-san's offer, besides it gives me a certain sense of comfort knowing what awaits me after I die."
The rest of the Leaf shinobi present couldn't refute that thought process from Kakashi. With nothing else left to say, Naruto, Nel and Yugito bid goodbye to Hinata and Ino, while Kakashi did the same with Kurenai. As the three women watched their friends, comrades, and loved ones shushin away with the shinigami, they all silently prayed to Kami for their safe return to them.
A few hours later, as Naruto and the others arrived at the desolate land Kakashi had told them about. Everyone looked around and could see that the silver-haired Jounin was right. There was no sign of any people or civilization for miles upon miles in this wasteland. Naruto held Nel in his arms, before Yamamoto spoke up and declared.
"Naruto, before we attempt this, we should find a sufficient shelter for you and your comrades to take safety in for your protection. We do not wish for you or any of your friends to be pulled into the vortex with us."
Naruto and the others looked around before he spied a large rock out cropping a half-mile away and openly announced, while pointing to it.
"That should do the trick."
Naruto began walking towards the large rock out cropping followed by the others and upon reaching it, Sasuke asked in confusion.
"How is this rock going to protect us?"
Indeed the others were also curious about this, as the rock was indeed large standing about 40ft in height and had a circumference of over 100ft, but they wondered skeptically how it would protect them from being pulled into the vortex.
"It's not the rock that's going to protect us, but the cave within it." Naruto announced to everyone.
"What cave dobe?"
"This one teme!" Naruto declared, before he opened his palm and created a Rasengan and slammed it into the side of the rock.
Everyone looked on in fascination, as Naruto used his Rasengan to carve a tunnel leading to a small cave he excavated out of the rock. After a few minutes, the blonde Jinchuuriki completed his task and exited from within the stone and brushed his hands off and said.
"That should be good enough to keep us safe until the vortex closes. We just have to make sure that once we unleash our attacks and the portal opens, everyone needs to get back here and inside as fast as they can.
Nel commented in appreciation to her father.
"That's a neat cave Papa-Naru."
"Thank you Nel-chan, but remember, you are not to leave my side when we do this…understood?"
"I won't leave you."
Naruto then turned to Yamamoto and asked.
"Yamamoto-san, I know you said that Nel-chan's power can help, but how is she supposed to access it in her child form?"
"In speaking with Kira and learning how Nelliel repelled an attack on the Medical platoon during your fight against Madara. I believe I have come up with a plan that will solve two problems with one stone so to speak."
"What two problems?"
"The first problem as you mentioned is how to utilize the young girls Arrancar powers and the second problem how to strip away Momo's shinigami powers and allow her to stay in the human realm as a human."
"What is your plan Commander Yamamoto to accomplish this?" Momo hesitantly asked.
"You Momo will fire a Kido blast at Nelliel and you will put virtually all of your power into that blast."
"Wh-what, wait a minute, what do you mean fire a Kido blast at Nel-chan?" Naruto exclaimed in concern.
"It's ok Papa-Naru, it won't hurt me."
"It's true Naruto-san, I myself witnessed your daughter open her mouth and swallow an intense beam of chakra, before a moment later she opened her mouth again and fired the beam back at the Akatsuki followers with a force exceeding that of the original blast. This concentrated beam of condensed chakra redirected back at Akatsuki literally vaporized them because of the sheer power of the blast." Kira offered in explanation to Naruto.
"So you mean to have her do the same from Momo's attack?" Naruto questioned.
"Yes Naruto and because Nel's Arrancar powers will amplify the Kido blast Momo sends to her. All little Nelliel has to do is redirect to the same spot in the atmosphere we all will be launching our attacks towards." Yamamoto answered in confidence.
"Are you sure you can do this Nel-chan?"
"I can do it Papa."
Naruto nodded his head in understanding, before heard Momo ask in curiosity.
"Instead of using a Kido attack, shouldn't I use an attack using my zanpaktou?"
"No Momo, I have another use in mind for your zanpaktou. It will be utilized as the target of everyone's concentrated attack."
"Won't that destroy my zanpaktou Commander Yamamoto?"
"No, but it will augment our combined attacks and hopefully open the time-space portal and allow us to go through it. Upon entering the vortex, I will take the zanpaktou back with me and once it is removed from the human world, you will lose your shinigami powers you possess and become a normal human. Are you still sure you wish to stay?"
Momo pondered this question a moment, before she looked towards Sasuke and smiled, as she then turned back towards her soon to be Ex-Head Captain said in an unwavering voice.
"I am sure Commander Yamamoto!"
"Very well, unless there are any questions, everyone gather around so we can decide where each of our designated positions should be."
A short time later, everyone was spread apart and awaiting the signal from Yamamoto to prepare and fire off their attacks. The Head Captain lifted his head to the heavens, while holding Momo's zanpaktou in his hand. Exhaling a heavy sigh, he suddenly whirled around and threw the blade with tremendous force into the sky. Everyone looked on in amazement as the blade sped higher and higher into the atmosphere. Once it had attained a height of over five miles, Yamamoto lifted his hand into the air and shouted.
Suddenly the rocketing blade stopped, before it began to glow like a beacon, giving everyone a clear target to unleash their attacks. Yamamoto then ordered with conviction.
Immediately all of the shinigami began to power up their most powerful Bankai attacks save for Momo who began to chant.
"Sprinkled on the bones of the beast! Sharp tower, red crystal, steel ring. Move and become the wind, stop and become the calm. The sound of warring spears fills the empty castle!"
Suddenly, an orb of yellow lighting appeared above the palm of her hands, which she then pointed towards Nel standing 100 yards away. As Momo continued to chant, she poured more and more of power into the orb she held. Meanwhile Naruto went into Sage-mode and began to create a Sage Art: Ultra Big Ball Rasengan, enhancing it not only with sage chakra, but Kyuubi was also lending a significant amount of his own chakra into the destructive gigantic ball of energy. Meanwhile, Yugito had entered into her tailed-beast mode and was currently molding a powerful bijuu bomb to unleash. As the two-tailed Jinchuuriki was doing this, Kakashi and Sasuke were utilizing Ikkaku's zanpaktou as a lightning rod and were pouring into it as much lightning chakra as they could to unleash.
After a few minutes, Yamamoto lifted his wooden staff and pointed it skyward. Instantly, the wood began peeling off, revealing its true form of Ryujin Jakka, the oldest and most powerful zanpaktou of the Soul Society. Yamamoto then signaled Momo, who cried out.
"Hado #63 Raikoho!" (Thunder Roar Sear)
A massive concentration of energy that appeared as a high level lightning strike erupted from Momo's palms and raced towards Nelliel. For her part, Nel bravely stepped forward and opened her mouth much to the shock of Naruto, as she swallowed the intense beam of Kido. A moment later, the eyes of Nel's Arrancar skull mask glowed, signaling to the Head Captain who commanded with authority.
The little Arrancar then opened her mouth and fired the beam with a force exceeding that of the original attack towards the glowing blade hovering in the sky. Simultaneously, Naruto and the rest of his comrades, along with all of the shinigami fired off their own attacks with Nel's. A few seconds later, as all of the attacks struck in unison, there was a massive sonic boom followed by an explosion that could be heard for hundreds of miles. In fact the force of the explosion had been so intense, it actually knocked everyone below to the ground save for Yamamoto.
A few seconds later, everyone got up and was looking around at one another, as it seemed that nothing was happening. They all looked up to the sky to see Momo's zanpaktou glowing so brightly, it was like a mini-sun in the heavens. Then everybody noticed that all of the clouds were being drawn towards the floating blade. Suddenly there was an explosion of light, before the sky began to change color into an ominous obsidian black color. It was then that the sky seemed to crack open and everyone below could start to feel a growing pressure pulling them towards it.
Naruto immediately shunshin'd over to Nel who had collapsed to the ground and lifted the little girl into his arms, while Sasuke did the same with Momo. They along with Kakashi and Yugito sped towards their makeshift safety shelter, as the pull towards rift in the sky was increasing exponentially. In a matter of seconds, the entire landscape around them from all foliage, trees, and loose rocks began to be pulled up with incredible speed into the swirling vortex above.
Yamamoto signaled his shinigami to begin entering through the portal. Kira, Yumachiki, and Zaraki with Yachiru hugging him tightly leapt skyward into the void. Shunsui and Yoruichi grasped hands and smiled at one another, before they two jumped up and were sucked away. For his part Yamamoto quickly flash-stepped and grabbed Ikkaku's zanpaktou, which was near the cave Naruto and the others were taking shelter in. Naruto was standing at the entrance, when he saw the Head Captain appear and take Ikkaku's blade. Yamamoto and Naruto locked eyes, before the elder shinigami mouthed the words 'thank you' to Naruto. A moment later, he too was sucked up into the air and into the vortex, grabbing Momo's zanpaktou on the way, as he too left the human world. With Momo's blade no longer acting as a conduit, there was an immense explosion of light followed by another massive sonic boom. A few seconds later, the darkness of the sky began to dissipate, returning to the blue it had once been.
After a minute, Naruto with Nel in his arms along with the others tentatively exited the cave and were stunned at what they saw. The entire landscape as far as they could see was stripped away of any vegetation whatsoever. True, it had been a barren land before, but now in less than a minute it was now a desert wasteland. Everyone exhaled a sigh of relief and was grateful that their makeshift shelter had been strong enough to protect them. It was Naruto who finally broke the silence of the moment and openly remarked.
"I hope they made it back home."
"Well, we won't know the answer to that until we pass on from this world." Kakashi commented to his former student.
"Yeah, I know. I guess we should head back to camp before nightfall comes." Naruto solemnly replied
Kakashi nodded his head in agreement, before he and the others began their trek back to the Crimson army encampment.
Hinata, Ino, and Kurenai were both happy and very relieved to see Naruto and the others arrive back at the camp just as the sun was setting, all of them uninjured and in good health. They were greeted by everyone warmly and Naruto along with the others was glad to be back, but they were also exhausted. Pushing themselves to create their most powerful attacks had physically drained them. So it was no surprise that all they wanted was a good night's sleep. Especially Naruto, as he knew the next morning he would be returning back to the Leaf village. A place he had vowed to himself never to return to just months before.
So the next morning, as the camp broke and everyone prepared to begin their journey to Konoha, Naruto had a devious thought and called all of his shinobi comrades together. Everyone was curious why Naruto had called for this meeting, but even more unnerving was the sly smile he bore upon his face. Kakashi was the one who broke down first and finally asked in curiosity.
"Why did call us here Naruto?"
"Well, I've been thinking about my promise to return to the Leaf village and visit with baa-chan."
"You're not thinking about backing out are you dobe?" Sasuke asked with an edge to his voice, ready to fight if he had to and bring his friend back home.
"Settle down teme, I said I would return voluntarily with you back to Konoha in exchange for your help in defeating Madara and his Akatsuki forces and I will. I just have one small condition I need from all of you, before I do that."
"What condition?" Kakashi questioned, while cocking his lone visible eyebrow, as an ominous chill ran up his spine.
"Don't worry Kakashi-sensei, it's nothing too serious. I just want to play a little prank on baa-chan, that's all and I need all of your help to do that."
"That doesn't sound so bad." Kurenai openly remarked.
Kakashi turned to his kunoichi girlfriend and said in a cautionary tone of voice.
"I wouldn't make that assumption Kure-chan. Have you already forgotten some of the pranks he performed in his youth in the past?"
"What do you want us to do dobe?" Sasuke impatiently questioned in annoyance.
"Actually teme, you don't have to do anything at all." Naruto answered with a mischievous grin, before he began to tell his friends and comrades exactly what he had planned for Tsunade upon their return to the Leaf village.
It had been stressful for Tsunade the past few days, as she rubbed her temples trying to alleviate the headache she currently had. There still hadn't been any word from Kakashi or Kurenai, if they had been successful in locating all of her wayward shinobi. Even more concerning was the panic that all of the Elemental Nations had been thrown into two days ago when in the middle of the day the sky had gone dark and massive explosions were heard in the atmosphere.
The blonde Hokage had been in communication with all of her counter-parts in then other nations and all of them denied having anything to do with causing what had occurred. And since no one knew what, where, or how it had happened, all the Kage's could do was begrudgingly trust the others that they were telling the truth. Heaving a tired sigh, Tsunade popped two aspirin into her mouth and washed them down with some water, as she leaned back into her chair and closed her eyes. Suddenly, the Leaf village alarm blared to life, signifying that an enemy force was heading towards the village.
Tsunade jumped up from her chair, before a moment later Kotetsu Hagane appeared in Tsunade's office and kneeled before her.
"Kotetsu, why have you and Izumo activated the main alarm?"
"Hokage-sama, one of our long range scouts has reported a small army marching towards the Leaf village. They are a few miles away and should arrive shortly at the main gate. Izumo has already begun evacuating the civilian's near the gate as we speak."
"Who are they and what is their size?"
"Unknown as to whom they are Hokage-sama and as to their size, our scout's estimate was 100-150 people."
Tsunade exhaled a sigh, as she had enough shinobi to deal with an enemy force that size. However, what Kotetsu said next concerned the blonde Hokage greatly.
"Hokage-sama, our scout couldn't identify all of them, but it appears this oncoming force is holding some of our own Leaf village shinobi hostage."
"What! Who are they holding?" Tsunade shouted in alarm.
"Our scout could only confirm two identities ma'am, Jounin Hatake Kakashi, and Jounin Yuuhi Kurenai."
'Damn!' Tsunade thought to herself, before she ordered Kotetsu to follow her and she stormed out of her office with fury.
A short time later, Tsunade stood in front of the main gate of the Leaf village, flanked by several of her top shinobi, along with a couple hundred more standing behind her or manning the high fortified wall that surrounded the village. The blonde Hokage was a picture of calm and confidence, which bolstered all of her shinobi's morale. However, while Tsunade projected such a composed attitude, inside she was feeling very apprehensive. She was not concerned about going into battle; she had done that more times than she cared to remember. No, she was uneasy about the fact that the approaching enemy held shinobi under her command hostage. Because of that, fighting this unknown force was a last resort as the blonde Hokage hoped for a peaceful solution that would free those hostages. Tsunade watched with a keen eye, as man wearing a strange mask rode a horse at the head of the procession of people marching towards the Leaf village.
When the approaching army got to within 100 yards, the man on the horse raised his arm and signaled the army behind him to halt. He then rode about fifty yards forward and stopped, before he called out in a cold metallic echo of a voice.
"Where is the leader of this village?
"I am the leader, my name is….." Tsunade called out, as she stepped forward.
"I know your name; you are Tsunade Senju Godaime Hokage of the Village Hidden in the Leaves. You are also known as the Slug Queen and are one of the infamous Sannin of the Elemental nations."
"You know my name, but you've not introduced yourself!"
"You will learn who I am soon enough, now if you would be so kind as to come forward and meet me face to face, as I don't feel like shouting across this field!"
"And why should I approach a potential enemy by myself?"
"Fine, if it will make you feel better, you may bring along a couple of bodyguards, although I assure you they would be of little help, if I so chose to harm you!"
Tsunade signaled Might Gai and Anko to accompany her, as they closed the distance between themselves and this strange masked man. Once they got within twenty feet, they stopped and Tsunade was able to get a much closer look at the man atop the horse. What she saw unnerved her a bit, as the mask he bore and the sound of his voice was disconcerting. The blonde Hokage looked behind the man and saw Kakashi, Kurenai, Sasuke, Ino, and Hinata with their hands bound being guarded by several men, including a very big man wielding a large battle-axe. Turning her attention back to the masked man on the horse she asked with authority.
"What are you doing here and why are my shinobi being held prisoner by you?"
"Your shinobi invaded my camp uninvited, which is why they are being held. As for why I am here, I just thought I would give you the opportunity to purchase them back into your service."
"So you're holding them for ransom!" Tsunade spat angrily.
"Calm down Hokage-Tsunade, don't let that famous temper of yours get the better of you. Ransom is such an ugly word, I prefer you look upon this as just a simple business transaction. You give me what I want and I will release your people back into your good graces."
Tsunade took a moment to calm herself, before she contritely asked.
"So what do you want for the return of my five shinobi?"
"Five?" The masked man said in confusion, as he turned around to look behind him, before turning back and said.
"My apologies Hokage-Tsunade, I was just going to sell you back three of them, the Cyclops, the Ice-Queen, and the one with the hair that looks like a ducks-butt. The blonde fox and the pale-eyed beauty I've decided to keep for myself. Daisuke, remove the two hotties away from the others!"
Tusnade's blood began to boil, as she saw the large man with the axe pull on rope and lead Ino and Hinata away from the others. The blonde Hokage's killing intent sky-rocketed at seeing this and she had to be restrained by both Gai and Anko, as she shouted with fury.
"If you lay one hand on them I'll kill you! I want all of my shinobi back and I want them now!"
"Hmmm, well I hate to give up such two luscious beauties, but if you're dead-set about getting all of your people back, then I suppose we could come to some sort of deal, but the price just went up."
"Name your price and be done with it!"
"Well, originally I was just going to have you pay me, but since you're being selfish at not letting me keep the hotties and want everyone returned, I think you should have to pay my men too."
"Whatever, just what do you and your men want?
"For the return of your shinobi, I want you to pay for me and my men...some Ichiraku Ramen baa-chan."
The blonde Hokage did a double-take upon hearing this, which left her dazed and confused, as she wasn't sure she heard the man right and stammered in query.
"Wh-what did you say, you, you want what? W-Wait a minute...what did you call me?"
"You heard me, I want some Ichiraku Ramen for me and my men and what I called you is what I've always called you...baa-chan, ha, ha, ha!" Naruto replied laughing, as he lifted his mask revealing to Tsunade who he was.
The blonde Hokage nearly fell to the ground and would have if she hadn't been supported by both Gai and Anko, as she stared with an open mouth in bewilderment at the laughing figure on the horse, who remarked while continuing to laugh.
"Oh baa-chan, ha, ha, ha, you should see the look on your face, ha ha ha, it's priceless!"
It took a few seconds, before Tsunade's senses returned to her and she finally realized who she had been talking with, as Naruto turned his head around and said, still laughing.
"You see you guys ha, ha, ha., that wasn't so bad, besides you have to admit this is one of my all-time greatest pranks, ha, ha, ha!"
"Speak for yourself dobe!" Sasuke growled in irritation at the blonde, while rubbing his wrists after the rope that had been binding him was removed by one of the guards.
Tsunade was furious and was ready to throttle Naruto, but was still being restrained by Gai and Anko, before she finally calmed down enough to realize that what she had been wanting, hoping, and praying for these past few months had come true. The safe return of Naruto and her other shinobi and taking a deep breath, she exhaled a sigh of relief and smiled at Naruto, as his laughter died down and said with warmth and love.
"Welcome Home Naruto!"
Author Note: Sadly, this is the last chapter of this story. I could probably bleed the story out for one or two more chapters, but then I would just be writing filler chapters of scenes of minor significance. And you readers deserve more than me just filling up some pages just because I can. There are still a few loose ends in this story, but I believe they can be finished off in a final epilogue chapter.
Now another thing I want to address is that some of you have voiced your displeasure in how I'm handling the aftermath of Kiba's death. I hear what those readers are saying and I respect their opinions, but in my view the following is the absolute truth of the matter.
There is nothing positive that can be gained by revealing the truth about Kiba back at the Hidden Leaf village.
However, there is a lot of negative that could happen if the truth was revealed to everyone such as the following.
1. A potential Leaf clan civil war could erupt costing many innocent lives, if it's revealed that Sasuke and to a lesser extent Ino were shown to have killed Kiba.
2. If the truth about Kiba was made known, it would bring dishonor and disgrace upon the otherwise noble Inuzuka clan. And should an entire clan be judged on just the actions of one individual clan member.
3. The truth about Kiba would also bring additional pain to Kiba's mother and sister, who will already be mourning and in pain over his death. Which no one wants including Hinata, as they all care about Tsume and Hana deeply.
4. Having Kiba portrayed as dying a hero's death, lessens the chances of an investigation going to deep into what happened.
5. Finally, having Ino plant a false memory of Kiba dying a hero's death can give to his mom and sister and all of his former friends and comrades a good memory they can hold onto of how he died. I mean isn't better for them to remember the good he once was, as opposed to the bad he became.
There are probably a few other reasons I could come up with on why telling the truth about Kiba is a very bad idea. This is just one of those circumstances that do exist in life, where revealing the truth about something will cause more harm than do any good.
Anyway, all that aside, I hope everyone enjoyed the chapter. It proved to be a challenging one for me to write. The most problematic issue being to come up with a semi-plausible scenario of how to send the shinigami back to the Soul Society. I also liked the idea that some of the shinobi of the Naruto universe will be used to replenish the ranks of the Gotei 13 squads upon them passing on from the human realm. I think all of us would like to know our fate in advance when our time comes to move on. The other problem I struggled with was with Naruto's farewell speech to his troops. I wanted it to still have a military type feel to it, but also carry an emotional tone within it as well. Hopefully I succeeded in that endeavor, but all of you will be the judge of that.
I do wish to thank everyone both old and new readers who took the time to review my last chapter. You all had a lot to say about it and I'm pleased that this story has such a strong fan base with readers who actually write out well thought-out reviews. Because of that, I enjoy reading many of your reviews, so please leave lots of them, as they do help a writer get a sense of the thoughts and opinions of the fans of a story. They also can help lift the spirits of an author as well. Also, to any readers who are staff members to any C2 communities, please feel free to add my story to your community if you feel it is worthy of it. I won't mind, I swear. I'll even pinkie swear if I need to?
Thanks to everyone for your support of this story!
Take it easy and be good!