Gilded

Kurama

Summary: With loving parents and plenty of friends, unease is the last thing that Naruto should be feeling. But it lingers in the back of his mind, clouding his sight with suspicion and paranoia. Why do his dreams feel so real? Why does he remember things that never were?

Gilded

Chapter 9

Kurama


~o0O0o~


These illusions may have worn the faces of people he once knew, but that didn't stop Sasuke.

It didn't even slow him down.

As they rushed towards him with anger and fear warring in their expressions, he cut them down, crushed their bones, pierced their chests, and set them ablaze. He was an unstoppable machine, murdering Konoha's shinobi with brutal efficiency, expertly wielding his eyes to their fullest extent.

One by one, each person he'd killed changed, losing both color and clothing until they were inhuman with sickly white skin and distorted features. Within moments, hundreds of slain Zetsus lay slumped against burning buildings and sprawled in the streets with limbs hacked off and bodies pierced and on fire. Sasuke only ignored this new development, steadily making his way forward.

Naruto was dead ahead, his chakra signature bright and vibrant right next to her icy presence.

That made things easier, both of his objectives being in the same place. He concentrated for a moment and felt his eyes twist as the Susanō materialized around him: bones and flesh, then armor, a ceremonial mask, and enormous wings. The false shinobi of the Infinite Tsukuyomi looked on in horror as Sasuke stood in the crown jewel of a warrior god, finally realizing that they'd never stood a chance to begin with.

Sasuke wasn't even looking at them. Without a moment's pause, the giant crouched and leaped high into the air, the resulting gale blowing the false shinobi clear off their feet. Around them, Konoha continued to burn black in the night.


~o0O0o~

"That child failed? Serves him right. Imagine what would happen if he became a ninja."

Sitting alone on the swings, watching as the other children's parents came to congratulate them.

Feeling lonely.

Hating himself for it.

The water sucked at his knees, so still that the tiniest movement sent it into a cascade of ripples. Rusted steel walls loomed on all sides. His breath came out in cloudy puffs, and a deep chill was beginning to seep through his skin. If it weren't for the dim lights spaced out on the walls of the hallway, he was certain he wouldn't have been able to see at all. But rather than wonder where he was, Naruto focused his attention high above his head as various images flashed on the wall in front of him, accompanied by voices, sensations, even feelings.

Memory, something inside of him said.

Even his homeroom teacher looked at him with nothing but disdain and loathing. "It's best to just ignore that boy."

They made his chest ache.

Faces crowded the dark around him, screaming. "Just disappear, you vermin!"

And his eyes sting.

Always screaming. "We'd all be better off if you weren't around!"

His fingers had drifted and were clutched over his chest. He felt his own heart beating through them, and it hurt, every beat hurt. He didn't bother trying to hold back the tears spilling out of his eyes. "What is this?" he whispered. For whatever reason, at that moment the memories changed pace.

A decision made, a burning resolve and a will to protect. "If you ever lay a hand on Iruka-sensei, I'll kill you!"

Hands tracing over names etched into stone. A life-defining piece of wisdom. "Those who disobey the rules are scum, but those who abandon their comrades are worse than scum."

Failure after failure only bred determination.

"Don't underestimate me! I don't quit and I don't run! You can act tough all you want! You're not gonna scare me off! No way! I don't care if I DO get stuck as a Genin for the rest of my life! I'll still be Hokage someday!"

From loneliness came understanding.

"It's almost unbearable, isn't it? The feeling of being totally alone."

True pain gave rise to wisdom, and forgiveness.

"Ero-Sennin believed that I'd be the one to break this cycle of hatred. If there's such a thing as peace, I'll seize it!"

The images went by faster and faster, so fast that they began to blur until Naruto was barely able to stand under the whirlwind of the accompanying emotions. "What is this . . ." he croaked.

Then the memories stalled, the burden eased, and Naruto felt a chill down his spine as one last memory pulsed.

"We don't want your fake reality!"

The images froze, then faded, leaving behind nothing but the massive, rusted steel wall. The wall was suddenly pierced from the other side: great, ivory claws that ripped and shredded with an earsplitting metallic shriek until a large, makeshift gap was torn open. Naruto staggered back into the water, his heart thundering furiously in his surprise.

In the inky darkness beyond the wall, a giant, burning blood-red eye easily twice as tall as he was glared down at him. A primitive instinct arose, and the overwhelming urge to run set Naruto's limbs shaking with adrenaline, but he couldn't make himself move.

"Naruto . . ." Its voice was the deafening boom of a mountain of gravel scraping against iron. Under Naruto's fearful gaze, the beast's head emerged: a long snout with a mouth full of sharpened teeth, lips curled back in a feral snarl. Tall ears rested flat against the back of its head, and its fur was a dull, rusty red in the dim lighting.

Naruto stumbled backwards, unable to tear his eyes away from the monstrous creature. By now it had forced over half its body through the gap, its every motion sending chest-high waves sloshing every which way. The beast continued forward until it was standing directly over him, and then it stopped and lowered its head so that Naruto was staring directly in its eyes, a rumbling growl building in the back of its throat.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, Naruto wondered how anything could possibly be so big. This thing, this demon, easily dwarfed any building in Konoha. Hell, it was probably bigger than the entire Hokage Monument. Now that its body was completely visible, Naruto realized that he was staring at a gargantuan fox. A fox with nine . . . tails . . .

"Holy shit," he whispered, the realization hitting him like a freight train, ice flooding his veins as it suddenly became harder to breathe. He was dead. He was so, so dead.

The Tailed-Beast puffed at him, steaming air spilling out of its nostrils: the only warning before it roared and the sound barrier crumpled like paper.

"WAKE UP!"


Naruto's eyes snapped wide open.


It came back to him all at once.

Years of sadness and isolation, the moment he learned determination and strength. The day his resolve ignited into a burning will of fire, and Iruka-sensei gave him his Konoha headband.

His whisper came out of a dry throat through cracked lips, as though he'd been sleeping for days. "I remember."

Slowly, surely, Uzumaki Naruto picked himself up off the ground, all the while aware of the woman standing just a few feet away. The first thing he noticed about her was her bone-white hair, perfectly straight, not a strand out of place. Such a stark contrast to the blood-red he was so familiar with.

Kaguya narrowed her pale eyes and pursed her lips. "Thou seemeth tired, mine son," she observed, her voice rich and hauntingly musical, the words lingering in the air a bit longer than they should have. "Thou shouldst rest some more." As though reinforcing the suggestion, the Rinnegan on her forehead pulsed ever so slightly, and Naruto felt a small but growing urge to lay down and sleep. Only for a few minutes. He was sure he'd get back up before—

Naruto steadied himself with a hand on the kitchen counter and couldn't quite stop the breathless laugh that bubbled out of his chest as he realized what Kaguya had been trying to do. "You are not my mom," he all but snarled. "My mom was named Uzumaki Kushina, and she was the best mom in the whole world! You could never replace her!"

Kaguya's frown deepened, her tiny eyebrows drawing close together. "Why doth thee fighteth against me? 'Twas such a nice dream." She sounded confused, genuinely confused that anyone would even want to wake up from her genjutsu.

The teen closed his eyes and lowered his head. "Was any of it real?"

Kaguya pursed her lips. "Why wouldst it matter? Thou believed they wast real."

Naruto growled low and deep, still forced to steady himself against the counter. "It was a lie."

Kaguya tilted her head to the side, her expression growing puzzled. "Is a lie truly such a bad thing? Thou had everything thou'd ever wanted. Thou were'st happy, Naruto."

"You don't get it, do you?" Naruto snapped, raising his head and staring the goddess straight in the eyes. "You can't just take away people's pain and suffering. Even if it hurts, it makes us who we are. Without that, we're just shadows."

"Doth that truly justify allowing people to liveth through the agony of the real world?" Kaguya countered, seemingly content to merely watch as Naruto struggled to remain standing. "If pain and suffering is one's idea of the perfect world, the Infinite Tsukuyomi will grant it without disturbing others. Thine ideals are selfish, Naruto. Thou would take away everyone's happiness just to satisfy your own."

Little by little, Kaguya's language became more modern about a word or two at a time, changing her dialect into a baffling mix of old and new. That didn't stop what she was saying from being bat-shit insane.

Naruto gritted his teeth, his gaze going hard and flinty. "It's not about my happiness," he spat.

In his mind's eye, Neji looked at him solemnly. At the Hyūga's side stood his mom and dad, Ero-sennin, Nagato, Konan, Hokage-jiji, and hundreds upon hundreds of others. Every single person who had given up their life in the hope of something better. They had all trusted him to make a difference in their stead.

Naruto's fist clenched so tightly that he was sure his bones were going to crack.

"It's about you making everyone's hard work and sacrifices meaningless! There's no way I would let you or anyone else do something like that!"

He shoved himself away from the counter, wobbling for a moment or two as he struggled to find his balance. When he failed to fall, he looked up, only to find Kaguya glaring down at him.

"Foolish child," she scolded, her dark lips twisted in her disapproval. "You fight me to find purpose in pointless deaths that could have been avoided? You and your flawed morals will only get in the way of what is best for this world. Only I am suitable to govern and grant this war-torn land true peace."

A terrible rage set ablaze in Naruto's chest at her words. "You call this peace?!" he cried incredulously. "You call this peace?! You made everyone your slave! How the hell do you call something like that peace?!"

Kaguya's chakra pulsed, and the veins around her eyes bulged prominently on her face in a clear threat. "One such as you could never understand."

Naruto's blood roared in his ears, and he briefly saw red. "You're damn right I'd never understand!"

He was mere seconds away from lunging at the demonic bitch when she inhaled sharply and looked up at the ceiling. Naruto narrowed his eyes then just as he dared to follow her gaze, the ceiling caved in.

The apartment collapsed with tens of tons of concrete débris pinning him to the ground. After Naruto pulled himself free of the wreckage and into the humid night's air, coughing concrete dust out of his lungs and doing his best to ignore the many bruises that were sure to darken after a few hours, he paused as he heard something above the crackling flames.

Dozens upon dozens of screams that seemed to have come out of nowhere.

"What the—"

But he didn't have time to ponder this new development when he heard something over his shoulder.

"Yo, Naruto."

Not something. Someone.

Almost too afraid to believe it, Naruto turned to see a familiar young man resting in the crown jewel of a translucent purple giant, his patterned eyes blazing with the power of the Firstborn. Blood caked his pale skin and his clothes were ripped and torn, making him look like he'd been through Hell and back again. And who was to say that he hadn't been?

"Sasuke?" Naruto called hesitantly.

From high off the ground, Sasuke snorted, the skin around his eyes crinkling in wry amusement, jet-black hair brushing over his face with the motion. "Let's get out of this fake world."

Naruto grinned, lightheaded in his relief. This was the real Sasuke, not one of those fakes that Kaguya had created. "About time you got here, bastard. I was wondering when you'd show up."

Sasuke deadpanned at the comment, the Susanō's head shifting to look down at Naruto. "I don't recall being the one dumb enough to get trapped by this genjutsu in the first place."

Naruto bristled, and just as he was about to hurl his own insults back at the Uchiha, he was cut off by an unearthly scream that sent shivers down his spine.

"I will not allow it!"

Naruto and Sasuke turned with identical grimaces. The Rabbit Goddess hovering in the sky about sixty feet off the ground, wind billowing around flowing robes and long white hair. The veins around her eyes bulged and the Rinnegan in the center of her forehead darted around wildly in her rage. Her lips pulled back in a sneer as she hissed, her once musical voice now discordant and darker than her expression. "You scattered chakras cannot hope to defeat me. I am supreme and invincible, and I shall usher in a new era free of war and conflict."

"Kaguya," Sasuke hissed, his Susanō pulling a twin chakra-swords out of the air and brandishing them menacingly, "this world has no need for your brand of 'peace'."

"That's right!" Naruto agreed, his voice low and solemn. "We don't want your fake world!"

An oppressive atmosphere fell over the land. The air grew thick and syrupy, and temperature plummeted. Overhead in the night sky, the moon shone unnaturally bright and red as the distinct tomoe'd patterns marking the ultimate genjutsu appeared on its surface.

Naruto gasped and swayed on his feet, all of a sudden growing weak in the knees, realizing that he could no longer move.

"Naruto!" he heard Sasuke shout. "You have to resist her influence! You have to fight it or the world is doomed!" Despite the warning, Naruto didn't see Sasuke moving either.

"Insolent, wretched worms," Kaguya said, her voice terrible and cold as she ominously floated closer, her robes and hair fluttering with the motion. "You dare defy me and disrupt the peace I have brought about? You shall be punished!"

Naruto lowered his gaze, his entire body shaking with the effort of resisting Kaguya's will.

"It is useless," she declared, immediately divining his intentions. "You are in a world of my making. I have total and complete control." She floated closer, and closer, and Naruto refused to look up, straining against the invisible chains. "Why do you continue to fight, Asura? You and Indra could have the perfect world, the one you've always dreamed of, if only you would not resist."

He felt her icy touch rest on his shoulder before it moved to brush the hair away from his eyes, her nails razor-sharp against his skin. There was something caring about the motion, almost motherly.

Naruto snapped.

Kaguya gasped when he looked up at her with blood-red eyes, pupils slitted like a beast's, and something dark and ancient was unleashed. Naruto heard the voice of an old friend echoing in his head.

Let us meld our chakra, you and I.

There was a sudden jolt, and then Naruto's body lit up like the sun as dense chakra enveloped his form, tracing black patterns over his clothes and his face. The familiar rush of sage mode came roaring back, drawn fast by the beacon of energy that was the Tailed-Beast chakra, and Naruto felt his awareness expand as he surrendered himself to the vastness of nature. Seemingly out of nowhere, nine fist-sized black orbs materialized and hovered protectively behind Naruto.

He shrugged off Kaguya's influence with the ease of a duck rolling water off of its back

Kaguya reeled back as though struck, her eyes wide and her mouth dropped open. "You—How could you—"

"Naruto!"

Just as Kaguya and Naruto turned to look, Sasuke was already diving to his teammate's side, his left fist outstretched. No other words needed to be spoken. Naruto could sense the peerless power of Indra humming in Sasuke's fist, resonating with Asura's bottomless strength in his own right hand. What he did next was purely out of instinct.

He reached.

Before Kaguya could so much as react, their fists collided, and their chakra merged to become something greater. Eyes and body, Yin and Yang. The power detonated, creating a shockwave that blasted Kaguya away as she desperately lunged for them, and the genjutsu shattered, little fragments of reality tumbling away.

Far away in another world, the Sage of Six Paths smiled.


~o0O0o~

The Rabbit Goddess of the Moon came to lying flat on her back. Something hot and sticky was dripping down her face. Frowning, she reached up to wipe it off. Her hand came away red. She blinked, then scrambled onto her feet. When she looked around, she found herself in a barren wasteland, her feet sinking into desert sand.

The Infinite Tsukuyomi, the unbreakable illusion, her perfect world.

It was gone! It was all gone!

Kaguya screamed, her shrill voice ripping at the air, blasting away nearby sand with its force.

Even in the midst of her rage, she was able to sense the ebon flames of Amaterasu forming behind her. She effortlessly twisted her body out of the way, turning to glare lividly at the Uchiha who had cast it even as the black fire smashed into a sand dune almost a mile away where she knew it would burn for seven days and seven nights.

Sasuke and Naruto stood side by side, their scattered chakras somehow managing to stand strong against her, the Original. Kaguya felt a cold fury wash away her white-hot rage, and slowly, her thoughts calmed. One way or another, they would pay.

The young men in front of her each took a challenging step forward, and then another, and another until they were running towards her at speeds that made the very air scream. Kaguya only waited, and just as they were upon her, she attacked.


~o0O0o~

The battle with Kaguya was one of the hardest and most dangerous fights of Naruto's entire life.

The only thing keeping him from being blown off the face of the earth was the fact that Sasuke had his back. They moved like they'd been fighting together for years, anticipating the other's attacks and moving in to support, coordinating assaults without a word.

All that amounted to was surviving. Barely.


~o0O0o~

Kaguya lashed out with all the immortal power that Orochimaru had pursued for most of his life with a devastating fury. But somehow, Sasuke failed to fall, and Naruto refused to die.

The Rabbit Goddess gazed upon the scattered chakras before her and felt her anger grow. "Wretched fools. You would destroy the world's greatest chance for peace? Such a thing is unforgivable."

Sasuke stepped in line with Naruto, and Kaguya could feel their energy resonating with one another. How had Asura and Indra become so close? "Is there nothing more for you to say, Kaguya?" Sasuke said, his voice brimming with poisonous hatred. "Your reign has come to an end."

Kaguya's face remained expressionless, untouched, but something deep within her stirred at the words. A white-hot indignant fury. "Come, then, would-be usurper," she challenged, gripping the world with her power. "Try to overthrow me."

One second they were standing amidst a sea of sand and mile-high desert dunes. In the next, they were in a world of fire and bubbling molten rock.

Naruto yelped as he found himself falling face-first towards a river of lava. Sasuke immediately summoned a large hawk midair, landing on its back whilst directing it to catch Naruto before he fell any further. After a moment of scrambling and muttered arguing, Naruto joined Sasuke on the hawk's back as they looked around with confusion and apprehension struggling in their features.

Satisfied that they were occupied for now, Kaguya was content to simply watch.

"Is this another genjutsu?" Naruto wondered, looking with open awe at a land of fire and ash with smoky skies and stinging air. "What's the point if we already know it's an illusion?" Despite Naruto's assertion that this was just an illusion, Kaguya didn't miss the way his fingers tightened over the hawk summon's feathers. It seemed he wasn't keen on testing that theory.

"This isn't an illusion," Sasuke answered, his tone hard and firm.

Naruto looked over at him, scowling at what he saw. "What?!" he exclaimed, his voice absolutely incredulous. "A world of lava?! What kind of stupid world is that?!"

Sasuke merely glanced at his spiritual brother. "I can feel the heat, and I can smell sulfur in the air. But most of all, I know that this world is real because I can see it." The Rinnegan seemed to glow a bit brighter in the fire's red light.

Slowly, they looked up to Kaguya who was floating high above them in the air. "You mean she actually—" Naruto trailed off, and inwardly Kaguya purred with satisfaction at the way his expression went slack at the realization.

Sasuke nodded, his jaw clenched and his lips pulled back into the snarl of a cornered beast. "She summoned us to another world."

Naruto's mouth dropped open, and his eyes filled with something that resembled fear before his expression quickly morphed into a determined glare. "No matter what she does, we can't afford to lose. Not when everyone's depending on us." Naruto crouched on the hawk's back, touched his hands to the softness of its feathers, and then he shot up into the air so fast that all Sasuke saw was a yellow flash.

Kaguya was ready for him. Even as Naruto lashed out with one of his Truth-Seeker orbs, Kaguya stretched her awareness and her chakra pulsed, nullifying the attack and sending the volcanic land below into a frenzy of eruptions that seared the very air. As she forced Naruto back with barely any effort on her part, she paused at the look of triumph on his face. Her confusion was immediately addressed when Sasuke, in the crown of the warrior god Susanō, dove at her from the sky with a colossal blade at the ready.

Kaguya scoffed, and with a single well-placed strike the mighty Susanō was blown to bits, its summoner sent hurtling towards the ground. Naruto, hurled away by the blast, reached out with a hand of pure golden chakra, barely managing to snag Sasuke before he was burned alive in the lava below. "Sasuke, snap out of it!" he screamed.

Sasuke grunted, before using the chakra arm as a foothold to scramble back up to where Naruto was floating. The two didn't say anything, but somehow Naruto knew to flatten one of his Truth-Seeker orbs for Sasuke to use as a platform. "Is this one of the powers you received?" the Uchiha asked after he'd firmly landed on the flattened surface. "The ability to fly?"

"Looks like it!" Naruto replied. "We're gonna need it if we have to fight in this shitty world! Now let's—where'd she go?!"

Sasuke looked up and stiffened with shock. Kaguya had vanished. He and Naruto stretched their senses to the max, desperately searching, but they could find nothing. Then, from directly behind them, something gave off a low and menacing hiss.

Just as they turned around, something horribly cold brushed against their foreheads and they found themselves paralyzed. Kaguya stroked their faces tenderly with sharpened nails, ignoring the horror in their eyes. As she held them, she was reminded of a time long ago, of her own beloved sons and how they'd turned against her. The sting of betrayal and the wretched agony of heartbreak came rushing back at the memories, and Kaguya couldn't stop the tears from spilling over her cheeks.

Asura and Indra, she thought. You are so like my sons, headstrong and foolish. Here, her expression turned bitter and her eyes grew hard, her hands wrapping firmly around the teenagers' throats. Never again will I allow you to turn against me. Now, you're mine.

With a silent command, their life-force began to drain from their bodies, steadily feeding her with their energy.

Even though he was paralyzed, Naruto managed a strangled grunt. "She's . . . taking our chakra!"

Sasuke shuddered, then seemed to go limp as he closed his eyes. But when he opened them, Kaguya sensed Indra's diminishing chakra spike and ignite.

"Amaterasu."

Before the flames could even begin to take shape, Kaguya was gone, and black fire scattered harmlessly over molten rock.

The young men gasped as they were released, Naruto wobbling precariously as he suspended himself over the lava below. "Where the hell did she—"

Right in front of them, the air grew ominously dark and seemed to force itself apart, and from the abyss beyond a single rippled eye glared.

Sasuke glared right back and summoned his chakra to his eyes for another burst of unholy fire. Yet, just before the release, Kaguya's power pulsed and the world of fire vanished, leaving Naruto and Sasuke completely encased in ice and snow.

They found themselves in a frozen world of icicles and glaciers, and a deep, bitter chill that seeped into their bones and robbed them of their warmth.

Kaguya slipped out of her inter-dimensional portal and tutted at them mockingly, floating in the air while the young men were still stuck in the block of ice. "This is my dimension. You cannot do anything."

Even though they were completely immobilized, Kaguya swore she heard their vitriol snorts. Then slowly, the black orbs of the Tailed-Beasts that hovered Naruto's back began to slither through the ice, easily melting their way through the solid structure and weakening its foundation. Treacherous feelings of nervousness creeped their way into the back of Kaguya's mind.

At the exact moment when the Truth-Seeker Orbs had eaten their way through, the glacier exploded as shafts of black fire speared through the ice, and in a burst of steam and powdered snow with huge chunks of ice flying every which way, Naruto and Sasuke were free.

Kaguya stared. Maybe these two are truly strong. Or perhaps it is I who— She subdued the thought with an irritated scowl and slipped through another dimensional rift.


~o0O0o~

After hours of fighting, they ended up in a world a waves and water farther than the eye could see. The setting sun sent beams of light reflecting every which way, giving the area an oddly melancholic feel to it. The air smelled of salt, and huge, dark shapes circled ominously in the depths below. Jagged fins breached the surface in clear warning, and Kaguya could feel the bottomless hunger that drove these creatures mad.

She paid them no heed, though, well out of their range by floating several hundred above the ocean. Her eyes were trained far away, towards a cloud of dust at the edge of the horizon. As she watched, the cloud expanded, almost as if the dust was alive. Then, brushing up against the very limits of her senses, she felt a spark so tiny it was almost unworthy of being noticed. But that spark grew and grew until it became a familiar flame.

It was at that moment she realized what she was looking at. Her eyes narrowed, and her lips pursed as the strangest sense of apprehension crept up on her.

Asura's . . . clones?

There were so many that they blotted out the sky, and all of them tore towards her at speeds that made the air shriek as Kaguya felt Asura's flame burst into a raging inferno. Out of the corner of her vision, she saw the sea monsters flee and vanish into the deep. They must have sensed the approaching danger somehow.

But it did not matter. Asura and Indra could not hope to beat her. She was the Source, and they merely held scattered remnants of her son's inherited powers. Whether it was now or later, they would fall, and nothing would stand in the way of her peace.

Kaguya looked at the incoming army with the cold indifference that only divinity could muster. "It matters not how many I must face. The result is the same." She sped up to meet them, her long her writhing in response to her unleashed rage.

She pointed, and lightning, true godly lightning came streaming out through her fingers, obliterating the clone army with overwhelming bursts of energy. By the time she lowered her hands, the air smelled of ozone, and the sky was clouded with white smoke.

Kaguya frowned as the wind howled and the smoke began to disperse. Asura's fire had vanished, but something warned her it wouldn't be that simple.

She didn't have to wait for long. Just as she looked up, a golden Kyūbi encased in Susanō armor dove down through the clouds with an earsplitting battle cry, a massive sword of black flames brandished mightily. Asura's flame had returned, and with it came the cold thunderbolt of Indra's power.

Kaguya sneered, and shot up to meet them.

She reached, the armored Kyūbi slashed, and there was a flash of white-hot pain. After her mind had cleared, Kaguya watched in undisguised horror as her severed right arm fell to the waves below, streams of crimson trailing behind it. Grimacing in her agony, she quickly forced another portal open and vanished through it just as the Kyūbi brought its blade up for another swipe.

Directly behind Naruto and Sasuke, a dimensional rift opened, and Kaguya emerged with an unearthly screech. The boys barely had time to react before the goddess shot something bright from her hand, and there was an explosion with enough power to erase a city as the hundreds of gallons of water vaporized almost instantly, clouding the area with steam.

But despite all that, when the steam cleared, Naruto and Sasuke stood tall and defiant, the Susanō that had shielded them cracked but still whole, the golden Kyūbi underneath completely untouched. From inside the sheltered crown of the Kyūbi's head, Sasuke gave a dark chuckle. "You are wearing thin, Kaguya. How much longer can you last?"

Naruto didn't say anything, merely holding a hand out in front of him while the Tailed-Beast he controlled opened its jaws as wide as it could, supercharging the air with its chakra until it pooled into a dark purple ball the size of a small mountain. As he did so, Kaguya could feel air being drained from the skies, sucked into the developing technique until it began to shriek as four blades of light circled it ominously.

With a grunt of effort, Naruto hurled the Tailed-Beast Bomb towards her, and Sasuke chose that moment to lace the technique with spikes of his Amaterasu. What was once a devastating technique became a promise of death.

In her heart Kaguya knew she couldn't take on something like that and remain unharmed.

Worry and doubt wormed its way into her mind as she threw herself out of the way, and she grew sloppy and frustrated. Through it all Naruto and Sasuke came at her with a relentless determination that only grew stronger and stronger with each strike.

With only one arm left, Kaguya resorted to guerrilla tactics and retreated, darting out in blitz attacks from dimensional rifts, never lingering long enough for them to counter, always striking where they were most vulnerable. Yet it was always a clone that managed to worm its way in front of a lethal blow, or a Susanō that deflected the worst of her strikes.

She was beginning to feel the strain of prolonged battle and fell back to her home dimension of patterned stone hills for a brief respite, only to find herself caught completely off guard when the scattered chakras followed her through the rift she'd made.

As she watched, stunned, Naruto and Sasuke took the chance to look around.

"Where are we this time?" Naruto asked, eyes roving critically. "This world doesn't even have any trees. What kind of world doesn't have trees?"

Instead of telling Naruto to shut up like usual, Sasuke had a calculating gleam in his eye. "This place . . . it's not like the others."

Naruto turned, his eyes squinted in confusion. "Huh? What do you mean 'not like the others'?"

From off to the side, Kaguya gritted her teeth. That those two were here in her own home dimension was a disgrace of the highest order. Normally she would have killed them outright for the insult, but she was too worn down by the repeated dimensional travel to muster any sort of an attack.

Even as Kaguya cursed her helplessness, Sasuke knelt and touched the ground, his hand tracing over the lines on the patterned rock. As tired as she was, Kaguya could still feel his Rinnegan pulse. "Unbelievable . . ." she heard him whisper, before he looked up to his bewildered teammate.

"What? What'd you find?" Naruto asked, curious despite having been fighting for his life mere minutes ago.

"This is the world that connects all of the others. It is where she goes to travel through all of the different dimensions." Sasuke raised his head, and Kaguya swore his mismatched eyes held a predatory gleam. She silently snarled, exhaustion rendering her immobile.

"Naruto," Sasuke said, his voice hard and thin like ninja wire. "She's weak. We can't hesitate now."

When Naruto turned to stare at her, she almost flinched at the cold and distant look in his eyes. Despite spending months with him in their perfect world as his mother, did he truly feel nothing? Where had she gone wrong? Why was he betraying her like this? Why was he looking at her like that? And why . . . why did it cause her so much pain?

With a yell so loud that even from dozens of yards away Kaguya winced, Naruto instantly formed two Bijū-powered rasenshurikens, one bearing blue-gold seal-markings and carrying the scent of a desert, and the other brimming with the explosive power of a volcano, bright with the red-hot glow of molten rock.

He hurled them at her, and this time Kaguya was too exhausted to dodge. When the smoke cleared, she was still there, having managed to survive more or less intact with a partial deflection, but something was wrong.

She felt her body violently shift and churn as bestial heads took form, struggling away from her control. She could feel her awareness fading as the monsters imprisoned within her fought their way free, as her form reverted to a more primal, rabbit-like state.

Something inside her pulsed, and Kaguya's rage surged. Within mere seconds, the beasts inside her were subdued, and her body was human once again.

But she was tired. So, so tired.

When Yin and Yang faced her together once more, Kaguya feared defeat.


~o0O0o~

In the end, the corrupted goddess was banished and sealed, and bit by bit, the world awakened from the eternal dream.

It wasn't the peace that Kaguya had strived for, but it was cooperation between the five great nations.

It wasn't happiness for everyone, but it wasn't a lie.

And it wasn't a perfect world, but it was theirs.

They were free.


~o0O0o~

A few months later, Naruto trained his gaze towards the setting sun from where he sat at the edge of the Hokage mountain. Dying light spilled over the horizon, painting the village in shades of red and gold and everything in between. This was where he'd come whenever he wanted to be by himself, whenever he had to think. It was silly, but it felt like the past Hokage were helping him somehow.

A warm breeze whispered through the trees carrying with it loose foliage that gave a dry rustle, and Naruto heaved a sigh, drawing up his legs and resting his chin on his knees.

"What's wrong now, idiot?"

Naruto didn't even bother to turn his head. "Not now, bastard. Leave me alone."

Sasuke arched a brow at that and promptly ignored the order, taking a seat next to his friend on the rough sandstone of the mountain. They sat together in silence, Naruto watching the sunset and Sasuke watching Naruto until the Uzumaki got tired of being watched.

"Would you quit looking at me?!" he snapped. "You're creeping me the hell out!"

Sasuke stared back, unimpressed. "I'll stop when you tell me what's bothering you."

Naruto huffed, wrinkling his nose and furrowing his brow. "Well tough luck. I'm not telling."

Sasuke narrowed his eyes. "You would think that the two of us saving the would would be a cause for celebration, not a signal to wallow in our depression."

"I'm not depressed," Naruto protested. "I'm—" He hesitated, cutting himself off, then his head sank lower until his chin was resting on knees again. After an uncomfortable pause, Naruto sighed. "I see her in my dreams," he admitted with a croak. Sasuke's mismatched eyes widened in alarm, and Naruto immediately addressed the budding suspicion. "Relax, bastard. They're just normal dreams, not crazy-ass mind techniques or anything like that."

"Are you insane?!" Sasuke hissed. "How could you possibly know that they're just dreams?!"

"Because," Naruto hissed right back, "the first time I had them I went straight to Ino. She promised there was nothing wrong with me."

Reluctantly, Sasuke backed down, but Naruto could still see the wariness in his eyes. The silence dragged until the sun had set, and one by one the lights flickered on in the village below, bright yellow dots against an increasingly darkening backdrop. The buzz of Konoha's nightlife filled the air, and the crickets began to sing.

"She loved me, you know," Naruto eventually said, so soft that Sasuke almost strained to hear it. "She wanted so badly to be a mother, to have someone to love as her child, someone to take care of." He lowered his head, and his hair swept over his eyes, shadowing them as his voice hitched like he had the hiccups.

"And . . . I wanted to have a mom again. I wanted to know what it was like to have someone say "Do your best" or "Welcome home". It's really messed up, huh? To think that I'd want that fake world. I really am pathetic." Naruto swiped at his eyes as he sniffed, stubbornly ignoring the wetness on his cheeks.

For a long time Sasuke didn't say anything, only watching as his teammate fought a losing battle with the tears. Eventually, he stood and stared up at the perfect circle of the full moon. "To want a happy life is not pathetic." Naruto looked at him with puffy red eyes and a snot-filled nose, and Sasuke continued, "No one can fault you for wanting what you've been denied. You are not weak for your desires. You're strong for knowing what was right."

Naruto lowered his head and clenched his jaw, and for the first time that night the tears flowed freely down his face.

Like a sentinel, Sasuke watched over his friend as the stars passed by overhead.


~o0O0o~

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+o— THE END —o+

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~o0O0o~

Author's Note: That's the end. Thanks to everyone who followed, fav'd, and reviewed. You have no idea how much I appreciate that someone actually likes the stuff that I write.

Anyway, some explanations are in order now that the story's complete.

1) Iruka.

Back in the first chapter, the memory with Iruka-sensei? Iruka doesn't exist in Naruto's world because the world was created by Kaguya and what she assumed would be best for Naruto. Iruka came and saved Naruto from the loneliness of his childhood, but Kaguya wants to make Naruto forget about that loneliness altogether. So she took the easy route and just got rid of Iruka entirely.

2) Why this is NaruSaku.

Believe it or not, I'm pairing neutral. But there is a logical explanation for why this is NaruSaku.

Naruto is a moron. Simple as that. After Hinata confessed to him during Pein's invasion, Naruto didn't say a word to her. Even after Neji's last words, "Naruto, never forget that Hinata-sama is willing to die for you," he still acted like nothing had changed. It was only until "Naruto: The Last" that he finally realized that Hinata loves him.

At this point in time, Naruto was still chasing after Sakura. Hell, when Minato asked, Naruto even claimed that Sakura was his girlfriend.

This has nothing to do with whether Sakura would have returned his feelings or not. This is Naruto's fantasy. Thus, he and Sakura go on that date he always bothered her about.

Do I think that one girl is better than the other? Of course not. I don't believe in true love or anything like that.

3) Kakashi's porn.

Gone are the smut novels and in come the hardcore movies.

This was more for humor's sake than anything else.

4) The memory at the beginning of chapter 3.

That was of Naruto and Sasuke's battle at the Valley of the End, way back when Sasuke defected from Konoha to train under Orochimaru.

5) Naruto collapsing in chapter 4.

Some memories are stronger than others, and the memory of Pein's assault was particularly powerful.

6) Tora.

That cat is a mystery. ;)

7) The first scene of chapter 6.

That was the real world Sasuke defeating fake!Itachi and slowly walking away.

8) Why the genjutsu started breaking at all.

It was Sasuke's fault. The genjutsu would have remained stable if Sasuke hadn't invaded. His Rinnegan slowly unravelled the illusion, and that in turn unleashed Naruto's suppressed memories. When Sasuke arrived at Konoha's gates, Naruto's false memories fell apart entirely.

9) Gender Roles

This didn't even occur to me when I wrote it, but at some point I got a guest reviewer complaining that they didn't like that I'd written traditional gender roles with Kushina cooking and Minato reading a newspaper.

My response to you is that gender roles are only a bad thing if you force people to stay inside them. If someone wants to live within their gender role, who are you to interfere? It's their life, after all.

Also, it's kinda sorta canon. Minato has stated that his favorite thing in the world is Kushina's cooking. This compounded with the fact that any time we see Kushina and Minato's home life, Kushina is invariably acting as a housewife.

Here's a picture for reference:

www . wallpaperup/13319/Sandwiches_family_naruto_shippuden_manga_minato_namikaze_breakfast_uzumaki_kushina_naruto_uzumaki_jinchuuriki_portraits . html

Just use that address (without the spaces) and you'll see why I have that particular headcanon. It's a cute picture of Naruto's family, with Minato reading a newspaper, Naruto escaping out the window with stolen food, and Kushina howling at him from the kitchen to get his ass back inside. XD

10) Kaguya posing as Kushina.

This was inspired by a wonderful claymation movie called "Coraline" (SPOILER ALERT) where a young girl is bored with her life, and then in an Alice in Wonderland style she discovers a world just like hers, but better. Her parents were there, exactly how she always wanted them to be, and everything is cool and new and interesting.

But slowly, the perfect world falls apart, and the impossible radiance of her new life fades. She finds out that the woman who was her "Other Mother" is actually a witch who steals children's souls by luring them into a world that's too good to be true.

I watched this movie years ago, and when the manga with Kaguya and the Infinite Tsukuyomi came out this idea popped into my head and demanded to be written.

It boils down to Kaguya wanting to feel like a mother again, and her basically taking Kushina's place in Naruto's life.

11) Kurama.

He was trapped and silenced in Naruto's mind, and was unable to do or say anything until Naruto remembered his past.

12) Why I uploaded the last chapter twice.

I got lazy the first time. I wasn't even going to include that last fight scene between Kaguya and Naruto and Sasuke, so I just posted it while hinting at the fight. Then my friend Igornerd read it and flipped out, told me to take the chapter down, and not to even think about posting again until I had a halfway decent fight scene.

So if you liked that fight, you have him to thank for it.

~o0O0o~

That just about sums up everything that needs to be explained for this story. Thank you for reviewing, favoriting, following, or even just reading. I truly appreciate it.

Special thanks to Igornerd, Ser Serendipity, EmptySurface, Zenthisoror, and Infamous Storm for helping me make this story better than the crap I spewed onto the keyboard. And a huge thanks to Dorcyy for recommending this story in her "Chance for a Prophecy". You guys are all the best.

Regards,

Duesal Bladesinger


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