|Do You Remember Love
Author: DigiFruit PM
Naruto dies and then wakes up as a twelve-year-old genin. He discovers that the shadow clone technique duplicates his soul each time he uses it, and he is cursed to relive the tragedy that is his life over and over again for every soul he had duplicated.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Romance - Naruto U. & Sakura H. - Words: 16,145 - Reviews: 499 - Favs: 1,874 - Follows: 280 - Published: 08-13-08 - Status: Complete - id: 4471627
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Do You Remember Love
A Naruto OneShot
Premise: Naruto dies and then wakes up as a twelve-year-old genin. He discovers that the shadow clone technique duplicates his soul each time he uses it, and he is cursed to relive the tragedy that is his life over and over again for every soul he had duplicated.
When Sakura saw Naruto walk into the classroom that morning, she wondered why he had even bothered to come, since he had flunked the academy graduation exam in front of the entire class just yesterday. Shikamaru ended up voicing her thoughts for her, and Naruto merely gave him a detached grin as he pointed at his official Konoha forehead protector.
He had somehow become a ninja. But that wasn't the only thing that Sakura had noticed that was different about him. She couldn't put her finger on it, but there was something definitely off about him. He seemed tired, not his usual energetic self. Most likely he had to pull off some incredible stunt to prove his worth as a ninja and earn that forehead protector no doubt. Perhaps that was it, he was just tired, that was all it was, so she just shrugged it off and turned her attention towards Sasuke as usual.
Hinata, however, was much more observant. She noticed that Naruto's usually vibrant sky blue eyes looked as if they had aged over a hundred years over the span of just one night. There was no longer that youthful twinkle, now there was only weariness.
Her observations were cut short when Iruka entered the classroom and announced that he would be giving them their team assignments that day. Hinata, of course, silently prayed to be teamed with Naruto, while Sakura and Ino, on the other hand, were quite blatant about their own desires. Hinata, however, would not get her wish.
Sakura cheered as she was placed on Team Seven with Sasuke and Naruto. Naruto, however, was oddly silent, grim even. Hinata had thought that Naruto would have been happy to be on the same team with Sakura, but apparently that wasn't the case. Not that she was complaining or anything, of course. Naruto's lack of interest also did not go unnoticed by Sakura.
Once all of the teams had been formed, Team Seven was the last remaining to be picked up by their new jounin sensei. Sakura shot Naruto a cautious glance and found him leaning backwards into his chair and contemplatively staring up at the ceiling in silence. He looked as if he were deep in thought, something that Sakura never would have thought possible for someone as vapid as Naruto.
"Sasuke-kun... what's up with him?" she whispered, nodding over towards their unusually quiet teammate.
Sasuke clearly couldn't care less. "Maybe he cheated to earn that forehead protector and now he's feeling guilty about it," he shrugged.
Naruto then sighed as he got up to his feet. Sakura and Sasuke watched out of curiosity as Naruto placed a chalkboard eraser above the door. Sakura figured that there was nothing wrong with him if he still had the guts to play pranks.
"You shouldn't do that to our new sensei," she scolded, despite the fact that she actually did enjoy pranks like that.
Naruto then glanced at her for a brief moment with a pair of eyes that reflected the most complex turmoil of emotions that she had ever seen. In that sea of blue was a roiling mixture of love, loss, grief, defeat, loneliness, she could go on until she had run out of words in her vocabulary. Or had she just imagined it all? The eye contact had only been a split second after all. He then gave her a small smile before returning to his seat.
And then, to Sakura and Sasuke's surprise, Kakashi fell for Naruto's prank. Naruto didn't seem all too surprised though, nor did he even look the least bit amused.
After a little grumbling from Kakashi, they all found themselves up on the roof for self-introductions. But before they had begun, Naruto asked Kakashi a question that neither Sakura nor Sasuke could make any sense of.
"Ne, Kakashi-sensei," he said in that weary voice that had been so full of life just the day before. "Do you remember? Do you remember the side-effect of the kage bunshin no jutsu?"
Kakashi cocked his head to one side, not having expected to be quizzed about his knowledge of advance ninjutsu right off the bat. He was pretty sure that academy graduates weren't even supposed to know what the shadow clone technique was. "Chakra exhaustion and..." he paused for a moment, "death... if you divide your chakra among too many kage bunshin."
Naruto merely nodded, getting the answer that he had expected, though it was impossible to tell whether he was satisfied or disappointed. His stoic face was impossible to read.
"All right, since you volunteered to speak first, why don't you introduce yourself," Kakashi suggested.
Naruto rolled his eyes momentarily. "Uzumaki Naruto... nice to meet you."
There was a brief silence, as if they were expecting him to say more. "Hobbies? Likes? Dislikes? Dreams for the future?" Kakashi urged. He had been under the impression that Naruto was supposed to be an energetic prankster, so this stoic boy that was now in front of him was not what he had been expecting.
"I do a little of everything I guess, a jack of all trades," Naruto replied with a disinterested shrug.
"Everything?" Kakashi raised an eyebrow. "That's quite the resume you have there."
Naruto let out a cynical laugh. "Sure is."
"Care to elaborate?"
"Not really, next," Naruto nodded over at Sakura who was sitting in between him and Sasuke.
"Um..." Sakura had originally been planning on using her self-introduction to flirt with Sasuke, but the atmosphere was already shot thanks to Naruto. "I'm Haruno Sakura. I like sweets and reading books in my spare time is my hobby."
Kakashi merely nodded and then gestured for Sasuke to introduce himself. He did his usual broody spiel about wanting to kill a certain person, at which Naruto rolled his eyes.
"Well, that's all for introductions," Kakashi stated, glad that was over with. "Our first mission will be tomorrow morning at oh-six-hundred sharp at our designated training grounds, so don't be late. It may be tough on you rookies, so I'd recommend not eating breakfast either."
"Wait a minute, you haven't introduced yourself, sensei," Sakura pointed out. "Naruto called you Kakashi-sensei earlier, is that your name?"
Kakashi blinked for a moment in surprise. He had been so caught off guard by Naruto's shadow clone question that it hadn't even occurred to him that he knew his name already. "Why, yes, my name is Hatake Kakashi," he nodded, glancing over at Naruto quickly enough to catch a small smirk.
The next day, Sakura and Sasuke diligently showed up right on time, but Naruto and Kakashi were nowhere to be seen. After about fifteen minutes of grumbling, Sakura was beginning to worry that maybe she had gotten the meeting time mixed up. But then she assured herself that it was unlikely that both she and Sasuke had misheard Kakashi's instructions.
It wasn't until a few hours later that Naruto showed up with lunch in hand. "Hungry?" he asked jokingly.
Sakura was about to scold him for being late, but stopped when she realized that she was somewhat glad that some of the liveliness that she had come to expect out of Naruto was back. It was normal, and normal was good. "Where were you?" she asked, deciding to use a use a softer tone of voice than she usually used for him.
"I overslept and figured that I'd try to bribe my way out of punishment by buying Kakashi-sensei lunch, but I guess I lucked out," he laughed, sitting down in the grass and unwrapping the stacked bento boxes. "How long have you guys been here anyway?"
"Four hours!" Sakura whined resentfully.
"Well, here's a reward for you guys if you tell Kakashi-sensei that I was here on time this morning," he chuckled.
"Sounds good to me," Sakura agreed, admittedly quite famished after having skipped breakfast. Not to mention that Naruto had somehow gotten his hands on an incredible-looking lunch. Though, she guessed that it would have to be incredible if he had originally planned on bribing Kakashi with it. "C'mon, Sasuke-kun."
Sasuke let out a disgruntled sigh before joining his two teammates for the impromptu picnic. Needless to say, Sakura was quite happy and was silently thanking Naruto for such a great chance.
"Say, which restaurant did you get this from?" Sakura asked once they had finished their meal. The food had been delightfully delicious, and even Sasuke seemed to be in a good mood, which in turn made the food even more delicious for her.
"Hmm... Nozomi," he shrugged.
"Nozomi?" Sakura raised an eyebrow. She had eaten there a few nights ago with her parents, and while it was quite a nice upscale restaurant, it wasn't as delicious as the bento that Naruto had brought. After some thought though, she just chalked it up to a change in kitchen staff or something.
A couple hours later, enough time for them to digest their lunch, Kakashi showed up. As Sakura complained about his tardiness, Sasuke noticed that Kakashi looked slightly surprised by the empty bento boxes on the grass. Sasuke then realized that perhaps Kakashi had intended for hunger to be part of what he had planned for them that day. That was the only explanation Sasuke could come up with as to why a jounin would be six hours late to a mission briefing.
It turned out that Sasuke's hunch had been correct once Kakashi briefly explained the bell test to them. Once they were given the green light, Sasuke and Sakura scattered, but to their surprise, Naruto was just standing there.
"Are you going to use the kage bunshin no jutsu?" Kakashi asked curiously, remembering what Naruto had asked him the other day.
"Nah, I destroyed the part of the forbidden scroll containing that technique when I stole it the other night," Naruto replied casually.
"Is that so?" Kakashi raised an eyebrow.
"Well, I guess we should get started, yeah? Henge!" Naruto shouted, but only his right arm was consumed with the smoke usually associated with the transformation technique. As the smoke cleared, Kakashi was surprised to find that Naruto had turned his right arm into a razor sharp blade.
Once the fight commenced, Kakashi noted that Naruto's speed and strength weren't really anything out of the ordinary, but it was his form that piqued his interest. Naruto swung that blade around with the controlled chaos of a hurricane.
"Not bad, Kakashi-sensei," Naruto grinned as his blade missed the strings that attached the bells to Kakashi's belt by a fraction of a millimeter. "With you holding back so much, I figured I'd be able to get a bell by now."
"Quite the cocky one, aren't you?" Kakashi laughed.
"Believe it," Naruto shot back good-naturedly before they went at it again.
By now, however, Sasuke was tired of seeing Naruto hold his own against a jounin, so he decided to join in. He had thought that he'd have to make a conscious effort to avoid Naruto's blade, but he was surprised that Naruto seemed to know where he was at all times.
"Now this isn't fair at all, ganging up on me two-on-one like this," Kakashi chuckled, keeping the two surprisingly talented genin at bay.
"Make that three-on-one!" Sakura declared, joining the fray.
"Keep in mind that there are only two bells," Kakashi reminded.
"Yeah, yeah, save your teamwork lecture for later," Naruto rolled his eyes, surprising Kakashi enough for Sakura and Sasuke to make a successful grab at the bells.
"All right! We did it!" Sakura cheered, even though a part of her felt bad that Naruto didn't get one.
Kakashi scratched the back of his head in slight confusion for a moment. "Yeah, you three pass, I guess," he laughed.
"Naruto too?" Sakura asked, surprised.
"Yeah, Naruto too," Kakashi nodded.
As the days turned to weeks, Sakura found herself becoming accustomed to Naruto's strange mood swings. On certain days, he'd be in a bitter slump, completing their tedious D-rank missions with the efficiency of a cold and unfeeling machine. But, on other days, he'd be somewhat chipper. Though, the youthful exuberance that he was known for back during their academy days never returned. Naruto was less of an annoyance this way, however, so she hadn't paid much mind to it.
Or rather, she was used to it. Admittedly, Sasuke didn't exactly have the warmest personality in the world, though his biting cold demeanor was one of his attractive points. Kakashi as well, despite his goofiness, was very emotionally detached. And, now, Naruto had joined their ranks as well. Hanging around her teammates was like being locked inside a freezer, an emotional icebox, but she was used to it, so she paid it no mind.
That is, until one day, she ran into Hinata at the market district. "Hey, Hinata, what's up?" she asked out of politeness. She had never really gotten along with the quiet girl back at the academy. Hinata had been far too unapproachable, but only because of extreme shyness rather than the emotional chill that Sasuke was known for.
"Oh, just a day off from missions," Hinata replied awkwardly, twiddling her fingers as usual. "How about you? Shopping?"
"Oh, nah, my parents are busy with work, so I figured I'd grab something to eat," Sakura nodded towards the Nozomi restaurant a few buildings away. "It's kind of embarrassing eating alone though, so would you like to join me?" she asked with a laugh.
"Um... yeah, sure," Hinata shrugged.
"I feel so out of place here," Sakura giggled once the waitress had seated them and given them the menu. The majority of the people at this restaurant were middle-aged businessmen in suits.
"Why this place?" Hinata asked nervously, also feeling as if she stuck out like a sore thumb.
"Oh, Naruto bought us a really delicious lunch from here a couple weeks ago, so I figured I'd come check it out. Though, it did take me a little while to save up enough to afford it," she laughed, taking a look around the place.
"Naruto-kun did?" Hinata asked, feeling a slight pang of jealousy.
"Yeah, he was late for our first mission, so he tried to bribe his way out of punishment by buying us lunch! Can you believe that?" Sakura giggled. Then she noticed a young couple walk out with a couple of black bento boxes. "Hey, wait, the bento boxes were pink..." she frowned, straightening up to get a better look around for any other bento boxes. All black.
"Pink bento boxes?" Hinata asked. "I don't think any restaurant would use pink bento boxes."
"Yeah, I know, why didn't I think of that before?" Sakura sighed. "I remember seeing those pink boxes on sale at the vegetable market down the street. I think Naruto cooked that bento himself, but why would he lie about it?"
"Are you ready to place your orders?" the waitress asked, interrupting them.
"Uh... yeah, I'll have the chicken donburi and a small side of miso soup," Sakura nodded.
"And I'll have the nigiri and sashimi combo," Hinata said.
"Hyuuga Princess, you are," Sakura laughed once the waitress was gone, causing Hinata to blush a little. "So where were we? Oh, yeah, Naruto. Oh, wow, I can't believe I'm having a conversation about Naruto with another girl."
"Have you noticed anything... strange... about him?" Hinata asked softly. The last time she had seen him had been during team selection, and she hadn't been able to forget the aged and weary look in his eyes since then.
"Well... he seems to have matured a lot, if that's what you're asking," Sakura replied. "He doesn't fight with Sasuke-kun anymore either... though, it's not like they get along exactly either. He has a lot in common with Kakashi-sensei... they're both kind of goofy, but they use that goofiness to keep others at a distance... you know what I mean? It's hard to explain."
"I can sort of understand," Hinata nodded.
"Well, he doesn't interfere with Sasuke and me, so it's for the best, I guess," Sakura shrugged.
"How about... his eyes?" Hinata asked, blushing and feel a little self-conscious for asking such a strange question.
Normally, Sakura's crush radar would be blaring at full alert by now, but because of Naruto's strange behavior recently, she merely assumed that Hinata would just be curious. Anybody who even vaguely knew Naruto would be curious. Naruto had been a curiosity magnet lately after all. "Yeah... his eyes are really strange," Sakura agreed. "Like... sometimes I feel like I'm looking at an old man... his eyes are similar to Hokage-sama's."
The waitress then interrupted them once again by bringing them their food. Sakura stared at hard at her chicken donburi. It looked delicious enough despite being one of the restaurant's cheaper dishes. But once she tasted it, she knew that it wasn't the same chicken that Naruto had treated them to.
"Naruto's pink bento was way better..."
"What are you doing?" Sakura found Naruto up on the outer perimeter walls that protected the village. It looked like he was reinforcing the construction of the wall or something.
"I don't really like sitting around with nothing to do," he replied, applying a seal she didn't recognize onto a sturdy plank of wood before hammering it onto the base of the wall. "It's a D-rank mission, but it keeps me occupied and I make a little extra money on the side."
"What are those seals?" she asked, not really out of curiosity but to avoid any awkward silences.
"What kind of seals would I be putting on a fortress wall?" he asked with a chuckle, hammering on yet another polished plank of wood. "These walls as they are may repel catapult rounds for a while, but they won't be much use against, say, a giant summoned snake."
"But we're at peace with all the other nations," Sakura pointed out with the innocent naiveté of a twelve-year-old.
"I know, that's why this is a D-rank mission," he laughed.
"Oh, right," she giggled. "It'd be B-rank or higher if we were in time of war, and they'd probably hire someone more adept at it." Even though she said that, however, she had to admit that Naruto seemed adept enough to look like he was a machine on autopilot. "Is this one of the things that makes you a jack of all trades?" she asked, referring to his self-introduction a few weeks ago.
"I guess so," he chuckled. "I'm surprised you remembered."
"You're a good cook too, aren't you?"
"What makes you think that?"
"Nozomi's doesn't use pink bento boxes," she pointed out.
"Sharp observation," he chuckled as he put his hammer down and paused from his work for a moment.
"So you're a cook too." It wasn't a question.
"Well, I can't eat instant ramen every day," he joked as he quickly put together an expertly-crafted stool out of the planks of wood for her to sit on.
Sakura raised an eyebrow as she tested the sturdiness of the stool for a moment before sitting down on it. It was surprisingly comfortable, as if molded specifically for her butt to sit on. "Thanks."
"No prob," he shrugged, resuming his work on the wall.
"I meant, for the food too. It was delicious."
He blinked in surprise and glanced at her for a moment with those mysterious eyes that had captured both her and Hinata's fascination. "Don't mention it," he replied casually with the first genuine smile she had seen from him in weeks.
"Why hide the fact that you're such an incredible cook?" she asked curiously. The Naruto that she knew from back in the academy days was such an egotistical braggart, so she couldn't imagine how or why he had hid such a talent for so long.
"Well... when you're young, you tend to say stuff," he shrugged, raising his voice a little over the pounding of the hammer. "Nonsense like 'Who the hell do you think I am? I'm going to be the Hokage, bitch!'... stuff like that... when you're young, recognition and acknowledgement is the most important thing in life. But as you get older, none of that stuff really matters anymore and you find yourself saying that kind of crap less and less."
"You're the same age I am," she frowned, but she had to admit that he had a point that she had never actually thought about before. To her, getting Sasuke to acknowledge her had been her utmost priority, being more important than even her friendship with Ino. Naruto had been the same way, except on an even grander scale; he wanted to gain the acknowledgment of the entire world. But did he not want that anymore? Had he matured beyond that desire? Would she also someday mature beyond that desire? "You don't care about becoming Hokage anymore?"
"If I do, then it's for different reasons," he shrugged.
Sakura had to wonder when it was that Naruto had matured so much. She watched him work with a new sense of quiet admiration, thinking that perhaps Naruto wouldn't be such a bad backup plan if things went sour with Sasuke.
She was then brought out of her reverie when he suddenly let out an exasperated sigh and threw down his tools. "Wh-what's wrong?" she stammered in surprise, hoping that her presence wasn't an annoyance to him.
"Can you keep a secret?" he asked with an expression of dead seriousness.
"Ah... um... yeah, of course," she nodded nervously, instantly curious as to what kind of secret would be shared between just the two of them. A secret between two people was such a profound and intimate thing, something shared by only two people and unknown to the rest of the universe. It made her heart race in anticipation.
His mouth then began to move, but no words came out. He frowned for a moment before shaking his head, as if to clear his thoughts. "Never mind," he finally said.
At those words, her heart fell like a rock from that high level of anticipation, and she was too stunned by her own emotional reaction to say anything more.
Weeks passed since Sakura's encounter with Naruto at the outer village wall, and she found that Naruto had grown increasingly distant over that span of time. He was always involved in some mission, usually solo D-ranks. They had only just returned from a mission that took them away from Konoha to Wave Country for a little while, but he had immediately resumed his work reinforcing the outer wall with those protective seals, even going as far as giving it a new paintjob just for the hell of it.
Their time in Wave had been fairly uneventful. Naruto had insisted on scouting ahead the entire time, even though Kakashi hadn't thought it necessary for a C-rank mission. Naruto had gone so far ahead, in fact, that he had arrived at Wave a full day before the rest of them had. Sakura had figured that perhaps he had only used 'scouting ahead' as an excuse not to talk to her, which had actually made her feel a little sad. It had given her a chance to talk with Sasuke the entire way, but it still wasn't a good feeling being snubbed like that. In the end, it had turned out to be a fairly textbook escort mission and Naruto had been sensitive enough to at least walk back to Konoha with them instead of going ahead by himself, though he still didn't say a word to her.
And Sakura didn't like it one bit. Being ignored by Sasuke was one thing, since he ignored anyone and everyone that walked, talked, and had a pair of boobs. But Naruto, up until a few months ago, had worshiped the very ground she treaded upon. Even if she had felt that this change had made him more tolerable, she just couldn't ignore the fact that she was no longer idolized. She was just fickle like that.
"Naruto, we need to talk," she demanded, putting her proverbial foot down. "That secret that you mentioned a little while ago... does that have anything to do with why you're not talking to me anymore?"
Naruto paused from his construction of a flamethrower turret and raised an eyebrow. That was the new D-rank mission that was keeping him busy at the moment, lining the tops of the outer walls and the lookout towers with automated flamethrower turrets. He had even devised a piping system that fed fuel to the flamethrowers so that it only took one person to operate an entire line of turrets. Jack of all trades indeed.
"You really are observant," he laughed, sheepishly scratching the back of his head.
"Then I deserve to know what that secret is," she huffed indignantly.
Naruto glanced down at the flamethrower that he was tinkering with and let out a sigh. He then got up to his feet and began installing it on an empty turret tripod. "It's something that might change your life, you know," he warned, still working in order to avoid her gaze. "It's something that might change you."
"That grand, huh?" she rolled her eyes sarcastically.
"Well, if you don't want to hear me out with a serious and open-minded attitude, it's better if I don't tell you," he shrugged, rigging the flamethrower up to the piping system.
Sakura sighed. "Sorry, it's just that it's been getting on my nerves," she muttered, her curiosity clearly overpowering her pride.
"I guess you want to know if I still have a crush on you or not," he chuckled, surprising her with his bluntness.
"Uh... um... yeah, that's one way to put it," she sputtered, fighting hard not to blush.
"Don't worry, Sakura-chan, I still love you," he grinned, meeting her eyes for the first time in weeks. "That's why I've been avoiding you."
"Was it something that I did?" she asked with a pout, not believing how easily the word 'love' had flowed from his heart.
"Nah, it's not you, it's me," he laughed, using that cliché line that all girls hated. Then his face turned serious. "You might want to sit down for this one," he said, fashioning another stool for by welding together parts from a turret tripod.
Sakura accepted and found that, like the wooden stool that he had made for her weeks ago (which she had taken home because it was so comfortable), she found that it fit the contours of her bottom perfectly.
"I've memorized what your ass feels like," he laughed, as if reading her mind. "I've ran my hands over that cute bottom of yours a million times, so I know how to make a chair fit to your specifications."
Her face immediately flared red with both embarrassment and anger as she immediately bolted up, raising her hand to slap him across the face. But then she remembered that she still hadn't gotten an explanation from him, so she held her anger in check. "You'd better have a very good explanation," she warned darkly, taking her seat once again.
"I married you once," he smiled with a faraway look in his eyes, as if recollecting the good memories. "Not just once, many times. Every time I die, my soul cycles back and I relive my life. I've relived the period from the year 194 to 217 more than a hundred times already, making me about three thousand years old by now. It's a curse I have to deal with."
Sakura was struck speechless. Normally, she wouldn't believe such a farfetched tale, but she believed him for some reason. It was probably the ancient expression in his eyes, an expression that only three thousand years of age could produce.
"I learned the kage bunshin no jutsu the day we graduated from the academy," he continued. "It's a technique that produces a solid body duplicate unlike the regular bunshin no jutsu. But the catch is that it also produces a duplicate of the soul. So once I dispel that kage bunshin, where does the soul go? In my first life, I never contemplated that question and kept producing clone after clone. But now I know. Those duplicated souls are stored away within me until my current soul extinguishes, then the next duplicated soul in line gets a chance at life."
"H-h-how many kage bunshin have you created?" she asked in a trembling voice. She was afraid of the answer, but she had to know.
He gave her a weary smile and shrugged. "A hundred thousand? A million? I don't know... all I know is that I still have a long way to go. I can sort of keep track by which date I cycle back. I always cycle back to the exact time and date that I created that particular kage bunshin. I must've created at least a hundred that first night alone, so I actually didn't know about this particular detail until recently. The last few times I died, I cycled back to the very next morning as a naked girl with Konohamaru and the closet pervert, so I at least know that I'm making progress," he chuckled, remembering his stroke of genius inventing the harem no jutsu. Well, it had seemed like genius at the time anyway, but now he just cursed his own stupidity.
"In my first life, my original life, I married you, Sakura-chan," he chuckled, leaning his back against the railing and craning his head out towards the magnificent forest vista that their position high up on the village wall had provided them. "We had two daughters... Kagami and Tsukasa. Kagami took after you, always responsible and studious. Tsukasa was two years younger and was sort of an airhead like me," he paused for a moment to laugh. "I loved them both. I loved them so much. But then I died... I died at the age of thirty-five... and the next thing I knew I was twelve years old again, beating the hell out of Mizuki-sensei.
"That first time I cycled, Kakashi-sensei and Old Man Hokage were there and explained everything to me. They were both users of kage bunshin, so they had cycled before I had and were waiting for me. When Konohamaru first cycled, I had been there for him too."
"No," Naruto shook his head, cutting her off. "Kakashi-sensei didn't have much chakra stamina, so he rarely used kage bunshin. Kakashi-sensei, Old Man Hokage, Konohamaru... they all cycled through their stockpile of duplicated souls long ago and passed on to wherever dead souls go. Back when they were still cycling, I at least had some company, but now I'm alone."
"That first time I cycled though, I was stupid... a fool," he murmured, his voice dripping with regret. "I tried to fix all the mistakes that I had made in life. Do you know how to save a life, Sakura-chan? Saving a life means forsaking another to die... for every life I saved, another would die... and in some cases, the person I was trying to save died anyway no matter what I tried. Life requires a balance that obeys the law of equal exchange... in order to obtain, something of equal value must be lost.
"The Old Man and Kakashi-sensei tried to tell me that, but I didn't listen. I stupidly tried to fix all the mistakes I had made in life, only to make things worse," he muttered. "Did you know that Sasuke was supposed to have the sharingan by now? The reason he doesn't is because I went ahead on the Wave Country mission and dispatched the rogue ninja from the Mist that would have given us a whole lot of trouble."
So that was why Naruto had gone on so far ahead of them. The fact that at least that piece of the puzzle had fallen into place made his story that much easier to believe, despite how unbelievable it really was.
"In one life, I even told the entire village about my cycling ability. I gave everyone the heads up on all of the tragedies that would befall Konoha, but even that turned out to be a disaster. A man from the military division Root, Danzo, he pulled a coup d'etat and used the knowledge of future events to turn Konoha into a military dictatorship," he frowned, clearly showing his distaste for the hopelessness of his situation. "Since then, I've given up on fixing major mistakes and now I just let life go on as it was originally intended to. Every now and then I make small changes just for variety, such as wiping out Zabuza and Haku ahead of time. Just small changes that aren't too far-reaching, but just enough to keep me from getting bored with living the same life over and over again. Sasuke may not have his sharingan now, but he will sooner or later, so no harm done," he explained with a nonchalant shrug.
"But there are a few things that are never constant, such as which of my sperm decide to swim the fastest up your... ahem," he cleared his throat to keep himself from getting into further graphic detail. "I desperately wanted Kagami and Tsukasa back... but I could never get them back. Sometimes, I'd have sons, other times daughters, but never Kagami and Tsukasa. Sure, I loved all of our children equally, but losing them after cycling was just too painful... so I've long given up on children as well."
"Th-that's why you're avoiding me..." she gasped softly. It was still too difficult to believe that she'd someday choose Naruto over Sasuke, but she could tell that he wasn't lying. The pain in his voice was clear, the pain of never being able to see his children, their children, ever again.
"It's not all bad though," he shrugged, trying to force a laugh to lighten the mood. "I've picked up a lot of hobbies on the way, since I've had a lot of time to kill. In one life, I became a bestselling author... in another life, I learned how to paint... I can play the violin too."
"So that's what you meant by jack of all trades," she smiled softly, glad that Naruto hadn't been driven to the depths of depression by now. "And the cooking... you must've become a great cook after three thousand years of practice... that's why your food was so delicious."
"Yup... time is one thing that I'm not short on," he chuckled.
Then a thought struck her. "Have you tried... you know... killing yourself?" she asked softly, feeling ashamed and dirty for even suggesting such a thing. But if it could possibility help him cycle through his stockpile of souls faster and end his suffering, then she felt obligated to at least mention it.
He then let out a sigh and looked at her with those weary eyes. "Yeah," he replied in a defeated voice. "I even made a deal with shinigami-sama once... to cut my lifespan short and take my soul... but it made you really sad. I didn't want that, so I never tried it ever again."
"Naruto..." She tried to hide the blush that was rising to her cheeks. Was she already falling in love with him? Was this the inevitable destiny that had been laid out before her countless times already? One thing was clear though, that he surely loved her still.
"It's a lot to take in, I know," he said with a comforting smile. "Give it some thought... but don't tell anybody else... I wouldn't want Danzo getting wind of this and going on a rampage again, nor do I want to assassinate him."
Sakura didn't have much of an opportunity to dwell upon Naruto's tale because soon afterwards Kakashi had admitted them into the chuunin exams. Despite the fact that Naruto had probably aced the exam countless times already, she still worried about it. She had always been a worrier when it came to exams. She did get a boost of self-confidence though when she had spotted the genjutsu hiding the room number that had fooled all of the other genin there.
It was then that a strange boy in green spandex began hitting on her and challenged Sasuke to a fight. At first, Sakura was giddy with delight that Sasuke would be fighting against another boy that seemed to have a crush on her. But, right from the start, things didn't look good for Sasuke.
"Sasuke should activate his sharingan for the first time right about now," Naruto muttered, watching Rock Lee toy with the Uchiha genius with little interest. "Not that it'll help him at all."
Sakura gasped when, as predicted, Sasuke's eyes turned a frightening shade of blood red. But, also as predicted, Rock Lee still wiped the floor with him. "Sasuke-kun..." she whimpered. The fact that Sasuke had been completely destroyed was even more unbelievable than Naruto's tale. To her, Sasuke had always been invincible, the undefeatable golden boy. To see her idol fall was devastating.
"All right, break it up, you two," Naruto sighed, blocking one of Lee's kicks before it landed across Sasuke's face. "Don't do anything to taint your youthfulness," he grinned jokingly.
Lee blinked for a moment, confused, and then smiled. "You're right, I almost lost sight of what is youthful!" he apologized, using the nice guy pose.
"Let's go, stop wasting time," Naruto muttered, not even bothering to help Sasuke up. After being betrayed by the guy over a hundred times already, his patience had worn thin long ago. He no longer saw Sasuke as a brother as he once had in his original life. Time had long stripped him of his innocent and naïve outlook on life.
"What's your problem? What do you have against Sasuke-kun?" Sakura huffed, bristling at the harsh treatment Sasuke was getting.
"Sasuke..." Naruto stopped in his tracks but didn't bother to turn around. "If you ever betray Konoha, I'll kill you."
Sakura gasped. Was Sasuke going to turn his back on Konoha some day? Was that why she had ended up marrying Naruto? It couldn't be true. Sasuke wouldn't betray his home village. "Sasuke-kun..."
Sasuke frowned as he got to his feet and dusted himself off. He didn't know what Naruto was going on about, but he didn't like it. "I dare you to try to kill me, moron!" he growled angrily, clenching his fists so tightly that his nails began digging into his palms and dripping blood onto the floor. First he had been humiliated by a ridiculous ninja with a bowl cut and green spandex and now the academy's dead last was talking down to him and making random uncalled-for threats. He couldn't take it; he had to prove himself superior.
"Didn't I tell you to stop wasting time?" Naruto muttered coolly, already heading into the waiting room for the chuunin exam.
"Sasuke-kun, we all need to be in top condition for the exam," Sakura pleaded, not wanting to see her two teammates fight.
Sasuke gritted his teeth before forcing himself to calm down. "Fine," he muttered, figuring that he could prove his superiority in the exams where everyone would be in witness.
Sakura sighed in relief and followed Sasuke to the waiting room where they met up with the rest of their rookie class. She was honestly surprised to see Ino there with her ragtag team of Shikamaru and Chouji. Were those three really qualified for this exam?
Oddly enough, Naruto was hamming it up with a team of genin from the Sand. She was about to warn him to back off because the short one with the large gourd on his back looked like he was about to kill somebody any second now, but she was interrupted by the arrival of a fellow leaf genin named Kabuto.
Kabuto, it turned out, was an upperclassman who had failed the exams a few times already. She felt a little relieved to get advice from a veteran. He had a large deck of cards that held information on every ninja in the room and Sasuke immediately asked about Rock Lee, Gaara, and Naruto.
Sakura was actually little surprised by how imbalanced Rock Lee's statistics were. She didn't think he could beat Sasuke with those mediocre stats. Naruto's stats as well were a surprise. They were completely mediocre compared to what she had seen during the bell test with Kakashi.
Kabuto then made a casual comment about the Sound village, eliciting a violent response from them, but Naruto immediately stuck his foot out to trip the belligerent sound ninja. "Oh, sorry, didn't see you there," Naruto laughed, scratching the back of his head.
"You did that on purpose!" Dosu raged, grabbing Naruto by the collar.
Luckly, however, Ibiki intervened and announced the start of the first exam. Sakura let out a sigh of relief when it turned out to be a written test. Normally, she'd worry about Naruto, but she figured that he probably had all of the answers memorized by now.
As she suspected, the first exam went by uneventfully. Even the final tenth question, which had been a psychological scare tactic, didn't really faze her. It seemed like Naruto really did know what he was doing after all.
The second exam, however, scared her. The bloodthirsty examiner even forced them to sign waivers just in case they died during the exam. The only solace she found was that they'd be doing this as a team. "We'll make it through this okay, right?" she gulped nervously, hoping for confirmation from Naruto.
But he didn't answer. He seemed to be keeping a close watch on the team of Grass ninja. "Are they strong?" she asked worriedly. The one with the long tongue definitely gave her the creeps.
That was when Naruto's eyes shot wide open in shock. "Orochimaru!" he roared, charging in towards the grass ninja with a sphere of spiraling chakra in hand.
"Naruto-kun! I knew it! It must be the kage bunshin no jutsu that has granted me this second chance at life!" Orochimaru cackled with sadistic glee, immediately shedding his disguise. "Why didn't you tell me before, Naruto-kun? You're so mean to keep this wonderful secret from me!"
"Orochimaru! How many kage bunshin did you make? Without me even noticing during the previous life?" Naruto fired the sphere of chakra like a cannon, ripping Orochimaru's left arm off.
"No, the question is, how many have you gone through?" Orochimaru grinned, easily regenerating his lost limb. "Quite a few I'm guessing, considering that you've managed to develop a method to fire the rasengan as a projectile."
"Orochimaru! What is going on here?" Anko demanded, finally recovering from the shock of finding her old mentor engaged in a battle with one of her examinees.
"Oodama Rasengan!" Naruto shouted in a rage, charging up a ridiculously large sphere of deadly chakra in each hand before firing them both at incredible velocity at Orochimaru.
"That's quite the troublesome technique!" Orochimaru mused, barely being able to avoid certain death.
"Anko! Hold him down!" Naruto ordered, knowing that his body lacked the necessary speed and strength for him to defeat Orochimaru alone.
But before Anko could respond, Naruto saw it. He saw it, but his current body couldn't do anything about it, and the next thing he knew, the Kusanagi sword had been impaled straight through his body.
"NARUTO!" Sakura screamed in horror.
"Orochimaru... you're going down with me," Naruto grinned, holding Orochimaru in place with kage bunshin. He knew it would add a few cycles to his life, but it was insignificant in the long run. "I won't let you hurt this version of Sakura-chan."
"I'll just be back next time around," Orochimaru replied smugly, unafraid of the rasenshuriken that Naruto had aimed straight at his ice cold heart.
"I'll kill you in the next life before you cycle," Naruto shot back with a weak grin, already coughing up the blood that cemented his death. "That will wipe out your entire stockpile of duplicated souls. You discovered the kage bunshin secret a little too late, Orochimaru. I'll cycle to the next life months before you do and kill you."
Orochmaru's expression immediately contorted to one of sheer rage. "NO! You can't! I've finally found the solution to eternal life!"
When Naruto opened his eyes, he found himself staring at a beautiful pair of breasts. They were his own breasts, he realized. Konohamaru was there as well, eyes wide as saucers, and Ebisu was unconscious with a massive nosebleed. He had cycled back as expected.
"When did Orochimaru ever use the kage bunshin?" he wondered bitterly, dispelling the perverted technique before heading straight for the Sandaime's office without even saying a word to Konohamaru. He had much more pressing issues.
"He must've done it during the chuunin exams, otherwise he would've used his knowledge of future events to completely mess everything up," he concluded, rushing past the guards posted outside the Sandaime's office. "I still have time, but not much."
"Naruto?" Sarutobi raised an eyebrow in surprise as his doors slammed open. "What brings you here."
"Where's Ero-sennin?" Naruto demanded. "I need to see him!"
"Jiraiya!" Naruto growled, slamming his fists on the desk in impatience. "I need to find Orochimaru now before he cycles back!"
"What are you talking about?" Sarutobi asked, dazed by the suddenness of it all. There was no way Naruto should know any of this.
"Just tell me where I can find that pervert toad sage!" Naruto demanded, not wanting to waste any time with explanations. "We're going to take Orochimaru down NOW!"
Far away, in another time, in another life, Sakura was weeping over Naruto's bloody and lifeless body. She knew that he was still alive, but that didn't ease the pain of losing him at all. He had gone somewhere she could never reach.
"Naruto... wherever you are... I wish you the best..."
With Jiraiya's help, Naruto had managed to ambush Orochimaru and wipe him out. Orochimaru didn't seem to recognize him, so it was clear that he had yet to cycle when Naruto had ended his life with another rasenshuriken.
With Orochimaru gone early on, Naruto spent the rest of that cycle living a recluse hermit life in the mountains, deciding not to interfere any further in the events of that timeline. With both Naruto and Orochimaru out of the picture, it turned out that Sasuke would not betray Konoha this time around in order to even out the balance required by the law of equal exchange. Life went on with the events with the Akatsuki and Madara playing out as they would have except with Sasuke taking his place in the balance of power. He kept these conditions for Sasuke's loyalty to Konoha in mind, thinking that it might come in handy during some future cycle. Perhaps Sakura may be happier this way.
Then, at the age of thirty-five, right on schedule, he died.
"Geh! Naruto? Stop it! Leave me alone!" Sakura wailed as Naruto smothered her with an affectionate embrace. "Get off me before I kill you!"
Naruto grinned sheepishly as he let her go. He had lived in the mountains alone until the age of thirty-five in his previous cycle, so that made it twenty-three years since he had last spoken to Sakura and he had missed her dearly.
"What's wrong with you?" she screamed, clearly flustered that Sasuke just happened to be watching.
Naruto just gave her a playful wink before heading up to the back of the classroom to ham it up with Shikamaru, Chouji, Kiba, and Shino. In previous cycles, Shikamaru had often been a very reliable cohort, so it was very good to see him again.
"Jeez, I can't stand him!" Sakura grumbled loudly enough for Sasuke to hear as she quickly fixed her hair. "I really hope I don't get stuck with him."
But, just her luck, when Iruka announced the team assignments, she ended up teaming up with Naruto on Team Seven. She let her disgust be known to the entire class, but Naruto surprisingly didn't react. He merely left with Iruka to get some ramen once they had been dismissed for lunch.
Even later that day, when they had been introduced to the jounin who would lead their team, Kakashi, Naruto had been surprisingly civil and well-behaved despite that freak public display of affection that morning. That, however, wouldn't last very long.
When Sakura had gotten out of the bath that night and was getting ready for bed, she heard a poignant melody floating in through her window. Her neighbor was a very attractive single woman, so she figured that it was yet another suitor trying to woo her with a moonlit serenade. She sighed as she went over to her balcony to take a look, wishing that Sasuke would serenade her.
She then gasped when she saw that it wasn't her neighbor that was being serenaded, it was for her. There was Naruto in her backyard with a violin, eyes closed, and playing an aria that, true to its name, seemed to lift her spirit upon its lighter-than-air melody. It was such a beautiful piece that she almost felt as if her tears could escape any second now.
When the song came to a close, he jumped up to her balcony, startling her, and sat there, perched on the balcony railing, with a grin across his face. "Good evening."
"Kyaa!" she squealed when she realized that the only thing she was wearing was a pink bath towel. She tried to cover herself up with her arms and glared at him, but it was hard to stay angry with him, especially with the euphoria from the aria he had just serenaded her still looping on repeat in her mind. "Th-th-that couldn't have been you playing," she accused. "It must've been a recording!"
He just grinned and placed the violin on his shoulder once again, this time playing a different tune, a canon instead of an aria, but it was just as beautiful. And, before she knew it, she was once again under his music's spell. She couldn't help closing her eyes and just letting the melody spirit her away.
Naruto then took the opportunity to plant a soft and gentle kiss upon her lips, a kiss that was as light and feathery as the aria he had first played for her. Then, when her eyes fluttered open in shock, he was already gone.
The next morning, Sakura showed up to their training grounds early in the morning without eating breakfast, just as Kakashi had specified. Sasuke had already been there when she arrived and she was glad to see him. The way Sasuke's presence set her heart afire was proof that Naruto meant nothing to her and what had happened the night before had been a complete aberration.
Sakura blinked in surprise when a pair of arms wrapped around her from behind. It felt so good that her body immediately switched to autopilot and melted into the loving and protective embrace.
"Sakura-chan?" Naruto asked, noticing that she had gone into a daze. He then laughed a little and playfully blew into her ear, jolting her out of her reverie and causing her to let out a small moan of pleasure. He knew exactly what turned her on.
"NARUTO! What are you doing?" she screamed, realizing that Sasuke had witnessed it all. "Sasuke-kun, it's not what you think! You're the only one I have feelings for, please believe me!" she pleaded in desperation.
Sasuke, seeing this opportunity to lose a fangirl, just huffed and turned away, pretending to be angry. Being on the same team with Sakura would be much more tolerable for him if he didn't have to deal with her excessive fangirling.
"Sasuke-kun! Please believe me!" she begged. "You're the only one for me!"
Sasuke just continued to ignore her.
"Naruto! Explain to Sasuke-kun right now that there's nothing, NOTHING, between you and me!" she demanded angrily, stomping her foot.
"C'mon, Sasuke, drop the act and let's have breakfast," Naruto suggested cheerfully as he laid out a picnic blanket. "Kakashi-sensei told me that he'd be late, so we might as well keep our energy up. We'll be sparring with him today after all."
Sasuke gave him a suspicious glance before joining him for breakfast. The prospect of sparring against a jounin excited him and he wanted to be in the best shape possible, so breakfast was a must. "All right, but it better not be any garbage that you cooked up."
"Don't worry, it's takeout from that diner down the street," Naruto lied. "Sakura-chan, you too."
She had to fight back drool at the sight and smell of scrambled eggs mixed with potatoes, bacon, sausage, mushrooms, and peppers. She immediately forgot what it was that she had been angry about before and sat down to eat. She really loved a western breakfast, but her parents insisted on traditional Japanese.
"I also brought some strawberry and peach tarts," he said with a grin, handing the small bakery box over to Sakura, causing her to squeal with delight. He really knew what buttons to press.
Once they had finished breakfast, Sasuke went off to train and prepare for what he guessed would be an intense match with Kakashi later on. Sakura was still glowing with satisfaction from the delicious meal and decided to just relax under the shade of a tree.
She watched with curiosity as Naruto jumped up onto one of the branches of the tree she was sitting under and pulled out a harmonica. He leaned back against the trunk and began belting out a mellow bossa nova jazz tune. It was so relaxing that she couldn't help smiling and closing her eyes, allowing herself to drift upon the lazy melodies. It was as if she had suddenly been spirited away to a sandy beach somewhere off the coast of Ipanema.
The next few weeks of D-rank mission after D-rank mission felt somewhat empty for Sakura. Naruto, for some reason, seemed to be avoiding her, and Sasuke was avoiding her as well, though that wasn't actually anything unusual. It didn't seem like Naruto was angry with her; he had actually been quite cheerful with her, but also quite distant at the same time.
It was frustrating because now she had started questioning her sanity. Had Naruto really kissed her that night on her balcony or had it all just been some kind of hallucination brought on by his hauntingly beautiful music? If he had really kissed her, then why was he avoiding her now all of a sudden? Why did he keep disappearing right after missions were over? It was driving her crazy, but she just couldn't bring herself to ask Naruto for some answers.
She got her answers the day that they returned from an uneventful escort mission to Wave Country. A new bestselling novel had been published while they had been gone, and the author of that novel had been none other than Uzumaki Naruto. She figured that he must've locked himself in his room every single day after missions were over in order to write that book. She found it to be a perfectly plausible and acceptable reason for his absence and lack of social life, but it still didn't explain that kiss.
She had immediately gone out to buy it, hoping that maybe the answers she had been searching for may lie within its pages, and finished it in one night. It had a funny title, 'Doki Doki Fantasy,' but it was an incredibly sad and tragic tale about a train, a lonely girl, and the conductor that loved her. She had cried so hard at the end that she had to go get a glass of water to keep from dehydrating.
She had also found it disturbing how she had grown increasingly obsessive over Naruto. She couldn't help it though. It seemed like, over night, he had become even more mysterious than Sasuke. The music, the novel, what else did the guy have up his sleeve?
The next day, after their daily D-rank missions were over, she had planned to talk to him about his novel, but, as usual, he disappeared immediately once Kakashi had dismissed them for the day. Unbelievable. Was he writing another novel?
"He's not getting away from me this time!" she growled in frustration, determined to track him down.
The first place she checked was his apartment. She knocked, but got no response. Then, finding that the front door was unlocked, she figured that perhaps he was home and just didn't hear her knock.
"Anybody home?" she called out cautiously as she slipped off her sandals at the doorway.
Naruto's place was what she imagined it would look like, a complete mess. But it was somewhat of a charming mess. There were crumpled pieces of paper all over the place, no doubt botched pages from his novel. There were also various musical instruments lying around haphazardly. There was a shamisen leaning against the couch, a guitar hanging from the wall, harmonicas in various keys scattered across the kitchen table, an open violin case resting on the floor, even an upright piano over in the far corner.
Then there were the paintings. She knew that he could write heartbreaking novels and play heartbreaking music, but she hadn't known that he could paint as well. In the middle of the living room were an easel and an unfinished canvas oil painting on a plastic mat that protected the carpet from stray paint. The unfinished painting was a magnificent piece depicting Konoha's twilight sky.
There was also an open sketchbook on the kitchen table among the various harmonicas. She flipped through it and saw that it was full of portrait sketches. The first page was a sketch of a very attractive girl with her hair in twintails named Kagami. On the next page was a girl named Tsukasa. There were twenty-four portraits in all, of people she had never seen before.
"N-N-Naruto!" she gasped, jumping in surprise as he came in through the front door. "I... I didn't mean to intrude!"
"It's okay," he said with a warm smile. He had been used to coming home to Sakura's welcome embrace during their married days, so he didn't mind at all. It was actually kind of nice. "Like my artwork?" he asked, seeing no point in hiding it.
"Y-yeah, it's very nice," she nodded. "The models you used are very pretty too. Especially this Kagami girl... I can tell you put a lot of effort into her portrait." She couldn't help but feel a pang of jealousy.
Naruto laughed a little and picked up his sketchbook. Kagami, his first daughter, had been fourteen years old when he had died and had been growing up into a stunning beauty. But that had been at least three thousand years ago, she would be long dead now.
"Sakura... this was my daughter... our daughter."
Sakura couldn't fall asleep that night. She was still in a daze from Naruto's tale. No matter how she looked at it, it was too unbelievable to be true, but, for some reason, she knew that he hadn't been lying to her.
Only three thousand years of practice could produce the exquisite technique required to play such beautiful music. Only three thousand years of practice could produce a person of Naruto's talents. Only three thousand years of loneliness could produce those weary eyes of his.
Naruto couldn't bring photographs with him when he died, so he immediately sketched as accurately as possible the faces of each of his children every time he cycled. He had lived over a hundred times already but had only twenty-four children. She realized that it must've become too painful for him to bear to lose anymore of his children, so he must've just given up on having children altogether. It was too sad a tale, so sad that she didn't want it to be true.
But seeing the faces of the children that she had given birth to in another life had struck a chord in her. Looking at their faces had made her feel like a mother. She could see that Kagami had inherited her eyes, and Tsukasa had her nose. It triggered her motherly instincts and just seeing their faces caused her to well up with happiness. It made her realize that she really wanted children.
But that would only cause Naruto pain.
"Oh, God, no..." she gasped, realizing that her thought process had already automatically pegged Naruto as the father of her future children instead of Sasuke. Was she already falling in love with Naruto?
It was all too confusing.
"Naruto, we need to talk."
"Are we breaking up?" he asked jokingly, jumping down from the tree branch that he had been lounging on, and put his harmonica away.
"Naruto, seriously," she pleaded.
"Sakura-chan..." he let out a long sigh. "Honestly, I want you to fall in love with me. I haven't married you in over two hundred years now because I didn't want you to fall in love with someone who would die at the early age of thirty-five. But I got a little carried away this time and interacted with you way more than I should have."
"Naruto..." she blushed, feeling embarrassed at his talk of love. "I don't know... this is all too much for me... but... I don't want you to isolate yourself. I'm not saying that I'll fall in love with you or anything, because I still think that I'm in love with Sasuke-kun right now. But... I don't want you to be lonely... you've been lonely for far too long now..."
"Sakura-chan..." he murmured with a soft smile. "Is it okay for me to be selfish this one time? Is it okay for me to try my hardest to win your love?"
Her blush deepened as she began to fidget nervously. "Y-yeah... but Sasuke-kun is big competition, so... you never know..."
Naruto shook his head. "You'll forget all about Sasuke soon enough," he whispered into her ear, his breath on her sensitive skin causing her to shiver in delight. "You're mine, Sakura-chan."
Despite Naruto's big talk about making her fall in love with him, he had put romance on hold, while they went through the chuunin exams. He had stopped avoiding her though, so at least that was a plus.
They had made it through the first exam without much trouble, but it had been the start of the second exam that Naruto had begun to act extremely antsy. She found it quite odd for someone who knew of future events to be antsy, but she soon found out what it had caused him to be so apprehensive.
She had let her temper rage out of control when Naruto had stood by and did absolutely nothing while Sasuke had been nearly killed by a freak named Orochimaru. She knew of how Naruto's previous attempts to save the world, so to speak, had ended in utter disaster. She knew that saving Sasuke now might have dire consequences later. Something about the law of equal exchange. She knew all of that, but none of that eased the pain of watching Sasuke get pummeled to near death. And she had yelled and screamed at Naruto, cursing him for not saving Sasuke. She knew it was unfair to him, and that she had been completely unreasonable, but matters of the heart were oftentimes unreasonable.
"Naruto... I'm sorry for yelling at you earlier..." she sighed as she took care of a dormant Sasuke.
Naruto shook his head. "You had every right to get angry," he replied simply and just left it at that.
She discovered that Naruto had some incredible ninjutsu up his sleeve as well, so they had made it through the rest of the second exam without any further trouble. She had almost forgotten that Naruto must have accumulated over three thousand years worth of ninjutsu by now.
In the preliminary matches, Sasuke had just barely scraped by with a victory, given his condition. Sakura had tied with Ino, and Naruto had drawn his match with Kiba out to a reasonable length in order to keep a low profile. Naruto had interfered with one of the matches though, saving Rock Lee from getting his leg crushed. He only interfered verbally with Hinata's match though, saying that if he had actually jumped in, the consequences would have been very severe. But still, watching him save Rock Lee just made it that much harder to swallow the fact that he had let Sasuke get beaten so badly like that.
But Sasuke eventually recovered, much to her delight, but Kakashi had immediately taken him away for a month-long training journey in order to prepare for the main matches. That left her alone with Naruto, which scared her and excited her at the same time.
"H-h-hey," she stammered as he jumped in through her balcony that night. This was the first time she had let a boy into her room, and it was both intimidating and thrilling, especially since Naruto was so much more experienced than she was. She had to admit that he was quite dashing now that she saw him as sort of a tragic hero.
"Sorry for not warning you ahead of time about what would happen to Sasuke," he apologized with a sad smile as he took a quick look around her room. It had been two hundred years since he had last been inside after all.
"It's okay," she shook her head. "I was out of line. But it would be helpful you do warn me about things."
"Yeah, that's why I'm here," he nodded as he took a seat at the foot of her bed. He patted the spot beside him, gesturing for her to have a seat. Once she was seated, he took a deep breath. "There's no easy way for me to say this, but... Old Man Hokage is going to die at the main matches next month."
She gasped and was glad that she had already been sitting before Naruto had dropped that bomb on her. "Th-th-there's nothing you can do to stop it?"
"I've tried," he murmured sadly. "One time, I saved him, but Asuma-sensei died instead. Another time, Kakashi-sensei died in his place. But most of the time, the Old Man just dies anyway, no matter what I do to prevent it. I've watched him die over a hundred times already... helpless to do anything about it. You'd figure that I'd get used to it by now, but no... it hurts the same every single time..."
"Oh, Naruto..." she felt an overwhelming wave of sadness wash over her as yet another tragedy of his life had been uncovered for her. How many more deaths had he witnessed over and over and over again? "I'm sorry..." she cried, wrapping her arms around him and burying her face in his shoulder. "I'm so sorry..."
"It's been far too long since you've last held me like this... two hundred years ago for me..." he chuckled softly.
Sakura kept her face buried in his chest, unable to bring herself to look at the magnitude of sorrow his eyes held. "Two hundred years is a long time..."
The main matches, and the Sand and Sound invasion came and went as Naruto had informed her ahead of time. It was hard for her to be at the Sandaime's funeral, knowing that she had known that this would have happened and that she had done nothing to prevent it. The fact that she couldn't have done anything at all didn't ease that pain much. She was starting to regret asking Naruto to give her the heads up on future tragedies, but she realized that the pain she felt was probably just a mere droplet in an ocean of suffering for him.
When he had told her that Sasuke would betray Konoha, she had blown up at him once again, just like that time during the chuunin exams when he had just stood by and watched Orochimaru beat Sasuke into a pulp. She had thought she had matured enough to handle things like this, but apparently she thought wrong.
Naruto had now left the village for a little while to fetch Tsunade of the Legendary Three, who would supposedly become the new Hokage. She hadn't had the chance to apologize to him before he had left, so now she felt completely ashamed of herself and her actions. But it also gave her time to reflect upon Sasuke's upcoming betrayal.
It couldn't be true. Naruto had to be lying. Sasuke wouldn't betray Konoha, he wouldn't betray her. But the more she thought about it, the more she saw the truth. With every visit to the hospital, every time she cut apple slices for the unresponsive Uchiha, she could see that Sasuke could very well betray her. She then realized that betrayal wasn't even the right term. Betrayal required him to have some sort of emotional investment in Konoha, but she saw none of that in him. That realization crushed her and she cried hard.
When Naruto had finally returned, Tsunade healed Sasuke, and Sakura wasted no time trying to convince Sasuke that Konoha was his home. She could tell that Naruto had wanted to tell her that it was no use, but he said nothing.
"So Sasuke-kun will leave us for sure?" she asked him later that evening.
Naruto leaned against her balcony railing, watching the moon rise behind him. He seemed deep in thought for a moment before returning his gaze to her. "I'll keep him from betraying you," he said firmly, remembering his previous cycle. He had assassinated Orochimaru early and then led an isolated hermit life until he had died. That was the only way he knew how to keep Sasuke loyal to Konoha without throwing the balance of life out of whack.
"You will?" she asked, surprised. Then she remembered the law of equal exchange. "At what cost?"
"Don't worry about it," he chuckled, already climbing over the balcony railing. "I'll make sure he stays."
"No, tell me! Please," she begged. "Knowing you, you're probably planning on paying the price all by yourself, aren't you?"
"Of course not," he grinned, shaking his head. "Orochimaru will pay the price."
"Naruto! You're not telling me everything! Don't do this to me!" she pleaded, gripping his hands so that he couldn't leave.
"No harm will come to me, I promise," he assured.
His evasiveness did nothing to alleviate her fears. She was sure that he was planning something that required a large sacrifice on his part. It was then that she realized that she was indeed falling in love with him. Her desperation to keep him by her side at all costs was proof of that. "Naruto... please..."
"I gotta go prepare for Orochimaru's assassination... not much time left, so I'll see you later, Sakura-chan," he said and then gave her a light peck on the cheek.
At that moment, she could tell that 'see you later' most likely involved his next cycle. "Don't go... Naruto, don't go... it's okay to be selfish... please don't be so unselfish," she sobbed quietly. "If you want me so badly, just take me..."
"Sorry, Sakura-chan... I'll see you later..."
"NO! Don't leave!" she screamed, desperately clinging onto him. "Don't leave..."
But he was already gone.
"I shouldn't have told her my secret," Naruto murmured to himself. Even with three thousand years of wisdom, he had still been stupid enough to not be able to prevent, or even foresee, such a mistake.
He quickly gathered the supplies he needed from his apartment, cursing himself the entire time. After two hundred years of avoiding Sakura, he had finally given into his desire for her. He had told her his secret, hoping for her love. But instead, he had ended up burdening her.
"Kuchiyose no jutsu!" He summoned a small messenger toad and ordered it to go find Jiraiya.
"That should be everything," he muttered as he scanned his apartment one last time for anything he may have forgotten before setting off.
As Naruto headed for the north gate, he looked around his hometown one last time, knowing that he wouldn't be able to return until his next cycle. He had at least twenty years before he would die, so that wouldn't be for a while.
Then, just as he reached the north gate, a voice stopped him. Naruto found it somewhat ironic that, in previous cycles, this had been the exact spot where Sakura had once tried to prevent Sasuke from leaving. "Sakura-chan..."
"I finally understand," she said softly. "That novel you wrote... Doki Doki Fantasy... the characters represent, Sasuke-kun, you, and me... don't they? I didn't realize it when I had first read it because it had never occurred to me that Sasuke would someday leave me... but now that I can see that it could happen... I finally understand your novel..."
"I knew I shouldn't have published that book this time around," he chuckled.
"So you wrote that exact same novel in a previous cycle," she giggled softly, trying to cover up her tears. "I should have figured that much."
"Sakura-chan... I made a huge mistake telling you my secret... if I had never told you, then you wouldn't have been burdened with this decision," he sighed.
"You didn't even give me a chance to make that decision!" she cried. "It's either you or Sasuke-kun, right? That's what it all boils down to, right? Don't go making my decisions for me!"
"Then do you want to make a decision?" he asked, turning around to face her for the first time. "If I stay, Sasuke will betray Konoha. If I go assassinate Orochimaru now and then live a life of isolated exile, Sasuke will stay. Those are your choices."
Sakura could immediately feel her resolve crumbling. A life of isolated exile? What the hell did that mean? That he'd live alone for the rest of his life until he died and then cycled back to life? Then what? He'd repeat the process all over again?
"It'll be less of a burden for you if I just made that decision for you," he said, seeing her hesitance. "Goodbye, Saku..."
"NO!" she screamed, cutting him off. "No... no goodbyes... you stay."
In the following days, Sasuke did indeed run away. Sakura, despite knowing that it would be inevitable, had still desperately tried to convince him to stay. Shikamaru had led a valiant team effort to try to bring him back as well, but, unknown to them, Naruto had just let Sasuke go in the end, knowing that it was useless to fight fate.
Naruto found it ironic that, three thousand years ago, in his first life, he had fought so hard against fate. But now he understood all too well that it was useless in the end. If he ever fought against fate in order to gain something, he always ended up losing more than he was willing to give up. It had taken him hundreds of years to learn that painful lesson.
Sakura had begun her training under Tsunade, and Naruto humored Jiraiya by pretending to actually learn stuff from him, though they didn't leave the village this time around. Naruto had wanted to be with Sakura as much as possible, so he had convinced Jiraiya out of going on that three-year training journey.
"Naruto, can I ask you something?" she asked as he rowed them out to the middle of a beautiful lake. Sakura had always envisioned a date to be the standard dinner and a movie, but Naruto always took her out to such creative and adventurous outings. She loved it, but there was still something that bothered her. "A-a-aren't you going to kiss me?" she stammered. He had been alive for over three thousand years, married her multiple times, so what was the holdup? Was he still shy despite all those years of experience?
"Ah... about that," he laughed sheepishly, putting the oars to rest for a moment. "You're still thirteen years old..."
"What's that supposed to mean?" she huffed, suddenly feeling very self-conscious about her small undeveloped breasts.
"I'm three thousand years older than you, Sakura-chan," he chuckled, playfully ruffling her hair as a grandparent would do to a child. "I'd feel kind of dirty if I didn't at least wait until you became an adult."
Ah, so that was it. He didn't want to feel like a pedophile. She suddenly felt very young and insignificant compared to Naruto's three thousand years of life, wisdom, and experience. "I give you permission," she suddenly said, feeling a bit stubborn.
"Law states that you're in no position to grant such permission," he laughed. "Just be patient, Sakura-chan."
She suddenly felt very stupid for asking him to kiss her. She wasn't even really sure about her own feelings for him yet. For all she knew, it was possible that she had only turned to him because Sasuke was now gone. That didn't seem very fair to Naruto.
But she had chosen him, hadn't she? That night when he had been determined to assassinate Orochimaru and leave Konoha for good in order to guarantee Sasuke's loyalty, she had begged him to stay, she had chosen him over Sasuke. Didn't that mean something?
She frowned. "Naruto, I want you to kiss me."
"Don't be so stubborn! Just shut up and kiss me!"
"I don't want to."
Since then, Sakura had set off on a mission to seduce Naruto. She was sure of her feelings for him, and she wanted him. The fact that he had the willpower to wait a few more years for her to grow up only made her drive that much stronger. She wanted to prove to him that she was already grown up enough.
She started innocently enough, by asking him for a massage every now and then. His hands were magic on her sore and tense muscles from long hours of training with Tsunade, so she didn't even need to try to sound sexy about it. Her body reacted with sensual moans of pleasure all on its own.
"Oh, Naruto... yeah... that's the spot... oohh..."
"Sakura-chan," he whined. "Could you quit it with the pornographic moaning?"
"I can't help it," she purred sensuously as he continued to massage her back. "It feels soooo good... can I take my shirt off?"
"Pleease? It would feel soooo much better if you used massage oil."
"No, you're not old enough, young lady," he scolded.
"Hmph, you're no fun," she pouted. "Old man."
Naruto twitched. "I know what you're trying to do, Sakura-chan... please don't make this harder than it already is for me."
"Fine," she sighed, sitting up and resting her head on his shoulder. "But try to see it from my perspective too... if you do die at thirty-five like you say you will, I only have twenty-two years left with you..."
"You're too young to talk like that... as if we're already committed to marriage or something... you're way too young to make that decision," he scolded.
"But it's true, isn't it?" she frowned. "I'm already falling for you... and we'll eventually get married... and I'll spend my days with you until you die."
Naruto shook his head and then kissed her lightly on the forehead. "You're not destined to fall in love with me. You haven't for the previous fifteen or so cycles, so don't talk like marriage is inevitable. I want you to be free to make that decision on your own when the time comes."
"I disagree," she pouted. "You may think I'm immature, but I do believe in soul mates. Those previous fifteen Sakuras probably did love you... and you only hurt them by avoiding them and not marrying them."
Naruto studied her for a moment, impressed by her insight. "Maybe you're right," he said with a smile, finally drawing her in close for a gentle kiss to her lips.
"I know I'm right," she whispered almost inaudibly, the kiss leaving her breathless. "More... please, more..."
"Sorry, I'm still waiting until you grow a pair of boobs," he grinned, immediately shattering the mood.
"So, am I mature enough for you now?" she asked seductively, posing for him in the new red evening dress that Ino had helped pick out.
"Getting there," he laughed, giving her an appreciative once over. He did have to admit that she looked incredible.
Three years had passed since Sasuke's betrayal, making her fifteen, but Naruto still refused to make any advances on her. Frustratingly, her figure hadn't really filled out too much, but she could tell by the lust in his eyes that he really wanted her regardless. She really had to be impressed by his willpower, but she was getting impatient. She had grown head over heels in love with him over the years and she just couldn't stand the fact that he still thought of her as a little kid.
"Sorry, but there's some business I need to discuss with you tonight," he said, suddenly turning serious as they arrived at the restaurant. It was a posh and luxurious place, but Naruto could easily afford it considering how much money he made from his novels, paintings, musical performances, odd jobs, and missions.
"Um... yeah, I do too," she nodded as their waitress led them to their table and handed them the menu.
"Can I start you off with something to drink?" the waitress asked.
"Water is fine," Sakura replied.
"A Coke for me," Naruto grinned, not caring that it would be strange to drink a soda at such a high class place. He usually didn't care too much for luxuries, but Sakura really liked the food at that particular restaurant.
"So what is it that you wanted to talk about? Is something big going down soon?" she asked, unfolding her cloth napkin and placing it gingerly on her lap.
"Yeah, an organization called Akatsuki will begin mobilizing soon," he explained. She listened with rapt attention as he told her about the upcoming kidnapping of the Kazekage and how she'd be one of the first Konoha ninja to take out a member of Akatsuki.
"Even if you say that, do you really think that I can do it?" she wondered, still not really too confident in her abilities as a ninja. "These are S-rank criminals we're talking about, Naruto."
"Don't worry about it," he assured coolly. "Even without my help, you'll come out victorious, but I'll stick around nearby just in case if it'll make you feel better."
"Y-yeah, I'd like that," she nodded.
"So what is it that you wanted to talk about?" he asked curiously.
"Well... um..." she bit her lip nervously. "I... you see... I... um..."
Naruto had seen this before in a previous cycle and his heart almost froze. "No... you didn't..." he sputtered in disbelief. "You learned the kage bunshin no jutsu?"
Sakura nodded sheepishly. "I haven't used it yet, but..."
Naruto slumped into his chair and sighed. "Sakura-chan... why?"
"I thought you'd be happy," she pouted, disappointed by his reaction.
"I am... really, I am," he said, taking her hand in his. "But do you really understand what you're getting yourself into?"
Sakura couldn't honestly say that she did. She was only fifteen years old after all. There was no way she could comprehend what it would feel like to be three thousand years old. "But... if I'm with you..."
"Sakura-chan... there's something I haven't told you about yet," he admitted with a long sigh. "We tried this before... in a previous life, you learned the kage bunshin no jutsu for my sake."
"Really? So this isn't the first time?" she asked in surprise. "What happened to her?"
"She cycled with me," he replied in a distant voice. "We were together for a good four hundred years... being with her took away all of the loneliness that the kage bunshin no jutsu has cursed me with... but one day... before she cycled, she died, effectively wiping out her stockpile of souls."
"You mean..." she gasped.
"I was crushed..." he said with a bitter laugh. "You wouldn't believe how painful it was to lose the person that I had spent four hundred years with."
"And that's when you began avoiding a relationship for two hundred years straight," she murmured, starting to see the pieces fall into place.
"When I cycled back and the Sakura in that lifetime had no memory of the four hundred years we had spent together, I was so crushed that I committed suicide right then and there," he murmured. "I slit my wrist for about five cycles straight until I got tired of seeing my own blood... dying, cycling back, dying, cycling back, dying... since then I've turned into this bitter and cynical old man that you see now."
"Naruto... I... I won't use it," she said, stroking his hand comfortingly.
"No," he shook his head, smiling a little. "It would make me very happy if you did... I'd be honored if you'd be willing to spend the next couple million years with me," he laughed. "If you love me, I'd be willing to risk everything for you."
"Naruto..." she gasped, starting to feel the tears that were threatening to spill. "Does that mean that... oh, I do love you, Naruto... I love you so much."
"I love you too, Sakura-chan."
"Hey, Sakura-chan, remember me?"
Sakura blinked for a moment, surprised by the blond ANBU ninja that had suddenly appeared beside her. "You're... you're Uzumaki Naruto, right?" she asked, her facing lighting up in recognition. "From back in the academy!"
"Oh, you remembered," he laughed, paying for the sweets she was just about to purchase.
"Wow, that was... what... three or four years ago?" she laughed, graciously accepting the box of daifuku mochi. "You're ANBU now?" she asked, finding him to be quite dashing with that ANBU tattoo on his upper arm and his fox mask worn haphazardly backwards. "Weren't you the class clown back then?"
"Yeah, well, I've cleaned up my act since then," he chuckled. "I had a crush on you back then and I'd annoy the hell out of you every day, remember?"
"My memory is kind of fuzzy, but I do recall something like that," she laughed, still in disbelief at how much of a catch that Naruto, the class clown, had turned out to be.
"I'll walk you home," he offered with a charming grin. "So how about you? I hear that you've become the Old Hag's apprentice."
"Old Hag? Oh, you must mean Tsunade-sama," she giggled. "Yeah, it's hard work, but I think I've gotten a lot stronger," she nodded proudly.
"I was the one that dragged her back to Konoha. She had been kicking and screaming the entire way, so I know how much of a handful she could be," he laughed. "You're incredible to have put up with her for so long."
"Oh, she's not so bad," Sakura replied, joining in on the laughter. "Well... this is my place, thanks for walking me."
"No prob," he shrugged.
"Um... do you want to come inside?" she asked hopefully. She didn't think she'd feel this way since Sasuke had left, but there was no mistake that she was falling for this guy. "We can catch up over a cup of tea."
"I'd like that," he nodded, grinning happily as he stepped inside the Haruno household.
"So how'd you get into ANBU?" she asked, leading him to the kitchen table before setting some water to boil. She was glad that her parents weren't home yet.
"If I told you, I'd have to kill you," he joked.
"Oh, you secret agents," she giggled, pouring him a cup of warm genmai tea. She then opened up the box of daifuku mochi that Naruto had paid for earlier and offered it to him. "Try one."
He picked up one of the powdery balls of rice dough and grinned playfully as he held it to her lips, causing her to blush like a schoolgirl. "You always did love sweets..."
"Mmm," she took a tentative bite, careful to avoid his fingers.
"You have powder on your lips," he whispered, leaning in close to wipe her lips clean with his own.
"N-N-Naruto..." she closed her eyes, her heart racing like mad as she waited in anticipation. Then, all of sudden, her eyes fluttered open in shock and disorientation as she pushed him away.
"You're back," he grinned.
"N-Naruto? Is that you?" she gasped, studying his fifteen-year-old features. She then looked at her young and svelte fingers. "I did it... I cycled back... it worked!"
"So you remember everything?" he asked. "Do you remember love?"
"Of course I do, sweetie," she cooed, bringing him close for a kiss. Then she realized something. "Hey, wait a minute, you were trying to kiss me before I even cycled!"
"But I didn't," he assured coolly.
"That's not the point! You were seducing me before I even cycled!" she protested, feeling a pang of jealousy. She didn't want him flirting with anybody, even if it had been another version of her.
"I was just testing your soul mate theory, that's all," he explained, kissing her again to calm her down. "I was only with her for maybe ten minutes tops and she was already all over me."
"Hmph, well, isn't that great for you," she pouted.
"Oh, c'mon, don't be like that... I missed you," he grinned, snaking behind her and planting soft kisses along the side of her neck, causing her to moan in delight.
"Ooh, more," she giggled, any leftover anger already having dissipated. "I love this fifteen-year-old body."
"So, tell me, what happened after I died?" he asked, now kissing her earlobe. "How's Asuka?"
"I died about twenty years after you did... it's too bad that you missed Asuka's wedding," she said, turning around and snuggling up against him. "She married Shinji-kun, Ino and Shikamaru's kid. She had already left the house and started a life of her own, but I still miss her. You must miss her even more... she had only been fifteen when you cycled."
"Yeah, I miss her like hell, but I'm glad to hear that she's happy," he grinned.
"So what about you?" she asked. "What's with the ANBU gear?"
He shrugged. "I figured I'd offer my services to ANBU this time around. Hell of a lot more exciting than D-rank missions."
"You're not going to be too busy to spend time with me now that you're big shot ANBU, are you?" she asked teasingly, leading him up to her bedroom.
"Hey, ANBU missions may be more exciting than D-rank missions, but they're still a walk in the park for me," he laughed, already trailing kisses down her neck, unzipping her shirt before continuing down between her bra.
"You don't feel like a pedophile this time around?" she giggled.
"Why should I? You're an old hag now after all," he joked.
"Hmph, still three thousand years younger than you, you dirty old man," she retorted, stripping him of his armor. "Ooh, ANBU missions have definitely paid off," she gasped, almost drooling at his muscular physique.
"Your parents might come home soon," he pointed out despite the fact that he was already hungrily tasting her lips and tongue.
"Correction... they're already home," she sighed, pushing him off and fixing her clothes as she heard the front door open. "I missed them though, so it'll be nice to see them again."
He smiled as he watched her purposely sashay her way to the door before leaving him alone in her room. "Well... I guess we still have plenty of time together," he chuckled, putting his armor back on before disappearing out the balcony.
"All the time in the world..."
Author's notes: The concept of replaying one's life was inspired by Ken Grimwood's novel "Replay," so I merely adapted it for this fic. This was not intended to be science fiction or philosophy, so please don't nitpick the details.
As for easter egg references... the law of equal exchange is from Full Metal Alchemist. The concept of "saving one life means forsaking another to death" comes from Fate/Stay-Night. The names Kagami and Tsukasa are from Lucky Star. The names Asuka and Shinji are from Evangelion. The two violin pieces Naruto plays are Bach's "Air" (the aria) and Pachelbel's "Canon." The harmonica piece he plays is "The Girl from Ipanema." And the title, "Do You Remember Love," is a reference to that famous Lynn Minmay song from the Macross anime.