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...

Destiny. The concept had haunted the minds of men since the beginning of recorded history.

Whether for better or for worse, many of the most driven and successful of people were able to reach great - and sometimes terrible - goals because of the unwavering belief that they had a destiny to fulfill. Whether an individual person believed in destiny or not, it often seemed that the world itself favored the existence of fate, and conspired to spread that belief across the land. One such person, driven by destiny but not yet believing in it, was about to receive a wake up call.

Literally.

A young girl in a hidden ninja village slept peacefully in her warm bed, a soft smile gracing her face. She was not aware of the rain that came down in sheets just outside her window while she dozed. Such ignorant bliss was not to last forever.

The wooden boards of her ceiling creaked as they slowly started to fail in one spot just above the girl's bed, their many years of faithful service rewarded with a lack of upkeep. The water from the pounding rain worked its way down through the roof of the small building and pooled at the weak spot in the girl's ceiling. As the weight from the water continued to build up to, frankly quite silly levels, the wooden beams groaned ever louder in protest. The valiant effort of the building to hold back the tides of water was doomed to fail, as in reality it was not just mere water being held back by desperate inches of wood.

It was destiny. The girl's destiny was to be soaked.

No one ever said that all destinies had to be glorious.

A sharp but somewhat muffled crack resounded as the ceiling gave way and dumped many gallons of water onto the young girl, chilling her to the bone and shocking her awake.

"Naruto!" the girl shot up in bed and reflexively called out in worry the moment she was conscious, but she quickly realized that the bubbly blond she had come to care for so much was nowhere nearby. On the upside, he was also not being murdered by her teammate, another man whom she loved a great deal, as her last memories before waking had suggested.

She flopped back down into her soaked bed, not caring about the biting cold or the steady raindrops that now fell onto her face freely through the small hole in the roof. She took a few moments to catch her breath, and was embarrassed to note that she was practically hyperventilating at the thought of Naruto being so grievously injured by a man who had been her whole world at one time.

'Get it together woman, you're embarrassing yourself. If your teammate can aspire to "end the curse of hatred of the shinobi world", then you can handle some bad dreams. Just shake it off and go back to bed, you'll need your energy later today.'

The young woman chastised herself clinically and closed her eyes, but as the seconds stretched into minutes and her breathing normalized, memories of yesterday came flooding back to her with great and painful clarity. Suddenly, she didn't feel tired at all.

With a rustle of wet blankets, the girl with the oddly colored hair leaped out of bed in her hurry to get to the mirror.

She nearly tripped over her own two feet and stumbled to correct her balance. The sudden complete lack of coordination was noted, but she really had to see her reflection for her self for it all to sink in. The effort to reach the small mirror on her nightstand took a humiliatingly long few seconds, but she did manage to reach her goal and get a good, solid look at herself.

'No doubt about it, my hair hasn't been this well kept in many years, and it hasn't been in this length or style in even longer.'

The other signs were there too, of course, such as the much smaller body and the room she was standing in, but she latched onto her hair as something familiar to ease herself better into the crazy reality of her situation.

'I've gone back in time, mentally at least. The ritual seems to have worked perfectly. Chalk up another win for the Uzumaki clan.'

Even as she tried to calmly deal with this scenario, one hand was stroking her hair on auto pilot, as though running her fingers through the strands made things more real with each pass. She had known that this would happen, of course. The time travel had all been planned out weeks ahead of the actual attempt.

Even so, much like all those years ago when the great shinobi alliance battled Uchiha Madara with full intel on his capabilities, the overwhelming reality of seeing for oneself the evidence of some techniques left the mind reeling. For the time-displaced ninja, the actual successful completion of the Uzumaki Style Forbidden Secret Sealing Ritual: Turning Back the Tides had left her just as helplessly awestruck as seeing Madara suddenly drop two meteors on top of the alliance at once just to prove a point about the futility of trying to fight him.

'Truly some men in this world are as gods to the rest of us.'

Back when they'd all still been together, she had always been so much the girl of the team and the weakest of the trio. Even after training diligently for three years under one of the Sannin and becoming a relatively high level ninja herself, she still ranked lowest on her the power scale by far. She shook off the thought.

'Now's not the time to start feeling small. I had to come back and do things over specifically because even someone as great as Naruto could fail if everything was left on his shoulders and he had to carry the weight of the world alone. He needs allies - powerful ones - and it would be doubly helpful if I can save and recruit some of those strong ninjas who would have died and then been resurrected to fight against us in the war.'

A fire burned in her eyes, and her face had the determined look of a veteran ninja who knew what she had to do. Surely, anyone who knew her in this time would find that sort of facial expression strange, not fitting with their mental expectations of the young girl. But suddenly, that determination faltered as her thoughts rewound and got stuck on an earlier point.

'Naruto...'

She turned and walked to the window, casting an uninterested gaze outside as her thoughts turned nostalgic and melancholic.

'He won't remember any of the times we had together, the desperate battles fought side by side, or the many hours we spent just talking about everything from philosophy to favorite flavors of ramen.'

The proud woman's shoulders sagged and a deep, world-weary sigh escaped her.

'I'll have to start over with him. I'll have to start over with everyone, really, but with Naruto it's going to be especially painful. After I lost my revenge-obsessed teammate, Naruto was really the only one I could turn to for comfort for a long time.'

There was more to it than that of course. The feelings between the two had always been very deep and strong, but tranquil. They hadn't needed to say anything to understand each other. Their feelings were obvious in a million subtle ways, such as the innocent comfort they took in each others arms, the shimmering emotion in their eyes, or the soft smiles and unconscious relaxation when they looked upon each other. Everyone who was paying any attention could see what was there.

They took way too long to act though. She had been grieving for a long time and by the time she was ready to pay attention to her own desires again, the war had started and there was just never a good time. Hoards of immortal zombie warriors, armies of plant-men, and the continuous detonation of meteors and tailed beast bombs could really put a damper on a love life. Eventually, Naruto had managed to - in a ridiculous and mind boggling feat - actually destroy the fully transformed 10 tails on his own, even though he had lost Kurama and had only his own chakra to rely on. It was an amazing victory for the alliance, and none had been more proud than she as she watched him stand there, victorious completely on his own against a mythical power said to destroy worlds.

Her mouth twisted around in a variety of subtle displays of emotion as she reminisced about the war, but eventually settled on a frown as her recollections turned towards the end of the story.

When Naruto crushed the 10 tails and ruined the Moon's Eye Plan, a foolish many people let their guards down in anticipation of the 'happy ending' that all those who had experience with Naruto and his work had come to expect. In that moment, they'd lost more men than in all of the previous days of the war combined. It was a horrifying reminder that even without the power of tailed beasts at his disposal, or an infinite genjutsu to cast over the world, Uchiha Madara - especially when enraged - was a man to be feared.

In addition to that brutal first strike, Madara had reminded the alliance that he had a complete knowledge of the Resurrection of the Impure World technique, enough to take control of himself when summoned with it, and far more than enough to use it in battle. As the tens of thousands of shinobi who had died minutes previously suddenly began twitching and pulling themselves up off the ground, everyone present knew that this time there wasn't going to be a miracle like in the hidden leaf after the battle with Nagato. This was instead the beginning of yet another chapter of horror in what many would refer to as the war that ended the world.

'The joint shinobi alliance lasted mere days after that. Madara continuously added the fallen to his army, and it was only a matter of time before the number of high level zombies vastly outnumbered the few living ninjas capable of sealing them or restraining them. Exhaustion also worked against the living ninjas, where the dead needed no rest. After the tipping point was reached, the game was truly over for the alliance. and Madara went on a rampage unchecked, creating a barren wasteland of a world. Naruto never gave up hope though. Even my own faith in him faltered, but he kept pushing forward like always. Together we hid and ran for many years, trying to plan a counterattack... but it seemed to me like a hopeless cause. A noble gesture from a man this dying world was unworthy of. For his sake, I pressed on and helped him where I could. I'd never dreamed that just weeks ago we would have found a real answer.'

She shook herself and moved to get dressed.

'That's enough of that for now; all that horror has been erased. I'm here now to set things in motion to lead to a better tomorrow. I can't do that if I spend all day moping around about lost experiences and needing to start over.'

She pulled on her footwear and quickly stood up with a determined look set on her face.

'So I need to start over with Naruto, oh well. I thoroughly enjoyed it the first time around, even in the tough times. I'll just have to make new memories with him, and not wait so long to make a move this time.'

The woman in the body of a girl opened the door to her room, and made her way to the small kitchen of the house. She knew someone was already there, and already she had plans to set things in motion better than before.

As she entered the room, an oddly dressed man with long white hair looked up from the manuscript he was writing on the low table in the middle of the room, and observed the 12 year-old-girl he had taken responsibility for.

Jiraiya blinked and looked out the window, before looking back at and addressing the girl.

"Konan, it can't be more than 3am. What are you doing up so early?"

The blue-haired woman who would one day once more be known as 'The Paper Angel' gained a genuine, heartfelt smile upon seeing her master alive and well, but quickly schooled herself into her then normal neutral expression. If the man was surprised at the short lapse in poise, the only indication was a short smile of his own before he realized that something about the way the girl was looking at him indicated that a serious conversation was oncoming.

She sat down across the table from him and just stared for a moment, making sure to plan her next words carefully.

"Sensei, I've been thinking... about when you gave us that talk. You know, the one about hatred and how to bring about peace?"

If she didn't have the sage's full attention before, she definitely had it now. He nodded at the girl to continue.

"Well, let's just say that, theoretically, someone got it into their head to 'force' everyone to understand each other through shared suffering..."

Oh, yes, she was definitely going to nip the whole 'Pein' thing in the bud. Not only was she sure that Nagato suffered from his path in life for many years, but it eventually set him up against Naruto, and that just could not be allowed to happen again. While she was the first one to want Naruto to have a chance at proving himself and gain the adulation of his village... having Nagato on their side from the beginning could only end well for them. Especially if it prevented him from being resurrected to fight for Madara, and stopped Obito from getting his hands on the Rinnegan.

She'd already tried to fight Obito off of Nagato's body once before, and only the fact that she still hadn't used her body double yet - the one Nagato had made for her, as he had for every member of Akatsuki, all kept in a secret location that only he and Konan knew - allowed her to escape that battle alive. She was not looking forward to a rematch.

Her inquiry provoked the intended reaction from the toad sage, and as he started off on a long winded explanation about why trying to unite the world through suffering would be a really bad idea, Konan knew that she should be playing close attention and taking mental notes. A sudden horrifying thought crossed her mind and distracted her, though she didn't let it show on her face.

'Oh, God, is Naruto even alive yet? Dammit, am I really going have to wait over a decade to get laid?!'

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