Sometimes the thing that hurts you the most in the short term will help you the most in the long term. Naruto was never an adherent to that, mostly because he didn't plan things long term. If something hurt, it hurt. If it didn't it didn't. It'd be 17 days before he could truly understand it. Now, however, he is emotionally exhausted, physically drained and feels more alone than he has since he was a child. Tsunade-baachan, earlier, informed him Jiraiya was killed by the leader of the Akatsuki. Naruto didn't take it well. Instead of reaching out to the person who knew Jiraiya best, he lashed out at her. He said hurtful things he didn't mean and left feeling lost, ashamed and certain he'd just burned a bridge with his surrogate mother figure. He retreated to his apartment so he could mourn in private. It was hard to accept his master was gone. Naruto desperately wanted to show Jiraiya his time and efforts weren't in vain, that Naruto wasn't just a screw up but a ninja of worth in his own right. He'd never get that chance and it was because of the organization targeting those like him. Ero-sennin likely pushed himself too far when he should have retreated and all for the sake of an unworthy apprentice. He beat himself up for hours before he was interrupted by a knock at the door. On the other side stood an angry Sakura, likely coming to yell at and pound him for what he said to Tsunade, he reasoned.
He welcomed her in and the pinkette was unsettled by how quiet he was and how lost he looked. The typical brightness was gone, it was as if he'd lost an essential part of himself. Naruto had been right, she had come to berate him but she couldn't find it in herself to do that now. Instead she opted to hug her teammate in an attempt to reassure him. He ushered her in after a subdue 'thanks' and they sat in silence. She could tell he was in a downward spiral but she didn't have the words to help him, all she could do is watch as he sank further and further into himself. It was unnatural, Naruto wasn't supposed to be like this. She had to admit that he did look more handsome and mature than he does when he's always smiling. It would take several years for Sakura to realize darkness does not equal emotional depth or maturity but she would suffer under that delusion for a little longer.
She kissed him. It was chaste, little more than a peck. Her presence hadn't done much and she didn't have the words to help him cope; she didn't know Jiraiya and didn't fully understand their dynamic. What she hadn't expected was for that kiss to ignite a spark, a feeling shared between both teens. Briefly she wondered if in another world she could have given Naruto a chance, a world where Sasuke didn't dominate her heart. But that wasn't this reality, she didn't feel that way for Naruto. She told herself that and meant it, even as she leaned in for a second kiss. And a third. Each one deeper, longer, growing in passion, desperation and need. Soon, things were escalating as the teammates got swept up in emotions and sensations they didn't fully understand. A cooler head would have put a stop to this, knowing where it was headed and how it'd likely lead to disaster but Team 7 was comprised of members that lead with their emotions; all of them. While Naruto and Sakura were volatile, Kakashi and Sasuke were no less dominated by how they felt. As such, when reason would tell either party to stop this, the feelings involved reframed their understanding of the moment.
For Naruto's part, he tried to tell himself, to convince himself that this didn't mean anything. This wasn't a declaration of love or anything beyond a teammate offering comfort. He said the words internally, recognized them for the truth they contained but it all warred with the feeling he got as the pinkette moaned beneath him, breathing deeply at his actions. The ambivalence wouldn't be resolved so he tried to turn off his brain, to just be in the moment. He concentrated on his actions and her responses, attempting to ignore it was the girl he'd had some form of affection for during most of his short life. But he couldn't. This meant something because this was Sakura-chan. She meant more and while he didn't jump to thinking this meant they'd be together, it did increase the hope he had a chance exponentially. For the duration of their lovemaking he didn't feel so alone, he didn't feel swallowed by a pit of hopelessness. Yes, Jiraiya was gone and Naruto would always regret he couldn't prove himself to his master but he still had precious people and even if Jiraiya wasn't here he could still make his master proud. Sakura had, unknowingly accomplished her goal.
She, however, was also waging an internal war. While she could free admit other men were attractive her sexual fantasies revolved around one person. Even if she started thinking of another, she'd end up thinking about him. She always assumed he'd be her first and only, that it would be him that made her feel this way. Instead it was the boy that stayed, that supported her, wanted her above all others. It was the boy she'd put in Sasuke's shadow and stubbornly never allowed him to leave, even when Sasuke acknowledged him as an equal. It was axomatic, Naruto could never be Sasuke's equal. It wasn't fair, it wasn't right but it was the extent to which she idealized the one, it skewed her view of the other. She felt guilty, thinking about Sasuke during Naruto's time of need. He didn't start this, didn't initiate it and would stop anytime she asked but she chose to indulge in these acts, to enjoy the excitement and pleasure she was experiencing. But even as she knew she was with Naruto, her mind still desired Sasuke, she still longed for Sasuke and in her heightened state, as she felt her orgasm approach she did what she's always done.
"I-I'm cumming, Sasuke-kun!" she said, not fully aware she'd spoke another man's name. Not fully aware of anything as she rode out the wave of her orgasm, not until she felt something wet hit her cheek. And then again, and again. She opened her eyes to see Naruto, staring back at her in disbelief but she didn't understand why. What had she done? Then she remembered, she spoke her truest desire. Once she'd come back to reality she was mortified at what she'd done. She wanted to apologize, to explain, to do anything to make it ok but she couldn't. Naruto just quietly asked her to leave, not daring to look at her.
Sakura wanted to stay, to explain herself, to do anything that would make him engage; even if it broke out into a fight, even if nasty, hateful things were to be said because it couldn't be worse than what she'd done. In his darkest hour, she confirmed that her first thoughts would always be on someone else. She wanted to fight but another part of her couldn't extend his humiliation. She'd done enough damage and may have ruined the relationship with her best friend and fiercest supporter. She quickly dressed and departed, hating herself for what occurred and hoping Naruto would forgive her someday.
Naruto didn't feel his heart shatter. His world didn't come undone. He just wanted to close his eyes and sleep. Today came with too many hits to his heart and while Sakura's was an unnecessary one it wasn't the worst one. He just couldn't feel anymore, he was tapped out. He needed the day to end.
The next day did arrive and Naruto was summoned by Tsunade to help decode Jiraiya's last message. It took him awhile to be of any help but eventually they discovered the cipher key and Naruto was told he'd be training with the toads to help him prepare. Before he left, he apologized to Tsunade, his feelings of regret coming off him in waves. The Hokage hugged her surrogate son and forgave him, saying people often lash out when hurt. It was an unfortunate situation all around. Naruto was so shocked and so moved by her words. While Naruto is willing to forgive his enemies if they demonstrate a sincere desire to change, he knows very little of what it feels like to be forgiven. The villagers held the fox against him and any acting out was often attributed to it. When he screwed up, his every flaw was picked over or he was reminded them enough that he couldn't believe people had moved passed them. So, to be forgiven, to know he hadn't lost someone else made him smile for first time since he'd been told about Jiraiya.
His first day of training to learn senjutsu focused on meditation. Naruto would be the first to admit he was bad at it. He just couldn't clear his mind long enough. Ero-sennin said for some, it was focusing on something simple like their breathing to clear out their thoughts. He figured that wouldn't work for Naruto, as it had never worked for him. Instead of creating a focal point, Jiraiya suggested he follow his thoughts to their conclusion, each one until his brain had run out of things to distract him with. Naruto tried this before but could never seem to get it to work so he hadn't been optimistic.
Once his initial thoughts began, the subject being Sakura, he almost faltered. He didn't want to think about her or to relive that embarrassing night. But another part of him stopped himself from disengaging. He need to do this, to get stronger, to demonstrate Jiraiya was correct to believe in him so he kept at it, dove deep into his thoughts. The first feeling was embarrassment, it was just emasculating to experience that. But Naruto pushed through. There was also hurt and some resentment. He knows Sakura isn't a bad person, she likely didn't plan any of that and certain didn't say Sasuke's name to make him feel worse but she was sometimes careless with his feelings. Not intentionally, but that felt worse. She just did it because she never really considered them, assuming his emotional depths were shallow. His crush on her ended that night, if he loved her he didn't anymore, he couldn't. But he still cared, he still saw her as a friend and would seek to resolve things between them.
Naruto felt lighter by the conclusion of that thought, he normally suppressed his negative emotions or attempted to work through them so fast that he never actually stopped to feel them. This small step was life changing. Because Naruto didn't stick with his usual pattern, the mental floodgates came down. He struggled with the emotions he'd long since left dormant about the villagers and his isolation as a child. He never meant to suppress his darker emotions. As a child, they were simply too big for him to handle without the aid of a parental figure to guide him, his little heart couldn't truly process it all. As he'd gotten older it felt petty and pointless to revel in those thoughts and impressions. He distracted himself with his goals, with his training, with anything as he felt it was the mature thing to do. But one shouldn't hide or ignore their darker parts. Naruto was finally in a place to truly acknowledge himself, his entire self.
He didn't know it, so deep into his own thoughts but outside his mind, Naruto was crying but as he didn't look pained Pa did not stop him. The Elder Toad assumed the boy was coming to terms with the loss of Jiraiya and in a sense, he was right. Instead of mourning, Naruto focused on proving something to Jiraiya. His need to always look forward meant he hadn't accepted nor worked through the feelings of lose the absence of his master created. But now he was able to. It was so difficult, a part of him screaming at him to stop but he couldn't. This was him, the good and the bad. It was three hours into his meditation before Naruto had fully worked through his repressed negative emotions and he felt whole and complete. He liked this feeling and didn't want to let it go however he wouldn't fight what his mind wanted to do. It directed him toward his chakra. He'd never really considered his chakra before, not in the meditative sense so this feeling was new to him.
His flow was fast and powerful. If he'd tried to direct it right then it'd be similar to trying to change the direction of a river through willpower alone. Instead he went with the flow, merged with it. From point to point, from top to bottom, left to right Naruto followed his chakra getting used to its unique hum, its speed and everything else. Because Naruto didn't fight the behavior of his chakra he was eventually able to hear it. There was something in his chakra calling out to him, it was faint but it was there. Naruto was stuck, he didn't know how to find this call, how to bring it out to the foreground but he somehow knew it was important. But he didn't want to lose this state of mind, he didn't want to press it and lose this connection so he kept with the flow of his chakra. The more he surrendered his conscious mind to the workings of his chakra the louder that call became. It'd taken hours, not that he'd known it but finally the call became too loud to ignore. Naruto finally felt the source of it, something deep within his own chakra, so deep it was like reaching the ocean floor but when he did he instinctively pulled on it and continued to do so, repeating the process he used to unlock his chakra when he was a mere boy. He continued to pull, focusing on nothing else until finally it happened, the barrier crumbled and for the second time in this process Naruto felt he connected with something he'd loss. This new chakra, or could it be considered his complete chakra coursed through him. Starting at his core, it went to the left side of his body, the arm than the leg. It charted a similar path in reverse as it traveled from the right leg to the right arm; Naruto follow it every step of the way. Finally, this new chakra reached his brain and his mind and everything turned black.
He lost all sense of time and space. He simply existed in this domain, this place of perfect darkness. Until he saw a little beacon of light and immediately headed toward it. His mental avatar placed a hand on the light and Naruto was flooded with memories and experiences that were not his own. He saw himself fighting in a war, in a period he instinctively knew as the Warring Clans Era. He saw the loss of family, of his harsh training by his father. He watched as he befriended an Uchiha. He saw more training as he tried to perfect and expand upon his Mokuton. He even experienced his forays into senjutsu. Unbeknownst to Naruto but he subconsciously started to pull on nature chakra as he lived through the experiences of the Shodai Hokage. Pa had not left his charge, not in the 8 hours it'd been since he started his meditation. There had been times he was tempted but he could sense changes happening within the boy and could not risk denying him the experience. This changed when the tadpole started drawing on the natural energy around him, Pa had his cane at the ready. But to his surprised the boy balanced the natural chakra with his own, his eyelids taking on an orange pigment and his chakra signature becoming even more potent. He decided to allow this to continue, something amazing was happening and he would allow Naruto to see it through to the end.
Back in Naruto's mind, he'd noticed a new energy in his body and thanks to the experiences of the Shodai, he knew it to be the process of absorbing and balancing natural chakra with his own and as he'd done before, Naruto didn't fight the feeling but surrendered to it until he felt the balance achieved. However, he didn't cut himself off from the energy around him, instead he instinctively continued to balance the chakra within him sending the excess to various places within his body. Because of this, Naruto no longer felt thirsty nor hungry. He felt fully satiated and sustained and it allowed himself to return to Hashirama's memories. He witnessed the boy become a man, the man a legend. He married Mito Uzumaki, of the Uzumaki clan and in his state of serenity he managed to not freak out about that revelation. He saw the building of Konoha and the fallout with his friend, Madara.
Pa was shocked once again as he watched the boy remain perfectly still and cycle through natural chakra as if he'd done it his entire life. He figured the boy would have gotten hungry hours ago, having reached the 12 hour mark but it appeared as if he was managing to sustain himself with the aid of nature's energy. He'd considered that ability to be a myth so to see it performed by someone who had no previous training nor knowledge of senjutsu, it was incredible. Eventually Ma and Pa set up a rotation to keep watch on Naruto. He'd come here to learn senjutsu and clearly was further ahead than they'd ever expected.
Naruto watched and rewatched Hashirama's memories, all the while never losing his connection with nature nor the new elements within his own chakra. Eventually that force that felt new and foreign integrated fully into Naruto's existing chakra and he subconsciously created an army of shadow clones, much to the shock of the toads keeping watch over him. Even more shocking is when they all disappeared to various sections of the Mountain, all seemingly focused on a single task. As they weren't hurting anything, the toads left the clones to their devices, quickly accepting the oddities of their sole summoner.
Soon, Naruto felt himself performing a similar act as he had before, he sensed another call in his chakra and once again had to reach a state to which he could bring it out. This barrier was harder to break down, taking every ounce of mental fortitude Naruto contained but soon he managed and was once again awash in the memories of another. The first was that of of a young boy being bested by his genius older brother. He wanted so badly to be like Indra but simply lacked the talent. He never gave up, though and was always cheered up by his father's kind smile. The boy got older and he watched as Indra became distant and cold. Asura, that was his name. He wanted to reach his brother, to help him with his burdens. He sees himself working diligently in perfecting his ninshu and nature transformation. He watched Asura help a village by digging a well and how they eventually joined him. He taught them about ninshu and became his first followers. It was where he met his wife, Kanna. She was a lot like Mito, Naruto thought. Naruto saw Asura fight Indra and his promise to reincarnate to resolve Indra's conflict.
The process remained the same both internally and externally for Naruto and the toads. That is until on the twelfth day of his meditation he started to glow as if surrounded by golden fire. It only lasted a minute but the sensation was one of extreme peace and confidence. In his mindscape, Naruto stood before Asura and Hashirama. His previous lives. But he was not them, three lives with three men making their own choices. It was easy to see Sasuke was Indra's transmigrant and Naruto's obsession with saving him mirrored Asura's own and Hashirama's permissiveness. He knew Asura promised to come to a peaceful resolution but seeing two men dedicated themselves to trying to saving another, the intended person put things in sharp relief. He didn't believe in destiny, not even after what he'd witnessed. Hashirama didn't have to get in an epic struggle so strenuous that he was simply never the same after his last fight with Madara. Naruto didn't have to pull his rasengan at the Valley of the End. It was a choice, he wanted to save the one he saw as a brother. But this Naruto, one that had come to accept himself and had witnessed the entire lives of two others, it changed him. He wanted to save Sasuke but Naruto saw the faces of the people hurt in their quests to save Indra and Madara. He saw a heartbroken Mito and little Tsunade that didn't want her grandfather to leave her. He saw Tobirama, ever the stoic but he didn't feel up to filling Hashirama's shoes. He wasn't the charismatic figure, Tobirama confessed in a rare moment of insecurity. It wasn't just about those two. It wasn't just about Sasuke at him. He'd met and connected with so many people that to ignore all of it or jeopardize it for the sake of one. If he was not simply another Asura but Naruto Uzumaki then Sasuke was Sasuke. He was his own person and he made his own choices. Fueled by grief and obsession but his choices all the same. Naruto could no longer make excuses for his friend.
Naruto spoke with Asura and Hashirama about their lives, their choices and anything he could think of. He asked what that powerful sensation was and Asura confirmed it was his chakra cloak but said Naruto wasn't ready for it yet. Naruto smiled but asked for his advice in relation to Kurama. Having experienced what he has, Naruto realized he'd continued the practice of mistreating the biju, as Kurama considered Asura a brother. He didn't always hate humanity, humanity caused him to do so. Asura agreed to confront Kurama with him and the two entered his mindscape, appearing before the great fox. In an extreme show of humility, Naruto got on both knees and bowed his head asking for Kurama's forgiveness for treating him like a beast and the source of all his pain. Seeing Asura alongside his idiot container, Kurama realized who Naruto was and sensed no negatively from the boy. He truly was sorry. Kurama had experienced Naruto's changes but hadn't truly understood what was happening until he saw Asura. Somehow the boy had become balanced, not just his yin and yang. But his mind, body, his life had all balanced themselves with nature. No longer was that vile creature, what Kurama always believed to be Naruto's true self, there. It'd disappeared days ago. He decided to, tentatively, forgive Naruto but would withhold judgement for a later date. Even with his reticence, Naruto still loosened the seal and said he hoped Kurama would work him someday. Asura just hugged the paw of his bijuu brother and dispelled into the ether knowing Naruto would overcome Kurama's hatred.
In all, it took 15 days for Naruto to break his deep meditation and only to see himself surrounded by toads. He was shocked it'd been two weeks since he arrived as he'd lost all sense of time during his experience. After a long bath and a… interesting meal prepared by Shima-baasama Naruto told the Elder Sages of his experiences. The two were surprised but given what all Naruto had done it was a mild surprise. They gave him a day to rest but he was adamant he was fine so Fukasaku proceeded to teach him the toad style sage techniques. The productive and peaceful days couldn't last and Naruto was to return to Konoha as it was being attack.
When he arrived he saw his village in tatters. No doubt there had been an extreme loss of life and the will of the shinobi appeared broken, they'd lost hope. He felt deep anger. The person who did this was the same person that killed Jiraiya. He'd used this anger. He wouldn't attack blindly or recklessly but he'd let it fuel him.
All of the remaining villagers witnessed Naruto's return atop the famous battle toad summons. Many were hopeful the boy that defeated Gaara during the Oto-Suna invasion could pull off another miracle. His friends just wanted him to be safe. None were expecting for the world to change.
Naruto let Gamabunta and the other giant toads handle the summons, he'd focus on the bodies of Pein. Thanks to Asura's memories he was aware of the abilities of the rinnegan and reasoned that each body must represent a path. The two most dangerous paths being the Deva and Naraka paths. The first would be the hardest to the destroy, the second the most necessary. He shunshined to where the paths were, he could tell the true body felt him foolish but Naruto didn't care. He just needed to remove this threat as fast as possible so no more people were hurt. The paths, all but Deva, rushed him but Naruto waited. He wanted to get as many of them as he could so he remained patient. And then it happened, they were in range and Naruto performed the necessary hand signs: Tiger → Ram → Snake
"Wood Release Technique: Nativity of a World of Trees". Three hand signs, nine words is all it took for Naruto Uzumaki to announce himself to the world, and things would never be the same.