Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto and it is doubtful I ever will. I am merely enjoying the use of the anime/manga's characters for my own, devious, artistic and totally time-consuming ends.
Key: (For those who need it.)
Oh and this isemphasis too.
Naruto has returned from the future to save Konoha and his friends from the demise they would suffer. Using a jutsu he secretly learned during his travels with Jiraiya, he returns to the moment on the hospital roof where he and Sasuke were fighting. He suffers a Chidori to the chest but lives. After a week in the hospital he awakens.
While he was sleeping, Sakura did some soul searching and made the decision to further her ninja career by seeking instruction from Tsunade. Also, Sasuke was approached by the Sound Four, although Kakashi apparently intervened. Both Kakashi and the Sound Team parted injured.
When he awakens, Naruto leaves the hospital to have some ramen and meets up with Shikamaru, who is leading a very nostalgic mission. Naruto joins the team and they are currently tracking the Sound Team. Their mission is to gather information until Tsunade's Jounin team arrives.
Rain fell in sheets as he looked at grave. He blinked and there stood two. He watched in disbelief as the graveyard grew in size and the tombs shot from the earth reaching the buildings of Konoha and causing the foundations of the village to crumble before his eyes.
The graves surrounded him and suddenly they melted into figures. He recognized those closest to him…Kakashi-sensei, Sakura-chan, Sasuke…further out he saw Hinata, Shino, Shikamaru, Chouji, Asuma-sensei, Tenten…
He looked at them as they stared in silence; he tried to speak, but his throat felt sealed shut. Suddenly the winds whipped around them all and he watched in horror as one by one their bodies were torn to shreds by some invisible force.
He couldn't move, couldn't breathe. His mind, heart and soul, his entire being screamed to save those people, his precious people. To his horror, however, he realized that all he could do was stand stock-still and feel. It felt as if his hands were doing the terrible damage, he could feel his hands tearing Kakashi-sensei to shreds, and yet they were right in front of him, not having moved an inch.
And then the rain changed to blood.
The ground steamed as the blood coated his body. 'My fault.'
Flames started from the blood-soaked ground, 'I wasn't strong enough to save them.'
There was suddenly a great rushing as air was sucked into the licking flames.
And then there he was in the flames.
Then shadows appeared in the flames and he watched as Sasuke's form shifted.
The smoke was smothering him when a strange flower appeared; he grasped it in his hands and felt suddenly as if he were being dragged.
"Yo, usurantonkachi." (Hey, total idiot.)
Eyes so cold they could freeze ice.
"It's not meaningless; you have become my…closest friend."
A sliver of the boy he knew; thought he knew.
"…so it's worth killing you…"
Dangerous determination, a set resolution.
"I chose to let you live on a whim…now you will die…all at my whim…"
No emotion, none of the Sasuke he once knew.
"There is nothing left of me to be saved, dobe, but you always were slower to learn things weren't you?"
Desperation. Concern. Guilt. Sasuke – a friend.
Naruto sat up sharply and dragged heaving breaths. The early air of dawn was heavy with moisture and the few bird calls sounded unnaturally loud in the still air.
'For a genius you sure acted stupid, Sasuke,' Naruto reflected as he stared at the dying fire directly in front of his sleeping mat. He shifted and moved to stand.
'Because anyone can see you still cared.'
Naruto shook his head to get rid of the dream. It was strange, he figured, that so many of his thoughts lately were focused on his pissy teammate. Granted, he had never stopped thinking of the boy as his best friend, but wasn't the guy safe now? Naruto felt a clutch in his gut that told him the answer was no. That stupid jerk always had to make things difficult no matter how hard he tried. Not that he'd be getting away this time, hell no, Naruto wasn't going to allow it, but that didn't mean he wouldn't be stupid again and try.
Naruto grinned to himself a bit, there was a seven year difference in experience now, and no way could Sasuke top that.
Naruto looked around at the camp. Four sleeping mats neatly surrounded a fire pit that was currently reduced to embers. Shikamaru had called the search to a halt as soon as the sun went down. Technically the search could have continued into the night with Kiba's nose and Neji's Byakugan, but Naruto believed Shikamaru was seriously hoping to avoid finding the enemy nins until the Jounin squad showed up.
One part of Naruto understood Shikamaru's reasoning, after all, he too was concerned for the damage the squad might suffer, and strategically, it was best for their team. However, the other part of him was livid. He wanted to fight these guys, dammit! Anyway, if they beat the enemy, no way could any more people get hurt.
Kakashi-sensei had once pointed out that his logic was generally a little 'off' and Naruto had a feeling his sensei would be saying something along those lines right now about his current plan for handling the Sound ninja.
He suddenly jumped into the branches of the nearest tree. Quickly he landed near where Neji was perched amongst the leaves.
"How many birds, huh Neji?" Naruto greeted as he hunched nearby. As his voice rung through the air many of the nearby birds took to the air.
Neji lifted an inquiring eyebrow, his face flashing from annoyance, to confusion, to slight appreciation before turning to the sky again.
"Nine," he said quietly, "anything you need Naruto? Your sleep appeared troubled."
Naruto scratched the back of his head sheepishly, "Nah, I slept fine, thanks for sharing your sleeping stuff with me."
Naruto and Neji had both volunteered to keep watch during the night. Naruto had ridiculous stamina and Neji was…Neji so there were really no objections. Naruto had neglected to bring his sleeping gear, so Neji had volunteered his own while he kept watch.
Neji did not appear convinced, but Naruto had moved onto other subjects.
"Anou sa, anou sa, (Hey, hey)" Naruto said mischievously, "Is Shikamaru really sleeping or is he just pretending?"
On any given mission, Shikamaru had had the annoying habit of pretending to be asleep. It was damn irritating. Everyone would have to wait while he lazed about. It drove Naruto insane. So Naruto had taken the liberty of making it his duty to wake the guy in his own unique fashion. And if he was so good at it in the future…well it stood to reason he might have started now.
Neji whispered, "Byakugan," and a second later, "…he's pretending." Naruto couldn't tell if the Hyuuga was annoyed or amused. Maybe both.
"Yosh! (All right!)" and with that Naruto hopped down from the tree.
He dug around near Chouji's stuff and found a small bag of barbeque potato chips and absently started munching as he offered some to Akamaru, who woke up at the smell of food. He squatted down by Kiba's sleeping bag and shook his shoulder, causing said boy to wake, and the three worked on finishing up the chips.
Naruto reached in the bag for the final chip when Chouji shot up and grabbed the bag out of his hands shouting something about the "final chip." It was the only surefire way to wake up Chouji, threaten the last chip in a bag.
"Morning Chouji!" Naruto greeted as he wiped his hands on his pants. Then his eyes turned to Shikamaru, and Neji would later swear for a second he saw Naruto laugh maniacally.
He trotted over to Shikamaru, placed his hands on his hips and bellowed, "Oi! Wake up you lazy-ass!" while simultaneously kicking the boy ten feet out of his sleeping mat.
For a few seconds the boy didn't move and then he started to get to his feet groaning something that sounded like "Troublesome" under his breath while Kiba failed miserably at concealing his mirth.
"Good morning to you too, Naruto," he muttered.
"Ah, I'm sorry Shikamaru, I tried to wake you up before but you were sleeping so deeply that nothing else worked," Naruto said blithely, not sounding at all sorry. Kakashi-sensei would have been proud.
Shikamaru merely made a "Che" sound and then started coordinating the camp cleanup.
After the campground showed no signs of recent human existence, the team moved out.
Shikamaru had chosen to switch back to a single team with all five boys traveling in a straight line. The team had less ground to cover because the majority of the terrain had been covered the previous day. It seemed the Chuunin expected them to come across their quarry in the next few hours, and wanted to have his full team available.
Naruto took to the trees much more confident in his current abilities. He had secretly taken the opportunity during his watch to practice his use of Kage Bunshin. He had been disappointed when his first attempts barely produced a single clone instead of the intended five. Apparently the difference between his future skill and present skill was very large, a fact he summarized with a barely suppressed whine/shout of, "Shiiiit, I suuucked." However, by throwing more chakra into the jutsu he found he could accurately pop out the dozens of shadow clones he was used to working with. Granted, he could feel his limit was closer than it used to be, but that was to be expected. He was proud to say his chakra capacity and control had grown over the years, thank you very much.
He had also put a little effort into his Rasengan. If he remembered correctly, it was those two attacks, Rasengan and Kage Bunshin, that he used pretty much exclusively at this age. Unfortunately the results of the Rasengan weren't as stable as he would have liked. At twenty, he'd had fully mastered Rasengan, and only used a clone with Oodama Rasengan on bad days. Rasen Shuriken had been down to one clone most of the time. Now he found himself forced back to relying on a shadow clone for the basic Rasengan. Not that he minded, really, the clone was easy enough to make, but his results had always been consistent. Unlike Kage Bunshin, the differences in the manipulation of Rasengan caused by time-traveling couldn't be fixed by just throwing more chakra in. Although, in his own defense, it helped.
Apparently it was going to take more than a few hours of hasty 're-training' to make the Fourth's jutsu the staple it had always been.
He really hoped he wouldn't have to summon anything. God only knew what he would get.
"Oi! Naruto! Pay attention!" the ever-annoyed voice of Shikamaru called over the rush of trees. Naruto finally looked up at the back of the Chuunin in irritation. He was thinking dammit! Couldn't these people learn to be quiet? Geez, a little common courtesy…
"(Sigh)…troublesome. Anyway, Kiba and Akamaru have a scent, we're going to stop right ahead so I can layout our advance, be ready," Shikamaru fell silent, as Naruto nodded, his face becoming serious.
There wasn't a doubt in his mind as to whether or not they would be fighting these guys. The Sound 4 had been practically salivating for a fight when they met up in his last life. With the loss of their objective, Sasuke, Naruto didn't doubt for a second they would pass up the opportunity to vent their frustration on a few Genins and a recently promoted Chuunin. Not that they'd come out on top, of course, but if Naruto remembered, the majority of the 'Retrieve Sasuke' team had come back in serious condition despite their victory. He knew his fellow Leaf-Nins were strong, but that didn't stop the knot of worry building in his gut.
He quickly pushed the doubt out of his mind, if they try to kill my friends, I'll kick their asses. That's all there is to it. No way aren't any of us coming home from this. We survived it once and we'll do it again.
Naruto had long ago decided that it wasn't worth the effort of worrying. He'd either fix things or train and come back and try again. He was a strong ninja…er…would be a great ninja and he had the ability to protect what he considered important.
The squad came to a stop in a small, ten foot in diameter. Four set faces turned to face their squad leader who crouched with his eyes closed and hands held his thinking pose. There was silence for a time, and much as Naruto tried to keep still, he could feel his body beginning to fidget. While the years had tempered his brashness, he never truly lost his impatience. Unconsciously a mantra of, c'mon Shikamaru! Hurry, hurry, hurry; C'mon Shikamaru! Hurry, hurry, hurry; had started in his mind.
Finally he gave up and slumped to the ground with a "Humpf" and sat Indian-style with his hands propped on his knees holding up his chin. If Shikamaru was going to be while, he'd have to wait. It was boring, but it would be worth it in the long run. Shikamaru was a genius. A fact he'd keep in mind when he became Hokage…
"Hmm…I'm impressed Naruto. I'd have expected you to cave about ten minutes ago," Shikamaru drawled lazily as he shifted out of his crouch to stand.
Screw that. Shikamaru wouldn't live long enough to see him become Hokage.
"YOU MEAN YOU JUST LET US STAND HERE DOING NOTHING!!!" Naruto bellowed at the boy who had the decency to jump a bit before resuming his relaxed position while absently cleaning out his ear with his pinky.
"…Always so loud…troublesome…anyway," Shikamaru dropped both hands into his pockets before looking each boy straight in the eye, "here's the plan."
"We should be ready for a second try soon, we're nearly back up to speed," a pale skinned man with equally pale green hair said as he looked about his three companions.
"Mmm," the large, round man with tufts of hair over each ear made a noise of assent, "this time we get the boy alone and make sure his sensei is…unavailable."
"It's gonna be harder now, though. They'll probably expect us, not to mention we've already taken a beating," the man stretched his six arms as he looked toward the sky, "Not that we have a choice, I mean Konoha hasn't sent anyone yet, but I guarantee they muster up a patrol to flush us out sooner or later, plus Orochimaru-sama-."
"Damn straight, if we come back without Sasuke-sama, Orochimaru-sama gonna be pissed as all hell, God-dammit," a woman with fiery reddish-pink hair stated as she looked over her comrades.
"Language, Tayuya," the beefy man warned the woman, "A lady shouldn't talk like that."
"I'll talk however I God-damn please, Jiroubou, you fatass," the woman shot back.
"He's right you know," the six armed man chuckled.
"Shove it, Kidoumaru," Tayuya said before falling silent.
Two birds on a tree looked over the group. One preened and sang to its neighbor, who offered the barest twitter, its beady eyes focused on the man called Kidoumaru who was propped on the far tree.
"We'll leave right before sundown, our chakra capacities will be full by then, and the majority of our minor injuries are already healed," the pale skinned one spoke again, "We should have the necessary strength by then."
Kidoumaru laughed, "C'mon Sakon… 'necessary strength'? These seals have given us all the 'necessary strength' we'll ever need. No normal shinobi's prepared to deal with one of these babies."
The still bird ruffled its feathers as the other trilled a high note.
Sakon smirked, "…True. But don't forget! It still took all of us in our second stage forms to stop that Jounin."
"Yes, but that was the legendary Copy-nin. I doubt we'll be so unlucky a second time," Jiroumaru pointed out.
The bird hopped around on the branch, pecking for insects, while the other appeared to sleep. In another tree, two squirrels chased one another, while a third rather chubby squirrel munched on an acorn. A last bird sat on a far branch for a moment before hopping to a higher spot and becoming comfortable.
"God-damn, I hate just sitting here," Tayuya said at length.
"If you're bored we could do some target training with the wildlife. It seems they're becoming brave again," Sakon said with cruel grin.
The sleeping bird and the one situated on the far branches stiffened slightly while the third continued to hop happily, absently starting a loud trilling.
"Hmph, apparently that one has a death wish," Kidoumaru said as he prepared a strange gold projectile.
The man cocked back an arm and…
"Damn! We have company…" Kidoumaru said in low voice as his projectile embedded itself in the bark of the tree millimeters from where the trilling bird previously resided. All the animals had taken to higher branches in the trees when the weapon struck.
"Hm?" Jiroubou made a noise of question.
"Yeah…whoever it is just triggered a part of my trap net," the six-armed man continued, "whoever it is can't be very good, it was a pretty basic trap."
"Good, I was getting…hungry for some excitement around here," Jiroubou stood to his feet and rubbed his hands together.
"Che…c'mon, and don't overdo it any of you, we need to be in good form tonight," Sakon said as he and the entire group followed Kidoumaru out of their camp.
There was silence in the clearing and then five figures dropped to the ground.
"Heh, Naruto. Even Sound ninjas find your noise annoying," Kiba commented with a cock of his head.
"Shut up, it was how a real bird would act," Naruto retorted. He took pride in his animal impersonations. He had learned the skill to coincide with his Kage Bunshin and Henge techniques. It had taken a lot of sitting still and watching to learn how to perfectly impersonate the animals native to Fire Country. Something Iruka-sensei had always thought was good for him for some reason…
"A real annoying bird - ," Kiba started but was cut off by Neji.
"Actually his performance was quite accurate, I'm impressed," Neji nodded in approval, "I take it you used a clone to set off one of the traps?"
"Yeah, they should be looking for a little while, not that they'll find anything," Naruto replied with a grin, "Plus I really didn't want to be a bird-kabob."
"So is our mission done then, Shikamaru? We got information on these guys that the Jounin squad can use," Chouji asked his friend before shoving some chips in his mouth.
"It's troublesome, but we need to check their stuff quickly to see if we can gather any additional information," Shikamaru said as he indicated the bags around camp, "then we move a half mile away and keep tabs until the other team arrives. Hopefully in a couple hours."
"Roger," Naruto called out, and the team went to work on the bags. There wasn't anything of real importance, and the search was concluded quickly. Then the team covered their tracks and moved to walk out of the camp.
"Remember to watch for traps," Shikamaru called out, "it would be troublesome to set one off now. Anyway, I think that one guy can tell when his traps are set off."
The traps were difficult to navigate, with double, triple and quadruple layered set-ups surrounding the camp. Getting in had been difficult and now they had to face the same scenario as they exited. Naruto jumped the double wire trap and ducked the webbing –webbing?- suspended from the low branches. He was so engrossed in looking for and avoiding traps that he forgot he was back in his twelve year old body. So when he absentmindedly pushed chakra to his feet to jump a trap-trigger, he forgot to compensate, and…
"Damn-!" the twang of a trap and Naruto's muffled curse echoed through the trees as he quickly dodged the kunai and adhered himself to the trunk of a nearby tree with chakra.
"Are you guys okay?" he ventured.
"What was with that, you idiot!" Kiba hissed through gritted teeth.
"I'm not an idiot! I…er…just undershot my jump, geez," Naruto huffed. Actually, he was a bit embarrassed. Ahh, if you guys only knew how old I really was you'd be laughing your asses off by now. Some Jounin-level ninja I am.
"Come, we need to move on before our enemy arrives," Neji stated and activated his Byakugan.
"Naruto! Chouji! Move, now!" Neji called as several kunai pierced the area where Naruto and Chouji had once stood.
After he landed from his impromptu jump backwards Naruto let go of Chouji, who nodded his thanks. Both took out a kunai; getting into a defensive positions alongside Kiba and Neji. Naruto felt the oh-so-familiar feeling that preceded a fight, and looked for the enemy nins.
The sound of clapping and laughter echoed through the silence before it was cut by mocking words, "What a cute bunch of kids. Konoha must not think much of us to send such a pathetic squad. I think we're going to have to teach the Leaf a message."
So, Naruto thought as he grit his teeth, here we go again.
Thank you to all 13 reviewers for chapter 6!
Also a big thank you to those who recently started reading my fiction and left reviews for my other chapters!
I tried to reply to all the questions and the longer detailed reviews. If I missed you this time, I'll try to get you this time! I think I understand why authors ask for reviews all the time.
To Stephen, who I couldn't reply to through it's creepy how you've already picked out one of my planned themes. Yeah, I too think it would go well with the time travel and anime themes, but we'll see. Thank you very much for the review and I hope you keep reading.
And now, as always: Tell me what you like, what you don't, if I've strayed out of character, or managed to stay in, what makes sense, what doesn't and generally if I'm keeping you interested!
Until next chapter!