Chapter One: The Game is Set
It wasn't that they had been bored, per se.
It was just that they hadn't had anything else to do.
Having ruled for nearly seventy-five and sixty-eight years respectively, Kazekage Gaara and Hokage Naruto had simply seen it all, done it all, and so forth. The two of them were, well, getting old, even with the help of the demonic chakra that they both took as "rent" from their inner tenants.
And they were getting tired.
Even demonically enhanced bodies could only hold out for so long. Naruto, for one, was tired of waking up in the morning to find his joints stiff. He was only grateful that grey and white hair didn't show up very well against blond. He had that going for him, at least. Gaara's bright red hair showed white much more clearly, to Naruto's eternal glee.
There wasn't all that much more that they could do for their beloved villages.
They had both appointed successors to their seats in the villages; clever and strong shinobi to whom they had taught as much as they could. Their villages would survive without them.
And then, it had been time for something… new. Being the (now former) leaders of the two most powerful shinobi villages in the hidden continent for such a long period of time meant that they had acquired vast amounts of, well, everything: knowledge, political savvy, and, of course, tribute from less powerful villages. The scroll that they had needed had been given to Kazekage Gaara of the Desert in the eleventh year of his rule, as a part of a larger set of gifts from some of the little-known countries to the north. That scroll had apparently been written by one of the first Jinchuuriki of the seven-tails, in one of the older, demon tongues that had become a common language among tailed beasts and their vessels. Those who had given it to the Kazekage hadn't known what it described; they only knew that it was powerful, but useless to anyone who could not read it.
The jutsu it described had apparently been used to great effect in battle: namely, its user would witness conflicts from afar, turn back time by mere months, and, well, change history.
It required massive amounts of chakra, of course, making it all but impossible for anyone but Jinchuuriki to use. That was why the small country it had come from had remained small: their Jinchuuriki had left.
How convenient, then, was it, that both Gaara and Naruto were still demon vessels?
Gaara, the longest-reigning Kazekage that Suna had had since its conception as a ninja village, container of the demon Shukaku, and the strongest shinobi that Wind country had ever seen was drooling on his desk again.
No, he wasn't napping: with Shukaku still trapped inside him, he couldn't afford to nap like certain other Kages who shall remain nameless. He was, in fact, communing with his inner demon, which involved a partial transformation.
In the privacy of his office in the Kazekage's tower in Suna, Gaara was free to transform without freaking out or, er - "damaging" one of the younger chuunin assistants.
It wasn't really a discussion. It was, in fact, more of a dictation of "this is what's going to happen, and you shall do as I say" thing on the part of Gaara to Shukaku. He, the Kazekage, needed Shukaku's chakra, and so he would take it. End of story.
After being trapped inside a weak human body for eight decades, Shukaku was understandably still pissed off. His anger was like a persistent, low flame in the back of Gaara's head; that was the way that only immortals can sustain anger for such long periods of time. However, even though Shukaku was relatively stupid, the demon did realize that if his host's life was prolonged, so, too, would he live longer. And the longer he lived, the longer he had to try to find a way to escape.
After all, a life trapped inside a weak bag of human flesh was better than no life at all.
Before he left, Naruto walked the streets of his beloved village to say goodbye.
There were many things that Naruto would miss about no longer being Hokage.
Naruto would, of course, miss the acknowledgement he received from the townspeople most of all. There was no contesting that fact. He enjoyed speaking with shinobi and civilians alike, and always had a kind word and bits of advice for children. This was especially true when he gave tips to the young pranksters, who couldn't quite believe that their venerable leader had once graffiti-ed the entire Hokage monument in his youth. He would miss the smiles people gave him as they went by, and the respect in the eyes of those he commanded. They would never think to pass the words "demon" or "freak" through their lips. The former would be redundant; everyone knew that he housed the Kyuubi, so why state it? It wasn't as if Jinchuuriki were anything strange, either – didn't the leader of the Sand, their ally, also hold a demon inside him? And wasn't he just as good a leader as their own Hokage?
He would definitely miss that sort of universal understanding.
He would miss his friends, new and old: Neji and Hinata, who ruled the Hyuuga with wrinkled fists; Sakura, who could never quite leave the hospital when there were still patients around to treat; Sasuke, who still trained ANBU operatives despite his growing blindness… And then there were those that had grown to become his friends over the years: those who were half his age, or younger. It would be difficult waiting through the decades it would take for them to even be born – and even then, would they grow to become the same people?
Naruto walked the streets of his beloved Konoha, making sure to stop one last time at his beloved Ichiraku. Ayame's granddaughter, who was also named Ayame, for her grandmother, served him his ramen – miso flavoured. It was delicious, as usual.
After his meal, he walked further, ignoring the twinging of his old knees. He was determined to re-explore the entirety of his village. He spoke to his friends and acquaintances as he normally would. He didn't need any tearful goodbyes, or attempts at stopping him.
Naruto admired his face carved onto the Hokage monument one final time. He would miss that, too. It would be strange to see only three faces up there. They would look lonely, without his and old lady Tsunade's faces to keep them company.
And he would miss the hat. One mustn't forget the hat.
The ritual itself was almost frightfully simple. It was, in effect, a modified Shushin no Jutsu, a technique that all ninja had learned during their academy days. The hardest part about it was the amount of chakra needed, as previously mentioned, and the sheer concentration that one had to have: an intense fixation on a certain period of time to the exclusion of all others. It was simple, but definitely not easy.
The two of them had decided to meet to use the technique in an unpopulated area about halfway between their two villages, in a mix of forest and desert: grassland. That was fair; they were both getting old, after all, even with the influence of their demons, and it wouldn't be right to make each other walk further than necessary with their old joints.
Naruto, for one, was greatly looking forward to revisiting his youth for that exact reason.
Finally, the two greatest shinobi of the age met in a clearing that lay on the path between their two villages. No words needed to be spoken, as they had planned out their actions in advance. From beneath their large Kage hats, they met each other's eyes. Naruto's eyes were framed by laugh-lines. Gaara's were still surrounded by black even after all these years. If the skin around the other man's eyes had wrinkles from hiding smiles, well, Naruto was diplomatic enough not to mention it.
They each took a deep breath, still looking into each other's eyes, and began. Their hands blurred, forming the simple seals that would take them away from this place in time. Holding the final one (ram), they concentrated, focusing on their six-year-old selves. Sand began to pick up around Gaara's form, and Naruto's eyes began to take on a red tinge, their pupils slitting. The air around the blond, too, grew red under the influence of the demonic chakra that he was accessing. Such chakra was freely given at this point by both Kyuubi and Shukaku, as neither of them truly wanted to die such miserable deaths in the old shells of humans. Thus, Naruto and Gaara essentially had a blank cheque to take however much they wanted.
And they would need a lot of chakra.
Looking across to Gaara, ignoring the smell of singed grass from their chakra, Naruto nodded to the other demon vessel. The blond's eyes, along with a quirk of one graying eyebrow, seemed to say: 'see you on the other side.'
In return, Gaara raised one of his own, still non-existent eyebrows, clearly saying: 'Indeed – now be silent and concentrate.'
And they did.
Soon enough, they disappeared in relatively normal-looking puffs of smoke, leaving behind only slightly scorched grass and their absence.
Their entry into the past was less than graceful, especially considering that they were supposed to be the greatest ninja in their respective villages.
Naruto had appeared several feet in the air, and, caught off-guard by the smaller size of his body, simply tumbled to the dusty ground without even attempting to land on his feet. He had been expecting to be younger and smaller, but expecting it and being able to react to it are completely different concepts. Luckily, he instinctively remembered how to hit the ground without breaking anything, or landing on his rear, sans dignity. That was one of the first things that one learned in the academy, after all, and even at such a young age Naruto wasn't entirely useless.
Gaara, on the other hand, had landed much more gracefully with his unflappable calmness. Well, more gracefully in comparison. He had fallen into a crouch, but had toppled over because his younger body could not take the weight of his gourd as much as his older one could.
This, more than anything told him what era they had landed in. He had only started to carry around the gourd when he had begun to feel more and more threatened – around the age of six, right before his uncle had betrayed him.
He hadn't worn this sort of cloak in decades, he thought, examining the cowl made of pale material and the straps attached to his gourd and outfit. It was strange that Naruto wasn't wearing more orange; Naruto looked odd in a pair of childish shorts and a black t-shirt. The Hokage had always worn more orange than was probably healthy for a ninja. Gaara keenly remembered the eye-straining, brightly coloured jumpsuits that the Kyuubi jinchuuriki had worn when they'd first met. Those had been long since traded in for red and white Hokage robes, however, which looked much more fetching.
"All right, Naruto?" Gaara intoned. He was inwardly surprised at how his voice sounded, but did not show his astonishment. He really was… young.
Getting up cautiously, Naruto stretched his limbs. "Hey, I can move!" A grin spread across his face. "This is awesome. I'd almost forgotten what it felt like to be young! Man, if I'd have known I would have sent the genins on so many more missions…" The ex-Hokage trailed off wistfully.
"You still can," Gaara pointed out, quietly. "You've just got to become Hokage again."
"Yeah, yeah." Naruto nodded, grinning, straightening his black shirt so that the swirl was centered. "And this time I'm going to beat you to the post, raccoon-eyes."
Gaara snorted, which sounded strange coming from his youthful face. "Yes, of course. This is coming from the number one loser of his academy year?"
"Hey, hey – I'm not even in the academy yet! Besides, I've never actually killed anyone, at this point, so I'll have an easier task."
"So you say," Gaara replied, definitely not smiling. "But that is not what the rest of your village thinks. We're both horrid, bloodthirsty beasts, if you'll remember."
The two demon vessels were silent for a moment, contemplating the enormity of the task ahead of them. It had been many years since anyone had looked upon them with disgust; nobody had dared to speak against them for decades. They had both worked extremely hard to normalize relations between jinchuuriki and the humans who had made them. They would have to start over.
But this time, they had experience on their side.
And, if no-one else, they had the support of each other.
They had become the leaders of their villages once already, after all. They would be able to do it again. The question was just when.
Naruto, still grinning, showing off his canines, reached his right hand out towards Gaara. "Race you?"
Without hesitation, the vessel of Shukaku grasped the other boy's hand in agreement. "I will be keeping in touch." Gaara said, levelly.
"Right, then. See you!" And with that, they were gone.
Fear the anger of a patient man, or, rather, the games of immortals.
Up next: Opening Moves