IMPORTANT AUTHOR'S NOTE AT THE END!
Current Day Konoha, Naruto Age 16
By the time Tsunade reached Naruto's room, the 'crisis' had passed…thankfully. She rushed through the doorway just in time to see Yamato practically collapse in a chair as his wood jutsu retreated from Naruto's bare chest and the necklace the Fifth Hokage had given him. A pale-faced Sakura held the railings on the bed as if her knees wanted to give out on her as well.
"What happened?" the blond asked, hoping she didn't sound too tired. She always showed more exhaustion when she felt relieved.
"We don't know," Sakura whispered. "I was just checking up on him with Shizune-san when he we felt the Kyuubi's chakra. We called for Yamato-sensei immediately and Shizune-san went to get you personally.
"The…er, episode," she said the word hesitantly, probably for lack of something better but it got the point across so Tsunade nodded slightly to show she understood as Sakura continued, "lasted for almost four minutes."
Yamoto interjected quietly from his chair. "I've been keeping track of Naruto-kun ever since I was assigned their team, as instructed. I got here as quickly as I could, Hokage-sama. Fortunately, I was close when I got word. I tried to stop him from using the chakra, but it felt…different than usual."
Tsunade's stomach clenched at that. The last thing they needed were problems with the Kyuubi on top of Naruto's current situation. "Different? How?"
Yamato thought for several seconds, obviously trying to put what he'd experienced into words. "I felt as if I were only stopping an overflow…like all of the chakra had been redirected before it even got to Naruto and consequently me. I can't stop what I can't block. I don't even know where to start trying to intercept the Kyuubi's influence."
If it were possible, Sakura's face had paled even more (and if Tsunade were honest with herself, she'd admit that hers had as well).
"Sensei…" Sakura whispered. "Redirected..."
Tsunade nodded, trying not to look too troubled (and the fatigue wasn't helping, but she squashed it relentlessly). "Yes," she said. "It is most likely that somehow, Sasuke can draw on the Nine-tail's powers."
Yamato glanced between the two of them, eyes widening. "What?"
The Fifth Hokage sighed. "Come to my office and I will brief you on the situation. I would have done so earlier, but you only just returned from your most recent mission."
The jounin blinked. "You don't need to explain yourself to me, Hokage-sama."
Tsunade blinked. She had explained herself, hadn't she. She really needed to stop subconsciously trying to break her record of hours without sleep. With a small sigh she waved her hand dismissively. "He was apart of your team too. You have a right to know."
He paused, but smiled at her. "Thank you, Tsunade-sama."
The older woman returned the nod and then glanced over at her student. "Sakura, keep an eye on him. I'll relieve you of your other duties for the day."
"H-hai, Hokage-sama," Sakura replied as Tsunade left the room, followed by Yamato and leaving a very worried Sakura next to a prone and silent Naruto behind them.
Land of the Waves, Naruto Age 13
Naruto did not like what he saw. With the condition of the ninja on their team…well, only Sakura would be up to full strength. Naruto still had enough chakra to pull out a good amount of kage bushins, but whatever the heck he'd just done had taken a lot out of him. His whole body felt like it was recovering from…well, he didn't quite know how to describe it. A massive chakra overload maybe? He'd pushed himself somehow, and although it had managed to heal the cuts on his arms, it felt as if he'd physically paid a price somewhere else, and knew he'd have to answer to that price soon.
There were too many variables in the entire situation. Kakashi could easily take care of all of Gato's men when at full strength, but what about now? And what about Zabuza?
As if in answer to his question, the missing nin addressed Kakashi-sensei.
"I'm sorry, Kakashi, but this fight is over. Now that I have no reason to go after Tazuna-san, I have no reason to fight you."
"Ah," Kakashi said in agreement. "You're right."
Naruto breathed a silent sigh of relief. Well, that was one problem solved.
So now they could all face these men together…or at least without Zabuza getting in their way. That upped their odds greatly.
Just as Naruto thought this, he realized that Gato had moved forward towards the boy's (Zabuza had called him Haku, right?) body.
"Oh yeah," the crime leader said with a cruel grin. "I owe this one. He squeezed my arm until it broke. Now look at him!" He kicked Haku's face hard. "He's dead!"
Naruto frowned. Okay, so he'd been about to beat the kid to a bloody pulp not five minutes previously, but that didn't mean he liked the idea of desecrating someone's body. Besides, something about this man really, really rubbed Naruto wrong.
It also bothered him that Zabuza didn't say anything.
"Hey," he said aloud, "you." Everyone looked over at him except for Zabuza. Naruto continued anyway. "Aren't you going to say something? He was your subordinate."
"Shut up, kid," the missing nin muttered. "Haku's already dead, so what does it matter?" Naruto's frown deepened, but he said nothing. Apparently Zabuza felt the need to clarify because he continued. "As I was used by Gato, I used Haku. That's all it was.
"I've said it already. In the world of shinobi there are only those that use and those that are used. We are simply tools. What I wanted was his blood, not him. I have no regrets."
Naruto felt his teeth grind for some reason. Why did this bother him so much?
Was it because something about the missing nin's tone seemed forced? He didn't want to leave it like that, but he didn't really know what to say, and he wasn't about to go babbling until he got a semblance of something out. He wasn't like Sasuke. He didn't care for words.
After a few moments contemplation, he figured it didn't really matter. It wasn't something he could change, no matter what he felt about it. "Then you deserve to be used," he said darkly and he left it at that.
"Heh," Zabuza said. Then, after a few moments of silence, he glanced at his former opponent. "Kakashi, let me borrow your kunai."
Naruto expected a deflection or refusal. Something like, "You have your own kunai, don't you?" He found himself rather surprised when his jounin-sensei complied.
"I expect that back."
Zabuza didn't answer, mainly because he'd caught the kunai in his mouth as his arms had been rendered useless by Kakashi earlier. Then he'd disappeared, sprinting forward towards the group facing them. Gato, seeing him coming, started yelling out as he ran back to the crowd and hid behind them. "Kill them! Kill him!"
"Sure thing!" One of them yelled.
"You think you can win?" Another spoke from the back somewhere, addressing Zabuza.
"One badly injured ninja against all of us?"
Naruto could only watch blankly (and a little in awe) as the Demon of the Mist reached the gathering of men and proceeded to tear his way through them. The blond couldn't understand. Why was the missing nin doing this? He may have been able to take down everyone in his path, but the men he couldn't reach with Kakshi-sensei's weapon would easily have openings to get hits in. Naruto knew the older man knew this, but Zabuza didn't stop. Just as Naruto had predicted, by the time the dark-haired man reached Gato, he looked something like a pin cushion.
Gato yelled out something about Zabuza being a failure and a pathetic ninja. He cut off only seconds later when the Demon of the Mist sliced off his head. "No one stabs me in the back and gets away with it!" he yelled around the kunai still in his mouth.
Then, much to Naruto's surprise, the missing nin turned and glanced at Haku, one tear rolling down his cheek.
He stood there for several seconds before the blood loss got to him and he collapsed.
"So he really did care in the end," Kakashi said quietly. "Remember this day, Naruto. This is a day when a man who lived a hard life died."
"Mm," Naruto hummed in agreement, unwilling to let his eyes waver from the dying figure.
The men Gato had brought had fallen into a disorganized confusion now, but Naruto knew they could still be a threat, if not to them then to the village. Normally he wouldn't care to stop them as the mission didn't require the safety of the village, but the ninja and Tazuna-san stood between the group of thugs and the entire Land of the Wave. If they attacked now—
"Naruto-kun!" He blinked when he heard a rather giddy Sakura call out to him. "Naruto-kun! Look!"
The mist had almost completely disappeared by then, and as he turned around he had no problem finding his pink-haired teammate sitting next to…
His train of thought faded off and he felt his mouth drop open ever so slightly in shock. He didn't care how undignified it looked. "S-sasuke?" he asked in disbelief.
The dark-haired boy muttered something unintelligible and tried to wave his hand dismissively, although it came off as more of a weak flop.
"Remember the death-like state that boy put Zabuza in?" Kakashi asked, infuriatingly calm about the whole situation (of course).
The blond blinked. Oh.
Naruto stood there for several seconds as his mind tried to process the realization. He'd been so ready to accept that he would now have to try to get through life on his own again that he didn't know quite what to think. Part of him wanted to walk over there and beat the living daylights out of the baka for scaring him like that. Part of him just wanted to curl into a ball and cry out everything he felt inside; all of his pain, anger, relief, happiness, joy, sadness…it was all there. He wasn't even sure he knew how he could identify half of the emotions let alone feel them all at once.
"Sasuke," was all he could manage to say again as he felt his knees give out on him in an extremely undignified manner. Fortunately he still managed to lower himself to the ground at a fairly controlled pace.
Then, after a moment, he yelled. "Don't you ever scare me like that again, you idiot!"
Sasuke, Sakura and Tazuna all stared at him in surprise. He wasn't exactly known for outbursts like that, but at the moment he was so relieved, he didn't care.
After a moment, Sasuke opened his mouth to speak, but one of the thugs from Gato's group cut him off.
"Oi!" the raggad-looking, nameless man yelled, drawing their attention. "You're far too at ease! How dare you? You took away our meal ticket!"
"So now we'll take it out of your hides!" Someone else yelled, followed by even more yelling from random thugs.
"You stupid ninja!"
"You guys are dead!"
"Then we'll pillage this city!"
"Let's get 'em!"
And with that, they all swarmed forward.
"This is bad," Kakashi said, shooting to his feet and sliding into a defensive position. Naruto didn't say anything. Instead, he stood quickly and brought his hand into the familiar seal.
"Kage—" he started, but never got to finish as a spear landed between him and the oncoming hoard, stopping the hired men in their tracks.
Which made no sense. Why would they stop unless…the ninja turned around to face a crowd of villagers that had gathered on the bridge, one familiar small figure tentatively leading the way.
The Genin and Tazuna's eyes widened in surprise and they all voiced the name at the same time. "I-Inari?"
After that, things cleaned up rather quickly. Between the villagers, Naruto's Kage-bushins and Kakashi's own bushins, they were able to scare the hired thugs off. The villagers had celebrated rather hard for several nights after that, and Kakashi had enlisted his Genins' help to bury the two ninja that had died.
During their remaining time there, Sasuke came to be pretty good friends with Inari. Apparently Kakashi had spoken to him the night before, and when Naruto had saved him and his mother from dying earlier that day, he'd decided he'd had enough running and crying.
Naruto didn't seem to care much about 'the brat' at all, but he also didn't feel the need to leave whenever he came into the room anymore. It was an improvement, so no one saw a point in bringing it up.
It took them a few more weeks for Tazuna-san to finish the bridge, and a few more days after construction had officially concluded before the ninja found themselves ready to be on their way with their mission accomplished. Sasuke looked as if he wanted to cry, but refused to, and Inari acted like he felt the same way. Even Naruto seemed more down than usual at the parting—not that he'd ever admit it.
As Tazuna, his family and a few of the villagers watched them leave, Tazuna shook his head with a smile.
"Those ninja really are something, aren't they?"
"Yeah, they changed our lives," one of the villagers said softly.
"Especially Inari's," the old bridge builder agreed. Then something occurred to him. "Hey, we still need to name the bridge. How about 'The Great Naruto and Sasuke Bridge'?"
"Hmm," one of the other villagers mused. "I like it."
"That's a good name," the first one agreed.
"In hopes that this bridge will never crumble," Tazuna grinned, admiring his work once again. "It will be a symbol that will become known throughout the world."
"Yeah," the others agreed. Inari didn't say a word, only continuing to pretend he wasn't crying as the figures of the Konoha ninjas disappeared into the horizon.
Sasuke wouldn't admit it, but he really wanted to get back to Konoha. He'd enjoyed the trip (despite the rather painful and near-death experiences), but the Hidden Village of the Leaf would always be his home; the place where his family had chosen to live and the place where he could remember them and his brother the best.
It would always be the place where he belonged.
It had been almost a week since they'd left the Wave Country, and he couldn't help but bounce excitedly on the balls of his feet in anticipation as he walked, trying not to leave his team too far behind. Kakashi had said that today they would make it home and he couldn't wait.
Naruto on the other hand seemed even more brooding than usual. Sasuke didn't quite understand, but he got the distinct impression that the blond most certainly did not want to get back. He wanted to do something to get Naruto as excited as he felt, but nothing came to mind. Besides why wouldn't anyone want to go home? Did he already miss the people in the Land of the Waves that much?
Sasuke smiled. He couldn't fault the blond for that. His best friend was such a good guy. He resolved that he would have to take Naruto out for Raman when they reached Konoha.
"Alright," Kakashi-sensei said from behind his little, orange book. "We should catch sight of the Kage Monument just over the next hill."
Grinning, Sasuke threw what little reservation he had to the wind and sprinted up to the rise in the forest path. Surely enough, in the distance he could barely make out the four faces that graced the cliff overlooking his village.
For several seconds, he closed his eyes and just reveled in the fact that they were in Konoha territory; that they were home. A large grin settled over his face as he set off, sprinting down the path.
"S-Sasuke-kun!" Sakura yelled after him, trying to keep the annoyance from her voice. The black-haired boy ignored her.
"Let him go," Kakashi said. "It takes a special soul to enjoy coming home to a village that sends you out to potentially die on a regular basis."
Sakura pouted a bit, but didn't say anything else. Behind them, Naruto frowned.
Current Day Konoha, Naruto age 16
Yamoto put the file concerning Naruto down on the desk and sat back in his chair. Any normal person would have run a hand through their hair or let out a low whistle. The dark-haired ANBU simply stared at the file.
"So from what you can gather, Sasuke and Naruto now have some sort of mind-link, which by the way shouldn't be possible," neither one of them voiced the 'but then again, Naruto is involved' that they both knew was tacked onto the end of that sentence. "And so they are for all intents and purposes trapped in—for lack of better terminology—their own world."
The Hokage raised an eyebrow, slightly amused. "You could put it like that."
"So the jutsu uses only their memories to create this 'world' and any differences from the real world would probably be taken from projections and theories from their minds, not necessarily from reality?"
"That's just a theory," Tsunade said slowly. "Jiraiya, Kakashi and I have been discussing the possibilities of how the jutsu works, and that is the most likely scenario of those we have come up with."
"What are other theories you've come up with, if I may be so bold as to ask?"
The blond shrugged. "That the jutsu plays through their memories while Naruto and Sasuke watch from the other person's point of view. We don't know if they know the reality of their situation, but I would venture that they don't. We don't know if they are currently watching or processing the events as they happened or if they're actually living through the other's life experiences and making their own decisions based on the circumstances. The information we have on the jutsu is sketchy at best."
Yamoto shook his head. "I see how confusing this has been for you."
Tsunade let out a sigh and sat back in her own chair, rubbing the bridge of her nose as she hummed in agreement. Then she put her elbows on the arms of the chair and interlaced her fingers under her nose as her gaze wandered back to the manila folder.
"We believe they are actually 'living' the events in their minds from the readings we've been getting from his brain. I'll skip the medical terminology, but it's like his head is telling him to move, but the signals aren't translating to his body. We're pretty sure it's only the jutsu that's blocking those signals, thank goodness, but we're still not a hundred percent sure how the seal is doing it. Jiraiya, Kakashi and Sai have been taking turns looking at and theorizing about the seal and its patterns. If you would like, you are more than welcome to join them."
Yamoto shook his head with small, precise movements. "No, thank you, Hokage-sama. Fuinjutsu has never been my strong point. But if you need help anywhere else…"
Tsunade nodded and sat forward again. "I will let you know. You were scheduled a few days off, correct?"
"I'm afraid I may have to cut your down-time short and put you on watch at the hospital. You may not be able to do a lot when it comes to Kyuubi's chakra, but anything is better than nothing at this point."
"Of course, ma'am," Yamoto bowed slightly. "I will go prepare."
The dark-haired man turned to leave, but stopped at the door. "Tsunade-sama," he said slowly, "is it safe to assume that Sasuke is in a similar state as Naruto?"
The blond blinked. "Yes. That is what all the information we have indicates."
"Then Sasuke was channeling Kyuubi's chakra just now?"
"Yes, I believe so," Tsunade said slowly, wondering where Yamoto was going with this.
"What do you think Orochimaru's reaction will be?"
Tsunade stared at Yamoto for several seconds before her eyes widened and her face paled. "You're recommending a guard?"
"Yes, ma'am. I doubt they'll be able to stand up to Orochimaru if he decides to come after Naruto, but if you assign double the regular guard, it might be enough to hold him off until you or Jiraiya-sama can get there."
"You bring up a good point. I will assign at least two ANBU teams to assist in guarding Naruto."
"Thank you, ma'am," Yamoto said with another bow. Then he paused.
"Is there something else?" Tsunade asked. Yamoto nodded, looking somewhat nervous. She got the distinct impression that if he had bee anything but a trained Jounin that he would have shuffled his feet nervously.
"Do you think Orochimaru will come?"
Tsunade's eyes locked on the envelope again. "I can hope," she said softly. "And there is a possibility he won't. I doubt I would have thought about it in my current state if you hadn't brought it up…but now that you do mention it, I don't see how he won't at least be curious."
It wasn't a definitive answer, but it seemed to satisfy the Jounin.
As he turned to walk out the doorway again, she called after him. "If you see Jiraiya, please inform him that I wish to speak with him."
"Yes, Hokage-sama," Yamoto said respectfully as he shut the door behind him.
Alright, so first I'm going to thank people for the reviews because this time I got a bunch and I really, really appreciate them. I started this fic more than four years ago, and I needed to know that people weren't coming to the page, seeing 'oh it was this story' and then closing the window and you guys really came through.
Now some people have complained that there isn't enough change in the events of this story, and I'm here to say there probably won't be. I'm trying to keep it interesting, but the jutsu they're under basically draws from their subconscious memories and makes a world (somewhat similar to a pensive from Harry Potter). This is not a time-travel fic in the normal sense because technically THEY HAVEN'T TIME-TRAVELED. Naruto and Sasuke are living in a completely mental world, and everyone is acting as they believe the people around them would/did. The jutsu doesn't allow for a lot of change because it isn't alive itself and only makes the world based on what it has to work with. So it can't really hold up well under the influences of a whole lot of changes. The best it can do is draw from their minds and compensate for said changes based on the knowledge and opinions of both parties involved (Sasuke and Naruto), but there won't be a lot of that because it would defeat the purpose of the jutsu and more importantly THE STORY. Sasuke and Naruto are living each other's lives so they can understand one another. That can't happen if there are a bunch of major changes.
So if something seems a bit out of character but is following the original story, it's because the jutsu is leading them on and directing their thought process. Part of the reason it takes me so long to update is because I do consider every change very carefully. "Would the jutsu allow for this change to happen?" has been a very difficult question for me, and I'm probably going to get more liberal as the jutsu goes along because they will subconsciously (at least) notice the changes and it's going to push the jutsu (probably to a breaking point...which is why I have the 'current day' scenes).
If that makes sense.
Now Kyuubi is trying to disrupt it a little, but he's not actively doing much of anything because he finds it amusing. He's a giant, malevolent demon fox that has been trapped for the better part of a century. He won't remain amused for long.
And now you can understand the time difference between the two 'worlds' as well. Weeks can pass by in the equivalent of hours in the real world.
You wouldn't have even had the last scene there explaining anything if Telemicus Sundance hadn't read through this and given me his two cents. You should all thank him. Seriously.
Oh, and this hasn't been hard-core beta read for grammar and/or spelling. I've read through it myself a few times, but if I missed anything, please let me know. Thanx.