Misery Loves Company

Author: Ladelle

Comments: Uh…hello. Long time no see! When I say I'm sorry I really am…I've been fighting writers' block on and off but this is a battle that I *will* win. I'm determined to.

Thank you for all of your reviews, inspiration, and support and I've officially plotted this little guy out to thirty-one chapters. So we're almost there!

Chapter 26:

He had never been to this part of town, and Naruto realized that sadly that he probably looked insane. It was in his best judgment to assume that locals didn't drop in from the sky, twirling through the air before an awning broke their fall. And as a good fifteen people stared at him as he rolled off the covering and fell into an undignified lump onto the concrete below, he was pretty sure he had drawn more attention to himself than necessary.

"Mister, are you alright?" A woman's voice sounded above him, and Naruto, collecting what was left of his pride and shelving remnants of anger towards Haku, leapt to his feet, ignoring a pain that shot up the length of his spine.

He laughed a little and rubbed his sore backside. "Fine, fine. Wow, when they say not to open your car door while flying, they sure mean it." He scratched the back of his head as the woman's eyes widened.

Before having to explain why he had considered opening his car door in the first place while soaring hundreds of feet in the air, Naruto stumbled through the small crowd clustered around him, his sights set on a descending stairwell not too far away. A small and beady-eyed man demanded he get medical attention, and Naruto's intelligent response was to scuttle out of sight.

There weren't too many stairs to take before Naruto reached street level, a fact he was grateful for. His legs were sore nonetheless, and he hid himself in the shadows of an upper-class boutique, in a narrow little alleyway beside it.

He took a few minutes to collect himself; to catch his breath and come up with a plan. This part of town was a bit more familiar to him, only because he recognized it from when he first arrived. It was the only part of the city where the buildings had gaps between them; gaps big enough to hide the machine he had built.

With a deep sigh, Naruto realized that finding the time machine at night would have been much easier, with the neon lights of after-hour clubs creating a haze over the crowds of people that sifted through. Now, only a few hours past midday, the sun was baking the sidewalks and anyone roaming around seemed shady.

Enter a blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy looking for a time machine and things were bound to look skeptical. He frowned and scanned the area.

There weren't any security guards and the street traffic was nonexistent. The inner-city Division of Police, the building he had first entered in order to meet Morino, was only a block south. He wasn't sure if it was paranoia that was making the hair on the back on his neck stand straight, but he would have bet his life that there were officers planted somewhere nearby.

It was too quiet to suspect otherwise.

Glancing to an alleyway a few blocks the other way, Naruto felt butterflies take flight in his stomach. He recognized it straight away. Taking a deep breath, he slipped out from the shadows towards the hiding place of his machine.

"If Naruto ends up harmed because you shoved him out of a flying vehicle, I'll kill you," Gaara said, and the silence in the vehicle proved that no one doubted the intent behind his words. Haku smiled shyly and let out a muffled laugh. "He'll be fine. I promise."

Gaara did not look convinced.

Kotetsu cleared his throat. "Look, Naruto's on his own now, so we need to figure out what we're going to do."

Haku didn't seem too far behind him in terms of plotting up a plan of action, even though his attention seemed fully focused on the astrovehicles he was steadily weaving around. "The others are already infiltrating…when we get there, we may not have much to do at all."

"You shouldn't underestimate the situation," Gaara seemed reluctant to admit, an emotion that seemed new for him. "Police fighting against police isn't normal."

The thought seemed to settle in the vehicle, and the other two silently agreed. The station was only a hairsbreadth away, and Haku took a deep breath as he let his car descend onto an exit ramp and plummet forcefully down towards an open parking area on an upper platform. "A plan would be good about now."

Kotetsu frowned. "They said they were entering through Lot B and this is Lot A. If we're lucky, and the officers inside have noticed any type of commotion, they're at the other side," he pointed out, and Gaara nodded.

"We should stick together," Haku recommended as he successfully landed. Before he made an effort to leave the car, however, he turned to get a good look at Gaara. "There's something I've been meaning to ask, and I want an answer before I put any trust into you."

Kotetsu looked surprised, although he understood what Haku meant. While Gaara seemed like a friend to Naruto, his origins were unknown. And it wasn't as though he was a normal citizen, either. Trusting the wrong person could be a huge mistake, especially when they were about to set foot in the lion's den.

"How are you involved in any of this?" Haku questioned, and there was a fear in his eyes that his tone didn't quite cover. Gaara was the type of person that made anyone nervous, no matter their resolve. He didn't look affected by the mistrust.

"If I'm helping you, does it matter?" his voice was cool and calm, just like his demeanor. Haku searched Gaara's face for some hint that forming an alliance would be a mistake and found nothing. Kotetsu let out a groan.

"Though it's not the smartest thing to say in the world, in my opinion, if Naruto trusts you, I trust you." He looked embarrassed to admit it, but confident in his decision. Haku relaxed a little and said to Gaara, "You know why I have to be skeptical, right?"

There was a small moment of understanding between the two before Gaara twisted to the side, stepping out of the car. The other two followed. When Haku thought he wouldn't receive an answer at all, Gaara finally spoke. "I'm on Naruto's side since he is the one who can fix it all."

The answer seemed good enough.

Haku made a quick glance to his belt and Kotetsu's, making double sure they each had a weapon. Gaara was unarmed but he didn't seem to mind. Another fact that made him intimidating.

Haku mentally pocketed the questions that arose in his mind and they all moved forward, doing little to look sneaky as they found their way inside the back entrance. It led to a giant lobby, seemingly vacant, with a receptionist desk that looked like it hadn't been used for a long time.

Kotetsu picked up an empty bottle of water and stared at it skeptically. Air conditioning made goose bumps rise and suspicions grow; the whole room felt abandoned and sinister.

Haku stuck close to a long marble wall of the entrance hallway, his gun tight between his hands. He really didn't want to shoot anyone, but in every scenario, it was always best to be prepared. He didn't hear anything except for the gentle hum of cold air bursting from the ventilation system and noticed that Gaara was as strangely cautious as well.

"Is it normally like this?" he asked, and Haku found it interesting that he didn't seem to know. He supposed it was a good thing. Expecting a stranger to the police force to know irregularities was a bit absurd.

"No, it's too quiet," Haku clarified and Kotetsu rifled through paperwork on the front desk. Flipping through the stacks was a loud process that left both Haku and Gaara giving him reprimanding looks.

"Is this place even a station?" Kotetsu held up a few electronic fashion templates and frowned. "There isn't even an officer register," he pushed a stack of papers to the side, revealing a clipboard that looked like it had once led a more productive life. "Not to mention, I don't see a single sign of the others."

That much was true. Where was the rest of their department? Maybe they had already made it upstairs?

Haku frowned. "This place is desolate," he commented. "Look, we need to find where the captain is. Is this even on?" He leaned forward and tapped the hovering computer monitor, feeling a bit lucky that it woke up from its screensaver.

"Kotetsu, pull up Neji or Morino's file," Haku said, and Gaara stepped back while Kotetsu made an effort to pilfer through the station's online database. His eyes drifted up to a stairwell where a flicker of movement caught his eye, and also sounded in his trained ear.

Gaara had Haku's gun faster than anyone would have thought possible, and within seconds a shot rang out, followed by a body tumbling down the metal staircase. Haku was glaring pinholes at Gaara before he snatched back his gun, hissing, "Are you crazy?"

It took a minute for Kotetsu to figure out what had happened, and when Gaara didn't seem to care about the racket he had made, he returned to his electronic search. Instead of yelling at Gaara, Haku jogged over to the crumpled body at the bottom of the stairwell, checking his badge. He glared back at Gaara. "Two reasons why you won't do that again. One, guns are loud. Two, if you shoot someone from my department I won't think twice about forgetting about your relationship with Uzumaki."

Gaara didn't look effected. Kotetsu broke the awkward silence with the announcement that he had found their partners' location, and before anyone had a chance to argue, they were off to the third floor.

Stairs seemed like the best option, simply because the elevators were too enclosed. It was a catch twenty-two as their shoes scuffed against the marble flooring, making it obvious they were on their way upstairs. As careful as they were to be quiet, every footstep sounded like a drumbeat, echoing off walls and up towards the domed glass ceiling. Shadows passed by as clouds drifted overhead; the building still remarkably silent.

"Are you sure we're headed to the right place?" Haku asked Kotetsu, who was close behind him. Gaara's eyes were narrowed as he faced the third floor landing, caution eating away at his features.

"The database said that they were on the third floor," Kotetsu said, and his lips tightened against each other. "I'm going to take a wild guess that Danzo already knows we're here. Or knows abut the others, at least."

Haku inhaled sharply, though his composure didn't seem effected in the least. He decided that it was wishful thinking that had him confident about sneaking into the station unnoticed, but he catered to hope nonetheless. He wanted them to get in and out of the building as quickly as possible…even when the burning feeling in the pit of his stomach had him doubting the ease of his imagination.

Gaara was nearly to the top-most step when he paused, looking a bit like a cat with its fur bristling and eyes wildly darting around. It was a strange look, one that looked a little too animalistic for a human, no matter what lifestyle they led.

"What's the matter?" Haku asked, and he could feel the air around them turn stale. There was a barely audible sound that made goose bumps rise on Haku's neck and at once, all three of them were staring down to the first floor where a man was aiming a gun straight at them.

The sound of the hypercharging gun filled the void their walking had left, and the man holding it looked smug. His pale hair fell loosely from a ponytail tucked behind his head and thick-rimmed glasses had trouble balancing on his slender nose.

"Three at once," the stranger smirked. "That makes me pretty lucky."

Gaara was the only person whose expression didn't change.

"Who are you?" Kotetsu asked. It was obvious the man wasn't a cop—not even one of Morino's. He was wearing khakis and a loose shirt, definitely not something someone in uniform would wear around the station campus. He looked like an average guy, toting around dangerous weapon with a frightening precision.

While keeping his gun aimed at his prey, the man worked his way up the stairwell, never once breaking eye contact with the three. In any normal situation there would have been an opening—some opportunity for one of them to move so that they could get the upper hand. It crossed Haku's mind more than once to leap to the third floor landing and pull his own gun on the stranger but he wasn't sure how Kotetsu and Gaara would react, and he didn't want to put them in danger because of his own quick thinking.

"Not that I expect you to remember it, but my name is Kabuto," the stranger said. In less than a moment he was behind the trio, his gun aimed succinctly at Gaara's chest. It was as if he as stolen the thoughts from Haku's mind when he suddenly moved, cupping his hand around the barrel of the weapon.

Time flooded past.

The gun went off, but Gaara had already twisted to the side, allowing he bullet to whiz through the vacant space beside him and into a wall. He yanked it forward with such an impulsive force that the man named Kabuto came tumbling forward with it, and Gaara wasted no time in tangling his hands in the messy bundle of graying hair and slamming the man's head into the railing of the stairwell.

Haku let out a nervous squeak and Kotetsu collected himself, trying to recount what he had seen happen in such a brief period of time. Gaara pulled Kabuto's head up, a steady stream of blood trickling down from the man's slender nose, his glasses lost to the ground below.

"Not that I expect you to remember it," Gaara mimicked, "but my name is Sabaku."

"What?" Kotetsu would have stepped backwards if he wasn't on a stairwell. His voice failed to betray how stunned he seemed, and Haku looked just as uneasy. Kabuto, on the other hand, smirked, seemingly distracted from the pain he had felt moments before.

"To think you'd be working with the police…"Kabuto stated, almost submitting to a chuckle.

It was surprising, even more so when Haku though about it. The Sabaku family as well known and dangerously skilled. They had disappeared nearly a year ago, and there was a strange sense of realization at the fact that Naruto hat disappeared around that time as well.

"Don't kill him," Haku breathed, glancing from Kabuto to Gaara. The latter raised an eyebrow before tugging the older man back against him, looking slightly irritated. "He doesn't really seem worth it," he confessed.

Kabuto looked amused.

Kotetsu gave Haku a weary look but after taking a deep breath, the younger officer's mind cleared. Gaara and Naruto were friends. This meant something. There was a trust there, even if he didn't understand it himself.

"Are Neji and Morino on the third floor?" he asked instead, detracting to their goal. Kabuto glanced up the stairs. "They're not the only ones…"

It was obvious they were walking into a trap, but they had known this all along. Gaara seemed to be searching his face for some sort of confirmation to move forward, and Haku gave it without a second's thought. Whether their other teammates were there, or whether Danzo's officers were waiting…he was going up there no matter what.

"He's probably a member of the Akatsuki," Gaara said, his grip on Kabuto strong. HE added, "We should assume there are more of them here."

It was an unspoken conveyance, but somehow, Gaara's words also made Haku feel like they needed to hurry. There wasn't much time and they had to move. They came to the third floor and there was a moment where they all seemed to pause, preparing themselves for whatever could lie ahead.

"Come on," Gaara wasn't looking at the officers as he made his demand, and slammed Kabuto against the entryway door, causing it to fly open. Kabuto grunted at the impact and while Haku figured the guy probably deserved it; his sense of morality was eating away at his conscience.

Kotetsu seemed to be thinking along the same line of thought, but moved past Haku to follow more closely behind Gaara. They were entering the holding cell area, as it was, and his fingers were already curling around his handgun, ready for anything.

"What cells?" Gaara asked, and Kotetsu narrowed his eyes, searching for familiar numbers. The computer database had told him that Neji and Morino were being detained in the 300's, so he motioned Gaara to go left.

"Three-twelve and three-fourteen," he said his voice barely above a whisper. Once again, the room was too quiet. Kabuto stifled a grunt and he was jostled forward and said, "If you're going to do something stupid, do it fast. Danzo isn't very patient...and neither is Orochimaru."

Haku and Kotetsu paused but Gaara, as usual, seemed unaffected. He turned as he felt their footsteps come to a halt, and his eyes narrowed.

"You want to save your friends, right?"

The heavy feeling that had settled in the room seemed to lighten, and both of the officers nodded. Gaara started forward again. "You can't pick and choose who you go up against. Aside from that, there are more people involved in this than I'm sure any of us even think possible."

It made sense, even though Haku began to wonder what exactly 'this' was. Danzo was trying to take over the entire police arena and now, suddenly Orochimaru was involved. Orochimaru, for all intents and purposes, had only been wanted for vague hints of money laundering and a very distant connection to the Akatsuki.

Although he had been involved with the Akatsuki's first attempt to kidnap Naruto...

Was it possible that Naruto's knowledge on time travel was related to Danzo's sudden movement of power?

"We still have nothing more to tell you," Neji's voice was crystal clear, and warmth ran through Haku's body. Kotetsu smiled as he came to stand in front of the cell that held their teammate, and suddenly frowned. "Is that any way to talk to your rescue party?"

Neji was on his feet in seconds, his eyes wildly searching the small group, lingering momentarily on Gaara and then Kabuto. "You--"

"Coming here was a dangerous move," Morino's voice came from one cell down, and Haku jogged over, eager to get a good look at his commander. He was sitting back in the shadows of the cell, and Haku was thankful to see him alive.

"Commander," he said, his voice escaping his lips like a long-held sigh. "We need to get out of here."

Morino came to the front of the cell, his monstrous figure looking no less intimidating despite the fact he wasn't in uniform. His eyes were hidden under thick lashes and his lips appeared thin as he pursed them.

"I don't think we would make it that far. Danzo will be back--"

"Any minute," a new voice blanketed the imprisonment area, and it was no surprise that the chief of police had stumbled into their attempted rescue. Beside him, however, was someone no one had seemed to expect--no one except for Gaara, who let the name come off his tongue like a curse.


Haku and Kotetsu jumped backwards, their guns drawn within seconds. Danzo had one as well, and instead of pointing it at any of the intruders, he had it aimed at Neji.

"You honestly want to play these games with me?" He asked, and his voice was full of ice. "Although it was very considerate for you to come to me. I'm getting old; the less work, the better."

Gaara cursed and Kabuto wriggled out of his hold, nearly shoving himself forward towards Orochimaru and Danzo. Orochimaru was grinning, and it was an eerie sight.

"It looks like everything has finally been set into motion..." the pale older man said, and he licked his lips."No doubt Naruto will be searching for the time machine he built...and as soon as he finds it, Uchiha will confiscate it."

Kotetsu snorted. "What does Sasuke have to do with this?"

Danzo leaned back against a holding cell door, finally acting as old as he looked. He looked tired, as though he had been running a marathon the last few days. And if he had been chasing after Naruto that was an accurate depiction.

"Sasuke isn't worth anything," Orochimaru said, and Gaara's skin tingled at the anger he felt for Naruto's sake. "No, it's Itachi that we're talking about. One of the Akatsuki's finest..."

Even though Orochimaru said that, his words sounded cynical. Kabuto moved forward and motioned for Danzo to hand over his gun since he looked too exhausted to shoot anyway.

"The Akatsuki's wanted to thank you for all of your help, Danzo," Kabuto smiled as he took the gun from the older man. He gazed at the weapon with little interest before sliding his forefinger alongside the trigger.

Haku's eyes widened as Kabuto moved the barrel of the gun so that it was snug against Danzo's temple. "Without you we definitely wouldn't have gotten this far."

The commander's eyes were wide in disbelief, and he looked wild as he panicked. "What is the meaning—"

"Unfortunately," Orochimaru cut him off, "now you are merely in the way."

Kabuto inhaled and the sound of his uneven breathing was loud. Gaara was silent. Haku clenched his eyes closed.

"W-wait—" Danzo's voice wavered.

Kabuto pulled the trigger.

"I can't believe that man was right."

The unfamiliar voice sent Naruto spinning around, wondering how someone could have come up behind him so quietly. His hand immediately surged towards the waistline of his pants, but no weapon was holstered. He wondered when he had picked up the habit of relying on is gun, even when he never really intended to use it.

"Excuse me?" He asked, realizing the figure before him wasn't an officer. Or at least it didn't appear to be. It was a well-endowed woman with a skeptical expression plastered to her face. Behind her, Naruto's time machine was gone.

"Where—" he began, but she was talking over him almost as soon as he had started.

"Naruto Uzumaki. I have heard a lot about you. Most of it good. A few things bad. And now that you're standing right in front of me, I can't help but want to punch you in the face."

Naruto raised an eyebrow. Just who was this person? Blond hair spilled over her shoulders and her eyes were cold and serious. Something told Naruto that if she did decide to hit him, the impact would be life altering.

"How do you know me?" Naruto asked, honestly curious. Most people knew of him, but few could connect the dots before meeting him. A small part of him wondered if she worked for the Akatsuki, but he quickly shrugged the feeling away. She didn't feel evil, even if she did have a dangerous aura to her.

Brushing her hair back over her shoulder, the woman frowned. "The same way most people know other people. I've heard about you. From Jiraiya. He has your time machine, by the way."

She eyed a well manicured finger with fake interest and licked her lips. "So, you ready to go?"

Naruto raised an eyebrow. "Go…where?"

"To Jiraiya, you moron. Do you have a concussion? I am a doctor." The entire comment was unnecessary, Naruto decided, but something clicked in his mind.

"You…are you the traveler…the one Shi—oh, what was her name—"

"Shizune? She told you about me?" The woman didn't look happy to hear this, and Naruto shook his head.

"No, I'm just good at putting two and two together," he answered, and she looked disbelieving.

"My name is Tsunade. Doctor Tsunade to you, because waiting her for you has made me irritable. How he knew you'd be coming is beyond me—"

"I can't go with you," Naruto interrupted. If Jiraiya had the machine, that meant it was safe at least. As far as he was concerned, there was no way he could leave while knowing that so many of his friends were risking their lives in Danzo's station.

The woman raised an eyebrow. "What makes you think you have a choice? Jiraiya wants to see you. I'm positive your little friends will be fine."

Naruto stared at her and couldn't help but find it suspicious that she knew so much about him and his current situation. "How do you—"

"I'm resourceful. Now come on. If you want to save your friends, you first have to get to know your enemies."

Naruto swallowed as the woman stalked towards the alleyway's exit, her busty figure looking exotic when Naruto mentally compared it to the women that didn't exist in this time. "My enemies?" he asked, confused. He chased her from behind, not quite sure why he did trust her so easily.

She stopped before they walked out to the street and looked down at him, her amber eyes looking saturated in the sunlight that soaked her figure from the sky above.

"The leader of the Akatsuki…" she started, and took a deep breath before continuing. "He's a friend of Jiraiya's. Or was. It's really not my story to tell. But if you want to be the hero, you've got to know what's really going on."

She started forward, but Naruto paused. "Why are you here and not Jiraiya?" he asked, feeling cautious. Was this a trap? Was she a traveler hired by the Akatsuki to mislead him? She smiled, and while it looked condescending, it at least seemed honest.

"I wanted to see for myself that you'd come," she answered. "That and Jiraiya wanted to babysit your little Konohamaru."

Naruto had almost forgotten the name he had given his time machine. He stepped out into the sun and glanced back towards the station, knowing his friends were inside. Guilt tore at his nerves, and the woman named Tsunade grabbed his hand.

"Stop thinking about them. It's not going to matter anyway," her voice was callous, and she began dragging him forward. He tried to shake her, but Tsunade's grip was strong.

"What do you mean it won't matter?" Naruto asked, doing his best to plan his fee against the pavement below. Tsunade's voice was low, but Naruto heard her just fine.

"Because you're going to change it. Every last bit of it, until this world is back where it belongs."

Naruto was at a loss when he realized that she was completely serious.

"What?" he asked, his voice sounding a bit stupid to his own ears. She yanked him around a street corner and into the lobby of some expensive apartment complex, her resolve hardly cracking under Naruto's growing insecurity.

"The future wouldn't be this way if it wasn't for you," she said, pulling him down a slender hallway, decorated much like how Naruto remembered cruise ship interiors to be. He almost knocked over a potted plant as she tugged him closer behind herself.

Naruto frowned. "That doesn't mean I'm changing anything—" he started, but she whipped him to the side and into a small room, where a familiar face greeted him.

"Jiraiya…" Naruto said, and the older man knocked him upside the head.

Tsunade locked the door behind them and stood against it, and here was a brief moment of time where Naruto felt overwhelmed, as if too much had happened in a short period of time.

"It's good to see you, too, kiddo," Jiraiya laughed, and he didn't look much different than Naruto remembered. Still bulky and clever-looking, with intelligent eyes and a wisdom beyond his years. Almost like Sarutobi, Naruto though absently.

"You've been hiding here the entire time?" Naruto asked, a bit surprised. He glanced around the room, wondering how Jiraiya managed to live merely blocks away from the police station that wanted his intellectual head on metaphorical platter. Not to mention he knew the police and Akatsuki were after Tsunade.

"It's a nice place!" Jiraiya defended himself, misreading Naruto's question. There weren't any doubts in Naruto's mind that it wasn't luxurious, but more or less, it was very unexpected. "They think I'm halfway across the world. They'd never look in their backyard."

Naruto nodded and frowned, his mind suddenly reeling back to the escape party at Danzo's station. "Look, I've got to go—" he started, but Jiraiya once again cut him off. This time his expression and voice were very serious.

"Naruto, you have to make up your mind," he said, and Naruto shook his head.

"What are you talking about?"

There was a long period of silence and Tsunade slipped in between them, and disappeared down the front hallways of the luxury apartment. When she was out of sight, Jiraiya frowned.

"You're either staying or you're leaving," he said, and Naruto knew what he meant. It had all come to this, the moment where ha had to choose.

"I'm staying," Naruto stated, not a heartbeat between the question and his immediate answer.

"Let me tell you everything I know, and then you can decide what's best."

From the sounds of it, Naruto wasn't sure he wanted to hear. And from the way the sun was setting outside, he wasn't sure if he had the time.

a/n: I'm running late for work so super quick SPOILERS:

OMFG if Naruto turns his back on Sasuke now that Madara's got him I will officially go insane!!!!