DISCLAIMER: I disclaim! Naruto does not belong to me!

This is the sequel to "Promises", if you've not read that yet, you may want to check it out on my profile. This prologue is also the epilogue to that fic.

I swear, this story will not be uninterrupted angst as the title and first chapter would lead you to believe.

For "Regrets" we're going to venture outside the realm of canonical possibilities. This takes place shortly after Orochimaru's attack on Konoha during the Chuunin Exams, while Naruto is off training with Jiraiya.


About a mile from Konoha, Kushina abandoned her run for a more leisurely approach. Dropping to the path in a cloud of dust, she began to look around her. Things had changed. Of course things had changed.

Twelve years. Hell, twelve years - almost thirteen. Did she even dare show her face after that long?

Being bold came naturally to Kushina, but this was a bit much, even for her. She tried to stuff the seeping guilt down under empty mantras and excuses. But Better late than never and It took longer than I expected made her taste bile they were so bad.

Twelve - almost thirteen years. That would make him... lord, that would make him nigh unto pubescent. But in her mind she was still holding him in her arms, holding him and telling him she'd be back soon.

Things got messier as she neared the wall. This didn't surprise her as she had heard that there had been an attack on Konoha; that Orochimaru had invaded sometime during the last Chuunin Exam but had been driven from the village. She felt a silly swell of pride at that thought. Of course they had gotten rid of the snake - the ninja of Konoha were tough. She let the thought buoy her as if she too had been there to defend her village, her son.

But yes, things looked bad. There were vast swaths of leveled forest from some sort of battle that had gone on there. She found herself frequently walking through these unnatural clearings - peppered with scorch marks and craters. It was every bit as bad as the forest she had left by twelve years earlier. Maybe no time had passed after all - maybe Naruto would still be that blonde little cherub with Minato's face.

One look at the wall told her otherwise. An enormous chunk of Konoha's outer defense was demolished. Scaffolding stretched across part of the rift, but it looked as though construction was slow-going—the new portion reached perhaps a foot over Kushina's head. That might stop a stray cow, but it wouldn't discourage enemy ninja. Perhaps things were worse than she imagined.

She contemplated just going through the gap in the wall—the construction site looked abandoned enough, and some anonymity would be a blessing. Just report to the Hokage and find out where Naruto is. In and out. Nobody recognizing her along the way.

But no one had ever accused Uzumaki Kushina of being a coward; she would return as she left, through the gate. She touched the forehead protector she wore on her arm, self conscious, fingering the grooves that formed the whirlpool symbol. Taking a deep breath, she passed through the gate. There were a couple of chuunin on guard as usual, but Kushina didn't recognize either one. They looked young—probably academy age when Kushina had been there last—but they had the bored expressions of people who had been doing this job for a while. One of them, a kid with too much hair and a bandage across his nose, looked up at her entrance.

She approached their station, forcing her muscles to stay relaxed, though she desperately wanted to bolt back out of the gate and hide. Not wanting them to think her an enemy, she kept her hands clear of the weapons pouch she had lashed to her thigh. She knew at the slightest wrong move, these guys would be on her - it was their job. It didn't matter that she could probably take them both in a matter of seconds, she didn't want a couple of damaged chuunin to dampen her hypothetical welcome back to the village.

"Name? For the records?" It was the other guy who asked the question - no bandage on this one, but his bangs did seem to be taking over his face (must be the look these days, she mused).

"Uzumaki Kushina."

My my, that look they exchanged was certainly ominous...