Rating: PG-13 for some judicious swearing
Summary: Time-Travel – a well-known plot-device to fix things before they even started to go wrong. But traveling through time isn't easy. What if something went wrong?
Disclaimer: Naruto and his universe belong to Kishimoto. The rest goes to the highest bidder.
Time Travel for Beginners
Slowly, Naruto opened his eyes – only to stare into Haku's startled ones.
It took quite a while for his dizzy brain to start working again. It took him nearly ten seconds to identify Haku as the one staring down at him, and then another forty to remember just why that seemed strange.
Haku had been killed thirty years ago, on their first C-class mission.
Naruto began to smile as the rest of his memory started to come back.
Time-travel was the keyword. He and Sasuke had tried to go back thirty years to prevent their shitty future from ever happening, leaving Gaara behind to hold the fort in case something went wrong.
Now, with Haku looking down at him, only one question remained. Had the jutsu really worked, or had he managed to off himself and was now somewhere in the after-life? For that matter, where was Sasuke?
Naruto looked around. He was lying on a bed in a circular room completely made of wood. There were two small windows, which seemed more grown than built, and a door that was closed at the moment.
To his consternation, he had never seen this room before, and Sasuke was nowhere in sight.
He frowned. If Sasuke and he had really managed to travel back in time, he should be lying in a small clearing, recovering from an exhausting night of tree climbing. At least, Naruto thought, that was the only time he could remember Haku leaning over him.
But they clearly were indoors. And his throat hurt, and he couldn't move very well.
Something was very wrong.
"Haku?" he asked slowly, not quite knowing what to make of the situation. "Where the hell are we?"
Haku's eyes narrowed in a way that he had never seen on the feminine boy before. "Zabuza. What are you doing here?"
Both of them had a feeling that something was spectacularly wrong, but none of them wanted to be the one to voice it first. So the two kept staring at each other in the classical stand-off. Well, not so classical, seeing as Naruto was lying flat on his back and Haku's increasingly annoyed face was hovering above him, studying his every expression with an intent focus that screamed 'not Haku'.
Sadly, their staring contest was rudely interrupted by a short, overweight man, who barged into the room together with two samurai-like bodyguards. Both Haku and Naruto immediately turned their focus on the new threat, and their eyes bugged out. That was Gatou, the Wave-Country business mogul!
In eerily synchronic voices, they mumbled in disbelief. "You got to be shitting me."
Instantly, the two of them turned back to each other, completely ignoring the short man who was becoming more and more irate upon realizing that they were paying absolutely no attention to him. They resumed their staring contest, communicating with minimal facial expressions.
Haku's eyes briefly twitched over to the corpulent man, who both of them had identified with equal disbelief, and then gave a 'What the hell is he doing here' glare.
Of course, Naruto mused, it could also have meant 'Who is he?', 'I'm going to kill him', or 'Why did he have to interrupt us', since Haku was acting quite strange for the feminine ninja. But somehow, Naruto knew exactly that the glare was a 'What the hell is he doing here' glare. In response, Naruto shrugged somewhat helplessly, since he didn't have any idea either. Well, he did have an idea, especially since Haku had called him Zabuza, but the picture that was forming in his mind wasn't very much to his liking.
Haku's un-Haku-like glare intensified, and Naruto was quite sure he had seen it before – on a completely different face.
Acting on a hunch, Naruto asked carefully. "Teme?" After reestablishing his friendship with Sasuke, this insult had become kind of a code-word for them.
Haku froze, eyes wide, staring at Naruto in disbelief.
Naruto repeated, a little bit more sure of himself. "It's you, teme, isn't it? I'd know that glare everywhere."
Haku groaned when the implications hit him, and Naruto joined him. That over there in Haku's body wasn't Haku. That was Sasuke. And Naruto apparently was stuck in Zabuza's body for the moment.
Before either of them could start laying the blame on the other though, Gatou's two bodyguards, who had been watching the two shinobi intently, were ordered to attack. Gatou had apparently run out of patience.
Sasuke-Haku's reaction was a lot swifter than the two pseudo-samurai could follow, leaving both of them out cold on their backs courtesy of a very un-Haku-like fist to their face. Sadly though, Sasuke-Haku's competent impression was somewhat nullified by taking an ungraceful nosedive straight into the floor afterwards.
Sasuke-Haku cursed, something about transvestites and their kimonos that oughtn't be allowed as shinobi gear, or something to similar effect.
Briefly, Naruto mused about, if Gaara had come with them, whose body Gaara would have ended up in. With their luck, it would have been Gatou… Maybe it was better after all that Gaara had stayed behind. Just the thought of Gaara's blank stare from Gatou's face was enough to send shivers of fright down Naruto's back.
But, as it was, Gatou was still his arrogant, overbearing self as he viewed the ninja on the floor. Just when Gatou wanted to start on an apoplectic fit of rage, Naruto interrupted him. Again.
Sasuke-Haku's eyes snapped back to Naruto, then he nodded slowly.
Gatou's skin was taking on the color of red bean paste. "WHAT?"
"Oh, shut it, you old geezer." Gatou's already red face turned, in lack of a deeper color, an unhealthy shade of purple. Naruto continued, not very impressed by the vibrant display. "I'm sure you can see that we've got some – problems to work out. We quit. Keep your money, go hire yourself someone else, or do it yourself, I don't care, just as long as you don't bother us anymore for the foreseeable future. Comprende?"
Even in the case that Zabuza and Haku had already received part of their payment, Naruto really didn't care at the moment.
Meanwhile, Sasuke-Haku had scrambled to his feet and tried to regain some of his lost dignity by brushing invisible specks of dust from his kimono. Seeing that Gatou inhaled to start another rant, the girlish ninja let loose a wave of killing intent that immediately silenced the corrupt businessman. With a glare that could have frozen water even without Haku's hyouton abilities, Sasuke-Haku responded icily.
"We are not going to complete the job. Look for somebody else to fetch your hot potatoes out of the fire, or you're going to end up like those two imbeciles here. You haven't paid us yet, and we haven't delivered yet, so there are no obligations to meet on any side. Now scram, we have better things to do than talking to someone of the likes of you."
Gatou's mouth opened and closed like a fish, either too frozen by Sasuke-Haku's killing intent or too enraged to speak properly. "I – you – You are going to pay! Nobody threatens Gatou and lives!"
Naruto waved a dismissive hand, having heard similar statements thousands of times before. "Yeah, yeah, sure, we know, part of the big bad over-lord image. Now, take those two gofers with you and leave us alone. Haku and I, we have a few things to discuss, I think."
"Dobe." Haku's tone was flat and unreadable. It usually meant that there would follow something Naruto didn't like.
Naruto's eyes swiveled back to Sasuke-Haku, who had silently moved behind Gatou, blocking the only exit. "What?"
"Why not kill him now?"
For a moment, Naruto looked stumped. Sasuke was right. Assuming that this was reality (there was little doubt of that – the situation was simply too bizarre to be anything else), it wouldn't change a lot for Gatou whether they killed him now or in a few days at the bridge. But for the team from Konoha – who the hell was on the Konoha team anyways, seeing that Naruto and Sasuke were here – it would make a big difference.
And despite their current bodies, both Naruto and Sasuke were still loyal to Konoha. Even though Sasuke had deserted the village in his younger years and never really come back, he had proven time and again that he was on Konoha's side. Even when he had finally taken up the mantle of Otokage, the last of the three of them to become a Kage. And Gaara also would have agreed that saving the Konoha team from Gatou's machinations would be the best course of action, but probably only because Gatou would have annoyed him.
Gatou apparently realized just how dangerous dealing with two missing-nin was and slowly edged closer to the door. With an absent-minded grip, Sasuke-Haku stopped him and waited for Naruto's reaction.
During their original timeline, Naruto had somehow become the leader of the Three Kage, with Sasuke and Gaara giving him the necessary information in short, concise packages. They followed his decisions, but they also were the ones to tell Naruto when they thought of better ways of accomplishing their common goal. Really a pity that Gaara had had to stay behind – dealing with Sasuke alone was going to be exhausting.
It didn't take long for Naruto to find his voice again. "Eh – sure, I guess, gonna save us a lot of trouble later on…"
Sasuke-Haku rolled his eyes and reached for a kunai. It was fun seeing Haku fumble along his thigh in search of a non-existent kunai pouch, then remember that he was wearing a kimono which made it very impractical having one attached there. Exasperatedly, Sasuke-Haku reached into his sleeve for another weapon – only to come up with a handful of senbon.
Naruto had a lot of trouble keeping his laughter in at the disgruntled 'What the hell am I supposed to do with those' look. Flinging them away to land in random positions all over the room, Sasuke-Haku patted himself down in search of other weapons. After nearly a dozen stashes of senbon, Naruto couldn't help himself anymore and burst into jovial laughter.
With an ugly look at the currently older missing nin, Sasuke-Haku resorted to snapping the power-hungry mogul's neck. "Stop laughing, idiot. I'd like to see you do better with that oversized kitchen knife over there!"
Following Sasuke-Haku's gesture, Naruto's gaze fell upon the huge cleaver leaning against the wall. His eyes lit up. "Kubikiri no Houcho!"
His attempt to pounce on the giant sword though was a lot less successful. He didn't even make it out of bed, collapsing back onto his pillow to Sasuke-Haku's laughter. With a grimace, Naruto felt along his throat, encountering thick bandages there. If he remembered correctly, they had something to do with Haku pretending to kill Zabuza in order to save him from Kakashi. He growled at the other ninja. "Yeah, yeah, laugh it up. You and your stupid senbon are the ones responsible for this, so shut it!"
With a snicker, Sasuke-Haku reached down to break the two unconscious bodyguards' necks. He had always been the one less scrupulous about killing, even if Naruto didn't have many problems with it, either. "Since you're so indisposed at the moment, I'm going to take care of those bodies. But when I come back, you better have an explanation what the hell's going on here!"
Sasuke-Haku began dragging the bodies out of the room, all the while cursing the kimono that only allowed him daintily small steps. Finally fed up with the garment, he reached down and tore two long slits that reached from bottom to mid-thigh at the sides.
Naruto wolf-whistled as an unlucky move on Sasuke's part showed his fundoshi. He hadn't known that Haku was that traditional.
Gaara probably would have only raised an eye-brow at the liberal show of leg and undergarments. Naruto had decided a long time ago that the man was asexual, and in a moment of drunkenness, Sasuke had even agreed with him. As it was, Gaara had never responded to any innuendos or flirting attempts or shown any inkling that he had any idea what the other sex was for (or the same sex, for that matter). Hell, not even Naruto's Harem no Jutsu had phased him, when even Sasuke had shown a thin trickle of blood.
Sasuke-Haku's glare intensified; then he was out of the door with the corpses.
Judging by the fact that the outside was a thick, lush jungle and not any kind of endless white plane, a fiery hell, or whatever else one normally imagined as after-life, all of this had to be real. Naruto certainly was sweating real enough in the humid air of Water Country.
And judging by Naruto's and Sasuke's current bodies' state, their time-travel jutsu had indeed worked. But it certainly hadn't worked in the way they had expected.
From far, Naruto heard a lot of grumbling about physical strength and feminine ninja. A small pause was followed by an angry shout. "Katon Karyuu Endan!"
Every time Naruto had seen that special jutsu in action, it had produced a huge dragon made of flame that could twist and turn just like the caster wished. Sasuke could even make the fire turn different colors. It was a little bit of an overkill for incinerating corpses because the dragon radiated so much heat that it could be felt even a hundred meters away. Which was why Naruto was a little bit surprised not to feel anything – Sasuke-Haku still being in hearing range should have meant that there was at least a warm gust of wind.
Sasuke-Haku's immediate cursing made it clear that the jutsu had never engaged. However, it didn't make clear why the jutsu – and its repeat attempts – failed. Sure, it was a high-level fire jutsu, but Sasuke had never had any problems with them before?
Naruto frowned. Then he slapped his forehead. "Teme!", he yelled, "What is Haku's elemental affinity!"
Finally, a howl erupted. "I'm going to kill you, dobe!!"
More silence, occasionally interrupted by colorful cursing. Then – "Hyouton Hyouryuu Endan!"
The following explosion of cold and ice almost blew Naruto out of his bed. The whole room shook and trembled, frosted over by quickly growing icicles on the doorframe. Wide-eyed, Naruto saw that all of the vegetation outside had been covered in a thin layer of ice.
When Sasuke-Haku finally returned, he had frost-bite all over his face and hands. He was seething. "One word, and I'll pull your brain out through your nose. With those thrice-cursed senbon!"
Naruto took one look at Haku's disheveled appearance, a look outside, and then back to Haku. He wisely kept his silence.
Sasuke-Haku angrily made a round of the room, stuffing anything that wasn't nailed down into a hap-hazard bundle. He even tucked all the senbon back into their various holsters all around his body. Seeing Naruto's curious look, he ground out. "We need to leave."
Nodding wordlessly, Naruto tried to sit up – carefully this time. The chaos outside was bound to attract attention, and getting attention was never good for missing nin. They needed a new hide-out where they could at least stay long enough to get their bearings.
The twinges in Naruto's neck robbed him of almost all his strength, and he was panting even before he got completely upright. No wonder it had taken Zabuza almost two weeks to recover completely from Haku's little death-trick.
Thrusting the bundle into Naruto's arms, Sasuke-Haku turned his back to the other ninja. "Get on."
Sasuke-Haku glared over his shoulder. "You can't even sit up properly, dobe. How the hell do you think we're going to leave here with you being unable to walk? Now get on!"
Not wanting to further aggravate Sasuke-Haku's already bad mood and being a practical man himself, Naruto meekly fastened the bundle to his back and reached for Sasuke-Haku's shoulders. It took most of his remaining strength to wrap his legs around Sasuke-Haku's hips and hold on without choking him. It also brought his head into uncomfortable vicinity of Sasuke-Haku's face. From that close of a distance, he could see that the frost-bite on his face wasn't serious, but it nevertheless had to hurt.
Seeing the huge sword in the corner, he asked longingly, "Kubikiri?"
A grunt answered. "You have no idea how to handle that thing properly. And I won't be able to carry both you and it for long distances."
"No." With those final words, Sasuke-Haku grabbed Naruto's thighs tightly and jumped out of the door. Well, Naruto had never been all that big on sword-work. He preferred flashy, insanely dangerous jutsu. Still, such a monstrous blade would have been a great addition to his arsenal.
Outside, Naruto finally saw the whole level of destruction, and he whistled softly through his teeth. "If you could get that under control…"
Everything within a hundred meter radius was frosted over, and everything within thirty meters from the blast origin was covered in so much ice that it had shattered under its own weight. At the epicenter, there was a giant icicle that looked like the tail half of a dragon, with the front half smeared messily across the grounds.
"That where the corpses…?" Naruto was completely awed by the huge pillar of ice that was almost twice as high as the surrounding vegetation. No wonder Sasuke had demanded they leave right now.
Sasuke-Haku nodded crisply and jumped into the frozen trees. Within a few moments, the two of them vanished into the forest without a trace.
Three hours later, Sasuke-Haku set Naruto down with a groan. Despite not being the one to run the whole distance, Naruto was completely exhausted and collapsed into a limp pile.
Sasuke-Haku rolled his shoulders back and forth and stretched out the cramped muscles of his arms and back. "I'm going to find us something to eat. In the meantime, you can think of an explanation for whatever the hell has gone wrong here."
Naruto grunted vaguely, rolling himself into a more comfortable position. There had been a tree root digging painfully into his ribs. Sasuke-Haku had already taken off, and Naruto started to ponder the deeper meaning of seals, time, and the universe.
Well, not exactly in those terms, but rather along the lines of ranting about idiotic Pervert-hermits that should have made sure that time-travel seals worked correctly, and just what the hell the universe was thinking stuffing them into the bodies of two missing-nin when their past selves were just around the corner.
Fifteen years ago, at the ripe age of 27, Naruto had become the Rokudaime Hokage after Tsunade had decided she was sick and tired of the paper-work. Only two years later, Sasuke had imitated Naruto by suddenly returning to Sound and taking over as Otokage.
At first, Naruto had been very suspicious of Sasuke's motives. After killing both Orochimaru and his brother, the man had aimlessly wandered the elemental countries for over ten years as a missing nin. Then, completely out of the blue, Sasuke had decided he wanted to belong to a hidden village once again and quickly made his way to Sound's top. To the astonishment of the whole elemental countries, his very first political action had been hammering out an alliance between Sound and Konoha.
Naruto hadn't quite known what to make of the newly-friendly Sasuke. Despite signing several contracts of friendship and mutual help, Naruto hadn't trusted Sound. After all, those merely were words and ninja were a tricky lot. It could easily be one of Orochimaru's ploys to hide that he had taken over Sasuke.
But after Sound's help in the Fourth Great Ninja War, there hadn't been any reason to doubt their sincerity anymore. Gaara, Sasuke and him had fought side by side in the last, deciding battle, earning the Three Kage a reputation on the same level as the Legendary Sannin.
From this turning point onwards, Naruto and Sasuke had tentatively started building a new friendship that tried to ignore their painful past.
Then, two years ago, Akatsuki had struck.
Jiraiya's network had already warned them that the nine-tails was the only demon Akatsuki hadn't caught yet, but nobody could have guessed that Akatsuki actually had given up trying to catch Naruto. He had certainly fought with them often enough. Instead, Madara had released all eight demons in the center of Konoha.
Needless to say that it had turned into a slaughter.
Those who had survived the initial wave had fled to Sound and Sand, desperately trying to find a way to stop the swath of destruction. The bijuu gradually swallowed all of Fire, beginning to spread into surrounding countries.
Naruto, Jiraiya, and several other seal masters had tirelessly been working on methods to force the demons away again. Six months after the demons' first reappearance, they had started a first attempt with the One-tail.
The Three Kage had done most of the grunt work in keeping Shukaku at bay while the other seal masters had prepared the seal. Everything had gone well – until the seal had tried to force the demon into the sand gourd they had prepared. To the horror of everyone, the seal's chakra lines hadn't worked as the net to reel Shukaku in as planned; the seal lines had gone through the demon's body without damaging it.
Several more experiments had finally shown that the Akatsuki had done something to the demons to make them immune against being manipulated with chakra in any way, i.e. sealed.
And that had been it.
Although the Three Kage could fight any demon with up to four tails on an equal level, they couldn't kill them because of their immortality. Not even Kyuubi had been of any help – the fox demon had merely reveled in the slaughter and had, as always, sent Naruto into mindless rages when calling upon too much demonic chakra.
It had been Sakura, of all people, who had come up with a solution during one of the rare moments Team 7 found time to meet despite their individual obligations.
Well, to be honest, she had only made a passing comment about how stupid they had been in their younger years, and how much they'd do differently with the adult perspective they had nowadays. But it had struck a chord within Naruto. Knowing there was nothing helpful in the few notes and scrolls he had been able to save from Konoha, he had taken the idea to Jiraiya.
To his surprise, the aging pervert-hermit had immediately produced a sketch of a seal that he, together with the Yondaime, had briefly thought about as an alternative to sealing Kyuubi. Yondaime had almost immediately abandoned the idea again because of the lack of time. But for Naruto's case, it had been ideal. Over the next months, Naruto and Jiraiya had worked tirelessly on completing it, finally resulting in a test-worthy design.
Gaara, Naruto and Sasuke had discussed for quite some time who was the one supposed to go, since nobody knew whether the seal actually worked.
Naruto's presence was mandatory because he currently was the only one of the three with the necessary knowledge and skills to activate the jutsu. Gaara and Sasuke had argued that he shouldn't go alone because changing the time-line would be impossible for a single person. Naruto had argued that, in case the seal didn't work, they would need other people with the necessary chakra reserves to activate a revised version.
In the end, they had decided that one of them was to accompany Naruto, while the other stayed behind to cover a possible failure. Sasuke had won the coin-toss. Then they had discussed the question of when they should go to, but they quickly settled on the time period around Naruto becoming a genin.
Anything earlier was impractical since the Konoha of their youth had made it mandatory for any ninja to attend the Academy until they reached their 11th birthday. Sarutobi had established that rule after the Uchiha Massacre to give his shinobi at least a little bit of childhood in the hopes of making them more stable. Naruto had also briefly thought about coming back early enough to prevent the massacre, too, but Sasuke had almost immediately stated that, with a whole clan of Uchiha to choose from, Orochimaru's actions would become too unpredictable.
Anything later than Naruto's beginning days with Team 7 though would already be too late to gather enough power and train for the upcoming future. So they had set the seal to thirty years back.
And that was the story of how they had come to be here.
Of course, Naruto's past reminiscences had gone more along the lines of cursing snake-bastards who thought they could take over the world, immortal Mangekyou-wielding Uchihas who thought they could take over the world, and the latest threat, eight angry tailed demons who, wonder of wonders, thought they could take over the world and for once actually hadn't been doing a half-bad job at it.
When Sasuke-Haku came back with a few scaled and gutted fish, Naruto hadn't even arrived at the most colorful part of his vocabulary yet. Needless to say, Haku was not impressed with Naruto's achievements – or lack thereof.
While the fish were roasting over a small fire – even if katon jutsu didn't work anymore, the more traditional methods of striking sparks from steel still did – Sasuke-Haku more or less gently guided Naruto's thoughts back to how to solve their current problem. On the one hand, Naruto was grateful that their friendship had once again progressed so far that the former Otokage felt he could express his emotions freely. On the other hand, Naruto could easily have done without the pain.
Rubbing the smarting lump on the back of his head, he summed up their situation in one, inordinately profound statement. "Well, something went wrong."
Sasuke-Haku's glare only intensified, so Naruto hurriedly continued. "Ok, let's see. We wanted to come back in time to prevent our crappy future from happening. And from the looks of it, we did come back in time. To our very first Wave Country mission, where everything began.
"I mean, if I, that is Zabuza, is injured like that, we must have already had the fight on the lake, but I'm still alive, so we haven't fought on the bridge yet. That's pretty much the time we wanted to arrive at, so I'd say the seal worked correctly." Naruto smiled brightly at his conclusion.
Sasuke-Haku almost exploded with rage. "What the hell do you mean, the seal worked correctly? What is this then?" Haku gestured angrily at the two of them. "Why the hell are we in different bodies?"
Naruto scratched his head. "Well, I don't know. Jiraiya and I designed the seal to let us travel back in time however many years we wish. We didn't include anything about switching bodies."
Sasuke-Haku frowned. "How exactly does this time-travel work?"
"Erhm, without going into details, it separates the soul from the body because some mass-energy principle prevents any matter from traveling the time stream in the reverse direction." Naruto shrugged his shoulders. "Then the jutsu kind of loops the time stream to the point where we want to go, and then voila, we're in the past."
"Did it ever occur to you to specify where you would end up, and what would happen to two souls without a body?" Sasuke-Haku ground out between clenched teeth.
Startled, Naruto looked up, then laughed sheepishly. "Eh, nope, never thought about that. Jiraiya and I, we might have assumed that the souls would go to the most compatible bodies, which, from all calculations we made, should have been our younger selves."
Sasuke-Haku's glare reached epic proportions. "Exactly how stupid are the two of you? If that seal can spit you out at any point of time you want to, what would happen if you chose a time before your birth?"
"That was a rhetoric question. Can you fix this?"
"Hm." Naruto's face scrunched up in concentration. "With the … no, that wouldn't work… but a three-point targeting pattern… nope, got to modify that, don't want to…"
For quite some time, Sasuke was forced to listen to a completely incomprehensible discussion that Naruto-Zabuza was holding with himself. If he had known more about sealing, maybe Sasuke could have helped Naruto, but as it was, he was left to tend to the roasting fish.
"I've got it!"
The excited yell from Naruto-Zabuza almost made him drop one of the fish into the coals. But since Sasuke always was calm and collected, it remained at 'almost'.
"What," he grunted.
"I'll need to draw up a targeting seal where we specify certain properties of the bodies we land in, like blond hair for me, black hair for you, both of us on the same Konoha team, both of us only 12 years old, and so on. If I include enough specifics, that should work like a blast!"
"Well, then get to it." Sasuke irritably brushed several strands of hair out of his face.
Naruto-Zabuza scratched his head sheepishly. "I kind of need to be able to move before I can draw any seals. And I'll need my chakra to be completely charged before I can even think of activating those seals. They eat a hell of a lot of energy. And, anyways, I think it would be better if I worked out the details of those seals a little bit more before actually using them. Wouldn't want to, well, blow us up or turn us inside out or …"
"Yes, yes, I get it," Sasuke interrupted him irritably. "We need to spend at least a few days in this damn forest for you to get your damn power back and finish your damn seals. Now eat your damn fish or I'll damn well kill you."
Naruto wisely said nothing about how laughable Sasuke-Haku looked with his waist-long hair half-way out of his bun, his kimono slashed to mid-thigh, his face and palms white from frost-bite, and his eyebrows drawn into a vicious scowl that looked more cute than frightening. Naruto also never mentioned that hearing Haku's calm and modest voice swear multiple times in one sentence almost cracked him up.
After all, he wanted to survive the night.
The following two weeks turned out to be two weeks from hell. Not so much for Naruto, but rather for Sasuke.
While Naruto was working on recovering and finishing his seals (occasionally cursing Zabuza's lack of eyebrows since sweat tended to flow unhindered into his eyes), Sasuke had to deal with everything else, from food and shelter to hiding their tracks, night-watch, and eliminating overly curious Anbu and Hunter Nin. And not to mention, getting used to Haku's body and recovering from his frost-bite.
At least Sasuke's ice dragon jutsu was now honed to perfection, and he was working on a few other Hyouton skills. Sasuke had been quite happy to discover that he could still use wind, water, and lightening jutsu, immediately celebrating that by putting a chidori through an unfortunate Hunter Nin.
Afterwards, Sasuke had realized that Haku's body didn't have the chakra reserves for such a draining jutsu, and went back to using mainly water and ice jutsu.
With a groan, Naruto got up from his position crouched on the floor of a big cave and stretched his back. He had been hunched down like that for the past several hours, completely ignoring his body's demand for more exercise. At least Zabuza was younger than Naruto thirty years in the future, none of those little pains that had started worming their way into his daily life. While Kyuubi had been great at healing him, the fox apparently couldn't do much against age.
With several satisfying pops, his spine sprang back into alignment, and he gave the complicated pattern on the ground a last glance. Lacking the special ink used for sealing, he'd been forced to use his own blood and apply it with a self-made brush of bear fur, string, and twigs. Since his 'brush' was quite rough, the seal had to be big enough that the inaccuracies were negligible.
Fortunately, Sasuke had found this cave where there was plenty of space after he'd killed the bear, its former inhabitant. Now, the seal covered almost all of the floor, and the cave smelled like a slaughter-house. Not very pleasant, but his nose had gone numb a few hours ago and there were seals at the entrance to keep predators out.
Taking care not to smudge the intricate lines, Naruto stepped out into the evening air. He hadn't realized how dark it had been getting in the cave.
He was still struggling a little bit with Zabuza's longer limbs, but he was getting used to it. No wonder Sasuke had fallen flat on his face the first time he'd had to use his new body. It was a small miracle that Sasuke hadn't had more problems adapting to it.
But then, Sasuke had always been a genius.
Naruto nodded, having grown familiar with Sasuke-Haku's permanent un-Haku-like scowl. Exhaustedly, he plopped down next to the fire Sasuke-Haku was tending to. "I'll need to eat and sleep for at least a few hours, but everything else is ready."
Sasuke-Haku wordlessly handed him his half of dinner, which consisted of once again, surprise, surprise, bear meat. After five days of nothing else but tough, stringy bear meat with the occasional herb or root, Naruto was becoming quite tired of it, but he didn't complain. They had killed the cave bear, and it was only practical to use it as a source of nourishment. Especially since Haku's Hyouton abilities always kept the meat frozen. Additionally, Sasuke couldn't afford to spend time on searching for a more varied diet. He looked run-down enough as it was.
This was one of the moments when he missed Gaara very much. The taciturn Kazekage would have quietly shared the task of keeping them hidden, and his calm voice would have kept their verbal fights from getting out of hand.
Chewing the meat more out of duty than hunger, Zabuza lay down to rest as much as possible. Where was Gaara now? Was he erased together with the future, or did he have to go on alone against the eight tailed demons in some kind of parallel universe?
Sighing heavily, he tried not to dwell on the loss of his friend. One of them had had to stay behind, and if it had been Sasuke, Naruto would have had similar feelings. Such was the life of a ninja. At least they could try and make a difference to this world.
A feather-light touch on his shoulder woke him with a start, only to be shushed immediately by Sasuke-Haku. It was still dark, but judging by the low temperature and the gathering dampness of the ground, Naruto assumed it to be only a few hours before sun-rise.
Sasuke had put out their fire, so it was almost completely dark beneath the trees. Zabuza's night-vision was a lot worse than Naruto's had been, but he couldn't hear anything suspicious, either. Why had Sasuke woken him up?
The finger on his shoulder tapped out a code he knew only all too well.
2 Hunters 5 miles away. Long enough for seal?
Naruto didn't hesitate. Sasuke actually waking him to ask this question instead of silently taking care of the hunters meant that either Sasuke was even more exhausted than Naruto had thought, or that the Hunter Nin were especially strong. Probably a mixture of both. And Naruto couldn't afford to waste any chakra that he so desperately needed to activate the seal. And they couldn't relocate, either, because the seal was already drawn in the cave.
He quickly signed an affirmative back, and the two of them stealthily made their way into the even darker cave. Fortunately, Naruto had already made plans for such an emergency evacuation and had marked a safe path to their required places with a few chakra-charged stones that could be followed without seeing anything. They couldn't afford drawing the Hunters' attention any earlier than absolutely necessary.
Guiding Sasuke-Haku to his place in the seal, Naruto tapped out a rhythm to sign Sasuke to sit down and touch the ground with both palms.
Whatever happens don't move
A slightly louder exhale than usual signaled him that Sasuke understood. Naruto followed the rest of the stones to his own place, taking care not to step off the path into the seal. Smudging even one line could be deadly. The charge of the stones was minimal, and Naruto erased it in his passing. Chakra not used in the seal could also be deadly, even as minimal as the stones' charge was.
Taking a deep breath, he revised the sequence for activating the seal one last time. With Zabuza's chakra capabilities, it would take him about five minutes to charge the seal completely, approximately the same time a competent Hunter Nin would need to cover the distance to this cave. But he counted on the Hunter Nin not reacting immediately to Zabuza's suddenly high power output, and the Hunter Nin approaching their cave carefully. Additionally, Sasuke had turned the surrounding forests into a veritable maze of traps that should slow them down even more.
All in all, Naruto was quite sure that they would be gone more than a minute before the hunters appeared.
With that resolution, he poured his chakra into the seal.
Immediately, the cave lit up in a deep blue which spread from Naruto-Zabuza's hands along the lines of the seal. At first, progress was quick enough, but the farther away the lines were, the longer it took them to glow with the same iridescent color.
A minute passed, and the lines around Sasuke-Haku were slowly coming to life.
Another minute, and the glow had reached the edge of the seal on one side. Naruto was starting to sweat from exertion. Now he knew why seals were always constructed as small as possible, because every inch cost more chakra. In his old body, he hadn't really noticed, but Zabuza's chakra was a lot more limited.
During the next minute, the glow finally managed to force its way through the whole seal, and Naruto was panting.
Gritting his teeth, Naruto started on the hardest task: enfolding both Sasuke-Haku and himself in the seal. For that, he more or less had to draw the lines of the seal around the two of them and anchor them to their bodies.
From his first experience with the jutsu, Naruto already knew that it would hurt a lot. But he was once again surprised how much it actually did hurt. Both Sasuke-Haku's and his breathing was getting heavier as they suppressed their sounds of pain. Slowly, agonizing inch by agonizing inch, the glowing script began to creep up their bodies like an animated blanket trying to smoother them.
When the seal finally settled on their skins like acid and only a small link connected the two of them, Naruto had lost all track of time. Had it taken more or less than two minutes? How far were the Hunters away, for his own high chakra output prevented him from sensing anything else? Was the rest of his chakra going to be enough to finish the seal successfully?
Through the glow, both Sasuke-Haku's and his eyes met.
Then Naruto-Zabuza poured the last of his chakra into the seal and the world around them exploded into light. Then it sunk into oblivion.
The two Mist Hunter Nin, who had arrived just in time to see the last few seconds of a spectacular light show, exchanged a wary glance. They didn't know much about sealing, but they knew enough to know it was a Very Bad Idea to interrupt an active sealing process. And, in the ninja definition of a Very Bad Idea, there always was mass-destruction of at least a few thousand square meters involved.
Their two targets, a missing nin and a bloodline user, were covered from head to toe in glowing script which, from the smell of it, was burning into their skins. They had absolutely no idea what all the signs stood for, but it felt incredibly powerful. A trap?
The chakra output was enormous, and the two Hunters were quite certain that the Demon of the Mist wouldn't be able to keep it up much longer. From the feel of it, the bloodline user didn't contribute anything, so the Demon of the Mist should be completely exhausted once they reached the six-minute-mark.
Suddenly, the seal flashed a blinding white and then vanished completely. Struggling with the after-image burned into their retinas, the two Hunter heard their targets collapse on the floor.
Then there was silence.
Quickly, they lit a torch to see what had happened.
There was no sign of the seal anymore, only two bodies sprawled on the ground like puppets with their strings cut. Carefully, the Hunter Nin went closer to see whether they were still alive. No chakra, no pulse.
Exchanging another glance, the two Hunter Nin wondered what the seal had been for. Was it a suicide jutsu? Or had it simply gone wrong?
As it was, their targets were dead by their own hands, making their job a lot easier. With a controlled burst of fire, they meticulously burned the two bodies, leaving no more than two slightly blackened spots on the rock.
Together, they exited the cave and jumped back into the trees.
They never knew that, in the instant before touching down on the first branch, they were erased from existence together with the complete timeline around them.
Groaning, Naruto opened his eyes – only to stare at the ceiling of Konoha's hospital. How he knew that it was Konoha's hospital? Well, the smell of old pain, blood and disinfectant told him that it was a hospital, and he doubted that any other hospital would have little holes in its ceiling that traced the Konoha spiral. Apparently, more than one bored Chuunin or Jounin on their way to recovery had decided that even though they had to rest a lot, a bit of kunai practice never hurt.
But Naruto didn't feel like throwing weapons yet. Throwing up, yes, but not throwing weapons. He really felt like shit. Why hadn't he felt like that after the first time? Well, seeing as Zabuza already had been injured when Naruto had temporarily occupied his body, he hadn't felt too good, but not as bad as this. He couldn't remember ever feeling like that before – well, maybe except for the time he had been forced to cling to Gamabunta's head for a whole day.
Speaking of Zabuza… He reached to his head and pulled down one of his hair strands. Yellowish-blond.
With a smile he relaxed back into his pillow. His seal had worked. He was back in his body.
Then he almost jumped out of his bed in fright when an angry face topped by black hair suddenly hovered only inches above his own. Blinking a few times to refocus on what he assumed was Sasuke, he wished he could extend his almost-jump out of bed to out of his skin, too, when he realized that he wasn't looking at the former Otokage.
What was even worse was that Naruto was looking at Sasuke's predecessor.
The First Otokage's face wasn't quite as twisted as it would become in a few decades, and not quite as hard and snake-like as it was going to be later on. But this unmistakably was Orochimaru looking down at him, seething silently behind a deceptively calm facade.
"Finally awake, dobe?"
Naruto froze. That voice – Orochimaru - …
"Yes, I'm really going to kill you this time, idiot. Why the hell did you include the time traveling part again? You are damn lucky that we didn't erase ourselves from existence by going back before our birth." Suddenly Orochimaru's scowl turned into a smirk that looked as out of place on his face as it had on Haku's. Naruto was getting a very, very bad feeling. "At least there were some people who met your 'exact' stipulations of age, hair color, and being on the same Konoha team. You know, without the fox, you almost killed yourself with Chakra exhaustion. Now sleep, so that I can properly beat you up for this as soon as possible."
The face hovering above him was Orochimaru's. But behind that face, there was the unmistakable presence of Sasuke. And Sasuke-Orochimaru looked eleven, twelve at best. At least he wasn't dressed in that effeminate outfit Orochimaru had made Sasuke wear after converting him to sound. That would have been weird beyond belief.
Naruto wanted to smack himself. That was just peachy. How the hell could he forget to disconnect the time-traveling part of the seal? Now they were stuck another thirty years in the past because it was absolutely impossible to travel to a future that hadn't been written yet. And Sasuke becoming the Orochimaru of the past after already having taken his place in the future – that was pure irony. At least Sasuke-Orochimaru had said that Naruto's additions to the seal had worked. Both of them had the right age and the right hair color, and that implied that Naruto and Sasuke should be on the same ninja team, too.
And that meant that both of them were part of the Sannin. Or would become part of the Legendary Three Ninja. Naruto had to smile. Legendary Three or Three Kage – no matter which time, they would make history. What the Third (future Third?) would say to their sudden change in character and knowledge?
Then a sudden thought struck him.
He had blond hair.
But there was only one person in the Legendary Sannin who had blond hair…
Naruto looked down on himself. He didn't know whether he should scream, faint, or cry when his suspicions were proven correct.
Finally, he decided to go with the flow of things. As it was, both Sasuke-Orochimaru and him were in ideal positions to change the future from the very beginnings.
Naruto was absolutely certain that Sasuke-Orochimaru would never abandon Konoha like both Sasuke and Orochimaru had done. And that would take care of the curse seal, the Sound-Konoha war, and several other problems that had started cropping up the past few years in their original timeline. And both of them would hunt down Madara before he could set the Kyuubi on Konoha, let alone found Akatsuki or release eight un-sealable, tailed demons in its center.
They would make sure that Konoha flourished beyond their wildest dreams, even if it was a pity that Gaara couldn't share this with them. Although – imagining Gaara in Jiraiya's body to complete the Sannin… Maybe it was indeed better that the Kazekage had not come with them. Jiraiya not leering at anything female that moved on two legs simply was too strange to consider.
Suddenly, Naruto smirked.
With this somewhat unplanned gender change, he wouldn't ever need to use his Sexy no Jutsu again.
Originally a crack idea that somehow turned out a little bit more serious than I intended to. But I somehow couldn't imagine a 40-year-old Rokudaime who is stupid enough to try out an unknown seal without deciphering it first, but who knows enough about sealing to quickly find and 'fix' the problem of the original seal. So I had to make him a lot more mature and serious than I intended to, and that led to the much more serious background story. Sorry about that.
First off, thanks for all the reviews! They're awesome! I received so many reviews telling me that Haku's ice affinity doesn't mean he can't to fire jutsus, too, so I thought I'd explain my reasoning here:
First off, elemental affinities do affect the ability to cast higher-level jutsus. Since I'm of the opinion that ice and fire are diametrically opposite, I don't think it's that far of a stretch that Sasuke-Haku trying an A- or B-ranked flame jutsu is bound to be so much more difficult than Sasuke's used to that it ends in a failure.
Secondly, Sasuke has just jumped into a new body that's been trained to completely different standards than his original one. He's got problems adjusting to Haku's physical abilities (the stumbling), so why not have trouble adjusting to his chakra, too?
And thirdly (and this might sound like a stupid argument): I don't know of Haku using any elemental technique beyond his ice jutsus. I don't think it's too far of a stretch to assume that his ice bloodline makes it almost impossible for him to command any other element than water and wind.
So, in the end, I think that unless Sasuke devotes a lot of training to the issue, he won't be able to perform any noteworthy fire jutsus in Haku's body, and even then they will be a lot weaker than they were in his original body. And he's got better things to do than try and get one single area of ninjutsu to work, especially when he's discovered how to work to his new body's strengths. After all, they aren't planning to stay as Haku and Zabuza forever.
I hope this cleared things up a bit!