this story makes me feel like Naruto in a lot of ways. Never give up! haha
We're wasting our time. Naruto thought, annoyed. Had it took this long to scavenge for food before? And, more importantly, why the hell didn't he think to bring a protein bar, or at least a soldier pill?
The blonde scoffed. This was the biggest pain in the ass he'd ever had to deal with. He'd already failed the Chuunin exams and had to retake them—doing it three times was just cruel and unusual punishment. It was just like him to get knocked out cold before any of the action started, and what, leaving his older self to take his place?
I'm such a slacker! The blonde thought irritably. And not even intentionally!
"Naruto," Sakura poked her head out from the shrubbery she was sifting through. "Are you going to just sit there all day, or are you going to help us?"
It wouldn't make a difference.
"Sakura-chan, I really don't think there's going to be anything edible around here. It is called the Forest of Death for a reason, most of the plants are poisonous." He pointed out, perhaps a little tactlessly.
"Oh is that so?" She stood then, hands on her hips. "And do you have any better ideas?"
"The map had a river in it." Naruto recalled. "We could fish for food."
Sakura pursed her lips, but Sasuke crawled out of a hollow tree with only a few crushed berries to show for it, and looked like for once he might agree with the him.
"I agree with the dobe. We'd probably have better luck there." He said, brushing off dirt and looking in Naruto's direction.
Naruto studiously avoided his gaze.
"And maybe we can run into another team and get their scroll!" Sakura clapped her hands excitedly, before rummaging through her pack for the map. "Ah, here we go. It says… hm… well we'd be right around here so—it's about two miles inward."
Forget the scrolls—Orochimaru was lurking around here somewhere, the sick bastard. Hell, he was probably jerking off in the trees to the very sight of Sasuke, as most people tended to do. Somewhere, deep down, he really had a slight bit of sympathy for the guy. His pristine, feminine looks will forever attract strange men to him…
Or incredibly old men.
Naruto shivered at the thought of Madara.
Unfortunately for Team Seven the road to the river was laden with other teams lying in ambush for their scroll. Well, ambush was a mild term. There really wasn't much ambushing to it when the blonde was aware of where they were before they had the chance to sneak up on the team. No, the difficult part was incapacitating them without Sasuke and Sakura realizing he was doing it. Purposefully, at least.
However, there were only so many times you could fake tripping over a log and unraveling a trap prematurely before your teammates caught on.
"How do you keep finding these, Naruto?" Sakura demanded suddenly, after the umpteenth time there was a 'rock' in his shoe and he hobbled over a trap wire.
He rubbed the back of his head, sheepishly. "What are you talking about, Sakura-chan?" He giggled nervously. "There's a really big rock in my shoe!"
She narrowed her eyes. "Is this your idea of a game? This isn't funny, you know. We're in the middle of an exam Naruto, stop messing around! How can you possible have a rock in your shoe so many ti—
Sasuke swiftly elbowed her in the rib, leaning close to whisper sharply into her ear, "He's using it as a code for traps, Sakura."
The pink-haired Gennin flushed. "Oh…"
Naruto couldn't hear them from his spot some feet ahead, and was watching the two converse with a narrow-eyed glare. What were they saying? He was too caught up with trying to make out what they were saying about him that he really did trip over a trap wire accidentally.
It wasn't is fault, though, this time there really was in his shoe.
Just not a rock.
Something was squishing beneath his bare toes. He screamed. "Jesus fuck what the fuck is that—
He hobbled, moved forward, and fell flat over the wire.
Fortunately his cursing was loud enough to alert Sakura and Sasuke, and when the Kumo-nin dropped from the trees the three of them took care of them quickly. They didn't have the scroll they were looking for, but it was an ambush navigated nonetheless.
Also, it turns out it was a frog.
"That is the most disgusting thing I've ever had die between my toes while I was fighting." Naruto muttered angrily, no longer in the mood to humor the fates and the gods with playing docile and nice through the Chuunin exams—not when he needed to get to that goddamn river and wash his feet out, immediately. He wasted no time dragging his teammates along, this time forgoing the ambushes completely and just going around them the moment he realized they were there.
His teammates followed some paces behind him through the bramble, bewildered but not complaining.
"What's with him?" Sakura frowned, whispering to her dark-haired companion. "He's being really…"
Well, mature would be the word she was looking for, but even then that might not be the most accurate description. Naruto almost seemed bored, with all of this. He certainly looked the part during the first exam, and while everyone else, even Sasuke, looked like they were going through the various stages of terror during Anko's introduction at the front gates, Naruto looked… well, he had looked angrier than she'd ever seen him. And not even at Anko! He'd been staring down some weird woman from Grass the whole time.
He hadn't really paid much attention to any of the exams!
And even now, he took out those Gennin like he'd been sleepwalking. She'd never even seen Sasuke move so fluently—a few swift hits to the joints, knocking them all out in rapid succession without wasting a single movement. So clinical, so…
Sasuke made a grunt which could have been taken as vague agreement, looking just as confused. Or at least she thought it was confusion that narrowed his eyes and thinned his lips. Maybe irritation. It was hard to say.
Naruto lead them quickly to the water, the sound of the rapids loud enough to hear long before they saw it. Luckily the river itself was devoid of other teams, no traps set up to deter or incapacitate them. He stood at the edge of the tree line for a moment, debating whether it would be a good idea to walk out in the open; he didn't remember being attacked at the river last time around, but they also hadn't made such good timing.
He turned to Sakura. "Would you know any Genjutsu to cover us?"
He immediately realized his mistake when she only stared at him blankly.
"Uh?" She blinked. "No?"
I forgot how useless she was. He balked to himself silently, before shaking his head, bringing his hand together. "Kage Bunshin!"
His clones sprung into the eaves of the trees and the bushes surrounding them. With a nod from him they dispersed in a radial fashion, moving to scout out the area for enemy-nin. It certainly wasn't the best of ways to clear out an area for them but he was truly at a loss for what else to do when they had such a limited repertoire of Jutsu to use—him especially, considering has of now his younger self only knew two.
"That should do it." He smiled to his team, bounding forward.
They followed cautiously, and it took him a moment to realize that their wariness was directed towards him.
He heaved a breath and put a supreme effort into acting like himself. "So… do either of you now how to fish?"
"Naruto." Sakura frowned, looking exasperated. "Where do you keep getting these ideas about us? When would we have learned that?"
He shrugged. Now that he thought of it… they hadn't really known what to do with themselves when they got to the river last time around either.
"Well, no time like the present to try right?"
In the end Sasuke managed to catch a trout—considering the amount of time it took though it was no great achievement. Better than Sakura and Naruto though, who floundered around in the shin-deep shallows attempting to catch the fish as they swam by. Sasuke had stood a little farther out, stalk still for the better part of a few hours, until finally he struck like lightning and grabbed out a floundering, terrified fish.
The still image struck Naruto painfully; the young Sasuke overlapped with the visage of a man much older, startlingly still against a portrait of lightning, crackling against his frame.
It wasn't much, but it was enough to tide them over and by sundown he ushered them over to the treetops, where they'd at least have some cover from the foliage and some distance from the prowling teams on the ground. Regardless, they spent the rest of the time until nightfall setting up traps around the surrounding trees—not to hinder like the ones they'd encountered earlier, but to warn them of trespassers.
Naruto settled in next to his teammates on their decided branch, sprawled between Sasuke and Sakura and staring up at the stars that dwindled in through the crossing branches. He wasn't relaxed; every nerve in him was lit with an anxiety that he'd only ever felt with anticipation. But he felt…
It was nice to be between the two of them again. He couldn't recall the last time he'd been with both his teammates in a situation that didn't provide one of them attempting to bodily harm the other. Or at least, he'd never really tried to kill Sasuke—it was debatable whether the dark-haired boy had ever really tried to kill him. Was the closest he had come at the Valley of the End? Or in one of their more recent encounters? With the way he was in the present, it was difficult to tell…
For now though, he looked peaceful. Calm in his sleep, although the furrow to his brows bellied some sort of secret sorrow. Not for the first time he'd wished the other boy would tell him what was wrong—would confide in Naruto the way Naruto had always wanted to do with him.
He turned back to the canopy of stars above them.
He wouldn't, though.
It just wasn't meant to be.
Kakashi hoisted the dark-haired boy over his shoulder, an almost unrecognizable figure of dirt and blood. Naruto's heart beat wildly in his chest, rampant against his ribs, a bird fighting for freedom against the cage of bone. He bit this lip right through—he already had twice, once when Orochimaru threw him and he stayed hidden in the bushes, waiting for time to repeat itself, and again when Sasuke looked him in the eye,
(Are you scared, chicken?)
And Naruto looked back, and knew: he had condemned him to this fate.
That he would always condemn him to this fate; would do nothing to change it.
He'd never hated Jiraiya more than he did standing in the middle of that tower, cursing this knowledge, wondering how his life could have gone if he'd never meddled with time. He'd be naïve, he thinks, naïve and a little foolish. But it could have been worth it.
It would have been worth it, to save himself from this pain.
"Naruto?" Sakura whispered, turning to him.
His smile faltered; tapering off at the edges. "I'm fine, Sakura-chan. Are you okay?"
She nodded slowly, one hand rubbing slow, almost subconscious circles against her elbow, the other limp against the torn hems of her dress. "I guess so. Do you think Sasuke-kun…?"
He smiled again, laughed for her. "I'm sure he'll be fine, Sakura-chan! It's Sasuke-teme, anyway, of course he'll be okay. And Kakashi-sensei will take care of him."
Her lips quirked minutely at his words, a pleasant crinkle formed against the side of her eyes.
He wondered how many times he'd lie to Sakura in his lifetime.
The boy grumbled in response, curling in on himself, cowering from the light.
"Yo." Naruto scuffed him lightly with the bottom of his foot. He stirred again, but didn't wake. "Kid, get up."
Finally he blinked, eyes opening sleepily to squint over at Naruto, crouched on the windowsill by the bed. "Furu-sensei?" He sat up straight, recognizing the familiar blonde perched at his window.
With that, he peered around, confusion knitting his brows. "Where am I?" He asked groggily, turning back to Naruto. "What happened?"
"You don't remember?" He asked in reply, neutral.
"No." His younger self blinked, eyes big and owlish. "Nothing at all. I think remember fighting Lee? Oh! That's because he kept asking for stupid Sasuke-teme, and what's so good about Sasuke-teme anyway, I'm like a thousand times better than him—where is he, anyway? I'm gonna punch him for that one—
"Sasuke's hurt." Furu cut him off; he almost had to look away, watching the color drain from Naruto's face, the visceral and genuine concern so obvious on his face.
"What?-!" He leapt up. "Where? Is he okay? What happened—man, I really can't remember anything!"
"You all were in really bad shape after the second exam." Furu explained calmly. "It's only natural you're having a hard time remembering; you probably wandered around for days with an untreated concussion."
And then, ominously, "It could be your mind protecting you from psychiatric stress."
Naruto harrumphed. "Well, I'd rather it let me remember—I hate not knowing."
Do you, though?
Furu shrugged. "Well, time will tell. You think you're up for seeing Sakura?"
"Sakura-chan?" Naruto perked up. "Really? She's here? Where?"
"Down the hall." He tipped his head towards the door. "You're in the forest tower; all of the passing contestants are. They're holding a meeting tomorrow for the next test, so don't forget—
But Naruto was already barreling out the door, hollering, "Sakura-chan!"
His older self remained on the window, a haunted expression to his face.
"Sakura!" Naruto sprinted down the hallway, peering into open rooms and barging into a lot of closed ones, startling a fair number of Gennin on his way.
He finally found her, not in any room at all, standing in a common room of sorts, morosely looking down out of a wide window. She turned at the clamor he was making, poorly veiled relief lighting her face.
"Stop being so noisy!" She admonished without heat, turning quickly to approach him. "We're not supposed to be drawing attention to ourselves, remember?"
"Who cares? The second exam is over anyway!" He blew a raspberry.
She frowned. "We still have the third, don't forget that." And, with a distant look, "And if it goes as bad as the second…"
"Why?" Naruto tilted his head. "What happened in the second?"
She froze, eyes widening. "You… what?"
"I can't remember."
He shrugged, rubbing at his hair. "I think I hit my head or something, because man, I can't remember a thing. I woke up a couple minutes ago feeling really crappy and Furu-sensei was there telling me the whole thing was over!"
"Moron!" Sakura cried, lunging at him, careful not to hit his head. "I asked you if you were okay!"
"I—you did? Sakura-chan, I really can't remember!"
"Oh god." She had him pinned to the ground, her anger suddenly crumpling into tears. "You have to be okay, Naruto… I can't… not both of you!"
"S—Sakura...?" His younger self floundered, clearly not adept with handling crying, emotional women—or for that matter, women in general. "Uh, it'll be okay?"
"Naruto." The blonde craned his head, looking behind him to see Furu leaning against a wall.
"I'm heading out."
Naruto pouted, scampering out from under Sakura. "Really? So soon?"
Furu returned with a wan smile, "Afraid so. I've got a couple errands to run."
"No fair." Naruto whined. "You still have to teach me cool and awesome Jutsu!"
Furu laughed. "I've already tried, if I remember correctly."
"Yeah!" Naruto agreed. "I'm getting pretty good at that Katon Jutsu—it'll be perfect by the time the third exam starts!"
Unlikely. He thought, morbidly. Teaching his younger self a Jutsu was one thing—but mastering it was entirely another. Something told him that something like that was messing too much with time.
"Will you at least come to see me before the third round?" The young blonde questioned, tone pitching imploringly.
Furu sighed. "I'll try." He responded, noncommittally.
It'd be best to take his leave now, before his younger self really managed to wheedle more promises. He swooped down and headlocked the young blonde, rubbing his knuckles into his hair.
"Ouch—ouch—ouch—watch the head!" He sputtered, crossly. "I'm injured you know!"
"Take care of yourself." He commanded, and Naruto stopped struggling at the sternness of his voice. "And watch out for your teammates—and your sensei, and everyone that you love. You have to protect them."
Naruto remained unmoving in his grasp. Furu stopped the noogie, easing the headlock enough for Naruto to duck out of his grip.
"I know." He responded, surprisingly austere, standing tall in front of him. "Of course I will. That's my ninja way."
Furu blinked, taken aback a bit by the seriousness at which the young Gennin in front of him was taking his words. Not for the first time, he thought he could see a glimmer of what other people saw in him—in that grand, impressive, insurmountable foolishness.
Somehow, seeing such determination, such drive from such an unanticipated source was inspiring.
"Good." He breathed. "…Good."
He'd kept to Jiraiya's principles as much as he could—and where had it gotten him, really? The future remained a bleak, intangible smear ahead of him, a diffused portrait of war and death, mounted ominously in the forefront of his vision.
Again, he found himself cursing the old man.
He'd up and died and left Naruto with a half-made legacy, a lot of questions, and so few answers. And Naruto didn't even know the first place to start to search for them.
It's not like Naruto could retrace Jiraiya's steps, god knows where that pervert had been. Probably to every bathhouse that had ever existed in this world. Naruto snorted. And probably the next world over too, at this rate. The unfortunate part came to a head when Naruto realized that he couldn't think of any other place with significance for Jiraiya aside from Konoha, and at this rate, he'd tore up every place Jiraiya could have possibly left them, from this world—
"To the next." He breathed, blinking.
Fuck, he was stupid.
A few minutes and one reverse summoning later and he was literally tearing down the walls of Mount Myoboku, shouting loudly and waking up all the toads.
"Wha—" Gamakichi floundered behind him. "Boss—wait up! Hold on! What's the rush?"
"The rush?—" Naruto sputtered, before shaking his head. "Nevermind! Just get me to Ma and Pa, and hurry!"
He spun smartly on one foot and vaulted up into the air soon after that, leaving Gamakichi squawking indignantly in his wake. The infamous land of toads wasn't all that large, so it only took a few scant minutes for Naruto to locate the toads in question—though it could have been an infinity, for how long it seemed to take.
Ma and Pa were lounging on a basin of rock, sunning themselves in a way Naruto had never thought biologically comfortable for toads. To that end, he'd never thought toads could drink that much sake, either.
"Yo!" He greeted, dropping out of a jump in front of them and landing smoothly into a crouch, one arm raised in vague salute.
"Ah—" Ma blinked, adjusting her sunglasses. "Oh, Naruto-kun? How are you dear? Goodness it's been ages since we've seen you…"
"Is that Naruto-kun?" Pa grunted, rolling over to face them. "So it is! What brings you here Naruto-kun? Any news on the situation in Konoha?"
"Nothing good." Naruto sighed, shaking his head. "But that's not what I'm here for. Listen, you guys know Jiraiya… maybe better than anyone else. I know he was here a lot, but was there anywhere on Mount Myboku that was… special to him? Or more special than usual?"
And, to their blank faces.
"Or at least somewhere he visited frequently, that didn't involve naked women? Because I've been trying to think of one of those and I'm having a hard time believing right now that a place like that exists."
Pa chortled. "Does it?"
Ma scowled at him, before turning back to Naruto. "Well, honey, that's a tough question… he liked to roam around when he was here." She pursed her lips thoughtfully. "You know, he had a study here, if that might be useful—
"Yes!" Naruto yelped. "Yes, that's exactly it! Could you tell me where it is?"
She blinked, taken aback by his sudden enthusiasm, but pointed him in the right direction anyway.
It was exactly what Naruto was hoping for. An entire room devoted almost entirely to porn, with a minor alcove full of texts on sealing and jutsu. Just what he'd expect from the super pervert, Naruto shook his head fondly, moving to browse through the few books in the room not full of raunchy porn.
He didn't recognize most of it—there were a few passages on the Sage techniques, some on Jiraiya's attempts to modify the Rasengan—the majority of the text had more to do with categorizing current Jutsu of different hidden villages that, while interesting, ultimately didn't help Naruto's purpose.
He spent most of the afternoon on the dusty, decrepit and unused floor of Jiraiya's room, back to one of the mounds of paper and the ground around him scattered with books he'd already torn through. Nothing of great interest caught his eye, although he noticed that Jiraiya spent a great deal of time attempting to dissect his Orioke No Jutsu. Naruto prided himself on that; it was a fairly decent piece of work, wasn't it?
Naruto was finally about to call it quits, some time when the sun had long since maundered off the horizon, taking the last trails of dusk in hand. The stars shivered quietly beyond the confines of the mountain, the moon a lamenting figure bedecked in gossamer light. Ma had come in a little while ago to light an oil lamp for him, casting the room in a diffusion of almost foreboding light. Frankly, it was starting to hurt his eyes.
He stood to move for bed, yawning, one hand ruffling the hair at the back of his head. He moved to cover his mouth, and in the process knocked over an entire stack of papers.
"Oh hell," He scowled at himself, as white sheets of paper took to the air like fluttering paper birds all around him, fanning out so completely he almost thought someone out there was intentionally trying to piss him off. "Ma's gonna have a fit."
He sighed, moving to at least attempt to clean up the mess, when a notebook with "Time" caught his eye.
"Time. Time." He blinked, and then vaulted over towards it, therein ruining the room further. At this point he didn't care though, almost destroying the flimsy and worn parchment of the book in his enthusiasm.
At first, the pages were scrawled through with the relative theory Jiraiya had spent the first few months preaching at him. Naruto vaguely remembered most of it, scanning through it in a feverish manner. His heartbeat tripled when he finally got to more familiar pages; covered with symbols and runes that caught his eye, some of which he even knew by muscle memory.
But the familiarity of the book was lost after that.
Naruto was stunned to find that he actually didn't know most of this.
Which was odd, considering he had a great deal in the hand of their time traveling of them he made himself, with little or no input from Jiraiya at all. Sure, it was a little flawed, and crooked, and only worked with an almost suicidal amount of chakra and a lot of luck, but the fact of the matter was that he'd made a working time travelling jutsu with his own two hands and had gotten to use it out of just theoretical practice.
Suddenly though, he was beginning to understand why Jiriaya had been so proud of him for making it.
Because Naruto had made his time travelling scroll by himself.
And Jiraiya hadn't expected him to be able to do it.
Because he had one of his own.
"But… why?" Naruto whispered aloud, stunned. Why make Naruto go through the trouble of making his own? Or at the very least, why not at least offer more concrete advice than the bullshit theoretical crap he'd doled out to the blonde like candy?
It didn't make any sense. The more Naruto flipped through this book… the better he got acquainted with the intricate design Jiraiya had come up with and its abilities, the more he realized how flawed his own was. He'd come up with the seal as a sort of rocket launcher into the unknown—a powerful source of energy with no real means of aim. He'd then had to come up with a second seal that would act as a homing beacon, and at least give his jumping seal an attempted range and time frame instead of just letting it stab into the dark. It'd taken him ages to hone the tracking seal into a range of a few days—and yet, here was a completely flawless seal that worked as a jump and anchor, simply by changing a set of coordinate seals.
Jiraiya's seal… Jiraiya's seal was perfection.
Naruto marveled at the man's genius: using a double set of coordinate seals, the user could set an exact time to jump into—a one way ticket of sorts. And instead of having to constantly rely on a tracking seal on both ends, the traveller only had to memorize a set of time 'coordinates' to get home—to get back to the exact day and hour of any certain moment in time.
It was… amazing, quite frankly.
Jiraiya's seal was even capable of permanent usage. If Naruto wanted, he could create a seal that, when activated, would always bring him back to a certain period of time. Naruto reread that passage at least four times, taken aback by the sheer brilliance of it. Jiraiya was truly the master of sealing—it humbled Naruto, honestly. Made him remember how little he really knew, how much of a novice he truly was. He studied the design with great reverence; how long did it take the man to make this?
He must have spent years honing his craft. Decades.
It gave Naruto pause.
Why expend so much effort on a theoretical subject most believed impossible? Even Naruto hadn't given such a vested interest into time travel, aside from the novelty of it. Mostly he'd been meaning to impress Jiraiya with something as monumental as time travel when he'd made his seals, rather than any legitimate interest in the cause.
But Jiraiya… it was quite possible that Jiraiya was more heavily invested in this than he was in porn—which said a lot, quite frankly. For there were few things in this world which could tear Jiraiya away from women that didn't indirectly have to do with women themselves. Really, Naruto could probably count them on hand. There was Tsunade—although maybe that didn't count, considering how much interest Jiraiya had in her breasts—Konoha, Naruto himself, Naruto's father, and his (non-pornographic) literature, sparse as it was.
The blonde backtracked through the pages, skimming down until he once more got to the detailed drawing of Jiraiya's seal. He grabbed blindly for another sheet of paper, jotting down the line of seals which detailed the time coordinates for the jump. After, he flipped back to the cipher in the front, decoding through the lines of brush strokes.
Finally, once he'd finished lining the dates up, he sat back and blinked.
It was… a date of absolutely no significance to him at all.
Huh. He deflated.
He'd read his namesake book so often he'd memorized most of it, even the ending. Jiraiya had penned a brief and vague homage to the real 'Naruto', and all the heroes in the story. He'd even listed the date in which he'd first thought on writing the story—the date he'd left them.
And this wasn't it.
Naruto stood then, ignoring the cramp in his legs from sitting in the same position, and opened the door to the study.
"Ma?" He called. "Pa?"
A quick look to his watch told him the world around his was probably dead asleep. The lamp Ma had left was left on its last few drops of oil.
His eyes caught on a drawing on the wall.
Now that he'd effectively ruined the piles and piles of paper that Ma no doubt laboriously stacked into some attempt at orderliness, the walls were laid bare to his perusing eyes. Jiraiya clearly had no personal regard for the walls and furnishings, because he'd taken a pen to almost every surface in the room, scrawling unintelligible notes—and in some cases, really lewd depictions of compromising positions—all over the room. Even on the ceiling. But this one caught Naruto's eye. It looked as if he'd expended the effort of wiping off his prior work to make room for it. It also looked a lot like…
Naruto ducked back down for the book he'd left on the floor, flipping briskly through the pages.
It looked a lot like the seal he'd drawn.
Without a second thought, Naruto turned the book back to Jiraiya's detailed instructions on the actual act of the Jutsu. He carefully memorized the handseals, and then tucked the book in his pocket.
He ran through them as sedately as possible, gathering the right amount of chakra into his fingers (which was a laughably smaller amount than what he was used to when jumping) and took a deep breath.
He then rammed both hands into the seal.
And disappeared without a sound.
It was definitely… a different experience to time travel than what he was used to.
The earth didn't shake, the very heart of his soul didn't seem to quiver with the effort—it didn't feel like he'd hacked up a lung or two on the way over. No incredible drop of gravity knocking the wind out of him, no dazed headaches.
It was almost a little anticlimactic.
He squinted into the blinding light, regaining his footing.
The world looked like a barren fixture of dirt and dust-a bright, but cold sun towered oppressively over the cowering surroundings. Little existed in this world but caked mud and the distant sound of crows and scavengers.
It looked like death.
His eyes first caught on the ground; around his feet were similar markings in disfiguration and size. He certainly wasn't a tracker, but he didn't have to be Kiba to know these were footsteps. The exact same footsteps, actually; paced about and weathered through time and environment through a lot of dedication, enough that it almost seemed to be patterned into the rock.
To his left was—
A very similar looking seal.
Upon further inspection, only one line of characters was different than the one on Jiraiya's wall, and Naruto had a sinking suspicion as to what it was. He checked with the book just in case, but his suspicions were proved accurate—it was the time coordinates for, 'the present'. An ambiguous and difficult algorithm of seals which calculated the time of jump and movement of time to accurately pinpoint 'the present' in which a jumper comes from.
Now Naruto wasn't a genius and had no idea how Jiraiya had managed a seal that could do that, but he did know one thing—
It was obvious Jiraiya came here a lot.
He squinted into the distance, wondering what it could be about this desolate land that had Jiraiya fixate on it so fervently that he'd go out of his way to mark it. The seal sat upon a large rock face jutting out of a cliff with a moderate view of the surrounding area. The view in and of itself was nothing substantial; certainly nothing caught Naruto's eye. The land and sky were mottled into an almost indiscernible shade of muddy grey, the horizon so far the two blended into an amalgamation of not-earth and not-sky.
He debated how long he should really stay to wait here: fortunately it seemed Jiraiya wouldn't keep him waiting for all that long.
Three figures emerged from a distant alcove of rock, staggering out of a ravine of dirt and trailing blood in their wake. Naruto could barely make out much from this distance, a pair of nondescript limbs and gangly legs, lumbering through the wasteland. Two were holding one up between them, crossing the clearing in a laborious process that would take hours. From the trail of blood they left as they staggered along, Naruto reasoned that the injured one wouldn't have all that long left to live.
The blonde's gaze snapped to the opposite side of the ravine, where another figure had appeared in a cloud of smoke.
He jogged over, dropping in front of the trio and taking the injured one off their hands. Clearly exhausted, the other two dropped to their knees soon thereafter.
The four conversed, too far for Naruto to make out anything but vague gestures.
He knew enough though—knew that gait, that jump, that long mane of hair.
That was Jiraiya, coming to their aide.
And those three…
He didn't know what words were exchanged; didn't know what it was about this particular fragment of time that had Jiraiya coming back to it, over and over again, but he felt as if he didn't need to. It already felt like an incredibly invasion of his teacher's privacy, just standing here as a witness to an intimate moment that Jiraiya most likely never wanted anyone else to see.
The blonde turned away, compelled by an urge unintelligible to him yet still integral to his very core to give Jiraiya this moment; to let him take this one secret to the grave.
He scowled fiercely, hands unclenching and clenching at his sides. In the corner of his eye a scene, a scintillating memory, lingered in the distance. Konan, Nagoto, and Yahiko, immortalized in this one moment in time, still so naïve and innocent—still so corruptible.
He closed his eyes, face contorted in anger and fear and remorse. He shook with a fervor he couldn't control, standing on this rock, having never felt so lost. So overwhelmed. Lamenting the inevitable.
He stayed until the dispassionate sun rose to its finale, glaring down at him with a grand and immoral impassivity for him and all the creatures who walked this earth. Jiraiya, Konan, Nagoto and Yahiko were long gone.
Finally, he plunged his hands into the seal, and disappeared without a trace.