Newly edited thanx to my wonderful beta naoman16, without whom I'd be totally lost. Gotta love the beta.
The atmosphere in the forest could only be described as ominous. Towering trees loomed overhead, blocking the morning sun, casting dark shadows upon the thick foliage. The occasional calls of wild beasts filtered through air, the mere sound was enough to send the more timid beings scurrying for shelter.
Jiraiya shivered slightly as he looked up at the foreboding trees, keeping an eye out for any enemies hidden among the dappled shadows. Shifting slightly in his still uncomfortable chuunin jacket, he was beginning to wish he hadn't done so well in the exams. After all, if he was a genin, he wouldn't have been sent on this scouting mission to the north eastern front, a creepy, desolate moor that was nestled against the neutral Mizugakure.
In a word, it was a pointless waste of his, and Tsunade's time.
But, a lecherous smile twisted Jiraiya's mouth; it would be worth it if he could accidently stumble on Tsunade while bathing… a slight nosebleed trickled down his upper lip before he hurriedly wiped it away.
"Hurry up!" Tsunade called back, irritated at her slow companion.
"Coming , my hime!"
"Don't call me that you hentai!" Tsunade bit back at her smug teammate. Honestly, she thought, rolling her eyes in exasperation. Maybe if he acted less like the eleven year old he was- they were- then maybe they could've graduated to Jounin with Orochimaru instead of staying Chuunin.
Though, Tsunade thought bitterly, that might have been something to do with all the private tutoring that Sarutobi-sensei had been giving him, including one of the great summoning contracts for the Hebi clan.
"Of course Tsunade-hime-"
"Shut up!" Tsunade barked, whirling around and lodging a punch in the side of Jiraiya's head. "Baka!
"Heh…" Jiraiya mumbled, holding a large lump nestled in his nest of wild white hair. "You've still got it."
Tsunade sighed in exasperation, continuing onward through the small footpath carved through the thick brush. Sometimes, trying to get Jiraiya to behave was trying to reason with a toddler.
"Tsunade, watch out!" Tsunade's head snapped up and her eyes widened as she looked down a hundred foot drop, one foot already off the edge. Her eyes dilated as she took in the crater shape and the solid limestone that lined the sides, even as she began her descent over the edge…
"Gotcha!" A strong arm wrapped around her waist and yanked her back, sending the both of them sprawling backwards.
Tsunade attempted to get her breathing under control and stop the tremors in her hands from her brush with the shinigami. "Thank you, Jiraiya." Tsunade muttered, levering herself off of his body.
"Don't mention it." Jiraiya waved it off. "Really, don't mention it, or Nawaki will try to kill me again."
Tsunade looked at him sideways. "What does Nawaki have to do with it?
"He's your incompetent, over-protective midget brother." Jiraiya sighed, before moving forward and ending the conversation. "Anyway, what do you think this is?" he gestured at the huge crater.
"It looks like someone decided to pack a couple thousand exploding tags into the ground." Tsunade remarked dryly, squinting to take in the other side of the half-mile wide crater. "Or they decided to practice their kinjutsu."
"We've got to report this to the Hokage." Jiraiya said, for once, actually serious. The war was just barely starting to go in their favor, the Cloud shinobi having been driven back on the north eastern front, and only the dwindling Ame-nin were keeping up the fight, egged on by Hanzo. If someone was throwing around jutsu that could easily take out a small town without much fuss… this did not bode well for the war effort.
With a nod, both Tsunade and Jiraiya disappeared into the trees, double-timing it to Konoha.
In the exact center of the crater, a small bird, inquisitive and hungry hopped along the loose ash, poking around for food. Ahead, its beady eyes could make out a curious outcropping, poking out of the earth. With a chirp, the bird quickly pecked on the anomaly, and was rewarded with a shower of sand, grit, and ash.
Naruto sputtered and cradled his bleeding nose, swearing up a storm. Beside him, the ash shifted and the dirty face of one Sakura Haruno emerged, blinking dirt off of her eyelashes. Both seventeen year olds looked decidedly worse for wear.
"Ugh," she moaned grabbing her aching head. "I like Tsunade-shishou punched me in the head."
"That's funny," Naruto groused, shaking his head like a dog to raise dust clouds from his dingy blond hair. "I feel like you just punched me in the head."
"Ha." Sakura mumbled, attempting to lever herself out of her small bed of dirt. "What the hell happened?"
Naruto squinted, attempting to recall what had happened before everything went fuzzy. "I remember fighting Pein…" he said, fingering his shredded jacked and ragged pants. Apparently he had taken a beating; all that was left of his forehead protector was the metal plate in his hand. "And he said he was going to bring everyone back after I kicked his ass."
Sakura's head shot in Naruto's direction. "You mean…" She started, not wanting to let herself get her hopes up.
"Everyone's probably alive back in Konoha," Naruto exclaimed, a bright grin alighting his face as his ocean-blue eyes sparkled. Sakura smiled brightly in return, dizzying relief making her feel weightless. The emotion was fleeting, only briefly distracting her from their puzzling predicament.
"Do you remember anything else?" Sakura asked, impatient. She wanted to know why she was waist deep in incinerated matter.
"Uh… oh…well, shit." Naruto mumbled, rubbing his head.
"Naruto, what did you do?" Sakura growled, cracking her knuckles.
"Um, well, don't get mad Sakura-chan-"
"I may have destroyed the statue containing the eight Bijuu." Naruto cringed. "Uh, that weird guy in the spirally orange mask may have said he'd track you down and rip you to pieces, so I may have accidently missed with Rasenshuriken and I, er, kind of hit the statue."
"And…" Sakura's voice was quiet and dangerous.
"It disentigrated." Naruto said with a small voice, cringing slightly.
"Baka no Naruto!" Sakura yelled, a vein throbbing in her temple. "You shouldn't have taken such a risk! What part of bijuu do you not understand! You don't sling around double SS techniques like that when they could either kill you, or destroy the world!"
"But he was going to kill you!" Naruto protested, waving his arms around, dislodging the ash from his shoulders.
"It wasn't worth releasing eight demons into the world!" Sakura barked. "I'm not worth the millions of people who would suffer!" She was going to continue, but Sakura took one look at Naruto's guilty expression before let out her frustration with a huff. "It's alright Naruto." Sakura said quietly, letting her hand fall into her lap. "You were just trying to protect me, if anything; it's my fault for being too weak." Sakura felt her tone grow bitter, but didn't bother to cover it up.
"You're not weak Sakura-chan!" Naruto exclaimed, his blue eyes earnest as he looked at his best friend and teammate. "You killed Sasori remember?"
Sakura scowled. "I haven't exactly… killed any Akatsuki since then, have I?"
"Don't sell yourself short Sakura-chan." Naruto admonished exuberantly. "After you made jonin, didn't Baa-chan tell us we surpassed our sensei? We're both wanted in every enemy county's bingo book as S-ranked Konoha jounin, just like Kakashi-sensei!"
Sakura smiled slightly, a small spark of pride warming her insides. Heh, I guess Naruto hasn't lost his confidence, and it seems becoming a jounin has toned him down a little.
"For I am Uzumaki Naruto; Future Hokage and the one and only Toad Sage!" Naruto grinned, copying one of Rock Lee's ridiculous poses.
Sakura sweat dropped. Or maybe not. "Come on Naruto, we've got to get back to Konohagakure, or what's left of it." She added morbidly under her breath.
"I'm looking forward to some Ichiraku ramen! It's been days!" Naruto shouted, thrusting a fist into the air. This, unfortunately, had the side effect of ripping the seam of his jacket, leaving him with two halves of his once whole orange and black shinobi wear.
"We need some new clothes first." Sakura sighed, watching with no little amusement as Naruto wept over his beloved orange jacket.
"Holy sh—" Naruto breathed, staring out at Konoha from his position in one of the taller trees just on the outside of the walls.
"No way." Sakura agreed.
Most of Konoha seemed the same as it did before Pein's attack. Naruto could pick out the Hokage Tower and the Acadamy from his viewpoint, and had a perfect view of the Hokage cliff.
Which was missing two faces.
"I think we are." Naruto said, uncharacteristically solemn.
"This is impossible! There is no jutsu that can send us back in time… absolutely not!" Sakura said. "This has got to be a genjutsu." Putting her hands into the handsign, Sakura's chakra pulsed. "Kai! Kai!"
"Maybe we're in a bloodline genjutsu, like Tsukyomi." Naruto pointed out, scratching his head in confusion. "That Pein guy had weird orangey eyes, so maybe it's like Itachi and his freaky Sharingan."
After trying to dispel a few more times, Sakura gave up. Sitting back hard on her branch, Sakura stared out at the expanse of Konohagakure, blinking hard. The loss of her home was compounded by the fake one in front of her. All her friends...Ino…Shizune… all gone and now, this village that wasn't Konohagakure but was, brought back the crippling loss of her shinobi family.
Sakura squeezed her eyes shut tight, squashing the small niggling hope that this wasn't a genjutsu, and that she had actually traveled through time and that she could walk in there as Sakura Haruno and all of the Rookie Nine would be there, and no one would be crushed or decapitated and everyone was alive and well…
"Naruto, can't you ask Kyuubi?" Sakura's voice shook slightly. "He should know what's going on right?"
Naruto grinned and nodded. "Good idea Sakura-chan. If anything, Kyuubi always loves to lord stuff over me, so he'll enjoy telling me that we're stuck in some unbreakable technique." Naruto screwed up his face in concentration, focusing his chakra and his mind on the seal emblazoned on his stomach. "His chakra is still in the seal." Naruto said, his brow furrowed as his senses extended. "There's less than usual, as if some was still floating around somewhere, outside the seal…" he gulped, blanching at the thought. "I think there's at least a tail of chakra missing- not enough to cause permanent damage but enough…"
"Hey, you could beat Ichibi well enough." Sakura reasoned, patting him on the back. "A mere one tailed Kyuubi isn't going to stop you, is it?"
Naruto blushed slightly at the compliment, scratching the back of his head. "Guess not."
"So we don't know if it's reality or a genjutsu then." Sakura said, her mind flitting back to the main problem as she tried to think up a kinjutsu she had read about that had the ability to turn back time. She came up blank.
"We'll just have to check it out, then."
Sakura glanced up sharply, startled. Naruto had been so quiet, and now, his face was deadly serious.
"Genjutsu can't get every little detail right." Naruto said quietly. "Between the both of us, and what we know of our sensei, I'm guessing we can find out whether we are stuck in a genjutsu or not."
The Konoha guards blinked as a pair of silhouettes made their way down the dusty main road to Konoha, their bright attire standing out against the green and brown colors of the forest. There were two of them, a blond and a pinkette, their attire (the color scheme seemed to involve lots of red and orange) was definitely shinobi quality, an observation confirmed by the kunai holsters attached to their legs.
"Halt." One of the duo of chuunin stepped forward. "What is your business here?"
"Ah," the pink haired one stepped forward and bowed slightly. "I am Haruno Sakura and this is my associate Uzumaki Naruto." The blonde one grinned and waved, his bright smile relaxing the guards somewhat. "We're looking for work, hiring shinobi?"
"Eh, an Uzumaki?" The chuunin in charge replied neutrally, signaling for one of the chuunin runners to summon a jounin to the gate. "I thought your clan was neutral in this war, why join now all of a sudden?"
"Eh?" Naruto scratched his head. "Clan? I've never heard of any Uzumaki Clan, I didn't have any parents and my sensei didn't tell me about it…" Naruto shrugged, ignoring the disbelieving eyes of the chuunin duo. "And as for joining…" Naruto grinned, his eyes crinkling in a way that reminded the chuunin guards of a kitsune. "I want to kick some Ame ass, dattebayo!"
"Baka!" Sakura shouted, slamming her fist into the back of Naruto's head, sending him face down into the dirt.
"What he means to say is," Sakura said apologetically, ignoring the groaning of her teammate next to her. "We have nothing against Kumo –nin really, but we kind of have a grudge against Amegakure.
"Really?" one of the chuunin said, unconvinced of the story.
"Ame-nin are making it hard for us homeless nin to make a living." Naruto explained as he ruefully rubbed his head. "They kill all the missing-nin they come across so we can't join the opposition and they kill all of our potential clients!"
Sakura rolled her eyes, sharing an amused look with the chuunin guards, acting like this sort of rant happened all the time.
Out of the corner of her eye, Sakura could see the concealed form of a nin in the shade of the gates and, as she felt out with her chakra, she had to forcibly restrain a gasp. The chakra was a familiar white, and felt an awful lot like-
"Aa, Muhei-kun," a deep, mellow voice came from the concealed ninja. "We have visitors?" As the speaker came into the light, Sakura had to force herself to gulp as a pang of grief rang in her chest. The man in front of her was not Kakashi Hatake, sensei of Team Seven and leader of Team Kakashi. Though he shared the familiar face mask, silver hair and the lidded grey eyes, this man was not the ninja she had come to see as a surrogate father after her own civilian family had disowned her.
No, this man was not Kakashi Hatake. But, she knew who he was.
"Sakumo Hatake, Jounin of Konoha." The man said, his eyes crinkling in a way she had come to recognize as a smile.
"Sakura." The medic-nin said, tilting her head to get the full measure of Konoha's White Fang, the father of the Copy Nin.
"My name's Naruto Uzumaki old man, and don't you forget it!" Naruto said loudly, pointing at the slightly amused jounin's face. In the background, several chuunin looked absolutely traumatized that they would do anything less than kiss the ground the White Fang walked on.
"Well, aren't we excited?" Sakumo said, raising a single silver eyebrow. "You don't seem like much of a ninja."
Naruto puffed up indignantly. "What the hell do you know?" he said rudely. "I'm the holder of the toad contract, and the official Toad Sage! Respect me dammit!"
"You summon the toads?" One of the chuunin said, disbelief coloring his voice.
"Yep!" Naruto grinned and pointed at his chest. "I'm gonna be the best ninja ever!"
"Naruto…" Sakura groaned, smacking her face. They were supposed to be nondescript, not magnets for attention.
"The best ninja ever huh?" Sakumo said, scratching his masked chin. "You know, the ones that boast are usually just full of hot air."
"Hey!" Naruto said angrily, crossing his arms. "I sweated blood and tears to get to my current level, with barely any help!"
Well, it was partly true, Sakura thought to herself. It's not like the Academy instructors ever helped him, and Kakashi, though a great commander, was a lousy teacher. Truly, only his three years and short tenures with Jiraiya-sama and Yamato-sense had ever really taught him anything, she thought with a twinge of guilt.
"Ano, Hatake-sama," Sakura said, trying to placate her teammate. "Naruto still has to work on his social skills, please excuse his behavior."
"Hmph." Sakumo grinned slightly at the death glare that Sakura was giving her partner. These two are the most fun I've had all week. "Well, I suppose I can let it slide…"
"Yeah, yeah," Naruto waved the older nin off. "I just wanna help you guys kill some Ame-nin, save the world, end the war, yadda yadda yadda."
This time, Sakumo couldn't restrain his chuckle. "Well, we're not one to turn down volunteers, but you'll understand that we want to make sure you have no past affiliation with Ame or Kumo, right?"
In an instant, Naruto and Sakura were surrounded by a squad of masked ANBU, though neither tensed, or showed any sign of resisting.
"I was wondering when you guys were going to show up." Naruto said confidently. "Sakura detected you guys two minutes ago."
Naruto shared a smirk with Sakura before they turned their attention back onto Sakumo.
Sakumo smothered his brief flare of surprise before turning to the ANBU. "Bind their chakra and take them to Yamanaka-san." He spared a brief look back at the calm faces of the two homeless shinobi. "Please don't struggle, its procedure."
Naruto and Sakura simple stood while an ANBU stepped forward and slapped chakra repressing seals on their backs foreheads, a simple chakra exercise keeping the paper stuck to their faces. Sakura immediately felt her reserves, which were about the size of Tsunade-shishou's own chakra pool, dwindle by a quarter.
Naruto, on the other hand, barely felt the difference. The seal wasn't configured like the containment seals Yamato-sensei used to slap on him whenever Kyuubi got out of control. These were inked for a normal, jounin level opponent, not someone who could perform A-ranked ninjutsu at age twelve.
Naruto allowed himself a little grin. He had the advantage here, and if things got out of hand, he knew he could take Sakura and make a break for it.
Sakura shrugged. "We're not your enemies and we don't have anything to hide." That wasn't entirely true, Sakura thought guiltily. They had plenty to hide; they just didn't need to worry about the usual Konoha trump card, the Yamanaka mind jutsu.
After all, not many nin had the shielding properties of the Yondaime's seal or an Inner version of yourself ready to defend your mind without a moment's notice. In fact, Sakura thought, it would probably be best to alert them of this fact. For one thing, it usually drove the jutsu caster insane (Ino was lucky she knew when to draw back, or she'd probably had sustained permanent brain damage) and the Konoha shinobi would think they had something to hide.
"Ah, you should probably avoid using those weird mind probe jutsu on us." Naruto said, echoing Sakura's thoughts.
"And why is that?" Sakumo asked, leading the squad on a dash across the rooftops.
"Both of us have mind based kekkei genkkai." Sakura said, purposefully ignoring the tensing of the ANBU around her. "It makes us impervious to mind penetration, and is more likely going to drive the interrogator insane than anything else."
"Hm." Sakumo hummed in agreement, in the same laid back way that Sakura recognized from Shikamaru and Kakashi. "Well, we'll keep that in mind."
Naruto snickered at the pun, and Sakura forcibly restrained the urge to hit him. Naruto snickered again.
This time, Sakura gave into temptation and the following groan was worth the extra chakra suppression sutra she had to deal with.