Disclaimer: Naruto is not mine.
Summary: What if something different had happened during the fight with Zabuza and Haku? What if Haku's aim was too perfect? The consequences of such skill will change the world forever.
"Regular Dialogue is like this."
"Thoughts are like this."
"Sakura's inner personality is like this."
Jutsus and Sound Effects are like this.
Italics also refer to flashbacks.
Everything was not alright. Not at all.
Sarutobi rubbed at his temples tiredly and closed his eyes, extremely stressed. The large bags under his eyes caused by last night's hard work. In two and a half weeks the Chuunin Exams would be taking place and Konoha had just lost one team that would've been participating. One that he was pretty sure would have made a fine showing for the Daimyo. Not to mention the fact that the council was breathing down his back for the "Last Uchiha" to be in the exam.
He let out a long weary sigh and leaned back in his chair. He took out his pipe and breathed in the sweet tobacco, thinking. As much as he would hate it, he would have to infringe on Team 7's down time and call in Kakashi. He had a solution that would make the council happy and the Daimyo at the same time, but he knew the same could not be said for the Jonin.
Kakashi was silently standing in front of the Memorial Stone, hands in his pockets and his Icha Icha Paradise was no where in sight. He crouched down until his eye was level with the engravings. He lifted one hand, tracing the visible letters of the names of so many of his friends... family.
He let out a melancholic sigh and was about to start his customary conversation when he heard footsteps approaching. He glanced over at the pathway from the corner of his eye and found Sakura and Sasuke walking towards him. He slowly stood up and turned to face them.
"Aha, you guys found me," he said in a tone that was meant to be sheepish, but came out more somber.
"It wasn't hard to guess where you'd be at," Sakura replied softly, walking up to his side.
Sasuke did the same and stared at the stone tablet, his eyes scanning the names until they landed on the newest name chiseled into the memorial. "Uzumaki Naruto," he stated.
They all stared in silence, remembering the day of the bell test and Naruto's proclamation at the end.
"One day my name will be on that stone, dattebayo!" Naruto shouted, punching the air enthusiastically. He had a wide grin on his face and his blue eyes held a steadfast determination.
And now... it was.
Kakashi closed his eye and let out a breath. He turned away from the memorial and started to walk away. Sakura left after him and Sasuke stared at the name for a moment longer before he too followed his sensei.
"Where are we going?" Sakura asked.
"I thought that we'd go... clean out Naruto's apartment," Kakashi said, taking a right into the village.
Sakura looked down, "Oh."
Sasuke remained silent and shoved his hands into his pockets as they came up to a building that looked like it had seen better days. The plastering was cracked and there were a few missing burgundy colored roof tiles.
Kakashi pushed the door open and the trio began walking up the staircase to the fourth floor. They came to a stop at a white door and the Jonin pulled a key out of his pocket, unlocking it with a turn of his wrist. The door creaked open to reveal Naruto's apartment. Their eyes swept across the room, each taking in the apartment with different reactions.
Clothes were strewn across the room; a sock hanging off the side of the rather ratty couch and a spare jacket with a torn sleeve was spread across the floor. An empty cup of ramen noodles was on the counter and an opened scroll was on the table. The door to the bedroom was slightly lopsided as though Naruto had attempted to fix it and put it on incorrectly.
Sakura eyed the dusty shelves and the cobwebs in the furthest corner of the room with a hint of sadness. She noticed that the trash can was full of cup ramen and the couch was a worn out blue, a few springs poking out of the padded material. She felt her heart tighten. Was this how Naruto lived? Off of noodles and nothing else?
She knew that Naruto and Sasuke were orphans, but she hadn't realized how lonely it must be. She couldn't imagine not having home cooked meals, a nice clean house to come home to, or a mother to hug you. Her eyes lowered to the floor, why hadn't she invited her team over for dinner? Her mother wouldn't have minded. She was sure that Naruto would haveloved it. She resolved to invite Kakashi-sensei and Sasuke over soon.
Sasuke's hands clenched inside of his pockets as he looked around. This was all that Naruto had? He glanced at the frayed posters on the wall, the small shelf of faded yellow scrolls, and the open cabinet door of which he could see was empty. His eyes finally landed on a small picture that was tacked to the door of what he assumed was Naruto's bedroom. It was the picture of Team 7, the photograph barely held in place by what he identified as an old senbon needle. He felt his lips twitch in what passed as a smile.
Kakashi cleared his throat, motioning for his students to enter. He had been to the apartment before the day that he had first met the Genin would become his team. It wasn't much different, save for the fact that there was no expired milk left on the kitchen counter. He closed the door behind them with a soft click.
That sound seemed to break his students from their thoughts, both blinking away the glazed look they had gained while looking around.
"Let's get started," Kakashi said, his voice filling the room.
Slowly his students went to work, carefully going around the apartment and gathering anything that was a worthwhile moment of Naruto's. They left the trash where it was, knowing that some other rookie genin team would clean it up later if the landlord wanted it done. Kakashi took the small living room, Sakura the kitchen and bathroom, and Sasuke headed towards Naruto's bedroom.
He paused and took it off of the door, inspecting it.
Naruto was glaring at him,"Oi! Kakashi-sensei, why do I have to stand next to the teme?"
"Hn," Sasuke grunted, returning the glare in full force.
"Maa, maa, can't you two get along?" The Jonin asked. Their glares refocused on him and he chuckled, "Sakura will be in the middle then."
The pink haired girl jumped in the middle with a happy smile, "Hai, sensei!" She squealed with delight. She got to stand next to Sasuke-kun!
Kakashi put a hand on both of their heads, "Smile."
Sasuke glared at the hand on his head and Naruto huffed, crossing his arms over his chest, "Teme," he grumbled.
Sasuke looked away from the photo and shoved it in his pocket as he walked into Naruto's room. To his surprise the bedroom was less messy than the others. He stepped around the futon and casually glanced around. He could imagine Naruto in here, he concluded. His eyes landed on a sleeping cap and a small smile appeared on his face.
He stepped over to Naruto's closet and opened the doors, his eyes running over the contents. He was relatively amazed to see that not everything was orange; blues and blacks were mixed in with the bright color. He pulled out a black jacket and eyed it critically. There were orange stripes running down the arms and sides and an Uzumaki swirl on the shoulder of the left arm. It looked relatively unworn.
He took it off the hanger and tentatively pulled it on. It was comfortable, not too big and not too tight either. He tested his range of movement and found it unhindered. He nodded to himself before a guilty thought entered his mind. His hands found their way back into his pockets. He blinked, forgetting about the picture in his pocket. He withdrew his hands and unfolded it gingerly. Staring down at the photo he felt himself relax.
"Naruto wouldn't have minded," he thought, letting out a breath.
Sakura was busying herself with the kitchen. She was startled at just how empty some of the cabinets seemed and the thick layer of dust that lined the insides. She was mentally counting to keep herself calm. Naruto wouldn't have wanted her pity. With that thought in mind she kept looking around and tidying up.
Kakashi stood in the center of the living room, unmoving. He really wasn't sure of where to start or whether he really wanted to do this. The hurt was still so close. His eye closed. He could imagine Naruto in this place easily; jumping around excitedly, shouting with joy, plotting his pathway to becoming Hokage. So lost within his thoughts was he, that he didn't acknowledge the presence of the Anbu until they spoke.
"Hatake Kakashi," the decidedly androgynous voice stated.
Kakashi idly wondered if the Anbu had practiced that.
The Anbu didn't hesitate before continuing,"Hokage-sama requests your presence and that of your students immediately."
"Hai," Kakashi replied and the Anbu disappeared, likely back off to his original posting. The Jonin glanced over at Sakura who had a cloth in her hand and was cleaning the same part of the counter over and over again then over at the door to Naruto's room where he knew Sasuke to be.
"Sakura," he called softly, pulling her out of her trance-like state.
"Sensei?" she questioned.
"We have to report to―"
His sentence was interrupted by Sasuke walking back into the main living area. Both Sakura and Kakashi stared at the Uchiha who shifted, slightly uncomfortable with the looks he was being given by his teacher and teammate. He stiffened when he realized what he had just done. Kakashi felt understanding encompass him and began talking once more, steadily ignoring the fact that Sasuke was wearing one of Naruto's jackets.
"Excellent timing, Sasuke." Kakashi commented lightly, "Hokage-sama has summoned us."
Sakura's brow furrowed in thought. "Why? I thought that we still had five more days..." she trailed off. Sasuke seemed to be in agreement with her and looked quizzically at their teacher.
He shrugged, having though the same, "Who knows? Let's not keep the Hokage waiting." Kakashi moved to exit.
"But, sensei, what about Naruto's apartment?" Sakura asked.
"We'll come back later," he said, though he wasn't sure he would want or be able to do so.
They left Naruto's apartment and headed straight over to the Hokage Tower. Every few seconds Sakura would glance over at Sasuke from the corner of her eye, but here eyes weren't on his face, but the sleeves of the jacket that he wore. She bit her lip, wondering if it would be okay if she too took something to remember Naruto by. She shook her head, she'd think on that later.
The team made it over to the Tower in less than ten minutes and were right on time. The receptionist looked up from her desk as they neared the office of the Hokage, but they walked right past her into the room.
"Hokage-sama, Team 7 reporting as you requested," Kakashi stated.
Sarutobi smiled at them, "Ah, Kakashi, you made it here on time." The Jonin said nothing in reply. The Hokage cleared his throat. "Straight to business then." He looked directly into the eyes of his Jonin. "As you know, the date of the Chuunin Exam is approaching."
Kakashi gave a slight inclination of his head, he knew that. His students glanced back and forth between the two men with slight confusion.
"Konohagakure needs to make a strong showing this year as it's our first time hosting the Chuunin Exams since before the Kyuubi attacked. We need to show our allies from Sand and the Daimyo, as well as his wife who will be in attendance, that we have not grown complacent."
He paused for a moment, "That is why I have called you here. I truly regret to ask this of you after the loss of Naruto."
Kakashi's visible eye narrowed, he knew where the Hokage was going with this.
"The Council and I believe that if your team were to participate it would be beneficial to the village as a whole," Sarutobi continued. "I have already set aside the files of potential temporary teammates that I think will work well with you," he finished.
There was silence in the office as Kakashi and the Hokage stared at one another.
"What do you say, Team 7?"