Naruto awoke, screaming. Quickly, he made sure that he was whole and intact.
"Just a dream... Okay. Ok..." No, not okay. He was decidedly smaller than when he last remembered. He looked around, taking in everything. He was not in the Hokage Tower. He was not lying in bed next to the love of his life.
He was in a small, two-room apartment that looked awfully familiar.
In a flash, Naruto was out of bed and in the bathroom, desperate to examine himself, to make sure that this was just a bad dream.
The face that stared back at him from out of the mirror was that of a ten-year-old blond shinobi in-training, one with ambitions that were the source of ridicule amongst others, not just in his age group. The whisker marks that had adorned his face since before he remember, normally shrunk behind an insincere mask of laughter, were now drawn tight in an expression of utter disbelief.
Uzumaki Naruto, the Sixth Hokage, last of the jinchuuriki and keeper of Myouboku Mountain's Sage techniques screamed inside his now ten-year-old body.
"What the hell happened to me? I'm ten again? I'm back in my old apartment, and I'm ten! I'm not even a genin..." He paused. He drew breath. He went through the exercises for calming the mind that had been taught to him by Yamato... Tenzou...
His name's not important.
"Wait... If I'm ten again, then did any of that even happen? How am I remembering stuff that hasn't happened? Gaara, Akatsuki, Danzo... Technically, none of that has happened, but... I remember it. So..." He frowned. Trying to puzzle something out, while never his strong suit, was certainly something he'd become better at. His innate stubbornness meant that he never stopped thinking about something until he figured it out.
But temporal mechanics was not something he was equipped to deal with.
Nor was advanced psychology, he mused. It was entirely possible he was just going crazy.
All right, all right. Let's see... Last thing I remember was the chuunin exams in Sunagakure... I was there as Gaara's guest of honor for the final matches. Then... some kind of attack.
Naruto hmm'd. If he was the sole target, he'd go bananas trying to work out the ramifications of his conscious self being sent back some... fifteen years? Wow. Seemed like a lot longer...
Would this have any paradoxical effect? If this was really happening, why didn't he remember this? If he didn't, then could this all just be an illusion...? Naruto groaned and facepalmed.
Genjutsu. It was the only option that made any sense, and really, why hadn't he thought of it sooner? He was the Hokage, for kami's sake!
Carefully, he brought his chakra flow to a halt, letting it build up in his inner coils. Then, he forced it through his entire body, six times as much chakra as would normally flow suddenly surging through his chakra circulatory system. Considering how much chakra flowed out of his coils normally, he was confident that any genjutsu on him would have been easily disrupted.
A small cloud of dust rippled across the floor from the chakra surge.
Naruto opened his eyes, frowning. Okay. Not a genjutsu.
There was another problem. He hadn't really noticed earlier in his panic, but his movement was more awkward. It lacked the confident, steady grace he had gained from years of intensive taijutsu training, and his inner coils felt... cold? No, that was the wrong word. They were... less... less co-operative, he supposed. He facepalmed again.
Of course that was the case. Muscle and coil memory wouldn't carry over with actual memories. This body had never performed the hours of gruelling taijutsu kata and chakra control exercises, so it wasn't going to retain any of that experience.
...Assuming that he really had ended up back in his ten-year-old body, and he wasn't just going crazy. But was there any way to make sure? Maybe find out if someone else had been affected? Or was there some kind of future knowledge he could use to prove or disprove his "memories"?
Right, yes. If he could perform a technique from his... future? Present? What the hell were you supposed to call the time period you come from and probably can't get back to?
Anyway, if he could perform a technique from... that time, then he wasn't crazy. He had a knack for pulling impossible victories out of his ass, but he'd never be able to just dream up ninjutsu that actually worked.
What to use... It would have to be something that didn't require the chakra control he had lost, so the rasengan and rasenshuriken were out. He doubted he'd be able to use any of his fuuton techniques either, since, again, this body didn't have the necessary training to perform chakra nature manipulation.
His fist struck his palm as if to say, Eureka!
Kawarimi no jutsu. It was a simple, Academy-taught technique, and more to the point, he hadn't... wouldn't learn it until he was eleven. So, if he could perform a kawarimi, then he wasn't going crazy, and his twenty-five-year-old mind really had been spirited back in time to inhabit his ten-year-old body.
...He was the one experiencing it, and even he thought it sounded crazy.
"Yosh. I'm either crazy or just in big trouble. Here goes!" Moment of truth. His hands went through the seals for the Kawarimi no jutsu. He molded what felt like the appropriate amount of chakra, chose the object he would substitute with, and...
He substituted with the fold-up chair next to his bathroom. Naruto exhaled, immensely grateful that he wasn't going crazy. No, he was just really, really screwed. Now that the immediate danger of insanity was removed, he felt really tired. He moved the chair back to where it was, and crawled back into bed. He'd sort the rest of this out in the morning...
Yawning, Naruto awoke, and looked to his left, expecting to see his wife sleeping peacefully, and the feeling that everything was right with the world that sight would bring.
Then he remembered what had happened the previous night. So, not just a bad dream.
Frowning again, he leaned forward, adopting his cross-legged thinking pose. If he could just remember more of what happened at the Sunagakure chuunin exams...
In the Kages' box. Right. That's where he'd been sitting along with the Kazekage.
Gaara. With Gaara, was... who else was with him...? Temari!
Naruto grinned triumphantly as, after the initial breakthrough, more and more fragments started falling into place. Temari and been standing behind Gaara and slightly to the left, there as his honor guard. Naruto, as Hokage, had brought Shikamaru, then a special jounin, as an honor guard, and he was standing behind Naruto and to the right. Next to Temari. He chuckled at that. Sitting on Naruto's left, and there in her capacity as his wife, and Hyuuga clan head, was... was the wonderful Hinata. How could he have ever forgotten about her presence?
He shook his head. He'd beat himself up later. What had happened next was... fuzzy. There was a surprise attack. Some kind of obscuring mist surrounded the Kages' box, and a huge wave of chakra and killing intent...
Naruto cursed. He couldn't remember what had attacked. It was an attack, of that he was certain, but he was also certain that the last attack(that he could remember) had caught everyone in the Kages' box. Naruto swallowed. Had... had he died, back then, in the Kages' box? Had everyone in the box died? The Hokage and Kazekage, their villages well-known to be close allies...
If both of them were killed at the same time, along with their respective liason officers, Konoha and Suna would be simultaneously leaderless, and have lost two powerful bonds: Naruto and Gaara were as brothers, and Temari and Shikamaru... well...
Baki was intelligent and influential enough that he could probably keep control of Suna in the interim, and Tsunade would likely be forced back into office, but their two villages would still be hurting from the loss of their leaders. Regardless of the progress towards peace that had been made in recent years, the political climate was still... untenable. A sudden weakness like losing their most popular and skilled leaders in a decade was a considerable weakness, and not one that any war hawks would be able to pass up.
That said, though, any war against Konoha or Suna would force the other's hand, and the Konoha-Suna alliance would dominate that part of the continent easily. With Rain Country boxed in on three sides, Amegakure would side with whoever posed the greatest threat as an enemy, despite their xenophobic foreign policy. That, in turn, would determine the balance of power amongst the other, smaller villages, due to Amegakure's central location. Earth Country, and Iwagakure, would end up boxed-in to the north-west, with any aggressive action swiftly repelled. Naruto doubted that the new Tsuchikage was stupid enough to try such a thing.
Kiri, though, was highly militarised, even by the standards of a ninja village, and had been involved in every War in the Great Nations' history since it's founding. Would they try anything? That was unlikely. Naruto had met the Mizukage, and she was generally lackadaisical regarding diplomacy with the mainland. Understandable, considering Kiri's remote location and monopoly over island nations and sea-based protection. If war did break out on the mainland, though, Kiri would become involved as a destabilising factor, antagonising either everyone or whichever side they thought was more powerful. This was due as much to strategy as it was pride; Kirigakure's ninja had always been proud warriors, and would seek to prove their superiority by aligning themselves against the most powerful opponents they could. That this strategy allowed them to ensure that the war would be costly enough that no mainland power could threaten Water Country afterwards was only prudent justification.
Kumo, though... Naruto cringed. It was no secret that of all the ninja villages, Kumogakure had made the most progress in preparing for war, having started amassing resources and ninjutsu since the Third War had ended. The war hawks in that village would have a louder voice than anywhere else, and were most likely to begin a new war. Naruto considered the Raikage. The man was unpredictable and impulsive, though capable of great feats of spontaneous genius (or insanity, depending on how you viewed it), and held his entire village's respect. He was also a Kumo-nin, descended from the First Raikage. This was very important, and was the primary reason Naruto could not immediately say that he wouldn't do anything... well, unpredictable. He wanted peace as much as the next man, he'd said once. He'd never said how that peace should come about. He was just as likely to try a blitzkrieg attack at the first sign of weakness as he was to continue with the very slowly progressing de-militarisation.
If anyone but the Raikage tried to start a war, it would quickly fizzle out. If the Raikage declared war, though, it would involve the entire continent and Water Country too. It would be HUGE.
Naruto sighed. The politics and warmongering of the Great Nations fifteen years from now were not relevant... yet. He needed to figure out if he had died, or if somehow his memories had really been transferred back. If he wasn't dead in the Kages' box fifteen years from now, then THAT version of him could worry about the war that might or might not break out. If he was dead in that box, well... He wasn't the only one that attack had hit. So, it was possible that Gaara, Hinata, Shikamaru and Temari all "remembered" as well.
But if he was dead, what this was, then? He had heard that people watched their lives flash before their eyes when they died, but he had always assumed it to be untrue, or at the very least, a lot faster than this.
Naruto hmm'd, and looked at a clock. He blinked.
Wait, didn't he still have to go to the Academy right now?
Introspection later, shower now!
Naruto had a pensive scowl on his face as he walked to the Academy. It was out of character for him, sure, but he was still trying to figure what the hell was going on. He looked around, taking in the glares and whispers that the civilians thought of as surreptitious. At least the ninja he saw were a little better at hiding their distaste at his presence, but he wasn't sure if the fact he could tell was down to them being lax or newfound observational skills from his little time-jump. Naruto hadn't realised until then just how much the village's opinion of him had changed over time. He'd simply assumed he was better at ignoring the glares, the dark whispers, the general hostility.
But then, how would he have become Hokage if everyone still hated him?
An ANBU-nin discreetly 'removed' a rogue chuunin who was about to make an attempt, and Naruto very nearly snorted in disbelief. How had he never noticed the ANBU-nin before? They weren't very stealthy around him.
Which was probably to let other ninja know that, yeah, he was being tailed. Naruto felt a whole new wave of appreciation for the Sandaime when he managed to count as many as ten ANBU-nin following him.
Sandaime. Sarutobi Hiruzen.
The old man was still alive. Orochimaru's "Crush the Leaf" plan hadn't started yet, or at the very least, it was still in the subtle machinations phase. He had to warn the Sandaime!
And tell him what? He asked himself, that he was remembering things that hadn't happened yet? He "remembered" Jiraiya, Tsunade, Shizune and especially the rest of the Konoha Eleven, even though he hadn't even met Team Gai yet. He even remembered Sai, and he sure as hell hadn't met him yet! Naruto smirked, a genuine smile in the face of hostility this time.
Ah, Sai. He was a git at first, but he got better.
Oh, yeah. He got better.
A fierce grin was born as he remembered Sai's instrumental role in deposing Danzo. The look of utter shock on that bastard's face... That any of his minions could entertain even the mere concept of betraying him! The number of charges they got on him was impressive, though; Six counts of conspiracy for treason against Konoha, three counts of conspiracy against different Hokages, thirty-seven counts of conspiracy against the village Council (Naruto didn't blame him for those)... A lot of conspiracy charges, but only one of them had to stick.
They got four. Funnily enough, it wasn't even for conspiracy. It was full-on Pre-meditated Treason they got him for. Danzou was probably regretting that botched mission to ally with Orochimaru by then. Yeah, thanks partially to Sai, Danzou was no longer a threat. Root was disbanded and its members deprogrammed, and Danzou himself, well... any one of those charges would have earned him a capital sentence. Unfortunately, a lot of Root's members committed suicide once they learned Danzou's fate.
Naruto's smile hadn't left his face, though it had faded a bit when he thought of how many had taken their own lives for Danzou's sake... But that hadn't happened yet.
It hasn't happened yet. And now I've got enough time to get as good as I can to stop it.
And he was going to stop it. He'd stop it all.
But first he had to find out if he was alone or not.
How to approach Shikamaru and Hinata with this...
Naruto walked in, and sat at his usual place in the front of the class, his arms folded and his face scrunched up into his thinking pout. How could he go about this? He'd been thinking about how best to ask Shikamaru and Hinata if they "remembered" all morning. He hadn't really socialised with either of them in the Academy he "remembered", but Shikamaru had sometimes joined in on the rare occasion he, Kiba and Chouji had gone on a pranking crusade, if only because Chouji had prodded him into action. But those times were still damned rare.
His attention was caught when Shikamaru, sitting in the row above and behind him, dropped a folded square of paper on his desk. He picked it up, unfolded it, and his breath caught when he read the message.
Do you remember?
He grinned fiercely. So, Shikamaru at least. Which meant he had the best analytical thinker of his generation on hand to figure it out, assuming he hadn't already. He turned to face the lazy genius behind him, who had his usual mask of apathy and annoyance on.
Naruto had to make sure. "This from you?" He held up the folded paper, and noticed the spark of recognition in Shikamaru's eyes.
"Yeah. What's your point?" Chouji, next to him, looked confused.
"Yeah. I remember."
"But are we talking about the same memory?"
"I'd still remember it fifteen years from now." Shikamaru twitched. A small tic below the left eye.
He remembered. Same as Naruto. Shikamaru let a small grin creep up on his face.
"You wanna talk about it later?" Naruto nodded, "Then how about the bench you usually use? Chouji'll come too, if that's all right."
"Does he... remember too?"
"He wasn't there," A scowl, "But I trust him." Naruto turned his gaze to Chouji, who looked very lost amidst his friend's doubletalk conversation. He seemed more confused that Shikamaru was speaking to Naruto with something close to respect, like he was an authority figure.
The tubby(though he'd NEVER call him that to his face) boy was a good-natured soul. He was something of an outcast like Naruto due to his weight, and Naruto liked him. Chouji was one of the few who had never displayed any ill-behavior towards him. Chouji, for his part, now found himself on the receiving end of an appraising stare that was wholly alien in Naruto the prankster's eyes. He recognised it as somewhat similar to the gaze that his father used when he first met someone, but he had never been on the receiving end. Chouji shivered. Now he knew why it was so effective. It was like if you tried to hide anything from that stare, you'd fail some sort of test.
Naruto had always, quite loudly, declared that he was going to be the Hokage one day.
After today, after being visually dissected by the eyes which had made that promise, Chouji would never doubt that ambition again. He felt relief when Naruto finally blinked, smiled, and acknowledged that Chouji could come. He didn't know what they were going to be talking about, but after that... uncharacteristically serious look from the normally flighty prankster, he wasn't going to be talking about it to another living soul.
Now that Shikamaru's "memory" was made certain, Naruto's hopeful attention turned to the dark, timid and weird girl at the back of the class. If Shikamaru "remembered", there was a good chance she did too. Hinata.
She looked up, as though in response, and upon noticing his gaze, made a small squeaking noise and immediately looked away, her face faintly red. She was smiling, though, and her fingers weren't pressing together in embarrassment.
She "remembered". He knew she did. She had to!
Please... let her remember...
A sudden commotion at the door drew his attention. Sakura and Ino were entering, and arguing over who it was that would sit next to...
Naruto's eyes went wide. Of course. Sasuke had yet to even activate his two-tomoe Sharingan here and now, let alone the Mangekyou. He probably hadn't even heard of Orochimaru yet. How many times, in his youth, had Naruto wished to return to the Academy? Before the chuunin exams, before Orochimaru, before Sasuke ran off, seeking power for it's own sake. How many times had he wished to return to simpler times, and cherish what little time he had with Sasuke as his all-but-brother?
He turned to where he expected to see him, his usual seat, by the window.
Because there were two seats in that row, and so he only had to endure the presence of one hopeless fangirl.
And there he was, in all his brooding, unassailable self-confidence. Hands held to cover his face, black eyes indicating his permanent scowl directed straight ahead. He was restless. He was here to learn. He was here to become powerful, and demonstrate that power to all who doubted him, who sought to drag him down into mediocrity. He was the last of the Uchiha, and he was the ELITE, even amongst shinobi.
This was Sasuke when his arrogance still outweighed his skill.
This was Sasuke before his eyes were sealed, and he was locked up in ANBU maximum security, chakra suppressing seals strong enough to imprison a bijuu lining the walls.
This was Sasuke before he rejected everything Konoha stood for, in the name of power.
Naruto was gaping, and he supposed it must have been obvious, because it was necessary for Shikamaru to rap him on the head. The look he gave Naruto when he turned around was clear.
Play your part until we figure out what's going on. He then nodded in Sakura's direction. Naruto nodded in affirmation. Right. Kami, this would be painful.
"Ne, Sakura...-chan," That was close. He'd almost missed her honorific, but his academy persona had never done such a thing. It was always -chan. It was depressingly clear to him now, how she came to think of him as a brother. As an annoying pest of a little brother, who then grew into a figure worthy of respect, but still a brother. "Ne, ne, Sakura-chaan!"
"How many times have I told you NOT to call me that!" The requisite punishment delivered, she turned back to Ino, to resume her fight. Except Ino had taken advantage of her distraction and leapt for the seat next to Sasuke. She stuck her tongue out at her pink-haired rival. Naruto shuddered. This was not going to be pleasant for him. "Naruto...! You cost me my seat next to Sasuke-kun!" He gulped. He was certain Shikamaru was enjoying this. He fought to keep the quaver out of his voice as he spoke. His Academy persona didn't know when to shut the hell up, after all.
"Che! Why would you want to sit next to someone like Sasuke-yaro?" WHACK.
"Don't talk about Sasuke-kun with such disrespect, Naruto-baka!"
"Sakura-cha~an! Here, why don't you sit next to me?" WHACK WHACK.
"Don't call me that! And why would I want to sit next to you, IDIOT?" WHACK again, for good measure. She wandered off to take the seat immediately behind Sasuke, glaring daggers at Ino the entire way, just before Iruka and Mizuki walked into the class.
"Right, everyone, settle down!" Naruto did, his grin appearing again at the sight of the first person to acknowledge him. Not even the sight of Mizuki the traitor could change that. "Today, as you know, we've got taijutsu after lunch. First, we're continuing chakra manipulation theory." There was a groan from nearly the entire class. "Tell you what, if I think you've all demonstrated a good hold on the basic theory, we'll start on Henge no jutsu at the end of the week. No?" The class erupted into cheers which quickly subdued as they made sure to catch every last word.
Naruto cracked his stiff neck as he walked outside. Iruka was just as compelling in his subject matter as he remembered, while he'd managed to make it interesting using a combination of honest enthusiasm and incentives. So much so, that, even though Naruto knew everything in the lesson and far more besides, he couldn't help but be drawn in as he had when he was still at the Academy.
He blinked. He WAS still at the Academy. He pinched the bridge of his nose. Getting used to using the correct tense would take a while, at least in his personal thoughts. He broke off from that tangent when he spotted Chouji and Shikamaru sitting at Naruto's usual bench.
"OI! Shikamaru!" Chouji looked slightly less confused than earlier, though if that was because he thought things were about to be explained or if he was just better at hiding it since then... was irrelevant. "So, what did you want to talk about?"
"What do you think, Rokudaime?"
"Um, there are still ANBU following me around at this point, you know."
"So? To them, we're just having a childish conversation, lost in the halls of ambition and fantasy... right, Rokudaime? Though..." He smirked, "The genjutsu I'm using doesn't hurt." Chouji paled at the thought that Naruto was being followed by ANBU. Shikamaru's smirk vanished as he went into strategist mode, lowering his voice. "How much do you remember? Up to what point?"
"Ano... Naruto... Why are there ANBU following you around?"
"To stop people from killing me." Naruto's honest answer probably shocked the rotund boy, but he ignored that as he responded to Shikamaru's question. "I can remember up to the third match, but after that, it's a little fuzzy. I know there was a mist, and someone attacked the box, but..." Shikamaru nodded, placing his hands into the square formation he used to think. "Shikamaru... what happened to us? Are we...?"
"Stop. Say nothing else. We don't want our imaginations to run away with us. Go get Hinata. If she remembers as well, then I'll have a bit more to work with."
"...I don't know. I don't know, and I can't figure it out yet. Now get Hinata." Naruto was not happy with that answer, but he left the two of them there anyway.
"...Shikamaru, what's going on? Why do people want to kill Naruto? What was he...? What attack? Shikamaru, what's going on?" Shikamaru barely moved hs lips when he repsonded.
"Chouji. There are some questions that, legally, only Naruto will be able to answer, but, the rest..." He took a deep breath, composing his thoughts. "Last night, I woke up with memories. Memories that hadn't happened, and that I couldn't possibly have unless something impossible happened. But it has, and I do, and I really hope you appreciate just how serious this situation is, because for once in my life... I don't know what's going on." Chouji looked at his friend of four years. Shikamaru, although he looked lost in concentration, had an all-too-real look of helpless realisation etched across his face. "I don't know..."
Naruto spotted Hinata fairly easily. She was watching him from afar again, partially hidden behind a kunai target. A grin was the only indication that he was happy to see her. Granted, it was a very wide grin...
He ran up to her, and she seemed paralyzed by indecision. Still have to keep up the act... Hinata and I didn't even properly meet until the chuunin exams.
"Oi, you're Hinata, ne?" She nodded, a light flush creeping up her face. "You don't seem like the other girls... how come you're smart?"
"Well, you're not chasing after Sasuke like the others, so I figured that meant you're smarter than Sakura-chan." Her blush accelerated. He leaned in close, and whispered conspiratorially, "So...
"Do you remember?"
When Naruto, her Naruto from fifteen years ago, asked her that, Hinata knew exactly what he meant. It was all she could do to stop herself from flinging her arms around him and shouting that yes! Yes, she remembered everything!
When she had woken in the middle of the night, she'd almost screamed, and was torn between wishing it not to be real, and wishing it was. So much that she didn't want to consider if it was real... so much that could go wrong, that should have gone wrong...
But if it was real, if it was really real, and she was with Naruto, made him happy, made him laugh, and he did the same for her...
But that was last night. She still had a part to play, here, and squeaked out,
"Y-yes! I remember, Naruto-kun!" She was telling the truth, and Naruto knew it. His grin became absolutely blinding. Hinata, his Hinata-hime, the REAL Hinata was here as well.
Perhaps this wouldn't be so bad after all.
"Shikamaru!" Chouji responded, but not Shikamaru. Chouji had some idea of what was going on, and the very concept terrified him.
"He...He's thinking." Naruto ran up with Hinata in tow. Chouji had no idea how she fit into all this. But still... his dad had told him who the Hyuuga were, and how to greet them. He stood and bowed. "Hinata-san." She waved him off, though more confident than the timid girl he thought she was.
"That's not necessary, Chouji-kun. Shikamaru-kun, what have you figured out?" He didn't answer at first.
"Shikamaru. Answer her." Naruto was, once again, uncharacteristically grave. "Shikamaru...!"
"...As near as I can tell, this is not a mass genjutsu, or we would not be able to interact with one another. It is entirely possible that this is a genjutsu that is affecting only one of us, with the responses of the others being manipulated by the caster." He cracked open one eye to affix his fellow memory-holders with a critcal gaze. "Have you attempted to dispel genjutsu since you received the memories?" Both of them nodded. "So have I. Which, while not ruling out genjutsu, certainly makes it less likely." He took a deep breath.
"I assume you've both already considered that we're just going insane?" Naruto nodded sheepishly while Hinata simply looked down. "That is no longer a viable option, unless we consider that an outside influence is actively seeding our respective environments with compounds to induce madness. Which, again, is not a viable option, since if they were, these symptoms would be manifest in others of our age group, or those around us. Chouji is living proof that that is not the case." Naruto looked stricken, and Hinata was just as shocked. They both knew what he was about to suggest now. "So, we must assume that the only remotely viable option left to us is the correct one...
"Somehow, we have received the memories and personalities of ourselves from precisely fifteen years in the future."