"You know, I'm curious how you managed to convince the guards to let you all in." Hiruzen regarded the eclectic bunch before him. Not only the four Konoha genin he'd been receiving so many worrisome reports about, but also three genin from Suna as well. The only team Suna had sent this year, in fact.
Naruto shrugged with a wry grin, "It wasn't as difficult as I was afraid of. I mean, these guys are the Kazekage's kids, you know? All we had to do was insinuate there was some kind of diplomatic problem and they were suddenly way too eager to get us in to see you."
Hiruzen snorted at that shining example of bureaucracy, before frowning at a thought, "This isn't about some kind of diplomatic incident, is it?"
"Not as such." The redheaded boy answered him.
"Which means what, exactly?"
Five of them exchanged looks, while the other two, Chouji and... Kankuro, he'd been introduced as, took a step back.
"Okay," Naruto spoke up, "There's two things we've got to tell you, and they're both pretty unbelievable, so... just be prepared for that, okay?" He finished with an imploring look.
"All right," Hiruzen allowed, though he was moments away from calling his bodyguards. "What do you have to tell me?"
"My father is dead," Gaara declared. "He was assassinated and replaced by the Konoha nukenin Orochimaru in order to force the alliance he sought, to enable his Crush the Leaf plan."
Hiruzen's pipe dropped from his mouth. Rasa was dead? Golden Rasa was dead? Despite that the man had been an ally, there was still a small, treacherous part of Hiruzen that was proud of his wayward student for besting a Kage.
"Told ya it was unbelievable," Naruto quipped grimly.
Hiruzen coughed to cover his shock, and picked up his pipe from where it had fallen on his desk. "It is certainly... Quite the news..." he said warily.
"Nonetheless, it is true," Gaara reaffirmed.
Hizurzen still needed a few moments to process it. Rasa was dead. The Fourth Kazekage was dead. This was not a minor issue. "Who else knows of this?"
"We have told no one outside this room, although I would presume that Orochimaru informed his own immediate subordinates."
"You have not alerted your own village?"
"No. There is the issue of whether or not they would believe us, for a start," he pre-empted the obvious question. "There is also that I am not the most..." he hesitated, "I am not considered the most reliable individual when it comes to my father."
"Then why tell me?" Hiruzen pressed, "Why tell any ninja from Konoha?"
Gaara glanced at Naruto, who shrugged and gave him a lop-sided grin. "We trust them," Gaara turned back to Hiruzen, "And through them, you."
Hiruzen regarded him for a moment. "That is not a statement to make lightly in the world of ninja, young man."
The young man was unflinching. "I am aware."
"Then why do you make it of these four?"
"Ah... that's to do with the other thing, Saru-jii." Naruto cast a glance around the room. "This is even more unbelievable."
"More unbelievable than my old student murdering and impersonating the Kazekage in order to manipulate Suna into helping him invade Konoha?" he asked, relying on a wry tone to mask his uneasiness.
"Yep!" Naruto was having none of it. "Okay, so, you may have been hearing odd stuff about us, and there's a reason for that."
Hiruzen tensed. If Naruto was about to explain even half the... oddities he had been hearing about, this meeting was worth it for that reason alone. It seemed foreign ninja were involved after all... Had he actually been subverted? It seemed too absurd to even consider, but-
"We're from the future."
-that didn't mean it wasn't pos-
Hiruzen blinked. He had enough self-control to avoid saying it out loud, but that didn't stop him from thinking it.
"Yeah," Shikamaru agreed, correctly reading his expression. "It sounds crazy, then you remember that the Sage of Six Paths created the Moon."
"Hell, we're living it, and I still think I'm crazy some days," Naruto confessed sheepishly. Shikamaru's awkward cough quickly cut off when Hinata directed a pleasant smile at him.
"You're from the future…?" The Hokage's dubious tone made it clear what he thought of the idea.
"You don't believe us."
Hiruzen didn't answer Hinata, instead turning a very skeptical look in her direction.
Naruto sighed, "My parents are Uzumaki Kushina and Namikaze Minato. They died when an asshole in an orange mask attacked Konoha and released the Kyuubi, and my dad had to reseal the damn thing in me." He continued listing his knowledge of things he shouldn't know yet, ignoring Hiruzen's face suddenly shifting to shock. "Uchiha Itachi is actually still loyal to Konoha, and murdered his clan on your orders, on the recommendation of Shimura Danzo made with the support of Utatane Koharu and Mitokado Homura- It's fine, they already knew." He added at Hiruzen's intent glance at the Suna ninja in the room.
"Because of the... time travel?" The Hokage sounded less certain than before.
"I know, all right?" Naruto reassured him. "We've all been there. It's insane, but it's really happening."
"Hm. I suppose I shouldn't really be surprised." The old man allowed, "After all, this sort of thing happened to Minato all the time, or so it felt like..."
"Yeah, it-" Naruto started to respond before what Hiruzen had said fully registered. He blinked. "Wait, what?"
"Oh yes," Hiruzen smiled, glad to have turned the tables in the conversation. "Remind me to tell you afterwards about the time he used a Hiraishin seal that he'd apparently written incorrectly."
Naruto winced as the other four time travellers shivered in sympathy.
"Uh... you have any idea what they're talking about?" Kankuro asked Chouji.
"Apparently Naruto's done his own experiments with sealing arts, and the results were, uh… interesting?"
"Interesting in the 'oh, cool,' or 'oh, crap' sense?"
"Probably both," he answered. At Kankuro's incredulous look, he explained, "It's Naruto."
"All due respect, Hokage-sama, but to get back on track..." Shikamaru offered.
"Yes, of course-"
Naruto and Hiruzen started at the same time. Stopped. Looked at each other.
Hinata was the only one who didn't bother hiding her amusement.
"Well," Hiruzen smirked, "I suppose I don't need to ask if you realised your ambition."
"Ah, yeah..." Naruto chuckled sheepishly. "But, there's more we need to talk about. You need to know what's coming and how to avoid it."
"Haven't you just told me...?"
"Orochimaru is after you, specifically. During the tournament phase of the Chuunin Exams, he'll trap you in a barrier with himself and two previous Hokages raised using Edo Tensei." Naruto slipped right back into grim exposition. "He kills you, but not before you do something to his arms that requires him to find Tsunade."
Hiruzen sighed, turning his chair to allow him a view of the window. Despite the mood of the room, it wasn't actually a soulful and atmospheric sunset as one might have expected, although it was late in the day.
"You're certain of this?" he asked in resignation. He knew what the answer would be, but... for the sake of the boy he once knew and trained, it needed to be asked anyway. Call it an old man's sentimentality.
He watched Naruto nod out the corner of his eye. "Yeah. I'm sorry, Saru-jii."
"I see." Hiruzen wasn't really surprised. Disappointed, certainly, but his old stu- but Orochimaru had always resented him for being passed over as his successor in favor of Minato. If he had only had the resolve to strike him down when he first learned of his treachery...
Ah, regret truly is a terrible thing.
But the chance to mitigate it... Another part of him pointed out.
"Thank you." He turned back to face them fully. "All of you. I won't waste this chance, I promise you."
Naruto yawned. He'd been inscribing experimental sealing arrays in preparation for Jiraiya for a while now. He wasn't tired, exactly, but it was tedious work, inscribing what was essentially the same sealing formula dozens of times, with only minor variations for the sake of research.
His promise to Hinata meant he couldn't actually test any of them yet, so for now they were just ink on paper. He still found his mind wandering, despite the need to focus on his work. Mostly he couldn't stop himself dwelling on Kakashi's announcement earlier today.
The Chuunin Exams.
Looking back, it was easy to see how so much had started right there... right here... right then?
He grunted in annoyance. Whatever the subjective noun was, the Chuunin Exams had kicked off a lot of plots the last time around, or so it felt like. Gaara's vindication, or whatever it was, was already taken care of, but Sasuke's marking, Lee almost permanently crippling himself with the Gates, old Sarutobi's death, Tsunade's return... and not to mention the aftermath of Orochimaru's Crush the Leaf plan. Konoha's Jounin had been under-strength for nearly a decade afterwards.
Now that he thought about it, these particular Chuunin Exams were actually pretty important.
Still, that was why he wanted to be in these Exams, but why did Kakashi want him in?
Despite his flaky impression, Kakashi was still a jounin, and a damn good one at that. Coupled with the fact that even Hinata's aloof clansmen had noticed something wrong, and Naruto knew that Kakashi had to at least suspect something. What that was, he wasn't sure. At best, he'd fooled him completely, though even Naruto wasn't optimistic enough to really believe that. At worst, the man thought he was a traitor of some kind.
That being the case, though, why would he then put him forward for the Exams? Why would you give a suspected traitor a chance to advance... Ah. Perhaps that was it. Giving him enough rope to hang himself? Or, indeed, to redeem himself? Since he would be under close scrutiny from Konoha-nin for the exams' duration, it increased the likelihood of being found out, assuming he was up to something… unfriendly.
If that was the plan, then what, exactly, were they expecting him to do? It was important to Naruto for him to figure this out, because if they were being so kind as to provide him enough rope to hang himself, he felt obligated to use it as a skipping rope. It wasn't just Fate's plans he enjoyed messing with, after all.
Even as he mused further on ninja intrigue, he finished inscribing the current array, priming it with a quick charge of chakra, moving to place it with the rest of-
Both he and his thoughts froze. I was supposed to wait.
Warily, he turned his full attention to the primed array in his hand. The primed experimental array that he didn't actually know for certain would do what he was hoping for. Gingerly, he began moving it away from the rest of his prepared experiments.
It… didn't seem to be doing anything. He didn't actually know what the result of any of these arrays was going to be, which was why he was making a lot of variants, but if it wasn't reacting by now, it should be safe until he actually activated it…
As if in response, the ink began to glow dully. He immediately threw it away and dived to cover his other prepared experiments to prevent a possible chain reaction.
There was a brief sound of rushing wind, then nothing. Chancing a look up, he saw that the grass around where the seal had been was reduced to soggy mulch. The seal itself wasn't much better off.
Somewhat disappointing, but at least it wasn't a large, and more importantly, noticeable, explosion. He didn't relish the idea of trying to explain that it had been an accident to his wife, mostly because he tended to have a lot of similar 'accidents' when experimenting, and he suspected she was nearing the end of her patience with what she considered a cavalier attitude to his own well-being.
Ah well. At least now he knew what didn't work. Science marches on, he thought, as he resumed inking more variations for experimentation.
Chouji sat on his family's back porch, a bag of ever-present chips in hand, musing as he ate.
The Chuunin Exams, huh...?
Shikamaru had not been surprised when Asuma-sensei had told them of their nomination. From that, you didn't have to be a tactical genius to figure out that the same thing had probably happened in the other timeline.
Chouji wondered how he'd done in that timeline. He would have liked to think he made a good showing, but the odds of him actually becoming a chuunin that early were... not good. He was a good fighter, sure, and he'd definitely improved as a ninja since this other thing they were involved in got started, but he wasn't a child prodigy or anything like that, and there were going to be teams with a lot more experience or talent - or heck, both, in this exam.
Nah, if he had to rate his chances for last time, he'd probably have got about halfway, with Shikamaru's help, before his own inexperience or lack of skill got him disqualified or whatever.
"Coming, mom!" He sat up, crushing the empty bag. Well, whatever. He'd ask Shikamaru after the exams were over. So long as he did better than that other him, he was happy with that.
So long as he was strong enough to protect his friends, he was happy with that.
"All right, Akamaru!" Kiba directed, "One more time! We can do this!"
Akamaru barked agreement, his fur still barely red.
The two of them had been training for hours, their efforts to improve their combat stamina a long term project from that first team exercise a while back. The first step had been to stick to a limit on their use of soldier pills. Powering through the fatigue, instead of simply popping another pill where possible. While they'd managed to increase the amount of activity they got out of a single pill, they were still going through the same number as before, and Kiba was starting to resent his dependence on them. All the more so now he knew his team was nominated for the Chuunin Exams.
"Juujin Bunshin!" he called, Akamaru taking on a more human form.
Hell yeah, the Chuunin Exams! That was the way to the big leagues, right there! Bigger than genin, anyways.
"Ga… Gatsuuga!" The fatigue was certainly taking its toll, even as the pair of them bored through another boulder in the training ground.
This was a big deal, damn it. Putting them forward right out of the Academy? That was a lot of faith in them out of Kurenai-sensei, and they needed to live up to it. He needed to live up to it, especially after Hinata'd taken him and Shino apart like that. He needed to prove he could keep up with Shino's quiet efficiency, and Hinata's deceptively terrifying drive.
Especially without soldier pills, he thought as he lay panting on the ground with Akamaru. It was sundown already. Time to take himself and his empty bag of pills home. Just in case, he checked the bag with a finger, making sure it was empty. Another failure of a da-
...There was one pill left. He'd outlasted his self-imposed ration. Kiba grinned fiercely and began laughing. Progress at last!
"We did it, Akamaru!" His partner yipped weakly in exhausted celebration, letting Kiba scoop him up and start the walk home, triumph giving him new strength. He would keep up with them both.
At the sound of his name, he looked up from tending to the specialised hives.
"Father," he acknowledged.
"Yuuhi-san has nominated you for the chuunin exams."
Shino nodded, "Yes."
"What do you think of your chances?"
"I think I shall perform to the best of my ability. Whether or not that is sufficient to progress is not my decision to make, only that I aspire to that goal." He nodded to himself, "I suspect it will not be enough, however. Why? Because I am only a fresh genin. Most likely Kurenai-sensei has an ulterior motive for our nomination."
Shibi made a sound of concurrence. "You believe it is related to your peers being nominated."
"Yes. She has proven a good teacher thus far, but as a new jounin, it is not unreasonable to think that Kurenai-sensei feels pressured to establish herself against her peers. If only one of our graduating teams had been put forward, that would likely not be enough, but for Team Eight to be the only such team not participating would result in uncomplimentary gossip, which would in turn be exacerbated by Kurenai-sensei's relative inexperience."
"I see. That is not an unreasonable assumption," Shibi allowed. "Why? Because I experienced such doubt myself when I was a new jounin."
"An irritating paradox. It is doubt that paralyses us with inaction, yet we could not acknowledge and correct our mistakes without it."
They shared a moment of agreement, and Shino turned back to the hives with that topic of conversation ended.
"You are engineering new strains?" Shibi observed.
"Not quite. I am attempting to improve metabolic efficiency in the metal-eaters."
"Do you require assistance?"
"Most likely. However, I would prefer to explore this problem myself."
Shibi said nothing, for there was no need to. Dealing with it himself would be the best way for Shino to learn, and it was a minor problem for him to practice with. They both knew that, and consequently neither needed to say it. The vocalisation would be time and effort better spent on other matters.
He turned to leave, but before he did so, gripped Shino's shoulder.
By that same logic, neither did Shibi need to say aloud that he was proud of his son.
Naruto dropped back on his ass, panting hard. Lee was getting a lot more enthusiastic in their morning training. He mentioned it to Lee, who looked up in surprise from his cooldown stretch.
"Am I really?" he asked. "Now that you mention it, Naruto-kun, I do feel like I have more energy recently. Oh!" He turned to his teacher, "Gai-sensei! Perhaps this is due to an increase in my Youthful Passion?!"
"Of course, Lee!" Gai confirmed with a thumbs up for his student. "However, even with as hot as your Youth normally burns, I suspect that those flames have been recently fed by passionate excitement, and fanned by youthful anticipation! Certainly, I have noticed this increase in your energy ever since I informed you of your nomination for the Chuunin Exams!"
"I see!" Lee whooped in excitement, "So this increase in passion is because of my excitement over the Chuunin Exams!" He nodded to himself. "Indeed, Gai-sensei! I must admit that it has been on my mind recently! At last... At last...!" He began weeping passionate tears. "At long last, I have the opportunity to prove to Neji-kun the strength of a genius of hard work! Gai-sensei!"
"Lee!" Gai began weeping himself, his most youthful student's enthusiastic passion being contagious.
Fortunately, the Kyuubi's inimical presence meant Naruto was all but immune to contagion. "So you guys are in the Exams, too, huh? Nice. I'm actually looking forward to it a bit more, t-" Lee was suddenly inches from his face. "Close! Way too close!" he cried out as he instinctively leapt away from the intrusion into his personal space.
"Naruto-kun!" Lee exclaimed, thankfully not following him. "Could... Could this mean that Kakashi-sensei also nominated yourself for these Chuunin Exams?!"
Naruto just nodded uneasily.
"This... This is truly a magnificent development!" Lee bellowed with his usual enthusiasm, "Not only Neji-kun, but to also face yourself, Naruto-kun, and also Uchiha Sasuke-kun!" He didn't notice Naruto's wary expression turn intent. "This is indeed my great Springtime of Youth, to face such opponents in the same exam-!"
"Lee." Naruto cut him off. "You said you wanted to face Sasuke, right? Why is that, exactly?"
"Why...?" Lee repeated, before picking up steam again, "Of course, it is because he is hailed as your year's number one rookie! It is my most fervent goal to face against natural geniuses like Neji-kun and Sasuke-kun! Not just to test myself, but also to prove that a genius of hard work can always prevail over untempered natural genius!"
"Untempered, is it...?" Naruto mused with a small scowl. "Oi, Lee, how much do you actually know about him, anyway?" At Lee's confused sound, he continued, "Yeah, Sasuke's got some natural talent..." He grimaced at the admission, "But he's pretty driven, too. I only recently found out why that is, but, well, he's got someone he absolutely has to defeat, as well." A quick glance at Gai showed that he knew what Naruto was talking about. As for Lee, he had a look of slowly dawning comprehension.
"Then... What you're saying is..." He tried slowly, "Sasuke-kun is both a natural genius and a genius of hard work!" he finished, his usual enthusiasm back in full force.
"Uh... I guess? I was just trying to poin-"
"Gai-sensei! This is fantastic! How skilled must such a person be?!" He whooped with joy, "I am even more excited than ever to face him!"
"I must confess to my own excitement as well!" Gai gleefully announced. "If even young Sasuke has such a drive, such a passion, despite being a natural genius like my own Eternal Rival-!"
"I understand, Gai-sensei! It means that even Kakashi-sensei might possess that same potential to overcome his own hip and cool nature, and embrace the passion of the Springtime of Youth!"
"Exactly right! Bravo, Lee!" Gai confirmed with a tearful thumbs up. "You truly understand the passionate glory of youth!"
Why do I suddenly feel the need to apologise to Kakashi-sensei? Naruto wondered, watching the sunset unfold with a forced smile.
This was it, Naruto thought on the day. This was the foundation for so much to come, or it felt like it. Events likely wouldn't play out the same this time. Or so he hoped. Even if Haku's survival wasn't a butterfly by itself, he was going to make sure there were some damn big ones by his own actions.
The first test wasn't going to be too much trouble, either, given he already knew the secret question. Even if it had somehow been changed by butterflies, he was still confident in his chances, and in the chances of his friends. That still didn't mean he enjoyed the idea of just sitting in a room for forty-five minutes. He'd taken steps to have some fun with this test, but it was still going to be boring. He wondered if anyone would notice what he had planned.
Eh, it didn't matter. He was still going to do it, since It was one of the only ways he could make this first part at all interesting.
Sakura and Sasuke were waiting up ahead, just outside the building for the first part of the exams. Despite the gravity of what was to come, he couldn't help a triumphant grin.
Time to rewrite history.
Ino was supposed to have a bit along with everyone else. Originally planned, she did.
However. I could not think of anything to write. NADA! ZIP! NOTHING! WHY, INO, WHY ARE YOU SO HARD TO WRITE FOR?!
Ah, Hiruzen... In the original draft of this chapter, Hiruzen couldn't resist a glorious death and resolved to die and take Orochimaru with him. That's not the case anymore. I'm actually quite glad I changed it, because I don't think it fit with his character.
As for everyone else, hopefully I did their characters justice, especially when depicting the raging hot-blooded passion of the Aburame clan! Though Kiba's bit took me by surprise. It was supposed to be him being all immaturely excited about the Chuunin Exams, then I actually started writing it and suddenly he's got a self-imposed complex over his reliance on soldier pills. I dunno, what do you guys think of it?
On a serious note, while my beta was reviewing this chapter, we stumbled upon the idea that the Aburame (or Shino and Shibi, at any rate) might be autistic - it fits with their observed behaviour patterns in canon. Again, thoughts?
Less serious note: Chuunin Exams are here! yey! I've got a plan in mind for Naruto to use in the first part that I'm relatively certain no-one's used before, so watch out for that! :D
Hm? Oh, right, you guys want another Omake.
Omake: Enunciation is important (Non-canon, Konoha-That-Is)
"I know it's bad," Chouji clarified, "and I know it's something to do with this... Akatsuki? Yeah, them."
With those words, a hidden presence, one that had been listening only idly, came to sudden and rapt attention.
The presence, the vile creature solely inimical to all other life, immediately quashed the panic it felt at hearing those words, forcing itself to remain calm and calculating. There was only one solution.
They must be silenced.
And yet, its ire was forestalled momentarily. From the conversation, they yet believed they still had time. That was good. It meant the creature did not have to act rashly - for the fools had less time than they believed, especially now that the creature knew there were those who were aware of its plans.
It slinked away, unnoticed. Its power was growing, and the rate was accelerating. It was wise to choose this place whenever it escaped its prison, however briefly. Even now, over a decade later, the residual power of the Kyuubi still lay thick on this place. It had accumulated more power in the last twelve years than it had in the previous century!
Soon... soon it would be strong enough to escape permanently, and it would never again endure such humiliation! Soon, it would break free, and none would be spared its wrath!
The earth, the heavens! The living, the dead! ALL WILL BOW BEFORE-
No! Agents of its foul and hated gaoler! They had found it! No! Not yet! Just a little longer!
"Target retrieved..." the chuunin reported warily, holding the hissing and spitting animal at arm's length. She remembered this thing from her days as a genin, and she still had the scars on her lower arms to prove it.
"Good work, Rie. Stay where you are, we'll rendezvous with the carrier for it." Her team leader came back on the radio.
"Aye, sir," She sighed in resignation. Two to five minutes alone with Tora-chan. Yay. "Honestly, why do you keep running from that old hag, anyway?" she asked the still livid feline, blissfully ignorant of its previous soliloquy.
"Rie." Her team leader's amused voice made her jump. "Please don't insult the Daimyo's wife on an open channel." She flushed with mild embarrassment.
Soon... The profane existence known as Tora-chan consoled itself. Soon, it would be forever free of that accursed hag, and those who knew the true threat of 'a cat's ki' would be the first to die.
ALL SHALL KNEEL BEFORE TORA-CHAN, DESTROYER OF WORLDS
This pun appeared over skype, and my brain ran with it. This is the result.