A/N: This is out of character for me. I normally try to go only with the relatively imaginative and steer clear of clichés, but I love these things. I don't even know why. Why do I enjoy watching Naruto and the rest going back in time to fix things? But I do.

So, I asked myself, how can I write one of these without it being a TOTAL cliché? Answer: Do something with it that no one else has tried. I haven't seen this before, so I ran with it. I asked myself, what's time travel like?

I answered, like walking backwards on a tightrope.

And then I realized that walking backwards on a tightrope is, in fact, something every tightrope walker does – without being aware of the other tightrope walkers.

I know I should be working on my other stuff, but this wouldn't go away. Gotta hunt the plot bunny, y'know? So I'll start this and see what happens. Enjoy.

Disclaimer: I'm only putting this once. I own nothing but whatever you don't recognize as being copyrighted. That means I own tidbits of the concept and of the plot.

And now…

Walking Backwards on a Tightrope


Unfortunately Common Circus Tricks

Prologue: Off of the Platform

The young man stood among the ruins. He was alone – a fact which was agonizing. All around him were the shells of old buildings and the bodies of friends and enemies. All dead.

The kunai he still held clutched in his hand finally clattered to the debris-coated ground as he sank to his knees. His blue eyes were wide and unseeing, his face perfectly blank. Slowly, a tear trickled from the left eye and rolled down his cheek, dropping off of his chin, but it was not followed. The pure truth hadn't yet sunk in.

Kit… his unseen companion whispered in his mind, his deep voice soft with worry.

The young man made no reply. He simply stared at nothing. He had only just awakened from unconsciousness after having been struck in the battle. And this sight was what greeted him.

"Damn it…" he murmured without inflection. The words rang hollow, unable to express the emotions that were even now just beginning to blossom in his heart. They were all dead – dead, captured, enslaved, or enemies.

To avoid thinking emotionally, he began to blankly list names in his mind, carefully not attaching any meaning to the syllables. Ino, Chouji, Tenten, Lee, Gai, Neji, Kiba, Kakashi, Jiraiya, Tsunade, Shizune, Asuma, Kurenai, Konohamaru, Udon, and Sai… dead. Moegi, Temari, Kankuro, and Sakura… enslaved with jutsu. Shino, Gaara, and Shikamaru… captured and held captive. Sasuke… an enemy – undeniably so. And Hinata…

Hinata… dead.

At last a scream tore free of his lips. He cried out, pouring into the shout all of his rage, his sorrow, his fear, his loss, and his desire for vengeance. More tears began to leak from behind closed lids as his azure eyes let loose their load of emotional turmoil.

His former unwanted tenant and now closest remaining friend waited for a time as he broke loose with his emotions and then spoke as he lay spent on the ruined ground. Well, if this isn't screwed up, I don't know what is.

The young man almost smiled. Almost. "No kidding," he muttered in a hoarse voice – his throat hurt from his screams.

Well, at least there are a few to rescue, said the other, trying to cheer him up.

It didn't work particularly well. "I'll try," said the blue-eyed blond dully. "I don't have much of a chance of success, but I don't have anything else to lose, now do I?"

This isn't like you, Naruto, said Kurama softly. What happened to the boy who never gave up while he still had one thing to fight for?

"He's dead," muttered Naruto in anguish. "He'll be buried alongside Hinata. I can see the gravestone now: Hyuuga Hinata, Born: Year 254 Shinobi Era; Died: Year 271 Shinobi Era – or rather Year 1 Madara Era."

I doubt that, Kit, murmured the Kyuubi. Evil never lasts. I doubt Madara's empire will outlive him – and however long he endures, he won't survive an age of the world. It is still year 271 of the— Suddenly he broke off as though a thought had occurred to him.

Naruto, feeling his sudden excitement, blinked. "What?" he asked. "What is it?"

Year 271… mumbled Kurama, and it's only April…

"What?" Naruto asked. "What is it?"

Kurama didn't reply immediately. He seemed deep in thought, and his mounting excitement and glee shocked the blond. Naruto… he began slowly. What if I could give you a way to… to go back? Prevent all of this from ever having happened?

Naruto's blue eyes widened. "Time travel…" he whispered. "Is that possible? Is there a jutsu for it?"

In the darkness of its cage in Naruto's mind, the Kyuubi grinned. Yes, it said simply.

"How?" Naruto asked in his mind, shifting to the instantaneous means of internal conversation he and Kurama shared.

The Nine-Tailed Fox closed his eyes, recalling ancient memories. Every three hundred years, the five stars of Chizu, Suizu, Kazu, Fuuzu, and Kuuzu come into alignment in a perfect regular pentagon with the North Star equidistant from each one. Upon the night of this alignment, which will be on May seventeenth, there is a ritual which may be performed which will transport the user back in time exactly five years. Their soul is placed within the body they bore at that time, or if no such body exists, then one is created with the age of the mind travelling. This will place you just before your Genin exams, back in the academy. You will not yet have lost any of your friends – only your parents.

"And if we fail, we just wait five years and do it again!" laughed Naruto, a glorious lightness seeming to come into his chest at the thoughts occurring to him. A second chance – something almost no one ever got. And he was the lucky one.

Ah… no, said the Kyuubi quickly. We'll only get one attempt. The Five Sacred Stars, as they are called, will follow the user of the jutsu to the past. Otherwise the world would be in an eternal five-year loop as first one and then another being went back in time. No, we can only try once, and if it becomes even worse that time, it's on no one's heads but ours.

"Worse?" laughed Naruto mirthlessly. "How could it be worse?"

They could all be dead, said Kurama flatly. And there are other, worse alternatives, I am sure, that are beyond the scope of even my imagination. Do not underrate the risks. All of your enemies will be back and ready to fight you, and though your spiritual energy – your Yin chakra – will remain great, your physical Yang chakra will be back to that which you bore as an immature preteen. Are you still willing to assay this?

Naruto's face was completely composed as he answered, "Do you even need to ask? How do we do the ritual?"

It will be painful, said the Kyuubi. You will have to collect many ingredients of odd kinds, and finally the ritual itself is frankly agonizing.

"Then let's get started," Naruto said aloud, opening his blue eyes, which were blazing with renewed purpose. Lee would have been proud, in that moment, of the 'flames of his youth'. But Lee was dead. And soon, Naruto swore to himself, he won't be.

Sasuke sat brooding on a small rock in the forests outside of what was left of Konoha – not that there was much left of Konoha. Tied to a tree near him was Gaara, barely conscious. Beside the chained Kazekage stood Sakura, and though she stood erect the lack of pupils in her eyes and the oddly stiff way she held herself showed that she was likely less conscious than Gaara.

Sasuke looked at the two of them for a moment, and then looked away again, staring into space. He was waiting for Madara to arrive to pick him, his captive, and his new thrall up in some fast-travel jutsu.

"I expect you're quite happy," said Gaara suddenly.

Sasuke didn't move. Gaara was surprisingly resilient – most people would have been in a stupor for hours more. Damnable former jinchuuriki.

"After all, you've finally succeeded at your goal," said the young Kazakage. "Konoha is destroyed. That's what you wanted, isn't it? Although, I do wonder how you're going to explain Naruto's death to Madara. He won't be happy that he has to wait ages for the Kyuubi to reform, I expect."

"Naruto's not dead," said Sasuke shortly, still not looking at Gaara. "If I was able to kill that fool, I'd have done it ages ago."

"You wouldn't," said the redhead softly. "You do have that strength, Uchiha. Don't fool yourself."

Sasuke rolled his eyes. "I can't kill him," he said simply. "I've tried time and again."

"You can," insisted Gaara, "But you won't. You may have buried your heart, Uchiha, but he's carrying a new one for you. You can feel it, can't you? You can kill anyone, but you won't kill him, because you care about him."

"Sakura," said Sasuke without inflection, "gag him."

Sakura obeyed instantly, leaving Sasuke to wish she hadn't. Now, instead of listening to someone telling him the truth, he had to listen to his own mind, echoing it back at him.

He sighed. "Sakura, take off his gag."

Again, the girl obeyed instantly. Gaara didn't start speaking right away, so Sasuke opened the conversation. "What do you want from me?"

"Me?" Gaara asked in surprise. "Nothing, really. Not from you. From Akatsuki, I'd like my freedom and my siblings and the lives of my comrades and subordinates that have died, but those I don't want from you, in particular."

"Then why are you trying to play on the strings of a heart that doesn't exist anymore?" asked Sasuke softly.

"I'm not," said Gaara, matching his tone, "because I don't need to."

The Kazekage fell silent. Then, after a time, he spoke again. "Are you happy?"

"No," said Sasuke honestly.

"What would make you happy?" the other boy asked.

Sasuke didn't answer, because he didn't know.

"Try, 'feeling regret for what you've done, and then having no regrets,'" said the Sand-nin. "I did, just after the Chuunin Exams – do you remember them? It worked."

Sasuke's face didn't change, but his eyes seemed saddened. "That…" he murmured, "might have been nice."

"Meaning?" asked Gaara.

Sasuke turned a glare on him, offset by the Eternal Mangekyo Sharingan. "Meaning," he growled, "that I am, by this point, beyond the place where I can just… regret what I've done. It's too late for that – it has been for months."

"Then go back," said Gaara softly.

"What?" Sasuke asked, his eyes narrowing.

"If, Sasuke Uchiha," Gaara murmured, "There was a jutsu to go back in time to just before your Genin exam, taking with you your Eternal Mangekyo and all of your Yin chakra but going back to the body you bore at that time, would you use it?"

Sasuke blinked. "What?"

"Would you?" Gaara seemed somehow intense – utterly focused on this one point.

"…Yes," Sasuke muttered, looking away. "Now stop giving me pointless questions."

"Why?" asked Gaara, ignoring him. "Would you follow the same path of hatred, Uchiha? Or would you forge your own ideal?"

"I…" Sasuke hated himself for not knowing. The answer should have been clear, whether one way or the other, but it wasn't. "I don't know. Enough with the hypothetical. Sakura, gag him."

"It's not hypothetical!" cried Gaara as Sasuke's enslaved former teammate gagged him. "The jutsu—mmph!"

"Take off the gag," said Sasuke, standing suddenly and staring at Gaara. As the gag came off, he came towards the Kazekage and grasped his collar. "This jutsu exists?"

"Yes," said Gaara. "Shukaku knows it. You can talk to him – you're the one Madara wants to synchronize with the Demonic Statue, aren't you?"

"You're certain?" Sasuke said, pushing killer intent into the words.


"Then I'm learning it."

Naruto grimaced in distaste as he began to smear the emblems on the ground in his blood as Kurama instructed. "This is too much like that bastard Hidan's techniques," he muttered.

You must show your devotion to the aim of leaving this world and body, replied the Fox. At the end of this ritual, this body will be dead.

"I don't like that," said Naruto dully, but he continued without question. He trusted Kurama with a trust forged in war, and that trust wouldn't break over this.

He scattered the various odd minerals and plants in their assigned positions. This really was a very complicated ritual – he'd had to collect five kinds of salt; ten different rare berries; branches from two different trees, both of which couldn't be found in the Land of Fire; and an old sword. The sword was an odd one. It wasn't an artifact of some kind, just a sword that was a few years old and fairly rusty. Naruto honestly didn't know why he couldn't just use one of his kunai for whatever it was, but what Kurama said went.

At the end of everything, he lay in the center of the emblem – a five-pointed star in a pentagon – and, under Kurama's instruction, took up the rusty blade.

Now the hard part, said the Kyuubi. You must impale yourself, striking the heart.

Naruto clenched his teeth. "Never expected to be doing this to myself," he muttered, holding the sword over himself. "Are you certain it's ready?"

Touch the sword to your skin and see for yourself, said Kurama.

The blade came into faint contact with the blond's chest, and instantly the emblem of blood on the ground lit up and glowed an ethereal blue color.

It's ready, said Kurama.

Without replying or hesitating another moment, Naruto thrust downward. There was an instant of agonizing pain…

…And then there was nothing.

Sasuke crept along the ceiling, moving more quickly and quietly than a civilian would have thought possible. It was time. Almost a month ago now he'd spoken with Shukaku, and the Racoon had told him the ways of the time-travel jutsu – the Ritual of the Left Hand of Twilight – and now it was time to put that knowledge into use. First things first, spring Gaara.

The Kazekage had practically begged on his knees to be taken with, and Sasuke, not seeing any good reason to refuse, had agreed. Together they had already set up the ritual, but Sasuke hadn't managed to get permission to take the prisoner for a walk on this night, so they had to do a jailbreak operation. Ironic, considering it was Sasuke who captured him in the first place.

Sasuke swore as he reached Gaara's cell. What were the odds? The guard was Suigetsu. Sasuke would try to diffuse this – pulling rank to get the former Mist-nin to allow Gaara out, but if necessary, then Sasuke's former teammate would die. After all, given the circumstances, it would only be temporary.

As Sasuke leapt down to the ground, he opened his mouth to speak, but before he even made a sound, Suigetsu handed him the keys. Sasuke blinked. "What…?"

"Just do me a favor," Suigetsu interrupted him with a slight grin. "Free me a little earlier this time."

Sasuke looked at Gaara, who was lying in bed in his cage, looking over at them. The Kazekage smirked at him slightly. Sasuke shrugged and nodded at Suigetsu, who stood away from the door, allowing Sasuke to open it. He did, and Gaara sat up, swung his legs off of the slab that served as a bed, and stood.

"Come on," Sasuke told the redhead. Gaara stepped out of the small cell and nodded at him.

"Let's go," said the Sand-nin. Sasuke made to turn away, but Suigetsu stopped him.

"One more thing," said the would-be member of the Seven Swordsmen. "You've got your revenge now, Sasuke, and having been here through all this, I'm tired. You are too – I can see it in your eyes. Sasuke… don't do it again. Not the same way."

"I'll make my own mind," grunted the Uchiha. "And I'll do it there."

Suigetsu looked at him for a long moment and then nodded. "All right," he said, clapping his team leader on the shoulder. "Good luck."

Sasuke just grunted in reply. Turning, he led Gaara away.

They soon got out of the Akatsuki base and made for the glade where they had readied the ritual. It was dusk when they reached it. It was just as they'd left it, thankfully.

Sasuke nodded to Gaara and lay upon his pentagonal emblem. Gaara took position on his. As one, they took up the old blades beside them.

"Damn you, Uchiha Sasuke!" screamed Madara's voice, and at that instant the Akatsuki's leader stepped into the clearing. "I will not allow this!" he cried. "I have done too much since then!"

There was no time to hesitate. As one, Gaara and Sasuke plunged the swords into their chest. The twin rituals exploded into light, blinding Madara.

When the light cleared, there was nothing but formless void where the world had been – it was gone, replaced by the past. The future was without form, like clay; and those who knew the arts could now once again shift its shape as though it were on a potter's wheel.

It was time to try again.

A/N: So? Good? I hope so. I hope, if you like this, you'll check out my other stories! The more readers I have, the more I write, which means two things: 1. You get more updates, and 2. I get better at writing so you get better updates.

Also, please review! Nothing I like better than a good, meaty review with CC and advice! Thanks, and farewell!