A Lifetime of Chances
Ino groaned as she walked down the road. Her feet were killing her, her hair was a mess, and she just wanted to lie down and pass out. She knew that everyone else in the group felt the same.
They had just finished a grueling mission that they were completely unprepared for. It was supposed to be a simple C-class assignment; escort a drunken bridge builder home. It quickly spiraled out of control when trained assassins ambushed team 10 and very nearly killed all of them. It was only thanks to Shikamaru's quick thinking that allowed them to trap the Mist ninjas.
After learning the truth from the prisoners and their client, Asuma decided to continue the mission, but also call in for backup. Two days later, Team 8 and Team Gai arrived. Team 8's tracking and reconnaissance abilities would protect against future attacks and Team Gai's extra experience would provide the muscle in a fight.
With three teams, they were far better equipped to take on the Demon of the Mist and his strange ice apprentice, though the two still managed to slip away after the initial encounter. The following days were spent either watching the bridge or training, waiting for the rogue ninja's return.
Ino didn't like Team Gai at all. The sensei and his clone, Rock Lee, were exuberant to the point of insanity. The constant yelling and hugging had quickly frayed the Yamanaka's nerves. Neji Hyuuga was annoyingly pompous and seemed to have something against Hinata; Ino caught him glaring at the Heiress more than once. Though what the meek girl could have done to offend him was beyond Ino. The last member, Tenten, was nice enough, but seemed offended whenever Ino complained about what the moisture was doing to her hair.
Still, despite their…quirks, Ino had to admit that Team Gai knew what they were doing. While the Jonin focused on Zabuza, Team Gai quickly took charge and they were essential in taking down Zabuza's apprentice. Ino didn't want to think about what would have happened if Team 10 had fought the ice maiden alone. With the apprentice finished and the sensei's taking down Zabuza, it seemed that the mission was pretty much over.
Then Gato arrived.
With a small army of mercenaries in tow, Gato intended to walk across the bridge and raid the town for all it was worth. The Leaf Shinobi were the first, last, and only line of defense between them and the town. So the killing began. While the mercenaries were numerous, they were little more than thugs. To the trained ninja, even mere rookies, they stood no chance. Ino had never killed before, and she doubted anyone outside of the Jonin and possibly Team Gai had either. On that bridge she personally ended the life of five different men and watched numerous others die as well. Horrible people who intended to pillage and plunder, but human beings nonetheless.
Once Gato's army was wiped out, the greedy little coward quickly surrendered. Without his interference, the Bridge was quickly constructed and the mission ended.
That's where Ino currently found herself, trudging along the dirt road home, the deaths she caused weighing heavily on her mind. Ino wasn't stupid. Having come from a ninja clan, she knew that she would have to kill eventually. Her father had sat her down numerous times during the academy to explain just what kind of life she was committing to. Despite that, no amount of talking can properly prepare someone for the real deal.
Ino wanted to kick and scream. She wanted to curl up in a ball and cry. She wanted to just make horrible feeling in her stomach go away. Ino was pulled out of her inner turmoil by Asuma.
"It's already getting dark out; we might as well set up camp here."
Everyone began to pull out his or her camping necessities when Tenten spoke up. "Hey, what's that?" Everyone followed her gaze to see lights coming out of the tree line. Wordlessly, Neji activated his Byakugan to get a better look.
"It's an inn." He said after a moment. "A pretty big one at that. It's well lit, has lots of space, and looks brand new."
"You know, I've heard of a new inn around this area. I can't recall the name, but it's supposed to be a wonderful place to stay." Kurenai chimed in.
Ino's voice came out as a whisper. "Do…do you think we could stay there?" All eyes focused on her, causing the young mind walker to blush and focus on her bag. Asuma, Kurenai, and Gai were all shooting glances at each other, silently weighing the pros and cons. Most of the children in front of them had just recently experienced their first kill, a harsh moment for any ninja. The sensei decided that their students deserved some comfort tonight.
"Of course we can." Asuma said with a warm smile. Ino gave a weak one in return and began to gather up her things, with the others quickly joining her.
They worked their way through the trees to find a cobblestone path lit with small stone lanterns on either side. Following it, the Shinobi soon came upon the inn. It was a three-story building, made almost entirely out of wood. The surrounding trees formed a curved wall around the inn, leaving only one way in through the front path. The Leaf ninja entered through the sliding front door into the main floor.
The main floor was open and bright with a large staircase leading to the upper floors in the back and a fountain depicting a stone cherry blossom tree draining water onto a sleeping fox in the center of the area. The entire floor was wooden, save for the entrance area, which was stone for easy cleaning.
"Hello, and welcome to the Fox Blossom Inn. Will all of you be staying?"
Ino turned to her left; sitting behind a wooden receptionist desk was…
"Sakura?" Ino couldn't believe it. The woman sitting behind the desk appeared to be in her late twenties. She was dressed in an elegant red kimono with golden highlights. Her bright pink hair was done up in a bun with two ornate chopsticks stuck through it. To top it off, she was wearing a pair of black glasses with a jade ornament dangling from the left side. Despite all this, Ino knew she was staring at her former best friend.
Ino hadn't seen Sakura since the team placements. Ino had stewed with rage when she learned that Sakura was going to be on the same team as Sasuke, only to later find out that Team 7 failed their Jonin's exam. Upon learning this, Ino immediately went to Sakura's house. Whether Ino did this to rub it in, yell at her for getting Sasuke failed, or comfort her former friend; Ino wasn't entirely sure. When she got there however, Ino learned from Sayuri Haruno that Sakura had left home a week ago and no one had seen her since, likewise for Naruto and Sasuke. When Ino talked to her father about it, Inoichi brought it up to the Hokage at a council meeting.
Apparently, all three of them decided to give up being ninja and wanted to search for other career options outside the village, but still within Fire Country. The Hokage allowed this as long as they sent in regular reports regarding their progress.
That had been nearly three months ago. Now Ino was staring at what could only be described as an adult Sakura. Shikamaru put his hand on Ino's shoulder. "Come on, Ino. This can't be-"
The woman suddenly interrupted. "Well hello, Ino. Sorry, I didn't see you at first. Wow, three entire teams of leaf ninja. Welcome." While Team Gai just seemed confused, Teams 10 and 8 were staring in shock.
"Is that really you Sakura?" Ino asked. Older Sakura gave the blonde a warm smile.
"Yes, it's me. How have you been?"
"How have I been? Here's a better question; where have you been?"
Sakura looked thoughtful for a moment before responding. "Well, after Naruto, Sasuke, and I failed Kakashi's test, the three of us sat down and decided that being ninja just wasn't for us. Instead, we decided to look for other pursuits. We found this rundown old place and bought it for a real bargain. Then we renovated and opened for business. We're actually making quite a bit."
"How could you afford to buy and renovate this place?" Kurenai asked.
Sakura shrugged. "The Uchiha clan funds really helped."
Asuma was horrified. "You've been stealing from one of the Leaf's founding clans?" He demanded. Sakura rolled her eyes.
"Of course not. Sasuke agreed to pay for the inn and renovations. He gets the majority of the money for working here anyway."
Ino's mind suddenly latched onto what Sakura was saying. "Wait a minute! You've been here alone with Sasuke for over three months?" The blonde's trauma was forgotten as she found herself in familiar territory, arguing with Sakura about Sasuke.
"Not exactly. Naruto is here too and we have a few new employees running about."
Ino was about to retort when Shino spoke. "If you're really Sakura, then why do you look like an adult?" Hinata and Neji both nodded
"It's not an illusion, my Byakugan can't see through it."
Sakura perked up. "Oh! This isn't any illusion, it's a Shape Shift."
Kurenai interjected. "That's not possible. The Transformation technique can make you look like another person, but it can't actually change you. Physically altering your own shape is impossible."
Sakura chuckled to herself before answering. "Kurenai, we live in a world where people can walk on water, see through walls, read minds, and even bend the very elements to their whim. I assure you, there's no such thing as impossible. I'm rather fond of a certain saying, 'Impossible is just another way of saying you haven't tried hard enough yet.'"
Kurenai wasn't sure what to say to that, so Asuma took over. "Even if you managed to develop a real shape shift, you're violating the law by using jutsu as a civilian."
Sakura clicked her tongue and adopted a lecturing pose. "First, I didn't create this technique, Naruto did. Second, normally you'd be right, but according to the village charter, any and all members of the Uchiha clan are allowed to learn and perform jutsu, regardless of civilian status."
Shikamaru's world-class brain quickly put the pieces together. "Are you saying that Sasuke-"
Sakura cut him off. "Inducted Naruto and I into the Uchiha clan? Yes. As honorary members of the clan; all three of us can use as much jutsu as we want." Sakura glanced down at her watch. "Now that that's out of the way, are you all going to be staying here?"
"Yes." Asuma said, quickly cutting off his blonde student from asking more questions. "How much is it per room?"
Sakura waved her hand dismissively. "Please, for Shinobi of the Leaf village like yourselves? It's on the house." Sakura snapped her fingers. A small vent above her head popped open and three small forms dropped out. The assembled ninja were surprised to find themselves staring at six-year-old versions of Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura. All three were dressed in plain, slightly dirty clothes, most likely from crawling around in the ventilation system.
Sakura ignored the confused looks of Leaf ninja and focused on the three she had called. "Saku, please escort these guests to the luxury suites. Naru, Sasu, I need you two to find Mr. Uzumaki and Mr. Uchiha and inform them that we have Teams Eight, Ten, and Gai staying with us."
The tiny doppelgangers saluted. "Yes Ms. Haruno." They chorused together. Naru walked up the wall and pulled himself back into the vent he came from. Sasu ran towards the large staircase and pulled open a trapdoor beneath the steps, quickly dropping inside. Saku, meanwhile, stood in front of the Leaf ninjas and held out her arm towards the stairs. "If you all would please follow me?" The tiny pink-haired girl turned and headed towards the stairs.
"Sakura, wait. What's going on?" Ino demanded.
The older Sakura got to her feet, glancing at her watch. "I'm sorry, Ino. I have work to get done. You'd better follow Saku, this place is easy to get lost in." With that, she vanished in a swirl of pink flower petals. The gathered ninja just stared in shock for a moment before they heard an annoyed sigh and turned to see Saku impatiently tapping her foot on the bottom stair. Not sure what else to do, they followed her up the stairs.
As they followed the seemingly young girl through the elaborate halls, Kurenai decided to get the ball rolling again. "So, the Clone jutsu?"
"The Shadow Clone jutsu, mixed with a Shapeshift" Saku corrected. "How else do you think the three bosses run this entire inn practically by themselves?"
"Why do you refer to Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura as being different people?" Asuma asked.
The tiny clone shrugged. "There are as many as thirty clones of each boss running around at any given time. To avoid confusion, different clones assigned to different jobs are given slightly different names and appearances, like Saku as opposed to Sakura. I'm in this form because it's easier to get around through the vents to deliver messages or report issues. At the end of the day, I'm still Sakura Haruno, but I'm just one of many."
"You three have mastered an A rank jutsu?" Gai asked, shocked at the amount of skill it would take to create so many clones for so long. Saku, however, shook her head.
"Definitely not. Mr. Uchiha and Ms. Haruno are simply proficient with the Shadow Clone jutsu. Mr. Uzumaki is the one who has mastered, perfected, and improved the technique."
Ino gave a derisive snort. "As if that idiot could ever even learn something so complicated, he couldn't even do regular clones." Saku suddenly stopped dead in her tracks, nearly causing Asuma to run into her. The young clone slowly turned towards Ino. Her green eyes, formally bright and joyful, were now cold and menacing. The jade orbs locked onto the blonde mind walker.
"Naruto is my very close friend, Yamanaka. A hundred of you wouldn't be worth a quarter of him." Green chakra suddenly erupted around Saku in a vortex. "Insult him again, and you'll have to answer to me!"
Eyes wide with fear, Ino desperately stuttered out an apology. Seemingly satisfied, Saku closed her eyes and reigned in her raging chakra. She tilted her head towards the ceiling. "I just got a little angry. I'm fine." Those who followed her gaze saw a pair of blue eyes within a vent staring down at them before vanishing. Saku gestured back down the hall. "I apologize for my outburst. Please follow me."
As the guide led them down the hall, the Leaf ninja were talking furiously amongst themselves.
"What the hell was that?" Ino whispered.
"I have no idea, it was scary though." Choji replied.
"Wasn't she in your academy class?" Tenten asked.
"She never showed off anything like that." Kiba said, trying to comfort a terrified Akamaru. "In the academy she would usually just fly off the handle and deck someone. Sakura could never use her chakra visibly like that!"
Meanwhile, the Jonin were having a conversation of their own. "How is it possible for a girl that young to have so much chakra? She has more than we do!" Kurenai demanded.
"She knows how to use it too." Gai said, grimly. "She carefully channeled her chakra into her pores and allowed it to overflow like a typhoon. It seemed wild and uncontrolled, but it was meticulously calculated."
"What I want to know is how Kakashi let her fail." Asuma said. "To have such large chakra reserves and such incredible control should have gotten her marked as a prodigy."
"Perhaps her teammates dragged her down?" Kurenai theorized.
Asuma shook his head. "Kakashi's not stupid. Lazy, but not stupid. He would have tested each of them, both as a group and individually. Even if she were holding back, which I can't think of a reason why she would, Sakura would have had to display her talents. Even if the team failed, Kakashi would have taken her to the Hokage to get her an apprenticeship."
Gai seemed to ponder this. "Perhaps… she did intentionally hold back?"
Kurenai snorted. "Why would she possibly do that?"
"It could be that she decided that the life of a ninja wasn't one for her." Asuma supplied. Kurenai was unconvinced.
"After going through the entire academy, she just decided not to be a ninja and fail her test on purpose? Again, why? With how powerful she is, she would be a great ninja."
"Power isn't everything." Gai said softly. "There are plenty of ninja who are exceptionally strong, only to be put in a situation they couldn't handle. Kakashi's father, the White Fang, is one such example. To this day The White Fang is considered one of the strongest ninja to ever be produced by the Leaf. Yet, despite his power, he found himself in a situation where he had to choose between saving his teammates lives, and completing the mission. Instead of following protocol, The White Fang chose to save his comrades. Even the people he saved publically ostracized him for his choice. He lost his faith in village and in himself. He committed suicide while Kakashi was still just a boy."
Kurenai, having never heard this story, was shocked. Gai continued. "As I said, that is just one example of many. The Leaf is full of jaded individuals who made a wrong choice, or were just put in a no win situation. It's entirely possible that Sakura, studious girl that she is, came across some of these people while doing research about being a ninja. It isn't hard to imagine what affect the horror stories of ninja life could have on an impressionable young girl. She probably decided that she couldn't handle life as a ninja and quit before even really beginning. Frankly, I admire her for accepting that she wasn't cut out for this life and getting out before it's too late."
Kurenai was amazed that Might 'Flames of Youth' Gai was able to come to such a mature and credible conclusion. Asuma, who has known Gai for much longer then Kurenai, was unsurprised. Gai was one of village's top Jonin for a reason.
"Assuming that your theory is correct, then why wait to fail Kakashi's bell test? Why not just talk to her academy teacher and bow out?" Asuma asked.
Gai shrugged. "It could be that she didn't have the nerve to just up and quit, so she made it look like she wasn't skilled enough to be a Shinobi. That way, instead of having multiple people try and talk her into staying, they would all try to make her quit for her own safety."
Kurenai interjected. "That would be very clever, if your theory is correct. At best all we have are blind guesses. At least until we can get back to the village and ask Kakashi the exact details of the test."
"That brings up another point." She continued" Even if Sakura intentionally held back, Naruto and Sasuke would both have had to do poorly as well. On top of that, all three of them apparently decided to quit being ninja and open this inn. For Sakura, I could understand her being dissuaded, but Sasuke's desire to kill Itachi and Naruto's dream of being Hokage borderline on obsession. I can't imagine any horror story stopping either of them. So why would they quit as well?"
"I honestly haven't a clue." Gai admitted.
"Here we are." Saku spoke up. She gestured to three doors. "Each suite has a central living area and four separate bedrooms. Each team can have their own suite. Press the intercom button if you need anything. Dinner is at nine." With that, the young clone evaporated in a puff of smoke.
Without much else to do, the teams retired to their respective rooms.
"Oh God, that felt good." Ino sighed as she walked down the hall. A series of murmured agreements came from the others around her. They had just gotten out of the hot spring bath and they all felt wonderful.
The hot springs were massive stone basins carved into the ground. Decorative stones and statues littered the area around the springs. Various trees and bamboo plants were transplanted to give the feeling of being lost in the woods. Between each pool were high fences that guaranteed privacy. While indoor baths were available, the fences also surrounded the entire hot springs area, allowing the baths to be outside, under the stars.
The changing areas provided a series of scented soaps, shampoos, and bath salts. After taking their pick of cleaning lotions, the guys and girls went to their separate bathing areas.
After a long and luxurious soak, the Leaf ninja found their clothes cleaned, dried, and pressed waiting for them. Clean, dressed, and hungry; the Shinobi made their way towards dinner. Following a series of signs, they found themselves at the dining hall.
Once again, the collective group was amazed. The dining hall was a massive room. The walls were painted a lush maroon with golden lining. The far wall held a mural depicting an orange fox running through a field with a blue wolf and a pink tiger. Tables littered the hall, covered in snow-white cloth and deep blue plates. A truly enormous crystal chandelier hung from the center of the ceiling, nearly twelve feet across. Smaller versions of the chandelier were hung along the edges of the room.
"Hi, I'm Sasuki. Party of twelve?" For the second time that night, the group was thrown for a massive loop. They were staring a young woman. She had long, dark blue hair done up in a ponytail, though some strands were loose to frame her face. Her eyes were coal black and she wore a kind smile. She was dressed in a form fitting black pants suit with a white collared shirt under her black vest and a black tie. Tiny red fans that the Jonin recognized as the Uchiha clan symbol hung from her ear lobes.
"Sasuke?" Ino asked.
The girl giggled. "No, it's Sasuki. Don't feel bad, it's a common mistake."
Ino quickly became the group's spokesperson. "Wha- what- what are you doing using that idiots perverted jutsu?" She demanded.
Sasuki's eyes narrowed as the smile left her face. "I ask that you please refrain from insulting Mr. Uzumaki. He is one of the respected owners of this establishment." The girl's eyes turned red. "And I don't appreciate little blonde brats slandering his name or his accomplishments."
Before Ino could respond, Sasuki's eyes returned to normal and she turned on her heel. "Now, if you'll please follow me, I'll show you to your seats." The group warily followed the very obviously female Uchiha to a large circular table, passing other patrons who were enjoying their food along the way. Once everyone was seated, Sasuki clapped her hands. "Right, I'll be right back with your food."
Asuma spoke up. "But we haven't ordered yet. We haven't even seen a menu."
Sasuki shook her head. "There's no need. Choji will have the full rack of barbeque ribs, medium rare. Shikamaru will have the grilled fish over linguini, lightly seared. Ino will have the tossed chicken salad with extra olives." Sasuki continued down the line, naming everyone's favorite dish. The ninja were all speechless. "If there isn't anything else, I'll get your food."
Soon, each ninja had a mouth-watering plate of food in front of them. Sasuki grinned as she watched them dig into the food. "Delicious, isn't it? Naruto takes great pride in his food." That made the group pause in their consumption.
"Naruto cooked this? I didn't know he could cook." Ino muttered.
Sasuki's grin turned into a cruel smirk. "I think it's safe to say that there's a lot you don't know about anyof us, Ino."
"Speaking of things we don't know," Kurenai began, idly wiping the corners of her mouth with her napkin. "We were wondering what made you decide to quit being a ninja and open this inn." Sasuki stared at Kurenai for a moment, making the woman slightly uncomfortable, before closing her eyes and sighing.
"To be honest, I didn't like who I was becoming." When asked to clarify, Sasuki shook her head ruefully. "Before testing us, Kakashi asked us what our dreams and desires were. I racked my brain and do you know what I came up with? I wanted to kill my brother. That's it. That's all I could think of. Without realizing it, killing my brother became my single reason for living. Think about it for a minute, even if I did succeed in killing Itachi, then what? I would be lost without a purpose or a reason for living."
Sasuki smirked. It didn't reach her eyes "So you know what? I decided that I wouldn't give the bastard the satisfaction. He told me to devote my life hatred and vengeance? Well, fuck him! I won't live for him or for anyone else. I'm only going to live for me and what I want, not what he wants."
The young woman (?) sighed. "The first step in separating myself from the path of an avenger was to quit being a ninja and find a new calling in life. When Sakura approached me with the offer to open this inn, I took it. I originally only intended to stay until I could figure out what to do with my life, but I like here. Sakura, Naruto, and I are in charge and it's actually a lot of fun. There's a lot of hard work as well, but that just makes working here all the more satisfying. You get what you put into it, you know? But above all else? I have Naruto and Sakura with me. As long as I have them, I don't need anything else. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have other clients to attend to."
With that, the girl turned on her heel and left the ninja to their food and their thoughts.
After finishing their exquisite meal, the group decided to head to bed. While they all wanted to stay, for one reason or another, they still needed to report their mission to the Leaf village. So they had to leave early the next morning. They made their way towards the main lobby, intending to head up the main staircase to the suites.
They were surprised to see a man with a head of spiky blonde hair sitting at the reception desk, writing in a ledger. Ino was about to call out to Naruto when two men walked in.
Without looking up from his writing, Naruto spoke. "Hello and welcome to the Fox Blossom Inn. How long will you be staying with us?"
"You need to come with us, Naruto."
Only then did the blonde look up from his ledger. The two men were dressed in black cloaks, decorated with red clouds. The man who spoke was surprisingly short. His long black hair was pulled into a ponytail. Odd lines along his nose descended from his eyes. His red, Sharingan eyes.
The other man towered over his companion. His skin was pale blue and looked rough to the touch. Three lines similar to gills adorned his cheek under both eyes. His mouth was split into a wide grin, showing off razor sharp teeth. His blue-green hair was held up in spikes by his headband, which like his companion's, had a horizontal slash through it.
Naruto sighed and set down his pen as he got to his feet. As he reached his full height, the Leaf ninja realized Naruto was also in an adult form, dressed in a loose black and orange kimono.
"Akatsuki, right?" The two nodded. "And you're here for the Kyuubi?" They nodded again. "And there's no chance of just sitting down, having a drink, and talking this out?" Another pair of nods. A grin spread across Naruto's face. "Good." Naruto thrust out his arm, causing the two S-ranked missing ninjas to be flung off their feet by an invisible force and sent flying out the door.
Naruto performed a quick 360 twirl on his heel. His entire outfit changed as he spun. The kimono morphed into a pair of black pants, combat boots, and a black shirt decorated with orange flames along the bottom and the sleeves. Naruto turned to Saku and Sasu who were passing by. "Tell Sakura and Sasuke that I'm going to go deal with some rowdy clients." With that, he leapt out the doors after the two ninjas.
The Leaf Jonin pulled themselves out of their stupor and prepared to follow Naruto. Two people appeared in front of them, cutting them off. The Jonin realized they were looking at the older version of Sakura from earlier and an older, male version of Sasuke.
"What are you two doing?" Asuma demanded. "We need to go help Naruto."
Sasuke snorted. "Naruto can handle himself. You would just get in his way."
"That was Itachi Uchiha and Kisame Hoshigaki, two of the most dangerous men in the world. If we don't help Naruto, he's dead." Asuma insisted.
Sasuke glanced out the doorway behind him and gestured towards the fight. "He looks like he's doing fine to me." The Jonin rushed out the door, with the genin following them, only to stop and stare at the spectacle before them. Naruto wasn't just winning, he was cleaning house.
Kisame launched a giant water shark at Naruto, while Itachi shot a giant fireball from the opposite side. Naruto began spinning in place, a vortex of wind forming around him. Instead of being disrupted by Naruto's technique, the miniature tornado allowed both attacks to slip past Naruto. Kisame and Itachi suddenly found themselves in the direct line of fire from their partner's jutsu.
The two rogue ninja leapt away to avoid the attacks, which was exactly what Naruto wanted. Now that the two were separated, he could focus on them one at a time. The blonde appeared behind Kisame, causing the former Mist ninja's eyes to widen. The swordsman turned sharply, intending to shave off Naruto's legs with Samehada. The blonde grabbed Kisame's arm, halting the attack, and slammed his knee into the swordsman's gut.
The blow knocked the wind out of Kisame's lungs and caused him to drop the Sharkskin sword. With Kisame hunched over and gasping for breath, Naruto raised his hand. Wind whirled around his fist in a cyclone. The blue-eyed Innkeeper slammed his hand into Kisame's neck. The vicious wind tore through the former Mist ninja's rough skin, severing his head from his shoulders.
Naruto dropped the corpse and turned to face Itachi. The Uchiha's eyes morphed into a black pinwheel. "Mangekyou Sharingan: Tsukoyo-" Itachi's proclamation turned in a scream of pain as Naruto appeared in front of him and slammed two fingers directly into Itachi's eye sockets, burying them all the way to the knuckle.
Naruto grabbed Itachi's neck and lifted him by the throat. He leaned in close to the Uchiha's ear. "Next time, have the decency to come in person." A sickening crack sounded out as Naruto snapped Itachi's spine.
As he dropped the body to the ground, four clones of Naruto appeared next to him. "Clean up this mess." He commanded. The clones nodded and vanished, taking the bodies with them.
Naruto turned to see Asuma, Kurenai, and Gai all crouched in battle ready positions. The Jinchuuriki arched an eyebrow. "Is there a problem here?"
"I want to know what's going on, right now!" Asuma demanded. "I don't care if you're the greatest prodigy who ever lived, no thirteen year old without any ninja experience could kill an S-ranked missing ninja, much less two."
Naruto glanced at Sakura and Sasuke, the Leaf Jonin got the distinct impression that a conversation was being carried on in silence between the three. After a moment, Sasuke and Sakura both nodded, though they seemed reluctant. Naruto heaved a sigh and spoke. "You're absolutely right, Asuma. An ordinary thirteen year old ninja couldn't do what I just did. What you need to understand though, is that I am far from ordinary and nowhere near thirteen years old. In fact, I'm actually far older than you."
Naruto sighed again. "This will take a long time to explain. Why don't we retire to our room?"
"Why should we trust you?"
"Asuma, when I was a child you were often assigned to protect me. You took your job very seriously and I never felt safer then when I was under your protection. I know it was you under that eagle mask. For the sake of the nights you spent defending me from harm, please trust me."
Asuma bit his lip, clearly warring with himself over what to do. He finally heaved a sigh and lowered his fists. "Fine, we'll listen. But if you try anything that threatens us or our students, then all bets are off."
"I'd expect nothing less." Naruto said with a nod.
The twelve Leaf ninja and their three enigmatic hosts soon found themselves in a spacious living area on the top floor of the inn, seated in cushy couches. "This is our private apartment." Sasuke said as he set down a tray of drinks. "We have privacy seals set up throughout. No one will hear us here." The Uchiha plopped himself down on a couch across from the Leaf contingent, and next to Naruto and Sakura.
Naruto decided to get the ball rolling. "Are you aware that in one month's time, the Chunin exams will be coming to the Leaf village?" The Jonin nodded while the genin looked confused. "During the third part of the exam, the village will be invaded by a joint attack between the village Hidden in the Sand and the village Hidden in the Sound."
The Leaf ninja were shocked. "But we're allies with Sand." Kurenai protested.
"Recent legislation passed by the Daimyo has caused a lion's share of Sand's missions to go to the Leaf instead. As such, Sand's income has drastically decreased and their economy is suffering. They're getting desperate and looking for a solution. The leader of the Sound village is willing to offer them one." Sakura said.
Gai furrowed his brow. "I've heard of a new village going by the name of Sound popping up in Rice country, but information on them is difficult to acquire. Do you know who this leader is and why they want to attack our village?"
Sasuke nodded. "I can answer both with a single word. Orochimaru." The three Jonin shuddered at the name, well aware of the Sannin's near legendary capabilities. If he was leading a charge against the Leaf, then they would need to be prepared for the worst.
"You know all this for a fact?" Asuma demanded. Naruto nodded. "Damn! Dad was planning on splitting the mission and monetary income with Sand to better our relationship after the Chunin exams, but I guess it's too late, especially if that snake is involved."
"How do you know this?" Kurenai asked.
"We'll get to that." Naruto promised. "Now this next part is where our tale gets… interesting. I ask that you let me talk and save your questions." Once everyone nodded, he continued. "During the Invasion, Sakura was looking for Sasuke and accidentally walked into a group of enemy ninja who were about to perform a collective summoning jutsu to summon a 3 headed snake to attack the Leaf. After barely defeating Gaara, The Jinchuuriki of the One Tail, I was charged with the Kyuubi's power. Sensing that Sakura was in trouble I quickly tracked her down. Sasuke felt my power and utilized a Curse Seal placed on him by Orochimaru, similar to the one on Anko, to catch up with us."
A cynical smirk crossed Naruto's face. "Here's where things get complicated. Itachi was also in the village. He was using the chaos to find Sasuke and test his hatred. He entered the clearing and used Tsukuyomi, a time distortion jutsu, to torture Sasuke for three days in the space of a few seconds, hoping to increase Sasuke's hatred of him."
"While under the effects of this jutsu, Sasuke thrashed around in pain and accidentally knocked all three of us into the summon circle. That's when it all went to hell. The Kyuubi's chakra altered a few key points on the seal, causing it to reverse. Instead of summoning something into the circle, it banished anything within the circle. Sasuke's Curse Seal was designed to receive a soul, specifically Orochimaru's, but any soul would do really. The Kyuubi's chakra mixed with that as well, forming a sort of conduit between the summoning and Curse seals, combining them. Instead of sending physical matter, it became a seal to banish souls."
Naruto heaved a sigh. "When the ninja, who were under threat of death to complete the summoning no matter what, activated the seal, we should have died. However, luck was on our side, because we had Sakura with us. You all may not know this, but Sakura has an inner personality in her head. This isn't a mental disorder, it's part of a rare ability she possesses. Sakura has a very large and very strong soul. If her soul comes in contact with another, she can act as a sort of hub for the other soul. As such, if she is ever exposed to another person's soul, she snatches it up and keeps it alive."
Sakura suddenly spoke up. "It's incredibly useful for saving a person's life with medical jutsu. If someone's body dies, their soul departs from it. With my ability, I'm able to temporarily house the soul while focusing on healing and restarting the body. Once the body is able to sustain itself, I can dump the soul back inside."
Naruto gave Sakura a nod of acknowledgement and continued. "Sasuke and I got caught by Sakura's soul when we were expelled from our bodies. With Sakura acting as the hub and a massive amount of the Kyuubi's chakra getting pulled along for the ride, we managed to keep each other 'alive.' The final piece to an already complicated puzzle was the Tsukuyomi. At the time, Itachi was using it to make Sasuke repeat the same painful memories over and over again."
Naruto held up his hand and began ticking off fingers. "The altered Summoning seal, the altered Curse seal, Sakura's Soul Trap, the time distorting Tsukuyomi, the Kyuubi's chakra, and three scared kids who didn't want to die. These factors all mixed together to create the situation we're currently in. When the seal activated, Sasuke, Sakura, and I found ourselves waking up on the day of the team placements."
Asuma was horrified. "Are you saying that…?"
"Yes, we traveled through time. To the single point where our three lives became intertwined with one another; the day we became teammates.
"If this is true," Kurenai began slowly. "Then it still doesn't explain why you opened an inn of all things and how you defeated two S-class missing ninja."
Naruto nodded. "Very true, but the story isn't over yet. Not by a long shot. First, let's answer the question of how I beat Itachi and Kisame so easily." Naruto suddenly snapped his fingers snapped his fingers. A body in a black cloak with red clouds appeared before them. "This is the body of Itachi after I killed him." Though they could only see his face, the Leaf ninja could tell immediately that this wasn't Itachi Uchiha.
"Transformation?" Kurenai theorized.
"Avatarism." Naruto corrected. "In a nut shell, members of Akatsuki can implant their minds and abilities onto another's body. This allows them to scout dangerous areas and fight without personal risk. The downside is that the Avatars are only about one third as strong as the actual controller. If this had been the real Itachi and Kisame, that fight wouldn't have gone nearly as well."
Naruto snapped his fingers, causing the body to vanish. "Now then, as for how we're so strong. We did indeed travel through time, but I never said we only did it once. The 'loops' as we call them, are permanently tied to our souls. As long as we stay alive, we continue through time normally. But if we die, for whatever reason, our souls are snapped back to the Team Selections, no matter what."
The gravity of the situation began to sink in. "Good God." Gai whispered. "How long have you all been doing this?"
Naruto gave a humorless chuckle. "We lost count of the decades a long time ago. Let's just say that Sasuke, Sakura and I have lived longer than any human being has a right to. That's why we opened this inn. Sometimes we need to take a step back and engage in some healthy stress relief."
"If you have all this time and information, then why aren't you in trying to save the village from the invasion?" Asuma asked.
Sasuke suddenly groaned. "For God's sake, we have! We've saved the village more times then there are leaves on a tree. We've each been declared heroes and have each even become Hokage. Hell, we've even been the Kages of all the other villages as well. Maybe for once we just want to kick back and let the Leaf save itself for once."
Naruto cleared his throat. "Let me clarify something; there is no end to these loops. No matter what we do, we will always wake up on the day of team selections eventually. We can unite the entire elemental nations under one flag and die at the age of one hundred and thirty after over a century of peace and we'll still wake up on team selections. We've analyzed every factor, tried every possibility, and done all the research we can on the event that got us here and how to get out. The simple answer is that there is no way out. There is no perfect loop or ultimate goal that will cause this to end. We're going to keep doing this forever. From now until the end of time. This is our life now."
Kurenai suddenly had a horrific thought. "If you want to keep running this inn peacefully, then why tell us this? You must know that we will report all this to the Hokage."
Naruto gave a sad smile. "Because you won't remember any of this. We just needed to distract you long enough for the immobilization seals on the couch to take effect." The Leaf ninja were horrified to discover that they couldn't move. "This trick takes a while to use and we needed to make sure you all couldn't evade. In our experience, telling the truth about our situation is a great way to distract people. Sorry about this, but it's nothing personal. Sasuke, do it."
Sasuke closed his eyes for a moment before opening them, revealing the Mangekyou Sharingan spinning in his eyes. "Sleep." He whispered.
"Ino, wake up."
"Huh?" Ino found herself lying on the ground in her sleeping bag with Shikamaru leaning over her.
"We're packing up camp and heading home." The Nara said.
"Okay." Ino quickly packed up her things and joined the others as they headed down the road.
None of the Leaf ninja felt the three pairs of eyes watching them from the shadows.
"For the sake of the nights you spent defending me from harm, please trust me." Sasuke quoted. "How do you sleep at night?"
Naruto snorted. "Yeah, because lying to a Jonin is the worst thing any of us have ever done." They were silent for a moment.
"What do we do now?" Sakura finally asked.
"We wait." Naruto replied. "Orochimaru is sure to come looking for Sasuke here eventually. He'll be expecting three ninja drop outs, not experienced combat veterans. It should be easy to get the drop on him. Once we take care of him, the Invasion will fall apart without his leadership. Because of how easily we beat the Avatars, Akatsuki will send the Immortality Twins after us next. Whether they're Avatars or not, once we kill them Akatsuki will be too nervous to attack us until the last moment. They'll gather up the other Bijuu and once all eight are captured, they'll come here. Then it's a simple matter of destroying the Demonic Statue of the Outer Path and removing the Bijuu from this world, and finishing off the remaining members."
"So we're just leaving the other Jinchuuriki to die then?" Sakura asked.
Naruto sighed. "It happens. Tell you what; we'll make it up to them next time by getting the Jinchuuriki Humanity Law passed next go round."
Sasuke groaned. "Great, that means I have to impress Kakashi enough to convince him to take me on as his apprentice during the bell test."
"Then getting in good with the elders so they put you on the fast track to becoming Hokage." Sakura continued.
"Then getting inside the barrier put up by the Sound Four so you can simultaneously save the Old Man, and prove your loyalty to the Leaf by resisting Orochimaru's offer for power." Naruto added.
"The Third Hokage will decide he needs to retire and will put me in the chair with him as my main advisor."
"Once he's confident enough you can handle it, he'll formally appoint you." Sakura said.
Naruto picked up. "Your first act will be to make Jinchuuriki wards of the Hokage and ensure that they are granted all the rights of a citizen and have special loop holes in place to make it impossible for someone to mistreat a Jinchuuriki."
"Sand, desperate to make up for the Invasion, will quickly pick up the Law as well." Sasuke sighed.
"Mist will be interested in an alliance so they put the law into place as well." Sakura interjected.
"Cloud, who actually treat their Jinchuuriki fairly well, will pass the Law out of principle, leaving Rock forced to pass it due to political pressure." Naruto smirked.
"With all five Villages doing it, it will quickly become a national law, and Akatsuki won't be able to make a move without the entire Elemental Nations coming after their heads." Sasuke finished.
Sakura laughed. "We really got this down to an exact science, don't we?"
Naruto shrugged. "It comes with experience. Now come on, we have other clients to attend to."
Nodding in agreement, the three time-travelers vanished into the trees.
A/N: This is just a quick overview of what I plan to do with this story. First of all, this isn't a story with a real overarching plot. Any conflict will be shown and most likely resolved in the same chapter. I'm using the Groundhog Day Time Loop trope, one of my all-time favorite premises, as a framing device to put Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura in any kind of situation I want. The loops won't be in any particular order either; some might be early in the looping process while others might be much later. As I said, I'm using the loops as a way of connecting all my random story ideas into a single story.