Author's Note: Oh hey, is this my new story? Well, I guess it is, after all!
Naruto, straight up Naruto, with some recycled ideas that took thematic influence from Buddhism (just like Kishimoto, guys!). This is a fic I've always wanted to write, since I smiled and danced and jumped at ShaperV's Time Braid and cringed at Perfect Lionheart's Chunin Exam Day.
Despite the whole time travel thing, this will probably be more tame in terms of action compared to my other fics. It's meant to be a showcase of how much I love the characters of this series as much as a story that grips and all. So, yay, LET US INTO THE BEGINNING.
Note: This is written from multiple first person perspectives. If you're confused or if there's a bunch of psychobabble, it's a mirror of what the current protagonist's state of mind. Some characters are relatively normal. Some are… not.
Disclaimer: Technically, if you post on ffn, you're abiding by a sitewide disclaimer in the ToS, but people (and me) like putting this here because it comes from a time before ffn - when people dropped fics on their blogs and stuff and they needed more disclaimers than what the blogging website had already put up. So, uh, I don't own Naruto, but you knew that already :P
Seal 1: I Once Was A Kid
I threw the kunai back at him with all the force I could muster and watched it pass through the bark in slow motion. It was all happening in my head anyway - I had barely released the clump of iron, but I had thrown so many that I knew the rotting wood of the tree would pose just enough resistance to give it a fifteen degree twist. The kunai now passed through the tree, appropriately bent, sailed through the window with a sharp snapping sound of displaced air and buried itself into one of the two ronin's throats.
There was a spray of red, most likely showering everyone from the man's partner to the little boy, Inari, and his mother, Tsunami, in his blood. My fingers twisted into a quick handseal and an imitation of me, from his spiky blond locks to the orange jumpsuit that I wore for old time's sake, suddenly appeared. Without waiting for him to greet me as shadow clones normally did, I grabbed him by the arm, pushed the heavy, blue essence of my living, my existence, into my hand and threw him through the window and took off running.
Sasuke was waiting.
I had an old enemy and an old friend to kill.
They were Zabuza, the Demon of the Mist, and his assistant, Haku, complete opposites in every way.
I crushed the voice, my voice. This was not the time. I was still Naruto, still me. And even if the voice was a mere facet of my personality, as difficult and stubborn as I knew I was, I could still control it.
I ignored me. I continued to run. He only spoke to me in moments of crisis anyway and he didn't understand me like I understood myself. I was most levelheaded during a crisis and this was the crisis.
No more chakra usage. I was going to finish this mission as if I were Lee - with nothing but my fists, because that's where my heart and my soul existed. I was an avatar of battle.
I am the avatar of battle, Naruto.
How do you destroy a mirror with your bare hands? That was the question I asked myself when I stood on that fateful bridge, the one that was once named after me. Do you put your fist through it? Do you force it to show you so much truth that it could do nothing but shatter? Do you break the person forcing you to confront yourself?
Without a second set of thoughts, I jumped into the fray as Sasuke's dark eyes flashed desperate and resigned in time.
I let some senbon hit me in nonlethal places and felt my left arm go numb, but I ripped them out quickly. Shinobi were meant to bleed, and bleed I did, a true, true red.
I was alive.
More senbon, some of hardy steel and some of deceptively soft looking ice, jetted through the air. These I dodged, but Sasuke could barely see them. I did not push him out of the way and in the last moment, he finished his handseals to a Katon jutsu and a burst of flame bloomed from his mouth, vaporizing the ice and sending molten steel everywhere.
Another barrage, from behind us. Sasuke twisted around and let loose a slightly less effective burst of flame.
"Dobe," he bit out, winded from the long exhalations of chakra fire.
"Sasuke," I responded gently, because I could not bring myself to pretend, not in the heat of the battle. I was older, more responsible, more powerful, everything he wanted to be in this very moment and even if I couldn't let him know, I couldn't be the Naruto he wished I were. I was not a friendly competitor anymore, and even if he didn't know it then, his very body felt the difference. "We have to win."
I thought vaguely of the First and his oft quoted words to Uchiha Madara, "You must right your wrongs or you shall let your wrongs write you."
Senbon came in from every direction and I methodically knocked one after another away.
His face showed no emotion as he danced around me blocking some of the incoming missiles. His movements had changed.
"Sharingan?" I knew this to be true, I knew he would manifest it here, at last. This was the starting point of his descent. I had let it happen to him, with savage glee and rotten pity, rather than pluck out his eyes in the dead of night. A flick of my hand redirected a senbon with more speed than he could comprehend, especially with his back turned, into the nape of his neck and he was all but dead to the world.
The friend in the mirror looked confused and this was when I broke him. My fist, in a pathetic imitation of the more refined Gouken of Konoha, pushed through a mirror and into the other boy's neck, snapping it.
The mirrors melted, one after another, as he took his last breaths.
I wish I were sorry. I would have given anything to be sorry, but nothing I could give would have been enough to bring the sorrow back into my heart, to wash the stain from my soul.
Several hundred meters away, Sharingan no Kakashi and Momochi Zabuza paused their fight, a delicate and brutal dance of water clones and mud torrents, to stare at me, standing over the still forms of their favorite students.
I dropped to my knees and began to weep, a sound horrible to even my own ears. "S-sasuke!" My scream of grief ripped through the mist. I turned my back to the pair in the distance and for just a second, he took over the features in my face. It changed into a mockery of sadness, a strange, alien, sensuous grin that I had seen in the mirror and hated. The pleasure of a job done to perfection welled up within it.
Kakashi was angry, which meant I wouldn't have to get my hands dirty. There was a dramatic rise in his chakra, his spirit, his will to fight. He thought Sasuke was dead, and he did what all Konoha nin did when they believed their comrades and students compromised. He killed.
Stronger than he could have been otherwise.
In the heat of my victory, I agreed with him. The sound of a thousand chirping birds filled the air and Momochi Zabuza saw his fate sealed, sealed in Ox-Rabbit-Monkey as Kakashi's hands flashed, sealed like the Kyuubi in my gut. I could see Kakashi's Sharingan force itself into its third state as the starbursts of lightning chakra filled his world and his movements became more efficient, deadly.
In the split second before his death, Zabuza searched for Haku with his eyes, sweeping over to the fallen bodies, but saw me instead. He saw my grin, saw my victory, saw the fox, and in that frozen moment, I knew he hated me.
Then the moment passed and Kakashi's hand was buried in his chest. He fell forward, but Kakashi pushed off his dead weight with ease. I turned myself back to Sasuke. I heard someone else in the distance, screaming his name, brave enough to stop protecting the man behind our mission.
I ran up to her, sobbing once more and threw myself at her. "I avenged him, Sakura. I avenged him," I begged. I begged for her to believe me and I slid off of her to the ground, my body seizing in regret and pain and loss.
You almost have me convinced.
I didn't let him have any of me now. Kakashi was certainly better than Sasuke at reading people, especially his students. It came as no surprise to me that he came to me first - I had, after all, lived.
"Naruto. Naruto. It's… It's going to be alright," he lied. I could almost feel him blinking rapidly to chase the tears away as his voice took on a helpless, dead cadence.
"No it won't!" I screamed back at him, not even bothering to look at him. Sobs wracked my body.
"It will, it will," he said with growing horror.
Suddenly, Sakura screamed again and Kakashi looked up. I didn't. I knew it was because the ice had melted upon Haku's death and Sasuke was now moving. My aim had been perfect.
"Naruto, he's alive," Kakashi whispered, but it might have been a roar. I turned to stare at him, my eyes red and spraying tears, responded with a whimper, so full of hope that he almost wished he hadn't said anything, lest nothing could be done for a dying Sasuke.
Kakashi quickly helped me up and the pair of us ran over to Sasuke and knelt at his side.
Sasuke coughed and looked accusingly at us. He grunted and our faces broke into wide grins as he picked himself to his feet and stared at the world with his new eyes.
"The Sharingan," Sakura whispered in awe.
"No fair, Kakashi-sensei. He's going to learn all the cool jutsus now!" I huffed. Somewhere in my head, he roared with laughter. What? He was, if he would live that long!
I bit back a groan. It would play out the same way this time around. There would be bandits, numbering in scores. The townspeople of Wave Country would surge to its defense, motivated by the halfhearted words of people with power.
Or you could kill them all. Wet your throat a little. Haku was just an appe-
I was too bloodthirsty, and even if I barely ever let it cloud my judgment, it probably showed on my face for just a moment. Kakashi was looking at me with worry.
"They got Haku killed. I had to kill him to save Sasuke. They wanted us dead." Shinobi logic was mostly unsaid - the logic of Konoha nin was the worst of all. But Kakashi understood.
"I don't believe we have to fight them, Naruto." Kakashi gestured at the civilians.
I bit my lip, pretending to be nervous. "What if they fight back?"
"I don't think so." Sure enough, the bandits were getting back on their boats as quickly as possible.
You can kill them all, even Kakashi. It would be glorious.
That was it. I had enough. I turned away from the group again and made a pair of quick handseals.
It was sloppy, but I wanted it to be. That way, it didn't use quite as much chakra, and Kakashi would barely notice. It would almost seem as if I had just flared my chakra for a moment.
The Two Skies Seal was one that promoted mental focus - designed with nothing in mind but cramming for exams, which the higher level shinobi of the leaf took often to prove their continuous skill. Of course, there wasn't much time to study, as missions often resulted in injuries, civilian prostitution, gambling and sake, so a brilliant ninja had invented it to force mental focus. It was quickly discovered that there was nothing better than a quick Two Skies Seal to turn off hallucinations from the mushrooms that grew on the path up to the mountain that overlooked Konoha…
My thoughts trailed off until I finally touched my forehead and the telltale spot of blood slowly diffused until it turned my face a slightly rosy shade.
"S-sakura-chan. Will you go on a date with me?"
She was too tired to do anything but groan and look away.
I was feeling better already. Good enough to weigh the destruction of Sasuke's eyes against allowing him to choose his own path.
After several minutes of contemplation, I pretended to pass out and let Kakashi carry me back to the client's house, where I lay in bed until I did, in fact, fall asleep