Ah, it's been a while, hasn't it? I truly have no words, and would like my readers to forgive me, but my schedule is rather erratic, and it makes updating a pain. I had lost inspiration for a while as well:( But never fear! I'm back!
To those who Pm'd me, THANK YOU. If it weren't for you, I wouldn't have gotten off of my ass and written anything.
A dedicated fan has asked me to mention that there is now a TV Tropes page for this story. I would like to thank this fan for introducing me to the concept of TV Tropes.
Search TV tropes, A Wrinkle in Time and you should see Fanfic/A Wrinkle in Time.
Happy Hannukah! Merry Christmas! Happy Kwanzaa! Happy New Year!
So without further ado, I present to you the eleventh installment of A Wrinkle in Time...
Konoha: Present Time: Unknown Location
"Who the hell are you?" A rough voice hissed, pushing one of the three teenagers in his grasp backwards. It was too dim in the room he had shunshined to, to see which one it was.
"We are who we are." One of the boys sighed deeply. "And no matter what else has changed, that part won't."
The teenagers' captive growled, half in frustration, and half in anger. Betrayal welled deep within him as his lone eye adjusted to the darkness of the room. He resisted the urge to stiffen in surprise when he realized he had transported the four of them to his Sensei's old apartment.
"Don't give me that drivel." Kakashi stalked forward, pausing to take in the appearance of Konoha's three engimas, who were covered in blood and bruises, expressions of guilt on their faces. His arm reached for Naruto, who was closest to him, only to be cut off by Lee and Shikamaru.
For a moment, student and teacher stared at each other, countless emotions running through both of their faces.
It was only when Naruto bowed his head to his second Sensei, did the other two drop their defensive stances.
"Forgive me." Was all the blond boy said.
"Why?" Kakashi pressed, not quite sure what to make of that statement. "Why do you need to be forgiven dammit!" He drew in a shuddering breath. "Who...who are you?"
"Namikaze Naruto, Nara Shikamaru, Rock Lee." Shikamaru winced at the pain in his leg. "Like Lee said, we are who we are."
"What you did today...what you've done in the Preliminaries...that coupled with the knowledge you shouldn't have..." Kakashi trailed off. Everyone in the room could feel the remainders of his chakra gathering. "Clearly, your identities are a lie."
"They're not." Naruto let out a breath and slumped against the wall. His fists clenched at his side, nails digging deeper into his palms in order to stop the scream that threatened to burst from his mouth. "They're not." He said again, his voice no louder than a whisper.
"Then tell me!" Kakashi crossed his hands over his chest and stared at them flatly.
"We knew about the invasion beforehand." Lee's eyes met Kakashi's. Surprise was not the emotion that was reflected back at him.
"I gathered as much." The older man sneered.
"But even we couldn't have anticipated what happened today." Shikamaru ran a hand over his cheek in frustration.
"And why not?" Kakashi pressed, already fingering the kunai in his back pocket.
"Because that's not what happened last time." Naruto pushed himself off of the wall.
"I said, that's not what happened last time." Naruto repeated, gazing evenly back at his Sensei.
"What...what are you saying?" Kakashi ran his student's words in his mind a couple of times, trying to make sense of them.
"It means what it means, Sensei." Naruto frowned. "Aren't you this Village's elite? Figure it out."
As soon as the words left his mouth, he found himself pinned against the wall, kunai resting at his jugular.
And Kakashi found himself bound by a shadow, with Lee's own kunai aimed at his spinal cord.
"Attack our Hokage, and we'll kill you." Shikamaru snarled.
"Try it." Lee pressed the kunai farther into Kakashi's back, just enough to make contact with skin. "I dare you."
But Kakashi didn't move. Partially because he was physically incapable of doing so. His lone eye stared into the weary, fatigued ones of Naruto's, and he was struck by the acceptance and understanding within eyes that should be young and carefree.
"In your mind, you already know, don't you Sensei?" A dry chuckle escaped Naruto. The teen snapped his fingers, and in the next moment, Kakashi found himself free to move about. He stumbled back slightly, eye flitting from boy to boy, gauging them.
"Know what?" Kakashi asked cautiously.
"You know what I'm talking about." There was pained amusement in Naruto's voice.
"Who are you?" Kakashi dropped his kunai to the floor and let the events of the day weigh him down.
"I'm just Naruto." He tried to smile, put it came out as more of a grimace. "I became Rokudaime Hokage when I was nineteen years old. This is Shikamaru, Captain of Tactical Operations. That's Lee, Captain of the Joint-Shinobi Alliiance's Ground Forces."
Naruto reached up and patted his Sensei on the shoulder.
"And the three of us are from the future."
Konoha: Six Hours Ago
"I don't like the feeling I'm getting right now. Something isn't right." Naruto grimaced.
"You sure it wasn't all the food you ate last night?" Lee grinned before sobering quickly. This wasn't the time to be joking.
The two teens walked out of their room, only to be met by a grim-faced Shikamaru and an equally stoic Shikaku.
For a moment, the four of them stood in silence before Shikaku began to speak.
"No matter what happens today, just know that I'll be backing you one-hundred percent of the way."
"Thank you, sir." Naruto bowed his head to the older man. "You have no idea how much that means to us."
Shikaku stared and each of them before speaking once more. "I know that you would like to change the future that you came from, but just remember, nothing is set in stone. The future has already been changed from you arriving here, however some events may stay the same."
The trio glanced at each other.
"We know." Shikamaru sighed. "We know, and that's the worst part. We know exactly what happened during our Chunin Exams, and we know how this one day affected us for the rest of our lives."
"The Chunin Exams..." Lee grimaced. "Are nothing more than an excuse for opposing Villages to fight one another. They are the more "peaceful" alternative to war. However," His voice hardened. "In our timeline, the foundations for a true war began due to this day."
"Do you think that will change?" Shikaku questioned shrewdly.
"No." Shikamaru answered his father after a tense silence. He looked at Naruto, whose hands were balled into fists. "We will simply be more prepared."
"The Sandaime is aware of that something rather unwelcoming is going to happen today. He has increased the number of ANBU patrolling the area. While Hayate-san was not able to hear all of the plan, he relayed the information that he had to the Hokage." Shikaku frowned slightly. "According to him, he was teleported to the Jounin Lounge when it seemed one of the two men who were talking sensed him." The older man's face was hard, but his eyes were soft.
Naruto had the decency to blush. "Ah, yes. That was me. Like we told you, last time Hayate-senpai was killed by Baki-san. This time, since I told Baki-san to proceed as he would have if we hadn't changed Gaara's mind about the invasion, Orochimaru must have sensed him. Luckily I got him out in time."
"Don't get too cocky." Shikaku warned. "Yes, Suna is now on our side, and yes, we have the advantage of knowing what will happen, however who knows what the ripples of your actions are. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction."
The three time travelers looked to one another before they straightened with determination.
"Whatever happens today will set the stage for tomorrow." Naruto said slowly. He looked weary. "We will be on edge, preparing for the very worst that could happen."
As Shikaku opened his mouth to speak, Yoshino pranced into the hallway with a glint in her eye that didn't bode well for anyone.
"Breakfast has been on the table for ten minutes." Her voice lowered dangerously. "Two of you will be fighting in the finals. What would happen if you collapsed from not eating properly? And YOU!" She rounded on her husband, who cowered back slightly. "What kind of an example are you setting for them?"
Shikaku scratched his head slightly, knowing it was a rhetorical question.
"If you're not there within 30 seconds..." She raised the spatula in her hand. "Then you know what will happen.
Needless to say, the four men quickly took their place at the table and diligently ate the food that the Nara Matriarch had prepared.
"Hokage-sama." An ANBU with an owl mask knelt in front of his leader.
"We have amped up security surrounding our borders as well as for the Stadium itself. The four boundaries are manned by Teams Delta, Epsilon, Gamma, and Beta." The ANBU murmured.
"What of Team Ro?" The Hokage asked.
"Tenzo-Taichou as well as Uzuki-Fukutaichou have positioned their team just outside the Village as a first line of defense. They will also be tasked with seeing the Mizukage and Kazekage into the village."
Sarutobi eyed the ANBU in front of him and motioned for him to rise.
"Hatake Kakashi, though no longer your ANBU commander, will be your first point of contact. He will sound the internal alarm should anything go wrong. Understood?"
"Very well. Dismissed!"
The operative left in a blur, leaving the Hokage alone to his thoughts. The information that Hayate had given them meant that something was going to happen today. Unfortunately and fortunately, no one could be sure of exactly what was going to happen because the sickly Jounin was forcibly shunshined away before he could hear the rest of the plan and subsequently be killed for it.
Who ever had done the deed had not come forward. It was as if they wanted to remain anonymous. While the Hokage was grateful that one of his Shinobi had not died, he didn't like the idea of an unknown person of unknown capabilities running loose in the village. They could prove to be a future threat.
A knock on his door swept his thoughts away.
Nara Shikaku walked into his office, a grave look on his face. It had been this man who had notified the Hokage that whatever it was Hayate had seen or heard should not be taken lightly. And while the Hokage had no intention of dismissing the sickly Jounin's observations, he hadn't been ready to take them as seriously as he was right now.
"Are all preparations set?" The Commander asked without preamble.
The Hokage raised an eyebrow. That question should have come out of his mouth, not the Nara's. Nonetheless, he nodded. "They are."
"Good." Shikaku's shoulders slumped, like a great burden had been lifted off of them.
Sarutobi puffed on his pipe and keenly observed the man in front of him. Ever since Naruto and Lee had entered his life, Shikaku had changed. He seemed more carefree, less guarded, and more determined.
"Are they ready?"
"Shikamaru and Naruto?" Shikaku scratched his head. "In truth, I have no idea. They told me not to worry about it, that they had plans. What those plans are, I have not yet been able to deduce."
"Oho." The Hokage was certainly looking forward to today's fights. They would provide more information on the skill's that Shikamaru and Naruto had hidden. Lee had certainly proved himself against Gaara, but he had forfeited for obvious reasons. Still, it was a shame. That boy's Taijutsu was nearly unrivaled.
"Is Jiraiya-Sama here?" Shikaku questioned suddenly.
"No, he left three days ago. His spy network needs him to be there continuously, and apparently new information about a particular threat came in." Sarutobi eyed Shikaku. The Nara Head looked annoyed. "He did tell me that Naruto's training had flourished, and placed a very large bet on the boy, as well as one on Shikamaru. He has put me under strict instructions to relay every last detail of Naruto's match to him."
That brought a small smile to his face. He imagined that Naruto wasn't so much worried about what training he could get. The boy probably wanted to be as close to his godfather as possible.
However...with Jiraiya out of the Village, a major resource had also vanished along with him. Then again, they had three very strong Time-Travelers.
"The Kazekage and Mizukage will be arriving shortly, no?" Shikaku stroked his chin. "Can we be certain to trust both of them?" Through the boys, he knew that the Kazekage was Orochimaru in disguise, and that Terumi Mei was a cousin of Naruto. Still, he would like to hear the Sandaime's input.
"Suna and Konoha are on shaky terms at best." Sarutobi sighed. "It's not a matter of trust, it's a matter of keeping up appearances. As for the Mizukage, Kiri is still rebuilding after the Yagura regime. While they are weak, I have confidence in Terumi-san. As for trusting her...She is Naruto's relative. If Naruto takes to her, then I will as well."
"I'm sure those two will be like two peas in a pod." Shikaku said wryly. Naruto was like a little parasite that wormed himself into your very being, took root there, and spread. His energy, smile, and personality were infectious.
"If that's all you came to ask Shikaku, I'm afraid I must ask you to leave. I have important business that I must attend to" The old man stood up.
For a minute, Shikaku opened his mouth, but then closed it and shook his head.
"There is nothing else Hokage-sama. Enjoy the rest of your morning."
He left with a puff of smoke, leaving the Hokage alone and with his own thoughts.
What is it that has Shikaku so on edge?
The stadium was packed to the brim.
Every man, woman, and child in the arena were expectantly awaiting the matches that pitted genius against genius, village against village, comrade against comrade.
"This will be fun!" Terumi Mei lazily crossed a leg and leaned back in her seat next to the Hokage. Behind her stood Choujuro and Ao. The swordsman kept glancing left and right as if expecting someone to leap out at him and attack them. Ao looked to be bored out of his mind.
Mei had been suitably impressed. Kiri needed to build something like this for future Chuunin Exams as well. From the little she had seen of Konoha, it had seemed to be a lively place. It had recovered well from the Kyuubi Attack all those years ago. She only hoped that her own Village could recuperate like this one had.
"Excited to see Naruto-kun compete?" The Hokage teased. To his other side, the Kazekage twitched slightly.
"He is an Uzumaki." Mei replied indifferently. "It has been some time since I met another of my Clan."
She ignored the snorts from Ao and Choujuro and the knowing gaze of the Hokage. So what if she was excited to see the blond kid? That was only expected. She had even traveled all the way here to see him.
Underneath his hat, The Kazekage...Orochimaru's lips thinned. He had not known that the Mizukage would be arriving. She had no need to as none of her Genin had made it to the Finals. But because of that Namikaze brat...
It was of no matter. He would proceed as planned. There were only three Kiri Shinobi present anyway. Besides, it didn't matter if the Mizukage was here or not. Orochimaru smirked.
Having Iwa agree to join him was wholly unexpected, but welcome as well. With the three of them, Oto, Iwa, and Suna united as one against Konoha, nothing, no one would stand in his way like they had last time.
Unfortunately, Iwa would have to bear the brunt of the blame should anything go wrong. It would be very amusing to see the two Villages destroy each other just like last time.
Konoha would not be able to withstand the attack, and no one would oppose him.
Not Sarutobi, not Jiraiya, and certainly not the Namikaze. Both Minato and Naruto.
Speaking of the brat...
He had just walked in to where the Konoha Genin were all gathered, regardless of whether they had passed the Preliminaries or not. The Nara and Green kids were next to him.
For a split second, the child raised his head and looked up to where the Kages were sitting. He stared straight at the Kazekage for an agonizing moment.
And then the child smiled. He had the audacity to smile.
For a moment, Orochimaru wondered if it would be alright to kill the kid right then and there. He kept his bloodlust to himself though. Because he was going to have fun breaking little Naruto. He was going to destroy that kid in the way he couldn't destroy his father or godfather.
Uzumaki Naruto was going to burn for the frustration he had caused the Sannin.
And with that thought in mind, Orochimaru smiled back.
One Kilometer from Konoha's Border
The Iwa Shinobi led by the Tsuchikage himself slowly but surely gained ground towards Konoha. All of them were disguised as merchants and because of this, they had to travel at a civilian's rate once they had entered Fire Country.
It was tiresome and tedious, but they had managed.
"Halt." An androgynous voice suddenly stopped all of them in their tracks.
From nowhere, an ANBU dropped to the ground, stopping directly in front of Onoki.
"Identification." The ANBU held out his/her hand.
The Tsuchikage, in his disguise as Head Merchant quickly dropped the completely legitimate papers into the outstretched hand. They had overtaken a caravan of traders who were selling clothing. It was the perfect cover. Many of them, nearly 100, were able to pose as merchants. This way, they would be right in the heart of Konoha when Orochimaru gave the order to attack.
The look on that old Monkey's face when he realized what was going on would be perfect.
The ANBU, done confirming the papers, searched the merchandise. Once that too was deemed as having passed, he/she personally escorted them into the Village.
Upon seeing the Yondaime's face carved into the mountain, Onoki's resolve hardened.
Today, Konoha would fall.
Naruto couldn't deny that he was nervous. It was inevitable after all.
He had a plan on how to deal with Neji, a plan that he had not discussed with anybody save Kurama. The plan was rather foolhardy, and gutsy. In other words, it was something only Uzumaki Naruto could pull off.
Stop it. Kurama grumbled in his stomach. You're making me want to hurt you.
Naruto scowled slightly but brushed off the Fox's whining. He had dealt with far greater threats in the past after all.
"Do you mind slapping him?" Shikamaru asked Lee, who grunted with amusement.
"Naruto-kun," Lee shook the blond's shoulder, earning himself a glare from the teen. "You're making everyone nervous."
Lee pointed to the other Genin and Jounin Sensei's in the box who were looking at him uneasily.
With a sigh, Naruto tuned down the Killing Intent he hadn't known he was giving off. It was a defense mechanism he had picked off. If you're scared, then make your opponent feel scared as well.
"He's really on edge, isn't he?" Shikamaru couldn't deny that he felt the same way though. The future depended on today.
"We have a right to be." Lee agreed grimly.
The trio descended into their own thoughts, leaving the world behind for a moment.
Kiba stared at his fellow Genin thoughtfully. "Do ya ever think those three don't realize that we're right here?"
Kurenai glanced at her feral student and nodded. "It's like they're in their own world."
"RIGHT!" Naruto yelled suddenly, startling many people around him. He pointed to Shikamaru and Lee with fire in his eyes. "I'm going to ruffle lots of feathers today so I need to know that you have my back!"
The two others simply gave him a blank look. "Is that even a question?" Lee put his hands on his hips, anger in his eyes. "After everything...you don't think that we have your back?"
"That's not what I meant!" Naruto shook his head frantically. He looked as though he had just committed the most heinous crime on Earth. He lowered his head. "It's just that..."
"Don't ask a question you know the answer to." Shikamaru yawned lazily. "Beat Neji with whatever means necessary. If you lose, I will kill you myself."
"Ha ha." Naruto laughed nervously. "Thanks guys."
"Anytime Naruto-kun." Lee laughed jovially. He turned back to the watch the Arena. "I too will beat you within an inch of your life if you do not defeat Neji."
And then the three of them burst into a series of snorts and chuckles that no one understood.
Behind them, everyone else turned to Hyuuga Neji, who was eyeing the blond with murder written in his eyes.
It seemed as though the trio had truly forgotten he was there.
Before the Hyuuga acted any further, the Hokage walked down to the middle of the Arena.
A hush fell over the gathered. The Exam was about to begin.
"I would like to thank all of for coming here." The Hokage began, making sure to look at all four corners of the crowd. "I would especially like to welcome the Mizukage and Kazekage into our humble Village. I hope they are pleased with what they have seen so far." Sarutobi put his hands together in clapping for the two Kages, and the rest of the crowd followed in politely.
"Regardless of whether you have come from an exotic land or from the comfort of your homes right here in Konoha, I hope that this Exam entertains you." The Hokage smiled. "Without further ado, I would like to formally announce the beginning of the Chuunin Exams!"
The crowd roared with anticipation.
From somewhere, a gong reverberated through the Arena, sending shockwaves everywhere.
Sarutobi nodded to the Proctor, Genma who took the Senbon out of his mouth.
"FIRST MATCH: HYUUGA NEJI OF KONOHA VS. UZUMAKI NARUTO OF KONOHA! COMPETITORS, MEET ME IN THE ARENA!"
Naruto took a deep breath and steeled his resolve. He chanced a look behind him before looking forward quickly. Neji was mad. Couple that with the last time he had seen the man, he had died in his arms, it made for a very antsy Naruto.
"Good luck, Hokage-sama." Shikamaru murmured in his ear. His best friend gave him a reassuring pat on the back.
"You'll do great, Naruto-kun!" Lee bounced on his toes.
"Kick his ass Naruto!" Kiba screamed.
"Do us proud Naruto!" Sakura smiled slightly.
"Good luck, Naruto-kun." Hinata whispered shyly. Since her injuries had not been as severe as they were last time, she was able to come to the Finals.
Neji brushed past him and gracefully made his way downward.
Naruto just shook his head before grinning madly. "How about I make an...entrance?" He asked the other two.
"Go for it." Shikamaru shook his head.
Naruto winked slyly before gathering his chakra and vanishing...
And reappearing in a bolt of lightning right next to Genma who jumped back a good ten feet in surprise.
"UZUMAKI NARUTO HAS ARRIVED!" He cried out, flashing a blinding smile at the Hokage Box.
The crowd's volume increased.
"So that's Uzumaki Naruto, huh?" Terumi Mei suddenly smiled. Blond, loud, and powerful. Interesting. She liked his style already. He knew how to make an entrance.
"He's something." Ao said fondly, recalling the time he had spent with the blond.
"Definitely an Uzumaki." Choujuro confirmed uneasily. Hopefully, that kid didn't visit Kiri too much. Their Village might not survive.
Genma just shook his head as he walked back over to the grinning kid and his irate opponent.
The two fighters took their places opposite each other.
Neji dropped into the Juuken stance while Naruto slouched lazily.
"Watch carefully, Hanabi." Hyuuga Hiashi told his youngest daughter. "No one in the Hyuuga Clan has inherited the Kekkei Genkai as strongly as Neji has." The Patriarch stared at Naruto with a glare. He knew what the blond had done in the Preliminaries, but could not bring himself to respect the boy. That child was a mockery of what the Yondaime had sacrificed.
Somewhere within the crowd, the disguised Tsuchikage carefully took in the figure of his loathed enemy's only child. The boy seemed to be an Uzumaki in personality and Namikaze in looks. His lips curled into disgust. Just how powerful was this boy?
Genma didn't bother trying to tell Uzumaki to take this seriously. Instead, he looked at each boy.
As soon as Genma leaped back, Neji struck.
He moved forward with speed that many Chuunin couldn't rival.
Aiming for Naruto's tenketsu, he moved his hand down for the first strike, only for Naruto to blur out of sight.
Naruto, who saw the first coming, jumped out of the way and reappeared right behind Neji. With a single kick to the back of Neji's neck, he dropped to the ground and watched the prodigy stumble.
"Too slow Neji." Any mirth that Naruto had once held was gone. He slipped to a defensive stance when he saw Neji charging his way once again.
Easily, Naruto dodged the next attack as well, this time elbowing the Hyuuga in the collarbone.
"You're going to have to use your Byakugan if you want to win." Naruto crossed his arms over his chest, sounding very much like a Sensei.
Scowling, Neji knew that the blond was right. He had disregarded the kid as nothing but a loud talker, but the blond had shown skill in evading his attacks. In hindsight, Neji also should have taken account what had happened in the Forest of Death. Uzumaki was more powerful than Neji had thought.
"Byakugan!" He cried out.
"Much better." Naruto smirked. "Now the match can truly begin. Who will win Neji? Fate? Or the kid that defied the Fate he had been given since birth."
The Hyuuga snarled and charged forward, intending to strike at this insolent child's heart and end the match decisively.
Except that Naruto dodged.
He dodged the next attack.
And the attack after that.
And the one after that.
"Fight damn it!" Neji screamed in frustration. He knew his Uncle wasn't going to like him losing his composure, but there was no helping it. "Stop running away like a coward!"
Naruto raised an eyebrow. "Coward? Me? Well, this isn't the first time I've been accused of being something I'm not." He shrugged, rolling his neck as he did so.
"Alright. I'll fight."
As he said those words, a crushing chakra filled the Arena. Naruto looked as calm as ever as he stared stoically in front of him. The sky seemed to darken as the chakra spread outward.
Those in the Genin Box save for a few shrunk backwards. Sakura and Ino collapsed to the ground, gasping for breath.
"Wh...what is that?" Sakura tried to scream.
"Naruto's chakra." Shikamaru didn't look fazed by the mass outpouring of energy at all. "He's getting serious." A bit too serious. Was this a warning to Orochimaru as well?
"Are we late?" Gaara's voice made Shikamaru tense slightly before he relaxed and shook the future Kazekage's hand.
"Nope." Lee beamed. "Naruto-kun is just warming Neji up!"
"Naruto's chakra is as comforting as ever." Gaara smirked to himself, enjoying the wary looks he was getting from everyone. This was amusing. He looked to his siblings, who were leaning on the railing, sweat pouring down their faces, just struggling to remain upright. Save for the Jonin, every one else seemed to be in the same state.
What do you have planned, Naruto?
The chakra was making it difficult for Neji to stand. He gritted his teeth and told himself to hang on just for a bit more.
And just as suddenly as it had arrived, the oppressive chakra vanished.
"What was that?" Neji spat, inwardly trying to regain composure. "A psychological tactic?"
Naruto shrugged lazily. "Think of it what you will. I just thought it was cathartic. You know, a good way to release my frustrations." He looked at Neji with a cocked head. "You need some catharsis as well, I think."
"I believe beating you will be the best catharsis I can have." Neji growled.
Snorting, Naruto created two Kage Bunshin in order to throw the Hyuuga off track. The Kage Bunshin was a perfect copy of the original. In most cases, it was impossible to tell which one was real and which one wasn't.
All three of them attacked at the same time.
To many, it seemed as though Naruto had attacked the Hyuuga sloppily and randomly. He and his clones were hit on multiple occasions, and they took much damage.
Still, Naruto's clones did manage to get several good hits on Neji.
After one blow, Naruto's clones vanished and he was thrown back five feet, only to land in a crumpled heap. He looked completely exhausted.
Wearily, Naruto stood up slowly, a grin on his face. "Not bad." The teen licked the blood dripping from his mouth. "But not good enough." The blond charged again.
"You are in my range of divination." Neji slipped into a different form, one that elicited gasps from Hiashi and Hinata alike.
"That stance..." Hiashi narrowed his eyes. "How did he learn it?"
Naruto prepared himself for what was coming next.
"Juukenpo: Hakke Rokujuyon-Sho!"* Neji leaped forward. "Two palms!" Naruto stumbled back as the attack made its mark.
"Four palms!" Blood was coughed up.
"Eight palms!" Naruto's legs lost sensation.
"Sixteen palms!" Naruto collapsed to the ground, unable to move at all.
"Hmph." Neji smirked from above him. "I guess that settles the debate then. Fate will always win."
"What is he doing?" Gaara asked, a little intrigued with the turn of events.
"Don't ask me." Shikamaru replied. "We didn't talk about how we were going to defeat our opponents." A significant look was passed between them.
Because we had better things to plan for. It remained unsaid, but understood.
"He's done." Tenten felt bad for the kid. She had seen what he had done against Gaara in the Preliminaries, but it seemed as though Neji had outdone him.
"That doesn't make sense!" Kiba yelled. "Naruto's supposed to be more powerful than this!"
Gai, who had been watching with narrowed eyes the entire time agreed with Kiba.
"Perhaps Naruto has another plan?" Kakashi drawled from the side. He rested against the wall comfortably, but the book that accompanied him had been put away.
Sasuke stood separate from the other Genins as he observed Naruto intently.
"When did you arrive here my hip rival!" Gai screamed.
Kakashi didn't answer.
"I think Naruto's getting up again." Ino pointed shakily. "Let's watch."
"Call the match, Proctor-san." Neji sniffed. "It is over."
Genma frowned. This wasn't the Uzumaki he knew. This was...this was weird. Nonetheless, while Naruto had attempted to get up again, the effort had been futile. The kid was done.
"Fine. Winner - "
And then Naruto vanished in a poof of smoke. Where the body had once lay, only empty ground remained.
Neji looked around in confusion, as did Genma.
Slow clapping was heard from where the Hokage's were sitting.
"Excellent Neji, simply brilliant." A voice stated with amusement.
"YOU!" Neji snarled in fury, pointing to Naruto, the real one, who was sitting on top of the Hokage's box enjoying a bowl of Ramen.
Shikamaru fought to control a sigh.
He teleported into the arena, Ramen and all.
"Yo Genma-senpai." He raised a hand in his direction. "Sorry about this."
"So you're not dead?" Genma snorted. "Fine by me. I'll continue the match."
Naruto slurped the last of his Ramen down and sealed the bowl. Wiping his mouth, he turned to face Neji. "Sorry I'm late, the road of life took me to Ichiraku Ramen. I couldn't resist."
All eyes turned to Kakashi who rubbed his head sheepishly.
"Are you telling me that the person I was fighting was not you at all?" Neji's voice was dangerously low.
"Of course not!" Naruto beamed. "Did you really think that I was that much of an idiot for attacking a Hyuuga head on? Nope. I just wanted to prove to you how you yourself defied fate."
"Eight Trigrams Sixty-Four Palms." Naruto started. "Hakke Rokujuyon-Sho. It is said that that technique is passed down to only one person in the Main Branch. You were never supposed to know of it, let alone use it better than the current heir." The blond chuckled. "I do believe that is known as defying fate."
Silence reigned through the Stadium.
"Imagine what Hizashi-san would be saying about you right now Neji." Naruto's eyes softened. "He wouldn't like the path that you're going on."
In the audience, Hiashi leaned forward in his seat, pale eyes narrowed. What did that boy know of what his brother would have wanted?
"Shut up!" Neji screamed, trying to attack Naruto. "What do you know about my father! What do you know of what he sacrificed because of the Main Branch!"
Naruto expertly dodged the attack. He opened his palm fully before closing it into a fist.
"Activate." Naruto said calmly. His voice was the only one even daring to speak.
Neji found himself unable to move his body. He found that he was forced onto his knees, his arms rigidly positioned away from his body. Though he tried to move, it was impossible. He was completely at Naruto's mercy. With wide eyes, he looked at Naruto, who was watching him with sadness in his eyes.
"When my clone hit you in the beginning, he placed an Immobilization Seal on you which allowed me to render you motionless right now. Until I say so, you will not be released." Naruto sighed. "Had I wanted to win this match outright, I would have used Ninjutsu. But there's something I needed to do, so I decided to go the long method instead."
Suddenly, Naruto's face twisted into an ugly snarl that reminded Neji of the elders. The shorter boy's hand suddenly molded itself into a hand seal that Neji was very familiar with. Dread and disbelief ran through his system.
"Activate." Naruto sneered, this time spitting out the word like it was poison.
There was a split second of inaction before...
Neji screamed out in pain as he felt the seal on his forehead respond to the command. It felt as thought every vein in his body was on fire. The fact that he was immobile only increased the agony. This was unlike any other time that the seal had been used upon him. It felt stronger, and much more poignant. Through blurred vision, he saw Naruto's face twist into one of remorse as he released the seal.
Naruto took a deep breath as he watched Neji shudder, no doubt due to the aftershocks of pain.
I'm sorry, my friend.
In the stands, Shikamaru and Lee exchanged looks of disbelief. Had Naruto just done what they think he did?
"Naruto-kun..." Hinata clasped a hand over her mouth at the measure of cruelty that her crush had displayed.
"How could he use the Hyuuga Clan's Curse Seal?" Gai's voice lacked its normal enthusiasm. Staring at his rival's student and his own student splayed out like a martyr, an unfamiliar feeling crept into his veins.
"I don't know." Kakashi murmured to himself, his one visible eye wide. "What is he doing! That's not the Naruto that I know."
"You don't think..." Kurenai trailed off, her eyes narrowing at the blond.
"If you believe what I think you are implying," Gaara's voice was controlled and even, but everyone heard the thinly disguised anger within it, "Then you are a fool." He gazed at his fellow Jinchuuriki impassively. "Naruto is not someone who uses pain to control someone. He is about to prove a point." The boy exhaled loudly and pointed one pale finger at Naruto.
As if on cue, Naruto bowed low to Neji.
"I'm sorry." The guilt rolled off of him in waves.
"H...How?" Was all Neji was able to choke out.
Naruto eyed the Hyuuga for a moment before plopping down.
On the ground.
"You wanted to give me a history lesson, didn't you?" The teen squinted at Neji, who was trying to feebly move against his invisible ropes. "But let me give you one. It's about the Uzumaki Clan."
"See, The Uzumaki's,...me, we're known as experts in Fuuiinjutsu, the Sealing Arts, and because of that, the Clan was almost wiped out during the Second Shinobi War."
Naruto observed the boy carefully. "You know about seals." It wasn't a question.
"Well so do I." Naruto got up and dusted himself off. His astute eyes found Hyuuga Hiashi in the crowd. A smirk blossomed on his face. "I, more than anyone know about seals."
The crowd tensed.
"Because it's in my blood. As an Uzumaki, I love seals." Naruto pinched his brow in mock frustration. "But there's a couple that I don't like." Slowly, Naruto stalked forward and removed Neji's headband, revealing to the whole world the Hyuuga Clan's Curse Seal.
Hinata flinched at the sight of it.
"Ah yes. This...monstrosity." Naruto smiled unpleasantly. "Did you know that all seals in Konoha are originally Uzumaki Seals? It would make sense that they were. After all, The Uzumaki and Senju Clans were cousins. To answer your question as to how I can activate that seal...it's because that seal's full potential can only be used by an Uzumaki. That is why you were in so much pain."
Not even the birds chirped.
"See that Neji?" He pointed to the spiral on Genma's flak jacket. "That's my Clan's symbol. The fact that it's on every piece of Shinobi attire signifies the kinship between the Senju and Uzumaki."
Neji managed to sneer at him. "So what?" He felt exposed, naked almost. Fear crawled up through his spine. Was he going to activate the seal again?
"So what? He says?" Naruto scoffed. "I'm trying to help you, and you dismiss me?" Naruto shook his head.
"How can you possible help me! My fate was decided since birth!" Neji screamed. "I am nothing but a servant of the Main Branch because my father was born as the younger twin!"
Naruto looked at him in exasperation. On the monitors that projected the match to everyone in the Stadium, his emotions seemed amplified. The boy then walked over and slowly placed a hand on Neji's shoulder. Looking the boy in his eyes, Naruto said the words that would forever change the Hyuuga Clan.
"I'm going to remove that seal from your forehead."
"I'm going to remove that seal from your forehead."
Naruto's declaration was met with silence.
"Did you know of this?" Yoshino asked her husband closing her jaw which had fallen open.
Shikaku shook his head, partly in disbelief partly in amusement. Only Naruto...
The gathered Iwa Nin were on the edges of their seats. Could it be true? Was this the power of the Namikaze?
"So this is what he meant by ruffling a few feathers." Lee slapped a hand to his forehead.
"Did I just hear that right?" Kakashi stared at his student. "He's going to..."
"Apparently." Shikamaru muttered with fond exasperation. Naruto had been working hard this past month, hadn't he?
"That's impossible!" Hinata cried out. "No one...no one can do that!"
"Naruto can." Gaara stated impassively. "After all, he devised a seal for me, didn't he?"
At the reminder, eyes flitted to the future Kazekage's stomach and then back to Naruto.
Neji was in a state of shock.
There was no way that this...this...brat had confidently told him that he was going to remove the Curse Seal from his being.
"Close your mouth." Naruto muttered. "Like I said, every seal is based on an Uzumaki design. The Curse Seal that your Clan took after we were supposedly wiped out was used as a torture seal on enemy-nin."
A furious Naruto sent a glare at Hiashi which could have killed the Clan Head in his seat.
"But your Clan took it, and twisted it into something that should never be used on family." The blond was dripping with fury, Neji realized. But it was on his behalf. Someone was fighting to save him.
Naruto drew in a great gulp of oxygen before turning to the Kage Box.
"Therefore, as future Clan Head of the Uzumaki Clan, and Proxy for the Senju, I am, in front of my Kage, calling in the debt that the Hyuuga owe the Uzumaki. The price for stealing a seal that is not their own will not cost you any money. Instead, I demand that in one week's time, every Branch Member of the Hyuuga Clan be seen by me so that the Curse Seal may be removed. Should they fail to do so, I am well within my right to enact necessary measures against the Hyuuga Clan. Is this acceptable, Hokage-sama?"
Sarutobi Hiruzen stared at the boy with shock. No matter what Naruto did, he would always manage to surprise him. How had the boy known that the Hyuuga's seal was originally an Uzumaki seal? Only the Elders, himself, and the Hyuuga Clan Elders were aware of this.
Unfortunately for the Hyuuga's, they were outpowered by a single child. Naruto held a claim to both the Uzumaki and Senju seats. He outranked every Shinobi in the village save for Tsunade via his lineage alone. To go against him was suicide.
How ironic that the boy the Village had shunned, was actually someone who they should have been treating like a Prince.
"It is, Uzumaki Naruto." The Hokage said with a hint of pride.
Gasps went up throughout the crowd. Hiashi looked ready to explode. Hanabi just looked at her father in confusion. The implications of what the Hokage had just allowed...All eyes turned with gut churning anticipation back to Naruto.
Nodding to himself, Naruto stared at the Curse Seal for a minute before he pulled out a set of pre-made seals.
"I'm going to remove it now. Me using the seal against you was part of my plan. By doing so, I have "warmed it up" so to speak. Many people are not aware of this, but there is a refractory period in which that seal cannot be used. I did not mean to torture you. It was a necessary evil in order to help you." Naruto told Neji seriously.
"I made a promise that I was going to change the Hyuuga Clan before I became Hokage. But I couldn't wait any longer. Is that alright with you?"
Neji couldn't speak. How could anyone respond to that? So he nodded.
Satisfied, Naruto went to work.
This wasn't like a typical Uzumaki seal which dealt more with spirals and layering. This was a crude, but effective measure of causing pain. Plus, the Clan had tweaked it to ensure that the Byakugan was sealed after death.
Naruto pulled out the seal that he had painstakingly worked on throughout the month. It was like no other that he had ever made. The unsophisticated nature of the seal actually made it relatively simple to undo. Well, simple for a Master of his caliber. However, he had to make sure that he wouldn't damage Neji's Byakugan after it had been activated.
The Hyuuga seal was comprised of straight lines that intersected each other. To reverse this, he had to make a seal that utilized an even pattern, - two over four. If it worked, this seal would open Neji's, allowing Naruto to do what he did best.
He steeled his resolve before slapping the piece of paper onto Neji's forehead and murmuring soft words under his breath.
This will work. I know it will.
All of a sudden, Neji's forehead glowed with white bright light.
Naruto smirked. So it had worked. He had just opened the foundations to reverse engineer the seal. Now, the process was fairly easy.
Pulling out even more seals that he had made, he pressed more of them down to Neji's forehead. These were to ensure that when the seal was removed from him, his chakra pathways would still function normally.
Stepping back, Naruto admired his handiwork. He truly was a genius.
Now, there was only one thing to do.
Grinning cheekily up at Hiashi who looked like death would be too good a punishment for Naruto, Naruto said only one word.
The pain he was in was something that he had never experienced before. It was greater than when Naruto had used the Curse Seal on him just a few minutes ago.
However, just as soon the pain had arrived, it was gone.
He blinked. His vision was slightly blurry. Another blink later, and it was clear, revealing the smiling face of a blond kid who he had dismissed so easily not too long ago.
Neji was acutely aware that the Stadium was silent.
Slowly, learning that he could move again, he stood up.
Naruto transformed a kunai into a mirror and held it up to Neji's face.
Instead of the Curse Seal on his forehead, only smooth flesh remained.
The Hyuuga found that he couldn't breathe.
Collapsing to his knees the ground in sheer joy, he couldn't help the tears that ran down his face.
The seal was gone.
There wasn't a trace of it left. For the first time in his life, all Neji could see was the unmarred skin of his forehead.
Uzumaki Naruto had done the impossible.
The blond outstretched an arm and helped Neji to his feet, a clinical look on his face.
"Activate your Byakugan."
Neji did as he was told. For some reason, his vision just felt...clearer.
Naruto let out the breath he didn't know he had been holding. Good. Everything had gone right.
"A sense of freedom?"
Neji took in a quivering breath and nodded.
Naruto smiled from ear to ear. "So, are we going to continue?"
Neji let out a laugh. After all that, he wanted to continue? How could he possibly fight this person?
"I forfeit!" Neji yelled out to the still silent crowd. And then bowed to Naruto, who suddenly had a particular glint in his eye.
"Rise, Hyuuga Neji."
Neji did as he was told.
Looking into determined cerulean eyes, he was pulled into a firm handshake.
"Let today mark the new beginning of a friendship between the Uzumaki and Hyuuga Clans!" Naruto declared. Naruto looked at Genma, whose senbon had fallen from his mouth. "So, can we go?"
Genma shook himself out of his stupor and promptly bopped Naruto on the head.
"What was that for?" Naruto mumbled, massaging his sore head.
"That was for telling me that you weren't a Seal Master!" The Jounin yelled.
"Fine fine, I'm sorry I lied. Now please call the match or else you'll have a pissed off Master on your hands."
Genma actually took the threat seriously. "Winner: Uzumaki Naruto."
Naruto just grinned, took hold of Neji's kimono, and teleported the both of them to where the other Genin were.
At their looks, Naruto just shrugged.
"Did you expect anything less of me?
"What just happened?" Mei asked the Hokage, her eyes were wide and her mind had not processed what she had just seen. "Don't tell me that my cousin just -"
"He just changed the entire structure of one of the most powerful Clan's in Konoha because he could." Sarutobi sighed. This was going to be, in the words of the Nara Clan, troublesome.
"They'll want his head on a platter." Ao commented, rubbing the Byakugan eye behind his eyepatch.
"They can't have it." Sarutobi smiled. "Because they did steal an Uzumaki seal without permission. I don't know how he got that information! They have to comply with his request, or else Naruto will take control of their Clan."
"Does this happen often with him?" Mei inquired weakly.
"At the Preliminaries, he sealed a tailed-beast back within its container." Sarutobi pointed at Gaara. "He's doing fine now."
Mei looked rather pale.
Orochimaru tensed. He knew of the re-sealing of the beast. It was not ideal, but he was fairly sure that Gaara was still going to carry out the plan. Baki hadn't told him otherwise.
Seal-Masters were valued all over the globe because of how much of an asset they were. If he could have Naruto...what power he would have within his fingertips! His patience was waning thin. Now would be the perfect time to attack
Orochimaru discretely activated a chakra flare that was sent to every Iwa, Oto, and Suna nin.
In five minutes, Konoha would descend into chaos.
Naruto was tackled by a violet blur.
Hinata sobbed into his chest. One of her hands had latched into Neji's clothing and pulled him close. The boy looked so surprised, Naruto couldn't help but snicker.
He gently pried Hinata from his chest and patted her on the head all while ignoring the looks his friends were giving him. Guiding the crying girl to the frozen Neji, he watched as she attacked Neji with a hug as well.
"Nii-san!" She clutched him closer.
Neji looked at Naruto, who just shook his head and mimed a hug. Gulping, Neji did as he was told. It was...different.
"So..." Kakashi circled Naruto slowly. "Any other surprises you want to pull?"
"Not really." Naruto shook his head. "I think I'm done." Wait till they learn about Kurama.
They'll love you!
The fox snorted. I said shut up.
"Uzumaki-sama." Neji turned to the blond and suddenly got down on one knee.
Naruto stared wide-eyed. "Huh?"
"I...cannot repay you for what you've done. You have...you have..." The Hyuuga looked up. "You saved me." He breathed in awe.
"I don't want to be repaid Neji." Naruto snorted and gripped the other boy's shoulder, bringing him to his feet. "And I'm not Uzumaki-sama. I'm just Naruto to my friends."
The true meaning of that sentence was not lost on Neji. He nodded slightly, throat closing up. "Of course...Naruto."
"GO NARUTO-NII!" Konohamaru's yell from somewhere in the crowd cut through the shock.
Suddenly, the spectators were on their feet, roaring and cheering with support for Naruto.
The boy blinked and raised a hand, a small smile on his face. If anything, the deafening roar deepened, earning a wince from Naruto.
"You realize the repercussions?" Surprisingly, it was Sasuke who spoke.
The Uchiha had watched Naruto without a jealous eye for once. Sealing was an art that was honed and perfected over years. For Naruto to have been called a Seal Master by the proctor...he had been doing this for a long time. This was not an art the Sharingan was able to copy.
"I know." Naruto sighed. "Luckily for me, the Hyuuga Clan has to admit theft of my Clan's seal. I know documents proving it exists. If they think that time heals all wounds, then they are very much wrong. But that doesn't mean they'll still try to get out of the rest of our agreement."
"We won't let them." Shikamaru shrugged. "You'll have the Uzumaki and Senju names, plus with Sarutobi, Nara, Yamanaka, and Akimichi on your side, you'll be fine."
"True." Naruto agreed. "If they went against us, they would be spelling out their own doom."
"When did you get so savvy with politics?" Kurenai asked.
"Since I've lived with him." Naruto jerked a thumb at Shikamaru. "Imagine being forced to play Shogi every night by him, and Shikaku-san. Saying no is not an option."
Naruto chanced a glance at the Kage Box. While Orochimaru was hidden, his frustration could not be. He was going to act soon. Naruto knew it.
Suddenly, a sharp pain went through the blond's heart, causing him to spasm slightly. Only Shikamaru and Lee noticed it.
"Such hatred!" Naruto ground out, massaging his chest. Eyes widened in realization. "There's someone else here!"
Gaara, who was close enough to hear him, looked at Naruto quizzically. "What do you mean?"
"Someone else is going to take part in the Invasion." Naruto grimaced. "I don't know who, but the hatred that I'm sensing is directed towards Konoha...and me. Specifically at me."
"Who?" Shikamaru swore. "Who haven't we accounted for?"
"Iwa." Lee breathed with sudden realization. "Who hates Konoha the most besides Orochimaru?"
"Damn it!" Naruto slammed his fist into the railing. "But...how? We've doubled security. Won't the guards have noticed-"
They would have noticed Iwa shinobi, but merchants, travelling people? No. The Chuunin Exams brought many foreign merchants into the area. It would have been child's play to infiltrate.
Just then, Gaara grasped his arm.
"Damn!" He hissed. His siblings and Jounin-sensei were looking at him expectantly.
"Five minute warning."
"That's it!" Naruto grimaced. "This wasn't going like planned. Iwa and Orochimaru are working together. But he doesn't know that Suna has betrayed him."
"Plus the four of us are insanely powerful." Gaara deadpanned.
"Still..." Lee trailed off, deep in thought.
"I'll send a Kage Bunshin out for patrol." Naruto muttered, creating the clone outside of the arena. "Meanwhile, let me try to pinpoint the enemy nin's location."
You still are not fully you, Naruto. The Kyuubi grimaced. While your sensing skills have improved, you still cannot detect individual hatred.
I know. Naruto growled in frustration. And that's the worst part.
"MATCH NUMBER 2: UCHIHA SASUKE OF KONOHA VS. SABAKU NO GAARA OF SUNA."
Gaara hissed slowly. This couldn't happen, not right now. A quick glance to Sasuke told him that the kid was waiting for him.
At a snail's pace, he resigned himself to walking down to the floor.
Sasuke looked annoyed.
"Face each other." The proctor said.
"Are you ready?"
Both of them nodded.
"Get ready!" They both tensed, but for different reasons.
Sasuke charged, only to be met with Gaara's sand as defense.
Gaara was on the defensive, not bothering to strike Sasuke at all.
He blocked a kick lazily with his sand.
Sasuke attempted to attack his back.
Gaara allowed Sasuke to place a kick to his solar plexus.
White feathers started to fall from the sky and Gaara smiled a bloodthirsty smile.
It was time. Looking to his comrades, Gaara saw all three of them nod. If anything, his smile widened.
All hell broke loose.
Konoha: Namikaze Minato's Former Apartment: Present time
"You're from the future." Kakashi repeated blandly. "You."
"Gaara too. Not physically though, just mentally." Lee wrinkled his nose from the dust. "But he didn't regain his memories until he came into contact with Kurama."
"Kurama." Kakashi parroted. "The Kyuubi."
"Are...are you okay?" Naruto asked hesitantly, poking Kakashi's still form with his finger. "Do you need water or something."
"Shut up!" The older man roared, chakra flaring before settling down. "Do you understand how ridiculous you sound. Time-travel is NOT POSSIBLE!"
"You're looking at the kid who sealed Shukaku back into Gaara and removed the Hyuuga Curse Seal, and you say that time-travel isn't possible?" Shikamaru scowled.
"You died." Naruto said softly causing Kakashi to look at him. The pain in the boy's voice left the older man stunned. "All of you died. We were the only ones left. Dad's Hiraishin, it's a Space-Time Ninjutsu. The seal I used to bring us back ten years into the past was a derivation of the Hiraishin."
Kakashi slumped against the wall. This couldn't be possible! It wasn't was it?
"Dad knows." Shikamaru muttered. "If you have doubts, ask dad. He's the one who deduced it a while back."
"Shikaku-sama knows?" Kakashi whipped his head up. "And he believes you?"
"Like Shika said, he was the one who first figured it out and approached us." Lee said, his tone hard. "Believe us Kakashi-sensei, at first we too had trouble believing it. However we realized we were given a chance to save you! All of you!"
You died. Naruto had said. We were the only ones left. That utterly lost tone that Naruto had spoken in couldn't be faked.
"But..." The Hatake heir closed his mouth. "So that's why you became so powerful so quickly."
Naruto released the breath he was holding and smiled. "Yes, that's why."
Kakashi let out a breath and sunk down against the wall. "I'm still processing all of this. Don't expect me to accept all of this right away."
A genuine smile lit up Naruto's face. "I wouldn't expect any less from you."
After a few moments of heavy breathing, Kakashi stood up again with a creak of his joints.
"Iwa was unexpected." Shikamaru frowned.
"Last time, Suna attacked us with Orochimaru." Naruto explained. "Sasuke and Gaara were fighting when the same Genjutsu used today was fell upon us. It was chaos. Eventually, Gaara and I fought until I defeated him. But..." Naruto clenched his fists. "The Sandaime paid the ultimate price."
Kakashi's eye widened in realization. "So that's why today you..."
Naruto nodded. "I couldn't let the same thing happen again." He took a breath.
"Why didn't you tell me?" Kakashi looked at Naruto. "Why didn't you tell Hokage-sama! We could have helped you. We could have prevented this!"
"We tried to prevent this!" Naruto yelled. Guilt welled in him. "That's why we tried so damn hard to protect everyone. Gaara, Neji, Jiji, everyone played such an important role. I couldn't let them die."
"So you created ripples." Kakashi frowned.
"Yes." Lee said flatly. "That's exactly what we did."
For a second, Kakashi looked like he wanted to say something else, but refrained.
"How long did the war last?"
"Our war? Six years. Mentally, myself, Gaara, and Shika are 22. Lee is 23." Naruto winced in pain. His injuries were not bad, but they still hurt.
"Hence the maturity and knowledge you shouldn't have." Kakashi stated dryly.
They said nothing.
"Fine! I believe you." Kakashi threw his hands up. The truth was, he didn't truly want to believe it, but there had been no traces of a lie in any of the boys' eyes. "But once things are back to normal, all of you are going to tell me exactly what happened that made you come back to the past."
Naruto nodded. "Understood, Inu-Taichou."
At the use of his old ANBU designation, the scarecrow smiled ever so slightly.
"Whatever...Hokage-sama." Kakashi left in a puff of smoke, leaving three weary time-travelers trying to make sense of the past day.
"Suffice to say, I don't think Iwa is going to want to be anywhere near Konoha right now, or ever." Shikamaru snorted. He didn't see the sorrow on Naruto's face.
The three of them slid down the walls of the Yondaime's house in unison.
Naruto tucked his head in between his knees. "I won't forgive myself for this." He ground out. "Or that snake."
"It's not your fault." Shikamaru said gruffly, awkwardly patting Naruto on the back. "It's better than last time at least."
"After everything, everything that we fought to prevent, history still has a way of repeating itself!" Naruto's fist slammed against the floor, causing a dull echo in the room. His voice choked, and a hysterical sob wracked his body.
This time, Lee's hand stroked his best friend's back in a comforting manor. He too was having a hard time keeping his emotions in check. But as the oldest, he had to keep a strong face.
We knew that some things would stay the same, Naruto. Kurama's voice was unexpectedly soft. Sometimes, not even an act of Kami can change what was meant to be.
"Stop it." Naruto whispered. "Stop trying to make me feel better Kurama."
Shikamaru sighed. Wincing from his injuries, he still managed to get Naruto to face him and Lee. Placing his hands on the younger boy's shoulders, he looked straight into watery eyes.
"Listen to me." Naruto's head snapped up at the authoritative tone. "Stop blaming yourself." The Nara shook Naruto to emphasize his point. "You saved so many today, you became a hero, Naruto. This...what happened, that is not your fault."
"He's dead Shika!" Naruto threw Shikamaru's hands off of him. "He's dead because I couldn't protect him!"
"Enough." Lee's tired tone cut through Naruto. Exhausted black eyes pierced the blond. "Shikamaru is right, Ruto. Stop it. You make it sound like you're the only one who had the skills to save him. Are you forgetting about us? Are you forgetting about the dozens of Jonins in this Village? You are not alone."
There was silence in the room save for Naruto's labored breathing.
"We all saw what happened Naruto." Shikamaru spoke quietly. Gently, he pulled Naruto closer to him. "You're hands were tied. No one blames you, no one."
"He was a good man." Naruto managed to say. "The history between Iwa and Konoha aside, that man always put his Village before him. I-" He paused, a fresh wave of guilt crashing over him. "I respected him."
"And you know what the worst thing is?" Naruto said bitterly. "We can't even mourn him. He was the enemy. Iwa. It doesn't matter if he was manipulated. He was scum in Konoha's eyes. What would people think if they knew that Uzumaki Naruto was crying over dead Rock trash?"
There was a lump in Lee's throat that didn't want to go away. Unfortunately, he knew what people would think. And he hated it.
"So let's mourn." Shikamaru said firmly, his eyes glinting. "We may not be able to in public, but when it's just us, who cares?"
"I agree." Lee flinched when he tried to sit on his knees, so he opted to slump against the wall. His hands were already folded in a gesture of prayer.
Naruto swallowed audibly, but managed to get to his knees. He placed his hands together and looked towards the ceiling, un-shed tears wavering within his eyes.
"Wherever you are, I hope you're enjoying the afterlife." Naruto smiled ever so slightly. "If you see my dad, I hope the two of you can make up."
"Nothing facilitates male bonding then a good clashing of the fists." Lee added.
"Hopefully your back feels better." Shikamaru chuckled.
The trio clapped their hands together twice and bowed their heads.
Naruto held out his hand as if he were holding a saucer of sake.
"Here's to you, Onoki jii-chan. May you rest in peace, Sandaime Tsuchikage-sama."
And from high above the trio, in another plane of existence, the Sandaime Tsuchikage gazed down upon the son of his hated enemy with exasperation and annoyance.
"Only Namikaze's son would be stupid enough to try and save an enemy. I guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, does it?"
*Juukenpo: Hakke Rokujuyon-Sho: Eight Trigrams Sixty-Four-Palms
I took many liberties with the origins of the Hyuuga Curse Seal. I assure you that it is most definitely not mentioned in the Manga, and this is purely from my own imagination.
Also, before anyone complains that "Naruto is too powerful", or, "What he did to Neji was impossible,"...I don't really care. He is a Master of Seals. Something like this is doable for him, even if it required a full month of meticulous studying.
Once again, I would like to profusely apologize for my 11 month hiatus. I hope that this chapter was up to your standards. The Exam and Aftermath are too much in one chapter, so what was foreshadowed here will be up in the next chapter...which will NOT take 11 months to update.
Thank you for reading.