First, let me start by saying how pleasantly surprised I was by how many of you actually liked the way Saving Sasuke supposedly ended. I thought for sure I would have annoyed the majority of you guys but not giving it a definite we beat Kabuto and Madara ending.
Second, like several of you suggested and rather obvious by this chapter's existence, I decided to write an epilogue, using loose ends you cited in your reviews.
Third, my Eternal Rival and best friend Angellwriter said she's going to write the sequel for this story. So, if you're one of those who wants more, be on the lookout for it. I'll probably post a note when she has the first chapter up.
Tsunade glowered at the seven shinobi standing before her. Exasperation was her most prominent feeling. She knew the pair from Suna was in on whatever it was that was going on here, but couldn't understand how they came to be in her office. Twenty four hours was not enough time for them to be briefed, let alone for them to reach Konoha.
Yet there they stood, expressions as barren as the deserts they came from. The other unexplainable presence was none other than Kakashi Hatake.
The blonde woman had had no idea that one of her best jounin was included in this fiasco. She would have called him in and demanded answers from him instead of interrogating the gennin. Kakashi wouldn't ever allow his team to die, but he was a jounin under her command and duty bound to inform her of suspicious activity or insubordination.
His presence, while unexpected because she hadn't sent for him, was more understandable than the Kazekage's children's. Kakashi probably learned of the ultimatum she gave his team through Anko and had his ninja hounds positioned to scent them when the three of them returned.
And return they did, well after her sanctioned limit. And not one of them appeared to be afraid of her following through on her threat to have the troublesome Uchiha executed.
It was Sasuke who was the most puzzling of them all, because of the conspicuous absence of the Cursed Seal on the left side of his neck. For the only one whose neck was on the line, the Uchiha was the most relaxed of the seven. He stood with confidence, bookended by his brightly colored teammates, as if he didn't care about the outcome of this meeting because he already knew how it would go.
Eyes roved over the easy-going and laidback stances of the seven shinobi assembled before her, and that was when Tsunade realized what seemed so out of place.
She had never seen all seven of them grouped together, but any time when at least two of them were present, they always felt distant. Separate. On the edge.
Now all seven of them exhibited the same aura, so to speak. Tsunade was getting the same vibe from all of them.
Looking at the Uchiha now, it was glaringly obvious that she had been wrong in her earlier assumption that he knew what was up with his teammates. Before, Uzumaki and Haruno stood closer to each other than they did him, and the boy was constantly shooting them reflective looks. The kid didn't have a clue then, but he did now.
The Kyuubi's vessel stepped forward. Fragments of her desk splintered underfoot. Tsunade had pummeled it mercilessly when the three chuunin had not returned within the day like she had been expecting of them.
"The mission was a success, Tsunade-sama," Naruto intoned.
The clinical deliverance struck Tsunade hard. Especially his addressing her by name. Up until she had given the mandate bring Sasuke Uchiha back or he's being registered as a missing-nin, Naruto had referred to her by Baa-chan. She wanted to hit the brat every time he used it, but now that he wasn't, now that she was so low in his esteem that he refused to call her Hokage, Tsunade wished he would go back to being rude.
That was more manageable than being viewed as honorless by a twelve year old boy.
"The problem has been dealt with," Naruto continued. "Sasuke's Cursed Seal has been removed."
"How?" she pressed.
"I am a Fuuinjutsu Master. I removed it myself."
Tsunade's eyes popped at that nugget of information. That was the most forthcoming she had seen any of them, and Naruto claiming to be a seals expert was the last thing she was envisioning.
"That's not in your records," was all that she could say.
"That's because it hasn't happened yet."
A heavy silence filled the large room. Before her eyes, five of the six teenagers changed before her eyes. Just like they had two days ago when they walked away from her in the bowels of the Torture and Interrogation tower, the five of them now appeared to fill the room. There was an air of assurance, of power, surrounding them.
Tsunade pushed those feelings aside. She didn't know what was going on, but she had to be projecting her expectations of who they would become onto them, because there was no way for such a drastic change to be seen in them. Gennin did not simply wake up one morning with power, abilities, and skills they had never had before.
The Legendary Sucker put on her poker face. The brats were trying to distract her from getting her answers. They thought that by being cagey and presenting a united front, that by letting only Naruto speak for them, that she would forget what she wanted to ask. Or get so irritated and annoyed that she kicked them out prematurely. But Tsunade wasn't going to let that happen.
"When did you learn Fuuinjutsu? Who taught you? How did you manage to remove the Cursed Seal from the Uchiha? Why did he go berserk and where did he go?"
"Before you ask any more questions, I have one for you." Tsunade huffed irritably but gestured for Uzumaki to ask his question.
"Do you believe in time travel?"
No was her immediate response, but she couldn't voice it because of the manner in which Naruto was looking at her. Unwavering blue eyes that had darkened with his intensity were trained on her. It was the most serious she had seen the loud boy since he had somehow wound up a part of her rescue. Irrationally, Tsunade felt like she was standing before Sarutobi or Minato when they took the Hokage position and each swore to protect the village with his life.
"Say I believe what you're suggesting, how did it happen and why did you never tell anyone?"
"Like right now?" Naruto raised a sardonic eyebrow.
Tsunade's lips twitched reflexively. "Yes."
He shrugged unconcernedly. "Who would believe it? You certainly don't."
"Let's say I do. It certainly would explain the miraculous changes witnessed in you, Nara and Haruno in the last three months." The last part was muttered, but not so lowly that everyone couldn't hear it. "Would you tell me why you traveled through time?"
This time Naruto paused long enough to look at his companions, not answering until each had confirmed their agreement with a small nod. "To prevent a war. The Fourth Great Ninja War, to be precise."
Tsunade wished her chair had survived her rage for she could use its support right now. She wasn't nearly drunk enough to be having this conversation, theoretically or otherwise.
"Tell me everything," she ordered.
For once the brat told her the truth. Over two hours he spent talking about what had happened in their future, five nations waging war against a man revived by a forbidden jutsu and the ultimate Tailed Beast, villages falling one by one until all that was left were pockets of shinobi hiding from a mad man, a Konoha devoured by flames, eleven years of fighting, and it culminated with the decision to use a risky, dangerous, unknown jutsu to travel back through time.
Uzumaki then briefly outlined what changes they had brought about or seen as a result of their being back in time, and what he believed she could still expect of the future.
Tsunade listened with half an ear, uncaring that his voiced sounded muffled, as if she had plugged her ears. All she could think about was the one war that she had fought in, the one responsible for the deaths of both her brother Nawaki and her lover Dan.
It took her several minutes to realize that Naruto, who understood what being Hokage meant if his story and actions were anything to judge by, had finished his tale and that they were all waiting for her to speak.
Her mouth was dry. "You said we have three years until it begins."
"I believe so, Tsunade-sama."
"I've heard enough for now. I'll send for you sometime tomorrow. We'll talk with Shikaku and start planning."
It was a clear dismal. A few seconds later, the Fifth Hokage was alone in her ravaged office. Unthinkingly she knelt, gently picking up the red hat that was a symbol of her position. She abhorred wearing it. She felt like she should hate it even more know. Having listened to Naruto's tale, hearing that he had become the Sixth Hokage and learning about everything he had done for Konoha, Tsunade never thought the words he had said only two days ago to be more true.
How could she call herself Hokage when the idea of war frightened her so badly that her hands were shaking? When the hat felt so heavy in her hands?
Tsunade rose, hat grasped tightly in her hands. Facing the window, she observed her village, marveling at the peace and serenity, desperately wishing that it did not have to change. The hat came to rest on her head, and she stared at her reflection.
She may have initially taken the job to get Sarutobi and the Daimyō off her back about her massive gambling debt, but that wasn't good enough anymore. She owed the village more than a lackluster Hokage. If she had even half the dedication and guts as those five brats did, Tsunade would see that Konoha survived this upcoming war.
"Shizune!" she roared, summoning her assistant. "Have another desk brought in immediately. Then help me gather up all this paper work."
The dark haired woman clutching a pig to her chest smiled brilliantly, overjoyed that her master was going to get some work done. "At once, my lady."
Sasuke waited until the seven of them had trooped out of the Hokage tower, Naruto and Sakura bidding their goodbyes to Gaara and Temari and Shikamaru who was accompanying his girlfriend to the gate, before asking the question that had been eating at him.
"Why did you tell her what I did?" he asked tensely.
Naruto's eyes were piercing. He barely registered Sakura lightly touching his upper arm. "Because that's not you anymore. You're not going to destroy our home; therefore Tsunade didn't need to know. She's got enough to deal with worrying about what's to come. She doesn't need to worry about one thing that never will."
Sasuke smiled softly, thinking that the blond was unbelievable. He looked at Sakura, who bore a similar expression of absolute faith in him.
"Thank you. Both of you," he continued at their startled and slightly apprehensive looks, "for fighting for me. For believing in me."
"We'll always be there for you, Sasuke," Sakura said softly.
"That's right," Naruto agreed. "Cause we're Team Seven. Those who abandon their comrades are lower than trash."
All three of them grinned as they finished Kakashi's quote in synchrony.
"You owe me a fight, dobe. You and Sakura have been holding back on me." 'I'm going to beat you for not telling me all this when you had the chance.'
"I'm going to beat both of you." 'I can't believe you told him when I told you not to.'
"Bring it on. It'll feel good not to hide my abilities." 'Don't blame me for this mess. You insisted on keeping it a secret. Take your punishment like a man.'
Forgotten by the three of them, Kakashi smiled proudly at his students, who were still bickering playfully and declaring that the loser would pay for lunch. He had had a passing thought, during the final portion of the Chuunin Exams, in which he believed that his team would be legendary one day.
Of course, that had been before he had been let in on Naruto and Sakura's little secret.
He was so proud now, knowing what they had accomplished and who they had become, seeing the fruits of their labor before him in the form of a relaxed Sasuke.
Together, there was nothing his team couldn't do. They would be greater than the Sannin, and it would be all because of Obito. Because of him, he had a team willing to die for each other, to travel through time and relive a war.
So Kakashi gracefully loped after his three students, refereeing their spar (declaring no one a winner but announcing delightedly that Sasuke had lost) and paid for lunch afterwards.
'I don't know where you are, Obito, but I hope you're watching. You're dream of world peace is closer than you imagined.'