The Windmill Turns Both Ways
Rated T for ninja violence/language; Time travel fic; Gen-fic (no pairings); Originally written 2013-2017. Revised April 2020.
General disclaimer that all fics in this series are based on Naruto pre-700 manga canon. Some anime-only, novelization, or post-700 things may be in it, but many/most things will not.
SPOILER WARNING FOR NEW READERS: This story was originally 24 super-long chapters. In 2020, I did a major revision and separated the chapters into more reasonable lengths. Because of this, any reviews on chs 1-24 that were posted earlier than March 2020 are talking about things that happen later and can be very spoilery in some cases.
Cover art by i-drive-a-nii-san on Tumblr! Please do not take without permission.
One hundred thousand organic clones made from the cells of Senju Hashirama grew in the vast cavern, rustling and shifting beneath the unsuspecting earth. Kabuto looked down at them from the water's surface and cracked a sly smile.
Tobi brought Kabuto to this cavern after accepting him as an ally for the upcoming Fourth Shinobi War. But something had changed within Kabuto, and the alliance was no longer enough. That was why he was in this room alone, in secret, for the sake of his own ambitions.
Well, not entirely alone. He knelt down on the water to get a better look at what lurked below. The silence defied the sheer amount of life in this cave. The Reanimated bodies of Itachi and Nagato were standing behind him, still and silent as everything else, mindless puppets with blank eyes and vacant expressions. The one presence that Kabuto didn't take into account, however, was the one that watched him with suspicion.
Zetsu the original didn't trust Kabuto. Neither did Tobi, for that matter, which was why Zetsu was now keeping an eye on their new partner. His head was poking out of the wall high up in the dark heights of the cavern, watching Kabuto carefully as he looked down at Zetsu's thousands of weaker siblings.
"What an incredible source of life energy. Hashirama was a really remarkable man," Kabuto murmured.
Kabuto inclined his head toward the stem of the great plant, delivering a silent command, and Nagato walked forward and laid his hands on it.
And what does he plan to do with that? Zetsu wondered.
Nagato was absorbing chakra from the plant. His silver hair turned blood-red, and Kabuto grinned to himself again. He stuck his hand under the water and shot a stream of snakes down toward the mob. The Zetsu clones didn't react, not even when the snakes wrapped themselves around a single one and tore it away from its bretheren. It was dragged up to the surface and smuggled into Kabuto's voluminous cloak by the time Nagato came walking back to his side.
"Let's go," Kabuto said, and flickered away. Itachi and Nagato followed behind him.
Kabuto decided to abandon his alliance with the fake Madara for one simple reason. It was called the Time-Spanning Incarnation jutsu.
When Kabuto first discovered the hand-bound research notebook in a hidden room of Orochimaru's lair, he never expected the incomplete jutsu would become an obsession for him. Since the moment he discovered the seal and started piecing its missing elements together, it gradually wormed into his thoughts until he forgot everything else. The war, Edo Tensei—all of it.
At the time, he didn't question why. The idea was just too intoxicating to him. Why should he limit himself to stealing the fixed powers of shinobi that were dead and gone, if it were possible to take living ones—still malleable, still changing? To take them from a younger age, while their potential was still being realized? All it required was the summoning formula, the right power, and a compatible vessel.
It was harder than it sounded. If his theory was correct, this jutsu had the potential to utterly destroy the user. Time travel was a crime against the natural order of things, after all. As a rule, the past was meant to stay pressed and preserved between the pages of time and never opened again.
That was why the idea to make one of his Edo Tensei puppets perform it was nothing less than sheer genius. With the energy that he'd made Nagato absorb, and the fact that the undead couldn't die even if the jutsu backfired, Kabuto felt certain it would work.
And he'd chosen the perfect medium for the summoning. A Zetsu clone was a body with amazing powers of adaptability; one that would maintain its underlying properties even after superimposing another will upon it. It had the capacity to imitate living tissue almost flawlessly, yet it wasn't bound by the same rules.
Kabuto scanned over his work with satisfaction. The stolen Zetsu clone was laid out on the stone floor of one of Orochimaru's old hideouts. The hand-bound notebook was open on its chest—the summoning formula, meticulously redrawn onto a new spread of pages. Kabuto didn't understand every nuance of the formula, but he didn't need to in order to copy it down and use it. There was no danger to himself, after all.
And if it endangered the one he intended to drag out of the past, what of it?
"Oi, Naruto. Can you make a delivery for me, since you're done with that?"
Naruto peered at Teuchi over the edge of his ramen bowl, slurping down the last of the broth. He set the bowl down with a loud, contented sigh and rubbed the back of his head.
"I'd like to, gramps, but I'm supposed to be meeting Iruka-sensei here. He's running late, but..."
"Come on," Teuchi insisted, putting the delivery box on the counter. "I'll tell him where you are. That bowl you just had as an appetizer will be on me."
"Awright!" Naruto snatched the bill slip and picked up the box. "I'll be right back!"
Naruto jogged lightly through the village, feeling very content with the world. It was always nice to see home again after a mission, but the last one was not only dangerous—even Orochimaru showed up at one point—it was also more important than any before. After all the pain, terror, and uncertainly left in the village following the disastrous chuunin exams and the Sandaime Hokage's death, the village had a strong pillar to rebuild on again. He had brought them a Hokage, and all the security and hope that came with the title.
Jiraiya had been there too, of course. It's not like he could take all the credit. Jiraiya had taken care of most of the whole fighting-super-dangerous-missing-nin part. Facing two Akatsuki members and Orochimaru within the span of a single journey would have been a little too much for Naruto to handle alone.
Still, it seemed like most people didn't even realize that Naruto had gone on the mission to find Tsunade, much less act grateful for his help. It was disappointing not to get the recognition his heroic efforts deserved.
He couldn't be upset at a time like this, though. Not when it felt like the great oppressive blanket of fear and mourning had finally been lifted off the village.
"Delivery!" Naruto chirped, stepping into the Yamanaka flower shop.
"Naruto?" Ino stood up from where she had been sitting behind the counter.
"Oh, good." A tall, vaguely familiar man with a long blond ponytail came walking in from the back. "Since mom is out today, I thought we'd have lunch in the shop, Ino. Fast service! Thanks for bringing that, Naruto-kun."
Ino pointed at Naruto accusingly, other hand on her hip. "But why are you the one bringing it? Is there even anything left in that box?"
"Pfft, why would I need your ramen? Iruka-sensei's back there waiting to treat me! Later!" After raising his hand in a brief wave, he turned to run out.
"Wait—Naruto!" Ino called after him, and he turned back. "Sasuke-kun...has there been any..."
Naruto looked at her hopeful, anxious face and broke into a wide grin.
"I finally dragged Tsunade-baachan down to the hospital a few hours ago," he said, giving the sparkling thumbs-up he'd learned from Lee. "She used her medical ninjutsu on Sasuke and he woke up right away. He's going to be alright!"
Ino covered her mouth, tears welling up in her eyes. "Thank goodness."
"You can go to the hospital after we eat," Inoichi said gently. "I'll look after things here."
Smiling, Naruto turned and dashed out. That warm feeling was expanding in his chest, making his heart float like a balloon.
No—right now, it didn't matter. It was enough to know that he'd had a part in something significant for the village... and his friends. It was worth it to see Sasuke and Kakashi-sensei open their eyes again, and Sakura's smile.
Naruto went back the way he came, dodging civilians pushing wheelbarrows and carrying timber, repairing the damage from Orochimaru's attack. Everyone was working cheerfully, banded together and confident in the village's strength. They no longer had the anxious air of a leaderless people.
As expected, Iruka was there when he got back. He looked up when Naruto came in, slurping the noodles that were hanging halfway out of his mouth.
"Iruka-sensei!" Naruto cried indignantly. "You couldn't wait until I got back?"
Iruka snorted as Naruto slid into the seat beside him, and Teuchi quickly put a fresh bowl of ramen down. "You started it. Youdidn't wait until I got here, either—Teuchi-san told me."
"But." Naruto frowned. "I was hungry and it was boring just sitting around here waiting. What made you so late, anyway? Tsunade-baachan reminded me I was meeting you, and I ran here all the way from the hospital, but you ended up way later than me. If I'd have known, I could have stayed around to see what she thought of Bushy—I mean Lee's injuries."
"Right, sorry," Iruka said. "I was in a meeting and it ran over a bit. Everyone is overworked. Academy classes have been disrupted so often lately that we're trying to negotiate a way to cover one another's classes, if someone has to leave suddenly or is needed for a mission."
"Mhm," Naruto mumbled through a mouthful of ramen.
Iruka watched him out of the corner of his eye with a small smile. "I heard that your trip ended up being pretty interesting. It's not every day you get to see all three Sannin in action at once. I bet the landscape didn't fare too well."
"It was incredible!" Naruto said eagerly. "And I won this from Baachan because she bet I couldn't learn my new jutsu in a week." He pulled the First Hokage's necklace from under his shirt. "Wait 'till you see my new jutsu! It's just as good as Sasuke's Chidori. He got ahead of me in the Exams, but I figure we're on equal ground now."
"You really have grown quickly, Naruto. It seems like just yesterday you wanted to borrow my headband."
"Right, right?" Naruto said gleefully. "Even someone like Ero-sennin acknowledged me and taught me the Rasengan. It's clear that I'm naturally awesome!"
"Now now, you have a long way to go yet," Iruka said with mock sternness, waving his chopsticks. "The village is going to need that strength in a time like this. Get ready to work even harder!"
They were getting back on their feet. In three days, a new Hokage would be inaugurated, and everything would be alright.
That was the mantra everyone from the civilians to the elites repeated to themselves.
"Isn't Tsunade-sama amazing?" Sakura said, her eyes shining with awe as she and Naruto looked up at the Hokage Tower from below. "It's strange seeing her in the Hokage hat after seeing an old man wear it for so long."
"Ha!" Naruto said, hands linked behind his head casually. "She's pretty old too, y'know. She just uses some technique to look young. But, yeah, she's still pretty cool."
"Just by her presence, you can tell she's a powerful shinobi. Just like Jiraiya-sama," Sakura said. "And Orochimaru was also like that, in the Forest of Death, even though that was more terrifying than anything. It makes you realize what it means to be Kage-level." She smiled cheekily, and Naruto grumbled.
"Whatever. I wouldn't want it to be too easy, or it wouldn't be worth going for," he said. "We can only go up from here, Sakura-chan."
"Mhm." Sakura absently touched the ends of her newly shortened hair. "I know I don't have a chance of being promoted to chuunin this time, since I didn't pass the preliminaries, but maybe you or Sasuke-kun will. After everything that happened, it's really made me realize that I have to become strong enough to handle things on my own in a situation. It can't all go one way. If we're a team, we protect one another." Her eyes drifted to where Sasuke and Kakashi were standing behind everyone else.
"You're right, but I'm not going to get knocked out and make you have to defend me ever again," Naruto crossed his arms. "That was just embarrassing."
Sakura's eyes flashed. "Oh, so it's embarrassing to be defended by me? You're welcome!"
Naruto winced. "No, I didn't mean it like that, Sakura-chan! I just meant... I should have been there to help, but I wasn't. And we had to rely on other teams until Sasuke took out those Sound guys. I still don't even really know what happened with all of that."
"Oi," Kiba butted in. Team 8 had been beside them since the start of the inauguration. "Do either of you know when they're supposed to tell us who made chuunin?"
"Whoever made it would probably know by now," Shino intoned. "Why? Because Kurenai-sensei said the Godaime would follow the choice the Sandaime already made."
"That's probably true, but she's bound to have been busy with other things besides the chuunin selection. And there are some other people who get a say in it, too," Sakura said.
"I haven't seen anyone promoted yet," Kiba said. "God, it would be so annoying if they just called it off and no one gets it."
"No way, the other countries wouldn't stand for that," Sakura said dismissively, waving a hand. "If no one makes it, it'll be because no one was good enough. Why do you care, anyway? You lost in the preliminaries like I did."
"Well, Naruto beat me that time, but if he beat me to chuunin too, I'd have to seriously consider quitting as a ninja—" he dodged Naruto's punch with a cackle and hid behind Hinata, who spluttered at being brought into the middle of it. Akamaru barked excitedly from on top of Kiba's hood.
"Bastard!" Naruto fumed as Sakura held him back. "I'll take you on any time! And quit hiding behind Hinata!"
"He didn't mean it, Naruto-kun, he was just trying to provoke you—" Hinata started. Her words were drowned out by the sound of applause. They had missed the end of Tsunade's address, and now it was over. Guiltily, they broke apart and joined the applause.
Tsunade, Jiraiya, and the Elders left the roof of the tower and the crowd was gradually dispersing. A lot of people had duties and missions to get back to already, but those that didn't lingered around. Most of the stores and restaurants were staying open late tonight, and it was a sort of holiday, as most of the nonessential shinobi and civilian workers had the day off.
"How do you feel, Sasuke-kun?" Sakura asked as she and Naruto drifted back to the rest of their team.
"Tired," he said, not bothering to elaborate. He looked tired. There were bags under his eyes, even though he'd spent so much time sleeping recently.
"Eh, you just need to go home and rest," Naruto said gruffly. "You're still better off than you were yesterday, so I'm sure you'll be at full strength by tomorrow."
"Maybe... maybe we should ask if our team can wait a little longer before we go on any missions?" Sakura glanced from Sasuke to Kakashi.
"No," Sasuke said, his voice sharpening. "I'm not so weak I can't handle whatever stupid little D or C-ranked mission they decide to send us on next. It's better than sitting around here doing nothing."
"Well..." Kakashi said, and he eye-smiled when they all turned to look at him. "Just so you all know, the next one will be on your own. I have a solo mission starting, but you three will be sent out once you are ready, whether I am back or not. Maybe it will be more of a challenge than you think."
Sasuke just gave a 'hn' in response, as usual, which rolled off of Kakashi, as usual.
"I have to be up very early, unfortunately, so I will see you all later," Kakashi said. He casually withdrew his Icha Icha Paradise and walked off with his nose buried in it.
"Early? That sounds suspicious to me," Naruto said.
"A mission on our own..." Sakura bit her lower lip.
"Don't worry, Sakura-chan. After all, it can't be worse than the Forest of Death, and we did that on our own," Naruto said confidently. "And Sasuke has his Chidori once he gets better, and I just got a super-awesome new jutsu that I didn't have back then, either." He hinted the last part heavily while looking at Sasuke, but the other boy didn't take the bait. He just stood there with his hands in his pockets and a dispassionate expression.
"I guess I'm going home," Sasuke said. "Don't bother me tonight unless it's about a mission or making chuunin."
"I'm going home, too," Sakura said quickly. "I'll walk with you part of the way." Sasuke didn't answer, but she started after him anyway when he didn't say no.
"B-but Sakura-chan, I thought we could..." Naruto started, but the other two were walking away and had stopped listening. Naruto sighed and scratched his head. Now what?
Evening was gathering in the edges of the sky, and he hadn't eaten since the morning. It'd be boring to go somewhere alone, but he was reluctant to leave the celebratory atmosphere downtown. Naruto settled for people-watching on a wall while he slowly finished off some dango.
I wonder how Gaara's doing, he thought.
As the sun dropped lower in the sky and he was just thinking about going home, Jiraiya found Naruto and told him that he was leaving Konoha tonight.
"What?" Naruto jumped down from the wall he'd been sitting on. "But why? You just got back to the village! And Tsunade-baachan is your old teammate, right? Why don't you want to stay around a little longer? I'm not sure if Shizune-neechan can keep her in line alone."
"I was invited to the party, of course, but me being there wouldn't help at all," Jiraiya said, shaking his head. "Besides, it's going to be a more diplomatic affair than Tsunade's really wanting anyway. The Elders and the Clan Heads are going to be there, so it's all very aboveboard."
"In other words, you're trying to escape the politics," Naruto guessed.
Jiraiya grimaced. "Hey now, I really have some things to do. I help Konoha maintain its ties in other lands, after all! That's especially important now that we have a new Hokage. A long-time teammate has the best insight into her personality and policies."
"You mean Konoha's ties in other lands' bathhouses," Naruto muttered.
Jiraiya just smiled and ruffled Naruto's hair. "You'll see me again really soon. I have just a few important things to check on, and depending on that, I'll need to come back here for an important mission."
"What's that?" Naruto asked quickly.
"If it concerns you, then you'll know about it then. If not, you don't have to worry about it. Later, kid." He waved with a smirk and walked off through the thinning crowd, heading in the direction of the village gate.
Naruto huffed mildly and stretched. All the stands and booths were packing up, so he decided to finally go home, too.
Walking lazily through the streets, Naruto's thoughts drifted back to the inauguration. He imagined himself standing in front of a large crowd wearing the Hokage hat and looking out over everyone with his arms crossed in a cool pose (looking older, and stronger, and ravishingly handsome, of course). His teammates behind him, and his village before him, he'd say something impossibly badass, but also very profound and inspirational. And he would invite Tsunade to his party and let her drink and gamble as much as she wanted. The thought made him grin widely to himself.
When Naruto got into his pajamas and crawled into bed minutes after arriving home, he was still so absorbed in fantasizing about the future that, later on, he would wonder whether everything that came after was just the by-product of his overactive imagination.
There was one problem with that theory: none of his visions of the future included war.