When dawn came, visible as creeping lines of light across the canvas floor, Gaara rose and exited the tent as if this was where he had been last night, rather than years ago.
Across from the entrance was a dying fire pit, a grumbling Kankurou…and a stoic Baki. He didn't think of the man as sensei, but his siblings always had. He had even accompanied them to the man's memorial service, despite his personal indifference, and despite how unwelcome he had been by the rest of the attendees.
It was understandable. He hadn't been the one to kill Baki, but he had killed a lot of other people. He did not think he had been meant to hear the people's grumbling—or the mortician's black jokes about how well Gaara had kept him in business over the years.
Gaara suppressed a smirk at the memory. The moment had stuck with him for years afterward, and formed the backbone for his later sense of humor…which had only served to alarm his brother, who used to complain that it gave him flashbacks to before Gaara had gained some measure of self-control over Shukaku's rages, brought on by the uncontrolled influence of the One-Tailed Tanuki's natural juin markings. The cursed seals on the demon's sandskin had allowed them to easily seal away the enemies summoned by Edo Tensei, but their uncontrolled absorption of what Uzumaki has called "Natural Energy" was also the root cause of Shukaku's infamous instability…
Were we really so bad? the sand demon asked plaintively.
Gaara gave a tiny frown. Yes, he thought back, laconic even in his own mind. His minutely darkened expression nevertheless had Kankurou edging away from him, but Gaara didn't notice. But that was before Uzumaki was able to stabilize our madness.
Uzumaki… This sort of situation was exactly the sort of thing the Kyuubi jinchuuriki was famous for getting into. Never had the Iron Country saying "May you live in interesting times" seemed to apply to someone so much as to Naruto. Fate simply could not leave the blond alone.
Gaara had spent the night in the tent trying to dispel the illusion that he was stuck in the past through every method he knew. Even with Shukaku's assistance, there was never even the slightest tremor to indicate that the world he saw was false or constructed, and they were forced to the conclusion that, somehow, they were indeed back in Gaara's thirteen-year-old body. The timeline did indeed seem to match their trip to Konoha for the chunin exams and the invasion: For one Baki was alive. Kankurou carried his Karasu puppet on his back instead of sealed in a scroll, and Temari, when she emerged, wore a white battle dress instead of purple or black.
Whatever the reason, Gaara was sure beyond a doubt that Uzumaki had been involved. Well, they would be arriving in Konoha in two more days, and if Gaara was back, there was at least room to hope that perhaps Naruto was, too. Between the two of them, they should have little difficulty dealing with Orochimaru and the Sound ninja he had snuck into the city.
Anyway, since Gaara had more or less decided that the time change was in some obscure way caused by the blond, he contented himself that Naruto probably had the situation under control and was diligently going about his duty.
For the second time in two days, Naruto attempted wildly to dismember one of his teammates, this time Sasuke when the other boy woke him for breakfast. The moment Sasuke reached for his shoulder, the jinchuuriki's hand shot out and closed on Sasuke's wrist. He pulled hard, nearly yanking Sasuke's arm out of it's socket at the shoulder, planted a knee on the other boy's thigh, and was bringing a kunai gut his 'attacker' before his eyes could even fully open. Kakashi caught Naruto's wrist halfway there, which seemed to jerk Naruto awake.
"K-Kakashi-sensei?" Naruto asked muzzily, staring at Kakashi's signature steel-backed fingerless gloves.
"Maa, we'd better wake you from a distance from now on," Kakashi said breezily, without having so much as looked around at Naruto. He released the boy's wrist and let him rise, his attention apparently still entirely on the book in his other hand.
Naruto scratched the back of his head awkwardly, still blinking himself back to consciousness. He thought Kakashi darted a look at him, just for a split-second, but he was too busy yawning as he pulled Sasuke to his feet to be sure.
"I still don't know why we stopped to sleep here," Sasuke groused, yanking his arm out of Naruto's grip. "We're only about an hour from Konoha anyway."
"When your teammate is unwell, you stop to make sure they're okay," said Kakashi sternly, for once raising his eye from his book to give Sasuke a hard look.
"What was that fit about, Naruto-baka?" Sakura added, as she started to pack away their tents.
"Fit?" Naruto repeated, though he was rather focusing on the lack of disgust in Sakura's tone as she spoke.
"You suddenly slipped like you forgot how to tree-hop and then you attacked Kakashi-sensei. And now you attacked Sasuke!" Sakura shrieked. Naruto had to wince. He hadn't been this close to Sakura in years and her voice had become somewhat less shrill with time.
Time… Naruto felt the Kyuubi stir at that. Kamui is a spacetime technique. Another growl of assent. This is… He glanced around more carefully. This is the same place we were fighting Tobi, roughly. It was pretty close to the original location of Konoha. So I guess we didn't really move through space. But…Kamui doesn't usually manipulate time, does it? Naruto thought hard, but couldn't remember anything in Kakashi's explanations about his Mangekyou that involved manipulation or control of time.
No, but space and time are linked, grunted Kurama. And look at the facts: You're smaller again. Weaker. Slower. Less chakra than you used to have, before tapping into mine. Still head and shoulders above most of your kind, but less than you're used to.
If you give me a constant trickle, would that help my body get used to your chakra again faster? Naruto thought back at the fox. That should force my chakra reserves to compensate faster, right?
Perhaps…or it may simply kill you, at this age. But, I suppose…
Thanks, Kurama, said Naruto, genuinely pleased to be on good terms with the Nine-Tailed Fox after so many years. I guess we won't have to go back to the Falls of Truth this time around.
No, but you should avoid visibly using my chakra if you can, the Kyuubi advised. If my hunch is right, then you're going to be facing much the same prejudice from your villagers as before.
I guess so, but I'll just have to—
"NA-RU-TO! Stop ignoring me!" Sakura roared, trying to bash him over the head as she had so often done during the Academy.
For Naruto, though, it had been almost five years since such a 'love tap' had last occurred, and he was used to a Sakura who attacked with either Kabuto's chakra scalpels or Tsunade's enhanced strength, neither of which was he comfortable with getting near his head. Naruto flung himself backward away from Sakura, and rolled to his feet in a Shioken starting stance, back straight, arms loose, and facing his opponent only obliquely.
Sakura, however, merely stumbled when her fist didn't connect, and looked frankly baffled at how Naruto could have possibly avoided her.
"Why don't we give Naruto a few hours to collect himself?" Kakashi put in, once again for all the world appearing intent on his book. "We'll head back to the village, and I'll hand in the mission report. Once we arrive, you're dismissed."
Sasuke, who had opened his mouth to ask what the hell fighting stance the dobe had used, which was wildly different from anything he had ever used before. "Hn," he grunted instead. He picked up his backpack and hopped back into the trees.
"I'll sweep, Naruto," said Kakashi lazily, as Sakura rushed to follow Sasuke. Naruto nodded and leapt after his teammates at once. Kakashi followed more sedately, still apparently focused on his book. In reality he was studying Naruto very intently. His student seemed different from just yesterday.
He's not moving like he usually does, Kakashi realized. He's…more fluid and less predictable. All of his motions are more economical, and he's reacting to unexpected contact like a war veteran. And yet, I'm sure it's still the same Naruto. I'll have to keep an eye on him… He didn't acquire those instincts overnight.
…and where did he pick up Kushina-nee-san's Tide Fist?
Yagura heaved a sigh as he read the latest report to cross his desk. Two lone graves in Wave country, one marked with a shattered Kiri ANBU mask, the other with Kubikiribocho planted beside it. Zabuza-kun…forgive me, my old friend…
"Retrieve it at once," he told the guard in front of him. "Double the bounty on Kisame. We must have Samehada back. And there's no sense pretending the world doesn't know that many of the other Swords are lost. Post a reward for the return of any of them besides Kubikiribocho or Hiramekarei, along with a notice that an additional bounty will be paid for the head of whatever nin the blade is taken from."
"At once, Mizukage-sama," the man said, and left at once.
"Yagura-sama, we have word of one of the rebel bases," said another guard. "Shall we attack?"
"By no means," said Yagura, with a frown. He supposed it made sense that the usurper would have surrounded him with fanatics. Easier to make Yagura appear a fanatic himself. Instead, he took the report the guard proffered, glanced at it long enough to memorize the location, then folded it deftly into a paper crane. Then he rose to his feet, cradling the crane carefully.
"Two guards only," he ordered, taking his Kage's hat from the peg beside the door and sweeping out of the room. "Take me there."
The only course of action that B and Gyuuki managed to agree on was that they should return to Kumo and check on Yugito. B had wanted to go to his brother at once with the information he had about the future, and it was a mark of how much he trusted his partner that when the Eight-Tailed Ox advised against doing so, B was willing to listen. Gyuuki was certain that they could do more good by simply taking a larger hand in events themselves, and while B had no problem with this, he didn't like the idea of manipulating his brother. Finally, they had come to the conclusion that Yugito might have some good advice regardless, and that if there was even the possibility that she and Matatabi were also back, as they were, then it indicated that there might be more allies they could count on before having to convince anybody of some wild story about being from the future.
Rising from his rock without further ado, B exited the cave, grateful as ever for his sunglasses when he stepped out into the harsh sunlight. Not only did they always preserve his day-vision and his night-vision when he took them off in the dark, but they also made him look damn cool. Of that, he had no doubts.
"What's today's lesson, B-sensei?" asked a rough feminine voice. Karui.
B paused. He had never been much of a sensor, but he really should have registered three people waiting outside his cave. Three…students. His personal squad. They hadn't died, as far as he knew, but it had still been months since he had seen them, relative to him, and then when Gyuuki had been extracted in the future…
"Practice on your best moves today. I've got a meeting to get to," he grunted without looking back. Then he leapt away without another word, unable to yet face the students he felt he had let down.
Just barely audible, he could hear Omoi ask the other two, "Did B-sensei just…not rhyme?"
B smirked as he sped back toward the village. I can be serious when the need calls for it, Omoi… Bakayaro! Konoyaro!
Onoki, the Sandaime Tsuchikage, sat in his office and glared at the interminable stack of paperwork in his in-tray. No matter how fast he worked, it never seemed to get any smaller…
"Tsuchikage-sama, there is someone to see you." Onoki glanced up to see his secretary speaking through a crack in the door. "He claims to be an old friend. Shall I—Hey! You can't go in there!" she cried, as someone pushed past her and entered the room. Someone with bright red hair and a burgundy kimono over mesh armour.
"You!" the Tsuchikage roared. He leapt onto his desk, papers scattering and raised his hands to begin a jutsu. "I warned you to never return, on pain of death!"
Roshi met his eyes squarely, then knelt seiza and pressed his forehead to the floor. Onoki froze, his jutsu unfinished, and stared at his former squadmate.
"Onoki," the kneeling man replied, his voice very quiet. "I…" He trailed off, apparently unable to keep going, then started again, his voice stronger, but more formal. "Jonin Roshi returning from leave, Tsuchikage-sama."
"Rise," said Onoki, settling heavily back into his seat. "And speak freely. I order it."
Roshi stood, and sighed. "I don't want to waste my last years, Onoki," he said plaintively. "I know we…disagreed over your decision to end the war, but even I can see it was the right decision. If anything, I think we're too isolationist. The people won't like it, but we should reach out. To Suna. To Kiri. Even to Konoha."
The Tsuchikage's eyes widened marginally. "Explain."
"I have been…away," said Roshi, plainly choosing his words carefully. "But I have kept an ear to the ground. I have…good reason to believe that change is coming to Kiri. Soon. And you know that even after all these years of quiet tension, Saru will be thrilled to 'move toward peace instead of war'. Suna and Konoha are allied. Kumo, I think, will follow on later. The Raikage may take some convincing but I think he can be reasoned with."
To say Onoki was surprised would be an understatement. Roshi had been one of the biggest advocates for pressing the end of the Third Great Shinobi War, even after the decimation of an entire Iwa regiment by Konoha's Yellow Flash. The man was, or at least had been, a war hawk, plain and simple. His advice to Onoki had always been to action, to battle, to conquest. And now here Roshi stood advising him to press for peace?
"I guess that…wilderness retreat…of yours really did help you finally mature," Onoki sniffed, though his pointed avoidance of the truth of Roshi's leaving—exile—was telling in itself. "I was beginning to think nothing would make you grow up, even as you grew old."
For the first time since entering the room, a smile ghosted across Roshi's creased, weatherbeaten face. "If Son and I have grown old, then so have you, old friend."
"Bah!" With their joking back and forth, things seemed to return to how they once had been, but Onoki knew that, after fifteen years apart, things would never be the same. But perhaps, he thought, noting Roshi's use of his prisoner's true name, they could be better.
Yugito hadn't left her apartment since she had woken up there. The most she could bring herself to do was eat a little, before curling back up in the sun on her window-bed and meditating, poking around her own head until she found what she was hoping for. Matatabi.
The Two-Tailed Cat was not restrained by any seal except the one that kept it within her body, unlike it had been in her youth. Instead, the Nibi roamed freely throughout Yugito's mindscape.
There you are, Kitten, the great Ghost Cat purred. I'm very pleased to find us reunited, and free.
Of course, but… Yugito trailed off, knowing that Matatabi would understand the question, and knowing equally well that the Two-Tails had no answers. I just don't know what to think.
I've heard about cats having nine lives, but I don't think this is quite what that saying normally means, the Nibi's voice seemed to yowl and hiss a little; her version of sarcasm. As it happens, I believe we have Uzumaki to thank for bringing us back together, Kitten.
So what's our next move? Yugito asked, feeling her body relaxing almost despite herself, lying on her cushions and warmed equally from without by the sun, and from within by Matatabi's flames.
Wait for B and Gyuuki, the cat replied. I doubt they'll be much longer…
A sharp tap on the window brought Yugito's head up. Sure enough, B was crouched on the sill, his face uncharacteristically serious. She slid the window open and he hopped neatly past the bed to land on the floor, grabbing a chair and spinning it around to straddle the back.
"We gots things to discuss, Yugito," B said grimly.
As it occurred to her the number of times she had heard B talk without rapping—a number she could count on one hand with fingers to spare—she sat up straight.
"You're back too." It wasn't really a question, but she needed the confirmation. B's nod said enough.
"Both of us," B added, tapping the bull's horn tattoo on his left cheek. "And quite a story, Hachibi had about one Uzumaki Naruto."
"Nibi said as much…" Yugito acknowledged. "So…what do we do?"
As Yagura and his two guards drew near to within a kilometer of where the Rebels' base supposedly was, he raised a hand, mutely ordering his guards to stop. Yagura himself advanced only a dozen meters further, before he paused himself. He tossed his hooked staff onto the ground out of arms reach, and then took another deliberate step away from it. Next, he drew off the Mizukage hat, and placed it beside him. Finally, he carefully set the paper crane upon the ground in front of him, edged back slightly, and folded his legs to sit.
He shut his eyes. He could not make his meaning much plainer. It would be a long while before Kiri could be trusted again in the world at large. The best he could do was make a showing of good faith, and try to avoid the execution he rightly deserved, for the sake of the greater good.
There was no sound, but after several minutes, he felt what seemed like a chance breeze. Cracking his eyes momentarily, he saw that the paper crane had vanished. Sighing, he meditated again.
Are—are we sure about this, Yagura-san? murmured Isobu, the somewhat timid Three-Tailed Turtle. They could just kill us anyway…
Yes…but I do not think they will, Yagura thought back. What we're doing now is out of character, and if their leader is who I suspect it to be, based on future events, she will want to know why.
I…suppose… Isobu was always nervous around strangers, perhaps one of the reasons that neither of them had noticed the manipulations of Tobi, the first time around.
Yagura sighed. So many errors to correct…and so very little time and trust to work with. But I do not think we will get another second chance like this. Will you work with me to balance our karma as far as we can, Isobu-kun?
Of course, Yagura-san.
"I notice that your paper-crane of peace has been folded from your war plans. What should I make of that, Yagura?" called a new voice, a woman's.
Opening his eyes again, Yagura looked up to see a beautiful red-haired woman he knew was Terumi Mei, standing some ten feet away, flanked by two blue-haired men. To her left stood the man known only as Ao, a former Hunter-nin captain and talented sensor even before one took into account the stolen byakugan behind his eyepatch. On her right, a far younger man with glasses, perhaps seventeen, whose shark-like pointed teeth would identify him as one of the Seven Ninja Swordsmen of the Mist even if the enormous, bandaged, double-hilted Hiramekarei on his back did not. Choujuurou, the Rebel leader's personal bodyguard.
Yagura did not move. "Precisely what it appears, Terumi-san," he answered Mei's question politely. "I am scrapping those plans, and asking for peace."
"Peace?" growled Ao, "After the bloodbath you perpetrated?"
"P-please, Ao-san," stammered Choujuurou, apparently startled by Ao's reaction. "Yondaime-san came to talk. Surely we can do him the courtesy of listening?"
"Why?" Mei asked, ignoring her companions and keeping her eyes fixed on Yagura. "We are not presently a threat to you and all of us know it."
"Because I have been made free," Yagura began, noticing Ao stiffen, "To think for myself once more. I believe it was Ao-san who first realized that I was…being manipulated," he added, inclining his head toward the older man, who now stood rigid. "He should be able to confirm not only that I am, in fact, alone save for two bodyguards some fifteen meters back, but that my chakra network is free from genjutsu once more."
"Ao?" Mei's question was unmistakably an order, and seemed to snap Ao out of whatever fugue he had been in. He raised a half-tiger seal, and the veins beside his covered eye bulged.
Ao studied Yagura with great intensity, before finally relaxing somewhat. "He is alone, Terumi-sama, as he says. And…I can no longer detect any hint that he is under the genjutsu manipulation I saw in him before." He seemed reluctant to admit it.
"I sit before you wishing to talk," Yagura cut in. "I am…not 'helpless', per se—I will not insult you by implying so—but I am seated, I am unarmed," he gestured at his staff, lying out of reach, "and I have delivered a peace symbol in good faith." He finished with his eyes on the paper crane in Mei's hands. "Can we not speak, Terumi-dono?"
By the way her eyebrows contracted, she had clearly caught the changed honorific, suitable for one noble or kage to address another. "And what would we discuss?" she asked archly.
"Cessation of hostilities," Yagura answered, with no hesitation. "Formal apologies. Reunion. Restitution. Resignation…"
All three rebels' eyes widened as the list continued; the more so, he thought, because none of them could detect a falsehood from him. He knew they couldn't, because he was being perfectly honest. Yagura was no fool. Terumi Mei had been the Godaime Mizukage in his future, and he had seen glimpses, mostly through Uzumaki, of how beloved she was by the village. There was little chance that anyone save Tobi's radicals would still accept Yagura himself as Mizukage, and he intended to see such anti-kekkei genkai radicalism stamped out. Personally if possible.
Kiri needed a leader to unite her people, and to reconnect her nation with the outside world. A leader who would visibly turn her back on the anti-kekkei genkai policies that the masked man Tobi had forced upon Yagura. A leader with a kind, if firm, hand, whom the people felt they could trust.
A leader like Mei.
All Yagura could hope for now was to try to ensure that she kept him around, once she took control. Perhaps as a special-assignment ANBU, he mused. That could work.
Terumi Mei took a few steps toward him, then sat down gracefully. "I am listening."
Team 7's return to Konoha was thankfully uneventful. Kakashi checked them in at the gate, nodding to Kotetsu and Izumo on their eternal watch duty, and dismissed his team as promised to go and make his report to the Hokage by himself. He had planned to do so in any case, of course; had intended to use the opportunity to pick up entrance forms for the chunin exams for his cute little team.
Now, he was curious what the Hokage might think of his observations of Naruto over the past day…
"As it is, Hokage-sama," he finished some ten minutes later, "He reminds me of no one so much as Minato-sensei, since yesterday. The same sharp eyes on everything and everyone around him, same economy of movement, same calm force when giving orders—I put Naruto on point and he about gave the other two a conniption fit when he immediately started telling them exactly where to go and what to do. But his orders were flawless; exactly what I would have given…in wartime."
The Third Hokage puffed at his pipe, unable to say much to that. "Do you think the team unready for the chunin exams then, Kakashi?" he asked instead.
"Unready? Before, Naruto was the weak link. Now, I honestly think he'll be carrying both of the other two. I haven't seen much from this…change…but honestly Hokage-sama. Not to put to fine a point on it, but he actually hit me."
Smoke curled as the Hokage pondered that. "Was there any change in his chakra? Could this be some effect of the Kyuubi?"
Kakashi shook his head. "Negative, Hokage-sama. Watching him tree-hop from behind with the sharingan, he seems to be expending his chakra more conservatively, indicating better chakra control than he's demonstrated in the past, but his chakra reserves are already on par with his father's in his prime. If they increased further, I'm not sure I would notice…but what chakra I saw was entirely his, pure and untainted by demonic energies. You could, perhaps, examine his seal?"
"Mmm…I will wait for Jiraiya to arrive to do so, I think," said the Hokage. "I received word recently that he planned to return during the chunin exams. Until then, continue to keep an eye on Naruto."
Kakashi bowed. "As you wish, Hokage-sama. I will deliver the forms to my students tomorrow as planned."
"Very well, Kakashi. Dismissed." The Sandaime rose and popped his aching back, shuffling over to the window to gaze at the Hokage monument. In particular, his gaze rested upon his chosen successor. "Minato…what has your son gotten himself into now?"
When Naruto awoke the next morning in his same cramped, empty apartment; when he met his own gaze in the grimy bathroom mirror, he was finally forced to accept that he wasn't dreaming or experiencing an elaborate genjutsu. He had spent a good portion of the previous night discussing the situation with Kurama in his mindscape, and between them they could only come up with one explanation: They had somehow been transported back through time to when Naruto was about thirteen.
Kurama had offered plenty of theories about the hows and the whys, but to Naruto it meant one thing: a second chance. If his reckoning of time was right, this was, in fact, just before the disastrous chunin exams. Before everything had gone wrong; before Jiijii had died; before Sasuke left and Sakura followed him, and Kakashi rejoined ANBU rather than deal with a new squad; before Tobi had somehow goaded Kiri into attacking Konoha while Naruto was away with Ero-sennin…
Naruto shook his head firmly, clapping both hands against his cheeks. Not this time! He looked at himself more critically in the mirror. Much as he loved this jumpsuit, it was bound to get destroyed in the days and weeks to come. He'd rather preserve it now, if possible; that meant it was time to go shopping. Perhaps he could commission a haori greatcoat like he had favored in the future, after Ero-sennin had died. Running a hand over his hair, he thought that he ought to let it grow a little, too, but there was nothing he could do about that right now.
Having decided he was going out shopping today, Naruto quickly inventoried his food stores, wallet, and ninja gear. He had enough ramen and other nonperishables to last him for a little while, though he would have to stock up on fresh food now he was back in town. There was also no coffee in the cupboards, and Naruto simply could not remember a time when he had not drunk coffee, even though he knew he had only acquired the taste after the Fall. Gama-chan was comfortably full of ryou, so he should be able to swing everything as long as he didn't get upcharged too badly…which he hadn't been since he actually became a ninja, as he recalled.
His gear, however, was in rather poor shape all around compared to what he was accustomed to. He had a double handful of shuriken, a single spool of plain ninja wire, and a bunch of barely-sharpened kunai. No sealing materials, no armour to speak of, no Mie kunai, no backup chakra blade for his thigh… He sighed. His younger self didn't know any better, and he hadn't discovered most of those until later than this. Well, time to get a head start on it.
Nodding firmly, Naruto laid his orange jacket on his dresser, and set out wearing just a black tee-shirt with an orange Uzushio spiral on the front and back. Most Konoha-nin these days had forgotten what the spiral they wore meant, but Naruto knew. It was the symbol of his clan's ancestral home, and eventually it had been his mark, just as Kakashi had made the henohenomoheji his own. Mentally adding a chop stamp to his list of purchases, Naruto quickly set out.
Groceries would come last, obviously. He would hit a stationary store before that to get sealing supplies so he could take his groceries home conveniently. First, then, was to restock on ninja supplies and buy or order his new jacket. Glancing along the Market street, Naruto's eye was caught by a sign. Kotetsu Ryuu: Shinobi Apparel and Weapons. Perfect, he could knock out two things at once.
Naruto strolled inside, hearing a bell jingle. A voice from the back of the store cried, "Welcome to Kotetsu Ryuu; be with you in just a moment!" He looked around. Clothes dominated the left of the shop, so Naruto strolled toward that side, snagging some mesh armour and gloves along the way and looking for something similar to what he had worn in the future. As he was rifling through the jackets on the rack, he paused, stunned. He lifted the hangar carefully and took in the knee-length, sleeveless orange haori coat, with a pattern of black flames around the hem, shoulders, and collar. It wasn't just similar, as he had been hoping; this was his coat. The only difference was that this jacket did not read "Rokudaime Hokage" down the back. For one entertaining moment, he considered having it embroidered with those kanji anyway, but decided against it. Simply wearing such a jacket was going to draw attention, there was no need to boast so openly…
Tossing the coat over his shoulder, he picked his way back across to the half of the store that sold weapons, snagging a small basket on his way and dropping the mesh armour in. He also picked up a handful of senbon and several spools of ninja wire, and was just examining the chakra-conductive blades when he heard the proprietor came out from the back.
"Hello! I see you've found some of what you're looking for?" came the same voice from before, decidedly a young girl's. Naruto glanced around, and barely suppressed his surprise. It was Tenten! But she was so…so young! Her steel-grey eyes were softer than he remembered, and her cheeks did not bear the telltale scars of a clawed slash from fighting the Nibi. Naruto blinked, suddenly realizing that Tenten had introduced herself while he was spacing out.
"Uh, yeah! Hiya! I'm Uzumaki Naruto!" He nodded at the weapons around them, then at the jacket over his shoulder. "Your shop has really good weapons and stocks clothes which, I must say, are in excellent taste."
Eying his orange pants skeptically, she smirked. "Somehow I'm not surprised that you'd say that. I haven't seen you in here before, have I? Are you a rookie genin?"
Mentally scowling that he was stuck as a genin again, Naruto forced himself to nod. "Yeah. Hopefully not for long, though; I think Kakashi-sensei is gonna enter us in the chunin exams that are coming up."
"You think so?" she asked. "Our sensei held us back for a year so we could get more experience before allowing us to take this exam… Wait, did you say 'Kakashi'? Your sensei is Sharingan no Kakashi?"
Naruto nodded, trying to cast his mind back to how he had been at thirteen. Loud, he remembered. Not that he was exactly quiet in the future, but… Also, cheerful and boastful of eventually becoming Hokage. Well, that wouldn't be hard to fake. "Yup! Best choice to train the 'Last Uchiha' and the future Hokage," he grinned, jabbing a thumb at himself to make clear who he expected to wear the big hat.
"Well, if you keep shopping here, we'll keep you well-supplied along the way," said Tenten, smiling at his apparent hyperactivity and wild dream. There was no way for her to know exactly how certain Naruto was. "So, you're in the market for a chakra blade?"
"Two, actually; an Uzu-style kukri for my mainhand and a reliable backup," Naruto said, turning his attention back to the rack in front of him. He set a kukri in the basket and began scanning for an appropriate offhand blade. "Something narrow, maybe two hands long, with a good straight-back spearpoint…ah, this one will do!" He picked up a long knife similar to what he had described and set that in his basket as well.
"You certainly seem to know your way around blades," said a gravelly voice.
"Tou-san!" Tenten beamed.
"Hello, Tenten," he said, raising a hand to pat her on the head. As he was only a few centimeters taller than she, it might have been funny, if it weren't for the additional fact that he wearing a blacksmith's apron and was broader than Gai-sensei or Asuma-sensei had ever been, with hands that looked to be big enough to wrap around Naruto's legs with centimeters to spare. He didn't think he had ever met Tenten's father before, but that was no excuse for being rude, was it?
He bowed politely. "I suppose so, sir. I'm no expert, really, but I suppose you could say that I know what I'm looking for." He glanced around the weapons side of the shop again, but saw nothing close to his Mie kunai. He hadn't really expected to, but after finding the jacket it wouldn't have surprised him. "Actually, sir, I'm looking for one more thing in particular that you don't seem to have in stock; perhaps you can help me?"
"Must be something pretty specific if I don't already carry it," he grunted good-naturedly, and Naruto put on his most winning smile. "What is it you're after?"
"A certain style of kunai, in a matter of speaking," said Naruto, picking his words carefully. "The blade is about so long," he gestured with his hands far enough apart to indicate that it was about half again as long as a standard-issue Konoha kunai, "With two additional prongs on either side to protect the hands and help disarm the enemy. That's why I call 'em Mie kunai. The handle is longer and thicker than standard also, with a heavy ring at the end; and all weighted and balanced for throwing. If it's made of the chakra-conductive metal," he tilted his head at the rack he was still standing in front of, "Even better."
Tenten's father stared at him, then walked wordlessly over to the counter, and lifted a box down from a high shelf. He set it on the counter as Naruto and Tenten followed, curious.
He slid the box over to Naruto. "Is this what you're picturing?"
Naruto opened the box carefully, and found what was, doubtless, one of his father's old orders, simply awaiting the Yondaime's personal Hiraishin seal to be marked on the handle before it could see use.
"This is really close, yeah!" he said, making himself sound excited that the shop had an example of what he wanted, without letting any surprise seep into his voice. "I'd want a round dozen at least, though. Do you have any more?"
Higurashi-san stared some more as Naruto picked up the Mie kunai easily, and began testing the edge and balance. He twirled it from a forward to a reverse grip several times, then bounced it in his palm to check the weight.
Then he nodded, apparently satisfied, laid the Mie kunai gently back in the box that Higurashi-san had presented, and asked, "How much?"
Higurashi-san didn't answer right away. His eyes flicked from Naruto's face, to the Mie kunai, to the flame-pattern on the jacket he was carrying. After several long moments, the man seemed to decide something.
"Tenten will total up what's in your basket," he growled finally. "That jacket, I don't think I would ever have sold, so consider it yours on the house. As for this…" he glanced down at the Mie kunai in its box, "If you're going to want as many as you say, I'll let you take this one with you today if you place the order."
Tenten lifted the basket from his arms and began counting out what it would cost. Naruto nodded to Higurashi, and leaned on the counter as the blacksmith pulled a pad and pen from a pocket of his apron, ready to take down specifics.
"Let's call it two dozen for the first order," said Naruto. "I'd like them basically identical, except the prongs should be straight, not curved like this one." Naruto gestured to indicate what he meant, and Higurashi nodded his understanding. "The chunin exams start in less than a week; do you think you can get me a few by then?"
"Three of your new style, plus this one you're taking today," said Higurashi.
"That's fine," Naruto nodded. "There's a month's delay between the second and third rounds of the exams, so that should be plenty of time."
"How do you know there's a month's delay?" asked Tenten. "Our sensei won't tell us anything about the chunin exams, and none of the current chunin that I know will either."
"Ehh…" said Naruto, thinking fast. "The…old man let that one slip," he adlibbed quickly. "But then he realized what he was saying and that I was still in the room, and clammed up before I could get anything else out of him." He snapped his fingers, to all appearances disappointed that he hadn't been better able to con the Hokage himself.
"Either way, you're correct. I should be able to fill at least half your order then, easily," said Higurashi-san, making some calculations in the corner of his notepad. "If you'll pay for part of this order up front, I'll take the balance on completion. Tenten-chan, what's his total so far?"
"Um, ignoring the jacket and the specialty item, he's got two chakra blades, some wire, senbon, mesh armour, and fingerless, steel-backed gloves. I make it…4500 ryou the basket," she rattled off.
"Plus your order of two dozen…Mie kunai…at the best price I can figure… I place your commission at about 24,000 ryou. We'll say a third of that today plus your basket brings you to 12,500." He glanced up, perhaps expecting Naruto to gasp in shock or protest that he could not afford it.
Naruto wasn't even looking up, instead focused on carefully counting out rolls of notes from Gama-chan. When he reached the correct figure, he counted it again, and then passed it carefully across the counter.
Both Tenten and her father stared at him.
"Eheheh…" he chuckled embarrassedly, scratching the back of his neck. "I uh…I don't have a bank account, so I kinda have to carry all my money with me."
Higurashi merely nodded, and began smoothing out some of the more wrinkled bills so they would stow in the till. Tenten was not so reticent.
"How in the world do you have that much cash as a genin!?"
"Ano…my first C-rank mission was misranked. We fought the Kiri rogue-nin Momochi Zabuza and his apprentice." He shrugged. "Since then, Wave country has been funneling us money and business to make up for the deception."
"You fought Momochi Zabuza?" Tenten repeated weakly.
"Well, Kakashi-sensei did, mostly. We fought his apprentice, the ice-user."
Tenten seemed speechless, so Naruto took the opportunity to shrug on his new jacket, gather up his purchases, and wave energetically at the father and daughter. "Thanks for everything, Higurashi-san, Tenten-chan!"
Stowing everything in his jacket for now, he set off to find a stationary shop and then a grocery market.
By the next day, most of the village seemed to have rapidly adjusted to Naruto's new wardrobe. Not that it was wildly different overall, he supposed, since you couldn't see his mesh armour under his Uzumaki tee-shirt, or his new weapons under his jacket, and the jacket itself was still, of course, orange. He had somewhat expected the old man to demand to see him, but there had been no such summons, so perhaps the Hokage had no comments about Naruto's new fashion statement.
…or perhaps he had something to do with the way Kakashi-sensei had been tailing Naruto ever since they got back to the village.
Naruto had been concerned at first, thinking it was an enemy, but after he had accidentally-on-purpose stumbled across his watcher and discovered his teacher, he realized that something he had said or done must have unnerved his ever-paranoid mentor. Well, there was nothing he could do about the past—not that such a sentence didn't merit a huge smirk—so he resolved to put Kakashi's mind at ease by acting like his usual self. And so he had refrained from making any seals last night, and ignored his newly-bought groceries in favor of a dinner of ramen from Ichiraku's, which was still resolutely the best meal available in either version of his past.
Naruto had held off on training for the time being too, since Kakashi seemed content to let them test at the level they were at. The chunin exams would be starting tomorrow, which also meant that many of the candidates should be arriving over the next twenty-four hours…
No sooner had he thought that, as he crossed the road, head bowed in concentration, was he abruptly slammed into. With the balance he had come to possess over the course of years' training in Shioken taijutsu and Gama-ryuu kenjutsu, Naruto kept his feet easily. The person who had walked into him, by contrast, fell to the floor.
"Hey, watch it, shrimp!"
Naruto blinked in shock and looked down at the person he had collided with. It was a brown-haired boy wearing a baggy, black jumpsuit with a twin-pointed hood and a Sunagakure hitai-ite. He also had some stupid-looking purple makeup on his face, and was carrying a large bundle of bandages, which Naruto recognized as the puppet Crow. He promptly extended a hand to help Kankurou back to his feet.
The boy took it, scowling, but Naruto was already looking past him to his companion—a tall pretty blonde with her hair tied in four distinctive tails. She wore a white dress with mesh around the collar, and her hitai-ite around her neck. Unable to resist the opportunity to act a little characteristically ridiculous, he swept Temari a deep bow and extended a hand. When she took it, he even brushed a kiss across her knuckles.
"Uzumaki Naruto, at your service, good Suna-nin," he said grandly. He glanced back at Kankurou and added, "Sorry about the trouble. You guys are here for the chunin exams, I guess?"
Temari introduced herself and her brother with a smile, and answered, "Yes, our sensei is checking us in right now."
Where was Gaara? "Er, don't you need a team of three for the exams?" he said, feigning awkwardness. Temari and Kankurou suddenly froze, as Naruto felt a presence behind him. "He's standing right behind me, isn't he?" he asked Temari. She nodded faintly, and he turned around to see Gaara looking him right in the eye. They were of a height, and Naruto watched Gaara's eyes carefully as the other boy took in his jacket. That look in his eye…recognition? Did that mean Gaara remembered the future too? How could he be sure?
"Hang on," Naruto said, tilting his head as he looked at Gaara. "I think I've heard of you guys. Yeah, the Sand Siblings; Temari, Kankurou…and you must be Gaara!"
The other boy just stared back passively.
"Wait, you've heard of Gaara and you're not scared of him?" Kankurou asked, weakly.
"Nah, of course not!" said Naruto, chuckling. "Look at him, with those rings around his eyes; I bet he's as harmless as a tanuki!"
Temari and Kankurou seemed too appalled to speak.
"They are not a creature to underestimate," Gaara spoke at last. "But no doubt you know that. From the look of you, I can tell you are as sly as a fox."
Naruto's grin widened so much that his eyes squinted. This was his Gaara. "You know, I do get that a lot. Or I used to," he chuckled. "And maybe there's something to that old saying about the fox and the tanuki, ne? Say, you wanna get some ramen? My treat!"
"…Yes. Thank you." Gaara followed him up the street without another word, leaving his siblings staring after them.
"Did Gaara…just make a friend?" Kankurou whispered. Temari nodded silently.
"Temari, Kankurou, why aren't you coming?" Gaara called back, Naruto bobbing impatiently beside him. "The way you're always hanging back, it's like you're afraid I'm going to kill you."
"…Did Gaara just tell a joke!?" Kankurou whimpered. Unable to articulate a response, Temari just grabbed him by the shoulder and steered him after their younger brother and his new friend.
A/N: The markings on Shukaku are supposedly "natural" cursed seal markings; the same thing that cause the transformation and madness in Juugo and Orochimaru's other cursed-marked servants. It makes sense to me as a way to explain Shukaku's insanity, early on.
Naruto's reactions to being touched or awoken unexpectedly are pretty typical of PTSD, even if he tends to otherwise handle himself pretty well. It's always worse when one's guard is down. Here, it's a mark of the time he spent in a much more dangerous future, just as him calling Kakashi "taichou" (meaning 'captain') reflect his somewhat-different relationship with the man in the years that have now been undone.
Yagura's, B's, and Yugito's scenes pretty much wrote themselves. Roshi's was a little more intricate, because I had to kinda backbuild his relationship with the Tsuchikage Onoki. The way I see it, they were teammates once, but had a falling-out at the end of the last war when Onoki and Sarutobi finally agreed to a peace treaty. Roshi stormed out, and it was a mark of their old friendship and his worth a jinchuuriki that instead of being labeled a rogue, Onoki instead declared him 'on permanent leave'. Now, though, Roshi knows that Iwa's and the world's best odds lie in alliance.
"Mie" means "triple"; Naruto is referring to Triple Kunai, which is his name for the type of Kunai the Fourth Hokage favored. The Fourth instead called them Hiraishin Kunai, but Future!Naruto preferred not to tip his hand with the name. Higurashi appears to be the fanon-determined family name for Tenten, and nothing in canon contradicts this so…there we are, I guess. I decided to call their family shop "Kotetsu Ryuu", meaning "Steel Dragon". Also, the wiki tells me that a ryou is worth about 10 yen, so I toyed with what I thought were reasonable prices for Naruto's gear. Aside from the Mie kunai, Naruto's equipment is approximately the weapons I would personally favor…though I would probably also have a couple of trench knives like Asuma's.
I am having so much fun writing Gaara; you guys just have no idea. The 'old saying' Naruto refers to is, roughly: "A fox and a tanuki matching their wits", meaning two sly characters trying to outsmart one another.