Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters used in this fic.
General Warnings: Rated T for Moderate Language
Author Notes: I am such a liar. Never listen to me again. Wow guys, I am so terribly sorry for getting this out so freaking late. My summer turned out to be way busier than I thought it would be, and I was just so exhausted. And when I finally got back to work on this, I went camping for two weeks and technology was kinda prohibited, so that put me back really far. Also, I didn't want to just give you what I had because it was messy and incomplete, and I figured so you guys would be much happier with a finished and polished chapter, even if it was later (btw guys this was 10 pages long, WOW are my fingers sore). Anyways, I feel really terrible for putting you guys through that, so without further adieu, since I've kept you all waiting long enough, here's the chapter!
Nevermind, I lied. I told you at the beginning didn't I? Don't ever trust me and my big mouth.
I would like to thank my editor, proofreader, and best friend for being on my butt about this the whole time (guys seriously, thank him, he was such a pain I got over my writer's block and actually wrote this damn thing) and is really the whole reason this chapter even got out of my head, onto the computer and posted online for you guys. I would also like to thank Prescripto13, GildartzDragneel, ReadingPixie, Guest whoever you are, long live marshmallows, Cyndee, MzMilo and DemonDragonQueen for reviewing
Return for Redemption
For Naruto, Sasuke, Sakura, and Kakashi, you only live once. Or twice, apparently. After a devastating war, they are the only ones remaining. Together, they travel to the past to save the lives of their lost friends. But not only must Team 7 confront the faces of their dead loved ones, but also the dangers found within themselves. Will their desperate bid for redemption succeed? Time-Travel AU
CHAPTER 3 – HATCHING A PLAN
The leaves rustled as three lone wooden posts stood tall against the silence of twilight. Three small forms and one large one stood in a loose circle facing one another.
"Is it clear?" The larger shadow tilted his head in response as a single eye flitted around the clearing and his senses probed into the shadows of the the forest beyond. The form nodded.
The four stood in the quiet until a thready voice spoke up.
"We're actually here, aren't we." Sakura said in amazement. It hadn't really sunk in, even at the hospital. There they had been reacting instinctively to the knowledge that one of their own was in danger, and everything else had been put on hold in favor of the higher priority of protecting their family in this new, dangerous situation (ironic that the place that was once their home was now one of the places that could pose the most danger to them now). Everyone paused to deal with the realizations and its full implications. Everything was going to change.
Used to crazy situations as they were, they shook off their amazement and shock rather quickly, and focused on the task at hand.
"Alright." Naruto said, eyes steely. "We've got some work to do."
They nodded. "First, we need to figure out when we are, because we all clearly ended up in Konoha."
Kakashi stepped forward. "I woke up in this morning in the ANBU barracks, which means that we are some time between right after the masked-man's attack and when the Hokage relieved me of service in the ANBU. I think we can safely rule out at least the first three years after the attack of the Nine-Tails." Since I spent roughly six years in the ANBU troops, it's a time period of about three years. Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura have to be at the very least three.
Naruto frowned. "Can we not get any more specific?"
"...Itachi is a Chuunin. That means we have to be around five or six." Sakura looked alarmingly at Sasuke. Of course! She could've slapped herself. Sasuke's family was still alive! The Uchiha Massacre had occurred when Sasuke was seven, so his family, his whole family, was still very much alive and well. Although...Sakura thought, "well" might not be the right word since they are probably planning the coup d'état even as we speak. She worriedly glanced at her expressionless teammate. Sasuke had to be going through a lot of pain right now, since he had lived as "the Last Uchiha" since the age of seven. Not to mention, his older brother, who had murdered his entire family the first time around and whom Sasuke had killed with his own hands, was still living in Konoha and completely unaware of the impending disaster.
Naruto looked over at Sasuke, concern flickering quietly in his eyes.
"I'm fine." Sasuke replied stiffly.
They all gave him a knowing look. Sasuke's eyes gazed over at them and relaxing his tense frame, he nodded slowly.
"I will be." They left it at that.
Naruto sighed. Lifting up the edge of his shirt, his hand felt its way along his lower back. Kakashi glanced sharply over at him.
"Naruto?" Kakashi asked quietly, trepidation creeping into his chest. "What are you doing?"
"Huh?" Naruto looked up haphazardly as his hand continued its search. He frowned as his arm reached higher and twisted somewhat uncomfortably to reach its destination. As he did, the ratty and worn shirt draped over his too-thin shoulders bunched up above his elbow and unknowing slipped higher to reveal more of the small boy's torso.
Kakashi's eyes widened. What in the- ?
"Oh, I'm just- " Naruto's face cleared. "Ah!" He said triumphantly. His arm retracted and Naruto patted down the front of his shirt. Straightening, he addressed them. "We're six. For now, that's good enough. We'll figure out the specifics tomorrow." Sakura fought to control her rapid heartbeat.
"Naruto...how did you...?" She said haltingly. Naruto looked at her with a sheepish expression as his hand rose to scratch at the back of his head. "Ano, well you see..." His hand dropped down to his side as Naruto sobered, a slightly saddened cast upon his face. "Sometimes, the villagers, when they got drunk, they… they weren't very happy with the Kyuubi no yoko living amoungst them… so they would sometimes break into my apartment and trash the place.
"Sometimes I was there, and every now and then stuff would come flying in my direction and I wouldn't be able to avoid it. One, umm, very particular event was when I was six. It was late at night, and there was this chair… I ended up getting a pretty nasty scratch on my back." Naruto smiled ruefully. "Since I was younger, and the seal stronger, Kurama couldn't really do as much as he could later on, so I had the scar for about a year."
Sakura's question had been answered, but she was far from happy (how in the world could she be having figured out one of your very best friends had lived through such an awful childhood, been injured for Kami's sake when he was but a toddler!). What Naruto didn't know was that while his arm stretched far behind him his ratty shirt had shifted to reveal a thin (too thin, much too thin for a child his age, Sakura had thought) torso, battered with bruises of varying degrees of severity scattered over his skin. It just isn't fair, Sakura thought, her hands clenching, that Naruto was forced to live like this all through his childhood. Why couldn't everyone just see that he wasn't just a container for the Kyuubi, he's so much MORE?
Sakura wasn't the only one whose eyes had caught sight of the young boy's beat-up state. Sasuke's eyes narrowed as he listened to Naruto's explanation. He was all alone for so long… he realized. Sasuke vowed to himself once more, that never again would he abandon him. Judiciously he thought with a vicious grin, just let Orochimaru try and lure him away this time around. Kakashi tensed and closed his eyes, inwardly berating himself. Yeah, maybe he had only been fourteen at the time but dammit it was sensei's son and how could he have ever let down Minato-sensei like that. The three shared a glance, and looked determinedly once more at Naruto.
"This time," Kakashi said, his visible eye stony and forceful, "nothing is going to tear us apart." Sakura and Sasuke nodded. Naruto grinned.
'So what's the deal with Kurama?"
Naruto was silent for a moment as he sat crosslegged leaning against a tree bordering the clearing, his friends gathered in around him knowing he was checking on his furry tenant. He hummed for a moment. "He's out of it. I guess we'll be on our own for a while."
Sasuke snorted. "Stupid. Don't you remember what we just said?"
"We have each other, baka," Sakura berated him.
"Oh, right," Naruto replied sheepishly. Kakashi crouched down to their level.
"Okay," he said. "Let's get down to business." The others nodded. "So first of all, we need a general outline of our plan, since we weren't exactly able to do so before we landed." Here he paused, a flinty look entering his eye. "Our first and highest priority is to save as many people as we can. In order to do so, we need to utilize the one weapon we have in this timeline that we didn't have in the other." Here Kakashi raised his hand, index finger up to indicate his point.
"Our knowledge of future events," Sasuke supplied. Kakashi nodded.
"That is correct. This means, that we cannot interrupt the timeline until the correct moment - unless we risk diverting the timeline too far from its previous path and end up destroying our only advantage." Here, he paused. "Unfortunately, this also means that nobody can know of our origins, lest their knowledge of us impacts the timeline enough to be able to throw it off-course." Especially the Sandaime, Kakashi thought. He's way too influential for him to not disrupt the timeline if he were to find out. By the look on Naruto's face, he knew it too. Kakashi sighed, and decided to borrow a line from an old friend. How troublesome.
Sasuke leaned forward."So," he said, "we have to get stronger quicker and earlier in this timeline, ('And save people' Naruto chimed in) defeat Orochimaru, then the Akatsuki, and then the big bad wolf himself." Kakashi nodded, and eye-smiled.
"That about sums it up!" He said, flashing a thumbs-up sign at his old student.
"Okay, then let's start there," Sakura said. "We need to figure out how to train ourselves up without anybody noticing anything suspicious."
"Well," Kakashi remarked, "due to your little, eh hem, (here a vein popped up at the corner of Kakashi's forehead in obvious irritation. Sakura just smiled unrepentantly at the silver-haired ninja) performance at the hospital, the Hokage thinks you all met and became play buddies or whatever." He pointed at them. "We can use that for you three easy. You all can just meet up and say you're going to go play somewhere. Other shinobi are really the only ones that might notice if I hang around you three, but since they won't think twice about me watching over Naruto, they'll simply assume that's what I'm doing - two other little brats just being an unfortunate addition."
Sakura nodded. "We should get acclimated back into the village first though. Also, I think it might be beneficial to plant some evidence for our association. It wouldn't make sense if we all suddenly started hanging out around each other, especially you Kakashi, since you aren't exactly six." Here Sasuke huffed quietly to himself. If only on the outside you aren't.
Kakashi leaned forward onto clasped hands balancing on his knees, still in a lazy crouch. "So…" he said, eyes serious, "we all know what comes first. The Uchiha Massacre." Suddenly tension blanketed the clearing like a thick storm cloud. Sasuke found his hands had somehow clenched into fists without his knowledge.
"It's not going to happen." Sasuke started and looked incredulously over at the origin of the voice. What? Naruto stared determinedly at them. But didn't Naruto realize… Sasuke opened his mouth to say something, though Sasuke didn't know what that something would be, when Naruto interrupted him. "I realize what the consequences of changing something this huge in the timeline might be, but the way I see it, we're just going to have to risk it." Kakashi remained silent, full attention focused on the two boys.
Naruto's eyes never wavered. "First of all, we came here to save people, and I can't just watch a whole load of people die when I know what's going to happen. Second of all, the Uchiha are damn powerful. We're going to need all the firepower we can get when Madara finally rears his ugly mug. Also, I'm pretty sure your S-class, kickass ninja brother would be pretty handy in that fight, not to mention happy for a chance to punch that bastard into the next life."
Sakura grasped Sasuke's hand in her own. Bemused by the way things were going, Sasuke looked at her, the puzzlement in his features clear for them to see, even if anyone else wouldn't have been able to. "We won't let your family die, Sasuke," she said softly, eyes gentle but steadfast with her promise.
Kakashi took this moment to butt in. "Besides," he said waving his hand dismissively at them, his voice somehow managing to be both completely serious and joking, "it'll mess with Madara's plans, so we have to do it. We most absolutely cannot miss this golden opportunity to screw up all his delicate planning and hard work!" Kakashi's one eye curved into a smile. Sasuke raised his eyebrow at his sensei.
"Well, we can't have that now, can we?" He replied, a small smirk tugging at the corner of his lips belying his amusement at the Copy-nin's usual antics. Kakashi just cocked his head, no doubt grinning unrepentantly underneath his mask, the departed and infamous Icha Icha book suddenly making a miraculous return as Kakashi flipped it open and then proceeded to ignore everyone else in the clearing. The thick tension surrounding the group lightened, and dissolved as they all relaxed once more.
"So after that, we've got a little while before things really start to heat up," Sakura said. "Everything really starts when we become genin." Naruto's face fell as he seemed to realize something.
"Oh no," he moaned. Naruto slapped his palm to his forehead.
"What? What's wrong?" Sakura asked Naruto, his sudden change of attitude slightly worrying her.
"I just realized," Naruto replied, a look of immense horror and realization dawning his face, "we're going to have to redo all those D-ranks!" At this, Kakashi's face emerged spluttering from the pages of his novel and gaped at him, the same horror from Naruto's face now awash the Copy-nin's own, while Sasuke shivered at the traumatic memories of the many Tora missions. Sakura paused for a moment, then clearly realizing that thinking about it would only lead to Bad things, moved quickly on from the subject.
"Anyways," she said, voice slightly rushed, "the Wave mission was the first critical moment for us." Naruto nodded. This time around, he would save Zabuza and Haku. "The Chuunin Exams was when everything really started up thought." Sakura continued. Sasuke hummed in thought.
"So, they never knew about the invasion because that one guy was killed before he could tell anyone?" Naruto asked.
"Yeah, Snake Face was was bragging about it to me once…" Sasuke replied sourly.
"Okay," Sakura said contemplatively, "so if we save that guy, then we can get the necessary information to the Sandaime, and Konoha can prepare for the invasion."
Naruto grinned widely. "And Snake Face gets his ugly pedo-ass kicked!" Kakashi regarded the blond with amusement.
"Well," he said, cocking his head and smiling at the enthusiastic boy, "that would be the general idea." Naruto stuck his tongue out at the unabashed man, then continued on, clearly deciding the Copy-nin wasn't worth the effort.
"So after that, we gotta convince Baa-chan to come be Hokage again, right?"
Sakura asked him uncertainly, "But will that even happen if we save the Sandaime?"
Naruto shrugged, unconcerned. "Doesn't matter, we still will. We can convince Oji-san to step down after we save his life."
"Then it's the Akatsuki, and Obito," Kakashi said in serious tone. "We can't let him be a pawn in Madara's plan this time around."
Naruto nodded. "Don't worry, Kakashi-sensei, Obito came around eventually. This time, we'll just have to get to him earlier. Nagato and Konan too, for that matter."
"But what about Danzō?" Sasuke interrupted.
"Unfortunately, I don't think there's much we can do about him right now," Kakashi said seriously. "For now, the best thing that we can do is wait. We can't do anything without more information."
Sasuke clenched his teeth at the thought of the orchestrator of his clan's demise being allowed to continue to breathe even just for another day. Kakashi regarded him grimly.
"I know how you feel about him, Sasuke, and believe me we all hate the bastard as much as you. But we're just going to have to lay low and wait for now." Sasuke growled, frustrated at Kakashi's words, but relented knowing the Copy-nin was correct. There's nothing you can do right now. The best thing to do is be patient and wait for an opportunity to strike. He thought. He exhaled out slowly. That is my job after all, the ANBU General thought wryly to himself. Or, at least it was.
"Anyways," Kakashi continued, "even without Obito, I'm sure Madara has plans to somehow return. The villages need to be better prepared to wage war against Madara in case he shows up this time around, not to mention Zetsu, so we have 9 more years or so to improve the relations between the villages."
"And Kami knows Naruto won't cooperate without 'peace between the nations' being part of the deal," Sakura said, rolling her eyes exasperatingly at the blond. Naruto's face pulled a petulant expression, while Sasuke only smirked.
"The only question that we now have is how?" Kakashi deliberated. Sasuke, still looking at Naruto pouting in the corner, had a sudden thought. His hand rose to his chin as he contemplated the idea.
"What about the jinchuuriki?"
Kakashi looked over at the raven-haired boy. "Hmm?"
"We could kill two birds with one stone," Sasuke said. "If we can somehow get the villages to agree to have the jinchuuriki meet, we can strengthen the bonds between the villages through their jinchuuriki, using Naruto's crazy-ass ability to get everyone to like him." Naruto stared thoughtfully at his teammate.
"Huh," he said, "I guess I do end up converting a lot of people. There was Neji, and Gaara…" Naruto counted on his fingers, and then shrugged. " I mean, it's not like I do it on purpose, I just beat them up and stuff happens."
They all looked at him. Naruto fidgeted. "What did I say!" He exclaimed.
"Nothing, you idiot, don't worry about it," Sasuke replied. Naruto huffed at him, but let it drop. "Continuing on," Sasuke grunted, "we already know Gaara and Bee. That's something, at least. And later, we can inform the other jinchuuriki of the Akatsuki's agenda, therefore also hindering the Akatsuki's plans."
"Hmm," Kakashi mused, "this could actually work. After the Nine Tails' attack on Konoha six years ago, the other villages would be very reluctant to have anything like that happen to themselves. If Konoha were to somehow, say, propose a meeting between the jinchuuriki of each village with the goal of learning to better control their bijuu, it might just be enough incentive to get everyone to agree." Kakashi rested his chin on his hand which was subsequently propped up against his knee. "The only question now is how to get the ball rolling."
Here Naruto just grinned. "I might have an idea…"
"So you want to head into your little shared space with all the bijuu and somehow try to convince them to tell their respective hosts to come down and visit a rival village, and then somehow get them to trust each other and work together in order to follow a six year old boy's plan for world peace?"
"Well," Kakashi quipped, "sounds good to me." Sasuke sighed, then dipped his head forward a touch to signal his agreement.
"Ah, what the hell," Sakura decided, "why not." Naruto beamed.
"This way, we can also improve the status of the jinchuuriki and bijuu from weapon to a living being!" Naruto exclaimed excitedly. "Me and Kura-chan (when he wakes up of course) are definitely gonna do it, believe it!" Naruto declared. Sakura facepalmed at the return of the catchphrase, while Sasuke and Kakashi cringed off to the side. Naruto sniggered at them. A vein popped out of Sakura's forehead and her eye twitched as she realized Naruto had said the damn thing on purpose. Realizing the danger signs, Naruto squeaked in pure, unadulterated terror.
" YOU BAKA!" Sakura yelled at the poor, cowering blond. "YOU BETTER APOLOGIZE, OR I SWEAR!" Naruto clapped his hands together.
"Yeah, yeah Sakura-chan, I'm really really sorry!" He cried. "I won't do it again, ever, I promise!" Sakura glared at him.
"You better not, or else…" she grumbled. Naruto's head nodded vigorously in penitence. A beat of silence reigned in the clearing.
"I think I'm gonna take a better look at Kurama's condition." Naruto said. Kakashi nodded.
"While you're down there, you might also want to check that place you described to us. There's still some time before we'll have to start heading back, so there's no harm in seeing if anyone's down there." Naruto inclined his head, acknowledging Kakashi's request. Naruto crossed his legs, and put his hands together in a meditative pose, his bright blue eyes sliding closed as he slipped into his mindscape.
Kakashi, Sasuke and Sakura sat quietly as Naruto's body slumped slightly, the only sign of life in the small form the faint inhaling and exhaling of breath from his lips.
"We'll protect him this time, Sakura. It'll be fine." Kakashi assured her. Sakura bit her lip, thinking about Naruto and how his childhood must have been being shunned for something he had no control over, and being overlooked for the small, scared and lonely child he was, and thought of as only a demon.
...This way, we can also improve the status of the jinchuuriki and bijuu from weapon to a living being!... Naruto's voice echoed in her ears.
Oh Naruto, Sakura thought.
All of a sudden, Naruto's still form shot up, wide-eyed and stunned, breath coming in short, fast gasps.
Sakura shot to her feet, moving quickly to the blond's side, green chakra coating her hands raising reflexively to check her friend for damage. "What is it, Naruto?!" She demanded,she needed to know so she could help him, faintly aware of Sasuke and Kakashi's presence right behind her. " What's wrong?!" Naruto ignored her, panting as his bewildered eyes staring unseeingly ahead.
"...W- what the hell?!"
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