So... Yeah. Finally posting again. This is a WIP, that I've been developing on and off for... a while. Finally decided to start posting it. Probably won't be completed for a while (if ever), but at least it might inspire someone or something. It's currently at four chapters and 22,000-ish words, with a fifth chapter in the works. I'll try and update once a week, until I run out of pre-written chapters.

Warnings: timetravel, NaruSasuNaru yaoi, major character death, will probably be discontinued at some point, possibly slight AU or AT (alternate timeline), use of present tense (flashbacks are in past)

Note: title has absolutely nothing to do with the book by the almost same name, and was actually conceived of independently. I only found out about the book when I googled my title to see if it was unique

And another note: completely not happy with my summary. Can anyone suggest an alternate?

One point: if, over the next week and a half or so, nobody reviews, I'll assume that nobody wants to read this story (or cares enough about it to hit a button and type all of six letters), and I'll take it down. I would seriously accept a simple 'update.' I accept anonymous reviews, so you don't even need an account. Just please give me some feedback on the story.

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Chapter One

Pain. Fire rippling through his veins, his muscles taut, stressed nearly to the point of snapping. He thrashed, trying in vain to break their hold.

Falling, falling, falling, into fire and ash and darkness...

Dripping water, a red glow from the gloom.

"I refuse to let Madara win!" A load roar that reverberated through his soul...

The world melts and swirls, turning into a dizzying, rushing mix of color, light, sound, feeling...

A bright white light, ghosts lurking within. Konoha, a bouquet of paper roses... Loss, feeling lost, was this how Sasuke felt? Running, running, running, always running, fighting for the slightest glimpse of that face... Black hair and pale skin like ink and paper... The world stretching out before his feet, fear and hatred and burning desire...

He fell past loneliness and misery and slammed into himself with a force that shook the universe.

...

(Now)

Naruto opens his eyes and then promptly squeezes them shut again. The sun shines merrily, the birds sing, and Naruto feels like shit.

'Where?' he thinks.

'A more appropriate question,' a voice replies, deep and rumbling, 'Would be when, you worthless lump of flesh, bones, and blood.'

Naruto blinks. His mind scrambles frantically but sluggishly, before finally placing the voice. 'Kyuubi?' But the fox has never been able to speak to him outside of his mindscape before!

'Yeah, well, screwing around with the laws of physics tends to have numerous side effects, brat,' the Kyuubi rumbles back. 'And, no, unfortunately I'm not about to escape. Fucking blonds and goddamn redheads...' The Kyuubi mutters the last statement, and Naruto gets the feeling that he wasn't supposed to be able to hear it.

'What do you mean?' he asks, mentally casting about for some metaphorical ground to stand on. His head aches fiercely, and his eyes burn as he tries to figure out for himself what the fox could possibly be saying.

'You got caught, moron,' the fox replies, 'And I refuse to be the slave of that accursed Uchiha ever again! So, I brought us some time.'

Naruto takes note of all the little inflection contained within the fox's statement, trying to analyze it for true meaning, not at all fazed by its vagueness. Something occurs to him, a brief memory of the fox's previous words. 'What did you mean, 'when'?' he asks.

The fox feels decidedly smug. Its emotions resonate over their bond, sharper than Naruto remembers them ever being. 'Welcome to the past, brat,' it says, voice triumphant.

Nothing moves in Naruto's mind for a few moments. Then: 'WHAT?'

Before the fox can reply, someone knocks at his door. The pulsing pressure of the Kyuubi's chakra – strange, that he didn't notice it until it left – fades from his awareness. Naruto sits up and glances at the door. An uneasy feeling grows in his gut at he gets up and walks to answer it. When he opens the door, Shikamaru stands there, in his chunin uniform, a serious expression on his face.

"Don't tell me," Naruto whispers. 'Today of all days... Why not a day earlier?'

"Naruto, Sasuke's left Konoha," Shikamaru says, eyes narrowing at Naruto's whisper. "We're forming a team to retrieve him."

Naruto's head spins and his mind still can't quite grasp what's going on, but he finds himself speaking without entirely realizing it. "We're going to need powerful people, several of them, all skilled... There're four with Sasuke, all some of Orochimaru's strongest, a fifth likely on the way..."

"How do you know that?" Shikamaru interrupts his musings, yanking Naruto back into the real world. Naruto's throat goes dry as he casts about for a believable story.

"I saw them... Talking to Sasuke, fighting a bit with him, not very long ago. I... I'd spoken to him, just after, and I'd been so sure that he wasn't listening to them..." Naruto lets his confusion over the Kyuubi's actions rise to the fore, desperation and self-incrimination lacing his tone. Shikamaru still looks suspicious, although probably now over why Naruto didn't tell anyone. "One... One of them's a genjutsu mistress probably, another sprouted extra arms so he had six, the third looked like two people fused together, the fourth... I couldn't tell anything about him."

Naruto wants so desperately to reveal everything he knows of the Sound Four's abilities, but that, more than anything, would ring warning bells in Shikamaru's head. Although his thoughts still churn, Naruto has regained enough stability in his mind to know better than to reveal himself without first establishing a firm ground to stand on, and definitely without first making sure that he has enough time to spare for the interrogation that's sure to follow.

Shikamaru accepts his words, although somewhat reluctantly. Naruto nods and runs back inside to change. He quickly throws on his orange pants and a black t-shirt, leaving the jacket behind. "Who're we getting?" he asks once he emerges, tying his headband into place.

"Chouji, Neji, Kiba, plus you and me," Shikamaru replies.

"Not nearly enough," Naruto says. "Damn, Lee's still in the hospital, isn't he... We should bring Tenten."

"She's a girl!" Shikamaru argues, "And she was beaten by that Suna girl, Temari."

"Temari was something of a 'perfect enemy', though," Naruto shoots back, "And Tenten's extremely good. We should also bring Shino along..." He searches his mind frantically, trying to remember who was/ is at what level. 'Fuck, Hinata's still fairly weak in this time, and Ino has yet to get serious... Konohamaru and his team are still kids, I don't have most of my allies and connections yet, and Sai probably has no clue who the fuck I am...'

Pushing his thoughts aside, Naruto continues with, "I can form shadow clones and send them out to fetch all five, and I know someone from Suna who should be nearby and owes me a favor big-time... I'll send another clone to ask Tsunade to send word, asking for assistance."

"Whatever," Shikamaru replies. "Do you think that they'll be enough?"

"No," Naruto says immediately, "But it's the best we can do."

Naruto crosses his fingers in the shadow-clone seal, summoning six clones into existence. With a nod, each runs off to their respective targets. "They'll fetch the others," Naruto says. "We should meet at the front gates in fifteen, thirty minutes. Sound good?" Shikamaru nods, and they split up.

Meanwhile, one of the clones speeds up, sprinting towards where his fuzzy memory says that Tenten should be training this time of day. He finds her with little trouble, practicing her aerial throws.

"Tenten!" he gasps out, and she twirls around. "Sasuke's left Konoha, and Tsunade-sama's having me and Shikamaru put together a team of genin since there're no free chunin and jounin."

"What?" she replies, eyes widening, clearly stunned. "When do we leave?" she asks almost immediately, pushing aside her shock with an admirable amount of professionalism. "Where should I meet you guys?"

"Front gates, fifteen to thirty minutes," Naruto replies, turning to leave. Behind him, he can feel Tenten's chakra signature as she collects her weapons and heads off, likely returning to her own house to get prepared.

Once he's out of her sight, the Naruto clone dismisses himself, his memories returning to the original. Soon, all six clones have delivered their messages, the sixth convincing Tsunade to send word to Suna asking for help nearly an hour before she would have originally. After it leaves her presence, the sixth ducks into an alleyway and uses the summoning technique.

Gamakichi appears in front of the clone in a cloud of smoke. Not waiting for the young toad's customary greeting, the Naruto clone crouches down in front of him. "Gamakichi, I've got a mission of great importance for you," it says. "I need you to take a message to Gaara – the Ichibi no Shukaku no jinchuuriki – and his team. He's gained control of himself since we fought, so Shukaku shouldn't be a problem."

"Sure thing," the toad says, picking up on the serious edge in Naruto's tone.

Naruto nods. "If my memory serves correctly," Naruto wishes that he had paid more attention and asked more questions after the original mission, "they should be in River Country, close to the north-eastern border." Sadly, Naruto can't remember anything more specific than that. "You remember his chakra signature?"

"Couldn't forget it."

"Okay, then." Naruto clears his throat and starts to explain the recent situation. He gives Gamakichi the details of the path that they'll likely be taking, and every fact about the Sound Five that he both gleaned from the others after the original mission and still remembers. Gaara, unlike Shikamaru, is unlikely to ask questions that Naruto doesn't want answered, and, even if he does figure out that something's up, he's much, much less likely to be a problem.

"Got that?" Naruto asks at last, and Gamakichi nods.

"See ya!" the small toad declares, before vanishing with a 'poof' and a cloud of smoke. The Naruto clone then stands and dismisses itself as well.

Meanwhile, once Shikamaru has left his line of sight, the original forms the shadow-clone seal again, summoning two additional shadow clones into existence. They vanish, shunshin'ing away towards the direction of the Sound Four – and the outskirts of Konoha – at full speed. Naruto then turns, goes back into the house, and starts raiding all of his bolt-holes for spare shinobi supplies and money.

He pulls out every blank scroll that he can find and a cheap calligraphy set and then summons another ten shadow clones into existence. They immediately set to work, sealing weapons and jutsu effects into the scrolls. A smaller scroll, designed to be released in a spiral, containing an unstable wind-infused Oodama Rasengan... Another scroll, the kanji long and complex, to summon fire techniques to be used with his wind. Scrolls like massive explosive notes, to be used by shadow clones, scrolls of sealing and subduing, scrolls with weapons and shinobi tools and supplies (Naruto knows to be prepared for anything, and several ideas ferment in the back of his mind – he packs food and clothing and money that he's been saving up since he was small, enough for weeks if not months, just in case)...

Naruto gathers his chakra again and creates yet another clone, taking his shirt off as he does so. He has the clone start drawing seals upon Naruto's body, ones designed to filter out the more harmful aspects of Kyuubi's chakra, to protect him from electric attacks, to bolster his stamina, to temporarily (and falsely) extend the limits of his physical body, so that he can fight past the point where he would otherwise have collapsed.

As the clones pack, one's hand comes to hover over a fuuma shuriken. It glances at Naruto, sharing his thought processes, and, making a split-second decision, Naruto signals for it to set the collapsible, massive weapon aside. He tugs his shirt on once the clone finishes with the twisting lines of characters that make up his seals and stands to walk over to the piles of scrolls and single weapon. He slings the fuuma shuriken across his back, so that it rests low and near his right hip for easy access in battle.

Naruto then takes the scrolls – only five, all of the smaller scrolls having been condensed and sealed into master scrolls – and slips them into the specially designed pouches on the front of the wide strap of the sling. He dismisses the clones and starts running for the gate, noting with a curse that he's on the verge of being late.

He finally arrives just after Shino, who had been the farthest from the gate, does. "Everyone ready?" Shikamaru almost immediately asks, surveying the gathered genin. They all nod in unison. "I'll need to check your supplies."

Naruto glimpses Lee standing nearby, and, while Shikamaru checks over the others, Naruto walks over to the other genin. "Hey," he says, getting Lee's attention. He notices quickly how melancholy the other looks. "Don't beat yourself up over not being able to come with us... You're an amazing shinobi, and I know that anybody else would have died in that fight. This," Naruto gestures widely, indicating the partial paralysis, "Isn't your fault, and, with Tsunade-baa-chan here, it isn't permanent. You'll get better, and then we can become the greatest shinobi ever together!"

Lee grins in response to Naruto's speech. "Thank you," he says. "Still... Everyone else is able to do something, while I just have to sit here..."

"And someday," Naruto replies, voice full of conviction, "It'll be us unable to fight, and you'll be the hero. For today, though, leave it all to me. I swear that I'll make sure that everyone returns okay!"

They share a soft smile, and Lee says, "I would wish you luck, Naruto-kun, but I know that you won't need it, because you have your hard work and flames of youth on your side!"

Naruto beams and turns back to the others, his turn having come up to get his supplies examined. "Thanks, Lee," he calls back over his shoulder. "Stay safe, alright?"

"I promise!" Lee replies.

Shikamaru raises an eyebrow at the scrolls that Naruto decided to bring along, not to mention the bulky fuuma shuriken. Shikamaru then checks Naruto's kunai and explosive tags while Naruto glances around, habitually scanning the surrounding area for potential threats.

"Okay, everyone's checked out." Shikamaru's eyes roam over the gathered genin, and he crouches down. "Now, for team arrangements..."

"Shikamaru," Naruto interrupts, "I'm pretty sure what you're going to say, and I have some suggestions to make."

"What?" Shikamaru asks, annoyed.

Naruto breathes out heavily and crouches down beside Shikamaru, pulling the piece of paper and pencil that the chunin had taken out towards himself. He quickly sketches little figures, pointing to each one in turn. "Neji should go in front with his Byakugan – any and all threats are likely to come from that direction, unless we walk through an ambush, and he should be able to mitigate that possibility."

A brief thought filters through Naruto's mind that he shouldn't be using words like 'mitigate' yet, but he needs to be taken seriously more than he needs secrecy, so he decides to take the risk.

He indicates the general layout of the figures with a sweep of his hand, continuing with explaining his plan. "Their attacks are most likely to come in one of three forms: 'ray', 'cone', or 'area of effect', the last basically a vaguely circular attack zone." Naruto knows that those aren't the technical terms for the more common high-level attack patterns (which mostly, come to think of it, hadn't been fully established yet at this point in time, not until Orochimaru's insane body-modifications for his soldiers were stolen, improved, streamlined, and became common-place), but he didn't exactly have time to learn them in the midst of a war.

"We shouldn't walk single file, nor should we bunch up. If we're all spread out, that greatly reduces the chance that they'll be able to take us all out in one move... These aren't genin we're fighting, you know," he defends himself when he sees their incredulous looks. (Well, except for Tenten, Shikamaru, and Shino. Shino looks like Shino, Shikamaru looks suspicious, and Tenten looks thoughtful.) "I'd be shocked if they didn't have some kind of way of taking a large group out all at once."

Although he only would be shocked because he's used to a future of city-killer jutsu, and he knows how the Sound Four work. Jutsu designed to easily kill everyone in a certain area won't be commonplace for another four years (in warfare, Naruto figures, Orochimaru's always been ahead of the curve).

"Makes sense," Tenten says, interrupting anything that the others might feel like saying. "Who else is where?"

Naruto nods gratefully to her and point at a figure to the far right of and just barely behind Neji. "Kiba and Akamaru should be here. They're both heavy-hitters and good front-line fighters. We catch up to the enemy, they launch into an attack, giving the rest of us time to position ourselves. Plus, with their heightened sense, they'll be difficult to sneak up on, and they'll be able to smell the enemy's tracks if and when they get out of range of Neji's Byakugan. "

Checking to see that he has their attention, Naruto shifts his focus to another figure a distance behind Neji and slightly to the left. "Shino should go here. He, like Kiba and Neji, will be extremely difficult to sneak-attack, and he's strong enough to fend off an attack long enough for everyone else to react. Plus, from what I know of how Aburame fight, he'll do best starting a distance back from the fight."

Shino nods, acknowledging Naruto's conclusions. Naruto returns his nod, and continues with the figure in the center, between Neji and Kiba and just ahead of Shino. "I'll be in the middle here. Regardless of what you all might think, I tend to be very situationally aware and a quick responder. I'm versatile, and so I'll be the first to offer aid to anyone who gets in trouble... Plus, that makes me the most likely to get caught in a powerful area attack, and, because I have an insanely fast healing rate, I'll be the first to recover from something like that."

Nobody moves to interrupt him or protest his self-characterization, so Naruto continues, pointing to a figure around the same level back as Naruto and a bit to the right of Kiba. "Shikamaru will be here. He's going to be our worst in a close-range fight, and, because this is something of our 'strong side', the enemy is unlikely to attack here. From this position, Shikamaru will have time to formulate a plan and use his shadow techniques."

Shikamaru peers at the configuration and mutters, somewhat wonderingly, "He's actually right."

Naruto ignores that and points to the figure roughly behind Shikamaru, at around the same level as Shino. "Chouji will be here. Due to the nature of his attacks, it'd be best for him to have a bit of a running start, and he's strong enough that even a surprise attack shouldn't be enough to take him out before the rest of us can get there. Once again, the enemy is unlikely to attack in this area, so the fact that Chouji doesn't have the same heightened senses as Neji, Kiba, Shino, and myself shouldn't be too much of an issue."

He glances up at all of them. Their skeptic looks have slowly faded, and they're beginning to accept his plan. Good. Naruto indicates the final figure, the farthest back and positioned between Neji and Shino. "Tenten'll be here. She'd do best ranged, but she also is skilled at analyzing her surroundings, and she can hold her own in a melee fight. She'd probably do best in a situation where we're taken by surprise, too."

The others (except for Neji) all glance at Tenten, as if to ascertain Naruto's analysis – after all, they haven't exactly seen her fight before. "He's right," she says. "I'm trained to use several types of swords and daggers, although thrown weapons are my specialty." She gives Naruto a questioning look, clearly wondering how he knew that, while Neji nods, confirming her words.

They other genin all then turn to Shikamaru, clearly asking for his verdict on Naruto's plan. The chunin appears deep in thought, staring at the quick sketch Naruto made. "Sounds good," Shikamaru sighs at last, murmuring, "So troublesome..."

Shikamaru stands up then, stretching, and proceeds to give the speech that Naruto vaguely remembers from the first time around, about how he doesn't, personally, give a shit about Sasuke, but Sasuke's a comrade, yadda, yadda, yadda. They're just about to leave when Sakura runs up.

Naruto definitely remembers this, and his plans to change things begin to truly crystallize in his mind for the first time. He has to fight back the urge to scowl at her, his memories of the past... How she shook her head and cried, just backed away and did nothing as Sasuke lay there bleeding to death... He watches as, in this new reality, Shikamaru and Sakura talk, feeling detached, like he's watching his body move of its own accord, when Sakura turns to him.

"Please, Naruto, bring Sasuke-kun back!"

He grins at her, thinking 'I'm sorry, Sakura, but I can't promise that... Not this time.' "Sakura... I understand how you feel, that pain that feels like claws in your heart, tearing you into pieces, leaving a hole behind that pulses through you like waves, threatens to swallow you..." His voice dies off, and he forces himself to grin again. Naruto raises his hand into the 'nice-guy' pose, unable to summon the necessary bright smile when he feels so stressed, so hurt inside. "Don't worry, Sakura... I swear that I'll do whatever it takes to save Sasuke! Promise of a lifetime!"

'Save him... Even from himself... Even from you, from Konoha. But I won't let things get that bad ever again, so it doesn't matter. Not yet. Save Sasuke... But not bring him back, I'm not so naive anymore, to think that those two things necessarily equal one another. If I can, I will, but I'm not hanging all my hopes on a fool's dream... Isn't that what Ero-Sennin called it? A wild goose chase, bringing Sasuke back.'

Is he the only one who understands the meaning of his words? Sakura, Lee, Kiba, everyone all smile or look approving... Is that a glint of suspicion in Shikamaru's eyes? Is he misinterpreting the searching look that Tenten gives him?

It doesn't seem to matter, as Kiba grins and asks, "Hey, Naruto, sure you'll be able to keep that promise?"

Naruto lowers his hand and turns to Kiba, a dead serious look on his face. "I never go back on my word, Kiba. That's who I am."

So many little changes, a thousand connotations to words... Are they really all so blind to his still forming deception? Although he seems suspicious, Naruto doubts that even Shikamaru has guessed the true meaning of Naruto's actions.

"Alright, everyone," Naruto says, his voice softer and steadier than it was originally, "We've wasted enough time as it is. Let's hurry."

Meanwhile, his two clones shoot far ahead of the group, closer to where the Sound Four are and will be going, before finding a separate isolated area for each clone, where they can meditate for hours and not be disturbed. Once each has secured his position, he starts meditating and drawing nature chakra from the surrounding environment.

At the Front Gate, Team Shikamaru starts running.

...

Glossary of Terms:

Konoha: Leaf, short for 'village hidden in the leaves'

Suna: Sand, short for 'village hidden in the sand'

Shunshin: body flicker, used to move short to long distances at high speeds

Shinobi: another word for ninja. As a note, neither this nor 'ninja' will be put into the English plural in this story, since Japanese lacks a plural form, and one of my pet peeves is seeing people use 'shinobis' or 'ninjas'.

Oodama Rasengan: great spiraling sphere, like an ordinary rasengan on steroids

Ero-Sennin: Perverted Sage, what Naruto calls Jiraiya

Fuuma shuriken: 'windmill' shuriken, those big things that fold up and can be flicked open.

Please review. It encourages me to continue writing. Also, please point out any problems you see, and feel free to bring up any suggestions. Was the present-tense annoying? (Should I go back and change it all to past?) What do you think of Naruto's characterization?