Title: me wa kokoro no kagami; the eyes are the window to the soul
Genre: Drama, Hurt/Comfort, Pre-Relationship, Time Travel, Het, Slash
Relationship(s): Gen; Referenced/Implied: SasuSakuNaru, ItaSasu, NaruHina, ItaIzu, JiraOro
Content Rating: R
Warnings: Violence – Graphic, Implied/Mentioned Incestuous Feelings
Author Notes: this is part 1 of a series, though this fic can stand on its own as a fix-it.
Beta: MielleBikker, SaydriaWolfe
Word Count: 50,025
Summary: “We’re going to send someone back,” Naruto said with confidence, his voice holding strong at their incredulous looks. “Far enough back that we can change things.” “Send someone back?” Kakashi asked, bewildered. “Time travel?” Sasuke asked, just as shocked. Surely that hadn’t been what Naruto meant? Naruto nodded enthusiastically, a blinding grin gracing his face, making it into a once more familiar sight. “Time travel!”
“Do you have everything?” Sasuke asked softly, his touch gentle as he rested his hand on Sasu’s head.
The younger boy nodded slightly, silent as he hid his face in Sasuke’s stomach. Sasu hadn’t spoken in several days, the only indication of his distress being his tear-filled eyes and desolate stare. He hadn’t made any attempt to open up to Sasuke, but he had been clinging to Sasuke since he woke up. Every time someone would come into Sasu’s room, he would latch onto Sasuke and watch the intruder with a deeply suspicious gaze. It hurt Sasuke to think about it, to see himself go through this entire process all over again, so he did his best to simply be there for his younger self. Comforting words could only go so far, especially when they were as fumbled and hesitant as Sasuke’s, but they did seem to be helping the younger boy somewhat.
“And you’re sure you want to stay on the clan grounds? I know you haven’t met him yet, but I’m sure Danzō-sama could get us a new apartment,” Sasuke asked once more, though he already knew the answer Sasu would give.
He had chosen to stay in the clan compound in his original timeline if only to escape everybody that had followed him around. It was considered incredibly taboo for someone who wasn’t an Uchiha to enter the grounds even before the massacre. Afterward, if someone had entered, it would have been considered an offense bad enough for physical retaliation. Sasuke had escaped the eyes that tracked him by staying in the compound and he imagined that Sasu felt like he was doing the same.
Sasu hadn’t voiced his desire to stay in his house, but the second Sasuke had mentioned their new guardian and new living situation, the boy’s eyes had gone wide with panic. So much was changing so quickly and it could be incredibly overwhelming for someone as young as Sasu; Sasuke could attest to it. Sasu would have to meet Danzō at some point, especially so he could understand that if Sasuke was out of commission he could only trust Danzō, but both Sasuke and Kakashi had made the decision to keep the meeting for after they had returned to their compound; less chance of anyone overhearing something they shouldn’t. Kakashi might be running around as Danzō, but that didn’t mean there weren’t any others, specifically Zetsu, that could possibly be listening in.
“I want to go home,” Sasu whispered, breaking his almost week-long silence.
“Alright then,” Sasuke replied, nudging Sasu forward. “Let’s go home.”
It was disconcerting to see doctors and nurses stop as they walked by, gawkers watching after them as they both refused to meet anyone’s eyes. Sasuke kept his head high, gaze forward, while Sasu stared intently at the ground, tucked closely to Sasuke’s side. Their release papers had been filled out and filed, so no one attempted to stop them as they left the hospital and made their way out into the cool, late evening air. Staying in the hospital for another week, simply for observation, had been a pain the first time around. The staff had been looking at Sasuke’s mental health, trying to see if he had been traumatized in such a way that couldn’t physically be seen, but he had been convincing enough to get released. This time around, with an older guardian and another surviving family member, there was no reason for Sasu to act like he wasn’t traumatized by what he had seen; instead, it was Sasuke and his odd recovery that kept them under the watchful eyes of the med nin. Miraculously healed wounds were rather inconspicuous.
Sasuke let out a faint grunt as Sasu abruptly stopped, the small boy tense in his arms. Knowing exactly what had stopped the boy in his tracks, Sasuke resolutely focused on the sight before him. The Uchiha clan compound was exactly as it had been after the massacre, silent and still. The ANBU and Root agents would’ve been through the compound to collect the bodies and clean up any of the blood that had been spilled that night. The first time around Sasuke had had to deal with a few dried puddles of blood on his own, spots that had either gone overlooked or had been left deliberately. He had no proof, of course, but with all the scheming that went on in Konoha’s underground, it wouldn’t surprise Sasuke if it had been left there to traumatize him even further. This time, to his relief, the grounds had been scrubbed spotless. There was no blood in sight on their journey to the house, no disturbed ground left untouched from any fighting that had taken place. The general disarray that had plagued the compound last time was nowhere to be found this go around.
Sasuke’s old house stood pristine and abandoned, door left unlocked as it creaked open with a gentle push. Sasuke held his breath as he looked around, anxious as he searched for even a speckle of the red he had once been greeted by. He made a mental note to thank Kakashi when he saw only a recently cleaned house; his sensei was more than likely behind the extra cleaning this time around. Sasuke more than appreciated it; he didn’t want Sasu to feel the intense horror he had when spotting the patches of blood in the kitchen like he had.
“Sasu-kun,” Sasuke muttered, keeping an eye on the silent boy even as he takes in his surroundings, “why don’t you go take a bath and get ready for bed? I’m sure you’re more than ready to sleep in your own bed.”
Sasu didn’t say anything, simply giving a brief nod of his head, his tiny figure disappearing down a dark hallway. Sasuke watched him leave, embracing the silence that unnaturally permeated the house. He stood there, not moving as he took it all in, his eyes slowly adjusting as the sun started to dip below the horizon. Sasuke took in a shaky breath before exhaling, finally walking over and flipping the switch to allow a soft light to glow within the room.
The first thing that caught his eye were the photos hung on the walls around him, the images bringing forth memories he had completely forgotten. The one closest to the door was also the oldest, a simple still frame from Mikoto and Fugaku’s wedding. His father, for once in his life, actually had something resembling a smile gracing his lips, while his mother was absolutely dazzling with her happy grin.
The second picture held similar expressions, though this time Fugaku was holding a baby in his arms. Sasuke stared at this picture for a second longer than the other one, captivated by baby Itachi’s soft everything. A soft face, soft hair, and soft eyes, carefully cradled in Fugaku’s soft embrace. With regret, Sasuke silently took the frame off of the wall, not willing to have it hanging up as a reminder for Sasu. Sasuke didn’t plan on letting Sasu go down the path of vengeance, nor did he plan on letting Itachi’s lies stand, but the boy was broken at the moment. Sasuke would have to introduce the truth to Sasu in clues and then let the boy come to the right conclusion. Telling him point-blank wouldn’t help him in any way. Until that moment came, Sasuke would have to try and erase every sign of Itachi he could.
He moved onto the final photo and he felt his lips twitch, his heart aching fiercely as he looked at a photo he hadn’t seen in years. It was one of the many photos Sasuke had torn down and burned in a fit of anger, incensed to see himself look so happy with someone he had viewed as a monster. A young Itachi stared at him, his grip resolute and strong as he carefully held a younger Sasuke on his hip. It was a ridiculous picture, truly, but both of them looked so happy. While Itachi’s face was neutral, his eyes were smiling. Sasuke himself was sending a gummy smile in the camera’s direction, perfectly content in Itachi’s arms. Sasuke took this photo down as well, fingers caressing over Itachi’s still form.
Suddenly feeling like something was lodged in his throat, he tried to clear it by coughing slightly. He sniffed gently, glancing down the hall to make sure Sasu wasn’t making a reappearance. With his younger self nowhere in sight, Sasuke carefully maneuvered the picture out of the frame before delicately folding it and placing it in his pant’s pocket. He would hide the other photos in one location, but he would keep this photo on him.
He took several other photos down from walls and off of stands, doing his best not to linger as he had with the first three. Sasu wouldn’t take much longer in the bath and Sasuke wanted to reassure him before he went off to bed. He carefully tucked the pictures into a box in the hall closet, hiding it behind several others. There were coats from his family still hanging on their hangers, but he couldn’t bring himself to dig through them. The most immediate triggers had been hidden for now and the others, like clothing and other personal possessions, would have to wait until another day.
“Sasu-kun,” Sasuke called out as he headed down the dark hall. A light appeared as soon as he turned the corner, a bright glow emanating from Sasuke’s old room. Sasuke knocked gently on the door, smiling slightly as Sasu glanced up at him, the young boy just finishing adjusting his sleep shirt over his head.
“Climb into bed,” Sasuke told him, softly ushering him on. He waited for Sasu to climb in before reaching and pulling the covers over the kid, trying his best to keep his kind smile plastered on his face. Sasuke was completely out of his depth when it came to taking care of someone else. He was trying his best to act like he remembered Izumi acting, but he wasn’t quite sure he was succeeding. The fact was that he didn’t really remember how the preteen had acted. Sasuke hadn’t much cared for her, so anything she had said or done was dismissed as quickly as he could manage.
“We’ll go to the market tomorrow,” Sasuke hummed, reaching for something to say as he smoothed the covers down over the silent boy. Any food that had been left in the fridge would surely be spoiled by now, though Sasuke wasn’t sure if the cleaning crew would’ve taken care of something as innocuous as expired produce. “In a day or two, we can have Danzō-sama over so you can meet him.”
Silence descended after that. Sasuke paused for a moment, giving Sasu a chance to say something. When nothing came, Sasuke sighed, exhaustion truly hitting him as he struggled to smile kindly at the silent boy. “Alright,” he whispered, “good night, Sasu-kun.”
Sasuke exited the room, turning the light off as he left. He had left Sasu’s door open, knowing just how he had used to sleep. Sasuke paused after only taking a few steps, suddenly uncertain. He could go out to the living area and sleep on the couch, that way he wouldn’t have to invade one of the other two bedrooms in the house. He bit his lip, struggling to come to some type of decision. He couldn’t seem to force himself to move towards his parent’s bedroom, so instead, he turned around and walked the other direction, heading further down the hall until he found himself standing in front of Itachi’s closed bedroom door.
It was exactly as it had been when Itachi had left it, though Sasuke knew it must have been searched by both ANBU and Root. It was clean, all of the clothes put away where they were meant to be and all the books were organized by alphabet on his two bookshelves. With a tired sigh, Sasuke trudged forward and collapsed on the bed. He was still in the clothes the hospital had lent him, but he couldn’t make himself find something to change into. He’d have to go and search Izumi’s home for her clothes tomorrow. For now, he simply let sleep take him.
It felt like he closed his eyes and then the next second he was jolted awake, his body twitching violently as his eyes snapped open, his single bared eye glowing in the dark as his Sharingan activated. He sucked in a silent breath, carefully taking in the dark room around him. He couldn’t sense any foreign chakra signatures, so he cautiously sat up in Itachi’s bed, straining his ears to see if he could hear anything.
There was nothing, for just a moment, before a whimper broke the silence. Sasuke was up and out of his room in a second, making his way quickly down the hall. With his Sharingan activated, he stood in the doorway to Sasu’s room and sadly watched the boy twist under his bedsheets, scared whimpers ripping themselves out of his throat.
Sasuke approached the left side of the bed, hesitating just before he touched Sasu. He deactivated his Sharingan after a second, instead turning on the small table lamp that rests next to Sasu’s head. The kid didn’t need to be woken up only to see a Sharingan eye staring at him in the dark. Sasuke gently caressed the boy’s face, doing his best to keep his hand light and nonthreatening. The whimpering lessened at the contact, a few seconds passing before Sasu let out a sniffle and his eyes cracked open, immediately locking onto Sasuke’s own. There was a single moment of confusion before Sasu let out a heartbreaking sob and launched himself into Sasuke’s arms.
Sasuke held onto him tightly, harshly biting his lip to prevent his own cries from breaking free. He had to be strong for Sasu. He couldn’t break down, not like he wanted to.
“Shh,” he hushed softly, running one hand up and down Sasu’s back. “I’m here, it’s going to be okay.”
“They’re all gone,” Sasu sobbed back in response, desolation in his voice. “Mama and papa are gone. Aniki is gone.”
Sasuke’s jaw tightened as Sasu continued to cry, his own grief washing over him in steady waves. Because as Sasu had demonstrated, Sasuke himself had been devastated by his parents’ deaths, but to his shame, he had been more torn up about the fact that Itachi was no longer at his side. He had loved his mother and father, still loved them, but Sasuke had always been too attached to Itachi. Kakashi had once told Sasuke he had a rather severe brother complex, and as much as Sasuke hated to admit it, it was true. Sasuke had been more devastated that his murderous brother had left him than the fact that his parents were dead. He had gotten over it, moved onto avenging the clan that had fallen to Itachi’s blade, but Sasuke had never shaken the guilt that he had cried over Itachi’s absence.
Sasuke would never admit it, had never admitted it to anyone but himself, but for the first few weeks after he had been released into his new lonely life, he had desperately wished Itachi had simply taken Sasuke with him. It was one of his darkest secrets, that abhorrent wish to be coddled by the man that had murdered their entire family.
“I know, Sasu-kun,” Sasuke shushed again, “I know.”
Sasu cried into his arms for a few more minutes, his sobs finally slowing in intensity before they finally petered off. The silence of the night was only interrupted by Sasu’s soft sniffles, the moon giving off a soft glow from the bedroom’s single window.
“Izumi-chan,” Sasu whispered as he pulled away slightly, looking up to meet Sasuke’s gaze, “will you stay with me tonight?”
“Of course, Sasu-kun,” Sasuke reassured him, following Sasu up into his bed until they were both scrunched up into Sasu’s single bed. Sasuke wrapped Sasu into his arms, both of them settling under the heavy comforter. While Sasu’s breathing eventually puttered out, Sasuke was left awake for the rest of the night, senses open and on a constant vigilance.
As he had learned all those years ago: on some nights, sleep just won’t come.
Sasuke spent the next day picking up around the house, leaving Sasu alone in his room. The younger kid stayed curled up on his bed and Sasuke chose not to disturb him. Sasuke wouldn’t leave him like that tomorrow, he would force the kid up and into a bath, but it was for the best if he was out of the way today. There were signs of life in the house that would trigger him and Sasuke made it his mission to clear out anything too upsetting.
He started his day by silently leaving his house, the early morning dawn leaving a dewy coolness clinging to his skin. He retraced the path that he had once walked all those years ago, letting himself into the unlocked house that once belonged to Izumi and her mother. It was smaller than Sasuke’s house, but that was expected considering Sasuke was the son of the clan head.
He had to go through two rooms before he found a small bedroom, lavender sheets greeting his vision. He frowned slightly, not looking forward to wearing so much of the soft shade, but he knew that Izumi herself had been fond of it. The closet was open and clothes hung neatly from their hangers. There were multiple versions of the outfit Izumi had been stabbed in, the dark clothes some of the few darker colored things Izumi owned. He debated with himself, eyeing them before he regretfully dismissed them. While he held no adverse reaction to the clothes, Izumi would have. Wearing the outfit you were stabbed in by the boy you thought yourself in love with would surely be traumatizing to the girl if she had actually been here. Instead, he pulled out several pairs of black pants and dark purple shirts. He avoided the brighter colors, though he reluctantly grabbed a rather ornamental soft purple kimono. As the Uchiha in charge of the clan, Izumi would have to interact with others in the way that Sasuke hadn’t. While Sasu would be left alone, Sasuke as Izumi would need to appear at a clan council meeting at least once.
Shoes and sandals were scooped up and Sasuke shut the closet firmly behind him. He draped the clothes over the pristine bed and then started to go through Izumi’s drawers, pushing aside random items to try and find anything important. When he opened one and was granted with the sight of an entire drawer full of panties and kunoichi bras, he slammed it closed before he could stop himself. He could feel the heat rushing to his face, cheeks flaming red at the embarrassment that flooded his system.
Sasuke hadn’t been ignoring the fact that he was in Izumi’s body; he was well aware of that. He had, perhaps, been ignoring what that really meant. Izumi, unlike Sasuke, was female. She had a vagina and, while they weren’t particularly large, she also had breasts. Sasuke had done a good job of ignoring their existence, but he realized that he couldn’t go on ignoring them.
With a deep breath, he forced himself to confront his own thoughts and feelings about the body he has found himself stuck in.
He didn’t know if he was particularly shocked to find himself indifferent to his change in genitalia. Sasuke hadn’t liked being called a girl when he was younger, but years spent under Orochimaru’s tutelage had changed his opinion on gender as a whole. Sasuke had called Orochimaru ‘he’ because that was what everyone else called him; Orochimaru himself had never seemed to care. He had answered to ‘he’, ‘she’, or ‘they’ without missing a single beat. Sasuke hadn’t much cared at the time, of course, but it was a single detail that he retained nonetheless. Orochimaru hadn’t had time for gender norms and it was possible that some of that attitude rubbed off on him. Sasuke didn’t miss his dick, didn’t feel slighted to have to sit down to pee. He didn’t feel any less masculine or more feminine than he had when in his actual body. It was certainly odd to be the wrong height and weight, to carry different proportions, but it wasn’t the visceral reaction of being the wrong gender.
Sasuke just was. Male or female, Sasuke existed.
An invisible weight lifted off his chest, a niggling worry from the back of his mind relieved at the conclusions drawn. Sasuke would continue to think of himself as he, but he doubted he would have much trouble with others referring to him as she. In the long run, the gender of the body he occupied didn’t matter to him. With new resolve, he lifted several of the panties and restrictive bras that Izumi had. While he didn’t care about his gender, kunoichi wore specialized undergarments to help keep things, well, restrictive. Sasuke would need it.
The final thing Sasuke swiped was the innocent box of unopened tampons that rested on the bedside table. Sasuke wouldn’t take a guess at whether or not Izumi had already gotten her first period, but after hearing Karin and Sakura both complain, he was going to take the threat seriously going forward.
Sasuke gathered up his new treasures and headed out of Izumi’s house, trudging back to his own home. He dumped his goods into Itachi’s room and then silently checked on a quiet Sasuke, relieved to see the boy was asleep and not brooding. With most of the delicate things hidden away and Sasuke now dressed in an outfit that actually belonged to Izumi, he had another objective to get to: figuring out what went wrong.
He admittedly didn’t have any concrete idea on where to start, but he did know that it had something to do with his Eternal Mangekyou Sharingan. With that in mind, Sasuke headed to the only place that might have answers: the Naka Shrine.
It was different this time. Well, of course, it’s different, Sasuke couldn’t help but scoff at himself. The shrine stood whole before him, undisturbed unlike it was after Nagato’s assault on the village. The cold silence of the place was slightly disturbing. No torches were lit and no lanterns remained hanging; the only light came from the outside. It was a simple trick, one that he was willing to believe would work, to light a single torch. Just a brief moment of flared chakra, a slight intake of breath, and then a strong exhale. Fire swayed forward and Sasuke was pleased to see the torch burning once more. He hadn’t practiced chakra control in this body yet, didn’t know the strengths and weaknesses, but setting a little fire came easily to him.
With that finished, Sasuke accessed the hidden staircase and made his way down. Shadows danced along the hallway as he grew closer to his goal, the flame merrily jumping along with his steps. The sekihi was lit only by his torch and he took a moment to dip it down into the bowls of fluid next to the monument. They lit just as easily as the torch did and Sasuke carefully placed his still lit torch into one of the torch holders on the wall. Finally, he turned to the piece of stone in front of him.
This monument, this sekihi before him, had led to the downfall of the entire Uchiha clan. Egotistic fantasies and false prophecies lay before him and it burned something in Sasuke that he had to go to this damned piece of rock to find answers. He knew the falsehoods it held, and yet he was still so very scared that Zetsu had even more diabolic plans set in place. Realistically, he doubted it, but with how convoluted his life had been, he’d had worse things thrown his way.
He unwrapped the bandage around his Rinnegan and took a look at the hidden words before him. He skimmed past the inane words about controlling the bijū, the story of the sage and Kaguya, as well as the false hope that was the Infinite Tsukuyomi. It was after the warning of the Curse of Hatred that shimmery words caught his eye.
“When seeking absolution, one may change the past,” he muttered, eyes dragging along the faint words before him. “When one holds both eyes of the eternity, when one wishes with more than heart, the eternal eye will take the holder to the place of their deepest regret.”
Sasuke held his breath, eyes wide as he tried to understand what the sekihi was telling him. If he took the tablet’s word for it, there seemed to be an implication that the Sharingan, at least the Eternal Mangekyou Sharingan, held some type of time traveling power. Sasuke had both a Sharingan and a Rinnegan; Sasuke would bet they were the eternal eyes the tablet referred to. Hidden from all except for the one carrying both eyes. Sasuke shiveres slightly, the memory of Madara’s mismatched eyes flashing in his mind. The very idea that Madara had had the ability to read this hidden truth made Sasuke want to vomit. He couldn’t even begin to imagine what Madara would have done with the ability to travel through time.
Shaking himself, he dismissed fears that would never come to pass. Sasuke wouldn’t let the sekihi fall into Madara’s hands once again. What he could do was get rid of the lies that Zetsu had planted. Sasuke couldn’t change the words, wouldn’t even know where to begin, but he could wipe them off of the stone completely. It would take some work and elbow grease, especially while in Izumi’s preteen body, but he vowed to erase the lies Zetsu had fed his clan.
Eyeing the words once more, he felt a pang in his heart. The ability that lied within his Eternal Mangekyou Sharingan had obviously reacted to the time travel attempt Team 7 had been trying. He didn’t know exactly what that interaction had done, but he was currently living the result: stuck in the wrong body. He read the words ‘deepest regret’ and he wondered. What did Izumi have to do with Sasuke’s deepest regret? According to the stone, they could’ve ended up before the massacre, right before Sasuke had shoved his hand through Naruto’s chest, or even when Sasuke had attacked his team with the intent to kill. Any of those were reasonable regrets that Sasuke carried with him. Why then did he end up right after the massacre? Was it possible that the interference between his eye and the seals had caused a different reaction altogether? What regret did he unknowingly carry in regard to the time right after the massacre? How did it relate to his current inhabitance of Izumi’s body?
And, he thought with a sharp frown, how does it relate to the rest of Team 7? Kakashi ended up in Danzō’s body; was there lingering regret over not killing him when he had the chance? For following the Sandaime’s words and letting Danzō continue to screw with things from the shadows? Sasuke doubted that Kakashi would actually share his regrets with him, but it was an important enough detail that he’d have to ask him anyway. It also got Sasuke curious about where the other two missing members of their team were. What regrets did Naruto carry? What person could be connected so deeply with his past that he wanted to change it? Sasuke had a few ideas, the brief conversation between Naruto and Gaara coming to mind, but that left him zero clues about Sakura. As much as he cared about her, he could admit, at least to himself, that he knew the least about her. He knew far too much about Naruto. He had needed to know everything he could when he saw the boy as the only attachment he had. Sasuke saw Kakashi as someone similar to himself. He had had little respect for the man for a good amount of time, but his stance on the man had since changed to one of exasperated affection and healthy respect. He knew things about Kakashi simply because the man felt comfortable sharing more with his silent student than with the boisterous Naruto and the proud Sakura. On the other hand, Sakura had mostly gone ignored. Love bubbled up at the memory of his only female teammate. She was family to him, of course, but he had to admit that he could have done a better job at getting to know this older, more mature version of her.
Sighing in defeat, Sasuke stood from his kneeling position, eyes skating across the words he had just recently discovered. He would have to come back to rid the sekihi of Zetsu’s lies, but it could wait. Sasu would surely be waking soon and it wouldn’t do for Sasuke to be nowhere within shouting distance. Sasuke still had to prepare something for them to eat for lunch, as well as look through their supplies, both food and weapon wise. Sasu would have to be up early tomorrow in preparation for Kakashi’s arrival and then the introduction to their new guardian.
Sasuke left the bowls burning, taking the single torch with him as he exited the chamber and left the damned stone tablet behind him.
Interlude VII: Kakashi
Getting the majority of Root agents back into the village was exhausting. The shinobi were widespread throughout the shinobi nations, from the average looking farmer to a nin from Iwagakure who, as far as Kakashi could figure out, was stationed there some twenty years ago. The amount of reach and influence that Danzō had held in his grasp was never going to cease to amaze him. It did, however, bring up the question of where all the shinobi had been during the last war. Had they integrated themselves during the tumultuous period? Konoha based agents had a support system simply from the village knowing what was going on; an agent stationed in any of the other villages would have been left floundering. Could the unemotional Root shinobi have formed bonds with their comrades during this time? Had an undercover agent become a loyal shinobi to the village they had once been ordered to infiltrate? It was a question Kakashi wished he could answer, especially as the shinobi started to flood the underground Root base.
The shinobi had been trickling in for the past week, all blank-faced and obedient. Kakashi was sure he had caught sight of several shinobi he was almost positive were Kumogakure hunter nin.
What a time to be suddenly thrust into the position of leading a secret underground militaristic government.
Kakashi shuffled through more of Danzō’s files, huffing in agitation as he stacked another file into the pile to his right. Since his decree, he’d been reading as many files as he could, determined to know every resource and shinobi that Danzō had had in his wrinkly grasp. As much as he wanted to focus on the whole ‘Sai is an Uchiha’ thing, he knew he couldn’t. More than just Sai’s true parentage was at stake.
Kakashi knew he would have to stand in front of the gathered shinobi soon enough. They would be forever patient, they were taught to be that way, but eventually, even they would start to shift in anxious bewilderment if Kakashi put them off for too long. Danzō had always been too goal-oriented for them to be comfortable sitting around. They had been taught to be dangerous and proactive; Kakashi stagnating for even a second would set off several alarms in people’s heads about his true identity.
Kakashi let out a frustrated sigh, stretching in his seat and wincing when his aching back popped loudly. Danzō was so much older than Kakashi had ever been; Kakashi had gone from the aches of a proactive nin in his thirties to those of a retired veteran in his seventies. The aches and creaks in his joints were an unwelcome shock that continued to plague him the longer he sat in one place.
There was a chakra flare outside of his door, a subtle little wave in the air, before a sharp knock rang out. Kakashi straightened up, adopting a severe mask, before giving the visitor permission to enter.
A masked nin entered, immediately dipping down to kneel before Kakashi, the sign of respect almost making Kakashi twitch. The nin was of a slight build, his height set in an ambiguous age. Kakashi stared at him for a moment, taking in his dark hair and ANBU mask.
“Hyō,” Kakashi finally settled on, recognizing the distinct pattern on the mask. The nin, a mere boy at this time, was one of the files he had read in the first week he had found himself in the past. One of the many recruits that was a war orphan, Hyō didn’t have a family name. As far as Kakashi could understand from his file, he had only ever known Root.
“Danzō-sama,” Hyō replied in kind, his voice emotionless. “The last of the available Root members have arrived.”
Kakashi felt his heartbeat quicken, the inevitable finally catching up to him. “Tell them I’ll be making my announcement in only a few moments.”
“Yes, Danzō-sama,” Hyō replied, not once looking up from his crouched position.
“Dismissed,” Kakashi said after a moment of silence, uneasy at Hyō’s complete obedience. The young nin exited the room promptly, closing the door behind him and leaving Kakashi alone once more.
Kakashi reached up, rubbing at his temples as a tension headache slowly started to form. He couldn’t express how much he didn’t want to do this. Danzō had been a complicated man. Sure, Kakashi might have viewed him as a cold tyrant, but that didn’t mean he hadn’t had multiple motivations for his actions. Kakashi hated the man for many reasons, so having to pretend to be him, to believe in his ideals, was almost physically painful.
Kakashi didn’t want war. Kakashi didn’t want chaos. All he’s ever wanted was peace. The peace of no longer having to fight.
With a tired huff, Kakashi pulled himself up out of his chair, calmly making his way around Danzō’s desk and out of the door. He mentally went over his prepared speech as he made his way down the stairs to the first floor, sedately trudging along until he reached a large painting. Kakashi eyed it warily, fighting down a sneer at the impassive face of the Nidaime Hokage. Senju Tobirama was standing expressionless in the painting, his red eyes unfocused as he stared at nothing. Kakashi would never claim to know the man’s intentions, but he highly doubted he would approve of the way Danzō had twisted the village into knots from the shadows.
Kakashi raised his hand and pressed it on the wall to the right of the painting, measuring his chakra carefully until there was a spark of warmth and the painting clicked open, a gaping dark hole meeting his gaze. Kakashi was quick to tighten his chakra down, his quickened heartbeat his only sign of distress. He didn’t know if it was inconvenient or not to still have his distinct chakra. Sasuke also had his own chakra signature, but it was different in unique ways. Still undoubtedly Sasuke, but the presence of his Rinnegan and the slightly different pathways of Izumi’s body gave it a more distinct feeling than younger Sasu’s. Kakashi still mostly felt like himself to chakra sensitives, but because of the way the chakra in Danzō’s body flowed, he had a tinge of other as well. Small enough to ignore if he wanted to, but it felt wrong to Kakashi on so many levels.
He took a measured step into the darkness of the corridor and didn’t hold back the sneer that formed when the lights turned on as soon as he stepped into it. Triggered by the presence of chakra no doubt. The painting swung closed behind him as Kakashi made his way down the corridor, setting deeper into the ground as he reached the first flight of stairs. The trip took only a few minutes before he was deposited into a large atrium, the room filled with silent Root shinobi. Kakashi didn’t doubt that they had been talking before he showed up, but as soon as they had heard him, they abruptly grew passive once more.
A path cleared for him immediately and he made his way towards the raised stage at the front of the room. Hundreds of shinobi gathered on either side of him and just thinking about the work ahead of him made him want to curse. More than half of these shinobi weren’t regularly in the village, off spying and infiltrating in the villages and areas Danzō had deemed enemies; which meant they were everywhere and anywhere.
Kakashi raised himself onto the stage, turning to face them with his grave mask firmly stuck in place. This would be delicate work.
“I have called you all here today to inform you of a… change in the way Root will continue forward. I have been given guardianship over the young Uchiha survivors, which means I am going to be watched even closer than I once was. Hiruzen has agreed to my guardianship on one condition: Root must change.”
Kakashi watched each shinobi take this in, though most didn’t show any outward sign of caring about his announcement. There were a few, however, that carried a curious gleam in their eyes. Those were the shinobi that Kakashi would have to speak with first; they would be the ones to break the emotional conditioning the quickest.
“Each individual will be going through emotional rehabilitation. While a shinobi has no need for emotions, I am willing to concede this point for the advantage of gaining the Uchiha. Every nin under the age of fifteen will be interviewed for their emotional state before being adopted out into shinobi families. Any clan children will be treated and returned to their homes. If, and only if, anyone older wishes to stay in the barracks, they will be granted the courtesy. If no home is procured for you after rehabilitation, a single shinobi will be assigned your case and you are welcome to stay in the barracks as well.”
This announcement finally brought a reaction out of the placid shinobi. A whisper of voices rose up from the crowd before all went quiet once more, eyes stuck firmly to Kakashi’s figure.
“And finally,” he began once more, happy to almost be finished, “I am looking into finding an heir to Root. I am being watched closely and I will need someone to give orders when I am otherwise… indisposed. Once I have made my decision, I will inform you of your new leader. Let’s make one thing clear, however: just because you are going somewhere, that does not mean you are no longer Root.” Kakashi hated doing this, hiding his distaste by glaring out into the crowd of shinobi. He didn’t want to keep Root running, wanted all of these shinobi to get help and then get gone, but both he and Sasuke knew that that wasn’t possible. While rehabilitation was the goal, many of these shinobi had been under Danzō’s purview since birth. Many wouldn’t ever recover or adjust to society’s views. Root had to continue forward simply because these men and women would need it to function.
“All of you are to report to Konoha’s hospital to schedule evaluations,” Kakashi finished with a flourish, eyes hard. “Dismissed.”
Most of the shinobi made to follow his orders immediately, heading to one of the multiple exits along the far wall. Others were more delayed with their actions, instead turning to say a word or two to the shinobi beside them. One, however, made a beeline for Kakashi.
“Danzō-sama,” the agent greeted, giving a simple bowing of his head in greeting. Tsumiki Kido, a money-hungry asshole, was Root’s treasurer. Kakashi knows he had become an ANBU executive by the time the war had started, though he hadn’t been given much time to settle into the role.
“Tsumiki,” Kakashi greeted in return, though he didn’t move a muscle.
“I read over your financial report,” Tsumiki stated, a slight level of annoyance reaching his words. “Would medication not be the smarter choice? Therapy,” Tsumiki spat the word, a grimace of disgust finding its way onto his face, “won’t bring as much revenue as medicine would.”
“My hands are tied, Tsumiki,” Kakashi stated firmly, not wanting to have this conversation. The man was worrying about the money of the situation, and not about the health of his fellow shinobi.
“Danzō-sama,” Tsumiki tried again, a plea forming on his tongue, “please reconsider—”
“Danzō-sama,” a masked kunoichi interrupted, the woman falling to the floor to kneel in greeting. Tsuchinoe’s distinct scarred bear mask was a welcome sight, simply for the fact that it gets Kakashi out of having to deal with the money-hungry Tsumiki.
“Hebi-san has returned and is requesting an audience.”
Kakashi kept his face blank, but he cringed on the inside. Hebi could only mean one person.
“Escort him to my secondary office,” Kakashi stated, turning away from both agents and leaving without another word. He didn’t want any evidence of meeting Orochimaru in his home office, not when it would probably be regularly searched by ANBU. He felt slightly stupid for already forgetting about the Snake Sannin. Kakashi had been the one to bring him up while they were planning and all of the chaos since returning had successfully made him forget about the man’s very existence. He briefly entertained the idea of killing the man as soon as he took a step into the room, but dismissed it. While Kakashi might have stood a small chance at facing off against him, Kakashi as Danzō wouldn’t cut it. He didn’t know how Danzō’s body moved yet, hadn’t had the time to even think about training. It was for the best if he simply pretended to hear Orochimaru out before dismissing him.
Kakashi had the time to find the office Danzō had used while down in the base and take a seat to pretend to be filing papers before Tsuchinoe was there with a silent Orochimaru.
“Orochimaru,” Kakashi greeted with slight disgust. “What can I do for you?”
Tsuchinoe left and Kakashi looked up from his papers to meet semi-familiar mint green eyes. The pupils were slits, which was slightly disconcerting, but Kakashi knew his students. He knew Sakura’s sharp gaze. Before he could get a word out, however, Orochimaru, who he could only assume was Sakura had Kusanagi within her hand as she sprang forward in a snarling attack.
Interlude VIII: Sakura
Sakura opened the door to a dimly lit hallway, cautiously peeking her head out to look down both ways. No sound came from either direction, so Sakura left the room, gently closing the door behind her. The door was painted a dark purple on the outside and Sakura reminded herself to remember that; it wouldn’t do for her to go looking for information and then not be able to find her way to the only room she could guarantee was semi-safe.
She was very conscious of the way she walked, a swaying step that was silent along the empty hallway. Orochimaru’s gait was different from hers. She was much more surefooted, able to take a hit and stay in place. Orochimaru was built for deflection and dodging, a slinky style of fighting that was incredibly different from hers.
It took another minute to find another door and Sakura felt the scowl forming on her face. This hallway was far too long and reminiscent of the other time she had entered a base belonging to Orochimaru. There was a startling lack of other occupants so far and it made Sakura wonder. How far back had she ended up? Orochimaru couldn’t be in Konoha, not with the way this base was set up, so when was she?
She saw a door further down the hall and she picked up her pace, curiously taking in a solid-looking wooden door. Sakura pushed, expecting the door to open, but it didn’t budge. Instead, a hot red seal suddenly appeared on the door and Sakura yelped at a sudden pain racing through her hand. She cursed, pulling away and glaring at the seal. It stayed red for half a second, a trickle of blood smeared across it, before it faded to black and then disappeared once more, the smeared blood seemingly disappearing. There was a light clicking sound and then the door partially swung open.
Sakura grimaced, trying to find the cut on her hand. There had to be one, even a shallow cut, from the amount of blood that had been smeared. Instead, there was no sign of a mark anywhere. Already feeling tired of Orochimaru’s nonsense, she hesitantly reached forward once more. There was no slicing pain this time, so Sakura pushed the door further open, eyes keen as she examined the dark room. Her eyes adjusted quickly, the slits no doubt expanding to let more light in. She was easily able to find the light switch right next to the door.
She turned and she couldn’t believe her luck. Before her was an office, scrolls and books lining several bookshelves behind a rather large desk. Sakura felt her heart pick up in excitement and she quickly made her way to the bookshelf. She doubted Orochimaru would keep something as sensitive as the secret to his body-swapping in an open bookshelf, but there was still available information in front of her. She’d take anything she could get.
The first book was something she thought was odd for Orochimaru to own; it was a civilian sign language book. She glanced at the cover, forever curious, but she dismissed it just as quickly. The following books all centered around politics and then general weapons care. Simple book after simple book and even though she knew better than to set her hopes onto an obvious bookshelf, she felt herself deflate slightly.
Her luck, however, had not yet run out. On the second shelf, set up into cubbies with several scrolls in each slot, there were many more interesting contents. Several of the scrolls were actually summoning scrolls, including animals that she had never seen summoned before. There was a small scroll for something called a bennu, as well as a slightly larger scroll for, of all things, boars. The third one in the cubby was larger than the other two and far more ornamental on the outside. While the others had simple bands of green decorating them, this scroll had gold lining and dark purple detail. Sakura tugged it out, curious, and then immediately made a face.
Spiders, she thought with disgust. It was a summoning scroll for spiders.
“Who the hell wants to summon spiders?” she asked herself, shoving the scroll back into its previous position.
The following scrolls were far less interesting, notes upon notes of simple anecdotes about mundane things. There were some financial reports that Sakura couldn’t make out, as well as some notes on what the farming season was like in Hi no Kuni.
And there it is, Sakura thought smugly, feeling relief flood through her veins. She now had confirmation that she was at least in the same country as Konoha. It shouldn’t take too long to make it to the village and try to find out where she was in the timeline. Hopefully, she would even run into her teammates.
Sakura half-heartedly went through the rest of the papers on the shelf, books and scrolls not holding her interest for long. She barely pulled out a small plant encyclopedia when there was a clunking sound. Blinking, she dipped her head down, pursing her lips when she had to swipe Orochimaru’s long black hair out of her face. There was a tiny messenger scroll wedged in the back behind the encyclopedia.
Sakura pulled it out, curious, unraveling it after setting the encyclopedia back in place.
She skimmed it, not able to decipher the message on the scroll. She did, however, recognize some of the code words used. The last time she’d seen a similarly coded message, she was helping her shishou decrypt some of Danzō’s redacted orders from his time as Root’s leader. With a small jolt, Sakura realized she has proof that Danzō was in contact with Orochimaru even after he left the village.
Sakura stood abruptly, a snarl on her lips, meeting the eyes of a nervous-looking man. He wasn’t wearing any village identifying symbols, only a pristine white lab coat. He was nervously wringing his hands, doing his best not to meet Sakura’s eyes.
“What?” Sakura asked, her voice tight with irritation.
“A message came for you,” he stated, hurriedly laying a tiny scroll onto the desk separating them. He made a hasty exit, not waiting for Sakura to respond.
Sakura watched him go, eyes tracking him as he closed the door behind him. She felt stupid for not closing the door behind her, but it was too late now to be bothered by it. She relaxed her stance, glancing down at the message resting innocently on the desk.
It looked exactly like the correspondence she had just found.
Suddenly eager, Sakura sprang forward and exchanged the old scroll for the new one, delighted to have more information in her grasp. This scroll meant that she at least knew that Danzō was still alive. It put her whereabouts before the Kage Summit, which was more than she had had a moment ago.
This scroll was incredibly simple to decrypt. While the other had been heavily coded with both words Sakura knew how to decipher as well as words she couldn’t place, this message was incredibly short and to the point.
Danzō-sama has issued the following orders: all active Root shinobi are to report to the alpha base for an announcement. Kuma will meet you outside of Konohagakure.
The scroll had no sign off signature, which left Sakura curious as to who was spreading word of Danzō’s orders. What could Danzō want to announce that was so important that Root agents, especially ones as noticeable as Orochimaru, were being called back?
What did Danzō have up his sleeve?
Sakura bit her lip, a wave of searing anger slowly building in her chest. Sakura disliked plenty of people, wasn’t light or naive enough not to wish certain people dead, but if there was one man that she wished she could’ve gotten her hands-on, it was Danzō. Learning the truth about the man and his bloody deeds had set a fire within her, one almost as hot as Orochimaru’s existence had.
She re-rolled the scroll, setting down the new one next to the identical old one. She would leave the base, report to the so-called alpha base with this Kuma person, and make her way into the heart of Danzō’s territory. Once whatever announcement was made, she would request a private meeting with the man. She would have time to get used to Orochimaru’s movements, time to plan, even if for only the time it took her to travel back to the village. Sakura was a medic-nin and she would be able to feel out her body and adjust far faster than someone unfamiliar with the way human biology worked. She would get him alone and then execute the justice that Sasuke deserved.
If she was lucky, she might even be early enough to circumvent the entire Uchiha Massacre with a simple assassination.
“Enough of that,” Sakura muttered to herself, shaking her head to rid her of her vengeful thoughts. She had to finish her brief examination of Orochimaru’s office before going back to Orochimaru’s room to pack some clothes. There were some more neutral-toned items in the closet that she would have to deal with wearing, as the outfit she currently had Orochimaru in was much too bright for any type of stealth work. If the man was already located in a base, then he was surely already on the run as a traitor. Sakura didn’t want to have to fight any of her future—past?—comrades.
The wooden desk before her was sparse on top, several different bottles of ink littering the top, as well as both empty scrolls and blank pieces of paper. Sakura snagged a small travel scroll from the top right drawer, pleased that she at least wouldn’t have to sleep on the hard ground. Most of the drawers held innocuous things as well, simple tools like extra brushes and pens. The top left drawer was the only one that brought anything interesting to her attention.
Sakura stared down at the letter in her grasp, blinking down with mixed emotions.
I found this montsuki in a little shop in Kirigakure. The pattern reminded me of you. I know you’re not a big fan of bright colors, but I thought it would look good on you. Maybe you can wear it to Tanataba when I get back from my mission? I miss you and Tsunade both. Hopefully I’ll be back home in a few more weeks.
Sakura stared blankly at the message, struggling to understand what exactly she was supposed to make of the letter. If she could deduce the meaning correctly, Jiraiya had bought Orochimaru a montsuki—which could very well be the one she was wearing now—and had asked if they could attend a love festival together while Orochimaru wore his gift.
“What the fuck?” Sakura breathed out, stunned at the revelation before her.
Jiraiya was a pervert, a man who spied on women while they tried to relax in hot springs. He wrote dirty books about heterosexual relationships; the very idea of any type of homosexual feelings from the man was conflicting with the image she held in her mind.
Could it be, Sakura wondered, that the man simply liked both and never advertised that fact? The times shifted all the time. In Sakura’s time, what more conservative people dubbed an ‘alternative lifestyle’, didn’t matter much. Men could marry men and women could marry women. Hell, Sakura knew at least one nurse that identified as non-binary who had a wonderful transgender husband that Sakura had helped perform top surgery on.
Back in Jiraiya’s day, however, it wasn’t as easy. Sakura could easily imagine the man keeping his orientation, while not necessarily hidden, but definitely under wraps. Someone like Orochimaru, who was actively androgynous in a lot of ways, didn’t hide his tendencies.
It was probably one of the reasons people had been wary of him from the start. Sakura had heard enough stories from her shishou to know that Orochimaru had never made any attempt to hide who or what he was. He was open and unashamed of his entire being. People had feared others for a lot less.
Sakura scowled at the thought. People hated Orochimaru because he lacked any empathy whatsoever. He experimented on kids, for fuck’s sake. He deserved no pity from her. None.
She steadily ignored the part of her that acknowledged that Orochimaru must have kept the gifted clothing and the letter for a reason. That he must have felt something for someone to feel the need to keep it.
Instead, she simply put the letter back and gathered the Root correspondence. She needed clothes and a plan; for when she left this base, she never had any intention of coming back.
Interlude IX: Naruto
Naruto wiped the sweat off his brow, grimacing slightly when he accidentally swiped some of the cool ink across his heated forehead. He analyzed the fresh seal in front of him, eyes darting critically back and forth, trying to find any discrepancies. The seal he drew on Gaara was similar to his own, though there were some key differences. Shukaku didn’t have anywhere near the power Kurama did, so the seal didn’t have to be as airtight as the one Naruto had. It would hold Shukaku within Gaara, as well as allow him to access the ichibi’s chakra should he need it. One similarity between the two, however, laid in the key. Shukaku would be locked away and contained until such a time that he could be trusted not to attack others. As of right now, the bijū was too unstable. Not completely his fault of course, not with the sorry state Gaara’s seal was in, but Naruto wasn’t willing to risk either Gaara or Shukaku’s mental health. Shukaku would be kept contained until Gaara could talk some sense into his companion.
“Kazekage-sama? Did it work?” Yashamaru asked, breaking Naruto out of his assessment.
Naruto let out a breath, taking one last lingering look at the spiraling seal on Gaara’s stomach before putting the brush down next to him. “Almost,” Naruto reassured the worried man, glancing up at him briefly. “It needs to be activated.”
“Activated?” Yashamaru asked, a worried frown ever-present on his face.
Instead of replying, Naruto carefully started drawing chakra. He supposed he was lucky that he wasn’t trying to use any complicated jutsus because the pull on his chakra felt more than odd. Rasa had vastly different chakra pathways to Naruto. He was the Kazekage, so he had large coils, but Naruto was a unique case; no one had coils like he did. Sasuke, who was his match in almost everything, didn’t even have the pathways he did. Sakura, while healing them both during the war, had explained that Sasuke had much better chakra control. Naruto was the one with too much chakra and little control, Sakura with little chakra and excellent control, and Sasuke more in the middle with large reserves and adequate control.
Rasa, if Naruto thought about it, was probably more like Sasuke. He would need the control to use his sakin. The gold dust techniques that Rasa was famous for probably took a lot more control than Naruto had at the moment. Maybe the altered pathways, more used to a smaller concentration of chakra, could help him learn? He’d have to use them at some point if he wanted to continue to go undiscovered.
When Naruto felt there was enough chakra collected in his palm, he carefully laid it on the seal and started funneling it into the black spiral. It wouldn’t take all that much to activate it.
“There,” Naruto said after a moment, withdrawing from Gaara and letting his shoulders relax. “The seal should hold for as long as we want it to. Gaara might be out for a bit longer; would you take him to see a medic-nin? Get him into bed?”
Yashamaru watched him for a moment, a wary curiosity in his gaze, before he bowed his head in submission. “Of course, Kazekage-sama.”
Naruto let Yashamaru lift Gaara up, his gaze soft and his touch gentle as he carried the young boy out of the office. Naruto waited for the door to creak shut behind the man before he stood, stretching out his sore muscles. Keeping as steady and still as one needed to be to write an active seal was exhausting. Naruto had gotten used to it; Rasa’s body was already aching from the precision necessary for the deed.
Naruto sighed, glancing around the empty office. He had been in the Kazekage’s office before, but it had been during Gaara’s reign. It looked similar, but there was a lack of personality in Rasa’s version of the office. There weren’t any pictures of his family, nor were there any pictures of his predecessors hanging on the wall. Naruto wasn’t sure if it was because of Rasa’s disposition, or if it had something to do with Sunagakure’s culture being different from Konohagakure’s.
Naruto warily took a seat behind the desk, a hole forming in his chest as his predicament really started to hit him. He was stuck in a village he knew nothing about, alone.
His pulse jumped and he finally remembered that he wasn’t alone.
Kurama? Naruto thought, his eyes falling closed as he started to concentrate on the weak chakra that wasn’t his own.
When he opened his eyes once more, he was greeted by the familiar sight of the dank sewer that Kurama called home. The gates that had once kept Kurama trapped were open and the giant fox was peaking at him, his eyelids looking heavy as he struggled to keep them open.
“Naruto,” Kurama grumbled out, his deep voice a soft growl as he greeted him.
Naruto quickly darted forward, laying a soft hand on Kurama’s forehead. “Hey, are you okay?”
“Took a lot out of me,” Kurama explained, a heavy sigh leaving his lips. “You’re not where you’re supposed to be.”
“Tell me about it,” Naruto replied, his nose scrunching up in distaste. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s great I get to help Gaara, but I would’ve preferred to do so without being Rasa of all people.”
Kurama snorted at the derision in Naruto’s voice at the mention of Gaara’s father, but he otherwise left that topic of conversation alone. Instead, his giant body shifted slightly, his head bumping up against Naruto’s hand with grumbled affection. “You not being you will cause problems.”
“I know,” Naruto admitted, frowning. “I’m not sure how I’m supposed to find the others. If I’m Rasa, then they could be anybody. I’ll need to try and get some intel on the situation in Konoha; see if anyone has been acting out of the ordinary.”
“It’s not just that,” Kurama interrupted his thoughts, his eyes meeting Naruto’s with a heavy gaze. “There’s now two of me running around.”
Naruto paused, a growing sense of concern coming upon him. It was one thing to have Kurama’s chakra separated into two halves; what would happen if two halves of the same Kurama were to meet? What if they reacted poorly with each other? Would something awful happen to Kurama? To Naruto?
“You have to stay away from your younger self until I have more strength. I won’t be able to check our connection until I have more of my chakra.”
“Wait, seriously?” Naruto asked with disbelief, a groan falling from his lips. “But I have to find the others!”
“Naruto,” Kurama growled back, the fox visibly fighting to keep his eyes open. “You have to trust that the others will be fine. If we go near your younger self before I examine the connection, it could end in disaster. You must stay away!”
“Father!” a shout interrupted his thoughts, causing him to twitch in surprise. Naruto was abruptly brought out of their shared mindscape, his legs shaking as he hastily stood and made his way to stand in front of the large desk.
Two small figures fumbled their way into Rasa’s office, their young faces new, yet recognizable. Temari wore her light hair in her unique style, her teal eyes looking up at him with childlike worry. The other child had shaggy brown hair, the dark eyes carrying similar worries. Naruto can barely recognize Kankurō without his face makeup, the bare face making him pause for a second.
“We heard it got loose! Are you okay?” Temari asked again, her small arms coming to wrap tightly around Naruto’s legs. Kankurō drew closer as well, though he chose to grasp tightly at the Kazekage robes that graced his figure, rather than give him a full-on hug.
“I’m fine,” Naruto replied, doing his best to soften Rasa’s rough voice. He laid his hands on each of their heads, guilt building up within him.
Naruto, in his single-minded focus on Gaara and Shukaku, had forgotten the fact that Rasa had two other children. Naruto didn’t have to just watch out for Gaara, but for Temari and Kankurō as well. The three siblings were at odds during this time, especially with the way Rasa treated Gaara. They were scared of Gaara right now, not the supportive siblings they would be in the future.
“Gaara is sleeping in the medical wing,” Naruto said, guessing. He was sure Yashamaru had taken Gaara to be looked over, but he still didn’t know the layout of the village. He’d been in Sunagakure only briefly and he’d been rather occupied at the time. “There won’t be any other incidents from now on.”
“Are you sure?” Temari asked, the little girl biting her lip in worry.
“Gaara needed help,” Naruto stated, picking his words carefully. They were still young; they didn’t need to know the dirty details, not now that Naruto was there to deal with the situation. “I found something that would help him. He should be okay now.”
“Does that mean we can play with him now?” Kankurō blurted out, paling slightly when Naruto’s gaze shifted to him.
Naruto felt a pang in his chest at the clear uncertainty the two displayed towards him. Rasa had been a cold man and a distant father. He was closer to Temari and Kankurō, as evidenced by Temari’s tight grasp and Kankurō’s clinginess, but they were clearly afraid of Rasa’s reaction.
“Of course,” Naruto nodded, giving Kankurō a brief smile. He couldn’t go around grinning at people, not as Rasa, but he would do his best to reassure Gaara’s siblings while still staying somewhat in character. “He needs to rest and you need to go slow, but I’m sure he would love to play with you. Now, why don’t you go see if he’s up yet?”
Naruto ushered them out, feeling slightly bad as he pried their hands off of him, gently escorting them to the door. They both lingered for a moment, wide eyes looking up at him, before they were off down the hall, most likely heading towards where they knew Gaara was resting.
Before Naruto could close the door and lock it, damn it, the familiar figure of Baki made his way down the opposite hall, his face grim as he met Naruto’s eyes. Naruto held back a groan, already growing frustrated at his lack of privacy. He needed a moment, just a second, to start thinking through his situation. He needed to make his way back into his seal to talk with Kurama to better figure out what the hell they’re supposed to be doing if Naruto can’t go and find his team. He needed a moment to re-establish himself as Naruto.
“Kazekage-sama,” Baki greeted with a bow. “The council wishes to be briefed on the situation.”
“Right,” Naruto breathed out, groaning inwardly. Naruto was not, in any way, prepared to speak before the Sunagakure council. “Lead the way.”
“Sasu-kun,” Sasuke said, his voice as reassuring as he could make it, “this is Shimura-san. He’s our new guardian.”
“Shimura Danzō,” Kakashi elaborated. Sasu was watching Kakashi with a suspicious gaze, an uncertain bearing in his stance as he hid halfway behind Sasuke. “It’s nice to meet you, Sasu-kun.”
“Hello,” Sasu muttered in reply, shuffling further behind Sasuke.
“Shimura-san is going to make sure we have everything we need,” Sasuke explained, his fingers softly running through Sasu’s slightly spiked hair. “If you ever need something and you can’t find me, it’s okay to ask Shimura-san.”
“Okay,” Sasu replied quietly, his eyes darting back and forth between Sasuke and Kakashi.
“Why don’t you go to your room and see what you need?” Kakashi suggested, causing Sasuke to raise his eyebrow in question. “Look around and see if you need any new clothes or training weapons. After that, write a list of your favorite foods and snacks. I’m going to the store and I’d be glad to gather anything you want.”
Sasu hesitated, clearly not wanting to leave Sasuke’s side, but he eventually shuffled off, his sock covered feet causing him to slide slightly as he scurried down the hall towards his room.
“What’s going on?” Sasuke asked as soon as Sasu was out of sight, his voice pitched low as he whispered to Kakashi.
“I got a visitor last night,” Kakashi started, his voice pitched even lower than Sasuke’s. “We need to meet somewhere tonight.”
“A visitor?” Sasuke questioned, a frown forming as he looked at Kakashi. “We could meet at the Naka Shrine, I suppose? I actually have something I want to share. I think I know what messed up the ritual—”
“Shimura-san!” Sasu’s voice shouted, the little boy coming into view as he exits his room and hurries towards them. “I need new kunai and a new pair of sandals.”
“Of course,” Kakashi smiled down at Sasu, pleased that Sasu was meeting his eyes with less hesitation than before.
“There’s nothing in our fridge,” Sasu told Kakashi bluntly, making Sasuke twitch in slight embarrassment. He had meant to go to the store and gather some new groceries, but he’d been busy cleaning the house and emptying it of any bad memories that might trigger Sasu. They’d been surviving off of takeout for the past couple of days. “I want tomatoes and Izumi-chan likes kaki no tane and I want oyakodon for dinner and Itachi likes—”
While Sasu’s rambling was sort of cute, his mention of Itachi and then his abrupt silence was a painful reminder to Sasuke that the massacre was still fresh in Sasu’s mind.
“Itachi liked dango for dessert,” Sasuke added softly, smiling sadly at Sasu’s watery eyes.
Sasu sniffed, tears threatening to fall as he looked morosely down at his feet. Sasuke bit his lip, hesitant to reach forward and bring Sasu to his chest. Sasuke knew that sometimes he had needed to cry and mourn alone, even when comfort was offered. Sasuke couldn’t let Sasu mourn alone forever, but he knew some peace and alone time could also benefit him during certain situations.
Kakashi knelt suddenly, his movements making Sasuke twitch at their suddenness. Sasuke looked down at him curiously, watching as he slowly raised his arm and gently rested his hand on Sasu’s reddened cheek.
“What Itachi did,” Kakashi started off slowly, waiting until Sasu glanced up at him with wet eyes. “It doesn’t really sound like something your brother would do.”
Sasu sniffed in reply, a hesitant nod given in response to Kakashi’s statement.
“Well then, I’ll have to investigate things further, won’t I? If Itachi really did this just to test his strength, then I promise you that I will do everything in my power to help you and Izumi-chan bring him to justice. And if there is something we’re missing, I promise to help with that as well. You aren’t alone, Sasuke. Izumi and I are here for you.”
Sasuke swallowed back his own sob, the gentle kindness in Kakashi’s eyes bringing a sad smile to his face. He had never had this kind of support system when he had gone through this exact situation. He had never had anyone to commiserate with over his now gone family. He would remember something Itachi had said or something his mother had laughed at and he had been alone in his memories. He had drowned in the ghosts of his past as he had languished in the pain of being alone. Sasu wouldn’t have to deal with that; he had Sasuke and Kakashi. He would be able to talk and reminisce with Sasuke, while also being able to escape his family’s ghosts with Kakashi.
“T-Thank you, Shimura-san,” Sasu stuttered out, sniffing loudly. He looked up at Sasuke for a moment before he turned and made a hasty retreat to his bedroom.
“Well, you’ve certainly gained his loyalty,” Sasuke told Kakashi after a moment, watching him closely as the older man sighed heavily, a sad look in his dark eyes.
“You never should have had to go through this alone,” Kakashi told him gravely.
“Yeah, but he won’t have to,” Sasuke agreed with a shrug, sharing a small smile with his sensei.
“Now that that is over,” Kakashi coughed, breaking the delicate melancholy of the moody atmosphere . “I should be going. Our guest and I will meet you at the Naka Shrine around midnight.”
“I’ll see you then,” Sasuke confirmed, escorting Kakashi out of the quiet house. Sasuke closed the door behind Kakashi and let out a tired sigh, his back resting against the closed door. He gave himself a moment to just close his eyes and exist before he forced himself to move. He had to finish boxing up his mother’s clothes.
Sasuke spent the rest of the day boxing up clothing and periodically checking up on a silent Sasu. The young boy had mostly spent the day reading in his bed, children’s books stacked up on his bedside table. Sasuke silently left a tactics book he had found in Itachi’s room next to the stack, knowing that his older brother had written notes and thoughts in the margins of the book. It would be a good book for Sasu to learn from, as well as a piece of Itachi that he could keep with him.
Kakashi didn’t return, but a group of genin on a D-rank mission arrived with several bags. Sasuke thanked them with a tired smile, chuckling with amusement when their eyes widened when he handed them each a small tip. He made sure to put the groceries away before stashing Sasu’s new sandals with the rest of the shoes at the front door.
Sasuke paused, confused when he pulled out another clothing bag. Curious, he glanced inside and then hesitantly pulled out the dark fabric. To his surprise, a dark purple furisode greeted his vision, the sleeves shorter than a standard furisode usually had. He pulled the whole garment out, noting that it was also shorter than a standard furisode, only reaching down to his knees. Rubbing his fingers against the fabric, Sasuke felt the first stirrings of delight at the thick fabric. Traditionally, such a garment should be made out of something like silk. This fabric, though, had the familiar feeling of the shinobi issued fabric that most used for their active duty clothing. Kakashi, without informing Sasuke, had gotten new shinobi attire for him. The white nagajuban that he’d wear under the outer layer was slightly shorter, though it was made of the exact same fabric. The obi that went along with the outfit was a high-quality kunoichi staple, made to have the ability to hide weapons seamlessly within the inner lining. It was a lilac tinged gray and it complimented the furisode rather nicely. There were more standard black shorts and then ninja issued fishnets for both his arms and his legs within the bag. Standard issued black sandals were the last accessory of the outfit and Sasuke smiled as he made his way to the hall bathroom, eager to try on his new outfit.
While he had resigned himself to wearing Izumi’s clothes, it had left him feeling uncomfortable. The fact remained that they were Izumi’s, not Sasuke’s. The purple shirts and dark pants belonged to a dead girl and Sasuke would rather not wear them if he didn’t have to. Kakashi had clearly picked up on that and had gone about fixing the problem. The shinobi outfit he had just given Sasuke would not only relieve Sasuke of having to deal with that sickly guilt, but it would also give Sasuke a more refined image. Such an outfit, while simple looking with only a single uchiwa fan on the back as decoration, was sophisticated in appearance and it gave Sasuke a more adult look than an otherwise preteen girl would carry.
Sasuke hummed as he finished pulling the outfit on, turning to look at the fan on his back. He had to admit, Izumi looked good in the clothes. Tilting his head, he fingered his shaggy hair, contemplating what he should do with it. Izumi used to have long brown hair, but they had chopped a lot of it off, the dried blood that had clung to it unwilling to wash out. It still reached the top of his neck in the back and the tip of his chin in the front. Unlike Sasuke’s natural hair, Izumi had straight hair, her brown locks spilling down without a spike in sight.
“You should cut it shorter,” Sasu’s tiny voice piped up, causing Sasuke to jump.
“Sasu!” Sasuke yelped, his heart racing slightly as he cursed himself for being so distracted. “Please don’t sneak up on me!”
“Sorry, Izumi-chan,” Sasu muttered, slipping further into the bathroom, blatantly ignoring the door Sasuke had closed behind him. “You should cut it on the sides and in the back. I saw a kunoichi with a similar hairstyle once. I think it would look good on you.”
“You think?” Sasuke hummed, once more looking at his appearance. He realized that while he was stuck in Izumi’s body, he was slowly making it his own. Izumi had loved her long hair; Sasuke wasn’t fond of hair that long. The bandages wrapped around his head to cover his Rinnegan ruined the illusion, but he supposes he could ask Kakashi to get an eye-patch made from the same fabric as his obi. “Thank you for the compliment, Sasu-kun. Now, let’s go make ourselves some dinner.” Sasuke turned and started to usher Sasu out, turning the light off behind him as he went. “Also, knock when you want to enter a room with a closed door!”
“Yes, Izumi-chan,” Sasuke snickered slightly, a small grin on his face. Sasuke couldn’t resist sticking his tongue out at the younger boy, laughing when Sasu responded in kind.
Sasuke had Sasu bathed and in bed in record time, sitting silently at the boy’s bedside until he fell asleep. Sasuke waited a minute or two longer before creeping his way out of the room. He left Sasu’s door ajar, making sure the hall light was on as he entered the kitchen. He made quick work of the dirty dishes before glancing at the clock. He still had a few hours to go before he needed to make his way towards the shrine, so he forced himself back down the hall. He’d been putting it off long enough.
He entered Itachi’s room with several boxes in hand, expression grim as he set the empty boxes down on Itachi’s bed. Observing the room around him, Sasuke sighed before heading towards Itachi’s closet. He pulled his brother’s clothes off their hangers, not paying too much attention to them as he folded them and set the clothes within one of the larger boxes. He started collecting the already folded clothes from on top of the shelf above the hangers and then he paused for a moment as his hands met a softer material.
Much to Sasuke’s shock, his hand pulled down a soft light blue blanket, the Uchiha clan’s symbol stitched into the upper left most corner of the blanket. Sasuke ran his fingers lightly over the stitching, a soft smile making its way onto his face.
He remembered this blanket.
A few years before the massacre, Sasuke had started having nightmares. Sasuke couldn’t remember what they used to be about, only that he would wake up crying and calling out for Itachi. Itachi would make his way to Sasuke’s room even before his mother could make her way out of bed to check on him. Itachi would crawl into his bed, pulling Sasuke close and running his fingers through his hair. Sasuke would drift off to sleep with Itachi’s familiar scent in his nose.
And then Itachi had advanced in rank and he wasn’t there every night like he used to be. Suddenly Sasuke no longer had his older brother to comfort him. His mother had tried her best to settle him at night, singing to him or reading from his favorite books, but nothing helped.
Itachi had returned from some classified mission with a soft blue blanket in his hands. He had smiled when he gave it to Sasuke, assuring him that whenever Itachi couldn’t be there, the blanket would be. Sasuke hadn’t gone through Itachi’s room the last time, so he had never known what had happened to the blanket he had used for comfort. Itachi had always been quick to assure him that his blanket was okay to have and that no matter what anyone said, it wasn’t something only babies had. Sasuke could remember the look on Fugaku’s face whenever Sasuke would drag the blanket along with him; it didn’t take a genius to figure out why Itachi felt the need to reassure him about his comfort item.
Inspired, Sasuke made his way towards his old room, sneaking past the slightly open door and carefully laying the blanket next to Sasu’s curled up body. The boy didn’t even move as Sasuke lifted one of his small arms to rest on the blanket. Sasuke made a hasty retreat once he was done, smiling along the way.
Glancing at the hall clock, Sasuke made his way through the house and to the front door, exiting and stealthily making his way to the Naka Shrine. The moon was half full and the light was shining down softly as he made his way down the street. He slipped within the shrine, once more lighting his way as he had just a few days ago.
“Sasuke,” Kakashi greeted from the shadows, slipping forward to nod his head in greeting.
Before Sasuke can return the nod, a second figure comes forward. “Orochimaru?” Sasuke questioned, blinking in surprise. Then Sasuke looked into the snake Sannin’s eyes and unconsciously relaxed, a fond smile given in recognition. “Sakura!”
“Hey, Sasuke-kun,” Sakura replied. The soft smile Sakura sent his way made him feel slightly uncomfortable, not used to seeing such an expression on Orochimaru’s face. The smile was all Sakura, but Sasuke doubted he would ever get used to seeing such an expression. The pale mint eyes made the expression softer, but it was still vaguely unsettling.
“Our favorite kunoichi assaulted me in my office the other night,” Kakashi cheerfully stated, chuckling at the glare Sakura sent his way.
“I didn’t know you were Danzō,” Sakura grumbled, crossing her arms in a pout.
“Did you manage to get a hit in?” Sasuke asked, amused.
Sakura scowled in response while Kakashi let out another chuckle, replying, “I figured out who she was. I shouted her name while falling right out of my chair! She stopped her attack and helped me up. She’s been staying at the manor for now.”
“I found some correspondence between Danzō and Orochimaru while exploring Orochimaru’s base. I managed to decipher it while making my way here; it was a confirmation that Orochimaru would be willing to make Danzō an arm with embedded Sharingan in it.”
Sasuke hissed, his teeth clenching tightly as he snarled. It wasn’t exactly a surprise that Orochimaru had something to do with Danzō’s cursed arm. Sasuke knew how amoral Orochimaru was, and yet he still felt a burn in his chest that felt far too much like betrayal. Orochimaru conducted his experiments long before Sasuke became his student. He had been obsessed with the Sharingan longer than Sasuke had been alive; and yet, the very idea of his old sensei experimenting with his clan’s closely guarded dōjutsu made him want to vomit. Sasuke had come to care for Orochimaru over the years, even if that care was occasionally resentful.
“None of us are surprised that Orochimaru is a monster,” Kakashi cut in, his lips pursed as he glanced at Sasuke with sympathy. “We need to think about making new plans. Any plan we had before coming back is completely out of the window.”
“I can only assume that we still don’t know where Naruto is?” Sasuke asked as he struggled to put his anger aside. It had a time and place and it wasn’t now.
“I don’t even know how to begin to figure out how to find him. I stumbled upon you two completely by accident,” Sakura replied.
“It was the same for us,” Kakashi admitted, shrugging. “There’s no way to figure out where Naruto ended up until we figure out how we ended up in our own foreign bodies.”
“And we have more important things to worry about,” Sakura nodded, acknowledging Kakashi’s point. “Sasuke, you told Kakashi that you figured out what went wrong with our sealing array?”
Sasuke nodded, quickly explaining what he had found out during his last visit to the shrine. Both Sakura and Kakashi listened intently as Sasuke explained the mysterious words he had found.
“When seeking absolution, one may change the past,” Sakura muttered, a furrow in her brow. “That can very easily mean that the Sharingan holds some type of time traveling ability.”
“That’s what I thought as well,” Sasuke confirmed. “Kakashi hypothesized something similar when we first found ourselves in the past.”
“When one holds both eyes of the eternity, when one wishes with more than heart, the eternal eye will take the holder to the place of their deepest regret,” Kakashi continued the script, humming to himself as he shifted his stance slightly. “Mentioning both eyes probably references having both the Eternal Mangekyou Sharingan and the Rinnegan at the same time. The ‘when one wishes with more than heart’ and the ‘place of their deepest regret’ portions aren’t as cut and dry as the rest of it.”
“I’m not sure about the wishing aspect,” Sasuke started slowly, “but I might have an idea about the regret part.” Sasuke stopped, forcing himself to take a calming breath. He hadn’t ever admitted what he was about to tell his two teammates, always too ashamed to even think about it for too long. But, if it helped them figure out their situation, he supposed that he’d just have to suck it up. “When I was younger, I was severely jealous of Izumi because she had Itachi’s attention in a way I never would. When I was at my worst, I wished she was dead. I threw a fit one day, crying because Itachi was going out with Izumi when he had promised to spend the day with me. I stormed out of the house and spent the rest of the day wishing she wasn’t there to get in the way. The massacre happened three days later.”
“Oh, Sasuke,” Sakura sighed sadly, her gaze sad.
“You couldn’t have known what was going to happen,” Kakashi said, the pity on his stolen face an odd sight.
“I wished it and then it came true,” Sasuke shrugged, the feeling of dark bitterness eating at him.
“When I was part of Root,” Kakashi shared, his speech stilted as he stared over Sasuke’s shoulder, “I was ordered to assassinate the Sandaime. Obviously, I didn’t go through with it; but, for far longer than I have ever wanted to admit, I had intended to do it. I was already planning what I was going to do when I had some sense knocked into me. I’ve always regretted following Danzō’s orders without questioning them. Good people would probably still be alive today if I had clawed my way out of my depressed funk sooner.”
Before Sasuke could offer any type of sympathy, Sakura let out a shuddering breath, an anguished grimace on her face. “I don’t know if mine is so much a regret as a dark secret, but as soon as I started training to become a medic-nin, I briefly understood why Orochimaru was the way he was. The human body is so fascinating, biology and chemistry mixing to make something truly unique. I thought about how I would’ve gone about Orochimaru’s experiments; how I would’ve been smart enough not to get caught. I know hundreds of ways to take out other shinobi, all excruciating. I probably would’ve been even more effective than Kabuto if I had kept following that train of thought. It took a single nightmare to dissuade me of those thoughts.”
“We’re all a mess,” Kakashi let out an unamused laugh, shaking his head.
“So,” Sasuke huffed, a tired sigh leaving him. “I’m stuck in the body of the girl I wished dead, Kakashi is stuck with the man he unquestioningly followed, and you’re stuck in the body of the man whose morals you almost succumbed to.”
“Yeah, pretty much,” Sakura nodded, looking just as exhausted as Sasuke felt.
“The question, of course, is where does that leave Naruto? What is his deepest regret?” Kakashi asked.
Sasuke thought about that, thinking back to Naruto’s bright eyes and a friendly smile. He thought about the way he had held his smile until he thought no one was watching, how his eyes had dimmed when he had believed he was alone. He wondered about what haunted Naruto at night when he only had himself and Kurama for company. What regrets did he hold when it wasn’t him that made his life miserable, but everyone else?
Neither he, nor Sakura, could give him an answer.
“Well, now that we’ve all successfully made ourselves feel awful, there’s something I need to tell you two,” Kakashi grumbled, an uncomfortable look spreading across his face. Sasuke watched him warily, his mind racing. They had talked several times since coming back, though most of it had been brief as not to raise suspicion. What had Kakashi kept to himself until they were sufficiently alone?
“What is it?” Sakura asked, her head tilted slightly in question.
“It’s about Sai…”
Interlude X: Kakashi
“Sai,” Kakashi started, urging the young boy to take a seat, “it’s good to see you.”
The young boy stared up at him, wide-eyed and suspicious. Saru shut the door as he left, his job of collecting and delivering Sai to him now finished with.
“How have you been?” Kakashi asked, clasping his hands together to rest them on the desk in front of him. “Have you been adjusting to your new lifestyle?”
Sai gave him a strange look, his head tilted to the side like a confused puppy. Kakashi acknowledged that Sai was still a child, that the transition Root was going through was probably confusing for him, but Kakashi also wasn’t stupid. Sai, even if it had only been a few years so far, had grown up with Danzō and his teachings. Sai was smarter than his age would have others think and he knew damn well that Sai understood what he asked.
“Yes,” Sai answered slowly, his eyes tracking Kakashi’s face. “My brother and I are doing well with the restrictions you’ve put in place.”
Kakashi fought against the urge to twitch, annoyance flaring as he realized he had forgotten about Sai’s brother. Not his biological one, true, but the older boy had nurtured Sai in an environment that discouraged such emotions. Kakashi took a second to fish through all the files he had read, both in the future and in the past, and he finally found the name he was looking for. “I’m glad Shin is helping you adjust to your new circumstances.”
“He says that we’re allowed to love now,” Sai said, his dark eyes hopeful. “Is that true?”
Kakashi hated the fact that any child felt the need to ask if he was allowed to love. He was tired of being angry at Danzō’s cruel actions. Yet it seemed every time Kakashi turned his back, he found something new to be pissed off about. “It’s encouraged for you to express how you feel,” Kakashi confirmed, giving the boy an encouraging nod. “To that effect, there is something that has come to my attention.”
“Yes, Danzō-sama?” Sai asked, curiosity bleeding into his voice.
“I have recently learned your last name,” Kakashi confessed. “You have two cousins who I’m sure would love to get to know you.”
“I have more family?” Sai burst out, shock written on his young features.
“You belong to the Uchiha clan,” Kakashi told him, his voice growing sorrowful without his say. “After the recent tragedy, you are one of three Uchiha left in Konoha.”
Sai looked shocked, his young mind trying to wrap itself around the details Kakashi had chosen to share. First shock, then devastation. “My clan is gone?” Sai asked, his voice growing small and weak.
“No,” Kakashi was quick to stress the word. “Your clan might be smaller than it used to be, but you still have a family. Uchiha Izumi and Uchiha Sasuke yet live on.”
“Can I meet them?” Sai asked after a moment, uncertainty causing him to hesitate. “Do they want to meet me?”
“They would love to meet you,” Kakashi reassured him, his eyes softening at Sai’s unsure attitude. “I think you should go grab your brother and then I will take you two to meet your relatives.”
“Thank you, Danzō-sama!” Sai exclaimed, hopping out of his seat and rushing towards the door. He flung the door open, excitement clear as he raced his way down the hall and out of view.
Kakashi let out a heavy breath, weary of the conversation to follow. None of them had ever met Shin, long gone by the time Sai became a part of their lives. Sai had shared stories, of course, telling them Shin acted much like Naruto. It would be a refreshing attitude compared to the glum looks they all had been carrying for the past several weeks.
“He’s so different,” Orochimaru’s voice drifted in from the shadow, Sakura taking a few steps out of the hidden passageway that let out into Kakashi’s office.
“He hasn’t been forced to lose himself in apathy,” Kakashi explained, turning fully to face his student. Kakashi raised a skeptical eyebrow at Sakura’s outfit, a smile twitching on his lips at the image she made.
Though she’d only returned to them a few days ago, Sakura had been aggressively making her presence as different from Orochimaru’s as she could manage. Ignoring the creams and darker purples the man had seemingly preferred, Sakura had scrounged up as many bright colors as she could. Kakashi had seen her in some new yukata every day so far, always colorful and with a busy pattern. Today’s outfit was a darker turquoise with golden yellow accents. She wore the shoes she had arrived her in, all of her clothing in a pristine brilliance.
“I think I need to head back to Orochimaru’s base,” Sakura responded with a non-sequitur, glowering as her own words. “There’s more information there that we need. There are probably several correspondences that could help us understand the political climate we weren’t aware of during this time.”
“Also?” Kakashi added, knowing full well that while the reasoning Sakura gave was sound and true, it wasn’t what she was truly after.
“Also I’ll be able to dig through his notes to try and figure out how to get myself a new body,” Sakura grumbled, sneering as she flicked Orochimaru’s long black hair out of her face. “I can’t stand to stay in his skin longer than I have to. If I can figure out how to get a new body, we can all at least get bodies that look vaguely like we should.”
Kakashi sighed, loving the sound of that particular argument, but he couldn’t help but point out, “I can serve us better as Danzō. Becoming an unknown shinobi with uncertain loyalties isn’t going to help us. Being Orochimaru won’t help us politically, so feel free to find yourself something more comfortable to wear, but Danzō is a necessary evil. Once we actually manage to do something to prevent the war, I’ll gladly accept whatever empty husk you feel like gifting me.”
Sakura snorted loudly at his phrasing, a choked cackle escaping her throat. She opened her mouth to respond, but quickly shut it, her eyes narrowing as she tilted her head. “Sai and Shin are on their way,” Sakura informed him. She spun around, briskly making her way back into the darkness and to the hidden entrance. She paused, looking over her shoulder, her glowing eyes peering at him from the shadows. “I’ll speak to Sasuke and see what he thinks. Good luck with the family reunion.” With that parting shot, Sakura disappeared, his office silent for only a second before a child and a young preteen shoved themselves into the spot in front of his desk.
“Let’s go meet my family!” Sai begged loudly, wide eyes exhilarated.
Shin grinned down at Sai, obviously excited for his younger brother, but he sent a suspicious frown Kakashi’s way, clearly not trusting his intentions. If Kakashi had been Danzō for real, he would completely understand Shin’s hesitation to trust anything he said. Seeing as Kakashi was himself and his motives were altruistic, he simply gave an empty smile in return, standing from his seat and making his way out of his office, the two younger boys trailing after him.
Saru fell in line as they went, quiet as he took his place on Kakashi’s left. In the grand scheme of things, Danzō’s rather impressive home wasn’t that far off from the Uchiha compound. Sort of morbid to think about, but the truth nonetheless. Kakashi could sense Fū following along behind them, the man keeping his distance as he blended in with the crowd around them.
“What are they like?” Sai asked as he picked up his pace, his small legs having to work double-time to keep up with Kakashi’s longer stride.
Kakashi made a conscious effort to slow down, letting both Sai and Shin catch up with him. Kakashi kept the more sedate pace, humming as they made their way down the road. “Uchiha Izumi is your cousin by blood. Her mother was your aunt. Her younger charge is Uchiha Sasuke. He was the youngest son of the now-deceased clan head; cousins in the sense that you are of the same clan.”
“Danzō-sama,” Sai spoke, his demeanor tentative as he looked down at the ground as they meandered down the road. “What were my parents’ names?”
Kakashi scolded himself internally for not telling the young boy already, his mind distracted by the many thoughts that had been holding his attention lately. “Your father’s name was Uchiha Hibiki and your mother’s name was Saitō Yua.”
“What did they do?” Shin questioned, curious about his younger brother’s origins.
“I’m afraid that’s not a question I know the answer to. I’m sure Izumi knows much more about your clan; she can probably tell you,” Kakashi answered with a shrug. “Speak her name and she will appear; Uchiha-chan, how are you doing today?”
“Danzō-san,” Sasuke greeted with a small bow, dark circles under his eyes. He was wearing a simple civilian outfit of a dark shirt and a pair of pants, the new kunoichi outfit Kakashi had purchased nowhere in sight. His clothes were rumpled and just slightly askew, his appearance only adding to the tired look he was currently sporting. “I apologize for my abysmal appearance; Sasu-kun was up most of the night.”
“Nightmares?” Kakashi asked, though he already knew the answer. Kakashi was probably the best person on Team 7 to understand the strain Sasuke was going through. He knew Sakura had recurring nightmares, but it was different when the dreams were memories. From what Kakashi understood, the younger Sasuke was dreaming about the events that Itachi had wanted him to forget. The young boy would wake up crying and screaming, unable to remember the terror that had hunted him within his dream.
“It’s only to be expected,” Sasuke sighed, shaking his head. He glanced over at Sai and Shin, his spine straightening as he gave them both a gentle smile. “Hello! I’m Uchiha Izumi. It’s a pleasure to meet you. What name do you go by?”
“What name?” Sai asked.
“I’ve been told you go by the name Sai? I wasn’t sure if you prefer that or your birth name?”
“You know my birth name?” Sai asked, astonished.
Sasuke sent Kakashi a chastising look. Kakashi responded with an embarrassed shrug. He’d been distracted by Sakura’s plans and his own thoughts. He wasn’t trying to be deliberately difficult; not this time anyway.
“Your mother named you Seiichi,” Sasuke told him, smiling softly at the small gasp he let out.
“Seiichi,” Sai whispered, the name being sounded out on his tongue. A frown quickly formed on his face, his pinched expression getting a concerned look from Shin.
“What is it?” Shin questioned.
“I don’t feel like a Seiichi,” Sai confessed with a distressed pout. “I feel like a Sai!”
“So we’ll call you Sai,” Sasuke quickly told him, a wink sent in his direction. “I call Sasuke, Sasu-kun, so I’ll call you Sai-kun.”
Sai blinked up at him, a soft pink blush coming over his pale features. After a moment, a brilliant smile stole its way onto his face, the sight almost taking Kakashi’s breath away. He had seen Sai smile before, both fake and genuine. His genuine smiles were always smaller and less noticeable, the former Root shinobi still trying to fight the conditioning he had grown up in. To see such a blatant show of emotion from him was a treasure that Kakashi wished Naruto and Sakura were here to see. It wasn’t that Sasuke didn’t care about Sai, it was just that Sai wasn’t close to Sasuke like he was with the others. Sasuke had his Team Taka much like the rest of Team 7 had Sai.
“Okay, Izumi-chan!” Sai grinned, clearly pleased.
“You must be Shin-kun,” Sasuke addressed Sai’s brother, giving him a seemingly genuine smile. Kakashi marveled at the way Sasuke was acting, truly impressed with his skills in subterfuge. If Kakashi couldn’t read the little minute details of Sasuke’s body language, the way his shoulders weren’t relaxed and the way his gaze was just slightly too sharp to be truly friendly, he would fall for the kind, young girl act. “It’s wonderful to meet you! Welcome to the Uchiha clan!”
Shin seemed surprised, like he wasn’t expecting the warm welcome Sasuke was giving him. “O-Oh! Yeah, uh, you too?” Shin’s face flushed immediately after he spoke, his incoherent sentence causing him to grimace in embarrassment.
Sasuke let out a dainty laugh, the airy sound pleasing to the ear. “Don’t worry, I’m nervous too. We have so little family nowadays, I wanted to make a good impression on you two.”
“You did?” Shin asked, clearly skeptical.
“Of course! I’ve already kept you from seeing the compound by meeting you outside the gates; follow me,” Sasuke explained, inviting them to follow him through the slightly ajar gates.
Sai and Shin made to follow him immediately, only pausing briefly to send an unsure look Kakashi’s way.
“Patrol the perimeter with Fū,” Kakashi ordered, heading towards the gate as Saru went to follow his orders. “Thank you for welcoming us into your home, Uchiha-chan.”
“It’s no problem,” Sasuke reassured him, his false assurances falling easily from his tongue. “Though I’m not sure what to do about rooms. Sasu-kun’s house is the largest in the compound and we’re already taking up two of the three bedrooms. I suppose the two of you could share, though it seems unfair to make you share when Sasu-kun and I don’t have to.”
“You could always move in with me,” Kakashi offered, liking the idea the more he thought about it. The younger Sasuke had needed time to mourn his clan, but Kakashi doubted staying in the place where your entire family was murdered was anything resembling a good idea. If he had Sasuke living under the same roof as him, they could interact and plan without anyone seeing them doing so. Besides, it wouldn’t look too strange for such young kids to move in with their chosen guardian; others would be suspicious, but they couldn’t stop him now that the paperwork had been filed.
“You would be willing to let us move in?” Sasuke asked, his mind clearly at work. His eyes narrowed briefly, a sign he was thinking about Kakashi’s suggestion, before they returned to their normal state, realization in his gaze. “I’m sure it would do Sasu-kun and me some good to get away from the compound.”
“Talk it over with Sasuke,” Kakashi told him, pleased. “If he agrees, we can have you all settled in my home within a few days.”
“Sai, Shin, feel free to head inside and explore a little. Sasu-kun should be in his bedroom if you want to introduce yourselves. I need to speak with Danzō-san for a moment,” Sasuke said, ushering Sai and Shin into the door they had just stopped in front of. The two boys shared a nervous look before heading inside, the front door closing behind them.
“What is it?” Kakashi asked as soon as it was closed, worry lining his voice.
“I got a letter last night,” Sasuke started, his lips pursing in anxious annoyance. His frown was awkward looking on Izumi’s soft features. “It was addressed to Izumi from her sensei, wondering how she was doing and assuring her that she could join their team training any time she feels comfortable.”
“Oh shit,” Kakashi muttered, his eyebrows raising. This was another problem to tackle, he quickly realized. This was also the most likely reason Sasuke had been acting so seamlessly not like himself. If others expected Izumi to be normal, Sasuke’s usual attitude wouldn’t cut it. The trauma could account for some of the personality changes, but from what Kakashi understood, Izumi was far more kind than Sasuke tended to be. “Who’s your sensei?”
“Mimura Hamaki,” Sasuke sounded out the name, a perturbed frown on his face. “Do you know him?”
“He’s been a jōnin since before the third war,” Kakashi informed him, searching his brain for any information on the man he could find. “He was one of four shinobi in his battalion to survive an assault by Iwagakure; he and his comrades were later saved by Minato.”
“So we at least know he’s competent,” Sasuke grumbled, upset.
“He never stood out to me, but I know his favorite weapon is his old tantō. If nothing else, he should be a good sensei for any kenjutsu practice you want to get in.” Mimura wasn’t some type of Kenjutsu master, he wouldn’t be able to teach Sasuke as efficiently as Orochimaru had, but his skills were formidable enough that once Sasuke became used to his new body and his skills started to show, no one would be too suspicious at his talent with a blade.
“I’ll need it,” Sasuke admitted, rolling his shoulders. “I’ve been doing basic exercises whenever I can and I’m as comfortable in this body as I’m going to get. Chakra exercises are a bit slower to progress, but I am improving. I’ll need several more months to get accustomed to how this body channels chakra, but I should be on par with myself at this age; I might even be better if I can successfully apply tricks I learned when I was an older teen.”
“Danzō is old, but if I have to give him any credit, he kept in shape. I’ve been training in my downtime as well. I’m not willing to throw down with anyone any time soon, but I’m positive I can hold my own,” Kakashi admitted, a sardonic smile on his face. “Do you know who Izumi’s teammates are?”
“A Kamano Saisu and a Mozuku? Do those names ring any bells?”
“Kamano and a group of others tried to assist me against the Deva Path when Pein attacked the village. Tried being the keyword. If Mozuku is who I’m thinking of, he was a part of the Torture and Interrogation Force.” Kamano was a barely remembered face in a sea of Konoha shinobi and Mozuku was only memorable because he was extremely efficient at mental torture techniques. The Yamanaka had been so impressed with him when he was only a genin that they sponsored his rise in the ranks and recommended him for the Torture and Interrogation Force. Sasuke sure had found an interesting team to be forced on.
“Just what I need,” Sasuke snorted, his eyes rolling. “A hot head and a sadist.”
“Should be a familiar scene,” Kakashi joked, shooting Sasuke a sarcastic grin when the younger man gave a sharp cackle.
“I’m telling Sakura you said that,” Sasuke laughed, shaking his head.
“Danzō-sama,” a soft voice interrupted them, Fū appearing suddenly. “I apologize for intruding on Uchiha clan grounds, but the Hokage has requested your presence.”
Kakashi shared a sharp look with Sasuke, neither of them having any clue what the Hokage could want. Danzō had been ordered to not get into trouble. As far as Kakashi had seen, he’d been following that order. Root had been disbanded and Kakashi had shut down many of the shadier deals that Danzō had been juggling before Kakashi took over. What exactly could the Hokage wish to speak to him about?
“It’s not a problem,” Sasuke told the quiet Yamanaka, a solemn look on his face. “You should go see what the Sandaime wants. Feel free to return later; Sasu-kun and I have prepared shabu shabu for dinner tonight.”
“Thank you for your invitation, Uchiha-chan,” Kakashi nodded, adopting a much more formal tone. He turned, gesturing for Fū to follow along as they made their way off the Uchiha clan grounds.
“Did Hiruzen say what he wished to speak with me about?” Kakashi asked as Saru joined them at the gates.
“No, Danzō-sama,” Saru answered his question, the masked man falling in line as they hurriedly made their way to the Hokage Tower.
“I want both of you to stay outside of the office,” Kakashi stressed, their pace augmented by the chakra they were channeling into their leaps. “I’ll flare my chakra if I have any need for you.”
“Of course, Danzō-sama,” Fū answered in tandem with Saru, both of them as unemotional as ever.
Kakashi made a note to check on their progress, worried about their still present unquestioning loyalty. It benefited Kakashi now, sure, but it didn’t mean he was comfortable using it to his advantage. Kakashi was immediately waved through by Sarutobi’s secretary, no words exchanged. Saru and Fū stayed back as he entered the Hokage’s office, his gruff Danzō mask firmly in place as he took a seat across from the Sandaime.
“What do you need from me, Hiruzen?” Kakashi asked, adopting an affronted tone as he questioned the serious man in front of him.
“After your recent actions, I had hoped that I would no longer require your services,” the Hokage admitted gravely, a dark look passing over his face. “However, I am not willing to put the safety of the village at risk. Do you know anything that can be associated with the words ‘red dawn’? A secret sect somewhere? An organization perhaps?”
Immediately the red clouds that patterned that Akatsuki uniform came to mind, his heart skipping a beat at the image. “Red dawn?” Kakashi asked, forcibly keeping his clam.
“I recently received a missive from the Kazekage,” Sarutobi shared, a troubled frown on his face. “The man wishes to meet with me to discuss the subject of a ‘red dawn’, whatever that means. He let slip that he is visiting several other villages to discuss the exact same topic. Do you have any idea what he’s referring to?”
Kakashi made sure to put forth a thoughtful face, his mind in turmoil underneath the fake vision of calm. Itachi wouldn’t have been inducted into the Akatsuki yet, so any information from him would be nonexistent. It could be that Sarutobi already had an idea of what ‘red dawn’ was referencing, but he simply wanted to either confirm his suspicions or learn what his old friend knew about the situation.
“From what I understand, they are a mercenary group,” Kakashi shared, catching himself before he could say more. The group hadn’t gone after any of the jinchūriki and their partners yet, so there was no reason for Kakashi to imply anything of the sort had happened. It would inevitably get back to the Hokage if he implied one thing and then it only happened afterward. Better to start vague and build up to the truth.
On the one hand, bringing attention to Obito and Madara’s plans could only help them prevent the future they came from; that wasn’t necessarily a good thing, however. It could turn out far worse if the people and villages involved weren’t of a single mind. On the other hand, Kakashi had a sinking suspicion he knew where Naruto had been this entire time.
How the teen convinced the Kazekage about the threat the Akatsuki posed, he could only guess.
Interlude XI: Sakura
“What do you make of Kakashi’s theory that Naruto is running around in Sunagakure?” Sakura asked as soon as they were alone, the kids running around their new home in search of a room they could claim as their own.
Sasuke hummed, his head tilted as he browsed the books lined along the shelves in Danzō’s office. Kakashi had taken her and Sasuke aside last night, warning them of the contents of his conversation with the Hokage. It would be nice to finally know where Naruto had been, but Sakura felt like she agreed with Kakashi on one point: this changed far too much to guess the outcome. If Naruto had the ear of the Kazekage, there was no telling what they could get done. An entire village behind them would certainly help them. It was not necessarily that Konoha wouldn’t be helpful, but Kakashi was the one with the best political station and he was currently on probation with the Hokage. He was watched a bit too closely to get anything worthwhile done in the village. Sakura had more freedom of movement, but Orochimaru was a wanted man and she wasn’t prepared to fight anyone as the snake Sannin. Sasuke, while the most acclimated to the time and his new body, held almost no standing in the village due to his status as a young genin kunoichi.
“If Rasa is willing to go on a tour of other villages to share whatever he’s been told about the Akatsuki, I think it’s a pretty good bet that Naruto is messing around with the situation somewhere,” Sasuke shared his opinion, pulling a book off the shelf to glance at the title. He made a pinched face at whatever the title said and he put the book back on the shelf. “Naruto made a promise to Gaara before we left. He’s probably fulfilling it as we speak.”
Sakura raised an eyebrow at that tidbit, but when Sasuke didn’t offer any other information, she put it aside. Sakura suspected that it might have to do with who he ended up embodying; she’d keep her peace and ask Naruto when they found him again. From the way it went when the three of them shared their regrets, Sakura could only imagine that it would be as equally hard for Naruto to do so.
“Sasuke—,” Sakura started to ask, stopping herself before she could voice her question. The topic of conversation she wanted to bring up was a sensitive one on her part, and she could only imagine it would be even more touchy for Sasuke.
“Spit it out, Sakura,” Sasuke told her, though his tone of voice wasn’t anywhere near as hostile as his words were. He turned to face her, giving up on inspecting the bookshelf.
Sakura watched him, tracking the way his brown hair laid longer than his darker black hair ever had. The way he was more willowy and streamlined than he was as an older teenager. The gentle curve of his body that was distinctly female. “How are you handling it?” Sakura finally asked, unable to not know. “How are you dealing with being stuck in a female body?”
Sasuke stared at her for a moment, a considerate look on his face, before he gave a simple shrug, leaning back against the bookshelf to peer over at her. “I don’t really care.”
“You don’t care?” Sakura blurted out, disbelieving. How could he not care? It was one thing for her to be stuck in the body of someone she viewed as an enemy; it was another thing entirely to be stuck in the body of someone with the wrong sex. Sakura had been born in a female body and her gender identity matched that ideal. She was a she and occupying a body that was very distinctly male was causing her more emotional distress than she thought it would.
“I suppose I follow Orochimaru’s ideals a bit more than I had thought,” Sasuke confessed. “I’ve thought about it a lot since we ended up in the wrong bodies. Orochimaru never cared what sex the body he was in had. He could’ve lived his life being called ‘she’ or ‘they’ and it wouldn’t have affected him even a little. He honestly held no inclination to follow any gender norms whatsoever. I call him ‘he’ simply because that was what most others referred to him as.”
Sakura absorbed the information Sasuke had just shared. “Does that mean you want me to use a different pronoun?” Sakura asked eventually, struggling slightly to understand Orochimaru and Sasuke’s nonchalant attitude towards gender. She had met non-binary people, of course, but she had never experienced the dysphoria of identifying as a gender your body didn’t agree with. Not until now, anyway.
“I’m used to being called ‘he’,” Sasuke shrugged. “I’m not going to go up in arms if someone calls me ‘she’ or ‘they’, I don’t mind them, but I prefer being addressed as I’ve always been.”
“Got it,” Sakura nodded, acknowledging his wishes. “I’m sticking with ‘she’.”
“How are you handling it?” Sasuke asked in return, the look he sent her clearly showing he had already guessed at her true feelings.
“I’m going back to his base,” Sakura informed him, scowling at the fact that it had become a necessity to her. “He surely has information on switching bodies hidden somewhere. I need it to get out of his body. Hell, even if I have to make a new body for me to occupy, it would be better than languishing here.”
“I know of a couple hiding spots where he stashes the more sensitive scrolls,” Sasuke shared, giving her a small smile. “The faster we get you in a body you’re comfortable in and able to navigate without trouble, the better off we’ll be.”
“Do you want me to make you a body too?” Sakura hesitated in asking, not wanting to offend him. They had just talked about his gender identity, after all, and she didn’t want to make it seem like she was implying anything.
Sasuke shrugged, a thoughtful look flashing across his face. “I’m fine for now,” he eventually replied, a distant look in his eyes. “I honestly don’t mind being Izumi all that much.”
Sakura watched him, taking in his wistful longing, and she held back her own fond smile. She imagined Sasuke would be quite comfortable being Izumi.
“Izumi-chan!” Sai shouted as he entered Kakashi’s office, a grin plastered on his face. Sasu and Shin were quick to follow, both of them out of breath as they tried to keep up with the energetic Sai. Shin had a large grin on his face, his rambunctious nature shining through. Sasu was much more subdued, but he did look far more content than Sasuke had been describing him as.
“Hello, Sai-kun,” Sasuke greeted, instantly falling into his Izumi persona. “Have you three picked your rooms?”
“I picked the one across from yours, Izumi-chan,” Sasu spoke up, his voice shy as he looked up at Sasuke.
“Sai and I found rooms that had a door connecting them!” Shin shared, excited. “This way we have our own rooms, but we can still share stuff if we want.”
“Is that okay?” Sai asked, his lower lip pushed forward as he pouted up at Sasuke.
Sasuke laughed lightly, a bright sound that caused Shin’s cheeks to color slightly. “That sounds wonderful,” Sasuke assured the two.
“Who are you?” Sai asked, his tone curious as he looked up at Orochimaru, his attention pulled away from Sasuke.
“Hebi,” Sakura responded, fighting not to grimace while being watched so closely by three pairs of young eyes. It wouldn’t be smart to throw around Orochimaru’s name where it could be reported back to the Hokage, but it wasn’t like they could pretend she was anyone else to the Root agents always underfoot. Hebi was a compromise, even if it was rather obvious as to who they were referring to.
“Hebi-san is a friend of Danzō-san’s,” Sasuke informed them. “Now let’s go try and find the kitchen in this place, shall we?”
Sai and Shin were quick to bounce out, both of them talking animatedly to Sasuke as they traversed down the hall. Sakura watched them go, only realizing after a moment that young Sasu was lagging behind, watching them walk away with a melancholic expression on his tiny face.
“Are you alright, Sasu-kun?” Sakura asked gently, Orochimaru’s natural hiss gentled to the best of her ability.
Sasu glanced up at her, his bottom lip worried between his teeth as he held an eternal battle. He glanced back to the trio that disappeared around the corner before turning his attention back to Sakura. “Hebi-san,” he addressed her, a frown on his face. “Izumi is taking really good care of us and I feel bad putting all of my problems on her shoulders.”
Both of Sakura’s eyebrows rose at that, a questioning tilt of her head encouraging Sasu to continue.
“I feel guilty,” Sasu shared in a small voice, a wet sheen covering his eyes as he fought back tears. “I feel like I should still be in my bedroom, surrounded by my clan. I feel like I’m dishonoring my clan by moving off of the compound grounds so soon after—what happened.”
“Your clan wouldn’t want you to surround yourself with their ghosts,” Sakura told him firmly, pleased to finally be able to share an opinion that she had kept to herself for so many years. The idea of Sasuke staying and living on the same land that his entire clan was struck down had always sounded awful to Sakura. She understood that he did it out of both respect and the wish to have a reminder for all that he’d lost, but she had seen the psychological consequences of Sasuke staying alone in a large, ghost filled compound. She wouldn’t wish that on Sasu and she was glad that Sasuke had seen that it wasn’t the right environment to raise a child in.
“You think so?” Sasu asked with a sniff, puffy eyes looking up at her with restrained hope.
“Sure,” Sakura nodded.
“Are you two coming? Izumi-chan found the ingredients to make onigiri!” Shin’s loud voice interrupted them, his head popping into the office they were still occupying.
“Yes, yes, we’re coming,” Sakura said, giving him a pointed look. “Inside voices,” she told him as they made their way down the hall, Sasu sticking close to her side.
Shin gave her an incredulous look, sticking his tongue out before dodging the half-hearted swipe Sakura aimed in his direction. He let out a delighted laugh, the sound reminding her of Naruto so much it almost hurt. She spotted a small smile gracing Sasu’s face and she mentally patted herself on the back.
Interlude XII: Naruto
“The council is now in session,” Ebizō announced, taking his seat along with the rest of the council. Naruto recognized the old man as Chiyo’s brother, though he didn’t know all that much about him. Naruto hadn’t known Chiyo like Sakura had, let alone her brother, so he was an unknown component to him. Naruto did know that Sasori had already defected years ago, so Chiyo herself was no longer part of Sunagakure’s council. Naruto wondered if trying to get her on the council once more would benefit him in any way?
“Honorable Senior Ebizō,” a man started, drawing their attention to himself. “Before we get into the true reason for this emergency meeting, I would like to bring attention to our two newest members. To my right is Tōjūrō and to my left is Yūra. They have both been nominated and accepted since our last official meeting.”
“Welcome, Seniors,” the council all sounded off together. Naruto twitched, marginally glad that no one was looking at him when they all spoke in unison. It wouldn’t look good for the Kazekage to not welcome new members to the Sunagakure council. Naruto had to force himself not to shift uncomfortably when the attention of the entire council finally shifted to him, their gazes hawk-like as they focused intently on him.
“Kazekage-sama,” Ebizō said, the older man watching him intently, “Yashamaru has informed us that you have placed a new seal upon the container?”
Naruto instantly felt anger well inside him, the burning agitation he had always felt towards those who unjustly accuse and judge. His eyes narrowed at Ebizō’s specific word choice. “I have indeed placed a new seal on my son.” Several members around him raised an eyebrow at his tone, most looking disbelieving. There were only about three men around him that didn’t have some type of negative reaction to his words. Naruto scowled at the rest in response to their expressions, unwavering in his new decision to put the council’s ignorance to a halt. He wouldn’t let the discrimination Gaara faced continue while he was in charge; the kid didn’t deserve it.
“Chiyo-san reports that young Gaara has been sleeping peacefully, showing no sign of releasing the ichibi,” a man informed him, his voice strong, yet far calmer than the others’. He had held a neutral expression at Naruto’s pointed announcement, so Naruto supposed he was one of the few who weren’t going to be dicks about Gaara and his status as a jinchūriki.
“Ryūsa brings good news,” a man to Naruto’s left mocked. He was older than most of the other attendants, though he was still distinctly younger than the ancient Ebizō. “Yet one incident where the container doesn’t kill a loyal shinobi does not mean it is under control.” Naruto twitched at his words, openly glaring at the incredibly arrogant man. The man ignored his pointed look, scowling unpleasantly at the man he identified as Ryūsa.
“What your tongue, Jōseki!” a middle-aged man snapped, his dark eyes glaring over at the older looking Jōseki.
“You would defend that monster, Ikanago? Does your obsession with the Kazekage clan know no bounds?” Jōseki shot back, a vicious sneer on his face.
“My son is not a monster,” Naruto snapped, glaring at the impudent man. “He is a jinchūriki. His ability to hold Shukaku is a gift and you should be thanking him for it.”
There is silence for a moment before the man referred to as Ryūsa asked, “Shukaku?”
“The ichibi’s name,” Naruto informed him, his glare lessening briefly at the man’s genuine question. “While applying the new seal, I had a brief conversation with the bijū.”
“That thing can talk?” Jōseki asked, disgust on his face.
“You continue to not watch your tongue,” another man chimed in, adding a new voice to the ongoing argument. “Ikanago already gave you a warning.”
“Ikanago is not the end all be all authority on this council, Sajō, and neither are you!” Jōseki snapped back, aggression clear as he glared at the younger man.
“You’re right, I am,” Ebizō spoke up, swiftly causing the other council members to stop speaking, a hostile silence falling upon the whole group. “We must get back to the task at hand. I will reword my question: You have placed a new seal on Gaara, Kazekage-sama?”
“Yes,” Naruto nodded, satisfied that the more obnoxious members had been successfully chastised and silenced. “I have been in contact with a seal master for a few weeks now. I had planned on bringing attention to the new seal at the next meeting, but when Gaara lost control again…I figured applying it now would be better than applying it later.”
“Who gave you the seal?” young Yūra asked, finally speaking up for the first time since being introduced.
“I commissioned Jiraiya of Konohagakure for a working seal,” Naruto lied, doing his best to keep a straight face at his sensei’s name. Naruto had pointedly tried not to think about the man he looked up to, his godfather who is now pointedly not dead.
“You went to Konohagakure for help?” Jōseki asked, incredulous. “After what they’ve done? They have yet to cease taking missions from the Wind Daimyo even after we’ve asked them to several times! They continue to ignore the treaty between us and you ask them for help!?”
“I commissioned the only seal master that could make a working seal,” Naruto growled back, eyes hard as he glared over at the still arguing Jōseki. Naruto was quickly coming to realize that he really didn’t like the argumentative man. “Chiyo, who is our best seal master, made an insufficient seal that was not working. It was negatively impacting both my son and the bijū within him. I saw a problem and, unlike the rest of the council, I fixed it.”
Jōseki huffed at his words, glare still present, but he thankfully chose not to speak up, his arms crossing over his chest in clear disapproval. Yūra and the still silent Tōjūrō both looked slightly sour, like they disagreed with what Naruto was telling them, but as the newest members of the council, they kept their opinions to themselves.
“Getting outside help aside, the seal works? The ichibi is now under Gaara’s control?” Ryūsa asked after a long pause, breaking through the tension that was steadily building.
“He’s a chakra construct,” Naruto informed them, rolling his eyes slightly at their stupidity. “You can’t control something like that. What we can do is work towards a partnership.”
“Partnership?” Ebizō inquired, asking the question before any of the others could.
“I believe it would be in our best interest to work with Shukaku, rather than control him,” Naruto confirmed.
“What in the world for?” the final previously silent man asked, his tone exasperated.
“The working seal isn’t the only thing I learned from Jiraiya,” Naruto revealed to them, his mind at work. “I have recently been informed that there is a mercenary group known as the Akatsuki, whose mission it is to collect the bijū and use them to further their organization’s agenda.”
“Collect them?” Ebizō asked, the old man looking slightly alarmed. “What is their agenda?”
“We don’t know,” Naruto responded, shaking his head. Of course, Naruto was well aware of both the Akatsuki’s agenda, and the hidden agenda that Zetsu and Obito were peddling. It would look suspicious, however, if Naruto just started rambling on about the Akatsuki’s mission. Especially since, as of yet, no one had really heard of the mercenary group. “For that very reason, I have made a decision that I wish to share with the council.”
“What decision have you made, Kazekage-sama?” Tōjūrō spoke up, hesitantly watching Naruto, clearly weary.
“We need to visit every shinobi village that holds a jinchūriki and warn them of the threat we are all facing. After that, I’m going to try and establish a new treaty with each of them.”
Silence followed his announcement. Naruto kept his face impassive, unwilling to show how nervous he truly was. Naruto wasn’t completely confident that his idea would actually work how he was hoping it would, especially since the raw power of the Akatsuki had not yet been experienced by the villages, but he had to at least try and warn his comrades. He couldn’t let Kurama’s siblings continue to be unknowingly hunted.
“You’ve gone mad,” Jōseki accused, disbelief showing across his face. “We have no treaties planned. It takes months for even a draft of a treaty to be formed; and you want us to create multiple templates, deliver them to the other villages, and then negotiate terms? This will take decades!”
If Naruto went about seeking peace the usual way, it would take decades. Decades of stuffy politicians sneering at each other over the negotiation table. Decades of uncertainty and suspicion. Naruto hated the very thought of it; he didn’t have the patience for decades of ground work. What he needed, he thought, was a foundation. He didn’t need an entire tower built in a day, or even a week! He simply needed the material said tower was going to be built on. If he laid out a foundation for the villages, a possibility more than a solid idea, time could be spent on reaching everyone instead of a select few.
“We don’t need a complete agreement,” Naruto replied, mind racing. “What we need is to meet with each individual Kage, tell them of the Akatsuki, and then offer a drafted alliance before we take our leave. Allow them to look over what we are offering. Let them make the decision whether or not they wish to be involved. It cuts down time. Any who do wish to continue negotiations can get in contact and a negotiator will be put in place to further us along. We can work on multiple treaties at one time that way.”
“That’s so much work,” Ikanago whispered, his face paling slightly at the mountain of work Naruto had just laid at their feet.
Ikanago was right and several other council members were muttering in horrified agreement. The time it would take to set up so many drafts was ridiculous. That was the exact reason why they simply needed rough drafts and not full alliance agreements. A rough draft could be edited dozens, even hundreds of times. They could present the draft along with the danger the Akatsuki present and then they could go on their way, leaving behind a path for the other villages to follow.
“Take our leave?” Ryūsa hesitantly asked, his face already wincing as he realized what Naruto was getting at.
“I will head out with a delegation to convene with each Kage,” Naruto answered simply, shrugging at the incredulous looks he received.
“And your children?” Jōseki asked, scorn in his voice. “You seem to be concerned for them; what do you plan on doing with them while you’re gone?”
“They’ll come with me,” Naruto responded, making the decision at that exact moment. It wouldn’t be totally safe for them to be traveling with him out of the village, but Naruto couldn’t trust anyone enough to leave them in their hands. Yashamaru might pass muster simply because of Gaara’s affection for the man, but he didn’t hold authority over the council. If Naruto left, Rasa’s kids would fall under their jurisdiction. Naruto realized that he couldn’t allow that to happen, especially now that he had finally been acquainted with some of the more—worrisome members. The three siblings needed each other. They weren’t close, not yet, but Naruto looked forward to seeing them band together as they did in the original future.
“I will agree to this venture on one condition,” Ebizō piped up, waiting patiently for Naruto to nod his head in acknowledgment. “Tell me why Sunagakure should take the responsibility of informant?”
“Because one of the shinobi connected with the Akatsuki is Akasuna no Sasori.”
That succeeded in shutting everyone up. Ebizō looked rattled, his once calm demeanor shaken at the mention of his great-nephew. From what Sakura had mentioned off-hand, Chiyo had been the heartbroken one when Sasori had turned missing nin. Naruto had just been guessing, but it looked like his guess that Ebizō was not unaffected by the walking puppet man was correct.
“We have a responsibility to capture him and bring him home,” Naruto continued, satisfaction rolling through him as the council looked uncomfortable. No one would look straight at Ebizō, too hesitant to see what was showing on his ancient face.
“Agreed,” Ebizō eventually grunted, standing abruptly. The other members scrambled to stand with him, all of them looking in different states of weary. Naruto stood at a much more sedate pace, face blank as he met Ebizō’s dark gaze. “We will do as our Kazekage bids,” was the man’s final announcement before he turned and left the room, not wasting any time as he stormed out.
Naruto, knowing when he was ahead, made a quick exit as well. He didn’t feel up to discussing anything with the other council members, not when he was mostly flying by the seat of his pants. It was his tried and true strategy, but sometimes even he needed a break to get his head on straight.
Naruto let out a tired sigh once he reached Rasa’s office, closing the door with a soft click. He collapsed on the chair behind the desk, leaning his head back to stare at the smooth sandstone ceiling. He had successfully taken a hammer to the past and changed things beyond repair. Gaara would be able to grow up relatively mentally healthy. The sand siblings would be able to grow closer so much sooner, forming a bond strong enough to face anything.
Naruto had also convinced the council to embark on a political campaign that would, if it works, change the way the shinobi nations interacted for generations to come. Coming together to cut the Akatsuki off at the knees would be just what they needed to make sure Zetsu couldn’t get his grubby hands on any of the jinchūriki.
Naruto, Kurama’s voice grumbled in his mind, the kyūbi’s chakra shifting slightly as he struggled to stay awake. I can feel the others.
“The others?” Naruto muttered slightly confused.
Kakashi, Sakura, and Sasuke are all grouped together, Kurama lowly growled, his voice starting to fade once more as he grew more tired. To the east.
Naruto’s heart skipped a beat, excitement racing through his veins even as Kurama shifted into sleep once more. If they were to the east than that meant—
His family could very well be safely tucked away in Konoha.
Naruto let himself softly smile, his worrying finally coming to an end. He hadn’t seen them yet, probably wouldn’t get to see them for months yet, but he finally knew for sure that his team had followed him into the past. It was with relief that Naruto finally closed his eyes, muscles relaxing as he quietly sat in the quickly darkening office.
Naruto let his thoughts wander for a few moments before he inevitably landed on a topic that he had been avoiding lingering on.
It hadn’t been that long ago that Naruto had learned of his godfather’s death in the original past. Naruto remembered it fairly well, the numbness that had overcome him as soon as he understood what he was being told. He remembered seeing in technicolor one moment and then everything becoming swathed in gray the next. How closed off he had become while he had tried to comprehend what he was being told. How cold he had felt when he realized there were tears tracking down his flushed cheeks. His body knew something awful had happened long before his brain encompassed the full situation.
It was an afterthought to use Jiraiya as an alibi, always knowing in the back of his mind that the man would support him no matter what. It was different now, though, wasn’t it? Jiraiya wouldn’t just trust what he was told, especially from the man he would rightfully assume was the Kazekage. Naruto couldn’t just go up to the man and hug him. He couldn’t smile at him and expect affection back.
Jiraiya wouldn’t support his claim of helping, though Naruto knew he might just play along if he saw the seal Naruto put on Gaara. The seal wasn’t Naruto’s specific seal, though there was a certain flare to it that would undoubtedly match the signature style that Jiraiya and all his students boasted. It would grab the Sannin’s attention long enough that if Naruto wanted to, he could probably get Jiraiya to listen to whatever he wanted to say.
The problem was, Naruto didn’t really think it was a good idea to go anywhere near the Toad Sage.
Naruto missed him. Naruto missed his dumb perverted ways and his ridiculously loud laugh. Naruto missed his kind eyes and somber gaze. Naruto missed him so much it hurt. Naruto missed him, but Jiraiya didn’t miss Naruto. The man hadn’t yet run into Naruto’s younger self, was currently traveling around the nations, most likely trying to find word on the Akatsuki. He wouldn’t have a predisposition to feel affection towards Rasa. It didn’t matter that Rasa was currently Naruto.
For the first time since he met him, Naruto realized he couldn’t count Jiraiya as an ally and it shook him to his very core. Naruto had not had many figures he could rely on; Iruka and his steadfast mother-henning came to mind, as well as the Sandaime’s genuine, if a bit standoffish, affection. Naruto had never loved with someone before Jiraiya. Sure, they didn’t so much live together as they traveled together and happened to sleep in the same room, but it had felt like home in a way he had never before experienced. The thought that that feeling was being taken away, that he would no longer have that comfort to support him, it was a jarring thought.
Sakura’s eyes were still green. They were still two circles of jade peering out at him, though the rest had changed from the wide-eyed softness she had once held. Instead of soft almond-shaped eyes, Sakura now sported narrow eyes, her pupils slitted at all times, even when it was dark. Where once she was confident in her abilities and her body, she was now insecure as she moved around the manor in silent contemplation. She would leave for Orochimaru’s base soon, intent on finding anything that would release her from the jail of said man’s body. While her eyes stayed the same familiar color, there was a disquieting light hidden within their once bright depths.
While Sasuke could see the change in Sakura, he was left pining to see Naruto’s familiar cornflower blue. Sasuke didn’t know where Naruto was, who he was currently hitching a ride with, only that Kakashi had suspicions that point to Sunagakure. Sasuke wondered what Naruto must look like; was he even tanner than he once was, out in the hot desert, under the bright sun? Were his eyes still bright and determined, or had they lost a bit of the sheen that made them so indescribable? What of Kurama and his influence? Would Naruto’s flaming red eyes still exist without Kurama’s chakra?
Kakashi was the sole person whose eyes stayed the same. They were still dark and deep, kind and unwavering. It softened Danzō’s face, giving him a more approachable look that had once unemotional Root members coming to him when they had a problem adjusting. He greeted all of them by their real names, no code names in sight, and his admirers grew. He still smiled with his eyes, gentle with the kids and snarky with Sasuke and Sakura. It brought a warmth to Sasuke’s chest to see something so familiar in a world that felt so different.
As for his own eyes? There was still bitterness entrenched in onyx eyes as he surveyed his place in the past. He was not healed, not even close, but there was some kind of resolution Sasuke had set and then met without realizing it. He was far calmer than he had been in years, his eyes reflecting the confidence he held concerning his mission and the facts he was so very sure of. He was not who he once was, but he no longer feels like he must hold onto the past to have an identity. He had never seen his eyes shine quite so bright.
Interlude: Undisclosed IV
“Danzō has complete control over the Uchiha survivors,” the Sandaime said grimly, his gaze forlorn as he stared across at his frowning student. “There has also been increased patrols around the areas that Naruto frequents.”
“You think he’s planning on grabbing him?” Jiraiya asked, leaning forward in worry.
“I hate to admit it, but I don’t know,” Sarutobi sighed, leaning back and taking a quick drag from his faintly smoking pipe. “Given his past indiscretions, it wouldn’t surprise me. And yet…”
“What is it?”
“He has seemingly changed. He has followed through on all of my demands, dismantling Root and getting all of its ex-members the help they need to integrate back into the regular shinobi ranks. The only suspicious thing he’s done in months is have a few extra patrols set up around Naruto.”
“I still wouldn’t trust him,” Jiraiya sneered, rolling his eyes.
Sarutobi hummed in response, clearly acknowledging Jiraiya’s words before he switched topics. “Young Itachi has confirmed that one of the groups he’s been keeping an eye on has black cloaks with red clouds on them. The information you gathered holds true.”
“Are you going to order him to infiltrate them?” Jiraiya asked, curious. He was Konohagakure’s spymaster, so if Itachi succeeded in his infiltration, it would be him who would communicate regularly with the boy.
“I’ll have to,” Sarutobi admitted, grunting as he shifted in his seat. “We don’t know nearly enough about them to sit around. The Kazekage seems to hold some information, but he won’t be in Konoha for weeks, maybe even months. He’s visiting several other villages before he makes his way to us.”
“I’ll keep an ear open for anything worth investigating,” Jiraiya assured him.
“There’s another thing,” Sarutobi hesitated, glancing over at Jiraiya once before he looked away with a tired sigh. He straightened in his seat, puffing at his pipe before he once more looked Jiraiya in the eyes. “Orochimaru has been spotted in Danzō’s home.”
“How the hell did he manage that?” Jiraiya asked, his body twitching as he tensed in his seat. “That place is a fortress!”
“I’ve had Kakashi watching the place day and night. He spotted Orochimaru interacting with the two Uchiha survivors and informed me immediately. He’s since been spotted talking with two other children who have yet to be identified.”
“And you haven’t arrested him yet?” Jiraiya demanded, a frown making its way onto his face. There was a dark look lingering in his eyes, a soft grimace adding to the shadowed look.
Sarutobi sighed once more, reaching up to rub at his temples in an attempt to fight off a headache. “I’m not sure I want to.”
“What?” Jiraiya asked, confused.
“If the threat that the Akatsuki poses is as serious as it’s making itself out to be, we might need all the help we could get. Danzō was involved with Orochimaru’s experiments, so we already know the two have some type of working relationship that could work in our favor.”
“I thought Orochimaru did that on his own?” Jiraiya asked, shocked.
“No,” Sarutobi grudgingly admitted. “Danzō had some type of hand in it. I’m not sure if he ordered the experiments or if he simply approved them, but he was definitely involved at some point.”
“Sensei!” Jiraiya shouted, anger quickly making its way onto his face. “Then why the hell was he never punished while Orochimaru was chased out of the village?”
“I’ve made many mistakes involving my old friend,” Sarutobi admitted bitterly, closing his eyes briefly before once more meeting Jiraiya’s incensed gaze. “It’s why I’m having Kakashi keep a close eye on him. While he’s doing that, I’m afraid I have to ask something of you.”
“What is it, sensei?” Jiraiya asked warily.
“I need you to retrieve Tsunade and bring her back to the village.”
Jiraiya snorted loudly, shaking his head even before Sarutobi finished his request. “She doesn’t want to return.”
“Tell her the truth about what’s been going on,” Sarutobi ordered, surprising Jiraiya. “She’ll be pissed enough at me that she’ll return simply to yell at me and to make an attempt to kick my ass.”
Jiraiya let out a derisive snort, but nodded in acknowledgment anyway, shaking his head lightly in disbelief. “Does this mean you’re going to give Orochimaru a pardon?” Jiraiya asked, a distant hope slipping into his voice.
“It means we’ll ignore his presence in the village as long as he doesn’t take up his past hobbies; for now at least,” Sarutobi sternly corrected. “Once this Akatsuki has been taken care of, I’m afraid the village is going to need a good de-rooting.”
Pleased with all it had learned, Zetsu slipped away, its presence gone unnoticed by the Sandaime and the legendary Toad sage. It took its time to make its way back to Amegakure, slipping into the room where Obito’s chaotic chakra signature laid in waiting.
“Hear anything interesting?” Obito asked with a grunt, his orange mask muffling his words as he perused a large scroll in front of him. His cloak hid most of his hunched figure, draping along both his body and the chair he was sitting on.
“We have a problem,” Zetsu informed him, a sickly grin spreading across half its face when Obito sharply glanced up. Obito’s single visible eye narrowed in agitation, his Sharingan flashing briefly.
“What are you on about?” Obito demanded to know, giving his full attention to Zetsu and pushing the scroll in front of him to the side.
“Itachi messed up,” Zetsu informed him, cackling slightly. “There was a second survivor of the massacre.”
“Who?” Obito demanded, his anger rising.
“Uchiha Izumi,” Zetsu replied.
“Izumi?” Obito asked, frowning. “While not ideal, she’s no threat. Her surviving has to be based on a technicality; I saw Itachi stab her through the chest myself.”
“Regardless, her and the other brat have been handed over into Danzō’s gentle hands,” Zetsu revealed.
“Why the hell would Sarutobi do that?” Obito asked, incredulous.
“He seemed to think they were under a threat,” Zetsu shrugged, not particularly caring. It had the Uchihas it needed, after all. The others would be no threat to it or its plans for Kaguya’s resurrection.
“What the hell is Danzō playing at?” Obito wondered, a heaving huff leaving his lips as he sat back in his chair. His chakra was spiking dangerously as he thought, each spike making Zetsu’s lips twitch in amusement.
“The Kazekage is also on the move,” Zetsu shared.
“We can’t have that,” Obito grumbled in annoyance. “The Mizukage is being particularly difficult at the moment. Having the Kazekage sniffing around won’t do me any favors.”
“Should we intercept him then?” Zetsu asked, curious about Obito’s opinion on the matter.
“We have to,” Obito decided, clasping his hands together in his lap as he lounged about in his chair. “Inform Itachi that he is officially inducted into the organization. I’d like to be able to control the information he’s sending Konoha’s way. We can partner him with Sasori for now. We’ll send the two to intercept the Kazekage’s party. Sasori would be delighted to get his hands on another powerful puppet,” Obito decided, unclasping his hands to wave in Zetsu’s direction.
“And if they fail?” Zetsu asked, not seriously thinking that they would, but curious enough about the answer to ask it anyway.
“If they fail,” Obito hissed, finally turning his attention back to the scroll on his desk, “I’ll just have to take care of it myself. Go. I’ll take care of Nagato.”
Smiling thinly in response, Zetsu left without any further comments, already on the lookout for Itachi’s distinct signature. It paused briefly, a furrow forming on its brow when it let its senses drift toward Konoha for a single moment. Something odd was happening to the chakra signatures in that direction, a distorted echo that was growing stronger by the minute. Zetsu was briefly tempted to check it out, but it ultimately decided that it didn’t have time to get to the bottom of that particular mystery at the moment. It had to find the little Uchiha spy and introduce him to the rest of their little pawns. Dismissing the strange phenomenon, it focused its attention on the sorrow filled signature located somewhere to the west. Without a sound, Zetsu melted into the ground, merrily on its way towards Itachi’s current residence.
“Yes?” Itachi asked as soon as he sensed Zetsu, several seconds after it had appeared at the young Uchiha’s side.
“Madara-sama has officially inducted you into the Akatsuki, Uchiha Itachi,” Zetsu informed him, letting only its head merge up into sight. It gave a few points to Itachi when the teen didn’t react to its head appearing just to the right of his foot. “You’ve been paired with one of our newer members.”
Itachi grunted, his face drawn tight with exhaustion. Zetsu supposed that anybody else would feel bad for the teen, obviously still haunted by the actions he took against his clan. Zetsu, however, simply felt faint amusement. It didn’t care about Itachi, but seeing the Uchiha clan brought so low was certainly a welcome sight. The fact that the clan was brought to such an inevitable end by their own hand was certainly also appealing.
“Sasori will come to collect you tomorrow morning. You will then follow him to a meeting with Pein-sama. He will give you your first mission.”
“Right,” Itachi grunted again in response, his legs shaking as he struggled to stay standing in Zetsu’s presence.
Zetsu stayed for a moment longer just to see the teen struggle before it eventually gave a sharp cackle, disappearing into the ground. It hid its presence long enough to see Itachi collapse, his tired body landing heavily on the ratty bed behind him, before it left for good, intent on checking out the disturbance it had felt just a few hours ago.
Interlude: Undisclosed V
“So, is your little experiment working the way you wanted it to?”
“There’s no need to sound so disgruntled.”
“You have a child running around in my body.”
“Kakashi is hardly a child.”
“Well, the Uzumaki brat is a child. Explain yourself.”
“I think it’s rather fascinating; the little girl currently occupying my body has a interesting mind.”
“She hates your guts and you think that’s interesting?”
“How could I not?”
“What is the purpose of keeping us conscious? Why have us here?”
“The Kazekage has a point. What purpose do we serve?”
“Only one of you is currently dead at this point.”
“Me. I’m the one that’s dead.”
“Yes, Uchiha Izumi, you are the one that’s dead. I can not simply erase you three from existence. You should, technically speaking, still be alive. And yet with your souls stricken from your bodies, you are considered dead.”
“How does that connect with you keeping us here?”
“You must experience what your bodies experience in order for a balance to be stricken.”
“And once we meet the period of time when we were originally dead?”
“You don’t know what’s going to happen, do you?”
“For all you know, the second we pass when I die in the original timeline, my body will collapse and the Uzumaki’s soul will be ejected from my body!”
“It’s… a possibility.”
“So there is some real urgency to Haurno Sakura finding a way to transfer their souls into newly constructed bodies. Absolutely fascinating.”
“What will happen to us? Orochimaru never died in the original timeline. With our bodies vacant and our souls still intact, will we be able to once more take them back?”
“I do not know.”
“Do you know anything?”
“That is the brilliance of changing the past; nobody knows anything. Not even me.”
“Will you shut up?”