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“This is reckless.” Sasuke mutters and Sakura can’t help but snort.

“Oh no. We can’t be reckless. Anything but that.” She intones as dryly as possible, and Sasuke shoots her an irritated glare for that. Naruto swats his shoulder absently, pensively staring at the glowing seal between them.

“It’s admittedly nowhere close to the most reckless thing you’ve done.” Shikamaru notes and Sakura nods her agreement, while Sasuke looks vaguely like he’s swallowed a lemon. Shikamaru sighs heavily. “Then again, we have no idea if this will actually work, do we?”

“It’ll work.” Naruto speaks up, his voice surprisingly uneasy. Sakura tenses at that, and for good reason, because Naruto reaches up to scratch at his nose. “I just… don’t know for sure how.”

“You-” Sasuke starts, a vein already popping up in his forehead.

“Look,” Naruto cuts in quickly. “It’ll do one thing for certain, I can tell that much,” he says seriously, “and that is that it’ll take us back in time to a set period. I can control when. I just… can’t say for sure how it transports us.”

“What do you mean how?” Shikamaru demands, frowning.

“That there.” Naruto points at part of the seal, grimacing. “I don’t recognize the seal but I can tell it’s meant to transport us. But I don’t recognize it, so I don’t know how it works.”

“Well how many ways could it work?” Sakura asks, gnawing her lip.

“Too many.” Naruto huffs. “Too many to list. Too many to guess. Most likely it’ll simply teleport us all together to a set destination. The problem is, there’s no option for me to choose a destination - just a time.”

Silence fills the valley they stand in, the light of the seal dimly glowing in the depths of the Nara forest. All the deer have fled, pushed away by the unpleasant chakra emitting from the seal. Tinged with death, Naruto had said with a grimace. They’d found it in the depths of the Hokage’s tower, buried under years of dust and scrolls.

It had been unearthed when the tower was destroyed in the latest attack.

Sakura closes her eyes at the memory, counting to ten. Shikamaru’s hand settles on her shoulder when she done and she opens them again, dispelling the grief at the memory of the attack, and hardening herself to the task at hand. “Then let’s focus on what we can work with. How far back do we want to go?”

Silence fills the valley for a long minute. Naruto looks sideways out over the edge of the Hokage Monument, at the smoking ruins of Konoha and the scattered buildings that still stood resiliently.

Kaguya’s attacks had been getting closer and closer with each passing day, but none of them had quite been prepared for a direct assault. Not so soon, at least.

They’d lost contact with Suna only days ago. It should’ve taken Kaguya a week to get the Zetsu forces to Konoha, but she’d done it in three days.

“We have a few options.” Shikamaru finally breaks the silence. “Option one. We go far enough back to stop the unleashing of the Kyūbi. Option two. We go far enough back to stop Obito from becoming Tobi to begin with.” He pauses for a moment, frowning deeply. “Option three,” He says slowly, “we go back far enough to stop Madara from becoming the villian he did.”

Sakura blinks, exchanging a doubtful look with Naruto. “Do you really think we could manage that?”

“Yes.” Sasuke, surprisingly, is the one to speak up. He shifts his weight to one leg, planting his single arm on his hip, and frowns down at the ground for a long minute before looking up at them. There’s a hint of guilt swimming in his dark eye, the Rinnegan one hidden behind his hair, and Sakura’s frown deepens. “When I… brought back the Hokages, I spoke to Hashirama about how this strife between the Uchiha and Senju all began. It started long before Hashirama was born, but the strife between him and Madara…” He pauses for a moment, looking vaguely uneasy. “He and Madara were friends for a long time.”

Sakura blinks, recalling the way that Hashirama had looked… strangely betrayed, when Kaguya - using Madara’s twisted, Jūbi infested body - had impaled him and destroyed his form.

For a moment, she wonders distractedly if Hashirama returned to the Pure World, or if the jutsu that brought him back kept him here, lingering as ashes and dust.

It was a disturbing thought.

“Friends.” Naruto cuts in flatly.

“Friends.” Sasuke admits. “As children. The Senju killed three of Madara’s brothers, and the Uchiha killed two of Hashirama’s brothers, and it drove both Madara and Hashirama to seek peace.” Naruto makes a soft noise of dismay at that and Sasuke shoots him an irritated look. “Be quiet or I will be.” He says grouchily.

“Sorry.”

“Regardless,” Sasuke says archly, “they were friends for over a year. Until Tobirama and Izuna, Madara’s brother, reported their meetings to their fathers. Their fathers attacked one another during one of Madara and Hashirama’s meetings and only then did they realize what clan the other was from. Their friendship ended, and a rivalry was born instead. However, they didn’t become true enemies until Tobirama fatally wounded Izuna during a battle. It killed him, naturally, and Madara swore revenge.”

Sakura glances at Shikamaru, frowning, and the man nods in understanding. She, at least, can prevent that death with her healing skills.

“In the end, he fought Hashirama to the death, and only when he was thoroughly defeated did he consider an alliance. Konoha was born, and-”

“Guys.” Naruto cuts in, looking sharply to the side, and a yellow glow encompases him. Sakura tenses immediately, following his gaze - out over Konoha, through the smoke and dust and destruction - but can’t see anything at all. Not that she needs to. She knows his tone.

“Kaguya?”

“Zetsus.” Naruto corrects, golden-red eyes narrowing dangerously. “Fucking Zetsus… We can’t defend Konoha, not with so few of us left.” The Hokage says, looking sharply at his Jōnin Commander. Shikamaru straightens slightly at the attention. “Make a decision, Shikamaru. When do we go to?”

Silence fills the valley over the Hokage Monument.

It’s broken nearly a minute later by Sasuke. “I vote for the Warring States Period. Let’s stop this at the source.”

“If we do it this way, we won’t know how to find Black Zetsu.” Sakura protests and Shikamaru glares down at the seal on the ground, deep in thought and ignoring them both.

“He’ll show up at the Uchiha Compound eventually to fuck with our stone. That’s part of what pushed Madara over the edge - the message Zetsu wrote on it in place of what it originally said.”

“That doesn’t mean we’ll see him.” Sakura points out. “Or be able to stop him, for that matter.”

“We can.”

“He’ll be in the center of the Uchiha compound in the middle of the Warring States. We’ll be slaughtered.”

“Shut up.” Shikamaru cuts in. “I’m trying to think.”

Sakura falls silent, but glares at the back of Shikamaru’s head as the man crouches down. It’s been some time since she’s last seen him take on his ‘thinking pose’, and that unnerves her more than she wants to admit.

She looks back up at Sasuke to see him watching Shikamaru with a tense expression, and Naruto’s gaze is still locked in the distance, shoulders tense.

“I’m going to activate the seal around Konoha.” He announces, preparing to flicker away.

“No.” Shikamaru cuts in sharply enough that Naruto hesitates. “We need all your power for this seal. We can’t waste it on the civilians.”

All three of them bristle at that, even Sasuke, and Shikamaru grimaces.

“I’m sorry, but it’s true.”

Naruto’s jaw is so tense Sakura’s teeth ache just to look at it.

“Shika…” Sakura starts uneasily.

“We need all the chakra we have.”

Naruto grits his teeth, but nods. “He’s right.” He says unhappily. “We’ll need both my chakra and yours, Sasuke and Sakura.” She bites her lip but nods.

Her Yin Seal was far from filled after the latest attack, but she could still pull a mean amount out.

“Naruto.” Shikamaru looks up, eyes narrowed, and the man looks at him expectantly. “How can we defeat Black Zetsu?”

Naruto blinks, then glances at Sasuke.

“Well, together, Sasuke and I can just seal him away with a touch.”

“So it’s a matter of catching him.”

“I can catch him.” Naruto says, then looks doubtfully at Sasuke. “How many times can you use your teleport?”

“Five times in rapid succession.”

“Then our chances are good.” Naruto tells Shikamaru with a nod.

Shikamaru looks back down at the seal, brow furrowing in concentration.

“Not to rush you, but they’re closing in, and we’re out in the open here.” Naruto says idly, gold aura stretching out to form nine tails.

“How long?”

“Fifteen minutes.”

“Fuck.” Shikamaru hisses, closing his eyes tightly. Sakura sets a hand on his shoulder, squeezing gently, and carefully doesn’t move it so he can focus.

“Every option has its merits.” Sasuke murmurs to Naruto, who nods distractedly, his brow furrowed worriedly as he looks down at the surviving remains of Konoha.

Sakura watches too, and wonders if this is what happened to Suna.

Had they just… wiped it off the surface of the earth? Like they’d come so close to doing to Konoha?

Without Sasuke and Naruto to fight and her to defend…

Sakura closes her eyes for a moment, focusing on breathing.

“...I think,” Shikamaru says, with an unusual level of uncertainty, and Sakura opens her eyes to look at him - the other two doing the same. “I think that Sasuke is correct.” He says and her eyes widen in surprise.

She, herself, had been angling for the ‘stop Obito from becoming Tobi’. “Are you sure?” Naruto cuts in severely, arms folded across his chest, and Shikamaru gives a curt nod.

“It’s our best chance. Stopping Madara at the source, before anything happens - before Black Zetsu can orchestrate the summoning of the Jūbi’s corpse, before the Rinnegan can be reborn to begin with. We need this. If we do it this way, our only foe will be Black Zetsu. No Jūbi statue. No Madara, no Tobi, no Kaguya, no bloody Zetsus. Just Black Zetsu.”

Sakura glances at Naruto, who holds her gaze for a moment before looking to Sasuke.

After a long, tense pause, Sasuke nods. “I agree. As I said, it’s our best shot.”

“Sakura?” Naruto looks back at her.

She presses her lips together tightly, then looks to Shikamaru, who gives her an unwavering nod. She takes a breath, looks back at Naruto, and nods. “I agree.”

“Then let’s do it. We have five minutes before those fuckers get here and destroy my village.” Naruto says roughly, stepping delicately into the middle of the seal. “Put your hands on me. Try to stay in the gaps of the seal.” He commands and the three of them carefully do so. Her other hand grips Shikamaru’s, and she looks sideways at him to see him watching her grimly.

There’s no confidence in his decision. No certainty. Just… hope.

As the seal lights up around them, blinding blue and gold at once, she prays that’s enough.

 


 

Sometime, somewhere, a five year old girl opens her eyes to see a boy standing over her. “Katsumi,” He greets not cheerfully but happily enough. “It’s time for training. C’mon - Nii-san is already waiting for us.”

The boy leaves in a sweep of air and she watches him go, blinking rapidly.

What?

She wonders, then stands up and looks at the room she’s in. It looks like something from the Feudal era - from the Warring States Period, and for a moment, relief courses through her.

It worked, she thinks. It actually worked.

And then she sees the mirror in the corner.

The spiky black hair running down her back, just a few inches short of her lower back.

The black eyes that stare back at her.

The five year old form she takes.

Sakura grits her teeth so hard it makes her head hurt.

Naruto, she thinks, staring hatefully at her own reflection.

I am going to kill you.

Somewhere, miles and miles away, a red haired teenager wakes up already feeling sick with dread.

He sits up and looks at his own hands, blinking as red hair falls into his face, and feels the blood rush away.

Oh, no. He thinks in utter horror.

 

Sakura’s going to gut me like a fish.