Prologue: Be the fail master instead of the seal master.
Bare feet gently slapped against the cool wooden floor, Maria Nadehori slowly walked through her kitchen, catching a red apple on her way.
The house was quiet and, after four years of living here, still lacked decorations. Bland. Sterile. There wasn't any hint of warmth or personality, but then, she reckoned, the house in itself was expensive enough that she didn't want to spend her money carelessly.
What if they find you? What if you have to leave quickly?
She clicked her tongue once, taking a bite of the apple. Neither sweet nor sour. Bland. Uh, she snorted but the light in her eyes remained dead, fitting.
Her hand ghosted over the walls as she walked, lightly stroking the smooth wooden surface before she froze, recoiling. It felt too much like a goodbye.
She stopped near the stairs, put a hand on the wall, and with a small amount of chakra, raised the protection around the basement. Her seal appeared under her hand, emitting a soft glow before vanishing. She closed her eyes, exhaling.
A tiny, tiny part of her knew it wasn't a good idea but she was far too invested to back down now. It had to be done. For her and... her breathing faltered and she clutched the headband around her neck fiercely, for him.
Strength Maria, strength.
She opened her eyes, moving her tense shoulders. No matter what, she would pull through it.
She needed to act quickly, some shinobi sensor was bound to feel her chakra - or rather, the lack of chakra - inside the civilian district. Under normal circumstances, she doubted the shinobi would bat an eyelid at that; it wasn't that uncommon. But-
Konoha has been in an uproar lately with the Uchiha clan massacre. Everyone suspected everyone and no one wanted to be shunned.
She knew how people reacted when faced with fear. They acted rashly, pushing and shoving away until the cause of their fear was no more, all the while basking in their own ignorance. Knowledge may be power but knowledge is uncomfortable, and so, rarely used.
Perhaps, she mused, this world would be better if everyone cared and tried to understand.
Perhaps, it was only the wishful thinking of a lonely girl, unrealistic and unrealizable.
Yet, despite the recent commotion, life in Konoha was easy as ever- which meant 'good as long as you ignored the weak, the poor, and any dubious activities on top of rooftops or hidden deep inside the shadows'. You could still buy discounted rice at the corner of the street, you could still see shinobis running over your roof like they owned the damn place and you could still ignore that poor little boy with whiskers begging for attention and food.
That's right, Konoha wouldn't be Konoha without its tiny monster.
I'm not a monster. I'm Uzumaki Naruto, dattebayo.
Her insides twisted, the urge to frown not easily set aside.
Uzumaki…, she exhaled softly. That was a cursed name. It took guts and foolishness to proclaim such a thing as loudly as he did nowadays. Being branded an Uzumaki was the same as having a giant target painted on the back. It was a name associated with pain and fear: always hiding, always lying, and never trusting.
After the fall of Uzushiogakure, nineteen years ago, when the remaining members of the clan had no other choice but to go into hiding, the Uzumaki became a rare species. And rare is expensive.
The black market was soaring every time they managed to catch one. People shoved each other aside, hoping to catch a glimpse of the exotic rarity that was this clan's members. You could probably feel their glee from the other side of the world, licking their fingers at the prospect of millions of ryo they would gain from one Uzumaki.
And there was a reason they were hunted down. A small, tiny reason that drew rich scientific bastards like blood does sharks: their chakra. A weird chakra, always better than average, that mutates on an individual basis and sometimes, if the lineage wants it, can heal with a drop of blood.
It made them go crazy.
On the black market, they caused a sensation: she had heard that they never stay more than a day before being bought by some soulless bastards, or Kiri.
Everyone wanted an Uzumaki. They became the new trend, slowly losing their identities to become a thing. From who, they became a what. From a human, they became a thing.
If everyone cared, no one would have to go through that. If everyone cared, she wouldn't have to be haunted by those sad blue eyes.
She shook her head. It was too late now, he would be forever scarred and no one cared anyway. And she-
She already had a stupid Uchiha with a stupidly bright smile to save. She couldn't help someone else. It would only bring attention to her and she really didn't need that. She had enough of that already as she was known among the citizens to have been a good acquaintance of Itachi Uchiha, the prodigy turned mad killer. And now, they were watching her out of the corner of their eyes, waiting for her to snap just like him. She was tainted by association.
Of course, pressure and youth were used as the official reason for his kin-slaying; explaining everything and nothing at the same time. Typical shinobi village.
But she knew better.
She had asked her Uchiha about his eyes, if their power came, as the rumor has it, from hatred. She had probed him for a full week, almost losing their friendship, before he gave in.
The strength of the Uchiha came from love and trauma. And loving too much could lead to madness.
They were silently sitting on her wooden porch, her toes gently swaying, grazing the grass.
He winced at the nickname, wistful smile dropping before coming back full force, and tried to casually boop on her nose. She swatted his hand away.
"Don't frown, you're gonna get wrinkles." He teased, waggling his finger in front of her face.
"I'm trying to be serious, here." She scowled, perhaps a bit more upset than expected. Though, the corner of her mouth wobbled when she locked eyes with him. "I'm sorry you've been through so much. I'm sorry you've lost so much."
His eyes softened, the ghost of a caress on the back of her hand before he circled her wrist. His hold wasn't particularly clingy, slacker than anything else but it was enough for her to feel the roughness of his hand, the tiny crevices made by hard work, and many cuts.
She was tempted to turn her hand and curl her fingers, stroking his palm and fingertips, hopefully soothing some old scars. She didn't, ultimately, having only realized that his touch was making her nervous, guts full of knots and swirls.
Something in her chest burst into warmth. Under the weight of his eyes, she could feel herself coming undone. And she wanted it. She wanted to peel these layers of secrets she clothed herself in and-
-and as quick as his reputation painted him to be, he booped her nose. "Thank you."
He was dangerous, Maria realized- no, she had always known that, yet, as he smiled at her, the setting sun shining behind his head, she simply never realized that he would be a threat to her heart.
Her sunny Uchiha boy.
She had been mildly satisfied that day. She had wanted to ask more -always more, too curious- but knowing what he shared with her was already a clan secret had been such a profound show of his trust that she hadn't.
Itachi loved Shisui, deeply. And his death drove him mad.
It was the only logical explanation.
And in the deepest, darkest corner of her heart, she understood. Because the death of her Uchiha had driven her mad enough that she even entertained the idea of going back in time to save this asshole. Because when Itachi visited her... when he announced her that her sunny boy just committed suicide and gave her his headband, something inside her had snapped.
Sad dark eyes rimmed with red bore into her own, lips moving to deliver painful news she wasn't ready to hear.
She gasped, head going blank.
It took him three words to change the axis of her world. And it made her so angry.
She told him to leave and as the door closed, the first bowl exploded.
She had been so angry, furious even. He had no right to do that to her! She had broken things; she had screamed; she had even broken a wall. She couldn't understand. Why would he do that? That's not the brave way to die. Just the most selfish one. Wasn't he a proud Konoha shinobi?
And then, guilt seized her throat, held her heart hostage, and slowly, painfully shredded part of her sanity. Had she been so self-centered that she had been blind to Shisui's malaise? Had she been a good friend?
She scoffed at herself.
He died believing her to be someone she wasn't. She had been a horrible friend, lying to his face and expecting the truth from him.
Finally, despair settled and crushed her last bit of sanity. He couldn't be dead, not him, not her sunny boy!
And she had cried, screamed again and cried some more. She felt sick, dark thoughts weighting on the heart. She stopped sleeping at some point, just staring at the walls. Even going outside was a challenge.
She couldn't face anyone. It was too hard, too tiring; she couldn't bear it. Because if she went outside, then she would see it. Life was still going on, not bothered by the death of her Shisui. And it was unthinkable.
Until she found food on her doorstep, dangos to be specific. There was only one person who would think dango would lift her spirit. And it did. For a small second, she had laughed and just after, cried. And strangely, the thought of Itachi going through the same pain and still trying to care for her inspired her: because she knew neither of them could live without him, she decided to stop his suicide altogether.
She had the means after all. She may have become rusty but she had an inkling understanding of the theory. She could do it. She would do it. And all of that took her to tonight.
She would set things right.
After checking that all of her security seals were up, she stepped into the hallway, going for her basement. On her way, movement caught her eye. Someo-
From the deep purple bags under her eyes to her baggy clothes, all screamed neglected. Her eyes were bloodshot, she bit her nails bloody, her black hair was dull and greasy, and- her fucking roots were showing.
Again? I did them less than three months ago, they shouldn't-
But they should and they did.
She had used far more chakra these last two months than in all her time in Konoha. And chakra manipulation boosted the body, strengthening it and speeding up mitosis. Or at least, that was what her old Obaa-Sama, Sango Uzumaki, had told her.
Shaking her head, she headed into the basement where –lo and behold- a thirty layered seal was waiting for her on the ground.
She was confident in it, or at least, in the first few layers.
The base of the seal was composed of ten first layers. The four first layers were circled-shaped, all designed to make the seal, upon activation, self-sufficient. The following six were for stability, all square-shaped, -number four was the number of stability after all.
And at each corner, there was a seal. The Cooing Doves Seal associated with the Sea Turtle Seal regulated the chakra flows through the seal while the Brown Button Seal and the Cresting Waves Seal shared chakra evenly.
Then, it was the details.
She cheated at that point and slapped seals from Uzushio scrolls on it; the one that her grandmother made her promise she wouldn't use. Oh well, she was dead, it's not like she could do anything about it.
The primary objective of her seal was to send her back into her body about two months ago with, of course, all of her memories intact. So the following thirteen layers were concentrating on protecting the soul and her physical energy and tied them together. That way, because physical energy cannot be outside of the body, her own physical energy would lead her soul back to her body.
Which led to the last seven layers. The most difficult. They focused on the time-traveling part in itself and it took her two weeks to finish it. But she did it.
And the seal was done.
Once everything was in place and activated, her chakra would be converted into time.
The golden rule of fuinjutsu was to not use a seal without testing it first. But with this kind of seal, it was more a 'work or die' situation. You couldn't test it and she would not let someone else test it for her.
She would have to take the risk herself.
Hands put on the first layer, she evenly spread chakra. Her fingertips were cold, chakra leaving them faster than she intended and a shiver ran up her back.
She easily dismissed it.
But as she was filling the fourth layer, a small thought crossed her mind.
Did I write the time limit?
And in a moment of brief, uncontrolled, sheer terror, her entire plan failed before her eyes.
Her hands were glued to the ground, chakra siphoning out of her and into the seal, taking more and more until she felt lightheaded and sick.
She tried to inverse the flow, to disrupt the seal by sending parts of her remaining chakra into its center. In theory, it should have triggered the seal and as it wasn't entirely saturated with her energy, it would have... well, exploded but not as big as an explosion if the seal was full.
She could not stop it. It was too late. She had been reckless. She should have put in more layers; she should have created a way to stop the seal should she lose control.
A strange shiver shook her, instinct screaming full blast in her head.
She would have berated herself for that –because sealing is a dangerous art and you should always have a safety net should your seal malfunction unexpectedly.- if it wasn't for a dark purple hand with pointy black nails that pierced her stomach.
The room dropped below freezing temperature. She felt numb.
It wasn't the physical pain that made her scream. It was more the painful, ominous feeling of her soul being seized and ripped out of her body that did.
She choked on spit and blood, arms shaking, colors fading from her skin.
With her last strength, she raised glassy eyes, meeting the black sclera of her killer. Her heart missed some beats. Oh God, why was he here? She had never met him, but the description and horror stories her grandmother had told her about him could never compare to having the real thing in front of her.
She never felt that much terror in such a short time.
With a sneer, he cut the wire binding her soul to her body and her vision went black.
To be continued?