The Right Choice
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or any of its characters
Chapter 1: The Right Choice
Ten years…it was hard for him to believe, but it had truly been a decade since the Fourth Shinobi World War had begun. The man leaned back against the trunk of a tree, lost in his memories as he watched the sunset.
He was a tall, athletically built young man with long, spiky, blond hair that framed his face, falling past the whisker shaped marks on his cheeks. His attire consisted of a simple dark green shirt, dark blue trousers, and a pair of black sandals. His Allied Shinobi Forces hitai-ate was worn over his forehead and across the left eye that even the regenerative powers of the Kyuubi were unable to replace after it had been gouged out during one of the more recent battles of the war, though his healing abilities had saved him from carrying any scars. It was a habit, he supposed, that he'd copied from his late teacher. Although he'd long since stopped wearing his Leaf hitai-ate out of respect for what the shinobi alliance had symbolized, he always carried it with him as a reminder of those who had first believed in him, and his of his love for a home that he had not seen in years. Over the rest of his attire, he wore a black haori with stylized orange flames across the bottom hem. A swirling whirlpool-like design was emblazoned in red across the back as homage to his maternal clan.
Partially concealed beneath his cloak, strapped to his waist, was a pair of combat knives. They were masterfully crafted, among some of Tenten's finest creations. The black hilts had been made with practicality in mind as they were able to be held comfortably in either a normal or reversed hand grip. The blades themselves had wickedly sharp edges concealed within jet black scabbards, each of which was decorated with a detailed image of a fox hidden behind leaves. The material that made up the knives was specially treated to be stronger, more durable and able to channel chakra. The twin knives were the perfect tools to complement his destructive wind affinity and preference for close quarters combat.
If only I had been stronger, thought Uzumaki Naruto, as he let out a deep sigh, none of this would have had to happen.
The war…it had gone badly. Naruto and Killer B had entered the war against the wishes of the five Kages, turning the tide on multiple fronts of the battlefield. But momentum shifted against them and they were forced into a stalemate once they had come up against the masked man known as Uchiha Madara and the seven tailed beasts that he had already enslaved to his will. The pair had waged a desperate battle, but just when Naruto appeared to be gaining the upper hand by beginning to free the tailed beast and gain the Kyuubi's trust, Madara played his trump card and revived the Juubi, the Ten-Tailed beast, using only a fragment of the chakra from Gyuki and Kurama, along with the other seven. He then proceeded to immediately subjugate it, becoming its jinchuuriki. By the time anyone else from the army had arrived, Naruto and Killer B had already been defeated effortlessly, so outclassed that they hadn't even been able to put a scratch on the strange mask Madara always wore.
The combined might of the Allied Shinobi Forces had simply been blown away after Madara had become a jinchuuriki. In the end, the entire army had been forced to retreat from a single man. Everyone knew that someone would have to stay behind to hold Madara off long enough for the others to get away with the unconscious Naruto and B. In the end, it had been the five Kage who had stayed behind. Although they were soundly defeated, they had given their lives to buy enough time for the rest of their forces to escape.
The only consolation was that Madara had, for some reason, been unable to enact his plan and cast a genjutsu upon the moon. Shikamaru had surmised that, barring the possibilities that he had either been lying the entire time or had simply switched plans, his inability to cast the genjutsu was due to the fact that the Juubi was still incomplete without the full power of the Hachibi and Kyuubi. From the intensity with which Madara still pursued the last two jinchuuriki to this day; it seemed that this was at least part of the explanation.
Naruto had secretly wished that he could simply kill himself to end such a large threat to the world, despite how he knew it would make his friends feel. However, since Kurama would simply be reborn somewhere else where he would be much easier to find and capture, Naruto had to fight back by evading capture and striking back whenever he could.
The years had not been kind to the allied forces. What had once been a powerful army of 80,000 warriors had been decimated to fewer than 2,000 in the years following Madara's ascension. Over the years, they'd suffered defeat after crushing defeat, constantly having to fall back and regroup. Constantly having to leave their brethren dead or dying on the battlefield. Constantly having to watch towns and villages burned to ash. Even though the allies were still united in their cause, that unity only amounted to so much. For while their army had been weakened, diminished and demoralized over the last decade, Madara's forces only seemed to grow stronger. Despite the loss of Kabuto, who the allies later learned had been defeated by Sasuke and a reincarnated Itachi, and nearly all of the White Zetsu, Madara still had a massive and powerful army to be reckoned with. He continued to produce White Zetsu through some unknown means, although never on the same scale as the beginning of the war. Furthermore, he had even managed to recruit ninja from some of the smaller hidden villages that were too terrified to resist him after his victory over the five great villages that composed the allied forces.
The allies had tried their best to keep going. They rebuilt their shattered chain of command, Naruto himself eventually rising to become the field commander of what was left of their army. The alliance harried Madara's forces, constantly staying mobile, while they engaged in guerilla tactics and sabotage to damage the villages and territories under his control. Unfortunately, this simply wasn't enough, and the allies continued to lose more ninja as time wore on.
These losses were what hurt Naruto the most. He had spent his entire life trying to be recognized and accepted by those around him. He had believed that if he pushed himself enough, believed in himself enough, he could achieve his dreams and protect those precious to him. The losses of Kakashi, Iruka, Sakura and so many others to the war had taught him otherwise. At this point, even though he would never admit it, he was starting to wonder if he would even be able to save any of those who were still left.
And now with Madara finally managing to find our base, Naruto reflected wearily, it looks like the rest of us may have finally run out of time. I suppose we should be thankful that it's taken him this long.
After their disastrous defeat at the beginning of the war, they'd needed a refuge from which to organize their resistance efforts, as well as a place large enough to protect the civilians that had been evacuated before Madara destroyed the five great ninja villages. They'd decided on using Mount Myoboku, the home of the ninja toads, as their main base. Overall, the sanctuary had served its purpose well, becoming the only true safe haven for the alliance. They'd had other bases in the beginning, of course, and some had even managed to remain undetected for years, but now this mountain was all that was left. The only reason Myoboku had survived as long as it had was due to the fact that it was so well hidden and at least a few weeks travel from any human settlements unless there was a toad summoner to facilitate travel. But even the best of secrets can only be kept for so long, and Madara had finally managed to track down their location. It had taken his forces the better part of a year to navigate the uncharted lands around the mountain once they had found the allies' approximate location. Now, however, the enemy army was finally closing in; a few days away at most. The allies could try to run, and some would most certainly get away, but there was simply nowhere left to hide.
I wish we had more of a plan than what that old toad Fukasaku has cooked up, it's crazy and reckless, even for me, he mused, Shikamaru says that it may be the only choice we have left though. I wish you were still here, father, Jiraiya-sensei; you'd both know what to do…wouldn't you?
Despite the hopelessness and adversity of the situation he knew, deep down, that he would not give up. He couldn't give up. There was still something worth fighting for.
As if on cue, Naruto sensed a presence to his right and smiled. Well at least there's still one good thing left in this world, he thought as he turned towards his wife.
"Hey, Hinata," Naruto said, mood brightening, "what brings you here?"
Like Naruto, Uzumaki Hinata had changed in appearance over the past 10 years. She also had an athletic build, though she was not as muscular as her husband. Her long dark blue hair fell gracefully past her shoulders, but her piercing white eyes, once so innocent, were now a little sad. She wore a light purple jacket, similar to the one she wore in her younger years, as well as dark blue pants and sandals.
Hinata gave a small, tired, smile as she walked over to stand beside him, laying her head on his shoulder as he put a comforting arm around her.
"I thought we could both use some company," She said in her usual soft tone, looking sadly to where his left eye was covered by his hitai-ate, "it's been a hard few weeks for both of us."
The years had caused a noticeable change in Hinata's personality as well. Although she was still soft-spoken, she now radiated an air of quiet confidence and strength that was in stark contrast to the innocent shyness she once possessed. In fact, though few would guess by looking at her, she had authority equal to her husband's as the commander of reconnaissance, infiltration and special operations for the allied forces. The war had left few unscathed, however, and like Naruto, there was always a touch of melancholy to her. Recently, though, she had become noticeably more downcast than before. It was little surprise, considering that she was now the last of the Hyuga clan.
A gentle wind swirled through the tall canopy of trees above them, rustling the leaves.
Naruto closed his eyes, as he leaned back once again "I was just taking some time to think" he admitted. "But you know I can always use your company," he added teasingly.
They stood there for a while, simply enjoying each other's company. Suddenly Naruto's sky blue eye turned red and his face grew feral.
"While this is nauseatingly cute, don't we have a meeting to go to?" A new voice barked from Naruto.
"Hello Kurama," Hinata said as she lifted her head, rolling her eyes, "as polite as always I see."
Naruto's features curved to form an eerie grin. "I am being polite; I haven't killed you yet, have I now?" Kurama chuckled before Naruto's features faded back to normal.
"I hate it when he does that without asking," Naruto said with a twinge of annoyance.
"I think that's why he does it," she responded, sighing. "Even though I'd love to stay here for the rest of the evening, he does have a point. Besides, he sort of ruined the moment."
Naruto nodded, "you'd think that becoming friends with us would have improved his attitude a bit more"
Not in your dreams, runt, A voice rumbled within his mind, now hurry up!
"Stupid fox," Naruto muttered. Then, raising his voice, he said more loudly "let's go, Hinata."
She nodded and they started off to meet with the others.
As the couple walked in silence along the path they maintained a slow and measured pace, the soft grass crunching underfoot.
"So," Hinata began slowly as they neared the building in which they were to meet with the others, "are you still opposed to Shikamaru's recommendation? You know he's going to push it on us again, especially since this will be the last chance we will have to discuss the plan before we commit to it."
Naruto gave a curt nod. "Of course. You?"
Hinata hesitated. "You know how I feel. It's not that I'm against the plan itself, it's just…the cost is so high, and we aren't even sure if it will work…" she trailed off, "but it's not like I like your solution any more than his."
"I know, Hinata. God knows I wouldn't like this plan if our places were switched."
Hinata looked away, hiding the look of helplessness in her eyes.
Naruto could sympathize. Time and again, the blond-haired ninja had pulled off the impossible. He had become a legend because of it. But time travel? At best the idea was a desperate, farfetched hope, even for him. It wasn't that he didn't think it wasn't worth trying, however. In fact, both he and Hinata agreed that it might be their last and only, real hope, despite the seemingly impossible odds. It was only by luck two weeks ago that Fukasaku had uncovered a withered, dust-covered scroll lost deep within the toads' library that detailed how to perform the complex time travel technique. The problem was that the ancient jutsu that he had found required an immense amount of chakra. An entire tailed beast's store of chakra to be exact. This meant that giving the amount of chakra necessary to power the jutsu would be draining to the point that doing so would kill the tailed beast's jinchuuriki host. Even then, there would only be enough energy to send back two people at most, with little more than the clothes on their back, and that was only if it even worked in the first place. This chakra cost was the reason why it had never been successfully used.
This, in and of itself, wasn't a problem. Naruto was more than willing to make such a sacrifice for even the slightest chance of setting the world right. No, the problem was that Shikamaru had suggested sending Hinata and him back, saying that their strength, skills, and abilities, especially when working together, would offer the best probability of success. But, if he agreed with Shikamaru, then the sacrifice would have to fall to Killer B, and that was something he could not bring himself to allow. Unfortunately for Naruto, neither B, nor Gyuki, the Hachibi, seemed to share this sentiment.
Although Hinata was not as close to B as Naruto, she also disliked the idea of their friend having to sacrifice himself to send the couple back in time. Unlike Naruto, however, she was also vehemently against the idea of her husband making the sacrifice. Still, she knew the sobering and inescapable truth: regardless of her feelings, one life had to be forfeit to power the time travel technique. Naruto knew that she was simply too compassionate, too kind, to advocate that either her friend or her love die for the sake of the other.
No, Naruto thought, there's no way I could ever agree if it was Hinata who had to be sacrificed.
"Still, you should know why this is necessary, why I have to be the one do this; I have to make up for my mistakes…no one else can die for me…"
"No!" She snapped, frustration and sadness flaring in equal measures, "I know why A sacrifice is necessary. But if I have to watch you die right in front of me, it will not be because of your misplaced sense of guilt!" Her voice lowered to a whisper. "Our friend's deaths weren't your fault; her death wasn't your fault. I don't blame you and neither did she. If you'd only open your eyes, both of your eyes, you'd see that you have nothing to atone for."
Naruto's shoulders sagged, "You're right, Hinata, I know that it's not really my fault, and believe me I don't want to die. Not yet. It's just that sometimes I…I just wish I could have saved them. And this," he paused, "this may actually be a real second chance to set things right. And I'd pay any price for that. I just want it to be me who pays that price and not another of my friends…"
"I know," she said, "I just need you to remember that you have nothing to atone for. We both know who's to blame for this."
It was a conversation they'd had several times before, each having been at one time or another the one trying to console the other. Each trying to lighten the other's burden when the deaths of so many friends and loved ones over the years weighed too heavily on their mind.
They finally reached the wood and stone meeting building and paused outside of it.
Naruto gave her a small smile, what would I possibly do without you? he thought to himself. "I'll remember, Hinata, for your sake."
As they turned to walk inside, Naruto slowly lifted his hitai-ate, revealing a white eye exactly like his wife's.
So quietly that he could just barely hear, he heard his wife whisper her sister's name.
Hinata followed Naruto towards the meeting room, barely paying attention to anything other than her own chaotic thoughts.
Despite the front she tried to put up for her husband, she was on the verge of breaking down. She had always known that it was possible for either of them to die any time, especially during the war, but it had always seemed a distant worry somehow. Now, however, her worst fear was staring her right in the face, and she wasn't sure how much longer she could handle it. Her sister's death a month ago had already shaken her to the core, and if she lost Naruto, she would fall apart. She simply wouldn't be able to survive losing him too.
Hinata knew that she was the only person who might be able to talk Naruto out of what he was trying to do, but, as much as she hated this situation, she couldn't bring herself to persuade him to change his mind. That was the worst part of all for her, the knowledge that she may be able to prevent his death, but that she wouldn't because she simply couldn't bring herself to be selfish enough to stop him from trying to save one of his closest friends.
And now, she knew she may have to pay the price.
"You're late," a bored voice drawled as they walked into the room, bringing her back to the present.
Nara Shikamaru, the chief strategist of what remained of their army sat at a large table consisting of Fukasaku and the two other members of the allied forces privy to their insane plan.
"We're very sorry Shikamaru-kun," Hinata said with a bow while Naruto stood looking slightly embarrassed.
Physically, the strategist had changed little over the ten years, though he looked much more like his father than before. However, mentally, he had grown a great deal, coming into his own as a leader with authority equal to both Naruto and Hinata's.
"It's fine," Shikamaru sighed as the latecomers took their seats, "we were just continuing the same discussion as before."
"Basically, we've agreed, again, that we should send you two back, even though the dobe won't stop complaining about it," Sasuke said nonchalantly as he turned his closed eyes to the pair
Uchiha Sasuke had, for better or worse, decided to defect from Madara's side (for reasons he still wouldn't confess) during the beginnings of the war. Though she had not trusted him at first, and probably never would be able to fully trust him again considering the amount of times he had tried to kill Naruto, Hinata had to admit that Sasuke had, if nothing else, proven himself a great asset to their cause. Defeating Kabuto and neutralizing his reincarnated army had most likely saved them from being utterly destroyed within months of their initial disastrous defeat. Further, he had been the one to bring Naruto and B to safety after they had been defeated by Madara. He had been forced to use Izanagi twice, sacrificing both of his eyes, to keep the two protected from Madara's initial attacks long enough for the Kages to begin to repulse him. Even without his treasured eyes, however, he was still a formidable fighter and still continued to take on various missions.
"Not the words I would've used, but the boy is right," croaked the elder toad, Fukasaku. "Besides Naruto-boy, you must remember that you are the child of destiny, and I believe the prophecy has not yet come to pass, you must not let your emotions cloud your view of the greater picture."
"Stop being a fool, It's not cool, Naruto!" Killer B rapped.
Of the five ninja present in the room, B had seemingly changed the least over the years. He was, in many ways, still the same boisterous, muscular and accomplished warrior with the aggravating hobby of creating bad rap lyrics. Still, to those who knew him well, like her husband, there were times when his personality would shift slightly and one could get a brief glimpse of his all-consuming anger and desire to bring the man who slaughtered his brother and students to justice.
"No," Naruto stated simply, already exasperated after a week of having the same debate. "I've already told you hundreds of times that I will not agree to this. Isn't it enough that I have to abandon our army right before our last stand, because this is our only real hope left? Do you really expect me to let someone else die for me too?! And B," Naruto added with frustration, "how can you treat your own death so casually?! This isn't something to rap about! It isn't a joke!"
"I can treat my death casually for the same reason you can, Naruto," B said with an uncharacteristically quiet voice, "Because, like you, I would do anything for a chance to save all the friends I've lost."
"Besides," Sasuke interjected, "if this really does somehow manage to work, B won't actually die. Or at least the past version of him won't."
"Then why can't you let me be the one to take that risk?!" Naruto asked.
"Calm down Naruto, this is our last meeting and we don't have the time for this fight anymore," Shikamaru said tiredly. "I've already explained this to you. This decision isn't about who lives and who dies or even about our army anymore. You have to understand that time travel is very…troublesome. I can only make basic, short term, plans of what to do for whoever goes back. There are simply too many effects the slightest action could have on history for me to account for all the variables," he paused for a moment. "You two are among the strongest ninja we have, especially when working together. Honestly, with your ability to turn impossible situations into victories and with Hinata there to help you and to keep you from doing anything stupid, I think you two are the last, best chance we have. The war is lost. We're due to be attacked any day now all that's left is to make our last stand. You know that if I didn't think this was our only real chance, I wouldn't suggest we send two of our best commanders away right when we needed them the most."
Naruto was silent for a moment. "I'm sorry Shikamaru…I just…I just can't," he whispered.
"And you, Kurama," he said, still looking at Naruto, "Do you have anything to add?"
Naruto gave a wild grin. "While I'd rather not deal with the inconvenience the pup's death would cause, I'd never hear the end of it if I stopped him. Besides, I can't leave this to Gyuki." He said with amusement, "Who knows if that weakling even has enough chakra to power the jutsu without nine tails?"
Shikamaru sighed, "Hinata? What about you? You haven't spoken at all yet."
Hinata looked down. This was it. The moment she'd been dreading. Her last chance to try and save her husband's life.
'Forgive me,' she thought as she raised her head, barely holding back tears. "I see your point Shikamaru-kun, and you may even be right, but…" she hesitated, "In this, I cannot side with you," she finally whispered.
There was a pause for a moment as the finality of their decision weighed on those present within the room.
"I suppose I never really did expect you to agree," Shikamaru said with uncharacteristic sadness, as he folded his hands in his lap. "You both always did put others before yourselves, especially your friends, maybe that's why I think you'll do so well."
Suddenly, Naruto and Hinata froze, unable to move.
Hinata's eyes widened with realization. Shikamaru and the others already made their decision, she thought frantically. They weren't planning on letting Naruto actually go through with being the power source for the jutsu, this was just a last attempt to get us to agree willingly!
"Shadow possession complete," Shikamaru said smoothly, raising his hands back into view.
Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit! Naruto thought his teeth gritted, desperately trying to regain control.
"Dammit Shikamaru, what the hell do you think you're doing?!" Naruto roared.
"Making the right choice," Shikamaru said simply, as he walked away from the table, Naruto and Hinata unwillingly mirroring his movements.
Naruto's body flared with yellow energy as his chakra cloak formed around him.
Before Naruto could attempt to break free, however, Fukasaku quickly flashed through some hand signs.
"Doton: Swamp of the Underworld," the old toad stated quietly, sinking Naruto and Hinata into the floor.
Killer B then sprouted several octopus tentacles, wrapping them around the two and trapping them even further, while Sasuke simply stood by, ready to act if they made even the least bit of headway in freeing themselves.
Naruto looked over and saw that Hinata was having as much trouble trying to get out as he was.
"Have all of you gone crazy?!" Naruto shouted, still trying to break free.
"No," Sasuke stated calmly, "we're just making sure that we take best chance we have to prevent this nightmare."
Fukasaku quickly began placing seals around the floor in a complicated design. "I'm sorry it's come to this, Naruto-boy, but we can't afford to let you have your way, he said with a hint of regret as he began a complicated series of hand signs. "Not this time."
B began to glow, and then purple chakra shot from him and began to swirl around Hinata and Naruto.
Shikamaru and B released their hold on the pair, but they were still trapped within jutsu Fukasaku was performing.
"Shikamaru-kun," Hinata said softly, as she ceased her now pointless struggling to look into his eyes. "To force us to be the ones to do this, to save our lives instead of another's…do you really believe in us that much?"
"I do," Shikamaru responded, without heistation, "For what it's worth, I'm sorry we had to take this choice out of your hands."
I hate to say it, pup, but I think we may be taking this trip after all, Kurama growled in Naruto's mind.
Naruto released his chakra cloak and slumped, defeated. He had been prepared to make one last sacrifice to save one his friends and here he was, forced to let one of them die instead.
"I may be blind, but I still know that look on your face, dobe," Sasuke said. "This is not you failing to save a friend; this is your friends forcing you to be smart for once. Anyway," he added, "like I've already said, if this works out then none of us have to die."
Naruto looked towards Sasuke. "I don't agree with this Sasuke, but…I understand,"
B glowed brighter and brighter, flaring like a miniature sun. The amount of chakra being released was incredible.
"I'm getting close to the end of the jutsu, if you have any last pieces of advice, now's the time," Fukasaku announced gruffly. "First, I have warning for you three: I am not completely certain exactly what state Naruto and Hinata will be in when they return to the past. However, based upon my research I believe that you will most likely be separate entities from your past selves with all of your abilities intact, except, perhaps for your summoning contracts, which you may have to re-obtain. As for the Kyuubi, he will most likely survive the trip, but beyond that, I cannot say what affects this jutsu will have upon a tailed beast, since it was never designed with one in mind. As for my advice, all I have to say is this: remember the prophecy, Naruto, remember that you can still change this world for the better!"
Shikamaru stepped forward resolutely.
"There's little I can suggest for you to do," Shikamaru, began. "Like I said, this situation is troublesome. Fukasaku is sending you back to a bit before the Chunin Exams, since that was when things began to fall apart. You should start by talking to the Third and asking him for help. Remember that since we never did see Madara try to perform that ridiculous genjutsu, we still don't know if that really was his ultimate goal or if he was just lying and had something completely different up his sleeve, but it doesn't really matter. Either way, the keys to his plan are the nine jinchuuriki, including Naruto, if you can find a way to protect them from Madara, you should be able to stop his plans."
Naruto and Hinata nodded in acknowledgement, each with a look of determination on their face.
Sasuke turned his sightless gaze towards Naruto, and for a moment, he felt like he could once again see his rival's piercing red eyes. It was not in Sasuke's nature to ask for help, but Naruto understood. He would do his best to stop Sasuke from making the same mistakes again. He wouldn't let him run off to Orochimaru or kill his brother.
"If I can, I will," Naruto said solemnly.
Sasuke nodded, "…Thank you."
Naruto turned his head towards B. The muscular ninja was floating ten meters off the ground, surrounded by a nearly blinding corona of purple light. Naruto could see that he was beginning to pale and weaken.
"B…I'm sorry," he whispered guiltily.
"D-Don't be wack! Just make it b-back!" Killer B rapped, his voice hoarse and cracking with effort. "And be sure you two kill that b-bastard and save the Cloud for m-me and Hachibi!"
"Don't doubt it," Naruto said with a slight grin.
B's grin deepened as the light faded from his eyes and his face went slack. Shikamaru caught his body as it fell towards the ground.
As if on cue, the last of the chakra drained from B's body and came to surround them. The chakra began to swirl faster and faster, until Naruto was unable to make out anything beyond the powerful torrent of energy.
Naruto grasped Hinata's hand and looked towards her.
As he looked deep into her eyes he knew they were thinking the same thing: they may not have chosen this path, but they would not fail and they would never give up. After all, now they had everything to fight for.
The torrent of chakra began to rage and howl, louder and louder, until suddenly the sounds ceased and everything faded to black.
Well here's the first chapter of my first story, hope you all enjoyed it!
Also, please feel free to review and comment with what you think!