It was Minato who broke the silence with a sigh. “Actually, I already have a pretty good idea of how to get them back.” He admitted as he scratched the back of his neck, head bowed forwards guiltily.
The silence that followed his statement wasn’t one of guilt this time, but shock and some mild apprehension.
“How..?” Sakura croaked bravely.
“All I have to do, is seal the rift again.” Minato explained. “I just need to use one of my hiraishin kunai to block the gap. I already know from Kakashi that the rift occurred in Training Ground Three, under the memorial. Once the rift I sealed, those from a different time will fade from her and return to their own time period.”
“We don’t have to do it right away, though, do we...?” Kushina questioned, her voice bordering desperation. “They can stay for a bit longer, right?”
At Minato’s silence, Kushina’s face dropped and her eye began to gleam sorrowfully as she turn from her lover to her son. Seeing his also crestfallen face, she gripped him in a tight embrace, whispering her love for him even as the tears slid past her defences, dribbling down into his sunny hair. Naruto’s hold on her was just as tight, and just as desperate as Kushina’s on him. They were soon joined by a solemn Minato.
Out of the corner of her eyes, Kushina could see everyone else involved in their own embraces as the reality of the situation hit them. No matter how much they wanted differently, they had to restore the timeline and send their loved ones home again.
Rin had said her goodbyes and then stayed behind to watch Itachi, while the rest headed of the final destination of the Future Team Seven. The walk to Training Ground 3 was sombre and silent, it could’ve passed for a funeral procession. Naruto and Sasuke both kept hold of their mothers hands for as long as possible, knowing this would be the last time they ever saw them.
Watching the boys from her team as they clung to their mothers tore at Sakura’s heart, and made her realise just how much she loves and misses her own parents, and she vowed there and then, that she’d be the best daughter to them she could be.
Kakashi walked just behind Sakura, and saw her steeling herself, having come to a decision by herself, uninfluenced by her fangirl obsession with Sasuke, and felt a vague loss that she’d be losing that fire once the seal to erase their memories was activated.
Once the group reached the Memorial Stone, where a freshly engraved Obito Uchiha was adorned, as opposed to the slightly weather-worn version of their own time lay, they came to a standstill. There was a moment of silence to honour their loss, both of their friend to war, and soon to their family due to stabilising a wayward time rift.
“I lot of things in my life...” Naruto started haltingly, hand gripping Kushina’s tighter momentarily. “Have been both blessings, and curses.” Wide and soulful eyes focused onto his parents, surprisingly clear of tears, yet looking older then they should. “I’m really glad I got to meet you. Even if I have to forget you... I love you, mum, dad...” Naruto trailed off, sniffling as his eyes began to dampen with tears that had trickled from his tear ducts. “I – love – you, so much!” He sobbed out, bringing an arm up to cover his eyes.
Kushina knelt down beside her son, set her hands on his shoulders and told him of her pride. “Naruto, you are my pride and joy.” She stated. “I may not have been there to see you grow, but I know how much I’ve grown to love you in these short weeks, and I know that had I been there, you would have grown sick of me smothering you with my love.” She finished teasingly, causing Naruto to release a wet laugh. She raised a hand to stroke the side of his face, pushing his hair back. “I love you, and even if you do forget me, I want you know for a fact, that you are loved beyond measure! While I may not be there physically, I am most definitely there with you, supporting you. In everything. Okay?” She smiled warmly, wiping a stray tea from Naruto’s cheek.
“You should listen to your chatter-box of a mother. She’s rarely wrong.” Minato’s smiling voice echoed over the pair. The pair looked towards him with smiling faces and clear eyes.
Kushina pressed a loving kiss onto Naruto’s forehead before straightening up. “I’ll give you a big surprise, ya know?” Kushina promised mysteriously as she winked at one of her favourite blondes.
The Future Team Seven stepped forwards, having finished their respective goodbyes, and waited for Minato to seal them home. “Good luck.” He told them brightly, flinging the hiraishin kunai expertly into the Memorial’s gap, before flipping through the necessary seals to activate the memory sealing. As he slammed his hand onto the ground, and a web of a seal spanned across the earth, expanding to encompass the entirety of Konoha, a gurgling wind of colour once again shot out and swept Team Seven off of their feet, dragging them into a swirl of time.
A squeal of delight. “I’m gonna be a mother, ya know!?”
“I’m going to be a dad!” A cry of happiness.
“Naruto!” A scream of fear.
A shout of horror. “Kushina!”
Harsh breathing. “Naruto... Don’t be picky... Eat lots and grow strong. Make sure that you bathe every day and stay warm.Also... Don’t stay up late... You need lots of sleep. And make friends... You don’t need a lot of friends... Just a few. Ones you can really, really trust... I wasn’t very good at it, but keep up with your studies and practice your ninjutsu hard. Remember that everyone has strengths and weaknesses... So don’t get too depressed if you can’t do something well. Respect your teachers and upperclassmen at the Academy... Oh, and this is important... It’s about the Three Prohibitions for a shinobi. Be extra careful about lending and borrowing money. Put your mission wages into your savings account. No alcohol until you’re twenty... Too much can ruin your health, so drink in moderation. Another Prohibition is women... I’m a woman, so I don’t know too much about this but... All you need to remember is that this world is made up of men and women. So it’s only natural to take an interest in girls... But just don’t get hooked on bad women... Find someone just like me. Speaking of the Three Prohibitions, be wary of Jiraiya Sensei, you know... Naruto, from now on, you’re going to face lots of pain and hardship. Be true to yourself... Have a dream and have the confidence to make that dream come true... There’s so much... Oh, so much more that I want to pass on to you... I wish I could stay with you longer... I love you.” A sad, yet loving voice.
“Naruto, my message to you is... I guess it’s the same as your nagging mother’s...” A goodbye.
It was dark, and he was floating. There was a noise that he couldn’t make out. It was warped and muffled, blocked, submerged.
“..ruto.” A deep voice.
“..oron.” A sneer.
“-baka!” A screech.
An explosion of white hot pain burst over his head. “OW!” Naruto shouted, bolting upright. He pouted at his team as he cradled his aching head. “Why’d you hit me, Sakura!?” He whined. “It really hurt!”
“That’s what you get for falling asleep, Naruto-baka!” Sakura shouted, hands on her hips as she towered over him.
“It was a good dream too.” Naruto muttered.
A snort echoed from behind the pink girl in front of him, followed by a derisive. “Moron.”
“What was that, bastard!?” Naruto exploded as he jumped to his feet, ready to fight Sasuke.
“Maa, maa... Calm down.” Kakashi-sensei called, hands raised in peace. “No need to be so violent on this lovely day.” He eye-smiled.
“If you had been on time, I wouldn’t have fallen asleep!” Naruto accused angrily.
Kakashi’s expressive eye became mildly sheepish. “There was this old lady who needed directions...”
“Liar!” Naruto and Sakura exclaimed simultaneously.
Kakashi, Sakura and Sasuke began to walk away, leaving Naruto by the Memorial Stone. Naruto turned his head to look at the names, his eyes being drawn to four in particular. Obito Uchiha, Rin Nohara, Kushina Uzumaki and Minato Namikaze. As he stared at their names, a warm weight settled into his stomach, spreading through his body and leaving his chest fuzzy. It was the same feeling he got whenever Iruka treated him to Ramen, or his team showed an interest in him. Like now.
“Naruto!” Kakashi-sensei called out.
Naruto turned and saw that Sakura was waving her hand for his attention.
“Did you forget how to walk?” Sasuke’s taunting voice called out to, his expression unchanging from its look of disinterest.
“Bastard!” Naruto shouted, storming off after his team.
Naruto... Naruto looked around him, thinking he heard something. I love you... With a smile and a shrug, Naruto carried on.