"Are you sure this is fine...?" Zabuza asked his Boss with a expression hidden by his bandages.
"I can't have the two of you leave my side right now, so it's better this way." Sakura understood what he meant. The favour she asked of Lee was to wait a certain place to up a very important person.
This individual was a wanderer from the Chinoike Clan that she had taken under her wing after getting permission from her parents. As that person didn't have anything going on anyway, she found it natural to add that person into her squad.
From what she remembered, this individual became known to the world as the 'Bloodsword Princess' similarly to how Naruto's father was called the 'Yellow Flash', or how Naruto himself was known as the 'Orange Spark' due to the revolution in technology and advancement of civilisation that came with his responsible time as the Hokage.
Of course, thinking about the Hokage made her remember how her daughter became the Eighth Hokage after ridding the Curse of Hatred from her bloodline. She gained the title of 'Battle Empress' as well from her fighting ability surpassing Sasuke.
She had to stop thinking about this... The time she spent here in the past let her think of a lot of stuff.
For example: She couldn't manipulate the hearts of those people she cared for no matter how she tried. This wasn't due to her lack of intelligence or bad social skills but due to her reserved nature.
Even though she indeed married Sasuke in the future and could only see 'Sarada' again after marrying him again, she didn't want to throw her own future happiness away for selfish goals.
For far too long, in her original timeline, she had burdened others with her selfishness. Never taking the hearts of other people into account, but she wanted to change now... and be a better person.
The Sasuke she met in this timeline was no longer the Sasuke she knew. The more she grew closer and got to know him, the more she'd feel this out of place feelings as if he and 'her husband' weren't the same. It was as if they were the same-
'Please... think about this calmly. The Flying Thunder God Jutsu can only teleport a person to a Formula Mark. Dad even told us that it was more of a space jutsu rather than a space-time jutsu!' The words the 'real' Naruto she knew arose in her head.
This made her come up with a certain theory.
'...Impossible!' She denied that theorisation, but the more she thought about it, the more things started to fit together, and her whole body shook. It took the memory that Kurama was brought here as well to calm herself down a little, though a bit unnerved.
We don't need Road to Ninja flashbacks right now!
"What's wrong?" Zabuza asked as he watched Haku doing his best to make this a good 'picnic'.
This was Sakura's idea in the first place as she felt that despite Zabuza becoming more 'softer' lately by her influence, he was still a little to stoic when pit against this 'son' he had technically adopted.
The image of Haku dying to save Zabuza and this once high-calibre killing machine finally dying with regrets after killing his employer had always been etched into her mind. Back then, she was still unable to do anything for them in her timeline.
Now these two people who should have died were living and breathing before her, she couldn't help but feel an ominous feeling. As she was a little superstitious after finding out the true nature of the supposed 'aliens' who were the reason Humans on this planet had chakra, she felt as if she had broken a taboo... Would something happen in turn?
To be sure of this, she had decided to stop all activities today so they could protect themselves.
Rather than worrying about the past, she had to prepare a 'squadron' for the future. One that could take down the Akatsuki swiftly and stop the resurrection of Kaguya. She didn't understand things about fate or whatever, but this was crucial.
"I'm thinking of adding Lee to this team."
"You mean that kid? Why not his mentor?" Her mouth twitched as she thought of a certain person.
"Gai-sensei... is a little eccentric. That's not mentioning that no one would work under me for no discernible reason. I feel Lee would agree out of his 'feelings' for me." She replied with a sigh.
"...You're quite the popular girl, aren't you?" The mask in his face couldn't hide his teasing eyes.
"Only with dorks and knuckleheads, apparently."
"Hey, I wanted to ask this for a while now but... can I call you Sis?" Haku interrupted their conversation after bringing some sandwiches. This was the first time he had such a 'delicacy', so Zabuza even decided to open up his mask to casually dig in.
His sharp, shark-like teeth were in full view, yet he didn't seem to mind such a thing at all. The only people here were the kids he cared for. Anyone else and he would have kept up his stoic mask.
"...Sure." The pink-head replied while wondering if her charms also worked on androgynous guys as well... No, she had no bad feelings towards him but was kinda ashamed as a girl the more she glanced at him and thought of how she looked in the future.
Short-haired, independent, and 'manly'... These were the words used to describe her tomboyish self who beat her enemies with brute force. Even Hinata was more graceful using her Gentle Fist...
And now she had to deal with an androgynous guy who took her as his 'sworn sister'... Someone who liked trolling using his appearance, someone who looked way 'prettier' than her in a dress...
Can she 'uncut' her hair...?
She wondered where Ino had disappeared off to all of a sudden. That girl was the best as these things.
After all, the future version of Ino was a bombshell.
'Wait, why am I thinking like a perverted old man?'
Little did they know that someone had spotted them despite how isolated their location was. Small particles of sand started to fill up the air as a youth with bloodthirsty eyes watched them from afar.
"The dog with an Executioner Blade... and the pink-haired girl..." Gaara muttered from afar.
He didn't bother bringing Kankuro or Temari with him as he believed they would only hinder him.
"You did a good job finding them." Kabuto appeared on a tree branch near him, then looked at the three figures peacefully having a meal in the distance. His eyes sparkled when looking at Sakura. As a devoted researcher, he had a desire...
...to open her up and see what was inside her.
"You...!" Gaara looked a little incensed.
"I didn't say I'd leave everything to you. That girl over there managed to heavily injure my master. As you are now, you won't be able to beat her. This is especially true with those lackeys in the way."
"You mean..." He didn't speak any further, but Kabuto was well-aware what he referred to.
"I'll give you your reward early." Then he descended to the ground without a word.
Gaara followed, and the rest was as one could predict. Kabuto spoke no falsehoods whatsoever.
He took out the scroll and plastered the Curse Mark of the Abyss onto Gaara's forehead, giving him a 'third eye'. The bloodthirsty youth felt his mental power increase dramatically as soon as crimson markings appeared on his forehead.
This 'Curse Mark' was different from others, as not only did it not contain even a hint of Orochimaru's own chakra, but it was also one-of-a-kind, a Curse Mark that couldn't be replicated by anyone else.
This specific Curse Mark would be embarrassing to mention for Orochimaru on normal day considering it was one of the 'accidental successes' that happened without his control. This was ignoring the fact that it could only be used by a Jinchuriki.
Refined from the blood of Jūgo with the seals he had 'inherited' from the Uzumaki Clan, a Curse Mark that initially had the purpose to dispel the weaknesses of this test subject's Bloodline Limit that would occasionally cause him to run amok.
Later on they realised that though this Curse Mark didn't have the affinity for Jūgo himself, it seemed to be able to improve the mental strength of anyone with a similar mentality to a 'berserk Jūgo'.
A failure for its original purpose but the best thing a Jinchuriki who hated the world could hope for thanks to it having none of the flaws other Curse Marks had. When paired with the Curse Mark of Heaven and Curse Mark of Earth, he had heard Orochimaru once state a more perfected version of Jūgo would be born that could defy all villages.
Gaara felt his mind becoming less violent over time as the Curse Mark allowed him to access the seal caging the One Tail in his body. He could sense that seal being 'devoured' by the Curse Mark...
Inside his mental space, he saw the One Tail more clearly than he had in his entire life. A towering raccoon-like entity who almost seemed to be made of sand itself looked down at him in derision.
"Hehe, kid, I just gotta say, you have strong guts coming here~" A demonic voice entered his ear.
However, Gaara couldn't hear one word of what this damn raccoon had to say. After meeting the source of his life's misery, the creature that caused him to be despised, hated, and treated like a tool, a torrent of emotions flooded him. The One Tail was surprised when it saw tears dripping down the youth's eyes, but laughed after seeing this great opportunity to take over this kid's body.
"Blame your village for sealing me here." The One Tail didn't care as it reached out to crush him.
It's gigantic arm was like a mountain falling on the tiny insect bellow it, just waiting to be squashed.
What the One Tail didn't notice was that those tears falling down Gaara's eyes had gradually turned into tears of blood. His rage was beyond anything that had ever existed in the world.
It was to the point that a certain someone was alerted and bolted towards his location.
The solid water the youth and beast were standing on rippled as it dyed a crimson colour, then shot to the One Tailed Beast like tendrils. The One Tail roared as it struggled against the waters, not even noticing as Gaara had lunged towards it.
The entire mental space trembled after Gaara planted his fist into the raccoon's head and sent it flying. It didn't even have the chance to resist as the red waters used this opportunity to drag him down to the depths and away from Gaara's sight!
"Stay down..." After venting all those feelings he had kept bottled up in one stroke, he calmed down and sensed the changes in his body. He could feel his pores opening up and natural energy twisting.
Jūgo's Bloodline Limit kicked in, but instead of making him go through a Sage Transformation like the original the Curse Mark was based off, the power of nature seemed to slam into the energy being released by the One Tail, then refined...
He could feel the One Tail struggling underneath the red waters by releasing its chakra, but this seemed to be counteracted by the natural energies entering his body and slamming into the energy of the One Tail. In fact, rather than going straight to him, oddly enough, the natural energies coincidentally 'moulded' the One Tail's Chakra.
When he opened his eyes in the real world, he felt his body surging with energy thanks to the changes. The amount of control he now had over his sand skyrocketed with his chakra capacity.
The excess energy naturally condensed into the Curse Mark on his forehead, waiting to be extracted and moulded a second time into his ninjutsus. His eyes were calm regardless of this.
"Congratulations. Now-" Kabuto was interrupted by a kunai Gaara personally threw before him.
"Don't tell me what to do. I'm not your subordinate nor your 'tool'. I'll fulfil my end of the bargain the way I want, at my own discretion." Gaara spoke with clear rationality pervading his tone.
Kabuto was a little surprised, as this change in behaviour was out of his expectations. Or perhaps this was Gaara's true nature after being released from the One Tail that was bothering him. There was a light of intelligence in his eyes as he turned.
Without him giving any commands or forming hand seals, a fist punched from the direction he looked at and was caught by his sand. Then the person who appeared before him looked at him in the eye.
"Stay away from her...!" Gaara could feel the heaviness being conveyed, but didn't react to it.
"...Who even are you?" Though he wasn't moved by the blondie's words, his power was another matter.
That one punch had enough strength to break through his sand if this was the him before he integrated with the Curse Mark of the Abyss. The physical strength and chakra he felt was amazing!
"Believe it! I, Naruto Uzumaki, challenge you... and that suspicious-looking snake over there!"