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To Be Lost on the Road of Life

Chapter Text

The first time he woke up, he realized something was wrong.

The fact that he woke up was exactly the problem.

There wasn't supposed to be a "waking up" for him, he wasn't supposed to feel anything or be able to see. Why? Well, that's because he died. He was supposed to be dead, a gone, without so much as a lifeless corpse left on the battlefield. He had been engulfed by the brilliant white light, being led to an eternal slumber and was promised freedom from the world and his past sins. Or, maybe, he was supposed to be sent to hell to atone for all that he had done, all the innocent people he had killed or had a hand in the deaths of.

Regardless, "waking up" was not on his rather short to-do list, and for whatever reason, he had woken up and was alive. He was breathing. And the problem was that he wasn't supposed to be.

Trembling hands made their way to his face and he realized that something else was wrong. His skin felt smooth and young, he felt no creases—be they the frown lines he had developed over the years of shouldering his past pains or the scars resulting from the skin infused with Senju cells.

He glanced around the room he was in, absently noting he was in a room he had long forgotten before dashing over to the full-body mirror by the cabinet.

His eyes widened.

He was in familiar blue pajamas that were (rather distastefully) riddled with the gaudy Uchiha fans that he had so cherished at a younger age. He was about a foot shorter than he remembered being, the last time he checked. As he thought, he was lacking the scars that he had gained after the events in Kusagakure, and his face—

He grimaced. Not only did he have two eyes, both of which were onyx in color instead of mismatched black and rippled amaranthine, but his face was noticeably younger. It was rounder, his cheeks were fuller giving him a cherub-like face(had he always looked so feminine?) and over all he looked rather… innocent. If one ignored the looming darkness in the twin black holes that were his eyes, that is.

There Uchiha Obito stood, a man of 31 years who had lived a life of sin, a man who had incurred the Fourth Shinobi World War, a man who had battled against the Child of Prophecy and lost, a man who, by all rights, was meant to be dead. He had been saved by Naruto, and in turn, had sacrificed his life for the young boy who carried the world on his shoulders.

Yes, he was supposed to be dead, and it was a certain level of pride knowing that he died for a good cause. Sacrificing one's life to protect an old friend and the Child of Prophecy? Surely that could be considered a virtuous act. When the one who made the sacrifice actually died.

And yet, he found himself not only alive, but in the body of his 12-year-old self.

With a powerful sigh, Obito ran a hand down his face to smooth the creases that his familiar near-permanent scowl was inducing.

How had he ended up in this situation? The first thought that occurred to him was that all of it was a Genjutsu. But only the Mugen Tsukuyomi could create a world so like the original, replicate the real world so perfectly. There was no way that a "normal" Genjutsu—even Tsukuyomi—would have the ability to remain undetected by him, so that was the only logical explanation. But if that was the case, if Obito truly was in the Mugen Tsukuyomi…

Did Naruto fail?

He felt a powerful sense of guilt, sadness, and anger overwhelm him. Was Kaguya too powerful for Naruto and Sasuke to overcome, after all? He had thought it was okay to leave everything up to Naruto. He thought the boy would've been able to find a way to defeat Kaguya, to lead the Shinobi world into a world of peace instead of the strife and pain it almost always resulted in.

Despite the fact that he had placed his hopes on the blonde-haired Child of Prophecy, he did not feel disappointment.

No, he didn't feel an ounce of disappointment towards the blonde. In fact, he was certain that, even if Naruto did fail, the boy fought to the very end to protect his precious people. The boy always fought to protect those precious to him, from birth where he became the Jinchūriki of the Kyūbi, to death, where he fought against Kaguya to save the world.

Even if Naruto failed, he could say that he never wavered. Say that he tried his very best, and was free of all sins.

Obito couldn't say the same.

It was his fault. Everything, it was his fault. And he had realized this too late, it seemed.

Obito looked over at the bookshelf, feeling a small wave of relief when he saw the familiar picture frame. He went over to grab the oak frame and examined the picture held within. Rin in the middle, smiling brightly with her two hands held in "peace" signs on either side of her face. Kakashi and Obito on the sides, the former with a look of bleak reticence and the latter looking rather moody. Minato-sensei, his two hands on each of his less-than-amicable male students, an exasperated yet loving smile in place on his own features.

If Obito truly was in the Mugen Tsukuyomi, why was he a child? It was something that he had wondered as soon as he saw his childish features. The Mugen Tsukuyomi worked around the desires of the user, the person held within the Genjutsu. The last thing Obito wanted was to relive his childhood, to relive the scorn he received from the village, and to relive the moments where he died in the eyes of his team. Relive the moment where Rin died.

No, his dream was supposed to be an alternate reality, placing him in a world parallel to the real one. It was supposed to put him in the same time period, but with Minato-sensei alive, Rin alive, and everyone he cared for alive and happy. The Uchiha clan would either be absent or more amicable towards him, too.

A quick scan of the chakra signatures in the area told him that the Uchiha were most likely still in existence (he couldn't confirm it, but he certainly sensed familiar chakra signatures that he hadn't felt for years), and a glance around his run-down apartment verified that, no, he was not being housed by the Uchiha. That meant that he was most likely still known as the hated black sheep of the clan and treated like an outcast by the very people he shared blood with, as the only reason why he had his own apartment outside of the Uchiha compound in the first place was because he had been ousted as a child.

So, why was his dream more like a re-telling of the past? Why was he in the past, instead of his alternate reality that he truly wanted? Was this some form of punishment for his past sins, punishment for giving everyone a premature death?

It was a possibility that the Genjutsu was some sick joke of fate. It was a possibility that it was what Kaguya wanted; to leave the world in a nightmare instead of a happy dream.

But Obito wouldn't have that. Like hell he would allow this imposed dream to force him to relive his mistakes, force him to bear witness to the deaths of his loved ones again. He wasn't going to stay in this illusion, in this damned Genjutsu. He was going to free himself from the Mugen Tsukuyomi, because he was Uchiha Obito, and he was not going to let that Kaguya woman dictate how he repented for his sins.

He narrowed his eyes as he walked over to the middle of the room, the picture frame gripped tightly in his hands.

The only way to free oneself from the Mugen Tsukuyomi was to die. To die in the Genjutsu.

Of course, it would result in his real body dying, as well, but killing himself would only result in what was supposed to be. He would only be rectifying what his fate truly was, and it certainly wasn't to live a lie in a dead world full of shadows of people he once knew.

He placed the picture frame on the ground and held his hand in the Tiger symbol (he had long since mastered the technique and the hand seal alone was enough) before calling out, "Katon: Gōkakyū no Jutsu!"

Obito watched as the large fireball engulfed the room, destroying everything and leaving a searing heat in the air while the flames grew. It would be a painful way to die, either through asphyxiation or being incinerated into charred remains.

He didn't care. He curled up on the floor, the picture frame held safely in his grasp as the flames licked at his hair and feet. He closed his eyes and breathed his last few breaths of clean air.

If he was going to live in a hell to purge his sins, he was at least going to choose his punishment.

Living in the darkness of death was much less agonizing than seeing the faces of those you betrayed and failed.

 


 

The second time he woke up, he found himself in the hospital.

Once again, his eyes had opened. Something that shouldn't have happened.

Once again, he reached for his face, only to find it missing the scars he had once been repulsed by.

Once again, he realized he was still in his 12-year-old body, and alive. The searing pain he felt all across his skin, all the way down to his very bones, could attest to that.

The only difference was that this time, he was not alone. There were three other chakra signatures in the room. Three that he recognized, three that he had yearned to see alive and well at one point. Three that he did not want to see right now, that he did not want to have to face in a damned Genjutsu.

"Obito!" A girl yelled out in glee. The chakra signature neared him and he sat up, not daring to look to his side. His conviction might very well break if he did so. "What happened!? You were rushed into the hospital because of the fire, and you were right in the middle of it! Did someone attack you? Was there an accident? Who—"

"Rin, perhaps you should let him have some time to himself," an older, male voice called out. His tone was calm and relaxed, though not without a hint of worry. Obito grit his teeth as the man leaned over from his chair by the bed and tried to look at Obito in the eyes. "Do you remember what happened, Obito?"

Obito turned his head away towards the wall and remained silent. He heard a scoff from the other side of the room. "The idiot was probably experimenting with his clan's Jutsu and set fire to the place," a derisive voice called out. "It's not like he hasn't done it before."

"Kakashi!" The older male voice hissed. "This is a serious situation! There were traces of chakra in the remaining flames, but we couldn't identify who. It could've been Obito, but what if it wasn't? What if he's in danger?" The underlying meaning of "sabotage" was not missed by Obito. It wasn't as if it hadn't happened before, after all.

The girl reached out grasp Obito’s sleeve as she watched the exchange, but he slapped her arm away, not daring to look at the face that would break through his inhibitions and destroy his resolve to move on. The motion caused the other two to cease their conversation, as though it was speared and killed. A tense silence pervaded as Obito felt three pairs of eyes fall on him—eyes that he refused to meet.

"… Obito," the girl finally called out. "I need to check your injuries, since they aren't fully healed yet. Not only did you have second and some third degree burn wounds, but the lacerations from the glass of the frame you were holding are als—"

Obito's eyes widened at the mention of the picture frame. After quickly noting that he didn't have it in his hands, his head whipped around, startling the other occupants in the room. "Where!?" He yelled at them, no longer caring to avoid eye contact. "Where is it!? What did you do with the picture!?"

The girl hesitantly reached into her bag and withdrew the picture. "I-I have it, h-here—"

He snatched it away and inspected it for damage. Some of the edges were dog-eared and burnt, and the picture overall was covered in a layer of soot. But the people in the picture were still visible, and most importantly, it was intact. Obito hugged the picture to himself, ignoring the confused reactions of the other people in the room.

"Well," the older man began. "I'm sad to inform you that that picture is the only thing to have survived the fire. Everything else was burnt to a crisp…"

Obito blocked out the man's voice. Listening to an illusion wasn't something he needed to do. It was all too easy to simply block out the sounds once he made that revelation: everything was fake, everyone was a copy, and the world wasn't real. The only small comfort he had was the charred picture, taken from his memories and given form. It was the only thing in the illusion he allowed himself to cling to, as he had clung to it when the Jūbi threatened to take hold of him. If he didn't have it, his one anchor as a reminder of his past and the truth, surrendering to the second chance he yearned for would've been as natural as breathing.

His grip on the picture tightened, but in a careful manner that prevented further damage to the delicate parchment. He had failed to kill himself the first time, so he would obviously need to try again, and with a more permanent method. The picture he held in his grasp was his only pillar of strength, and without it he wouldn't be able to attempt the daunting task once again.

"… And you'll be living with me for the time being."

Obito blinked. '… What?'

The raven-haired boy snapped out of his thoughts and whirled around to face the older man. The man simply beamed at Obito with a smile far too similar to his late sensei's. "…. What did you say?" His question's bitterness was masked by the incredulity he felt.

"I said, you'll be living with me—" The fake-blonde was interrupted.

"NO!" Obito shouted, raw fury present in his tone and radiating from his trembling form. The other figures in the room tensed as their eyes widened. Obito hissed at the man and the girl who approached him, offering fake comfort and reassurance. "I'm not going to be living with anyone! I'm not even supposed to be here! Stop LYING!"

The man blinked and looked to his other two students who were equally confused. "Obito? What do you mean by that?" The Uchiha blinked a few times before narrowing his eyes.

"Don't act so familiar with me," Obito seethed. He vaguely registered his eyes bleeding into red, and the copies all gasped in surprise. "You don't know a thing, and I don't need to explain shit to you imposters. I don't belong here."

"Obito, wha—" He cut the girl off.

"Shut up and leave. There is nothing for me here, nothing." A bitter grin stretched across his face and he glared up at the ceiling. "You expect me to believe this shit, Kaguya!? You really think that you can trick me, Uchiha Obito," he gestured angrily around the room with his hand, "with this?" A bitter laugh escaped his lips as he finished his statement, his voice oddly high-pitched with grief and exasperation.

"Well… I hate to disappoint," he turned to the others in the room, a sneer in place. "I'm not going to conform to your fucking illusion." He ignored the slight feeling of guilt that welled up at the crushed looks the imposters sent him. 'They're not real,' he thought silently. 'They're not real, they only look like them. That's not Kakashi. That's not Minato-sensei. That's not Rin. This world is fake.'

The Kakashi-lookalike's eyes narrowed as he walked over to Obito's bedside, his hand reaching inconspicuously—at least, Obito assumed that it was supposed to be—for a kunai. "… Obito, just what the hell is going on—"

"Shut up," Obito interrupted, his voice cracked from pain and fell just above a whisper. "Just leave me alone already. Let me die. Just let me fucking-die." As his eyes swirled into the blood-red pinwheels he had grown accustomed to, he gave a grim smile at the horrified looks his team sent him. "Is that really so much to ask?"

He felt the searing black flames engulf his form, and let out a strangled cry as darkness once again claimed him.

His final thought was a traitor amongst his wishes.

'I don't really want to die.'

 


 

The third time he woke up, he found himself in an unfamiliar bedroom.

His first thought was, 'fuck.'

His first word, muttered under his breath, was, "fuck."

Obito sat up in the bed he was lying in and fisted his hands in the soft fabric. 'Why am I alive?' He thought petulantly. 'Why the fuck can't I die?' He knew that he saw the black flames, and no one except a user of the Mangekyō could douse the otherwise inextinguishable fire.

So why the hell was he alive? Why was he still left in this hell to suffer?

The door to the room opened and he watched as two figures walked in—the copy of his late teacher and…

His eyes flared to life. An Uchiha.

Truth be told, Obito didn't know where this immense hatred for his own clan came from. Sure, he had felt betrayed by them; he had felt they were a clan with outdated ideals that deserved death. But he had played a hand in their extermination, and that had been enough to douse whatever anger he held towards them.

That's what he believed anyway. But something felt irrevocably wrong that the damnable clan was still alive, functioning, and in Konoha. To him, the only Uchiha that were alive… Madara, Itachi, Sasuke, and himself. Even then, he wanted Madara dead, Itachi was dead, and Sasuke was most likely dead as well. And now, he wanted to die, entering that eternal reprieve—or eternal purgatory—that his oh-so beloved relatives were currently experiencing.

Perhaps it stemmed from his self-loathing. The belief that, aside from very, very few, all Uchiha were destined to be consumed by hatred. Cursed to make the lives of others utterly miserable, including those who they loved and cared for. It was a horribly convoluted cycle, one that very few managed to escape from. And it was all centered around the clan. The clan, the clan, always the clan. The curse was ever present in the clan, along with false pride and self-entitlement. Years and years of festering, growing with power but also growing with hatred, only tightening the metaphorical noose around their necks. The only thing the Uchiha clan was entitled to was destruction, and that was a dish best served cold and with their precious eyes on a silver platter. Considering the fact that their dōjutsu was one well known for seeing the future, descendants with Uchiha blood were awfully blind in everything unrelated to power and revenge. With a path like that, it should've been obvious that self-destruction was all that awaited them at the end.

And yes, everything was about the clan. Everything that was done was for the clan. Everything pointed towards the clan. Maybe, in some manner, Obito truly did believe that, despite how much he had loathed the concept as a child. It certainly made it a hell of a lot easier to hate the clan; shoving his own mistakes and sins as a responsibility of the clan as a whole. His mistakes were the mistakes of the Uchiha. The lives he ended were at the hands of the Uchiha. And most of all, the destruction of the world was at the hands of the damned Uchiha.

… Yes, that was the reason. Obito believed, deep, deep down in his heart of hearts, that the Uchiha clan should be eradicated. That the world would be a better place if the power-hungry bastards were wiped from the face of the earth. There were some, a select few, who truly had good intentions. Those that would martyr themselves to save and protect that which was truly important. Those, like Uchiha Itachi and Uchiha Shisui. But people like them were far and few between, especially in a clan such as the Uchiha.

In conclusion, yes. Yes, Obito hated the Uchiha clan. He hated their dōjutsu. Their pride. Their inability to conform to change. He hated it all with a burning passion.

So why, why was this man, the leader of the Uchiha clan, standing before him in his dream? Why was the Uchiha clan still standing, why did it still exist?

If he truly were in the Mugen Tsukuyomi, as he reasoned before, the Uchiha clan would not exist. It would be gone, dead, eradicated. It simply would be a forgotten element to Konoha that was left ignored. The fact that the Uchiha clan still existed here only pointed to one thing: he was not in the Mugen Tsukuyomi. None of this was a Genjutsu. But then, if he wasn't in a Genjutsu, where was he? What did all of this mean? Why was he put in a situation that was very much like he had been sent to the past?

It was a hypothesis he hadn't wanted to entertain when he first woke up. Hence, his immediate assumption about everything being a Genjutsu, the Mugen Tsukuyomi.

But it wasn't. He wasn't in the Mugen Tsukuyomi, and there was still a chance that Naruto had actually succeeded. Obito found that, despite the circumstances, he liked that idea better.

So where did that leave him? A misplaced soul, one of a 31-year-old war-hardened man who had once lost everything, in the body of his 12-year-old self? The idea was laughable. But the glaring facts kept him from doing so, kept him from brushing off the idea as a simple hope. As a dream. Because it wasn't. No, this was the truth, and the truth left Obito speechless.

Time travel.

Somehow, in some way, he had ended up almost twenty years in the past. And he was trapped in his own, considerably younger body.

'Why me?' He thought with no small amount of spite. 'Why not Naruto?' Naruto was the child of prophecy. He was a glowing ball of sunshine, lighting up the darkness of friend and foe alike. He would've been the best candidate to send into the past, and kami knew the boy deserved to see his parents more than Obito deserved to see his team. Had fate been on his side, it would've been so. Obito would've been left to his peaceful death, while Naruto would've been given the chance of a lifetime. Perhaps the boy could've liberated even more people, righted Obito before he started down the path of self-destruction.

Obito was not suited to this. He was not the type of person that was needed to correct the past, to change everything for the better. Of course he liked the idea, of course he wanted to see his precious people again, but he was not the one to be tasked with the monumental goal of rewriting history. Perhaps, in some long-forgotten past, he had once been the perfect one for the task. But that young boy died long ago, and no longer was Obito the type of person to happily charge headfirst into problems that he saw no end to. To blindly fight with only the goal to protect those precious to him was not a path Obito would take, not now. He shouldn't have been the one shot years into the past, not Uchiha Obito, the man scarred by past grievances and deaths of loved ones. A ruined man would be the brewing storm of an already dreary day, not the ray of sunshine that the past needed.

But fate had a way of playing with him. It always did. Always teasing him, forcing him to submit, forcing him to live a life of hell. Of course he would be the one sent into the past.

What was he to do, though? He wasn't Uzumaki Naruto, the praised Child of Prophecy. Was there anything he could do? Was it really worth it to even try? He was not partial to the idea of having to relive the moment of his death, the moment of Rin's death, and the moment he became an S-Class missing-nin that wanted the essential destruction of the world. Should he try and change things for the better? Could he? It was already obvious that, whatever higher power existed if any at all, was not partial to him. He was not favored by any God or demon, and clearly not by the Shinigami, either.

A curt cough withdrew the broken time-traveler from his thoughts, and he slowly turned to face the other two figures in the room. He stared blankly at no particular man, deciding to rest his eyes on the empty space between them. He didn't want to meet the cold, hard gaze of Uchiha Fugaku, but he was even more hesitant and afraid to meet the worried gaze of Namikaze Minato. His sensei. And the man he had technically killed, failed, stepped on the grave of, and failed again by possibly letting his son die.

Obito could do little more than stare at the spot that he had decided to focus on, waiting for whatever judgment awaited him. He was in the middle of a war. He was saved by Uzumaki Naruto. He sacrificed his life for Naruto. And then, he woke up to find that he wasn't nearly as dead as he had assumed, and had somehow landed himself in the past. He didn't know what to do.

Because Uchiha Obito, while on his way to the nulling embrace of death, found himself lost on the road of life instead.

… And he simply didn't know what to do.

Chapter Text

Hatake Kakashi was not someone known for his patience.

Prowess, sure. Innate genius, of course. Strength and potential, indubitably.

Patience? … Well, he could admit that he needed some work on that.

Which was precisely the reason why he had dreaded the very moment he found out that he was on a team with Uchiha Obito, the loud-mouthed, always-late, presumptuous, lame, annoying, black-sheep, and downright idiotic dead last. And he still did. Whether it was a matter of staying quiet, arriving on time, doing something—anything right, the boy always had a way of irking Kakashi. Sometimes, he would struggle immensely to maintain his aloof facade. And it was all Obito's fault.

Today was one such day. The dead last always had a habit of being late to missions, even when Minato specified that tardiness was not an option.

Now, this time Minato had told Obito to arrive an hour earlier (therefore making sure that he would be right on time, as he was customarily exactly one hour late), just to give Team 7 that much-needed cushion of time. Sadly, today seemed to be the day where Obito went above and beyond his idiotic-idiosyncratic habits.

The silver-haired Chūnin looked up at the rising sun, ignoring the nervous side-glances from his female teammate and the exasperated sigh from his Jōnin-sensei. It was almost noon, and there was still no sign of their teammate. His eye twitched.

"Minato-sensei." The addressed man looked up from a scroll he had taken out while waiting. "The idiot is almost two hours late. Can we just go without him?"

With a tired sigh, Minato closed the scroll and shook his head, earning him a scowl from Kakashi. "No. This is a team operation, and if Obito isn't here, then we need to go find him." The blonde turned back towards the direction he knew Obito's house was situated and mumbled under his breath. "He's never been this late…"

Kakashi supposed that he wasn't meant to hear the blonde's mumbling, but he replied anyway. "But he's always been late. Because he's Obito. He might be taking advantage of the fact that you never really scold him for it, sensei."

Minato gave an easy shrug as he readjusted his backpack. "I don't think Obito is that kind of person, Kakashi. Let's go check on him, though, he might've gotten himself in trouble." He began walking at a slow and seemingly relaxed pace, but not without the hint of tenseness.

"Yes, sensei," both Kakashi and Rin chorused, falling into step behind the man.

When they were within fifty meters of the Uchiha's house, Kakashi wrinkled his nose as the faint smell of smoke accosted his senses. It wasn't the smell of barbeque or a fireplace. There was a faint smell of wood, but it was not strong enough to be identified as a nearby forest fire. He sniffed the air a few times to identify the source. No, the smoke had a chemical smell to it, fumes from paint and scorched cement…

Wait, what?

His head whipped around to Minato, who had frozen in place with wide eyes. Suddenly, the blonde darted forward and Kakashi followed with Rin closely behind, their eyes fixed on a growing cloud of smoke situated right above a certain street. A certain apartment complex. Where a certain Uchiha boy lived.

Despite himself, Kakashi found that a sickening worry had made its way into his stomach, settling like a leadened rock.

Obito was stupid, but surely he wouldn't have ended up in the fire? He was a Shinobi, and he would've been able to escape from a small house fire…

Right?

As they neared the burning building, the group of three were mortified to find that it truly was Obito's apartment complex that was the source of the flames. If the boy really was in there, then there was no doubt that he would have trouble escaping without the use of Shunshin, Hiraishin, or a technique similar. The flames had fully engulfed the old and decrepit building, turning it into a splendid display of bright yellow and orange dancing with the searing heat and charged air.

Kakashi's eyes narrowed. The air. There was no doubt. It was faint, but there was the smallest hint of chakra, an amount too minute to identify, surging through the air. It originated from the growing flames, and it was obvious then that the fire was not simply a domestic house fire, but the result of a technique.

He turned to Minato to voice his opinion, but before he could so much as open his mouth the man had disappeared in a flash of gold and dark green. Alarmed, Kakashi turned to Rin, who looked equally surprised.

"What… What is he doing?" He turned away to face the flames, his fists balling up in frustration. "We should have used a Suiton technique to douse the flames, at least!"

Rin grabbed Kakashi's arm just as he was about to head into the burning building himself, her eyes wide and distraught. "Sensei, he—he probably had a reason. Kakashi, I'm worried, and I can't… I can’t sense as well as you, o-or sensei. Is Obito—"

She didn't need to finish her statement. Kakashi immediately reached out with his senses, trying to find the smallest hint of the familiar, if not annoying, presence.

He hadn't felt the boy's presence, and almost sighed in relief—that is, until his sensei appeared beside them, carrying a bloodied, charred, and almost dead boy in his arms. The only details identifiable were the boy's messy mop of black hair, and the picture frame he protectively held in his chest.

Without another word, the two students grabbed onto Minato's arms and disappeared in a flash towards the Hospital.

 


 

It was a hideous sight.

In order to operate on Obito, the nurses had to remove the splintered frame from the boy's hands. It was painful and excruciating to watch, as some bits of the metal had been soldered to his skin, and the charred remains of the epidermis made vile cracking noises similar to the splintering of wood as the nurses peeled it away.

Ultimately, the rest of Team Seven had been sent outside to wait, and wait they did.

It was four hours later that Minato had finally left, but not to rest. He went to investigate the site of the fire, to try and find the reason behind it. Kakashi had informed him of the chakra he sensed, but it was an unnecessary reveal on his part since Minato had already noticed the detail himself.

(Of course he would. He was their sensei, after all.)

When Minato returned, he shared with them the fact that there was no explicit sign of a third party—information that Kakashi did not like, as that meant that the one responsible was either extremely good or it was just Obito who had gone and done something stupid—and that Rin and Kakashi should go home. Neither of them took particularly well to the suggestion.

"What?" Rin started, worry laced in her voice. "No! We can't! Not yet, Obito is still in there—"

Minato held up a hand to stop her. "It’s late, and you two have had a long day. I need to stay and take care of a few things."

"Why? Why do we have to leave? The nurses haven't kicked us out, and it's fine that we—" Kakashi reached out to grab his teachers arm, but quickly stopped when Minato winced. His eyes narrowed dangerously. "… Minato-sensei, are you injured?"

Rin looked up at the blonde in alarm, causing the man to chuckle nervously. "I'm fine, Kakashi, really…"

The addressed Chūnin paid no heed to Minato's prevaricating words and tore the sleeve, revealing the blistering skin. Rin gasped in horror, and Kakashi glared at Minato.

The blonde simply looked remorseful at his now-torn sleeve. "I only have a few of these left and it's my favorite shirt…"

His muttering went ignored. "Why did you charge in there?" Kakashi asked, the tension in his tone rising with his voice. "You shouldn't have done that! What if you hadn't been able to make it to Obito in time? The only reason why you made it out was because you had probably placed a Hiraishin mark on the ground or on one of us, but you charged into the fire without even a little preparation!"

Minato's brow furrowed. "Kakashi, there was little else we could do, and Obito was—"

"But you charged in recklessly!" Kakashi fisted his hands in the material of his pants. "We should have used a Suiton! It was too dangerous for you to—"

"I acted as I should have, Kakashi," Minato replied evenly, quickly cutting Kakashi off before he became more incensed. "The building was in less than perfect condition as you saw, and dousing it with water would've undoubtedly made it collapse on itself. With Obito still inside." He lowered his voice and gestured to a few stern-faced nurses that looked like they had bitten into something terribly bitter. "We should keep our voices down, by the way. This is a hospital after all."

Kakashi's eyes widened and he looked away, a shame-induced redness coloring his thankfully-hidden cheeks. It was unlike him to act so emotional, even in a situation that could've cost him a sensei and teammate had it turned out badly. He really, really cared for and respected Minato-sensei, and though he would never admit it, he didn't really hate Obito all that much either. Two hands on his shoulders made his eyes wander forward, meeting his teacher's own.

Minato smiled. "I'm happy that you showed concern for your teammate and sensei, Kakashi, but it's important to think of these things. I didn't charge in recklessly as you had first assumed…" The blonde leaned back, scratching his head sheepishly. "… Though I admit, there probably were other, safer alternatives that wouldn't have left me with first-degree burns. But the important thing is that we are all alive and safe now, right?"

Kakashi had opened his mouth to reply when a cheery nurse walked up to them, a clipboard in hand and a smile in place. "Namikaze-san, you and your group here have been waiting for Obito's status, yes?"

At this, Kakashi and Rin stiffened. Minato simply nodded in affirmation. "Yes, we are. How are things looking? His condition?"

The woman continued to smile. "He's made it through the surgery and is already on the road to recovery. While the burns may leave some scars, there will not be many, and he should be able to move about normally within the month. Aside from the second, plus a few third-degree burns, there were no other injuries or complications. He should wake up within the week, and thanks to our medics, he will be able to resume Shinobi life without any lasting issues."

Minato nodded.

"I must ask, however… As I stated, other than the burns there was no other sign of injury." The nurse's smile faded and was replaced with an eerily dark look. "What happened, exactly?"

Kakashi and Rin winced as Minato's own expression darkened, though anyone that wasn't familiar with the blonde wouldn't have noticed the subtle change. "I'm not quite certain," he began quietly, "my team and I had arrived at his apartment when we realized that he was late—later than usual. His apartment complex was on fire, and I immediately headed in when I detected his faint chakra signature. I found him in the middle of his room, curled up on the floor, holding a picture frame."

That bit of information unsettled Kakashi. That didn't sound like someone who had been practicing a new jutsu, or someone that had been attacked. But maybe he was over-thinking it? Maybe someone else really did set his apartment on fire, and seeing no escape, Obito decided to accept…? The unwanted images of blood, his father, and disgrace flitted through Kakashi's mind and he shook his head, trying to force the unbidden memories out of his head. He really, really didn't need to think about that at the moment.

"I see. Thank you for informing me. You and your team should go home and rest, we shall have someone contact you when the boy shows signs of waking." The nurse bowed, and with a smile, turned to walk in the opposite direction.

Minato turned to his two students, a tired smile in place. "Well, you two heard her. You should probably head home now, it's getting late."

"Only if you go get your own injuries checked out," Rin stated lowly. "Otherwise, I'll tell Kushina-san." Kakashi nodded and turned to Minato for emphasis.

The blonde sighed before shaking his head. "Yes, I don't doubt that you two will," he murmured. "I'll go get them treated, but only once you two leave."

Rin looked like she was about to protest, but Kakashi placed a hand on her shoulder and shook his head. He knew that Minato wouldn't skip out on getting his injuries checked, if only to give his students and wife peace of mind. Rin seemed to realize this and nodded, murmuring a quiet, "goodbye" to the blonde.

The two uninjured members of Team 7 walked out of the hospital and departed in the directions of their respective houses, engrossed in their own thoughts. Kakashi, in particular, quickly Shunshin'd home to escape the haunting thoughts that threatened to overtake him.

 


 

They had gone to visit Obito daily at staggered intervals.

Rin typically brought flowers for the boy, and as a result also alerted Minato and Kakashi when she visited. Kakashi visited once a day, between lunch and training. Minato, who probably felt the most responsible for the incident, visited frequently and for hours at a time. It had only been a few days, but the deepening of the black lines under the blonde's usually bright eyes worried Kakashi, Rin, and Kushina. Over all, everyone that knew him felt the impact of Obito's absence, the lack of his exuberant behavior and idiotic tendencies.

It was an odd team dynamic that Team 7 had, and most likely no one realized just how much the Uchiha contributed until he was gone, albeit temporarily. Without Obito, no one filled the quiet atmosphere during missions with useless banter. Kakashi had no reason to talk to his teammates, unless requesting medical supplies from Rin or asking Minato a question. Minato had no reason to mediate a fight, since most of the quarrels were between Obito and Kakashi. The day that Rin went against Kakashi was the day that the world would end.

Needless to say, in the short while that Obito was not part of Team 7, it felt as though a gaping hole had been ripped through their team. Loathe Kakashi was to admit it, not to mention about the dead-last idiot, Obito was an important and irreplaceable member of their team. And if the past few days were any indication of what it'd be like without him, then he honestly didn't want anything bad to happen to the boy.

It was on the fifth day since Obito's admittance to the hospital that it happened. The remaining members of Team 7 had gotten back from a minor C-Rank mission, and went to the hospital to visit their absent member. Kakashi had been dreading the encounter, as they had received word that Obito was showing signs of waking up. Immediately, his thoughts were weighted by suspicions and worries that he hadn't wanted to think about, that had been shoved aside for later speculation. Now, it was "later."

The silver-haired Chūnin bit his lip as they entered the room. Had Obito attempted suicide? There had been no signs, at least from what he had seen. He knew that Obito had some… Issues, with his family. He knew that he had a sort of inferiority complex that was mostly directed towards himself.

But suicide? Why would he do that? Obito wasn't the type to simply give up on a challenge, let alone give up on life… Right? Then again, it was always the most cheerful that typically had something to hide. Or so it was said. Still, Obito wouldn't just decide to kill himself after so many attempts and failures to come out on top. He just wasn't the type to give up, and that was something that Kakashi both hated and—he would never admit this outwardly—admired about the boy.

As Rin and Minato took the spare seats situated by Obito's bedside, Kakashi opted to stay near the doorway. He didn't want his teammates to realize that he was actually afraid of the possibilities. Afraid of Obito. Though, something in the back of his mind told him that Minato had similar suspicions, if his behavior was any indication.

A quiet groan caused all the occupants in the room to tense, and Kakashi's attention was immediately directed at the prone form of his teammate. He watched with a mixture of nervousness and dread as Obito's eyelids fluttered open, his hand reaching for his face as though checking for his eyes—or possibly shielding them from the light.

"Obito!" Rin called out, a mixture of happiness and frantic worry in her tone. "What happened!? You were rushed into the hospital because of the fire, and you were right in the middle of it! Did someone attack you? Was there an accident? Who—"

Kakashi rolled his eyes as Minato interrupted the girl. Honestly, sometimes Rin had moments where she could rival the idiot of their team in the "loud-mouth" category. He watched as the blonde shifted in his seat and tried to get a better look at Obito. "Do you remember what happened, Obito?" The boy turned his head away from them, and Kakashi's eyes narrowed.

'… What the hell?' He thought quietly. 'You'd think the idiot would be grateful that we visited him.' He let out a sarcastic scoff, earning him a glance from Rin and a pointed glare from Minato. "The idiot was probably experimenting with his clan's Jutsu and set fire to the place. It's not like he hasn't done it before."

"Kakashi! This is a serious situation! There were traces of chakra in the remaining flames, but we couldn't identify who was behind it. It could've been Obito," Kakashi winced. Yes, Minato definitely suspected, and that didn't help Kakashi's own dark suspicions. "But what if it wasn't? What if he's in danger?" The silver-haired boy held an impassive look. The latter possibility was one that would be easier for him to deal with. Then, he'd have someone he could hunt down to vent his anger on. He honestly didn't want to think of the possibility of suicide, and he was rather close to grabbing the injured boy and yelling at him to answer, demanding that Obito tell them what happened and why he did it. But he knew that most of his frustration over the matter was because of his past, and he was a Shinobi. He was mature. He could keep his emotions in check—

The sound of a powerful slap wrenched Kakashi out of his thoughts and he immediately looked up, his body tensed and prepared to attack and subdue. He was left rather confused, however, when he realized that it had been Obito—and he had slapped Rin's hand away. Rin. The girl Obito had a rather obvious crush on. Apparently he wasn't the only one surprised, and both Minato and Rin had frozen in place.

A tense silence fell before she ventured to break it. "… Obito, I need to check your injuries since they aren't fully healed yet." Most likely, she just wanted to check on her own to confirm the reports. It wasn't like she was going against protocol, as she was a certified medic-nin in training and simply checking was allowed. "Not only did you have second and some third degree burn wounds, but the lacerations from the glass of the frame you were holding are als—"

"Where!?" Obito had immediately turned to face them, and Kakashi felt himself stumble. It wasn't killing intent, but the boy exuded such an oppressive air that it may as well have been. The look in his eyes, it was feral, powerful, but not unlike that of a cornered animal. "Where is it!? What did you do with the picture!?"

Rin's trembling hand reached into her bag to withdraw the picture. "I-I have it, h-here—"

It was unceremoniously snatched away from her hands and for a few moments, he looked over it as though inspecting it for damage or forgery. He then hugged it—yes, he hugged the picture—and closed his eyes as though wishing away a bad memory as he clutched onto the charred parchment.

Kakashi stared, bewildered. The way Obito behaved was as though he were someone clinging to a memento, a lasting memory of something that didn't exist any longer. But it was a picture of them. An idiot, that's what Obito was. There they were, the rest of Team 7, visiting him because he had a near-death experience. And yet, he was acting as if they had been the ones to experience it… and died.

Minato was the one to finally break through the tense atmosphere. "Well… I'm sad to inform you that that picture is the only thing to have survived the fire." He rubbed at the back of his neck. "Everything else was burnt to a crisp, including the apartment complex. I've talked to your… Family, but Hokage-sama and I have decided that it would be best if you weren't placed somewhere that’s near the clan compound."

Kakashi glared at Obito. He wasn't paying attention, and he knew that Minato noticed this as well. He continued anyway. "Sadly, there isn't enough in the orphan fund for you to be given new lodging, so you'll be living with me for the time being."

That had apparently gotten Obito's attention, because he blinked and murmured the word, "what?" under his breath.

Minato looked like he was about to reply, but the raven-haired boy whirled around to face him, a barely-concealed glare in place. "… What… did you say?"

"I said, you'll be living with me—"

"NO!" Obito shouted, and the vehemence in his tone once again shocked everyone present. Kakashi felt pity for his sensei for the briefest of moments before turning a glare to the Uchiha. "I'm not going to be living with anyone! I'm not even supposed to be here! Stop LYING!"

Kakashi blinked. '… What? "I'm not even supposed to be here"? What does that mean?'

"Obito, what do you mean by that?" Minato questioned, looking for clarification.

The addressed boy seemed to consider something before narrowing his eyes. "Don't act so familiar with me." His voice held such deep-seated resentment, but that wasn't what caused Kakashi's voice to hitch. That wasn't what caused his sensei and female teammate to gasp, either. Suddenly, Obito's eyes bled into a familiar red that was associated with his clan; the dōjutsu that they didn't know the boy had access to yet. "You don't know a thing, and I don't need to explain shit to you imposters. I don't belong here."

'"Imposters"?' Kakashi thought bemusedly. 'Again, saying that he isn't supposed to be here. What is going on?'

Rin's back was tense, and she began to speak. Her voice sounded like she was on the verge of tears. "Obito, wha—"

"Shut up and leave." There was no cheer in his voice, and his tone was one that implied there was no room for argument. Kakashi felt a feeling of discontent bubble forth. "There is nothing for me here. Nothing." A bitter grin stretched across his face and he glared up at the ceiling, a motion that wasn't missed by any of the bystanders in the room. "You expect me to believe this shit, Kaguya!? You really think that you can trick me, Uchiha Obito," he gestured angrily around the room with his hand, "with this?"

"Well… I hate to disappoint," a bitter laugh escaped his lips and he turned to the others in the room, a sneer in place. "I'm not going to conform to your fucking illusion."

'That's enough,' Kakashi thought, trying to quell the anger that threatened to burst forth at the dejected slouch his female teammate had adopted and the pained expression on his sensei's face. He needed answers, and he needed them now. Kakashi slowly approached Obito, his hand inching towards his kunai pouch in case the boy proved to be a threat. Teammate or not, he was a potential threat, and threats needed to be subdued or eliminated. "… Obito," he started slowly, eyes never leaving his face. "Just what the hell is going on—"

"Shut up, just leave me alone already. Let me die. Just let me fucking-die." Kakashi felt his heart lurch at the words, but his eyes were riveted and he watched with sickening fascination as Obito's Sharingan eyes spun into blood-red pinwheels. He had never seen a Sharingan that looked like that, and his senses all but screamed at him to run away or to stop the Uchiha from doing whatever the hell he was planning. "Is that really so much to ask?"

Before anyone could react, Obito was engulfed in what looked to be black flames—and Kakashi couldn't help but think that they were flames from hell. Obito let out a strangled cry as he fell backwards against his sheets, and while Minato and Rin panicked, the former uncharacteristically frozen in shock and the latter heaving gasps, Kakashi could only look on in horror.

Just as Kakashi was about to… What? He didn't even know. He might've run away, he might've shoved the kunai he had a death-grip on through Obito's throat, he might've used a Suiton (though something told him it would've been useless), he might've pulled Minato and Rin away. All he knew was that the black, vicious flames were dangerous, and that they were all in danger. And, just as he was about to act on his first instinct, they vanished—just like that—leaving Obito only slightly charred this time, and the rest of Team 7 bewildered.

For a while, they just stared at the unconscious form of Uchiha Obito, trying to make sense of what had just transpired.

And when Minato quietly said, "… We need to figure out what happened," Kakashi couldn't do anything but nod. Because what else could they do?

Kakashi didn't know. He sure as hell didn't know.

Chapter Text

"Uchiha Obito."

Reluctantly, Obito shifted his gaze to the man that had addressed him—Uchiha Fugaku. He looked as hardened as Obito could remember: stern, and with a stick shoved up his cranky-ass, 24/7. "Uchiha-sama." His voice came out quiet and it cracked slightly, but he still managed to be heard.

Obito simply stared at the man, an impassive look in place, and he received an equally blank look in turn. Whereas Obito was simply staring, he knew that the man before him was assessing—assessing him. He briefly wondered how much Fugaku knew, and if the recent developments would cause the Uchiha clan to come after him. Whether "come after" was "come after his head" or "accept back into the family" he didn't know, but he preferred the first. At least then he could defend himself and be given an excuse to vent some anger.

It wasn't until Minato made a nervous cough that Fugaku seemed to remember what he had come for, and opened his mouth to speak. "I heard that you have awakened the Mangekyō Sharingan."

Ah. So that's how much he knew. Obito shifted his gaze to Minato, who looked slightly apologetic. He held no malice towards the man for notifying Fugaku, as his knowledge on the clan dōjutsu was minimal at best. It was the way how the Uchiha worked; they kept public knowledge of the dōjutsu to a minimum in the hopes of maintaining an air of mystery and power amongst the enemies. Minato could've simply dumped Obito off at the clan and allowed the elders to do whatever they wished with him, but the fact that the man instead opted to confide the "new ability" to a friend who just so happened to be the head of the clan spoke volumes on the blonde's character and care.

If Fugaku wasn't there, Obito would've surely hugged him. Maybe. If he really was his physical age and not trapped in some backwards reality wherein he is a fully-grown, adult male stuck in his twelve-year-old body.

"Yes. I have." Obito answered plainly, not caring to elaborate. He noticed a distinct twitch of the older Uchiha's brow.

"… When did you activate your Sharingan, and how did you awaken the Mangekyō?" Fugaku's eyes narrowed. "You do not know, but the only way to awaken the—"

"Actually, I do know how to awaken the Mangekyō, Uchiha-sama." The two adults stiffened, but Obito paid no mind. "I suppose it was gradual. I've been having dreams… Nightmares, about being put in certain situations. Certain situations that threatened the lives of citizens, the clan, and my team. I guess the Mangekyō awakened recently, when I had a nightmare about everyone on my team dying."

The clan leader crossed his arms and stared down his nose at Obito, who was unaffected by the motion. "The Mangekyō cannot be awakened in that manner. A simple dream would not be enough to awaken it, and if you knew half as much as you claimed then you would know this."

Obito kept his blank stare. "Uchiha-sama, the Sharingan isn't magic. It's activation isn't spurred on by the death or sacrifice of people. It's by the emotional and mental trauma induced by whatever the host experiences." He shifted so that he sat crossed-legged on the bed, facing the man. "My dreams were uncannily real, even more so than lucid dreaming. That's probably how I activated my Sharingan."

Fugaku opened his mouth to retort, but Obito held a hand up to silence him. His mouth shut with an audible click and he glared at the not-boy—whether it was out of humiliation of being silenced, or the fact that he actually obeyed, remained to be seen. "How else do you explain, then? I have these eyes, fully matured. I haven't killed anyone close to me, nor have I witnessed the deaths of anyone precious. You can probably see that, as my team is still alive. There is no other explanation, and quite frankly, I think it makes sense, if only because there simply isn't any other explanation." Obito knew that he was bull-shitting to the highest degree, and even though the Sharingan's activation was indeed caused by mental trauma, a dream would never be enough to activate it. Years of research already proved this; the mind's mental barriers wouldn't allow for such a scarring nightmare to take form in the mind, it would most likely awaken the host before reaching a peak. But no one in the Uchiha clan knew that—unless they turned to a Yamanaka for help, but for once, Obito was thankful for the incessant pride the Uchiha clan clung to. It meant that they would never turn to another noble clan for help, especially not in regards to their famed dōjutsu.

"Regardless," Fugaku rubbed the bridge of his nose and spoke in an exasperated tone. Obito knew that, even if neither of the other adults bought his lie, he had at least made a point that there really wasn't any other explanation. None that didn’t sound like the fantastical musings of a delusional child, that is. "The fact remains that you've activated the Sharingan, and advanced it to full maturity. The clan will want to know how, and I doubt they will accept such an answer from someone who supposedly didn't have it but a week ago."

Obito's eyes widened slightly, though not enough to be noticed. Fugaku was… He was speaking as though he were conversing with an equal. He wasn't speaking as the clan head, or as a superior, but as someone on equal standing. Perhaps it was because he was in the presence of Minato, but the trust that Fugaku seemed to display did not go unnoticed by the physically-younger Uchiha.

"… I understand that," Obito began, warily eyeing the reactions of both his sensei and the clan head, "but I wish to remind you that it was the clan that abandoned me, not the other way around. I have no intention of returning simply because I have the most advanced level of the Sharingan, and therefore suddenly have worth."

A slight, almost imperceptible wince showed on Fugaku's features before disappearing. He turned to Minato—he had been a quiet bystander up until that point—who flinched slightly at the sudden attention. "Minato, can you leave for a moment? I apologize, but I believe that what is about to be said is best kept within the Uchiha clan."

Minato murmured a, "right," before nodding and retreating from the room. When his chakra signature was detected a few rooms over, Fugaku cleared his throat. "What is it that you are hoping for?"

Again, Obito felt surprised, but he didn't show it outwardly this time. Perhaps Itachi's father was not a corrupt individual, either, and was simply going along with what the elders had wanted?

Deciding that now wasn’t the best time to inspect the reasons behind Fugaku’s future-past actions, he opted to shove that topic to the side for later speculation. "I want to maintain my status as the 'black sheep' of the clan. I don't want to be tied to the clan, whatsoever. I have no intentions of being reintegrated, either." A small scowl made it's way onto his face, and he channeled his inner child. "I just want to be left alone, away from those power-hungry old farts."

Fugaku snorted, a small smirk in place. Obito's lip twitched upwards at the reaction. It seemed that even the clan head himself didn't think too highly of the clan elders, and honestly, it was gratifying to know. "I have a proposition."

Obito took on an impassive look once again. "A proposition?"

"Yes," the clan head nodded. "I'm afraid that the elders already know about the fact that you've activated the Sharingan—with three tomoe. However, they do not yet know about the Mangekyō."

The time-traveler nodded. It was expected that they would know about the fact that he had activated the Sharingan—when it came to their eyes, the clan paid extra special attention—but his Mangekyō should've also been known. "I take it I have you to thank for that, Uchiha-sama."

Oddly enough, Fugaku shook his head. "No. Minato had come to me after the incident in the hospital and asked me to come along in secrecy. It was at his request that the maturity of your eyes was not divulged."

Obito twitched. He already knew where the man was going with the conversation. "I see. You will keep this information a secret, but only in exchange for something else. What exactly is it that you want in exchange?" He had no money. He had no connections, aside from Minato, but the man was friends with the blonde. There was nothing that he could offer—

"I want you to train my son."

Obito blinked.

… Well, that made sense in a way; he had displayed some level of proficiency handling his dōjutsu by using Amaterasu, but… Fugaku's son? Obviously, he was referring to Itachi. But if he recalled correctly, Itachi was… what, two years old now? Three? Not to mention, it carried a bad stigma for the future of the clan to be trained by the black sheep of said clan. "Uchiha Itachi, correct?"

Fugaku nodded, and Obito gave an incredulous look. "Itachi is three," he deadpanned, formalities be damned, "the clan heir, and as such the future of the clan. I'm the black sheep. I think you know where I'm going with this."

"The offer still stands, but it won't for long. It's your decision," Fugaku replied plainly.

"I accept, I just want to know, why me?" Obito let out a humorless chuckle. It seemed he was wondering that often, lately. "Surely there are better tutors for your son."

"'Why' isn't relevant. We have a deal." With that, Fugaku turned on his heel and began walking out of the room, but he halted at the threshold. "… Obviously, you will not begin immediately. I will come to you when I wish for his training to begin."

As he exited the room, Obito called out, "I would've trained him anyway, y'know!" And it was true. Itachi was one of the few Uchiha members that he acknowledged and respected; Obito had no qualms with spending time with the young prodigy. In fact, the boy could prove a valuable resource against individuals like Madara, Zetsu, and Orochimaru. That is, if they weren't all dead by the time Itachi had grown old enough for battle.

When he felt Fugaku's chakra signature come to a stop near Minato's, he activated his Kamui to listen in. His control over the technique was a little shaky, as his Amaterasu had been, but unlike that particular technique the Kamui was one he had been using for the majority of his life. Altering the space to direct their voices to him was not something difficult, not when he was a master of utilizing the technique even in the heat of battle against S-Ranked foes. Besides, their conversation was regarding him, and he felt he had a right to know.

"Fugaku?" Minato's voice was calm, but with underlying worry. "What happened? What did you talk about?"

A sigh. "He wishes to remain independent from the clan. I cannot blame him for it, either."

"In that case," Obito could practically hear the grin in the blonde's voice. "Let me watch over Obito. I had already spoken to Hokage-sama about it, and he said that it's fine as long as I gain the Uchiha clan's consent."

"Minato…" There was a pause, and Fugaku sighed again. "… I will do my best to keep the clan elders at bay, but I make no promises. They will not be happy about this, I assure you."

"That's fine, I'm more than capable of defending against a couple of bitter elders, after all."

The clan head let out a frustrated groan and Minato chuckled. "The matter of the child's Mangekyo will remain a secret amongst your team and I. Make absolutely certain that your students keep this under-wraps, as I doubt the resulting fall-out should this become public knowledge will be pleasant."

"Of course."

Their voices filtered out, and the last thing Obito heard was a curt, "goodbye" before the sound of a door lock engaging alerted him to the end of the conversation. He canceled the Kamui and forced the chakra from his eyes, deactivating the Sharingan.

"Obito?"

His eyes snapped to the slowly opening door which revealed Minato, a sheepish smile on his face. Obito couldn't help it, but his eyes were riveted to Minato, watching every movement, every shift in expression. It had been many years since he had seen the man—alive and well, that is, and not an Edo Tensei—and one of the last memories he had of him was the cold expression he had worn when they battled on the night of Naruto's birth.

"Uh…" Minato scratched the back of his head, and Obito realized that his staring had perhaps been more than a bit unnerving. "Since you're going to be living here for a while, you'll probably need some new clothes. Like I said last time, nothing but the picture could be recovered—" At the alarmed look Obito shot him, Minato quickly supplied, "—which is over there, on the nightstand."

He pointed to said nightstand and Obito followed with his gaze, only to sigh in relief at the sight of the picture. It was placed in a new frame, a plain birch one, but that mattered little him.

His attention was once again directed at Minato, however, when the blonde grabbed Obito's hand to place something in his palm. When the man's hand withdrew, Obito found himself staring at a bright-green, plump and frog-shaped wallet. He mentally noted that it was a wallet that was very… reminiscent of Naruto.

"We should go shopping for some, are you feeling well enough to move around?"

Experimentally, Obito stretched his aching legs over the side of the bed and rolled his shoulders. His skin still felt a little sore, but as far as he knew, there was no lasting muscle or bone damage, so he was fine. He stood up and walked past Minato, before speaking in a quiet tone. "… Minato-sensei, could you… Could you leave me alone for a bit? I'll be back before sunset, I just want to have some time to myself."

If Minato was alarmed, he did well to mask it. From what he could see out of the corner of his eye, Minato's expression had not changed much—he only looked somewhat dejected—and only the barest fluctuation of chakra indicated the unease the man felt at Obito's statement.

Regardless, Minato sighed. "That's fine. Just don't do anything reckless. Please."

Obito nodded, before looking away. "Sorry… Sensei. I just need some time to myself, I'll be back to normal afterwards." After he took some time to organize himself, he could don that cheery mask that he had grown accustomed to. As it stood, he was far too lost and confused to, and some time alone was exactly what he needed.

Without another word, he walked out of the room and headed to the more lively areas of Konoha.

 


 

As Obito walked down a familiar street, he cringed at the sight he saw. It was far too familiar, and an internal battle had sparked to life almost immediately.

When he was a child, he always treated his elders—the elderly elders—with respect. It was just how he was, and he always went out of his way to help them. There was one woman in particular—“Hana-obaachan”—that Obito had a sort of grandmother-grandson relationship with. Whenever they crossed paths, the boy would help her, be it carrying her groceries, helping her water her potted plants, getting something out of the highest cupboard, or carrying her to the hospital because she suffered from a sudden arthritis attack.

Whatever the request, Obito was always there to help her. Heck, sometimes she didn't even need to say anything; it had become so routine for him to help her that he would just act on instinct. More often than not, that instinct proved to be correct.

So, Obito of 31-years who was stuck in his twelve-year-old body, stared at the woman. The woman who, was currently, on the ground in a prone position, face to the side with her eyes shut in pain. His first instinct was to turn away and continue walking. To ignore the woman's plight, and to move on. He had his own problems, too, after all, and it wasn't as if he hadn't done anything worse before.

Because he had already seen her die once before.

Well, he hadn't actually seen it. But he knew that she had died during the Kyūbi attack, and by extension, died by his hand. She had apparently been one of the many unfortunate souls that had been crushed to death under the beast's giant claws in the midst of its Sharingan-controlled rampage. Obito didn't realize she had died until one day, during his usual check-ups on the village and visitations to Rin's grave, he passed by the old woman's house (the remains of) and saw red spider lilies. The absence of life in the vicinity, along with the rather obvious flowers, were enough to notify him of her passing.

And again, the woman was dying. Obito recalled this incident, clear as day. It had been a mission day back then—obviously not this time around, for obvious reasons—and though he had been bone-tired, the sight of the woman lying on the ground, possibly dying, had snapped him out of whatever exhaustion-induced stupor to scoop her up and run her to the hospital.

But that was who he was before. Obito, while still Obito, wasn't… He wasn't him. He wasn't the carefree idiot that loved unconditionally. He was someone that looked at the value of a life and thought nothing of it, someone who had once dismissed the life of someone that he had once considered precious, all for the sake of a stupid ambition to live in a falsified world. The bonds that the younger Obito had were not his own because he had destroyed them himself. And he wasn't sure he liked the idea of resuming life and keeping these bonds, not when he didn't deserve them.

"… Obito-kun…?"

He snapped out of his thoughts and stared at the source of the voice, wide-eyed. Hana's eyes were still closed, but her hand was moving slightly—as though trying to find him. Obito grit his teeth. He couldn't, could he? He wasn't the same. He just wasn't. He had no ties to this woman, and even though she thought she knew him, she didn't know anything

Hana's hand reached in his direction, and her face contorted in one of excruciating pain, deepening the already wrinkled exterior. "Obito-kun… Is that you?" She seemed to confirm his presence, and even through the sharp pain that her condition caused her, a small smile spread across her face. He felt his heart melt.

Fuck it.

Obito ran to her side and gently lifted her up, placing her on his back piggy-back style. He ignored the surprised gasp from the woman, more focused on refraining from causing her further pain and getting her to the hospital.

 


 

He stood by the hospital bed, staring blankly at the unconscious form of the woman before him. Obito had managed to rush Hana into the hospital, and just in time, as the stress had begun to shut down her bodily functions. Any longer, and she would've been killed—quite literally—by pain and stress.

His brow furrowed. When he had first found out that Hana died, and by his hand no less, he felt no remorse or guilt. He supposed that was part of the grand illusion he had built, the emotional barrier he had constructed to keep from destroying himself. That promise of a "new world" was all he had, and he clung to it for dear life at one point. That point in time when he had been "Tobi."

The young Uchiha released a sigh as he walked out of the room.

Now, he was Uchiha Obito… But also not. Of course, after his confrontation with Naruto, he had accepted that he really was Uchiha Obito, thanks to the boy's relentless fervor on the subject. It was a long process; Naruto's words, Obito's vehemence against his claims, Naruto literally beating the delusions out of him, and he yet still refused. When he finally gave in, he had felt liberated and free, a feeling that he hadn't experienced for years.

Yes, he was Uchiha Obito, and he had long since accepted that fact. Even with the Uchiha name—the label of being associated with that clan—he simply wasn't himself without it, he wasn't complete. Loathe as he was to admit it, the Uchiha was part of him. When he had "died" and turned to Madara's convoluted plan, the name had lost it's meaning—Uchiha Obito had died, leaving only "Tobi," a shadow. Without Rin, living in that pained world as Obito just wasn't worth it, not to his young and naive mind. Naruto had given the name its renewed meaning, and that was something Obito could easily admit to. He owed much to Naruto, not only for finding him in the darkness but guiding him out of it.

But still, it was difficult, what with the Uchiha clan alive… Along with his team.

He was himself, labeled as Uchiha Obito, but not the one that they knew. The meaning Naruto had given the name held no worth here, not to the people that didn't know this Obito—didn't know him.

It was easier back then, when he went by the name "Tobi." There was no surname to chain him, to own him, and it was a name that was indubitably his. He was free as Tobi. The "fake happiness" and frivolity wasn't actually as fake as some people thought when they found out his plan, found out that he was "Madara." No, he truly was happier as Tobi, even if it was a forced and artificial happiness brought about by the illusionary promise of a new world, a second chance.

It wasn't surprising that he was able to settle for some cheap replica of happiness, though. He had once been ready to scrap the world and trade it for some fake that went to his whims and wishes. To settle for fake happiness as well wasn't that far-fetched an idea when one was willing to live in an entire world of fake copies and intangible wishes.

Tobi was the name he had become used to, and it was both an escape and a label for his sins. A testament to his past, his sins, and his punishment. He was Uchiha Obito, thanks to Naruto. But he would always be "Tobi" as well, because he would never be able to escape that darkness that had grown, festered, and become him. The moniker would stick, just as the curse of hatred was ingrained in the very blood of the Uchiha.

Obito let out a breathy laugh. Perhaps that was why he was unable to relish the fact that he was in the past. That he was with Kakashi, with Minato, with Rin. His younger self would've gone about life as usual. He wouldn't have batted an eyelash at the change, he simply would've done everything he could to make sure that the Shinigami didn't lay claim to any of his precious people. Then again, his delusional self, Tobi, would've been able to enjoy this second chance as well.

So why wasn't he able to?

Was it the guilt? The guilt that their Uchiha Obito was untainted by, due to not having committed sins? The guilt that Tobi was unaffected by, due to his delusions and false hopes?

Obito found that he was stuck somewhere in the middle. Between a brash, morally just and self-righteous child that didn't know the horrors of war, and a war-torn and crazed man that was broken in the mind and soul, only able to find respite in the lulling promises of a false, malleable world. These two sides were polar opposites, and Obito found himself being tugged from both sides in a convoluted game of tug-of-war. A game that, no matter the outcome and victor, he was bound to lose either way.

Part of him believed that a dream world would've been easier. Another part believed that a dream world was fake, which it was, and that he should appreciate the fact that he was in the past and could change things for the better. He believed—knew, that he didn't know what to do. He was confused, and just wanted to be left alone.

He didn't want to face the reality. He had been tossed into the past, but for what? He wasn't Naruto, he had already gone over and acknowledged that. He was Obito. He didn't deserve this chance to change things… And yet, he also felt like he didn't deserve the psychological torture that came along with it. He was torn between the two, and he didn't know what to think.

He almost wanted to laugh at the painfully ironic hilarity of it all, but found himself feeling too bitter to do so.

It was a cruel combination, truly. He had the memories and pain of Tobi, but the emotional fragility of Uchiha Obito. He couldn't let himself hide behind the luring promise of a fake world, not any longer. He could no longer dismiss the lives of others as mere passing thoughts, like a flickering candle that could be snuffed out with a single movement.

He hadn't cared before, as Tobi, but now? He wasn't quite Tobi. He wasn't Uchiha Obito, not the one that they knew, but… He was Uchiha Obito.

Something orange in the corner of his eye halted his thoughts, and suddenly, Obito found himself standing in the middle of the street. A quick glance around himself told him that he was in the more populated areas, most likely the shopping district.

'When did I…?' He thought briefly, before shaking his head. He must've zoned out while in his thoughts, and his legs carried him there. How he had gotten so far while deeply engrossed in his thoughts, without bumping into anything or anyone, was a mystery to him.

He directed his attention to the orange object that had been responsible for snapping him out of his thoughts, and had to withhold a gasp.

A familiar spiral pattern, leading towards the right eye of the mask. It was a hideously vibrant shade of orange, but Obito had always been partial to the color. Even more so after meeting Naruto.

Immediately he made a beeline for the accessories stall to purchase the mask. It was a uselessly sentimental gesture, but he still felt compelled to purchase it anyway. An odd coincidence, what with where his thoughts had been before being distracted by the very object he held in his hands. But since he was buying something in memory of his time as "Tobi"…

His eyes zeroed in on a pair of goggles—they were rather different from his old pair, as there were no ear-coverings and the band was black—but the lens was tinted orange. That would do.

It was with these two items that Obito left, a small grin forming, before heading to the clothing store. Looking for a new wardrobe was a welcome distraction. He really didn't want to lose himself in his less-than-happy thoughts again.

 


 

The sun was setting in the late afternoon when Obito arrived at Minato and Kushina's quaint apartment, and before he could even knock, the door swung open to reveal a rather frazzled Minato. They simply stared at one another; Obito, his right hand held up as though about to knock, a blank look on his face. Minato, frozen in place with his hand still on the doorknob, his mouth slightly agape and his eyes wide with indiscernible emotion.

The Uchiha raised a questioning eyebrow. "… Minato-sensei?"

The addressed blonde blinked a few times before backing out of the threshold, his actions clearly indicating nervousness. He let out a strained chuckle. "Haha, sorry about that. I was just a little dazed, is all."

'Right,' Obito thought quietly. Minato was clearly still worried about the incident in the hospital. No doubt, the man had some questions for him—

"Can we talk?" Minato gestured to the living room couch.

Suspicion confirmed. Obito gave a one armed shrug and walked over to the couch to sit down, Minato following to sit next to him.

The young Uchiha watched with a strange fascination as his sensei fidgeted—himNamikaze Minato, the damned Yellow Flash and future Yondaime Hokage, fidgeted—while grasping at words. Finally, Obito decided to relieve the blonde from his suffering.

"It's about the suicide attempt, right?" He questioned, straight to the point.

Minato visibly flinched, and his face took on a sickly pallor. Obito felt a small twinge of guilt in his heart at the reaction, but it hadn't really been his fault. He had truly believed he was in a Genjutsu, and for someone like him, was a death wish really so far off from possibility?

A few moments of tense silence passed before Minato let out a suffering sigh and combed a hand through his unruly hair. He stared at Obito with an unwavering gaze—no longer was he the awkward and distraught "sissy" (as Kushina liked to call him)—with the strength befitting his rank, and future rank, for that matter.

"… Obito, I want you to be completely honest with me. Is there anything that you want to talk about?" Obito blinked once. And then, he stared at his late sensei with no small amount of incredulity. No, there wasn't anything he wanted to talk about. He just wanted to bury his memories and move on—

"Let me rephrase that." Minato apparently caught on to the raven-haired boy's thoughts, most likely due to the look he had given. "You don't have to talk about it in detail, but I would appreciate it if you told me at least a little of what is going on. I'm your sensei, yes, but I think of Team Seven as my family. I want you to trust me."

Obito found himself under the scrutinizing gaze of the blonde, and it was a look that was eerily similar to the look he had on the night he died. The Uchiha strained to keep from averting his gaze, and instead looked into his sensei's azure eyes. A thought occurred to him, and he almost laughed.

'Sensei,' he thought quietly. Minato was indeed his sensei, but technically speaking the man was younger than him. Younger by almost a decade. And yet, that knowledge did nothing to Obito's view of the man, it didn't make him look down on Minato or see him as anything less than what he had known as a child. No, Minato was still that powerful, wise, and understanding figure that he had come to know and respect. He was exactly the same as he had been before…

And most of all, he was there.

He vaguely registered that he was trembling, but he disregarded the fact. Instead, he looked down at Minato's hands. "… Can I see your hand, sensei?"

The blonde seemed to hesitate for a moment before slowly lifting his hand towards Obito. The young Uchiha grabbed the hand with both of his, noting that his own were childish and small in comparison. He slowly traced his stubby fingers along the creases of his sensei's hand. While his own hands were smooth and retained visible signs of baby fat, Minato's were lean and muscular, but still somewhat delicate for a man's. They were rough and callused, most likely from the many battles they had seen. His skin was pale, but not in the ghastly manner they had been on the night the man died—it was a natural pale color, and radiated warmth and life. He had already grabbed ahold of the man's hand, but Obito suddenly felt a strange fear that, in any moment, the warmth would disappear. He was afraid that, suddenly, he would be standing over the corpse of the man, watching as blood seeped out of the gaping wound in his stomach, with eyes staring glassy-eyed into the dark expanse of the night sky.

Obito hadn't even noticed the warm sensation of tears flowing down his cheeks until he found himself in a tight embrace, a hand smoothing down his matted hair.

How many years had it been since he had shared human warmth? How many years since he had felt so cared for, so loved? This time, he did laugh, though it came out more as a sob through his tears. The intense happiness that welled up in him could not be expressed in any other way. Minato and Naruto truly were similar, far too similar, from their healing aura, their inspirational words, and unspoken understanding of others. Naruto had saved him once, and now, Minato was saving him from the new darkness that had threatened to swallow him whole.

Yes, he was in the past, yes, he considered it a punishment and a curse, yes, he felt lost when he first arrived.

But now, he knew what he was going to do.

He was in the past, and what he had been given was a second chance. No, he wasn't Naruto, but he still had people that he wanted to continue living. People that deserved their lives and the happiness that accompanied them. He would change things, build himself back up from the ground, and live. That was an awfully important factor if he wanted to protect his precious people.

In order to do so, he had to prevent certain events from happening. Prevent certain individuals from taking advantage of the key players in the timeline, in this game, the maze that life had constructed. He had to kill Uchiha Madara, and if he could at least accomplish that, he would gladly welcome the Shinigami.

Obito tightened his grip on Minato and released the last of his barriers. The years of restrained tears, repressed emotions, and discarded wishes, all of it came out, completely unrestrained.

For now, he would allow himself this reprieve. The feeling of being loved, being needed, and being with those he loved. He would allow himself to be Uchiha Obito, himself, and not the crazed avenger that he had to be in order to destroy the man that held the world's metaphorical noose.

It had been many, many years, and despite all he had done, he believed he deserved it.

I'm home. I'm finally home.

Chapter Text

Minato stood in front of the grand gates and was more than a little lost. And not in the traditional sense. 

It had been only a handful of days from the fire incident, and when Obito woke up, all hell broke loose. Quite literally, if you consider the flames that suddenly burst forth like a damned hell threat.

Was it so strange that he had frozen up and lost all coherent thought for a full minute? Kakashi had ended up in a similar state, Rin had gone into hysterics, and Obito remained unconscious. It was already a shock when Obito’s Sharingan had activated, and he had no doubt that he wasn’t the only one in the room with the question, “when did that happen?” upon seeing the sight. 

And then, as things escalated, the Sharingan bled into something… Different. As far as Minato knew, three tomoe was the most advanced stage of Sharingan, and that was exactly what Obito had when it activated. But then, the three tomoe swirled into an odd pinwheel shape—befitting the dōjutsu’s namesake—and that was when the black flames burst forth, only to die out almost immediately after the boy lost consciousness. 

Despite everything, the most prominent thought on Minato’s mind was, “what the hell happened to him?”

Certainly, he didn’t know much about the Sharingan, aside from the information that was passed around and known to the public. It could predict the future to a certain extent, it allowed the user a photographic-like memory, there were three stages, the purer the Uchiha blood the more likely the activation, and over-use could lead to eye strain. Most importantly, initial awakening required great emotional and mental strain to the user. He knew from past cases that it needed to be rather extreme, as quite often, Fugaku had come to him with worries about the clan’s younger generation. Most of the time, trauma accompanied the activation of the powerful dōjutsu, and it was a growing problem. 

Hence his worry for the boy. The very fact that he had activated his clan’s famed eyes to three tomoe—and whatever the hell that pinwheel stage was—meant that he had experienced something truly horrific. Minato was terrified for his student, and the words the boy spoke didn’t help either. 

He had mentioned that he “wasn’t supposed to be here.” The most incriminating evidence was the fact that he had explicitly stated, “Let me die. Just let me fucking-die.” Minato felt his shoulders sag slightly at the thought. What had he done wrong? How could the bright, boisterous boy change so much in a mere couple of days? He had given Team Seven two days to take a break and recover from the C-Rank they had attempted prior, and then suddenly, Obito was…

But no. There was more information, and something just wasn’t right.

Obito had mentioned that they were “imposters,” and he yelled a name—Minato, for the life of him, could not remember it—while saying that everything was an illusion. 

‘A Genjutsu, then?’ Minato pondered. It was likely and very well possible. But there were few Genjutsu specialists that could overpower an Uchiha with one, dōjutsu activated or not. The clan was well-known for their prowess with Katon jutsu, but their focus was typically Genjutsu (which allowed them to maximize the usefulness of their Sharingan). Being the focus, it was not off the mark to say that the Uchiha had an almost acute resistance to most Genjutsu, Sharingan-induced or otherwise, thanks to their history in the subject.

The blonde shook his head. He didn’t have enough information to draw solid conclusions. Not yet.

With a steadying breath, he knocked on the foreboding doors of the Uchiha Compound. He’d get his answers, and there was only one person he could trust with information on the recent developments. He wasn’t going to abandon his student, not now, not when the boy needed him.

 


 

“What!?” The booming voice cut through the usually calm ambience of the room; challenged in volume only by the clatter and subsequent shattering of porcelain.

Minato’s eyes widened as Fugaku leapt from his seated position, his teacup nothing more than a few shards on the floor—it had been flung to the side and burst into fragmented shards upon impact with the wall—and the man was seething.

The blonde had never seen the Uchiha clan head so disheveled and emotional.

“… You heard what I said,” Minato stated simply, not wanting to add to the man’s growing frustration. Over what, he didn’t know, not yet. “Why is it so worrisome, though? You hadn’t reacted to the situation until I mentioned the black flames.” Though stated with calmness and deceiving nonchalance, the blonde struggled to keep his eyes from narrowing as he observed his friend for any hints.

Fugaku eyed the blonde—it was no surprise to Minato that the man had caught his slightly measuring look that followed the statement—and then sighed defeatedly as he sat back down. “Describe his eyes.”

Minato blinked. “What?” He had been shocked for a brief moment, not having expected a question (more like a demand) in reply to his mild prodding.

“His eyes,” Fugaku ground out. “They weren’t the normal tomoe, were they?”

“Ah. No, they weren’t.” At Fugaku’s frustrated growl, Minato knew that his suspicion was correct. There was indeed something else going on, and whatever he had seen was a secret of the clan that no one else knew.

For a few moments, Fugaku seemed to debate whether or not to speak, yell, send the blonde away, or crawl into a hole. Eventually, he lifted his gaze to look at Minato, his eyes cold and hardened. “… What you saw, Minato, is the Mangekyō Sharingan. It is the most advanced stage of the Sharingan, and the black flames that you saw engulf your student—that, is Amaterasu, one of the techniques that accompany the advanced stage. At the moment, there are very few Uchiha that have achieved this stage.”

Minato, though surprised at the almost ingenuous trust the clan leader was displaying through the divulgence of the dōjutsu’s information, only narrowed his eyes. He could appreciate Fugaku’s frankness later, he had come for a reason. “I know that the Sharingan is activated when the user is put under emotional duress. How does one activate the Mangekyō?” He was almost hesitant to hear the answer. If the Sharingan followed the “stress-to-advance” logic, then the possibilities of what it took to activate the most advanced stage… Most Jōnin, and many Chūnin-level Uchiha had three tomoe, or at least two for their Sharingan. With so few for the Mangekyo…

Fugaku seemed to understand Minato’s train of thought. “You are a smart man, Minato. You’ve most likely already realized that, whatever the requirement is to activate the Mangekyō, it is something of great impact.” He grimaced faintly. “And you are right.”

The blonde’s already tense muscles contracted further in effort to remain still, and he felt irritation slowly overtake his worry. He didn’t know if Fugaku was prevaricating because he was still undecided about how much he could reveal to an outsider, or because he was trying to spare Minato some stress. Regardless, he needed answers. “Fugaku.” His eyes flashed dangerously, and his voice was a low warning. If Fugaku was offended or taken aback by his friend’s display, he did not comment on or outwardly show it.

The man simply gave a resigned sigh. “… To activate it, the user has to witness the death of someone important, usually the most important individual in his or her life. It is the only way to activate the Mangekyō.”

Minato felt his throat constrict. ‘The death of the most important individual…?’ His thoughts automatically trailed to Kushina—her bright red hair, which shimmered with life and swayed with her spry but elegant gait. Her eyes which shone with life and fervor… He couldn’t imagine watching the life drain from her eyes, her body grow cold and her hair fall still. The very thought of needing to bare witness to something so horrible caused his heart to constrict, and the man struggled to maintain a steady breath. 

‘What a horrible dōjutsu…’ He might’ve felt ashamed at thinking something about his friend’s clan’s eyes, but he didn’t care. It truly was horrible. Something that could only grow more powerful at the loss of loved ones? It went against the blonde’s very principles. The people in their lives were meant to be protected, cherished, and loved, not to be killed for the evolution of a damned technique.

Thankfully, Fugaku seemed to sense Minato’s damning thoughts and graciously brought the man out of his slowly increasing depression. “It is a truly terrible requirement for the ultimate level of power, I know, and I understand your worry. Whatever is the case, it would appear that the boy had experienced something of the sort. There is no other way to awaken the Mangekyō to my knowledge.”

“… How?” Minato finally managed to croak out. “That isn’t… Obito hasn’t experienced that! There have been no deaths this past week, not that I know of!”

“I wouldn’t know. I do not know Uchiha Obito personally like you do.”

Minato was about to say something else when another thought occurred to him, the very topic he had been turning over in his mind before he entered the compound. His eyes drifted to the side and he crossed his arms, deep in thought. “… Genjutsu,” he mumbled.

The Uchiha’s brow furrowed. “What?”

“Genjutsu,” Minato repeated, louder. “Is it possible for the Mangekyō to be activated if a particularly powerful Genjutsu is used?”

Fugaku raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”

“An illusion, perhaps one showing the victim the death of their loved ones,” Minato murmured, “I remember Obito saying that ‘everything is an illusion’ and he also called us ‘fakes’.” He looked up at Fugaku. “Do you think…?”

The clan head rubbed his chin in thought. “… I suppose it isn’t impossible, but it is highly unlikely. Even though the boy himself isn’t the most… Stellar, of individuals to come out of the clan, he is still an Uchiha and therefore has the resistance to Genjutsu in his blood.” Sensing the slightly offended air that the blonde exuded, Fugaku continued. “However, if it truly is possible, I would appreciate it if you kept this information between us.” Fugaku shook his head as he scowled. “I’d hate to see how far the elders go in search of the strength promised by the Mangekyō.”

The two allowed the idea to process and they simultaneously shivered. Power-hungry elders was not a fun concept to entertain, be they Uchiha or Uchiha-wannabes. 

“I must go inform the clan elders about this.”

The blonde shot up in alarm, astounded at the fact that his friend could go from acknowledging the corrupt ways of the elders and still end up deciding that. “Wait! You won’t tell them everything, right? Obito, he…” Minato didn’t want Obito to be treated like an asset, a weapon to be used. Most likely, if the clan elders were to hear about the boy’s new ability, they would be less likely to treat him as a human—a child—and would immediately jump to the conclusion of “powerful weapon” to advance their own prideful ambitions. “I just… I don’t think—“

Fugaku raised his right hand, calming the steadily growing nervousness that Minato was battling with. “Don’t worry, Minato, I won’t tell them everything. Not yet. Perhaps you could speak to Obito and ask him what he thinks on the matter.” Minato felt a small flare of chakra before Fugaku’s eyes darted to the sliding door to his right. “Nanami.”

A muffled and quite obviously female voice called out. “Yes, Fugaku-sama.” Minato glanced warily at the door that kept the girl hidden. He had felt the shift of chakra that had taken place before the Uchiha leader spoke. Fugaku had momentarily canceled out the privacy seal, but the blonde still felt uncertain.

“You are to inform the elders about Uchiha Obito’s Sharingan, which has been advanced to stage three.”

A quiet, “hai” was heard before the small chakra signature receded down the hall.

Minato turned to his friend, who seamlessly re-activated the hidden seal. “… Anyway, about Obito… I think you should probably talk to him personally. It would be best if he heard about this from a fellow Uchiha, since I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know much about the Sharingan…” He trailed off at Fugaku’s accepting nod.

“Speaking of,” Fugaku started, “Considering the fact that he had apparently only recently achieved the Mangekyō, his proficiency over it seems rather… Strange.”

The blonde tensed. “… What do you mean?”

“The Amaterasu is a dangerous technique for a reason—the black flames are not like normal flames. They cannot be extinguished, and continue to blaze bright until the victim burns to ashes.”

Minato’s eyes widened and he gaped. “But—the flames vanished, and Obito was completely unharmed! Only the blankets were slightly singed!”

Fugaku nodded. “Yes. That means that he had not only used the Amaterasu in a controlled fashion, which is very rare for new users, but he also managed to extinguish the flames, which requires even more strength and control. It was most likely by accident, but it was done nonetheless.”

“He extinguished them? Himself?” Minato’s brow furrowed. “But… Why?”

“I wouldn’t say that the boy is a hidden prodigy, not with his rather… interesting past,” Fugaku murmured, “which is why I’m fairly certain that the flames were extinguished by pure will alone.” 

At Minato’s confused look, the Uchiha sighed. “Obito didn’t really want to die, Minato.”

The blonde went wide-eyed and stared at Fugaku, who only offered a small—and rather rare—smile. “… Oh.” An immense wave of relief flooded through Minato. The young boy he knew apparently was still somewhere in there, underneath the layers of hurt and darkness. It wasn’t much, but the fact that Obito still had the desire to live at all was enough for the blonde to feel at ease.

“We should go soon,” Fugaku noted, bringing the blonde out of his thoughts. Minato nodded dully and walked over to Fugaku, preparing his Hiraishin.

“… Fugaku?”

“Hn.”

Minato paused for a moment, and allowed a smile to creep onto his face. “… Thanks.”

 


 

When the two had arrived in Minato’s apartment, Obito was still unconscious, so they had decided to resume their conversation.

“Were there any indications that he had awoken the Sharingan? Perhaps he had activated it a while ago.”

Minato considered the idea, and then shook his head. “Before the incident, Obito was completely normal. I’m not sure about him now, but I’m rather certain that before, he would make absolutely certain that everyone knew he had the Sharingan.”

Fugaku tapped his finger on his leg. “What exactly was it that happened prior to the hospital incident? What resulted in him being admitted?”

“Oh.” Minato sheepishly scratched the back of his head. Apparently, he had forgotten to add that bit of information… “Well, a week ago my team and I had a C-Rank mission to replace a scouting group near the border. Obito was late, more so than usual, so we doubled back to see what was up… Only to find that his apartment was on fire. I retrieved him; he had been on the floor, curled up with our team picture in his hands. We brought him to hospital, and when he woke up… Well, that was when he started talking about how he didn’t belong there, how everything was an illusion. He also mentioned a name…” He bit his lip. “… And then he said he wanted to die. That was when the black flames burst forth. I don’t—“

The blonde paused, causing Fugaku to raise an eyebrow. Minato stood and motioned for the Uchiha to follow. “Obito’s awake.”

A small nod was given. “Ah.”

When they entered, Minato wasn’t expecting Obito to be sitting up. He wasn’t expecting Obito to suddenly turn to face them, either. Most of all, he hadn’t expected the boy’s Sharingan to suddenly activate, as though they were potential threats. Beside him, he felt Fugaku tense. 

For a while, the two only observed the boy. Minato watched as Obito’s blank eyes occasionally flickered with emotion, only to be replaced with a void once again. It was painful, watching the eyes of his usually bright student look so… Dead.

After a while, Minato realized that a few minutes had passed. He discreetly coughed, hoping that Fugaku would start on what he was there for.

“Uchiha Obito.” Minato repressed a wince at the harsh tone Fugaku had decided upon.

Obito’s eyes slowly slid to Fugaku, the redness fading. “Uchiha-sama.”

Another tense silence passed, and Minato grimaced. He missed Obito’s old demeanor. Never was the blonde well-versed in the habits and silent language of the Uchiha, and he never intended on learning. Whatever was exchanged between the two raven-haired individuals in the room might very well be a mystery to him for the rest of his life.

With a small cough, he once again reminded Fugaku that he had come there for a reason.

“… I heard that you have awakened the Mangekyō Sharingan.” Minato wanted to sigh. For all the intelligence and genius the man was known for, let it be known that Uchiha Fugaku wasn’t exactly the most tactful or emotionally savvy.

The blonde tensed slightly when he felt Obito’s gaze fall on him, and he sent an apologetic smile his way. A wave of relief washed over him when understanding flickered through the boy’s otherwise blank eyes.

“Yes. I have.” Obito answered plainly. 

“… When did you activate your Sharingan, and how did you awaken the Mangekyō?” Fugaku’s eyes narrowed. “You do not know, but the only way to awaken the—“

“Actually, I do know how to awaken the Mangekyō, Uchiha-sama.” Minato froze. How did Obito know?. “I suppose it was gradual. I’ve been having dreams… Nightmares, about being put in certain situations. Certain situations that threatened the lives of citizens, the clan, and my team. I guess the Mangekyō awakened recently, when I had a nightmare about everyone on my team dying.” Minato was not convinced, and a quick glance to his side told him that neither was his friend. At this point, even the Genjutsu theory was more believable, but why would Obito feel the need to lie? The blonde also absently noted the strange change in Obito’s diction. He was… Oddly fluent.

The Uchiha clan head crossed his arms. “The Mangekyō cannot be awakened in that manner. A simple dream would not be enough to awaken it, and if you knew half as much as you claimed then you would know this.” Minato raised an eyebrow at this. He didn’t know much about the dōjutsu, but was it really so impossible? Sure, he wasn’t exactly believing Obito’s story either, but he was still open to the idea, whether it be because of ignorance on the subject or a naturally flexible mindset. Honestly, he liked the idea of it being nightmares over a Genjutsu more. It meant that his student hadn’t encountered a possibly A or S-Ranked individual.

Obito’s stare could only be described as bored. As much as Minato was worried about the boy, he found his nonchalance regarding the clan head amusing. At least that didn’t change; Obito’s blatant disrespect and lack of care for those of politically higher standing than him. “Uchiha-sama, the Sharingan isn’t magic. Its activation isn’t spurred on by the death or sacrifice of people. It’s by the emotional and mental trauma induced by whatever the host experiences. My dreams were uncannily real, even more so than lucid dreaming. That’s probably how I activated my Sharingan.”

When Obito held a hand up to silence Fugaku from interrupting, Minato almost gaped. The clan head’s mouth shut with an audible click, and the blonde was shocked at the display of confidence and power that Obito demonstrated. “How else do you explain, then? I have these eyes, fully matured. I haven’t killed anyone close to me, nor have I witnessed the deaths of anyone precious. You can probably see that, as my team is still alive. There is no other explanation, and quite frankly, I think it makes sense, if only because there simply isn’t any other explanation.”

Minato saw the slight slump the elder Uchiha’s shoulders took and felt a small twinge of guilt form. His friend was essentially stuck between a rock and a hard place due to the elders’ outdated ways, and Obito wasn’t exactly making it easier for him. “… Regardless,” Fugaku began in a tone that indicated his exasperation, “the fact remains that you’ve activated the Sharingan, and advanced it to full maturity. The clan will want to know how, and I doubt they will accept such an answer from someone who supposedly didn’t have it but a week ago.”

“… I understand that, but I wish to remind you that it was the clan that abandoned me, not the other way around. I have no intention of returning simply because I have the most advanced level of the Sharingan, and therefore suddenly have worth.”

Suddenly, Minato found himself the center of attention as Fugaku turned to him. “Minato, can you leave for a moment? I apologize, but I believe that what is about to be said is best kept to the Uchiha.”

Minato stared at him for a moment. “Right,” he murmured quietly, before retreating from the room. He walked away with a slump to his shoulders, unbefitting the “most promising Jounin” of Konoha, but he cared little about that. 

What he cared about, what he wanted, were the answers to his questions. Though Obito could be a handful at times, Minato still cared greatly for the boy and missed his presence on Team Seven. Obito with his smiles, his constant challenges against Kakashi, his late-excuses which actually weren’t lies…

When the blonde reached the living room, he sat down on his couch and intertwined his fingers while he leaned back to think. There was no way that what Obito had experienced was a dream, of that, Minato was certain. No dream would make an eleven-year-old boy want to kill himself.

There was also the look that he had given Minato and the rest of Team Seven, when he had first woken up. If he truly was beset with debilitating nightmares that forced him to play observer to the deaths of his make-shift family, he would’ve been elated to see their faces. But no, when Obito had woken up, it was not the tearful relief that should’ve been there. Instead, the boy had seemed to reject the very idea of them being there, of him being there, with them.

‘And of course, the name he shouted.’ Minato’s eyes narrowed and he pursed his lips, trying to remember the name. Yes, that was possibly the most incriminating evidence of all; Obito had said the name with such vehemence, and the statement that followed it hinted at the perpetrator having done something to Obito—most likely showed him an illusion, a Genjutsu.

But for the life of him, Minato could not remember the name. It was a simple, three-syllable name, one that had significant meaning in a few old and forgotten scriptures that he had read in the past.

‘Kagura?’ The blonde frowned. That wasn’t it. ‘Sakuya? Sakura?’ Wrong, again, though it felt closer. The combination of a-u-a vowels was correct—at least, Minato felt like it was correct—but what was the exact name? “Ka-“ sounded correct, so it most likely started with that character. ’Kazura? Kazuma? Kakusa? Katsura?’

Okay, now he was just getting silly. Minato let out a frustrated groan as he fisted his blonde hair in his hands. Never, in all of his years as a Shinobi, had Minato had such difficulty remembering important information—especially when it concerned the well-being of his friends. Even though he had, at the time, been more focused on the fact that Obito seemed to think he was supposed to be dead, remaining calm in harrowing situations was something that the blonde had become a master of. At least, he was supposed to be.

The light shuffling of feet alerted Minato of the new presence in the room and he whipped his head around, looking worriedly at his friend. “Fugaku?” He inwardly cursed the slight wavering of his voice. “What happened? What did you talk about?”

Fugaku released an exasperated sigh as he walked around the couch to face the blonde. “He wishes to remain independent from the clan. I cannot blame him for it, either.”

‘Obito wants to remain independent from his clan?’ It was strange, as the boy usually would stop at nothing to make sure that everyone knew he was an Uchiha. Minato would’ve thought that Obito would’ve taken the chance to be reintegrated into his family, but if not… “In that case, let me watch over Obito.” Minato was practically beaming. “I had already spoken to Hokage-sama about it, and he said that it’s fine as long as I gain the Uchiha clan’s consent.”

At Fugaku’s look of frustration, Minato chuckled. The clan leader allowed his eyes to close and he rubbed at his temples. “The matter of the child’s Mangekyō will remain a secret amongst your team and I. Make absolutely certain that your students keep this under-wraps, as I doubt the resulting fall-out would be pleasant.”

Minato nodded affirmative and gave a mock salute. “Of course.”

Fugaku sighed (the man must’ve dearly wanted to go home and ignore the world) as he walked towards the door, and Minato followed to act the gracious host. “Thanks, Fugaku. I really don’t know what I would’ve done without you.”

The Uchiha waved a hand dismissively. “Think nothing of it. Even if the boy doesn’t want to have any ties to the Uchiha any longer, he is still an Uchiha by blood and as such is my responsibility as clan head.” He paused for a moment, eyes narrowing. “And I’ll make certain that the elders don’t think to use him.”

Minato smiled. “Alright, and I’ll do my best to take care of him.”

“I do not doubt that.”

 


 

He had been worried.

He wanted to trust Obito, but at the same time, he found—with no small amount of horror—that he couldn’t, he simply couldn’t. 

When Minato had re-entered the guest room where Obito was, he had offered to go shopping for new clothes with the boy since nothing had survived the fire. When the young Uchiha had said that he needed time alone, and kami, when Minato had actually let him, the blonde found himself beset with all the terrible scenarios that his trained-and-efficient mind could conjure. 

Needless to say, when Minato had detected the familiar warm (yet, it had a cold edge to it that wasn’t there before) chakra of his student, he made a mad-dash to his door and flung it open, fearing the possible injuries the boy could’ve gotten. To his relief and slight surprise, the boy didn’t have a single scratch on him. In fact, Obito even looked… Brighter, and more like his usual self; the shadows that lurked in his eyes previously had ebbed away and receded from view—of course, Minato wasn’t a fool to think they were gone for good. They were most likely buried in the darker recesses of the Uchiha’s mind, waiting to spring up again.

“Minato-sensei?”

Minato blinked and brought his gaze to meet Obito’s, whose eyes held clear suspicion. He let out a strained chuckle. “Ha, sorry about that. I was just a little… Dazed, is all.”

When Obito’s suspicious gaze didn’t go away, the blonde sighed. “… Can we talk?”

His only reply was a one-armed shrug as Obito walked over to the couch to sit down. Minato followed and sat across from him, his hands held securely in his lap in an effort to hide his worry. ‘How am I supposed to ask?’ He wondered silently, admittedly unnerved by the blank yet assessing stare of his student. ‘How do you ask someone that is potentially suicidal about why they tried to kill themselves?’ 

Minato was considered a wise, attentive, and outstanding Jounin in the ranks; people often lauded him for his accomplishments and abilities out in the field. However, it was moments like these where Minato knew just how wrong those very people could be. Namikaze Minato was somewhat above average, sure, and with all of his hard-work he would certainly hope so. But by no stretch of the imagination was he a genius; everything he had achieved didn’t come naturally as most assumed and he had, in fact, had to work his way up to his current position through blood, sweat, and tears.

That was precisely the reason why he didn’t know what to do in his current situation. 

Inwardly, he laughed. It was oddly similar to how nervous he had been when he had started courting his wife; he had no prior experience in the area, and everything was completely new—made quite obvious by the stumbling and fool-making he did throughout the entire process. Minato was never one particularly good with dealing with his emotions, because he never felt the need to. He was a Shinobi, and when he married Kushina, that was supposed to be it. She was his second half that made him whole, and she empowered him.

“It’s about the suicide attempt, right?”

The blonde flinched at the bluntness of his student. Apparently, Obito had gotten tired of waiting and decided to start the inevitable conversation himself. Minato felt somewhat guilty at the fact. Obito was clearly in a weakened state, haunted by whatever Genjutsu or nightmare the boy had experienced, and yet he still seemed to have the strength to try and recover.

Minato was no genius, so he didn’t miraculously know how to deal with every situation he was thrust into. He could craft scenarios and pick out the one with the highest success rate, but that was it, and he wasn’t sure if he wanted to chance using something so indefinite on his potentially suicidal student. And he couldn’t simply wait and rely on Kushina to help him with this; he could ask her for help, but Obito was his student and his responsibility, one that he had thrust upon himself.

Resolve made, the blonde locked his azure eyes with his student’s onyx. “… Obito, I want you to be completely honest with me. Is there anything that you want to talk about?” 

The boy looked at his sensei incredulously, and Minato inwardly groaned. ‘Of course he wouldn’t want to talk about it,’ he thought with frustration. “… Let me rephrase that. You don’t have to talk about it in detail, but I would appreciate it if you told me at least a little of what is going on. I’m your sensei, yes, but I think of Team seven as my family.” A pained smile made its way onto Minato’s lips. “I want you to trust me.”

Minato found himself on the receiving end of Obito’s blank stare, and forced his nerves to remain calm. A single, painful thought rushed through his mind as he held the impassive gaze. ’When did Obito lose his ability to smile?’ Almost immediately after he thought that, he noticed that Obito’s shoulders were trembling faintly, but before he could do anything, Obito’s unsteady voice called out.

“… Can I see your hand, sensei?”

The blonde’s brow furrowed as he halted the almost automatic response. He silently questioned the reason behind Obito’s request, but decided to simply trust the boy. He resumed his previous action and held his hand out to the boy, watching with quiet amusement as Obito inspected the hand as though he had never seen the appendage before.

‘He seems so young and innocent,’ Minato thought offhandedly, before adding with bitter resentment, ‘and broken. Obito… just what happened to you?’ Whoever had caused the rather prominent change in the boy’s demeanor had better look out, because if Minato ever got ahold of the idiot who thought it was alright to harm one of his students—

Damp droplets fell into to Minato’s palm, causing him to blink at his hand. When he noticed the silent tears that began flowing down Obito’s cheeks, his mind began working overtime to keep his muscles from tensing and possibly startling the emotionally fragile boy. Whatever was happening to Obito was important; the fact that he had begun crying was enough to indicate as such. 

Whatever was the case, Minato pulled the young boy into his arms and smoothed down his dark, spiked hair, only tightening his hold when he heard audible sobs come from the Uchiha. The blonde rested his head on top of Obito’s head and smiled faintly when the boy’s grip tightened.

It was truly an odd sensation, seeing him in such a state. It wasn’t bad, but it certainly was eye-opening. Uchiha Obito wasn’t known for being an overly emotional or thoughtful person, as he almost always exuded energy and childish ambition. However, even though he always kept up a smile and was outwardly friendly with most, Minato had noticed that it was the boy’s way of distancing others from himself. Always afraid, afraid of getting close and being rejected, just as his family had once done. So no, it wasn’t a negative reaction that Obito had given, and it was oddly gratifying to know that the boy trusted Minato enough to literally cry in his arms.

Well, Minato would make certain to never betray that trust. No longer was his care based on a responsibility of rank or stature. The blonde stared ahead at an unseen force, visualizing whatever darkness it was that currently gripped the boy in his arms like a curse.

‘It’s a promise.’

Chapter Text

When Obito had woken up in the morning, he had felt oddly refreshed.

And then, when the memories from the previous day returned to him, he couldn’t help the smile that spread across his face. It was a strange yet welcome feeling, knowing that Minato seemed to care for him enough to support him through his little breakdown.

He had gotten out of his bed (no doubt Minato had tucked him in when the Uchiha had cried himself to exhaustion) to say hello to the blonde, and hopefully, Kushina and his team. However, before he could so much as make his way to the middle of the room, his door burst open  revealing a rather irritable Minato.

Well, most people wouldn’t have been able to see the small details that hinted at his clear ire—the slight, almost imperceptible twitch of his left eyelid, the tapping of his left pointer finger on his leg, and the overall tenseness the man seemed to exude—but to Obito, these details were as clear as day.

“Obito, we have to go somewhere today,” Minato stated plainly while holding out his hand.

The Uchiha only raised an eyebrow, but complied nonetheless.

And when he found himself in the middle of the council chamber, surrounded by stern gazes and sneers, everything made sense.

He and Minato stood in the center of the room, surrounded by people looking down on them at varying levels of height. A rather beaten-up table stood off to the side next to a lonely-looking chair, which Obito quickly commandeered. From where he sat, the seats fanned up and out, giving the convicted a sense of oppression and weakness. The room was shaped in such a way that he was kept on the bottom-most level, in the spotlight, and at the center of the room. It was a decent intimidation tactic for the setting, typically used for condemned criminals. Perhaps they thought it would work on a boy his age… but he wasn’t really the boy he looked to be, was he?

Minato stepped in front of Obito and stood in such a way that was almost protective of him. His irritation seemed to only grow at the change of locations, and Obito couldn’t help but give a low whistle at the level of anger the blonde had reached. The raven-haired boy didn’t think he had ever seen the man so… Pissed off, for lack of a better description. Normally, such a foul word wouldn’t be thought fit to be associated with the man known as Namikaze Minato, who was not only an exemplary example for all aspiring Shinobi of all ages, but also thought of as a gentleman. But in this case…

Well.

The fact that Obito didn’t even have to see his sensei’s face to know that he was angered (all he had to do was look at the poor fools who were obviously under the man’s gaze, if their I-shit-myself faces were any indication) was proof enough.

So all in all, Obito couldn’t find it in himself to be angry. He actually found the situation rather amusing, if one were to compare his past crimes to what he was most likely accused of that very moment.

“Uchiha Obito,” the Sandaime started in a low drawl that hinted at power, but with underlying exasperation. Clearly, the man was only going through the motions as his position demanded of him, and would much rather be at home drinking tea or something. “Do you know why you are here?”

The Uchiha glanced around the room, noting that few of the attendees were actually Shinobi, and most were civilians. His eyes fell on the somewhat familiar face of a cantankerous old man that lived on the floor below him of his old apartment, and his suspicions were confirmed.

He nodded. “I assume it is related to the incident from a week ago, involving the apartment complex that I resided in,” he stated plainly. The anger that was displayed outwardly on the faces of the civilians all but verbally spoke, “yes.”

“That is correct. Do you have any pertinent information that could help us in the investigation—“ The Hokage was cut off.

“It was obvious it was him! There wasn’t anyone else in the complex that could use Jutsu, and that boy is always up to something!” The one who spoke was a middle-aged man, his face red with indignation. “I demand compensation for his foolish actions!”

The aged Hokage rubbed at the bridge of his nose, and Obito watched bemusedly as Nara Shikaku sent the older man a sympathetic glance. The young Uchiha could practically see their unanimous and agreed thought of “troublesome.” 

He realized that it would speed things along if he just admitted to it. Deciding to spare those present the pain of a drawn-out hearing, he decided to answer the question (or prove the theories) that weighed on everyone’s minds. “Yes, I was the one responsible for the fire,” Obito stated casually, earning him a series of gasps. It was only the group of civilians that had done so however; the Shinobi in the room felt no need for the dramatics.

A plain-looking woman stood up and pointed an accusing finger at the raven-haired boy. “See, he even admits to it! All of us deserve compensation for what he has done!”

“I had my life savings in there!” An old man gave the indignant cry.

“He burned most of my family’s treasures and a precious heirloom!” A young woman hugged a wrapped package to her person.

“He needs to pay for what he did!” The man who yelled stood up and glared at the Uchiha.

Overall, Obito couldn’t help but think of the whole ordeal as a rather amusing drama. It certainly had the makings of one, what with everyone being so damn dramatic. The yelling and shouts continued for a few more moments before the Hokage finally seemed to have had enough of the pointless yells and denunciations. “SILENCE!” He boomed, quickly and easily drowning out the shouts with his own over-powering voice. Everyone turned to the man, who was leaking the smallest amount of killing intent to solidify his point. “Your concerns are valid. However, though Obito is a Shinobi, he is also a child. It is impossible for him to have the funds to purchase a new apartment for himself, let alone atone for his actions with monetary compensation.”

“… Well, he better do something,” a tout man started with a low drawl. “Or the village, I don’t care. I just need to be reimbursed to live.”

Another citizen spun around to the man and scowled. “What!? No, it’s the boy’s responsibility, he needs to pay for what he’s done! He should be the one to pay us all, not the village, which is already suffering because of his presence!”

“Are you daft?” A woman this time. “Hokage-sama already said that the boy won’t be able to! Even if he worked for the rest of his life, I doubt that kid will be able to pay us all off!”

“Well I don’t care, the point is that—“

A sudden wave of killing intent that was noticeably larger than what the Hokage had loosed flooded the room, so much that even Obito coughed at the immediate shift in the air. It felt like he was suddenly accosted by a cloud of dust, but by the faces of a few of the other, lower-ranked Shinobi, and the citizens, they likely felt as though someone had poured lava down their throats.

“I shall pay for whatever compensation you feel you need,” Minato stated, his voice low yet commanding. Obito was inwardly thankful that he couldn’t see his sensei’s powerful gaze. “Uchiha Obito is currently under my protection and as such his problems are my problems. My salary will be more than enough to pay for the damages and satisfy whatever monetary issues you may have.” He turned to the Hokage, who had a thoughtful frown on his face. “Is that acceptable, Hokage-sama?”

After a brief moment, the elderly man smirked as he blew out a stream of smoke. “That is acceptable, if the Civilian Representative finds the arr—“

“I object to that!” Everyone turned to the middle aged man who had spoken earlier. “I demand that some sort of punishment be handed out, even if we are given money for our troubles. That boy is a fool and a liability to Konoha! What if he does this again?” A few approving nods were exchanged amongst the civilians, and Minato let out a suffering sigh.

“Obito is my responsibility as he is under my protection. Though it is undoubtedly unnecessary, I can make sure that he does not do anything that may be potentially harmful to you. I assure you, something like this will not occur again—“

“But the boy is still the one who committed the crime! Some sort of punishment must be handed out, because he is nothing but a danger to the lives of everyone here!”

A stern-looking woman stood up and pointed. “A punishment and maybe some sort of correctional facility, because obviously something is wrong with that child.”

SLAM!

Everyone turned back to Minato, who had slammed his hands down on the desk next to him. “… I will say this one more time, and only one more time,” Minato turned around to face the rest of the room, allowing Obito to see his face, and the Uchiha had to suppress a shudder. The man was smiling, and somehow, it was a million times more frightening than any glare he had seen the blonde give. “I will pay for the damages and cost, on Uchiha Obito’s behalf. He is my student and someone who I have promised to protect, so I will deal with the repercussions.” 

Minato flashed a bright grin to the Civilian Representative, but his eyes were darkened and cold, missing their usual warmth. “Are we clear?”

The last word spoken from the civilian group was a small, pathetic, “yes.” The case was essentially closed without a problem, to the elation of a smirking Hokage and the amusement of a lazy Nara.

 


 

It had been an eventful start to Obito’s morning, to say the least. The strange (and rather amusing) thing, though, was that Minato had almost immediately reverted to his normal-and-sunshine self and promptly dragged Obito out of the room, seemingly oblivious to the frightened stares he was receiving.

The two had taken to the streets, going from shop to shop, acting as though they hadn’t just come out of a situation that could’ve escalated to something much worse. Or maybe Minato actually had control of the entire situation? Towards the end it certainly seemed like it, and the Uchiha wouldn’t put it past the man. He had proven his power to sway well enough, whether it was through powerful and fancy techniques, calculated words, or straight-out intimidation.

Anyway, they entered almost every shop in the shopping district and for whatever strange reason, Minato was constantly trying to gain Obito’s approval with the various items he picked out. Whether they were books, clothing, weapons, random paraphernalia; the blonde was acting as though the items bought were for the raven-haired boy and not simply a product of whatever weird shopping-spree the whole endeavor ended up being. Most of the items were practical and for everyday life, so it was possible the man was just making up for the other day when Obito had turned down the invitation.

In all honesty, though, the Uchiha felt as though Minato’s sudden love of shopping and spending money here and there was his attempt at keeping the boy (man-boy) away from something. Or someone.

Namely, the remaining two members of Team Seven.

Obito sighed. He was worried about them, he really was. Even though they were certified Chūnin of Konoha, the fact remained that they were still thirteen-year-olds that had personally witnessed their teammate and friend practically leap off the deep-end and attempt suicide. Obito was an expert in dealing with trained killers, but add “children” to the equation and he didn’t know what to do, whether they were “trained killers that happened to be children” or simply “children.” Despite that, he was fairly certain that his friends were at the very least worried for him, and he truly wanted to know how they were doing after the way their one-sided reunion had gone.

It was when they entered the 10th shop (and Obito was carrying about eight over-sized bags with multiple smaller bags within) that the boy finally decided to ask a question that had been on his mind. “… Hey, Minato-sensei?”

The addressed blonde stopped in his perusal of a set of specially-made kunai and looked curiously at the raven. “Yes Obito?’

“Why are we avoiding Kakashi and Rin?”

When the man winced at the question, Obito felt a small pang of guilt stab at his heart. He had almost no doubt now that he was the reason why he was currently being distanced from them. He had probably scared them both with his antics and blatant statement of wanting to die, seeing as they neither knew the reason or truth behind what he had done. The raven-haired boy could only hope that the damage he had dealt to them was manageable.

“… We’ll be seeing them later today,” Minato finally replied with a nervous chuckle. “Just give them a little bit of time and they’ll be fine, most likely.”

Obito could only nod dumbly, not really noticing the fact that Minato had said that they would see them later that day. Besides, before he could truly take the time to register the man’s words, he found himself being dragged to the next store against his will.

He had to stop himself from shouting out for someone to save him.

 


 

Walking into the door of Minato’s apartment, it was safe to say that Obito wasn’t expecting much. Well, he was expecting to enter, help Minato sort all of the newly bought items that were a result of the man’s odd shopping spree, and go to his room to sort and plan his actions for the future. However, that wasn’t what happened.

Instead, he walked in and found his eyes strained at the rather resplendent array of colors that accosted his eyes.

“Happy Thirteenth Birthday!” Two cheery voices, a bland one, and a hearty laughter rang in Obito’s ears. He watched confusedly as multi-colored confetti and paper scraps fell from the party-poppers that had gone off, and glanced at the other people in the room.

“… Er… Huh?” His brow furrowed. “What’s going on?” He wasn’t aware that it was his birthday, in all honesty. He had only been back in the past for a little over a week, and hadn’t actually had the time to check the date. So he hadn’t been exactly sure when he had arrived, until now.

Kakashi raked a hand down his face and sighed. “I understand forgetting about your own birthday, but usually people get the hint when others say, ‘happy birthday’ with cheers and party-poppers,” the silver-haired boy deadpanned.

Obito was still too engrossed in his thoughts to hear the silver-haired Chuunin. He couldn’t remember when the Kannabi Bridge mission was given to the team. He recalled it being towards the end of the year, possible mid-year at the earliest. But did that mean he could relax? Had the war even started yet? His memory on the events prior to his supposed “death” were too fuzzy to recall, and he found himself frowning at the fact. He’d have to sit down and create a timeline at some point, if he had any hope of changing things for the better this time around.

“Obito?” The addressed boy blinked at the pair of violet eyes that gazed at him worriedly. “Earth to Obito? Helloo?” 

Kushina. The young Uchiha blinked back a sudden dryness in his eyes, coupled with the odd mix of emotions that wrangled with his thoughts. 

Obito felt an unbidden wave of guilt overtake him as he tried to redirect the automatic response of his thoughts to fall into a self-deprecating and self-loathing mindset. He had been attached to the woman before, and while their relationship wasn’t nearly as strong as what Obito felt with his team, she was still someone he cared about.

Someone he had wronged.

He had been responsible for her death, along with the death of the person she loved, Minato. The same could be said, vice versa. It was in that manner that Obito had failed three people that he cared about, ripping from them the chance to feel the love and affection that they had likely never felt due to their histories of being orphans. They, Minato, Kushina, and Naruto, were a family that never had the chance to be.

And who was the person to blame for that?

He couldn’t help it. Obito didn’t have many memories of the past to keep him afloat, and the few that he had, he was partially living for the second time. So, his mind naturally wandered back to what had transpired and was considered in the past, even though they were technically events for the future. He didn’t want them to be future events this time around.

The redhead turned to the other occupants of the room and sighed. “I think we broke him, dattebane.”

The Uchiha smiled wryly in an attempt to give a reassuring grin. “I’m fine, Kushina-neesan.” When that failed to work (the raised eyebrows were enough to indicate that), he motioned to the ample amount of bags in his arms to make a point and snorted. “I’m just a little out of it, I think. Minato-sensei kinda dragged me all over town on some sissy shopping-spree.”

The named blonde gave an indignant squawk. “Wha-no! That wasn’t a shopping-spree, that was for y—“

“A shopping-spree,” Obito and Kushina nodded at their simultaneously spoken words, as though considering something of great importance. In the background, Rin giggled quietly as Kakashi sighed.

“A-nyway, let’s leave the sissy be for now,” Kushina began, taking the bags from Obito with ease (it was almost frightening how easily she lifted the no-doubt 25+ kilogram weight of the bags), “because today is your day, Obito! Let’s cut the cake!”

Obito shrugged and smiled as he felt the previous hesitance dwindle in the presence of his friends. He could enjoy this, he realized. He had forgotten what it felt like to be apart of this odd, make-shift family after Rin had died. His whole world had gone gray and his mind was consumed with the fact that Rin was dead, but he could find reprieve in a crafted world to fill the void. Even though everyone else was still alive, he was an idiot that allowed his world to come crashing down at the death of a single person that he had shaped to be his life’s only pillar. The warm memories spent with this family went forgotten in his mindless rage and insanity, left to be—

He was brooding again, wasn’t he?

A glance around the table he had seated himself in told him as much, as the worried looks had returned. With a sigh, he quirked an eyebrow questioningly in an attempt to convey, “what? I was just thinking.” He made a mental note that brooding in front of other people wasn’t the best idea.

“… Gosh, you must be tired,” Kushina came to the rescue, breaking through the awkward silence with her usual cheer. “Either that, or you’ve had the infamous Uchiha-coming-of-age stick shoved up your ass.”

At this, Obito made a strangled “pfft” noise and suddenly found himself struggling to withhold his laughter. It seemed that whatever self-imposed mission Kushina had given herself was a success, because she grinned triumphantly at the significantly lighter mood as everyone else joined in on Obito’s chuckles. He was happy that the woman was alive and well, and not the cold, life-less corpse he had last seen her as.

Finally, they actually got around to having the cake that the redhead had baked with loving care, and when Obito thought it was over, he only found that there was more to the whole event. Apparently, the little self-imposed shopping-spree Minato had taken him on was in order to find some presents for the boy, though Obito was still convinced that it was at least in part a ploy to keep him away from Kakashi and Rin. Speaking of which…

His eyes slid over to his two teammates. Though the two outwardly seemed okay, Obito could see the underlying worry and stress within their gazes, but was thankful that they seemed stable. 

Despite the clear questions some of the people present had, and despite Obito’s reservations about… Everything, he found himself enjoying the strange little party. It was not extravagant nor ostentatious (not at all, by any stretch of the imagination) but it was homely, and with only the people Obito cared about in attendance. And he could honestly say, that for the first time in many, many years, he felt pure happiness, unimpeded by the usual mass of guilt and hatred that consumed him. He could actually forget for a little while and enjoy his time with them, in the illusion that everything was fine and he was just little Uchiha Obito.

It was okay, right?

He couldn’t help it, his mind had asked the innocent question as though looking for approval, looking for acceptance. He knew it was a question that would never be answered, but he couldn’t stop his mind and heart from seeking a positive answer anyway.

It was okay for him to enjoy this time with his makeshift family, no matter how undeserving he may have truly been.

… Right?

 


 

It was after the humble gathering that Kakashi and Rin had pulled him aside, after he caught the knowing looks that Minato and Kushina sent him before their own departure from the room. Apparently, he was going to be left to explain the situation to his two teammates, whether he wanted to be or not.

So, it was with a steadily growing sense of anxiety that they approached the training grounds. Night had fallen, but Kakashi insisted that they go to the grounds to talk. Obito came from the future and therefore had prior knowledge for events to come, but he had a feeling that he didn’t need such an asset to know where their conversation was going to lead. Well, where Kakashi was going to attempt to lead it. Because in all honesty, the Kakashi before the raven-haired boy wasn’t the same Kakashi that he truly felt a connection with, and not just because of the age and power difference.

When they reached the familiar clearing of the grassy field, the two simply stared at each other for what felt like hours. Despite the differences, there was no mistaking that the person in front of Obito was indeed Hatake Kakashi, his old rival. If they were going to fight, the least Obito could do was fight in earnest. He couldn’t chance harming the boy, but he wasn’t going to baby his opponent in the manner that might be misconstrued as belittlement. He would stick to Taijutsu only, since his handicap would be the different size and weight of his younger body. He would actually have to try, and Kakashi would be none the wiser.

“… What is going on, Obito?” Their little staring contest was severed as soon as Rin’s voice broke through the silence. She stood a few feet away and looked at Obito with wide, pleading eyes, her voice strained with barely concealed emotion. “What happened?”

Kakashi’s gaze only seemed to hardened as he stared at Obito, and the raven-haired boy suddenly found himself weighed down by the rather powerful gazes of his two teammates. He scratched the back of his head as he gave a nervous chuckle.

“Don’t worry about it, guys. I’m fine now, trust me.”

A tense silence fell.

Suddenly, Kakashi glanced at Rin, who had kept her gaze on Obito until then. “… Rin, can you go over to the tree-line? This might get a little dangerous.” She froze for a second, seemingly wondering what she should do, before sighing and walking away with a noticeable sag to her shoulders.

When she had retreated a safe distance away, Kakashi turned back to the Uchiha, a glare in place. “That was a lie, and you know it. What’s going on?” The silver-haired boy took a menacing step closer, and Obito could feel the aggravation rolling off of him in waves.

He attempted to placate his teammate. “Kakashi, I’m serious, I’m fine now—“

A haymaker was delivered to his left cheek, and he flew a few meters away before crumpling to the ground in a heap. Obito quickly stood up and dusted himself off before receiving another punch to the gut, which nearly had him double over at the sudden force. It would’ve been simple to avoid the blows, but Obito could tell that this was’t a spar. No, Kakashi was venting in a blind rage, and wasn’t in his right of mind. So, he allowed the boy to use him as a veritable punching bag, to release his usually pent-up emotions, before they got down to business.

When Kakashi didn’t deliver a follow-up attack after the brief onslaught, Obito looked up at the boy while wiping off the spit he had coughed out at the last attack. “Well?” He asked expectantly, straightening as he did so. “Are you done?”

The silver-haired Chūnin only narrowed his eyes before leaping back and settling into a stance. Obito smirked and settled into his own, seeing that Kakashi had seemed to regain his senses.

Time seemed to slow down as both of them waited for the other to make a move, waited for the signal that would never come. Obito had to remind himself that no, this was not the time he had faced the man—no, boy—in his future/past, while they were both in the Kamui dimension and fighting for opposite sides. For differing ideals. Both trying to “save the world,” and “achieve peace,” but with different methods.

No, this was no more intense and with barely more weight than a friendly spar, but Obito couldn’t help but envision that last battle he had with his friend. That last battle before Obito had realized his mistakes, and subsequently died—only to be shot into the past. 

It was strange. Obito, by all accounts, should’ve been calm and collected. This was not a life-or-death battle, and the lives of the people he cared for were not at stake. And yet, the man-boy felt such a surge of adrenaline and anticipation that he struggled to keep his Sharingan from activating. The dōjutsu didn’t help, as it only served to make it more difficult to differentiate this Kakashi with the one he had known even though it was in that awkward half-activated stage.

It was all because of his useless attachments to the past and his habit of superimposing his past actions over his current. But wasn’t that partly the point of time travel? To compare past events and future plans, in the hopes for a better future? He supposed that his “useless attachments to the past” were no longer that, seeing as they were actually attachments to a future yet to come. A future that wouldn’t be.

‘Because it’ll be changed,’ the raven thought silently, his gaze hardening.

All at once, time began moving again and they charged at each other.

Kakashi planted his hands into the damp grass as Obito charged, his legs kicking up above him to intercept the Uchiha’s attack. Instead, Obito ducked under the sweep and aimed for Kakashi’s stomach. The attack missed, however, as the silver-haired Chūnin pushed himself off of the ground to vault over Obito, who quickly switched on his heel to land a kick at the temporarily-suspended boy. The attack was barely blocked and the momentum from the kick sent Kakashi flying, and the Uchiha dashed over to where he knew his opponent would land, already simulating the next exchange of blows.

Inwardly, Obito noted how he was faster—much faster—than the Hatake, but still considerably slower than he had been in the future. His Sharingan was not activated, but he could easily see and predict his opponent’s moves with startling clarity, possibly because he had sparred with the boy enough to see a pattern or he simply knew Kakashi well enough to understand his tactics.

Regardless, when Kakashi planted his two feet on the ground they continued exchanging blows in a strictly Taijutsu match. Each movement made was swift and calculated to deliver the most damage while expending the least energy. Eventually, however, the match degraded into less tactics-and-precision and more whatever-hurts-the-most, eventually leading to a brainless brawl that had them poking at each other’s eyes, pulling at hair, and biting.

It was refreshing, in all honesty, and Obito couldn’t help but think that as he lay spread eagle on the grass after they had burned out, a few feet away from Kakashi. Unknowingly, his fighting style had become strict and calculated, without any room for error. Perhaps it was because of the role of Uchiha Madara that he had to keep, but his old fighting style that was not unlike Naruto’s had slowly ebbed away into nothingness. Though Obito could barely breathe through the wheezing gasps of his rather young and out-of-shape body, he felt like he had never been able to breathe clearer before. It was as though a heavy weight had been lifted off of his chest, allowing him to finally breathe.

The only thing holding him back was himself, he realized. It was always himself. Perhaps it was just a matter of truly seeing and accepting all of the fragments of his mind, and not dismissing and avoiding them as one would broken glass.

Uchiha Obito was a shattered man, but he could be rebuilt. It was this realization that made him smile through the countless bruises around his cheekbone and swollen lip. He just had to take all of his fragments, however burnt, injured, or jaded they were, and build himself up from them. Naruto had given him his name, Minato had given him a purpose.

Now, Obito had to build himself back up and recreate himself, so that he could not only kill Madara but also protect his loved ones. He would take Uchiha Obito the child, Tobi the destroyed man, and everything in-between to reform himself to be what his team needed.

What his family needed.

As his eyes dimmed, he heard the worried yet exasperated shouts of Minato and Kushina, and felt a warm sensation of chakra wash over him as his wounds healed.

And then, he drifted off to unconsciousness.

 


 

“What idiots,” Kushina mumbled under her breath, clearly irate with worry. “Your students can be really stupid, Minato.”

Minato only smiled fondly as he stared at the unconscious form of his three students, all resting on the couch with a large blanket over them (courtesy of Kushina). Rin, Kushina, and Minato had taken the two boys home after they fainted from their spar, and Rin promptly got to work on sewing together their wounds. It wasn’t long after that Rin had exhausted herself and had fallen asleep, and Kushina had begrudgingly relinquished her large blanket (though she was actually bitter about them worrying her so much).

Minato sent one last look at the trio before departing from the room with a smile, Kushina following after him.

“Anyway,” Kushina began, rounding on Minato as soon as they had reached the dining room, “what’s the deal about the council being after Obito’s head?”

The blonde sighed as he motioned for Kushina to take a seat across from him, to which she complied. His wife deserved answers, and he would provide them for her. “Obito had been the one to burn down the house like we suspected, and he stated as much at the hearing. The civilians were not happy, as you can probably imagine.”

Kushina’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “What did they do? I swear, I’ll castrate every one of ‘em if they did something I don’t approve off.“

“They, er…” Minato scratched his chin while trying to find his words. “… Well, they demanded that Obito pay for the damages and receive punishment.” When the blonde saw his wife’s red hair flair to life in a gravity-defying manner, he quickly tacked on, “but everything is okay now, really!!! Obito got off scott-free, and the council won’t be bothering him again.” ‘… If they want to live,’ he added silently with a small twitch of his lower eyelid.

“If they want future children,” Kushina added helpfully, almost cheerfully. Considering what Minato had been thinking, he could only agree with her statement. The redhead sighed as she cradled her head in her hands, her previous high-spirits abated. “… I can’t believe the council did that. I mean, really? On the boy’s birthday?”

“There’s a lot that I can’t believe happened, recently,” Minato murmured quietly with clear exasperation lining his tone. “So much has happened, and I’m only just starting to make sense of it.”

Kushina looked at him. “… Did the Uchiha clan do anything? Did they help pay the fines?” Her brow furrowed curiously at Minato’s wince.

The blonde combed a hand through his hair as casually as he could and sat back in his chair. “No, and that reminds me. I probably won’t be able to pitch in on the monthly bill for this month, since I’m kinda shoulderingthedamages?” Minato couldn’t help the groan he gave at the questioning lilt at the end of his statement.

For a few moments, Kushina only looked at him searchingly. When she nodded and smiled, the blonde felt the tension he didn’t realize he had ease completely. “… Good. Had you not done that, I think I woulda throttled you, ‘ttebane.” She then stood up and cracked her knuckles, walking over to the window, which was conveniently placed facing the Uchiha Compound. “For now, there’s a certain group of prickly, red-eyed assholes that need a good ass-whooping.”

Minato immediately leapt to his feet and darted over to his wife, hands held up somewhere between reaching for the threatening woman and hoping to placate her. “N-now, Kushina, I don’t think you want to do that. I’m sure that they’ll come around, they just need time…” She only stared absently over his shoulder, and he gulped nervously. “… Kushina?”

She walked past him in an almost hypnotic daze and continued towards the window, seemingly unaware of Minato’s increasing worry. “… Hmm,” she finally began, “the moon looks pretty tonight, don’t you think?”

Minato only blinked confusedly before walking up next to his wife, a small smile in place. He looked up through the window at the sky; it was clear of clouds and a few star could be seen, but the most noticeable feature was the moon, which shone like a beacon in the middle of the dark sky. “Indeed. Not a cloud in sight.”

When Kushina rubbed at her eyes, the blonde looked at her worriedly. “Are you tired, Kushina?”

“No,” she murmured. “I think it’s just a little dark in here. The moon looks so… Bright.”

Minato looked at her confusedly before returning his attention to the moon. Indeed, it did look rather bright. In fact, it almost seemed like a miniature sun, what with the ways the man could see its faint light streaming across the night sky…

His brow furrowed as his thoughts trailed and his eyes wandered. An ethereal glow, lighting up the night sky. His voice was barely above a whisper as he felt pieces to an unseen puzzle fall into place. “… Bright… Night…”

Azure eyes widened in realization.

“… Kaguya.”

Chapter Text

Nohara Rin was always the plain wallflower of her team.

Actually, even in the Academy, she wasn’t considered much. Sure, she had ended up as the “Top Kunoichi” of her year, landing her in Team Minato AKA Team Seven, but it was always Kakashi, Obito, or Minato himself that people heard about. Rin was always, “that girl,” or “the one on the team with the Hatake genius,” or “the one who picks up after that Uchiha boy,” or in worst cases, “that useless girl with the up-and-coming Jounin as a sensei.”

Sure, she was considered somewhat pretty amongst her peers, and many boys had confessed to her over the course of her time at the Academy. The vain girl she used to be back then, she actually used to feel somewhat empowered by the confessions.

But now, as a Kunoichi, she knew how useless that sort of thing was. She knew how useless she was, compared to her teammates; Kakashi with his all-around prodigious streak, Obito with his strength and latent charisma, and Minato who was just plain amazing.

She had always felt beneath her teammates, and that was partly the reason why she had gone into Iryo-ninjutsu. She had reasoned that, with her teammates being the reckless and occasionally foolish powerhouses they were, they would need a trained medic on their team to make sure they never actually hurt themselves. She had only started recently, and though she was still technically “in-training,” she was often told that she could be the next Tsunade. Her chakra control was good, even considered great for her age, and she had satisfactory training to actually support her teammates, now. Her work at the hospital only helped her competency with the human body (and as such, healing wounds), and quite frankly, Rin had become satisfied. She found her niche, and her way to make herself useful to her teammates—her family.

However, the day that Obito woke up after the fire was the day that her carefully crafted and nurtured confidence all but shattered.

Rin had been ecstatic when Obito woke up, but she knew something was wrong the moment the boy slapped her hand away. The boy who had helped support her when she was still vacillating on her decision to become a medic. The boy who was almost always there for Rin, no matter what. The boy that always accepted her and listened to her troubles, no matter how small and petty they seemed to her. He slapped her hand away, rejecting her.

She knew something was wrong, and in hindsight, Rin realized she should’ve acted on her instinct. Instead, she continued trying to act as though nothing was wrong, as if the possibility of Obito having tried to kill himself wasn’t there.

Oh, she knew.

The rest of her team most likely didn’t think that she knew; they probably thought she wasn’t sharp enough to catch the hints. It may have been because she was a girl and was therefore innately more emotionally sensitive, it may have been because she simply knew Obito very well. She could see the dead look in his eyes, even though he tried to hide it. No longer were they filled with their usual sparks of mischief and wonder for life, but with hatred and darkness that was only seen in some of the most broken of individuals. Regardless, whatever had happened to Obito was something of extreme impact, leading to the boy wanting to commit suicide. 

And when Obito had yelled out that name, “Kaguya,” Rin was certain. She wasn’t analytical and with extreme genius like Minato and Kakashi; she had no web of mystery or blatant “amazing-ness” to prove her theory, because most of it was just a gut feeling. But she trusted Obito, and she trusted that she knew Obito. And what she knew was that something had happened to rattle the boy, something excruciating. This person named “Kaguya” was definitely the cause of Obito’s change, and Rin was terribly frightened.

She was frightened for her teammate, who could possibly be a target for this “Kaguya.” Frightened for the rest of her team that could possibly be in danger. And most of all, she was frightened for her very home that could possibly be in danger from whatever individual it was that attacked Obito and left him in this state.

At first, Rin had contemplated telling Kakashi or Minato about her little revelation. ‘Maybe I could tell them about the name,’ she had thought hopefully, but then blushed when she remembered how the two had, in the past, worked together on some of the most mind-bending and convoluted schemes that left her feeling dizzy. Immediately the idea was discarded. Minato was an outstanding individual, considered the top Jounin of the village. There was no way that the man forgot such an important detail, and even if he somehow did, Kakashi would’ve remembered. Most likely, the boy had already informed Minato about everything he knew; he was always frighteningly punctual.

At the thought of her silver-haired teammate, Rin felt her chest tighten as though her heart were strangled.

She was actually on her way to Kakashi’s house. The day after the incident at the hospital, Minato had pulled the two of them aside after a menial D-Rank and tried to talk to them, inform them about what he was going to do. While Rin nodded and tried to ask questions, Kakashi had only remained despondent with a look that could only be described as dead in his eyes. Naturally, both Rin and Minato had been worried about him, but when they asked, he only shook his head and walked away without so much as a goodbye. So that day, she had decided that she would check on the boy to see if he was fairing better after some time alone.

Truth be told, she was a little too frightened to see Obito. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to see a similar, dejected and reticent look on his face, which was almost always animated and friendly. Kakashi she could handle, he was always kinda cold and somewhat mean. But Obito…?

The brunette shook her head. There was no point dwelling on the topic now, and she had full faith in her sensei and teammate. There was no way that a repeat of the event at the hospital was going to happen, especially not with Kushina there to help.

So with a deep breath, Rin walked up the stairs leading to Kakashi’s apartment. Despite herself, her heartbeat steadily increased in rate and she inwardly cursed; now was not the time for her little crush to get in the way. She had come to check on the boy, her teammate, to see if he was fairing well. She was Rin the medic of Team Seven right now, not Rin the girl with a hopeless childhood crush.

As she rounded the corner at the top of the stairs, a bright-yellow piece of paper caught her eye. A bright-yellow note that happened to be taped to the door of the very teammate she had gone to visit. The brunette hurried over to the door, attempting to read the familiar scribble of words.

‘Hi Rin!

I hope you came to Kakashi-kun’s house like I predicted, otherwise you might not get the message. Well, maybe you’ll come here first and make writing this pointless… But whatever! Anyways, Kakashi-kun is already over here with me, helping to set up the decorations. You should hurry up and come over, too! Minato and Obito left for some stupid council stuff and should be occupied until we’re done, but we could always use the extra hands. Not to mention, it’d be nice to celebrate Obito’s birthday with everyone present, ne?

- Kushina’

Rin sighed as she took the note and folded it neatly, a small smile spreading on her face. She had come to check on Kakashi to see if he was alright, but there was not a doubt in the brunette’s mind that Kushina had already helped the boy get through whatever depression may have overtaken him. 

She pocketed the note and headed down the stairs with a much lighter weight to her steps. Perhaps Kushina could listen to her troubles as well. Rin always respected the woman as though she were an older sister, and she could use some of the woman’s innate cheer.

 


 

The little gathering had been fun. In all honesty, there wasn’t much else to describe it.

Rin had been able to forget her minor troubles for a while, and by looking at the eyes of her teammates, she could tell that they were also able to push aside the darkness lurking in their hearts. Of course, something like that was not permanent. The party was merely a brief escape for the three of them, and by the looks and calculating glances both Kushina and Minato shot them, Rin could tell.

It was after the blonde and red-head excused themselves to clean up that the remaining Genin had their little “confrontation.” Rin didn’t say anything. Kakashi simply stood up and grabbed Obito by the collar, demanding that the boy follow him. Rin realized that she wasn’t invited, but decided to invite herself along anyway. The very least she could do was provide moral support, and she was certain that whatever “talk” they were going to have would end up being a brawl with more than a few minor cuts.

When they had arrived in the training fields, the two boys commenced possibly one of the most intense staring contests in history. Rin could feel the connection they had, and for what felt like the hundredth time in the week, she felt like an outsider. She could never match up to either of them in an actual spar, and now, they shared a mental connection that she had no part in, either.

She glared up at the boys, but neither of them noticed. As usual, she was the wallflower, forgotten and left in the dust by her peers. The faint pinpricks of moisture gathered in her eyes as she turned to Obito, and she struggled to speak. “… What is going on, Obito…?” She inwardly berated herself on the weak tone of her voice and her slight voice crack. She settled for pinning the Uchiha with a gaze that spoke more than her actual word, an punctuated it with her next question. “… What happened?”

She barely noticed the hardening of Kakashi’s gaze, her own avidly focused on the raven-haired boy before her.

Obito chuckled nervously, clearly uncomfortable with the situation. Rin waited with anticipation as she watched his mouth open, hoping that she’d get an honest reply to her question. “Don’t worry about it, guys. I’m fine now, trust me.” 

‘… Why?’ She thought quietly at his words, deflating slightly. ‘Why can’t you trust us, Obito? Why can’t you trust me?’ 

To Rin, the subject of family was always a little sensitive for her, albeit not as sensitive as it was for her team, where one never had a family, another was the son of a disgraced Shinobi, and the other was the black sheep of his prominent clan. Regardless, it was a slight connection she felt she had with her team, no matter how morbid and backwards it was. It was partly the reason why she was able to open up to them, why she was able to love them as a family of her own. She always went to Obito or Minato when she had issues or questions, and they never failed to provide the support and care that the girl had been in such dire need of. Even Kakashi had shown to be accommodating on occasion.

However, it was almost always Obito.

Somehow, the boy was always there, always attentive to how she felt. Sometimes she felt bad, feeling as though she was taking advantage of his kindness by not returning anything. Obito was her drive to become a medic in more ways than one, and that was something that was easy for the girl to admit. But it wasn’t enough. In the past, she had seen her antics as burdens to her team, as nothing but pointless, emotional imbalances of her immature mind. But still, that was her unspoken trust that she placed in them, the trust and knowledge that they wouldn’t turn her away or scorn her for her weaknesses.

And yet, there Obito was, still rejecting to tell them anything, saying not to worry and that he was fine. Everything was anything but fine. And the fact that Obito still refused to admit as much left the brunette feeling hurt and betrayed in the worst sense possible.

“Rin,” the brunette jerked out of her thoughts, not having expecting someone to call out to her. She looked hesitantly at Kakashi, who wore his usual mask of reticence. “Can you go over to the tree-line? This might get a little dangerous.”

She froze.

‘… Always,’ she thought quietly. ‘Always,’ she repeated, her fists clenching slightly as she fought an internal battle to not allow her inner turmoil of frustration at them and herself show.

She was always left out of the loop. Always the unnecessary outlier, the useless baggage. The one that needed to be protected, despite being a protector herself. It was annoying. It was frustrating, it was aggravating. Most of all, it was insulting and downright pitiful. Whenever Rin thought she found her little niche, her place to belong, it was always torn away unceremoniously and without remorse or pity. Whenever she thought she had found something she thought she could use to help, it was turned away because it was useless. She was the medic, but there was little use for one when there were no injuries yet, and emotional support wasn’t needed here. Minato and Kakashi had enough smarts to figure out what was going on with Obito in a timely fashion, with more results than any silly little “talk” Rin would attempt could.

Slowly, her anger ebbed away and left a feeling of emptiness. ‘Useless,’ was the bitter word that echoed in her now quiet mind. She released a tired sigh and walked away to the edge of the clearing, fighting at the urge to simply crawl into the fetal position and ignore the world.

Despite what most people thought, Rin had almost just as much to hide as the most reclusive teammate on her team. Only, it didn’t stem from some childhood traumatic event, which thankfully never earned her the pitying looks the silver-haired Chūnin oft received. Unfortunately, it instead earned her bleak looks and misunderstanding of those trying to understand, but not quite caring enough to really put in enough effort.

Her worst enemy was herself. Always trying, always working, always striving for betterment. Unfortunately, with a team such as Team Seven, she was always going to be the unneeded factor. The extra chain link that hung on uselessly and did nothing but weigh the rest down. She couldn’t even be the balance for her teammates like she was supposed to. Because how was someone that could barely control their own emotions supposed to help others with theirs?

A single hand that rested itself on her shoulder caused her to tense, and she automatically reached for her kunai holster.

“Relax,” a familiar voice called out, and Rin released the tension that had coiled her muscles. A whistle. “Wow, they’re really trying to beat the shit out of each other, aren’t they?”

The brunette’s head shot up and she watched on with horror when she realized how the spar had escalated. Blows were exchanged left and right. Kakashi’s clothes had threadbare and stretched qualities that definitely weren’t there before, and he had more than enough bruises along his skin to make him look like a giant eggplant. Obito really was in no better shape, and a slight trickle of blood out of the corner of his mouth indicated some form of internal bleeding. Rin could only hope the boy bit his tongue or something.

Kushina and Rin merely watched for a while, noticing as the clean and calculated hits of the spar slowly descended into a more barbaric and instinctual battle. 

“… I feel useless,” Rin finally stated, feeling some weight lift from her shoulders at the admission.

Kushina only looked at her oddly for a few moments before turning back to the match with a smirk. “… Well, you shouldn’t, because you’re anything but. Even if you may feel that way, you are the one that is there to take care of the boys.”

The brunette grimaced. “I know that’s what I’m there for, but I’m not doing a very good job. Minato-sensei is the one that’s really there to look after them, and I’m just a…” Her shoulders sagged noticeably. “An extra.”

The red-head turned fully to Rin this time and placed her hands on her hips, a single raised eyebrow showing her incredulity. “I think you misunderstood my statement when I said ‘boys.’ Who’s going to save Minato when he needs it, whether it be from an enemy or his own stupidity?” A small smirk graced her lips as she dropped her arms to rest on Rin’s shoulders. “He may be better than the boys, but even he has his moments, y’know. Your team needs you, Rin, whether you realize this or not.”

The two stared at each other for a few searching moments; Rin’s gaze showing uncertainty and Kushina’s daring her to refute the statement.

Finally, Rin averted her eyes. “… But then why won’t they talk to me? Why can’t I know?” Her throat emitted a low growl in frustration. “I’m their teammate, why can’t they trust me?”

She heard a sigh and looked up at the red-head curiously, noting the way how her brows knit together in thought. “It’s a… Guy thing, I think,” she finally stated, waving a hand dismissively. “They tend to like throwing around fancy-schmancy jutsu in battle, and then like to keep an air of mystery in front of the women. It’s the whole bravado stuff that makes ‘em quiet, so you shouldn’t worry about it ‘ttebane.”

Rin giggled at the red-head’s little tirade, who only smirked at her successful attempt at making the younger girl smile. Kushina placed a warm hand on the brunette’s head to get her attention once more, and smiled kindly. “I’m sure Obito will tell you eventually, just give him time to gather himself.” A wince. “… Though, you may end up needing to wait a while. Men aren’t as understanding of their own emotions as we women are, so you will probably be waiting a good while. Heck, it took Minato 7 years to finally realize he was in love with me and decide to propose.”

The brunette giggled again, worries and insecurities long forgotten.

 


 

Kushina had watched with faint amusement during dinner as the three Genin of her husband’s team attempted (and failed miserably) to inconspicuously steal glances at each other. 

Of course, she couldn’t really sit and analyze the small gestures, as she was the one keeping up the positive atmosphere. Hey, someone had to talk to distract the kids from their thoughts, and it was pretty damn obvious that Minato wasn’t volunteering. The red-head couldn’t blame him, however; he was probably thinking about genius-stuff, how to deal with the council and Obito, and sorting out his own haywire emotions. Not that Kushina herself was much better, but in all honesty, she was better at shutting away her darker thoughts for later speculation. Being the jinchūriki of the damned Kyūbi kinda did that to people, after all, and provided great practice in a resistance to killing intent to boot.

The fact that there was another, possibly more pressing matter to be discussed actually helped. She waited until the dinner had been wrapped up before dragging Minato to the kitchen while absently noticing the retreating of the three chakra signatures of the Genin.

“So, what happened?” She questioned with a deceptively happy lilt, a bright smile betrayed by the fact that her eyes were closed (and therefore hiding her true intent).

Minato seemed to sense the gravity of the situation and promptly broke out into a cold sweat. Kushina would’ve been impressed by his perceptiveness, had she not suddenly taken to sharpening her kitchen knife.

“Er… I’m not quite sure what you mean?” When the red-head pointed the half-sharpened knife at him, he immediately jolted and lifted his arms to placate her. “No, really, what do you mean?”

Kushina sighed as she placed the knife down and leaned against the bare counter. “The council. Obito. What exactly happened?”

Minato bit his lip. “… We should probably follow after them soon. I think they were heading to the training grounds.” He turned to Kushina. “So, do you want to know about what happened today, or over all in regards to Obito? I don’t think we should linger here for long, I’d rather not get a sudden D-Rank to clean up a devastated training field.” His last statement was said with a nervous chuckle.

“Obito of course,” Kushina growled, wanting to hear the truth. “What exactly has been going on with that boy? There was a darkness in his eyes that I’ve never seen before. I mean, what exactly did you do to him?” She threw up her arms in frustration as she began pacing across the tiles. “I see the boy right before I go on a week-long mission—he was fine at the time, Minato, fine, not a hair out of place—to verify the potential start of a war, and what do I find on my return? I come back exhausted, tired and filthy, and I hear that the kid has gone and tried to kill himself.” She crossed her arms and pouted angrily. “And I had an awesome, stress-free birthday planned for him and everything, dattebane.”

She missed the grimace Minato gave during her rant. “… Well, how much have you heard exactly?”

“Fire at his apartment, thought to have been started by him, and he was sent to the hospital. He tried to kill himself. He was moved here.” She shook her head as she finished ticking off the sparse information. “Hokage-sama wasn’t very forthcoming with the info, to be honest. Did something else happen? Obviously some important facts were omitted from his spiel.”

The blonde nodded. “Yes, the rest of Team Seven had retrieved Obito from his burning apartment. We visited him in the hospital, and on the day he woke up, we found out that Obito activated his Sharingan.” Kushina gasped, but before she could say anything he continued. “It was at the three-tomoe stage. Severe emotional trauma was dealt to him, but we don’t know how.”

“We? As in you and…?”

“Fugaku, and partially, the rest of the Uchiha clan.” The man scowled. “He mentioned that the clan will most likely come after Obito, so we’ll have to be careful.”

Kushina narrowed her eyes, but chose not to comment on that, instead continuing with the original topic. If the minute flares of chakra in the distance were any indication, they didn’t really have much time. “Anything else happen to Obito that I should know?”

The blonde’s brow furrowed for a moment before his eyes widened. “That’s right, Obito mentioned a name along with words about everything being an illusion and fake. He claimed to Fugaku and I that it was a dream and that he activated his Sharingan fro nightmares, but we’re pretty certain that there’s enough evidence pointing at a third party here.”

“A Genjutsu.” At Kushina’s comment, Minato nodded. “What was the name? Do we know who the culprit is?”

Strangely, Minato averted his eyes and chuckled nervously. The red-head only raised an inquisitive eyebrow. “Er, you see… I actually don’t… Remember… The name.”

Kushina stared dumbly at her husband for a few moments, trying to figure out if he was joking. When it was evident that he was not (he only gave a nervous smile to her assessing gaze), she leaned back and slapped a hand over her forehead. “… Did you ask Kakashi or Rin? They were with you right? Surely one of them would remember?”

Minato sighed. “Kakashi was despondent for the most part. When I asked, he apologized. Apparently, he had been too caught up in his own thoughts to catch the name. Seeing as I was in a similar state, I honestly don’t blame him.”

“And Rin?” Kushina questioned impatiently. “Have you asked her yet?”

The blonde shook his head. “After seeing the state Kakashi was in, I decided to leave her be. No doubt she was struggling with her own thoughts as well.”

“Hmm… I don’t know about that, Rin is a strong girl. And very perceptive,” Kushina commented quietly. “Works well under pressure, and can really surprise you when you least expect it.”

“Well, I suppose I can ask her tonight—“ he cut off, eyes narrowing in concentration. Kushina looked at him worriedly, but before she could voice her question, he answered her unspoken words. “They’re okay, but we should go there now.”

She only nodded, and the two were gone in a flash of yellow and red.

 


 

When they arrived, Rin was standing rather dejectedly over to the side as she watched her teammates duke it out. Kushina, being the awesome and loving person she was, had decided to help the younger girl out of her emotional slump (that was proven to be because of the tactless idiots on her team). When the fighting had ended and they all went home, Rin started pumping all of her chakra to her hands to heal her unconscious teammates.

Kushina had felt a minor sense of pride at the girl’s dedication… That is, until she watched the girl slump over the two unconscious boys, following them into dream land. The red-head had gone to retrieve her favorite blanket (it was large and perfect for the cold winter nights) to gingerly wrap around the trio before cursing them. Honestly, as if it wasn’t bad enough that the team was full of head-strong males with egos the size of villages, Rin had to go and heal them to the point of near-chakra exhaustion.

“What idiots.” She turned to Minato as she mumbled under her breath. “Your students can be really stupid, Minato.”

He only gave a fond smile, and the two quietly made their way to the dining room to resume their talk from earlier. As soon as they stepped through the door, Kushina rounded on him and all but demanded. “Anyway, what’s the deal about the council being after Obito’s head?” 

Minato gestured for her to take a seat, which she did with a slight pout at the small distraction. “… Obito had been the one to burn down the house like we suspected, and he stated as much at the hearing. The civilians were not happy, as you can probably imagine.”

‘Not happy?’ Kushina thought quietly. ‘Oh, if they hurt a single hair on that boy’s head, I’ll show them “not happy.”’ “What did they do? I swear, I’ll castrate every one of ‘em if they did something I don’t approve of.” ‘And I don’t go back on my word,’ she added silently.

“They, er…” The red-head could feel the hesitance radiating off of the blonde, and was ready to storm the council chambers that moment. “… Well, they demanded that Obito pay for the damages and receive punishment.”

Almost immediately, Kushina’s hair was given life as it lifted in long, threatening tendrils, and she was very close to committing mass murder.

“But everything is okay now, really!!!” Minato shouted, trying to calm down his clearly irate wife. “Obito got off scott-free, and the council won’t be bothering him again.”

His wife only stared at him for a few moments before giving a small nod and pulling back on the menacing aura. “If they want future children,” she added to his statement.

He most likely agreed with her, if his thoughtful silence was any indication. Kushina sighed as she leaned against the table, cradling her head in her hands. “… I can’t believe the council did that. I mean, really? On the boy’s birthday?”

“There’s a lot that I can’t believe happened, recently.” At these words, the red-head was reminded that, out of everyone, Minato possibly felt Obito’s pain the most. No doubt the man felt guilty about the whole affair, thinking that it was his fault. Minato gave a dejected sigh as his head seemed to sink into his shoulders. “… So much has happened, and I’m only just starting to make sense of it.”

A thought occurred to Kushina and she stared at him. “… Did the Uchiha clan do anything? Did they help pay the fines?” 

“… No, and that reminds me.” The red-head’s eyes narrowed at the setup for a change of subject. “I probably won’t be able to pitch in on the monthly bill for this month, since I’m kinda shoulderingthedamages?”

Kushina blinked. Well, it was pretty obvious that that meant that the Uchiha clan didn’t even lift a finger to help the boy. But still, she hadn’t thought Minato would actually volunteer to help shoulder the boy’s punishment and pay for the damages. It made her feel a powerful sense of pride, that her husband was willing to go that extra mile for the people he cared about. That extra mile that most wouldn’t even think about.

She gave a small smile and an approving nod to her noticeably nervous husband. “… Good. Had you not done that, I think I woulda throttled you, ‘ttebane.”

Still, it didn’t mean that she was completely devoid of anger. No, she was pissed. The fact that the Uchiha clan had some plans in the future to try and herd Obito back into their clan, yet didn’t do anything to help the boy, was enough to make the red-head consider treason. In a swift motion, she stood up from her seat and walked over to the window that happened to have a rather nice view of the Uchiha Compound. “For now, there’s a certain group of prickly, red-eyed assholes that need a good ass-whooping.” Maybe Mikoto would help her, even. She knew the woman was just as morally-just as she, and there was no way they would let the Uchiha fogies do anything to Obito.

Before she could say anything more, turn around and say that she was joking, or jump out of the window to make good on her promise, she suddenly found her eyes riveted to the night sky. She didn’t even notice Minato’s worried statements and attempts to deter her no-longer-existent anger.

“… Hmm,” she began quietly, staring wide-eyed at the bright disk in the sky. “… The moon looks pretty tonight, don’t you think?”

She felt Minato pause just behind her, before walking up to stand side by side with the red-head. “… Indeed. Not a cloud in sight.” She rubbed her eyes when she felt a strange tingling in her eyes. She felt oddly sleepy, and… “Are you tired, Kushina?” The statement held palpable worry, and the red-head quickly shook her head.

“No,” she murmured. It was strange, the moon had a very strange glow to it that night. It was like staring at the sun with a pair of shades on, and it was almost harsh on the eyes. But there was… something… “I think it’s just a little dark in here. The moon looks so… Bright.”

She felt a lulling sensation, as though she were on the cusp of consciousness and sleep. She barely heard Minato whisper the words, “Bright” and “night,” before it happened.

“Kaguya.”

She could almost hear her heartbeat give a single, powerful pulse. A sharp pain in Kushina’s stomach caused her to double over in pain, and darkness claimed her before she could so much as scream.

Chapter Text

Twin onyx eyes blinked lazily as Obito took in his surroundings, still disoriented from sleep. He was in the middle of sitting up when he froze at the unexpected warmth he felt from both of his sides.

Of course, when he identified the sources as his teammates, he merely smiled as he carefully maneuvered himself out of the odd sleeping arrangement, leaving Kakashi and Rin on the couch and in their dreams. He had then gone to look for Minato and Kushina, but found a small note on their bedroom door saying that they were out. Apparently, Team Seven was to complete a D-Rank mission that day, and Minato wanted the team to head to the Hokage tower as soon as they woke up and were ready. He would meet them there at around 8am for the briefing, but would have to leave again afterwards.

The Uchiha frowned lightly—never had Minato simply left their team to handle a mission on their own at this time; the man even made sure to supervise their D-Ranks—but went to the guest room anyway where he found his selection of clothes stashed away, from both his little excursion with Minato and the time he had fully come to accept his place in the past.

A few minutes later he stood in front of the mirror, giving a quick glance at his outfit. He wore a dark, navy-blue jacket with an orange up-turned collar and trimmings, the sleeves rolled up to hit elbows to reveal the orange lining. The color of the jacket was a shade darker than his forehead protector and Shinobi sandals. and fit comfortably around his frame. His mesh under-armor was tucked under his black pants that ended mid-shin, and had his calves wrapped in bandages as he had them when he was a child.

Obito smiled as he fitted his new pair of goggles with his ensemble. Everything was different and new. But, it was also familiar, and it gave the man-boy a new sense of self while also adhering to the fact that he wasn’t quite the same as any past incarnation of himself. 

Something caught his attention just as he was about to walked away, and his eyes narrowed as he assessed the figure before him. Or rather, the face reflected in the mirror.

He let out a quiet snort as he noted the scars on the right side of his face, left over from the burns he had suffered but a week ago. It was some irony that the medics were able to fully restore the left side of Obito’s face while his right had some residual scarring, though it wasn’t as severe as the rippled pattern that he once identified as a part of himself after years of getting accustomed to it. The scars themselves were faint; only the barest shade darker than his normal skin tone and they didn’t completely litter the right side of his face. In fact, from a distance, one would be hard-pressed to see the scars at all.

Shaking his head as he shelved his musings, he quickly scanned the room until his eyes fell on a small clock that rested next to their team photo.

“6:30am,” Obito whispered quietly. If he was correct, he and Kakashi had passed out sometime just before midnight, and Rin most likely after. Obito decided to allow his teammates to rest; if his own body was protesting about the lack of sleep despite the fact that his mind was trained for otherwise, then he had no doubt that his teammates could use the extra shut-eye. Besides, he had something that needed to be done soon, and now was a perfect time to do it.

He scoured the room for paper and a writing utensil, and once he found what he needed, he plopped down on the floor and began to write. 

His memories prior to his time as “Tobi” were hazy at best, but it would help him to write down what he knew for future reference. He could come back to it should his mind fill some of the holes and gaps in his memory, but for now, marking the major events in sequential order was all he needed to do.

First, was obviously the Kannabi Bridge mission. That mission was Obito’s first step into the darkness, however small. 

Next was Rin’s death. Prior to that was the sealing of the Sanbi wherein she became its Jinchūriki, the label being the cause of her death. This event was not so much of a step so much as a complete (-ly stupid) leap into darkness and insanity for Obito. Obviously, the same wouldn’t happen again this time, whether she died or not. Not like he would let her die, however; she was one of the three people he decided he would save. And that was exactly what he was going to do, damn it.

After that was his meeting with the Ame Orphans as “Uchiha Madara.” Obito paused his writing and tapped the ground with the pencil as he thought about the odd trio. He wasn’t quite sure what to do with them. On one hand, he could kill them and ensure that they couldn’t be used. On the other hand, he could simply destroy Nagato’s borrowed Rinnegan and therefore allow them to live.

He sighed as an image of an orange-clad blonde popped into his mind. ‘… Or, I could spare and bring them back to Konoha, like Naruto would probably want.’

Truth be told, any of the aforementioned paths would help Obito complete his task, but the first and second would be much easier. If he chose the third option, he would have to not only make certain that no one got ahold of the Rinnegan, but would also have to try and convince the three to come and live in Konoha. Nagato having his innate fear of Konoha-nin, along with the fact that the three were quite attached to their home, wouldn’t make things easier. Their whole purpose at this point, if Obito was correct, was to try and form a new regime in Ame and openly oppose Hanzō’s ways. He would know; he had used their pure ideals, the loss that resulted from it, and the brief insanity incurred from said loss to his advantage in order to conscript both Nagato and Konan to the Akatsuki.

The Uchiha’s eyes narrowed as he rolled the Ame-leader’s name around in his head. One thing that he could be certain of was that Hanzō had to die. When, he wasn’t sure, and without Yahiko’s death it was more than likely that Nagato wouldn’t be prepared for the position of leader as soon as he had been previously. Perhaps Obito could stage Hanzō’s death this time around so that Nagato could take his place without any conflict?

The Uchiha shook his head. No, because then there was still the issue of Danzō. 

Deciding that that particular subject was one he didn’t want to dwell on, he jotted down a few notes to consider about the whole ordeal and moved on to the next major event.

His mouth set in a grim line, in-between a nostalgic smile and a regretful frown. The Kyūbi Attack, A.K.A. the day Naruto was born and the day both Minato and Kushina died. Aside from that bare information, Obito wrote no more and instead opted to fold the paper. There was nothing else to be written about it; the whole attack itself was staged by him under Madara’s hand, and he wasn’t planning on playing the role of “Madara’s puppet” again. Not without a plan to bring him down. And he sure as hell wasn’t going to sacrifice the lives of his sensei and nee-san for this.

No, he was going to change things, and he had about two years to ensure that Madara wouldn’t be able to so much as look at Konoha with his rotted Sharingan eyes.

Obito’s eyelids fluttered closed and he inhaled a deep breath before exhaling. When he opened his eyes, his irises were blood red with swirling, black pinwheels at their center. He glared down at the piece of folded parchment in his hand and watched as it twisted and bent, until there was not a trace of it left. It was kept safe in his separate plane of existence, where no one could access it without his eyes.

He knew it was a rather belligerent use of the almost all-powerful technique, but it wasn’t as though Obito was skilled enough in Fūinjutsu to keep the scroll safely sealed up. He’d be a fool to think that he could keep his secrets utilizing seals while he lived under the roof of two of Konoha’s best Fūinjutsu masters, and a third that visited from time-to-time. His best bet was the Kamui, however unorthodox and excessive it may’ve been.

He winced at the sudden pressure that seemed to build up behind his eyes, sending him into waves of nausea. He gripped his head, as though trying to keep the disorientation from increasing despite the fact he knew it would do nothing. It almost felt like someone had slammed a hammer into the back of his skull and ruptured his eyes, only to pour liquid fire into his eye sockets. A shaky hand came up to press against his eyes, which felt sore and as though they had their own individual hearts, what with the unnerving pulsating he could feel from them. He removed his hand when he registered that a thick, wet substance trickled down his arm.

Obito stared blankly at the blood that streamed down, absently noting the metallic smell and sting of the substance in his already irritated eyes.

 


 

The trio of Chūnin had made their way to the Hokage tower as Minato’s note had instructed them to do, two of them still fighting off the last vestiges of sleep, the third deep in his thoughts.

When they finally arrived, Rin immediately bounded up to Minato. “Minato-sensei! You weren’t there this morning, did you have a mission?” The man chuckled at the almost puppy-like antics of his female student.

“It’s good to see you guys too, and, well…” He scratched his head. “… No, I didn’t have a mission. But let’s go get your mission, ne?” He began herding the trio into the Hokage’s office.

Obito eyed his sensei suspiciously. The blonde looked oddly drained of his usual energy and vigor, and his usually vibrant complexion and hair looked much paler than usual.

“Ah, Minato, Team Seven, here for your mission?” The team immediately turned to face the Sandaime and bowed with a unanimous, “Hokage-sama” in greeting.

“Yes, Team Minato, reporting in for placement on the active duty roster once more,” Minato spoke fluidly, his paleness betraying the facade of being “fine.” “I understand that skirmishes along the border have not been going well and that we are bound for a greater conflict, but I would like my team to maintain a stream of D-Ranks if you don’t mind, Hokage-sama.”

Obito tensed at Minato’s words. With key words of “border” and “greater conflict,” it was easy enough for the time-traveler to realize that the Third War was about to begin.

“Of course,” Hiruzen replied calmly, a wreathe of smoke circling above him. “What with recent events, it is acceptable that you would want your team to have some time to adjust.”

Minato sent a grateful smile to the elderly Hokage. “Thank you, Hokage-sama. The mission…?”

“D-Rank, client is Madame Shijimi, wife to the Daimyō,” three groans were heard at the mention of the name; they knew exactly what mission they were receiving. The elderly Hokage gave an amused smirk at the reactions. “Mission: the retrieval and delivery of Madame Shijimi’s cat, Tora.”

When they had received their mission slips and left the office, Minato turned to his three students with a strained smile. “I’m afraid I have to leave now, you guys know what to do, right?”

Kakashi rolled his eyes as Rin pouted. “Of course we do,” the silver-haired boy drawled. “We’re Chūnin, Minato-sensei, not Genin.”

The blonde only responded with a mirthful chuckle as he ruffled Kakashi’s hair, to the boy’s frustration. “Of course, how could I forget. Even though you three are as cute as Genin, you are also just as capable as Chūnin.”

Obito would’ve questioned exactly why their sensei wasn’t going to be with them, but he decided against it. The man was already stressed, and if he didn’t wish to say(or dwell on whatever was bothering him), then Obito didn’t plan on prying. If it proved important enough, Minato would tell them, Obito was certain of this. Besides, it was possible that whatever he was dealing with were residual issues resulting from Obito’s little stunt when he came back to the past, and he knew that it was a sore subject with the entirety of his team.

So, when Minato disappeared in a familiar flash of gold and blue, the Chūnin of Team Seven trudged off, mentally (and emotionally) preparing themselves for the monster of all D-Ranks.

 


 

“Man, we look like shit.”

Obito’s little comment earned him two heated glares from his teammates, but he couldn’t help it. All three of them really, truly did. 

The small group was walking back to the Hokage tower, hell-cat in hand (Rin had been the one to carry Tora this time), and it had only taken them three hours to find and subdue the damn thing. Yeah, only. Considering the fact that Obito recalled a time where the mission took them fourteen hours (they practically chased the little shit to the four corners of Hi no Kuni), three hours was nothing. Nothing.

A thought occurred to Obito, and he cringed. ‘Wasn’t… Tora still alive around the time that Naruto was a Genin…?’ The Uchiha was also pretty certain that when Minato had spoken about his own Genin-and-D-Rank-days, Tora was included in those stories. Obito severely hoped that it was just his imagination or maybe some sick tradition of naming the most cantankerous gits of the Fire Daimyō’s cats “Tora” and not the idea of the freak being immortal. Obito was fairly certain that Tora was the only living being that would lose out to Madara in regards to who Obito would prefer to ensure that immortality was never reached, and he was fairly certain that any self-respecting shinobi of Konoha would agree.

When they entered the tower, they were immediately lead to the Hokage’s office. They gave their formal bows of respect in the presence of the elderly Hokage as Kakashi stated, “Team Seven under Jounin Namikaze Minato, reporting in for the successful retrieval and delivery of the cat Tora.”

“OH, MY BABY!!!” The three Chūnin jumped back as Madame Shijimi snatched Tora from Rin’s arms and promptly began to strangle—wait, no—hug the cat. To death. Obito could tell from the slightly horrified and surprised look his rival wore that he had not detected the woman’s presence before she had all but announced it to the world, and was most likely wondering how she managed that. Obito didn’t want to know. Whether it was the truth behind Tora’s apparent immortality or Madame Shijimi’s latent stealth abilities, he really didn’t want to know.

A cough brought the team’s attention back to the Hokage, who was pointedly ignoring the shrieks of the mangled cat and the praises of love (was Obito hallucinating or were those physical, bulbous hearts being emitted by the rotund woman?) from the Daimyō’s wife.

“Congratulations on another mission completed, Team Seven.” He slid three small envelopes across his desk towards them. “Here is your payment.”

Obito picked up his pay and eyed it curiously. Typically, missions, especially D-Ranks, were assigned and filtered through the mission’s desk downstairs. For whatever reason, the “Tora Mission” was always given by the Hokage, and was a cut above the normal D-Ranks in regards to payment.

‘… Oh well,’ Obito thought with a shrug. Most likely, it could be attributed to the fact that the woman was the Daimyō’s wife and insanely rich. The man-boy would never understand the minds of nobles, and he never planned on learning.

After the trio of Chūnin escaped the room, Obito decided that he wanted to spend some more time with his team.

“Ne, Kakashi, Rin,” he began, gaining the attention of his two teammates. “Let’s go out someplace as a team, y’know, bonding!”

Kakashi sighed. “I have training.”

Rin looked down at her feet and kicked the dirt. “I, er… I’m trying to save money.”

“You always train, Bakashi,” Obito stared down the silver-haired boy who glared at the nickname, “and you don’t have to worry about money, Rin. I’ll treat both of you!” He paused. “… But only if we go to Ichiraku’s.”

The Hatake looked at him with a raised eyebrow, but started walking in the direction of the ramen house anyway. “Ichiraku’s? Since when did you become a fan?”

A small chuckle from the medic of their team made them turn to her. “Kushina-san is rubbing off on you, isn’t she, Obito?”

Obito only shrugged, lifting his arms up behind his head in a casual movement. “… Hmm, I guess you could say that.”

The three walked in amiable silence the rest of the way there, and arrived to place their orders.

“One miso ramen, please!” Obito exclaimed happily. His two teammates gave their orders at a lower volume, “shoyu for me,” was Rin, and a muttered, “shio,” was Kakashi in his usual monotony.

As Rin chatted with Kakashi—the latter only contributing to the conversation with quiet ‘hn’s and nods, with an occasional real word—Obito observed them fondly out of the corner of his eyes. He had been worried about how the event at the hospital would affect them, but it seemed his worries were unfounded. Not only did they seem to have bounced back to their normal selves, they both seemed somewhat… Stronger? Less vulnerable? Obito wasn’t certain, but the hesitance in Rin’s steps and voice dwindled, and Kakashi seemed more ready to interact with his team. The fact that he even bothered to attempt keeping up with Rin’s conversation was enough to indicate as such; in the past, he wouldn’t even be facing the girl and would turn on his “I’m a socially-retarded jackass” vibes in an effort to steer clear from anyone and everyone.

“One order off miso, shoyu, and shio each!” Teuchi slid the bowls in front of the three and Obito’s eyes lit up at the familiar smell of the tantalizing broth.

The Chūnin of Team Seven split their chopsticks, and with the unanimous call of “itadakimasu,” they dug into their freshly-made ramen treat. Well, two people dug into their ramen; Obito halted just before his utensil hit the noodles.

It was strange how easily Obito was able to meld right back into the team, how easy it was for him to be accepted once again. He wasn’t quite sure if it was mostly due to his almost instinctual habit of “blending in” that was honed through years of Shinobi training and reconnaissance, or if it was because he was still “Obito,” even though he wasn’t exactly the same as he once was. Whatever was the case, considering all of the griping and brooding he had done over the subject, it had been shockingly easy to become reacclimatized to his team, and they, him. 

A hearty laugh escaped his lungs and he felt a faint moisture build up in the corner of his eyes. Crap, he was getting emotional again. In the past week, he had experienced more mood-shifts than he had in the decade prior to coming to the past. It was almost unnerving, but in all honesty, he was too happy to really care.

“Obito…?” He abruptly stopped laughing and quickly wiped away his tears before turning to his teammates, where he was met with two looks with clearly written confusion. He waved off his teammates gazes as he finally dove into his ramen, the steamy noodles reminding him of a certain blonde-haired Uzumaki that would become a dedicated patron to the ramen-house.

It was nice. Obito really was home, and it wasn’t an illusion like he had once decided to settle for. 

’Thank you, Naruto.’

 


 

Sunshine locks swayed as Minato hurriedly walked down the hallways of the Jounin HQ, Nara Shikaku and Yamanaka Inoichi falling into step with him. It had been a rather abrupt confrontation: Minato found them, they exchanged quick pleasantries, and then the blonde told them that he needed their help.

“Er, so…” Inoichi began, only to be silenced by a raised hand from Minato.

“Not now, Inoichi. Thinking.”

Shikaku let out an amused snort. “But what about? Your wife or your student?” The Nara did not miss the minute stiffening of the short-haired blonde’s shoulders. “We understand that you are stressed, Minato, but we are worried about Kushina as well. We just want to know how she is doing.”

Minato’s fists clenched. “She’s… Physically speaking, she’s fine.”

This left Inoichi somewhat alarmed. “And mentally…?”

“Fine,” Minato replied tersely, earning him confused looks. “The doctors found nothing wrong with her after a quick scan, which is why she is to remain in the hospital for the time being. Her levels are normal, pulse, blood pressure, temperature, everything. They’re hoping to find the cause after more thorough tests have been run, but for the time being, it’s a waiting game.”

Shikaku frowned. “What alerted you to a problem to begin with? All we heard was that Kushina was admitted to the hospital.” Inoichi nodded at the Nara’s comment.

The dark look that passed over the shorter blonde made the two members of Ino-Shika-Cho worried. “Her stomach. She fainted after a sharp pain in her stomach knocked her out.” Minato noticed the immediate understanding that flickered through Shikaku’s eyes and nodded.

“… Her stomach?” Inoichi asked incredulously. “What’s wrong with that? If there were no physical abnormalities, then she should be… Fine… ” He paused at the serious looks the other two gave him. As realization hit him, he paled to a color lighter than his platinum blonde hair. “… No… Is it…?”

“That’s just the thing,” Minato sighed, combing a hand through his hair. “The seal was untouched. There were no abnormalities, and aside from a slight disruption in her chakra, there were no signs of tampering. Its chakra was still held tightly behind the seal, and if anything, the stream of its own chakra was actually thinner than before.”

Shikaku and Inoichi shared a look, neither of them as well-versed in Fūinjutsu as their friend, but still worried about the implications. Finally, the Nara voice his question in a careful tone. “… What could that mean?”

“… I don’t know.” The words were spoken in such a dejected tone that his two companions could practically feel the frustration evident. “I have my suspicions, a few hypotheses, but all of them are unheard of. It’s unheard of, and the seal, while restraining, shouldn’t cause such a reaction. I wouldn’t know the results or effects it would have on the host, since this has never happened before…” He trailed off, his voice falling just below a whisper. “… A Bijū dying within its Jinchūriki.”

A tense silence fell, and remained for the handful of seconds it took the group to finally reach their destination. Minato sighed while shaking his head, clearly planning to move on from the subject.

“… But for now, we will not focus on that. I called you two for a different issue,” Minato opened the large doors with ease and walked into the records room with purpose in every step. “Help me look for anything with the mention of ‘Kaguya’. Tell me if you find anyone that goes by that, or if you find even a mention of the name.”

“… Kaguya?” Shikaku questioned, bemused at the fact that Minato didn’t even notice the way the other Jounin present immediately cleared the way for him as though clearing for a Hokage. He could already tell that the man’s charisma and power would net him that position in the near future, and it gave Shikaku a sense of pride that he had been one of the first few to see past the “sissy” facade to see the real Minato.

The blonde nodded. “Yes. That is the name Obito had shouted at the hospital, and I had remembered it last night. I want all documents that list the name found and brought to me. We will reconvene in four hours to compare our findings.”

Shikaku raised an eyebrow as he followed his friend further into the room. “… The Hokage approved of this?” Minato halted in his steps abruptly and gave a sheepish smile. Both Inoichi and Shikaku sighed before the latter gave a bemused smirk. “I know you plan on becoming Hokage one day, Minato, but aren’t you getting a little ahead of yourself? You still need the Hokage’s permission for this kind of thing, in case you have forgotten.”

“Wait, no, it’s not that,” Minato quickly replied, denying the accusation with a nervous chuckle. “I did gain Hokage-sama’s permission, it’s just… Well, I didn’t mean to command you guys like that, I know that you are only doing this as a favor for a friend, and—“

“It’s okay, Minato,” Inoichi interrupted with an amused chuckle. It was quite funny how their friend could go from an oppressive leader to a nervous sap that tripped over his words. “We get that you’re stressed and somewhere between work mode and mission mode, while also trying to keep calm. Your default in tense situations is to take up the role of leadership to help diffuse said tense situations, so it’s only natural that you would behave as such—in the presence of friends or otherwise.”

Minato sighed before offering the mind-specialist a grateful smile.

“Well then,” Shikaku began with his usual drawl. “It’ll be troublesome, but we should get to work if we can to finish this.”

 


 

It was four hours later that the trio finally reconvened at a desk off to the corner of the room to compare their findings. Inoichi was the first to present.

“First of all, I found a ‘Kawasaki Kaguya’ who was well-known for Genjutsu despite being a Bukijutsu specialist.” This got the attention of the other two, and Inoichi continued with a sigh, “… But she died a decade ago, during the Second War.”

Minato and Shikaku frowned, but signaled the man to continue. He laid out a few files, each with detailed notes on individual people. “I also found multiple entries about individuals with the surname Kaguya, all of which were labeled anywhere between C-Rank and A-Rank offensive threats.”

The other blonde nodded as he perused the dog-eared papers. “I found similar files, with the same ranking. Enemies of Konoha, then; that matches. I also found some other individuals with the first name ‘Kaguya,’ but similar to your findings, they have either been dead for a while or have shown no aptitude in the Shinobi arts.” He sighed. “There really wasn’t much that I managed to find.”

After Minato finished his spiel, the two turned to Shikaku, who had his arms crossed as he leaned back in his chair. “… I found some old documents about a clan, and I think it has to do with your findings on the individuals with the surname ‘Kaguya’.” He slid a manila folder in the middle of the table and the two blondes flipped it open, inspecting it of its contents. “They are an independent clan known for their savage ways, love of war and bloodshed, and over all bloodlust. Select few of the clan possess a kekkei genkai called Shikotsumyaku that appears to be some sort of bone-manipulation technique.”

“Oh, I noticed that!” Inoichi started in an excited tone, apparently pleased that their little investigation was going somewhere. “One of the entries I found of a Kaguya autopsy stated that the bone structure was odd, as though constructed to accommodate chakra.” He shivered. “Apparently, the individual literally had to be dismembered and separated into several different parts to successfully neutralize him. I can see how that could scar a young child.”

Shikaku tapped his chin, absently noting the rather blank look Minato had. “Do any of us know where they tend to stay? Their habits? Surely there is a way to track down—“

A rather out-of-place laugh made the Nara halt his words, and both he and Inoichi turned to Minato. The man was laughing, and as such, Inoichi and Shikaku couldn’t quite help the strange looks they gave him.

Minato, seemingly sensing their unease, gave a small shrug and a questionable smile. “Oh well.”

The other blonde gaped as Shikaku’s eyes widened, the two exchanging worried glances. “Er… Minato?” Inoichi finally began, hoping that the stress hadn’t finally gotten to his friend. It was unlike him to give up so easily, especially concerning the people he cared for so dearly. “You’re not… You’re not giving up are you? I mean, just because the clan is supposedly extinct doesn’t mean that—“

“Oh no, I think you misunderstood my statement,” the shorter blonde interrupted, his smile still in place. When the other two looked at him uncomprehendingly, he elaborated.

“They are a small group of barbaric, war-loving individuals that move independently. Don’t get me wrong, that actually makes it much easier,” Minato quipped easily with a cheerful lilt. The suddenly frigid gaze his azure eyes took on made Inoichi and Shikaku tense.

The smile itself still appeared warm, but the eyes. The eyes were frightening, and promised a world of pain. “… There won’t be any political disputes if a nomadic clan is suddenly wiped out, since they don’t have any ties to a village. Not to mention, since they are small, I’ll know that any Kaguya I find is that much more likely to be the one I’m looking for.” He paused as a thoughtful look crossed his face, not noticing the looks of horror that the other two present had. “… With their history, I doubt they would give up the perpetrator without a fight, anyway.”

He turned back to the other two and smiled before giving a wave, and without another word, the blonde Hiraishin’d out of the room.

The spell broke, and the remaining two both breathed out the air they didn’t realize they were holding. They sat in silence for a few moments before Inoichi turned to Shikaku with a wry smile. “… Er. R-remind me to never get on Minato’s bad side, because to use your saying… It’d be rather…”

Shikaku sighed as he shook off the remaining vestiges of fear that had gripped him, unbidden. The word was muttered lowly with a scowl. “…Troublesome.”

 


 

Violet eyes took in the bleak surroundings as the red-head gave a little huff in discontent.

Kushina didn’t like hospitals. In fact, she hated them, what with how many times she had come to visit friends that had come in injured, many with death looming over them threateningly. It was the first time in many years that she had been the one admitted, but that only made her dislike it even more. It meant that she would be spending more than a few hours in the room that smelled of harsh chemicals and sickness.

With a sigh, she leaned back to plop onto the none-too-comfortable pillow attached to the raised incline of her bed. Her hand reached her stomach as she recalled her checkup.

The tests had returned, and the results had been worrying, in the worst sense possible. Absolutely nothing was wrong with her, but she knew better than that. There was something, something out of place, something wrong. She just couldn’t figure out what.

She glanced down at her bare midriff with a frown. Outwardly, nothing was wrong. She could channel chakra into the seal to make it appear, and it disappeared with ease—no pain, no abnormalities. And yet, she was almost certain that her fainting spells had to do with the fox.

Kushina shook her head as she turned to face the window, which gave her a pleasant view of the village she had come to adore.

She could only hope that the foreboding feeling she had wouldn’t harm the people she loved.

Chapter Text

Obito walked through the crowded streets of his home village, humming a random tune as his eyes drifted and took in his surroundings.

He had just finished another D-Rank with Team Seven and decided to take to the streets, wandering around while admiring the fact that Konoha was alive and bustling. It was a habit he had picked up when he arrived in the past. He spent much of his free time either at the Hokage Monument or meandering about the place, absorbing every minute detail that he had missed when he was younger and more prone to taking advantage of the peaceful life. 

Obito probably wouldn’t have developed the little ritual had Team Seven been out of the village and handling C-Ranks (as they had been the first time around at this point in time), but the man-boy had apparently changed enough to the point where that simply wasn’t happening this time. They had been stuck with D-Ranks for a couple of weeks now, and as such it was easy for Obito to adopt the habit of quite literally walking down memory lane.

He was happy with the new arrangement if one were to ask, but the prolonged periods of time where he was alone made it difficult to keep up his metaphorical mask of “younger Obito.” Transitioning from his normal demeanor to what he remembered of his old self was no easy task, and while it would have been near impossible to maintain the facade over the course of a week-long C-Rank, it was also difficult to switch between the two when needed or when off-duty. It was ironic, but in this case, the fact that Obito had been disoriented and with a death-wish when he first met up with his team at the hospital actually worked in his favor. He was not the best actor when dealing with his loved ones, and as such, he tended to have small slip-ups where he would zone out and think about the past and future. Luckily, both Kakashi and Rin seemed to attribute his sudden absence of mind to the traumatic event that they suspected him having experienced.

It wasn’t exactly a lie, of course, and it was easy to use that to his advantage. Obito had indeed changed due to a traumatic event… Though, it was less like the two-day-long one that they assumed it was and actually more of a near-twenty-year period of hatred, pained memories, and insanity.

They didn’t know that though, of course.

A shock of golden-blonde hair spotted in Obito’s peripheral’s made him spin abruptly to the source. He smiled as he recognized the figure and hurried to catch up with his sensei, who appeared to be somewhat lost in his own thoughts. At least the sickly pallor he had a while ago was gone; he was still a little pale and seemingly drained of energy, but his spirits were certainly lighter than they had been.

“Minato-sensei!” The blonde looked up as Obito fell into step beside him, a grin in place. “What were you up to? I rarely see you these days.”

Minato offered a small smile in acknowledgement of the boy’s greeting. “Hello to you too, Obito. And I was actually on my way to the Hokage tower…” He trailed off, a thoughtful frown in place. “… Sorry, I know I haven’t really been around lately. Business and duties to take care of. But that reminds me.” The blonde scratched the back of his head, as though nervous about something. “I, uh… I wanted to know, how are the living arrangements for you?”

Obito blinked. “… Huh?”

“Ah, well, I’ve been busy with other things lately, as you know…” Minato gave a nervous chuckle at Obito’s gaze. “I wasn’t really able to ask until now. I’m really sorry about that, I wanted to make sure that you were completely comfortable at the apartment, but I never got around to doing so. Kushina wanted to make sure that you were fine with things, too, even though she hasn’t been home for a while.”

The Uchiha didn’t miss how Minato failed to answer exactly what was going on. While he had made a silent promise to wait until the man told Obito himself, it didn’t mean that the man-boy couldn’t try and squeeze some information out of the blonde. He was worried, and some reassurance could help. “Speaking of which, sensei… both you and Kushina-neechan haven’t been around much. I get that you’re busy, but Kushina-neechan hasn’t been home at all.” His eyes narrowed at the carefully blank look that Minato’s features took before being replaced with a forced smile.

“Don’t… worry about that, there are just a few complications.” Minato’s eyes darted briefly before he turned back to face Obito, an uncertain expression in place. Apparently, Obito wasn’t the only one who found it tough to completely lie to his team. “… Uh, by the way, Obito?”

The addressed boy looked at his sensei with an eager yet questioning look, inwardly wondering if Minato was ready to divulge the truth. “Yes sensei?”

Something odd and inscrutable flickered in the Jōnin’s eyes before he smiled, though the assuring gesture didn’t quite reach his eyes. The blonde shook his head. “Never mind. It’s… It’s nothing.”

Obito frowned, but decided that he had prodded the man for information enough. He gave a small shrug. “If you say so, sensei. Anyway, I’ll go now, you have to go do Jōnin stuff.”

Minato smiled as he ruffled the Uchiha’s hair, and with some final goodbyes, they parted ways.

 


 

Another day, another D-Rank, and Obito was walking through Konoha after the mission, on his habitual meandering. He was in his thoughts as per the usual when he bumped into a small figure.

“Oof!” He heard a boy-ish shout as he snapped out his thoughts, trying to identify who he had collided with. His eyes fell on an unruly mop of black hair, not exactly spiked and wild like his but curled and unruly.

Obito raised an eyebrow at the familiar mop of hair. “Er… Are you alright, kid?”

The small boy he stood up and dusted himself off, mumbling faintly. “… Yeah, ‘m fine,” he muttered under his breath. Then, he glared up at Obito, as though just realizing what the man-boy had said. “And I’m not a kid!”

Amused, the taller of the two ravens ruffled the boy’s wild, dark locks and chuckled. “Sure, sure, because you’re a big and strong grown-up, right?”

The kid’s pout quickly vanished and his eyes practically glowed. “Yeah, I am! And is that a ninja headband, mister?”

“What…” Obito knelt down and tapped the metal plate of his hitai-ate, a smirk steadily growing. “… This?”

He smiled as the kid—no older than four, maybe five, he inwardly noted—gave out a delighted yell before reaching to grab Obito’s hand.

“You’re a ninja, mister! That’s so awesome!” He grinned as he smacked the metal of the headband, and Obito gave a light wince at the force. Kid had a strong arm for his age, that’s for sure. “I wanna be a ninja when I grow up, too!”

“Heh, I don’t doubt that,” the older raven stated as he stood up. His eyes narrowed as he glanced to his left, trying to discern the presences that had arrived not long after Obito had encountered the boy. ‘The question, though,’ he mused silently, ‘are they ANBU, protective Uchiha, or agents of that bastard?’

Sadly, Obito didn’t really have much to go off of in regards to Danzō at this particular time. He didn’t know if the man already had his eyes on the boy, so he couldn’t be sure, but the knowledge he had of the man’s future interest in the boy still left the hairs on the back of his neck on end. 

After another moment, he shrugged and ruffled the boy’s hair again, earning him an indignant squeak. “Well, it was nice talking to you, kid, but I should go. Ninja stuff to do, you know.”

“I’m not a kid!!” the boy shouted at Obito’s retreating back, before pausing and adding, “I’ll see ya later, goggles-niisan!”

Obito smiled as he lifted his arm in a wave, not turning around to do so. His suspicions were confirmed when the other presences disappeared, following after the the boy, proving that they were not ANBU sent to look after Obito but a different group sent to either observe or protect the younger raven. Obito shook his head, worries gone as he recognized a somewhat familiar chakra signature in the group following the younger Uchiha.

‘Over-protective Uchiha, indeed,’ he thought, chuckling with faint amusement. He stared up at the sky, his mood rather light after the brief encounter. ‘I look forward to seeing how far you go this time around, Uchiha Shisui.’

 


 

“… Damn.”

Minato closed the book he had been reading with a frustrated sigh. It was the 429th one that he had opened in the few weeks he had been searching (yes, he had been keeping count), and he had essentially cleaned out the library and records room of all the information regarding the Kaguya clan. 

He was getting rather frustrated that he couldn’t find anything in regards to their traveling habits and their usual methods of torture (that’s what he suspected had happened to Obito) but found nothing, and there was not even a mention of Genjutsu within the Kaguya clan. The two words were never even mentioned in the same damn sentence.

He groaned as he leaned back into his chair, nursing the oncoming headache that left him feeling severely discouraged. 

It would’ve been simple. He could just walk up to Obito and ask what happened, maybe slip him the question one day while passing. “Hey, so, I’ve been wondering, what exactly happened three weeks ago, anyway? I’ve been worried sick and damn curious and I just want to know.” … Yeah, Minato wasn’t going to do that.

It’d been a few weeks, sure, but he didn’t know the degree that the boy suffered. He didn’t know if Obito was ready to confront whatever traumatic event he had experienced. That day, about a week ago, when Minato had encountered Obito in the streets of Konoha, he had to stop himself from asking. Because while he wanted answers, he just couldn’t get the words to come out, not when he saw that familiar gleam of innocence in the boy’s eyes. It had taken two weeks for the boy to regain some semblance of his old self, and Minato didn’t want to watch him lose that carefree look that seemed to have finally returned. Because that dead, haunted look that he had seen in Obito’s eyes three weeks ago was something he never wanted to see again. It was something he never wanted to see in Obito, or in any child, ever, because it didn’t belong there in place of childish wonder and innocence. 

He grimaced as he thought about the oncoming war. Most likely, he would be seeing more of that look sooner rather than later. Even though it was almost considered social taboo to speak about it, Minato knew that the chances of a Third War were dangerously high. This looming threat of death and carnage was precisely the reason why the blonde had been applying for so many D-Ranks for his team as of late. Even though the chances of the war were looking high and missions for assassination and sabotage were frequent for Chūnin, ANBU and Jōnin during wartime, he refused to throw his team into that. Even though the amount of missions of that particular niche were practically flooding the mission’s desk, Minato refused to have his team participate in that so soon. Because in this time, he could still reject the missions, but once the war started, he would be completely unable to.

Part of him chastised himself, saying that it was foolish to keep Team Seven from participating and getting a small taste of what the war would be like. Logically speaking, taking on the more severe missions now would be prudent as preparation for his team. The more emotional part of him said that he couldn’t stand to see his students go out onto the battlefield with their innocence, and come back with the eyes of young killers with carefully reigned-in emotions.

These two sides always warred with each other, but with the recent events regarding Obito, it was easier to relent to his true wishes over his trained, Shinobi reflexes. 

Minato sighed as he set his book aside, taking another one from the pile.

As their Jōnin sensei, it was allowed for him to accompany them for their first few missions during wartime. He could help prepare them then, and give them this respite now. D-Ranks were just as important as the missions that took them out on the field, after all, and his team understood that.

He just wanted his innocent, lovable Chūnin for just a little while longer, while Obito healed. He didn’t want them to bloody their hands and become ruthless killers.

Not yet.

 


 

Kushina frowned as she walked home with Minato, her eyes on her stomach. For the past month, she had been stressed out.

Perhaps it was the feeling of being a burden to her husband (who already had a team of Chūnin to look after) or maybe it was the fact that the doctors literally could find no cure or cause for her fainting spells. Seriously, nearly a whole month spent in the hospital, and nothing. Finally, that day, she had been released from the hospital and put on leave from her duties. A Kunoichi that suffers from completely random fainting spells was rather useless, after all.

She grit her teeth as frustration bubbled up. She was certain that the spells had to do with her seal. Positive. And yet, she really couldn’t confirm anything, because both she and Minato had checked the damn thing over so many times that she lost count, and still, nothing

Many times, the red-head contemplated having Minato contact Jiraiya, but thought better of it. He would have done so already if it wasn’t a problem. Jiraiya was out of the village more and more frequently, as of late, and it was all in an effort to keep up his rather young spy network. Kushina didn’t know much about it, but based on how long the man took, it must’ve been a pain to upkeep.

That, or the pervert spent too many hours spying on innocent women in foreign bathhouses. 

The red-head sighed as Minato carefully lead her into their apartment. Honestly, it had gotten rather annoying how vigilant about her health her husband had suddenly become. The care was flattering an appreciate, of course, but it was a little bit much when the man wouldn’t even let her eat in peace, making sure that she ate every last bit of the disgusting hospital food (packed with vitamins and good for health, but the death of tastebuds) she had been stuck with for her stay. She wasn’t a piece of damn porcelain, and she could take care of herself, dattebane! … When she wasn’t unconscious on the floor thanks to a fainting spell, that is.

When she stumbled slightly, the blonde was right by her side, a worried look on his face as he asked if she was alright. Kushina gave him a heated glare, conveying that it wasn’t a spell and that she just tripped.

She wasn’t so certain, however, when she suddenly felt her head blur and her eyes grow unfocused, and she found herself in darkness. The only thing that was missing was the feeling of her body making contact with the hardwood floor, and something told her it wasn’t because Minato had caught her in time.

Kushina blinked back the haze from her eyes and looked around her, finding herself in a black abyss, knee-deep in water. ‘… Where…?’ She thought quietly, before a light splash behind her alerted her to another presence. When she turned around, her breath caught and she felt her heart stop altogether.

There lay the Kyūbi and all his nine tails swaying back and forth menacingly, his blood-red eyes staring at her. Staring. Through her almost palpable fear, she was just barely able to note that something about the fox was… off. There were spots on his fur that were frayed and burnt-looking, and some areas he was lacking fur entirely, making him look like he had been haphazardly sheared by a child. As she got a better look at him, he looked like he had been through a rather intense fight and lost, if his low chakra levels and overall tired demeanor were any indication. Another odd thing she noticed was that he was staring at her, not with hatred, anger, or even disgust, but with wide-eyed shock.

“… Wha…” The red-head breathed out, barely able to move and speak due to fear and shock.

The fox blinked, and his mouth opened, emitting a strained and cracked voice. “You…” He reached out to her, causing Kushina to flinch backwards out of her stupor. “How are you…?”

Kushina screeched in horror as another realization occurred to her, and possibly the most important detail. He was free. The chains that usually bound him, the great dial he was usually pinned to, it was gone, all of it was GONE. And he was free, and could tear her limb from limb, and—oh, shit.

She shot up with another scream, panting and dry-heaving, clutching her heart which felt like it was about to burst. Her eyes darted around, barely realizing that, no, she wasn’t in that dark abyss anymore, but in the familiar living room of her apartment.

“Kushina!?” She barely noticed the concerned way her husband was staring at her while shaking her at the shoulders, trying to stir her from her hysteria. “Kushina, it’s okay! Nothing bad happened, you’re safe!!!”

The red-head continued clutching at her chest with her right hand, but gripped Minato’s arm with her left as she stared up at him, wide-eyed. “Mi—Mina-t-to, it’s—the—the Ky—“ She coughed, having inhaled some of her spit in her panic. Minato offered her a cup of water which she took gratefully, taking the moment to calm her stuttering nerves and racing heartbeat.

She quickly finished the small glass and once again gripped Minato by his arms, panic still evident in her eyes. “T-the Kyūbi!” She finally yelled, and Minato’s eyes widened in horror at the fox’s mention. “I-I don’t know why, but he—he was free! He wasn’t pinned to the dial, and I was right, there was something wrong, and—oh, with the seal and my fainting spells—just—what do we do!?”

Minato placed his hands on Kushina’s as he removed them, her hands trembling slightly as he did so. He then enveloped her in a careful hug so as to reassure her, and began smoothing down her lustrous red hair. 

“It’s okay, it’s okay, Kushina,” he spoke in a low tone, and the red-head felt herself calming almost immediately. He continued this until her breathing evened out to normal, calm breaths, and pulled away to give her a serious look. “I’m going to check the seal now, Kushina, but I want to tell you now that I don’t feel any abnormal spikes in your chakra.”

She nodded; she didn’t feel much different either, with the exception of having just recovered from a rather embarrassing fit of hysteria. She hadn’t even felt an ounce of killing intent from the fox, and yet, she was still this frightened; it was rather humiliating, if she were to be honest. With a small frown, the red-head leaned back on the couch she was on and Minato lifted her shirt before she started channeling a minute amount of chakra to her stomach. The seal glowed into existence, and Minato traced the lines, absorbing every detail.

After a few minutes he sighed, re-aligning her shirt and pulling away. Kushina cut off the flow of chakra, too.

Minato sat down next to her and held her hands in his, gazing into her violet eyes with his unflinching gaze. “There was nothing wrong with the seal itself, Kushina,” her heart dropped. “But I can ask Jiraiya-sensei to come by and check. This constitutes as an emergency, especially if the Kyūbi was free in your seal. Hopefully he will find something to fix both problems.” His eyes wandered to her midsection, a thoughtful frown in place. “Though…”

“I know what you’re thinking,” Kushina began, measuring the blonde’s reactions. She was able to speak in a normal tone now, having calmed down enough to do so. She swallowed, her mouth and throat feeling like parchment. “I… I know. If the Kyūbi really was free, then he would’ve left by now, killing me in the process.” Minato winced at the rather blunt explanation, but she ignored it, opting instead to continue voicing her thoughts. 

“That’s… That’s what was strange, to be honest. I almost always sense the Kyūbi’s vile chakra, laced with its intense hate, whenever I’m in my mind-scape or using the chakra. But something… Something was off. When I was in there, he had no feeling of his usual anger or hatred, but…” She bit her lip as she thought back to her brief encounter before she lost her mind and began screaming her head off. “… Intrigue? He was surprised, and looked… Beaten up. Worse than Jiraiya-sensei after a beating from Tsunade-sama.”

Minato had a strange look on his face but nodded nonetheless.

Deciding that the topic of getting old and perfectly content to move on, Kushina stretched before sending Minato a questioning look. “So… How’s the Kaguya investigation going?”

The blonde lost his composure immediately and sighed dejectedly, sinking into the soft material of the couch. Kushina winced. “… That bad, huh?”

Minato raked his hands down his face as he groaned. “Really bad. Aside from learning more of their rather unsavory history, I found nothing that could help me track them down, no traveling habits or anything.” He crossed his arms and let out a huff. “Worst part, I have nothing to go off of to find the exact Kaguya that harmed Obito. I joked about it with Shikaku and Inoichi, but I can’t really go off and kill an entire clan, nomadic without ties to a village or not.”

Kushina let out a small “pfft” noise and Minato raised an eyebrow in her direction. “I bet you really scared ‘em, huh? Making them think you’d go on a genocide? I know I’d be if my future Hokage was homicidal, ‘ttebane.”

The blonde’s brow furrowed. “It was made in jest, though.” His brow only furrowed further as his wife fell into a bout of giggles.

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, Mina-chan, but when you ‘joke’ about killing, you give people the impression that you’re completely serious,” Kushina stated through her laughter. Her husband stared at her dumbly for a few moments, seemingly disbelieving of her statement.

Finally, Minato scratched the back of his head sheepishly as he sat back up, a chuckle escaping his lips. “Er… Really…?”

“Yes,” the red-head deadpanned.

The blonde remained quiet, before emitting a small, “… Oh.”

The dejected look he gave was just too adorable to Kushina, and she promptly enveloped him in a tight hug, smiling at the laughter her sudden display of affection earned her. “It’s okay, because I love you either way, Minato.”

Minato smiled as he returned the hug. “Of course, and I love you t—“

“Just don’t make death-jokes anymore in public.” Kushina pinned him with a look that all but spoke, “I’m serious.”

The blonde huffed indignantly before rolling his eyes, the smile on his face betraying any offense. “Yes, yes, of course.”

 


 

“Obito-kun, I’m sorry if you’re busy, but could you help me out with these groceries…?”

Obito had been wandering around Konoha, doing nothing that was particularly productive, so he technically had no reason to reject the plea for help. He had nearly convinced himself to simply give and excuse and leave, his worries and fears getting the better of him. One look at the nine bags of rather heavy produce, however, and he had his answer.

He really couldn’t help it, he had said yes on instinct. 

The raven hadn’t seen Hana-obaachan since the day he saw her on the ground and dying, and there was something about seeing her alive and well that made his inhibitions fall to pieces. So, completely naturally, he had said “sure” with the vim and vigor of his old self, when he truly had been thirteen years old. 

If anything, the only thing that made him somewhat hesitant after the fact were the stares he had been receiving, lately. Of course, when he was younger he was always looked at with some level of disgust by the average citizens of Konoha (and some of the Shinobi he had gotten on the bad sides of), but somehow, this time around they were a little more like blatant glares than simple staring.

Obito had assumed that it was because of the fire. Rumors spread fast, and there were quite a few civilians in that apartment complex, so he wasn’t surprised that each of them went to their best friends and mothers about the incident, caused by “that Uchiha punk.” It actually made him smile a little every time he heard the term. Call it immature and spiteful, but it made him happy to hear people speak the Uchiha name with such spite. He hadn’t done it on purpose before, but like hell he wasn’t metaphorically shitting on the name on purpose this time around. He would’ve felt bad if there were more people like Itachi’s immediate family in the clan, but as far as he remembered that wasn’t the case, and it was far too satisfying imagining the horrified looks that the elders had on their faces each time someone came to complain. So yeah, he really had no regrets on that particular subject.

He glanced to the little old lady beside him, the worry bringing him back to his senses. He didn’t want her to end up being an object of hatred as well, just because she treated him nicely. He wouldn’t have minded as much if she had been a Kunoichi earlier in life or had been younger and more able-bodied to protect herself. But she wasn’t either of the two, and was fairly weak. If anyone decided that she was as useless and unimportant as Obito due to her association with him, then he had no doubt that they would have no problems injuring her.

His eyes widened at the rather sharp look the elderly woman aimed somewhere to her left, and allowed his gaze to follow her’s. There, he saw a gaggle of civilians, speaking in not-so-quiet tones while glaring not-so-surreptitiously at him. He shrugged, ready to ignore them, but promptly halted as he heard the surprisingly harsh tone of a familiar voice.

“What are you idiots looking at!?” Obito almost gave himself whiplash, what with how fast he turned to Hana, eyes-wide and disbelieving that that powerful voice came out of this woman. “Look at you, foolish bunch, all of you! You could be spending your time helping me instead of gossiping about this fellow who actually has a heart!” Obito’s jaw was on the ground, and judging by the looks of the bystanders, so were their’s.

Hana only huffed and began dragging Obito along, but not before sending one last heated glare at the other bystanders. “Well? Go back to what you were doing with your productive lives! Don’t be jealous just because I have a handsome young man to help me with my groceries!!!”

As they left the area, Obito watched the woman continue to fume and mutter words under her breath. Forget “weak” and “protected,” this woman had a fire in her that was fitting for a citizen of Konoha. 

He burst out into controllable laughter.

It was truly amusing. Him, Uchiha Obito, who had lived as a double for Madara, who had become an S-Ranked threat, was still making the elementary mistake of underestimating others. He didn’t even notice when Hana stopped and turned to him, a wrinkly smile in place.

“See, Obito-kun? I don’t need to be protected,” she placed a pruney hand over Obito’s, and he abruptly stopped laughing as his eyes widened in surprise. “So you don’t need to worry about me. Don’t feel disheartened about the looks some villagers may give you, because I know that you are actually a very, very kind young man.”

Then, she swiftly relieved Obito of the baggage (it was about thirty-kilograms in weight, if Obito judged it correctly) and sauntered down the road to her house, the Uchiha both confused and completely stunned at what he had just witnessed.

He didn’t know how long he remained standing there.

With a cough, he spun on his heel and began walking in the direction of Minato’s apartment. He couldn’t help but feel lucky that he was on the old woman’s good side.

 


 

When Obito had returned home, he was greeted by the sight of both Kushina and Minato, two individuals he loved dearly and hadn’t seen much of for a while.

“Kushina-neechan, you’re home!” He exclaimed in-character, running to give the red-head a hug. He had to keep himself from scowling when he noticed she was noticeably thinner than what was most likely deemed healthy for a woman of her age.

“It’s nice to see you too, Obito,” she said quietly before pushing him away to look at his face. She grinned and ruffled his hair. “My, don’t you look handsome! You’re really growing up, aintcha?”

Obito smiled. “Well, you have been gone for nearly a month,” he retorted.

The red-head let out a light huff before standing up straight, her hands resting on her hips. “Well, it’s not like I could help it! If I could, I would spend every waking hour with you guys, but I—“

The Uchiha’s smile quickly faded and morphed into horror when Kushina doubled over while clutching her stomach, pain evident on her face. 

“Kushina…?” Obito questioned quietly, before rushing to her side. “Kushina-neechan? What’s wrong!?” He looked up at Minato, who was knelt down next to Kushina with his mouth set in a grim line. “Minato-sensei, what exactly is going on?” He hadn’t meant to lower his voice and state his words in such a commanding tone, but it came out as such regardless. Luckily, his two companions didn’t seem to notice or pay any mind to the sudden shift of attitude, what with the more pressing issue at hand.

Briefly, the red-head and blonde exchanged a look before Kushina struggled to get up, Minato helping her. He turned to Obito, a half-hearted smile in place. “… She’s just been having stomach pains, is all.”

Unbeknownst to the pair, instead of relieving Obito, it sent off alarms in his head. Immediately, his thoughts trailed to the Kyūbi, because really, why else would a trained Kunoichi with a decade of experience as a Jinchūriki be suffering from stomach pains? It was pretty damn obvious that Kushina’s “stomach” pains were what was keeping her away from the apartment and likely in the hospital. However, at the clearly pained look Kushina had on her face and the worry evident on Minato’s, he decided he could wait until they decided to tell him the truth. If they didn’t want to tell him, it was fine, he could wait until she decided it was alright. Probably.

“Sorry, Obito, could you go, um, see if Jiraiya-sensei’s new books have come in at the bookstore yet?” Obito looked up at the blonde, who was smiling faintly. “I’m going to take Kushina to the bedroom so she can rest.”

Not really knowing what else to say at the painfully obvious request for privacy, Obito simply replied with a quiet, “alright,” before turning back around to the door.

Before he exited, he heard Kushina mumble the words, “… At least I didn’t faint this time.”

 


 

Obito had decided to stop by the memorial stone.

Where else could he go? And considering the situation, he found it oddly fitting that he make his first visit to the place now, while he had unanswered questions. It stood as the centerpiece of the graveyard, proudly holding the names of the fallen. The names of heroes who had died in action, for Konoha, and their loved ones. It was a place where his name once rested, misplaced and undeserved with his betrayal and outright murder of so many dedicated Shinobi.

“… Hmm, I’m not really sure how to do this,” he finally began, humming slightly, his hands shoved casually in his pockets as he rocked back and forth on his heels. “Well… It’s been nearly a month, now, since I ended up in this situation.”

A month. A month in the past was all it took for him to finally face his inner demons and confront the people he had killed. It was something he most likely would have spent years trying to overcome had he not been brought to the past and instead continued living in the future where he came from. It was funny, actually, how easy it was to dismiss one’s past sins when sent to a time where they never happened. Where the people he had killed still lived, and were none the wiser about their blood on his hands.

He scratched the back of his head. “It’s… Actually really annoying, honestly, trying to recondition this body.” He scowled as he lifted his arm and shook it slightly. “My limbs are shorter, too, and muscles don’t quite develop… Right.” His hand slid back into his pocket. “My progress on chakra is going well, at least. I have about a quarter as much chakra as I had as an adult—minus the whole Jūbi thing, of course—and my control is great!” He beamed at the last statement, only to deflate slightly. “And, well, yeah, my physical strength is dismal. I’m steadily making it up there, however.”

The Uchiha gave a small, wry smile. “I’m… I’m a lot stronger than Kakashi. A lot faster, and I have tons more chakra, too. He’s… He’s not the same, and I realize that.” He paused. “Rin is alive. Not much to really say about that, I guess, but I’m… happy.”

He lifted his hand to trace an empty spot on the stone, where his sensei’s name once rested in the future-past. “… I’m worried about Minato and Kushina. They’re hiding something, and while I want to trust sensei, I feel like it’s… It’s something important. Something happened involving the Kyūbi, and…” Obito gulped as his mouth suddenly felt very dry. “… And I’m worried it has to do with me.”

His hand slowly slid down the cold, smooth stone, and he looked up at the sky, a sad smile in place.

“… I wonder, what would you have done in this situation, Naruto?”

Chapter Text

‘… Strange.’

That was what Obito thought as he looked on at the scene before him.

He had moved into Minato and Kushina’s apartment ever since he was released from the hospital, but had essentially been living on his own for the first month. Kushina had inexplicably ended up in the hospital (well, he assumed that the reason had to do with the Kyūbi, but he had yet to make certain of that fact) while Minato had started spending more and more time out of the house. Obito was still unsure of where the man went as his sudden absence had not happened last time, but the raven attributed that to his brief hysteria from a month ago. It was very well possible that Minato was trying to make sure that Obito could remain a Shinobi, as the mentally unstable were usually denied the right of becoming part of the force—it presented far too many complications and risks for the council to take that risk, especially for the black sheep of the Uchiha clan. It was also likely that Minato was doing something else, but Obito had no other idea on the matter so he had eventually shrugged it off and went on with his usual habits.

That was possibly the reason why the scene before him seemed so… Odd. It wasn’t a bad sort of odd though, not in any way, shape or form. No, it was just different, something foreign to Obito, and it made him feel a mix of pity and disgust for his younger self. He was once a lonely, pathetic child indeed.

Kushina hummed happily from the other room as the sizzle and smell of food wafted into the dining room, where Obito and Minato sat, the latter with a freshly brewed cup of coffee i one hand and a newspaper article in the other. It was so domestic, so normal, so… 

So very much like a family.

It left Obito with a full feeling, making him hyper aware of the emptiness he wasn’t aware he had. His team was, certainly, his family, but this… Obito had never felt this. He had his team, and they were very much like siblings to them, but being here in this environment made him feel like… Like a child with his parents. He wasn’t even aware that he had craved the love of a mother and father, as he had once been convinced that Rin was worth destroying everything, and that all he needed was his team in order to be happy again.

‘Apparently not,’ he thought quietly as he sipped at his cold glass of orange juice. The only things that he truly felt the atmosphere was missing, were… Rin. Kakashi. The rest of his team should have been there, he couldn’t help but think, as they were his family.

Naruto.

He winced slightly at the thought. In a way—if he allowed his condemning thoughts to drag him into that part of his mind—he was robbing Naruto of something precious. He was taking the boy’s place, this position as the “son” of the family dynamic. This thought only brought back his initial wishes, his original thoughts on the whole idea of time travel and the fact that he had come back.

The raven wasn’t nearly as depressed and… Averse to the idea or situation as he once was, but it was an accepted fact in his mind that he was not the best person to travel back into the past, for multiple reasons. One, first and foremost, was his tendency to cling to the past and dwell on unimportant topics—his current train of thought being a prime example. Two, the fact that he truly didn’t feel like he rightfully deserved the chance to see his loved ones again, not when he was the cause of their deaths. Especially when Naruto was possibly the most deserving individual in regards to seeing his parents, the people he never got to truly meet thanks to Obito. Three, he was not the revered child of prophecy, and plain and simple should not try to tamper with what is construed as “fate.” He wasn’t the little ball of sunshine, Naruto, who could even make the most corrupt of individuals turn a new leaf. … No pun intended.

His current situation coupled with his damning thoughts didn’t particularly help, in all honesty. He couldn’t help but feel that it was Naruto who was supposed to be here, eating with his parents, chattering away about nonsense as he came to truly know the great people that had brought him into the world—

“Obito?” The raven blinked, slightly disoriented, as he turned his attention outward, only to be met by the gazes of Minato and Kushina. He looked at his sensei, whose eyes shone expressively with curiosity and mirth. “I know I made the orange juice, but it doesn’t taste that strange, does it?”

Feeling strangely antsy, the Uchiha spluttered slightly before shaking his head in firm denial. “Wha—! No, it doesn’t, I was just, I mean…”

Minato laughed as a teasing grin formed on his Kushina’s face. “Are you sure of that? You looked kinda constipated there, ‘ttebane.”

Obito groaned, feeling the unfamiliar feeling of embarrassment cause his cheeks to turn a shade darker. He could act easily as Tobi for kami’s sake! Tobi! 

Seemingly deciding that they had teased the boy enough, Kushina slid a plate of food over to Obito with a grin. “Alright alright, we’ll stop teasing you.” She sat back in her seat and huffed pridefully. “Time to eat! I put extra effort into this since it’s the first time Obito’s here with us, so I’m sure you’ll like it!”

The raven looked down at his rather generous helping and unconsciously wiped a hand across his mouth, wary of the potential of drool being present. Toast, slathered in butter and jam, freshly cooked. Fluffy scrambled eggs sprinkled with salt and pepper, accompanied by bacon, cut sausages, and an assortment of cut fruit. It was different from what he was used to, as he had always been served sparse helpings of miso soup with rice and pickles when in the orphanage, and had ultimately become limited to simply rice when he had gotten his own home. The smell was unbelievably tantalizing, however, so with an absolute absence of trepidation, he picked up his fork and dove into the meal.

It was indeed strange, his mind decided to settle for. He had always been so at ease with the red-head and blonde, though he had never truly noticed it until now. His cheer always had a hint of being forced, contrived, whenever he was out and about, but being with his team or the two before him… He always relaxed. His words flowed more smoothly, he was far more at ease than he usually was, and he could actually have fun.

‘This is what it means to have a family,’ he realized, both nostalgic and surprised at his little revelation. He had always superimposed his idea of a family on his team, not entirely believing them to be one but dearly wishing that they were. It turned out that the barriers he had once constructed were unneeded after all; his family was always there.

Maybe this time around he could be a sort of brother figure to Naruto? He wasn’t quite young enough to be a son to Minato and Kushina (not to mention the mental age difference) but that didn’t mean that he had an absence of respect for the two, and he did see Minato as a role-model at some point—almost a father. He wouldn’t be infringing on their family, and he was certain that Minato and Kushina, being orphans, would be glad for Obito to become a sort of uncle or brother to their child.

The raven smiled as he considered it. He had been thinking irrationally earlier; this family, Minato, Kushina, and their son, were some of the brightest and happiest people he knew. They wouldn’t push him away, and Naruto would never think to blame Obito for half the things he was pinning on himself. 

‘So,’ he thought quietly, as he watched Minato eat contentedly as the man listened to Kushina chatter about random topics. He couldn’t help but imagine a small, orange-clad boy with sunshine golden locks sitting in-between the couple. Behind him, a disgruntled-looking Kakashi and a beaming Rin. ’A family, huh?’

Obito found, with little surprise, that he actually rather liked the idea.

 


 

Team Seven was walking on their way to the Hokage’s office to report in on their most recent D-Rank completion. It was a nice day, not a cloud in the blue expanse of the sky, and the temperature was a comfortable one, accompanied by the occasional, refreshing spring breeze. All was good in the village, civilians mulled about, Shinobi stood as the ever-watchful and devoted protectors of the village, some in uniform and some out. It was peaceful and very much like Konoha.

Kakashi’s lower eyelid twitched.

Yes, it was very much like Konoha, so despite the rather pleasant weather and ambience that day, he was unable to enjoy it. Well, it wasn’t as if he really was the type to enjoy it anyway, but today he was especially ignorant to everything around the trio of Chūnin, and that was because his eyes were busy burning a metaphorical hole on the bridge of his teammate’s nose. 

For a while, now, Obito had been completely silent. During their D-Rank to re-paint the walls of an apartment, the boy’s usually boisterous and non-stop-chatter disposition was nonexistent, and the team had proceeded to go through a full five hours without so much as a single word exchanged between them.

When Obito had been in the hospital, Kakashi had realized that the raven was the one who kept conversation going in their group, the one who kept things lively. After the “event” and once Obito rejoined Kakashi and Rin on D-Ranks, he had been more withdrawn, sure, but he still had some semblance of normalcy—the upbeat attitude he had before, and the manner of which he wouldn’t shut up.

Kakashi didn’t miss it, though. No, he was rather glad that his teammates opted instead to keep conversation sparse… At least, that is what he had thought a couple weeks ago. But when the sparse conversation took a turn for the worse, becoming complete-and-utter stifling silence, it began to unnerve him. At least Rin was still normal, and the fact that she would attempt to strike up conversation with both him and Obito was enough to attest to that. Sometimes Kakashi felt bad about ignoring her and would give a small nod or glance in her direction, but sometimes he wouldn’t even notice. At some point, he had gotten so focused on the fact that Obito wasn’t doing what he was supposed to do which was, as backwards and twisted as it sounded in Kakashi’s mind, to be an annoying idiot that would stop at nothing in trying to best everyone and prove himself.

But he didn’t. He remained silent most of the time, broody, just like his family. Sure, Kakashi had thought that the boy was annoying before and often times made jabs at the fact that Obito was nothing like his elite family. But somehow, a silent, broody Obito? It made the silver-haired Chūnin reach levels of irritation that he hadn’t thought possible before. 

At some point, Kakashi had begun staring at Obito—much as he was doing right that very moment—to try and silently convey his discontent. Because, honestly, Kakashi was not the type to convey feelings through sappy words; Shinobi were supposed to look underneath the underneath, supposed to realize facts and come to conclusions based on the smallest hints. So, he continued staring, which eventually evolved into a heated death-glare, and kept this up the entire time the team walked to the Hokage’s office.

Obito didn’t notice.

Kakashi inwardly growled—he wouldn’t express his discontent outwardly, he was a trained Shinobi and it was foolish for him to wear his heart on his sleeve like his teammate did—was supposed to do—as he studied the Uchiha. Some form of his conscience told him that he was acting foolishly, that it would be so much easier to simply ask Obito outright what was going on. It truly would be, if Kakashi were to consider the situation logically. 

The fact of the matter was that Kakashi was unused to Obito behaving as he had been lately, and as such, it was throwing him off. That much he could admit to. It was supposed to be Kakashi who was the silent, brooding one, while Obito grew irate and noisy at that fact, with Rin trying to mediate whatever fight their disagreements usually devolved into. But Obito was absent lately; there were times he was there but not really there. 

Kakashi’s fists clenched as he finally looked away, putting unnecessary force into each step he took. 

A month. A month, and still, Kakashi was no closer to finding out the truth. Wait, no, it was more than a month, and still, no answers. Truth be told, he was not a very curious individual and would’ve been perfectly content to ignore Obito’s sudden change, if it wasn’t so drastic.

However, though selfish it may be, Obito’s sudden change in demeanor ruined their team’s dynamic in the silver-haired boy’s eyes—it ruined Kakashi’s illusion of happiness and content.

… No, that wasn’t quite the phrase for it. Kakashi couldn’t really say he was happy, though he was content to leave things as they were. He was actually rather safe with the precarious position he had placed himself in as a member of Team Seven, and he had no wishes to change it. 

What Obito’s change did was make Kakashi think back to times he didn’t want to remember. Not in the usual way though; he had mostly gotten over the fact that Obito had apparently tried to commit suicide, and it unearthed dangerously unstable memories for Kakashi. It was simple to bury those thoughts as the silver-haired boy had done many times before, so no longer was that a major problem.

No, the problem lied someplace else, not in his past, but in the present. Before, though Kakashi always held respect for respect for Minato, tolerated Rin, and could more or less ignore Obito to keep the peace, most of it was still a rather detached relationship that he had constructed with his team. He wasn’t willing to create stronger relationships and he was fine with that; all he really needed was himself, and Minato and Kushina were… Well, he had labeled them as friendly acquaintances before.

However, Obito losing his “annoying” personality threw a wrench in that plan, and destroyed Kakashi’s carefully crafted barrier to his team. He could no longer simply ignore the boy, couldn’t ignore Rin, and couldn’t push Minato and Kushina away. The fact of the matter was that Kakashi… cared. He actually cared about them, and that was a fact he had been trying to shut away and remain ignorant to. 

Shaking his head, he shoved away his haywire emotions and thoughts for later speculation. He wasn’t quite ready to confront the facts of his feelings, not when the increase of conflicts along the border indicated a potential war starting. War. War meant loss, and Kakashi wasn’t quite certain he could take it if he opened his heart again, only to lose everything. Again.

Obito’s changes had a logical reason to them, of that, Kakashi was certain. He simply wasn’t sure what this reason was, and as much as he would prefer to continue ignoring it, he couldn’t quite do that. All he could really say for certain was that this change in his teammate left him discontented, and he felt as though he were grasping for familiarity, the usual pattern and routine that he had carefully crafted in his years as a Shinobi. Obito’s sudden change set off alarms in Kakashi’s mind, many more than just one or two. It might’ve been curiosity despite his usual lack of it, though he severely doubted something so devoid of importance would affect him so. It might’ve been his honed senses that picked out the minute details, the fact that Obito seemed to be hiding something and that that alone was suspicious. It might even have been a sense of worry—whether it was for his own stability, his team, or Obito himself, he wasn’t quite sure—that gripped at him.

Regardless, though Kakashi wasn’t innately a curious individual, there were times when he needed information. In times like these, it was a simple process to default into his “mission mode,” which usually went along the lines of closing off his emotions and preparing to gain as much information as possible through any means necessary.

Immediately, his thoughts trailed to a conversation he had with the young Jōnin commander, the other day.

He had been searching for Minato, and instead, found Shikaku, and promptly greeted the man before asking him about Minato’s whereabouts. The commander replied in his usual lazy drawl, saying that Minato was still researching. Kakashi, of course, inquired about what exactly it was that Minato was researching (and felt slight horror at the thought of his sensei’s “research” possible being a rendition of Jiraiya’s own “research”), to which Shikaku replied simply.

“He’s still researching about Kaguya.”

Then it clicked. 

At that moment, Kakashi had remembered that “Kaguya” was the name he and Minato had forgotten, it was the name Obito shouted in the hospital.

The silver-haired Chūnin frowned slightly as his thoughts deviated from his teammate and sensei, instead settling on this new tidbit of information. Was this “Kaguya” a threat to Konoha? Obito’s encounter with this person indicated that Kaguya was at least dangerous, if not a direct enemy of their village. How powerful was this individual? Unfortunately, Kakashi couldn’t really judge this Kaguya’s ability or power by assessing his teammate, because although Obito was considered weaker than him before, Kakashi was no longer able to read the boy. All he knew for certain was that Obito was hiding something, and it unnerved Kakashi that he couldn’t read his teammate for clues, at all. He wasn’t sure if what Obito was hiding was only the truth behind the event from a month ago, or if his suspicious feeling about Obito being more powerful than he let on was more than just a suspicion. Even their spar on Obito’s birthday was much more than Kakashi had expected; never had the raven been able to keep up with him in a Taijutsu-only match. Heck, before, he couldn’t keep up with Kakashi in anything, especially not to the point where said boy fell unconscious due to a simple spar with the raven.

With narrowed eyes, Kakashi returned his attention to the source of his inner turmoil and frustration—his teammate. There was no point in skirting around the issue any further, and it was best to confront it head on.

He was going to get his answers.

 


 

Obito knew that he had been receiving some odd looks (and glares, in Kakashi’s case) throughout the entirety of the D-Rank their team had just completed. The glares and glances persisted even during their walk to the Hokage’s office, and as soon as they had left after reporting in, the raven braced himself for what he knew was coming.

He knew that this precarious situation was mostly his fault, but he couldn’t help it, in all honesty.

No longer was it natural for him to behave silly and happy-go-lucky unless he was purposefully trying to act as “Tobi,” but even that persona was a little… much, for the boy known as Uchiha Obito. No, after his years of training and lurking in the shadows, his “default” was to remain silent and inconspicuous, hardly detectable. The fact that his mind was wandering didn’t help, since, without his conscious effort to appear normal as Obito by his team’s standards, he automatically reverted to his conditioned reflex—to all but merge with the shadows.

It was a grave error on his part, but in a way, he couldn’t quite bring himself to care. Yes, he cared for Kakashi and Rin, but at the moment, they were safe. The suspicions of two Chūnin were nothing in the face of the possibility of Kushina’s health failing due to his presence—and whatever changes he incurred on the time’s stability. It was fitting, in a way; him, Uchiha Obito, possibly the only Uchiha with the exact strain of Mangekyō of his where he could control space, was now mucking through time as though shearing grass. He would have laughed outright if he wasn’t currently pinned by Kakashi’s irritated and suspicious gaze.

“What is going on, Obito?”

And so it begins.

The raven gave a noncommittal shrug, casually stuffing his hands into his pockets. “Whaddya mean, Kakashi? I think we’ve already talked about this before, there isn’t anything—“

“That’s bullshit and you know it,” Kakashi deadpanned in a familiar manner. “You’ve been really different lately, always zoning out, not paying attention—though not in your usual way. You’ve been… Brooding. Actually, now that I think about it, you’ve been like this ever since whatever-the-hell it was that happened a month ago!”

Obito blinked, somewhat surprised at how many words Kakashi had just spoken.

“Obito, please,” he turned to Rin, who looked uncharacteristically downtrodden. “We… We just want to help. You told us to trust you before, and now…” She looked up at him with guilt-tripping, watery eyes. “Please, trust us.

The raven looked between his two teammates, one that was strangely worried (which was completely out of character for him, leaving Obito shocked), and the other using a teary-eyed plea that should be illegal. He groaned quietly before letting out a small laugh. “… This isn’t fair, you guys. Two against one? I call foul.”

“It’s about Kaguya, isn’t it?”

Obito snapped to attention and whirled around to Kakashi, his laid back attitude dissipating immediately. The other two members of Team Seven actually flinched back slightly, not having expected Obito to react so suddenly to the name.

After a few moments, Obito could swear he saw a smile form under the mask of the silver-haired Chūnin. “So, it is.

“… Where?” Obito asked, voice low and commanding. He ignored the wide eyes of his two teammates. “Where did you hear that name?”

“Why does it matt—“ Kakashi was cut off.

Where?” Obito felt anger and frustration bubble forth. What had happened? Was the situation already out of his hands? When exactly did he start losing the bare minimum of control he had? What if—kami forbid—Kaguya actually returned to the past, with him? Maybe it would be better that way, that would mean that she wouldn’t terrorize Naruto and everyone else—no. That wasn’t the point. How was the pseudo god involved with all of this? She wasn’t… Obito’s eyes widened in horror. ‘… What if she’s the reason for Kushina-neesan’s…’ It was a horrid thought. His mind thought of many, many possible theories, possible outcomes, and he didn’t like a single one

“… Obito,” his head snapped to Rin, who was wide-eyed and—was that fear? “O-Obito, please. Deactivate your S-Sharingan.”

As though burned, Obito flinched back, looking worriedly at his two teammates. Kakashi was tense, clearly ready to strike if anything happened, and Rin was on the defensive. He could feel the slight hum of chakra behind his eyes, making them burn. He closed them, taking a few, deep, calming breaths, and when he allowed his eyes to open once again, they were back to their onyx color. He had slipped, again. Some emotion training was in order, it seemed, if his knee-jerk reactions caused him to activate his Sharingan on a moment’s notice like this.

“Sorry… Sorry about that,” he stated quietly, releasing a sigh. He turned to Kakashi, a stern look in place. “Please, Kakashi, tell me where you heard that name. I need to know.”

The Hatake’s shoulders relaxed slightly, and he stared at Obito for a few moments, coming to a decision. “… Minato-sensei has been looking around for any info on this ‘Kaguya’ person that he could. I heard about it from Nara-sama.”

Obito swore under his breath. “But where did Minato-sensei hear about it!?” His tone was desperate, and fully conveyed his worry—

“From you,” Rin quickly replied. She flinched at the intense look the Uchiha gave her, before he schooled his features again. “… You don’t remember? At the hospital, after you were taken in, you—you shouted about everything being a Genjutsu, and mentioned ‘Kaguya’…”

Obito stared. Just stared

Then, he sighed, pushing away his embarrassment and exasperation (was he that out of it at the time?) as he held a tired gaze to the expectant looks his friends shot him. “… Sorry. I can’t tell you.” It made him feel… Wanted, feel needed and appreciated that his teammates seemed to have such a strong amount of worry for him. He felt safe, for lack of a more descriptive word, and he actually did feel the slightest amount of guilt at the fact he couldn’t tell them—not much, as the secrets he held were for them. He couldn’t tell them.

Kakashi and Rin looked as though they were about to protest, but Obito held up a hand and narrowed his eyes, effectively stopping them in their tracks. “I can’t tell you guys yet, but I promise that I will tell you eventually. When I’m ready to tell the truth, and when you guys are ready to hear it.” He paused briefly before slinging an arm around both of them in a bit of an awkward hug. Kakashi stiffened at the act, as did Rin, before the latter relaxed into the hold. Obito closed his eyes. “I can’t tell you guys, but… Just know that you guys mean a lot to me. A lot, a lot.”

Rin giggled as she reciprocated the gesture, and Kakashi, surprisingly enough, awkwardly patted Obito and Rin on the back while letting out a dismissive grunt. 

It was to the boy’s ire, and Obito’s and Rin’s amusement, that his ears were tinged a red rivaling Kushina’s crimson locks. 

 


 

That evening as Kushina was busying herself in the kitchen making dinner, Obito decided he should inquire about exactly how much his sensei had found out. The Uchiha inwardly berated himself; certainly he had been out of sorts and panicked, but his years of training should have kicked in. Most of the time, even when in a hysterical state, it was natural for him to hold back on certain information—locations, techniques, names—and yet he had made a grievous error within the first day of him being in the past. He supposed that he might’ve been acting too harsh on himself, since, to be fair, he was more than convinced at the time that all of this was just an elaborate Genjutsu. The last thing he was worried about was divulging information, especially when the thought of an illusion taking the forms of past loved ones came into play. His eyes slid inconspicuously to Minato who, at the moment, was working on a new Fūinjutsu formula, completely unaware of his student’s inner turmoil and steadily growing anxiety.

“… Minato-sensei,” Obito finally began, causing the Jōnin to pause and look up at him with a questioning look. “I have a… A question.”

The blonde gingerly placed his brush on a folded napkin before turning his attention back to Obito, a small smile in place. “What would that be, Obito?”

Obito gulped once, before turning a hard stare to his sensei. “What have you learned about Kaguya?”

If he hadn’t been searching for it, he wouldn’t have noticed the way Minato’s smile faltered slightly, and would’ve missed the telling twitch of the man’s hand. As it stood, the blonde kept up the now-forced smile with startling ease. He shrugged. “Not much. Why do you ask?”

‘Because it’s dangerous. Because you know almost nothing about what’s going on. Because you shouldn’t be trying to go up against a veritable God!’ Obito bit his tongue, keeping his words to himself. It would give his sensei ample opportunities to point out holes in Obito’s already unstable story, and he couldn’t tell the truth yet. He had taken too long to reply, apparently, because Minato continued.

“Obito,” he called, causing the time-traveller to look back up at the blonde. Minato’s smile was gone, instead replaced by a deathly serious gaze—there was worry in those eyes, however, and the otherwise oppressive air was lessened slightly. “Please. I need to know what happened in order to help you, in order to do something about…” His voice fell below a whisper. “… About Kaguya.”

Obito scowled, automatically slipping into his true age with ease. “No.” He hadn’t meant to let his childish mask slip so much, but evidently, he had, if Minato’s widened eyes and slackened jaw were any indication.

He didn’t care.

Not when it involved the potential deaths of his loved ones, no. He didn’t care.

Uchiha Obito realized, however, that he was trapped. He could no longer say that what he had experienced was a dream, because Minato already suspected it to be a Genjutsu—with the revelation that he had actually shouted that name in the hospital, he realized that his “dream” story was full of even more holes than he had first thought and could no longer be his go-to—and in all honesty, he was shocked that the man hadn’t simply confronted him about the issue sooner. It spoke volumes on the implicit trust Minato seemed to have in him, though misplaced it may be. Of course, Obito couldn’t go ahead with the theory of his suffering being due to a Genjutsu, because then it would lead to questions on who it was that placed the Genjutsu on him (again, already suspected to be Kaguya), and why Obito hadn’t seen fit to report the utmost truth to begin with. He couldn’t say that he was threatened to keep it a secret, either, because that would raise unneeded alarms, and Konoha’s resources were already stretched thin due to the impending threat of war.

The exact reasons for his secrecy were rather simple in all actuality, though he couldn’t tell them as much because it would raise questions on how he came to know such information. While he knew that the White Zetsu spores were not yet being used as they had been in the future (he vaguely recalled Madara telling him that they were still in the experimental stage, and Obito didn’t feel the grossly familiar presences anywhere in Konoha) and Black Zetsu was not yet “created,” as such, would not be showing himself anytime soon. He still had Danzō and Orochimaru to worry about, however, and Obito couldn’t chance over-involving his team to the point that they only hastened their deaths. Obito had to at least deal with one of the major threats before telling his team, so that the eventual damage control would be more manageable. He wasn’t a god, and though his Kamui could give him veritable omnipotency, there was only so much one man could do against high-Jōnin to Kage-level Shinobi while still playing defender for his loved ones.

He inwardly sighed. After so many years of fighting on his lonesome, it was unimaginably difficult to reincorporate “teamwork” into his hardened routine, into his ingrained habits. It was easy enough to reacclimatize himself with his teammates since, well, they might as well be his family, and their current tasks were measly D-Ranks with no looming threat over their lives. C and B-Ranks, however… Once the war finally started, Obito knew that he would be in trouble.

“… I have my reasons for withholding information from all of you,” he stated warily, starting to feel the pinpricks of nervousness as Minato kept a firm gaze on the raven. Obito sat back in his chair, mindlessly tapping his finger on the table before him. “And there are many, of varying importance. I will divulge the truth eventually, I just ask that you… That Team Seven trusts me.”

Obito waited, shifting uncomfortably under the intense stare of his sensei as he waited for a reply. He was worried that, perhaps, his behavior and demeanor paved the road for a different thought altogether—betrayal. A spy. It wasn’t something he had first considered, but considering their profession, he was surprised that that wasn’t one of the first suspicions he raised. It was rare that hell was raised while suspicions remained quiet. For a few moments he was subjected to Minato’s unwavering gaze, before the man finally nodded, to Obito’s surprise.

“… I understand.”

The Uchiha’s eyes widened, and his jaw dropped. He had expected much; his sensei demanding that he tell the truth now, being asked for at least some facts, or being sent to the T&I department—the latter was one of his less-optimistic thoughts. “Y… You aren’t going to inquire—“

“No.” Minato shook his head. “You yourself said that you will tell us—all of us—when the time comes. As long as you do not forget those words, I see no reason to press further.” He smiled slightly, leaning back into his chair. “After all, you never go back on your word. Isn’t that right?”

Obito stared at the blonde, somewhat disbelievingly, before nodding with a smile. “Thanks, Minato-sensei.”

“Of course,” the man smiled back briefly, before his face turned deadly serious—the transition was so sudden that Obito felt his back straighten as an automatic response. “That doesn’t mean that I am not worried, Obito. The only reason why I see no need to press the issue is because you don’t seem quite as disturbed about the situation anymore, and… I trust you.”

His gaze hardened slightly, his eyes sparking with an intensity that Obito had only ever seen on the night he battled the man as Madara. “Understand, however, that should this Kaguya show up again, I will demand answers—not just as your Jōnin sensei, but as a Jōnin of Konoha.” Unbidden, the raven felt a shiver ghost up his spine. “If a threat to my village is presented, then I will expect your full cooperation.”

The threat was there, Obito could feel it. Despite himself, he smiled warmly at his sensei in response—it was a certain level of pride that this man, so loyal to those he loved, and yet, so strong as to make usually-difficult decisions on the spot. Some may consider it cold-hearted and callused; Obito, someone with over thirty years of life experience, knew that what the man before him had was a quality worth only the highest grade of utmost respect. And Obito, despite being a solid eight years older, had nothing but respect and adoration for the man, the Yellow Flash, the man who would become the Yondaime Hokage. It was with some level of pride that Obito realized the truth behind his sensei’s words, that Minato deemed Obito of a level of mental strength and understanding high enough to not crumble under the intensity of the threat, to be able to withstand his own ideals—to treat him as a near-equal, despite being his student.

Finally, the Uchiha nodded, his eyes reflecting his understanding and loyalty to the man before him. The man who was one of the only two that Obito would willingly sacrifice his life for if it meant their happiness.

“Of course, Minato-sensei,” the raven replied easily with a growing smile. “And I trust you, too.”

 


 

It was on a morning not too long after the little confrontation that Obito finally decided he had enough of waiting.

It had been a normal morning, coupled with the usual feelings of safety and happiness that accompanied breakfast with Minato and Kushina. In the midst of it all, however, Kushina collapsed to the ground, breaking out into a cold sweat and trembling. She had glanced to Minato, who only nodded once before picking her up and carefully lying her down on the couch. They exchanged a few words before he disappeared in a flash of yellow—Hiraishin, possibly to go alert the Hokage, send out a message, something.

The man had left Obito and Kushina alone, and the raven’s inhibitions fled immediately. He needed to do something about this, especially when it was very well likely that this was due to his very presence.

“… Kushina-neesan,” he carefully maneuvered himself so he was kneeling next to her, and she turned her head slightly, her eyes unfocused and dilated. “Kushina-neesan, what’s wrong? Can you hear me?”

Kushina nodded as she gave him a shaky smile. “Yeah. I… I’m fine, Obito. Minato just had to go get some medication for—“ She paused. “… For my stomach pains.”

Having already confirmed that she could hear him, he pressed on. “I need you to tell me how long this has been happening.” Kushina stared at him questioningly, and he placed a hand over her’s. “Kushina-neesan, please. Tell me how long this has been happening for.”

The red-head blinked owlishly. “Um… Almost two months, now…?”

Inwardly, Obito cursed. Two months. That was definitely around the time he had come back to the past. Shaking his head, he pushed that thought to the side, deciding that he needed more information. “Tell me the truth, Kushina-neesan. Tell me what is happening, what exactly is happening.”

She tensed slightly as her smile wavered. “Like I said, it’s just stomach pains, Obito. It’s nothing too—“

“I know that you’re the Jinchūriki of the Kyūbi,” Obito divulged, ignoring the sharp intake of breath the revelation caused. His hand tightened around hers. “I might be able to do something about your health, but I need to know what is going on.

Her eyes darted to the side, and silence fell between them as Kushina dove into her thoughts. Obito waited patiently, until she turned to him with hardened eyes. “… The Kyūbi has been…” She paused before shaking her head. “… No, not the Kyūbi, but… But something is wrong. Not too long ago, I ended up in the hospital as you know—it was because I was dragged into my mind-scape.”

Obito’s eyes narrowed but he continued listening with rapt attention. “He was… He was injured, beaten. His chakra levels were low, and…” Kushina licked her lips, eyes drifting to her stomach. “… He was free.”

The raven’s eyes shot up beyond his hairline, feeling utter fear and worry that he hadn’t felt in years. “… Free?” 

“Yes,” the red-head nodded minutely. “But he… He didn’t attack. He seemed almost… Surprised? And most of all, he was strangely…” Her brow furrowed as she worried her lower lip. “… Absent of hatred.”

The fear Obito felt immediately dissipated as a thought formed in his head. An idea. It was impossible, it had to be, but what else could explain this? Sadly, he had far too little information on his situation to make an accurate guess, but…

He nodded once, blinking as his eyes changed into their blood-red, and the world seemed to slow down around him. He needed answers, needed them as soon as possible, and for that, well… He had to speak to the Kyūbi himself.

Kushina gasped as she took in the Uchiha’s eyes, tightening her own hand around Obito’s. “It’s… True…” The raven gave a small smile as she cupped his cheek, worry and sadness evident in her gaze. “Obito… What happened?”

The Uchiha shook his head. “Later, Kushina-neesan.” Then, he locked his eyes with hers.

And everything went dark.

 


 

When Obito opened his eyes, he was not surprised to find himself in his 31-year-old form, standing in a dark abyss, knee-deep in still water.

At least, it was still for a moment. Almost as soon as he felt it—the malicious presence, however subdued it may’ve been—it suddenly erupted, waves of potent chakra whipping at him, forcing him to heighten his senses as he jumped across the surface of the water to dodge the cancerous blades. When he was a sufficient distance away, he turned to face the source, and was met by slitted pupils situated in blood-red eyes. Orange fur, matted with blood, stood out in the darkness of the abyss as a bright beacon, rage-induced chakra swirling around the beast’s form like a cloak.

It was the Kyūbi.

“You,” the great fox uttered lowly, eyes sparking with utmost hatred and anger. Despite being injured, he was no less an imposing force than he had been during the Fourth War, and his utter loathing for the raven was palpable—Obito could feel the beast’s urge to tear into and kill him. Still, the fox did not move from his spot, instead staring down the Uchiha with a most potent glare. “You DARE show your face to me, you swine! You Uchiha scum!

Obito nodded once. “Kyūbi.” He then directed his attention to his surroundings, looking for the familiar visage of the woman whose mind-scape he was in.

“How dare you come here. How DARE you come here, with your tainted ambitions and ill-wanted goals!” The Kyūbi roared as his waves of chakra caused the water to grow turbulent, his tails ripping through the air in frantic motions. “And yet, even in death, you STILL stand in the way!”

Obito, having confirmed that Kushina was not present and was under the light Genjutsu he had placed, turned to face the beast with a grim smile. He was met with a snarl promising utmost pain and misery.

“So…” The Uchiha began conversationally. “You came to the past too, huh?”

Chapter Text

“Kuchiyose no Jutsu!”

Minato slammed his hand down on the ground and a plume of smoke burst forth. Once it cleared, a small, crimson frog was revealed.

“Yo,” it commented with a small wave. “Minato-sama, how are you? You haven’t been to Myōbokuzan in a while, and haven’t had a chance to see my son!” The toad paused, noticing the grim look on his summoner’s face. “… What happened? What can I do for you?”

“Sōsuke,” the blonde nodded, a forced smile forming. “I apologize, but now is not the time for pleasantries. I need you to to deliver a message to Jiraiya-sensei immediately.”

The toad, Sōsuke, nodded. “It is rare for you to summon me, the situation must be dire. What is the message?”

“Tell him that he is to return to Konoha as soon as he can. I know that I have kept in contact with him via messenger hawk, informing about what has been happening, but…” Minato scowled. “Tell him that Kushina’s condition is worsening, again. He needs to come here as soon as possible.”

Sōsuke saluted. “Yes, Minato-sama.” As the toad turned to leave, the blonde could hear faint mumblings of, “I need to retire,” and “Kōsuke-chan needs to grow up faster.”

The toad disappeared in a plume of smoke and Minato turned on his heel, heading off to the Hokage’s office to inform him of the situation. He was no longer as stressed nor as worried as he had been before sending Sōsuke off to deliver his message to Jiraiya, but he still had to report the situation to the village leader. 

Hopefully the settling dread in his stomach was just him over-thinking the circumstances.

 


 

The Kyūbi’s teeth were bared, each sharp incisor promising to bite into the Uchiha if he made a single wrong move. 

Obito simply stared at the great Bijū, a carefully blank look on his face—a face he had not worn since he had come to the past, the scars and age ever present.

“The past…” The fox’s eyes narrowed as he assessed the Uchiha before him, his initial outburst seemingly over with. “What exactly is going on? What machinations have you thought up this time?” The words were not said with a small amount of spite, and Obito raised an eyebrow in response.

“Machinations?” He mumbled quietly. He had already been put through Naruto’s little “talk,” and had since realized that the Mugen Tsukuyomi was not the key to happiness as his clouded mind had once believed. Surely the fox knew that, knew he had changed…? “I’m just planning on saving the people I care about.”

The Kyūbi gave a derisive snort. “Yes, you were planning on sacrificing a whole world for the illusion, mere shells of the people you cared for. It is all so very selfless.” His last statement dripped with sarcasm, and his eyes glinted with raw fury. “How can I be sure you are not planning something similar?” 

Obito’s brow furrowed as his mind developed possible reasons for his current situation. He had been sent to the past after his death, but Bijū didn’t die and as such the Kyūbi couldn’t have been in the same situation as he. Therefore, it was very well possible that the fox had been sent back from a different point in time—clearly after the war started, but when exactly? “… What do you mean?”

“What do I mean…?” The beast snarled, another pulse of cancerous chakra whipping out towards the Uchiha. How can I be sure that you are not planning to step in the way? How do I know that you aren’t willing to betray everything for a DREAM once again?”

“You don’t. And don’t forget that I am capable of controlling you with these eyes,” Obito stated in a low tone, shifting his stance ever so slightly. “Should you try to harm me, I will not hesitate to stop you, Kyūbi.”

One of the fox’s tails twitched before he scoffed. “All of you humans, you are all the same. Only that boy has ever even attempted to understand, has ever come to me without the incessant greed for promised power.”

Obito’s eyes widened a fraction before he schooled his features; the action not missed by the Bijū before him. So, this Kyūbi was definitely from his time… Or, at least, after Naruto had come to an agreement with the fox. He couldn’t quite say he knew much about the obscure concept of time travel (though he had his many theories, and as such, realized that he should keep himself open-minded about circumstances) but he did know that it was very well possible that the fox before him was not the one that was present at the time of his death—he had confirmed that the Kyūbi had already befriended Naruto by the time of its own travel, and that was something Obito could use.

“Can you tell me how you ended up in the past too, and from exactly when you come from?”

His question earned him a blatant sneer. “I will not tell an unknown.

Obito nodded. He himself had been probing for information in their small exchange, and considering their none-too-friendly history, it stood to believe that there was a rather obvious lack of trust between the two. He had to establish that he was trustworthy, or at least, someone that the Bijū didn’t have to remain on the defensive with. “I had died after sacrificing my life for Naruto and Kakashi.” This got the fox’s attention, as his tails halted their constant swaying briefly. “… At least, I was supposed to have died. That attack from Kaguya was supposed to kill me, and something tells me I actually did die, but… Then, I woke up here in the past, inhabiting my younger body, instead of the afterlife.”

For a few moments, the two only stared at each other. Obito, waiting for a response, and the Kyūbi, seemingly considering something. Finally, the beast gave a near imperceptible nod, tension alleviating slightly. “… So, you really are the one that died.” At Obito’s raised eyebrow, he continued. “There was a reason why I didn’t kill you outright—if I were to be honest, if not for said reason, then I would’t have hesitated to take the chance to rid this world of a major headache—that reason being that there was a possibility of you being the one who had actually heard the kit’s reasoning. I am not as knowledgable as Hagoromo on the concept of time travel, but I knew enough to know that there still existed the chance that you were not the Uchiha who sacrificed his life for my container.” He paused. “… I still had to be certain. If you were the one who incurred the war in a blind pursuit of a nonexistent dream, then I would have stopped at nothing to rip your puny human conscience to shreds.”

The Uchiha nodded, again, completely unperturbed (though he probably should have been) and understanding the Bijū’s reasoning. In fact, he was actually surprised that the Kyūbi even bothered to check before tossing caution to the wind and killing him. It certainly seemed as though much had changed since he supposedly died. 

“It seems, that… Naruto has affected us both greatly.” The fox eyed him curiously. “You, who would never have considered a human life more than an insignificant speck, and I, someone who had once lost all care and decided that my only solace was in that of a false world.”

The beast grunted—in agreement or otherwise, the Uchiha couldn’t quite tell. Obito shook his head, realizing that he was losing sight of what he was actually there for.

“Anyway. Now that we have confirmed that we have a similar goal, what happened—“

The fox barked out a sarcastic laugh. “Says who? A similar goal, you and I?” He bared his teeth down at the raven, in-between a snarl and a malicious grin.Don’t make me laugh.”

Obito pinched the bridge of his nose and let out a low growl. “We actually do, you cantankerous old fox.” Before the Bijū could retort for the remark, he continued. “Uchiha Madara.”

A twitch. The Uchiha saw hesitance in the red, slitted pupils of the beast. “… What about Uchiha Madara?”

“What do you think?” Obito bit out irritably. “The man needs to die.”

Why?”

The Uchiha stared incredulously at the Bijū, who stopped his hateful snarling and instead settled for an almost curious, assessing gaze. Obito eyed the fox carefully, his mind working overtime to figure out what the millennia-old chakra construct was playing at. “… Because he is the cause of everything. He is the reason why so many people died in the Fourth War, he is one of the biggest contributors to the never-ending cycle of hatred.”

The cycle of hatred is caused by all humans, not just one alone.”

“Yes, but he is the one that accelerated the process. He is the one responsible for the pain and suffering of many in the future, both directly and indirectly, and if we wish to change something, then Uchiha Madara needs to die.”

“… Your thoughts are clouded by prejudice. You are biased.”

“I’m human,” Obito riposted with a bitter smile, tired of the small battle of philosophies the beast had brought them into. “And I’m not Naruto, either. In my mind, Madara needs to die, and I don’t have the care to try and reform him. Don’t act as though you are disappointed, because I know that you want to see him dead just as much as I do.” He shook his head, exasperated and drained of energy. “Look, are you going to cooperate or not? It could help having the Kyūbi on my side in this, but I don’t need your cooperation to accomplish my goals.”

The beast’s gaze remained on the raven. “… I do not remember much. I know that… I recall Kaguya being sealed, and Naruto fighting with his Uchiha teammate. A few reparations, rebuilding from the war. Other than that, nothing, aside from the moment just before I was suddenly torn away from Naruto’s seal and brought… Here.” Obito sighed in minute relief, glad that, at the very least, Naruto had succeeded.

His relief was short-lived, and he paused as a realization hit him. “… Wait. You were torn away from Naruto’s seal?”

“Let me finish,” the Kyūbi bit out irritably, his fur bristling with energy. “I was in the seal, it was about a few weeks after the war had come to a close. I recall seeing a silhouette of Hagoromo, something that I had not expected, especially after his part had been accomplished with the re-sealing of Kaguya. That was when I… I heard her name.”

Obito tensed, but remained silent as he listened to the fox’s retelling. “It was… Strange. As soon as the name had been spoken, I felt a tug at my consciousness, and then, at my very chakra, as though being pulled out of Naruto’s seal.” The Kyūbi grumbled under his breath and blew out a sigh. “I know that he is still alive, however. I cannot say how I know this, I just do.”

At this, Obito released a breath he was not aware he had been holding. It was somewhat disconcerting that the Bijū didn’t seem to know how he knew, but as long as he was certain, then it was enough for the Uchiha. 

Still… Something was off.

Obito crossed his arms as a thoughtful look crossed his face. If he were to consider his own situation and the fox’s, they were not… There was no relation. No connection. He still didn’t know why he ended up in the past, and now, why the Kyūbi was in the past with him. 

“… Oi, Kyūbi,” he began, refocusing on the rather massive presence. “Are you yourself, the one who came back from the future, or is your current…” He gestured to the beast himself, “… form, belonging to your past incarnation?”

The Bijū’s eyes widened slightly. “… I had not considered that,” he spoke slowly, digesting the concept. “While I have my hypotheses on the matter, there is no way to truly confirm them. After the war, and after Naruto and the Uchiha survivor battled, my Yang half was released and reabsorbed by my Yin, resulting in me achieving a complete form once again.”

“But you’re injured,” Obito pointed out, earning him a light glare from the beast. Perhaps the blatant fact threatened his age-old pride. “Surely that has to do with… Something? Maybe traveling back in time left your body battered and beaten, hence your current state. Maybe you are the you from the future, in mind and body.”

The fox shook his head. “There is another possibility, another explanation for my current state. It is possible that my chakra coming back with me—purified, free of hate—was unsuitable for my current form, and much like what happened to the Uzumaki woman,” Obito choked at the mention, though his suddenly perturbed state was left unnoticed by the Bijū. “It left me severely injured with the change. Though, I suppose that… It is somewhat more likely that I am indeed myself, from after the Fourth War. Especially if Naruto from my time is still alive and well, because even with his Uzumaki blood, the boy wouldn’t survive my extraction. Still, I do not know for certain, and it is impossible to know.”

Obito’s brow furrowed. “… You can’t just compare your chakra levels? Anything?”

“You seem to forget, I am a chakra beast,” the fox commented snidely. “I have lived for millennia, I am made up entirely of chakra, and my stores are ever replenishing. It is impossible for me to detect a noticeable increase in my chakra levels within a few decades. To put it in perspective, it would be akin to you attempting to find a change in your chakra stores from one day to the next.”

“It couldn’t hurt to ask,” the Uchiha mumbled slightly. He had already guessed as much, but it wasn’t as though he ever really cared to learn much about the Bijū aside from the basics. To be fair, he never thought he would need such seemingly pointless knowledge on the beasts; they were once only tools to him, a means to an end, to further his plans. The raven shook his head. “… Wait. Clarify something for me. What happened to Kushina-neesan?”

The fox raised an eyebrow, and Obito let out an irritated noise. “Why was Kushina fainting so much? Were you the cause of that?”

It seemed the Kyūbi was minutely surprised at the accusatory tone, as he blinked a few times before scowling. “… That was not my intention. I hadn’t even realized I was back in the past, and it was my natural reaction to draw in some of the chakra of my container, as injured and deprived of energy I was. I had thought I was still sealed in Naruto, who has reserves far greater than this woman’s.” He scoffed. “I even decided to cut off the leeched chakra when I suspected that she was my container. I had not intended to weaken the Uzumaki woman, brat.”

Obito ignored the slight, donning a contemplative expression. “Wait… So it was chakra exhaustion…?” He frowned. “Why didn’t anyone realize that sooner, then?”

“You are listening to my words, but not making the proper connections.” The Uchiha rolled his eyes. Give it to a Bijū to insist on talking down to a man who not only incurred the Fourth War but also became the Jūbi Jinchūriki.Yes, I was taking her chakra, but not enough for any humans to notice. It was merely enough to help speed up my healing, which wasn’t much.”

“Then what happened?”

“As I stated earlier, most likely, the shift in my chakra’s potency and purity are having negative effects on her.” The fox grumbled petulantly. “I knew something felt off after I woke up, so I started to reign in part of my chakra as I recovered. Her seal is not unlike Naruto’s in that regard, the way it leaks my energy into her coils. It also purges the vile element to it… But since my hatred is gone and my chakra is no longer as corrosive, the seal ended up over-compensating—taking her own chakra and filtering it, reaching unnecessary levels of chakra expenditure. However, the energy never actually left her, hence, your puny medics were unable to find the problem.”

“…When did you become so knowledgeable in Fūinjutsu?” He couldn’t help but ask.

His question earned him an incredulous stare. “My containers have all been Fūinjutsu experts, or have at least had connections to a few. I am also a millennia old being.”

“But the seal shouldn’t allow you to see the outside world unless you… Never mind. That doesn’t matter. I am thankful for the ample information that you have given me thus far; it helps.” Obito slid a considering look over to the fox. “… Y’know, considering you supposedly hate me, you have been awfully accommodating and… Loquacious.”

The Kyūbi snarled, taking the comment as a personal affront. “This is for Naruto. Don’t delude yourself into thinking that there is any other reason for my cooperation with an Uchiha. I had already decided to repay Naruto for his kindness by ensuring that his parents stay alive during the time of his birth, but out of the two of us you are the only one with free reign to do as you please in the outer world.” His eyes narrowed dangerously. “We are working towards a common goal, and as such, I EXPECT you to play your part, human.”

Obito nodded. “Madara needs to be killed off as soon as possible. Most of Naruto’s pain and suffering extended from that man, through me, his puppet.” He paused. “… Black Zetsu, as well. We need to kill Madara before Black Zetsu begins manipulating him. I do not know if that shadow can be killed, but he needs to at least be sealed away.”

“You are asking much of yourself, considering you are nothing.”

The Uchiha glared up at the fox, unable to fully refute the snide remark—in a way, compared to Bijū, humans truly were nothing. He nodded slowly. “… I know. I have many plans, many tasks to be completed, but due to their near-impossible nature… I need the Senju cells.”

“Senju cells? That unholy concoction that Madara and Danzō used to lose their humanity?” He snorted, as though thinking of something amusing. “And exactly how do you plan on doing that?”

“I could go to Orochimaru—he helped Danzō with that, I believe—or, as averse to the idea I am, I could allow myself to be crushed by boulders once again.” The last option was said with a slightly sarcastic drawl.

“… You would go to your enemies to become an abomination once more? You would take this second chance to live a better life, and instead, walk down a path similar to one you have already lived?” Strangely, the words were asked without so much of a hint of bitterness or spite—only with curiosity.

Obito closed his eyes. “… I once had morals that dictated that this plan was wrong, morally unjust. But I no longer care about that.” He looked up at the beast with a blank gaze. “I could gain the cells I need in order to slow down the deterioration, and also kill an enemy that threatens Naruto’s future. That threatens his happiness, and the lives of the people I care about.” A wry grin stretched across his lips. “The toll is rather small compared to the benefits, wouldn’t you agree, Kyūbi?”

“… But why?”

“Because activating the Rinnegan or slowing down the deterioration of my eyes… It’s the only way to accomplish my goals.”

The raven sent a confused glance at the beast when his statement earned him a strangled snort. “You are not Indra, nor Asura. It isn’t simply a matter of having a reincarnation of Asura’s DNA to activate the Rinnegan, because your strain of chakra is too weak.”

Obito scowled in bafflement. He could admit that he wasn’t the most well-versed in the activation of the Rinnegan; he hadn’t cared previously, and only knew the sparse facts that Madara had deigned important enough to divulge. He only knew that Uchiha and Senju were needed in order to gain the legendary Dōjutsu. “… Elaborate.”

“You are not a reincarnation of Indra, and as such, you would not be able to use the method that Madara used. He was Indra’s incarnation and as as a result was able to morph his own potent chakra with Asura’s—Hashirama held that chakra—resulting in Hagoromo’s Six Paths Sage chakra. As I said, your strain of chakra is too weak. It is not just the blood of Senju and Uchiha that is required, but the very spirit of each clan’s forefathers.”

So that’s what it was. Obito quirked a smile, crossing his arms as he did so. “Well… How about a deal? Surely you must miss Naruto, your first friend in millennia.” His smile grew wider at the flicker of interest and suspicion in the Kyūbi’s eyes.

“… What are you planning?” The beast’s eyes narrowed, but its tails flicked calmly back and forth. “What is the catch?”

Obito shrugged casually, his smirk never wavering. “There is no catch, I’m not some soul-eating demon. It is merely a deal, I give you something and in turn, you do something for me.”

“And what is the exchange?”

Taking a deep breath, Obito spoke. “I will help seal you back into Naruto under one condition: you help me evolve my Sharingan into the Rinnegan.”

The beast’s eyes averted, and he fell into thought for a brief time. Finally, he turned to the Uchiha with a decidedly contemplative look. “… In the past, it was always construed as demons being the ones to lure humans into deals. However, in this case… I wonder which is the true demon?” He bared his fangs in a demonic grin. “You with your demonic eyes and inhumane past, or me, who is simply labeled as a demon because of my appearance and limitless power?”

The raven huffed impatiently. “Do we have a deal, or not?”

The Kyūbi snorted. “No deal.”

For a minute, Obito gaped, composure lost; refusal was not what he expected. Then he regained himself, eyes sharper than daggers and a threatening aura surrounding him. “… Why not?”

“Because you are foolish to think that you can achieve the Rinnegan. It is not possible for you, who does not possess the proper—“

“You knew the Rikudō Sennin personally, and there are residual traces of his chakra within you,” Obito ground out in a low tone. “I am of Uchiha blood, and if what you said is to be believed, all that is truly needed is the Sage’s chakra. Surely it should be simple for you to evolve a Sharingan into the Rinnegan with your power.” He had gone into this with the intention of only gaining the Senju cells, but since he was making the deal, he figured that he may as well use it to his advantage. Obito had no doubt that the fox was holding out on him; it was only fair, as he was withholding information as well.

“… I…” The beast closed his eyes, his voice falling below a whisper for a moment. “I honestly don’t know for certain. Your theory is sound, though there are always other factors to consider, other outliers that could turn the whole equation on its back.” The corner of the beast’s mouth quirked upwards. “But I supposed… I can attempt it.”

He reached out a claw towards Obito, who quickly sidestepped out of the way. The fox let out a frustrated growl. “Stay still. I cannot know for certain unless you—“

“Not these eyes,” Obito interrupted as the Kyūbi reached out one again, causing the chakra construct to halt immediately. His eyes narrowed.

“… Then whose eyes?”

Obito shrugged, conveying that he truly wasn’t sure. “I do not know yet. But I had to make sure you were on board with this before I advanced my plans.” A pause. “… So, we have a deal?” His response was a silent nod, causing him to grin in victory.

He had the Kyūbi’s cooperation, now, however tentative their temporary partnership was. He at least knew that, in regards to Naruto, as long as he fulfilled his end of the bargain, the age-old beast would hold his end of the deal as well.

A thought occurred to the Uchiha, making his brow knit in contemplation. “… Why don’t you try to change things on your own?” 

His response was a skeptical look that all but outwardly said, “are you daft?” “… I am sealed. There is nothing I can do to change anything, if you hadn’t already noticed.”

Obito rolled his eyes. “I know that, but I don’t understand why you said earlier that only I am able to go around changing things. I mean, you could befriend Kushina-neesan, and—“

No.” The tone was unrelenting and fierce, causing Obito to blink a few times.

“… What?”

 The Kyūbi sighed. “Naruto was the first human I befriended after years of hatred. He was the type to befriend even those that hated him, but that principal did not branch off to me.” He snarled. “I see no reason why I should attempt to instigate a new friendship with someone who will not listen.”

The fox’s first statement stood out to Obito, and he gave a small, but malicious, grin. “… So basically, you’re actually surprisingly emotional and refuse to remove Naruto from his position of ‘Kurama’s first friend’,” Obito attempted to state in a deadpanned voice. The amusement still shone through, however.

“No, you insolent brat! Naruto is the Child of prophecy, and I am a Bijū. I am nothing but a source of power for you humans. Naruto has an innate ability to get people to follow him, to want to listen to him, despite his sometimes stupid antics and choices. He is the light, while I am viewed as a demon.” The fox let out a tired huff before settling his chin on his claws and averting his eyes, grumbling all the while. “Though, I… Suppose you are right, in a way.”

Obito smiled as he thought of the blonde boy. He actually understood that sentiment, and that was a major part of his reason for actually wanting to change the past—the future. If not for his selfish wish to be with those he loved, it was for Naruto, the boy who woke him up from his nightmare and never-ending darkness that consumed him. “… But what do you think Naruto would want us to do?” The fox languidly drifted its gaze back over to Obito. “Don’t you think he would want you, his friend, to be on good terms with his mother and father, the people he loves? The people who brought him into this world, that are his family?”

When Obito caught the Kyūbi’s gaze, he thought that the fox’s eyes looked suspiciously glossy. “… Yes. And I realize that. But I cannot actually bring the woman here without harming her, and I know that the kit wouldn’t appreciate a risk to her health. Speaking of which…” The raven had to brace himself, as a pulse of chakra—no longer with the potent hatred he felt earlier, but still powerful nonetheless—surged towards him. “Leave. Your prolonged presence here is straining her feeble human mind.”

Obito started in alarm at this, inwardly thinking that it made sense—the mind of a Bijū along with that of someone like him, would be the most likely to present a strain to Kushina’s mind, if at all possible.

He saw a flash of a smile. “Come back when your head is on your shoulders and you know what to do.”

Before he could comment or exit himself, the fox sent out another pulse of chakra, unceremoniously forcing Obito out of the mind-scape as he let out an indignant and surprised yell.

 


 

Kurama snorted bemusedly.

Considering the man was the cause of so much grief for his blonde friend, and considering the man was an Uchiha, he certainly made amusing faces when caught off guard or shocked.

The fox settled into the confines of his seal, the darkness enveloping him. He hadn’t felt the usual spite he had expected; the Uchiha had used his name, the sacred moniker that had been bequeathed unto him by Hagoromo. He hadn’t been directly addressing Kurama, as it was said more in passing—“Kurama’s first friend”—but he still used it, nonetheless. And yet, the fox had not taken offense to the fact at all.

A strange sense of solitude, one that Kurama found he actually didn’t like, settled around him. His mind wandered to the lengthy conversation he had with the Uchiha, and how he hadn’t spoken to anyone in quite a while. It had been many years since he had been left in complete solitude and silence, as ever since he had befriended Naruto, well… “… Loquacious?” He spoke aloud, though quietly. “Indeed, I suppose I was, considering. Loathe as I am to admit it… That man has a similar spark as the blonde kit, a similar element to him. What was it called?”

The fox snorted, a ghost of a smile on his jet black lips. “‘The Will of Fire’. Even while subjected to the Uchiha Curse of hatred, with that repulsive, blood-red gaze… He has that ‘Will of Fire’ so prevalent in Naruto.”

Kurama closed his eyes. The unbidden image of sunshine locks, azure eyes sparkling with mischief, and a cheeky, childish smile flashed through his mind. Unfamiliar, disconcerting emotions welled from within, and he let out a heavy sigh.

“… It’s boring without the brat.”

 


 

Obito rubbed his sore eyes, grumbling petulantly as he reoriented himself. 

“Recalcitrant, obstinate, stubborn…” He muttered angrily, grasping at words as a steadily growing headache throbbed in his temples. “… Stupid, bull-headed, uncooperative asshole!”

Despite his swears against the Bijū, he was actually quite content with how things turned out. Things certainly could’ve gone worse, after all, and this was a major step towards his ultimate goal. Still, that didn’t mean that the resulting headache from chakra backlash was anything to scoff at, as he had to redirect his chakra to halt the incessant, throbbing headache resulting from the sudden surge. It was much like how he imagined hang-overs to be, if he had to guess, though to a much more extreme degree—

The Uchiha froze as the red-head before him shifted, irritation dissipating immediately along with his random thoughts, and he quickly went to check her status. She was still asleep in the light Genjutsu he had placed, and he nodded to himself in satisfaction. Kushina needed this rest; no doubt the stress from the past months and the presence of two powerful minds other than her own in her mind-scape left her drained, no matter how strong of a woman she was.

Obito glanced out of the window, gauging the time—probably around 8am, now, and he wondered if Minato was going to return soon.

Wait.

8am?

His head whipped around to the clock on the wall and he let out a surprised noise. “Shit! I’m late!” His eyes darted around, looking for a blanket or something of the sort, before he decided to take his jacket off. He gingerly wrapped the navy-blue cloth around the red-head, and when he deemed her sufficiently covered, he darted for the door with a smile on his face.

 


 

Violet eyes narrowed as she felt the insistent gaze on her, never leaving. Her grip on the utensil tightened at the feelings of worry and hesitance she felt from the other occupant of the room, staring at her with persistence and care only possible in the the familiar azure orbs that she loved… Most of the time.

Kushina groaned irritably, finally having had enough of the near obsessive concern. “I told you I’m fine now, ‘ttebane!”

Minato smiled nervously as his wife turned on him, a frightful scowl on her face. He eyed the knife in her hand with no small amount of trepidation. “I know, Kushina. I’m just making sure, since your earlier spell was unexpected. I don’t want you to hurt yourself.”

The red-head eyed him briefly, before her eyes drifted to the knife in her hand. Minato gulped. Then, with a shrug, Kushina went back to cutting the vegetables for their dinner. “… What time do you think Obito will be home?”

Sensing that he had successfully averted a potential disaster, Minato relaxed in his chair, mindlessly swirling the tea in his hand. “Well, Rin had requested that they take on more D-Ranks since she needed more money for this month, so today they took on three,” he began numbering off the missions with his fingers. “There’s the weeding mission for Akihiro-san, then the restoring of the civilian sector park fence. Those two will probably take two, three hours at the most. Last but not least… Well, Tora had escaped again.”

The couple simultaneously winced at that. “So… We should probably expect him home in another two hours,” Kushina commented, glancing to the wall clock that showed that the time was 5:57 pm. Seven hours for that mission seemed like the appropriate allotted time.

“Yeah…”

A comfortable silence descended between the two, Minato smiling as his wife busied herself in the kitchen. It was an odd sensation in all honesty; three years ago, he never would have so much as dreamed that this would be a reality. He had always hoped that the feeling was reciprocated, that what he had was not a one-sided, hopeless love. Kushina was his pillar of strength, the person that helped him through the tougher times. She made him stronger than he truly was and was often his voice of reason, despite what many people truly thought. A genius, that’s what many people saw him as, but he was actually rather ordinary—he just happened to have the most amazing people as his friends and family.

“… Minato,” Kushina’s voice interrupted his thoughts, and he snapped to attention at the slightly wavering tone she spoke in.

“Yes, Kushina?”

He frowned at the decidedly nervous air she had about her; she had put her knife down and was wringing a towel in her hands. She turned to him, revealing the hesitant look she wore, coupled with the manner she worried her lip. “Have… Have people been talking about me, again? In the village?”

Confusion showed briefly on the blonde’s face before his mind pieced together the puzzle. Surprise flitted on his features momentarily before his look hardened, eyes narrowed dangerously. “… Did something happen with the Kyūbi?”

Kushina shook her head frantically. “No it didn’t, nothing—… Well, I mean, I guess so,” her face pinched confusedly. “… Kind of?”

At Minato’s barely concealed (and steadily growing) worry and anger, she blurted out, “Obito knows I’m the Kyūbi’s Jinchūriki!”

Dead silence.

“… What?” The blonde finally questioned after a few moments, not even noticing the way his voice rasped, too focused on the fact that Obito knew. How? Why? Obito? A thought, betraying his care and trust for the boy, surfaced to the forefront of his mind unbidden, and he frowned faintly. ’Quite a bit has been happening with that boy…’

“Obito knows,” Kushina sighed exasperatedly, placing the towel on the counter and taking a seat across from Minato. “I don’t know how, because I didn’t get the chance to ask. He revealed it to me when you left this morning.”

“Did you ever give any indication?” Minato inquired, slowly slipping into his “mission” mode as he placed his teacup on the table. “Is it possible that he heard it from you? I know that Obito didn’t hear it from me… Or Jiraiya-sensei, since he’s still out of the village.”

The red-head shook her head. “No. It’s strange, since the only other person that knows the full truth about my… Status, is the Hokage.” She bit her lip, looking into Minato’s eyes with clear worry. “Is it possible that Obito heard the rumors? You know, the ones that say I’m the Kyūbi Jinchūriki?”

Minato’s mouth set in a grim line, his eyes drifting to the now lukewarm tea. “… I doubt it. It has been many years since those rumors have come and gone, thanks to the tight security and the Sandaime’s law.” He turned back to her. “Besides, from the way you said it, I doubt Obito’s knowledge is from something as flimsy as a rumor. It sounds like he was certain of it, like a fact.”

Kushina nodded slowly, confirming the blonde’s suspicions. His eyes narrowed as his mind worked, trying to piece together the implications to complete the puzzle. “I suppose that it’s possible he heard hints from a few Shinobi that have bits of information. Obito has shown surprising intellect, and… Insight, these past few months.” He frowned, his mind wandering slightly. “… I did notice that he had been wandering around Konoha quite often, but most of what I heard was in regards to citizens acting hostile towards him…”

What?” The red-head growled, fists clenching. “People are still treating him like that? So long after the fact!?”

“Kushina, you forget that Obito wasn’t exactly a favored citizen, even before the house incident,” Minato calmly stated. “Besides, this was from a while ago, mind you, and he’s been doing exceptionally well. The rumors about him have died off more or less.”

The red-head huffed. “They better have. I swear, if I hear that he’s been subjected to that one more time, I’ll—“

“Jiraiya-sensei should be coming back to Konoha soon, by the way. I had a messenger toad deliver the message this time.”

Kushina flinched at the sudden shift of focus, her irritation gone. She looked down at her stomach with a frown. “… My fainting spells stopped completely ever since I saw the Kyūbi, y’know. You’ve noticed it too, haven’t you?” Minato opened his mouth to reply, but before he could, his wife continued.

“I…” She licked her lips, her eyes shifting as she blinked rapidly, as though trying to find words. “… I want to try going back into my mind-scape.”

Minato had to catch the teacup that nearly hit the ceiling at his startled flinch which caused the table to jump up. “WHAT!?”

Kushina, surprisingly, shrank into herself somewhat. Then she shook her head, straightening and staring unflinchingly at her husband. “… I want to speak to the Kyūbi.”

After briefly checking to make sure he didn’t spill, the blonde sighed, standing up to place the teacup in the sink where it would do no harm. “That… That is the most reckless action you could possibly take at this point, Kushina.” He turned to her, watching as she turned red-faced in indignation. “… But, if you can wait until Jiraiya-sensei comes to Konoha, then… I will permit it.”

Satisfied, Kushina blew her hair out of her face and rolled her eyes. “I don’t need your permission, not really, I’m a grown woman!” At the stern look Minato shot her, she added sheepishly, “… But thanks, dattebane.”

They fell into another silence as Kushina walked back and forth, tending to the food and Minato washed the dishes. The blonde eyed his wife, noting how she was still stewing about something—there was more to be said. Their eyes met briefly, he looked at her knowingly and her hesitance seemed to fade. 

Finally, the red-head sighed, having lost the brief confrontation. “… I want to tell them.”

Minato quirked an eyebrow. “Hmm?”

“I want to tell Rin and Kakashi about my status as a Jinchūriki. I think that they deserve to know.”

Minato paused for a brief moment before nodding in agreement. “I think… Well, what I think doesn’t matter. We’d need the Hokage’s permission to do so.”

“I thought that the secrecy of my condition was to be left at my discretion.”

The blonde shrugged, smiling slightly. “It is, but it’s only fair to inform Hokage-sama about it before doing something so outrageous. After all, it is thanks to him that your status was never fully exposed after the Kumo incident.” He chuckled at the exasperated but understanding sigh Kushina gave. “We can probably tell them soon. I was actually planning on resuming supervision of the team. It’s about time I was present during missions as their sensei again, after all…”

Perhaps she noticed the underlying frustration or the slightly self-deprecating tone he used, but regardless, Kushina frowned disapprovingly as she punched him lightly on the arm. “Stop acting stupidly—you had a good reason for not paying as much attention to them lately. You’re worrying about things that you don’t have to worry about.” She smirked. “You and I both know that your group of little chicks understand that perfectly well.”

Minato groaned. “Alright, fine, just stop calling them that, please. Kakashi refused to talk to me for a whole day the last time he heard you call him that.”

“Why though?” Kushina asked innocently, batting her eyelashes. “You’re hair is as yellow as a little chick! And they’ve all followed you around since they were Genin, it’s perfect!”

“Exactly, it’s my hair that’s yellow,” Minato riposted, a small smile forming. “So it doesn’t make much sense.”

Wariness crept into the blonde’s gut as a strange look crossed Kushina’s face. “Well…” She began quietly, wrapping her arms around Minato’s neck in a slow, deliberate fashion. “Soon enough, we probably will have little “chicks” with sunshine locks following us around…” He froze as Kushina gave him a wink. “… Right?”

Outside, bystanders suddenly heard the booming laughter of the famed red-head before watching Minato Shunshin across the rooftops, face as red as a tomato.

Chapter Text

“—And then, the way Kakashi slipped on the puddle and landed head-first in the bucket of paint was hilarious, he was soooo angry…”

Rin chuckled as Obito retold the latest exploits of Team Seven, the both of them finding more humor in the fact that their third teammate had a rather pronounced pout on his face—even through his usual face-mask. Minato followed his team of Chūnin with a smile as the small group made their way over to the training grounds for a good after-mission training session.

“That’s not exactly how it went, dobe,” Kakashi cut in irritably, glaring at Obito. “At least I landed in white paint, a whole bucket of red fell on you—and then you were doused with white.” He gestured pointedly at Obito’s clothes, which were splattered with red, white, and a whole mess of what the two colors mixed into. Pink.

The Uchiha only laughed, smirking at his teammate. “I think we all had fun, Bakashi. Care to remind me exactly how I was doused with white paint?”

A small smile slowly grew on Kakashi’s face, ebbing away at the hard-fought look of reserve and irritation, and Obito’s own grin widened in response.

It had been about a week after his conversation with the Kyūbi, longer since the small disagreement with his teammates, and Obito had proceeded to go about his business as if nothing changed. His team was more or less back to normal as it stood; Minato was present most of the time, now, which significantly lifted the spirits of all three of the Chūnin. Rin had gone back to being her usual positive, happy, and supportive self with radiant smiles. Kakashi, surprisingly, no longer seemed suspicious and wasn’t as guarded—in fact, the boy seemed almost friendly, now. He was still a bit of an ass at times, but it was significantly easier for Obito to pry reluctant but true smiles from the young Hatake, and it soothed his guilty conscience somewhat.

Still smiling, Obito inconspicuously glanced to the side at a specific presence he had been feeling for a while. It had begun following them shortly after reporting to the Hokage, and while it felt of no malicious intent and seemed relatively benign, that only served to further alert Obito. The presence—no, presences—were undoubtedly human, and the complete and utter lack of intent—absence of traceable emotion—was unnerving. And it meant one thing.

Root.

His eyes narrowed at the slight rustle of leaves from one of the Root members. Clearly, Danzō hadn’t sent out his best if they were making mistakes such as that. Surely the man knew that, to spy on their team (Namikaze Minato was present, for crying out loud) he would need to send those of higher skill? After all, not only was the man considered one of the best Jōnin of Konoha, but he also had sensing abilities that even specialists marveled at. What was the old warhawk playing at…?

Cautiously, Obito slid his gaze from the front to his sensei—and had to withhold the automatic flinch that resulted when his onyx eyes met piercing azure. Analyzing, measuring, calculating… It was the look Minato had while battling. 

And it was aimed at him.

The Uchiha sighed loudly, inwardly cursing his inattentiveness. Of course Minato would’ve detected their shadows… And noticed that Obito realized it as well. Sometimes, he found it easy to relax around his team and forget that one was a child prodigy, while the other was a genius that had experienced all of the more severe aspects of their career. If Obito wanted to hide something, he would be hard-pressed to do so in the presence of the man.

“Obito?” The time traveler slowed his pace to fall into step with the blonde, whose gaze was now rooted to the path ahead of them. He spoke in a low, quiet tone, out of earshot of the other two members of Team seven who were chatting several paces ahead. “Did you feel something odd?”

‘I wouldn’t be an S-Ranked Shinobi if I didn’t,’ Obito thought sarcastically. He glanced to his teammates, who had apparently not detected anything different. “Er, kind of,” he began, scratching his arm. “It’s strange, but… I feel like we’re being… followed…?” He looked at Minato, whose face belied none of what he was thinking. Inwardly hoping that he was convincing, Obito continued. “At first I thought it was just a squirrel or a wild animal because the presence was small, but… More came. And they keep following us.”

“What else?”

Obito’s brow furrowed as a thought occurred to him. Did Minato even know about Root? About Danzō’s perverse yearning for the Hokage’s seat? And if not, how could he alert his sensei to the threat? “Uh… Well, I don’t feel any intent or anything. No emotion.” So subtle. The blonde’s countenance noticeably darkened. It was sufficient evidence, Obito figured, that Minato knew about Danzō’s little pet project. “… That was another reason why I thought they were animals.”

Minato’s flickered to the trees and he made a curt nod before muttering, “I’ll be right back,” and disappearing in a blur. Obito halted his steps momentarily, looking between the spot where his blonde sensei was standing mere second ago and his teammates that were steadily moving further away.

While Obito wasn’t a natural sensor, he had picked up techniques to aid him in that regard over the years of hiding in the shadows and covering his tracks. He steadied his chakra, focusing on the familiar, dangerous, and yet warm and comforting signature of his sensei. It neared one of the emotionless chakra signatures, a powerful one—most likely the leader. A small flare of killing intent. A sudden surge of fear…

… Wait, what?

Root… and Fear?

Before Obito could truly consider the clear contradiction, Minato reappeared before him and continued walking as though nothing had transpired, as if he had never detected the Root ANBU and hadn’t suddenly switched over from kindly teacher to trained killer. With a shake of his head, Obito began walking with haste, aiming to catch up to his team.

He had been worried about Danzō before, but after what he witnessed… Was it so strange that he honestly wondered if his interference was at all necessary? If Minato was already privy to this much without the position of Hokage… If he was so sharp and decisive, then he would probably have a handle on the situation, preventing Danzō from forcing the massacre. He may even be able to calm the dissent between the Uchiha clan and the village, patching up the old and battered relations that all but a few had given up on.

Something noticeably red caught the Uchiha’s eye, and he felt a wave of nervousness wash over him. In Minato’s hand was a Hiraishin kunai, a viscous red liquid clinging to its sharpened tip—it wasn’t too much, perhaps a handful of drops.

Obito lifted a finger and gestured to it, gaining the blonde’s attention. “… Er, sensei…”

Minato’s eyes traveled along Obito’s own, and he quickly flicked the blood away with ease before sheathing his kunai. Mumbling too quietly for the Uchiha to hear, he walked over to the two waiting members of their team—apparently, they had finally noticed that their cell was missing a sensei and teammate.

Obito stared.

He knew that Minato hadn’t killed anyone, but he quite obviously threatened Root… Apparently enough to draw blood (however minimal) and make them feel fear. Clear, unequivocal, almost palpable fear.

The raven sighed, closing his eyes as he shook off the feelings of intimidation and inferiority. He wasn’t afraid of the blood, no, he was one who had practically bathed in the blood of many—once-friend, enemy, or neutrality. But ever since coming back into the past, Obito found himself privy to reminder upon reminder of his previous sensei’s daunting presence. He couldn’t help but feel thankful that he was on the man’s good side, silently wondering how the hell he had been successful in second-handedly killing the man on the night of the Kyūbi attack.

“Obito?”

Blinking, the raven returned his focus to the outer world as opposed to his thoughts. His team had stopped and turned around, looking curiously at him and no doubt wondering where his mind had wandered this time.

Obito shook his head, jogging over to the rest of his team. “Ah, sorry about that. I was just thinking about some things.” Just as he approached, he briefly made eye contact with Minato—and froze.

The look the blonde had was… Well, it was different from everything Obito had seen from the man, whether it was the love and kindness of a sensei or the raw, angry determination of an enemy. His face was blank, and Obito couldn’t read him. At all.

Somehow, that was much more intimidating than if the man had been glaring.

It was over just as soon as their eyes had met, however, and Minato smiled warmly. 

Obito just stood where he was, eyes a fraction wider than normal as he tried to find any cues, any hints of what he had seen. He didn’t notice the concerned looks of Kakashi and Rin, neither of them looking at Minato, who was still smiling. For some reason, it gave Obito the urge to shiver involuntarily.

“We’re burning daylight, guys,” as though being snapped out of a spell, all three Chūnin stiffened and turned to Minato, who glanced over in the direction of the training grounds. “If we want to get in some good training, we should pick up the pace.”

Kakashi started in alarm, quite obviously uncomfortable with the idea of his training being shirked because of lost time. He immediately turned on his heel and headed in the direction of the training grounds—his movements stiff and lacking in the usual fluidity, no doubt trying to withhold the urge to run. Obito smiled slightly as he began walking, watching as the rest of his team followed after Kakashi. Minato laughed before glancing over at Obito with a smile, and the time traveler suddenly realized what it was that made the smile so unnerving to him.

His eyes were closed—crinkled shut, though his smile wasn’t wide enough for that to be natural.

Shaking his head, Obito quickened his pace to keep up with his teammates. A single thought weighed heavily on his mind, causing a sense of twisting confusion and nervousness to settle deep within him.

‘… What was that all about?’

 


 

Minato’s azure eyes were riveted to the small digital clock in the corner of the room with utmost concentration. It was placed on a homely little birch cabinet and looked rather innocent—though the blonde’s intense gaze focused solely on the time-teller was almost condemning.

He managed to remain calm, however. He was anxious and worried, as his sensei didn’t usually have a penchant for being late after he specified a time, but he was kept relatively at ease thanks to the even more nervous and steadily fuming atmosphere surrounding his wife.

“… Do you think something happened on the way here, ‘ttebane?”

Minato closed his eyes, momentarily sparing the digital clock his steely gaze. “I’m sure Jiraiya-sensei is fine. It’s not like he hasn’t been late before, and with his occupation he is hard-pressed to travel across multiple countries to arrive on time…” He frowned. “… Even though I heard from Hokage-sama that he had arrived in Konoha yesterday.”

Suddenly, a familiar chakra signature appeared in the middle of the living room, leaving a small flurry of leaves in the owner’s wake. Kushina let out a groan in relief and exasperations as Minato turned sharply to his sensei, mentor, and friend.

“Yo,” Jiraiya called out casually, a wide, toothy grin plastered on his face. “Haven’t seen either of you in a while, and then I suddenly get a summons from one of my toads. I was all the way in Iwa, you know, and I had to hurry back when I heard what happened.” His faux cheer wavered at the grim looks on Minato’s and Kushina’s faces.

“Jiraiya-sensei,” Minato nodded politely, motioning the man over as Kushina situated herself on the couch. “Please check Kushina’s seal. We’ve been waiting long enough for you to arrive.”

The Gama-sennin grimaced lightly as he walked over. “It’s so serious that I’m let off scott-free, even after leaving leaves in my wake, huh?” He broke out into a grin as he placed emphasis in his words, though the desired effect of laughter was not achieved. His tasteless pun earned him a light glare from Kushina, and he held his hands up in surrender, somewhat put-off by his failed attempt at lightening the atmosphere. “Geez, I know, I know. Channel some chakra into the seal, it’s time I see just how out of control things are for myself…”

It only took him five minutes, and after he had scanned Kushina’s seal—every stroke, detail, layer, everything—he leaned back with a sigh, shaking his head.

“I know what I read in your letters, Minato, but the seal is untouched—nothing is abnormal.” Minato frowned, not paying any mind to his sensei’s continuation of, “you’re a genius and at my level of Fūinjutsu. I don’t think you needed to contact me to confirm what you already knew, gaki.”

It was frustrating. Everything pointed towards normalcy and balance, except for the most obvious fact of the Kyūbi being unshackled in her seal. It was impossible, Minato wanted to say, for the beast to be free without there being any outward changes to the seal itself. However, Jiraiya all but confirmed it; the thrum of chakra was average, balancing out the minute stream of the beast’s chakra with Kushina’s, just as it had before. It was akin to having a complex, solved equation, while also having the answer—which didn’t match. Didn’t align. 

Minato knew that he did have a bit of an advantage in the matters of the mind (he wouldn’t quite call himself a through-and-through genius, though he was certainly above average), but he also was a genius of hard work. That was how he had gotten so far, reached so high, and yet this situation…

Well, how could he begin to work when he didn’t even know where to begin?

“… Um, I think I should probably mention something…” The two men in the room turned to Kushina, who had a thoughtful frown on her face. “… The frequency of my fainting spells had started dwindling as soon as they started, but never completely disappeared. I mean, I stopped literally fainting, ‘ttebane, and I just had light to mild dizziness most of the time.”

Minato nodded, but wondered where the redhead was going with this topic.

“See, they, well… Ever since Obito did something, I felt better than ever.”

Both Jiraiya and Minato stiffened, the latter a bit quicker and with more force. “… Kushina,” he began quietly, keeping his thoughts and questions tightly reigned in. “… Why didn’t you tell me this? You had said that your fainting spells stopped completely after visiting the Kyūbi the first time… I thought that the slowly receding frequency was you healing.”

Kushina let out a light huff, crossing her arms as she sat up on the couch. “And they did, dattebane! I just said that I stopped literally fainting after talking to the fox. I still had dizziness—which I know you knew—but after Obito did something, even that stopped.” She gave a small shrug. “I didn’t think it was all too important, I was just glad that Obito helped me.”

Minato’s jaw clenched tightly. Obito. Why was so much happening around that boy, lately? Not to mention, Minato no longer knew how to act around the boy. Obito could be as cunning, sharp, and dangerous as a Jōnin on equal footing as Minato—this is what made the blonde automatically close up, carefully reign in his emotions in a near automatic response. On the other hand, Obito still showed his intuitiveness through the way he could tell that something was off as soon as Minato switched to his battle-hardened state, but he would also have a look of hurt and confusion on his face. Like that of a boy his age, of the boy he was. This constant ebb and flow wasn’t something the blonde was unaccustomed to, per se—he had been on the battlefield during war time, he knew how to adapt on a moment’s notice. No, what threw him off was the fact that this constant feeling of urgency, this strange nervousness and stress like a tightly coiled snake, was caused by his thirteen-year-old student.

“The kid is suspicious,” Jiraiya commented quietly, causing Minato to jerk out of his thoughts immediately. “Did you notice anything else, Kushina? Maybe we should have the boy visit the—“

Do not pursue the issue,” Minato snapped lowly before flinching back in surprise at his own curtness. Both Jiraiya and Kushina had similar reactions, and Minato shook his head to shake off the tightly wound stress slowly building. “I apologize for that, but I am serious: don’t. I agree that it is suspicious, but I… I trust Obito, and my team and I already have his word that everything will be made clear eventually.” He leveled a heavy gaze at his sensei. “We trust him.”

Jiraiya held the gaze for but a few moments before nodding, smiling slightly. “Sorry, that didn’t come out right. I wasn’t trying to condemn the kid or anything, but at this point, what other leads do we have?” He shook his head forlornly. “I just found it strange.”

Minato leaned against the armrest of the couch and sighed, carding a hand through his unruly hair. “… We all do.”

“… Uh, there’s another thing, Jiraiya-sensei.” Kushina glanced at Minato momentarily and he nodded, knowing the topic she was attempting to broach at the moment. The red-head turned back to Jiraiya, who arched a single white eyebrow in response. “I want to try visiting the Kyūbi again.”

Jiraiya almost tripped, and his eyes widened immensely. “What!?” He turned his shocked gaze to Minato, silently asking with his eyes if this was a joke or a prank; if she was being serious. The blonde gave a grim nod in response.

The trio stayed in silence for an unknown amount of time; Kushina looking between the Sannin and her crossed hands, waiting for his response. Jiraiya clearly lost in his thoughts, either wondering why she was willing to risk this or how to pull off the endeavor without ending up with a dead body—or a few.

Finally he blinked, having come back to the world of the living, and coughed into his callused hand to gain the red-head’s attention. “… Kushina-chan, as your husband’s teacher, I reserve the right to tell you this.” He breathed in deeply. “If what Minato stated in the missive is true, then that is possibly the most idiotic idea in the history of ideas.”

Instead of growing incensed or irrationally angry, Kushina simply pinned the Gama-sennin with a hard stare. “I noticed nothing wrong with the seal. Minato didn’t notice anything wrong with the seal. Heck, even you said that there is nothing wrong!”

Jiraiya frowned, crossing his arms. “Yes, but I trust Minato. If the seal appeared normal, even after you saw that the Kyūbi was apparently loose, then there is clearly something that we are missing—and we don’t want to take that chance.”

Kushina merely scoffed at his explanation, tossing her hair over her shoulder in a flourish. “Look, Ero-oyaji, Konoha’s top three Fūinjutsu masters are here and can handle it. Stop being a damn sissy and say yes already, ‘ttebane!”

The Sannin looked like he was about to protest, but Minato stepped in, silencing the man. “Jiraiya-sensei, the two of us have already talked this over. We would appreciate your aid, but if you do not wish to help, then we are capable of handling this on our own.”

Appalled at Minato’s words, the Gama-sennin merely gaped. Then, he collected himself and nodded defeatedly, realizing that he had very little say in the matter. While a dark cloud hovered around the Gama-sennin, both Minato and Kushina looked—and felt—like a tremendous weight had been lifted off of their shoulders, and let out small sighs of relief.

“Thanks, sensei. Now…” Minato sat next to Kushina on the couch, urging Jiraiya to sit on her other side. “I’ve thought of a few ways for Kushina to talk with the fox, the most dangerous of them all—but arguably, the most convenient—would be with the help of a Yamanaka. We could enter he mind directly and converse with the beast there, but…”

“But not only would all of us be leaving our minds bare and susceptible for whatever the beasts subjects us to, but it would be even easier for the Kyūbi to break out of the seal,” Kushina picked up where Minato trailed off. “It’s annoying, but the seal is stronger than my mind at keeping the fox at bay. The aid of a Yamanaka is supposed to help with that, but… Well, there is only so much a human, mind-specialist or not, can do against a chakra beast, dattebane.”

Minato nodded at his wife, turning back to Jiraiya who was listening with rapt attention. “As for entering through the seal… Though we are less likely to have our minds devoured or utterly destroyed by the unrestrained beast, we also chance having our own consciences sucked into the seal if the Kyūbi lashes out and forces it into instability. The seal itself, while a masterpiece, was meant to contain and filter Bijū chakra—compared to the beast’s, our signatures are so insignificant that we chance being swept up in its rage and being locked in the seal with it.“ Minato sighed. “Basically, both methods have their pros and cons, and its a matter of picking our poison.”

Jiraiya frowned thoughtfully, humming as he weighed the options. Kushina snorted.

“He’s gonna make us wait even longer, ‘ttebane.”

The white-haired sage turned to her looking utterly scandalized. “What? I had a good reason for not coming here immediately!” He made a gesture of exaggerated mock-hurt. “My student and his wife have such little faith in me. I am deeply wounded.” He abruptly stiffened at the way the red-head’s eyes narrowed, clearly being a bad sign for him.

“By the way…” Kushina pinned the Sannin with a cold glare, and the man shifted uncomfortably at her abrasive tone. “What exactly took you so long to get here? You came back to Konoha yesterday.”

Jiraiya chuckled nervously, eyes darting to the side. “Er… Heh, I was just doing what I usually do, gathering intel, working as Konoha’s spymaster—“

“You stopped off at a bathhouse for your research…” The Gama-sennin gulped as Kushina’s hair rose up in menacing, blood-red tendrils. “Didn’t you?”

“W-wait!” Jiraiya exclaimed, backpedaling out of his sheer will to live (and protect his family jewels). “Now see here, Kushina-chan—“

Minato cleared his throat loudly, causing the other occupants in the room to turn their attention to him. Kushina pouted while Jiraiya ashamedly scratched the back of his head at his student’s raised eyebrow. “… Now, if the two of you are done, there are other things to work on at the moment.” He focused a steady gaze on the Gama-sennin. “First of all, Jiraiya-sensei. What is your chosen method?”

“…Er, Hm. Well…” Jiraiya scratched his chin as he thought, his eyes drifting to Minato and Kushina. “If I had to choose, I’d say the seal route. There isn’t a very high chance of Sarutobi-sensei allowing Konoha’s best Jōnin, her last surviving Uzumaki and Jinchūriki, and likely a powerful Yamanaka to leave the village with me—because let’s face it, if things turn sour with the mind-approach, the last thing we want is the beast escaping in Konoha. I admit, however, that my decision is mostly because I have a feeling that’s what you guys decided to go for.”

The blonde nodded, confirming Jiraiya’s assumption. “Well then, that makes things simpler. I suppose we are taking that approach.” Minato looked at his wife and sensei, both with countenances as grave as his.

“Sooo…” Kushina began slowly, looking askance at Minato. “How are we gonna do that exactly? I know how to enter my own mind-scape and the seal, but you guys…”

“We’ll just be projecting out minds into the seal,” Minato stated calmly, glancing to the Gama-sennin as he did so. “Because Jiraiya-sensei and I know the workings of nature chakra, it will be simple to perform the transfer with imprinted chakra as our markers. Just channel chakra to the seal to keep it active and work on entering the seal on your own, we’ll follow after you.”

Nodding, Kushina focused as Minato and Jiraiya pressed a finger to the intricate swirl, entering meditative trances. All three began channeling their chakra into the seal, feeling the almost immediate response of the construct tugging at the channeled energy—and then, at their minds.

“If this is the end…” Jiraiya began dramatically, earning him one incredulous look from Kushina and a slight eye-twitch from his student. “… I just want you both to know, I still think this is a terrible idea.”

 


 

When the trio blinked, they were in a dark expanse—no walls, no ceiling, and water flooded all around them, reaching up to their shins. 

Kushina shivered, having already been there before, while Minato and Jiraiya scanned the vicinity with keen eyes.

“… Where is it?” Jiraiya spoke quietly, in a measured voice. His eyes darted around as he tried to locate the fox (which was supposed to be rather difficult to miss).

Minato opened his mouth to speak, but quickly clamped his mouth shut and whirled around at the sudden wash of chakra he felt. Kushina and Jiraiya reacted a split second later, and collectively they all tensed as the visage of the great fox came into view. Orange fur, glowing with an almost ethereal golden light imbued with deep crimson, and piercing, red eyes only accentuated by the contrasting black fur on its face reaching up to its ears.

Minato knew for a fact that neither he nor Jiraiya had ever seen the beast first-hand. Jiraiya hadn’t even been born when the Shodaime defeated the Kyūbi, and it hadn’t been released since then—there there existed very few individuals in the land of the living who had seen the fox.

Yet somehow, the blonde knew that something was wrong, and from the look on the Gama-sennin’s face, he thought the same.

The fox slowly walked over to them from the depths of darkness, an almost languid and lazy element to its gait. None of the menacing aura Minato was expecting could be felt; only the raw strength and power the beast was famed for could be detected. It sat down in front of them, its crimson eyes assessing them with a heavy gaze, nine wild tails sweeping in large, hypnotic motions behind its back.

Kushina, perhaps a smidgeon braver (or more foolish), stepped forward with her hands held firmly at her sides and her eyes pinned to the great chakra beast. “… Kyūbi.”

For a moment, all was still. The water around them was calm, and there was no sound except the steadily accelerating beat of Minato’s heart in his ears and his breathing. It was at this moment that he realized how ridiculous it had been for him to accept his wife’s plea, to not refute the suggestion and tell her that this was something that would leave her dead if they weren’t careful—something that he was realizing far too late. Beside him, he could tell that his sensei was just as tense as he, ready to spring into action should the Kyūbi do something untoward.

However, something else happened. Suddenly, the beast’s eyes crinkled—Minato couldn’t tell if it was of mirth, anger, or something else, but he was disinclined to believe the former.

And then, it snorted. Snorted. The Kyūbi.

It snorted.

Minato could only stare dumbly up at the beast as it fell into a fit of barely restrained laughter, though the tenseness remained; it was the same case with Jiraiya, and neither of them could see Kushina’s reaction. She went stiff, though, if her raised shoulders were any indication.

“This never gets old,” They heard the beast snort out between muffled chuckles.

The blonde Jōnin blinked, exchanging a look with his sensei briefly. “… What?”

As though waving away the question, “sugar for your coffee,” the beast waved a hand—claw, whatever—dismissively, shaking its head as if privy to some sort of inside joke. “It’s nothing, nothing at all.”

“What are you!?” Minato switched his attention to his wife, who had backed up slightly so that he could see her face—she had a look of abstract horror and confusion, something that the blonde could easily relate to. The red-head pointed up at the fox, ignoring the single raised eyebrow the gesture earned her. “You… Something is wrong with you, ‘ttebane!”

Curiously, the Kyūbi lowered its head to its claws, tilting in an almost inquisitive gesture. “… Hmm. Are you perhaps blind?” Minato detected sarcasm in that tone. The fox glanced to his constantly swaying tails briefly before turning back to the trio of humans, an eyebrow still raised. “May I recommend a ramen-flavored tea mixture? And old Jinchūriki of mine used to drink it whenever having bouts of insomnia and lack of coherent thought, and it worked like a charm. Well, for the insomnia part, at least. Intelligence was never something he—“

“You can’t be the Kyūbi,” Kushina nearly growled, stalking closer to the beast—Minato and Jiraiya’s attempts to hold her back were met with angry slaps and thinly veiled threats. She turned back to the beast and stared it down—up?—with a snarl. “You’re chakra isn’t the same, I can feel it now! I didn’t notice it before, but something… Something is off! What did you do with the Kyūbi!?”

Rolling its eyes, the fox moved to flick the red-head away.

In a quick motion, Minato grabbed Kushina and pulled her back to a safe distance from the beast before the movement could be completed; the fox didn’t seem to care. Minato stepped in front of his wife and sensei, shifting a frigid gaze to the fox. “… I don’t know if you are the Kyūbi or not… but I do know is that you aren’t the same as the fox Kushina had acquainted herself with. You are clearly not the same as what the Kyūbi is famed to be either—I do not sense an ounce of malicious intent within your chakra. Chakra so famed to be corrosive and cancerous due to intense hatred would be near impossible to mask so proficiently, even by a thousand-year beast.” He felt his shoulders tense at the sharpened look within the beast’s eyes. “What is going on, exactly?”

For what felt like an eternity, azure and crimson eyes remained locked in a battle of wills—Minato subconsciously heightened his senses with chakra to try and read the beast before him, and noted the nervous fear Kushina was gripped by and the curious yet protective feeling his sensei was giving. The blonde could not read the fox.

Finally, the fox inhaled a deep breath and exhaled, causing a powerful, warm wave of air to rush over the three Shinobi. For a moment, Minato thought its eyes flickered to an orange color. “… I am not the one you need to worry about,” the fox began. “I mean you no harm, and should you ever need it, my power is yours to command.”

Kushina shivered. “I-I will never use your power, you’re just trying to—“

“I’m not forcing you into anything,” the Kyūbi said in an almost exasperated tone. “Believe it or not, it is in my interest to see the two of you live.” It languidly shifted its gaze to the Gama-sennin, who had remained grimly silent all the while. “… You too.”

Jiraiya arched a pale eyebrow. “… And why is that?”

“The future is dark, and… Fate, is keen on dragging everyone to a world of insanity. You three… Especially the Uzumaki and Yon—blondie, hold the key to a future that is bright.” The beast grimaced, strangely enough and mumbled, “… A little too much so. I never thought I would abhor the thought of orange so much.”

Minato felt a tug on his sleeve and turned to his wife, who was peering at him through the corners of her eyes. She worried her lip as she looked at him, conveying her worry and confusion. He would be lying if he had said he felt differently—at times, he couldn’t tell what the fox was thinking, and others, it was painfully obvious and simple to read it. The beast almost seemed… At ease, amicable, and friendly. Most of all, Minato couldn’t tell if this was a well-crafted facade or not, but somehow, the fact that Kushina felt similarly to him and Jiraiya had remained silent throughout only solidified that this was not merely a ploy, a game at misdirection. “What exactly do you mean by that? … How do you know? How are we supposed to trust you?”

“… I’ve had enough,” the fox ground out almost irritably, holding its head in orange claws. Minato felt the urge to furrow his brow at the gesture. “Clearly, I’m not going to get through to any of you right now—not like I expected to, but at least I can tell him I tried—I just have one thing to say.” Minato wanted to ask who was “he,” and what the fox was aiming for, but was unable to.

The Kyūbi leveled a hardened gaze at the trio, unrelenting. “I will say this only once, so listen well. The traveler means well. Be wary of who you trust, and protect your loved ones with more fervor than you have before.” Minato stiffened slightly before noticing that the fox’s eyes flickered briefly with something raw, angry, and corrosive—it took him a moment to realize that it was utter loathing. Hatred. “… The dead are not as dead as they should be.”

“What does that mean?” Jiraiya stepped forward, eyes narrowed. “‘Be wary of who you trust’? ‘Protect your loved ones with more fervor than before’? ‘The dead are not as dead as they should be’? What is it that you know?”

The fox threw its head back and barked out a barely restrained laughter. “Hah! You humans are as skittish and foolish as ever, oh-so-ready to stab the messenger. At least I know you are listening, I suppose.” Eyes glinting with amusement, the fox broke out into a wide grin. “I can’t answer that question, but I’ll answer an earlier one: why do I care about what happens to you three? Well…”

The grin turned malicious as it directed its attention to Minato and Kushina, and the fox whispered in a conspiratorial tone. “I want your spawn.”

Kushina started at this, Jiraiya stepped in front of the couple, and Minato growled lowly. “What. The hell. Are you Planning?” 

The fox broke out into another fit of laughter, and the blonde felt his eyelid twitch—strangely, he felt as though he would’ve preferred if the Kyūbi was more like the evil, malicious creature it was famed to be instead of this… Sarcastic jokester. “I’m not planning anything, blondie. You’re the ones who jumped to the conclusion that I had some evil intent.”

“What else could you want a child for? You—“ Jiraiya was cut off.

“I’m sleepy.”

The Shinobi froze, wondering if they heard correctly. Minato’s eye had taken to twitching automatically. “… What?”

“I said,” the fox drawled lazily, making an exaggerated yawn as it settled its head back on its claws. “I’m sleepy. So, take the hint and, well… Leave.”

They might’ve refused to do so, but it seemed they were given no choice—a sudden force of chakra was slammed against each of them, and their eyes shot open in the physical world.

“Gah!” Minato turned sharply to the source of the voice, and watched with faint amusement as his sensei stepped backwards and tripped over the coffee-table—landing directly on his cranium. 

“Careful, Kushina likes that table,” the blonde commented lightly, earning him a half-hearted glare from the Gama-sennin.

Jiraiya grumbled as he sat up, rubbing the growing lump on his head. “A little concern would be nice, y’know. For the man who practically raised you and taught you everything you know."

“Ugh… That stupid fox…” The two men turned to the red-head, who sat up slowly, a contorted grimace of pain on her face. “That… Really hurt.”

Minato nodded. “Well, we were forcibly kicked out of your seal—the strain would be more for you, since the seal itself is on you.”

Kushina blinked a few times before pursing her lips, brow furrowing all the while. “… Hmm. Well, despite all of that, I have to say…” Her expression lightened slightly as she turned to the others. “… I think things went rather well, ‘ttebane.”

Jiraiya’s jaw unhinged.

“… Well? You think that was well?” Jiraiya asked incredulously. “If—if that’s your opinion of well, I’d hate to see your opinion of bad. The fox threatened your future kids!”

“That’s the thing,” Minato commented, glancing to his wife. She nodded lightly. “The threat wasn’t… I didn’t sense anything. I know you didn’t either, Jiraiya-sensei; you were even more focused on the fox’s movements than I.” He pinned the Sannin with a serious look. “Besides, we went over what could have happened. All three of us are out, without a single hair out of place.”

“Well, yeah, but even Shinobi like us make mistakes, we shouldn’t assume—“

“We’re not assuming anything,” Kushina quickly cut in, fiddling with her hair slightly. “It’s just… The fox, when it said that it ‘wanted our spawn’,” her mouth twisted slightly at the word, “… It almost sounded fond, in a teasing manner.”

Minato nodded. “I didn’t feel any real maliciousness, oddly enough. I’ve felt more unsavory intent from bargaining civilians.”

Jiraiya sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “… Kushina-chan, can you leave for a moment? Minato and I need to have a little chat.”

Kushina looked at him questioningly before nodding, walking towards the door. She sent one last glance back before slipping past the threshold into the hallway, and Minato stared at his sensei until he heard the click of the red-head’s door.

“… Sensei, I understand that you are worried for us, but do you really trust me so little?” Minato frowned. “You really think that we—that I would simply trust the Kyūbi like that? I’ve been in as many battles as you, sensei, heck, I’ve probably killed and battled as much as you—so what is the reason behind your—“

“Wait, Minato,” Jiraiya interrupted, holding up a hand. Minato paused before closing his mouth, looking expectantly at the Gama-sennin for an explanation. “This… Isn’t about that. I know that you and Kushina-chan are perfectly capable of handling yourselves, and I would have to be a blind fool to think otherwise.”

The blonde raised an eyebrow. “Then what?”

The Sannin crossed his arms. “I saw you tense when the Kyūbi spoke.”

“… What?” Minato rolled his eyes with a chuckle. “Yes, I did, and yes, I was scared. We confronted the Kyūbi, Jiraiya-sensei, of course I’m going to be a little more guarded than usual.”

Jiraiya shook his head, and a forlorn look crossed his face—it made the blonde feel a faint bit uncomfortable. “You tensed. When the fox mentioned that we should be wary of who we trust and how we have to protect our loved ones.”

Minato stiffened, already knowing where the white-haired Sannin was going with this. He took a deep breath and aimed a tense smile at his mentor. “I’m fine, sensei. I don’t know what—“

“Minato, something is obviously bothering you.” His voice was decidedly morose as he pat the blonde on the shoulder. “… Just… Stop it. You forget that I am one of the people that knows you best, and that I can read you like an open book when it concerns your precious people.” Minato’s forced smile slid off of his face like oil. “If whatever happened concerning the boy is weighing on your mind that heavily, you should speak to us about it.”

The blonde sighed, giving a faint grimace. “… It’s that obvious?”

Jiraiya nodded. “It is. To me, at least. I can tell that, out of everyone, the one you’re trying the hardest to convince about the boy… It’s yourself. And you need to stop.”

For a few moments, they simply stared at each other—Minato couldn’t help but feel like a young boy again, all those years ago, when he had his first kill.

Suddenly, a heavy hand slammed down on the blonde’s back and he choked, not having expected the force. Jiraiya let out a hearty laughter. “Uncertainty and lies don’t suit you, my star pupil. I know you’ll figure everything out eventually, you wouldn’t be my student if you wouldn’t.”

Normally, Minato might’ve laughed, smiled, riposted with a comment about how Jiraiya had once denied him the title of “star pupil” because the blonde hadn’t shown an interest in strain of literature that his sensei was so enamored by. However… He couldn’t bring himself to. He nodded slightly, only managing a pathetic, obviously-strained smile.

Jiraiya turned, then, waving a hand in the air. “I’ll see you later, I’m in Konoha so I may as well have a another sample of the more local beauties…” Perverse giggles followed the white-haired Sannin out the door, and Minato managed an exasperated yet fond smile as he sat down on the couch, combing a hand through his unruly hair.

He leaned back, reclining his head with a deep breath.

“Figure everything out, huh?”

Cold-hearted, war-hardened veteran with the blood of thousands on his hands. Kindly Jōnin sensei with the task of raising and nurturing three Genin—now Chūnin—in the harsh world that is the Shinobi world. Everything had been so perfectly separated, balanced, and he had been happy. But that balance was now being challenged, it seemed.

He slowly closed his eyes.

“… I’m definitely trying to, at least.”

 


 

Obito wiped the sweat from his brow and took a swig from his water-bottle, relishing the cool, clean liquid.

He felt… Good. Content. He could even say happy, and he didn’t know why, exactly. Perhaps it was his progress? Though, he wouldn’t exactly say his rate of improvement was anything particularly impressive or stellar; in fact, he had progressed at a rather average pace—he just had knowledge and experience. After his team had went their separate ways for the day, he proceeded to the training grounds to do what Shinobi usually did there—train.

His physical strength, while not at full-capacity (he was physically still a child, after all; he wouldn’t have his adult strength for a while) was sufficient enough to him to work with. What he did have was speed and chakra control. He would even be inclined to say that he was faster than he had been as an adult, likewise with his chakra control and efficiency. His reserves were only at about three quarters what they were when he was thirty-one, but that wasn’t too important with his achieved chakra control.

In fact, Obito felt rather confident that he could easily subdue individuals such as Orochimaru or Danzō at this point should the situation call for it. Of course, this estimation was made with the idea that he’d be using his Kamui… But for that, he needed the Senju cells. It wasn’t an option to not use his Mangekyō; he didn’t have time to situate his technique repertoire to accommodate a new style of fighting—most of his techniques and strategies were heavily reliant on the Kamui.

The raven pursed his lips as the new issue—well, not so much “new” so much as “pushed to the side”—overtook his thoughts.

In all honesty, he still wasn’t quite sure what to do about that. Gain the cells now, and he chanced being caught and labeled a missing-nin… Or ending up as an experimental body. Wait until the moment he got them the first time, and he risked being unable to save Rin—or, dying for good before changing anything, this time around. There was also a high chance that with how much he had changed already, his team wouldn’t even be the one to receive the Kannabi Bridge mission. The choice was relatively obvious, but…

How did he approach Orochimaru?

Chapter Text

“Minato-san?”

The addressed blonde paused briefly and looked up from his scroll. The Hokage’s secretary stood in front of him with a practiced smile, a petite woman without particularly remarkable qualities. “Hokage-sama is available to see you now.”

Minato nodded, rolling his scroll and tucking it neatly into his vest’s pocket. He stood up from where he was seated and headed for the stairs up to the office of the village leader.

Earlier that day, he had been summoned by the Hokage’s ANBU—apparently, the Sandaime was in need of blonde’s presence and all but demanded that he be there as soon as possible. Minato had responded immediately and arrived at the tower via Hiraishin, but was met with refusal and the words, “The Hokage is not yet ready to meet with you at the moment.” It hadn’t particularly irritated him, but he would’ve preferred had he at least been given an estimate on how long the Hokage would be. Sure, Team Seven didn’t have any scheduled training or missions to complete (Minato was a tough teacher, but he did give his students days off), but that didn’t mean the man hadn’t already made prior plans that had been unceremoniously shoved to the side in favor of his obligations as a loyal Shinobi to his beloved village.

And now, after two hours of waiting, Minato had finally been told that the Hokage was ready to see him—he wasn’t angry, no; he had Obito as a student, after all. If anything, the odd situation made him wonder what was going on, why exactly he had been called.

Minato frowned. It was unlike Hiruzen to do something like this, as he was a respectful and courteous man to even young children who wouldn’t rightly understand the courtesy, and yet…

Shaking his head, the blonde walked up to the large double doors and knocked twice, deciding that he’d find out in a moment. He heard the faint rustling of papers halt abruptly, before a familiar voice called out. “Come in.”

He opened the door and stepped in, carefully masking his surprise at the presence of one other individual beside the Hokage. Minato bowed at the waist to the Sandaime before straightening. “Hokage-sama.” His azure eyes shifted to the other figure and he tilted his head slightly, acknowledging. “… Danzō-sama.”

The old warhawk remained silent for a moment before nodding in response. “… Namikaze-san.”

Minato turned back to the Hokage, inwardly wondering about Danzōs presence and whether or not the man had some part to this. “Hokage-sama, I am here in answer to your summons. I’m afraid I am unaware of why, however, as I was not informed by your chosen ANBU messenger.”

Danzō sniffed, and azure flicked back to him. “It was unnecessary for you to know.”

Minato’s eyes narrowed slightly as he glanced to the Hokage—the man held his hands in front of him, his face and expression blank. “It was unnecessary for you to know.” Minato had to wonder, almost, if the old warhawk realized what he had just revealed to the blonde with those words—it was not the Hokage who had issued the summons, but Danzō

Minato thought something was off about the ANBU messenger.

It was almost surprising how blatant Danzō was with his words, however; perhaps he knew that attempting to hide his little project any longer would only attract unwanted attention… If Hiruzen’s lack of expression was any indication, he knew the same as Minato. The warhawk’s faction was useful in cases, but exactly when had the Hokage come to full acceptance of the organization…?

And what did this mean for Konoha?

“Namikaze-san, we had a reason for not informing you immediately, I assure you,” Danzō started smoothly, his only visible eye never leaving the blonde’s face. A corner of the warhawk’s lips twitched upwards slightly. “I suppose it would be best to get straight to the point. I’ve little doubt your patience is rather thin, at the moment.”

Minato’s eyelid twitched. He was going for a rather confrontational approach, it seemed. Confident. “… Yes, I would appreciate that.”

“Well then…” Hiruzen remained outwardly reticent as Danzō suddenly shifted in moods, the air becoming slightly oppressive. “Are you aware of the fact that Uchiha Obito knows about the Kyūbi?”

The blonde tensed automatically, though (luckily) his reaction was likely to be interpreted as something else in the elder’s eyes—perhaps surprise. The question left Minato wondering exactly how Danzō had figured this out; he hadn’t been spying on his team, had he? How long? And why? The memory of Minato’s previous confrontation with Danzō’s personal guard, his faction of trained warriors, came to forefront of the blonde’s mind. He had noticed the group of presences following him and his team from the moment they left the Hokage’s office, and had gone to deal with the situation. He had at first intended on settling things diplomatically, however…

“Your student is a threat. Either he be placed under our leader’s command to be corrected, or he will be disposed of as a threat to the village.”

In response to the blatant ultimatum, Minato had threatened the messenger to leave—that his leader was going against protocol, and that Minato had full rights to execute the messenger right then and there under suspicion of treason and going against the Hokage. They had left, no doubt to report to their leader—Danzō—about their failure, and the blonde had gone back to his students with his mind reeling.

Minato’s fists clenched tightly. There was no doubt in his mind that the one Danzō was after was… Obito. The one Danzō had his eye on, it was Obito. After the confrontation, Minato hadn’t gone directly to the Hokage with his revelations and the event itself for a reason. It was precisely what he was seeing here, standing in the office of the Hokage. Danzō was a careful, methodical individual, and he never took reckless action—his actions could come off as reckless and ill-thought-out at times, but that was usually a ploy. A convoluted, carefully-crafted trap.

The only way Danzō would outright threaten one of Minato’s students would be if he had no fear of retribution, if he felt safely placed in the whole scheme. He would not have so openly created a confrontation between his followers and Minato unless he had already made preparations… For instance, if had he already gained the Hokage’s favor. Minato respected the man, but for Hiruzen to allow himself to fall to the warhawk’s ploys so easily was something that left the blonde feeling severely disappointed, and faintly betrayed.

Though…

His eyes slid back to the Hokage, who was still silent—and just as unreadable as before. Perhaps Hiruzen expected this confrontation between the warhawk and Minato, perhaps this scenario was a test of the sort. While he had decided to withhold the knowledge of the event between him and Root from the Hokage, he had kept his word and informed Hiruzen about Obito’s knowledge of the Kyūbi. The Sandaime knew that Minato knew about this, as he had been the one to bring up the subject to begin with.

From the barely concealed mirth in Danzō’s expression, the man did not know this fact.

… Perhaps Hiruzen was not caught in Danzō’s web as Minato thought—perhaps it was in fact Minato and Danzō caught in his. 

Minato fought down the small smile that threatened to surface at this thought. Though he may be reaching the later years of his life, the Sandaime was not yet someone to be left ignored and underestimated if one hoped to best the man. He was, after all, Konoha’s central pillar of support—it was to be expected that he had eyes and ears in places least expected, and he was not so foolish to blindly follow suggestions from anyone.

Turning back to Danzō, the blonde’s decision was made. It was still a gamble, of course, but if there was even a chance that he had Hiruzen’s side in this… “Yes, Danzō-sama. I am aware.”

The warhawk stiffened, clearly not having expected the answer. A momentary silence lapsed as he stared at the younger man with a criticizing gaze. “… You knew.” His voice was cold and unrelenting. “You knew. And yet, you didn’t think to—“

“Minato.” Azure eyes and one coal eye darted to the Hokage, who was now eyeing the both of them with a calculating look. “I have been informed by Danzō of Uchiha Obito’s suspicious activity. It is of his suggestion that the boy be placed under his care until we can determine what the issue is.”

Minato’s eyes narrowed as he noticed the victorious look that took residence within the warhawk’s eye.

“… But I wish to know your opinion, on the matter.”

To the blonde’s satisfaction, Danzō turned to look sharply at Hiruzen, outwardly more ruffled than Minato had ever seen. Inwardly, the blonde realized how silly the situation appeared—it was akin to two children fighting for the favor of an adult. “Hiruzen, we have already proven that—“

“I do not wish to repeat myself, Danzō,” the wizened Hokage spoke authoritatively as he turned a sharp gaze to the warhawk, almost daring the man to speak out again. “Old I may be, I am still Hokage and I refuse to rush into situations blindly. Minato is still Obito-kun’s Jōnin sensei, and as such, should be allowed the right to have a say in the matter.”

He turned back to Minato, either not noticing the way his old friend’s face was twitching to a likely unhealthy degree, or not caring. “What is your opinion?”

Minato forced himself to take a breath as he shoved away his doubts. It wouldn’t do to appear wavering in this particular instance, he would think. “… Yes, I believe that some of Obito’s actions and abilities seem suspicious and warrant some questions. However, I do believe that there is a logical reason for this—and I do not think it wise to take him away from his teammates, at this point in time. As both of you likely know,” he briefly spared Danzō a wry glance, “he had been hospitalized, and it is a highly likely suspicion that he was attacked, one way or another.”

“… Why have you not thought to inform us sooner? Did you think it wise to withhold information from the village’s leaders?” Danzō’s questions were spoken with underlying malice. “You should have come to us with everything regarding Uchiha Obito from the very beginning. Are your attachments and weak heart clouding your vision, boy?”

The blonde frowned, though not at the jeer itself, but rather, at the strange interest the man before him seemed to have in Obito. Why? As far as Minato knew, Danzō was a connoisseur of raw talent—he appreciated clear cut intellect and natural ability, caring little for hard work in itself. What mattered to him were facts and irrefutable results, leading to his almost reverence of the prodigal and genius variety. Certainly, Obito had shown great improvement and prowess lately, but the fact that the shift was enough to garner Danzō’s attention…?

But what did that mean for Minato, who was unable to see this before? Who was, to his shame, almost afraid to confront the change? Was he really as close to the boy as people thought? As he had once thought?

Did he know Obito at all, anymore…?

Minato felt something small, something almost insignificant—yet somehow of great importance—crack within him at the thought. His eyes turned cold and dispassionate as he returned Danzōs gaze. “Perhaps… my ‘attachments’, as you so kindly put it, are indeed playing some part in my decision. This I can openly admit to, for I am only human—Shinobi of Konoha I may be, but still—undeniably human.” He paused, having realized that his tone was steadily growing harsher, commanding, with purpose. That was not appropriate for this situation, despite how much the blonde wished to talk down the prideful warhawk. “… But I also know that Obito has not shown any suspicious activity that could be directly detrimental to Konoha or her citizens. In fact, Obito seems more determined to protect his teammates than ever.”

He smiled at Danzō, but his eyes were crinkled shut in a way that wouldn’t allow the man to see his eyes. “… It is of my opinion that Obito remain in my team where I can watch over him, without labeling him a criminal before finding sufficient evidence to support my claim.

The warhawk bristled, though Hiruzen merely sat back as he breathed out a plume of smoke. He turned a contemplative eye over to the Jōnin. “… Minato. You understand that, by saying this, Obito is your full responsibility. Should he do something untoward, harmful, or malicious to Konoha and her citizens…” Something harsh and unrelenting glinted in his usually kind eyes. “… He will not be the only one receiving punishment.”

Minato nodded, refusing to acknowledge the niggling feeling of jumping into the dark that gripped him. “Of course. You need not worry, Hokage-sama, because should that ever come to pass…” His eyes went blank, an absence of the life that was usually prevalent. “… I shall deal with the situation myself.”

Moments that felt like hours passed before the Hokage nodded. “… I understand. That is all, Minato.”

And with that, the blonde turned away and left the room, not caring to so much as glance Danzō’s way, more focused on his inner thoughts. Minato could only hope that his trust was not misplaced, that there was nothing wrong—that he was worried over nothing, over smoke and mirrors. And that the ever present feeling of dread was just that.

A feeling.

 


 

Obito sat back in his chair with a groan, inwardly damning the snake Sannin to the fiery pits of hell while trying to burn a hole through the books in front of him with his eyes (not really though, of course; considering who he was and what his clan was known for, setting fire to something with their gaze alone wasn’t exactly something surprising).

Nothing. Absolutely nothing, and he still didn’t know how to deal with the damn snake.

Obito had gone to the library that day, since it was his day-off, to formulate a plan—first and foremost, he had to figure out how to counter Orochimaru’s techniques. The offensive techniques were no particular problem, considering what Obito’s Mangekyō granted him. No, the problem lay with Orochimaru’s supplementary techniques—Fushi Tensei and the Orochimaru-ryū no Kawarimi. The fact that he could replace his body was something that made the man almost impossible to kill, and Obito wasn’t particularly fond of the idea of letting a man like that continue to live.

However, he found with no small amount of frustration, that the task he had set upon himself was almost impossible. He’d hit a metaphorical wall, and the wall itself was far too tall to jump, and too steep to climb.

Obito was not a genius. Certainly, he was powerful, he was cunning after years of battling and pain. But he was no genius. Orochimaru, however disgusting and vile the man tended to be, was a genius, and his solution to near-immortality spoke volumes of the fact. 

He couldn’t counter it. No matter how much he read, how much he contemplated, how much he tried, Obito couldn’t figure out the techniques—let alone reverse engineer the damn things—to find a possible counter-solution. Books and scrolls lay in mountainous piles before him, all on what he believed to be the root of the theory behind the snake’s jutsu—basic books on Kawarimi no Jutsu, Reincarnation Ninjutsu theory, Fūinjutsu theory, books on transmigration and the pure world, heck, even obscure and highly theoretical/hypothetical books on souls and the composition thereof

In all honesty, about half-way through Obito had abandoned any hope of countering the Fushi Tensei—first and foremost that was the more impossible hurdle to surpass in regards to figuring out. Secondly, Obito highly suspected that the only way to truly prevent the snake from using it would be Fūinjutsu—perhaps seal the man in his own skin, preventing him from transferring bodies. It was an idea he came upon after reading a few Fūinjutsu books about the process of sealing objects into living beings, or, well. Living beings into other living beings. The theory was sound, and Obito just might’ve taken that route… If he was a Fūinjutsu master. Sadly, he had never taken up the art beyond the basics, and there was a rather glaring impossibility that he could become fully proficient at a level of mastery potentially beyond Minato and Jiraiya’s level under so little as a decade, let alone one year.

He had let the idea go when he decided that it wouldn’t be a problem, anyway, if the snake was dead. After all, it wasn’t as if Orochimaru could switch bodies in the heat of battle—no, not even a member of the Densetsu no Sannin could perform such a feat.

But what Orochimaru could do was replace his body for a completely healthy, injury-free one. And that was what Obito had been spending the better part of his day in the library for… Without any results.

Obito couldn’t let Orochimaru use the technique. Between the two of them, at the moment, the victor would be the one that can outlast the other—Orochimaru could use the Orochimaru-ryū no Kawarimi, what… Once? Twice? Obito could use his Kamui at the most five times in a battle, as it stood, without seeing a detrimental shift in his eyesight. 

Of course, this was with the idea of a fight to the death. He would kill the snake when the time came, but at the moment, that was not his goal. “Kill the snake later, when repercussions would be near nonexistent, and instead focus on the Senju cells,” that was what Obito had decided. Orochimaru was but a small hindrance to the over all plan, a minor inconvenience.

The raven frowned, looking back at the pile of miscellaneous books, scrolls, and paper. Yes, the snake was only a minor inconvenience, and Obito wasn’t planning on removing the Sannin from the equation any time soon. That didn’t mean that he could ignore Orochimaru’s presence, however; that was how he had even fallen during the war. Had Orochimaru not revived the four Hokage—Minato, in particular—he might’ve won, and the world might’ve been plunged into an eternal dream. If he wanted to have some chance of ensuring that Orochimaru didn’t blindside him again and ruin his plans (for a different purpose, this time, but still), then he had to plan several steps ahead—

“What are you working on so fervently, Obito?”

Obito turned slowly, casually, his expression betraying none of the surprise he felt inwardly. He smiled, inwardly patting himself on the back for being able to suppress his body’s automatic response to flinch. “… Oh. Hey, Minato-sensei, what’s up?”

The blonde shrugged, picking up a random book and inspecting the worn cover. “Not much. I was passing the library and noticed you were here, so I decided to stop by and see you.” He glanced to the pile. “Apparently, whatever has you stuck here is something of extensive reading.”

Obito grimaced, reaching out to organize the pile slightly. “Yeah… Kinda.”

Silence, with the exception of the fluttering of pages and crinkle of paper.

“… So what is all of this for?”

The raven chuckled, expending the nervous energy he felt through the action. “Oh, nothing really. I’m just…” He glanced to Minato, trying to find a believable excuse that related to what he was researching. “… Looking for advanced regenerative techniques and stuff, since I get injured a lot. Kakashi and I can’t always rely on Rin, after all; she needs rest too.”

Minato nodded, looking back to the pile as he placed the book back on the desk. His eyes narrowed. “… What is that one for?”

Obito blinked, following his sensei’s line of sight to an open book revealing a diagram of the soul and body. It was one of the many books on souls, separation, and transfer that he had been reading in the hopes of gaining a stronger grasp of Orochimaru’s Fushi Tensei, after he had read the few Fūinjutsu books and decided that sealing was the route to take. Obito bit his lip, thinking. Perhaps he actually could take the sealing route, considering who he knew, but for the moment…

No. There were other, much simpler ways to dispose of the snake. He still had some time, after all, and most of this was just a precaution to help defend against the man in case a true confrontation occurred while he searched for the Senju cells. After all, Obito couldn’t actually kill the snake right now while the man was still “loyal” to Konoha, as that would raise questions. He could do so later and this research did help in formulating a plan on how to dispose of him, but for now, the focus was on developing defensive techniques and strategy to combat Orochimaru’s dangerous repertoire.

The Uchiha shrugged lazily, continuing to tidy up the space. “I just want to be certain, Minato-sensei. You never know what kind of people you’ll encounter with our profession,” he commented lightly, deciding to tell a vague truth. “There are soul snatchers out there after all, and all the offensive ninjutsu in the world can’t defend against someone extracting your soul or stealing your body.”

Obito had realized a while ago that, regarding the snake, he was most harmless in Konoha. He was unable to act out as he wished, due to the veil of secrecy he kept over his little experiments and tests, and it served as a sort of restraint—Konoha served as a restraint. Once Orochimaru was out of the village and labeled a missing-nin, there were no restraints, nothing to hold him back, literally and figuratively. He could act as he wished, align himself with any party, betray any party, experiment on countless others—he had no need to maintain any sort of secrecy from others besides the already carefully concealed plans and strategies that the man was oh-so-fond of. Not to mention, he could choose any number of the many bases he had established in the future—heck, maybe he would find a new one this time, making it infinitely more difficult for anyone to track him down, regardless of whatever hints the time traveler dropped for them. Orochimaru would be a true threat once he defected, and while Obito couldn’t kill the man while he was in Konoha… There was another solution.

The best possible outcome would be for Minato to pick up on the small, hairline trail, and confront the snake himself—Hiruzen was far too attached to his favorite student and would be too absorbed in self-pity and loss to truly take down the snake, as was proven the first time around. It was to this end that Obito had revealed that small hint. He hoped that Minato would see, hoped that would be able to do something about Orochimaru. 

The fact that Minato had tensed ever so slightly after the small declaration indicated that he knew something, and that instilled a small bit of hope in the time-traveller. 

However, Obito felt a sense of doubt when he looked at the blonde’s face. Minato’s countenance was blank, and his usually bright azure eyes were dull as he stared impassively at the pile before him. It was a look that Obito recognized and loathed; it was the look that Minato had given him that time when Danzō’s Root operatives had followed their team. 

Obito felt a sickening kind of apprehension as he reached for the man, almost feeling as though handling a wild animal. He gripped the fabric of the blonde’s sleeve and tugged slightly. “Sensei…?”

Minato turned to the Uchiha, a little faster than strictly necessary. He smiled, and try as Obito did, he couldn’t see any true mirth. “Sorry. I was just thinking.”

The raven would’ve asked, “about what?” but the frigid look in the man’s eyes halted Obito’s words. It was gone almost as soon as it arrived, however, and the blonde abruptly turned away and began walking. “Anyway, I’ll talk to you later, Obito. Don’t spend too much time here, I’ll be expecting you tomorrow at the training grounds with the others.”

Obito watched the retreating form of his sensei until the man rounded a corner of bookshelves, disappearing from sight. He sighed, looking forlornly at the place Minato had been standing just moments before, as he contemplated the conversation. His memory wasn’t the best, especially not in regards to something from so long ago, so he wasn’t sure of exactly when Orochimaru had defected—was it possible that suspicions about the snake were already rising? It was possible that Minato had already caught on to this, and was already forming ideas and hypotheses on the snake and his whereabouts. But if that were the case…

… Then it was also likely that Minato caught exactly what it was that Obito had implied with his words.

And if that was the case, then Obito had no doubt that the blonde was wondering exactly how Obito knew—how a thirteen-year-old Chūnin knew something so controversial about one of the Densetsu no Sannin, a hero of Konoha. It would explain the look Minato had given him, at least.

The raven felt a twinge of guilt as he remembered the blank look he had seen on his sensei’s face. It was not a look that he liked, and he could almost feel the questions, suspicion, and hurt lying underneath. 

Minato was still waiting for Obito to tell him the truth. He had no doubt that the man wasn’t satisfied with the little Obito had told him, that time, when the former confronted him about his knowledge (and self-imposed mission in search) of Kaguya.

Glancing one last time to the corner Minato had disappeared past, Obito sighed again before turning back to the still-disorganized pile of reading material.

“… I hope so,” he muttered, his brow furrowing slightly in worry.

“… Sorry, Minato-sensei. Not yet. I can’t tell you, not yet.”

 


 

A lone figure sat in a solitary office, secluded from the rest of the world.

“… Uchiha Obito…”

A strange factor, indeed. The supposed fool of the Uchiha, lacking in all facets of the Shinobi profession, who had gone from a loud-mouthed idiot to… Someone wielding his clan’s famed Sharingan eyes. With three tomoe.

Danzõ lifted a hand to his bandaged eye, quietly imagining that a different eye, one of extreme power, took its place. He was, after all, a man who craved and sought after power—for himself, and for Konoha. Anything to ensure that Konoha came out on top, asserted its power over all of the other, lesser countries. The Uchiha and their dōjutsu, the Sharingan… It was a power to be revered, one to be worshipped. If only more deserving individuals held that power.

Uchiha Obito was considered the black sheep for a multitude of reasons—heritage was one factor; his parents hadn’t been particularly liked after all—but the most prevalent was his inability to perform to the clan’s standards. He was, for all intents and purposes, a failure, especially so with the fact that he was unable to activate his dōjutsu. This particular fact was the nail in the coffin so-to-speak, as it was well-known that the Uchiha clan’s pride was entirely centered around their eyes and heritage. The idea that one of their own didn’t have the Sharingan was a disgrace, a great measure of disrespect and a disservice to the clan as a whole.

However, not four months ago, the black-sheep of ill-repute somehow ended up with a fully-matured Sharingan, unbeknownst to the entirety of Konoha—Uchiha clan included.  For the boy to suddenly activate his Sharingan to full maturity was something that piqued Danzō’s curiosity, and it also made him wonder exactly what had happened. That, perhaps, was at the forefront of the man’s mind at the time; considering what it took to activate the dōjutsu, it was highly possible there was a threat in Konoha. Danzō had sporadically sent Root to watch the boy, making sure that whoever had attacked him previously didn’t try to again—and if they did, that they be captured and detained before they threatened Konoha’s wellbeing anymore.

For quite a while, nothing had turned up, leaving the man with irritating worry. He was not in control of the situation, and for once, while everyone else was left in the dark and unknowing, he was right there with them. Knowledge was always Danzō’s trump card, as was forethought and careful, methodical preparation. The fact that none of his suspicions or preparations had turned up evidence, so much as a trail, had left him rather distraught.

A couple of months ago, however, a member of his Root faction had reported back to him on Obito. The boy himself.

Danzō frowned as he looked down at the opened file before him, reading the sparse contents provided in the report.

“It’s actually annoying trying to recondition this body… Muscles don’t quite develop… Had a quarter as much chakra as I…” This statement. What did it mean? Recondition? And “quarter as much chakra as I” what?

”… Minus… Jūbi… Worried about Minato and Kushina… It’s something important… Involving the Kyūbi…” “Jūbi” was a disconcerting word, but there was no tenth tailed beast—the boy most likely meant something else. The fact that he mentioned the Kyūbi might’ve said otherwise, but Danzō had known for a fact that there were only nine bijū, and it was impossible for a tenth to have gone for so long without being known. 

His subordinate hadn’t been able to hear much—perhaps some more training was in order—but what he had picked up on warranted investigation. Looking back on it, Danzō was satisfied that he had commanded his forces to note anything of mention that may point to suspicious activity. He might not have known about this small moment of indiscretion, after all, had he not. Following the little revelation, Danzō had told Hiruzen about the information his faction had gathered, hoping to goad the man into allowing him to deal with the situation—it was the perfect opportunity; present evidence against the boy while Hiruzen was flooded with work, so that the fool would allow him to handle the case.

A single, coal-black eye narrowed. His plan might have worked, should’ve worked, but he had failed to account for the blind codger’s more than excessive sentimentality—of course he would allow the boy’s sensei, Namikaze, to make the final decision. 

Well, it didn’t matter.

He was, at this point, still observing the oddity named Uchiha Obito. He wasn’t yet sure how much the boy was worth, whether or not it would be prudent to waste his time on the Uchiha. There was still much to be learned, much to be discovered, and he was a pragmatist. No unnecessary moves would be made, not by him, and they certainly wouldn’t be without careful thought and consideration. He couldn’t afford to make any mistakes—the good of Konoha depended on his unwavering strength and conviction.

Danzō nodded minutely, his decision made.

Time would tell. Whether or not Uchiha Obito ended up being a key factor in the upcoming war, a perfect weapon to be honed, or another failed and useless project, time would tell.

And as it stood, compared to Danzō’s many enemies—political, actual, or otherwise—he had time.

Chapter Text

Obito walked at a steady pace alongside the elderly Hana, heading through the civilian district of Konoha. She smiled up at him as the two made their way to her home, the raven carrying four of the five grocery bags she had procured that day—he hadn’t minded, even though she had proven well enough previously that she could handle the weight despite her age. He had taken to carrying her bags once again, simply out of common courtesy, force of habit, and the fact that he actually didn’t mind the woman’s company.

“I’ve been hearing that your team has been completing quite a few missions as of late.” Hana commented with a happy lilt. “You’ve been working hard, Obito-kun?”

He nodded with a grin. “Heh, yeah. They’re only D-Ranks, but some of them can take up a lot of time… In fact, today we completed three!”

And indeed they had. After completing a few miscellaneous D-Ranks, Team Seven had been excused for the day. He had left, fully intending on heading to the training grounds to work on katas and physical strengthening, but had instead encountered Hana along the way. 

And that led to the current.

Obito hummed quietly, eyes drifting upwards to the near-cloudless sky. It was almost frightening, really, how easily he had fallen back into what he had before—it seemed that, no matter how much time had passed for him, no matter how many of the people here he had seen die, he was able to reacclimatize himself without an over-bearing sense of guilt. Perhaps it was because he had once had no qualms about a fake world, and having the real thing, being back in a time before everything turned bleak and lifeless to him… Well, it was calming.

Between training with his team and the day-to-day habits he had developed (or in some cases, reverted back to), it almost made him feel normal… Outside of the plotting in the shadows and the planned deaths he had constructed, that is.

He continued humming, refusing to let the small bit of discontent at the thought outwardly show. Yes, it was a constant reminder—guilt wasn’t such a large factor for him, unlike Kakashi, because for him it was his knowledge that served as that unforgiving part of his conscience. Knowledge of the future, knowing about enemies who were, at the moment, still disguised as allies, enemies who could turn around and kill any one of the people Obito cared for at a moment’s notice.

After careful consideration, Obito had decided on a wiser and careful approach regarding Orochimaru: he would send a Kage Bunshin. It was much safer to send a bunshin as opposed to going himself—the snake wasn’t the type to charge in recklessly, and the clone would likely have enough time to at least locate the cells before being attacked and subdued. Obito’s only method of escape would be the Kamui if he went himself, and he wanted to keep the use of his Mangekyō to a minimum until he gained the Senju cells. After all, they worked well with the Sharingan and prevented deterioration, but they didn’t heal whatever damage was already done. He had the plan thought out and prepared, it was only a matter of deciding when he would send the bunshin to infiltrate.

And, of course, the other threat in Konoha. Danzō.

While he wanted to believe that Minato was up to par in regards to the warhawk, that Minato would be able to take the man down should the need arise… Obito didn’t want to take the chance. Previously, the two had never had an open confrontation—Obito was almost certain they had come to verbal blows more often than once before, but they had never actually battled. It was more of a trade of passive-aggressive barbs and jeers, some veiled under carefully crafted words… Some not. At least, that’s what he figured; it would make sense.

But regardless, the point was that Obito didn’t know who would win if the situation ended up as such; Minato was strong, very much so, but he had far too may precious people and a bleeding heart to match. Danzō was a cold-hearted, pragmatic, and calculating individual, who cared less for Konoha’s citizens so much as for the village’s military strength. A man such as that wouldn’t have any reservations on using one of Minato’s loved ones as an ultimatum, and that was a choice Obito didn’t want the man to have to make. Not a second time, no.

“… Oi,” he called out, stopping in his tracks to turn his head slightly. He narrowed his eyes at the over-hanging trees. “What do you guys think you’re doing?”

When there was no immediately reply, Obito shifted his stance slightly, placing himself between Hana and the hidden chakra signatures. Whoever it was that was following him and Hana had been tailing them for a few minutes, now, and while Obito didn’t detect any ill-intent… While it could’ve been an ANBU operative, it could have just as easily been one of Danzō’s Root. This was the third time, already, that someone (or a group of “someones”) had taken to following him, and it made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end—it wasn’t particularly wise for individuals to creep in the shadows after an S-ranked, emotionally-unstable (perhaps mentally, too) individual who incurred a damn war on his own.

He blinked, however, when he felt a strangely familiar chakra signature amongst the group. Before he could say anything, two of the signatures headed off in the opposite direction as the remaining one dropped down—a man of a relatively average height, perhaps bordering on the tall side somewhat, with familiar curls of black hair cut just above his ears. His Konoha hitai-ate was worn proudly on his forehead, and he wore and outfit of all black… The most notable feature was the high-necked, Uchiha collar. 

Obito recognized the man, vaguely, and the familiar chakra only reinforced the notion. Though, that might’ve just been attributed to the fact that he was an Uchiha, like Obito.

“… Uchiha-san, to what do I owe the honor?” Obito crossed his arms, looking up at the man who only quirked an eyebrow at the gesture. “I’m pretty sure that a thirteen-year-old black sheep of the clan and an elderly woman aren’t exactly the most entertaining subjects to spy on.”

“Uchiha-sama would like to speak with you,” the man said coolly, giving no indication that he had heard anything past Obito’s initial greeting. “You are to come to the compound as soon as possible.”

Obito frowned, looking down at the bags he had his arms looped through. “… I’m kinda busy right now.”

That can wait. The clan head cannot.”

The time traveler shot the taller man a look, before turning to Hana with an apologetic smile. “Er… Sorry, Hana-obaachan. I don’t think this prickly bas—jerk will let me go.”

The old woman chuckled with mirth, no doubt having caught the slight eye-twitch Obito’s comment caused. “No need to worry about it, Obito-kun,” she stated as she reached for the bags. “It was nice seeing you today—”

“I can take that.” Both Obito and Hana stared up at the strange Uchiha dubiously, and it wasn’t until Obito looked past the man that he realized that the man before him was actually a clone. He looked back at the clone with a gaze that said, ‘you should have told us that first.’ 

The clone gave a non-committal shrug—which was rather un-Uchiha-like, if Obito had to say so—before gathering the bags and starting at a slow-paced walk.

“Obito-san.” He turned back to the Uchiha, who tilted his head in the direction of the compound. “Uchiha-sama is waiting.”

Obito walked up to him, turning slightly with a smile as he waved to the elderly woman. “Sorry again, Hana-obaasan. I’ll see you later!”

“Same to you, Obito-kun.” She waved back, before turning to follow the clone.

The raven turned back to the elder Uchiha, who was looking expectantly at him. Obito huffed. “Well, let’s go see what Fugaku wants.”

The elder quirked an eyebrow but said nothing else as they walked through the streets of Konoha, heading to the Uchiha Compound. Obito realized about fifteen steps later that this was strange, considering the fact that they were Shinobi, and that Fugaku had apparently wanted to see Obito “as soon as possible.” He narrowed his eyes up at the other Uchiha (oh, it grated on his nerves that he was still short right now).

“Uchiha-san, what exactly is going on?”

Onyx eyes matching Obito’s glanced to him momentarily before going back to the road in front of them. “I do not know what you mean.”

“We’re walking,” Obito deadpanned. “Shinobi don’t walk when they supposedly have a clan leader to report to. Heck, most Shinobi don’t walk unless they have been barred from using chakra for health reasons or are Iryō-nin themselves, wherein conserving and storing chakra for emergency cases is the norm.” He turned back to the street, his words coming out with a sigh. “Obviously, that doesn’t apply to me, and I doubt that applies to you, either.”

The man quietly hummed—he hummed; Obito wasn’t aware that he wasn’t the only Uchiha to not care about the unspoken “no humming” rule in the clan—as he walked, apparently not willing to answer Obito’s question. The time-traveler decided to let go of the slight irritation that rose at the fact, and instead, focused on the man’s mannerisms. He was familiar, very much so, Obito realized. Much more than the minuscule familiarity he had with the rest of the clan members that he occasionally saw when walking around the village… But Obito knew for a fact that he didn’t know this man personally.

“… I’m guessing that you’re ‘Goggles-niisan’, Obito-san.”

Obito blinked. “… Uh?”

The man smiled. It was an exceptionally bright smile, one that reminded Obito of Minato’s, which was strange considering this man’s heritage. “My nephew has been rather excitable, lately, and he’s been talking about this ‘Goggles-niisan’ of his. I found it strange that he had been so taken with someone that he had quite literally run into.”

‘… “Goggles-niisan”…?’ Obito thought quietly. That sounded familiar, but definitely not from recent memory—not from twenty years ago, either, considering the fact that it was actually still on the forefront of his mind. And what did the man mean by ‘someone that he had quite literally run int—

“… Oh.” He replied blandly, realizing exactly who the man before him was. The man’s demeanor, the way he carried himself, the way he could go from a typical, strict Uchiha to an oddity of the clan; it was all very much like what Obito imagined an older, more wizened Shisui would’ve been like. This man was Shisui’s uncle, Uchiha Kagami’s son… That was why the man seemed so damn familiar. He had only ever met the man a few times as a child, but it was still relatively simple to see where Shisui picked up his mannerisms. As he thought about it, Obito realized that this man was part of the group that had been tailing Shisui, that day Obito had quite literally run into (yes, that was familiar now) the boy. But for the life of him, he couldn’t recall the man’s name.

He frowned, thinking back to what the now-confirmed-Shisui’s-uncle had said. “… What did he say?” Not that he was particularly interested in hearing what the kid thought of him, no. He was just… Curious.

To his disdain, the man only laughed. “Sorry, can’t say. I promised.” His eyes glinted with barely concealed humor as he glanced down at Obito. “But I can say, at least, that I wasn’t disappointed.”

Obito merely rolled his eyes, knowing that the conversation was over for now.

It was rather entertaining (and vaguely intimidating, though the feeling wasn’t nearly as much as when dealing with Minato) seeing Shisui’s relative switch from a laid-back (for Uchiha-standards at least) individual to his Uchiha mask, no-doubt crafted due to the expectations that were automatically given to him due to his heritage. As soon as the compound came into view, the man became frigid and cold—the previously warm and inviting air dissipated immediately, replaced with the domineering aura oh-so-typical to the Uchiha clan.

He led Obito to the main house, nodding once. “I shall take my leave here. Uchiha-sama will be with you shortly, Obito-san.”

Obito paused mid-nod, frowning slightly. Then, he grinned. “… I’ll see you later, Shisui’s-uncle.”

In response, Shisui’s-uncle smiled slightly. “Same to you, Shisui’s-niisan. Have a good day.”

The younger Uchiha only shook his head as the man disappeared in a flurry of leaves. Obito had been hoping for a name since he knew it would bother him, but it didn’t matter much, he supposed. If he was uncomfortable giving his name, then so be it.

He turned when he heard the door behind him slide open. “Obito-kun?”

The addressed boy nodded. “Mikoto-san.”

Mikoto smiled, motioning the boy inside. “It’s good to see you, I hope you have been well?”

Obito smiled slightly as he removed his shoes and placed them gingerly on the side. “Yes, I’ve been fine. Do you know why I’ve been summoned here, by chance…?”

Oddly enough, an almost secretive grin formed on the Uchiha matriarch’s face. She hurried Obito down the hall. “You’ll know soon enough. I set some tea out, but would you like something else to drink, or…?”

“Tea is fine,” the younger Uchiha said, inwardly hoping that the woman would go… Do something else. It was strange, what with him being an orphan and not being used to being looked after—not to mention, this was the Uchiha matriarch, Itachi and Sasuke’s mother, someone he didn’t know particularly well before, and, well… It was a little awkward being mothered by someone mentally younger than him.

“Alright,” she conceded, glancing to a closed door. “Fugaku is right in there. Please make yourself comfortable.”

Obito might’ve thought the statement was sarcastic had it not been Uchiha Mikoto who spoke—being comfortable and Fugaku didn’t exactly fit in a sentence, together. Regardless, he slid the door to the side and stepped in, his eyes immediately landing on the Uchiha leader’s seated form.

The man did not look up, however, from his cup of tea that he held snuggly in his hands. It wasn’t until Obito slid the door closed that Fugaku looked up, his eyes as piercing and powerful as always. “… Uchiha Obito.”

Obito nodded in greeting as walked over, eying the clan head somewhat warily. “Uchiha-sama.”

“Please, sit,” the man gestured to the space opposite of him. “We shouldn’t be too long, but I would like to skip the pleasantries.”

Raising an eyebrow faintly, Obito took the indicated seat and stared at the clan leader with a questioning gaze. “Then I assume you wouldn’t mind me being straight to the point?”

“That is fine.”

“Why was I summoned?” The question caused no shift in the otherwise stony-face of Fugaku. “Neither your messenger or Mikoto-san decided to tell me.”

Fugaku was silent for a minute, his eyes going back to his tea. “… As you may or may not know, my son, Itachi, recently turned four.”

‘… Four,’ Obito thought quietly, an eyebrow raised. Why was he called, then? Was this a glorified method of trying to extort a gift from him? No, that would’ve been foolish and idiotic; he was nearly broke and there was little he could offer the heir of the Uchiha Clan. But then, why? Why was Itachi’s age so important, and why was Obito summoned when he barely knew the Uchiha clan head besides their confrontation four months ag—

Hellshitfuck,’ Obito thought with a barely concealed grimace. He was thankful that Fugaku had taken to staring at his very interesting tea, because the man might’ve taken the reaction as something else. Obito knew where this was going, but now of all times? Really? In hindsight, though, it was really his own fault for not realizing how much time had passed—even though Obito hadn’t ever really known Itachi’s exact birthday, he always had a vague idea due to the Kyūbi incident and Uchiha Massacre. June. It was June now.

Though… Maybe this was actually fortunate?

“… Do you recall our conversation, four months ago?” Fugaku looked back at Obito, his eyes hardened and assessing.

The younger Uchiha nodded, inwardly sighing. “Yes, I do, Uchiha-sama. Am I correct in assuming that my end of our deal is…?”

Suddenly, almost all tenseness left from Fugaku’s countenance. “Yes, you are correct. This makes things quite a deal simpler.” It was strange seeing the man relaxed, if Obito were to be frank. The clan leader turned to the sliding door behind him, raising his voice in volume slightly. “Itachi, you may come in now.”

As the door slid open, Obito had to repress the urge to give Fugaku a look of absolute incredulity. He probably didn’t need to mask the feeling, considering the man was still facing the sliding door, but… Really, did he really make his four-year-old son wait behind that door?

Obito almost feared exactly how long Itachi had been standing there for—for all he knew, hours.

“Obito-san,” Itachi said neutrally with a polite bow. Fugaku stood up and placed a hand on Itachi’s shoulder, turning to the two other occupants of the room.

“The two of you already know the situation. Acquaint yourselves with each other, and move on to training immediately.” He glanced to Obito, his tone quiet. “I thank you for this, Obito.” And with that, he turned to the entrance Itachi had entered from and walked out, closing the door behind him.

Itachi walked over and took the seat to Obito’s left, sitting down with as much grace as a four-year-old could manage. He stared, and the older raven felt a strange chill at the look—this wasn’t Uchiha Itachi, the missing-nin that had managed to place the good of the village before his clan, the man who had managed to outsmart individuals such as Orochimaru and a vast majority of the Akatsuki. No, this was Uchiha Itachi, the young and impressionable four-year-old. And yet…

“… Um,” Obito finally started, scratching the back of his head. “… Well… Nice to meet you Itachi. I’m Uchiha Obito, and I guess I’m going to be your mentor for a while.”

Itachi nodded. “I know.”

Silence.

“Soooo… Since I’m going to teach you stuff, you can call me ‘Obito-sensei’!” Obito smiled, though it was somewhat strained. “Or if you want, you can call me ‘Obito-niisan’, I don’t mind either.”

Itachi continued to stare. Obito stared back, but the urge to run away was steadily growing. Finally, he broke the small battle of wills, turning away with a slight pout.

“… I don’t think even future you was as unnerving as this,” he muttered petulantly.

Indeed, this Uchiha Itachi was unnerving… but not in the usual way, where most people were likely unnerved that such a young child was so precocious. Obito was seeing the usual, assessing, wise-beyond-his years gaze from the Uchiha, but it was downright weird and vaguely disturbing that there also the near tangible innocence surrounding the boy’s eyes and very form. Even though Obito knew this Itachi was not the same… Well, perhaps it was because, out of all of the people Obito knew, Itachi was the one who had changed the least—he was always an old soul, difficult to read, and a genius; it was as if he had never matured—because he never needed to. 

Honestly, it left Obito severely creeped out that, because of this, his mind couldn’t help but swap the “aura” of this Itachi with the one he was familiar with… And he was rather disturbed by the thought of a twenty-year-old, innocent Uchiha Itachi.

Involuntarily, he shivered, glancing back to the boy who was still staring.

“… My mind tortures me in ways that I cannot even begin to fathom.”

 


 

Thunk.

Obito blinked somewhat disbelievingly between the training post and Itachi, who stared up at him with a somewhat unreadable gaze. Right in the center of the red and white target, at the bullseye… Was a single shuriken.

He knew that Itachi was a born genius and sharp, but he had never actually known the boy all that well when they were children. And to hit the target on his first attempt…? Obito shook his head slightly, turning to Itachi with a smile. “That was amazing, especially for your first try. Take a few steps back and try it again, repeating the process until your aim falters.”

The two of them had gone to the Uchiha training grounds to begin the younger’s training as per Fugaku’s request, and Obito began going over the basics of shuriken jutsu. It was strange how Itachi observed him as he demonstrated; there was a certain glint within the young boy’s eyes that indicated that he had already known. No doubt, Itachi had already observed other Uchiha while training and made the proper inferences to replicate the proper posture and movements—surprising considering he didn’t have his Sharingan activated yet, but then again, this was Itachi.

Obito’s eyes narrowed as the clan heir took yet another few steps back, distancing himself further from the target—he was about sixteen feet away, now. 

Itachi was, undoubtedly, a child. And yet, he had tendencies that revealed his future, revealed the potential that was not as hidden as some people would like to think. Though still innocent, the boy had a cunning wit and sharp intellect within that brain of his, and eyes that betrayed little of what he truly thought—a trait that would become more refined and even less conspicuous in the future. Uchiha Itachi would be a powerful Shinobi indeed.

And that brought Obito to a question that he had been contemplating ever since his arrival in the past, ever since he encountered the Uchiha patriarch that day in Minato’s house.

Would he use Itachi again?

Thunk. Another shuriken dead center, causing the previous cluster to clatter to the ground.

It would be a waste of potential, certainly, to not utilize what was given to him—the fact that Obito was tasked with training Itachi all but physically pointed to the idea of having Itachi aid him in his quest, help him in eradicating the threats to Konoha and his family. What with Itachi’s extreme devotion to the village as a whole, it would be very unlikely that he object to the prospect of aiding Obito anyway, should he ever find out the truth (and the likelihood of that happening was rather high, especially when the time came that meeting Madara was a must).

A small part of Obito felt disgusted at the the idea and the fact that he was even considering it. Itachi, despite all of his potential and prowess as a child prodigy, was just that—a child. As Tobi, as Madara, Obito hadn’t had any hesitant thoughts regarding the use of the particularly powerful pawn, Uchiha Itachi, and had realized that the boy was an instrumental piece to the overall plan. But that was when he was still in a blind pursuit of a false world.

No longer was he just Tobi, nor was he Madara’s slave. And the truth was, that Uchiha Obito felt hesitant to use Itachi as the emotionless tool he had been before—to use him, just as his village had used him, as his clan had used him, as Tobi had used him.

But… Humanity and slight guilt was a small price to pay in the overall scheme of things, and as stated before, Itachi was a loyal Konoha Shinobi. He would no doubt be a great asset to Obito, should he somehow fail to gain the Senju cells—even if he didn’t fail to gain them, having the Uchiha heir’s aid would ensure that the threat known as Uchiha Madara was completely destroyed.

A quiet cough stirred Obito from his thoughts, and he looked at the younger Uchiha who stared at the ground with wide-eyes, a single hand gripping the front of his T-shirt. Obito’s eyes widened slightly, as he thought back to the manner of which the man known as Uchiha Itachi had died the first time around—a terminal illness. But… This did not make sense. As far as Obito knew, Itachi had contracted a disease later on in life, leading to his subsequent death by his younger brother’s hand. So what was this? A cold?

“… Itachi?” He began cautiously, though his voice caused Itachi to flinch minutely. Whatever the problem was, it was much more serious and dire than a passing cold. The boy turned to him with wide eyes, and Obito slowly stood up and walked over. “Are you alright? Do you wish to stop…?”

The younger Uchiha, after a pause, shook his head and turned away slightly. His hands fell back to his sides.

“I… I’ve been told that I have slight weakness of the lungs.” 

Weakness of the lungs. Obito had definitely not known about this, though perhaps that explained the odd manner of which future Itachi had suddenly become ill. It was strange, though at the time, Obito had assumed that his excessive use of the Mangekyō had been the cause of his declined health and lack of immunity to disease. But regarding this supposed “weakness” that Itachi had, considering the situation… Why? Why hadn’t he known? Obito’s brow furrowed. He had been able to find out everything about the young raven before him prior, or so he thought, and as far as he knew he—

“Obito-san,” Itachi began, and the older raven turned back to him. His eyes were almost beseeching, unlike his usual, reticent gaze. “Please, do not tell Okaa-sama or Otou-sama.”

Ah. So Itachi had been keeping his condition a secret, then. Obito didn’t have to ask why, however, considering the clan’s mentality. Itachi was not to show any weakness before the clan, before the village, before his immediate family—it stood to believe that revealing some sort of illness, or “weakness of the lungs” as the boy said, would be ill-favored. Or perhaps Itachi, being the type to show care in subtle and often inscrutable ways, did not wish to burden his mother with the knowledge of his condition.

Whatever was the case, the fact that Itachi had a health disadvantage remained—and it was something that could very well be detrimental to Obito’s self-imposed mission.

He placed a hand on the shorter boy’s head and ruffled his raven-black hair. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell them… But in exchange, you’re going to have to see a medic-nin to cure you.”

Itachi looked up at him, an almost heart-wrenchingly sorrowful look in place—it was a strange look on him. “… They said that it cannot be cured. The best I could hope for is that I grow out of it, and even then, they said that…” Itachi trailed off, his eyebrows knitting together in a look of consternation that the time-traveller was more familiar with.

Whichever path Obito ended up taking, Itachi had to be healed. He was fairly certain that Tsunade was not in the village at this time, but something as trivial as that could be remedied. The woman was still alive, and that was what mattered.

“Don’t worry,” he stated quietly, ruffling the younger raven’s hair once more. Itachi looked up in surprise as Obito stared down at him with a faint smile. “I wouldn’t let my student suffer, not when there is something I can do about it.”

Chapter Text

“I’d like the three of you to meet at my apartment for dinner, tonight.”

Three pairs of eyes blinked owlishly. “… Huh?”

Obito glanced to his teammates—they were equally puzzled, it seemed, wondering what their sensei had planned.

Minato merely smiled. “There is something that Kushina would like to tell you three.”

Shock. Confusion. Apt words to describe what the three Chūnin felt, that moment. It wasn’t strange, the idea of Team Seven having dinner at the blonde’s house—no, what was strange was that it wasn’t particularly an offer—it was an order. The tone and all, even the phrasing wasn’t a question, but a statement. They had been invited multiple times before, sometimes Kakashi was unable to make it because he had training scheduled, or Rin had a shift at the hospital that she was needed to attend to. But something in their sensei’s tone said that this wasn’t just a casual gathering, not this time.

But what for, then?

“Uh… Well, I’ll be there as usual,” Obito stated cautiously. “… But why? What does Kushina-neesan have to talk to us about?”

Minato’s smile didn’t waver. “I’ll let her tell you guys herself. She was quite adamant.”

And that was how Obito found himself standing in front of his mirror, wondering if there was some special occasion he was missing, and debating whether or not to get dressed up. What was it that Kushina wanted to talk about? As far as Obito knew, it wasn’t going to be Rin or Kakashi’s birthdays anytime soon, and Minato’s had long passed… Perhaps Kushina wanted to announce hers? If he recalled correctly, hers was just around the corner—in a few weeks. But considering the gravity Minato had put to his words, something as common as a birthday announcement was unlikely, and neither of the Jōnin were the type to celebrate their own birthdays. They were givers more than receivers, and sometimes even forgot about their own birthdays. 

No, there was clearly something more important going on, something that apparently warranted Minato all but demanding the presence of his entire team for dinner that night. The only thing he could really think of was something that was not scheduled for another couple of years, and even then, he doubted that—

A cold shiver ghosted up Obito’s spine and his eyes widened. No. No, he couldn’t have changed things this much—he couldn’t have irreparably fucked up the timeline this badly. But what if he did? What if—what if, somehow, his own demeanor had made Minato and Kushina a… Little more… Close, this time around, and… And…

“… Fuck.” 

Literally.

Obito closed his eyes and took a deep, calming breath. There was no way, he was just over-thinking things—right? There was no way that Naruto had already been conceived… Right?

“… This isn’t the time for this,” the time traveller nearly growled after a moment, walking away from his mirror and over to his closet. No, it really wasn’t, and he would have his answer the moment he walked out of his room. There was no point in worrying over something that had not yet been confirmed. Especially since he had other, more pressing matters to attend to before he left.

He slid his closet door open and, upon spying the worn cardboard box he was seeking, slid it out of the corner it had been safely stored. He stared down at the orange, spiral mask, sitting atop the dark cloth, peering up at him. He had made his decision—regarding Itachi, he had to bring Tsunade back as soon as possible. He was still deliberating on whether or not to incorporate the young Uchiha into his plans—did he have time? Was it worth it?—but that was a choice he’d make later.

Specifically, after he gained the Senju cells he needed.

Carefully keeping his chakra fluctuations to a minimum, Obito henge’d into his older form and donned the dark cloak and mask. He wove through hand seals and two Kage Bunshin popped into existence, both staring at him through their own orange masks. He turned to the one on his left. “You will go track down Tsunade of the Sannin. You know where she is likely to be.”

The clone nodded, Mangekyō swirling into an angry red. The tell-tale signs of space distortion formed around the clone and fazed out of reality, just as Obito collapsed to his knees, just managing to catch his mask before it clattered to the ground as his other hand gripped at his aching temples.

“… Damn… It,” he swore quietly, hands trembling as his eyesight drifted between darkness and clarity. Of course, it wouldn’t be so easy—even the use of Kage Bunshin didn’t lessen the strain. What mattered was that they were his Kage Bunshin, meaning that he still couldn’t escape the draining affects of the most powerful form of his eyes. It couldn’t be bypassed with Kage Bunshin, because while being a powerful asset, it was also a detriment. A curse.

Obito looked—glared—up at his remaining clone, who had a look of hesitance. “What are you still doing here? Go,” he hissed quietly. “I need the Senju cells. I will not…”

He stood up shakily, his henge dispersing, leaving his dark cloak to flutter uselessly to the ground from his lack of girth. “I will not fall before I achieve my goal.”

The clone understood. It left in a quiet swirl of wind, the only indication it was once there being the open window left in its wake. Obito wiped at his eyes, noting that despite the strain his eyes had not bled this time.

He looked at the abandoned cloak, sighing as he went to pick it up. Based on the fact that he could hear Kushina and Minato’s voices fade in and out intermittently—no doubt moving back and forth from the kitchen area to the dining area—they were setting up the table. The clock read 6:45pm, and the remaining members of Team Seven were bound to arrive any minute.

Obito grimaced. The pain would not abate, and it was bordering debilitating.

No matter, though. He was used to wearing masks—literal or otherwise. He was more than happy to spend time with his team, and whatever Kushina had to talk about would no doubt serve as ample distraction to the throbbing within his head and eyes.

After storing his cloak and mask in their designated place, he shoved the box back in its designated corner in the closet and slid the door closed before heading out of his room.

“Minato-sensei! Kushina-neesan!” He called out, making his way to the kitchen where he heard the clatter of plates and utensils. “Is there anything I can help you guys with?”

As he walked down the dark hallway, he saw Kushina peek around the corner from the kitchen with a grin. It seemed a little hesitant, compared to the woman’s usual, radiant smiles. “N-no, it’s okay, Obito. You can just go wait at the table, I’m sure Kakashi and Rin will be here soon.”

Obito remained standing in the hallway for a moment, wondering what had the woman so jittery, before shrugging and heading past the kitchen into the conjoined dining room. The table was set neatly with small serving plates, chopsticks and napkins, along with glasses of ice water. The Uchiha frowned, taking note of the precision of which everything was set—Kushina and Minato, while neat individuals, were usually not this… Critical in regards to a supposedly relaxed dinner. Not a single bamboo utensil was out of place, and even the centerpiece vase of flowers seemed rather “perfect.”

The sound of a couple raps at the door withdrew Obito from his musings.

“Obito, could you answer that?” Minato called out, walking over to the table with an armful of bowls of miso soup.

The raven nodded, walking over to the door. When he opened it, he was greeted by the sight of his two teammates—Kakashi, with his perpetual look of reticence-bordering-constipation, and Rin, with a bright smile.

“Hi Obito!” The latter cheered happily, sniffing the air. “Wow, it smells great! Kushina-neesan is such a great cook, we’re so lucky.”

Obito smiled, moving to the side to allow the two to walk in. “Yeah. She’s really outdone herself this time, and Minato-sensei helped her.”

“Hello Kakashi, Rin,” Minato nodded to them, a small grin on his face as he set the table. Kushina walked into the dining area with the main dishes and set them down. “Please, have a seat. We should eat now before it gets cold.”

Eagerly, Rin set her shoes aside and darted to the table with little hesitance. Kakashi did the same, though perhaps with more restraint—it was rare that the boy showed anything beyond his calm facade.

Kushina grinned as everyone sat down, picking up her chopsticks happily. “Have at it! I made extra today, and I’m sure you’ll all like it. Miso shiru, tonkatsu, battered gindara, rice and tsukemono,” she pointed to the two gyoza platters on either side of the flower vase. “… And gyoza, if you guys feel like you still want more.”

“Itadakimasu,” was said as one at various volumes—Rin’s surprisingly, being one of the most energetic. Obito couldn’t blame the girl, however; Kushina’s cooking was exceptionally tasty.

As the meal went on, a sense of normalcy descended—Kushina and Rin were the main conversationalists, providing the topics of discussion ranging from newly acquired ninja tools and gear to food and clothing. Kakashi gave the occasional, noncommittal “hn” while Minato added his own thoughts on the conversation whenever fitting.

Obito, on the other hand, found it easy to fall into his thoughts and calmly wonder about the progress of his clones. Perhaps it was because he was relaxed, surrounded by his loved ones that were certainly not dead, but he was able to think about his future plans without the usual anxiety and stress that usually accompanied such thoughts. He felt so at ease, in fact, that for a moment… Brief it may have been, but for that small moment, he felt as though it would’ve been acceptable had neither of his clones succeeded. That it would’ve been fine if he continued living, not as the time traveler Obito, weighed down by what he thought he had to do, but as Uchiha Obito… The one that these people knew.

The one that was oblivious to the future, and all the darkness and fear that encompassed it.

The time traveller sighed, shaking his head from ridiculous thoughts as he took a bite of shibazuke and rice. It wasn’t a worry of his, the idea of him falling back into complacency with the idea of reacclimatizing himself as the Obito they knew, but it was still something that went on as a sort of unspoken concept in his mind. Something forbidden. Besides, it wasn’t as if he could simply forget everything that he knew, and even then his Mangekyō Sharingan distinguished him from the boy he once was. The boy he still was in the eyes of others.

Obito glanced back up, expecting to see the homely scene he had seen before turning briefly to his food, and almost choked.

Onyx met piercing, cold azure, and he did choke.

“Obito?” Rin abruptly cut off from her conversation with Kushina to look at the raven worriedly. She pat him on the back. “Are you okay? Need water?”

Obito nodded, reaching out to his cup of water and gulping down the cool beverage as the others resumed their conversation. He hadn’t expected Minato’s gaze, and had he not been so caught off guard, he might’ve been able to get an actual read on the man instead of the simple surprise that he was accosted by.

As he glanced back to his sensei, he noticed that the man had joined the conversation again with ease; something about Fūinjutsu this time. It was as if Minato hadn’t ever left the conversation, as if he hadn’t pinned Obito with that eerie gaze that set the time traveler on edge.

And the worst part? Obito hadn’t even noticed.

 


 

A cloaked figure darted through the shadows, moving from shelf to shelf with a keen eye absorbing each detail.

After what he assumed to be the twenty-seventh shelf, he shook his head and headed into the next room. It was no better; lined with jars of unknown compounds of liquids, ranging from blood to sap and gel. None of which were what he was searching for.

Obito’s eyes narrowed as he slowed down, contemplating the implications. He had arrived at Orochimaru’s lab, which was… Strangely bare. Not in scientific material and research, no, but of proper barriers and seals, to prevent entry from all but those authorized. That, and the gruesome experiments that the Uchiha had expected—bodies strung up from various places, the heel, the soft flesh of the neck, their hands; bodies splayed across tables and revealing bloody innards; the smell of death, decay, and disease—were absent. All of it, absent.

He couldn’t feel the chakra signature of a single individual in the vast underground complex. Certainly, Orochimaru had begun experimenting on civilians as opposed to shinobi earlier on, therefore making it more likely that their chakra signatures were simply too minute to notice (Obito’s sense were sharp, but he was no sensor)… But it still made him nervous.

He was worried. The lab seemed almost normal. And though he knew the snake to be the type to hide his “dirty business” in the most discreet of ways, there was also the possibility that Orochimaru had not yet begun that descent into madness. And it left Obito with questions.

When had Orochimaru started experimenting? Had he not started yet? Was it possible that the man was innocent, at the moment?

Obito swallowed thickly. Was this a waste of time?

Shaking his head, the raven continued through the corridors at a more sedate pace—scanning the walls, floor and ceiling with a more assessing gaze. No Genjutsu could surpass his Sharingan, but that didn’t warrant complacency. Knowing Orochimaru, he wouldn’t just use a Genjutsu, no matter how powerful, to hide his research—research that could incriminate him to the highest degree, should it ever be found… If it even existed.

“… How curious.”

Obito froze.

The feeling of a cold, slithering chakra whisked about his form, and probably might have incited a slight shiver had Obito not been accustomed to dealing with the mentally skewed individuals of Shinobi life. Slowly, he turned, eyes locking with intrigued, slitted gold.

“… How curious, indeed,” the snake spoke quietly, his tone sibilant and casual. The grin, however, suggested malice and ill-intent. “I do not recall keying an Uchiha into the seals that coat this place. Who are you?”

Obito, ignoring the fact that the first thing the snake noticed was his Sharingan eye—how typical—considered the words. So, Orochimaru did have seals around this place? It was a wonder he hadn’t tripped any of them, and, admittedly, it made him feel a small blow to his pride that he had not realized this. Straightening, he pinned the snake with a cold gaze. “… I do not believe it is necessary to introduce myself, Orochimaru of the Sannin.”

Orochimaru’s grin only widened. “… You are not an Uchiha of this village, are you?” His slitted pupils gazed into the Uchiha’s only visible eye, as though mentally probing him for answers—answers that Obito wouldn’t give to him. “Your chakra is… Familiar, though that may be attributed to your heritage. Powerful, though, yes indeed… I don’t suppose you have any interest in working for me, strange Uchiha? Or, perhaps, working together?”

“I have no plan on relying on the likes of you,” Obito stated derisively, behaving apropos to his clan’s usual demeanor. “You are correct with your first assumption, however: I am not an Uchiha of this village, and I haven’t been for many years.”

Strangely, instead of interest, that brought out an actual frown from the Sannin. His eyes darted to the side briefly in consideration before going back to their original place, never leaving the Uchiha. Wise, considering what Obito was more than prepared to do.

“… Uchiha Madara,” the snake stated calmly, eyeing Obito with a look that was both predatory and defensive. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

Obito’s next words were punctuated with the smallest threat of Killing Intent. “I need the Senju cells.”

A look of slight surprise crossed the Sannin’s face before he grinned slyly. “… I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. I know not how you came upon that particular ounce of information, but I’ve since learned that you are not someone to be measured carelessly—after all, you’ve already managed to last all these years undetected, no?” The Uchiha wondered exactly what that meant, regarding how much the snake actually knew.

“… But,” the Sannin began again, a tone of amusement lacing his tone. “I do not simply give. I expect something in turn, something that is useful to me.”

Inwardly, Obito sighed, relieved at the fact that this wasn’t a dead end—Orochimaru had the cells. That was motivating to him, but now, he had a problem. It was impossible for him to continue his search for the cells without Orochimaru interfering, considering the man knew of his presence now. So discreet infiltration was obviously out of the question.

He couldn’t kill him either, unfortunately. Not now, while he was still considered a “loyal” shinobi of Konoha. If the man were to die now, it would bring up unnecessary troubles for Konoha that the village didn’t need—especially not with the looming threat of war hanging over their head. He could bluff, however, and walk away with what he wanted without a price.

Obito took a small breath and stared at the Sannin, noting the slight widening of eyes as his own morphed.

“Orochimaru, my offer is this: give me the cells, or I shall kill you where you stand—making it impossible for you to achieve that immortality you oh so desire.”

 


 

“Uh… Can I help with anything, Kushina-neesan?”

Kushina shook her head, her smile strained—even more so than earlier. “No thanks, Obito. Just… Can you wait in the living room, with Kakashi and Rin?”

After a moment, the raven nodded, leaving Kushina and Minato to wash the dishes on their own. It was simple enough to tell that the woman needed space. No doubt, it was to steel herself, to work through whatever nerves beset her currently for the impending conversation. Obito was no stranger to the feeling, and as such, knew that leaving her alone for the time being was the right course of action—she would come talk to them when she was ready, after all.

“So… What do you guys think Kushina-chan wants to talk to us about?”

Obito blinked owlishly from where he sat comfortably on the couch, across from Rin and Kakashi. He did not want to contribute to this conversation.

“I wouldn’t know,” Kakashi stated with a shrug after a moment. His countenance went shadowed. “… Though, I was thinking it might have to do with her hospitalization.”

“Me too!” Rin almost exclaimed, before clamping a hand over her mouth. “I mean, it makes sense, right? Why was Kushina-chan sick all of a sudden? Why did she have to stop her missions? It has to be because she’s—“

“Why are you acting so happy about this?” Kakashi pinned Rin with an accusatory look, making her falter slightly. “If… If something happens to Kushina-san, if she ends up…”

Rin gaped. “… Wait. N-no, that’s not what I meant, Kakashi-kun! I mean, sensei and Kushina-chan have been married for a while, right?”

“If you consider a year a while,” Obito mumbled. He didn’t want to hear this conversation about two people he saw as older siblings—it may lead to Naruto’s existence, sure, but honestly? That only made it even worse.

“Well, they love each other very much,” Rin chirped, turning back to Kakashi. “Wouldn’t it make sense if they took the next step?”

It must have clicked in the young Chūnin’s head, because his face immediately contorted into one of disgust. “… Do you… Really think that’s what it is?”

Rin nodded happily. “Of course! Don’t tell me you two are actually grossed out, how do you think you came into existence?”

“That… That doesn’t mean I want to think about that, regarding my sensei,” Kakashi murmured into his hands.

Obito was silent, no longer paying attention to the conversation. After Kakashi had mentioned Kushina’s stunt in the hospital, it made him start thinking. If… If what she wanted to discuss was what he thought it was, then it certainly made sense—after all, what was the cause of her supposed declined health? What was it that caused her stomach pains and fainting spells?

The Kyūbi.

It made sense, considering how hesitant the woman seemed throughout the night—she had never actually come out and told Team Seven about her condition before, and that already spoke volumes on how self-conscious she was about it. It was actually… Rather likely, that, due to Obito revealing that he knew about her condition, she felt less hesitant about confiding this truth in the rest of Team Seven.

“… Um, well.” The three Chūnin turned to Kushina, who walked over awkwardly to sit on the couch next to Obito. Minato followed, sitting on the red-head’s other side. “… I guess, I should get this over with, ‘ttebane…”

Rin sent a small smile to the woman. “It’s okay Kushina-chan, you can take your time. You cooked all that food for us, so the least we can do for you is wait and listen.”

Kushina smiled weakly before turning to Minato, who nodded seriously. She sighed, eyes going to her fidgeting hands as she bit her lip. “I’m not sure how to say this.”

“Kushina-neechan,” Obito called out quietly.

She turned to him sharply, her violet eyes scanning his face—as though searching for an answer. He nodded, hoping that it would help.

It did. She breathed in deeply, turning to the other two Chūnin of Team Seven. “… Do you two know what a Jinchūriki is?”

Rin’s brow furrowed, and Kakashi nodded. “They’re containers for the bijū. There are nine total.”

“What else?” Obito blurted before he could stop himself. “What else do you know about the Jinchūriki?”

Kakashi looked at Obito with a raised eyebrow but answered anyway. “… They hold back the bijū’s power, and… It takes a skilled Fūinjutsu master to create one…” His brow furrowed. “… They’re human…?” The answer had Obito relax slightly, and by the way Kushina slid back into her seat, she was relieved as well.

She nodded, brushing a stray lock of hair out of her face. “I’m… I’m the Kyūbi Jinchūriki.”

“As you guys know, Kushina was in the hospital for a time,” Minato cut in, essentially preventing any response from his students. Not that it mattered; Kakashi and Rin looked far too shell-shocked to reply. “It was due to the Kyūbi, that she was hospitalized and unable to take on any missions. This is also the reason for my absence; I did not want to leave Kushina alone for long periods of time, considering Jiraiya-sensei was out of the village. You guys couldn’t take on C-Ranks without my supervision, which is why you were only taking D-Ranks for the duration of Kushina’s hospital stay.”

Obito nodded, as did Kakashi and Rin, though they were still in a state of slight surprise. “… How long as Kushina-chan been the Jinchūriki?”

Minato turned to his wife worriedly, who smiled warmly at Rin. “I’ve been the Kyūbi’s Jinchūriki for about a decade, now.”

“Why… Didn’t you tell us before…?” Everyone turned to Kakashi, whose eyes were focused on his hands fisted in the material of his pants. “… Did… Did you not trust us?”

Kushina sighed, reaching out to Kakashi and lifting his chin up so that she could look at him in the eyes. “It was not entirely my choice, that this be kept a secret. When I had first met the three of you, I was not compelled to tell any of you—I didn’t know you, and my status is a closely guarded secret. As time passed, I… I didn’t think it was necessary for me to tell you guys. I didn’t hide it on purpose, it just didn’t seem important enough to burden you guys with the information.”

She sat back, allowing Rin and Kakashi to process what they had been told. Then, Rin looked up with a frown. “… What changed your mind, then?”

Obito winced. That question

Kushina’s eyes flickered to Obito momentarily before going back to Rin. “That… Well, I figured, revealing this kind of secret would help prepare you guys for the future.”

“The future…?” Kakashi questioned, looking at Kushina and Minato.

The blonde’s countenance was serious as he leveled a stern gaze on his team. “As I stated before, Team Seven had been temporarily assigned perpetual D-Ranks due to my absence. Now, we will be assigned perpetual C-Ranks for another reason. You may have heard, but…” Minato paused, and Obito felt a sickening worry settle within him. “… The Third Shinobi War has officially started. To help with the war effort, we must take on as many C-Ranks as possible.”

Varying degrees of surprise flashed through the faces of the Chūnin, accompanied with other emotions—Rin seemed to be somewhat hesitant yet happy, Kakashi was relieved that they were no longer stuck with D-Ranks… But Obito remained silent.

Inwardly, he was cursing the Rikudō Sennin and his relatives—the war had begun. This meant that the Kannabi bridge mission was a foreboding factor, now. Obito had been in an almost inebriated state, being surrounded by the people he cared for, living the life he had always wished to go back to. He had been metaphorically swimming in ignorance, and the fact that he hadn’t been paying attention enough to see the exact signs of the war’s beginning spoke volumes of that fact.

It was time for things to begin.

He looked back up and was met by the gazes of his teammates, Minato and Kushina—they were mixed with worry and curiosity. He smiled.

‘… No use worrying about it. I’m going to change things, and I will do it no matter what.’

 


 

Orochimaru stiffened minutely, his eyes narrowing. “… How do you know?”

Instead of answering, Obito looked down the dark hallway. “Are the Senju cells nearby?”

How do you know?”

Obito turned back to Orochimaru with an almost lazy air about him, noting the irritation and tenseness that surrounded the snake Sannin’s form. It was a rare moment that the snake was caught off-guard and pushed to outward displays of what he felt, that was certain.

“I need not answer your petty questions, child,” the Uchiha held the snake’s gaze with a menacing glare, made more effective by his violently spinning eyes. “You will tell me where the Senju cells are, or your entire lab will be leveled to the ground in the blink of an eye.”

It it was possible, Orochimaru grew paler than his naturally pasty complexion. “… You can’t. We are underground Konoha, you cannot do so without also—“

“You seem to have forgotten, Orochimaru, that I have a burning hatred for this village. It was not my intention to destroy it now, but there is nothing stopping me.” He tilted his head to the side. “… While I have no qualms with it, you still have plans for this rotted hole, do you not? And for your plans to be accomplished, you need Konoha, still standing.”

Orochimaru said nothing. His teeth were briefly bared in what could’ve been a grin or a snarl, before turning on his heel and walking down the hallway. Obito followed silently.

For what felt like hours, they wandered the complex structure of Orochimaru’s labs. Obito knew that it was a trick, a method to ensure that he would not be able to replicate the path and find his way back to the deepest part of the lab—he didn’t care. If he gained the Senju cells now, he would have no need to make another visit, and he was fine with giving the snake a false sense of security.

Something that Obito noticed as they wandered silently was the steadily growing feeling of discontent. It only grew as they continued, and it was when a muffled scream reached his ears that he fully understood what the feeling was. The halls looked normal, the doors and inner rooms appeared normal, but he could still feel it. The heavy, grotesque chakra thinly veiling the palpable fear. The smell of blood, chemicals, scorched skin and excrement was heavily laden in the air, and each breath would likely be enough to suffocate a Genin-level shinobi. 

A sibilant chuckle escaped Orochimaru as he glanced back to Obito. “Does it… Bother you?”

Obito snorted. “Your countenance is much less appealing.”

The snake paused immediately, his amusement dissipating like vapor. Obito heard a quiet, “hmph” before the snake turned back down the hall, leading the Uchiha to their destination.

The journey ended when they entered a room with a high, vaulted ceiling, shelves and cabinets filling the entire expanse. Orochimaru led them to a secluded corner, where a small work table with various instruments was set up. Obito stiffened when he noticed a grin making its way onto the snake’s face.

“It is… Strange,” he began, reaching into a cabinet to withdraw a small vial of liquid. He walked over to the shelves and picked up an unknown tincture, casually pouring a measured amount from the vial into the other and swirling as he glanced at Obito. “I was under the impression that you would have already obtained the Senju cells, through your own merit. Why need more?”

Obito froze, tearing his eyes away from the vial that Orochimaru held in his hand and instead meeting his gaze. “… Hn.”

It was all he could reply with. What was he supposed to say? He was not aware that Orochimaru had actually met Madara prior to Obito’s supposed “death,” and this recent revelation made him question just how much this man knew, whether it was truly wise to simply walk out and leave the snake to his devices…

No. Something was… Off.

He might’ve laughed had he not still been in the presence of the oh-so-cunning Sannin. The Uchiha almost had to commend the snake for his mannerisms and skill with words. He… He had never explicitly stated he met Madara before. He didn’t actually say that he knew Madara, knew that the man had already obtained the Senju cells.

It was all a carefully crafted structure, with the purpose of drawing out more information from the Uchiha. And it had almost worked, but despite the intelligence behind the snake and the veil of certainty he had placed on his words… Obito had seen through it. 

When Orochimaru corked and handed the mixture to Obito, he reached out to accept the vial and inspected it—he felt the familiar hum of pure Senjutsu and Mokuton chakra. This was it…

And yet, it wasn’t exactly what he had been hoping for.

He turned back to the snake, whose face looked about to split, what with the absolutely horrendous grin spreading across it. Inwardly cursing—he had taken too long to respond, apparently, and though not being a major slip-up, it was still enough for the snake—Obito pushed as much force into his voice as possible. “This… Is not for me. Anymore information, you do not need to know—“

At that moment, Obito felt his body freeze up—not from shock or hesitance this time, but from an actual lack of function. Orochimaru surged for him, his canines seemingly elongating, and Obito’s eyes darted for the vial—it was his priority, and he’d be damned before he let all of this end up being a waste of effort.

Time seemed to slow down exponentially, at that very moment, and Obito felt the long, tendril-like hair of the Sannin brush against his neck. The space around his hand distorted weakly, as he struggled to force his dimension open.

A small pop echoed through the cavernous room, and Orochimaru found himself alone.

The sound of shattered glass was absent.

 


 

Pain

Obito collapsed forward, heaving breaths of air that his lungs couldn’t contain—his eyes swirling into angry, throbbing red, as blood seeped from the corners.

“Obito!?”

He heard the shuffle of feet and felt a hand—or two—on his back, and saw blurs of moving color… But couldn’t distinguish anything. His trembling hands gripped around his face and eyes as he sought relief from the sudden waves of excruciating pain that pulsed through his head and body.

“… Fucking… Snake…” He whispered through his gasps, trying desperately to wipe away the stinging liquid from his eyes.

“Obito, here, take this,” he felt a cold, damp cloth shoved into his hands, and he immediately buried his face into it. It didn’t make the pain leave him immediately, but it was a cool, soothing relief compared to what he had been so suddenly beset by.

A hand pushed him back, and it took him a moment to realize that it, whoever it was that was pushing him, was trying to get him to lie back. He acquiesced after a moment of consideration, and continued breathing deep breaths to try and abate the pain searing every nerve ending in his head and body.

It took a solid five minutes to calm down completely, for the pain to lessen to a dull throbbing. Carefully, painfully, he removed the now blood-sodden cloth from his eyes and opened them, wincing slightly at the light as his sore eyes struggled to adjust. He tried to smile at Rin, Kakashi, and Kushina, who were surrounding him with worried looks. “… I’m fine, now, guys.”

“What happened!? Why did that happen?” He turned to Rin, who was trembling. Kakashi wasn’t much better, and they both looked almost hesitant to reach out to him. “The… The last time your eyes became like that, you… You…”

Ah. Wordlessly, Obito patted them both on the shoulder, ignoring the way they flinched, one eye still closed due to the throbbing pain. “It’s… fine, really. I’m just having some issues controlling the power of my eyes, is all… It’ll go away eventually.”

Cautiously, the raven slid his gaze over to his sensei, who was standing a small distance away. Obito gulped when he saw that look—and felt a pain separate from the throbbing, when he realized he was getting accustomed to that look.

“… Obito,” Minato began after a moment, walking over to place a hand on the raven’s shoulder. The time traveller looked up at the blonde with a questioning, hesitance gaze. “We can handle the rest of the clean-up. Go to sleep, I doubt all of that blood is very good for your eyesight.”

Obito blinked, as he looked down at the cloth he still held tightly in his hands. He winced, slightly, at how red it looked—some globs of blood were left over, as the cloth was so drenched that the viscous liquid sat on top of it, unabsorbed. After a moment, he looked back up to his sensei and smiled. Maybe… Maybe that was why Minato had looked so unreadable.

“Alright, I’ll… I’ll do that.” He stood up, blinking rapidly at the sudden anemia that hit him. He turned back to the other occupants of the room with a weak smile. “Er… See you guys later, then.”

Rin leapt to her feet. “Do you need help, or…?”

Obito waved her away. “Thanks, but I’m fine. I should just go to sleep, now.”

Without another word, Obito stumbled off to his room and shut the door. 

That was… Well, if he were to be perfectly honest (and vaguely optimistic), he really couldn’t have hoped for the encounter to go better—he had managed to slip into Orochimaru’s lab, gained the Senju cells, and though he alerted the snake, he was fairly certain he didn’t reveal who he was. His identity was still safe, and Orochimaru was none the wiser.

The raven leaned against his door with a sigh and felt his legs go weak, making him slide down until he sat on the floor.

The vial that he had… What he had obtained was not the exact same solution as whatever it was that Danzō used, and Obito could tell as much from the almost raw purity he had felt in the liquid. It was in one of its barest forms yet, nearly untouched.

His… His own ability with the Senju cells varied from Danzō’s, and even Madara’s. Obito was not entirely certain of the nature of Orochimaru’s experiments on the warhawk’s arm, though he was certain it was through injection. But with the liquid he had obtained made such a convenient method nearly impossible. The reason for this was simple; though altered slightly, it was nearly untampered with, and trying to inject such a volatile substance… Well, it was much more likely that his body would reject it, and considering the high properties of not only normal chakra but Senjutsu chakra within the cells… The results would be rather violent.

Obito might’ve been angry about this. In all honesty, he wouldn’t have cared if he had ended up with a damn face on his arm or chest so long as he had the cells, and now he had an incomplete solution that couldn’t be used for immediate results. Of course, it was, in a way, his own fault—he hadn’t known exactly when Orochimaru had completed the product that was granted to Danzō. Considering the fact that the concoction he had in his possession at the moment was practically untouched DNA, the snake likely hadn’t even started thorough experimentation with Hashirama’s cells at this point in time. It was probable that he hadn’t done so until after Minato was named the Yondaime… Which, now that Obito contemplated it, made sense.

However, he had a back-up plan with this unfinished product—one that might actually be more prudent, that left him with an advantage regarding the pure DNA he had obtained, in this case.

The treatment Madara had placed him through was meant for long-term, slowly introducing nearly pure, undiluted Senju DNA to his system—giving his body the time to adjust to the foreign substance as it healed. It was a similar method to what Madara used, which was why the man was perpetually connected to the Gedo Mazo statue. 

So, yes, perhaps this was actually a fortunate miscalculation. The purity of the Senju cells he had recently obtained was similar to what he had been bonded to the first time, and with hope, it would also work similarly. Obito was able to recall his treatment with startling clarity, and though he didn’t have Zetsu to help him with the process this time around or the proper tools, it wasn’t strictly necessary. After all, he wasn’t missing half of his body this time around.

He knew what to do.

With a pained grimace, the Uchiha activated his Sharingan once again, and felt the familiar feeling of his shift into the other dimension. It was time to start the treatment.

 


 

“C’mon, Legendary Sucker!!! Cough it up, cough it up! Lessee those cards!!!”

Tsunade rolled her eyes before staring down at her cards with a frown. This… This was not normal. She should’ve been happy, as this was her ticket out without a fuss, but…

Shizune’s eyes darted from person to person, waiting for the cue to flee. She leaned towards Tsunade and whispered. “… Tsunade-sama?”

With a grunt, the slug princess threw her cards down on the table. “Royal Flush.”

She grabbed the gaping 13-year-old by the collar and dragged her out of the joint, leaving in her wake the ashen faces of the once-hopeful debt collectors. 

They were about a block away before the young girl regained herself and turned to Tsunade with wide eyes. “Tsu-Tsunade-sama!!! You actually—you got a Royal Flush!!! That was a winning hand! If we go back, we could go and collect the residual winnings, since all of those nasty jerks threw in their life’s savings into that pile—“

“No,” Tsunade replied curtly, continuing to walk. She couldn’t get rid of the foreboding feeling twisting at her stomach. “We’re going to the next joint. I hear that the other local gambling dens are upgrading soon, so we should be able to get some first-time luck.” Her voice fell to a whispered murmur. “That place was cursed… It must’ve been.”

Shizune looked questioningly at her shishō as she struggled to keep up, a frown in place. “… But…” She shook her head. “Whatever you say, Tsunade-sama.”

It was at that moment that the slug Sannin felt it. Immediately, she hooked an arm around the young 13-year-old’s waist, earning her a surprised yelp, before leaping backwards several meters. Where she had been standing not moments before stood a tall, cloaked figure, wearing an eye-burning, orange, spiral mask.

Tsunade’s eyes narrowed as she assessed the man. She felt no ill-intent. He hadn’t openly attacked them as she had first assumed, though the fact that he had positioned himself so close to them spoke volumes of speed and power—speaking of which, Tsunade was surprised that she hadn’t felt the pressure of his chakra until now. His reserves seemed smaller than hers, but not by much—and the feel of his carefully controlled chakra was oppressive. Dangerous.

Mere moments passed as Tsunade glared at the man, trying to see into the single eye-hole of the mask, trying to read the foreboding figure before her. No light reached past the opening of his disguise, however, and her efforts were in vain, leaving her nervous and afraid—not for herself, no, but for Shizune. Her eyes darted quickly to the young girl tucked under her arm before turning back to the man; she dared not turn away from him for more than a split second.

What was she to do? She couldn’t fight, as that would leave Shizune in harm’s way the moment Tsunade was distracted with the fight. She couldn’t run away, because of the glaring fact that—though she loathed to admit it—the man was faster than her. The reason he was here was obviously connected to her, that much was obvious, but as for the reason…? She didn’t know. Tsunade was cornered, and there was little she could do without potentially risking Shizune’s well-being. The only solace she had was the fact that the man hadn’t yet attacked; perhaps he had come for more diplomatic reasons…

She refrained from chewing her lip in consternation, instead using her inner turmoil to fuel her glare. She dared not think so optimistically. She couldn’t read the man, there was no way she could run away from him, and she couldn’t fight him. What the hell was she supposed to

Suddenly, the man leapt onto one leg and threw his arms up in the air with a tilt of his head. “Tobi-chan found you~~! Tobi is so, so ha-ha-happy~~!”

Tsunade nearly dropped Shizune. What did drop was her jaw. “… What?”

The man began jumping up and down, making a small circle in radius—cheering. This man, that had felt so dangerous moments before and had Tsunade feel the incessant urge to run, he was—he had thrown his arms up gaily in the air and started cheering

The slug Sannin would swear that she had never felt so confused and conflicted in all of her damned life.

“Tobi found her, Tobi found her~~! Yay, now wittle Tacchan won’t drown in blood, yay~~!” He continued his little… Dance, paying no mind to the blonde and raven-haired girl.

Tsunade flinched when she felt Shizune shift, turning amber eyes to the young girl. She was glancing between the elder woman and the man, brow furrowed in confusion. “… Tsunade-sama, what is going on…?”

The masked man abruptly stopped and turned to them—Tsunade gasped when she suddenly found herself not several meters away from the man, but several inches away. “Nee, nee, slug-baachan, will you listen to Tobi-chan’s reque—“

Almost all hesitance disappeared at the term “baachan.” She sent a fist straight for his face… And suddenly found herself fazing through him. She took a sharp intake of breath as she fell forward, just barely managing to catch herself with her free hand and vault away before landing on the ground. She skid to a stop a safe distance away—safe, but most likely not for long—and glared at him in frustration, indignation, and utter confusion. “… Who are you?”

The man—though he called himself Tobi, she doubted that was his true name—placed his hands on his hips, moving his head side to side and his voice sounded… Pouty. “Meanie! It’s not very nice to go through people like that, slug-baachan~~! But Tobi-chan forgives you. Tobi-chan is a good boy, and good boys forgive even the biggest meanie meanies~~!”

Who are you?” Tsunade repeated, growling lowly.

He paused, and immediately, the air around him shifted. Before, even through the mask Tsunade could feel the playful, happy and almost innocent aura that surrounded that strange man—but now, that was gone. Instead, what remained was the original air of danger that she had felt before, though this time his chakra was not masked. Powerful didn’t befit him, didn’t even begin to describe him, and Tsunade felt the hairs on the back of her neck raise as every basic instinct told her to run, to escape while she still could

“The life of a gambler and a drinker…” His voice, it was different—completely different. No longer was it the high-pitched, almost nasally and playful tone, but a dark, commanding voice that matched the ominous air the man held about him. What the hell was going on? “… Aiming to forget about her past and losses. Is that truly all you amount to, Tsunade of the Sannin?”

For a moment, Tsunade could only stare at him. That moment passed quickly, as the surprise was quickly replaced by anger. How dare he claim to know her, know her pain? She didn’t care how powerful this guy was, she wasn’t leaving until she had some answers. She wasn’t going to let fear get the better of her.

“I’ll ask one more time,” she repeated quietly, eyes glinting with fury. “Who. Are. You?”

He regarded her calmly as he shook his head. “My name does not matter. All I am here to tell you is that you could be much more.”

“Tch,” Tsunade scoffed derisively, her glare not lessening. “I’ve heard those words many times before, from people who know me much better than you do. You don’t know a thing.”

“Actually, I do.” Her eye twitched slightly at his reply. “I know that you can make a difference. Will you remain as you are, drowning in your sorrows while trying to escape your past, to escape your failures to save your loved ones, or will you be able to push that aside so you can save those who are still alive?” She stiffened, and something in this man’s tone told her that he was not bluffing. “Those that you love, whose lives are on the line?”

“You… What are you talking about!?” She shouted as she carefully placed Shizune behind her, shielding the now-cowering girl from the man. “What are you implying!?”

“The war. Surely, you’ve heard the whispers, have you not?” He replied casually. “That is why you are all the way in the southern region of Hi no Kuni, to avoid the growing conflicts that Konoha has been unintentionally nurturing with the surrounding nations. But of course, the war isn’t the only threat.”

“You bastard,” Tsunade snarled, wishing to smash that mask of his and show him a world of pain. “That isn’t what I meant, and you know it. Who, who is in danger? And what are you planning!?” He was threatening her. At least, it seemed that way, and she wasn’t willing to let him use her for whatever plot he was creating, but… Why? Why was he doing this, and what was his aim? Was this a trap?

With a breath, she calmed her nerves—even if she knew literally nothing about this man and his motives, she at least knew that he was baiting her. If she wished to win, she had to remain calm. “… You underestimate them. The people of Konoha, they can take on any threat. And I mean, any threat.” She allowed a small smirk to form on her lips. “They will be ready for anything, especially since you had so helpfully told me.”

The man was silent for a brief moment, before nodding. “… Certainly, the people of Konoha are powerful, and it is from to the people they connect with, the people they wish to protect, that their power is drawn. However… What happens when the enemy is the very person you rely on and trust?” Tsunade heard a slight smile in his tone. “Snakes are rather good at playing possum.”

The slug Sannin gasped, though he continued without acknowledging her surprise “I am not Konoha’s enemy, I seek her protection. It is your choice Tsunade… Whether to heed my words or not.”

The next moment, before Tsunade could reply or ask him any of the multitudes of questions he had left her with, he popped. Smoke was all that was left in his wake, and Tsunade growled as realization hit her. A Kage Bunshin. He was toying with her. That sneaky bastard, he had riled her up on purpose, had made her fall for his facade, and had played with her as though he were a cat and she was a half-dead mouse.

… But… Was he, truly?

She paused, a small frown on her face as she examined the conversation. If… If she thought rationally, it had not been him being antagonistic but… Herself. She had jumped to conclusions, as her instincts had told her that the man was powerful, a threat—and she immediately went on the defensive. Had he truly intended on harming or threatening her… It was unlikely a single Kage Bunshin would have been sent. What if that masked man actually was warning her? What if what he said was the truth, that he was an ally of Konoha?

She shivered. What if what he said about snakes was…

“… Tsunade-sama?” The blonde snapped out of her thoughts, peering down at the meek Shizune. No doubt, tonight’s events had startled the girl—trained she may be, but she was far from being able to leave a confrontation like that without shaking. Heck, even Tsunade felt… Fear.

She made her decision.

Abruptly, she grabbed Shizune’s arm and began dragging the girl.

“Ah, Tsunade-sama!?” The young 13-year-old tripped on her feet as the elder dragged her away from the scene. “This… Isn’t the way to the Casino?”

“We’re going back to the hotel,” Tsunade replied, gritting her teeth. “We’re packing our things and leaving. Tonight.”

Shizune’s eyes widened. “Huh? But, you said you wanted to go check out the—“ She paused when her mentor turned to her, a look of sadness and pain visible on her features. “… Tsunade-sama…?”

The blonde shook her head and continued heading down the road.

“We’re going back to Konoha.”

Chapter Text

“Shinobi Kumite… Hajime!”

Immediately, the two opponents darted forward at the signal, meeting each other in the center for an exchange of blows.

Kakashi ducked as Obito sent a punch towards his head, and quickly reversed the other’s weight, forcing the raven to topple over him. Obito recovered, however, and spun around to reorient himself to send a disarming kick at the Hatake’s knees.

The attack was halted, as Kakashi grabbed the raven’s ankles and twisted—once again, using Obito’s own momentum against him. Kakashi used that moment of surprise to his advantage, and aimed to kick down on his opponent’s unprotected diaphragm.

Obito reacted right at the last moment, shielding himself from the blow with his arms and rolling out of the way before he made full contact with the unforgiving ground. He leapt back up to his feet just as Kakashi darted after him, watching as the silver-haired Chūnin ducked to the ground and switched on his heel, readying an upwards kick. Obito shifted with the intention of dodging the incoming attack, stepping into an ill-placed divot in the ground—

A small miss-step.

Obito was sent flying after a kick was delivered to his jaw, and he just barely managed to recover himself before landing on the ground in a heap, instead landing on his feet—shakily, but on his feet regardless. He scowled at Kakashi, wiping away the blood that dripped down his chin before flinching at the obvious injury. “Tch… Damnit.” 

The two Chūnin reengaged in their hand-to-hand spar upon locking eyes, both unyielding to the other. A peculiar glint, unnoticed by most present, shone in Obito’s eyes… One that looked strangely similar to hesitance. Fear. But not in being defeated.

Minato knew that it was not proper practice to focus on a single student when proctoring a sparring match, as favoritism was looked upon with distaste as a general rule. But he had a logical reason behind his focus. His eyes were riveted to Obito, looking for each of the boy’s quirks, watching his movements, the minute differences that set him apart from his teammates. The way Obito’s eyes darted full seconds quicker than Kakashi’s. The way his hands would sometimes twitch unconsciously for a kunai but would be left alone at the last second, before the raven reciprocated an attack. The way he would seemingly strain himself from not reacting automatically to certain attacks. The way he seemed to simply know what his opponent would do, despite his Sharingan being inactive—either speaking of amazing foresight, or adaptability.

It was something that Minato had noticed almost immediately, upon calling the match. Something that he berated himself for not being sharp enough to catch before.

Obito was holding back. And it wasn’t just “slightly,” either.

It was all subtle, however, and the blonde had no doubt that neither Kakashi or Rin could tell. Even Minato might not have noticed, had he not been specifically looking for the cues. He certainly hadn’t noticed before. In fact, it was highly likely that Obito had been holding back all this time, for an unknown amount of time prior to now, and with that possibility…

Minato frowned minutely as his thoughts trailed. When he had mentioned to his team about their renewed eligibility to take on C-Ranks… Kakashi and Rin had reacted as expected; the Jōnin had no small doubt that his Team was, at this point, absolutely sick of menial D-Ranks no matter how much they helped the local economy. However, Obito hadn’t reacted as he expected—in fact, there was a distinct lack of reaction, discounting the exceptionally dark look that passed over his countenance.

At the time, Minato had wondered what had the boy looking so haunted; was Obito worried about encountering “Kaguya?” Maybe the boy was worried about the war. Or… Or was it something else…?

Uchiha Obito… Had been acting strangely, as of late. This was a fact that Minato couldn’t refute, couldn’t turn a blind eye to—not matter how much he may’ve wished to. Somehow, he knew about Kushina’s status as the Kyūbi Jinchūriki. For some reason, Danzō was interested in him, and Hiruzen was suspicious.

And of course, what transpired at the library.

Minato’s heart sank.

He could admit that he was wavering. That his mind was unable to make the clear, concise judgments it was usually capable of, and he was lost—he didn’t know what to do with Obito. The blonde grit his teeth as his thoughts trailed back to Danzō—

Are your attachments and weak heart clouding your vision, boy?

—And yes. Minato was man enough to admit that they actually were, able to admit that his doubts yet care for Obito were confusing him. To be fair, however, there was nothing directly incriminating that could state something was terribly wrong. Obito, besides burning down an apartment complex, had done nothing to outwardly harm or threaten any citizen of Konoha… Which would have been enough to save the boy, if Shinobi life were so simple.

Obito had become stronger, impossibly so. He had activated his Sharingan, up to the Mangekyō which most likely was a level that very select individuals knew about. He had a darkness in his eyes, something unreadable and inexplicable, labeling him as an unknown—a possible threat. Obito hadn’t done anything. And yet, precisely because of that… Precisely because Minato could see that the boy was hiding something, refusing to divulge the truth, these minute, yet weighted hints were left. And with years of training and experience in the Shinobi war, these piled hints meant one thing to Minato.

But what was he supposed to do? Was it acceptable to interrogate the boy for answers? But what if it turned out to be something ridiculous, something that actually could be explained? And… What if it wasn’t? What if, kami forbid, something much more sinister was afoot… Involving his student? Involving Uchiha Obito, a boy Minato practically raised?

Was he truly prepared for the actions he may be forced to take…?

Minato could admit, it was much more preferable to remain ignorant. It would be much simpler to turn a blind eye, to pretend that he hadn’t caught onto the more obscure clues. But he couldn’t. He had been running from it for a while, and he knew it. As a Jōnin of Konoha, he still had an obligation—and he had vowed, to the Hokage, that he would deal with the situation on his own should it escalate to such a point.

Thud.

With a start, the blonde turned his attention outwards and scanned the clearing. Obito was on the ground face-down, subdued, with Kakashi hovering over him—keeping the Uchiha pinned to the ground, his arms held securely behind his back. The younger Chūnin turned a disinterested gaze over to Minato.

“Call the match, sensei. I won—“

Suddenly, a determined, powerful look took residence in Obito’s eyes, replacing the uncertainty and slight fear that had been there earlier. Minato couldn’t help but compare the look to what he had seen in Hiruzen’s and Jiraiya’s eyes before, in the moments they prepared for particularly significant battles.

“I don’t think so,” he muttered quietly, before wrenching his arm away to elbow Kakashi in the stomach and twisting, flinging the silver-haired Chūnin to the ground in a reversal. Obito sat on top of the now dumbfounded Hatake, grinning cheekily as he gave a thumbs up. “I did it, Minato-sensei! Rin!”

The blonde couldn’t help but smile back as he nodded, signaling the two to form the seal of reconciliation. He… He couldn’t see the darkness in Obito, that oppressive, malevolent darkness that he had seen that day the boy woke up in the hospital. There was no absence of it, but no more than the average Shinobi harbored, and… And Minato could take solace in that.

Obito’s devotion to his team was no fluke, it wasn’t fake. And it abated the heaviness of Minato’s heart. But only slightly.

 


 

“So what’re we doing next, sensei?” Obito asked with a curious lilt, gazing up at the blonde.

He felt a bump to his shoulder and glanced, seeing a disgruntled-looking Kakashi. “… That didn’t count. You cheated.”

Obito lifted an eyebrow. “Cheated? I didn’t use any techniques or weapons Bakashi.”

“You used your elbow!”

“And how is that cheating, teme?”

“Using your elbow isn’t in any real kata, dobe.” 

“Now now, you two,” Minato chided calmly, patting the both of them on the shoulders. “I didn’t actually announce a winner, if you recall. That was a draw.”

Obito stared incredulously at his sensei, feeling somewhat scandalized—of course, he had been holding back, but… But he was an S-Ranked Shinobi. How could he tie with an adolescent Kakashi?

“How was that a draw?” Kakashi asked quietly, his brow furrowing all the while. “I successfully subdued him, and—“

“And let your guard down,” the blonde interrupted. “I hadn’t yet called the match, which meant that Obito was still allowed to attack. He used your lack of attentiveness to his advantage.”

The Uchiha frowned. “… Then why was it a tie?” He was feeling eerily similar to how he once was when he was truly thirteen.

Minato smiled, ruffling his two male students’ hair as he did so. “Because, like Kakashi said, you used your elbow. Certainly, in a real battle what matters is whatever leaves you the victor, but Shinobi Kumite is for refining katas in formal sparring. Senseless brawls have no place in the traditional spar, one would think.”

Yeah. He definitely felt like he was thirteen again.

“Anyway,” Minato began as he sat down, gesturing to the grass around him. “Gather around.”

The three Chūnin complied immediately, but not without questioning looks. Rin was the first to ask. “… What’s going on, sensei?”

Strangely, the blonde man sheepishly scratched the back of his neck in response. “Er, well… I want to tell you guys something. Honestly, it’s so sudden and unexpected for me, that I’m still coming to terms with it…”

Obito raised an inquisitive brow. First Kushina, and now Minato? “… And? What happened, sensei?”

“Well, see… I was called to the Hokage’s office this morning before I came here, and…” The Jōnin heaved a deep sigh, before meeting the gazes of his students. “… I’ve been nominated as a candidate for Yondaime Hokage.”

Silence. For a moment, the three Chūnin would swear that they could hear nature.

Kakashi’s jaw had drooped, and it was visible even through his mask. Rin’s eyes were wide, and her mouth was agape. 

And then, a few moments later, they snapped back to life, showering their sensei with congratulations (Kakashi) and excited words of praise (Rin). It was certainly an occasion to be celebrated, and being the man’s students, they were well within their rights to be bristling with joy for the man.

Obito remained where he sat, knowing that he should congratulate his sensei, but his mind was occupied with questions. Questions presented the problem of keeping a straight face, because he felt the urge to give a deadly scowl to no one in particular.

Last time, there was no announcement of candidacy. Minato had been announced as the acting Yondaime shortly after Rin had died, if Obito recalled correctly, and there hadn’t been this preliminary stage. So why was Minato only a candidate?

The Uchiha had to repress a growl. The Sandaime… He wasn’t actually thinking of letting Orochimaru take the position, was he? Had Orochimaru done something to gain the man’s trust, this time around…?

Obito severely hoped that Tsunade returned soon—it was less of a hope now and more of a, “she better get back here and incriminate the snake so sensei can become Yondaime”—because he would not stand for it if his sensei was beaten out by Orochimaru of all people for the title. Obito was fairly certain he would sooner torch the village himself than let the snake become Hokage.

The paranoid soul he was, he couldn’t help but wonder if his early confrontation with Orochimaru somehow played a role in all of this. Maybe, after meeting “Uchiha Madara,” Orochimaru had become more cautious with his experiments and ceased operations in Konoha for the time-being, at least until he could gain a solid foothold as the Yondaime. Obito liked to think he was simply over-thinking this at the moment, but he knew the snake rather well, and if the situation called for it…

“Oh yeah, you wanted to be Hokage too, right Obito?”

Obito’s started slightly as he turned to Kakashi, who looked… Less curious, and more accusatory…? Rin was quiet, and Minato was—

Ah. He’d zoned out, again. He really had to stop doing that in the presence of his team.

“… Uh, well,” he began eloquently, trying to remember what his teammate had said while turning back to face Kakashi. “I… guess so? I mean, kinda, but not anymore—“

“You didn’t really think you’d be able to beat Minato-sensei to the position, did you?” Obito raised an eyebrow and Kakashi huffed, rolling his eyes in exasperation. “Minato-sensei is arguably the best Jōnin in Konoha, in all of Hi no Kuni. It makes sense that he’d be a prime candidate, so stop acting like that.”

Obito was about to retort, saying that Kakashi was making stupid assumptions and that he actually wasn’t stewing on the concept of Minato being Hokage—… Okay, he was, but not in the sense that Kakashi believed—but a hand landed on his shoulder, and he heard a surprised chuckle.

“Well, I apologize Obito, but it seems I made it before you did.” Startled, Obito turned to Minato, who seemed to have true mirth shining in his eyes. “Maybe next time, hm?”

Next time? Next time? For a reason Obito could actually place, for once, those words struck a chord with him. ‘No,’ he wanted to say, ‘there is no next time, not for me.’ This is no “next time” for him, who wasn’t supposed to have a second chance. He had done little good, and so, so much evil. And it was almost disgusting, the idea of him ever even entertaining the idea of becoming anymore than the shadow he was. The idea of him thinking himself more important than what he truly was.

Uchiha Obito. Destroyer of nations. Murderer of the people he loved. Traitor to Konoha. Hokage?

What a sick joke.

The raven shook his head sullenly. “… I don’t want to be Hokage.”

Rin’s eyes widened, and Kakashi’s flickered with imperceptible hurt; neither of these reactions caught by the Uchiha. “… Why?” Rin asked, unsure. “Being… Being Hokage used to be your dream! You—you said, you said that you wanted to—“

“I will never be Hokage. It’s as simple as that,” Obito stated with a small, resigned sigh.

Hokage wasn’t… That position wasn’t something that he coveted any longer, and if he were to be honest, he had almost forgotten about his childish yearning, until the subject was brought up in the current conversation. Less-than-happy thoughts aside, the plain truth was that there were far more fitting individuals to take up the mantle, and even if he wasn’t the S-ranked missing-nin threat that he was in the future… That didn’t mean that all of that didn’t happen. It wasn’t a great loss, no, he had just… Moved on.

Maybe he felt guilty, or maybe he simply had lost interest. Guilt was the more likely truth, considering his occasional self-deprecating thoughts—or rather, the anger he directed at his past, foolish and disillusioned counterpart. Regardless, the fact remained that he was not the type of person who should inherit the esteemed position, the person who should guide the younger generation—not with his hands, that had worked for the darkness in his heart for the better part of his life.

Uchiha Obito’s dream, to be Hokage, had disappeared long ago. But in its place was left a much simpler wish.

“You didn’t answer her question,” Kakashi interrupted Obito’s musings unrepentantly. “Why?”

The raven smiled slightly. “Because it’s not what matters to me. What matters to me, I can achieve… Without the position, and the expectations that come along with it.”

Rin cocked her head to the side. “… What matters to you?”

“Yeah,” Obito murmured, tilting his head slightly in a nod. “… To protect the people important to me. They are few and far between, and it’s difficult enough protecting them. I wouldn’t do well, needing to protect an entire village.”

Silence pervaded as Obito stared at the grass beneath his feet, feeling the uneasiness and worry his answer brought out from his fellow teammates. He could guess why.

“… But,” Rin hesitated, trying to find the right words. “As Shinobi, it’s our duty to protect the village. To only protect the people we want to, isn’t that kind of…”

“Selfish?” Obito supplied, and by the way Rin and Kakashi flinched away, that was what they believed. Or maybe they were just shocked by his sudden pragmatism, bordering pessimism. Minato merely stared at the exchange with a look of reticence. “Yes, it is selfish, but that’s how people are, right? Only the most giving of individuals can grieve for fallen enemies—even the ones that fell by their own hands. The strong can do that, face each life they took with unwavering spirit, knowing who they had killed, knowing that their victim had a family that would grieve them, continuously carry on the burden, and yet, still move on for the sake of the village.”

He turned to Minato, a look of determination and respect in his onyx eyes. This man, he was able to do it. Obito never understood, never knew how his sensei managed to go through each battle, remembering the faces of his victims and the curses hurled at him and his kin… And yet, still be able to smile at the end of it all. And it wasn’t a demented, “I’ve lost my mind” sort of acceptance either. It was a true, understanding, “I know your pain” acceptance, and Obito… He never understood it. His sensei. Naruto. They truly understood, and were the metaphorical light in the midst of particularly dark battles. “I… am not like that, and though I would like to be, I am not a saint. I am not someone qualified to be Hokage, for I am one of the thousands of other human Shinobi in the world. I prioritize, I look for what benefits my precious people and I the most, looking for the way that will incur the least destruction for my side—not paying any mind or particularly caring about the other, as long as what is important to me is safe. Selfish, sure, but…”

Obito sighed, cutting himself off before he spouted more introspective nonsense that could potentially set his teammates on edge—could they be more on edge than he had already made them?—and turning away to shake his head.

“… Never mind, I’m just rambling. I’m sorry, Minato-sensei. I didn’t mean to put a damper on your announcement, I really didn’t, I just don’t think—I know that I am not fit for the title of Hokage.” He turned back to the blonde, a fond smile in place. “You, on the other hand… I know for a fact that Sandaime-sama is making the right choice in nominating you. But I have to ask, if you are only nominated, who else is in the running?”

Minato blinked a few times, the reticent mask quickly falling away (to Obito’s immense relief) and the man smiled wryly. “I do not know that,” he stated, “but it is of high opinion that the other candidate is Orochimaru-sama.”

Obito was unable to hide his visible distaste for the idea, though he was truly glad that his sensei was showing more than just a blank look now. “… Ugh. I think… I’m pretty sure you’re still gonna get the position, sensei. That bas—Orochimaru is kinda… Creepy.”

Any remaining tension from the previous topic dissipated immediately as the blonde responded with a chuckle. “I suppose so, but it still isn’t in good spirits to say something like that about a fellow Konoha Shinobi, Obito.”

“I agree with Obito,” Kakashi muttered out with his arms crossed. “Orochimaru… I don’t like the way he looks at some people. It isn’t a look that people give to other… People.”

Rin nodded solemnly. “He’s… Visited the hospital a few times, and it’s always to check on the blood storage. He’s…” The brunette shivered, looking paler than usual. “… I get weird shivers whenever he’s nearby.”

“Well, I don’t know about you guys, but I’m feeling rather famished,” Minato suddenly cut in, sending a quick glance towards Obito. “I think we should all have a talk, maybe at Ichiraku’s.”

It was a completely innocent glance and there was no ill-intent, but Obito felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end anyway. He couldn’t help but wonder exactly why Minato-sensei was so focused on him—it wasn’t a, “I didn’t do anything wrong” sort of wondering, though, and more of the, “what of the many fuck-ups does he want to discuss with me now” kind. Regardless, he wasn’t ready for that conversation (that may turn into an interrogation), and he was thanking whatever kami existed that he had prior arrangements to attend to.

“Er, sorry, I can’t go,” he replied quickly, earning an unimpressed look from both Kakashi and Minato. They probably didn’t believe him.

Rin gave him a questioning frown. “Why not? We haven’t gone out to ramen together as a team in a while… It’s kinda weird, because you were always the one that would make sure that we went.”

“Eheh,” Obito responded with a pathetic chuckle. “Well, I really do want to go, but I have to go train Itachi today.”

Simultaneously he watched as eyebrows shot up to hairlines, and his team exchanged a few looks. “… Itachi?” Minato repeated, raising an eyebrow. “Fugaku’s son?”

The raven nodded. “Yeah. Remember the time Fuga—Uchiha-sama came over to your house, and we talked privately?” The blonde nodded. “Well, he said that he wanted me to train Itachi when he turned four. He’s four now, so I began training him.”

Minato frowned, clearly unhappy, but nodded anyway. “… I see. Well, it’s a pity that you’ll miss ramen, but I doubt Fugaku would appreciate you skipping out on his son’s training for food.”

Obito’s eye twitched. He doubted anyone would find it particularly acceptable if their child’s trainer decided to skip out on a session in favor of ramen. “I agree. I’m pretty sure the fall-out wouldn’t be pretty, either.” He shook his head. “Anyway, I’ll see you guys later. Have a good time at Ichiraku’s!”

And with that, he darted off in the direction of the Uchiha compound, glad to escape the assessing and minutely suspicious gazes of his team.

 


 

“… He’s different.”

Minato turned to Kakashi and Rin, both of them wearing looks of solemnity, staring off in the direction that their third teammate had run off to.

“… I don’t get it,” Rin mumbled quietly, kicking at the grass. “What… What exactly happened? And why won’t Obito tell us…?”

The blonde observed the two as he heard the wavering lilt in his team’s medic’s voice and saw the way Kakashi’s fists clenched painfully.

They remained silent as they stood, even after falling into a silence that couldn’t be broken. Even after thirty minutes of contemplation. Even as they headed off in opposite directions—the prospect of lunch long-forgotten.

 


 

Obito’s eye twitched as he looked down at Itachi, whose face looked disarmingly frustrated for a four-year-old. His brow was furrowed to such a degree that stressed folds formed above his nose, his eyes focused (yet not) on the dirt before him, for all the world seeming as though the ground had done him some grave misdeed.

The time traveller coughed, deciding to try again. “Itachi. Did you hear me?”

No response. Itachi continued his one-sided glaring-contest with the ground.

“… Damnit,” Obito sighed, raking a hand down his face before crossing his arms. “You know,” he drawled forcefully in a sterner tone, “it’s rather rude if you don’t talk when others address you.”

Itachi flinched, eyes darting left and right before settling on Obito with a look of surprise. Apparently, whatever had the younger Uchiha so occupied required a great deal of concentration, for Uchiha Itachi to be unable to split his attention.

The boy, after a moment, nodded meekly with apprehension. “I apologize, Obito-san. I was just thinking.”

Obito blinked a few times. He had heard Itachi speak before, but it had been just a few words most of the time, and the one time he had spoken a full sentence was at a low volume, almost mumbling. The way the Uchiha heir spoke just now, however, made Obito briefly forget that he was in the past. “You… How can you speak so clearly?”

He received no response, as Itachi had taken to staring at him with a freakishly impassive look. Obito shook his head exasperatedly. “… Right. Uchiha Itachi, genius extraordinaire. I get it.”

Itachi was still staring.

Obito frowned as a thought occurred to him. “… By the way, don’t call me ‘Obito-san,’ either. It’s weird. Just call me Obito if you have to.”

Stare.

Obito’s eye twitched twice before he threw his arms up in the air with extreme exasperation. “I give up. I’ve never understood the prodigious type, and I doubt I ever will. Let’s just start training.” His voice fell to a mumble as he walked away. “I know that’s one way future you managed to communicate.”

When he was about five meters away, he turned on his heel to face Itachi. “Now then. Last time, I had you work on a few katas as a change of pace from throwing shuriken and kunai. With that in mind…” He shifted his stance to a defensive one and eyed the younger Uchiha. “… Try to land a hit.”

Obito felt his brow furrow as he observed Itachi, who had made no move to attack and was… Staring at the ground in front of him, again. With the same concentration as earlier. 

Alright, Obito knew that something was wrong. Ignoring him for the sake of ignoring, he could understand, but Itachi never shirked on training—he always treated it as something sacred (and whether or not that was his actual a belief or a product of being the heir to the “prestigious” Uchiha clan was debatable). 

Now somewhat worried, Obito walked back over and tilted his head to the side to observe the young prodigy. Did… Did Itachi forget to train? To practice the katas? No, that couldn’t be, but… Then again, Obito hadn’t known him at this age. Maybe, as a child, Itachi was much more scatterbrained than people thought, and it was through the harsh regimen of his clan that ultimately turned him into the prodigy that Obito knew.

“Itachi,” he called out, tapping the boy on the shoulder to gain his attention. “Did you not train?”

In response, Itachi shook his head, looking up at Obito with a furrowed brow. “… No, I did train. I was just… Thinking.”

The older raven smirked slightly. “Thinking about what?”

Itachi’s brow furrowed deeper. “… Obito-san, what exactly do you mean by ‘future you’?”

Obito froze.

Immediately, his mind was whirling with the past conversations he had had with the boy in front of him, of the multiple times he had slipped up—damn himself for being so lax just because Itachi was a kid now; he thought he knew not to underestimate the child prodigy—before he abruptly halted his thoughts to scan the area. No other chakra signatures within the vicinity.

He pinned Itachi with a serious gaze that made the boy flinch minutely and spoke sternly. “Itachi, please be honest with me. Did you tell anyone about what I said?”

“… No,” the younger replied after a moment, brow no longer furrowed. He shook his head to punctuate the answer.

For a few moments, Obito stared into Itachi’s eyes, searching for a hint of a lie or fabricated truth. When he saw none, he allowed himself to relax a smidgeon before stepping back, carding a hand through his unruly hair. “… Kami, I know you’re a genius… But you were always a precocious little tyke, weren’t you?”

The boy kept his impassive stare, and Obito grimaced. “Stop that. I thought you were weird before, but now…” He shook his head as he turned around, mumbling. “… Now, you’re just a creepy little fucker.” Itachi was always sharp, always a bit on the creepy side, and a complete enigma. An intimidating unknown factor to even the most experienced and powerful of Shinobi, and his piercing gaze that gave the victim a sense of being laid bare before a scientist didn’t help. It was worse, now, that he was a child.

“Fucker?”

Shit,’ Obito thought quietly, turning around slowly and mechanically—inwardly hoping that that innocent voice that had repeated that word hadn’t come from Itachi—

The boy’s head was tilted to the side, an almost adorable look of confusion on his face. “What is a fucker?”

The action was so damn innocent and everything about the current Uchiha Itachi literally screamed innocence, and if Obito hadn’t heard the words himself… Hadn’t heard that familiar voice say it, and then watched as Itachi spoke the word like some sick joke of a dubbing, he would swear the young heir had instead said something like, “butterflies” or “rainbows.”

As it was, Obito paled a deathly shade and grabbed the young four-year-old by the shoulders, sufficiently startling the boy. “I—Itachi, promise me—promise me, that you will never, ever say that word again.” He grimaced. “Especially not in front of Uchiha-sama or Mikoto-bachan.”

Stare.

Within his mind (and he was very careful to make sure of this), Obito cursed a string of expletives that hadn’t ever been spoken before.

 


 

Rin breathed a heavy and suffering sigh.

After Team Seven had met up for more training in preparation for the war, they had… Talked, a little, before going their separate ways.

Minato had suggested ramen to them, but when Obito left the idea seemed to float away with the wind—and now, Rin had to go find herself some lunch. But the topic of food and nourishment wasn’t what weighed so heavily on her mind, at the moment.

‘What happened?’

Another sigh, and Rin let her gaze drift up to the clear blue sky. She honestly didn’t know what to do anymore. She had, at first, backed off somewhat from her friend and teammate in the hopes that he would open up to her and the rest of the team on his own. That was almost five months ago, and though Rin had made subsequent attempts to “test the waters” and see if she could pull the truth out of her teammate then… Well, she didn’t want to keep waiting anymore. And she knew Kakashi felt the same, based on his own individual attempts to get Obito to tell them, albeit less… Gently. 

She still didn’t know why Obito had begun acting so differently to begin with, why Obito was suddenly so much stronger, why and how he had activated his Sharingan… And now, why his dream, something that he had always wished for—stated with the conviction of a true Shinobi when he had proclaimed his dream to her that memorable day—was now nothing to him.

Rin frowned, pausing in the middle of the street, before slapping her two hands on either side of her face. She shook her head and continued walking, not minding the odd looks the impromptu action earned her.

There was no time for moping around like this. Sure, her teammate was different now, but… He was still her teammate. And technically speaking, he was doing much better than he had before. Rin’s entire team was doing well.

Obito was actually a teacher, now, and to the Uchiha Clan’s heir, no less. Minato had been announced for candidacy as the Yondaime Hokage (Hokage! Her sensei might actually become Hokage!), and Kakashi was always excelling as the genius of their year.

And once again, as always, Rin was left behind in the dust, forced to watch the steadily advancing forms of her teammates’ backs. 

She had stated to herself, multiple times, that she would not allow herself to fall behind anymore, that she would not be the weak link in her team. But, no amount of determination or perseverance could make up for what was undoubtedly a natural, physical hindrance that she had.

Her frown deepened as she felt emotions of gross inadequacy grip her again.

“… No,” she stated quietly, picking up her pace as she shook her head. “No, I won’t pity myself, not now. I just… I need to get stronger, so I can keep up with them. So I can stand by them instead of behind them.”

‘But how?’ A treacherous voice, her doubt, called out in her thoughts. ‘How am I supposed to, when everything seems to be failing? I’ve tried everything; I go to the hospital and volunteer to work on my chakra control and familiarity with the way the facility works, I immediately head to the training grounds to train afterwards to work on my Taijutsu all the way until late dinner time—and that’s on days I don’t have a team meet. The schedule is even tighter those days!’

By now, Rin was outright scowling as she fisted her hands in the skirt of her outfit. No matter what she did, she just couldn’t get stronger, not as strong as she needed to be. Her stamina, both physical and regarding chakra, was terrible. She had great control, sure, but what did that mean if she didn’t have anything to use to begin with? What was she supposed to—

“TSUNADE-SAMA!!!”

Immediately, Rin halted to an abrupt stop and turned her head to the source of the voice, eyes wider than saucers. ‘… Was…? No way, is she…?’

“Tsunade-sama, please wait!” A young thirteen-year-old girl with pitch-black hair, wearing a simple kimono blouse jogged down the street towards Rin. She was unable to see the person accompanying the young teen. “Tsunade-sama, shouldn’t we check into a hotel first? If you’re going to be—“

“No, we need to go now. And I don’t intend on staying in Konoha for very long.” A woman’s voice, but it cut like steel—powerful, commanding, and brittle—and then, Rin saw.

Her eyes widened even further, if that was possible.

There, walking towards her at a hurried pace, was her idol. Her dream. The person she wished to be like, the woman that could match her teammates strength and stand alongside them, with them, in the heat of battle.

Tsunade of the Sannin.

The raven-haired girl pouted. “Tsunade-sa—“

“TSU-TSUNADE-HIME-SAMA!!!”

Immediately, the bustle in the streets quieted and many—it felt like hundreds—of eyes fell on Rin, who struggled to not crumble within herself at the sudden attention. Tsunade stood but three meters away where she had stopped, eyeing the brunette with a raised eyebrow that all but verbally asked, “what the hell do you want, brat?”

Oh. Maybe she said that out loud.

“I-I,” Rin started, inwardly hating her stutter. “I would like to…” She closed her eyes tightly, grimacing. Damn it! This was her chance, she couldn’t mess this up! She had to… She would be accepted as Tsunade’s apprentice, it was what she had to do!

She took in a deep breath and aimed her gaze just above the slug Sannin’s head, not quite brave enough to stare down the woman’s eyes. “I WOULD LIKE TO BE PLACED UNDER YOUR TUTELAGE, TSUNADE-HIME-SA—“

“Tch, stupid brat,” the blonde dismissed, briskly walking past a dumbfounded Rin. “I don’t have time for dream-chasers like you who fancy power. I have important matters to deal with.”

Inwardly, Rin fumed. Over what, she wasn’t yet sure, but… But she couldn’t give up. This was her chance, and if anyone would be able to show her the path to becoming strong—to becoming an equal to her teammates, it was Tsunade.

She spun on her heel and darted after the woman, jumping and snagging onto a leg. It was ungraceful, unladylike, but at the moment? She couldn’t care any less.

“O-OI!” She heard the woman above her yell, but she only tightened her grasp. “Let go of me, you little—“

“PLEASE!” Rin yelled over the blonde, closing her eyes shut as she felt a few punches directed at her head. “I-I don’t want to be useless anymore! I want to help them, to protect them! I can’t always be the one to be protected, I want to proudly stand by my teammates’ sides as—as their EQUAL!!”

Abruptly, the barrage ended, and Rin cautiously opened an eye. And then the other. She looked around her and saw civilians crowded around in a circle, with disapproving looks and anger—she flinched, apprehensively drifting her gaze up to the Sannin to whom she clung so dearly to.

Tsunade looked down at her with a twitching eye. “… You… Are a pain in the ass, you know that?”

“I’m sorry!” Rin squeaked as she quickly let go of the woman’s appendage and leapt to her feet, bowing profusely a few times. Then, she turned to the crowd and bowed to them, as well. “I’m sorry for the disturbance! I really, truly am!” By the heat of her cheeks, she was probably an inhuman shade of red, and the thought only made her flush darker out of shame and embarrassment. She was certain that, any chances she had, were now irrevocably crushed into dust and thrown to the wind—

“Stop bowing and apologizing like a wimp!!!” Rin flinched at the booming voice of Tsunade, who was now looking at her with barely concealed anger. “What the hell? You go from showing spitfire and determination that I’ve only seen a few times before, to a sobbing, sniveling, red-faced mess!? And you say you want to be strong!? Grow a damn backbone—“

“Tsu-Tsunade-sama,” the raven-haired girl called out, tugging on the Sannin’s sleeve. Rin followed her gaze and watched the surrounding civilians—oh, they weren’t looking at her disapprovingly, but at… Tsunade…?

“Tch.” Rin turned back to the two and suddenly found herself hauled up onto the woman’s shoulder. Rin squeaked (again, to her discomfort) and struggled to gain her freedom. Her feeble attempts weren’t even noticed by the slug Sannin. “What’s your name?”

The brunette froze, turning to look at the scowling visage of her idol. She gulped. “… Ah. I’m Nohara R-Rin, Tsunade-hime-sa—“

“Stop that already,” Tsunade growled, walking away from the crowd that was giving the three of them looks. “Just… Call me Tsunade-shishou, if you have to, but none of that hime-sama crap. I have a perverse teammate that does that enough.”

Rin paused for a moment, not quite catching onto what the Sannin had said. And then…

“… TSUNADE-SHISHOU?!” She expounded almost disbelievingly, eyes sparkling happily. “Thank you! Oh kami, I am so happy! I might actually be able to improve to the point of helping them, now, and I’ll be able to—“

“Calm down Rin, let me finish speaking.” She promptly shut up, so quickly in fact that the slug Sannin looked at the girl warily for a moment. “… I haven’t made my decision yet. I might take you under my wing if you impress me enough, or I might not—it’s too early to say, and I don’t know your abilities. First, I have to go to see the Hokage, and we can talk afterwards. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t make it, I’m a tough proctor.”

Rin only nodded happily—the fact that she was given a chance was enough, and that was what mattered. If things went well, she would no doubt be on her way to excellence, just like the rest of her team… And she could proudly say that she was Nohara Rin, teammate of Hatake Kakashi, Uchiha Obito, and student to Namikaze Minato. No longer would she be “the tagalong.” 

Tsunade sighed, eye twitching at the way the brunette’s eyes glistened like stars.

“If I ever find that masked man,” the blonde growled lowly, a silent promise of retribution in her tone. “… I’m going to make him wish he hadn’t confronted me.”

 


 

“Hokage-sama…”

Hiruzen’s pen stilled and he looked up with an eyebrow raised at his assistant, who looked strangely… Frazzled. Distantly, he could hear muffled shouts and yelling from the floor below, and he sighed, placing his pen down and crossing his fingers. 

“What is it? Is it another Genin team, rioting about the influx of D-Ranks?”

“Er, no,” the woman stated hesitantly, her hands wringing in a nervous fashion. “It’s—actually, there is someone—“

“MOVE IT!!!”

The doors slammed open and the assistant jumped, darting out of the way of the now-broken door. Hiruzen’s eyes widened when he recognized the blonde hair and amber eyes of his female student.

“Tsunade,” he stated quietly with a nod, absently shooing the assistant out of the room (she happily acquiesced, no doubt fearful of incurring the slug Sannin’s wrath). “To what do I owe the—“

“Sarutobi-sensei, I have news,” she stated breathily—she looked like she had run a marathon before storming into his office. The aged Hokage inwardly mourned whatever expensive objects happened to have fallen in her path of destruction up to his office.

“News?” He parroted, brow furrowing. Jiraiya was Konoha’s self-appointed spymaster, and Tsunade had all but severed ties with the village after the deaths of her brother and lover, refusing to take on any responsibility as both a Sannin and as Hiruzen’s student. So what ‘news’ would have her return to Konoha in such a hurry? “What exactly have you found out, Tsunade?”

She closed her eyes, taking a few deep breathes before opening them again. A strange, determined look glinted in her eyes, and it was a welcome change to the sullen and near-dead look they had when she initially departed. “I… I encountered a masked man,” she began quietly, seemingly gauging the Hokage’s reactions. “The mask was orange, and it was a spiral pattern leading to the right eye. He wore a cloak so I couldn’t see his hair or skin color.” A pause. “He… He knew. About why I left Konoha, about why… Why I’d begun living like… This,” she finished, her eyes darting to the side as she cleared her throat.

Hiruzen remained stolid, letting out a thin plume of smoke from his mouth.

“And…” She bit her lip, turning back to Hiruzen with a sharp gaze. “… First. I want to know if you have sent any emissaries from Konoha for me.”

The Sandaime’s mouth thinned at the accusation. “… No, I have not. Even though Jiraiya has still insisted that I try to bring you back, I have respected your wishes to be left alone as best I can, Tsunade.”

Instead of the relief he had expected, Tsunade cursed a few expletives under her breath before turning back to him. “Then he was not a Konoha Shinobi… This is bad. Very bad. You might not believe me, but he also said these exact words: ‘The people of Konoha are powerful, and it is from the people they connect with, the people they wish to protect, that their power is drawn. However, what happens when the enemy is the very person you rely on and trust? Snakes are rather good at playing possum.’”

Hiruzen’s pipe fell, and he just barely caught it before the ashes hit his pristine white robe. He stared uncomprehendingly at his student for brief moments. “… What?”

“You heard what I said,” Tsunade stated grimly. “What… What has he been up to, lately? I was practically drowning in sorrow the time I left, but I’m still a Shinobi of Konoha—I could tell that… Something was off about him—“

“Tsunade.” She stopped her words at the cold, reprimanding tone her old sensei spoke her name with. His eyes glinted with cold, unyielding promise. “You know nothing of this man, and he even wore a cloak and mask to conceal his identity, which is highly suspicious. What kind of ally would hide themselves so adamantly? What he said are very well likely lies, and yet you would trust some stranger’s words instead of your own teammate—“

“Damn it, Sarutobi-sensei! I wouldn’t have come here if it was as simple as that; the man knew!!! He knew about the Konoha ideal, knew about my situation! You know as well as I do that, what happened during the Second War wasn’t exactly advertised around the damn world!” She slammed a fist down on his desk, considerably light, considering it only formed a few cracks. “There was just… Something distinctly Konoha about him, and I didn’t know what to make of it—especially since you say that he wasn’t sent by you.”

She was stressed, and he could see it in the way the corners of her eyes creased with frustration. The man knew better than to take his student’s words lightly, and the fact that she actually had returned to Konoha spoke volumes of her worry on the subject.

Hiruzen leveled a deceptively impassive stare at his student. “… Do you trust him?”

“No I don’t,” the blonde quickly bit out, irate. “Of course I don’t. But his words… Held truth. And the reason why I came here was to simply inform you, not make your decisions. Whether or not Orochi is a threat or not, this masked individual is someone that could be a threat to Konoha.”

Inwardly, Hiruzen contemplated the sparse facts Tsunade had given him, along with… Other things. His first instinct, of course, was to defend his student, who was the second candidate for the position of Yondaime Hokage. He couldn’t immediately claim that Orochimaru was free of all blame, however, because he couldn’t confirm it—ever since he had announced that Minato was his chosen candidate, Orochimaru had become increasingly withdrawn. It was, nowadays, a rare occurrence whenever he saw his student or even heard from him; strange, considering all missions C-Rank and up had to go through the Hokage… And he severely doubted Orochimaru would take on menial D-Ranks.

The Sandaime frowned.

Now that he thought about it… In-between missions, where exactly did Orochimaru go? Hiruzen had noticed the rather prolonged absences his student had begun taking, but hadn’t attributed it to anything. But with this recent revelation (or rather, subjective and therefore likely biased information, but still noteworthy), that… Did not work in Orochimaru’s favor.

Trust Orochimaru. Give credit to what this supposed masked individual had said.

Hiruzen knew what he wanted to do, which was defend his student’s innocence in the matter, hunt down this suspicious masked-figure and leave him in the kindly hands of the T&I Department. But as Hokage, it was his duty to make sure that everything was orderly and safe for his citizens—even if it meant suspecting his student. Besides, it was still highly likely that this was only conjecture, an unfounded accusation.

“Tsunade?” The blonde looked at him, blinking a few times, as though she had been in her own thoughts as well. He sighed. “Am I correct in assuming that you will be leaving, after this?”

Surprisingly, she shook her head—it seemed his female student was rather full of surprises, today. “No. I… I have a bit of an obligation to attend to,” this was stated almost petulantly, reluctantly, “… But I do intend on leaving within the month. I am not staying in Konoha.”

Hiruzen smiled. “Could I perhaps convince you to head down to the hospital, in your month-long stay? It has been running… Adequately, but I am sure that you could help shape them up where they need it.” At her look of protest, he added, “you wouldn’t need to go near the patients, you would just be conducting a sort of evaluation. So, no blood.”

Tsunade clicked her tongue and sighed, nodding defeatedly. “… Fine. But keep me updated on… What I told you.

The aged Hokage nodded, feeling about twenty years older than he truly was.

“Of course.”

Chapter Text

“There, all healed.”

Obito grunted, rolling his shoulders and sighing in relief at the few pops the action incited. He turned to Rin with a grateful smile, and she beamed back.

“That was a good try, but you won’t ever beat me at this rate, Obito.” The Uchiha turned to Kakashi, who had the same impassive look as usual. “Just because you have your Sharingan, now, and you’re somewhat stronger than you were before, that doesn’t mean you can shirk on training. You’re too slow, and your reaction time is awful.”

The time-traveler rolled his eyes. It was difficult enough to forcefully slow himself down and hold back his reactions (which usually entailed killing his assailant) which was what he had been doing, but of course, Kakashi just had to add his “constructive criticism.” And it wasn’t helping, either. 

Especially since Obito had this strange feeling that his teammate was actually weaker this time around than he had been previously… Of course, that could be attributed to the fact that Obito knew the extent of Kakashi’s future strength and was subconsciously overlapping the two—and there was a rather obvious dichotomy there.

Part of him wanted to show his teammate his true strength if only to ensure that the Hatake was powerful enough for the Kannabi Bridge mission, but at the same time, he felt it was an unnecessary risk. 

“Yeah, yeah, whatever you say, Kakashi-sensei.”

Kakashi’s face twisted at the new honorific. “… Ugh. Don’t… Don’t say that. It’s really weird.” Obito was about to call out to him again, if only to see the boy flustered further, but the silver-haired Chūnin turned to the side with a furrowed brow. “Speaking of which… This is strange. Where is Minato-sensei?”

Obito shrugged, not particularly worried, even though the blonde was almost half an hour late. “Not sure, but considering he’s a Hokage candidate now, he’s probably talking to Hokage-sama about some political stuff.”

“Yeah, but,” Rin began, looking towards the Hokage Tower. “… Sensei has always been good about letting us know whenever he thought he wasn’t going to be here…”

“And that’s something I would like to keep consistent after today, if I can help it.”

Two of the three Chūnin yelped as they jumped back in surprise, while the third (convincingly) feigned shock. Minato smiled at the three of them as he waved a small hello in their direction.

“Good morning, you three.” His eyes roamed their slightly dirtied clothes briefly as his grin widened. “I see you’ve taken the initiative to begin training. Well done.”

“Hmph. We’re Chūnin, we know not to waste valuable training time doing nothing,” Kakashi stated matter-of-factly.

Minato nodded. “Of course. Now, I have some news for you three, but I’ll have to be brief.”

Rin’s eyes widened. “Has… Has the next Hokage already been chosen?”

The blonde blinked a few times before chuckling amusedly. “Haha, no, not quite, Rin. I actually haven’t gone to the Hokage Tower for my meeting yet—“ Obito inwardly thought, ‘knew it,’ “—as I wanted to come let you guys know. I won’t be able to supervise you guys today, so I’ve brought in a temporary substitute that has kindly volunteered to supervise your training for the day.”

Obito had about a second after recognizing a rather familiar chakra signature at the edge of the clearing before it Shunshin’d before them, setting Kakashi on edge and startling Rin. The latter almost immediately broke into a huge smile.

“Tsunade-shishou!” The brunette cheered, and Obito turned to her so quickly he might’ve given himself whiplash. ‘Shishou’? And exactly when had Tsunade become Rin’s shishou? “You’re our temporary teacher?”

The raven’s attention slid back to the slug Sannin, who snorted. “Yeah, I am. Because this pansy,” she jerked a thumb over to a somewhat bemused Minato, “has some matters to handle with Sarutobi-sensei.”

Obito was surprised. For a few reasons. First of all, he was rather shocked (though, inwardly he was sighing in relief) that Tsunade had returned to Konoha at all. He hadn’t been particularly worried about how convincing he was during their confrontation, but that didn’t mean he was certain she would respond as he hoped—it was still very likely that she would’ve brushed off his warning and continued her wandering, if her misery was powerful enough. Not to mention… Tsunade, Rin’s shishou?

When the hell did that happen?

It wasn’t a negative consequence of Obito’s meddling though, however. This was… Good. Very good, fortunate. Rin, while proficient, wasn’t anywhere being the best medic, a ranking that could’ve been attributed to her young age. Regardless, with Tsunade as her mentor, there was no way that the brunette wouldn’t improve, and having a powerful healer on their team would only boost their chances of survival later on. It would boost the girl’s confidence, too.

But still, that didn’t mean Obito’s interest wasn’t piqued. Would Tsunade have so readily taken Rin under her wing, had she personally met the girl the first time around? Or was it something that he had changed, that made Tsunade see some latent potential within his female teammate?

“Tsunade-sama?” The blonde woman turned to him, though she looked oddly… Irate. “Rin called you ‘shishou’. How come?”

For a reason he couldn’t place, Tsunade’s eyebrow twitched and she gave a wry smile. She opened her mouth to reply, but was quickly cut off by the leader of Team Seven.

“Anyway, I’ll be leaving now,” Minato stated, still with an amused air about him but also seeming antsy. “Good luck with your training, guys, and be careful.”

Before anyone could ask why he couldn’t teach them, or more importantly, why they had to be careful, he disappeared in a flash of yellow. Hiraishin was one hell of a technique that deserved utmost respect and awe, but sometimes… Sometimes, Obito disliked is just as much as he admired it.

“Alright, brats,” the blonde started, eyeing each of them—though, her gaze noticeably softened when it fell on Rin. “I know almost nothing about you, especially you two.” This was directed at Obito and Kakashi. “So, tell me what you can do, what you specialize in, and I’ll see what I can fix.”

She turned to Kakashi first.

“Alright, old-man, what are you capable of?” She smirked at the slight eye-twitch her insult earned her. “Minato says that you’re the top of your graduating class, so I expect that you’re pretty strong for your age.”

He didn’t reply immediately; instead, he had taken to staring at her, seemingly assessing her for her strength and worth.

“… Tsunade of the Sannin… I’ve heard about you.” Kakashi looked as though he was attempting to stare down the woman. “… Are you sure you’re fit enough to train us? I’ve heard about your… Gambling and drinking fixation.” His eyes narrowed. “Should a drunkard like you be teaching?”

Suddenly, she disappeared, and Kakashi yelped when a fist collided with the top of his head. Rin received a light tap, and Obito, though he could see the Sannin’s movements clearly, remained still as she flicked his forehead. All of the actions were performed without chakra, so only a minor crater formed under Kakashi, and Obito only toppled backwards a few feet.

“Ornery brat. Forget hearing what you can do and starting off of that, I know what you all need help with. You’re slow and have the reaction time of mud,” she drawled, a hard glint in her eye. “That’s what we’ll work on today: speed and evasive skills.”

“What the hell?” Kakashi hissed, cradling his aching head where a small bump was already forming. “You… You violent woman! You’re a horrible teacher who drinks, gambles, and has anger issues! Minato-sensei would never—“

“Even though Minato is fairly strong, he’s still a wimp deep down, and I can tell by how you are.” Tsunade pointed a glare silver-haired Chūnin. Obito was quietly watching the exchange and wondering, was this how volatile their working relationship was when Tsunade was the Godaime? “Yes, you are strong, but I’ve seen children younger than you that are more powerful than me, and they understood the battlefield. They understood that, even though they were strong, they still had a long way before they would be the best they could be—they knew that there was no room for pride. You are slow, and yet, you are a stubborn fool that—“

Suddenly, she paused, eyes widening. 

And then, she smiled

“You know…” Kakashi froze, as did Obito, at the eerie look that crossed the blonde’s features. They eyed the grinning Tsunade warily.

“… What?” Both the Uchiha and Hatake asked simultaneously, feeling sudden apprehension of the slug Sannin.

The malicious grin grew a little more. “Admittedly, my throwing arm… Has gotten a little flabby, since I’ve been spending most of my time gambling and drinking, as you said. This training benefits all of us. You guys get to practice evasion, Rin gets to practice healing severe and almost life-threatening wounds…” She dug her fingers into the ground, and, with the startling sound of earth cracking and breaking, she hefted up a sizable slab of earth above her head, and her eyes seemed to glow with demonic light. “… And I get a good workout.”

She threw it at them.

Rin gasped in surprise and Kakashi leapt out of the way, already gauging her movements, prepared to dodge and counter any other moves the slug Sannin pulled. She dug her hands into her haori and pulled out multiple kunai and shuriken in each before throwing them with deadly precision.

Obito yelped in surprise as the small boulder flew past him, followed by the flurry of ninja tools. He turned to the blonde with an indignant glare. “Why are you attacking me, too!? Kakashi was the one that pissed you off!”

Tsunade’s eye twitched as she chucked another few kunai in Obito’s direction. “… I don’t like the feeling I get from you. I feel like you deserve this, you brat.”

The Uchiha gulped, inwardly wondering about that “woman’s intuition” he had heard so much about, before darting off to the trees. If he could find a good spot to hide within the forest, he’d be in good shape—the natural foliage made good cover, from detection and miscellaneous objects (which depended on the blonde’s mood) being thrown in his direction.

He made his way to a particularly sturdy-looking tree and perched on the top-most branch, concealing his chakra and trying to detect the slug Sannin’s own—

Something collided into his back with a muffled “oof” and he heard a startled, “What the hell!?”

Obito barely had time to recover himself from the sudden collision before he was yanked back to his perch by the collar. He turned to his assailant and met the familiar onyx eyes of his teammate.

“Bakashi, watch where you’re going,” the Uchiha hissed quietly, glaring at the other boy.

Kakashi’s brow was furrowed. “What the heck? Obito, I didn’t even detect you. How did you manage to conceal your presence from me like tha—“

“Damnit, that doesn’t matter, your chakra is leaking all over the place!” Obito’s eyes darted around the area before widening, and he rounded back on his teammate. “Shit, she’ll find us! We have to change locations, now—“

Found you.”

They heard the crackle of wood before whirling around, and coming face-to-face with a demonic-looking Tsunade… Who, quite literally, had a tree on her shoulder. 

Obito had enough time to think one thing.

‘… Shit.

And then, the tree the two Chūnin were standing on exploded into thousands of splinters.

 


 

The training field looked like a damn tornado flew through it.

Trees (uprooted) were scattered across the open field, coupled with large clumps of upturned earth and boulders. Various impacted craters littered the ground with varying shapes and depth, blemishing the once flat and lush grass.

Kakashi glared at Tsunade.

“What’re you glaring at? You were slow, so you got hit. That’s not my fault, and this exercise actually helped,” she stated flippantly with a wave of her hand. 

“I understand not going easy on us because we’re Chūnin, but look at how much damage you’ve done,” Kakashi stated lowly, eyeing the grounds with a twitch of his eye. “Do you know how many D-Ranks it’ll take to fix all of this? Do you know that it’s likely that we’re going to be the ones commissioned for this?”

Tsunade sniffed. “Actually, I did go easy on you, because you’re Chūnin. And, maybe if you guys were faster, I wouldn’t have pummeled you into so many craters and punted you across the field with so many trees.”

Obito watched the back and forth trade of verbal blows with an impassive stare. Tsunade of the Sannin was strong. She wasn’t as “powerful,” per se, as Obito without him holding back, but she was powerful nonetheless. With the handicap of him consciously trying to slow himself down and discard his innate reactions, she was definitely the sure winner between the two. Obito had slipped a few times and reacted without thinking, lashing out in counter to one of Tsunade’s blows—and she only took it with a block, a steadily growing smirk on her face.

He had to handle her with more caution than he had been.

“Phew! All done, Obito,” Rin chimed, beaming. Obito turned to her with a grateful smile. “Tsunade-shishou sure did a number on you two. Really, chakra exhaustion, sprained ankles and wrists, broken ribs, light concussions… Then again, some of those hits did look pretty painful.”

“Getting smacked in the head with a five meter tree tends to do that,” Kakashi deadpanned. 

Tsunade only rolled her eyes. “Stop complaining. You’ll be thanking me years later when your ass is kicked six ways to Sunday and you find yourself able to stand up with minimal pain. You’re excused.”

Kakashi immediately Shunshin’d away at the dismissal. In Obito’s humble opinion, he had never seen the Hatake move that fast, even as an adult.

“Er… Usual time tomorrow, Tsunade-shishou?” Rin asked, sounding somewhat hesitant.

The slug Sannin nodded. “Yes. We’ll be going over some more chakra building exercises, so be sure to bring those special weights I gave you.”

The brunette seemed to sag slightly—it wasn’t in disappointment, but more of a regretful resignation. “… Yes, Tsunade-shishou.” She turned and walked towards the town.

Tsunade turned to Obito, an eyebrow raised. “Why are you still here, brat? I figured you’d be high-tailing it out of here like the silver-haired mutt.”

The Uchiha winced slightly. His teammate, especially not this younger and more jaded Kakashi, would not take kindly to that slight. “… I actually have a request, Tsunade-sama.”

The blonde frowned. “What is it that you’re asking for?” She actually looked wary as she asked the question.

“I was hoping that you’d give Uchiha Itachi a health check-up.”

Amber eyes blinked owlishly a few times before a grin stretched across Tsunade’s lips. And then, she started laughing, to the time-traveler’s confusion. “Hah! The Uchiha clan would deign to have a non-Uchiha perform a check-up on their sole heir? I find that a little difficult to believe.” She narrowed her eyes at Obito as whatever wry amusement she had dissipated. “Besides, regardless of stature, I don’t treat my patients differently. If your clan wants me to treat their heir then fine, but if they want special treatment, tough.”

Obito sighed, causing Tsunade’s eyes to twitch. He looked up at her with a tired gaze. He sometimes found it difficult to believe that he had ever felt so wishful of being included as an Uchiha; their pride usually netted them disdain such as this. “This is not a request from the Uchiha clan, and not from Uchiha Obito, but Obito. I am concerned about my cousin’s health, so I am asking Konoha’s best medic-nin to perform a check-up on him.”

The blonde assessed him briefly, eyes narrowing. “… You are different from your clan. I heard from Minato that you were, but… Huh.” She shook her head and straightened. “You’re an interesting kid. I don’t sense a single lie in your words.”

The Uchiha repressed the urge to roll his eyes.

“Anyway,” Tsunade spoke in a graver tone, “what brought this up? Why are you worried about Itachi’s health, anyway?”

Obito’s resulting scowl wasn’t entirely a facade. “… Well, during training one day, he started coughing. He told me that, apparently, it’s a weakness of the lungs… I’m just worried that it could turn into something more severe as he grows older.”

“Weakness… Of the lungs…” Tsunade mumbled, cradling her chin as her eyes wandered to the side. “Maybe.. Asthma? Water in the lungs? General respiratory condition? But if that’s the case, it wouldn’t just be a problem of the lungs and has a likely chance of affecting the other…”

Obito sighed as he watched the blonde fall to her musings. “… Tsunade-sama?” 

“Ah.” She turned back to him and nodded. “… Fine, I’ll see about getting around to checking up on the little heir. But only if the clan doesn’t give me issues about it.” She crossed her arms. “Now, is that it?”

The raven nodded, smiling slightly. “Yeah. Thanks, Tsunade-sama.”

“Hmph. Whatever, brat.”

 


 

“Minato.”

The addressed blonde nodded in greeting as he entered the Hokage’s office, noting the eerily grave expression on Hiruzen’s face.

“Hokage-sama, you wished to see me…?”

“Yes,” Hiruzen grunted out in affirmation. “I have some information that I believe you should hear.”

Minato only nodded again, face placid and unreadable. The aged Hokage grabbed a folder from the side and opened it, picking out a rather sparse-looking report. “This,” he stated quietly, “is a report that Danzō handed to me.”

The Jōnin felt his blood run cold at the name, but nothing outwardly betrayed the festering worry and condemnation he held for the warhawk. 

“It was not too long ago, and it had shocked me—I have no doubt, that it will shock you, as well. I do not expect you to act on it immediately, for this is not quite enough evidence to condemn, but I do expect you to be twice as vigilant.” He coughed into his hand, glancing to the report. “Apparently, a small while after Obito’s hospitalization, Danzō happened to overhear the boy saying a few… Things, in front of the memorial stone. Uchiha Obito had mentioned the Kyūbi, and that was what had initially caught Danzō’s interest in what the boy was doing.”

Minato clenched his teeth. So that was how Danzō knew.

“He also mentioned a name, but there was an apparent lack of records on it, so it was not included in the report. Now, for the more worrisome part.” He paused, taking in the words on the paper before looking up at Minato with a saddened gaze. “… He spoke about ‘trying to recondition his body,’ how ‘his limbs are shorter,’ and how he ‘had about a quarter as much chakra as he had as an adult’.”

Hiruzen observed the suddenly very still man before him, trying to look into his familiar azure eyes. It was a pointless effort; Minato’s eyes were shadowed by his hair.

The aged Hokage sighed, placing the file down and setting his pipe to the side in favor of interlacing his fingers to watch the blonde. “I understand, Minato, how it is to suspect someone. Someone that you have cared for, have taught, have trusted, and have given a part of yourself to. However, for the sake of Konoha…” His eyes narrowed. “… It is important to make certain sacrifices when necessary. You do not want to risk everyone for the hope of one.”

A cold, stilted silence descended between the two men.

Inwardly, Hiruzen knew that what he was expecting of Minato was cruel. He knew that, to an extent, the blonde saw a bit of himself in Obito—the young Uchiha who was unwanted, an essential orphan, and was always, always working hard. Obito was a ray of sunshine that, while foolhardy and stubborn, used those traits to cling steadfast to those he thought precious to him.

He looked back up when he noticed movement; Minato bowed, his face completely obscured by his hair. “… I will do whatever is necessary for the future of Konoha, no matter what.”

“… I apologize for this, Minato.”

The words caused the blonde to flinch. He remained bowing for a second longer before disappearing in a blur.

Hiruzen sighed, standing up with a grim look on his face as he signaled for his ANBU to enter his office. Two figures appeared before his desk, both knelt down before him.

“Hokage-sama.”

“Boar, Hawk. Retrieve Jiraiya and Tsunade for me, if you please.”

They both nodded their heads once. “Hai.” And then they disappeared. 

Sarutobi Hiruzen, Sandaime Hokage of Konohagakure. The God of Shinobi. However powerful he may have been, however many accolades he had attained in his long life… Nothing had prepared him for this.

“… Minato, this is a trying period for those of us tasked with guiding the younger generations. For those in our situation, it ends in pain.” He glanced to a lone folder to the right of his desk, labeled “classified” in red, ominous letters. Hiruzen took a breath and closed his eyes.

“… It is time I stop avoiding the truth, and see it for myself.”

Chapter Text

Obito made his way over to the Uchiha compound at a somewhat sedate pace, enjoying the scenery of Konoha.

He had realized that, due to the sudden influx of worrisome events, he had become increasingly stressed and focused on… Well, pretty much everything. So, because it was a day-off from his team’s usual training, he had decided to take the long route to the compound.

Of course, he still had some sense of urgency and soon found that mindlessly walking around made him antsy (a shame, considering he had been able to do so before without problem… But then again, there hadn’t been a war, then) and quickened his pace to the clan head’s house.

What he found—or rather, what found him—was unexpected.

“Goggles-niisan!!!” As soon as Obito stepped through the threshold of Fugaku’s house, mid-shout for either Mikoto or the clan leader (because no one had responded) he found himself tackled in his midriff by a familiar, messy-haired Uchiha child. He looked down at the boy that clung to him like a bur, large round eyes peering up at him with curiosity and excitement. “I didn’t know you were ‘Tachi’s teacher ’til today! So I came over to say hi!”

“It’s good to see you too, Shisui,” the older Uchiha commented lightly with a smile as he slowly relinquished himself from Shisui’s embrace, finger by finger. The kid had a strong grip. “Do you know where Mikoto-san and Fugaku-sama are?"

“Nn,” Shisui murmured while shaking his head. He grabbed Obito’s hand and began pulling him to the backyard. “I don’t know where Mikoto-baa and Fugaku-ji are, but ‘Tachi is in the backyard ‘ready. Let’s go!”

Obito allowed himself to be dragged to the backyard by the younger boy, where one Uchiha Itachi stood, facing a few targets and practicing his aim. It gave Obito a strange sense of deja vu, seeing the young prodigy training with such an unwavering focus.

“‘Tachi!” Shisui called out, causing Itachi to turn to them. “Goggles-niisan is here! Let’s compete now that we have a ref!”

The time-traveler said nothing and turned to Itachi with a raised eyebrow. Itachi nodded. “It is good to see you, Obito-san. Please be the referee to decide the winner.”

“‘Obito-san’?” Shisui parroted, looking confusedly between Itachi and Obito. “Your name is Obito, Goggles-niisan?”

The older Uchiha nodded bemusedly. “Yep. Uchiha Obito.”

“Hmm….” Shisui’s face scrunched slightly as he contemplated, and the older Uchiha couldn’t help but think it was actually rather adorable. “… Alright! I’ll call you Obito-niisan, then!”

“Alright, then,” Obito stated simply with a smile. 

“So Obito-niisan, can you be the ref for us?” He watched as Itachi and Shisui sidled up to each other, peering up at him with their childishly innocent eyes. He could practically see Fugaku and Mikoto’s reactions to the sight. “Please?”

After a brief moment of contemplation, Obito shrugged. It wasn’t as if this couldn’t be considered training, and he’d have a good chance to judge how strong Shisui was at this point in time, as well. “Sure. How long, or how many?”

“Best outta five kunai and five shuriken!” Shisui grinned widely. “You also give extra points if we do cool tricks.”

“Points?” Obito repeated bemusedly. Shisui’s unrestrained enthusiasm was as endearing as it was draining to him. “Alright, let’s see how you two do.”

The two younger Uchiha nodded (one more energetically than the other) and they each took turns throwing their allotted weapons, each throw with varying accuracy and strength. It was obvious that Itachi not only had a natural affinity for this, but also had prior training—something Obito would’ve been able to pick out even if he hadn’t been the one to train the boy—whereas Shisui was rough around the edges. With potential, yes, but with either no or little training.

Finally, they stopped, and the older of the two young Uchihas let out an irritated groan. “Gaaah, this is so annoying!”

Obito muffled a chuckle at Shisui’s clear irritation. The small competition had ended in fourteen points to eighteen in Itachi’s favor, and his friend was clearly annoyed by the fact. 

The young heir looked somewhat lost, wondering about the source of his cousin’s irritation. He held his hand out in the seal of reconciliation and stared expectantly (if not somewhat nervously) at Shisui. 

The boy didn’t notice, and instead, crossed his arm with a pout. “Is’ just not fair. ‘Tachi is already so good, but I still can’t always hit the target. He’s always better than me!” He pointed a finger at Itachi, who went somewhat wide-eyed. “An’ he’s only four, and younger than me!”

The clan heir was silent for a moment before hesitantly reaching out with his other hand. He looked rather awkward, holding one hand out in an abandoned half of the seal of reconciliation, the other hovering near the other boy’s shoulder. “… Obito-san has helped me, and I’m sure that if you ask, he will help you as well. You will improve.”

“Wait…” Shisui’s brow furrowed. “… Why do you call Obito-niisan ‘Obito-san’?” Talk about an abrupt shift of topics.

Itachi frowned somewhat, looking between Shisui and Obito. “… It’s appropriate, isn’t it?”

Shisui’s brow furrowed further. “No, you should call him Obito-niisan!” 

Now Itachi looked plain confused. “… But he is not my brother.”

Obito, at this point, needed to physically use his hand to cover his amusement. He really felt for Itachi, he really did—the man/boy always had some difficulty when dealing with people—but to think that his relationship with Shisui, his best friend, had been so difficult for him before… And Shisui himself didn’t seem to even notice Itachi’s meager attempts to keep him happy. A child who was a little too literal, and a child that was a little too subjective. It was definitely an amusing situation to watch, and he might’ve let it continue… But he realized that he should probably interfere, now.

Obito pat Itachi on the head, causing both boys to look up at him. He smiled. “I’d prefer if you called me Obito-niisan, Itachi. In fact, I’d actually like to be called your brother.”

His response was a silent stare, and Obito couldn’t help but wonder if the clan heir reserved that look just for him—as far as he knew, especially after watching his interactions with Shisui, Itachi didn’t behave like this with anyone else. The time-traveler frowned slightly. “… Only if you don’t mind, of course. If you feel offended or anything, then—“

“No,” Itachi interrupted surprisingly. He turned away, not letting the other two see his face. “…I’ll call you that… Obito-niisan.”

 


 

The three had resumed their previous game (after a small time of cheering from Shisui that he managed to get Itachi to change his ways, and failed attempts from Itachi to keep his embarrassment unnoticeable) only, Obito took Shisui aside and helped the boy with throwing kunai and shuriken. The second time Itachi and Shisui competed, they managed to tie—seventeen to seventeen, and Shisui was overjoyed, while Itachi watched the boy’s cheering with fond amusement.

It had been about three hours after he had initially come to the compound that Obito felt it, the muted chakra signature, the absence of emotions (not trained to be muted, but complete absence) and he mentally cursed.

Root.

How the hell did they always manage to arrive whenever he was actually feeling happy?

His eyes narrowed as he observed Itachi and Shisui—both of them having decided to forgo training and chat—half of his attention on the unfamiliar chakra signature. In all honesty, Obito couldn’t tell who the Root operative was after. it was likely the target was Itachi, considering the boy’s status. It was also just as likely the Obito himself was the target, especially when considering the fact that this was the second time already that Root was following him. He wanted to say that Shisui was not an option, considering the boy was not part of the main branch nor was he particularly prodigious for Uchiha standards, but… Well, he really couldn’t. After all, in the future past, one of the boy’s eyes had literally became Danzō’s right eye. Just because the boy had yet to gain the Mangekyō didn’t mean he was completely safe, which meant that Obito had no idea who was the target.

He would be taking a bit of a gamble doing this, but it was most likely that he himself was the target, and even if he was wrong, he could use his Kamui if absolutely necessary. Even though he wasn’t quite done with the cell treatment, it should still minimize the over all damage.

“Itachi, Shisui,” he called out as he stood, drawing their attention to him. “I need to go right now. I’ll see you two next time, yeah?”

Shisui had a near heart-breaking look of devastation on his face. “What? You have to go already, niisan?”

“Sorry you two, but yeah. I have my own training, too, after all, and it wouldn’t be right if I slacked just because I’m teaching yo—“

Obito cut off as he suddenly found himself in an embrace. He looked down bemusedly at Shisui’s messy hair and was about to reach up and pat the boy on the head… But suddenly found his hand instead occupied by a kunai. He stiffened slightly, catching a worried yet calculating glint in the younger boy’s eyes.

“Be careful, Obito-niisan,” the younger Uchiha whispered in hushed tones. “… I don’t like the stranger.”

The time-traveler blinked. Oh yeah. Shisui was a sort of prodigy as well, wasn’t he?

“It was nice seeing you, Obito-niisan.” He looked over to Itachi as Shisui stepped away, and watched as the clan heir’s eyes darted in the direction of the Root operative briefly.

“Uh… Yeah,” Obito stated awkwardly, “I’ll see you guys later. You be careful, too.” He shook his head as he walked away. Geez, genius kids. 

It was to his immense relief that the Root ANBU followed him out of the clan head’s house, and it alleviated some of the built-up tension that resided in his shoulders. Perhaps he should’ve been more worried than he was about the fact that he had seemingly caught the warhawk’s interest, but… For some reason, he couldn’t bring himself to do so. Perhaps it was because, if things turned sour, Obito could honestly say that he would have little to no problems offing the warhawk with the blink of an eye… In a rather morbid, literal sense. 

When he had reached the gates to the compound, Danzō’s subordinate finally made himself visually known. A hooded figure wearing a standard ANBU mask dropped down to where he stood and stared at him with a dispassionate gaze.

“Uchiha Obito.”

Obito tilted his head slightly to the side as he regarded the pale, lanky figure before him. He couldn’t see a face and the hair was covered, but he could see pasty white skin beneath the layers of dark clothing. ‘Geez, do they all live in a damn cave?’ A pause. ‘… Never mind.’

It… Bothered Obito, somewhat, that Danzō had sent a subordinate. As far as he knew, the warhawk almost always made certain to recruit potential Root members on his own—especially if they belonged to a major clan such as the Uchiha.

… Then again, Obito really didn’t, but that wasn’t the point. If Danzō was after him for his Sharingan (which he no doubt was) then he might’ve, should’ve seen fit to arrive himself and convince Obito personally. Perhaps the old Konoha elder felt that the effort was wasted on him, that he was simply an ignorant child that would jump immediately for the chance at power like a starved animal.

“That’s me,” the Uchiha replied with a wry grin. He was feeling oddly vindictive, at the moment. “What can I for you, Mr. Puppet?”

“Do you seek power?” The tone was cold, emotionless. Unsurprising.

Obito crossed his arms and tilted his head. He exaggerated a look of contemplation. “Hmmm…. I dunno. Most people do, though, right? Everyone likes feeling superior, so… Yeah, sure.”

The operative nodded, apparently not understanding or catching the sarcasm in his tone. “That is good. You have been invited by Danzō to—“

“No thanks,” Obito interrupted, waving an arm dismissively. “You can go away now, Mr. Puppet.”

In a moment of indecision, the Root member hesitated. “… I am to tell you Danzō-sama’s terms and—“

Obito stepped up to the operative, and though shorter, he peered up through the mask and right into grey eyes. He smiled, but his eyes shone with a discordant bitterness. “I am not interested.” 

The time-traveler had realized that he displayed a bit too much confidence and strength the moment the Root member stiffened, but he didn’t really care. Danzō’s puppet left shortly thereafter, leaving Obito on his own. And that was what mattered.

He hummed on his way home, the quiet tune more strident and forced than he likely realized.

 


 

It was… Horrible.

… No. Such a word didn’t do the situation justice, didn’t do the innocents justice, the grieving families justice. What they had chanced upon, what had slipped past them undetected for so long… It was absolutely vile.

And it was within the walls of their home.

“… Orochimaru,” Hiruzen stated quietly, his voice shaking. Why? His student, who was always prodigious and intelligent, capable of so much… Apparently, was also capable of—of this. The aged Hokage took a deep breath. “… What… What have you done?”

Tsunade was behind him, trembling. The blood, the rot, the human sounds that ceased yet still echoed through their ears—it was horrible. Hiruzen should not have brought her. Jiraiya was beside him, looking far grimmer and serious than anyone had likely ever seen, his eyes fueled with anger, disbelief, hurt, betrayal… And he knew his own eyes were the same.

He was Hokage. As soon as he had taken up that mantle, his responsibilities grew tenfold and included the entirety of the village. No longer would he be the first out on the battlefield unless it was truly needed, for his responsibility was to the village and the people that couldn’t defend themselves properly. He also stopped hoping that his team would be reunited on the battlefield, fighting for the same cause, ever since Tsunade had lost her loved ones and Jiraiya had appointed himself a spymaster. It was supposed to take a great war, or something equally unavoidable, that would bring back the God of Shinobi and his students to battle.

Sarutobi Hiruzen would never have guessed that the next time he and his students stood on the same battlefield, that it would be in Konoha… And with a traitor in their midst.

Orochimaru sneered—or was it a grin?—as his slitted pupils darted to the aged Hokage.  “I thought it would be rather obvious, Sarutobi-sensei.”

Jiraiya’s eyes narrowed, and the Sandaime could see that it was taking every ounce of willpower that the sage had to remain calm. “… Why? Why, Orochi? Why have you done this?”

The snake did not reply. He merely drifted his eyes from Jiraiya, to Hiruzen, to Tsunade, and back.

“… F-Fifty-eight…” Hiruzen and Jiraiya glanced to Tsunade briefly before turning back to Orochimaru. They couldn’t chance taking their eyes off of the traitor. “… Fifty-eight, all civilian, most of them children. How could you do that? How could you experiment on innocent, harmless people that couldn’t even defend themselves!?” Tsunade took a step forward, faltering slightly because of the shivers wracking her form. “How could you!?”

Orochimaru sighed, and it was painful how similar it was to the times he had given that very same reaction to Jiraiya’s jokes, or Tsunade’s temper, or Hiruzen’s worry. “Oh, that wouldn’t have been too much of a worry, later on. As you can tell from the… Casualties, civilians are not quite fit for my experiments. I would’ve been forced to move onto Shinobi, who are more likely to withstand the more strenuous treatments.”

DAMN it, Orochimaru!” Jiraiya took a step forward, eyes glinting with raw fury. “Answer me! Why have you done this!? Why would you betray your own village, betray Konoha!?"

Hiruzen grimaced. This situation… It was affecting all of them, painfully. All except Orochimaru, who regarded them all with a completely dispassionate gaze.

“… Do you recall what I told you, Jiraiya, after Tsunade had lost her brother, Nawaki? Her lover, Dan?” Hiruzen glanced questioningly to the toad sage, who seemed to be searching his memory for what the snake was speaking of. “Well, I shall remind you, then.” A vague, hardened insanity glinted in his golden eyes. “Immortality.”

Hiruzen’s eyes narrowed, and he glared at his student. He… Did recall that, the few times he had spoken to Orochimaru about his goals, it had been about reaching beyond mortality. He hadn’t thought it would come to this. “… Immortality is a foolish goal, Orochimaru. It is unattainable, and not for humans—“

“Of course not,” Orochimaru interrupted smoothly, a grin forming on his lips once again. “Humans, while having potential, have limits as well. What I wish for… Is to surpass that. To become immortal, to gain infinite knowledge, to become the strongest Shinobi in the world.”

He walked to the side a few paces, eyeing the trio that stood before him with the gaze of a predator assessing its prey. An unnerving, cold, objective gaze that spoke nothing of the years their team had spent together.

“… You wish to become strong… And you believe that this,” The Hokage gestured to the dark halls, the blood stains, the suffocating smell of blood in the air. His mind raced through all of his previous interactions with Orochimaru, the many times he had emphasized the Will of Fire, the necessity of bonds, and the importance of valuing one’s village. One’s home. And yet, it appeared that all of his teachings managed to slip past the genius’s notice. Where had he gone wrong? “… You think that this is the answer?”

The snake tilted his head to the side. “Your ideal is foolish. You believe that power is attained through friendship, through teamwork, and through bonds. It is, an… Adequate method, I acquiesce, but only for limited power, only for as long as those fleeting thoughts last. Now… Absolute, never-ending power? That is what I seek.” His fangs bared in a snarl-like smile. “Revenge, hatred. These are the most powerful emotions, and what true power is derived from.”

Jiraiya stared at his ex-teammate with clear, bitter skepticism. His fists clenched and unclenched, emphasizing the steadily growing anxiety he felt. “… So, you’ve been doing this for how long…? … No, never mind that, I don’t want to know. And you never thought we’d find out eventually?” 

Orochimaru frowned. “… No, I knew that I would be discovered at some point, as I never intended to continue living my life in secret. Admittedly, however… This has occurred far sooner than I would’ve expected.” His eyes narrowed. “I must ask, how did any of you know to suspect me? I know for a fact that, not four weeks ago, you were all blissfully ignorant to the situation. And then, to my surprise, Tsunade returns home, there is an ANBU rat in my lab, and the three of you decide to pay me a personal visit.”

Sooner than you expected?” Jiraiya’s voice was a low growl, and his teeth were bared in a snarl. “What… What has happened to you, Orochimaru?”

“Please, I would appreciate it if you could calm down for once, Jiraiya, and answer my question. I do not have all day,” the snake replied flippantly.

Jiraiya flinched back, obviously not having expected the casual banter. Hiruzen glared, realizing that that was Orochimaru’s intention—he was playing with their emotions on purpose. “… Answer ours, and we’ll answer yours.”

Tsunade turned sharply. “Sarutobi-sensei—“

“Tsunade,” he ground out harshly, not even turning to her. He could sense her hesitance, but she backed down.

A grin returned to Orochimaru’s features. “It was not in my calculations to be forced out of Konoha so soon, as keeping my base here makes it rather… Convenient, to gain fresh blood, in both a literal and figurative sense. It would have been simpler if I had been Yondaime, as I wouldn’t have had much need to sneak around as I do now anymore—“ Jiraiya growled at this as Tsunade bristled. Hiruzen felt the same; he had once contemplated Orochimaru as Yondaime, but now? He would sooner die than let that happen. “—but my hand has been forced. It is rather clear that I am no longer at liberty to stay here in Konoha, so it is best if I leave.”

“And what makes you think we’ll just let you leave!?” Tsunade boomed, her shaking not halted but diminished.

The snake lifted an eyebrow. “I would prefer if you answer my question, now.”

Shut up, you damnable—

“I was not aware that it was a Konoha policy to leave debts unpaid,” Orochimaru goaded, watching with obvious amusement as his words further incensed his teammates. “Considering the honor and Will of Fire all of you spout, I had assumed…”

“Enough."

All eyes turned back to Hiruzen, who kept his eyes trained on Orochimaru. “You wish to know how we knew? Fine.”

Jiraiya merely looked confused, while Tsunade was hesitant. “Sarutobi-sensei, this isn’t—we shouldn’t tell—“

“The reason for Tsunade coming back to Konoha,” the Sarutobi began, cutting off Tsunade, “was because she encountered a certain individual. This man held knowledge about you, and warned her about your potential betrayal.”

Orochimaru remained silent, almost seeming to expect more. When he received no more information, his mouth twitched downwards in a frown. “… And you listened to this man?” His tone held more sibilance than usual, and the irritation was apparent. “I was… Unaware, that you listened to strange, unknown individuals, Tsunade-hime.”

“He was right, though, wasn’t he?” The slug-hime riposted, smirking slightly despite herself. “Even if I didn’t know him, even if he wore a mask and cloak, he still had valuable information—“

She abruptly cut off at the sudden surge of killing intent from the snake, and she, Jiraiya, and Hiruzen faltered at the oppressive air—it had been many, many years since any of them had felt it, as Orochimaru had stopped its use after finding less direct methods of combat. His strength was still there, even after years of keeping it hidden.

“A… Mask… You say?” He hissed, expressing more irritation than any of them had ever seen him outwardly show. His teeth were bared, and this time, it was obvious it was a snarl from anger instead of a smile from amusement. “And I don’t suppose this mask held a spiral pattern with a single eye-hole, all a rather hideous shade of orange?”

Tsunade blinked, confused, but still wary of the traitor’s actions. “… Er, yes. Yes, it was,” she replied, before narrowing her eyes. “… But how do you know?”

“Are you working with this masked man?” Hiruzen cut in, pinning Orochimaru with a steely gaze. He had to be certain. Of course, they had gained this information from the elusive masked individual, but it was also highly likely that this man had the information to begin with because of past dealings with Orochimaru—wherein, he most certainly was not a friend of Konoha.

To everyone’s surprise, Orochimaru let out a bitter chuckle. His eyes glinted with something… Different, from the amusement, intrigue, and calculating wit usually behind them. “No. That man, with all of his power and potential, is not worth my time. He likely fancies himself a vigilante, on the side of ‘good’—and I have no need for anyone who clings to those foolish, subjective illusions.”

‘On the side of good?’ Hiruzen questioned silently, considering his ex-student’s words. Orochimaru certainly didn’t sound partial to this masked man, and, in fact, sounded downright hateful—something rare for an individual like Orochimaru, who respected intelligence, potential, and power above all else. 

“Then how do you know?” It was Jiraiya who asked, this time. “Clearly, you have met this… Masked man. What happened?”

Orochimaru remained silent, eyes darting briefly to the side. “… He entered my lab. I had been surprised, to be honest, as he managed to slip through my wards that should not let any non-Konoha resident through.” He gave a wry smile. “I had, at first, assumed that he was one of yours, Hiruzen, until I… Realized.”

The Sandaime Hokage frowned. ‘Realized…?’ Realized what? This game of back and forth was grating on Hiruzen’s nerves, as well as Tsunade’s and Jiraiya’s—politically savvy to a certain extent they may’ve been, this was not a political affair. This was regarding a traitor from their own team. “What do you mean by that—“

“I apologize,” Orochimaru cut in smoothly with a downright malicious grin, causing the other Shinobi in the room to freeze. “But I really must be going, now.”

Jiraiya was the first to react. He leapt towards the snake with a Rasengan, slamming into the diaphragm of the dark-haired man with a sickeningly wet crack. Hiruzen was the first to notice, and called out to his white-haired student with a desperate tone.

“Jiraiya, watch out!”

The toad sage Shunshin’d away from the now-reforming Doton Kage Bunshin, and that was when he saw them. The explosive tags.

And a handful were bound to Jiraiya’s hand.

“It is a less than graceful method, not to mention brutish,” Orochimaru stated with slight distaste, “but it will have to do, considering the circumstances. Goodbye, Hiruzen, Jiraiya, Tsunade.” And then he reduced to a muddy puddle.

The toad Sannin ripped off the explosive seals without restraint and turned to the remnants of the Orochimaru clone. “I’m a seal master, I think you’ve underestimated me, Orochi.” He glanced around the room. “Where is he hiding, anyway? Sarutobi-sensei, Tsunade-hime, he can’t be far—“

A series of muffled explosions went off, and tremors were felt through the ground. The three remaining members of Team Hiruzen turned to each other with wide-eyes. They were under Konoha, and the explosions were steadily getting louder. A choice had to be made; use their spare seconds to find out what their wayward teammate had been up to, or attempt to do damage control? Hiruzen was the first to make his decision, listening intently to the steadily increasing frequency and volume of the explosions as he quickly wove through the necessary seals: Boar, Dog, Bird, Monkey, Ram—

And then, the room they stood in collapsed.

 


 

Obito had a vague idea of what to expect, the morning Team Seven met up.

He had felt it, last night—the twenty-something rolling explosions underground—and he was fairly certain that the majority of Konoha felt it. And if anyone actually hadn’t felt, seen, or been alerted to the tremors, the fact that a small sector of abandoned buildings bordering the monument and north-eastern wall practically caved in on itself would do it.

He was certain that this happened sooner than last time. Orochimaru hadn’t defected until after Naruto’s birth, after Minato’s death, meaning that Obito had already changed something major. But what, exactly, was the deciding factor? Was Orochimaru simply afraid, afraid of the threat “Uchiha Madara” posed? Or perhaps Obito’s small trail worked? Had the snake been confronted by Minato, as he had hoped, and been captured? Killed? There was also the possibility of Tsunade having been involved, considering her current presence in Konoha.

But he couldn’t make any assumptions yet. He had yet to find out exactly what had happened, aside from the obvious explosions that took place the night before.

With that in mind, Obito, for once, was the first person to arrive at his team’s meeting spot. After traveling to the past, he had forced himself to re-adopt his customary tardiness that was so prevalent in his younger years, and as such, was anywhere from ten minutes to an hour late to each meeting. He had broken that habit for the day, mostly because he wanted—needed—to know how the confrontation with Orochimaru went, and could use an excuse if any of his teammates questioned him on his atypical lack of tardiness. Say, he had been woken up by the tremors and was worried, couldn’t go back to sleep, and had therefore walked over to the training grounds early. It was both vague and true enough that no one would question it.

The first to arrive after Obito was Kakashi, who looked a smidgeon more nervous than usual. It was well veiled for a thirteen-year-old Chūnin, but easy enough for Obito to see. The next was Rin, and she had dark circles under her eyes—she immediately asked Kakashi if he was alright, since his apartment, out of all of them, was the closest to the row of buildings that fell to ruin. Kakashi had given a curt, “I’m fine,” before regaining some semblance of (forced) reticence.

About thirty-minutes after Rin had arrived, ten minutes after the chosen meeting time, Minato finally arrived.

Obito, while truly worried and curious, had to pretend that he hadn’t had a single clue as to the cause of the tremors from the previous night, and instead asked his sensei, “Minato-sensei, you’re not usually late. What happened?”

Minato was uncharacteristically grim, his mouth thinned to a tight line as he turned to regard Obito. The time-traveler didn’t like the implications of the look… Had Orochimaru escaped?

The grimness of the situation dissipated, however, when the blonde shook his head and smiled, even though it seemed strained. “I had to meet with Hokage-sama, again. But anyway, I hope you guys added some training to yesterday’s day off, I heard from Tsunade-sama that she made sure to… Beat you into shape.”

Kakashi bristled. “‘Beat us into shape’? That’s exactly what happened,” he grumbled, glaring at the ground. “That woman is a psychopath.”

Rin blushed faintly as she scratched her arm.

“Tsunade-sama means well,” Minato chided lightly, frowning. “… And I suggest that if you see her again, you behave with utmost respect.”

Obito tensed minutely. Neither Rin nor Kakashi caught the underlying meaning, and the latter scoffed. “Why? She may be strong, but she’s not a good teacher. I don’t want her being your substitute again, she’s too proud and annoying.”

“Kakashi,” the blonde murmured quietly in a stern tone, causing the three Chūnin to look at him with varying levels of surprise. “I expect that, the next time you see her, you will be on your best behavior. That applies to all of you.”

… It was possible that, on the day Tsunade had been the substitute for Team seven, that Minato had gone to the Hokage—not to talk about his candidacy, no, but to talk about Orochimaru. It was something that the Uchiha hoped fervently; but he couldn’t make any assumptions, not yet. His sensei had yet to divulge what he knew. And based on the emphasis on Tsunade’s condition, Obito felt it was safe to think that the woman was at the very least in the know.

“What happened?” All eyes turned to Obito, who feigned distressed worry. “Minato-sensei, are you alright…? What about Tsunade-sama?”

Minato regarded his raven-haired student for a moment, eyes unreadable, before turning away and closing his eyes with a sigh. “… I suppose the three of you will find out eventually, anyway.” He looked up at his students. “The tremors last night were caused by explosions caused by the once revered Sannin, Orochimaru. The damage was minimized thanks to Hokage-sama, Jiraiya-sensei and Tsunade-sama’s efforts, but they were unable to stop Orochimaru from escaping. He has officially been declared a missing-nin.”

Obito’s fists clenched, an action that was thankfully camouflaged by his teammates’ own reactions. It no longer mattered if it was Tsunade, Hiruzen, Minato, or a random Genin that had confronted the snake—the fact was that he had escaped. The fact that his defection occurred years earlier than last time was proof enough that Obito’s plan had worked, to an extent… But clearly, not enough. Because the bastard still escaped.

Now, not only did he have more to clean-up (there was no way he could allow Orochimaru to run around freely for long; maybe a couple months while he situated himself in a foreign lab, but not longer) but there was now a grave importance that the Senju cell treatment he had worked.

At least with Orochimaru still in Konoha, there was a chance that he could retrieve the cells a second time with some ease if the first batch proved to be a failure. Unfortunately, the snake was always a methodical and thorough thinker, and if the wide-spread explosions last night were any indication… Whatever remaining research he hadn’t packed up, whatever other vials of the Senju cells that might’ve been there, were now beyond salvageable.

Obito paused his thoughts, crossing his arms as he turned to the side. But.

Even if he had changed things, Obito still knew where each of Orochimaru’s hideouts had been previously. And he knew that, each one was created for specific, topographical reasons. One or two may end up not being used this time around, but the time-traveler still had a general idea on where Orochimaru would end up. He could find him and gain another vial of the Senju cells should his current treatment fail. He knew where the snake made its lair, so he wasn’t too worried.

… On the other hand, if the current treatment did work, then Orochimaru’s part would be over, and… Well… He knew where the snake made its lair.

A small, malicious smile creeped onto the Uchiha’s lips as his eyes glinted with a strange gleam.

Being useless, it only made sense to dispose of it.

Chapter Text

“Alright, that’s enough.”

Rin and Obito paused to look over at their sensei with confused looks. Kakashi, who was standing next to the blonde, did the same.

“… Sensei?” Rin called out, still in her defensive stance. Her eyes darted between Minato and Obito. “… Er, did I do something wrong…?”

Minato shook his head and motioned for the two to walk over. “No, you were both doing well. The spar is over, and I have something to announce.”

The Uchiha and brunette shared a look before shrugging, signaling the end of the spar with the seal of reconciliation. They walked over to where their teammate and sensei stood, the latter lacking the usual cheer he usually had.

Kakashi’s brow furrowed as he looked up at the blonde. “Why’d you stop them, Minato-sensei? What do you have to announce?”

Rin chuckled. “This is… What, the third or fourth time already? I think we’re all getting used to it now, with all of the announcements, sensei.”

Obito had to agree. He had long since stopped worrying over these “announcements,” what with the frequency of them lately. Besides, the war had already started, and he was fairly certain that the Kannabi Bridge mission wasn’t going to be happening for a while—if it even happened for them, that is.

“Well,” the blonde began, eyeing each of his students. “We’ve been spending the last handful of weeks training. I’m releasing you guys early so you guys can go home and prepare, because tomorrow, we’re going to be taking on our first C-Rank in a while.”

… Never mind,’ Obito thought with some irritation. A C-Rank… No, there was no way it was the Kannabi Bridge Mission. It had only been a handful of weeks since the announcement of the war, and Obito was fairly certain that last time it had been more like a couple months. Not to mention, Kakashi was not yet a Jōnin.

“What’s the mission?” He was still worried that, somehow, it was the Kannabi bridge mission, that he had somehow sped up the timeline of the war. He had yet to complete his Senju cell treatment, and though he could probably rush the last portion to be prepared for the next day… If it didn’t work, then he wouldn’t be able to handle Madara and the man’s veritable army of Zetsu clones. Especially with Kaguya’s annoying emissary hovering around the man, too.

Minato turned to the Uchiha. “It’s a delivery mission to an outpost bordering Yu no Kuni and Yuki no Kuni. The rations there have been dwindling and we need to replenish their stores.”

“Hmm… So, we should pack for cold weather,” Rin commented, tapping her chin. “What time are we meeting at the gate?”

“We’ll be meeting at o-five-hundred hours, and we’ll depart shortly thereafter.”

Inwardly, Obito gave a sigh of relief. Not the Kannabi Bridge mission… But he knew for a fact that, last time, they hadn’t gone on this mission, either. That meant that he had no foresight (hindsight?) to rely on regarding it… And considering how close they were to Kumo, chances of things going sour were actually rather high. He had to finish the Senju cell treatment, tonight.

“Anyway, I’ll see you guys tomorrow. Come prepared.” With those final words and a parting nod, the blonde disappeared in a blur.

Kakashi turned to his teammates, his brow still furrowed. “… Is it just me, or… Does Minato-sensei seem… Tired?”

He did. Obito had noticed the dark circles under the Jōnin’s eyes as soon as he arrived at the training ground, and had been worried—especially what with how the frequency of seeing him at his house was dwindling.

“I agree,” Rin replied with a frown. “He seemed tired, high-strung, and not to mention his chakra levels were lower than usual… Usually symptoms of people that have been out on the battlefield for too long.”

“But sensei has been here in the village with us,” the silver-haired Chūnin commented. “He hasn’t taken any missions, since we haven’t, either—he’s been present to all of our team meets except a few, and for those he explicitly told us it was because he had to speak to the Hokage.” Kakashi turned to Obito. “You live with him and Kushina, what’s been going on at the house? Do you know anything?”

Obito crossed his arms. He’d noticed, a while ago, that Minato had slowly distanced himself from his own house. He was absent at meals more often, and on occasion, so was Kushina. Sometimes they didn’t even come home until late when Obito was in his room dozing off, and their signatures always seemed drained and distressed—especially Minato’s. He’d been wondering what they were doing, but had assumed it was regarding Orochimaru or some other important business. It wasn’t as if Obito knew everything that his sensei had done (especially not at this time, when he was still rather ignorant) around this time, so he had taken the information in stride.

Something was clearly bothering their sensei, however. And now, it couldn’t be attributed to Orochimaru, since the man was no longer in the village.

“I… I don’t know,”  Obito gave a half-lie, “I don’t really know what’s going on, either.”

Kakashi rolled his eyes. “Figures you wouldn’t.” Despite the words themselves, they were said without an ounce of contempt.

“… I just hope sensei will be okay,” Rin whispered quietly.

Obito could only nod. He hoped so, too.

 


 

Obito tilted his head to the side as a kunai zipped past him. He brought up a hand to block and deflect the two kicks that followed, one after the other, and threw the attacking figure to the side.

“Good,” he commented lightly, eyeing Itachi as the boy just barely caught himself before falling flat on his face. “Your reaction time has improved. I can tell that you have been training.”

The clan heir stood up and dusted himself off, nodding.

But, you have a grave disadvantage,” the time-traveler continued, earning him a confused look from his student. He smiled as he pat the younger Uchiha on the head. “You’re too predictable. Your moves are mechanical, clearly trained and beaten into your reflexes, but because of that they are extremely readable. For practice and friendly sparring it’s fine, but try and incorporate unexpected moves, don’t go by the book all of the time. That’ll be what saves you, once you’re of the age to go out on the battlefield.”

Itachi nodded again, giving Obito a rare smile. “Right. Thank you for teaching me, Obito-niisama.”

The older Uchiha gripped his shirt near his heart and feigned hurt, as though struck by a painful blow. “Itachi, how could you? I’ve told you many times to not call me that!”

“… But—“

“My little cousin is so impersonal, he doesn’t wish to be associated with me!” Obito ignored the widened eyes of the younger boy and continued his exaggerated tirade, throwing his free arm up into the air. “I am deeply wounded!”

“But, respect is still supposed to be displayed because you are my teacher,” Itachi commented quietly, confusion evident in his tone and look. “I—I had thought that you didn’t want me to refer to you as ‘Obito-san’ anymore, and ‘sensei’ doesn’t quite work either. ‘Obito-niisama’ is the only—“

Obito laughed, ruffling the hair of the younger Uchiha again with a chuckle. He had managed to get rather close to the boy, and it was a nice change of pace from the unreadable, serious looks he had been graced with in the beginning of their acquaintance. Honestly, had it lasted any longer, Obito might’ve wondered if he had slighted the boy in some manner and earned his animosity.

“You really need to relax. I’m going to correct my previous critique; you need to randomize your life, not just your fighting style.”

Itachi’s brow furrowed as he looked up at his sensei/brother. “… I… I’ll attempt… To do that,” he stated quietly, with clear difficulty. The poor kid couldn’t even imagine stepping out of whatever boundaries the clan had set for him, and it honestly made Obito rather sad.

Instead of letting his discontent show, he smiled. “You do that. We’re done for the day, so prepare for the next lesson.” He turned to the veranda of the house. “I’m going on a C-Rank with my team, a delivery mission, so I probably won’t be back for a week or two. You’ll have time to relax a bit.”

Itachi nodded, stepping back to give a small bow. “I understand. Thank you for your direction, Obito-niisam—…san.”

Obito smiled at the attempt, and after saying his goodbyes, walked into the house to exit from the front door. He had planned on Shunshin-ing straight to his home from there, but had the unfortunate  pleasure of locking eyes with… Two disgruntled-looking Uchiha Elders, that began walking over as soon as they noticed him. He repressed the urge to roll his eyes; he recognized one, a mild-mannered, somewhat kind if not ignorant individual that had, on occasion, treated Obito amicably. Of course, that was his opinion when he was a child—and he hadn’t noticed the underlying condescension at the time. What he had noticed at the time was that the man was always right (in his own mind) and was beyond reasoning with. Not all of the elders were like that, as this man was… Particularly stubborn and self-righteous, even for an Uchiha elder. The man’s gray hairs clashed with the few black, giving him a distinct sign of age. The other that Obito didn’t recognize, on the other hand, had hair that was entirely gray and with stress lines to match.

Obito did well with kindly, intelligent elders of the village. Not to say that the Uchiha clan Elders were unintelligent or lacking in cognitive functions, not at all, but they were often poor judges of character—due almost entirely to their incessant pride and unwillingness to see their own faults. It was never a pleasant affair when one gained the attention of an Uchiha clan Elder as it usually entailed a breach of law, a personal offense done to their person, or something “uncouth” that they felt should be addressed.

Whatever was the case, this encounter was very likely to end poorly.

“Uchiha Obito,” the one of the left (the one Obito didn’t recognize) stated more than asked in a demeaning tone. He sounded entirely as though someone had taken a shit in his tea that morning.

Obito nodded, not caring to give the customary bow. “Elders.”

The one on the left, now dubbed cranky in the younger Uchiha’s mind, scowled. “… Why do you not wear your clan’s insignia?”

The time traveler almost raised an eyebrow. Almost. Just because he no longer wore the damn thing on his sleeve or on the breast of his jacket didn’t mean he wasn’t wearing it—after all, how did they know if he was wearing it on his back? It wasn’t as if they were looking there… Though, to be fair, he truly wasn’t wearing the Uchiwa fan emblem.

Besides, the question, from what Obito could tell, wasn’t so much about the proud insignia itself so much as the reason behind his not wearing it—he could hear the underlying words of, ‘why have you not begged to join the clan, yet?’ 

He sighed, already feeling drained from the encounter. “Because I don’t want to be your pawn.”

Cranky’s eye twitched, but before he could reply, the elder on the right (now dubbed vapid-idiot) interjected with his own words. “Pawn…? No, you are mistaken, Obito-kun.” The raven shivered at the honorific. “The Uchiha blood runs strong in you, something proven by the fact that you have a fully matured Sharingan. It is because of this achievement that you are a full-fledged Uchiha, and that you should be recognized as such.”

“That’s what I said,” Obito stated exasperatedly. “I’m a pawn, a tool, and a particularly powerful one because I’ve ‘proven my worth’ in your eyes. I’m saying I don’t want to be involved in that.”

Vapid-idiot shook his head in a near-vexed manner. As though dealing with a particularly stubborn, unreasonable child. “I understand that you are still a child in both mind and body, but you must realize that you are thinking with a narrowed, innocent view.” The time traveler repressed a snort. Cranky must’ve noticed, because his eyes narrowed imperceptibly, through the sagging folds of his pasty skin. “You are a Chūnin and have a fully matured Sharingan, and as such, you must act accordingly as well. You are wanted back in the clan because that is where you belong, with your family and people that can help you understand the power that is held within your eyes—“

“Oh?” Obito asked, inwardly thinking that he was already a master of his Kamui eyes, and that it was likely that the clan wouldn’t even know the first thing to do regarding his Mangekyō. “My family? And where was the clan, then, all these years?”

Cranky scowled. “Blood is thicker than water, even with the separation of time. And do not speak back to your elders, boy. Know that you do not stand on equal ground as us, as your ego and lack of decorum likely makes you assume. You should be happy that the clan is willing to have you reintegrated to join with our prestige.”

Uchiha Obito may’ve been a bit of a problem child when he was younger. He was ignorant, he was prideful (though not to a harmful degree) and he did indeed lack the Uchiha “decorum.” However, let it not be said that he was ever a particularly poor judge of character, because even at that age, he knew to avoid his clan’s elders like the plague.

He spun on his heel and began walking towards his house, sensing the way cranky bristled slightly, and vapid-idiot looked on disapprovingly. He turned when he was a comfortable distance from them, a powerful glare in place.

Let it also not be said the Uchiha Obito didn’t know how to hold grudges. He was feeling especially spiteful, at the moment.

“This power-play is nothing but a bunch of bullshit, your pride is nothing but bullshit, and your brains have clearly melted into mush from years of roasting in your stubborn idiocy. I only have respect for three… No, four people in this clan, and I can guarantee that you two aren’t amongst them.”

And then, he Shunshin’d away.

… He may or may not have activated his Sharingan in the middle of his small rant, but that mattered little to him. What mattered was the indignant, insulted, and obvious look of injured-pride that had taken residence in their eyes, and Obito took a sort of sadistic pleasure in seeing it.

The Uchiha clan respected power. If, what it took, was a blatant display of unwillingness to conform to their outdated ideals, coupled with his own strength, Obito was more than happy to oblige.

After all, he could acquiesce to the truth of one of the things cranky had said—he was still an Uchiha.

And what was an Uchiha without blind power?

 


 

Uchiha Fugaku was… Shocked. It was the best word that described him, with the varying levels of disbelief, horror, and strange—not to mention misplaced—pride that he felt.

When he had walked out of his study with the intention of discussing Itachi’s progress with Obito, he hadn’t exactly expected to see the boy being… Hazed, by two of the Uchiha clan’s most disagreeable Elders. 

When Uchiha Daisuke and Uchiha Jirou began their demeaning remarks in a poor attempt to make Obito feel privileged, or at the very least obliged to join the Uchiha clan, the current clan head had expected the young thirteen-year-old to run away. Perhaps shout a few obscenities, if he was feeling particularly empowered, but then run off to avoid any resulting fallout. Even though Obito had shown potential with his training Itachi and was clearly more than what Fugaku had once thought of him, the man had still expected the black sheep to behave as the politically-fresh young boy he was.

He hadn’t expected Obito to actually trade blows with the Elders.

Fugaku had noticed the small, calculating glint in the boy’s eyes, the way he measured the Elders and caught on to the small jabs at his current status with the clan. Obito had even returned them—“I’m a pawn, a tool, and a particularly powerful one because I’ve ‘proven my worth’ in your eyes. I’m saying I don’t want to be involved in that.”—He knew what their aim was, to elevate the Uchiha clan even more, that they had measured his worth and deemed him an asset. 

It certainly wasn’t something too surprising (what the elders were attempting to do, that is) and was a common practice amongst the noble clans of Konoha. It was a normal, if not unfortunate, consequence of being labeled a clan, where status meant near everything, because status meant political power. And within the Uchiha clan, every power was sought after in their society. But still, a child wouldn’t, shouldn’t be able to pick up on the minute intricacies of such a political endeavor, especially not one that was essentially removed from everything.

So yes. Fugaku was surprised by the gall Obito had to reply to the Elders in such an abrasive manner… But he was also pleasantly surprised.

He had chosen his son’s tutor well.

After Obito left, leaving the dumbfounded and weakened Elders, Fugaku stepped out of his house and decided to make himself known. “Daisuke-san, Jirou-san.”

The two, who had just managed to regain themselves and were steadily growing in irritation, just managed to wipe away their indignation before turning to Fugaku with forced looks—Daisuke had a plastered on smile, whereas Jirou’s countenance was as stern and placid as it was old and weary. “Fugaku-sama. To what do we owe the pleasure?”

The clan head raised an eyebrow. “… You are standing in front of my house.”

Daisuke blinked a few times before resuming his feigned smile. “… Why, yes. Yes we are.”

“I happened to overhear your conversation with Uchiha Obito,” Fugaku began, and the masks the two Elders had donned immediately crumbled. Jirou grew red-faced with barely concealed anger, and Daisuke’s eyes went frigid. “I need not ask, for I know, but I would like to hear what you believe you were attempting—what exactly were you trying to accomplish?”

“That boy,” Jirou growled in a rough but reined in tone, “needs to understand his placement. He has an obligation to this clan, and should feel—“

Fugaku silenced them with a raised hand, his eyes narrowed with promise. “The two of you will cease this foolish behavior, immediately.”

For a moment, silence reigned.

Jirou was the first to snap. “That boy is an Uchiha,” he hissed quietly. “It is in his blood, and those eyes of his belong to the clan. He has an obligation—“

“You speak of obligations,” Fugaku stated quietly, folding his arms under the sleeves of his kimono. “… And yet, before my appointment to this position, you were the ones that had ignored him. Did the clan not have an obligation to him as well, considering his blood?”

“It was our mistake, and we can admit to as much.” Daisuke cut in before Fugaku could continue, before Jirou could grow more incensed. “A mistake, a miscalculation. One that we intend on rectifying, that we are attempting to fix.“ He stared at Fugaku with a hard glint. “The boy had been determined as an invalid, that he would never activate his Sharingan, but that changed the moment he not only achieved it, but advanced it to the third stage. You know as well as we do that our clan’s dōjutsu is under constant threat and is sought after by many enemies, some within the village. The Sharingan is the Uchiha’s, and the boy must be placed under protection.”

Fugaku knew that the Elder’s words were true enough, but to say it was for the boy’s protection…? He might’ve laughed. It was more for protecting the clan’s treasured eyes, and they would sooner kill the boy and burn his Sharingan than allow an enemy to gain them. “Protection? Or observation? Preservation?”

“Fugaku, you will show the respect that we deserve,” Jirou hissed angrily, eyeing the clan head. “You seem to forget that you may be clan head—a fact that has gotten to your head, it seems—but you can be removed just as easily. You wouldn’t have your position if we did not wish you to be there, and you should be grateful.”

“Obligation, debt, gratitude,” Fugaku stated quietly, his eyes spinning. “The moment you chose me as the clan head was the moment you lost your uncontested power. You seem to forget that, while you are the council and allowed to make suggestions, I am, at the moment, still the acting head of the Uchiha clan. And you will act as such.” He narrowed his eyes at the Elders. “Unless Uchiha Obito wishes to be placed back in the Uchiha clan, he will not be—coerced or otherwise.”

Both Elders scowled, and Jirou opened his mouth to open—before Daisuke placed a hand on his shoulder, and he quieted with bristling resignation. “… Of course, Fugaku-sama.”

The words were spoken with barely concealed condemnation, but Fugaku nodded anyway. The two walked away, and when they were out of eyesight, the clan head allowed his eyes to deactivate and entered his house with a scowl.

The clan was being far too possessive for his liking. That, added with the fact that many of the Elders were acting even more unreasonable than before worried him to a disturbing degree. All of this, they were signs, something that Fugaku, as the clan head, had to deal with.

The Elders were growing with discontent, and becoming almost unreasonable. The previous confrontation was evidence enough; before, they had at least some semblance of reason, and despite being stubborn and prideful, had known that there were certain boundaries that were to be left undisturbed.

Fugaku’s eyes narrowed as his thoughts trailed to a certain Konoha Elder.

… It likely didn’t help that that man’s claws were steadily sinking further and further into the political workings of the Uchiha.

Bleeding into their workings, like the poisonous roots of a parasitic plant.

 


 

Obito sat in a tree situated above the Hokage Monument, staring into the almost empty vial that once held the Senju cells. 

It was with a certain anticipation and dread that he regarded the last few drops. Using the last of the mixture would mean that the treatment was done—that he might either have the boost he needed along with the Mokuton…

Or he might not.

Throughout the treatment, he had refrained from testing the effectiveness for three reasons. The less pragmatic reason was that he didn’t want to worry over his progress, all the while; he preferred the idea of completing the treatment and either finding that it worked, or didn’t. The other two were more logical and held true explanations that were not entirely subjective. He might’ve been able to use Mokuton for a period of time, but in exchange would have exhausted the chakra and lost the ability altogether. The point of this wasn’t for a small, temporary boost, but for a permanent ability and lessened strain from his Mangekyō. It was also highly likely that if he attempted to use the Mokuton while the special chakra had yet to conform to his chakra system, that it would’ve ended up recognizing him as a foreign entity and turned him into a tree.

Whatever was the case, this was it. The deciding factor. Would he be able to use Mokuton after this? Would he be able to use his Mangekyō without fear of losing his sight?

With a steadying breath, Obito released some chakra from his hands and concentrated it on the sparse liquid. This was how the treatment worked and it was what he had been doing for the past handful of weeks—the purpose of introducing his own chakra to the concoction was to treat it and familiarize it with his own, so that, when introduced to him, it would not react violently. Madara had once explained it to him, and he hadn’t fully understood it at the time even with the original Tobi’s help. 

The only reason (or, reasons) why the cells hadn’t reacted negatively to him was because his own chakra system had been heavily damaged due to missing half of his body. He also had half of the Hashirama clone’s body, which made it easier to integrate the actual chakra into his own, and with the help of Tobi and Zetsu, it had been a simple, if time consuming, process.

This time, he didn’t have time. He didn’t have an endless supply of the cells, either, but a complete body, he did. Even if his current body was unfamiliar with the substance, he was, and knew how to curb its more volatile tendencies.

After a few minutes of tempering the concoction, Obito released the cork and slid his hand into his kunai pouch to withdraw the knife. He cut along the soft flesh of his left arm, watching as blood beaded in small droplets along the thin incision. With a slightly unsteady hand, he tilted the vial and watched as the sparse droplets slid to the mouth.

There was a reason why this treatment was introduced intravenously as opposed through ingestion. Blood vessels ran most similarly to the chakra network, and it was easier (not to mention safer and faster) to allow one’s respiratory system do the work of transporting even measurements of the potent chakra to each of the tenketsu points with a lessened risk. 

Obito watched as the concoction dripped onto the open wound and quickly sealed up the cut with a weak healing jutsu. He… Felt no different than he had a minute ago, but that was to be expected. The changes, if any, were minor and had been made over the course of time. The true question, now…

He searched within himself, finding the familiar flicker of Mokuton chakra. It was sparse, but… There.

With a breath, he stood up as he reached for the chakra and held his hand up in a Ram seal. “Mokuton: Sashiki no Jutsu.”

One second passed. Five seconds. Ten. Thirty.

… One minute.

Obito slammed a clenched fist into the tree he stood on, easily splintering the wood from the impact. “… Damnit,” he cursed, frustration bubbling up. The treatment hadn’t worked. He didn’t have Mokuton. There was little he could do about that, and even though it was an idea he liked to entertain that with the Six Paths Sage Chakra he’d be able to use the blood limit… That was still just a sparse hope. There was still a likely chance the Kyūbi wouldn’t fulfill his end of the bargain. And even then, what did Obito know about the legendary chakra? After observing Naruto and the bijū, it was an assumption that it was all connected, that he could use it to kickstart whatever latent Senju cels he had to activate the Mokuton.

He was almost afraid to attempt to use his Kamui. What if that didn’t work, either? What if he had rushed it?

The Uchiha scowled.

Then he’d just make do.

A flicker of chakra. His eyes bled to red, and swirled until the three tomoe formed the familiar pinwheel pattern of his Mangekyō Sharingan. Without stopping to contemplate the fact that the activation hadn’t left him with a head-splitting headache, he activated his Kamui.

He blinked, when he found himself in a familiar gray, geometrical dimension. He blinked again, when he lifted a hand to wipe away from his face. When his hand came away, he stared…

At the pale, unblemished skin.

“… Heh.” The corners of his mouth lifted. “… Heh….Heh…Haha!”

A vicious grin lit his features as he leapt across his dimension with practiced ease, landing next to a folded piece of paper. With unrestrained speed, he went through the basic handseals before calling out, “Katon: Gōkakyū no Jutsu!”

The innocent parchment, containing his notes on the future events, was incinerated before his eyes. He didn’t stop to regard it, and quickly switched on his heel and leapt, feeling the familiar and smooth shift of dimensions that he had yearned for. When he landed, he was no longer in his dimension but back where he had been in Konoha, atop the Hokage Monument surrounded by trees. He walked up to a tree, holding a hesitant hand out, and sighing when he could feel it.

A few seconds passed.

And then, he leapt through the tree, not even needing to reign in his chakra signature as he relished the intangibility, his eyes’ greatest power. 

He… Couldn’t use the Mokuton. That was a grave fact that could not be ignored, and he knew he would be at a slight disadvantage without it. But, now, it wasn’t so important, and he allowed himself the hope he hadn’t before—if the Kyūbi came through on his end… Hypothetically, the introduction of residual and diluted Six Paths Sage Chakra should be enough to at least activate the dormant Mokuton chakra, that Obito could still feel thrumming beneath his own. And if not that, there was still the hope of awakening the Rinnegan.

Regarding his Kamui, it appeared he still had similar limitations as before. He still could not use his intangibility in conjunction with teleportation (though the cool down time was now reduced to two-three seconds) but…

He was as capable as he was during the war, when he had both of his eyes.

Obito halted his mad-dash as he landed on top of the third head of the Hokage Monument, his grin threatening to split his face. He had his Kamui back. He was powerful. He could see, everything

The Uchiha chuckled, staring off into the west with violently spinning eyes—eyes glinted with the smallest traces of insanity.

“The snake’s usefulness has expired.”

Chapter Text

One week’s worth of ration bars, two sets of sharpened kunai, a dozen shuriken, a water canister, a blanket, and some heavier clothes.

Obito packed up these necessities in a standard Shinobi pack and headed to the door of his sensei’s house to meet up with his team at the Konoha gates. He paused at the threshold, however, and turned back to look into the quiet apartment.

“… I’m off,” he mumbled, knowing full well that there was no one present. With a shake of his head, he exited the door, making sure to lock up fully before executing Shunshin to the gate.

As soon as he landed he was met by the irritated gaze of Kakashi.

“You’re late,” the silver-haired Chūnin grumbled, glaring at the Uchiha.

Obito scratched the back of his head in a sheepish manner. “Heh… Sorry, I guess I was so excited about this mission last night that I couldn’t go to sleep, and then I woke up late, and there was a lingering ghost that I had to say goodbye to calm the spirit so—“

“Now now, let’s not bicker,” Minato called out with a bright smile. “And no excuses, Obito. We came from the same direction, after all.”

The raven-haired boy blinked a few times before smiling back. Minato seemed… Normal. Back to how he usually was. It was a bit of a comfort to the time traveler.

“Are we going to leave now, sensei?” Rin asked, readjusting her pack as she smiled hello at Obito.

Minato nodded, glancing up at the slightly colored rays of light reaching through the dark shroud of early-morning. “Yes. If we make good time, we should be able to make it to Yu no Kuni in three days, maybe even two.”

The Chūnin waited as Minato walked over to them, handing them each a small pack. “Safeguard these. They have the scrolls containing the rations, and are our priority in this mission.”

“Hai, sensei.”

With a nod amongst themselves, they darted off through the trees.

 


 

When Team Seven finally touched down for the night, Obito observed his teammates with slight shock.

Both Rin and Kakashi showed varying levels of exhaustion, and though the Uchiha made a constant effort to appear worn out as well for appearance’s sake… He barely felt drained at all.

It was something he could really only attribute to the Senju cells, but even he hadn’t dared hope that his other capabilities had come back through his bastardized sort of treatment—he had failed to gain the Mokuton, after all, so he hadn’t expected to gain the other effects he had previously. Without the Senju cells, Obito knew for a fact that he truly would’ve been as drained as his teammates, as his current body hadn’t had the stamina training his future self had. It appeared that the cells were working far better than he had hoped previously in supplementary terms; though he would have preferred having the Mokuton again, he was not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. His increased durability would come in handy against older and physically stronger individuals, and that was something that actually mattered quite a bit.

“Food’s ready,” Rin chirped, poking the sizzling fire with a stick. Obito’s silent, if not somewhat questionable musings were cut off as he was handed a portion of their catch.

Kakashi let out a sigh as the brunette handed him a rabbit leg. “Thanks.”

“Enjoy it now, you three,” Minato commented lightly, taking his own portion and lightly blowing on the cooked meat. “Most likely, tomorrow we’ll be lasting on rations.”

The three Chūnin nodded, understanding the implications. Most likely, tomorrow they’d be crossing the border separating Hi no Kuni and Yu no Kuni. Being so close to Kaminari no Kuni, they couldn’t chance using even the smallest of fires to cook any caught food, unless they wanted to chance turning the mission from a simple C-Rank to a B or possibly A-Rank. B they could probably handle with Minato present, but A-rank would be stretching it—the blonde would have to be wary about not only protecting his students, but dealing with the enemies. Not to mention, they couldn’t exactly turn around and go home just because of a sudden rank change, because this mission held dire importance despite its level. Without the rations Team Seven held in their possession, the outpost to the north would fall easily, leaving their country open to an attack from Kumo.

Obito took a bite of his own portion and chewed slowly, watching the last remnants of sunlight disappear past the horizon. He couldn’t help but feel that something was going to go wrong, but that could likely be attributed to the fact that he had been rather paranoid with the whole prospect of war. After all, it was war—the very same one he had “died” in and lost Rin to the first time around. What with all that he’d changed, there was no telling how this unprecedented mission would go.

Even though the rational side within his mind was adamant that he was simply nervous and, should something happen, he actually was strong enough to protect everyone… He couldn’t completely look away from the possibility. He had to be careful, lest he or his team end up with unwanted consequences.

 


 

“… Ugh.” Obito made a face as he chewed on the powdery, tasteless brick of a ration bar. It tasted like taking a bite out of an over-sized multivitamin… Heck, that’s probably what a ration bar was.

Nutritional, yes. Life-saving, in most cases yes. But if there was one thing Obito was actually glad about when he had become a missing-nin, it was that chakra pills and real food replaced the necessity of ration bars, which were only supplied by hidden villages anyway. It wasn’t as if he could’ve gotten them (as if he ever would have) anyway, seeing as he was a missing-nin.

It was mid-afternoon of the second day of their travels, and they had made it into Yu no Kuni. They were just southwest of the Konoha outpost, a few hours away at the most at a fast traveling speed, and had sat down to eat. Even though they would make it to the outpost in three hours, that was only if they used chakra to enhance their speed and traveled through the trees—if, through some bad luck, they encountered some Kumo Shinobi along the way, they’d be far from in the best shape to battle. “Last spurts” were not considered wise, especially not during wartime. When they actually had time, taking said time was important, all for the purpose of conserving energy and always being prepared should the situation take a turn for the worse.

‘… But man. This shit is horrid,’ the raven thought in disgust. He had never been able to adjust his palette to the tasteless things known as “ration bars,” if it wasn’t obvious enough.

Rin giggled, and even Kakashi and Minato looked amused as the Uchiha curled his lip. “Tastes bad, Obito?”

Kakashi, who had finished his ration bar before anyone even got a chance to see his face (not that they minded, all of them were used to this by now) gave a shrug. “I don’t get what the problem is. It’s not like it’s bitter or anything.”

“I think it’d taste better if it was,” Obito commented, glaring halfheartedly at the innocent ration bar. “At least then it would have some flavor. This tastes like I’m eating a mixture of Iwa’s rocks and Suna’s sand. This isn’t food, it’s freaking-conglomerate.”

“… I think I have to agree,” Minato interjected with a frown. He chewed his own bar slowly, staring at the ground in front of him. “I never did manage to get used to these, but it’s a necessity. Taste leads to smell, and any traces of actual food would be evidence for trackers. We should just be thankful that we don’t have to last on these for the duration of the war, like the Shinobi at the outpost.”

The comment received a trio of cringes from the Chūnin. The Shinobi at the outpost… Often times, for high-leveled Chūnin, Tokubetsu and Jōnin, their time spent at outposts during wartime ranged anywhere from a couple months to a couple years. Even then, at the end of their term—unless they were gravely injured—they would instead be sent to another outpost, perhaps one with less war activity if they were only slightly injured, or one with even more activity if they were particularly skilled. It wasn’t as if they always ate ration bars, but the condensed bricks typically made up half of their meals.

Rin sighed, looking at her own chunk of nutritional brick. “What I wouldn’t give to have some of Kushina-san’s cooking right n—“

Minato and Obito tensed simultaneously, having sensed the same disturbance—the sudden shift in the air. The blonde reached for Rin, while the Uchiha reached for Kakashi and their packs containing the rations just as a rain of kunai landed where the four had previously been seated.

“Huh, not as green as we thought,” a woman’s voice called out condescendingly. Five Shinobi—Kumo, of course—leapt down from the trees across Team Seven, assessing. The three in the front were clearly Jōnin level, the woman from earlier being one of them. They all wore the standard white Kumo armor, and had varying shades of skin and hair. Behind them stood two Chūnin, maybe Tokubetsu Jōnin leveled Shinobi, both with an air of nervous yet determined concentration about them.

Minato took an automatic step in front of his team, hand already reaching for his kunai.

“Now now, blondie, so quick to draw your weapons?” The woman spoke casually, a smirk on her lips.

“Stay back,” Minato whispered to the three Chūnin behind him briefly before turning back to the team of Kumo Shinobi. “You were the ones to initiate hostilities. I am well within my rights to retaliate, one would think.”

“Wouldn’t have mattered if you were dead,” one of the other Jōnin, a blonde-haired, dark-skinned man spoke. He regarded the Konoha team with a lazy yet keen look. “Give us the rations and we won’t have to kill you.”

Minato remained silent, eyeing the enemy Shinobi as the third Jōnin, a light-skinned man with auburn hair sighed exasperatedly. “Damnit Arai, we’ve told you before, you suck at parfait, you just gotta leave it to us.”

“Parley, you mean.”

The auburn-haired Shinobi shot the woman a look before turning back to the Konoha Shinobi. “Whatever, you knew what I meant. Anyway, blondie, hand over the rations unless you wanna die.”

A kunai whizzed passed his cheek, leaving a small, hairline cut. Though they stiffened, the Kumo Shinobi relaxed upon seeing the miss. “… What the hell? That was a real sissy throw right there, y’kn—“

He didn’t get to finish his statement, as Minato was suddenly behind him, quickly dragging his retrieved three-pronged kunai across the neck of the auburn-haired man, slitting his throat in a quick and practiced motion. He fell to the ground, gurgling what sounded like a drowning scream as his eyes rolled to the back of his head. The moment of surprise that resulted quickly passed as rage overtook the features of the remaining four Kumo Shinobi, and the five entered a battle of speed and strength.

Minato was clearly the fastest, managing to easily brush past any close call with the enemies, deflecting each attack while surreptitiously keeping an eye on his students that stood off to the side. While the Kumo Shinobi were wasting their resources, throwing kunai after kunai and darting around with excess chakra in attempts to overwhelm the blonde, he kept his reserves at stable levels and had yet to bring out another weapon besides the Hiraishin kunai he had first drawn. 

Obito looked over at Rin and Kakashi, the former who was staring wide-eyed at the battle and shaking slightly, the latter who was clearly nervous but determined. The Uchiha watched Kakashi’s hand reach for the tantō hilt on his back as he swallowed thickly through his mask, as though trying to suppress his nervousness through the action.

“Stop,” Obito whispered, placing a hand on the Hatake’s arm. Both Rin and Kakashi turned to him hesitantly, slowly, so as to keep attention off of them.

“… Minato-sensei will need help,” The silver-haired Chūnin replied stoically, his hand gripping his weapon. “We can’t just stand here.”

“And what do you think you’re going to be able to do? Minato-sensei is way faster than the enemy and is the one with the upper hand. If we draw attention to ourselves, if they come after us,” Obito emphasized, eyes narrowed, “then he’ll be having trouble. At the moment, we’re his weakness, and the best thing you can do is stay back and let Minato-sensei deal with this.”

Kakashi’s grip tightened and Obito could see the boy’s teeth grinding as he deliberated. Rin looked between the two with panic in her eyes. Finally, after a few moments of stilted silence amongst them, the silver-haired Chūnin’s grip relaxed and Obito sighed a quiet breath of relief—until he heard Kakashi’s next words. “… We can’t chance something happening to Minato-sensei.”

Everything happened all at once. 

One of the Chūnin engaged in battle with Minato flung a stray Kunai, headed straight for Rin. Kakashi leapt towards the battle his sensei was engrossed in, not noticing how the brunette tried to stop him. And a sixth Kumo Shinobi, undoubtedly Jōnin, leapt up from the brush behind them.

Obito saw it all in slow motion, the kunai heading straight towards the side of Rin’s head, unnoticed by her as her attention was still on Kakashi, whose attention was riveted to their sensei. The fourth Kumo Jōnin, heading straight for Kakashi and Rin with twin wakizashi in his hands, aiming for their necks. Two meters away. One meter. 

He reacted.

The sound of clashing metal, death threats and rustling leaves immediately settled when an ear-splitting, painful, animalistic scream tore through the air.

Everyone, including Rin and Kakashi who were now wide-eyed at the sudden realization of the very real threat that almost killed them, turned to the ground behind the two Konoha Chūnin—and saw a body, hunched over, alive, a kunai in his throat but alive

—and missing his legs.

“KITAI!!!” One of the Kumo Chūnin screeched, immediately turning to Obito with rage in his eyes. “You—!”

He was abruptly cut off. Obito’s Mangekyō continued swirling in an angry red as he stared at the Chūnin, and silenced the fool with a narrowing of his eyes. The body fell in a bloody, motionless heap on the ground save for a few automatic twitches, noticeably missing its head.

Nothing more than a useless sack of bloodied flesh.

A moment of uncomprehending silence fell as the Kumo Shinobi stared with widened eyes at their two fallen comrades, one dead, the other still letting out silent, squelching sobs as he raked at his quickly bleeding throat and legless stubs. The moment passed as they turned back to Obito, rushing at him with renewed anger, utter hatred, their previous target long forgotten. The remaining Chūnin was slightly more coherent, however, as he instead went for Rin and Kakashi as the leg-less Jōnin had, believing them to be the weak links of their team.

Obito slammed his hand to the ground, and muttered in a toneless voice, “Uchiha Kaenjin.”

The resulting fiery barrier caused both Kakashi and Rin to flinch back as they watched, in unconcealed horror, the way the enemy Shinobi were incinerated before their eyes. The cylindrical flame barrier roared over the terrified, pained screeches of the Kumo Shinobi—the once Kumo Shinobi—as they were reduced to nothing but burnt charcoal and ashes, laden with the smell of forcefully dried blood and incinerated flesh.

The technique dissipated with a quiet hiss as Obito cut off his chakra, and he stared down at the now lifeless bodies—or, rather, what was left of them. Even the leg-less wonder had been reduced to nothing but a darkened clump of human matter, having been in the range of the barrier technique’s wrath.

The Uchiha’s face was blank. But something… Something within him was unable to look at his work with complete reticence.

‘… Why?’ He couldn’t help but wonder, his empty eyes belying the confusion he felt. The confusion he had, because something he hadn’t accounted for had surfaced in the back of his mind as he killed these individuals in cold blood.

Guilt. Pain.

But… Why?

It made no sense, it was completely without basis. Obito had killed before, murdered, in the worst ways possible. These people were about to kill the people he cared for, so why, why was he feeling guilty?

His brow furrowed slightly in consternation. Perhaps… In another future, these people were part of Naruto’s following, part of the precious people the blonde Child of Prophecy had befriended, some of the individuals who had fought alongside Naruto in their attempts to stop Obito and Madara.

Obito had never paid much attention to details such as this; thinking about the what-ifs and the potential futures those he killed could have had. After all, what was the point? It wasn’t worth it, pondering on the lives of people who were dead, people who would never have any sort of life because they were busy being dead.

Perhaps it was because he was actually from the future, and as such knew the future to an extent, had prior foreknowledge to refer to. 

… Or, perhaps, it was because Naruto would’ve been disappointed.

Disappointed in Obito. Naruto had literally beaten his ideals into the Uchiha, told him exactly what he thought of his foolish dream of a false, “perfect” world, and… Reached out to him. Brought him out of the darkness forcefully, made him accept the truth. And, for the first time in almost twenty years… Obito had seen it.

Uchiha Obito. He was supposed to die, but that didn’t happen—he was instead tossed into the past. He had fought against it at first, but eventually, accepted the idea, decided to embrace the questionable chance at redemption. He had… He had decided that he wasn’t supposed to be a cold-hearted killer just like “Tobi.” That was it, it had to be—he actually had a conscience, now, and it caused him to feel this strange sense of empathy for the very people that had threatened his team, the very people that he had just killed. He had killed them in cold blood, and was only now realizing it…

… But hadn’t he been prepared to do just that, when he thought of Danzō and Orochimaru?

He froze.

He didn’t know when, but at some point—something that made him change without realizing it—his priorities had reversed on themselves. Certainly, both of them had committed heinous crimes and offenses from what he recalled—some that very well likely hadn’t even happened yet, a betraying voice called out to him in the back of his mind as he recalled the worry he felt when scouring Orochimaru’s lab—and he, at first, had wanted to kill Danzō and Orochimaru because of the threats they posed to his loved ones… but even then, he had been thinking calmly, debating the pros and cons, considering the possible effects of their deaths. The other possibilities, the other paths he could take.

And yet, at some point his reasons had changed from, ‘because they could be a potential threat to my precious people,’ to, ‘because of the threats they pose to me, because they are useless to me.’

Obito looked down at his hands, small, young, but callused and hard. It wasn’t visible, but he could feel the blood on his hands, the warm, life-infused liquid signifying that he had taken even more lives in a blind rage.

He had lost himself. Again.

A hand landed on his shoulder, stirring him from his self-deprecating thoughts. He looked up at Minato, whose eyes were riveted to the ground where a clump of burnt human lay. In the corner of his vision, he could see both Rin and Kakashi, clearly hesitant to come near; fearful, but… Worried, as well. And the thought eased some of the tension he felt.

He turned back to the damage he had done, to the remains of the people he had killed.

Killing was… It was something a part of him. Even now, though he undoubtedly felt guilt and pain at taking more lives, it wasn’t the normal kind—it was almost the kind of feeling that one developed when seeking approval, hoping for acceptance. But he couldn’t give in to that. He couldn’t not kill.

… But he also couldn’t ignore the lives he had taken. He wasn’t sure he could become the kind of person his sensei was, but… No matter what, he couldn’t fall back into that selfish, self-serving cycle he had once been in. He couldn’t disregard life, because if he started again, it wouldn’t stop. He would be no different from how he was before.

If he disregarded Minato’s, Kushina’s, Kakashi’s, Rin’s, and everyone else’s lives for a second time… He was more than certain that he wouldn’t ever be able to forgive himself.

But he still had to kill.

He had to kill so that Minato wouldn’t have to. So that Rin wouldn’t have to. So that Kakashi wouldn’t have to, so that Naruto wouldn’t have to. Unfortunately, they all lived the life of Shinobi, and as such completely banning them from killing was impossible—but he could at least try to lessen the weight of those killed from their shoulders. He would kill so that his loved ones didn’t have to.

Uchiha Obito, no matter the facade he put up, was still part of the darkness. No, he was the darkness, and had been living it for the past two decades of his life. As such, it only made sense that he handled the more unsavory tasks, that he be the literal shadow of his village’s light, in a twisted analogy similar to a certain warhawk’s. It didn’t matter if he had to be “evil,” as long as he still had his priorities in check.

Blinking, he looked at his sensei and his still hesitant teammates, a glint of determination sparking to life in his onyx eyes.

He would do it. Because if it meant that the people he cared about were alive and safe…

… He would do anything.

 


 

“I think you have some things to explain to us, Obito.”

The addressed Uchiha sighed, having expected this. He and his team had settled back down at their camp, recovering their ruined items (and thankfully still in-tact rations for the outpost) when all three of the other members of Team Seven turned to him with varying looks of worry and seriousness.

“… Um, Obito, are you…” He turned to Rin, who fidgeted slightly from where she sat. “… Are you… Okay? That was your first kill, right…?”

Obito blinked. ‘… Oh. Right,’ the time traveler thought somewhat sardonically. He wondered if he should act traumatized, as was probably expected… But after a brief moment of contemplation, decided against it. If it were between keeping his secret and keeping his family happy, he could honestly say that he would prefer the latter.

He gave them a reassuring, if slightly strained, smile. “I’m Uchiha Obito! Of course I’m fine guys, really. Don’t worry.” His smile wavered at the uncertain looks he received from both Kakashi and Rin, and he leveled them with a serious look. “Stop it. They were the ones who attacked first. It would have been much, much worse had any of you been the ones to die. But that isn’t the case, and I couldn’t be happier.”

They were silent as the other two Chūnin stared down at their laps. Obito had little doubt that they were contemplating, reassessing their third teammate. To what, he wasn’t quite sure, but he was certain that he didn’t wish to know.

Kakashi suddenly looked up, an unreadable expression on his face as his hands curled into fists. “… You were going easy on me.”

Somewhat taken aback at the abrupt shift of topics, Obito tilted his head to he side in a mockery of confusion.

“You’ve been going easy on me,” Kakashi repeated, growling slightly as his eyes narrowed. “You never used those techniques in any of our spars or mock battles.”

Obito inwardly sighed, easily seeing the offense and hurt in his teammate’s eyes. To Kakashi, his ability and prowess were a couple of the only things keeping him grounded—and the fact that Obito had belittled that had not only left him feeling offended, but betrayed by the fact that his teammate was holding out on him. He couldn’t exactly lie, but…

“You’re misinterpreting something, Bakashi,” the raven-haired boy said nonchalantly, raising a hand to tap at the corner of his eye. “Do any of you remember how my eyes had been bleeding, a while back?”

This incited a clear flinch from Rin, and Kakashi’s shoulders stiffened imperceptibly. Minato didn’t react visibly at all. “I’ll take that as a yes. You see, the level of Sharingan I can achieve—it’s called the Mangekyō—is the reason why I was able to use those techniques earlier.” A half-truth; it applied to the Kamui only, but they didn’t need to know that.

“So yes, you were right, I was holding back on you,” he stated, ignoring the flinch Kakashi gave at that, “… But it’s also for me. My eyes, while powerful, can render me blind after so many uses. It’s a tradeoff; for temporary and great power, I lose my eyesight somewhat each time I use it.” He gave a bitter smile at the shocked looks his fellow teammates gave him. “It’s a curse of the Uchiha when they activate this level, which is very, very rare. My iteration, in particular, I assume is particularly degrading to my eyesight—it hurts like hell.” Which was true enough; though he knew that both Itachi and Sasuke suffered, something told him that their Mangekyō activation didn’t hurt quite as much as his. Either that, or they were just insufferably stoic Uchiha freaks… Which, to be fair, was also true.

Of course his eyes hadn’t bled this time due to the Senju cells, but unless they asked… Well, it wasn’t necessary to bring up the small detail. The small detail that could get him incarcerated.

“Then what was that? How did you…” Rin’s brow furrowed. “… That was you, wasn’t it? The way that one Kumo Shinobi’s legs… The head…”

She trailed off, and Obito, seeing her distress, gave her reprieve. “Yes,” he stated casually, perhaps too casually, for his teammates stared at him with odd looks. “That was my Mangekyō’s special ability, called ‘Kamui’. Each strain of Mangekyō has a different version depending on the user, a different technique that accompanies it, though I believe the main branch typically has…” His brow furrowed before he shook his head, realizing he was digressing. “Anyway, for those who activate this level of the Sharingan, they gain a differing technique for each eye. My eyes have two variations of the Kamui which can alter space. One requires physical contact while the other doesn’t—that’s how I severed the Kumo Shinobi’s legs.”

“… Wait.” All attention turned to Minato, who had a calculating gleam in his eyes. “… There is one power in each eye… And you said you use two iterations of this ‘Kamui’?” Obito gave a faint grimace but nodded, knowing full well where his sensei was going with this. “What about the black flames?”

Kakashi tensed as Rin gasped, eyes wide. Obito shook his head. “That… That was actually the technique I had intended on using, actually. But it seems I can no longer use it.”

“Do you know why?”

Obito couldn’t guess as to why he no longer had it because he wasn’t even supposed to have it at all. Rather, the real question was why he even had it to begin with.

In all honesty, it had been a long-held belief of his that the Amaterasu was the original technique of the Mangekyō Sharingan and over the years branched out, revealing other techniques such as Shisui’s Kotoamatsukami and Obito’s Kamui. The reason for this belief was that, in a fit of curiosity before Madara had passed, he had asked the elder about it and confirmed that his eyes originally had Amaterasu. He had begun to wonder if the black flames were an origin technique stemming from a century back (Madara had never answered these questions, sadly) and when he saw that Itachi and Sasuke gained the Amaterasu, he had begun to believe that it truly was an original technique of the Mangekyō.

He frowned.

… But then again, that didn’t make any sense. Even if his theory could never truly be proven unless he joined Madara’s side again, he knew for a fact that each eye only had one technique. At the time, when he had first arrived in the past, he had been too… Preoccupied with other things to realize it. He had three techniques specified for the Mangekyō, three. And it didn’t make any sense. It wasn’t as if he had a third eye like Kaguya, after all—

He slapped a hand to his forehead, suddenly very, very worried. The rest of Team Seven looked both worried and confused. 

His thoughts ran in conjunction to his speeding heart—what if he was the reason for the Kyūbi’s strange appearance in another way that he had never thought of? What if, this time, he had somehow become Kaguya’s… Vessel? Sacrifice? Instead of Madara

Abruptly, Obito shook his head and removed his hand from his forehead. He… He was acting stupid. These were all baseless, fleeting conjectures of his tired mind—sure, the concept of time travel required an open mind, but his mind was a little too open, at the moment—and his imagination was running away with them. The Kyūbi had verified that the woman was sealed, and as far as Obito knew… He wasn’t Kaguya. Or harboring her. Or whatever. He was certain that the witch hadn’t gotten her claws into him, he was still Uchiha Obito.

But still, that didn’t explain why he could use Amaterasu, a technique he shouldn’t have had at the time, and couldn’t use it now

He paused, blinking. 

… Maybe that was it. It was at the time. He couldn’t use it this time, even though he had actually meant to use it. So that most likely meant that he didn’t have the Amaterasu now… But why did he have it before? Did it have to do with the fact that he had just awoken from his travel to the past, perhaps…?

The time traveler inwardly cursed. He should’ve checked his Sharingan as soon as he arrived. Perhaps it was some interference with the sage chakra that was still evident in his physical body before he was shot into the past. Maybe it somehow did something… Causing his Sharingan to gain enhanced abilities, to gain the Amaterasu…?

Okay, that just sounded crazy, preposterous—his status as a time traveler notwithstanding.

“Obito?”

He blinked, again, realizing that his team was staring at him, and Kakashi in particular looked rather irritated.

It wasn’t exactly prudent to think about this, he realized. Not now, and not later, either. There were more important matters at hand, and as long as his strange case of having a temporary Amaterasu didn’t somehow effect his loved ones, then there were other things he could be wasting his time on.

Minato sighed, waving his hand dismissively. “I suppose you don’t, but that is to be expected I suppose.” His eyes gleamed with something unreadable as he regarded the Uchiha. “I’m actually curious about how you even knew this much, Obito.”

For a moment, Obito only furrowed his eyebrows in confusion.

Then, realization hit, and he went wide-eyed, inwardly swearing.

He wasn’t supposed to know so much, especially being the black sheep of his clan. Activating his Sharingan to stage three was already a stretch, but could be attributed to a strange and strenuous happenstance. He hadn’t actually expressed his knowledge on his clan’s dōjutsu at the time, after all—but this, a supposedly hidden and unknown quality to his eyes, he did know.

… But, couldn’t he say that Fugaku had told him? Couldn’t he say that he had, say, been given access to the clan’s library, or something

His racing thoughts were abruptly halted when Minato’s gaze diverted, focused to the North. “I suppose it doesn’t matter. Let’s keep moving since we’re all still wide-awake; we need to deliver these rations as soon as possible.” He turned back to Team Seven with a cold gaze. “There’s no telling if there are more Kumo Shinobi in the area, and we shouldn’t take our chances. We need to hurry to the outpost, now.”

Inwardly thankful, yet confused, Obito nodded along with his teammates.

The conversation ended.

 


 

The delivery had been completed without issue. Team Seven had reached the outpost, delivered the rations and, with a few cordial good lucks and goodbyes—the guards had been rather insistent that they stay the night, but Minato was also rather adamant that they leave immediately, for whatever reason, despite the way Kakashi and Rin were clearly drained—they left.

Four hours into their travel back to Konoha, the blonde suddenly stopped in a clearing and set his pack down.

“M-Minato-sensei?” Rin called out questioningly, breathlessly. Something akin to relief flashed in her eyes, and Kakashi’s as well. “Are we stopping for the night?”

The blonde nodded curtly, not removing his eyes from his pack as he set up. “Yes. The three of you need your rest, and we’ll be waking up at dawn tomorrow to resume our return.” He turned to them briefly. “I’ll take the first shift while you get rest.”

The three of them accepted without a word. Obito might’ve questioned why they didn’t simply stay at the outpost, but something told him that it wasn’t particularly wise—especially considering that the frigid demeanor that worried him had returned to his sensei’s disposition.

Kakashi and Rin noticed too, for they both glanced to each other and Obito, looks of barely concealed worry in their eyes. Rin had even asked to examine Minato to ensure he wasn’t injured—which he wasn’t, of course, he was far too strong for the earlier Kumo Shinobi to actually harm him—and sighed in relief yet confusion as she settled into her makeshift sleeping bag.

Obito and Kakashi followed her example shortly after, settling into their own spots to enter an uncomfortable sleep.

The last thing Obito remembered as his eyelids settled heavily was the frigid profile of his sensei, as the man looked up at the moon. A pained, barely concealed grimace formed on his face.

‘Maybe Minato-sensei actually was injured…?’

And he fell asleep.

 


 

Pressure.

Obito stirred awake none too gently, having felt the strange, threatening weight on his stomach, and his eyelids flew open.

Upon seeing the cloaked figure, his eyes darted briefly to the side—Rin and Kakashi were still asleep, and—

Shit,’ he thought angrily, seeing the slumped form of his sensei against the tree. He didn’t know how, but whoever this enemy was had subdued their sensei.

He shoved the knee on his diaphragm out of the way and rolled to the side, dodging the hand that reached for his throat. A man, he noted, and fast based on his quick and decisive movements. Obito’s eyes darted again to his team, and upon seeing them unharmed, he made his decision.

Whoever this man was, his focus seemed to be on Obito.

So he ran.

Inwardly, he hoped that he had assumed correctly—that the man truly was after him. He also wondered things such as, ‘why?’ and ‘for what reason?’ His thoughts trailed to Orochimaru briefly, but he was still fairly certain the Sannin hadn’t caught on to his identity. He then thought of Danzō, but even though he didn’t feel emotion from the man he had confronted, it was reined in—it was still there, but hidden so he couldn’t sense it.

He breathed a quiet sigh of relief when he felt the approaching, veiled chakra signature of his adversary. He had been playing diversion for a while now, and something told him this wouldn’t be the last time.

When they were a solid twenty minutes away from his team—they were safe, he thought with some relief and satisfaction—he turned around and released a wave of powerful killing intent.

The cloaked man stumbled slightly, but regained himself not a second later, causing Obito to smirk faintly. ‘Not bad.’

A volley of shuriken and kunai were hurled his way, and while he dodged a few, his eyes swirled to red and he caught one to inspect it. To his disdain, it was a standard issue kunai—he couldn’t tell the village it was from, meaning that the man before him was still a mystery.

Deciding there was nothing to lose, he opened his mouth to ask just as he dodged a kick. “Who are you?”

The figure didn’t respond. Instead, he sent a fist towards Obito’s diaphragm, letting out a small sound of surprise when his fist went through him. Obito’s smirk grew malicious. “Nice try.”

He lifted his hand in a Tiger seal. “Katon: Bakufū Ranbu.”

His opponent flinched back, leaping just out of the way of the swirling fire. It followed him, however, and the cloth of his cloak was thoroughly singed. Not enough to fully reveal the man, but maybe just one more attack…

Obito twitched when the man was suddenly behind him—he hadn’t even seen the flicker of chakra required for Shunshin—and just managed to turn around and block the downwards kick aimed at his head. 

He let out a small “oof” as his back collided with the earth for a second, and to his disdain, found himself pinned to the ground. He inwardly sighed; he hadn’t taken his opponent as seriously as he probably should’ve. 

Still, knowing he could get out of the predicament with utmost ease, Obito smiled challengingly. “So, can I at least know who my killer is?”

His foe released his carefully restrained chakra, and Obito had one second—one second—to blink, to think that there was no way, to feel his mouth go dry, to feel his heart speed up with sudden nervousness, with anxiety, with fear—

The man’s cloak fluttered uselessly to the side, and onyx connected with azure. Frigid, steely, petrifying azure.

Obito gulped, and was made suddenly, frighteningly aware of the three-pronged kunai held closely to his jugular.

He blinked, catching sight of golden strands of unruly hair, only slightly illuminated by the sparse moonlight. His heart dropped to his feet when he heard an achingly family voice speak to him in a low, threatening tone—one he had hoped would never be directed towards him again.

Who are you?”

Chapter Text

Kakashi awoke to the sound of rustling.

He automatically froze, worried about the sound and reaching out with his senses to investigate, knowing full-well that they were not in the safety of Konoha—but relaxed immediately upon realizing it was just his sensei.

He sat up and rubbed at his eyes, turning to see what the man was doing with a sigh. Kakashi raised an eyebrow when the noise caused the blonde to stiffen. "… Minato-sensei? What are you doing?" His eyes drifted to the bag belonging to his Uchiha teammate—who was oddly absent—that was held in his sensei's hand.

The blonde looked between the bag and towards the forest a few times—Kakashi inwardly wondered why he was doing that—before releasing his own sigh, dropping the bag and going over to a tree to sit.

Kakashi wasn't sure what had happened. He hadn't seen his sensei look so… So defeated, before. There was clear worry, which he had seen before, but it was accompanied by fear, sorrow, like someone had died

"Where's Obito?" The silver-haired Chūnin asked with wide-eyes, quietly so as to not wake up Rin, but with barely concealed nervousness.

To his fear, worry—confusion?—Minato's demeanor went cold at the mention, his face quietly taciturn as his eyes darted to the forest. Again. Kakashi looked in the same direction, struggling through his sleeping bag to stand up. "Did something happen to him? Why didn't you wake us up? We have to go back—"

Kakashi abruptly cut off when a hand landed on his shoulder and he was forced to sit back down. He looked up at his sensei with confusion.

"Obito is fine," Minato stated cooly, with a smile that the Chūnin couldn't read through the darkness. He felt more than saw his sensei turn away from him. "… I'm surprised that you are so worried about your teammate, Kakashi."

The Hatake froze at the words, not having noticed the slightly proud yet oddly rueful tone his sensei had taken. What he said… It was true. Why was Kakashi acting like this? He… They, their team, they were Shinobi. Obito knew how to defend himself, that much was obvious by the way he handled himself earlier…

Kakashi swallowed as he recalled the event, his mouth feeling like parchment.

Earlier… Kakashi had been single-minded, his eyes trained on his sensei. He knew that the chances of Minato pulling through and winning were high, but there was still a chance—that minuscule, but frightening all the while, chance—that the man would be bested. Because what if one of the enemies had snuck up on him? He had been battling three Jōnin and two Chūnin; even Namikaze Minato might slip up and…

That didn't matter, the point was that Kakashi was… He was worried. So, he had reacted, and in hindsight, he realized that it was foolish of him. The prudent thing to do would have been to remain with his teammates, who were wide-open and viable prey for a third party, for a hiding enemy.

And that was exactly what had happened, wasn't it? He had gone after Minato, against what Obito had warned him about, hadn't even sensed the sixth Kumo Shinobi… And from there, he didn't know what to think.

His worry for Minato had been abruptly halted when that horrifying, terrified scream tore through the air. Kakashi had turned around, surprised that Rin was near him as well, but his eyes were riveted to the crumpled form on the ground.

Legless.

He had barely had a moment to mutter the shocked word, "… what…" before one of the Kumo Shinobi yelled out for their fallen comrade in a desperate tone, and the cry caused Kakashi to turn around again.

Hatake Kakashi was no stranger to death. He was no stranger to brutal death, either, and to be fair what he had seen was far from the worst, but—but when he had turned around, he had a sparse moment to look in the other Chūnin's eyes before his entire head just disappeared.

And the headless body just fell to the ground, twitched a few times, before going completely still.

His mind raced. Because yes, death still affected him as much as he didn't wish to admit, but in that instance it was easier to swallow his pride and admit it—not because they had been so close to death, or because he had just seen the bloodied viscera contained within the neck of a boy his age—because he had come to a startling realization as soon as he had seen it happen. His mind connected the dots, and when he had turned to Obito, he saw piercing red.

He may not have known much about the Uchiha clan's dōjutsu, but something told him, and he just knew that it had been Obito who killed those Shinobi.

Kakashi had a moment to glance at Obito as he saw the boy slam his hand on the ground and mumble some words before the world exploded into red.

Screaming. More, absolutely horrified screams of terror and pain. Kakashi had turned to the red wall of flame that he was just mere meters away from, and watched as the remaining Kumo Shinobi were utterly incinerated before his very eyes—their skin melted, seemingly blackening before crumbling and flying up into the air in human matter and ash. It was… Not a sight that Kakashi wished to see ever again, and a part of him felt that the sight was burned into his eyes—and a part of him had worried for Rin, who must have been that much more affected by the horrific sight.

The result of what their teammate had done.

But… Even with everything that had happened… Yes, it was Obito who had killed those Shinobi. But killing and death were concepts familiar to those with their profession, and Kakashi knew that. And besides, Obito had saved them.

He had even stated it, point blank.

"They were the ones who attacked first. It would have been much, much worse had any of you been the ones to die. But that isn't the case, and as a result, I couldn't be happier."

Uchiha Obito was strong, and he had… He had protected them. He had tried to tell Kakashi to stay back, but he hadn't listened, and it was out of necessity that Obito had reacted as he did.

Kakashi turned to look through the trees. And if Minato-sensei wasn't worried about it then there was no reason why he should.

Besides, he wasn't… He wasn't supposed to be so attached to his teammates. He wasn't supposed to form these attachments, these bonds to his teammates that made him fear for their lives to such an extent when they were out of his sight for just a moment.

The rules. He wasn't supposed to be emotionally compromised, he had to remain calm with a clear head—

"Go back to sleep, Kakashi." Startled out of his thoughts, Kakashi turned back to Minato, who was now kneeling beside him. "Obito will return soon, I promise."

He was hesitant, but nodded anyway, settling back into his sleeping bag as Minato walked back over to his post by the tree.

Fifteen minutes later, his breath even, he fell asleep.

He didn't notice the quiet pop that followed shortly after.

 


  

Three words.

Three words, that was all it took for Obito to feel as though the world crumbled around him, to feel his grip on reality slip from him. To realize the weight of his choices, to realize that he had made a mistake, that he had absolutely, immutably—

"Who are you?"

—He fucked up.

"… Minato-sensei," he called out quietly, ignoring (and how painful it was, to see it happen) the way the man stiffened at the honorific. "What are you—"

He choked slightly as the kunai at his throat dug into his skin, drawing blood.

"Answer me," the blonde whispered, but it was filled with an unyielding promise of pain, of anger and should he hear an answer he didn't like— "Now."

Obito stared up at his sensei for a moment. "… I'm Uchiha Obito."

He didn't feel the kunai press down further—his sensei likely knew that any more pressure would require first aid—but the heavy killing intent that suddenly flooded the air made it difficult for him to breathe anyway.

"That's a lie," Minato snarled, "you are not Obito."

The Uchiha's mind reeled, from the situation, from his own thoughts, from the potent killing intent his sensei was leaking, everything. What happened? Why was he in this situation?

He blinked back the black spots forming in his vision, his eyes once again locking with cold, relentless azure.

Why did Minato have those eyes…?

Breathing in softly to gather his wits, he forced a sense of calm over himself. If he didn't want the situation to get any worse than it already was (and to be honest, he didn't think it actually could, short of having the kunai shoved through his throat or escaping and officially becoming a missing-nin) he had to remain calm.

"… Why? How am I not Obito?" He croaked out, wincing slightly at the blood seeping out of his neck. "Why are you—"

"The Kyūbi." Obito's words died in his mouth as he watched the blonde, his eyes shifting from frigid to—to frustrated. "It didn't make any sense, how you knew. No one was supposed to know about that, except a few select individuals."

The Uchiha opened his mouth to speak, but was quickly cut off as Minato continued. "That time in the library. You said that you were studying up on ways to heal yourself so that Rin wouldn't have to constantly look after you." He hissed. "You lied. Safety against soul snatchers? Safety against extraction of the soul, stealing of the body? I should have seen the truth much, much sooner."

Alarmed, and realizing where his sensei was going with this, Obito opened his mouth again—his mind was racing; how had his plans backfired so much?—but was abruptly cut off again as the tip of the kunai deepened slightly, forcing him to let out a breathless hiss of pain.

"You mentioned things in front of the memorial stone, something about, 'trying to recondition your body,' how your 'limbs were shorter,' and 'how you had a quarter of the chakra you had as an adult.'" Obito's eyes widened further. "I don't know. I don't know, how, or why or when, but what I do know is that you are not the Obito I knew. You are not the boy I cared for, the boy I taught, the boy that always smiled no matter what happened to him." The Uchiha flinched at the way Minato's face morphed into one of utter contempt. "Those eyes… Those eyes that can look so dispassionately at those that have been mercilessly killed, they are not the eyes of Obito. They are the eyes of a cold-hearted killer."

Silence.

Minato eyes glinted with challenge and fury, seemingly wanting Obito to respond, to say something, but Obito… He was momentarily indisposed.

He hurt. And it wasn't because of the kunai that was about an inch deep in his neck. He… He felt as though he were stabbed in the heart with that comment—a cold-hearted killer, his sensei had said—spoken with such vehemence, absolute certainty… Obito never realized just how much it would pain him to be suspected like this. During the war, when he had revealed himself to everyone, to his friend, Kakashi, he hadn't felt such insurmountable guilt. He hadn't cared when his sensei found out then, so why now?

He felt numb, and it wasn't until he heard his sensei's voice again that he realized the man was shaking him roughly, kunai still near his throat. "Tell me who you are, and… And what you've done with Obito." He snarled—Namikaze Minato, he actually snarled—as he glared down at Obito. "Why are you in control of his body!?"

Still feeling somewhat numb, the Uchiha looked up into his sensei's eyes. He… He didn't have a shield over his eyes, and that frigid, reticent gaze that Obito had come to loathe… It wasn't there. But what he found made him regret ever wishing to never see that dispassionate gaze.

Within the blonde's eyes were emotions that Obito hadn't ever wished to see in them; hurt, suspicion, pain, sadness, absolute fury—and inwardly, he wondered how he hadn't seen it before, how he hadn't seen or sensed these volatile emotions, how he had never seen his sensei's suffering

… No. He let out a wry chuckle, though it came out more like a low gurgle.

No, that wasn't right. He… He saw this coming. And he knew it. Each time the evidence glared at him in the face, he looked for the peaceful answer and ignored the growing issue. He had just wanted to push the concerns to the side, cling to the hope that it wasn't what he thought they were. He chose ignorance and illusions, because he didn't want to face the truth. Really, he wanted to laugh again, even if the action tore out his throat.

Some things never changed. They just never-fucking-changed, did they?

"… I'm Obito," he murmured, eyes averting slightly. He felt the kunai return to his throat, and he snapped to his sensei with an unwavering stare and shouted to the limit of what his abused throat would allow, "I AM UCHIHA OBITO!"

"Stop lying, that might've worked on me before, but—"

"I'm from the future," Obito stated, glaring at his sensei, not noticing how his Sharingan activated. "I'm from the future, where everything has gone to shit and everyone is fucking dead."

Minato actually paused, staring at Obito. His hand did not move, but the glare dissipated and what was left was the sadness, the suspicion, the pain, and evident confusion—conflicting. Before the man could recover from the far-fetched proclamation, the raven continued.

"Remember how the Mangekyō can only be activated when someone precious dies? No, I'm sure you remember when Fugaku-sama said that, that day I woke up in your house—you have an even better memory than me. Well, do I have some news for you." He smiled, though it was full of so much bitterness and disgust that it looked more like a scowl. "Well… Rin died."

Finally, something different flitted through Minato's eyes. He stiffened, his eyes going minutely wider. Obito made extra effort to ignore the reaction and continue, his face darkening as he spoke. "You died. Kushina-neesan died. War happened. I had to grow up. There were things I had to do, and ultimately… Ultimately, died."

At the last part, he tensed, feeling an intense and unexplainable rage build up, pushing at his emotional and mental state, wanting to be released like some sort of raging demon. "I was supposed to join you in the afterlife. Fuck, no, I don't even know if I was actually, I was supposed to die, and whether or not I went to the damn purgatory or ended up in the pure world with all of you I didn't-fucking-know, but the point was? I was supposed to be DEAD. As in, never to wake up, EVER AGAIN. And yet, and yet…"

He growled, hands fisting in the dirt on either side of him. "And YET, I wake up and I'm alive. I thought it was an illusion—no, I was certain it was an ILLUSION, something meant to TORTURE me. After all, I wasn't supposed to BE ALIVE, not after all that I HAD DONE!" His hands flew to his head and he fisted his short, unruly hair in them, pulling at the abused roots. "Why me? Why not someone BETTER!? Why not HIM!?" A sob. "Why not—WHY NOT—" Obito forcefully cut himself off, clenching and unclenching his hands in the abrupt silence before letting them fall back to his lap—absently noting he was sitting up, now—and he closed his eyes, taking a deep breath. "… Kaguya. Kaguya, I was certain that KAGUYA did this to me, that she made an illusionary world so I could suffer…"

And he did, he truly, truly did. He realized; he would've been happier had he been allowed the welcoming embrace of death. Back then, at the end of the war, he had felt relieved, and dare he say it—he felt, honestly, truly happy. He, for the first time in his life, had done something right. He protected his best friend. He had protected Naruto, the Child of Prophecy, his sensei's beloved son.

But instead of dying, instead of going brain dead and being released from everything, he was sent to the past. It would've been a gift, for someone like Naruto, who had an innate ability to love unconditionally and receive it in turn. To nurture, to care, to motivate; it was just his natural, bordering unnatural charisma. But it hadn't been Naruto to return to the past, no, it was Obito. Tripping, falling, messing up everything around every-damn-corner, and once again, he was undoubtedly alone—no one behind him, no one by his side, he was alone. For him, for Uchiha Obito, this was nothing short of hell, of his own torture and path to madness. Toinsanity.

He hadn't trusted. Naruto would have. He hadn't fully opened up. Naruto would have. He hadn't accepted the truth. Naruto would have.

He killed in cold blood. And Naruto? He wouldn't have.

And the situation he found himself in… The last person he wanted to ever look at him for what he truly was, the man that he had betrayed before… Minato had accepted it during the war, while Obito was deep in the throes of his self-induced insanity, completely unwilling to accept reality. And yet, when he was actually trying to do things right, trying to fix everything… This was the situation he found himself in. No matter what he did, he was still just a cold-hearted killer.

Didn't that just epitomize everything?

He broke.

"Heh…" He chuckled out, something between a grin and a grimace forming on his face. "Heh..Haha… Hahaha! HA! YES, I'm a cold-hearted KILLER!" He didn't notice the startled look the blonde shot him. "I'm the cause of grief, sadness, so much fucking-DEATH it isn't even a question anymore! I AM darkness, and I've lived in HELL for over HALF OF MY LIFE. So why me? Why was I sent into the PAST!? What can a beaten, broken, DARKENED soul do, other than CORRUPT the future!?"

The Uchiha placed his arm over his eyes as he took a few steady breaths. He could feel the warm liquid dripping down his face, his face contorting as the emotions claimed him—and it wasn't blood, this time. Calm. Calm. It was pretty much too late, but he needed to regain some semblance of calm before he messed up further. He breathed; in, out, a steady rhythm. "… I… I wasn't supposed to be the one given this task. It shouldn't have been me." With a final, steadying breath, he removed his arm from his eyes—he felt drained, tired, even more so than he had felt when he had first arrived in the past. He looked up at his sensei with a dead gaze, unable to read the man due to the darkness and blurriness of his own eyes. "I still don't even know why I'm here, or how I'm here. And based on what happened here," he turned to the side, his voice falling below a murmur. "It's pretty damn obvious that I've fucked up irreparably."

'Fucked up' didn't even begin to explain it. And yet, something told him that it wasn't entirely by accident.

Part of him, the young, thirteen-year-old that he had thought died long ago, wanted recognition. He wanted help, love, care, and wanted acceptance. He wanted to gain that attention, and even if it was subtle… He had gained it. In the worst way possible. It wasn't as foolish and outspoken as his previous, when he had literally shouted about his greatness and pridefully (wrongfully) shouted about his power and how he'd conquer everyone one day. No, it wasn't so linear, but almost just as idiotic—subtle pleading, prodding that even bypassed his own knowledge; he sought after recognition, involving himself with every which way in each event, thinking himself beyond what he truly was. With his knowledge of the future, he had fancied himself a… A hero. The protagonist. The "good guy," just like Naruto. He had justified each of his actions—tracking down Tsunade, it was for Itachi, for the village. "Inconspicuously" giving Minato hints, telling himself it was for the village. Going against Orochimaru, it was for the good of his precious people, and for the village, to oust a future traitor. Against the Uchiha Elders, they were simply the "bad guys" while he was good. At the memorial stone… He couldn't even justify that if he tried. He never talked aloud, not anymore at least, and he wanted to say it was just a spur of the moment wish to talk to Naruto, while the other part somehow knew that it wasn't so innocent.

The other part… The older, war-torn version of himself. Tobi. Again, it was that convoluted battle of tug-of-war, with him at the center. But this time, "Tobi" almost amplified his childish desires, managing to cloud his mind with his hopes, his dreams, what he wanted to see—shrouding him in that heady insanity and making him lose his already sparse touch with reality.

All of this, however, was simply introspection. Ultimately, he didn't truly know—and it was, most likely, part of his insanity that he would never figure his own patterns out.

"… I think it's time you tell me what happened with Kaguya."

Obito blinked a few times, trying to clear his still-blurry eyesight. It worked, slightly, but through the darkness he still couldn't see his sensei's face clearly. He sighed. "… It was my fault."

A moment of clarity, that's what he felt at the moment—he felt, for lack of a better word, free—without bias or his emotions to weigh him down. He had let that monstrosity out already.

He… Realized, that all this time he had been blaming Madara. Madara, Kaguya, and her lackey, for everything. He had always known it was mostly his own fault, but like with other things, he shoved it aside, deciding that it was mostly because he was confronted with hardship. As a result, he lost himself. He gave himself that crutch, that he had suffered so much and then decided that something as flimsy as that validated his insanity, his idiocy. But no. He was the one that completed the tasks, killed innocents, and ultimately, he was the one that made each decision along his life. Certainly, he had been Madara's pawn in the beginning, but after that man died… He didn't have to follow that path. He could have, should have walked away.

And yet, he didn't. A part of him had had his suspicions about Madara's betrayal, his not-so-true words, but… In all honesty, Obito hadn't cared at the time. Admittedly, he had become something of a puppet controlled by the ghost of what he believed to be Madara, and through that, he found solace. It seemed that he was still the same now; after all, with Madara hundreds of kilometers away, his hatred had moved on to a temporary target, hadn't it? From Madara to the Uchiha clan, he validated his actions, deciding that it was the fault of the Uchiha clan. Heck, he recalled admitting to such a thing almost as soon as he found himself in the past. And for a time, it was Orochimaru, Danzō…

Always. Always running away from the responsibility, running away from the truth. How could he even begin to try telling the truth, when he couldn't even admit it to himself?

"… I fell into darkness. I…" '… I almost brought the world down with me.' He swallowed. "… and Kaguya… Kaguya, she is a god. A demon. Someone that cannot be allowed to be resurrected, someone that cannot exist again."

He could sense wary confusion in his sensei's tone. "… What do you mean?"

"Don't," Obito stated quietly, cringing silently at the absolutely defeated tone his voice held. "Just… Don't ask anymore. I will… I will change things, and it isn't necessary for you to know more."

"… You can't do everything yourself."

Later, Obito would wonder why his sensei was even considering all of this, why he actually gave weight to Obito's words. Because even if that wasn't the case, it at least appeared to be like that—and now, not realizing it yet, not seeing it yet—in part because he truly couldn't see—the time traveler clung to that hope, that weakness like a bur.

He turned to where the blonde sat, his eyes glinting with determination, rage, vengeance. "I will change things. No matter what."

Even if he had to destroy himself in the process.

 


 

Returning to Konoha was a… Tense affair, to say the least.

Minato was outwardly normal, and if Obito hadn't known what to look for, he might've thought that their confrontation had never happened. Rin and Kakashi certainly hadn't noticed—Rin had noticed the bandages around his neck, but he had simply supplied that a squirrel bit him—though that might've been attributed to the fact they their minds were occupied with other things.

Rin frequently glanced to Obito, as though he were a hissing exploding tag about to go off. Kakashi did the same, but Obito could see the occasional twitch of the boy's hand towards his kunai pouch. Or maybe it was just an unconscious, accidental twitch, but he wouldn't allow himself such a sparse hope.

Out of all of them, however, Obito found that he was most pained when he looked at Minato.

Because, even though the man made a noticeable effort to not look at Obito, he could still see the hesitation, suspicion, and… Reticence. It wasn't even the calculating look that he had felt before, but it was completely impersonal—as though the blonde hoped that Obito would disappear, if he didn't look his way.

Like a stranger.

Unbidden, it set discontent and deep sorrow in the pit of his stomach. It was an unfortunate result, but he knew that it was only natural that Minato still viewed him suspiciously. Heck, he was surprised he was being brought back to Konoha at all—free, without any bonds, chains, or seals, no less.

He hadn't answered the man's questions, not exactly, and there were likely many holes in what he said—he hadn't actually confirmed that he was Obito.

The thought still made him shiver slightly. He… He really had given his sensei the idea of him being a body-snatcher of some sort, hadn't he? His blind attempts to give subtle clues in the hopes of helping Konoha, they had ended up adding up to an absolutely vile concept, and it was all on his own shoulders. And worse, he hadn't done anything to truly disprove that idea.

Yes, he hadn't actually confirmed that he was Obito… But how could he? He was no longer the Obito that Minato knew, and the man had even stated as much. He wasn't the Obito that anyone knew, and he had known that. All of his previous worries from the very beginning had come back to haunt him after all, it seemed. In a twisted, morbid sense, he truly had stolen this body—he was Uchiha Obito, yes, but he had stolen his current body from their Obito, the one that they actually loved. He was not the same. He wasn't the normal Obito, not to them.

… What was normal, though? He didn't know.

Perhaps, to them, it was the perpetually late, idiotic, always smiling and easily-riled Uchiha boy. Perhaps it was the foolish and accident prone black sheep of his clan. Perhaps it was the boy that always happened to mess things up… Which was exactly what he had done, so maybe not.

Point was, he didn't know. What he did know was that the Obito that his team thought they knew… That was not him now, and never would be again.

He let out a stifled, quiet laugh—he didn't even have to worry about his team catching onto it, as one was avidly ignoring him, and the other two were so engrossed in their thoughts that they were completely unaware of their surroundings. But this was to be expected, he had known.

He had, but he forced himself to remain ignorant. He had grasped at what he wanted—what he knew was false, but still wanted, still yearned for—turning it to truth in his twisted mind. He knew Minato suspected him, he knew things would escalate should he continue to hide things. But…

… Even then, he couldn't tell them. He couldn't tell them a damn thing, especially before, when he had been doing everything in his power to reject the truth.

But now, even now when he was forced to face the truth? He didn't want to. He didn't want to tell them. He didn't want to change in his teams' eyes, didn't want to go from "Uchiha Obito, friend, dobe and happy-go-lucky teammate" to "Uchiha Obito, psychopathic murderer."

He didn't want to lose their love, so he hid the truth, and as a result… He lost Minato's trust. No doubt, he would soon lose his team's, Itachi's family's, Konoha's

All because he didn't want to face the damn truth.

Obito shook his head slowly, looking up at the sky. Still, his decision was made—and there was little doubt in his mind that he couldn't go back on it, anyway. There was no repairing the bonds he had once again ruined with his own two hands, with his selfishness. "… Just… Just let me enjoy the illusion, just a little longer." After all, what was one more white lie to his thousands of ill-ones? Was it so impossible for him to be scared—that he felt honest, true fear—of the thought of losing all of this for a second time…? Was it so strange that he wanted the illusion to continue?

"Just for a little while, this illusion of happiness, this illusion of content. Let it remain, let me feel that everything is fine."

He smiled grimly, looking up at the clear sky—far too bright and sunny for his current mood.

"After all, everything about me is like that, isn't it? A lie, a well-crafted mask."

An illusion.

Chapter Text

Thunk.

Tired, distant eyes gazed at the cluttered training post.

Thunk.

Obito sat on the ground a safe distance from Itachi as the younger boy cooled-down from his training with shurikenjutsu practice. He watched, his eyes glued to the post, but his mind wandering. Escaping.

It had only been a day since Team Seven returned from their C-Rank mission, and to put it plainly, Obito was tired. Earlier's team practice had been no more lax as it had been on the return trip, and it was completely disheartening to the already defeated time traveler.

Outwardly, Minato was the same. Rin and Kakashi made obvious strides to appear unfazed as well, but it was simple to notice how forced and unnatural their behaviors were. Whenever Obito moved a smidgeon too quickly, or spoke from behind the brunette, she would flinch slightly. Quite often, when the Uchiha glanced at Kakashi, he would find his gaze locking with equally dark-colored eyes before the latter looked away abruptly. Even Minato, who was relatively the same, had a rather telling habit that made it clear that everything was not okay. The blonde still refused to make eye contact with Obito, and while that could be construed as fear or cowardice to some, it was more likely that Minato was guarding his thoughts. Now that he knew the truth, knew that Obito was not the one he knew, he had to keep himself guarded so as to prevent a potential enemy from searching him for answers.

Obito sighed. He had been prepared for this, and it still hurt. Not quite as much as it had the previous day, and certainly not as much as it had on the night Minato had confronted him, but it was still an ever-present pain.

And there was still the important question: What was he going to do, when he was questioned again?

To be entirely honest, he was more than a little shocked that he hadn't been yet. Most of all, he was surprised that he was still being kept at his sensei's house, in his same room, without any restriction seals or chains to bind him. The only thing truly different was the fact that Obito took to staying away from that place as much as possible, choosing to stay out until late before coming home when both Minato and Kushina were asleep. In fact, he intended on wandering around Konoha and sitting on the Hokage Monument later, all in order to pass the time—he didn't like the idea of his presence making either of his two hosts uncomfortable.

Regarding the questioning itself, he knew it was going to happen, and he had yet to make a plan. He was hesitant to return to the life of a missing-nin, but comparing it to his team's safety… Well, his own happiness was a small price to pay. Because he had absolutely no doubt that, if they didn't do it straight out, he at least would eventually end up in the hospitality of T&I with a Yamanaka primed to probe his mind. He was certain he would be brought in to be questioned, certain he would be regarded as either clinically insane or an enemy.

Whatever happened, he was not about to let them enter his mind and probe him for information, because letting Konoha get involved in his plans to destroy Madara and the others was something he refused to allow.

Selfish, perhaps. Or maybe it was his sense of responsibility, because he felt it should be him to kill the man, that it was his responsibility to do so.

He knew it was near-sighted and foolish, akin to Sasuke's once-dream. But in his defense, he was no longer certain how much he could trust anyone with his life—how much he could trust the ones he cared for with their own lives, for that matter. Because he was not going to allow a single one of his precious people to martyr themselves, damn it.

No longer did Obito have the unbreakable and unwavering trust of his team, as he had all but physically shattered that bond, and it was unlikely to ever recover. And if he couldn't trust them to have his back, who could he? Itachi was but a child barely grasping the concepts of a single nature transformation despite his innate genius, and Shisui was much the same. Though he had earned himself a more amicable relationship with the clan head, they were, by no means, friends, and their acquaintance could really only be described as a particularly friendly business partnership. Besides, the man had his duty to his clan and village—why would a man of such a prestigious rank help a questionable child?

And still, despite the rather one-sided trust on Obito's part, he still cared for all of them. Certainly, there were some individuals in Konoha that made the village none-too-happy for him, but… It was still Konoha. And, in a way, Obito finally understood where Naruto had attained his unwavering love and loyalty for the village, so flawed and scarred, and yet…

Loyalty. Honor. These were principles that Konoha worked off of and thrived from, despite being a Shinobi village—which typically meant backstabbing and disloyalty were abound. And it was precisely because of its culture, its damn Will of Fire that so many people ended up doing the most foolish and irreversible of things, the most common being sacrificing themselves.

He didn't want anyone in Konoha finding out anything. He didn't want them to find out more than what he was capable of controlling, because should they decide to do something he didn't expect, something that turns negatively that he isn't able to fix

… It would be guilt on his own shoulders. Their deaths, or their sacrifices that should've been prevented by him, it would be unwanted guilt and weight on his own conscience. He did not want to chance losing even more people, not again.

He also… He couldn't work with anyone, he was no longer someone that could apply teamwork. Not anymore, not to the extent where it would be more of an asset than a detriment—he, for almost twenty years, had spent his time in the shadows, manipulating, deceiving, using, and then murdering the people that were incorporated in his plans. That was not teamwork, and yet, it was what he was most familiar with.

So, no. Foolish it may be. Stubborn he may be. Untrustworthy he may be. Selfish he definitely was.

But he refused to incorporate his team or Konoha into his plans… It was all he really, truly wanted at this point. Not to be happy with his team, as that dream was clearly shot, and living a peaceful life in Konoha was equally unlikely when one took into account Obito's current, rather unfavorable circumstances. Because, at least then, if he were to fall… He would be the only one.

Not Minato, not Kakashi, not Kushina, not Rin, not Itachi's family, not the village. Just him.

Just Uchiha Obito.

As it always was.

Thunk.

Blinking, he turned his attention outwards to watch the young Uchiha heir. Obito's brow furrowed as he observed the few scattered shuriken (not many, but for Itachi, it was strange) and the odd look of consternation on Itachi's face—the boy was not concentrating on his training. He was clearly contemplating something, something particularly disconcerting if the frustration and evident worry emanating from his form were anything to go by.

'Still a little weird that I can actually read Uchiha Itachi so well,' he thought silently, shaking his head as he stood up. Obito walked over to where the younger raven-haired boy stood, his eyes riveted to the training post but his mind clearly elsewhere.

When he placed a hand on Itachi's shoulder, the boy turned to face him with an attempt at an impassive look. "Obito-niisan?"

"What's wrong, Itachi?" The time traveler asked with a frown, a hint of worry in his tone. "It's rare for you to zone out, especially when it's almost been a week since we last trained. Are you alright?"

Itachi merely shook his head as he turned back to the training post. "Yes. There is nothing to worry about."

Obito released a sigh, frowning deeper. "Does this have to do with Fugaku-sama?"

The younger Uchiha stiffened, causing Obito to narrow his eyes as he observed him keenly. Obito had hoped, what with how the man acted this time around, that Fugaku was not the foolish and blind individual he had been before. He had hoped that the clan leader would not fall prey to the clan's ideals, placing an immovably heavy burden on his eldest son's shoulders all the while. The time traveler thought he had seen reason and a methodical mind behind those eyes, but was he perhaps wrong…?

He was removed from his brief musings as Itachi's voice, strangely uncertain, broke through his concentration. "Otou-sama… He is just doing what they said."

"They?" Obito prompted, only to receive no answer. To him, 'they' likely meant the Uchiha clan elders. He wasn't certain, but it was very well likely that, if anyone, it was the esteemed clan's older generation that Fugaku was taking orders from.

Obito frowned, observing the way Itachi closed in on himself.

This warranted an investigation. It would provide a good distraction from the more depressing topics, Obito figured.

 


 

Tired, onyx-black eyes narrowed.

'… Nothing,' he thought with slight aggravation. With a frustrated sigh, Fugaku closed the useless book and placed it back on the shelf before grabbing a scroll near it.

He quickly slid it open, scanning the inked scrawl of the vertical text.

For a while, now, Uchiha Fugaku had been frequenting his clan's library more often than usual. In fact, it was never a habit incorporated into his already busy schedule until around five months ago, and since then, he had taken to spending as much of his free time—whether he was allotted mere minutes or a full hour—in the vast expanse of archived knowledge, scouring for what he sought after.

It didn't make sense. That was the thought that immediately went through his mind when he had found out that Minato's student, Uchiha Obito, had the Amaterasu.

It had been shocking enough to find out that the supposed black sheep of the clan, who was never supposed to achieve the Sharingan, had done just that—and activated it to full maturity. Even more so when Fugaku found out that the boy somehow had the Mangekyō, the level of Sharingan that even some of the oldest in the clan did not have, that even the clan head had limited information on.

When he was a mere boy and had learned of the clan's hidden secret, Fugaku had hoped that he would never activate the devastating form of his eyes, because he never wished to become blind… And he didn't even wish to think about the utter pain the death of the one closest to him would invoke.

The fact that Uchiha Obito activated the Mangekyō was what had originally spurred on the hunt for information, for answers. By no means was the Sharingan supposed to be formed from mere dreams or a Genjutsu—no matter how elaborate, the idea of the Uchiha clan's dōjutsu being fooled by the very element they were meant to control was ludicrous, and this conjecture was not one entirely of pride. The idea that something so devastating could be achieved from mereillusions made Fugaku fear for his clan's well-being, as he had no doubt that there would be individuals who would not hesitate to take advantage of this loophole—should it prove to be true.

The unfortunate circumstance that Fugaku had come to realize, however, was that the information on the Mangekyō Sharingan was pitifully sparse. Activation apparently required the death of a loved one, yes, but there were no specifics—exact attachment (was it a requirement that it be a blood relation? Would it activate if the bearer only believed their loved one had died?), degradation (exactly how long until the user went completely blind? Was there a way to reverse it?) what determined the abilities passed down (blood? Circumstance? Strength?). Nothing.

And that was when he had realized.

The Amaterasu. There was a reason why this was the only archived ability of the Mangekyō. And that was because, in the Uchiha clan's history, the main branch—the few that had achieved the Mangekyō, at least—had had the Amaterasu.

Uchiha Obito had the Amaterasu.

Fugaku hadn't told Minato, as the man already had other things to worry about. But that technique, that sacred black flame, was an ability passed down through the main line within the clan—Fugaku's line. It was a recurring pattern that he had seen in the records; there were very few who had ever achieved the Mangekyō, most of them having hailed from the main branch. Even fewer still were those from the main branch that actually had the Amaterasu. But no matter what, it was an ability held exclusively by the main branch.

With a heavy sigh, the clan head rolled up the scroll and placed it back on the shelf it belonged. No more information than the last.

It would make… Some sense, if Fugaku considered the boy's lineage. If he recalled correctly, Obito's mother was a daughter of the second son of Fugaku's great grandfather—a previous clan head. So, yes, if one considered the connection (however thinned the blood would be, at this point) then it would make some sense that Obito would be able to achieve the famed inextinguishable flames. If only because there was no other explanation.

Still… It was odd. Despite the Amaterasu being a technique that seemed to solely form in the purest of Uchiha blood, it was still excruciatingly rare for Mangekyō bearers to gain the technique, even within the main branch.

'… With this in mind,' Fugaku thought quietly, reaching out for another book. '… There are one of two possibilities. My previous assumption of the Amaterasu being determined by the purity of blood is false, and is instead determined by some other factor—one that Obito and my forefathers all share and that I have overlooked.' He snapped open the book. '… Or, there is something about Obito himself that I am missing.'

The idea of blood purity had been a solid idea, until Fugaku began considering Obito. The very activation of the clan's dōjutsu relied on the prevalence of Uchiha blood after all, and from there, the control, aptitude, and flexibility with the Sharingan all relied on the user's blood. He had thought it a reasonable assumption, but something was clearly amiss.

And that was why, five months later, Uchiha Fugaku was still in his clan's library, searching for answers.

With no results.

"Fugaku-sama."

He turned to the Uchiha Chūnin who addressed him, face stern. He hadn't noticed her approach due to his mind being so far into his thoughts, but he refused to outwardly show this fact. "Nanami. What is it?"

The younger woman kept her head bowed respectfully. "The Elders wish for your presence in the council room. It is of utmost importance that you respond to their summons immediately."

Fugaku breathed out a heavy sigh as he closed his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose. "… I understand. You are dismissed."

With a quiet "hai," she disappeared.

The clan head placed the book in his hands back in its designated position on the shelf, crossing his arms under his sleeves afterwards. He had a few ideas regarding what this sudden summons regarded, and he did not like the implications at all.

As soon as Itachi had turned four, the council had pushed for giving the clan's heir the field experienced required of one in his position. They wished to enter him in the Academy as soon as possible, and had presented the idea to Fugaku—enter Itachi into the Academy once he reached the age, and accelerate his learning.

It had appeased the Elders when he had told them that he already had other plans for his son; that he had planned for a tutor to better prepare him when his fourth birthday arrived. They were still not entirely convinced, but had kept their distance. That is, until Itachi's birthday had actually come about, and they found out exactly who it was that Fugaku had authorized as the boy's teacher.

None of the Elders would stand for it, they had said, and they all but demanded that Obito be evaluated fully to see his potential—"is he even fit to be a Shinobi, let alone the mentor to our clan's future?"—and had gone right back to making their wishes known that Itachi be entered into the Academy immediately.

And in this case, they more than likely wished to talk about Fugaku's son—Itachi, who is four—and repeat their demands.

He grit his teeth, inwardly preparing for a battle of thinly veiled malice, and walked out of the library.

 


 

After Obito had finished with the day's training, he said goodbye to Itachi and headed to the center of the Uchiha Compound.

He knew where the leaders of the clan met, and had decided to stake out the area—hoping that, perhaps, he'd be lucky enough to have chosen a day where they met and discussed. Hopefully, it would be the topic that had Itachi so worried.

He sat on the tiled roof, in a hidden junction between buildings to keep himself hidden from passersby and made himself comfortable. Three hours after arriving, Obito had woken with a start (he had fallen asleep, apparently) and wondered if he should leave after noting the position of the sun, but then realized that thereason(s) he had woken up were walking into the building. So, with practiced ease, he activated his Mangekyō and slid through the building's roof undetected to find a spot to spy from. Obito ended up finding himself in an adjoining room, where he could watch through a split in the sliding door and hear (enough) thanks to the acoustics.

So there Obito sat, Mangekyō activated for a quick retreat if necessary, eye pressed up to the small gap to observe the ongoing meeting of the Uchiha clan leaders.

The beginning was spoken in hushed tones that he was unable to hear very clearly. Before, he had been able to hear the clear murmurs (well, perhaps not clear, but certainly not this quiet) and the raised volume in the tones of each individual's voice. Now, however, everyone remained silent unless spoken to or directly addressed, and it was difficult for Obito to figure out the context of the conversation when he could only see the mouth of one of the people talking. He could have used his Kamui, but he had to make sure that he could retreat at a moment's notice—it wouldn't do to be caught spying on the clan, after all. So, he was stuck with relying on his less-than-perfect lip-reading abilities and average hearing.

One thing that Obito noticed with absolute ease, however, was how Fugaku's shoulders were tensed. From where Obito sat, the man was at a sort of odd angle, where he could see only a portion of his profile and the majority of his face was more or less hidden. However, it was simple enough to see how pressured the man felt, to see how stressed the man was. His anger and frustration was kept under a thin veil of reticence and calm, but it was betrayed by his shoulders and clenched fists.

"… Your decisions are rash," Obito was able to hear him say, due to his volume increasing. "He may be a genius even to our clan's standards, but Itachi is still a child, and…"

'Ah,' Obito thought quietly, blinking a few times to alleviate the dryness of his eyes. It made sense, he supposed, that the topic was on Itachi's abilities. It seemed that he had chanced upon the right meeting, after all. Shaking his head, he turned his attention back to the steadily growing argument.

"Boy," one Elder called out, his hands held in tight fists on his lap. Obito inwardly wondered about the demeaning name; if he was correct, Fugaku was thirty-one, close to the time traveler's mental age. What about him was a boy? "You… not raise your voice… us. Itachi is… will be… soon, and your ignorant ideals only impede the clan." The last portion was said with a bit more force, and he was able to make out the words spoken.

"I apologize, Kazuki-san, but Itachi is four. There is no logical reason to enter him into the Academy this early, as six is just as—"

"Fugaku, do not allow your emotions cloud your judgment. You do not understand the necessity of this action being carried through, the utter importance of entering our clan's heir, who represents the entirety of the Uchiha, into the Academy early."

"But is Fugaku-sama's choice so erroneous? If Itachi truly is the genius that he supposedly is, waiting a year or two should not make a difference—in fact, give him until the age of six, and he should be equipped with enough knowledge and experience to couple his precociousness and be able to graduate within a year."

"If his genius is at such a level as you say, then wouldn't it be prudent to enter him as soon as possible? It is a waste of potential to hold the boy back. Allow him to display his abilities in the Academy and we shall see then."

"It is as you say, Jirou. It is most wise to push the boy and see his potential then, for nothing will come of coddling our heir."

As the voices grew louder and more people added their own thoughts, Obito sat back with a frown. He noticed the barely concealed killing intent from Fugaku, and to put it simply… He was shocked. He couldn't tell if it was ignorance or lack of care, but most of the Elders were truly paying no mind to their leader's steadily growing ire. Dismissing it.

Obito, in all honesty, couldn't help but wonder if perhaps Fugaku was driven mad with the more disagreeable Elders' demands, the first time around. From what he'd seen of the man, Uchiha Fugaku was not nearly the judgmental, prideful, ignorant fool he had thought him to be—in fact, the man was rather like a combination of Sasuke and Itachi. He had his pride, of course, a certain stubbornness and a strong loyalty to the clan, but he also had an analytical mind that allowed him to assess situations with little or at least reasonable bias. That was proven by the fact that he had bothered to look at Obito with anything more than contempt, during their encounter at Minato's house.

He scowled. Of all people, Obito never thought that he would actually… Empathize with Fugaku. But that was to be expected, he supposed—he had misjudged Fugaku once before already, and it wasn't as if his judgement had a record of being particularly sound.

Or sane, for that matter.

"Enough," Fugaku boomed, cutting through the steadily growing debate like icy steel. Obito peered back through the small crack and could see the man's eyes narrowed to angry slits from where he sat. "As I am in disagreement with this proposal, Itachi will not be entered into the Academy yet." He lifted an arm to silence the protests that had already begun. "However, I agree to…"

As Fugaku's voice quieted to a lower tone out of Obito's hearing range, he shook his head and stood up. He had had enough; he found out what the issue was—Itachi being a genius was just as much trouble as it was before, it seemed—and it was plenty to keep him distracted from his less positive thoughts. Perhaps he could try and help the boy in the future, but for now, the most he would do was train the clan heir and offer moral support when and if needed.

"… I suppose that is acceptable," a gravelly voice stated, sounding rather bored.

Fugaku gave a quiet 'hn'. "Good. Now that we have all come to an agreement, this meeting is ad—"

"Actually, Fugaku-sama, before we move along," another voice called out, sounding very much like he was amused. Obito paused, brow furrowing at the odd tone. "Is there something you wish to inform us of?"

"… I'm afraid I do not know what you mean."

A sigh. "Well then, I suppose I should simply come out with it, then. I believe…" The flutter of parchment. Fugaku's chakra flared in minute panic. "… That an explanation is in order."

Slight curiosity gripped at Obito to find out what it was that had the Uchiha patriarch so worried, but inwardly he knew—it was obviously yet another disagreement, a clashing of ideals between Fugaku and the Elders, and the time traveler had little doubt that it was something else that somehow related to the clan's "supremacy."

Revulsion quickly replaced curiosity at the thought, and Obito spared a moment to sneer at the sliding doors that hid his presence.

Deciding that he had lingered long enough, his eyes flickered briefly and he stepped forward, slipping into the familiar world of his Kamui.

He did not hear the rest of the conversation.

Chapter Text

Minato stared at the pitifully blank scroll before him with tired eyes.

He wasn't sure about how long he'd been pouring over the empty parchment, but he would guess it had been a few hours since he had initially sat down. Opening up the blank mission report scroll, Minato had sat down at his work desk in his room to attempt to fill it out, but immediately found that his hands refused to replay the events that he could picture so vividly in his mind. He then moved to the living room, hoping that the change of scenery (and his wife's presence nearby) would allow him to relax and write with ease.

It didn't work.

With a sigh, the blonde dropped his pen on the coffee table before placing his elbows on his knees, staring at the scroll that refused to fill with the words he knew had to reach the Hokage. That refused to relay the events and revelations that their C-turned-A-Rank mission had dredged up from the depths of what was arguably hell. His eyes glazed over as he, for what was very well likely past the fiftieth time since then, remembered his decisions and what he had been prepared to do.

At first, during the mission… He had found his resolve. Originally, he had chosen this delivery mission specifically because if he confronted Obito and something had resulted from said confrontation, Konoha wouldn't be in trouble. It would've also been simple to defend his other two students should the need arise, and he had placed jutsu shiki on both Kakashi and Rin, periodically marking trees and rocks on the way to the outpost as well.

He had been prepared. All that was left was to wait, to observe Obito and to make the final judgement.

Minato had always suspected that Obito had potential, that was certain—the boy wasn't anything particularly stellar, but with the right motivation—his rivalry with Kakashi—he had improved by leaps and bounds. This was something Minato couldn't take credit for, at least not completely, as he could actually see that Obito was not the idiotic dead last and failure to his clan that so many had pinned him as. This belief had been further impressed in the blonde's mind when Obito had shown such a sudden surge of power less than half a year ago, when he had apparently activated his Sharingan. Worry had overtaken the morbid curiosity that Minato held about the exact extent of his underestimated student's potential, but the question had always lingered in the back of his mind.

That, if he thought about it, was likely the cause of him pushing the confrontation itself to the last minute. Perhaps as a teacher, Minato wanted to believe that his student truly could overcome the boundaries that everyone had limited him to—after all, despite his supposed genius, Minato was also a sort of underdog at a young age due to his apparent lack of valor and charisma (two things he had decidedly floored all his naysayers with, as he "had bravery in spades" as Jiraiya once said). Minato had always had suspicions, some seemingly unfounded and some not, but he had attributed them to his wary Shinobi mind, at the time.

He had always suspected that Obito was powerful, but… To take down a Jōnin-level Shinobi with such ease?

Minato had been deathly worried. He had seen the kunai flying at Rin, and had noticed the until-then concealed chakra signature of yet another Jōnin-ranked foe. Fear gripped him and he was already reaching out to the jutsu shiki he knew were on his two students to block the kunai and counter the fourth Jōnin, but yetanother disturbance had snagged his senses, demanding his attention. He'd been the first to notice when Obito's chakra shifted. And he had watched as the space around the fourth Jōnin seemingly distorted, before the kunai was veered off course and lodged in his throat and the man was suddenly on the ground without legs.

Pure shock could be felt from everyone—everyone except Obito. And Minato himself had no room for shock, as he had turned to watch the Uchiha, realizing that this was what he had been waiting for.

His eyes catalogued every movement, every brief flicker of emotion in the otherwise void expanse within Obito's onyx eyes. He watched the ease the boy contained as he brutally executed the enemy Shinobi, the way he used the perfect amount of chakra and control to burn any traceable evidence of who the Kumo Shinobi once were. It hadn't been overuse or excess of chakra, no, Obito's eyes were too hardened and focused for panic.

He had killed them with a purpose. He had methodically burned any defining traits, wiped away their existences while fully knowing what he had done.

Minato was almost disgusted with himself when he realized that he had inwardly noted the efficiency of his student, the way the raven had thought of such an obscure addition to vengeance for attacking their team. Many died in war, after all, but most were at least catalogued—the way Obito had killed them, there was no hope for any retrieval team to identify them with certainty.

After the one-sided battle—the slaughter, really—Minato had walked up to Obito and placed a hand on the boy's shoulder. It was an action that could be conveyed as worry to Rin, Kakashi, and… The boy himself. But the blonde had to make sure that he could defend his team and subdue an enemy if needed; he had read "Obito's" chakra and found that it was sufficiently drained. It ceased to bother Minato that his Chūnin student had above Jōnin reserves because he had already made his choice the moment he saw the entity reveal those blood-red eyes and kill with them.

Deep down, Minato didn't want to suspect the boy. But there were too many chances to be taken, too many risks if he were to turn a blind eye to the boy's ability. Though small, there had been many, many clues that pointed to "Obito's" potentially harmful presence. Minato had an obligation, and the death of a Jōnin by Obito's hand had been all the blonde needed to make his final decision.

(Because, even though Obito showed no violent tendencies directly towards Konoha, the only real factor that had been keeping Minato from confronting the boy was because he believed that he could kill him if needed. He truly believed that, at the very least, Obito—or whoever it was in his student's body—was incapable of harming them. But he had just proven that he was actually quite qualified to challenge Minato in ability and kill Rin and Kakashi. Even if he had never shown any violent tendencies towards them, he still had the ability. Knowing that he was an unknown, it was a chance Minato could not take.)

Minato had decided to stop running away from (what he had thought to be) the truth. So, he steeled his nerves and confronted the boy.

And yet… What he had found out was not at all what he had expected. He had braced himself for the possibility of betrayal, a spy wearing Obito's face, the possibility that the boy he knew was dead.

In all honesty, Minato had expected the worst, what with the confrontation in the library a while ago. "Why was he studying body-replacement jutsu?" It made him think of the morbid workings of Orochimaru, who always left a cold feeling in the pit of the blonde's stomach—a feeling that was confirmed not too long ago, leading up to the ex-revered Sannin's defection. Not to mention, the Sandaime's revelation to him. It would have made sense, as much as Minato wished it not to, for thisObito to be a mere shell—to be an enemy, a sick, twisted enemy wearing his skin.

But… Time travel?

He had been so shocked by the concept, by the answer the boy had given him—and he hadn't even been given the chance to move on from shock to incredulity and righteous anger. What was he supposed to think?

Part of him rejected the very idea of it, the very concept of Obito being from the future. It was illogical, and possibly one of the most improbable and foolish claims from captured enemy Shinobi since "I have amnesia."

But Minato was a Fūinjutsu master. As such, he had a rather open-minded thought process, and took in multiple kinds of information—literal, factual, potential, figurative, objective, subjective; everything.

If he thought about it, really thought about it, objective mind of a literal thinker aside… It made sense. In a strange, everything-is-full-of-holes manner of speaking.

The concept of a body-snatcher made sense for the sparse evidence provided by the Hokage and Minato's own encounters with Obito, but they had never figured out the Sharingan. There were far too many questions regarding the dōjutsu, but what he had confirmed was that a great emotional burden was needed for the activation of the Sharingan—an immense loss for the Mangekyō, consequently. Why would a body-snatcher suddenly have the most powerful iteration of the Uchiha clan's dōjutsu, when the original owner of the body hadn't even activated the most basic form? They had been minor, seemingly unrelated questions that Minato had dismissed, due to his reluctance to give himself hope. He had found these details too few and inconsequential, and had therefore leaned towards the "body-snatcher" idea, which didn't fit the whole scheme as much as he had originally thought.

But the concept of time travel fit.

After all, why not? Such an outlandish situation, completely out of Minato's—Konoha's—hands, caused by such an outlandish feat supposedly impossible to achieve.

The blonde shook his head, placing his middle and pointer fingers on his brow as he fought back the oncoming headache.

The Kyūbi. A strange, random tangent for his mind to wander off to—until he remembered what the fox said, something that actually wasn't so random and unrelated as he first thought. In the beast's ominous warnings, he had pointed out a "traveler," though this was a detail easily glossed over due to the apparent lack of connection it had to anything compared to his other words.

How wrong Minato had been. How wrong he, Jiraiya, and Kushina had been, for that was perhaps the most stunning revelation of all—however concealed it was. Part of Minato hypothesized that Obito wasn't who the fox was talking about, but he quickly shoved the thought away. What else, who else could the Kyūbi have been talking about? Its words corroborated Obito's own in his confession, as well as his actions. Obito didn't seem to be a threat, and the fox had surreptitiously given support to this idea… But what kind of evidence from a beast of hatred could possibly hold any weight?

He was conflicted. Utterly, completely, devastatingly conflicted; his hopes and his conditioned reflexes battling, his hardened yet weak heart and his trained, Shinobi mind, at an impasse. He was just as confused and without direction as he was conflicted.

Because those who should be his enemies are amicable… And those who should be on his side have unknown allegiances.

But.

The fact stood, that despite all of his warring thoughts and emotions, Minato had brought Obito back to Konoha. Not dead. Not bound. Not sealed. Free.

Even if what the Kyūbi said was not the truth (which, if the blonde were to be perfectly honest, he was starting to believe—his chiding conscience as a Shinobi aside) and even if he still didn't know the full truth behind Obito, he had brought him back. Minato was painfully aware of the fact that, despite his suspicions, he still trusted Obito to an extent.

In fact, the most prevalent emotions in his mind were not suspicion and fear, but… Regret. Hesitance. And disappointment. Not in Obito, not entirely at least—he wished the boy would've told him sooner and told him everything, but he couldn't quite make an accurate judgement until he knew the full truth—but in himself. If he were to accept the concept of time travel…

What had he done wrong? Why did Obito have to suffer so much? He was only grasping at information, but why did Rin die? Why did he die, letting his beloved die as well, and abandoning his remaining two students (who needed guidance and support the most) to fend for themselves?

Minato needed answers, answers that Obito wasn't willing to give—that Minato wasn't willing to attack his student for, again.

He had already done so once, which had been difficult enough to muster up the courage for. To do so again, when he still didn't have solid evidence that Obito was lying, that he was truly a threat… With the possibility of incriminating an innocent? One who happened to be Minato's student? He couldn't do it.

Especially after so many displays of loyalty Obito had shown, that Minato had shoved to the back of his mind after silently passing judgement on the boy during their C-Rank. The most recent, being just before their confrontation.

Obito had glanced at his indisposed teammates—Kakashi and Rin sleeping, Minato's Kage Bunshin feigning unconsciousness—and ran. At the time, Minato had felt seething rage at the cowardice of Obito before correcting himself, saying that he couldn't blame him. After all, it wasn't Obito but some thief wearing the boy's body. He had truly thought Obito had abandoned them.

However. As he thought about it, considering the supposed true mental age of the boy… It was very well likely that Obito had realized that his attacker was after him, that, despite being a supposed unknown enemy, his priority was Obito. And, sensing the danger, decided to move the battle to more neutral grounds in the hope of protecting his teammates.

The blonde couldn't help his traitorous thoughts (but which ones? The ones condemning "Obito," or the ones telling him to trust the boy?) and only found it increasingly difficult to make this judgement, again. Especially when he knew what the next step would be if he went along with the idea that Obito was a threat. Minato wasn't willing to actually subject his potentially innocent student to T&I—and now that the concept of time travel was thrown into the equation, it was very well possible that—even if Obito was innocent—he couldn't give Minato the answers he wanted. Not when regarding something as volatile and precarious as time, when no one knew what repercussions could rebound as aftereffects.

And yet, he still couldn't fully accept Obito, either.

Unbidden, a memory of when Minato had no doubt, no particular worry about his student not being who he was supposed to be surfaced to the forefront of his mind.

"Of course, Minato-sensei," Obito had stated with such an innocent, trusting grin. "And I trust you, too."

With a grimace, Minato sat back and allowed his head to recline back, tightly closing his eyes as though trying to ward away his worries. 'That's just it, Obito,' he thought quietly, his hands balling into fists beside him. 'I… I don't know if I can trust you, anymore.'

"Any reason why you look like you're suffering from the after effects of painful constipation, 'ttebane?"

The only sign of Minato's surprise was an uncontrolled twitch of his eyebrow, before he sat up to regard his wife. Kushina walked over and sat on his left, observing him with a critical eye all the while. "… What's wrong?" She questioned quietly, the teasing tone from earlier gone.

Minato opened his mouth to speak, most likely to say something about being fine for fear of worrying her—but paused, thinking against it. After all, this wasn't exactly a problem he wanted to bring to the Hokage yet, not when the man and the village itself was a major contributor to his overall worry.

"It's about Obito, isn't it?" The blonde felt brief surprise at his wife's insightfulness but the feeling dissipated quickly; though she liked to act the opposite—loud, rambunctious, foolish—Kushina was still a Jōnin, and an individual that, despite not being able to match him perfectly in battle, was still someone he was proud to have by his side.

Especially in cases such as this.

Clearing his throat, he forced himself to relax as he turned to face the scroll before him, not quite able to face the redhead. He couldn't tell her the full truth, he refused to subject her to the likely punishments that would follow if his final decision was to withhold information from the Hokage. If. "… Yeah, it's about Obito." Through his peripherals, he saw her violet eyes narrow. "I… I think I've failed him. He's changed so much, in a way that I can't fully recognize him anymore. It's clear that he's suffered, and because I don't understand—because he just won't tell me, there's a rift. A rift I cannot cross, and I'm at a loss at what to do." He closed his eyes in silent resignation. "… I think it's my fault."

A not-quite-tense but not exactly comfortable silence fell as Kushina stared at him. Minato opened his eyes to stare at the coffee table before him again, resisting the urge to fidget.

"… There's obviously more to this than you're letting on, but… I think Obito is fine, dattebane." The blonde sent her a questioning glance, and it was Kushina's turn to avert her eyes in silent contemplation. "Obito… He's always been a tough boy with strong convictions, always able to pick himself up after a nasty fall. People were never able to see these rare and noteworthy qualities, though, because they were too busy sending him scathing glares and demeaning remarks." She placed a comforting hand on Minato's arm, turning back to him with a small smile. "Even though Obito has changed, I don't think it's necessarily a bad one. He's grown, matured, and his childish antics have become more refined with age and a sharper mind."

A contemplative look crossed the red-head's face. "You've noticed, right? He has this… This determined air about him, and he's even more adamant about defending his loved ones. It was worrying at first, because such strong conviction is usually a result of loss," Minato inwardly noted; yet another small hint in favor of the time travel theory, "but it was unmistakable. The Will of Fire is strong in Obito, however clouded in darkness and sadness it sometimes seems. He definitely could've had a happier childhood, and he should've had a family that loved him for who he was. But he is still strong."

Though Minato saw the conviction in Kushina's eyes, her words hadn't quite worked for him. She seemed to think Minato's worries were completely founded on the idea that he had failed Obito—which, to be honest, were true, but he wasn't worried about how strong the boy was so much as…

"That… It isn't that, I know that Obito is strong—" A fact that he was acutely aware of he noted, inwardly wincing as he remembered their confrontation, "—it's just that he's… Different. He's hiding things, and I just… I don't know what to do anymore. Yes, there is conviction in those eyes, and while I want to believe it is with good intention, I still can't find the exact root of his behavior." He swallowed thickly, his voice falling to a whisper. "I can't tell if he's a threat. And if that were the case… If Obito turns out to be a threat to Konoha…"

Minato wasn't sure he'd be able to handle it.

Yes, he was a Jōnin of Konoha. Graduated from the Academy at the age of ten as the rookie of the year. Promoted to Chūnin not even a year later, he was sent into ANBU not long after that, and was finally given the position of Jōnin at sixteen.

Namikaze Minato was a Shinobi, a trained killer of Konoha, who knew how to kill foes in the most conspicuous of ways, able to assassinate targets and make it home well before anyone was alerted, able to torture information out of even the most hardened of veterans. But he was still a human with a conscience, and just because he had been able to bleed, torture, and kill others with deceptively blank looks—just because the nightmares had long ago stopped being an issue, he still had his morals.

It was one thing to desensitize oneself from killing nameless individuals who he knew had families but he didn't personally know. It was another to commit the same acts against someone one had accepted as a sort of family member.

"… But," Kushina's voice brought the blonde out of his musings, and he turned to her with a tired gaze. She placed her cool, soothing palm against his cheek and stared him in the eyes. "Even though Obito is hiding things, even though he may seem suspicious, is that really so bad? Just because someone hides something doesn't mean it has to be nefarious or with ill-intent."

She sat back, her eyes taking on a far-off look. "After all, think back to the beginning of our relationship. Did we know everything about each other from the get go?" Perhaps sensing his slight confusion, she elaborated. "The Kyūbi. I had kept my status as a Jinchūriki from you because I was afraid. Afraid of being judged and… Hated, by you, for being what other people would call a monster."

Minato opened his mouth to speak, but after a moment, closed it as he considered her words. They made sense, actually, and lifted a bit of the weight of his burden from his shoulders. After all, Obito had spoken about darkness—about how he was tainted, in a distinctly self-deprecating tone. It was a logical deduction that Obito would feel self-conscious about his teacher judging him, if he had ended up being "swallowed by darkness" in the future as he stated.

He felt the return of Kushina's cool palm as she smiled at him. "Shame on you," she chided playfully, her lips curling into an amused smirk. "You shouldn't be having doubts and such dark thoughts, 'ttebane. It's not like you, Mr. Sunshine."

The blonde chuckled as he turned back to the scroll, though it was without real humor. "… I think I know what the issue is. I think that part of me actually hopes that… That he isn't Obito. Hopes that it wasn't Obito who I had threatened, who I abandoned and betrayed." His elbows still resting on his legs, he cradled his head in his hands and sighed. "It was… It was so much easier to accept the idea that it wasn't him, to think that he was an enemy, instead of someone that I cared for, that I had wronged… Someone that I, ultimately, failed."

Another silence fell.

Eventually, Kushina sighed. "… There is a lot, isn't there?" The blonde winced, but nodded anyway. He felt her hand rest on his arm in a reassuring gesture. "Well… If you really fell like you've failed him, then there's really only one thing you can do for him, 'ttebane."

Minato turned to her, his azure eyes staring at her through his unruly bangs. "… What?"

A bright smile formed on her face, her eyes sparkling. "Be there for him of course, silly. Even if he is strong, he is still only human, and there will be times that he needs someone to help and aid him. Be a constant support for him, make sure you are there to listen to him—to help him. Make him understand that, even if he were to enter the darkest time of his life…" Minato was sitting up straight, now, and Kushina's hand drifted down to his own. She intertwined their fingers and a determined glint shone in her eyes. "… You will always be there to help him survive it."

In a moment with his inhibitions cast aside, Minato's eyes widened.

Of course. He had been so focused on what he dreaded, on the possibility of a nightmare come true that he had forgotten. Hadn't he told himself that he would be there to protect Obito, after the boy had tried to kill himself? Hadn't he promised that he would always be there for him, responsibility be damned?

How… How could he have forgotten something so important?

Yes, Obito had shown oddities. Yes, much of what he had done paved the road towards less-than-positive thoughts, especially when placed in the mind of a trained Shinobi. But… trained stubbornness aside, Minato could see that the boy was still Obito, the small actions, the intricacies that were completely Obito, and the attentive, almost obsessively protective manner the Uchiha regarded his team. Minato had been so focused on incriminating evidence that he had shoved aside the smaller details, categorizing them as delusions of his hopeful mind.

A startled, yet relieved and relaxed—when was the last time he had felt uninhibited mirth like this?—laughter burst from him, even as a curious, but slight moisture pricked at the corners of his eyes. He turned to her, smiling ever so slightly as he held her hands in his own. "You've really adopted my team, haven't you?"

Kushina gave a small pout. "Of course! And don't get distracted, you better make it clear to the Uchiha block-head that you are there for him, dattebane." Her features softened into a smile mirroring Minato's own. "He'll need to know that he has someone in his corner."

The blonde's smile grew. "Like you, for me?"

In response, Kushina hugged him tightly, closing her eyes. "Like me for you, and like you for me."

 


 

"Why, Obito?"

The addressed Uchiha turned to the two interlopers that disturbed his reverie.

… Well, actually, he was sitting atop the Hokage Monument—where Minato's face would join the Shodai, Nidaime, and Sandaime Hokage one day—and they weren't trespassing on anything that he wasn't. And he probably should have been relatively thankful—his "reverie" was more like him reliving his darkest parts of his life. So no, it wasn't pleasant, but at least he could stew in disgusting self-pity and anger in peace before the Konoha government descended upon him like the Akimichi to a buffet.

Regardless, he looked at them with an unimpressed look. "Kakashi, Rin. What do you want?"

The brunette turned to Kakashi with a look of nervousness. "See, I knew this wasn't a good idea. He doesn't want—"

Kakashi stepped forward, ignoring Rin's incessant tugging at his sleeve. "What the hell, Obito? Why—"

"We should just give him the time to open up himself—"

"Like that's really worked out!" Kakashi growled, causing the medic-nin to flinch back slightly before she frowned with determination.

Obito merely raised an eyebrow. He was right there.

"Anyway," the silver-haired Chūnin began again, turning to face Obito with narrowed eyes. "I think it's time you told us everything. Why have you been so distant? You don't tell us anything anymore unless forced—you used to tell us everything from your dinner the previous night to your latest prank without prompt—and you're always hiding something!" His shoulders were stiff and frustration was evident, by the pained grimace on his face. "It—It got even worse after the mission. That was two days ago and suddenly you won't even talk to any of us! Just what the hell happened five months ago, and what are you hiding!?"

He demanded it. And for some reason—a reason likely irrational and foolish, that couldn't quite be placed—it bothered Obito.

He was tired of this.

"You have no right to know," he stated bluntly as he shoved his hands into his pockets, turning away from the two of them with a faux disinterest.

Kakashi faltered, and Rin looked to him with wide, confused eyes. "… What?"

The Uchiha sighed, glancing back at them. "Look, Kakashi. You are still burdened by your past. You refuse to talk to anyone about it, to move on, and to actually live in the now."

"Wha…" The Hatake looked positively scandalized, stepping back briefly before taking two steps forward with a glare. "Th-This isn't about me, this is about—"

"Like I said," Obito interrupted, turning to face Kakashi fully. "You don't have a right to know. As long as you yourself are still burdened by your own past… What makes you think you have a right to know what my problems are?" He snorted. "Why the interest, anyway? You are so good at avoiding your own issues and shoving them aside, it stood to believe that you wouldn't even bat an eyelash at the problems of others."

Kakashi looked at him with a curiously blank look, as Rin looked between them hesitantly. Realizing that he probably wouldn't get an answer, Obito shrugged and turned around, planning to find another place to fall into his thoughts. He couldn't remain here, obviously, because two of the contributors to his worries were there. He couldn't return home—to Minato and Kushina's apartment—because of the exact same reason. Obito tilted his head up at the sky, debating his options. He could go to the Forest of Death considering very few people went there, or, he could even slip out of Konoha and linger in the surrounding forests, as he would have fewer worries about encountering someone he didn't wish to talk to. Oh, but an even better idea was to go into his Kamui dimension, as he was the only one capable of accessing it in this time—

"DAMNIT!" Obito jumped slightly at the voice, and turned to see Rin just as startled, and Kakashi seething—staring pointedly at the ground. He'd never seen the boy so blatantly angry like this, before. Irritation, yes, boredom, yes, reticence, definitely. Hatake Kakashi had always been the type to hide his emotions and keep them on a tight leash, but this…?

"Fine. Fine, you want to know? You want to know about my past!?" He shouted, once again startling the other two with the raw, unrestrained emotion in his voice. "I was scared, Obito, I was scared. This—this team, it was—no, is—my constant, what keeps me grounded. But you, you changed, you were never supposed to be the type to just give up like that. You guys are my—my e-escape," he choked on the words and sneered, "from my past, from the haunting memory of Hatake Sakumo, who was a fool an idiot, and a fucking coward. Team Seven keeps me balanced, always has."

He looked up, his piercing gaze locking with the Uchiha's. "So why…? Why… Why did you have to change? Why did you have to ruin…"

Obito stared at his two teammates with wide, baffled eyes. Kakashi's shoulders were stiff, with a slight, fearful tremble to them—and never had the boy seemed so…Fragile. His eyes were slightly shadowed by his bangs, and though he wore his usual mask, the time traveler could see the lines of stress and barely repressed emotions written so clearly on his face. And as usual, Rin… She was caught in the middle—at a complete loss of what to do to placate her two volatile teammates, despite her constant efforts to be the glue to bind them and keep the peace.

This breakdown hadn't occurred last time, but who was to say it wouldn't have? In his eyes… In Uchiha Obito's eyes, Kakashi was always a goal, a wall to be overcome. Hatake Kakashi was his rival, the near-insurmountable rookie of the year in his grade, that was a prodigy through and through, destined for greatness as a powerful Shinobi. But underneath it all, he was still human, still a boy, and terribly, terribly lost.

Maybe if he had been more open-minded. Maybe if he had paid more attention to his teammates. Maybe if he had been more receptive to his teammates, Obito couldn't help but think, then maybe he could have made Kakashi see the truth sooner, something that only his death had managed to do, previously. (Because he always thought that what truly made his stubborn, idiotic teammate see the truth wasn't his words so much as the impression his own death had left. Because out of everyone of their year and age, Kakashi was the most likely to take the words of a dead person to heart.)

Shaking his head, Obito made his way back over to his teammates and gestured pointedly to the ground. They looked at him with questioning gazes. "Sit," he commanded lowly, but without threat. Gently.

Though confused, Rin sat down, and Kakashi followed reluctantly. Obito sat cross-legged as well, frowning when the silver-haired Chūnin ducked his head lower so that his eyes were completely concealed by his unruly hair.

The Uchiha couldn't help the faint grimace that formed on his countenance as he read his friend's body language. He had always known that Kakashi was a broken sort of individual—he had spent his years as Madara's shadow knowing this, watching, sneering in disgust at the weakness the then aged adult displayed so openly at the memorial stone. It had started with his own apparent "death," then Rin's, and the crushing blow to Kakashi's already unstable self were the deaths of Minato and Kushina.

It appeared that, even before that particular chain of events… Kakashi had broken even before that. From the death of his father, Hatake Sakumo.

An understandable result, considering his age at the time—he was six, and though a genius, he wouldn't have understood the reasons behind his father's ultimate choice.

Now wasn't the time for Obito to stew in his own feelings of self-pity and regret, he realized. He could do that another time, when it wouldn't affect his team. They needed him right now, and he sure as hell would be there to help for as long as he was able.

"… You know, your father was a hero to me," he finally began, causing the other two Chūnin to look up at him. Kakashi's gaze, which was despondent just mere seconds ago, suddenly had a sharp, bitter glint to it. "Willing to sacrifice a mission in order to save his friends; he saved many, many families from having to grieve over their loved ones in that regard."

Kakashi stiffened. "… He broke the rules. He was shunned for it, and then he committed suicide to escape the negativity! He was just a coward, who couldn't put his own guilty conscience aside and do the right thing—"

"Do you think what he did was wrong?" Kakashi opened his mouth to reply in affirmative, but halted the automatic reaction when he saw the steady, unflinching gaze of his teammate. "Do you really think that, Kakashi?"

The Hatake was stunned, from surprise and from the no-doubt confusing line of questioning. He was unable to answer. "… I don't think he was wrong," Rin began quietly, and the other two Chūnin turned to her. She fisted the material of her skirt in her hands. "I… I think I would have made the same decision, if I were in his position."

"But a Jōnin of Konoha has a duty," Kakashi bit out irritably, inciting a flinch. "He was made the leader of his mission, and he was entrusted with the task of seeing the mission through to the very end, no matter the casualties. He didn't, deciding to save the lives of the others—who would have gladly laid down their lives for the village—all because he was too damn weak to make the right decision."

"Even though we're Shinobi, we're still human!" Rin shouted with force, surprising Obito slightly. "Your father, he made a sacrifice so that his team wouldn't have to. I can't… I can't imagine what would happen, if…" She swallowed, eyes suspiciously damp. "If I were left here, and found out that you two and Minato-sensei died… I…"

Both Kakashi and Obito sat in shock as their team's medic burst into tears, helplessly attempting to wipe away and hide the result of her own emotional breakdown. The Uchiha recovered quickly, however, and cradled Rin in a comforting embrace as he turned to regard the Hatake.

"Do you see, Kakashi?" He mumbled, not quite making eye contact. "Like Rin said, we're still human, and because of that we have emotions. No Shinobi can truly kill off their emotions."

"What… What are you talking about…? The best Shinobi know how to kill off their emotions!" Kakashi shouted through his shock and hesitation, a hint of unrestrained panic in his tone. "The best can turn into heartless machines, tools, to carry out their tasks with utmost efficiency—"

"Kakashi," Obito interrupted, pinning the boy with a stern glare. "Listen to me. Those who break the rules are trash, but those who abandon their comrades are even worse than trash."

"But… But, the rules—"

The time traveler gave a bitter smile, the action alone being enough to halt Kakashi's words. "Because what's the point of fighting if we abandon our comrades? Abandon the people we care about? Yes, we Shinobi carry out our tasks for the good of Konoha—but Konoha is not just a village, but everything we wish to protect. We fight to defend our loved ones, our home, our families. If we abandon them, then we have nothing." He watched the silver-haired Chūnin for a moment before continuing. "So tell me, do you really think the rules are so damn important? Would you be willing to sacrifice my life, Rin's life, and Minato-sensei's life to obey yourrules?"

A look of utter horror and morbid understanding crossed Kakashi's face as he fully understood the implications. "N-no, I wouldn't, I, I—"

Not allowing him to finish his statement, Obito grabbed Kakashi's arm and pulled, forcing the boy into an awkward tangle of limbs that constituted as a "hug." He watched with bemusement as Rin pulled Kakashi into the hug as well, obvious tear marks on her cheeks. The Hatake remained completely still, however, a frigid stiffness lining his shoulders.

"We know, Kakashi. Rin, Minato-sensei and I, we know, and we'll always be there for you." He lightly pat both of his teammates on the back, the action somewhat difficult due to them leaning on him. He could feel them both relaxing, though, and it made the action worth it. "Of course, we'll expect you to be there for us, too, when the time calls for it."

When he received no reply, he stared down at the silver hair obstructing a good third of his view, another third blocked by chocolate brown. "… Oi," he called out with faux disapproval, poking his teammate as he did so. Kakashi tensed. "You will be there for us, too, right?"

After a moment, the third of Obito's vision obstructed by silver shifted, indicating that the boy nodded.

Obito realized, then, that he was more or less stuck where he was. Rin had her arms around both Obito and Kakashi, at least half of her weight against the former. The latter was much the same, only his arms rested limply by his sides, clearly refusing to participate fully in the impromptu act of intimacy, despite having clearly needed it.

The time traveler sighed. Even though there were other things he felt he had to do, he decided that he'd let his little teammates have this moment. After all, it wasn't as if he hated it or found it unpleasant. No, he rather enjoyed it, in fact—it was a little strange, certainly, considering he had minimal positive contact with anyone for the latter two-thirds of his previous life, and even as a little tyke, he wasn't exactly a beloved child. But it was still an enjoyable experience.

Obito smiled sadly, his eyes drifting up to the cloud-less sky. It was the least he could do for them, to provide them this brief comfort. Especially since he had a feeling that it was going to be one of the last things he'd be able to do for them.

'I know, but please. Don't take this away from me just yet.'

He echoed the words in his mind to no one in particular.

'Just a little longer.'

 


 

Obito returned "home" well after the sun had set, that night.

He hadn't wanted to infringe on Minato and Kushina's time at home, so as he had been planning earlier, he made for his Kamui dimension to meditate. Instead of allowing his emotions to take hold of him again, however, he planned and structured potential outcomes of the future.

Over and over, he went over the possible scenarios that would follow after confronting Minato once again. He could remain for as long as necessary, and he wouldn't mind being placed in the hospitality of T&I—only, he would leave as soon as a Yamanaka was brought into the equation. He wanted to remain in Konoha for as long as possible, but as he had resolved before, he could not let Konoha become too involved.

So, he mulled over the likely outcome of him becoming a missing-nin once again. He contemplated faking his death, or claiming to be a body-snatcher (as was the apparent popular belief) in order to selfishly keep his own name clean. What he would do after that he wasn't entirely certain, but it went along the lines of hunting down Orochimaru to halt his experiments and plans, going to Madara and killing the man, and as for Kaguya…

… Well, Obito wasn't quite sure about her little shadow. All he knew was that Madara had thought he "created" Black Zetsu during the time traveler's stay, but that was something that clearly wasn't the case. What Obito didn't know was what Black Zetsu had done prior to that. He highly doubted the being had truly stayed in the Jūbi's husk for the thousand years since Kaguya's sealing, and the thought worried him.

Regardless, after deeming that an acceptable amount of time had passed, he left the confines of his dimension and returned home.

Obito, with minimal usage of chakra and with utmost caution, entered the homely apartment through the window. He briefly scanned the perimeter for movement before nodding to himself, deeming it safe to make his way to his room—

"Obito."

The addressed Uchiha started, not having expected—or sensed—the man walking over to him. He eyed Minato with a wary sort of caution, and his gaze was returned with a grim look. "If I could have a word."

Forcing down the near automatic wince, Obito nodded mechanically. He didn't want to hear it. He really didn't want to hear it, and he had dared to hope that the confrontation wouldn't happen—after all, it had been two days, a much longer span of time than he had expected. He didn't want his peace to shatter, and yet…

He sighed, an understanding resignation taking place in his eyes where caution once lingered. He didn't know what his fate was—whether or not he was going to be tried, executed, exiled… He didn't know. Whatever was the case, he still had tasks to accomplish, loose ends to tie. If he was to be imprisoned, then he truly had no choice but to become a missing-nin.

Obito repressed the snort that threatened to sound at the thought. How ironic. Just as the Kyūbi had said, he came to the past, but he was simply reliving his unhappy life, even if it was in order to dispose of the threats to the people he cared for.

He was getting ahead of himself, however, and he wasn't sure what was going to happen. They were simple musings of what could, but could he be blamed? He refused to get his hopes up, and it was safest—for his already fragmented mind of questionable sanity—to simply assume the worst.

That thought in mind, he lifted his wrists, his eyes glued to his hands, and he missed the raised eyebrow from the blonde.

"… I understand," Obito stated quietly, thinking that the prospect of imprisonment was becoming more and more plausible—something he couldn't quite judge if its rate of chance was due to his own clouded mind or the truth. The plan, however—he would stay in Konoha, just until the point where a Yamanaka was needed. "Just… Before I'm tried, before my sentence is handed out, I would like to have one request." He scowled in displeasure at the slight wavering of his voice, not noticing how both of his sensei's eyebrows were raised. 'Calm down,' he thought harshly. "I would appreciate it, if for just one day… Can all of you—"

pretend that we're still a team?

It was a request he knew wouldn't be fulfilled, especially if his next destination was T&I or prison. Still, it was worth a shot to ask—not to mention, he wanted one last day with everyone of Team Seven, the Team Seven that he remembered so clearly. Kakashi, the cold but secretly caring bastard. Rin, the kind girl that was always unfortunate enough to get caught between the spats created by her two teammates. Minato, the powerful, revered Jōnin that all three of the Chūnin looked up to with great respect, admiration, and care. He didn't want his last memory of Team Seven as a whole to be the tense atmosphere of all of them avoiding him.

In reality, however, he wasn't even able to complete his meager request, as two strong hands clapped down on his shoulders and he flinched, eyes wide when they met Minato's. "Stop."

The word—command, really—caused Obito to do just that. In fact, he was fairly certain he stopped breathing for a moment, waiting to hear the man's judgement.

"You… You are just…" Minato mumbled, and the time traveler braced himself with each word spoken. The blonde seemed to notice this, as he shook his head and sighed, before relinquishing his hold on Obito's shoulders and placing a hand on the boy's head, instead. "Stop, Obito. You are over-thinking things. I'm not going to drop you in T&I."

Onyx eyes blinked with thinly veiled astonishment as Obito regarded the man—his eyes spoke the truth, and there was even underlying… Remorse. 'Misplaced,' he couldn't help but think. Instead of voicing the thought, he settled for a neutral question. "… What do you mean?"

Minato stared at Obito, and for a moment the latter's eyes darted as he catalogued the possible escape routes. The blonde's sigh interrupted his calculations, and he suddenly found himself being led over to a chair in the living room. Minato had him sit down as he himself took a seat on the couch, gaze unmoving.

"… If I were to be honest," Minato began, interlacing his fingers as he sat back, "I'm not quite sure what I mean either. But what I can say with certainty is that I believe you."

The time traveler shoved aside the relief and hope that the words instilled and narrowed his eyes. "That's rather different from what you were saying before, sensei. What exactly chang—"

"I'm not playing this game with you, Obito." Minato was slightly tensed and his words cut like steel, a certain edge to his tone—stern, but lacking in an actual threat. He relaxed minutely, a wry smile forming on his lips. "… Though, I understand your hesitance to believe someone that had almost killed you less than a week ago."

Bitter. Regretful. These words were what Obito felt described the tone his sensei used. Minato relaxed fully, perhaps forced, and gave a more genuine smile. "It may be strange, but I… I believe that you are a time traveler now, Obito. But I need you to understand, others won't without hard evidence—" The Uchiha stiffened at this. "—so we will need a Yamanaka to perform a mindwalk to verify all that you have said."

"Why?" Obito questioned with a forceful tone.

Minato gave a faint grimace. "Obito, it is a necessary procedure for future preparation, even though I knew you wouldn't be receptive to it. We can ask a friend of mine, Yamanaka Inoichi, to handle the procedure. He wouldn't be bound to go to the Hokage with whatever he finds immediately, giving us a window of time, and—"

"No." At his forceful tone, Minato went wide-eyed for a moment before all emotion was wiped from his features—by now, Obito knew to be worried about the look. He quickly added, "I have a—there's a reason why I haven't told you, or anyone, everything in explicit detail." No there isn't, not really. It's just fear. "It's dangerous, and it could speed up certain events that we are not prepared for. But I will tell you—and whoever else needed—everything I can, eventually."

He chanced a glance at his sensei, who was still terribly unreadable. The only clear sign of what was possibly going through the man's head was the way his fingers had the slightest twitch—as though he were forcing them to remain on his lap, to remain relaxed.

'… Ah, I get it, now,' Obito though quietly, turning his eyes back to azure. It wasn't that Minato trusted him, but he believed that he was a time traveler. Emphasis on the fact that he was not from the current time period. Minato, through some means, had found solid evidence to prove Obito's status—apparently evidence that could not be shared—but did not have evidence on his loyalty. So naturally, the man was still guarded.

Obito released a quiet huff of breath. He was given an opportunity, and it would be foolish to throw it away because of simple cowardice. He could give the truth to alleviate the man's worries and clear himself to an extent, simply… Concealed.

"Konoha is in no immediate danger," he started quietly, surreptitiously measuring Minato's reactions through his peripherals. "Unfortunately, most of what I know pertains to a far off future, and I can't remember much from this time. I never was the most attentive as a child, and as a result, I don't have much to report in that regard." His voice was punctuated with a higher volume. "As far as I know, Konoha is in no danger."

It was a minor threat, one veiled as concern and truth. As far as he knew, Konoha was in no danger. However, should his hand be forced, should he divulge the events of the future, and should anyone make a move to change said future… The safety of the village could not be guaranteed. It was a flimsy warning at best, but time was a fickle concept; untested and unknown. Volatile. Obito knew that Minato was a cautious-enough man to know—unlike a certain progeny of his—that prudence was actually rather important.

For a few brief moments, Minato continued to assess him, look for any hint of lies, concealed truth, nefarious means. He relaxed slightly shortly afterwards, but an almost sorrowful expression settled on his features—something the time traveler had not expected.

"You know, that… That doesn't tell me much."

Obito couldn't tell if the sorrow was aimed at the sparse information or at him. And he couldn't tell if, in the case it was aimed at him, it was the sort of, "your argument is too sparse to save your guilty ass," or, "it's unfortunate that our source from the future has so little information that could aid Konoha," or of a more relatable background.

Unbidden, Obito's guard fell and he stared at Minato with near-lifeless eyes, clouded so with resignation that he didn't notice the near imperceptible flinch the blonde gave at the look. He was tired. Very, very tired, so much so that he couldn't even find the motivation to keep up his usually automatic facade, his mask.

Physically and emotionally, he was completely drained. He had spent much of his previous life surrounded by enemies, constantly needing to look behind himself to ensure he wasn't given an untimely end. At the time, that had been his own choice—he had decided that the world was cruel and needed to be made anew. He had abandoned all hope of conforming to the real world, and had decided to place his hopes in an illusionary, fake world. And now, when he came back to the past, now that he had a new resolve to try and save the people he cared for… He was still alone. A fact he couldn't even quite bring himself to feel doleful about, as all that he truly felt was an immeasurable void where emotions likely should have been.

Movement caught his eye, and he looked back up to see his sensei leaning on his knees, staring at the ground. "I… I understand." The words hadn't brought relief as Obito had expected, but a strange amalgamation of regret, hope, and disappointment. Bittersweet. "There is nothing you can do if you can't remember, but… This isn't a demand, and I understand if you do not wish to say. I understand if it isn't my place to ask, but… Please. If you can. Tell the truth now, what happens in the future, what events you keep referencing, and what happens to Rin, Kushina, myself, Konoha—everything."

Obito simply stared. He understoodHis place to ask?

Minato sighed, no doubt taking the Uchiha's incredulous silence as something else. "If what you're worried about is confidentiality, you don't need to worry. I have no intention on telling the Hokage everything that I learn."

His words incited a feeling of discontent, and Obito couldn't mask his skepticism. "Why?"

The blonde smiled—a radiant, cheerful look that the time traveler hadn't seen in what felt like an eternity. "Because I want to trust you, Obito. You are earnest with your words, and… And you aren't a threat that needs to be reported. Sure, the circumstance of encountering a time traveler is something that would be reported immediately, but…" He shrugged casually, all traces of the earlier tension gone. "Some things are worth a little insubordination, in my opinion."

Minato's words… They gave hope. It was all Obito could truly say about them, and he felt as though he actually had a chance, that there was still a distinct possibility of him being happy, living in Konoha with the people he cared for. They gave him a sort of lightness that he hadn't experienced so clearly in a while, and he was greatly thankful for them… But on the other hand—and how Obito cursed his darker thoughts proving him unable to enjoy the moment at face value—a part of him practically screamed at him that he could not leave things as they were.

That he could not quite fit in this world.

The thought baffled him for a moment, but his mind quickly made the connections behind why he felt this way, and why Minato's words had instilled both hope and disappointment.

He wasn't fit for the future, where he was truly nothing more than a cancerous cyst attempting to drag everyone down due to his own selfish ideals. Here, he was a disturbance that set the lives of everyone around him off balance—he disrupted the lives of the people he cared about, and not in the positive manner he had hoped for.

He had made ripples, certainly. That had been his plan all along; to change the tragic past of his team and of Konoha as a whole, to lead everyone to a brighter future.

But that wasn't what happened at all.

No. After all, what was it that he had managed to do? He managed to attract Danzō's attention to Itachi and Shisui far sooner than previously. He had accelerated Orochimaru's defection from Konoha, giving the man even more time to plot and plan for the village's destruction. Certainly, there had been good changes as well, but they were far and few between compared to the monstrosities he had incurred.

Rin, perhaps because of the sudden change he underwent, seemed even more uncertain of herself and her abilities than last time.

Kakashi, who always had a firm grasp on his emotions before, had completely lost it earlier. That was what Obito had been aiming for, thinking it was for the best… But what if it wasn't? What if, somehow, Kakashi's reticence and avoidance of his past was what kept him strong, striving for more power? What if he ended up being underprepared for the future this time, even more so than before?

Even his once, seemingly infallible sensei, the man who had managed to kill his own heart and seal a tailed beast into his own, orphaned son—all because he knew that it was for the good of Konoha—was changed and weakened because of him. The Namikaze Minato he had known, the man he had betrayed, faced off against on Naruto's birthday, battled again during the war was a kind, benevolent leader, and one who understood what his position entailed. But this man, the one sitting before him, was willing to chance insubordination for his student that still had questionable motives?

Obito was not a fool that would fall back into the pattern of rejection, saying that he was not Namikaze Minato because of this, however. Because he knew where the root of the problem rested, and exactly why the man he had so respected changed.

Minato was still Minato. Just as Rin was Rin, and Kakashi was Kakashi was Kakashi. Just as Konoha was the village he had loved, however, tainted by its shadows and destruction it was.

And still, Obito knew that there was no way that Minato would let things escalate as they had previously. He would no doubt make a charismatic, charming Hokage, able to sway even those brainwashed by Danzō's suggestions. The man wouldn't let the citizens of Konoha die, the Uchiha would not be seeing a massacre, and as such, Itachi's family would be safe. Minato's team would be safe. Kushina. Naruto.

Naruto would be safe. Maybe he'd even have a happier life this time, surrounded by the love of his parents and of the village.

The world would move on, continue to live and thrive as it headed for its new future, because it would still have its ray of sunshine: the Child of Prophecy. The shadows would always be there, and there was no need for yet another.

Obito looked into Minato's eyes, bitter resolve displayed plainly as he altered his original plan. He made his decision.

It was time for him to stop running away. It was time to stop ignoring the truth, to stop hiding behind useless falsities and hopes that clouded his mind. He was still far from absolute clarity, but at least he knew of a solution that would keep his coveted world—the real one, this time—untouched.

He had his time to enjoy the illusion of peace and happiness. He had two decades that could have been spent trying to reclaim a happy life on striving for a false dream, and spent almost half a year living the life he had always wanted to go back to. And now… It was time to pay it all back. It was time to stop running away, to accept the truth.

Obito smiled, though it didn't fully reach his eyes. Instead, the conviction from earlier was held, but with sadness and realization residing alongside it. "Thank you, Minato-sensei, but… I still can't tell you. Not yet."

He had once said that he would do anything for his precious people. Anything.

His decision was made. Two birds with one stone, everyone would be solved. He would fall, and he wouldn't be dragging his village down with him.

After all, he'd dodged death for long enough.

'I will die for my precious people.'

Chapter Text

Something was wrong.

Something had happened half a year ago to Obito, and she simply didn't know what. She didn't mind not knowing; if he wished to tell her then fine, if he wished to keep his secrets, she could accept it. She wanted to know, though, considering the shocking darkness that had taken residence in him after the Incident—and even now, she could still remember how panicked Minato had been when he relayed the events to her.

Outwardly he had been calm, as though speaking about the weather, but she could feel the agitation and worry ever-present.

Kushina frowned, glaring down at her half-finished seal. After a moment of contemplation, she set aside her brush and stood up, stretching out the kinks in her back with a relieved sigh. She headed out of her room, planning on getting some fresh air as she stewed in her thoughts.

The darkness in the Uchiha's eyes had never abated completely ever since the Incident half a year ago. She had been more than ecstatic when Minato suggested Obito move in with them, even if was only out of duty (since the boy no longer had an apartment, and due to the nature of what occurred it was highly likely landlords across Konoha would refuse him for a good while).

Kushina had never been a morning person, but after moving in with Minato, she had found a true joy in waking up with the sun. The feeling only increased when Obito moved in, for each morning she would see the boy (the shadows, the haunted, absent but unguarded gaze she would see as he shook off the last vestiges of sleep) she would also be privy to his changes. The way his eyes naturally brightened, his spirits seemed to lift whenever he saw Kushina and Minato setting up for breakfast, the way his shoulders would relax from their strain as though the weight of grief lifted with each interaction. The same could be said for dinner, and though the red-head hadn't cooked so religiously before, she had made a point to provide the boy with home-cooked meals at least four out of the seven days of the week whenever she was available, if just to see the light return to his eyes.

This set routine started changing, however, when Minato had decided it would be prudent to have her leave the house with him more often.

(And she had been beyond angry, utterly furious and wondering why, why he wanted to distance himself from his own student. Minato had only shook his head, fueling her ire, until she saw his eyes. The look he had—the haunted, sorrowful look that made her question why both her husband and Obito looked like that—prevented her from questioning further, and she had reluctantly acquiesced without another complaint.)

The red-head let out an aggrieved sigh as she walked out of the apartment, brow furrowing in pensive concentration. And then… More recently, that conversation.

Kushina was not a sensor. And yet, (while she was certain he hadn't even realized it) Minato had been releasing chakra waves of distress, and she had ultimately activated the privacy seals within their homely abode to keep from being disturbed. She had been more than a little shocked over her husband's worries, and though he hadn't overtly revealed anything major, she had learned much more in the span of thirty minutes then she had in half a year.

Minato felt like he had failed Obito. Something drastic had happened during their supposedly simple C-Rank, and for whatever reason, Minato was suspecting the young boy.

Kushina had gently told him exactly what she thought about that, giving her own opinion with advice that the blonde sorely needed. Because, for all the genius, experience and intelligence the man contained in spades, he still had his moments where the opinion of another was needed.

After their conversation, Minato had gone stock still, and she had looked at him with a frown, watching as the gears turned in his head. She tentatively asked him what was wrong, and had been rather shocked when he had all but demanded that he see the fox.

She didn't know why he did, but she had acquiesced anyway—protested when he said he wished to speak to it alone, but acquiesced anyway—and he entered her seal.

After all of a minute, she had begun to worry, only amplified when Minato suddenly drew back with wide eyes and labored breaths. Kushina fussed over him, asking if he was alright, if the fox had done anything to him, if he was going to be okay.

Instead, he looked down at the floor, eyes still-wide as he heaved breaths.

"Traveler…" He had mumbled, almost too quietly for her to hear. "The… The traveler… Obito, you really…"

And then, as though possessed, he had wandered away and shut himself in their room. Her worry for her husband was later abated when she caught snippets of his conversation with Obito when the latter returned home (she felt her eavesdropping was valid, and not rude at all in this case) but she had still been left with ample confusion.

The red-head walked down the steps and descended to the street, heading towards the shopping district with her mind still wandering.

She didn't… She still didn't quite understand what was going on, but she could tell that something far greater than a "minor change" had occurred. Because beyond even that ever-present darkness she had seen in Obito, there was a determined, almost fierce urge to protect. Kushina had the distinct feeling that Obito felt he had to protect them, all of them, for some reason besides what was considered normal for a teenaged boy.

Because even with the darkness she often saw in his eyes, the sorrow, the occasional happiness… The only feeling that was constantly there, in his chakra, in his eyes, in his verysoul was that protective spark. The love he felt for them. But it was always so, so…

Lonely.

To say that Kushina didn't like how things seemed to be spiraling out of control would be a vast understatement. She liked that about as much as she liked the almost deliberate distance, whether instinctual or on purpose, Obito had seemed to place between himself and the people that cared for him.

The fact was, she didn't have the full story. She had no intention on pursuing it, for she didn't wish to pressure the boy; she could wait for him to make the decision of telling her. But she still wanted him to trust her, to trust them.

After all, they were all there for him if he ever needed him, but… He didn't seem to understand that.

 


 

The sky was a brilliant shade of deep, summer blue, contrasting with the sparse but stark-white tufts of clouds spread across the expanse.

The wind was crisp and fresh, a cooling relief against the season's natural heat. Though he sat within the safe confines of the building, he could see the powerful rays of the summer sun reflect off of the surface of the pond across the way of the garden, ensconced in tasteful shrubbery and ornaments in the garden, adjusted to provide ample space for a Shinobi's purpose of training without needing to worry about ruining the scenery or destroying the tōrō structures.

It was a beautiful day.

Too much to be spending it in the Uchiha Compound.

Obito sighed, staring blankly to his left at the quaint, well-kept garden from the room he had been escorted to, the tatami doors settled to the sides and inviting the fresh breeze to circulate. He had been notified by an Uchiha messenger that Fugaku wished to speak with him, and though being informed that the clan leader had some business with Obito was much less worrisome than hearing that the elders wished to speak with him, it was still unnerving nonetheless.

Just the other day he had come to his resolution. He had spent enough time readjusting to this time, regaining his strength and previous abilities, and now it was time to finally act. In that regard, this impromptu meeting with the clan head was completely unexpected and unwanted, but he couldn't simply brush off the request—no matter how much he may've wished.

The time-traveler blinked and immediately shifted his posture, fixing his legs under him in a seiza position as the doors to his right slid open.

"I apologize for the delay," Fugaku greeted, bowing his head slightly in greeting as he stepped into the room. His arms were kept under the sleeves of his kimono, as usual. "I was delayed, unfortunately, and I had not fully expected you to respond to my request so quickly."

Obito's eyelid twitched. "That's fine. What was it that you needed?"

The clan leader sat down across from the other, his usual countenance enigmatic with the exception of the ever present frown lines on his visage. His brow was knit ever so slightly, indicating distress or discontent. "… I called you here to discuss about Itachi."

Obito was thankful for the lack of drawn out platitudes, but he didn't appreciate the fact that the older man refused to simply get to the point. He narrowed his eyes slightly and inclined his head, urging the clan head to elaborate.

"The clan," Fugaku began after a moment, and Obito observed a certain tightness form around the man's eyes, "wishes for Itachi to enter the Academy after his 5th birthday."

"… I see," The time traveler replied simply, his fists clenching on his lap. He was surprised to a certain degree, though he didn't outwardly show it. He knew that Itachi had been young when he entered the Academy, but he didn't know the boy was that young.

The clan leader shook his head, his frown deepening. "The Elders have expressed their hopes that, as Itachi's mentor, you would take him out into the field during your team's next excursion to experience what true war is like."

'This must have been what I overheard,' Obito thought wryly with a hint of disgust, his thoughts trailing. He frowned, realizing that this could very well have been how four-year-old Itachi had gained the Sharingan before. He had always heard about it, but he hadn't been too involved with the clan heir—after all, he was merely the black sheep. All he knew was that Itachi had first activated his Sharingan during the war… But was this truly what the council did?

They threw him, a four-year-old, out into the middle of the battlefield?

And as far as he knew, Itachi didn't have any sort of "mentor" previously. No doubt, the boy was literally assigned to a random Genin or Chūnin team and forced out into the wild with his meagre clan training.

"… What are you asking?" Obito inquired lightly, wresting himself from his thoughts. Fugaku wasn't telling him this just to keep him in the know, he was looking for something. Obito just didn't know what, yet.

Fugaku shook his head, a harsh expression in place. "That's what I wish to know. They have demanded that you comply to their request, but as head I refuse to do so as well. You are an Uchiha of blood and they therefore feel that you must obey, but I realize that you are also an outlier that they cannot legally command." His dark eyes shone with a calculating gleam. "I wish to know what it is that you intend on doing."

Obito went silent, gauging the man before him. Uchiha Fugaku, while having been blind in his last years of life previously, was no fool. It was no expression of pride that Obito think this, but the Uchiha blood held natural intelligence and an aptness for strategies, whether on the battlefield or the political realm. Just as they were proficient and powerful weavers of Genjutsu, they could cast shadows of doubt to sway the offending party to their own cause, if the situation called for it.

The fact that Fugaku presented his goal so blatantly would be a cause for alarm to most, but Obito was different. While he hadn't gotten to know the man on a personal level, he could at least see that he had earned the man's obeisance, and that within itself was something he felt should be returned in kind with his own, honest opinion.

"… I mean no offense, Fugaku," he started finally, watching in slight bemusement as that man's eye twitched from the casual address. They were mentally around the same age after all, and the man did level a playing field where they were on even terms. "… But your son is four. Prodigious clan heir with immense potential he may be, to push an impressionable child out into the field of war is foolish with many risks. Itachi is my student and your son, and the future of this clan. If the council was more worried about their future leader's well-being as opposed to their gaudy show of pride and power, then I might have considered it." He shrugged. "As it stands, I refuse to comply with their wishes. Frankly, they can shove their 'demands' up their ass with the damn pole occupying it."

Fugaku's lip twitched upwards a fraction—Obito knew he saw it, the faint hint of amusement. "… You are very certain of this."

The time traveler nodded his head. "Yeah." And it was true, he was. He didn't even need to contemplate the subject, since from both an emotional or objective standpoint the very idea was foolish.

"… About the Elders…"

Obito lifted an eyebrow at the decidedly uncertain expression on the usually dauntless leader's face. "What happened?"

After a moment, Fugaku shook his head. "… It does not matter, at the moment. I shall… Deal with it." Obito wasn't given a chance to try and figure out what the man was planning on "dealing" with, for he continued speaking. "That is besides the point. Now that I have heard your answer, there is one more matter I would like to get to before you leave."

The clan leader closed his eyes, and Obito watched as the minor signs of tensing slowly ebbed away from the man's mien. When he looked back up and opened his eyes, Obito coiled in half-expectation of seeing the blazing red of Sharingan in the place of onyx.

"Have you ever wondered why, exactly, I requested that you be Itachi's teacher? Why I asked you to oversee my son's training?"

Obito considered the question as he held the man's gaze. He hadn't exactly wondered all that much, as he had quickly come to his own conclusions—he had shown a certain level of mastery over his Sharingan, and being the "black sheep" it was highly unlikely that anyone besides Fugaku could manipulate Itachi through him. He nodded, anyway.

After a brief moment, Fugaku turned to the open garden, his otherwise unreadable eyes betraying a wistful gleam. "Itachi… Even in infancy, he had shown signs of intelligence well beyond his years. The moment he was born, he did not cry, like most newborns. His eyes were wide and assessing—like that of a lion stalking, observing its prey—as he watched his surroundings and the people around him." He released a sigh, a faint tremble hidden in the quick exhale. "You know how the Elders can sometimes behave. They want respect, they want prestige, and most of all, they want power."

Obito, questioning where Fugaku was going with this conversation, only nodded.

"It has always been a worry of mine, of Mikoto's. As the firstborn of the clean head, Itachi had more eyes on him of the calculating variety than any parent would ever want. And yet, as the leader of the Uchiha, I had a responsibility to the clan—to my family, to my wife and son certainly, but to the clan as well. They wished to exploit Itachi's genius and push him to great heights, all in order to elevate the Uchiha status." His eyes dimmed slightly. "… I could not, can not refuse them."

Fugaku turned back to Obito. "That did not mean that I could not take certain measures against them, that I could not exploit certain loopholes they unwittingly provided. They wished for a killer, a powerful tool to be used by the clan. They wanted Itachi to be placed under the tutorship of an experienced Shinobi, one who could introduce Itachi to the truths of our vocation and groom him to be the perfect, charismatic heir. For my son, for the born genius that had a target on his back the moment he was born… I wanted him to have someone wise and powerful to instruct him, yes. But I also wanted him to have someone he could look up to. Someone that could understand him, guide him, protect him from the clan and its tainted ideals." He paused, closing his eyes before shaking his head. "Our tainted ideals."

Obito eyed the Uchiha leader warily. It was never a good sign when an Uchiha was this open with his or her thoughts—he would know. "… I… I am thankful you chose me, which I expressed the day you proposed this idea." He paused, frowning at the distinctly (and strangely) emotional yet formal air. "But, if I may, is there a purpose to…?"

His wariness only grew at the small hints of wry amusement that graced Fugaku's face. "At first, I had been wary. Certainly, you were the primary choice, with your full mastery of the dōjutsu and disconnection from the clan's rules. But I was still unsure."

"When we had first met years ago, I thought you were nothing but an immature nuisance that tainted the Uchiha name, a foolish disgrace without an ounce of hope for improvement." Obito's hand twitched at the blatant, rather rude comment, but remained quiet. "I thought that you would prove to be a brash and insufferable brat at an older age, incapable of doing the most menial of tasks, and I admit that I feared this behavior would reflect on my son."

A few moments of silence passed before the time traveler realized Fugaku was waiting for an outward response. There really wasn't much he could reply with; if he were to be completely honest he preferred his own childish antics to the pole-up-ass syndrome that most of the Uchiha had… But there was an element of truth to the man's words. So, Obito nodded.

He tensed when the clan leader laughed, something so outlandish and strange that Obito struggled to keep the incredulous look off of his face. Though it was a subdued sort of laugh, sounding more like a quiet huff, the mirth in Fugaku's eyes was unmistakable. "This is precisely what changed my view of you. You had proven your knowledge, true aptitude, and much wiser outlook to me. You may not have been a born genius, but you are someone that has an uncanny understanding of what goes on around yourself, offensively and politically, to a degree that could rival most if not all Jōnin. It is precisely because you are not a genius, however, that makes you the perfect teacher and role model for my son." By now, Fugaku's expression had settled back into his usual, impassive gaze, though it was clearly without the condescension that Obito knew the man was capable of. "You are not a power-hungry elder looking for a new tool to your arsenal. You are not an ignorant boy with too much power and responsibility. And you are most certainly not a weak child that is far too reliant on others. Instead, you are someone whose knowledge and actions speak of experience and hard work, as opposed to inherent genius."

His eyes held a glint of strange, unequivocal understanding, and Obito couldn't help but wonder if somehow, the man knew. It was an impossible thought, and quickly dismissed.

"You are someone that could guide Itachi in the practical, Shinobi-applied arts, of course, but also in living a fulfilling life. That was my main purpose in appointing you as Itachi's teacher. For all of his prodigious tendencies, the boy needs someone to look up to that will allow him to behave as the child he is, not a teacher looking to train the next weapon of the Uchiha clan."

Obito stared at the clan leader with an impassive gaze, but inwardly was a different story.

He had made plans for Itachi and Shisui previously, thinking he could train them and use them for his ambitions. At the time, he hadn't really considered it, and at this point, he had completely forgotten about that idea until now.

They were young, that much was obvious. The fact that Uchiha Fugaku understood this, the man that Obito had once thought was a major instigator of the Uchiha's foolish coup, made the choice simple enough. Besides, he had been planning on embarking on this endeavor on his own when he made his decision, and even if he did acquiesce to taking Itachi with him on his next mission, and said mission happened to be the Kannabi Bridge one… The boy would be little help, at this point.

He would not involve Uchiha Itachi or Uchiha Shisui in his scheme.

The time traveler blinked, realizing that the clan head was staring at him. "Well, er… I… I don't really know what to say, to be honest." He scratched the back of his head as the full weight of the Fugaku told him slammed into him. "I appreciate the praise, Fugaku-san, thank you. I will continue doing my best to teach Itachi."

Obito himself didn't catch his accidental change of address this time, but Fugaku did, his eyes holding faint amusement. "… Well, I'd prefer if you didn't continue teaching my son the more colloquial terms that are apparently in your vocabulary."

Obito paled.

Fugaku stood up, turning to walk towards the engawa. "It is unnecessary for the heir of the clan to have such words in his arsenal at this age." He paused just before he disappeared past the shoji screen, inclining his head slightly. "Thank you for your time, Obito. I must be going now, please see yourself out."

And then he left.

"… Hell." Obito mumbled irritably, standing up to leave. The minute twitch of his mouth belied his ire, and he shook his head.

They were worth protecting too, he realized.

Chapter Text

"How do you feel about being the last Uzumaki?"

Obito watched as Kushina turned around to him, eyes wide, her hand frozen mid-stir.

He had been rather thankful when he had seen a return of the homely normalcy he associated with living there, but he couldn't afford to dawdle more than he had before. He had no idea when the Kannabi Bridge mission would come up; he remembered the exact date it had before, but it was possible that the date changed this time around. There was an even higher possibility that their team wouldn't even receive the mission, a worry he found his mind revisiting often, to his irritation.

'I'll just find another mission close by,' he reminded himself constantly. He could figure something out to get them close to Madara's hideout to infiltrate, or he could fake his death in the case of it being another mission. He had to get there before Madara somehow found someone else to carry out his plans. Before Black Zetsu made its move, if it hadn't already done so—and as the day crept closer and closer, Obito found himself cursing himself for never questioning the being whenever it went off on its own. He had so foolishly assumed once before that, because it was Madara's will, it wouldn't do anything that wouldn't coincide with their plans.

But it isn't Madara's will.

No. For now, his priority was Madara. There were few individuals who could successfully become the Jinchūriki of the Jūbi, him being one of them—as long as Madara was taken out of the picture, not only would Black Zetsu's plans be halted for a good while, but Madara wouldn't be able to find some progenitor to carry on his goal of gathering the bijū. Entering Madara's hideout, killing the man and storing away the Gedō Mazō statue in his Kamui dimension. That was the plan.

Obito turned his attention outwards again, watching Kushina as she blinked in confusion and grasped for words.

His question had a reason behind it. His plan had been in the works for a while, but he had finalized it recently—only, there was a certain detail he had yet to determine, one that would be decided depending on Kushina's reply.

He could store the Gedō Mazō statue in his dimension, and he would be relatively safe from anyone using the husk for nefarious purposes.

But Nagato still had Madara's Rinnegan.

Ideally, it would be easier to kill the boy and destroy the eyes or simply extract the Rinnegan to destroy them and leave the red-head blind, and then Obito's only gamble would be on the off-chance someone else later on manifested the dōjutsu. But he had found out about Naruto's compassion towards the two Ame-nin, towards Nagato, who held Uzumaki blood as strong as Naruto's. If only because that boy had been the one to save him, Obito would give the red-head a chance.

And now, Nagato's fate was held in the hands of a relative that didn't know he even existed.

Kushina's mouth set in a grim line and she turned back to her pot of soup stock, her eyelids weighing heavily. "I… It's just…" She released a disgruntled sigh, pulling her hair out of her face with a hairband in a quick movement. "I'm over it. Really, I am. Uzushio will always have a place in my heart, but Konoha is my home now."

She resumed her stirring, a tad bit over-zealous, a frown marring her features. Obito watched as her shoulders eventually relaxed, and she paused, reaching out for a container of spices.

Eventually, she sighed. "… Both Minato and I are orphans, as you know." He nodded, eyes never leaving her as she continued to absently put together the night's dinner. "I know I shouldn't wish for it. I know it's stupid to continuously grieve over what happened years ago, but… But I just wish that Minato and I had more family, y'know? But being orphans, we kinda don't. I mean, you guys are like family, but… It sucks, 'ttebane."

"Why?" He prodded, watching as Kushina's movements gradually stopped to a complete halt.

She turned to him, a sad smile on her face. "Because… I know what it's like, not having a family. Minato knows this, too. Even though we'll be there… It just won't be the same. Because one day, when we have a kid…"

It had a bit of a twisted gamble, one with fixed stakes, on his part. He already knew what Kushina's answer would be, as it was natural for the sole survivor of a massacre to wish to family again. Perhaps he had wanted verification for this act, so he couldn't forgive himself.

He inwardly shrugged. Nagato got to keep his life.

A timer dinged, a high-pitched bell, and Kushina's eyes widened as a grin split her face. "Done!" She quickly turned off the fire and placed a lid over the bubbling soup stock, glancing to the wall clock.

Obito was still in his thoughts. There was something else he needed to discuss with Kushina, but he didn't quite know how to breach the subject. It would certainly be suspicious if he simply went and said, "let me speak to the Kyūbi again because I have a deal with him that needs to be completed!" Yeah, no, he didn't think so.

"… Um, Kushina-neesan?" He started, watching her turn to him curiously.

"Yes?"

His brow furrowed. He was a veritable master of lying, if he were to say so himself, but for some reason he couldn't quite get the appropriate amount of true worry and nervousness required for this. Though he considered it a weakness, he supposed it wasn't necessarily a bad thing that he couldn't find it within himself to completely lie to the woman.

"… I think… I should check your seal again, just in case." She blinked, and he quickly rushed his next words. "I'm worried, I wasn't sure what I did last time and even though you've been healthy lately, I just want to make certain, and—"

Her laughter cut him off, and she plopped down on the chair across from him with mirth in her eyes. "I'm fine, Obito… But I know that's not what you're really thinking about. You want to talk to the Kyūbi again, right?"

Obito froze, but Kushina just continued to smile. "Just because I'm not the best Jōnin in the village or a member of the Sannin doesn't mean that I'm ignorant, Obito. And I'd appreciate it if you treated me at least like an equal—not as some damsel that needs to be protected, dattebane." She flicked him on the nose, her smile growing slightly mischievous. "I couldn't hear what you two were conversing about, but I could sense you in my seal that time. You should've used a better Genjutsu, Obito-kun."

The Uchiha held a hand over his nose, eyeing the red-head warily. She didn't say she had seen him, but… "… You're not surprised, or suspicious? That I want to talk to the Kyūbi?"

Kushina snorted, waving her hand as though batting away a fly. "Please. I wanted to talk to him too. There is something very different about it… Him. He's a lot more amicable than a supposedly hateful spirit is supposed to be."

Obito's eyes threatened to pop out of his eye sockets. "Y-you SPOKE to him!?" He knew there was no threat, knowing that the Kyūbi wanted to make sure Naruto actually existed this time around. It would be kinda shitty for the fox to kill his first friend's mother, after all, especially when said first friend hadn't even been conceived yet. Still, the fact that Kushina had spoken to him and seemingly resurfaced with a casual demeanor as though she had a chat with any other human in Konoha…

Kushina nodded. "Yep. So did Minato and Jiraiya. But anyway, you have something important to discuss with him, right?"

The time traveler nodded, still somewhat flabbergasted. "Er, yeah. Thanks for understanding."

"Sure," she replied easily, but something strange glinted in her eyes. "But I expect an explanation at some point. I don't like being left out of the loop, 'ttebane."

Obito hid a grimace with a smile, knowing that it was a promise he couldn't exactly keep.

He nodded.

 


 

His eyes flickered from the expanse of darkness to the bright beacon of burning, raw energy.

"Kyūbi."

The beast remained silent, though a single, crimson eye met his gaze. He drew himself up, rolling his shoulders and yawning as he reoriented himself. It was almost amusing how domestic the great, formidable fox seemed, and it was all due to Naruto's tempering.

"It's about time, Uchiha."

Obito inclined his head. "… Yes. I had to be certain that the treatment worked, and though I cannot use Mokuton at the moment, the cells have worked to bolster my Sharingan. I ran into a few complications as well, hence, my absence even after I was certain the treatment was a success."

"A few complications?" The fox echoed, gaze never leaving the man. "I assume they are dealt with, considering you are currently here."

The time traveler smiled ruefully. That certainly was one way of putting it; it wasn't as if any amount of words could aptly describe what had transpired in the past week to begin with. "I suppose you could say that." He paused as his thoughts trailed, realizing that he shouldn't allow himself to be distracted. "… That's besides the point. I wanted to ask you for a favor. I don't particularly care when, as long as it isn't immediately, but I would appreciate it if you told Minato-sensei and Kushina-neesan what you know about the future."

The Kyūbi lifted an eyebrow. "And you are incapable of doing so because?"

After a moment, Obito offered a noncommittal shrug. "I might forget. Besides, I can admit that I'm hesitant about facing them and telling them the truth." He looked up at the fox. "You know what I did. Of course I'm going to be scared about repercussions."

He watched as twin slitted-eyes narrowed, speculatively. "… You are lying."

"Why? Is this your distrust of Uchiha speaking? Humans are ants to you, weak creatures that don't know much. Selfish, weak-minded, fools." Obito crossed his arms. "Isn't that right? Whether or not you believe me or not is inconsequential. Can you do it?"

Nine, glowing tails flicked back and forth in the darkness, the only noticeable movement. The bijū released a humorless snort. "… Hmph. If I find it necessary, then I shall. It was not part of our deal, after all."

"Speaking of which, do you have it?" Obito questioned, feeling vaguely as though he were making a deal in the shadows. In the metaphorical sense. Because it certainly was dark in the confines of the seal.

The Kyūbi nodded, and reached out with clawed hand. Obito abruptly jumped out of the way when said hand slammed down on the ground where he had been standing.

"What the hell!?" He spat, glaring up at the fox. "Is this your way of saying that the deal is off?"

The nine-tailed beast only stared at him with a slitted gaze. "… No. It was a test."

Obito stared at him, incredulity plain to see. "A test for what, exactly?"

His question received him an amused snort. "It does not matter. Get back over here, I'll give you the chakra." When the Uchiha did not move, he snarled. "There is no cage keeping me at bay. If I truly wished you dead, human, then you would've departed from this plane long ago."

Obito couldn't argue with that logic. He leapt back over to the fox, still observing it with keen eyes as it reached over to him once again. He closed his eyes when felt the vaguely familiar sage chakra engulf him as the transfer took place.

"… You had been right, to a degree." The time traveler cracked one eye open to watch the fox. "You were correct, that I had residual traces of the Rikudō chakra, but you were wrong regarding where it came from. Any that had been absorbed by me from interactions with Hagoromo would have dissipated after so many years. However, I could still feel residual traces of when I had been merged with the other bijū to become the Jūbi."

The Uchiha started. "So it's chakra from an event that hasn't occurred yet? We can assume that you're the Kyūbi from the future, then, right?"

The fox blinked owlishly. "… I had thought that particular subject was to be forgotten."

Obito opened his mouth to reply, but paused. The bijū had a point; now was not the time to be discussing theories on time travel and the like. He coughed into his fist. "… Right. Anyway, if the chakra is from when you were the Jūbi, can't you create your own Six Paths Sage chakra, then? What makes the individual bijū incapable of producing it if the complete Jūbi could?"

The fox shook its head. "I wouldn't know, and I don't care to find out. I trust few to handle that chakra, and I myself am not one of them—my own chakra is volatile enough."

"… And you trust me?" The question was stated with minimal, but still present, skepticism. His reply was a not-quite-derisive scoff.

"Not exactly, no, but there are worse individuals that could handle it." He withdrew his hand, and stared at the raven-haired man. "… Well?"

Obito performed a quick scan of his coils and frowned. The lack of the Rinnegan did not go unnoticed by him, either. "… I do not feel different, and I don't have the Rinnegan. What is going on?"

"Even Madara was not able to activate the dōjutsu immediately. It is impossible to know when, and if, the legendary eyes will ever form."

Obito scowled, flexing his hands. "That is… Fine, then. Not optimal, but I can live with this."

The fox took on a contemplative expression. "… This is what I had meant by 'other factors' the last time we spoke. It is likely that the small portion of sage chakra I've given you isn't enough. There is something else you're missing, that your 'vessel' is lacking in."

"You mean, Madara's chakra."

The Kyūbi nodded, but Obito had already fallen into his thoughts. He had subjected himself to the cell treatment, and thanks to the Six Paths Sage chakra, it was highly likely he could use Mokuton again. He could feel the slight difference in the lingering chakra within his coils, and he could only attribute it to the present sage chakra. Of course, he wouldn't be able to actually test whether or not he had access to the Mokuton for a while, not while he was still in Konoha. Regardless, the point was that the Rikudō chakra was currently present in his system. With that in mind, with Madara's chakra potency, he should be able to…

He shook his head, looking up at the fox. It wouldn't matter, even if it did succeed. Because his chances of survival were slim to none after the encounter.

The time traveler shrugged, his eyes narrowed ever so slightly as he regarded the beast. "Well. Thanks for the chakra, but you only finished half of your side of the deal."

The fox went wide-eyed for a split second before hiss hackles rose, a sneer left prominent on his vulpine features. The beast's volatile chakra flared, blanketing the dark expanse with its suffocating malice. "… I should have known. I should have expected this, that you are just as vile a human as you were before." Teeth, yellowed and menacing were bared in a snarl. "I should kill you where you stand, and let your left-over body rot without the presence of a mind."

Obito waved a hand dismissively, realizing that he perhaps went a little too far with his comment. "I was kidding. As in, a joke."

Silence.

They stared at each other for a few tense moments, Obito with an impassive look, and the Kyūbi frozen with a gleam of confusion in his eyes. The fox's snarl slowly disappeared as a bland, unimpressed look took place. "… Your humor is severely lacking."

The time traveler wanted to say that he actually had the best sense of humor out of the entire Akatsuki, but that wasn't exactly something spectacular, by any standard. Instead, he smiled. "I know that Naruto is someone important to you, and he is someone that made a monumental change in my life. He is the Child of Prophecy, and befriending you is just something he is destined for." He grinned. "I know we don't have the best past, but thanks. You knew that I had planned on sealing you into Naruto anyway, because he needs you. And yet you still helped me with this."

He clapped his arms to his sides and bowed at the waist. "For that, you have my gratitude, Kyūbi-sama."

"… Stop that," the fox grunted in a decidedly unnerved tone, rolling its eyes as Obito straightened. "Even if it was sincere, I could only read sarcasm in your movements. Respect and humans like you simply do not suit each other." The Kyūbi paused, regarding the Uchiha with a curious gaze. "… You know."

Obito shrugged, placing his hands in his pockets. "Well yeah, you're a millennia-old beast that has observed humans for the majority of your life. It's obvious that you would realize that I was planning on having you sealed into Naruto, regardless of what you had said regarding out deal. You're not stupid and you know about the Sage's prophecies more than I do—"

"No," the bijū interrupted, earning him a raised eyebrow. He rolled his eyes, again, in response. "That is not what I meant. You know my name, so use it."

The time traveler stared. A smirk slowly crept onto his features, a teasing glint in his eyes. "… Huh. Naruto has really rubbed off on you. The great Kurama, theKyūbi no Kitsune, deliberately making friends? Of his own accord?"

Kurama sneered, moving to flick the cheeky human, not caring when he dodged. "I do not befriend useless, human ants. 'Kurama' is my name and label, as much as 'Kyūbi'."

Obito knew that the fox wouldn't take kindly to most people knowing his real name, let alone saying it, but he decided not to voice his thoughts. "Alright, then, I'll take that as thanks for helping reacquaint you with Naruto in the future." He lifted his fist, earning him a raised eyebrow from Kurama. "You will be sealed back into Naruto. I promise."

The fox eyed him momentarily, before reciprocating the gesture with a grunt. "… Hmph. I don't doubt that…" His gaze hardened slightly. "… But I can practicallysmell the resignation resonating off of you." The Uchiha's brow furrowed as he looked up at the bijū with a questioning gaze. Kurama shook his head. "Nothing, it is inconsequential, at the moment. Now go away so I can sleep."

Obito stared at the fox for a moment before nodding. "… Alright. I'll see you later, Kurama."

He flickered out of existence.

Kurama gave a frustrated grunt to no one in particular, collapsing into the shallow water with his hands cradling his head. "… I can never understand that damnable clan. If they aren't foolish, idiotic avengers, they're foolish, fucking-idiot-martyrs."

Obito had once seemed to be the complete antithesis of Naruto… But it had been made apparent that, at their core, the two of them were more similar than many would have thought. The only true difference was that one gave up while the other didn't, and even then, the Uchiha had eventually picked himself up after Naruto "talked" with him.

Naruto was the type to never give up, and he always kept his promises. His "Nindō," the boy had always shouted proudly, and while he had once found his host's unnecessary loud tendencies annoying… Kurama had to admit that Naruto's way of the ninja was certainly honorable. From what he could glean, Obito was of a similar type, and though the man had entered the darkness once in his life, he had managed to escape it as well. It should be expected that Obito wouldn't fall back into it, not when he had finally escaped it.

But Kurama knew it was more than a simple feeling that was worrying at him, regarding the time traveler. It was more than a simple feeling that this would be what defined Obito and Naruto as two completely separate entities. And it wasn't a positive thought.

He sighed, replaying the previous conversation with the man-boy in his mind. "… Don't die before you're able to complete your end of the deal, Obito."

"You did say it would be you who would seal me into Naruto, after all."

Chapter Text

Kushina blinked. Minato merely stared at Obito with a curious look. "The Hiraishin?"

The time traveler nodded, not lifting his eyes from the plate he was drying with a rag. "Yeah. I want to see if we can create a collaborative jutsu derived from my Mangekyō and the Hiraishin. I was thinking we could probably make some sort of teleportation seal."

Kushina rinsed her hands of soap suds and stepped back to level an assessing look at the Uchiha. "… Why Fūinjutsu? Even though the Hiraishin uses a jutsu shiki seal with Minato's application, in theory it shouldn't be a necessary element… Should it?"

Obito shook his head, shuffling to the other side of the kitchen to return the plate to its proper cabinet. "That's just it. With two separate jutsu like my Kamui and the Hiraishin, considering the fact that they are of the same type of jutsu subcategory, it should be possible without the application of Fūinjutsu. However, because of the naturally immeasurable aspects of time-space ninjutsu and the fact that one utilizes a dōjutsu, a stabilizing medium would be needed." He shrugged as he went to retrieve another piece of kitchenware to dry. "Minato-sensei uses Fūinjutsu as that stabilizer for his Hiraishin, so I figured it would be simplest to use the same principle with this hypothetical transportation seal."

The red-head pinched the bridge of her nose, a grimace forming on her face. "… Wait. What are your freaky eyes able to do, again?"

"My Mangekyō has an ability that allows me to enter an alternate dimension," Obito supplied, not at all deterred from her comment. "It's my own personal dimension, as only my eyes are capable of reaching it."

"But what does that have to do with transportation?" Kushina asked.

"Everything. The theory behind this hypothetical seal I want to create would be able to transport the user to my dimension, and could leave through a specified anchor somewhere in this world. The Hiraishin allows Minato-sensei to travel to specified points, or to send an object or person to said point. While this is certainly useful, the problem with using the Hiraishin alone is that it requires Minato's own concentration and cannot act as a singular, activation-based seal. The Kamui can, in theory, be transcribed into an object or technique to activate upon a set command. The problem with my Kamui is that it does not have a specific anchor in this case, and without my Sharingan eyes it could deposit the user in an unspecified, potentially unreachable plane."

"And the point is the safe transfer of the user," Minato concluded, earning an affirmative nod from the raven-haired boy. "Who would be the one using this?"

Obito paused in his movements, contemplating how to word his thoughts. "… An ally. Or rather, allies."

A brief moment passed as Minato observed him with a measuring gaze, Kushina watching the exchange with narrowed eyes. Finally, he nodded. "I see. Where would the anchor be? And who should we expect?"

The time traveler looked over to the blonde, an expression of relief left plain. He didn't really want to have to explain why he was doing this or who he was doing this for. "I was thinking my room, since I don't think any other easily accessible location will be nearly as secure at here." He turned back to the dishes. "… Orange hair, amber-brown eyes. Rippled eyes, amaranthine in color. Or blue hair with a paper rose. There may be three, or two, or one."

"… I'm confused, dattebane."

Minato chuckled, and despite himself, Obito smiled. "Alright, I'll see what I can do."

"I'm helping too!" Kushina interjected, placing her hands on her hips. "Even though you're a genius, I'm still the one with Fūinjutsu running through my veins. We'll all be needed." She turned to grin at Obito. "Minato with his Hiraishin, you with your Kamui-whatsit, and me with my crazy seals."

After the three of them tidied up the kitchen, Kushina had gone to her room to retrieve a box-full of her sealing materials and spread them out on the coffee table and the three of them began working immediately.

"I'd like the seal to be conjoined with my left Mangekyō, if possible," Obito interjected after a few exchanges of theories.

Kushina raised a crimson eyebrow. "Why?"

"My left eye doesn't require physical contact to transport others. A Kamui transcription might not be possible if I use my right eye, which requires physical contact," he reasoned. In truth, he had never attempted a transcription seal, though he had little doubt he could perform it with his own eyes. The only true issue was that he was equally uncertain about whether or not it would work on a seal instead of Sharingan eyes, which was the only surefire way to control his ability.

Plus, he had little doubt that in the event that the eye used no longer existed, it would no longer work. Unlike the Amaterasu, which would continue to blaze brightly should the Mangekyō activating it lose its light, the Kamui was very much reliant on his eyes. He even speculated that, in the event that both eyes were lost, the dimension connected to them would vanish—not that he could ever prove this, considering he wouldn't be able to verify this even if he destroyed his eyes, but it was an ever present possibility. Conversely, the same could be said about the loss of the eye used in this seal. Its properties could be lost once the eye used to create it was destroyed, and though it was a minor possibility, it was there nonetheless—he would need to use the eye he knew for a fact would survive past his own predicted demise.

"A transcription seal?" Minato questioned, gaining Obito's attention. "You can do that?"

After a moment, Obito inclined his head. "… Aa. In theory."

"In theory," Kushina reiterated, urging him to elaborate.

"Yes. I've known that transcription seals of other Mangekyō techniques are possible. The only issue is that I've only see them used in place of other Sharingan, not…" He motioned to the scroll. "… On seals. However, I know that my Sharingan, and its abilities, are not exactly normal. Where most Sharingan cannot be activated or deactivated—whether dormant, Sharingan, or Mangekyō state—while in possession of those without Uchiha blood, mine has a history of a certain malleability in this regard."

The couple had questioning looks pertaining to his own knowledge on the subject, but thankfully did not pursue it. "So you can perform your own transcription seal…" Kushina trailed off, biting her lip as she observed the drafted seal. "… But the seal itself needs to allow the transcription to adhere. I don't know how we can accomplish that."

"We could mix some traces of his eye with the ink," Minato added helpfully. "It would help identify the eye he wishes to use, and would work as a binding agent for his chakra."

Kushina made a face. "How the hell are we gonna do that?"

The blonde turned to Obito with a smile that the time traveler found wasn't exactly friendly. "… Minato-sensei?"

Obito suddenly felt himself lifted off the ground several feet from the swift uppercut Minato delivered to his diaphragm, and he felt bile creep up the back of his tongue. He collapsed on the ground dry-heaving, fighting back his dinner that threatened to surface as he clutched his midsection (while quietly wondering if his insides had been rearranged from the hit). That punch fucking hurt.

"… Wha… Minato, what the hell was that for?" He grimaced at the way the blonde lifted him back on his feet unceremoniously, not noticing the syringe the man had withdrawn from his left eye.

"Here," Minato said simply as he handed over the vial to Kushina, who allowed the liquid to drip into the mixture of ink.

Obito stared. "… You punched me to get me to cry?" He asked, not bothering to mask his incredulity.

"Would you have preferred that we stick the needle in your eye to draw out blood?" Minato questioned, looking over at him.

Obito winced. No, he wouldn't have.

Kushina waved him over. "Obito, I need you to channel your chakra into the ink." She handed the small ink well to him, her eyes riveted to the scroll. "Keep treating it with your chakra. It'll need to be completely laden with your chakra once we get around to finishing this."

The time traveler's brow rose. "But it wouldn't take more than two hours for me to do that."

She nodded. "We'll make this a chakra and blood sensitive seal. Since we don't have the actual samples from the people you are intending to use this, they'll need to put together a mixture of their blood and ink, signing their names in the spaces indicated." She glanced to him with a smile. "Minato and I will have everything planned and drafted in less than two hours, trust me."

Obito blinked in minute surprise, though he realized that he probably shouldn't have been. These two, aside from Jiraiya, were Konoha's most knowledgeable Shinobi in the art of Fūinjutsu, one of them having come from a long line of seal masters. They were possible the best Fūinjutsu masters in all of the five great nations, if he really thought about it.

Still, it spoke of just how skilled in the art they were. Obito hadn't known where to begin with his idea, aside from going to them for help, and within two hours of presenting the idea to them he would find himself with a completed scroll, primed for delivery. It made him wonder why he hadn't gone to them for help before… Why he had decided to hide the truth from them.

His thoughts sobered immediately. For the previous thought, yes, he could admit it was foolish of him to have decided he could handle everything on his own, hence, he had gone to these two. He had even revealed some truths to Minato. However, he couldn't chance revealing too much, nothing that could incriminate either of them in the eyes of Konoha's shadows.

Obito flexed his hands, resisting the urge to ball them into fists. Danzō. The man was an ever-present thorn in his side, and not simply because of the minor actions the man had taken thus far. No, those could be excused to a certain degree, as curiosity or suspicion were likely what fueled them. It was the promise of what the man could, would do should the future continue along the same path, that worried Obito.

Still, even though he held a firm dislike of the man, Obito wasn't blind. He was disgustingly aware of the fact that Danzō, while having less-then-valiant ideals, was fiercely loyal to Konoha and her wellbeing. Besides, it wasn't as if Obito could call himself a saint, and the man had yet to do something blatantly incriminating. If only because Naruto extended a hand to Obito once, when he had so selfishly sought after the completion of his own ideals… Obito could at least offer Danzō a chance.

Obito shook his head, returning to the present.

"By the way," he started, drawing the attention of Minato and Kushina once again. "If possible, I'd like two other seals…"

 


 

He was not nervous.

It was a thought, more like a mantra, that Kakashi repeated in his mind as he paced around the outskirts of the training grounds.

He had arrived an hour earlier than Minato had specified through his messenger toad, and had spent said hour pacing back and forth to the point where passersby wondered if he was attempting to wear a hole in the ground.

His mind was focused on a topic that he never would have though he would ever (need to, happen to) dwell on in his life.

He didn't know how to act around Obito and Rin.

Kakashi scowled, his shoulders stiff and slightly sore from an hour of tension.

The reason why he never thought he'd have this issue was mostly due to the fact that, ever since his father died, he had decided to adhere to the rules studiously. While Minato put heavy emphasis on teamwork, amiable feelings amongst those in the team wasn't a great necessity—as long as they could act professional and put whatever ill feelings aside when important, than that was all that was strictly necessary in Kakashi's book. Therefore, common courtesy and platitudes were useless, and for the vast majority of his career he had made certain to keep interactions with teams and others to a minimum.

He hadn't accounted for the idea that he would end up being the one to shift the strictly work-related relationship to a more personal one, and he definitely hadn't predicted that he would cry in front of his teammates.

It was embarrassing, humiliating, and most of all, he was ashamed. He had allowed his guard to drop completely—not just slightly, as he could admit to having done before with Team Seven—completely. Not to mention, of all people, Obito had been the calm and collected one at the time.

He'd be lying if he said that the… Event… Left him strictly irritable and angry, however. He was reasonable enough to admit that he had actually appreciated (he didn't like it, no, he tolerated it) the show of affection from his teammates to a degree. But still…

Kakashi groaned, slapping his palms over his face. It was all so domestic and friendly. He wasn't accustomed to that sort of relation with others, with people, and he found that he was more comfortable slitting an enemy's throat than participating in… That.

He was not nervous.

The silver-haired Chūnin straightened his back and walked stiffly to the center of the training grounds. He was not nervous, no. It was simply a matter of behaving as he usually did; he just had to remain aloof, and treat this meeting as any other. As business.

"Kakashi!" Rin waved to him with a bright, mirthful smile. Obito turned around to him and offered his own, somewhat subdued greeting as well, with a lazy wave.

Kakashi turned 90 degrees and studiously observed the tree line for their sensei, facing away from them.

Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the crushed look the brunette wore and Obito's eye twitched.

The Uchiha cradled his head for a moment, shaking his head. "… I see."

Kakashi wanted to punch something. He felt torn, as a part of him wanted to interact with and assure them that he hadn't meant to ignore them, but he didn't want to deal with bonds at the moment and the fact that he simply didn't know how to act around friends didn't help.

His thoughts were brought to an abrupt halt. They were… Friends. A part of him felt stupid for even assuming otherwise, and the other scolded him that it was not professional or acceptable to keep such close relations with one's teammates. But he knew, that, even though he might try to deny it, he did consider them his friends.

But how the hell did people act around friends? How was he supposed to convey his friendship to Rin and Obito?

Kakashi paused. And then he slapped a hand to his face.

'What… What the hell am I thinking?' He thought quietly, feeling shame at his own obtuse idiocy.

Obito had said that those who break the rules are trash, but those who abandon their teammates are worse than trash. There was truth to those statements, Kakashi knew. But it wasn't as if the Shinobi rulebook ever explicitly stated that fraternizing with teammates was against the rules—no, in some cases it was actually well-accepted. It was only ANBU where such a thing was frowned upon, mostly due to the fact that identities could be exposed. But even though Kakashi was well on his way to Jōnin, he was not part of ANBU, meaning that he was allowed to befriend Rin and Obito.

And he therefore had no excuse to pretend otherwise.

He turned to his teammates, noticing that they were looking at him oddly and sighed. He was nervous, a little bit, but he wasn't a coward. "… Look, I'm sorry… I didn't mean to ignore you two. I'm just unaccustomed to this, because of what happened… the other…" He trailed off at Rin and Obito's expectant looks—why did it look like their eyes were sparkling?—and turned away, feeling an accursed red forming on his thankfully-covered cheeks.

Rin and Obito exchanged a look before smirking knowingly at Kakashi, who only reddened further as a result. 'Great.'

They tackled him, Rin wrapping her arms around his midsection and Obito holding him in a sort of head-lock as the brunette shouted, "Kakashi needs another hug!"

They tumbled to the ground, Kakashi frozen stiff and the other two laughing their asses off (which really didn't help the burning sensation he could feel on his face).

The Hatake felt the odd compulsion to clock them both.

It was at that moment that their sensei arrived, and Kakashi extricated himself from their claws and scrambled to his feet to dust himself off casually before attempting (and failing) to regard the blonde impassively. He heard Rin giggling and Obito release a quiet snort as they stood up as well, standing on either side of Kakashi as they turned to face Minato. The man had an amused, knowing look on his face, and Kakashi's eyelid twitched.

"I see you three are getting along well," the Jōnin noted, earning two grins from Obito and Rin while Kakashi studiously observed the grass at his feet. "That's good. We're going to be taking another mission, soon."

Automatically the three Chūnin straightened, listening to Minato with rapt attention. "Is it a D-Rank, Minato-sensei?" Rin questioned tentatively.

The blonde shook his head. "No. It's labeled a B-Rank, but it is possibly a higher ranking considering the stakes. Team Seven has been tasked with destroying the Kannabi Bridge in Kusagakure so that Iwa's supply will be cut off."

Kakashi was about to ask his own question, but immediately turned to catch his suddenly pale and stiff teammate. Minato and Rin looked at Obito worriedly, who looked as though he had been punched in the diaphragm with one of Tsunade's punches.

"Obito, what happened?" Rin questioned, already summoning her chakra to her hands to perform a diagnostic. "Are you alright?"

The Uchiha blinked, and color slowly returned to his face as he shook his head. He swallowed, straightening. "I-I'm fine. It's just nerves, we've never taken such an… Important mission, before." He turned to Minato. "This would be the turning point of the war, wouldn't it?"

Minato observed him for a moment, before nodding and beginning to explain the rest of the mission details. "We'll be leaving in two days, and at the moment, the leader of the mission has not yet been decided." He turned to Kakashi. "Kakashi will be taking the Jōnin exam before we leave, and the Hokage has expressed his wishes that he be the one to lead this mission so that I can attend to another matter."

The Hatake only half-listened as he glared at Obito, worry and annoyance prevalent. Clearly, something else was going on, and even if Minato and Rin were convinced by the boy's poor excuse Kakashi certainly wasn't—and he wanted to know exactly what was going on.

His scowl deepened, as he came to a realization. Now that he thought about it, Obito… The other day, Obito had never divulged his secret. Only Kakashi had spoken on his thoughts, turmoil and regrets, while the Uchiha had managed to slip by because he had been too weakened mentally.

Before he could say something and demand that Obito tell him everything, a dark-haired man appeared a few feet away. Kakashi immediately took in the man's features, noting the onyx eyes, the pale complexion, and the high-collared shirt. An Uchiha.

"Namikaze-san," the unnamed Uchiha gave a curt bow to the blonde. "I was ordered by Fugaku-sama to notify Obito-san that his presence is requested at the Uchiha meeting hall, post haste."

Kakashi didn't miss the way Obito's eyes narrowed slightly before he nodded. "Tell him that I'll be there."

The Uchiha turned to regard Obito with a curious look before nodding. He disappeared in a swirl of leaves, and Team Seven was alone in the training field once again.

"… What are you going to do?" Minato questioned Obito, a strangely strained note in his tone.

Obito was quiet, pensive, before nodding to himself. "… I'll go see what they want. It sounds pretty urgent." He turned to leave, but paused before sheepishly smiling at the blonde. "Sorry, may I…?"

The Jōnin nodded, and Obito disappeared as well.

Kakashi turned to Minato as soon as the Uchiha's signature vanished. "What was that all about?"

Rin looked curiously at Minato as the blonde carded a hand through his hair. "It's… Complicated. Are either of you aware of the circumstances surrounding Obito's ostracization from the Uchiha?"

The team's medic made a face. "No, but I know that it affected Obito negatively before."

"While that is true enough, that is far from the full story. Any details should probably be given by Obito himself, but basically, ever since he awakened his Sharingan the Uchiha have been trying to get him to rejoin the clan." He paused, contemplating. "… The elders have been, at least."

Kakashi stared. "Rejoin the clan…?" He hadn't been aware that ties between Obito and his family had been severed at some point in time. He had simply thought…

Minato nodded, his expression cooled. "Aa. They are zealous protectors of their dōjutsu."

A small silence blanketed as the Hatake dwelled on those words. He knew that the clans with kekkei genkai were often in danger of villages and independent Shinobi alike attempting to steal their abilities—especially clans like the Uchiha and Hyuuga, whose kekkei genkai rested in their eyes. It wasn't solely for the clan's benefit to keep a constant vigilance regarding their eyes, and such a course of action—attempting to keep all bearers of their dōjutsu under the jurisdiction of the clan—was actually to be expected.

But the idea that Obito, who had apparently been disowned once before was now being dragged back into the clan just because he had activated the Sharingan…

It just seemed wrong.

"… What is it like?" He questioned, stirring Minato and Rin from their own thoughts. He clarified, "what is it like, for Obito? Is that why he changed so much?"

A grim look cast over Minato's countenance. "In a way, I suppose you can say that it is. His family, his bloodline, is a curse. And yet it is also his strength—the power running through his veins is the very poison that grips the Uchiha clan."

Rin frowned slightly. "… What do you mean?"

The darkened look on the blonde's face receded slightly, and in its place was a kind smile. "It means that we need to be that much more persistent about the fact that Obito has us, his team."

After a moment, the two Chūnin nodded, agreeing. Team seven was the closest thing to a family, for all of them.

And if Obito couldn't open up and trust his own blood-family, then it was clear that they needed to be the ones to fill that role.

 


 

The first thing Obito did after leaving the training grounds was head home.

Even though he had been summoned by the clan, he had little desire to respond immediately, so he had gone home to prepare for the Kannabi Bridge mission instead.

Mechanically, with his mind dwelling on other things, he checked the seals he, Kushina and Minato had made, and packed for the mission. Supplies, rations, weapons; he made sure he was fully prepared, as he mentally fortified himself for what was soon to come.

He had not expected the Kannabi Bridge mission to come up so soon. Hell, a part of him had started to suspect that it had been given to some other team, even though he knew that Team Minato had been specifically requested for the mission previously—meaning that, considering the changes that had taken place, the chances of them not getting it this time were anyone's guess.

Still, he had been blindsided from the realization that, yes, time was short, and he was rapidly losing ground. He felt several shades of ill when he heard the words spoken, and unbidden his memories of the past had been dredged up. For the brief few moments he had been frozen in time, re-living every gory detail of his previous life, he felt as though he were trapped in life's own sick and twisted variation of the Tsukuyomi. Had it not been for the fact that he was mentally thirty-one (or was he thirty-two, now?) with a past of pain, he most certainly would have broken down right then and there.

He disconnected from his thoughts to double check his supplies, ensuring that he hadn't missed anything. After he was certain that he was fully packed and prepared, he left the apartment, but headed in the opposite direction of the Uchiha district.

Normally, people preparing for battle trained, to ensure that they would enter the battlefield as prepared as they could be. But Obito could only think of one thing he really wanted to do. He had decided to walk around Konoha.

He went from corner to corner, watching the tilt of the sun as it slowly descended to the horizon, the sky still imbued with faint hints of afternoon blue. Bustle had receded as citizens hurried home to prepare for evening dinner, but Konoha was still alight with life and sounds. It was very well possible that the day's wanderings would be the last he would see of his village, and he wanted to make it count.

This, he had realized, was going to be how he remembered Konoha as he died.

Obito released a sigh from where he sat on the Hokage Monument, just above the perch where the Yondaime's head would soon come into existence. He was under no assumption that he would survive the encounter, even though there was a slim chance that he would—there were simply too many variables for him to pin his hopes on a chance that may be infinitesimal or nonexistent.

He knew that, deep down, he still hoped. But he refused to dwell on that fact, instead, allowing his eyes to roam over his village.

This was his last moment to himself. His last moment of peace, of happiness, before everything went to hell, before he went to talk to the Uchiha (a conversation that he had no doubt would be less than pleasant). Before he went on his mission tomorrow. Before he died, for the third time—this time, permanently.

Taking a fortifying breath, he leapt down to the nose of the Third and looked across the village, imprinting the sight into his vision.

With a stony expression and hardened resolve, he turned away to head for the Uchiha compound.

Chapter Text

The Uchiha meeting hall was set up suspiciously like a council chamber, with the elders situated around the room in a halved ovate shape, the clan head at the apex.

The room was, in the Uchiha fashion, lined with door-to-door shoji screens, the wall on the far end with a hanging silk of the clan's insignia. He had never come to this particular room in the past, as he had little to do with the clan's politics as a child and it's use dwindled when the idea of a coup sparked—they had moved to a more private facility to discuss their less-than-civil plan.

As soon as Obito had entered, escorted in by some Uchiha Chūnin a couple years his senior, the room hushed to an eerie silence.

"… Uchiha Obito," one of the elders spoke out at last, breaking the silence. His tone was neither derisive nor welcoming.

Obito inclined his head. "Honorable elders."

The small action left a few of the more aggressive Uchiha bristling, appalled at his lack of proper respect. The elder that had spoken coughed, leveling a cold gaze on the younger Uchiha present. "Do you understand why you are here?"

The time traveler meandered over to an unused cushion, knowing it was reserved for himself. The fact that it was set up very much like a court hearing, with his seat at opposition with the others made it rather obvious.

"Boy," another elder called out, a glare in place. "Do you understand why you are here?"

"No, I don't," Obito replied simply, unaffected by what the man no doubt thought was an intimidating tone. He felt the vague inclination to continue the charade and incite the elders' ire even more, but he wished to be there as much as anyone else present.

A different elder, one Obito vaguely recalled dubbing "vapid-idiot" spoke up. "Obito-kun, you have been given the chance to rejoin the clan of your own accord, and you have displayed reluctance to do so. Before it was excused, as the ignorance of a child, but I'm afraid we cannot turn a blind eye any longer."

Obito glanced to Fugaku, who had a look that indicated frustration despite his clear restraint. Either the man had acquiesced to this decision or he was being forced—and though he was inclined to believe the latter, especially considering their last conversation, he couldn't discount the possibility.

"Jirou-san," Fugaku spoke, a certain tightness around his eyes. "The final decision has not been made. We cannot simply have Obito rejoin the clan if he does not wish to."

"Excuse my impertinence, but the boy has the Mangekyō, Fugaku-sama!" Obito froze at this, his eyes darting around the room. No one was surprised at the declaration. "The terms from before were in regards to him having the normal three-tomoe stage, but him having advanced his Sharingan to such a point renders that agreement null and void!" The elder turned to Obito with a sneer. "If not simply for keeping others from obtaining his eyes, the boy needs to be kept under supervision due to the nature of his eyes. We all know the price paid to attain that power, who knows what else the boy will do to gain power?"

Obito's fists clenched. It was a sick joke that they of all people would accuse him as he was currently for being a moral-less, power-hungry monster. Even if the words held truth to them, they were just as much to blame as he was.

But his frustration and grudges held towards them were minor compared to the more important question of, how? How did they find out?

"Fugaku-sama was under oath," an elder commented derisively, perhaps seeing Obito's alarm and questioning look. "We had sent a spy to observe you in your latest C-Rank mission, to see how you faired in battle, and it was reported that you had advanced your Sharingan past stage three. How strange it was that Fugaku-sama had been researching our clan's dōjutsu—a specific level—around this time."

Any other day Obito might have wondered why the man felt it prudent to reveal so much information, but in this case, he knew. It was a show of power, that they had himleashed and watched, that his movements were monitored. He turned to Fugaku, whose expression was faintly pinched, wondering if this was what the man had been alluding to before (and if that were the case, why he didn't simply say it).

The time traveler nodded in thanks to the man anyway. He understood, to an extent, Fugaku's responsibilities as clan head. Under oath, he could not lie, and the fact he had kept Obito's secret for this long earned him a level of gratitude—even if the secret wasn't kept indefinitely.

"Do you understand, now, Obito-kun?" Vapid-idiot—Jirou—spoke quietly, calmly. "It is the logical conclusion to the situation. The clan truly does have your best interests in mind, and it only makes sense for those of Uchiha blood and name to be kept within—"

Obito hummed. "No."

Jirou paused abruptly, his eyes narrowing. "… You cannot simply say 'no,' child. As it is, there is no argument for this. You may have the Mangekyō, but you do not know the extent of it's power, correct? You can receive the proper training if you rejoined the clan, with your family."

Obito laughed.

"I have a better idea. An offer," he stated, eyeing each of the elders before continuing. "If I bring you the head of another Uchiha that is not tied down by the clan, you will not question me on how I did so. You will not question where I retrieved it from. You will not threaten anyone close to me to find out. You will allow me to remain an independent."

Silence permeated the air as several pairs of onyx eyes observed him, and he closed his eyes. He had entered this confrontation, expecting to be reprimanded at most, but this ended up becoming something so much… More. He could have given an excuse, something minor to deflect their attentions until he departed for the Kannabi Bridge mission.

But instead of doing that… He gave this ultimatum.

He realized that this offer, this deal was a sign of him preparing for the possibility of his survival after the confrontation. But it wasn't anything foolish. Insurance, he told himself, it was simply insurance—one always had to be prepared, even for events with the slimmest chances. He wasn't actually…

Hoping.

"… The head of another Uchiha?" An elder finally asked, incredulously. "One that is not tied down by the clan… What is the meaning of this offer? What do you know? Do you really believe that we—"

"I know nothing," Obito interrupted, tone curt. "I am merely presenting an offer, one that you may or may not accept. But why not accept it? After all, what are the chances of there being an outside, uninvolved Uchiha, when generations past the clan has made sure to protect it's dōjutsu?"

"That is besides the point—"

"Section four of our clan's politics dictates that, should someone wish to join the clan and present an approved ultimatum, the clan is to adhere to it and any details specified. The inverse is true, and could be applied to this case," Fugaku spoke out, narrowing his eyes at the elders. "Obito has the right to present this offer, and it is simply a matter of approval. I, Uchiha Fugaku, motion for the approval of Uchiha Obito's ultimatum."

Obito sighed in relief. He knew nothing about the clan's politics and rules, considering, and he was suddenly very thankful for the fact that he had the clan head as an ally in this situation. It wasn't as if he had paid special attention to the prickly elders of the Uchiha as a child, and as a missing-nin there was no need to know about their politics aside from where they met so he knew where to kill them.

A few minutes passed of murmurs and quiet discussion, before the vote was cast, and Fugaku announced the result. "Eight in favor against five. In the event that Uchiha Obito is able to fulfill the ultimatum he himself set forth, he shall be relinquished from the clan permanently."

Obito eyed each of those present with a keen eye, noting the disgruntled but near-victorious expressions on their faces. Clearly, he was right in treading this path; they wouldn't even think to believe that there was a possibility of there being a rogue Uchiha without ties to the clan, and they likely believed Obito had just signed his acceptance of the clan. Only a handful of the elders looked displeased—the ones that had tried to vote against the motion—and it was clear that, out of the rest, they were the more cautious of the group.

"Wait."

All turned to one of the elders (once-dubbed "cranky") as he spoke. "I wish to set a time limit, Fugaku-sama." His eyes glinted with hard steel as he observed his cohorts. "Entering this agreement without a time limit would allow the boy to keep an open-ended deal indefinitely."

Some had the decency to look abashed at their oversight.

Fugaku sighed quietly, glancing to Obito with something akin to hesitance. "I agree, Kazuki-san. I suggest a year—"

"Half a year, and no more," Kazuki interrupted. His statement earned him agreeing murmurs from the others. "We need not drag out this ordeal longer than needed, Fugaku-sama."

The clan head narrowed his eyes but nodded nonetheless, turning to Obito. "… I understand. Are you in agreement with this, Obito?"

An elder sneered. "Whether or not the boy is in agreement is irreleva—"

"Yes, I am," Obito replied, holding Fugaku's gaze. "Are we done?"

Before another elder could reply or chide the time traveler for his "lack of decorum," Fugaku called the end of the meeting. "Adjourned."

Those in attendance slowly filtered out, some ignoring Obito the best of their abilities, some observing him curiously, and some sneering as they passed. The time traveler waited from where he sat, until he and Fugaku were the only ones left.

The clan head stood up at last, heading to the door. Obito followed. They walked out into the public, the streets bustling with various Uchiha families and shops alight with life.

"… I do not know what interest that man has in you," Fugaku finally spoke, his voice a hushed whisper, "but I feel that you must know this. Danzō-sama was the one who informed the Uchiha council of your Sharingan. He had sent some of his men to spy on you during your previous mission and came to inform us on his findings."

Outwardly, Obito kept a calm mask betraying none of his inner thoughts to the outside world. Inwardly, he cursed. He hadn't planned on doing anything about the old warhawk, yet, but it seemed that Danzō was getting to be somewhat too ambitious already.

"Do you know what, exactly, his spies saw?" He questioned, gaze sharp like steel. Depending on the intel Danzō had managed to gain through his spies, Obito would need to handle his upcoming task with caution. He had little doubt Minato would not stand for nor would he allow the warhawk to send his men to monitor them, but in the event any of the Root ANBU did manage to slip beneath the radar, he had to make sure that no connection between the "masked man" and himself were made.

And if they had witnessed the confrontation between Minato and himself (which he logically doubted to an extent, or else he would've been in T&I by now) his repertoire—most notably his Kamui—would have to be cut.

Fugaku narrowed his eyes. "… No. He had relayed the message that your eyes had 'taken on a new shape, something more powerful than the normal Sharingan.' He said nothing else, regarding abilities or the true depth of his knowledge—I am more than certain that he knows the Mangekyō as well as some of our clan members do, but the elders are blind to this possibility due to hubris and misplaced confidence."

"… I see," Obito replied quietly, turning away as he processed the information given. Danzō was a snake, a manipulative conspirator that knew when to withhold information as well as when to give it. He agreed with Fugaku that Danzō likely had more knowledge on the Mangekyō than he was letting on, but he could only hope the man's subterfuge ended there. "Was that all?"

Fugaku nodded, grimacing slightly. "I… I apologize. I had hoped to give you more time regarding this matter of your status as an Uchiha, and I had promised you that this matter would be dealt with. Now there is no going back, and the Elders will force you to join the clan." His voice fell below a murmur as his eyes glinted with hardened resolve. "Though my word no doubt holds questionable merit at this point, I promise you that I shall endeavor to keep their involvement with your life as minimal as possible."

Obito pat the older man on the shoulder—a slightly awkward move, considering their difference in height—causing them both to stop in the middle of the street. "It's alright, Fugaku-san. I'll figure something out. You focus on Itachi, since he'll need your help more than I will."

The clan head frowned, but grunted an affirmative. "I understand. Do not hesitate to call on me should you find yourself in need, however."

"I'll be sure to keep that in mind."

With a final farewell, Fugaku turned away to head home, and Obito began walking in the opposite direction, cursing every colorful expletive he could think of within his mind.

He hadn't thought Danzō was so involved with the Uchiha already, and that was the crux of the matter—he couldn't exactly leave things as they were, or this timeline would no doubt escalate to the same conflict that had come about last time. For fucks sake, he still had Orochimaru to deal with, and he didn't even want to think about how he would handle that situation.

The Kannabi Bridge mission (or rather, what it would lead to) was the end-all for him, his final act. Previously he had hoped that he could talk to Danzō at a later date, but now the Kannabi Bridge mission was coming up, and he hadn't known previously that the warhawk had decided to continue his observations on him. With the knowledge of Obito's Mangekyō, there was little doubt in his mind that the man wouldn't let him operate on his own anymore without close supervision.

What the hell was he supposed to do?

He could only create two Kage Bunshin at a time at the very most without feeling a substantial chakra drain, and even then, they were Bunshin. They would dispel with a single scratch.

A part of him was cursing his past self—and the one from mentally two decades ago, but the one from not even half a year ago. Had he decided to simply kill Orochimaru, he wouldn't be having so many issues.

Obito's eyes narrowed as he leapt to the rooftops and picked up his pace. He had to go see Danzō. He had yet to decide whether or not to simply kill the man (though it certainly would be easier to) but at the moment the man was the most dangerous, as he wasn't actually known as an enemy of Konoha—he was a wolf in sheep's clothing, and was in a prime position to gut the village from the inside out.

"Obito!"

The time traveler cursed, recognizing the voice, and sped up his pace.

"Obito! Damnit, stop!"

The Uchiha stopped begrudgingly, turning to regard his teammate with a narrowed look. "What is it, Kakashi?"

Kakashi landed on the other side of the roof, observing the raven. He settled into a defensive kata and nodded. "… Let's spar."

Obito stared at him like he had grown two heads.

"C'mon," the Hatake urged, his tone biting. Goading. "We never got to spar, after I found out that you were holding back on me."

The Uchiha shook his head. He was half incredulous and half cursing his luck, loathing the timing his teammate had. "Not now. I have to—"

He abruptly brought his hands up in a defensive motion as Kakashi swung his foot down on his head from an aerial maneuver. Obito growled before grabbing the silver-haired boy's ankle and flinging him aside. "Not now, Kakashi."

The Hatake righted himself and landed firmly on his feet, the hints of a smirk behind his mask. "You're just scared. You don't want to lose to me, so you're running away."

Obito's hands clenched but he refused to respond, turning away to continue his trek towards Danzō's Root base. 'I don't have time for this.' He heard Kakashi scrambling to follow, attempting to catch up, and could feel the ire rolling off of the boy in waves.

"… Damnit. God damnit, Obito, what are you hiding? Why are you running away!?" He spat, growling as he tried to reach the Uchiha. "Why have you changed so much? The Obito I knew wouldn't be trying to escape this, he wouldn't be running away like a damn coward—"

His tirade was abruptly halted when Obito's arm slammed into his jugular, cutting off his words with a strangled gasp. Obito threw him to the ground, pinning him with his elbow, and Kakashi stared up at him with wide eyes. He hadn't even seen him move.

"Kakashi, you are not the one to be lecturing me on not cooperating," Obito hissed, whispering in a quiet but stern tone. "You don't tell me about not knowing what is important, because I can tell you this much—you don't know anything. The rules, morals, self-preservation, they don't mean shit, not when your loved ones are out there dying or are already dead. What use are the rules, that are supposed to keep peace and order, when the people you love and care about are gone?" He pressed his elbow deeper, a pained, clouded grin forming on his lips. "The people that keep you grounded, the people that are literally your life?"

Silence was Obito's response, and he sighed, lifting off of Kakashi to let the boy breathe. He could feel the last tethers of sanity and control slipping from his fingers, made thinner by the approaching threat of the mission. He shouldn't have taken out his frustrations on his teammate, but to be fair, his teammate also shouldn't have continued to pursue him like he did.

Kakashi frowned as he sat up, eyeing Obito with a (not frightened, he noted) confused look. "… I know that. You already told me."

Obito's eyes widened imperceptibly. Yes, he had told Kakashi that before, but he hadn't expected the boy to actually take his words to heart completely. He was surprised that, instead of retaliating with his belief on the rules, Kakashi said that he knew… And he could see the understanding in the boy's eyes. He hadn't thought that the simple confrontation would've been all that was needed to get through to his scarred friend, irrevocably damaged by the sight of his dead, disgraced father. But had he truly gotten through to him, that day?

The Hatake didn't notice the surprise and confusion in the time traveler's eyes, because he turned his head away. "I told you about it. My past, and how I felt. I care about Minato-sensei. We're a team, you, Rin, and I. You guys… You're my team. My family." Kakashi turned back to Obito, his eyes determined. "Please, Obito, tell us what is going on."

His tone was sincere, and there was no malice, no veiled threats. No hidden agenda, behind his eyes.

… He'd changed.

It was a good thing, Obito had to remind himself quickly. The boy could display compassion and empathy, now; he understood the importance of bonds and appreciating the people around himself—without the pseudo death of a teammate. Kakashi had changed to the point where he was almost unfamiliar, and Obito couldn't help but think about how different the Kakashi of this time already was from the Kakashi he knew. The one he'd known for two decades.

Rin had changed. Minato had changed. And now, so had Kakashi.

Obito closed his eyes and stood up, suddenly finding that he was very, very tired.

"… Just leave me alone for now."

He turned away and darted off again, ignoring how Kakashi scrambled to his feet as well and yelled after him.

"Wha—you idiot! Why can't you just tell us what is going on!?" Kakashi leapt towards him, having noticed that the Uchiha had slowed down ever so slightly. "You can't just—"

His hand glided through the empty air where Obito's arm had been.

 


 

"Minato-sensei!"

The addressed blonde turned around in question before his eyes landed on a strangely unnerved Kakashi making his way over to him.

"Kakashi…?" He called out tentatively, walking towards the approaching boy at a brisk pace. When he reached the silver-haired Chūnin he observed him, noticing the way the boy's pupils dilated frantically. "What happened?"

"O-Obito," Kakashi stuttered out between breathes, before coughing in an attempt to steady his nerves. Minato placed a hand on his shoulder in a calming, supportive gesture. "I went to talk to him, to ask him what was going on—I found him coming from the Uchiha Compound, and I told him to spar with me since I realized—I knew—that he wouldn't just tell me unless I proved myself, but he wouldn't, and I don't know—"

Minato's brow furrowed as the usually reticent and controlled teen before him slowly lost his inhibitions, more open with his emotions than the blonde had ever seen him. His hand on the boy's shoulder tightened in an effort to ground the unstable Hatake. "Kakashi. What happened?"

"He's gone!" Kakashi blurted out, trembles from adrenaline gone but mind still racing. "I tried to convince him to tell me what happened, to explain everything, but he just… He refused. He ran away, using Shunshin… And I couldn't catch up to him." He bowed his head as a more subdued demeanor took hold. "I… I tried to look for him. I figured that I could find him, try again, and I even summoned the pack to look. But… I just couldn't find him."

Minato placed his other hand on the teen's shoulder, kneeling down to eye-level. He couldn't help but note, in wry humor, that ever since Obito had been swapped out with a future rendition of himself, his entire team—including himself—was in a constant state of instability. "Kakashi," he intoned quietly with a stern, unwavering gaze. "Look at me."

Hesitantly, the Chūnin looked back up, his eyes lost and worried.

"Obito will be fine. He will be fine," he reiterated to Kakashi, partly for his own benefit. "So I want you to go home and rest, because you can't allow this to worry you. Your Jōnin Examination is tomorrow, and you will do your best on it."

Kakashi stared at him for a moment before nodding, his usual reticence returning with ease. While Minato didn't like the way his student tended to distance himself from those around him, it was worse when the boy completely lost himself and everything keeping him grounded. Kakashi was still a child and therefore needed moments of emotional release, but for someone like him who had already experienced substantial loss, he didn't need to suffer the worry of losing even more.

Minato held his gaze for a few moments longer before straightening, patting the silver-haired Chūnin on the back as he did so. He turned to gaze in the direction of the Uchiha Compound, a small frown forming on his face. "… Don't worry about Obito, Kakashi. While I'm sure he appreciates the sentiment… It isn't needed."

He was turned away and therefore didn't see it, but he could sense the instant his student's eyes turned to him sharply. "… You know."

After a moment, the blonde only nodded solemnly. "… Aa. A little."

A silence settled between them, and Minato had no doubt that his student was waiting for an explanation. However, this was something that he had yet to inform theHokage of, and should be told by Obito himself—especially regarding the other Chūnin of Team Seven.

He heard Kakashi sigh and turn away, perhaps realizing he would not get any answers. "… I'll see you later, sensei."

The Hatake left before Minato could respond, but it mattered little. He darted off towards the Uchiha Compound as soon as he felt his student's chakra signature disappear in the opposite direction.

It hadn't taken long for him to reach the gates, considering he didn't bother to hold back his speed.

"Namikaze-san?" One of the gatekeepers questioned, glancing to his partner. "What—"

"I need to speak with Fugaku and the elders immediately," Minato intoned icily, not bothering with his usual genial smile. He breezed past them, and they followed after him nervously after a moment of brief shock.

"… Er, Namikaze-san, you're not supposed to—"

"Minato."

The two gatekeepers froze at the sudden appearance of their leader.

Minato inclined his head, face still expressionless. "Fugaku."

"Ah, Fugaku-sama, I a-apologize," one of the gatekeepers stammered out nervously, eyes darting between the clan's leader and the Hokage candidate. "W-we didn't mean to—"

"Atsushi, Mashiro, return to your posts." Onyx orbs focused Minato. "Follow me." He switched on his heels, his haori swaying gracefully with the movement.

Minato motioned to follow the clan leader, leaving the two stunned gatekeepers to gather themselves and head back.

After they were a fair distance away from the entrance, Fugaku finally spoke. "… I assume this is about Obito."

"Yes," The blonde replied with little inflection, betraying none of what he felt. "I assume you know what I am here for."

Fugaku glanced to him out of the corner of his eye before returning his gaze to the road before them. "… I cannot call another meeting, unfortunately."

Minato inclined his head in acceptance. He hadn't expected the man to call a meeting just for his benefit. "That is fine. I do not need them all present, merely as many as you can gather."

With a sigh, the clan leader shook his head as they continued their brisk walk. "They found out about Obito's Mangekyō."

Minato made no outward movement or reaction in response to the revelation.

"Danzō-sama had been the one to inform them," Fugaku elaborated plainly, but a slightly hostile emphasis was placed on the Konoha Elder's name. "He had sent some of his spies to observe your student on the last mission your team undertook. Unfortunately, the clan Elders had found out that I was researching the Mangekyō around this time, and I was duty-bound to verify their claims. Obito had been called earlier to be told that he was to join the clan, due to his dōjutsu's level."

A moment of silence passed as Minato processed the words. He let out a long-suffering sigh, his brow knitted together in frustration. "And there is nothing you can do, I assume."

"That is correct," the clan leader replied stonily. "It is postponed temporarily for now, due to a proposition he presented to the elders, but the result will still be the same—he will rejoin the clan in half a year."

Minato's jaw clenched and his eyes narrowed. "Not if I have anything to say about it."

Fugaku offered no words in response, only a wry, amused look. Eventually they reached their destination—Minato only vaguely remembered entering a large, old-fashioned building, leading up to a hallway lined with shoji screens—and the two of them entered without preamble.

A narrowed azure gaze scanned the room, noting that several aged Uchiha sat around the vicinity, spread out in smaller groups as they conversed over Shogi or tea. As soon as the duo had entered, however, all chatter ceased as multiple pairs of onyx eyes turned to stare at the one who was clearly non-Uchiha.

"… Fugaku," Minato murmured quietly, his eyes still scanning the room. There seemed to be too many for all of them to be part of the council, but Fugaku had lead him here. Surely, at least a few present were part of the group that had tried to press Obito to rejoining the clan. "… The elders?"

"Are before you," the clan leader drawled in confirmation.

A sharp spike of hostile chakra pulsed through the room, immediately setting the previously relaxed elders on edge as they observed Minato with varying levels of surprise, shock, and indignant ire.

"… Namikaze-san," one of the elders greeted, standing up to meet the blonde. "To what do we owe the—"

"Uchiha Obito," Minato spoke quietly, but with a clear, cutting intent that set everyone present on edge. "Earlier today, you demanded that he join the clan, despite the fact that he has made it clear that he has no intention of doing so."

Some of the elders present bristled at the decidedly hostile tone the blonde had taken. "Obito is an Uchiha, Namikaze-san. There is no reason why he should not—"

"When Obito was a child you disowned him, thinking he was a useless bastard child. When he had to live the life of an unwanted orphan, the black sheep of your clan, you did nothing and had chosen to ignore him because the clan had washed its hands of him. When the Civilian Representative was practically after his head for the burned apartment and the most recent incident, you sat back and did nothing." He grit his teeth, expression somewhere in-between a sneer and a snarl as he narrowed his eyes. "All this time, he had been nothing but a burden to you, something to scoff at. And then, the moment he shows an ounce of power, of promise—achieved by his own merit, mind you—you immediately claim him to be yours?"

"Namikaze-san," an elder growled lowly, standing up in challenge with eyes flashing. "You are allowing bias to affect your judgement, on an issue where emotions andpersonal attachments are entirely unwelcome. Whether or not Obito is considered an Uchiha by law, and whether or not he or the clan wishes he be reintegrated into the Uchiha, he will always remain an Uchiha by blood. It is imperative that he, who holds power that none have or would have realized prior, remains protected by those whounderstand his power."

Minato's eyes darted around the room, flickering with burning anger and challenge—how DARE they even attempt to do this, attempt this claim as family when HE was the one who practically raised the boy—before cooling to a frigid, cool gaze. His face relaxed, his shoulders eased out of the tension that had slowly built up and he observed the elders calmly.

"… You are correct, and I apologize for my moment of indiscretion." He bowed slightly at the waist, indicating that he was polite and understood that what he had just done was unacceptable—while also conveying, on a lower level, that he was not truly sorry for his actions. "It was disrespectful of me to behave with such misconduct in the presence of the clan's elders."

A few of the elders smirked, metaphorically puffing out their chests in pride and premature victory.

"However," he continued, "it is unnecessary for the Uchiha clan to assume guardianship of Obito once again, for he is already under the care of Uzumaki Kushina and myself."

They made to protest, but he barreled over their meagre objections with a smile that was all teeth and a low, unforgiving tone. "You will not bother Uchiha Obito with yourrequests, ever again, or I can promise you that you will have a very formidable foe to deal with. Do I make myself clear?"

A stunned silence followed his declaration, but Minato would not be cowed.

With a final nod to Fugaku (half in thanks, half in permission to leave) which was reciprocated, he left—allowing the elders the privacy to fully process and comprehend the blatant threat.

While it wasn't considered a wise move for a shinobi slated as a potential Hokage candidate, Minato couldn't care less. The Uchiha clan had his support, as much as any other clan. But if becoming Hokage meant abandoning someone he had practically raised, his student who had already gone through so much (that he had already failed not once, but twice), all to stoke the egos of a few pompous elders with their outdated ideals…

Then he didn't need it. The hat. The recognition.

The role.

He loved the citizens of Konoha, and he saw each of them as the humans they were, not as tools or a means to an end, be they civilian or shinobi.

When that humanity was threatened, his very morals and ideals were threatened.

And Minato was a man who held steadfast to his ideals.

 


 

Concealed by the shadows.

That was the type of man he was, having been denied the position of Hokage, over-looked in favor of his once best friend. He kept to the shadows, living as Konoha's roots that, while unseen, were what kept the village's foundations firm. And it was with some small sort of humor Obito noted that, despite being a man of the shadows… He wasstill not in full control.

"Shimura Danzō."

The elder tensed from where he sat, though the reaction was minute and inscrutable to the untrained eye—yet from an individual such as Danzō, it was as telling as a warning beacon. Slowly, his only revealed eye lifted from his desk, the parchment before him, to level a hard gaze on the figure in the shadows.

His eye narrowed, either in threat or measuring, as he attempted to see the faint outline of the man standing by his doorway, the sparse candlelight only barely reaching the interloper's feet. "What is your business here?"

Obito smirked faintly beneath his mask. Danzō was as hardened and distrusting as ever, but clearly knew that identities would be kept and that questioning would help little in this instance—perhaps the mask helped, in that regard. "I have a question for you."

He watched the warhawk as he lowered his pen, slowly, yet kept his hands visible. The time traveler, despite knowing that Danzō was not of the impulsive sort, was surprised that he had not made a move to apprehend or at least call in his Root agents—Obito knew he shouldn't underestimate the man and kept his senses alert to all chakra signatures in the vicinity, so he knew that the man had yet to call reinforcements. Either Danzō realized that he was outclassed and knew it would be a wasted effort to attempt to restrain an individual who had managed to sneak into the deep confines of his base undetected, or he was waiting for an opportunity.

Obito really wouldn't put it past the man for both to apply.

"I have no information for you," the warhawk intoned firmly, his eye narrowing at the shade created by Obito's mask. He couldn't help but wonder if Danzō would be so bold if he knew it was a Sharingan hidden beneath the shadows.

"But you do," he replied simply, easily. "It is a reasonable question, and you may answer if you wish. If you do not feel the inclination to answer, then that is an answer all the same." That he may decide to kill the warhawk should he prove uncooperative was left unsaid and unknown to the other.

A few moments of tense silence passed. Danzō inclined his head steadily, his form tense and coiled; ready for confrontation.

"What is it that you wish for, Danzō?" Obito questioned after a moment, gauging the him. "What do you wish for Konoha?"

The only indication of surprise was a slight twitch of the man's fingers. He seemed wary, hesitant. 'Good,' Obito thought quietly to himself, 'you should be.'

The instant of indiscretion passed swiftly as an impassive look once again crossed the warhawk's features. "… My wish is for Konoha to prosper, and to be the supreme power it deserves to be. That is all."

A prideful proclamation to say the least, and one Obito knew the man would answer with. It was something many who knew Danzō had known about him, and it was no surprise to the time traveler that the man's goal had not changed.

"… Are you certain?" He asked after a moment, challenging. "Are you certain that it is a with to see Konoha unstoppable, a wish for Konoha?" His eyes narrowed as he remembered the man's delusions, his lust for the position of Hokage, and how he abandoned the Kage Summit as soon as danger presented itself despite knowing that such a show would be seen as cowardly and weak-willed in the eyes of the other nations. Danzō, who had always yearned to be Hokage, had only further proven the fact that he was a self-serving wretch that only had his best interests in mind. "… Or is it that you want power, you want prestige and to be seen as a 'supreme power'?"

Obito had injected more emotion into that last statement than he had meant to, and the warhawk's narrowed gaze verified it. "… You are naive," he replied coldly, demeaning. "It is a beautiful concept, yes, to think that there is more beyond what is said—to believe that there is such a thing as a peaceful justice. But it is not the truth. Peace and friendship shall only last as long as the one who brought it to fruition live… But then what? 'Passing on the tradition' to someone else?" The corner of his eye tightened slightly, showing restraint in what would clearly have been a display of obvious distaste. "No one will bow to someone who replaces the original, a new regime must be brought forth for the younger generations to prove themselves… But power and fear are different. They are concrete. No matter how many generations pass, as long as someone strong, someone powerful is in control, then Konoha will never fall."

"The position of Hokage is practically synonymous with 'the one who is most powerful,' is it not?" Obito challenged, taking a step forward. He was surprised that Danzō had not completely dismissed his line of questioning, and had seemingly answered with what he truly believed—however twisted a belief it was. "So why must fear be incorporated as well? Power is important, yes, to back the words one speaks, but fear is not a necessary component. In fact, I would say compassion and competence,understanding of the village and her people are far more important."

Danzō's hand twitched, and for a moment, the Uchiha tensed in preparation for an attack or retaliation. "It is expected that power comes in tow with competence and intelligence, otherwise, one would be dead. Those who allow compassion to seep through their judgement do not deserve the title of Hokage, or any title—in the Shinobi world, such reluctance would sooner bring the end of the village. Ruthlessness, power, and cunning; these are the elements that are most important."

"But what about the people?" The time traveler questioned, feeling faint stirrings of discontent and frustration. This conversation was beyond a simple measure of deciding the warhawk's worth, it was a debate of beliefs. And yet, despite knowing that Danzō's path would only bring destruction, he was… "The citizens of Konoha? Tyrants can only accomplish so much, keeping the people under strict control! There is no way anyone would be happy under such an oppressive regime, especially Shinobi, and peace would never be—"

… Losing.

"Their happiness doesn't matter." The words were spoken quietly, sternly, with an edge of ice as the warhawk cut off his own. "It is not their happiness that lays the foundation of the village, but their lives, their strength. Their existence. For there is no village if there are no citizens, and the weak are the first to be eliminated in times of tumultuous war such as this. In a world such as ours, there is no room for compassion or empathy, as enemies wouldn't hesitate to exploit such weaknesses. To survive, we cannot show weakness or emotion." His voice rose in volume as his eyes flashed dangerously. "There is no such thing as 'peaceful justice.' The world is ruthless and shinobi die, enemy and ally alike. The only way to make one's ideals known and accepted is through force, whether it is through power, fear, trickery, or all of the above.Do not spout your idyllic words to me, for you will find just how ignorant and foolish you truly are."

Obito's fists clenched in the darkness as the warhawk observed him, clearly waiting for some form of retort or verbal retaliation. But the time traveler could not, for he had fallen to his thoughts as he absorbed the full implications and meaning of what Danzō had said.

He was disturbed.

Despite knowing what Danzō's path had lead him to, despite knowing the differences, his own morals and thoughts were actually… Similar, to Obito's.

It was a frightening thought, but one that the Uchiha couldn't help but reference in his mind as the conversation progressed. For instance, the bit about "peaceful justice"… Wasn't that what Obito believed, as well?

He didn't want to sit down and converse with his enemies, because he felt it pointless. If he truly thought he could convince Madara to change his ways, he wouldn't be planning the man's death right now—he would be trying to bring him back to Konoha to be dealt with by the authorities and the clan. He would have incapacitated Orochimaru and left him at Hiruzen's doorstep with a metaphorical key to the snake's lab, wrapped with a bow. But why? Why would he waste his time, trying to convert an individual who had lived so many years of blind hatred and certainty? An individual who was so entrenched in his own twisted ideals and dreams of immortality that he had long ago discarded his humanity? It was much easier to simply rid the world of them, of all the other threats that he felt could harm Konoha and her people.

And of course, "their happiness doesn't matter." Even though Obito truly did want his team happy now, he was still lacking in that regard. Danzō's words resonated with what he had once believed—as long as they were there, even if they were an illusion, it didn't matter to him… No. No, in fact, his reasoning was even worse. At least Danzō appreciated the fact that Konoha's citizens were alive, but Obito, Tobi…? And now, what was he sacrificing?

He never told anyone the truth, he kept his secrets, not paying any heed to the fact that he had been hurting them, all because he was able to justify his actions in a blind, convoluted way.

Because "it is better this way."

All of this time, he had felt that what he had to do was simple: keep his team alive, keep his family alive, keep Konoha alive, contain Zetsu, and kill Orochimaru, Danzō, and Madara. But it wasn't that simple.

Danzō, for all of his flaws and convoluted scheming, was still important. Important to Konoha. Even with his harmful interferences in the future, Obito could not kill him.

(He had known this before, but when he had entered, he had intended on listening to the man. Listening, incriminating, and justifying a reason to kill him despite his position in Konoha's hierarchy. But he couldn't do that anymore, it wasn't so simple.)

To kill the man now meant destroying a powerful figurehead and second-handedly dismantling his shadowed strength. If he were to kill the warhawk right now in the midst of war, the village would not be able to keep it a veiled secret. The other villages would find out eventually, and would most likely take this as a sign of weakness andattack. Konoha needed Danzō right now, despite how Obito truly felt about the matter.

A minute, almost undetectable fluctuation of chakra had Obito on alert. He snapped to attention, glaring at the confident look on the warhawk's face.

"And now, I believe we have talked enough about philosophies and trivial opinions," he spoke evenly, as Obito felt the chakra signatures of Root ANBU literally melt into the room. He'd been right; Danzō was stalling, waiting for an opportunity to strike, and their little debate provided just the opportunity. "Now it is time for the truth, and whereyou stand regarding my village."

The urge to do something, to melt the bastard's face off, to twist his arms out of their sockets, to cripple him and leave him a paraplegic was stifling, but Obito's ingrained instincts kicked in before what he wanted to do could. The space around him shifted, twisted before the Root ANBU could slice through him with their weapons.

Obito collapsed on the flat, smooth surface within his dimension, gripping his strained eyes.

It was a full throbbing sensation, one he wouldn't have been experiencing if he hadn't overcharged his eyes with chakra… But the pain was a welcome distraction, grounding him, keeping him aware. That this was real, and that he couldn't afford to break down.

Not yet.

He bit his lip as the henge dispersed, but a wry chuckle escaped his lips anyway. He felt anything but amused, but the emotions and thoughts within him raged for release—and it was the only action he could grant himself just shy of going back and introducing the warhawk to a version of his own, real Tsukuyomi.

"… So," he whispered quietly, "I am like Danzō, am I?"

He received no answer, of course, and shook his head. "All the more reason, then."

Chapter Text

Obito walked west to the outskirts of Konoha's territory, knowing that his two clones had yet to leave to their assigned task.

He didn't like it, how obvious it was. How clear his hesitance was, to the point that even his clones that knew his thoughts hovered and waited, as though wondering if the original would change his mind. He could still feel their eyes—his eyes—on his back, waiting for the order to disperse, waiting for him to cancel his order. As if.

The hands on the straps of his pack tightened, and it was at that moment he felt the clones disappear. They had finally decided to leave, it seemed.

Earlier, after he left the village to meet with his team, Obito had detoured off of the road to create two Kage Bunshin with the task of tracking down the Ame Orphans—the current Akatsuki. Due to the nature of the self-imposed mission and the importance of the delivery, instead of sending a single clone, he had sent two in case one started running low on chakra or they ended up in a confrontation that could not be avoided. From where he was it was a couple days travel to Ame and despite the fact it would have made more sense to make the Bunshin when they were closer to Kusa, Obito couldn't chance any of his teammates finding out about his little mission.

He also didn't want to give himself more to worry about, not with this mission already on the forefront of his mind.

The time traveler shook his head, jumping from the road to the trees to hasten his pace. He could feel it, the steadily building anxiety forming within him, his mind teetering on the edge of sanity and his own, personal brand of madness. Obito had little worries about him snapping at his teammates and harming them—he knew for a fact that he would sooner turn his attacks on himself than harm them, even in the worst state—but he was worried about leaving them privy to his current state of mental and emotional instability.

Minato, who already knew about the fact that he was not the thirteen-year-old boy he seemed, would be quick to realize that this mission held some weight to Obito. Knowing the blonde, the chances of him calling off the mission or accompanying them were high, but Obito needed things to go similarly to how they went last time.

If Minato decided to join them, he would have a difficult time slipping away from them without the ruse of "death-by-falling-rocks"—which he knew would not occur under the watchful eyes of Namikaze Minato. If the mission was canceled, then obviously his chances of slipping away were even slimmer.

There was, of course, always the option of just saying "fuck it" and telling them everything. Considering Madara was, at this point, nothing more than a decrepit old man, he might've considered it had he been more… Stable, and in-control. However, the fact that Madara was not alone prevented him from falling back on this alternative to a degree, almost as much as his own compulsions to keep silent were due to guilt.

Obito snorted derisively at himself, watching the horizon as his teammates' figures became visible. 'I'm a sorry sack of shit.'

The time traveler plastered on a genial smile as he approached his team, watching humorously as Rin and Kakashi turned around with varying levels of surprise. "Hey guys! Ready for the mission?"

"… You're on time," Kakashi stated quietly in a monotone voice, but the slight widening of his eyes betrayed his true thoughts on the matter.

Obito rolled his eyes, grinning somewhat more genuinely. "Wow, I'm hurt, Kakashi. I know how to be on time when it's important, y'know."

"Maybe you should do it more often, then?" Minato suggested lightly, humor lacing his tone. "Well, I'm glad we won't be waiting for an hour before this important mission."

The Uchiha internalized his flinch. If only Minato knew.

Rin discreetly nudged Obito's ribs, making a quiet "psst" sound that wasn't as inconspicuous as she believed. "Hey, Obito, did you remember?"

In response he raised an eyebrow, staring at Rin with barely concealed pain. 'Yes,' he thought quietly, 'I remember.'

"Ah, that's right," Minato began happily, withdrawing one of his Hiraishin kunai. "As of today, Kakashi is a Jōnin just like me, and we'll be splitting into two teams for efficiency." He turned to Kakashi with a smile. "Here, Kakashi. It's custom made for myself, and it's a little heavy and oddly shaped, but I'm sure you'll be able to make the most of it with time. Congratulations."

The silver-haired Jōnin caught the kunai as the blonde tossed it to him and nodded. "Aa. Thanks, sensei."

"I have something, too!" Rin chimed in, withdrawing a small package from her bag and presenting it to Kakashi. "A personalized medkit! I know you don't like impractical things, Kakashi, so I figured this would be the best thing for me to get you. I adjusted some things to make it quick and easy to use, even in tight situations."

Kakashi stared at his two gifts for a moment, muttering a quiet, "thank you" before storing them in his pouch. He turned to his last teammate and held his hand out expectantly.

Obito had spared the exchange a disinterested look, but truthfully he had been watching, cataloguing every minute movement and interaction. It was such a light-hearted and happy situation, and he almost wanted to activate his Sharingan to keep it immortalized in his memory.

Outwardly, of course, he placed a faux confused and disgruntled look on his face as he glanced down at Kakashi's hand. "What?"

In response, Kakashi's eyes narrowed slightly.

"Obito," Rin spoke quietly, a nervous smile on her face. "Kakashi was promoted, and yesterday we said we'd get him presents… Didn't you get him something?"

Obito turned away and closed his eyes, his hand automatically drifting to the left side of his face.

He had to. For his plans to work, to ensure that nothing would befall his loved ones… He had to.

Kakashi, meanwhile, stared at the back of his teammate with incredulity. Of all things, he couldn't help but think. Obito had forced him to open up, to accept his past, to accept the fact that they were a team and that they had to rely on each other.

But here was Obito, rejecting everything, everyone. Rejecting his team. He had been for a while, and even though Minato had told Kakashi to allow Obito to deal with things on his own, even though Kakashi had listened and refrained from prying further, it still bothered him. He had already accepted the fact that he cared for Minato, the man he looked up to and respected. That he cared for Kushina, the woman he saw as an almost-sister that teased him happily. That he cared for Rin, who was once a blithering fangirl but had become a competent medic through hard work and could be trusted on the battlefield. That he cared for Obito, the boy that suddenly became inexplicably precocious yet was still an idiot that refused to tell any of them anything.

Yes, Kakashi had once been in a position that warranted no judgement or reprimands from him, because he had kept everything to himself. He still did, to a degree, but he understood now that teammates were there to help, and pushing them away earned him nothing. Obito had been the one to teach him that. And here they were, Kakashi trying to reach out to his teammate and Obito refusing to open up, in a sickening reversal of their interactions over half a year ago.

It wasn't as if he really need a physical gift from the boy. Sure, it hurt, the idea that Obito had forgotten, but if he had given his usual sheepish smile and apologized, Kakashi would have been able to brush it aside as one of the idiot's idiosyncrasies. But he didn't even offer that much.

After the silence stretched for a minute, Kakashi closed his outstretched hand and allowed it to drop to his side, his fists clenching in a faulty attempt to tell himself that it didn't matter, because he knew that it did. It did matter.

Obito finally sighed. He had remained silent out of hesitation, but he had to get this done at some point.

"… Kakashi," he called out quietly, still facing away. "You sure you want it now?"

He couldn't see them, but he could practically feel the confusion radiating off of his teammates. He took a steadying breath and nodded to himself. "… It would make more sense to give it to you now, when we can prepare."

He turned around, opening his eyes to reveal the red of his Sharingan, and ignored the looks of veiled alarm his dōjutsu brought. "This," he muttered quietly, his hand pointing to his left eye as he stared at Kakashi with grave solemnity. "… Is my gift to you."

Rin gasped as Kakashi and Minato stiffened. Apparently, they knew the gravity of what he was offering. Instead of acknowledging their surprise, hesitance, and possible disgust, he waited patiently for anyone present to speak, and for Kakashi to accept his gift.

"… Obito," Minato stated quietly, gaze sharp and measuring. "You… Do you understand what it is that you are saying?"

The time traveler locked eyes with the blonde, a silent battle waging between them. 'More than anyone, even you,' his eyes said. But he only verbalized a quiet yet firm, "yes."

"But… But Obito!" Rin exclaimed, eyes wide with worry and brow furrowed in confusion. "You can't do that! I mean, I don't know a lot about your family personally, but—everyone knows that your clan won't—"

"It's not the clan, but their ideals," Obito snapped, not necessarily at Rin, but at himself. Ire rose quickly as he recalled his recent interactions with the Elders. "And you know what? I don't give a damn about their prideful, destructive ideals. The esteemed Elders can all fuck off an die for all I care. That clan… It's full of pompous, mentally-skewed freaks that would be doing the world a favor if they all just disappeared."

He turned away from his team slightly, giving a hard stare in the direction of the village. "There are select few in that clan that can actually handle the blood, handle the dōjutsu that they claim is a gift from the gods. But they are few in hundreds, and those of Uchiha blood are cursed to fall to power-hungry depravity that leads to nothing but meaningless death."

Obito flexed his hands, forcing his animosity to die down.

He had an utterly vile sense of anticipation, dread, regret, and anger roiling within, and his unequivocal hatred towards even the Uchiha Elders was misplaced to a degree. The anticipation that started ever since he had found out that the Kannabi Bridge mission was approaching had been mounting for the past couple of days, and it was something he had to control.

… No. Even before then, he had been slipping, losing his grasp on his determination ever since he realized he was in the past. Despite Naruto's methods of showing him the truth, the boy's miracle therapy had only managed to haphazardly put his shattered mind back together in a feigned mirage of normality. He was unstable—it was something he could easily admit to, especially now—and subconsciously, he wondered if he was already past instability, and if he was as insane as he felt.

Obito shook his head. It wasn't the time to be losing himself, he needed to keep a level head.

Without a second thought, his left hand darted to his eye and gouged it out without hesitance, and he felt the familiar warmth of blood trickle down his face and arm. He turned to a clearly stricken Kakashi, ignoring the way Rin flinched and Minato grimaced from the morbid action.

He stared down at the extricated eye with his right, before looking back up at Kakashi and shoving it in the boy's direction. "So. Take it."

Kakashi stumbled backwards, staring at the bloodied eye in the Uchiha's hand with undisguised horror. "… What… I, Obito," the Jōnin breathed out shakily, eyes wide as he glanced between Obito and his outstretched hand. "I can't just—I can't just take your eye! That's—It's just not—"

Rin rushed over to Obito's side, her own eyes riveted to his blooded palm and the organ resting within. "Obito, I-I'll help you, so please," her voice trembled, and the time traveler could see her hesitance to force him to replace his eye. "Please, put your—your eye back in its socket."

He felt a small twinge of guilt at the fact that he had likely traumatized her, but he pulled away, turning back to Kakashi with a steely gaze. A morbid part of him found it humorous that, no doubt, his bloodied visage probably gave his gaze a stronger level of severity than what would have been possible before, in his current form.

He supposed that it made sense they would be worried, scared, even, about this—if not just because the concept of removing one's perfectly healthy eye was questionable, then because it was an Uchiha doing so. But Obito was never the conventional Uchiha, and Kakashi needed to take it. For his plans to work, at least one of his eyes had to survive—especially his left.

And who better to safeguard his eye than the man he had entrusted it to in the first place?

"If you don't take it," he began in a monotonous voice. "… Then I'll crush the eye."

Rin took a hesitant step back towards Minato, who watched the exchange silently. Kakashi's eyes remained riveted to Obito's disembodied eye, but slowly, the tension and nervousness surrounding the Hatake eased out of his frame as his usual, calculating reason took over.

After a few moments of silence, Kakashi looked up, a searching look in place. "… Why?"

His voice was quiet—almost a whisper—and toneless, but Obito knew that whatever Kakashi was feeling was not nearly so bland. The Uchiha offered a casual shrug. "Your lightning ninjutsu thing leaves you open for attacks. You won't be able to use it if you don't have the eye." The silver-haired Jōnin's eyes widened in question, but Obito glared half-heartedly at him and barreled on. "Bakashi, just accept my gift gratefully, you jerk."

The wary, hesitant look returned to Kakashi visage, and they stared at one another in a battle of wills. If he were to be perfectly honest, Obito didn't know why his teammate wasn't jumping at the opportunity—even if he didn't know anything in-depth about the Sharingan, many knew the basics at least. Kakashi knew the perks to the dōjutsu, and it would undoubtedly make him stronger, almost unrivaled. Seeing his clear hesitance was unnerving to Obito as a result, to say the least.

Finally, after what felt like hours, Kakashi looked at Rin.

He nodded.

 


 

The healing process was quick.

Rin had given token resistance, perhaps in the hope that the two of them would change their minds, but Obito could see it—she already understood that the two of them had made their decisions. She could have tried to reason that such a change right now before a pivotal mission was foolish, or she could have lied and said that it wasn't possible for her to make a clean transplant (which was a bold-faced lie that Minato and Obito knew). But she only looked at them once before shaking her head solemnly. It was a formality out of worry and knowing what was (likely) better for the both of them, at best.

Obito watched as Rin checked Kakashi's transplanted eye for the fifth time, ensuring that the dōjutsu had successfully been transferred and their efforts not wasted. The Hatake was deathly silent, grave as he was years ago—as Obito recalled when he himself was mentally a child—as he gazed unseeingly at the grass over Rin's shoulder.

He knew. Obito knew that his "gift" wasn't truly a gift, but rather, a curse he was bestowing on his friend and teammate. Even if he hadn't had memories from a future Kakashi that once was, he would've known after seeing the corruption within his clan, coupled with the knowledge of the Sharingan itself. But this was what he needed. His Sharingan needed to continue to exist, and however much guilt he felt about forcing his friend to go through this—again, and by his own urging no less—Kakashi was the only one he knew he could trust unequivocally, only emphasized by the intense loyalty and devotion the Kakashi he knew had shown in the future-past.

Obito watched Rin flinch out of the corner of his eye as Kakashi passed something to her, and she turned to him with shaking, bloodied hands. Her eyes were steel, but hesitant. "O-Obito, I'm sorry."

He stared at her hands.

"It's—I couldn't… The optic nerves on—it—aren't…" Her eyes glanced to the hand holding the destroyed eye and Obito's empty eye socket. "… I can't…"

Obito inclined his head after glancing to the spinning, red eye in Kakashi's left eye socket—verifying that she was indeed speaking about the Jōnin's previous eye. He had, in truth, expected and hoped for this outcome. He didn't need the eye. "It's alright, Rin, I can adapt with one eye. Is Kakashi doing alright?"

After a moment, the medic stepped aside and glanced to Kakashi, whose eyes were still riveted to the ground before him, shell-shocked. It could have been from the sudden clarity the Sharingan offered him, or the thought and realization that it was his friend's eye that he was seeing through, the latter being more probable.

Obito realized with apathy that the whole premise was rather macabre, but there was no time for frayed nerves and injured morals.

"Keep your left eye closed for now," he spoke loudly, stirring Kakashi from his daze. He snapped up to look at Obito. "Since you aren't an Uchiha by blood, the chakra drain will be substantial—I know you can and will learn how to navigate with one eye quickly, but for now, keep it covered."

Minato, who had been silently observing his students the entire time, spoke. "Are we ready to leave?"

He gazed over them before locking eyes with Obito, his gaze searching and stern. The Uchiha nodded as Kakashi and Rin gave affirmatives. Minato's gaze lingered for a moment before turning west, his eyes narrowing. "We will continue traveling together until we enter Kusa, where we will split up. I will head to the front while you three will head towards the Kannabi Bridge to complete your objective."

The blonde received three more affirmatives in understanding, and with a signal, they all leapt to the trees.

 


 

Minato watched his team from the back of the group. Kakashi was at the front, the designated leader of the team, while Rin, the medic, was in the middle with Obito trailing behind her.

It was a well-chosen formation, however basic, and it was with a certain level of pride that he noted they had assumed their positions without preamble or dissonance—as natural as breathing.

His eyes slid to Obito, who remained ever vigilant. Though he could not see his face, Minato knew that the boy's Sharingan was activated (the chakra Minato could sense focused around the Uchiha's eyes attested to this) and he could detect the nervousness surrounding the boy like a shroud.

Had Obito truly been the thirteen-year-old, un-bloodied Chūnin Minato had though he was a few months ago, then he might have dismissed this behavior as shaken nerves over a high-ranked mission. But he knew that Obito was not as he appeared, and that the "boy" had experienced horrors unknown to many.

He didn't know exactly what, and for all he knew, this immensely changed Obito he now knew was all of three years older than he appeared—or in contrast, decades older. Minato didn't know. But the fact that Obito, who was apparently from the future, displayed such worry over a mission such as this… It was worrying.

Minato had seen and catalogued Obito's initial reaction to finding out about this mission. As soon as he had explained the mission parameters, his eyes had focused on Obito, watching for a reaction—and a reaction he got.

Earlier, the Uchiha's fervor in giving his eye to Kakashi had been observed and catalogued as well. Deep down, Minato had wanted to stop the exchange—the psychological, not to mention political ramifications given to Kakashi upon their return to Konoha would be substantial, and Minato could easily see how the event had shaken his usually controlled, level-headed student and medic. And despite everything, it seemed that, at this point, Kakashi and Rin had both reached a level of trust and understanding in Obito similar to Minato's own, even without knowledge of the truth the "boy" held, if their quiet acceptance of the previous situation was anything to go by.

Still. While Minato trusted and cared for the Uchiha, there were simply too many cues to dismiss.

Without a sound, he darted to Kakashi's side and glanced behind them. Kakashi, at first confused, nodded hesitantly and signaled for the other two to stop. Everyone except Obito halted their travels and landed on the next branch available, but he continued on, his red eyes darting around.

Minato had waited. Whatever happened during this mission was critical, and despite his hesitance to push the time traveler, he had waited long enough. All of them had.

His mouth set in a grim line and he called out to his student.

 


 

"Obito."

The addressed time traveler abruptly halted, almost stumbling over the branch he had just made contact with. He turned around and his eyes widened as he noted that it wasn't just Minato behind him, but Kakashi and Rin as well—apparently, they had been signaled to stop.

Inwardly berating himself for hyper-focusing on everything except his teammates (such a blunder could earn him dead teammates) he leapt back to them, joining the group.

"Minato-sensei," he started, before shaking his head and turning to Kakashi. He was the leader of the mission at the moment, after all. "Kakashi, why'd we stop—"

"Obito, I think we should talk," Minato interrupted.

Hesitantly, the time traveler turned to the blonde. His sensei looked normal enough, but… "… Talk about what?"

Minato smiled. "Well, you've been awfully jumpy for a while, now, and earlier was somewhat concerning." The corners of his eyes creased as though amused, but actuallylooking revealed that the man found the situation humorless. "I think it's about time you tell us everything, wouldn't you agree?"

Like before, the two locked gazes and exchanged a silent battle. It took Obito only a second to realize that, unlike before, he would not be getting his way again—Minato was adamant, and it seemed he had already caught on to Obito's worry. The signs he had given were telling, and Namikaze Minato was not the type to allow things to slide if there was even the slightest chance of those he cared for being injured.

On the side, Kakashi and Rin observed the exchange silently, understanding the severity of the situation on an intrinsic level, even without knowing the full truth.

Obito felt his jaw tighten. There was really no way out of the situation, nothing he could do short of outright treason—and he didn't want that. He didn't want to be remembered as a traitor, however selfish the notion seemed. Besides, he reasoned with himself, if Kurama came through for him, they would likely find out anyway…

"… Fine," Obito sighed quietly, feeling less guilt and more relief than he would have ever expected from the decision. He sat on the branch he was perched atop, allowing his legs to swing slightly as he looked expectantly at his team.

Minato blinked. He blinked again. Rin and Kakashi stared at Obito.

However amusing he found the situation (apparently they had been expecting more resistance—which was understandable, considering all of his griping and duplicity prior), Obito wanted to tell them before he changed his mind. He rolled his eyes and grumbled half-heartedly. "Do you want to know or what? Sit down, I'm not talking up to you guys."

His two teammates sat as told, clearly trying to understand exactly what was going on, and Minato, with his knowledge of Obito's status as a time traveler was understandably hesitant. He sat down eventually anyway, eyeing Obito expectantly.

"First," the time traveler stated when they were all eye-level, "you need to keep any questions and inquires until the end. Regardless of this, other than what I tell you I will not elaborate—it's up to you to make your own inferences. Also, I'm only going to tell you once, because we're short on time."

Rin and Kakashi nodded. Minato continued staring expectantly.

"… Well then…" Obito began, scratching the back of his head as he contemplated his next course of action. He couldn't, wouldn't tell them everything point blank for manyreasons, one of the most prominent being that it would take too much time that they didn't have, not even counting the endless questions the truth would no doubt bring forth. But if he could tell them the truth without making it obvious, giving them something to think about…

He nodded to himself, and then turned to his team. This was stupid and he felt stupid for this, but he honestly couldn't think of anything else. He wasn't a storyteller, that much would be made obvious, but it would serve well in confusing them.

"… Once upon a time," he began, watching with half distaste at himself and slight amusement as Kakashi's eyes narrowed, Rin's brow furrowed, and Minato restrained the disappointment in a grimace. Out of everyone, Minato would be the one to take the most out of what he was about to say—that disappointment wouldn't last for long. Obito turned his attention back to his "story" and smiled. "… There was a boy. A boisterous, mischievous little tyke, who was always smiling and laughing."

Obito closed his eyes, remembering the few times he had observed a younger Naruto during his "visits" to Konoha. He drew from the memories he had gained from the boy during their pivotal exchange, as well.

"He… He was hated by his village. They were fearful of him, bitter, and spiteful. Because he contained something that had caused their pain, their suffering, even second-handedly. They believed this boy to be a monster, the epitome of evil, and though they never lashed out out of fear, they avoided him. However silly and ignorant the boy behaved, he noticed this—he heard the whispers, the barely concealed glares and fear in their eyes. He didn't understand, why they treated him like this, and he didn't have anyone. No friends. No family. No allies." A memory flashed through his mind, of Naruto sitting forlornly on his battered swing, staring with ill-concealed yearning as he observed the children with their families. "He was alone. He was born, had the love of his parents for all of half an hour, and was then left in a village that hated him, hated the power inside of him, and he lived alone."

His nindō.

"… But he never gave up. His dream was to become kage of his village, to earn the recognition of the people, and to be loved. So he didn't give up. Even when placed on a team of a survivor with a vendetta, a fangirl, and a mourner, he never gave up. Even when the odds seemed to be at their worst, he never gave up. Even when he lost one of the few he looked up to, he continued on his path."

"Is the boy you?" Kakashi questioned abruptly, his brow furrowed in confusion. Rin nudged him as Obito gave him an unimpressed look. Remembering what the raven had said earlier, the silver-haired Jōnin turned away with a mumbled apology before turning back to listen.

Obito smiled wryly. Without even knowing it, Kakashi had asked a very loaded question.

He shook his head, deciding he had given enough of Naruto's backstory. "Anyway… This boy was a key player to the plans of another." His expression darkened, his eyes flashing red. "Years before the boy was even born, a foolish, stubborn idiot lost himself to darkness after the death of a loved one."

His team tensed at his change in demeanor.

"He allowed his grief to blind him, and as such, ended up becoming a willing servant of a controlling, manipulative individual, being one of the few with a darkened heart to rival the other. His ancestor. Under the spell of insanity his ancestor had woven over him, the fool took the lives of the boy's parents, leaving the innocent child unprotected against his burden and the village. Time and time again, the fool interfered with the boy's attempts to save his loved ones, keep them happy, and achieve happiness himself. The fool even started a war in an effort to kill the boy, take his power, and chase after—" he hissed, his fists clenched tightly and bleeding. "—after a convoluted dream."

Obito relaxed almost immediately, his face taking on an impassive look again, but his eyes showed remorse. "… And still, the boy persevered, fighting not only against the fool's attacks and darkness… But against the hatred he had always lived against. Soon, he had gathered the trust and bonds of many from across the nations, unknowingly being the link that joined the once-disagreeing leaders together. When the boy and the fool fought in a final clash, that was the biggest difference: where the boy had the wills and support of thousands… The fool had none. He had killed the people he had loved, and betrayed the few that still lived. He turned to the darkness, foolishly clinging to a hopeless ideal to reclaim what he once thought lost—what he had destroyed himself."

The time traveler leaned forward, his elbows resting on his knees and his hands clasped together tightly. "It was… It was then, that the fool finally looked. Finally opened his eyes and saw the boy, the young man who had gone from a pariah and image of scorn to what he was then. Despite all that he had experienced… He had continued. When the fool had told him that he didn't have to walk a steep path, that he could take a shortcut, that a kage's goal should be to bring peace to this world…" He paused and swallowed, his voice wavering. "Do you know what he said?"

The boy looked up and glared, his eyes full of determination. "… I don't want to know an easy shortcut. I want to know how to walk down a steep path."

Obito gave a quiet, tremulous chuckle as he shook his head. "He said that he didn't want to know how to take a shortcut, but how to brave the impossible."

The boy walked closer, his voice rising slightly with anger. "Who determines if a path is 'steep'? Someone must have the courage to walk down and find out. A Hokage is one who withstands the pain, walking in front of the others—the people, the village. It's someone that breaks through a dead end so that everyone else can tread forward without risk, without fear."

"He said that… That the Hokage is the one to determine if a path is steep or impossible. A kage must have the courage to go forward and lay out the path for everyone else, for the village."

He halted before the man, glaring. "There are no shortcuts to protecting those we care about, and there are no shortcuts to becoming Hokage! Once you become Hokage, you can't ever run away!"

"The boy who went through hell and back. He lost his parents. He lived a life of scorn because of a power he never wanted. He wanted, wished for recognition and respect, despite his life. He lost his friend and was always looked down on. He lost the only family member he ever truly had, even if it was not a connection by blood. He watched as everyone he cared about died. And yet, through it all, he managed to do the unimaginable. The unexpected. Through it all, he still managed to remain unwavering with his morals. He refused to take a shortcut, for he wanted the pure, earned respect and acknowledgement of everyone. He turned the hearts of many. Acquired the support and love of many. Continued improving and gaining power, all in order to protect his friends. Most importantly, he never gave up."

His hands tightened. "… Even as he faced the man, the one who could be said to have been responsible for all of his hardship, he still managed to reach out to him. The fool. To offer the man salvation, a chance to redeem himself. The boy started his life in a way that was not dissimilar to the man's. And yet, they had ended up on two different sides of the battlefield. The man lived his life in the darkness, accepting it, living it, as he was convinced his only light had been snuffed out. The boy lived his life without looking back, deciding to move forward and to strive for his goals. For his bonds. For the people he loved."

The Uchiha took a breath, blinking down at his bloodied hands before releasing them; he hadn't realized he was clenching his hands with so much pressure. He shook his head.

"… He was determined. Where the fool made a crucial mistake in a pivotal moment, where he ran away—the boy remained. He never ran away, and continued forging on, no matter the stakes. No matter the risks. All for the sake of what he thought was right."

Obito cracked a pained, reminiscing smile. "… The boy, using his experiences, his words—his bare fists—managed to convey his pain and understanding. Even the the blind,idiotic fool had seen it. The boy liberated the fool, acknowledging him, forcing him to accept a name he had long since abandoned." He paused, his eyes glazing over in memory. "… All, of course, didn't end there, as the ancestor still lived. But that was not it, for even the ancestor was not the crux of their problems. A legend, a mythical being, a god, a demon—it materialized before their eyes in place of the ancestor, exhibiting such overwhelming power. It was something even more wicked, tainted and corrupted, and it was strangely fitting to the fool that the ancestor had been betrayed by a being that was the corrupt will of origin itself."

"The fool… He knew he had to do something. For the boy was not strong enough to take on the monster, so he had decided that he ought to stop acting as a fool: he sacrificed his life to save an old friend he had betrayed, the last of his loved ones, and the boy who had liberated him."

Obito bowed his head, closing his eyes. "… He died. He died, and he went into the afterlife to join his loved ones while the battled the corrupt origin with his own friend, his brother in arms. The fool, though his sins were far too many to be repented through such a simple act, was…" He swallowed, his hands tightening into fists. "… He washappy."

A tense, hesitant silence descended around them as Obito gathered himself. When he was finally certain his appearance alone wouldn't garner questions, he looked up at them with a smile, eyeing each of his team. "Well, then. That's it."

"… I don't get it," Rin started quietly, solemnly, eyes on her hands. "Who… Who is the boy? The fool? And… And what does this have to do with you, Obito…?"

The Uchiha shook his head. "I told you. It's up to you to figure out what I said."

His two teammates looked disgruntled, but seemingly understood that the topic should not be pursued. Obito glanced to his sensei, silently hoping he hadn't affected one of his unreadable masks.

Minato had a thoughtful, almost sorrowful look on his face.

 


 

When they entered a very familiar area of the forest, Obito withdrew his mask from his jacket.

"Obito?" Rin questioned, tilting her head as she slowed down slightly to walk with him. "What's that for?"

Kakashi glanced back at them and stared.

"Hn." Obito smiled and cocked his head to the side, even though his expressions were hidden by the mask. Behind it, he activated his Sharingan once again and allowed the menacing killing intent he had been reigning in show on his (thankfully) covered face. He hadn't been late to meet them earlier that day, but thanks to the few… Setbacks, they ended up arriving in this area around the same time they had previously. That Iwa Shinobi wouldn't stand a chance, this time around.

He watched as Kakashi paused for a brief moment before continuing to walk, glancing to Minato. The blonde nodded. "Follow me," the Hatake motioned to his two teammates and they darted to a fallen tree for cover.

"One," he informed them quietly. "High Chūnin, possibly Jōnin. I'll take care of this."

Kakashi motioned through the required handseals for Chidori with speed and within seconds, his hand was engulfed in bright, volatile lightening chakra.

Before he could dart out and attack the enemy in the trees, Minato held out his hand, staring off into the shade. "Don't be hasty, Kakashi. You haven't use this technique in battle yet, have you?"

Kakashi shook his head, opening his left eye. "Obito gave me his eye for this technique."

Minato's eyes widened slightly, before he turned to Obito. The time traveler only inclined his head, expression unseen.

"… Still," the blonde began, turning to a worried Rin. "You only just received the Sharingan. It's still healing, and you probably shouldn't use it without traini—"

"I'm the captain right now," Kakashi interrupted. "I can do this." Without preamble, he darted forward with the sound of crackling lightning filling the air.

The events played out much like last time. Obito could tell that, despite being more nervous than usual (no doubt a result of the events from earlier) Kakashi would be able to kill the Jōnin this time, and that Minato would still interfere to ensure that his student would not be injured.

'Sorry sensei, Kakashi,' Obito thought quietly as his Mangekyō spun. 'But this kill is mine.'

He darted forward in a Shunshin as Minato grabbed Kakashi a split second before the boy connected, the both of them jumping back with wide-eyes. The Iwa Shinobi's eyes widened as Obito ducked from the swing of his katana and reached up to grab the arm.

Blink.

… And it was gone.

The Jōnin stumbled backwards, staring at the stump where his arm used to be, eyes wide and dilated, breathing labored. "Y-you—my arm! My arm!" He collapsed onto the ground as he clutched his bicep with his remaining arm and glared up at the time traveler, seething. "You b-bastard! I'm going to kill you!"

"Aw~," Obito cooed, weaving side to side with a lazy gait as he approached the shinobi, head tilting with his movements. "Does it hurt? Is Iwa-nin-chan hurt? Tobi is sorry! So, so sorry!"

He was suddenly kneeling in front of the shaken and fearful shinobi, whose matted hair clung to his face from perspiration. Obito chirped happily, "Here, let me help you~!"

The man watched, this time, with a morbid fascination as the space around his arm twisted and a sickening, muffled crunch was emitted by his limb. He let out another scream.

Obito stood up with his fists on his hips, chest puffed out proudly. "There~! Now you're even! Tobi did a good job, right?" He tilted his head to the side. "Hmm… Yeah, Tobi did a good job. Tobi is a good boy!"

"M-monster!" The Iwa-nin cried out, tears streaming down his face as he kicked away. Without the use of arms, it was a rather clumsy endeavor. "Y-you, you're a MONSTER! Get away, GET AWAY!"

Obito crossed his arms and huffed. "That's not very nice of you. Not-nice people need to be punished~!"

He walked up to the armless shinobi and knelt, placing his hands on the man's legs. The legs went. Obito absently hoped the bloodied limbs were transported somewhere distant from his usual landing point. It'd be gross to land in his dimension and land on deteriorated, rotting limbs, after all.

The man's screaming increased in volume, coherency and clarity replaced with mind-numbing fear. The limbless creature was nothing but a feral beast with the most base of instinctual fear, and the inability to protect himself.

Slowly, languidly, Obito reached over to place his hand on the man's head, causing the screams to increase in volume. His voice calm and measured, cool and callous like steel unlike his Tobi persona's. "Shut up."

The screeching abruptly cut off with a gurgling hiss as the shinobi's severed windpipe was revealed, along with the red flesh surrounding it. Blood gushed from the newly created orifices, and the time traveler moved back in a fluid motion to avoid the warm spray.

As Obito stared at the misshapen torso, he let out an aggrieved sigh. He didn't have to deal with it so… Messily. Not to mention dementedly. But he would be lying if that loss of inhibitions didn't alleviate some of the looming anxiety, and true insanity from earlier.

He just had to wait. Once Madara was gone, once Kaguya's messenger was dealt with, he could relax.

A hand grabbed his shoulder and he snapped around, blinking at the worried look Minato had—and the pale and shocked looks his teammates wore. They didn't look quite as bad as they had the first time, but…

"Obito." His eyes slid back to Minato, knowing the unspoken words—'what happened? Are you alright?'—just from the look in the blonde's eyes.

He removed his mask, revealing the dead look in his eye and a strained smile. "I will be alright, Minato-sensei." He stood up as Minato's hand fell, and replaced his mask over his face. He turned to Kakashi. "Let's go, captain. We don't have much time."

Unseen by him, Minato reached out to the time traveler. His hand hovered indecisively a few inches away from Obito's shoulder before retracting. "… Alright," Minato intoned, turning to Kakashi. "We'll split up here."

Rin and Kakashi turned to look at him simultaneously, shocked. "Wha—sensei!" Rin shouted with wide-eyes. "You're really going to just… Obito, he—he should get rest! Or, something, we don't—we can't just—"

"Is Obito fit for duty?" Kakashi questioned, apparently having recovered slightly from his initial shock. He turned to Obito with a critical, yet worried, eye, and the time traveler knew the boy's inquiry was not disparaging. "This is an important mission with high stakes. Is it wise for you to leave him with—"

Minato cut Kakashi off with a pained look. "Kakashi. You are the team leader, and the three of you are perfectly capable of handling this mission on your own."

Kakashi's expression pinched as his trained formality faltered. "But Obito isn't… He just killed—"

The blonde turned away, facing Obito with hardened eyes. "I know the three of you can do this. I'm sure that nothing bad will happen in the immediate future." His voice fell below a whisper, and held a vague threat. "I'll trust you, Obito."

The Uchiha nodded, and the unspoken words in the blonde's eyes, "I will trust that you will protect them," were not missed by him.

It was a promise easily kept, for Obito.

Chapter Text

Rin had been captured.

Obito had expected it. He had planned to sit back and allow it to happen, knowing that as long as they proved to be as powerless as they had last time, she would be fine. He needed her to be captured, so that he would have an excuse to head to the cave that served as their enemy's base and his false grave.

That didn't mean that it was an easy task to sit back and pretend to be as weak as the Iwa Shinobi likely thought them, and watch them take Rin away. So as soon as he had made certain that Kakashi was uninjured, he darted off in the direction he had seen the Jōnin run off.

"Oi! Obito, wait!" Kakashi called out, sounding irritated.

Obito didn't bother stopping and merely called back in a rehearsed tone, "I don't care about your rules, Kakashi! I'm going to save Rin—"

"I KNOW! But we need to work together, idiot!"

Obito abruptly halted his travels, coming to a stop on the next branch as he turned to stare at Kakashi (who just barely managed to avoid crashing into him, mumbling words that sounded suspiciously like "idiot, give a warning next time"). He slowly brought up a hand and removed his mask, revealing his single widened-eye.

"You…" The Uchiha began, his brow furrowing. "You aren't afraid of me?"

He was well aware of the tension his earlier actions had caused. He knew of the hesitance his two teammates had, regarding the continuation of the mission, with Obito's less-than-satisfactory mental state.

Kakashi only gave a quiet scoff, rolling his visible eye. "Your method of killing was… Less humane than strictly necessary, but I know you were just being you." He paused, clearly grasping at words. "… It's not like I—we—haven't seen you in action before, either, and while your gift was unexpected… Expect the unexpected, right?"

When Obito made no outward reaction or move to respond, the Hatake continued. "… Not to mention, it's not like I haven't taken lives before or seen bloody scenes—you forget that I am the most experienced Shinobi in our age group." His eye crinkled as though smiling, and Obito swore he saw the Kakashi he knew—the Kakashi he had nearly battled to the death with. "'Those who abandon their comrades are worse than trash.' Isn't that what you said?"

Obito only stared at him, even as Kakashi lifted an arm to scratch the back of his neck in a gesture that seemed far too laid back for the thirteen-year-old, rule-abiding Kakashi he was supposed to be. "I guess… Those words, they made sense to me. I don't want to abandon my comrades." The Jōnin shook his head, looking back up and revealing the tense determination written on his features. "I won't abandon my comrades, my friends. My family."

"… Alright," Obito muttered, blinking slowly. "Alright," he affirmed, a grin slowly stretched across his face and he looked up to regard his teammate. "Let's go save Rin-chan, then."

Without another word, the two of them darted in the direction they knew the Iwa Shinobi had taken their teammate, Obito with an ever-present smile.

He was happy.

Even though the likely end was steadily approaching, he saw a glimpse of a much happier, much more pleasant future, where Kakashi was not the sole survivor of his team. Where he wasn't a haunted man that visited a stone monument religiously to apologize and beg forgiveness from the people he loved, the people he felt he failed. Where Rin would be able to become the stunning, powerful woman she ought to have become. Where Minato and Kushina would be able to finally have the family they wanted, the child that would change the world. With the affirmation, Obito's determination only grew.

His smile vanished as he replaced his mask and activated his Sharingan.

He would not fail.

 


 

Kakashi watched as Obito landed on a branch and signaled, the both of them suppressing their chakra immediately. He observed (and felt) with no small amount of awe as the Uchiha's already suppressed signature completely vanished, as though a testament to the boy's true ability. It reminded him that, even if Obito had given them that "story," Kakashi had really learned nothing new—and though the bitterness the thought brought up was minute, it was noticeable nonetheless.

He shook his head as he quashed the petty emotion. There was no time for deliberations, not when their third teammate was captured by a group of Jōnin-level enemy shinobi. With his head back in order, Kakashi turned to Obito to relay his brief plan—

—and promptly flinched back when an ear-splitting clap resounded throughout the grove.

Emitted by Obito.

Kakashi stared at the raven, disbelief masked yet known all the same. "… Obito," he hissed quietly, glancing around them as he glared at the boy—a difficult feat, especially considering the fact he only had one useable eye for vision at the moment. "What the hell are you thinking? Now we have to move, before they find us!"

It was just Kakashi's luck, he figured, that one of the Iwa Jōnin he had been thinking of appeared at that moment. The man was headed for Obito with a brandished tantō, a malicious grin twisting on his face. Sensing what was about to happen, and inwardly wondering how he had actually gotten accustomed to his teammate being like this, Kakashi pushed up his hitai-ate to reveal the spinning of his Sharingan.

Unlike previously, he was actually able to see what Obito had done to the enemy—he leapt at the Jōnin as the sword seemed to slice through him like air. Seeing that incited a small, detestable spark of fear within Kakashi, but logically he knew about Obito's Kamui—he watched the Uchiha make a movement too fast for even the Sharingan, and suddenly he was behind the Jōnin, who had a large gaping slice across his throat and was plummeting to the ground below.

He had only spared a glance for the now-deceased Jōnin before turning back to Obito, noticing that the boy hadn't made a move to turn back. Kakashi understood the unspoken command, that this was their cue to go save Rin. He might've protested, saying that they really should have discussed a strategy first, but he knew for a fact that Obito likely wouldn't listen as it was. So he leapt from his branch and followed after his teammate.

The two of them landed soundlessly outside of the cave where Kakashi could feel Rin's familiar signature, and the muted presences of an indeterminate number of enemies—but "a lot" sounded like an accurate guesstimate for the mixed, confusing mass.

'Not good,' the silver-haired Jōnin thought grimly before turning to Obito. He doubted that they were all Jōnin, but he had a feeling that it was still going to be a rather close scrape.

Obito was facing the maw of the cave, staring into the darkness as he spoke. "… Kakashi, go after Rin—and make sure to stay low to the ground. I'll be right behind you."

Kakashi took a step forward to offer a better idea, perhaps one that didn't involve so little communication that could cost them their lives, but promptly froze when he spotted the red and black of his teammate's Sharingan. Logically, he knew that he had it as well, now, but he doubted he had that variation—that dreaded pinwheel shape that had the power to incite endless carnage. The Mangekyō.

Obito was serious. It wasn't as though he had doubted it, not recently, but it was still rattling to see the grim determination written in the lines of his teammate's face,especially when said teammate was nothing but smiles and petulant, childish frowns half a year ago.

Kakashi gave a hesitant nod, having come to his decision. "… You better know what you're doing, Obito." And he darted into the cave.

He was faster than them. The enemies, that was. Perhaps that was why Obito had him go in to rescue Rin, and yet, Kakashi was certain that Obito was just as fast, if not faster, than him.

A burst of flame soaring overhead and barreling into multiple enemies with pinpoint accuracy answered his unspoken question.

'Back up, then,' he noted quietly, cutting through the stragglers easily with his tantō. It was a good plan, he acknowledged silently. Kakashi himself only knew a few long-range ninjutsu, and even then they were not very useful against the Doton users.

Kakashi noted that, despite the fact that he was supposedly the team leader of the mission… He found little difficulty doing as Obito told him. It was highly possible that this was because of the fact that he had planned on going after Rin anyway (though he had figured they would have gone with a more subtle manner of extraction). But he knew that that wasn't the only reason. In a manner of speaking, Kakashi felt that Obito was about as good at truly functioning in teams as he himself was—which wasn't well, he admitted. And yet, he knew that determination that Obito exuded, that unspoken promise that the boy wouldn't let anything happen to them while he was there—something that, ironically, was typical of team leaders. Kakashi had gotten a similar vibe from Obito as he had gotten from Minato in the past when it was just the two of them, mentor and student. And it was his automatic response to place his faith in Obito without much question.

As he neared Rin, he narrowed his eyes at the shinobi blocking his path and wove through hand seals.

Yes, Obito was the type to protect his team zealously, but at the same time, he held little regard for himself. And that was why they, as a result, needed to watch after him. The few times he did rely on them, they would make certain to meet his expectations. He had their back, and in turn,