They had a plan, a last desperate measure, last foolish hope, last chance; hastily strung together from wish and hope than any realistic hope of success. Of course it went wrong.
But it was all they had.
Everyone was dead. Whether it had been Kaguya's plan or not, whether that had been the end goal or not, it didn't even matter in the end. The God Tree had consumed everything without restraint– it had roiled over the land and demolished forests and mountains, consuming people and animals, destroying cities and nations until there was nothing left but the Tree – even the dead had been consumed, not a whisper of them left. Kaguya herself went the same way, along with Madara, along with everything else.
The only reason Naruto hadn't died was because he'd flown out of the way as fast as he'd been able to, and only reason Kakashi and Obito hadn't done the same was because they'd managed to teleport to him just in time. Everything else… was gone.
"There… there is no way we can reverse this, is there?" Naruto asked, his voice choked, because he had the Six Path's chakra now and he could feel it. There was nothing left. The Bijuu were gone, even Kurama just wasn't there anymore. And neither were the people. There was nothing there, there were no familiar signatures, no familiar flames of chakra, not a whisper of something living.
And there were no bodies – nothing to resurrect.
There was only the God Tree, and nothing else.
Kakashi cursed where hung to Naruto's shadow clone with very little dignity or care. Obito was doing the same, his expression twisted in something like horror, something like anger.
Naruto opened his mouth to say something and then swallowed, saying nothing. Nothing, nothing, nothing. There was nothing left. Even Sasuke in all his power and all his smarts… The God Tree consumed all chakra. Genjutsu and all potential defences against it, all shields and techniques, it just swallowed them up. Even the fire of Amaterasu was nothing but energy for the God Tree.
Naruto looked at Kakashi, and then at Obito, still not sure whether he was enemy or friend or what, but… what the hell did that even matter anymore.
Kakashi said nothing, gritting his teeth judging by the twitch of his mask, his eyes hard, bloodshot. Obito scowled, his expression twisting further, the scars deepening. Neither said nothing, just stared at the twisting branches of the God Tree.
In time, the tree would bear fruit and maybe if one of them ate it, like Kaguya… but would they even survive that long? How long did it for the thing to bear fruit – thousand years? None of them would be alive at that point. Nothing would be alive.
"If we land, we die," Kakashi said finally. "Naruto, how can you stay up?"
"Not that long, anymore," Naruto admitted. "The Bijuu are gone. And nature chakra… it's running out." Because below them, the God Tree was draining plant life the same as it was draining animals. Already there was a expanding area of death below them, and every second it expanded by miles. "I'm gonna run out soon."
"Then, if we're going to do something, it has to be now," Kakashi said and looked past Naruto. "Obito."
The last Uchiha said nothing for a moment, just glared at the God Tree. Then he closed his eyes for a moment and cursed low and hard under his breath. "Right," he then said and opened his eyes, Sharingan and Rinnegan both. "Right. Damn it. Kakashi, do you have enough chakra left for Kamui?"
"Barely," Kakashi said and scowled at him. "You've thought about it too, then?"
"All the damn time, never dared to try," Obito said and looked at him. "Not with just the one eye. With two, and the Rinnegan… it might work."
"What might work?" Naruto asked, looking from one to the other.
"It's not called space-time jutsu for no reason," Obito said darkly. "It's damn stupid, chances of survival are pretty much non-existent but… doesn't seem like there's anything else we can do."
"It'll kill us," Kakashi agreed just as darkly. "Or probably worse. People have tried it before, using space-time jutsu to travel though time. The results… are never pretty. The universe doesn't like paradoxes."
Naruto looked between them and then down to the God Tree. It had left them in peace for now because there were still other things left to consume. But soon he'd run out of energy and they'd fall – and die, same as everything else. And then…
"The universe can suck it," Naruto said. "How do we do it?"
They had a plan, a desperate, stupid plan no sane person would've ever tried. Naruto knew enough about seals, knew enough about kinjutsu, to know that it was stupid – he'd learned that much from Jiraiya at least, what not to do. And this was one of the things not to do, not ever. It wasn't just about killing your self either. With space-time paradox… well you could risk not just yourself, but everyone and everything around you while you were at it.
But it was all they had, a last desperate measure, last foolish hope, last chance; hastily strung together from wish and hope than any realistic hope of success. Of course it went wrong.
There was an explosion or a fire or some sort of splash of acid, all of it and none of it all at once, and it hurt. He hurt – they hurt – he hurt. It was hard to say which. Everything hurt, an ache that started at his bones and curled around his shoulders and concentrated on his head, and he was blind under it.
He turned, twisted, and almost poked his eye out against some fallen tree branches. Wincing he twisted away from it, covering his forehead with his hand and he thought he was bleeding – no, he was definitely bleeding from every damn orifice, a smear of blood and gore more than a human being.
Space-time jutsu, you gotta love it.
Turning and curling in on himself, he tried to heal – he could heal, he knew, he had – what did he have again, chakra, yes, but also cells, the clone cells from the First Hokage? Of course. And all the rest too and also – no, he didn't have Kurama, did he, but he used to – no he didn't, that was Naruto – except he was Naruto – wasn't he?
Shuddering, he tried to stop bleeding somehow. Hashirama's cells and senjutsu and chakra – he should have Jinchuuriki's healing factor still there somewhere, shouldn't he? It had still been there when he'd lost Kurama – except he'd never had Kurama – he'd always had Kurama – no. He should have something – he'd always healed – except no he hadn't, damn it all, healing was slow and awkward and he hated it – that was Kakashi, Kakashi had no healing factor – except – except.
He might've moaned, the voice deeper and lighter than he was used to, and he was dying – no he wasn't – would've been, if it was Kakashi, Kakashi couldn't have survived this. Obito couldn't have either, without the cloned cells. Naruto…
Naruto forced himself to concentrate, to push through it, to draw on something because he could feel nature around him - after the endless death of the God Tree it felt like he was smothered under it and even with his mind twisting in three different directions, he knew this, he could do this, he was sage and he had this in his blood now. So he pulled on the nature chakra and let it course through him, let it move and flow. He'd not gotten enough time to really understand how it worked, but that didn't matter – he didn't need to understand. He knew.
He healed his bleeding eyes and ears and torso, knitting his own skin back together – twisting his bones back into places. It was easy because it was all there – genes, some part of him thought, human genes are written in of their cells and they guided everything. Naruto wasn't as much healing himself – them – as he was forcing his body to repair itself, and the body knew how, it knew where everything went. Nature chakra was just fuel to power natural growth.
Unnatural – without it the body couldn't have done anything – and god how jealous was Obito of how damn fast Minato's kid had figured it out. Mid battle the kid had just became this otherworldly thing of power and it burned against the grain Madara had so meticulously carved into Obito's psyche, that this dead last could just become so much more so easily.
He was dead last too, remember, Kakashi thought, and he was so proud, Naruto was his student, and damn good one too, and it had all gone to hell now and they might still die but damn it, he was still proud.
Naruto gasped for breath and coughed blood and it still hurt so damn much, his head wouldn't stop aching and he still couldn't see – but he wasn't bleeding anymore, he's sure about that, the body isn't dying anymore. His body, their body.
"Shit," he said, they said, together.
Naruto slumped down on the moss – he could feel it under it, alive, and for a moment he just appreciated the hell out of it. It was wet and cold and probably soaked with his, their, blood, but it was alive. There were trees and brushes and other plants around them too, he could feel them all – a squirrel up in that tree, birds on another, silent and wary of him. There were mice and moles in the ground and further from them a rabbit and further still a badger in her den with few new born cups – further still some deer, a wolf, a bear. The forest was alive around them, and blind and pained he just basked in it.
"It didn't," Obito disagreed through his lips, their lips.
"It kind of did, actually," Kakashi answered and his mind turned inside them, turned and sent out his senses, honed out in battle field and long career as jounin and ANBU, automatically looking for threats, looking for chakra signatures.
"Stop that," Naruto grumbled and then sent out his senses – they reached out much farther, boosted by Sage's chakra and knowledge, not just what he'd learned from the Sage of Six Paths, but from the toads too. He thought his eyes probably changed. It made no difference to his vision – they could still see nothing. But they felt.
"So, that's Sage mode," Kakashi said, a little faint. "Damn."
"Fucking Uzumaki chakra sensors," Obito grumbled, jealous with all of Madara's installed resentment.
"If you want to try, be my damn guest," Naruto answered and slumped down, eyes shut, lying on his, their, side on the moss. It was nice and cool and smelled like earth. He dug his fingers into it. "Everything hurts."
"No kidding," Obito muttered, but didn't take control, and neither did Kakashi.
For a long time, they just lay there, waiting for the pain and the blindness to pass, Naruto drawing on the Nature Chakra in hope of speeding the recovery. It didn't help much.
"So, how far do you suppose we came back?" Kakashi wondered. "Did any of us actually think where we'd land, if this worked?"
"Before none of us was born," Obito said. "At least I tried – it might mitigate the paradox. Not that it would be an issue now."
"What?" Naruto asked, swallowing, and rubbing two hands over his – their, damnit – forehead.
"Two exact same entities can't exists in same timeline," Kakashi explained. "At least that's the theory."
"My shadow clones beg to differ."
"Shadow clones are still part of you – they're just you, split apart," Obito answers and rolls their eyes under their lids. "Same with any other clones – they're duplicates, a different thing entirely. But if you take a future you and put it in the same time as past you, then there's two identical individuals. Same cells, genes, chakra, soul. It just doesn't work, like that."
Naruto rubbed at his aching shoulder. It felt weird under his hand, misshapen. "Okay," he said. "I guess? So it's not an issue now?"
"Obviously not," Obito muttered.
"Naruto," Kakashi said and thought. Thought of their hands over their forehead – hands covering eyes in hopes of pushing the headache back. And then he thought of the third hand at their shoulder, rubbing at it. And the fourth, lying at their side, fingers digging into the moss.
Naruto paused at that, and then, slowly, lifted the hands from his forehead. "Oh," he muttered and then touched his, their, face. Smooth and then marked – scarred, the whisker marks over Obito's scars. Kakashi's scar wasn't there though, their eyelids was unbroken.
It was there. Above the other one.
"Well," Naruto said, running his – their, he'd never get used to that – fingers over their forehead. It was misshapen, like the shoulder, but nothing like it. There were protrusions where before there'd been just smooth skin. Another set of eyes, all of them closed. And above them one more, right in the middle.
"Well," Naruto said again and then nothing else. Four arms, five eyes, and three minds in one body – yeah. Okay.
"Space-time jutsu," Obito said.
"You gotta love it," Kakashi sighed.
It took a while for the blindness to fade. Despite all the nature chakra Naruto pushed at the injury, it refused to budge until it was well and ready to stop making them suffer and in the end, all they could wait it out. It was late into the evening before they could see anything at all, anything other than flickering blur of lights anyway, and near middle of the night before they could say with some certainty that their vision was back.
And it came back with a vengeance.
Seeing through five eyes was… different, for Naruto, for Kakashi, even for Obito. As used to as some of them were to the Sharingan and one to the Rinnegan, it was still a whole different thing, to have all of it layered on top of each other – normal vision, Sharingan vision, Rinnegan vision. They could all see the base-line normal, but they could see more – Rinnegan the most – and all of it compiled on top of another into what was at first a multi coloured cacophony.
Then Naruto pushed some more nature chakra into their eyes, trying to help it along, and it got even worse.
"… this is going to take a while," Kakashi muttered, as the headache spiked ferociously and their vision, strange and over lapping and all too wide, quivered.
"Yeah, let me… let's take Sharingan out of the equation," Obito said and lifted two of their hands, to cover all their eyes. "Kakashi."
Until that time Naruto had been mainly in control, so that he could keep supplying them with nature chakra unimpeded by the others, and it was so strange to be pushed aside by the others – stranger still to feel them doing things with their body. The hands were strange enough, to have the others move their eyes on their own was strange enough, but to feel chakra moving through them, going where he didn't mean to go…
"Huh," he muttered, through their mouth. "I never realised that Sharingan was like… a physical thing you could feel."
"Shut up – concentrating," Obito muttered, almost right over him.
"This is nothing," Kakashi answered, dry and unamused. "Imagine having this, with body that didn't like giving chakra to it's eyes."
A memory curled between them, of constant head aches not that different from the one they now had, but hollow, needless – the pulsing of the Sharingan, constantly draining chakra, the long, painful process of learning to keep it at bay. For a while Kakashi had to use seals to keep the Sharingan from draining all of his chakra at inopportune moment and killing him.
It was like having a sink hole in your head, and every time he opened his Sharingan eye, Obito's eye, he teetered on the brink of falling into it.
"Bakashi," Obito growled. "Concentrate."
"It's hilarious, you telling me that, it really is," Kakashi muttered, but they concentrated. They concentrated and their chakra curled, Obito's over the right and Kakashi's over the left Sharingan, teasing at it.
And Obito thought, they had enough of his genes, the blend probably wasn't perfect, but this body had enough of him in it, it was natural in it's own twisted way, they should be able to do this. This body, strange and over taxed with all three of them there, was as natural an amalgamation of three people as they could get – they hadn't died after all, and with nature chakra, they'd become natural. They should be able to do this.
It took altogether too much effort though. And it didn't help that the others were almost out of chakra altogether after – well, everything.
"Here, let me just –" Naruto said and reached, for more nature chakra, for the Bijuu chakra, for all those resources he always had. A chakra cloak enveloped them, bursting from their chest, and it was small, pathetically small in comparison what Kurama had been able to give him in their time of need. But it was still something, and that something he divided between them three, boosting them up.
"Do we have different chakra coils?" Kakashi wondered, as the chakra sloshed about inside them, not actually going anywhere and yet still spreading somehow.
"I think we have multiple sets, layered on top of each other," Obito said, tight. "Only one of us knows how to do that."
"Can we use multiple techniques all at once, I wonder…"
"Lets just deal with the eyes."
Naruto sat back and resisted the urge to shudder and blink as the chakra welled on their head and then, slowly… the Sharingan closed.
"This should be easier," Obito grumbled.
"It's weird body we got," Kakashi said, and then slowly lifted their hands from their forehead.
Their vision was still strange – there was no easy way of turning off the Rinnegan, they were all aware of that, even with Hashirama Senju's cells, it was natural to none of them. They could close it, but that didn't do much more than mute the eye a little – the damn thing could see right through eyelids. Still, without Sharingan… they could see, properly and almost without hindrances.
They could see in the middle of the night as easily as if it was the day.
"You dojutsu assholes," Naruto grumbled. Was it like this for Sasuke and Neji and the rest too – could they just… see no matter how little light there was? He couldn't see in darkness even with senjutsu – he could sense sure, but couldn't see a damn thing. And Senjutsu had it's weaknesses, he knew that much, there were things that emitted no chakra – and sure, he'd figured out how to counter that, looking for what wasn't there, but just to see, just like that, no trouble at all.
"Don't look at me," Kakashi said, almost defensive. "Besides, you can see now, can't you."
"Yeah, but you're still cheating, all of you."
Obito harrumphed. "And who's the Sage of Six Paths, again, brat?"
"You got no room to talk you Rinnegan using bastard."
Kakashi coughed. "Well, vision is still limited to a field," he pointed out, actually pointed out, one hand haphazardly aimed skywards. "And ours is, well, limited. Naruto, can you tell where we are?"
"It's not Mountains Graveyard," Obito said. "Even I can tell that much."
Naruto concentrated, closing their eyes just to be contrary and turning senses first inwards and then letting them expand outward again. Inhale, exhale. A kilometre radius of awareness, ten – fifty was stretching it without Kurama, but he could just about do it. And he did know the place even with most of the forest had been destroyed, he'd felt it enough many times, during the war. He knew the soil and the rocks and the valleys and rivers.
"We're about couple hundred miles off the it," he said. "Not far from the border to Grass. It's… different. But the land's same. Mountains Graveyard is thataway direction," he said, and let their outstretched arm flop down, pointing.
"Tch," Obito said, and they all thought it, for one brilliant vicious moment, they all shared a thought.
"No way," Kakashi said flatly. "Not like we are now. We can't even get up."
"Can too, just watch me," Naruto said and pushed himself to the fore front, to full control of their arms and legs. The other sat back, the bastards, and watched him fail and flail and fall down on the moss again, every bone aching, head spinning.
The headache was still there, just as bad as before, and it did not agree with movements one bit.
"Okay, never mind them," Naruto grumbled, wincing and drawing more nature chakra into their extremities because ouch.
"We can't rush into battle with Madara, if he's even there, if this is even the right time," Kakashi said, pushing that thought like shield against Obito's bitter anger. "We don't know anything, we don't know the time, or our own capabilities. Right now we're worse than helpless."
Obito almost growled at that and even Naruto winced. Helpless. Helpless to do, to help, to fight. Helpless. Helpless.
Gods, but they hated that word.
"We need rest – we're still teetering on the edge of chakra exhaustion," Kakashi said, mostly at Obito, trying to reason. "Our body is healing, but slowly. Do you want to fight, like this? Do you want to fight someone like Madara, like this?"
Obito scoffed – using their face to do it. Then, slowly, bitterly, he relented. "No," he said. "No I don't."
Not from such disadvantage, not without plan, not without making damn certain he could win and kill that son of a bitch. Kill him, and Zetsu, and tear that damn statue apart.
"That would be nice," Naruto murmured and yawned.
"Yes," Obito muttered, vicious. "It will be."
Kakashi winced at the feel of it, the nastiness of it, wincing away from Obito – and he couldn't hide it anymore, how strange he was, how wrong, everything about him was just – wrong.
Obito lashed back at him furiously, how dare he act high and mighty and good, so angry and bitter and full of failed hopes and ideals that burned and ached – he'd wanted so many things, his plans and goals, they had been beautiful – and Kakashi – Kakashi had killed Rin!
Kakashi recoiled, the accusation like a slap. "She was – Obito, she was –" in pain and crying and begging him. They'd sealed the Third Tails in her, and it had been killing her – and they'd timed it perfect, tagged her with trigger – she'd been a human time bomb poised to destroy Konoha. The moment she would've entered the village –
"Then you shouldn't have tried to take her back!"
"She was dying either way – there was nothing anyone could do – she was dying and in pain, I couldn't -"
"You didn't try!"
Naruto winced between them, caught in the waves of their emotion. "Oi," he said, mild. Their head was pounding again, it was almost unbearable. "Obito - it was Madara."
"Madara orchestrated the whole thing – Isobu told me," Naruto said. "They told me lot of things, the Bijuu. And Isobu remembered her, remembered Madara, with her. Madara knew who she was to you, and he wanted you on his side, completely, no reservations. So..."
The memory curled in his head, of the Bijuu standing around him, telling him their names and their stories in that infinite second that had expanded so vastly, that had made him a Sage of Six Paths – and Isobu had been so sweet and so shy and so sorry…
He'd remembered her. He hadn't been able to do anything, but he remembered her. He remembered joining her. He remembered her dying.
"Madara got rid of what might bring you back," Kakashi said to Obito, quiet, choked. "…and he made you hate what might sympathise with you, in one stroke."
It was brilliant, in how terrible it was. It had lost Obito his distant light, it had soured Kakashi for him, and it had made the Bijuu themselves something to revile. In single stroke, Obito had been taught to hate so many things and so powerfully, and he'd never suspected a thing. Rin had died not even for nothing – she'd died for something far worse than nothing.
For Obito's complete, irreversible ruin.
Obito panted for breath and didn't even try to swallow his rage – he screamed it out at the dark-bright heaven above them.
And they let him.
"We should probably get up," Naruto murmured, as the sky started to lighten above them. The forest was stirring, birds were starting to cautiously sing around them. The pain ebbed and flowed, decreasing by infinitesimal increments. It didn't seem like waiting and lying around on cold wet forest floor was about to make it go away any faster. With their current luck, they'd just end up getting sick.
It hurt, moving, but not a single one of them ever accomplished anything by lying down doing nothing.
"Aright," Kakashi said, and almost bodily dragged Obito out of the hateful gloom he'd fallen into. "One two three… go."
They sat up and it felt like colossal accomplishment, to command all their muscles and jostle their bones and to bring the disjointed being that was their body into bear. Like so they saw themselves for the first time – their legs anyway – and it was bit of a relief that they only had two.
Walking with four or more would've been… interesting but ultimately too difficult.
"I think I'm taller," Naruto said, eying his toes.
"I'm shorter, definitely shorter," Kakashi sighed and then their head tilted curiously – their brain jostled in their head and damn, it ached. But they were pushing past it now. "I wonder, just how many…" Kakashi mused, eyes trailing up their legs, to their lap.
"Don't you even start," Naruto grumbled and dragged their eyes out of the gutter.
Obito, for the lack of better word, perked at that. "…So, it really is true," he said, in sort of vicious delight. "Hatake Kakashi really is a pervert. I got to say, I didn't believe the rumours, the bingo book, but damn…"
"Ahem," Kakashi said, something like embarrassment curling around him – and history, so much history, and beliefs and mannerisms build on mirage and – no he was not thinking about that, not with Obito here, inside his head this was too damn – no. "How about standing up?" he said quickly, out loud.
Obito, for the lack of better word, leered. "Not thinking about what, Bakashi?" he asked. "What are you trying to not think about?"
"Okay!" Naruto loudly cut in between Obito's vicious urge to make Kakashi squirm and Kakashi's mortification. "Standing up, that's the plan and its the only plan we're going to concentrate onto now. Giddy up, boys, because we're standing up."
"…what?" Obito asked flatly.
"…" Kakashi answered, sort of answering and yet not – something about Jiraiya and bad influences which he almost voiced and then hastily drew back because he wasn't cruel enough to actually throw that in Naruto's face and – damnit.
"Standing up," Naruto gritted and no he was not thinking about that right now, nope, not at all, god damnit. "Right now. Come on."
So, they stood up – almost fell over, had to take support from a near by tree, every limb shaking like leaf in the wind. They were top heavy and their balance was all over the place, and not one of them knew their legs. They were too long and too short and too thick and too thin all at once. Almost perfect amalgamation of three different sets, and completely alien because of it.
"If we need to learn how to walk…" Obito growled, sounding and feeling frustrated and disturbed.
"Between the three of us we should be able to manage this," Kakashi said, just as uneasy. "We all got plenty of experience with walking, this should be easy."
They stared at their legs with varying levels of dubiousness. And then made to take a step – each of them trying for a different direction.
It seemed falling flat on their face was becoming a thing with them.
In the end, they had to select someone to control the legs – if they all tried it all at once they ended up falling flat on their face. Even with the added benefit of more minds at same task having easier time with the task than one, it wasn't worth the repeated failures.
So, after testing it out a bit, Obito ended up in control of the legs – he had most experience getting used to modified bodies and knew just how to go about figuring it out in a way that didn't end up with them falling all over the place.
And, he thought grimly, he was used to having uneven body too. The right half of him had never quite kept up with the left half, when growing up – even as adult his right leg had been be couple of centimetres shorter. He'd gotten used to it, but it had never really stopped being an issue.
"At least our legs seem to be the same length," Kakashi mused. "Just different size because Naruto is short."
"Am not," Naruto answered sullenly – he had had hardest time with the walking and had been voted out of the walking attempts right away. "So, where are we heading? South across the border and to Land of Fire?"
"To the nearest settlement, first, I'd assume," Kakashi said. "We've obviously gone back in time at least few days – this place would be a mess otherwise. We need to figure out just how far we've gone."
Naruto considered that and nodded and Obito gave a grudging assent too. "If we are where we think we are, there should be a small civilian settlement a day's run south east of us," he said. "Running there, though…"
They were barely standing and walking was almost too much as it was. Running was right out, the way they were now.
"We need another mode of transportation," Kakashi said.
"Summons?" Naruto asked. "Not that the toads like that sort of thing – because they really don't – but in this case they'd probably understand."
"Chances are those won't work," Obito said grimly. "If we are where I hope we are, none of our summons will work. But…"
"Lets try it," Kakashi agreed. "Naruto, you go first."
Obito knelt down slowly, wincing as he did, and Naruto lifted a right hand – the upper one, with had a thin, old scar on the back of the palm, his scar, one he'd gotten years ago on his first C-rank mission. He eyed it for a moment – under the Rinnegan the scar looked faintly cooler than the rest of the skin around it.
This was really going to take while to get used to.
"All things considered we're doing pretty well," Kakashi mused. "None of us has had a nervous breakdown yet."
"Yet," Obito muttered.
Naruto politely ignored the fact that Obito had kind of had a breakdown back there, and instead concentrated onto the task at hand. Literally. After eying his hand – because it was really probably his hand and that was pretty weird – he bit his thumb and carefully made the right seals. "Kuchiyose no Jutsu!" he called and pressed his palms against the forest floor.
There was small explosion of seals around his hands – but no corresponding summon. They waited for a moment, as the smoke of chakra faded, but… still nothing.
"Well, that puts us at least four years back in time," Kakashi said. "Obito do you have contract?"
"Not as such," Obito admitted wryly and thought the thing he could summon – namely, the Demonic Statue. In order to be able to summon it, he'd had to forego a summon contract – not that he'd ever felt any particular urge to get one anyway. Madara had considered them a weakness, to rely on summoned creatures, and –
"Pretty ironic, Madara not liking summons," Naruto said wryly. "Considering that he summoned tailed beasts."
"Yeah," Obito gritted, quietly furious with himself, with all of these damn triggers and traits that just kept popping up, because Madara. Just how much of was his personal likes and dislikes based on what Madara had wanted him to like and dislike? Just how much of him was even –
"Well, I have ninken," Kakashi said, overly loud, in not so subtle attempt of changing the subject. "If I can't summon any of them, that'll put us eighteen years in past."
He took control then, biting his thumb – bottom right hand, slightly paler than the one on top of it – using the seals for his first and oldest ninken, Pakkun. While Naruto quietly marvelled the fact that Pakkun was already eighteen years older – year older than he was! – Kakashi pressed his hands to the forest floor.
Again an explosion of seals and chakra and then nothing.
"So, at least eighteen years," Obito said, considering. Hopefully more, he thought grimly, still stinging from his own lapse. The more back they'd gone, the better. He still didn't know if this was before – before Kannabi bridge, before Kakashi's thirteenth birthday, before his own non-death, before everything. But eighteen years was something.
"Okay, so," Naruto said, awkward. "Now what? Are we walking all the way then?"
"Well. Summons are out as faster form of transportation," Kakashi said with a sigh and considered. What else they could use… Shunshin was out, it relied on body movement and completely beyond them as they were.
"Ooh, what about the instant transport jutsu thing – Kamui – can we use that?" Naruto asked quickly.
"No," Obito and Kakashi said together.
"Why not?" Naruto asked, a little plaintive. Their stomach was growling – he was starving and the faster they could get out of the forest the better, right?
"It has too big a toll on the body. The way we are right now, we might get stuck in the Kamui dimension," Obito said with a sigh. "And every technique I could use uses too much chakra. Hmm… wood release could do it, but…"
"And if Naruto supplied you with nature chakra?" Kakashi asked. "You can absorb it and change it into your own, can't you?"
"From inside the body…" Obito considered it, trying to figure out the logistics of absorbing something that came from the same body. The dubiousness was nearly living thing between them, but he allowed very slow, "Maybe."
"Alright, progress," Naruto cheered tiredly. "This'll take lot of chakra, right? Gimme a moment, okay? I gotta meditate."
So he meditated, Kakashi and Obito teetering at the edges of his awareness and watching him – and they both were suddenly very aware of what a terribly powerful team they'd make if they could make this work. Naruto, even with the Kyubi, had always been a powerhouse of chakra, and with senjutsu, the amount he could access was almost unlimited. And though he could boost the chakra of others, Obito could absorb it and convert it. And then do whatever he damn well pleased with it. Not that Naruto's skills were anything to sneeze at either, but Obito had quite a few tricks up his sleeve.
"Looks like you're the dead weight now, Kakashi," Obito noted, grimly amused.
The sense of not impressed coming from Kakashi was epic. "Who among us has keen understanding of recent politics and history that's unimpeded by agendas and bias of an apocalyptic madman, raise hands and say aye. I mean, honestly, aside from what was going on in Rain, do you have any idea about the politics of Third Shinobi War? That's where we are, if this is eighteen years back in time. And if it's more…"
Well, Obito had been the dead last of his class for a reason.
Kakashi waited for an answer and silent, Obito glowered.
Naruto ignored them both and meditated. He'd already done a number on the surrounding area before, drawing so much chakra in order to heal them – but there was still plenty energy left all around them, and he gathered it into himself, themselves, storing it within.
Was that enough?
"Wood release uses chakra continuously if the wood is active," Obito said, turning away from Kakashi with invisible, unheard harrumph. "I'm going to need continuous supply."
"… and now I feel like a battery," Naruto sighed. "Fine, I'll keep on meditating then. Don't do anything dumb, alright?"
Tch. He was the one to speak.
Obito took control of their hands and begun making seals.
The village of Se was a small place where nothing much happened. Situated in a region which was no interest to any of the surrounding nations, it enjoyed peace and relative prosperity, it's only disturbances minor natural disasters, earth quakes and floods and such which occasionally ruined harvests or damaged buildings. All in all, it was peaceful and quiet little village.
It was not the sort of place you'd expect to see a gigantic monster to appear, not in the slightest.
It came from north west side of the village, squirming past the trees and then coming into an awkward, stumbling stand still over the rice fields – a gigantic… lizard of some sort, with multiple spindly legs that sank into the earth and seemed to root themselves into it with every step. It was shapeless, more a twisted tree trunk than a living creature, but big, the trunk as big as one of the houses, longer than the village's single road.
It was such an unusual sight in the village of Se that the few farmers on the field, inspecting how the rice was coming along, were too stunned by the sight to even run away. They just stared, barely comprehending that it was a thing that suddenly existed in their world.
"Oh, we made it," someone said and then a man – man shaped thing anyway – fell off the spindly tree-monster's back and landed with a wet smack into the rice field. "Oh for fuck –"
"Oh, are we there now?" the same man asked, his tone full of a weary, sarcastic elation. "Hooray. And flat on the ground again – I thought we were over this."
"Just – let's just get up. And get rid of that thing, Obito, you can't leave that thing just standing there, in someone's field," the man said, this time in a different tone, one of reprove.
"Just watch me, Bakashi," the man said, now harrumphing.
The villagers of Se exchanged confused, uneasy looks while the man on the ground pushed himself up, shaking a little as he took support of the tree-monster-thing. Dressed in torn, stained white coat, black trousers and what looked like flak jacket, it was instantly obvious what he was – even the habitants of quiet little Se knew a ninja when they saw one, even though they'd not seen one in years.
"Obito, seriously – get rid of that thing," the man said, sounding annoyed as he rubbed at his forehead. "You can't leave it on the field." He harrumphed. "Fine. Waste of my time, but whatever." And then he clapped his hands together – two of them anyway.
The villagers of Se slowly inched towards each other. "Is that… common?" one of them murmured, pointing at the ninja. The man's white coat was torn around the shoulders, and the flak jacket looked stretched to it's limit around the arm holes – possibly because he had two sets of arms.
"You talking about the handsyness or the obvious insanity?" another muttered. "Either way, you never know, with ninja-types."
The wood monster turned and begun ambling back into the forest, slightly clumsier this time – leaving a trail of crushed rice plants behind it. The ninja first winced at it, then shrugged, then harrumphed in disinterest, and turned. "Oh, hey, locals," he said and then, "And you didn't notice them, what a sensor you are," and then, "Hey, I was busy supplying you with chakra, okay – we can exchange places next time if you want," and then, "Yeah, no thanks," and, "Let's just say hello to the locals, alright?"
The villagers of Se didn't answer – too busy staring at his forehead. "Holy shit," one of them muttered.
The ninja blinked and then rolled his eyes. "…we should've wrapped the forehead," he muttered. "Oh, riight," he then said and then, "Too late now. Let's try not scare the good people more, okay?" and, "Too late for that, don't you think?" The ninja took a breath and plastered a stiff smile on his face. "Hello. We're a little lost – and a lot hungry – shut up – we're a little lost and we'd like some directions."
The villagers exchanged a look. "You're in the village of Se," the eldest of them, Katsu, said. "Though that probably won't say much, I don't think we're on any maps, it's a pretty small place. Um…" he swallowed and motioned at the ninja's forehead. "What are you?"
"An abomination," the man answered. "Shut up, Obito," he then said, obviously at himself. "We mean you no harm," he then said. "I promise. We're perfectly harmless."
"Right," Katsu the villager said, eying him dubiously. Two arms, lot of eyes, talking to himself, referring to himself in third person… "Perfectly harmless. Sure."
"Hey, that thing," another villager, Riki, said, pointing at the forest where the wood monster had gone. "What was that thing?"
"Another abomination," the man said and then sighed, frustrated, at himself. "Slightly misshapen wood construction controlled by chakra – it's nothing to be worried about, I promise," he said with slight exasperation. "It'll stop moving once it's far enough from your village to not be a bother and then it'll be just weirdly shaped tree and nothing more."
"… huh. That's interesting," Riki the villager said and shared look with Katsu. "We should probably take them to the elder."
"You're probably right," Katsu answered, thoughtful look about his face. If this… albeit weird and insane ninja could control wood… "Yeah, let's take him to the elder."
"Sweet," the weird, four armed, multiple eyed ninja said brightly and clapped his topmost hands together excitedly. "Any chance of food on the way?" he asked and then, "Shut up, Naruto," and, "Seriously, you can work as the chakra battery next time – it's hungry work, I'm starving," and, "You do realise we share same stomach, right? We're all hungry."
Katsu eyed him – it – them? – dubiously. "Riki, go ahead and warn everyone, alright?" he said, to which the ninja gave long suffering, apologetic smile.
"Yeah, probably not a bad idea," Riki agreed and hurried ahead, leaving Katsu and the strange ninja alone
"No but seriously," the ninja said plaintively. "Food would be nice."
It was looking like it would be an interesting day for little village of Se.
The village was really, really small – maybe few hundred people strong. There were only handful of houses and just one straight track of land that might've been called a road. The houses were all wood and old fashioned, and judging by the looks of it, the village didn't have electricity. It hadn't even seen electricity.
That did not bode well.
"Well it might not mean anything," Kakashi mused. "Some places just don't bother with it, after all. And if this place is as removed as it looks – well. Where would they even draw electricity from?"
"This place is in the middle of nowhere," Obito agreed, though he sounded dubious. He was currently in control of the body – seeing as they were walking, the others left him to it.
"I don't suppose they got a ramen stand here," Naruto sighed. He'd given an arm for a bowl of ramen. Hell, they even had arms to spare now.
"Just try to think of something else," Kakashi sighed. "You're just making us hungrier."
The few people living in the little village were staring – coming out of their old fashioned houses just to stare at them. There was murmuring and whispering – and really, they should've wrapped up the forehead at least. The arms they couldn't hide without a cloak, but the eyes they could've wrapped up at least. Maybe that would help them look a little less… freakish.
Nothing about it now.
"This way," the villager who'd led them up from the rice fields said, motioning to one of the bigger houses in the village – though bigger was really subjective in this case, they were all small. The younger man they'd seen before was already there, hovering by the door, waiting for them.
"Do we really have to do this?" Obito muttered.
"I know it's been a while, but just try for some civility," Kakashi said.
"I'm going to try my foot up your –"
"It's your ass too, you know."
Around them, the whole village seemed to murmur – and Kakashi begrudgingly thought that they might have to do something about the insane-talk. Obito snorted at that and Naruto just sighed, wondering if it would've been this bad if it had been him and Sasuke. Maybe. Definitely.
Concentrate – just try to get through this with minimal incidents.
"The elder is waiting for you," the younger villager male said, and pulled the slide door open for them. Steeling themselves, they stepped inside the house which was pretty much as they expected it to be. Simple, sparsely furnished but serviceable enough.
There was an ancient looking woman there, so scrunched up that her vanished into her wrinkles. "You are the shinobi then?" she asked.
"Yes," Kakashi said, pushing past Naruto's dithering and Obito's scoff. "Of sort."
"Unaffiliated?" the woman croaked, her face scrunching up as she peered up at them.
Both Naruto and Kakashi winced at that – their loyalty ran deep, but – "Unaffiliated, yes," Obito answered for them and stepped closer. "I don't know why they brought us to see you, old woman. All we want is directions."
"And food," Naruto added insistently, to which Obito grit his teeth a little.
"An unaffiliated shinobi lost in our neck of the woods," the old woman said and smiled like a split pumpkin. "There's a story there I'd like to hear. Especially considering…" she waved one crooked, wrinkly hand over them. "It's interesting I've seen a lot of things in my time, few shinobi too. But I haven't seen one like you."
"Well, you're not likely to either," Obito harrumphed.
Kakashi cleared their throat, and took over. "That being as it is," he said quickly. "We were brought here for a reason, weren't we? I'm thinking you need a shinobi for something."
The old woman pursed her lips and then stood up from the tatami floor, shakily leaning onto a cane. "Riki told me you can control wood, that you created some sort of moving creature out of it. A long, big creature," she croaked, turning away from them and shambling over to a small writing table, crouching down by it.
Curious despite himself, Obito took them over, walking to her side to see what she was getting out. A map, obviously of the village and it's surrounding areas – the houses and the rice fields were marked on it.
"We have an issue," the old woman said and motioned at a dark cut in the map. "There is a ravine not two miles south of us. There was a bridge that went right over it, it was the shortest route south, but… it fell, couple of weeks back. Now we must go around – it adds two, three days into every trip."
"Ah, I see," Kakashi said. A simple issue – troubling for a civilian, hardly a problem for a skilled ninja. C rank mission at most.
"So, I make a bridge with wood for you, and you…" Obito gave her a look. "Give us directions? Do you really think that's in any sense an equal trade?"
The old woman smiled. "Directions, food, place to stay the night," she said and snorted, looking them over. "Bath might not be amiss either – and one of the village women might even repair your clothes for you."
Obito just scoffed, but Kakashi was thoughtful – and Naruto, well. "It's a deal," he said and held out his hand. "Though just to warn you – it's gonna be a lot of food."
"You brat," Obito snapped. "Do you have any idea how much abilities like mine are worth?"
Naruto just shrugged. "Don't care."
"Beggars can't be choosers," Kakashi said diplomatically. "Besides depending on where we're heading, we're probably going over the ravine anyway - might as well get food for it. And she's right – bath wouldn't be amiss."
"You – idiots," Obito growled. "We're not the ones begging here! Do you have no idea just how much people would be willing to pay –"
"You've been hanging around mercenaries too long," Kakashi said and added cheerfully, "Charity's good for the soul. You should try it."
"Well then let me try to charitably shove my fu–"
The old woman broke the argument apart by laughing loudly at them. "Well well! You really are interesting," she said and patted their shoulder, tad too compassionately. "You're staying in the village for the night then, it is settled! And we will draw a bath for you and you will tell me where they make shinobi like you."
"That sounds appropriate," Kakashi said, shoving Obito aside with his most charming smile – which basically meant he just closed their eyes all cheerful-like. "So as long as you're willing to answer some questions in return, old woman. We're really lost."
Naruto coughed to smother his laugh, and smiled with their actual lips because poor Kakashi apparently couldn't remember how to actually smile. "So about that food…"
The food was great – the catfight between Obito and Kakashi wasn't. Naruto though was more than happy ignoring them spitting at each other, and just concentrated on the food because serious, senjutsu burned energy like nobody's business.
"… and who the hell put you in charge of us –"
"– yes like you're good one to call the shots here –"
"– exactly whose eyes did we use to get here, whose' jutsu – oh yeah, mine –"
"– yeah, you, with your oh so unbiased and uninfluenced view of things –"
"– my mind is not in question here, Bakashi, it's your fucking controlling –"
Naruto ate around their argument, using every break in their hissing to grab a bite. The fact that they both kept on talking with their mouth full probably made the argument all the worse for the poor villagers watching them wide eyed and horrified, but honestly, Naruto didn't care. He was hungry and there was food to be eaten. They even got him noodles when he'd asked for them. All was right in his world, for the moment.
"Just how many are in there," one of the villagers wondered. "I'm counting two?"
"Three, I think," another murmured, pushing another bowl of rice closer to Naruto.
Naruto accepted it with a bright smile even while Kakashi sighed, frustrated. "– as of now no one seems to have primary control and I have no intention of –"
"– and what the hell would you call that back there –"
"I'd call it diplomacy! Which is something you certainly don't seem to have any of –"
"– you son of a –"
Naruto shoved some more food in their mouth, and almost choked on it around Obito's wordless growl of frustration. He swallowed and for a moment Kakashi and Obito both sent him waves of disapproval.
"You guys are souring the food," Naruto said. "Can't you just kiss and make up already? You're embarrassing us. Seriously."
"Hmhph!" was the two-toned answer of great indignation.
Naruto waited for a moment, but the only feel he got from the others was sulking. Shaking his head at them – because geez, weren't they supposed to be thirty or something? – he turned his attention to the food and dug back in.
"So, three," one of the villagers said.
Naruto shrugged. "Sorry," he offered, reaching for another bowl of steamed veggies. "It's all bit of a mess right now."
"Yeah, no freaking kidding," someone muttered.
"So, uh. Do you – uh – have a name? Or… names?" another villager asked curiously.
Naruto swallowed and nodded. "Yeah it's Na –"
They sort of stumbled over the words then, their tongue tripping over too many syllables trying to tumble out all at once. Coughing and feeling as if their tongue had knotted over, they made a face.
"So," the villager said. "… Naoka?" he asked.
Obito was full of objection and Kakashi just sort winced. Naruto decided he was pretty much done with them. "Yeah, you know what, why not. Naoka," he said. "We're Naoka. Nice to meet you all."
"You little –" Obito muttered.
Naruto shoved rice ball in their mouth to shut him up. How the hell had he ended up the voice of reason here anyway?
If eating went badly – the following bath was oh so much worse.
The villagers of Se had prepared them a full ofuro in one of the houses – old fashioned tub full of steaming hot water, it was beautiful – and after Naruto had eaten enough to nearly put them all into food coma, they were happily shown in. And there, well.
The issues started.
It turned out both Kakashi and Obito had issues about being naked in front of other people. Kakashi mainly because he was Kakashi and just having his face bared was weird for him – he'd been braving through it so far because it wasn't actually his face, it had so much Naruto and Obito in it that it didn't look anything like him – really, they were lucky in that they had Naruto's smile – but this –
And Obito, well. He'd been half a man for a very long time. And in that time he hadn't really… shared any sort of intimacy with anybody, not in any way, not beyond getting medical treatment, mainly from Madara which really wasn't helping.
"This is – hilarious," Naruto said when the other two just sort of squirmed in front of the ofuro, still fully dressed and everything. "Kakashi-sensei, I never in a million years would've taken you for a prude."
"I'm not – " Kakashi started and then cleared his throat. "Beside Obito –"
"Don't you even start with me, I will kill you," Obito growled, wincing because – well. You can't lose a half of your body and not be a little self conscious of what little there was left. And what wasn't. And now, well… who the hell even knew.
Naruto teetered on the edge of laughing at Kakashi – who was totally some kind of prude, this was freaking golden – and wincing with sympathy at Obito because – ouch, just ouch. "I'd offer that you guys should just turn away and not look," he said with a small laugh. "But I don't think that'll work here."
There was a moment of embarrassed mental silence between them as they sort of avoided thinking at him. "I'm not a prude," Kakashi then said in tone of clarification. "I am most definitely not a prude. It's just… I'm private."
"About your privates," Naruto said and had to cover his mouth with a hand to stop himself from cracking up.
Kakashi sighed, frustrated, begging silently for patience.
Something about Obito's discomfort eased at that, though, and they gave a considering look at the ofuro. "It's not going anywhere, and we are going to take a bath eventually – and probably in the future too," Naruto pointed out. "Besides… you're curious too."
"…well," Kakashi hummed and they looked down at themselves, the weird mixture of body and clothes. None of their clothes had gotten through fully – it was all a weird blend of this and that, and it was all pretty torn up. There was very kindly seamstress lady waiting to do what she could to fix the damage – and there was a nice big yukata for them to wear for the night.
That both did and didn't make it any easier.
"Oh fuck it," Obito finally sighed and started to wiggle out the remains of Naruto's white – well it used to be white anyway – coat. "Can't be worse than before."
"Famous last words," Kakashi muttered.
They stripped. Lot of their clothes were torn – the sleeves were barely hanging by a thread, and under Kakashi's flak jacket they had a weird mix of shirts, Naruto's mesh mixing with Obito's and Kakashi's undershirts into a weird patchwork of barely functional cloth. The trousers at least were more or less whole – they all had similar enough trousers that the blend was almost unnoticeable.
And then, there was skin.
It too was something of a patch work. They none of them had same skin tone. Naruto's sun tanned skin was now blended with Kakashi's much paler one in patches and splotches and then there was Obito's skin tones – of which he had had two, pale and paler. Aside from the arms, their whole body was covered in motley spots.
"We're a fucking mongrel," Obito said as they ran a hand over their chest, scarred and twisted around the right side, cut by a wide slash through the chest, where it sliced through a starburst over the heart. They touched it, and winced at the memories – Obito under the boulder, Zabuza slashing Kakashi's chest almost open, Sasuke's hand through Naruto's heart, how the hell hadn't they died?
"We're fine," Naruto said. "Alive. We're alive and we're awesome." He'd spend too damn long trying to figure out what was wrong with him and he'd gotten over it years ago. Acceptance all the way, goddamnit. If the others tried to say anything to the contrary he would freaking beat them up. Somehow. "We're absolutely freaking perfect."
"And," Kakashi said faintly, somewhere between hilarity and mortification. "We got quite the bulge going on."
Frowning they looked down and stared and then the size of the thing registered.
"Well," Obito said slowly. "That definitely isn't my fault."
"… I am so sorry for your loss," Kakashi offered, deeply and honestly sympathetic.
"Whatever," Obito said, feigning disinterest. "After few years, you get used to not having one."
Naruto tilted his head, and tugged at the waistband of the weird mix of their underwear. He tilted his head to the side just to make sure he was really seeing what he was seeing. "Well, don't have to go without one anymore," he said, his voice faint. "Because apparently that's… that's a thing now."
"Two things, even," Kakashi agreed, just as faint.
There was a moment of silence as they slowly digested this wonderful turn of events.
"And you gave us a woman's name," Obito said and then… he started to laugh.
It was both startling and terribly infections – this helpless, bewildered laugh that was wrung from some deep place that you touched when confusion and frustration became too much and you could only laugh. Naruto followed so quickly after that they blended together almost perfectly, and then Kakashi was laughing too, a deep, gut wrenching belly laugh that left them aching and breathless.
"Fucking – two," Obito gasped. "Two!"
"Well we have four arms too," Kakashi cackled.
"Plenty of work for all of them!" Naruto agreed and cracked up anew at Obito's horrified unwitting interest.
It was so juvenile and so beside the point and so utterly irrelevant to the reason why they were back in the past in the first place. And it hurt – literally it made their headache almost come back – but damn.
It was good to laugh.
Such maturity. Truly this fic is a masterpiece of seriousness. So yeah. Four arms and five eyes and, yes, two dicks. And sense of humor of a 11 year old. Yep yep.
(question is, how many balls?)
(2, the answer is 2.)
Bath did them a lot of good. What aches were left in their body slowly faded and twisted muscles eased under the hot water and slowly they relaxed. What troubles they had – and yeah, there were plenty of those – seemed a little less pressing, when contemplated in the sweet heat of the ofuro.
"And neither of you thought to ask about the date," Obito commented lazily. "Or the date in general."
"Too busy not starving," Naruto answered, yawning. "And ignoring your infighting."
"I actually did check the date," Kakashi objected. "There was a calendar in the elder's house. It isn't my fault neither of you noticed."
"...well what the hell is it then?" Obito groused.
Just to be contrary, Kakashi just imagined the calendar, lopping the mental image at them. According to it, they were about thirty-five years back in time – good four years before either Obito or Kakashi were born.
"I think it's accurate – and it looked new enough and not like something she'd hung up for sentimental reasons," Kakashi said and they sank a little deeper in the hot water, thinking about it
"Well," Naruto said, his mind tripping over itself a little. Thirty-five, that was, what, eighteen years before he was born? They had twice his whole life to get back to their proper time? "That's a lot."
"It's perfect," Obito said, vicious and gleeful. It was before Madara had started act on any of his plans – before Akatsuki was even a concept. Hell, it might even be before Madara even had real plans. He was barely surviving, hooked into the Demonic Statue, hanging onto life because he was too damn petty to let go. Zetsu might not even be awake yet!
"We still can't do anything about that yet," Kakashi pointed out. "We need to recover and probably train in use of this body. We're too shaky to think of fighting. Even if he's weak... it's not worth the risk, not when this is our only shot."
"So we train," Obito said and splashed a dismissive hand against the water's surface. "Even if we take a couple of years, we have plenty of time – Madara isn't going anywhere for another few years or so."
Not before he awakened Zetsu, thinking he'd created him. Then he'd start lying group work for the Moon Eye plan, with Kirigakure, with Nagato, and eventually with Akatsuki. But for now... they had time.
"And we're going to need it too," Kakashi said. "We're talking about saving every living thing on the planet – we're trying to save the world. We can't half ass this."
"Well with my abilities and Naruto's chakra reserves – and whatever little you bring to the table – I think we're off to a pretty damn good start already," Obito said gleefully.
"We can't outpace a faster than average toddler, you realise," Kakashi said dryly. "And speaking of which – Naruto?"
"Screw you Kakashi-sensei," Naruto yawned. "Screw you a whole bunch."
"I was talking about your chakra, not – never mind. Naruto, you've run out of the Tailed Beasts' chakra, haven't you?" Kakashi asked. "At least I can't feel it anymore. Can you go into Six Paths Sage mode without it?"
Sleepily Naruto considered it. "Probably not," he admitted. "I can still do regular old Sage Mode but yeah. I'd need to get in touch with the Bijuu to do Six Paths."
"... can you?" Obito asked curiously.
Lazy and little uncoordinated, Naruto lifted their topmost hands and made a seal to gather some chakra. Together they looked down – and there, around their scarred belly, the Eight Trigram Seal appeared, it's lines a little faded but still readable.
"So as long as I got that, I should be able to manage it," Naruto said. "Whether the Bijuu will agree to help though, that's a whole different bowl of ramen."
"Hmm. So there's a lot to do," Kakashi said thoughtfully. "We need a base. Somewhere where we can train and do whatever the else we need to do without having to worry about food and place to sleep – or someone stabbing us in the back."
"Konoha?" Naruto asked, and he and Kakashi shared a moment of homesickness.
"Danzo," Obito pointed out. "Also, we're pretty close to the start of Second Great Shinobi War, aren't we?"
Kakashi considered that. "Few years short but yes."
"Not necessarily a good time join one of the bigger villages," Obito snorted. "Besides think what they'd do if we walked up to Konoha, like this? Even if they didn't kill or dissect us on the spot, they'd damn well lock us up. You know they would."
"Then what?" Naruto asked, a little sullen because, well. He loved Konoha but Obito was right – it had its dark sides. "Where do we go? Where can we go? We can't just roam around aimlessly – trust me, I tried it, it's not that good for training. Especially since we're none of us carrying any money."
There was a moment of contemplative silence as Kakashi thought about the time. Thirty five years was a lot – but not that lot. Minato-sensei would already be six years old, same with Kushina...
"Uzushiogakure?" Obito scoffed. "That's worse than Konoha – the place is going to be demolished in a few years."
Naruto perked up a bit at that. "The Uzumaki village? It's still around in this time?" he asked. "We could stop it from being destroyed!"
"Or at least warn them about it," Kakashi said meaningfully. "For which I'd imagine they'd be pretty grateful. Besides, Uzushiogakure was full of... very weird people. Where in most places people do experiments on each other – in Uzushiogakure it was self experiments that were all the rage, if I recall. We'd probably fit right in."
"I rather doubt they had multiple... everything," Obito muttered, looking for at their body. Then he scowled, thoughtful. "Actually... there is something I have been wondering about concerning that, now that I think about it. It didn't really matter before, but now..."
"About Uzushiogakure?" Kakashi asked.
"And how it was destroyed, yeah."
"What about it?" Naruto asked.
"Well. It was attacked by Kirigakure," Obito said thoughtfully. "And not just was it attacked – it was absolutely destroyed. They butchered every one, women and children and civilians and all. The only survivors were one who happened to be elsewhere at the time – or people who'd left, like Kushina-san and Nagato's parents. Not even the knowledge of sealing – Uzushiogakure's most valuable resource – was spared. Kiri didn't attack the place for gain or power – they did it just to completely and totally destroy the place and its people – and its knowledge."
"Is that why haven't I heard about Uzushio?" Naruto asked with.
"Probably in part," Kakashi agreed with a sigh. "Mostly it's because it was the bloodiest massacre of the Second Great Shinobi War. They still don't like talk about it and Kiri just pretended Uzushio didn't even exist – that's how bad it was."
"So... why did they do it?"
"It's assumed Kiri thought Uzushio was a threat to them," Kakashi said thoughtfully. "Uzushio was growing more and more powerful, and it was too close to Kiri. And it was... very bloody time in Kiri back then."
"That's just it." Obito lifted their head. "It happened during the Fourth Mizukage's Bloody Mist reign. Yagura's reign," he said slowly. "Who, it so happens -"
"Was under Madara's control," Naruto finished quietly. "Shit."
"... just how much of the history has that man influenced?" Kakashi asked, sounding disturbed.
"As much as he could," Obito sighed. "And he was influenced by Zetsu and Zetsu was doing what Kaguya wanted and Kaguya was eaten by a tree. Fuck history."
Naruto snored at that. "So, Uzushiogakure?" he asked hopefully because, well, Uzumakis!
Kakashi and Obito were quiet for a while and then Obito sighed. "They wanted Uzushio gone for a reason – I guess because it was a threat. Might as well go and see if we can figure out why."
Their clothes were in the end a lost cause – or at least the upper body ones. The seamstress had no idea how to accommodate for two pairs of arms and there wasn't enough fabric for an easy refit – and as it was, the shirts were pretty much unsalvageable. Naruto's coat was too badly torn to be salvaged either, the hem and sleeves both badly torn.
So in the end all they had were patch work underwear, trousers, footwear and Kakashi's flak jacket – which, being naturally build hardy, had just torn a little around the arm holes and could be easily fixed.
"I might have a kimono with wide enough sleeves that you could use?" the seamstress offered. "But if you want separate sleeves for every arm... that will take longer."
Looking over the light grey kimono, they sighed. "Better than nothing," Kakashi said. "Thank you – we appreciate it."
"I'm sorry I couldn't do more, Naoka-san," she said apologetically.
"Its fine," Naruto answered and grinned at the burst of wry amusement from Obito at the name. "Wanna help me put it on?" He asked the seamstress. "Because – I know this is funny but bear with me – I think I could use a hand."
To her credit, she giggled only a little.
They ended up putting the flak jacket over the kimono – better than having the thing on bare skin, the thing itched. It wasn't exactly the best look ever – Naruto lamented the colour, it was just so boring, nothing like good exiting orange – but it would do. For now.
"Just wait until I get my hands on some clothes dye," Naruto muttered.
"Are you serious?" Obito asked. "Orange, really?"
"Hell yes I'm serious."
"Leave him be," Kakashi sighed. "I've been having the orange argument for years now – he's never going to change his mind about it."
"There's nothing wrong with orange! It's the best colour there is!" Naruto said with stubborn cheerfulness. "And there ain't a thing you can do to make it less so – facts of life are impervious to your biased opinions which are, frankly, wrong."
"...right, " Obito said dubiously. "How about orange with stripes? At least that way it'll work something like proper camouflage."
Naruto almost visibly brightened at that. "Obito, my man, this is the start of a beautiful friendship."
Obito barely managed to smother the slightest hint of proud preen – especially when Kakashi sighed, muttering, "Don't encourage him."
The poor seamstress just smiled awkwardly at them. "Anything else, Naoka-san?" she asked.
"No, this will do, thank you," Kakashi sighed. "Well take the old clothes, though." With luck there'd be enough material left of his chakra-signature blocking shirt that the could make a headband to hide the excess of eyes.
"Pity we don't have goggles," Naruto mused. "The set I had would've fixed everything – we could be worn then on the forehead and still seen through them with no one being the wiser."
"The middle eye would've still been poking out," Obito mused, sounding interested. "So, you had goggles too?"
"Oh yeah – before I passed the graduation test at the academy," Naruto said. "I loved that set – gave them to Konohamaru, the Third's grandson..."
Kakashi sighed. "God have mercy on me – there's two of them now..."
Though one would think they'd have trouble sleeping, they didn't. The food, the hot bath, the general exhaustion all piled on top of each other and their body just flat out gave up on consciousness the moment they hit the futon.
It was the best sleep either of them had had in a while – exhausted, bone deep sleep that just rolled over them and left them utterly dead to the world. They didn't even have nightmares which was definitely a surprise.
Waking up was harder, though. A lot harder.
They woke up on increments – Naruto, the only true morning person among them, was up first and for a moment he was almost convinced the whole thing with the arms and eyes and multiple penises – and Kakashi and Obito in his head – was just a really, really weird dream.
Then he realised that the hut the villagers of Se had given them was pitch black and he could still see perfectly. Because he had the Rinnegan in the middle of his forehead.
And there were the extra arms.
Then Obito woke up and there was a bodily groan of, "It wasn't a dream was it?"
"I guess not," Naruto sighed and ran a hand over their forehead, closing all their eyes. "Well the headache's finally gone. That's something."
Obito just groaned, and they stretched their arms out, accidentally knocking fists together. With a sigh, Obito lifted one of their right hands up – the lower one, pale with twisted, scarred skin. The one created from Senju Hashirama's cells.
"Did we seriously just fall asleep without any security measures?" Obito asked with disbelief. "Seriously? We're lucky no one tried to stab us in our sleep."
"Why would anyone? They need us to fix their bridge," Naruto yawned and shifted them where they lay so that he could get the bundled up covers from under their butt.
Which was when they noticed it – or rather, them.
"What," Obito said flatly, "the actual fuck?"
"That would be a morning wood," Naruto answered with an embarrassed laugh. "Times two."
"You've got to be kidding me."
"Well," Naruto said and then pushed the lower left elbow under them, propping their body up a bit. "I'm afraid not. Because, well," he motioned down. "There we have it."
Obito let out a strangled sound through their lips. "Naruto, don't you dare -"
It was like bolt of electricity, to touch. Everything felt new and raw and, well, untouched – because for Obito it was, and their body was in such a disarray that if course this too wouldn't work the way it should and just -
"Holy shit," Naruto breathed, shuddering – and all he'd do be was lay hand over the damn thing – things. The weight, the warmth, the steady, delicious press downwards – shit –
Obito just sort of exclaimed mentally, too stunned to even trying for vocalisation.
Kakashi woke up then, sleepy, almost purring. "Mmmm," he hummed and then pressed down further with their hand, fingers sliding over and around, tracing the shapes...
Obito let out a garbled, white noise burst of emotion and Kakashi woke up completely – and then they all froze.
"Shit," Kakashi said and Naruto swallowed and Obito just sort of flailed somewhere between them, too shocked by the simple, electric pleasure to even comprehend it.
"Yeah, uh," Naruto said, his – their – voice rough. "Good morning?"
Kakashi winced at that because – shit, Naruto. And Obito too. Two very different kettles of fish Kakashi did not want to mess with like this. Because jokes aside, Naruto was his student, and Obito was... Obito.
Slowly they withdrew their hand – a little disappointing but, yeah. Probably for the best.
"Although," Naruto said, trying to force their breath to even out. "Its going to be a sad sad life if we can't even beat off. Sexuality is healthy part of life, you know? Masturbation is good for you."
Kakashi sighed. "Trust the Toad Sage's disciple to think that," he muttered, covering their face with their upper hands and just breathing, trying to not think of anything. And definitely not that.
"It's true though – and don't pretend like you don't think so, Kakashi-sensei. It's a small wonder we didn't bring one of your porn books with us."
Kakashi choked. "Please don't call me sensei right now. Just don't."
Obito managed to regain some coherence then, though he still felt shaky and stunned. "Damn. I'd forgotten how that feels like," he said with something like terrified wonder. "Is it – is it always like that?"
Kakashi paused at that, teetering on the edge of mortified propriety and terrible sympathy.
"Haha, no," Naruto answered. "That was nothing. Its so, so much better than just that."
"Oh," Obito answered. "Damn."
"Yeah, " Naruto agreed vehemently.
Kakashi just shuddered because between them – well. A teenager taught by a legendary pervert, a man who'd spent almost twenty years in forced celibacy, and, well, him. The mental images came far too easily for them
They ended up lying there for a long time, waiting for their erections to go down.
It seemed like the entire village of Se was there to see them when they finally got out. Apparently they all wanted to see the spectacle of shinobi creating a bridge.
"Are you seriously going to come with us the whole way?" Obito asked with disbelief, as the village elder hobbled over.
"Its not every day you see shinobi making bridges, boy," she said. "From what I hear, you generally just burn them."
Well, they couldn't exactly argue with that.
"Fine then," Kakashi said. "But we won't be responsible any impressionable youths getting the thought of becoming ninja to their heads following this."
The procession from the village to the ravine was long and slow and had the taste of celebration to it. And since lot of the villagers were carrying paper lanterns and some had brought snacks and drinks – and eventually someone took out a hand drum of all things, well.
They were basically leading a parade.
"Life of ninja. Full of secrecy and stealth, wrapped in mystery," Kakashi mused dryly as the celebratory noise grew.
"What kind of ninja have you been associating with?" Obito asked with a snort.
"Yeah, ninja are loud obnoxious bunch," Naruto agreed cheerfully.
Kakashi sighed. "You don't know many normal ninja, do you? Just because you're surrounded by mountains and monsters, it doesn't mean that they're all like that."
"Hey, hey, Naoka-sama?" one of the villagers – a young girl of maybe eight – called, running to their side. "Are you from a village? Like a ninja village?"
"Well, some of us are," Naruto said and then, ever the people person, he regaled the listeners with a rough, heavily edited version of Konoha.
It kept them entertained all the way through the ever thickening forest until they finally reached the ravine itself. It was surprisingly deep and even wider than they'd though it would be. The sad remains of what had once been a rope bridge were hanging from the other end, most of its boards gone, ropes flapping in the wind.
"You can do it, yes?" the elder asked them while the villagers shuffled to the edge of the ravine to see. "It is not too difficult, is it?"
"Just watch me," Obito said and lifted their hands.
"You people might want to back away a little," Kakashi called as Obito begun making seals. The villagers reluctantly backed up a bit – only to rush forwards again when the trees around them began to move.
Rested, fully fed and no longer in pain, channelling chakra came much easier for Obito this time, and the Mokuton flowed much smoother. The trees around the ravine's edges begun weaving their branches obediently together, growing, lengthening, stretching out towards the other side.
Then, much to the astonishment of their audience, Obito stepped onto the moving branches and let them carry them over to the other side. There he rooted the branches into the ground, creating in essence a single, inter woven tree trunk that reached from one side of the ravine to the other.
Once he was sure the roots ran deep enough and nothing less than forest fire could budge them, he made few more seals and had the tree he'd reshaped grow new branches and new leaves – enough to feed it the energy it needed to stay alive for years to come.
Then he was done, the living tree bridge finished.
"Holy shit," Naruto muttered, as they stared at the bridge Obito had made. "That's freaking awesome."
"And that's reason why Senju Hashirama is still considered the strongest of all of the Hokages," Kakashi said. "And why his abilities are so coveted."
"That and Mokuton's ability to control tailed beasts," Obito agreed with a shrug.
On the other side of the ravine, the villagers were tentatively testing the bridge, the bravest daring to step on it. There were looks of wonder and suspicion on their faces – but the bridge held.
After moment of watching their timid explorations, Obito sighed. "Can we go now?" he asked. "We've done nothing but embarrassed ourselves here."
"Should've left an everlasting impression if nothing else," Naruto laughed.
"But yes," Kakashi said. "Let's go."
So they turned and left the quiet village of Se behind – making a far more dignified exit than they'd made an entrance.
And in so doing they completely forgot to ask for directions.
In case it was was unclear, Naruro/Kakashi/Obito is a thing that will indeed happen and it will involve sexy times.
And there might eventually be a fourth person in the ship too.
"We need to come up with some sort of system," Kakashi said as they continued southward. "I mean obviously we do and we will, if we ever want to actually fight with anything like success, we have to. But we should start on that now."
"Here's a system for you – I fight, you supply abilities," Obito said – he was in control of their body again, seeing as there was walking involved.
"Yeah, how about no," Naruto snorted. "Besides, you use whatever the hell you even use – do you even actually know taijutsu? Because lot of the times it kind of felt like you were just relying on that space time jutsu of yours – and we can't use that."
"A very good point," Kakashi said cheerfully. "In the mean while, I know most known taijutsu styles."
"I've copied a lot of taijutsu styles too," Obito said, rolling their eyes.
"Yeah, well I know how to use them too."
"Well I know how to use my foot to kick you right in the –"
"How about we don't start this again?" Naruto said loudly. "Just – there is no way we're going to give you the primary control, okay? It's just not going to happen – you're not the boss of us anymore that we're the boss of you. This has to be a team effort or we'll just keep on making asses out of ourselves."
"Right, hence, a system," Kakashi said and lifted one of their free hands – not currently busy in the activity of taking support every tree branch within the reaching distance. He pointed with one finger. "I propose that he who notices something firsts gets to react to it."
"We… notice things at the same time?" Naruto pointed out.
"We see everything the same time – we don't register it at the same time. Point of fact, the calendar – it was right there, and only I noticed it," Kakashi said calmly. "We value different things, we keep eye out for different things. That's just us being different people. So. A system that actually takes advantage of it."
"Okay," Obito said dubiously. "That's probably not going to work, though – reaction times are still a thing, and in the moment one notices something and reacts to it, one of the others might notice something else and try and react to that – and then we're falling flat on our faces. We already know we do that, a lot, when we try to move at the same time."
"… true," Kakashi said, frowning.
"So we try to use our hands, instead of the whole body," Naruto said.
"Our… hands?" Obito asked flatly.
"We got four of them," Naruto pointed out and just to make his point, he wiggled their fingers – of which they had twenty. "That's a lot of attacking and blocking potential."
"That is a very good point," Kakashi said thoughtfully. "And it probably wouldn't hurt too bad to, well… designate hands. Especially since Obito is left handed, and we can all have a primary hand that actually works for us."
"Huh," Obito said, and lifted one of the left hands. "That… could work. At least in the beginning – by the time we get to actual taijutsu, though…"
"Well, yes, but outside hand to hand combat," Kakashi said and shrugged their shoulders. "It's a start."
"I call upper right one," Naruto said. "Since it kinda looks like mine anyway."
"I'll take the lower one then," Kakashi said, and held the said hand up in a fist. Naruto fist pumped it, and it was just as weird as they imagined it would be – but it worked.
"Concerning hands and taijutsu, actually, we might need to come up with our own style. Or we should anyway, something that takes advantage of the hands," Obito said. "Also, give me the hands back – I need them to balance."
"The Naoka Four Palms Style," Naruto laughed, relinquishing arm-control. "Imagine the kenjutsu, though. Quadruple wielding!"
"I'm imagining lot of lopped off limbs," Kakashi sighed, also relinquishing his designated hand. "But yes. Our own style might be the best…"
They kept talking about it with something like civility as they continued southward, along a path they hoped was a road that actually lead somewhere. Because if it didn't, well. Then they were hopefully lost. What it said about them that none of them was outright willing to admit it, who knew. Probably nothing good.
The plan was to head south to the Land of Fire and then through it eastward and towards the ocean. It wasn't exactly safe – nothing about their world was exactly safe – but it was better to go through the Land of Fire than through Land of Rice Fields and then Land of Steam. Smaller nations tended to, while having smaller shinobi forces, have excess of paranoia and suspicion and you were always a little more likely to get into meaningless fights there.
It wasn't that complicated a plan and hopefully even they couldn't mess it up. Problem was actually getting to the Land of Fire. While the nation was way too big to effectively guard it's border on all sides – and usually didn't bother at all in that particular area, seeing that the area where the Mountains Graveyard sat wasn't even officially occupied – well, it would be different now.
Being that it was few years short of the Second Great Shinobi War, it was time of unrest and political tension – and shows of force. There would be patrols and the patrols would be itching for action.
"At least so the history books say," Kakashi sighed as they approached what they hoped was the border. "And that's how it was before the Third Great Shinobi War – for couple of years everyone sharpened their blades out in open, just daring anyone near by to attack them. There were lot of border skirmishes."
"Hm," Obito hummed, in irritated agreement – he too could remember it, though he hadn't been an active shinobi until after the start. Kakashi on other hand had been ridiculously young when he'd started his career, the freak. "Let's just try to avoid everyone from here on out. Naruto –"
"Yeah, yeah, I'll keep a sense out," Naruto sighed. "With out luck we'll end up running into someone anyway. Some historical figure or something."
"Well now that you said it, it's bound to happen," Kakashi sighed. "Also, I am not a freak," he added to Obito. "And you got no leg to stand on, Tobi."
"I, actually, have all the legs to stand on, because you two can't walk," Obito said with great dignity.
"I could totally walk," Naruto objected. "Just let me try, I can walk like a pro."
"No. Now check the area."
"You check the area," Naruto muttered but concentrated, letting his senses spread out. It was more of the same mostly, trees, bushes, grass and moss, with small critters darting about in the undergrowth. There was something though, which made Naruto shut their eyes and concentrate.
"What is that?" Obito asked, piggybacking on Naruto's senses.
"It's a bird but," Naruto frowned, concentrating fully. It was a small falcon that was circling above head on a rising air current, silent and predatory – hunting for prey. But there was something more about it. "It's also not a bird?"
Kakashi hummed, considering. "A Yamanaka," he then said.
"Ah," Naruto said in realisation, and then latched onto the mind controlling the bird and followed it down to it's source. Obito and Kakashi got dragged along with him and he could feel their mental vertigo – apparently they weren't used to that sort of thing. Well, whatever.
Naruto traced the Falcon's controller down over the forest and through it, to what seemed like a hidden guard outpost – hidden under ground, it's entrance in a moss covered boulder. There were only two shinobi there – one of them asleep, another the Yamanaka who was meditating, her mind nailed into the bird.
"Does she see us?" Obito asked, sounding a little bewildered. "Also – just how far can you sense things?"
"The radius is limited, but I can follow things if they lead somewhere, so as long as they're not, like, hundred kilometres away," Naruto shrugged. "Also, yeah, I think she sees us."
"Fucking Uzumaki chakra sensors," Obito grumbled.
"Sorry. Goes with being a Sage, I'm afraid. What can you do?" Naruto shrugged. "What are we going to do about her?"
"She'll probably come for us when we cross over the border," Kakashi said thoughtfully. "And it's shortest route, through Land of Fire, so we have to cross the border. If we mean to go to Uzushio anyway."
"Which we do," Naruto said.
"It's a Yamanaka though," Obito said, and they opened their eyes. "Can't those bastards read minds?"
"Yeah. What would even happen if she tried to read ours?" Naruto wondered, snorting. "Does she read all of us all at once, or each of us separately?"
"Who knows," Kakashi sighed. "In either case, there's not much we can do. We can't run away now that's she's spotted us, that'd just be suspicious and she'd just come after us with her partner. And if we tried, well, that –" Mokuton, he thought, not wanting to say it out loud under direct observation, "Well. That'd be plain bad, in Land of Fire's soil…"
"So we just go ahead, happy go lucky, no care in the world?" Obito scoffed. "That is the dumbest thing ever."
"Do you want to go back?" Kakashi asked flatly. "We could walk along the border and to the Land of Rice Fields, if you really want. And then we'd probably be challenged by Otonin at every turn until we got out of there."
"Tch," Obito answered.
Kakashi shrugged. "So, let's try for a… friendly encounter, if it comes to it. No hostile actions until provoked. We're just passing through on our way to Uzushio, and nothing else."
"And if it comes to it and we have to fight?" Obito asked.
"Can we even fight?" Naruto asked.
That was the question.
"Well, if nothing else, we have genjutsu," Kakashi said, a little uneasily. They had Sharingan and Rinnegan, after all. Even without Mangekyo, they were a powerful combination. "With our eyes… that can take us a long way."
So they continued onwards, a little wary but trying not to appear hostile. As they walked, they all sorted through the things they could do with limited body movement. It wasn't much, not by their reckoning – they were all fairly physical fighters. But then…
They were all, individually, Kage level fighters. Their not much was most people's whole lot.
The Yamanaka's falcon followed them over the border and then few miles southward before Naruto informed the others that their shinobi observer was moving, "And she's coming here with her partner," Naruto added.
"And the partner is…?" Kakashi trailed off, thinking of clans, clan abilities – bloodline limits.
"No-clan shinobi, I think," Naruto said, thoughtful, trying to sense the man out. "He doesn't have a flavour, you know, doesn't feel like… anything I'd recognize. So probably no clan abilities or bloodline limits."
"How are we going to do this, then?" Obito asked. "I'm assuming we don't want them to know about… all us?" he snorted. "And all our weirdness."
"Someone has to do the talking," Naruto agreed. "I vote Kakashi."
Kakashi sighed. "Alright," he said, checking that the headband was in place before carefully smoothed their sleeves down, to hide their arms. "Though you realise they're probably aware we've been talking to ourselves this whole time, and if the Yamanaka is worth her headband, she probably knows how to read lips at least?"
"Nothing we can do about that now," Naruto said. "Here they come."
And they did, landing on the grass and moss covered path right ahead of them, the Yamanaka first, her blond hair whipping as she fell, and the male shinobi after her. "Good evening," the Yamanaka greeted them and smiled, bright and friendly and with just enough steel to be threatening. "Passport please."
Kakashi blinked their visible eyes and then sighed. "Goddamn it," he muttered and looked skyward in theatrical display of defeat. "I knew I was forgetting something."
Naruto smothered the urge to laugh at the display while Obito cursed silently. Fucking passport – seriously? He hadn't had to bother with one in years. Well of course he hadn't, Naruto thought, he'd been dead. And also a criminal. And sort of head of criminal organisation. Those didn't bother with passports. Well, obviously not, Obito thought. It was just waste of time.
The Yamanaka's eyes narrowed. "No passport then?" she said, still smiling. "In that case I'd like to ask you a few questions if that's alright with you? Alright then. Affiliation?"
"None," Kakashi said.
"You're wearing a Konoha flak jacket, you realise," she pointed out.
"… it's a good jacket?" Kakashi offered and shrugged. "Sorry, it's kind of the only thing I have with pockets."
"Where did you get it?" the Yamanaka asked sharply.
"I don't really remember," Kakashi admitted. From the acquisitions office as Konoha, he thought longingly, after his previous one had been torn into shreds in a battle. It had been trouble and half to keep them from adding the markers of Hokage to it too. Damn village politics.
Seriously? Obito thought, full of disbelief. Seriously?
Every time Tsunade had a bad time of it, people tried to make Kakashi the Hokage, Naruto thought with hint of pride and jealousy. He was pretty much bound to be the Sixth after the Fourth Great Shinobi War, the bastard.
"Right," the Yamanaka said, eyes narrowing further. "And where are you heading then?"
"Just passing through," Kakashi assured innocently. "I'm heading for Uzushiogakure. Shortest way cuts through Land of Fire. So."
"Hmm," she answered and glanced at her partner.
That was the only warning they got, before something tightened around them – an invisible wire, that wrapped around their torso, binding their arms in place. Looking down Kakashi frowned – and then the invisible binding dragged them down and to their knees.
"Chakra wire?" Kakashi asked, shifting their arms a bit. It was wrapped tight. "Pretty interesting use of puppetry."
"You know it?" the male Konoha-nin asked, smiling lazily. "Then you know you can't break it easily."
Kakashi almost snorted out loud at that. Almost.
The Yamanaka smiled, satisfied. "Yeah, I'm afraid we're going to have to background check your story," she said and then held her hands in front of her. "Just hold still a moment. This won't hurt at all."
Move, Obito thought, more annoyed than worried.
"I'm actually a little curious how this goes," Kakashi said, out loud. The Yamanaka was chuunin at most, not very strong considering that she and her chakra-wire using partner had been put to watch a basically empty border where nothing happened. If she could actually disperse their mental energies, he'd be pretty surprised.
It would be funny to see what expression she'd make when she failed. Also, what else he could do, without rising suspicion.
"Yeah like this won't cause a stir," Obito growled out loud. "Also, she might still do something and I don't particularly feel like having my mental energies tampered at all. Do you?"
"Yeah, I'm with him," Naruto said. "Plus, the few times I've had people in my head, it usually went badly."
"Oh, fine," Kakashi said with a sigh, and stood up again, breaking the wire with slight burst of chakra and shrugging the remains of it off. "And now we look like a lunatic again and probably have to fight," he said. "I hope you're happy."
Instantly the Konoha-nin were on high alert, the male grabbing a kunai while the Yamanaka woman jumped back, taking out a tanto. "Who the hell are you?" the Yamanaka demanded. "And are you… seriously talking to yourself?"
Kakashi sighed. So much for passing for normal. "Yeah, it happens. They call us Naoka," he said. "Nice to meet you. Could we please not fight?"
The Konoha-nin exchanged looks. "You're… trying to get into our land," the male shinobi said. "And obviously insane."
"The insanity isn't that much of a problem, really. And your land is in the way," Kakashi pointed out. "And going around would take months."
"That's not our problem," the Yamanaka said tensely.
"It kind of is actually," Naruto said thoughtfully. "Since it is your land and all."
"Yeah, you need to answer for the geographical restrictions you put on people," Obito said and rolled his eyes. "Can't we just fight these guys and be done with it?"
"I'd prefer not to," Kakashi said with a wistful sigh. "Can't we just give peace a chance?"
"Yeah. I mean, they're good guys, we're good guys, we should be able to get along," Naruto agreed, smiling. "We can all be good together."
"Big happy family."
"You're both idiots," Obito growled.
The Konoha-nin just sort of stared at them. There was a long awkward silence.
"Yeah," Kakashi said quietly. "This is going swimmingly, isn't it?"
You always heard about them. These… individuals, ninjas, who just didn't make sense. You heard about the insane ones, you heard about the crazy ones – and then you heard about the insanely powerful ones that defied logic and just didn't make sense. The ninjas who become legendary, that get special, the ninjas who, eventually, become Kages.
Every shinobi heard the ghost stories about them – stories of encounters where you were so terribly outmatched that it stopped being even realistic. And part of you hoped that maybe, just maybe, I could be the one to have that encounter – before they get their name, I'll meet them, I'll see a legend before they become a legend and I can tell everyone, I was there, I saw them, it was me, I witnessed history.
And then reality struck.
Inako shifted where she stood, staring at the man who was staring back, and she got the strangest feeling that she might've dodged a shuriken there, but not ever actually using her Mind-Body Switch technique on him. It wasn't just the crazy or the terrible ease he'd shrugged off Ikaru's Wire Technique – no. It was how little this guy cared.
It was all in his body language. He didn't care that he'd been just bound up and that Inako had almost used a mind switch technique on him. And he apparently knew what that technique was too, which… not exactly comforting. Neither was the fact that he considered it an annoyance at best.
No, this guy didn't give a crap, really.
Inako glanced at Ikaru, who was just as tense as she was. He'd figured it out too – that they weren't a threat to this guy.
"So, now what?" the weird guy asked, rocking slightly on his feet, hands held down – he looked almost disarmed which was kind of freaky. "We fighting or not?" he asked then, in slightly different tone. "Which we don't want to do," he added quickly in another tone, before switching back. "But we will, if we have to."
Inako swallowed. They had their orders. Their orders didn't cover insane people. "What are your intentions here?" she asked because… because she didn't know what else to do.
The stranger, Naoka, made a face at her, the scars on his right cheek tightening. "We intend to travel through Land of Fire to Uzushiogakure," he said slowly. "That is all."
Ikaru cleared his throat. "That's a three week walk," he commented. "From here to there."
"Yeah it is isn't," the man sighed, his large right sleeve moving as if he almost lifted his hand before quickly settling down again. "And we don't have any money either, which is just wonderful," he muttered and hummed. "Well I guess I could gamble," he then said, in different tone. "You need something to bid though, and we got nothing," he pointed out to himself. "You'd think that, wouldn't you? But you haven't seen me gamble," he said and then, "You know this is kind of beside the point," and "Agreed, but it fills the awkward silence."
There was moment of awkward silence.
"See?" Naoka pointed out.
Inako and Ikaru exchanged looks. "So, you have… no hostile intentions towards Land of Fire or Konohagakure no Sato?" Inako asked slowly.
"None what so ever, in fact we only wish the very best for it," Naoka said, smiling and then grimaced. "We're not going anywhere near Konoha," he said, harshly and then his expression eased a bit. "It's a nice place, but yeah. We're not."
Inako swallowed. So far she counted at least three distinct personalities. There was a smiley one, a grumpy one, and semi-diplomatic one that had been the one they'd met first. Where did they make people like this? "So," she said, and hesitated because… what the hell could she even do here? What the hell could they do? Who knew what sort of abilities this… insane person had?
Well. They were chuunin and such, they were encouraged to take initiative – that was the difference between a chuunin and a jounin, after all. One followed and the other led.
"How about we escort you?" Inako said slowly. "It's a long way after all. You might get lost."
That way they could keep an eye on this lunatic, see how powerful he really was, how big of a threat. She could send a message to Konoha, maybe even have a bigger force meet them, and if it came to it–
"I don't think so," Naoka said harshly and then, "No, wait, actually, that could be pretty useful," he then said. "How?" he demanded and then shrugged. "If we travelled in company of Konoha shinobi, there might be fewer problems with guards and patrols," he explained and then scoffed. "Yeah, and instead we have our very own spy, tailing us all the way," and, "Well that can be useful too, in it's own way," and, "How, exactly, is having a spy around useful?"
Inako and Ikaru exchanged looks as the man had a, increasingly annoyed argument with himself. "You think this is a good idea?" Ikaru asked then, quiet, twiddling with his kunai pouch.
"Better than letting him wander by himself, I think," Inako said. "Besides, nothing happens here, and if we get word back to the village, we'll be replaced in a day or two. And, seriously. Do you want to fight this guy?"
Ikaru made a face. She didn't blame him – she'd seen seasoned jounin tangled in Ikaru's wires without any hope of being freed, and this guy just shrugged them off.
Naoka cleared his throat and then smiled. "I say we bring them with. And get them to get us food." And then he groaned. "No. And stop thinking with our stomach!" and then, "Well our stomach is empty and are you going to get us food?" and, "We can hunt you know." And, "Which I'm pretty sure would be poaching, technically."
The man stopped for a moment to release a heavy sigh. "Oh what ever," he muttered and then glared at Inako and Ikaru. "Can we stay the night at your outpost?"
Inako swallowed. "You… know where our outpost is?" she asked faintly. "How do you know where our outpost is?"
Naoka blinked and then shrugged. "I followed your bird."
"You – followed –" she stopped and closed her eyes. Okay, so this guy could not just sense a Mind-Switch Technique, but backtrack it. Hell. "Yeah okay, we can stay at our outpost, sure, why not," she grumbled.
She was so getting reprimanded for this.
"So," Ikaru said, walking at the stranger's left side. "Where are you from?"
"Here and there," the man said. "Thataway direction," he then said, motioning at the direction of the boarder. "There's a village up there. Nice place, the villagers are all weird," and then he snorted at himself. "Yeah, because you're the one to talk."
"Uhhuh," Ikaru said, shoving his hands into his pockets. "So you're from that village."
"No, just visiting," Naoka said. "Passing through, really," and then, "We were going to ask for directions… but we forgot," and, "You forgot," he said to himself. "Well you didn't ask either, did you," and then, "I was too busy making bridges – what's your excuse?"
Ikaru exchanged looks with his partner, who was looking at the weird man with expression that was in part fascinated and in part horrified. Then, he shrugged. "So are you actually insane or is it an act?" he asked because, what the hell, you only lived once.
The man gave him a look. "You think this is fun for me? That'd I'd do this just as an act?" he asked, annoyed and then he grinned. "It actually kinda is, though – I mean, you have no idea, just going to the bathroom – " and then, "Shut the hell up! I swear to god –" and then, a sigh. "Oh I wish this was act. Then it could just… stop and not have it happen anymore. That would be wonderful."
"So… insane it is," Ikaru said. "How bad?"
Naoka sighed and shook his head.
They arrived at the outpost and there Inako opened the entrance and led them all down to the hideout. Her falcon was there waiting for them, gnawing on a bit meat on a bone. "Welcome to our humble abode," she said. "It's not much, but it keeps out the rain."
As outposts went, it wasn't exactly the best. It wasn't exactly busy neighbourhood and for long stretches of time – months and months – nothing much happened so usually it only needed one or two guards. So, the outpost only had the barest necessities; small bathroom, kitchen corner, storage for food, couple of pallets, not much else.
Really, the Mid North Guard Duty was more a prison sentence than posting.
"It's nice," Naoka said, peering around and then rolling his eyes. "It's really not – why did we come here?" and then he answered himself, "Beats staying outside – and besides, warm food we don't have to hunt and skin and whatnot," and then, "Always a plus."
"Right," Inako said and motioned their… guest to take a seat at their small, slightly crooked table. "So, uh… Naoka. Why are you heading for Uzushiogakure, then?"
The man gave her a look, suspicious, curious, amused, all at once, and then thoughtful. "You're going to report everything I say back to Konoha, right?" he asked.
"Well. Yeah," she admitted.
"We have to," Ikaru agreed and also took a seat. "I mean, that's assuming you don't kill us or whatever."
"Right," Naoka muttered and then leaned back a little. He still hung his hands at his side, even while sitting, which was… interesting. "Well, we have some intel for Uzushio, which we hope they'll… appreciate," he then said and then smiled. "And we're related to the Uzumaki," and then, "Well not really, not anymore," and then, "Yes, really, you don't make my genes any less relevant." He cleared his throat. "Anyway, we're basically hoping to curry enough favour for them to take us in. At least for a while."
Ikaru exchanged looks with Inako. They neither of them had ever been to Uzushiogakure, but even they knew it was kind of weird, someone wanting to join a village that remote and that small. "Why not go for some bigger village?" Inako asked. "Like Konoha?"
The face Naoka made was full of longing and bitterness and resignation. "Not worth it," he then said and added, more diplomatically. "We've more to give to Uzushiogakure."
"So… this information, it's not relevant to any other village than Uzushio?" Ikaru asked thoughtfully. "Konoha couldn't benefit from it?"
"Well… by proxy, maybe," Naoka said and then shifted where he sat. "But yeah, relevant to Uzushiogakure."
There was a moment of silence as the man refused to divulge anything more – Which was hardly surprising. If information was only bargaining chip Ikaru had, he would've kept it to himself too.
"Okay, so," Inako said, taking a breath. "You have information valuable to Uzushio, which you hope will enough to buy you a citizenship there. That about size it up? And you refuse to tell us where you come from, who you really are, where did you get that flak jacket or… how strong you are, exactly?"
"Mm yeah," Naoka said and then smiled, cool. "That about sizes it up. And no matter what you think or what, we'll be moving on tomorrow." His smile eased into something a bit more friendly. "Sorry. I know we're weird and probably a bit scary, but… well. We can't really help it." Then he sighed. "We really tried to pass for normal too, but alas. It just doesn't seem to work that well for us."
"Right," Inako said, swallowing. "Well. I guess I'll write a report to Konoha. Do you have… anything to add?" she asked, half from the man, and half from Ikaru.
Ikaru shrugged – she was the better report writer of the pair of them, and really… what else was there?
"Tell them we come in peace?" Naoka offered awkwardly and then smiled, sheepish. "Seriously though, we really don't want to fight Konoha's forces. That's the last thing we want," and then. "Tch, that doesn't even register last things we want," and then, "You know what I mean. Stop being an ass."
Inako waited for a moment and then shook her head and stood up to get a scroll. Ikaru in the mean while eyed their guest thoughtfully. "You're kind of funny," he then said. "In a sort of terrifying way."
The man just sighed. "You don't know the half of it."
Naoka tries to pass for normal!
"I got it, I totally got it," Ikaru said as he ducked under a low hanging branch. "You're a exorcist who was possessed by the spirits he was trying to exorcise."
"I wish," Naoka said, leaning to the side to avoid the same branch. "Yeah, you totally wish," he muttered to himself. "Which one of us would be the ghosts, then? Also what kind of ghosts? Because if we were the haunting-going-through-wall-kind, then we need to get exorcised again because that sounds amazing." And then, of course, "Idiot."
"No, it was some sort of mind switch experiment," Inako said, giving Naoka a narrow eyed look. "Or mind-duplication exercise! Someone was trying to impress a personality onto you – or several – and they all kind of got stuck."
"Why would they do that, though?" Ikaru asked. "Spying tactic?"
"Yeah, probably, or just general improvement," Inako said thoughtfully as she hopped over a gnarled root. "I know a lot of lazy losers who'd be greatly improved with a personality transplant. And imagine the level of productivity you could get out of, say, dozen people if you just installed a little bit of industriousness in them."
"You are not tampering with my personality," Ikaru said. "We've been through this."
Naoka gave them a look. "You… want to tamper with your partner's personality?" he asked slowly. "Actually not entirely bad idea, installing personality traits – removing others…" he then said and then, "Yeah, you'd think that, you psycho."
Inako shrugged. "Ikaru's such a type B personality, it's so dumb. He'd be jounin already if he wasn't such a freaking pushover. If I could just add a bit of confidence –"
"Is that a thing you can actually do?" Naoka asked slowly. "Don't tell us how," he then added quickly. "Some of us are already getting ideas," and, "Well chances of me being able to tamper with your personalities are a little low but –" and, "Don't you even start, I swear to god –"
"It's not a thing you can do," Ikaru said flatly.
"It totally is," Inako said. "I've seen it happen. One of my cousins did something, well, kinda dumb, and it pissed off our clan head – and then he did this thing. And then for about week my cousin though he was a girl, a meek, cutesy girl who liked flowers in her hair. And he's one of the stupidest macho guys I know. It eventually passed, but while it lasted, it was amazing. I think he still secretly likes flower crowns."
Naoka blinked at that. "You know I've never realised, but you Yamanaka are kind of terrifying," he said. "Well obviously they are, they staff half of the Torture and Intelligence division in Konoha. This would be why," and, "And you were going to let her use Mind Switch on us, you idiot."
"She can't do it," Ikaru said, rolling his eyes. "No way. If she could do a jutsu like that, she'd be jounin by now – and probably member of T&I."
"I'm going to get it eventually," Inako muttered. "And then I'll use it on you."
"Stop it," he said and then turned to Naoka. "So, which is it? Exorcism, mind switch, personality transplant, what? Genjutsu gone horribly, horribly wrong?"
Naoka gave him a look that was in parts amused and frosty. "You think it's that simple?" he said almost sympathetically. "Or that we'd tell you," he added, colder. "Or that it would even make any sense," he added, snorting. "Because it barely does to me."
Ikaru shrugged. "Hope keeps me sane," he said. "And from thinking about all the shit you probably went through in some lab to make you like that. I mean. You're a patch work of three different people. Implications are kind of… well awful. Like break the minds of lesser people, awful."
"Yeah," Naoka sighed. "Break the minds of greater people too, awful."
They were walking along a forest path, Naoka in the middle with the Konoha-nin at his each side – though the idea of them acting as his guards was illusionary at best. They hadn't had much choice in the matter – Naoka had decided to continue on early that morning, and there hadn't been a thing Inako and Ikaru had been able to do to stop him. All they could do was tag a long – and they all knew it.
Inako had send her report to Konoha in the previous night, though, detailing what had happened and what they were now doing. It wouldn't take that long, less than a day or so, for it to reach Konoha, by which time they would barely be half way to their next destination – a little civilian village south of their outpost at the mid north border. Whatever Naoka was, he wasn't very fast traveller, which was good for them and Inako was now rather hoping that by the time they'd reach the village, there'd be a jounin squad waiting for them or something.
Naoka wasn't that bad as crazy people went – and he really was crazy and the fact that his multiple personalities might've been actual individual people before didn't really take from the crazy, just added a terrible tint to it. Knowing how his crazy sort of worked didn't make him any less terrifying and the fact that he seemed to have insider knowledge of how Konoha's Torture and Intelligence division was run wasn't really helping.
Plus, Inako and Ikaru were now facing the fact that they lived in a world where people like this guy existed – where they could be made. It made Inako see her aunt's fretting over bringing children into a world like this in a whole new light.
The Konoha-nin didn't make that bad travelling companions. They didn't get in the way, didn't ask too many stupid questions and so far hadn't tried to stab them in the back, which was something of a bonus. Plus, they did chores without complaint.
And Naruto and Kakashi felt a little less crazy, having actual living people to talk to.
"We really need to work on our internal dialogue, though," Kakashi muttered. They were sitting by a fire, while Ikaru hunted for lunch and Inako fetched water. They were pretty nice kids, all in all. "We shouldn't need to talk externally this much - it keeps giving us away."
"For the crazies we are, yeah," Naruto sighed and after slight sense around to make sure neither of the Konoha chuunin were around, he stretched out their hands with a sigh, stretching both pairs out with deep, relieved sigh. Holding your hands still at your side for hours on end was surprisingly tiring.
"And it's an obvious weakness," Kakashi said.
Obito was full of mulish stubbornness. "You were gong to let her try mind switching us," he accused. "Just to see if she could, just to see what would happen to us. Are fucking insane?"
"Probably a bit," Kakashi admitted.
"Or you were hoping she'd succeed in getting rid of us. Some of us or all of us," Obito scoffed. "You know, I heard things about you – they had you marked as self sacrificial when pressured on the Bingo Book. But you're actually suicidal, aren't you?"
Kakashi frowned. "If we have a weakness for mind-jutsu, we need to know about it," he said tightly.
"And you wanted to test it by risking our very existence. Need I remind you we have a mission here? That we have reason of being here?"
"He's right," Naruto said quietly. "I know why you did it, but… it was dumb. It was risky. And it's not like you at all."
Kakashi gritted their teeth and then sighed, shaking his head and saying nothing. There was a sense of… nothing about him, which was kind of freaky for both Naruto who was used to his teacher being full of layers, and for Obito, who was by now used to just butting heads with Kakashi, To have him feel like nothing was just plain weird.
"So," Obito said. "This is what it feels like something gets to him, huh?"
"Don't," Kakashi said, covering their face with two palms. "Just, for a moment, don't."
Naruto hesitated for a moment and then, carefully, pushed Kakashi aside and to the back of their awareness. "Just – gather yourself for a moment or something," he said and lowered their hands, carefully not thinking about why Kakashi might be like this. There were so many reasons though. So many.
"Internal dialogue though," Naruto said, braving forward. "We really need to figure that out."
Obito was quiet for a moment, a sense of weirded-out about him as he hesitated over Kakashi's sudden withdrawal. "Yeah, okay," he said. "But we keep getting sidetracked, with internal dialogue. We keep getting distracted with memories and stray thoughts and notions. It's awful form of communication."
Naruto considered that. Getting distracted with stray thoughts – well, didn't that sound familiar. "Out of curiosity – do you know how to meditate?"
"Why?" Obito asked suspiciously.
"Because when I was learning how to do it, I had to learn not to get sidetracked by my own thoughts," Naruto shrugged, and deliberately thought about it, the days spent in Mount Myoboku, mastering senjutsu. "It's not the same, but… it's kind of the same. Might be useful."
"Hmm," Obito considering the memories Naruto was displaying. "Maybe," he said. "But… it might be something we'll learn with practice. We just need to do it."
Which, he thought, would be damn hard – not because they couldn't, but because they had trust issues coming out of their ears. Obito wouldn't trust Kakashi as far as he could throw him, neither Kakashi nor Naruto would ever trust him with primary control, and Naruto was an idiot and couldn't be trusted with anything. That was mostly why they kept vying for control, why they kept talking out loud. Because… well.
"Funny, how I can't be trusted," Naruto said tightly. "When it's you and Kakashi that are causing the most problems."
"You are a dumbass," Obito pointed out.
Naruto gritted his teeth and then took a deep breath. "You're antagonistic," he then said, his voice low. "You and Kakashi both, but you are so much worse than him. It's not just that you keep butting heads – you keep starting fights. You do it constantly, for no reason – you're doing it with me too, and I got nothing do with your issues. Tell me – is that just you, or is that Madara's conditioning talking?"
Obito was too startled to even answer.
Naruto looked up as Inako came through the bushes, carrying with her three filled canteens. "Found water," she said, uneasily.
"Great," Naruto answered and forced a smile. "Sorry we're not helping. We got some… issues to talk through."
"Yeah. I, uh. Heard," she said. "Who'd Madara? And, uh," she looked down. "Um."
Naruto looked down too, to their hands on their knees – wrists resting on top of their thighs, palms on knees, all four hands in display. "Yeah," he said and lifted their hands, all their hands, and wiggled their fingers. "Neat, isn't it?"
"Well that's one word for it," the Yamanaka said uneasily and then stepped closer. "Just…" she hesitated and then shook her head and took a seat across the fire. "I'm probably better off not knowing, am I?"
"Yeah," Naruto sighed. Obito had gone quiet now, quiet and sullen and bitter, a ball of angry in the back of their combined headspace, and Kakashi was misery and void and… Naruto really wasn't sure how he was the one sensible here, but he was pretty sure he didn't like it. "You probably are."
It took rest of the day and the whole next night for Kakashi to sort through whatever was bothering him – though, it wasn't really that hard to figure out.
Life long dedication to a man who was now in his head and fighting him and nothing like he'd painted him in his fantasies, plus a utter and complete loss of the privacy he'd so treasured and shared existence in a body that wasn't quite his. Plus dozens of other small issues and the constant struggle for control and stability that just couldn't be easily found between them.
Kakashi was just the first one of them to start breaking under all the issues that came with their existence. He just didn't have the defences for that level of fucked up, not like Obito who'd gone through untold horrors just to be alive, and Naruto who was used to sharing headspace with a tailed beast.
By the time Kakashi returned to their messed up trinity from his bout of introspection, he was a little less and little more the man he'd been before. And Obito was still sullen and hesitant and very determinately not starting a fight.
Was he okay, Naruto wondered, carefully not verbalising the question – it was early morning after all, and Inako and Ikaru were still asleep. Would he be fine?
No, was Kakashi's answer. He was not okay, he was very much not okay. But there wasn't anything he could do, anything they could do. The chances of them returning to the way they'd been were… nonexistent. They could only accept and face the consequences, or… not. Not accepting it would mean eternal struggle and he was too damn tired of that already.
He didn't like it. But he'd learn to live with it.
Naruto hesitated at that – at the sense of defeat held within the acceptance. It was a sense of defeat he too would probably have, once it would be his turn to break. He wasn't sure how he liked it. Even Obito seemed a little weirded out about it, sidling around Kakashi awkwardly.
Kakashi thought about it, about them, about defeat – and then, suddenly, he thought one of his oldest, most prized possessions. A beautiful black and grey porcelain tea cup. It had been his mother's originally – the mother he'd never known– and his father had treasured it above all else, even above his prized sword at times. It had been sat in a place of honour in their house and never used.
It had been broken when Kakashi had been four. It hadn't been anyone's fault – it had been one of the good days, when Sakumo had been in good, bright mood. They'd been playing, tussling around, and the table had been tipped over during it. The cup had flown off and fallen to the floor – and shattered into three pieces.
He'd been so sure he'd get a beating for it – the cup had been so special, so important and so beautiful and he'd thought it was his fault it had been broken. And for a moment Sakumo had been so mad too, the maddest Kakashi could ever remember him being. But… there'd been no beating. There hadn't even been shouting.
Instead, they'd taken the pieces to an artisan the next day, and then, sitting on his father's knee, Kakashi had watched how the old woman with her wrinkled, work worn hands, had fixed the cup, sealing the seams with gold. In the end, they had the cup back, broken but beautifully fixed, the break highlighted with seams of gold – and Sakumo said, that was us, son, that was us being happy, and now we're going to always remember that, and that's good. And it was even more precious because of it.
Kakashi thought that and thought of himself, of Sakumo's suicide, of Obito's death – and his life, his presence there, with them. And he thought of Naruto too, the orphan living alone with a demon sealed in his body, so hated and growing up bright and happy despite it.
They weren't a single cup, maybe – rather, pieces of three things sown together. But who knew, the whole might be greater than the sum of it's parts.
They arrived in the civilian village of Sato – truly a creative village name if there ever was one – late the next evening. It was bigger place than the village of Se had been – maybe couple of thousand villagers, most of whom seemed to be vegetable rather than rice farmers. It had couple of streets and village square – it even had a inn and everything.
"We don't have any money," Naruto said to Inako and Ikaru who were eying the inn consideringly. "Just so you know."
"How were you going to stay anywhere if you have no money?" Ikaru asked.
"Well…" Naruto hummed, considering. In places like these it was usually pretty easy to find someone willing to gamble a little – that was how he made his way most of the time during his training with Jiraiya, though… whether he still had that amount of luck was another thing.
He tilted his head and mentally poked Kakashi and Obito – who were both still busy with various stages of sulking. Obito gave him mental equivalent of whatever and Kakashi mentally shrugged his shoulders. Neither of them actually verbalised anything.
Naruto frowned a little at them. It was so damn weird, going from the constant fighting of before to… to this. Especially with Obito since he'd been so damn unwilling to let anyone be in charge peacefully. It was just weird and kind of worrisome. But… it probably wouldn't last though, so he enjoyed it while it did.
"I don't suppose you'd be willing to lend me some?" Naruto asked, turning to the Konoha-nin and grinning sheepishly.
Inako sighed. "You are the worst," she muttered. "Fine. But I want it back with interest some day."
"You got yourself a deal," Naruto said brightly.
They got rooms at the Inn of Golden Carrot, Ikaru and Inako sharing theirs and Naruto/Kakashi/Obito getting one for themselves. Apparently the Konoha-nin were now satisfied that he wasn't about to run off on his own, though they did come to get them for dinner not ten minutes after they got the rooms.
"You're being really quiet," Inako pointed out. "And almost normal. It's freaking me out. What's up?"
"The others are… thinking things through," Naruto shrugged. As good way to put it as any. "So for a little while it looks like it's just me."
"Huh," Ikaru said, looking at him. "So that's a thing you can do – just… have one of you in control?"
Naruto shrugged. "It's not easy," he admitted. "We're all pretty stubborn people and this whole sharing-a-body thing isn't really agreeing with us." But it kind of felt like maybe they could figure it out. Maybe they could at least try.
"Huh," Ikaru said, giving him a look. Then he shrugged. "Whatever. Anyway, there's a decent bath house just across the street from here – I was thinking that I'd have just a small bite to eat and head there to wash because, seriously, our shower sucked."
"Yes, definitely, seconded," Inako agreed. "So, just a snack now, a nice long bath, and then proper food?"
"A bath…" Naruto hesitated. There were the arms and there were the eyes and then there were the, heh, rest. And there was also their somewhat pathetic attempts at passing for normal.
A bath though. He'd gotten pretty good at ignoring it, but their body still ached at times, and they'd been walking for couple of days straight. Their feet ached, their knees ached, their everything ached a little. A hot bath would be just… well it was tempting. Very tempting.
Naruto poked at Kakashi and Obito again. Obito flashed with anger and objection and distrust and then withdrew, radiating annoyance at himself. Kakashi considered it and quietly agreed. A hot bath would be nice. But risky.
Well, Inako and Ikaru already knew they were mismatch of different people. Inako had seen their arms and the villagers of Se had taken it all pretty well. Honestly, the arms weren't the worst of it. There'd been shinobi with multiple limbs before. It was weird but not unheard of.
It was the eyes that was the worrying part. Even people of Se hadn't been able to look at the eyes fully.
But a bath, a proper soak in hot water… it would do so much good to all their aches. Kakashi and Naruto sighed in unison.
Obito unwound a little at that – he wasn't immune to their aching bones either. So, if Naruto kept their upper eyes just… shut, he mused, still suspicious but trying so hard to not let it get to him. Also, their hair was long at the top thanks to Kakashi's stupid floppy hair – they could just brush it down, over their eyes. It wasn't perfect, but…
Naruto thought about it. And he could wear a towel around his hips and maybe that'd be… fine. Still risky, and the arms they couldn't really hide, but… well. Bath.
"Yeah, let's go have a proper bath," he said and smiled. "You're paying."
"You're going to be in debt to us," Inako snorted. "And don't think we won't collect."
Ikaru took one look at Naoka in the lockers and then resolutely kept his eyes above shoulders. "That's interesting," was all he said. "Also, would you look at that, four arms. Since when you had four arms?"
The mismatched man – mismatched skin, hair, body parts, holy shit – just gave him an amused look. "We were kind of trying to pass for normal," he said and unwound his headband, leaving the slightly dirty cloth folded on top of the rest of his clothes.
"You didn't succeed," Ikaru said helpfully and then tilted his head. "Can you actually use all of the arms, though? Like, simultaneously, to do different things?"
Naoka considered it, running a hand through his hair, brushing it down and over his eyes and then shrugged – and well, that was a gesture and a half, with four arms. "Yes," he said. "Probably."
"Uhhuh," Ikaru said and then shrugged. Naoka was weird and Naoka would remain weird later on. "Let's go wash."
Naoka nodded, wrapping a towel around his hips to hide his, ahem, arsenal. Then he stopped to stare at a body length mirror that was set into the wall just beside the entrance to the showers. He blinked, tilted his head, and then, frowning, stepped closer, just staring at himself in surprise.
Ikaru wasn't like Inako – he didn't have her eye for details or personalities or just people in general. But he wasn't completely insensitive to these things. And that, he thought to himself, was the look of a man who'd never seen himself before.
So, Naoka's whole thing was pretty recent.
"Huh. Even our face is multi coloured," the man muttered and then pushed his multi-coloured hair up and away from is eyes. Ikaru stared, confused, at his revealed forehead – it was… misshapen, there were bumps on it, cut with – oh.
"You have multiple eyes?" Ikaru asked and Naoka glanced at him through the mirror. Then he opened them, first the second set which, unlike the lower eyes, both had dark irises. And then he opened the fifth eye in the middle of his forehead and it was the weirdest of them all, it didn't even have a proper sclera or anything – it was just rings. "Oh man that's so…"
"Weird? Yeah," Naoka agreed and held his hair back with one hand, holding the towel with another, and then running his fingers curiously over his face. "Now what have we here?" he muttered and rested the forefingers of upper left and lower right arms over small protrusions at the edges of his hairlines.
"What the hell are those," Naoka asked, in a different tone in the first time that whole day. "None of us had anything like that, right? I sure as hell didn't."
"No," Naoka muttered, in different tone, running his fingers over the protrusions. "This looks familiar though. Didn't the cursed seal cause something like this?"
"No. Well, yes, but no," Naoka answered in different voice. "That's not it. And I think I know what this is."
He said nothing more, but he frowned in concentration and then leaned back in realisation. "So on top everything else, we're growing horns too. Wonderful."
Ikaru waited nervously, but after a last look at himself, Naoka just shook his head with a sigh and brushed his hair down to cover the nubs and the extra eyes. Aside from the motley skin and the extra arms, he almost looked normal again. Almost.
No, not really, not at all actually, nope.
The bath house was almost empty – there was just one old man there, half asleep in the pool. Probably just as well. Naoka went straight for the showers and Ikaru followed after him at slightly slower pace, wondering about the weirdness inherit in the Shinobi world and in all the monsters it created.
Sometimes it was easy to forget it, in their isolation at the Mid North Border. But their world… could be pretty fucked up, couldn't it?
It made a weird sort of sense. They had so much DNA between them. There was Naruto with Uzumaki DNA, there was Obito with both Uchiha and Senju DNA thanks to Senju Hashirama's cloned cells and the Hatake family was probably descended from some nearby bloodline and he'd had Uchiha DNA in his eye and in the end… if you were a shinobi and could use chakra, you were related to Kaguya somehow.
There hadn't been a mix like them before, though. Clan politics and everyone's desperate urge to keep their clan bloodlines pure had kept them from marrying out - kept them from mixing bloodlines. So things had, slowly, diluted. Or rather, the single traits had been purified and perfected and god forbid anyone from mixing them together again.
Now, all those powerful old traits were present in their body. They were Madara's perfect, supposedly all powerful being, with enough DNA between them to resurrect old, ancient powers. Sharingan, Rinnegan, Senju and Uchiha - and Uzumaki, and more besides.
Ashura and Indra, Naruto thought, and felt a weird, ancient longing for Sasuke.
The hell? Obito wondered, just barely keeping it from coming out vocally.
So Naruto thought about it – of meeting the Super Grandpa, old man Hagoromo, one of Otsutsuki Kaguya's sons. That was how he'd became a Sage of Six Paths – the Super Grandpa had shown it to him, had given it to him even. And Sasuke had been there too, and they were Ashura and Indra and it was so weird and so right, and damn…
He'd almost managed to forget it, how deep it had resonated, and how much it hurt to realise just how long had the whole dumb thing been going on.
Kakashi examined Naruto's somewhat disjointed memories cautiously, more than slightly disturbed. So, it seemed that the whole thing with Madara and Uchiha and Senju – and Kaguya and Zetsu too – was even more deep rooted in… everything than they'd realised.
Obito scoffed. In their genes, in their blood lines, in the very chakra they used – damn it. The whole thing was cyclical. They existed in cyclical repetition of events because Indra and Ashura kept being reborn? What the actual fuck.
And then, to make things worse, Zetsu had started tampering with the cycle, and Madara had tried to break it and… well. Kakashi sighed. It was all a mess.
Naruto snorted in agreement. And now they were growing horns, like Hagoromo and his brother, like Otsutsuki Kaguya herself. They had Sharingan and Rinnegan and way too much DNA and on top of that Naruto was… what he was.
"What a fucking mess," Obito sighed out loud.
All the more reason to stop infighting, Kakashi thought. It was too big for any one of them – it was bigger than all of them, and if Naruto was right and that on top of everything else they were starting to exhibit traits that hadn't actually been present in any of them before…
"You okay, man?" Ikaru asked worriedly from the other end of the pool.
"Not at all," Obito answered and slowly sank deeper in the pool, up to their chin. Credit to Naruto and Kakashi – they'd been right about the bath. It did good to their aching bones. "Our bones are aching. Why, on top of everything else, are our bones aching?" he murmured resentfully.
"I don't know," Ikaru admitted, a bit warily. "Uh, sorry."
"Tch," Obito answered.
Growth pains, Kakashi thought, amused. One of them was a seventeen year old, after all – and neither of Naruto's parents had been exactly short. It wouldn't surprise him at all, if their body was in for some growth spurts.
"Great," Obito grumbled, and then sank fully under the heated water because what the hell.
"We've gotten a report that there should be a party of two Konoha-nin here, a blonde woman and black haired male, and one irregular with them," one of the two Konoha jounin said to the manager of the Golden Carrot Inn. "You haven't happened to see them?"
"Oh, yes, they booked rooms here just an hour or so ago," the manager said. "They headed out, though – I think I heard them talking about heading to the bathing house. It's just across the street from here," he motioned. "I think you can find them there if you're in a hurry."
The jounin exchanged looks, one of them brightening up while other scowled. "We could just wait here," the first said, folding his arms. "Seeing as they are about to return here eventually anyway."
"Or," the second said. "We could go and have a nice hot bath. We've been running all damn day, we're all dusty and sweaty – don't you want a bit of rest and relaxation and, well, you know…"
"Are you ever going to grow up?" the first asked cuttingly.
"Not if I can help it," the second grinned and turned to the innkeeper. "So, let's make this snappy – we'd like two rooms for the night…"
Ikaru had headed off after a while, the pruning getting the better of him, but Obito/Naruto/Kakashi stayed behind, enjoying the heated water for all that it was worth. Chances were they weren't going to get to enjoy an ache free evening in a while, if Kakashi's estimation of their future development was to be trusted.
Growth spurts at their age, Obito thought resentfully. It wasn't like they were short or anything as it was – a little shorter than before, yes, but not exactly short. They could've gone without… growth pains, but no. Stupid body.
Exceedingly smart body, actually, Kakashi mused. Five eyes, four arms and more besides – and yet their insides hadn't exploded out of them. Their digestive track seemed to work, they could breathe without problem, their heart beat properly enough… Not only did they have five eyes but they could see through all of them, which meant they were all wired in with the right nerves and whatnot. And yet, it didn't seem they had brain damage.
Their body was a miracle, when you thought about it. A weird twisted multi limbed miracle that was now growing horns on top of everything else, but one none the less.
"Tch," Obito hummed and leaned their head back and against the edge of the pool. The he frowned slightly. He'd been in control for a while now. How had he been in control for this long, and no one was fighting him?
They were trying for peaceful co-existence, weren't they? Also, Naruto was too busy pocking around their insides with senjutsu to figure out what else was changing and Kakashi… didn't really feel like being in charge of bath time. Just a personal preference.
Obito snorted softly at that. Kakashi the famed pervert who wasn't comfortable with nakedness. Naruto was right. It was kind hilarious.
It's not nakedness – it's the privacy, Kakashi objected silently.
And the privates, Obito agreed, amused, and then lazily opened the lower eyes when he heard steps echoing through the bathhouse, expecting Ikaru to have returned or something and already preparing to tell him off.
It wasn't Ikaru.
Naruto threw a small internal somersault and tripped over his own elated thoughts while Kakashi felt first relief and then resounding apprehension and Obito just froze, their whole body tensing under the flimsy cover of hot water.
Jiraiya and Orochimaru of the Sannin just stood there, naked from waist up, staring at them in astonishment.
"Naoka, right?" Jiraiya asked, looking the man over. The report from the chuunin in watch of the Mid North Border had mentioned the motley skin and the mismatched hair, so that at least lined up. What it hadn't mentioned were the multiple arms, but weirdness had been reported so… "You came here with two Konoha chuunin? We're here to replace them."
"Uhhuh," the man said slowly, shifting where he was sitting, mostly under the water. He looked between Jiraiya and Orochimaru and his expression tightened further. "Do we… really need to be watched in baths too?" he asked with deep suspicion. "Because if you are going to start following us into bathrooms and toilets, then I'd rather keep travelling with Inako and Ikaru if that's all the same."
Jiraiya snorted and headed forward, one hand at the edge of his towel to keep it up as he crouched by the pool side. "We came here the same reason you did – to wash," he said and held out a hand. "Jiraiya, a jounin of Konoha," he introduced himself and then glanced over at his team mate. "And that's – Orochimaru?"
There was a scary look on Orochimaru's face as he stared at the man in the pool – and Jiraiya had seen a lot of different scary looks in his team mates face, but this one was just scary. Orochimaru's eyes were shining and he was this close to leering, it was creepy.
Naoka seemed to be pretty aware of it too, because his hand on Jiraiya's tightened sharply and he shifted under the water.
"Oi," Jiraiya said. "Orochimaru."
"What?" his team mate snapped, not taking his eyes off Naoka.
"Stop being a freak."
That got Orochimaru's attention, like it always did. He shifted his attention to Jiraiya and glared, but it seemed to snap him out of… whatever got into him this time. He straightened and donned on his usual cool-jerk face. "Orochimaru, a jounin of Konoha," he said. "We're here to escort you to Uzushiogakure."
"Uhhuh," Naoka said, pulling his right hand – one of his right hands – back from Jiraiya and sinking under the water. "Well," he said and then scowled. "Aren't you the Sa –" he paused and tilted his head. "The Third Hokage's students?"
"You've heard of us?" Jiraiya asked, grinning at the man, pleased. Not many had – not by name and not by sight, not yet. They were only known as the Hokage's team, only recognised when in their teacher's presence, really – but this guy heard their names and recognized them. That was kind of wonderful.
"Hm," Naoka answered, looking between them uneasily. "Why are the Hokage's students working as escort?" he asked suspiciously.
Jiraiya considered that, and the tone it was spoken with. That, plus the arms, the look – the clearly reported and heavily underlined identity disorder – well. Maybe the guy had reason to be suspicious.
"The chuunin of the Mid North Border Watch reported that you were powerful," Orochimaru said, slowly coming closer, eyes back on Naoka. "Stronger than chuunin, at least. And you have some information of value for Uzushiogakure, a close and important ally of Konohagakure, which you are delivering on foot." He arched an eyebrow. "You must understand that it is slightly suspicious."
Naoka made a face and shifted under the water, folding one set of his arms – and lifting one knee up,– hiding his crotch, Jiraiya noted. The man felt the inequality of their standing – Naoka was not just on lower ground than them, but he was in water and completely naked, while Jiraiya and Orochimaru stood on the floor, unhindered and still wearing towels.
If that made the man even a bit nervous, that meant that he wasn't certain he could win in a battle here. Of course, a chuunin couldn't be trusted to accurately judge the power levels of someone stronger than them, and so they hadn't really expected kage-level strength here, higher jounin at best. But it was still a slight relief that Naoka was wary of them.
Heard of them and was wary of them – this was so cool!
"Plus," Jiraiya said, clearing his throat. "We got another mission in Uzushio, which we'll get to once we've escorted you. So, we're killing two birds with same stone."
"Right," Naoka said, looking between them, still wary, but not quite as on edge. "So, we'll continue with you from here on out."
"Just you – the chuunin will return back to their posting at the border," Orochimaru said.
Naoka frowned at that and gave him a look. "Obviously," he said, annoyed.
"You said we," Jiraiya pointed out.
The man's frown darkened and then he rolled his eyes. "We," he said and patted his chest. "Whatever," he then muttered, hesitated, and then gritted his teeth and got up from the pool. "I'm heading back to the inn."
Jiraiya stared – and then, realising he was staring, he tore his eyes away and up to Naoka's face. Then he looked down again because – really, really? "Uh, you got –"
Naoka gave him the stinkiest of stink eyes and then turned to look away, glaring at Orochimaru.
Jiraiya cleared his throat and quickly stood up, backing up a bit. "Right," he said. "I guess we'll see you at the inn, then, right, Orochimaru?"
Orochimaru was staring again – no, he was raking his eyes over the, ah, well endowed man. Jiraiya looked at him and then back at Naoka who was staring back at Orochimaru almost challengingly. Jiraiya looked between them, and then looked at Orochimaru more closely and, hell. If it was anyone else… but it was Orochimaru. Orochimaru had no libido – Jiraiya knew he didn't, because he'd been looking for it for as long as he'd known the prick. There was nothing there.
Except here he was, staring at someone like they were last drop of water in a desert.
Naoka scoffed at Orochimaru's blatant staring and then walked past him – and Orochimaru's eyes just trailed after him. Jiraiya eyed his team mate, and had he not been paying such attention to him, he might've missed the small sigh Orochimaru gave when Naoka was out of sight.
"Soo," Jiraiya said slowly, thoughtfully. "That's what floats your boat then? Multiple arms, multiple, well. Other things."
"Don't be an idiot," Orochimaru muttered. "It's not the man I'm interested – it's the method with which he was made."
Jiraiya stared him. "So, it's just sex you want?" he asked, and grinned as his team mate turned to glare at him. "Hey, you get no judgement from me, man, it's all good. If that's what you're in to, more power to you man. If it lifts your luggage…"
"Stop," Orochimaru said flatly.
"Whatever tickles your pickle, man," Jiraiya said calmly and then ducked out of the way of Orochimaru's punch, grinning. "No but seriously, there's nothing wrong with –"
"Idiot," Orochimaru said. "That man's body is obviously an artificial creation," he said. "I could count at least three different skin tones, and at least one of his arms is grown artificially. The skin grafts on his face aren't exactly subtle either," he muttered and turned to stare thoughtfully the way Naoka had gone. "And he could move all his arms with no obvious difficulty, so all the muscles are lined up. I wonder how the lower set is attached, does he have another set of collar bones and shoulder blades…"
Jiraiya stared at him and he wasn't sure if he was disappointed or not. Poor Orochimaru – couldn't tell the difference between scientific curiosity and a straight up boner. "There will be no dissecting the good informant," he said. "So don't even think about it. His info might be good, you know. And he didn't kill our border watch, which is always a plus."
"Yes, yes," Orochimaru said, rolling his eyes and turning to head for the showers. "But I can at least make observations. I wonder if I have a blank scroll to make notes…"
Jiraiya snorted at that, imagining Orochimaru writing a journal, drawing little hearts at the margin. Well it probably wouldn't be like that, really, Orochimaru was too damn closed up for that, but who knew. This might be the time when Orochimaru finally joined the ranks of virile human males and discovered that orgasms were a nice thing to experience.
Laughing quietly to himself, Jiraiya headed for the showers. Either way, this mission got a hell of a lot more interesting all of sudden.
Obito paced along the length of their room, this close to waving their arms about and throwing things. Fucking… Fucking Orochimaru. Seriously, of all people, Konoha sent Orochimaru.
"Well, this being thirty five or so years in the past," Kakashi mused, not exactly at ease either. "They aren't quite in their twenties yet – and I think it was only after the war that he took interest in his… research."
"No, it was before that," Naruto answered. "Pervert Hermit used to talk about him a lot when ever he got drunk and we were private enough," he said and then thought about it, remembered it – the long rants about missed signs and warnings and alarms, concerning Orochimaru's unusual interests and his sadistic tendencies when treating prisoners, and so on and so on. Jiraiya had carried a lot of private guilt about Orochimaru on his chest, stuff he couldn't even tell Tsunade because she had her own demons. So, Naruto had been the one to hear it all.
It… really hadn't helped him with is own guilt about Sasuke defecting – or his fear about what Orochimaru might've been doing to him. So, bad time all around, when Jiraiya got drunk enough to get confessional.
"It's still Orochimaru," Obito muttered. Inako and Ikaru had been easy to be around – just chuunin, little interest in science, little understanding about it either. Orochimaru in the mean while was probably itching to dissect them. "If we have to travel with them…"
They'd need security measures and more security measures. There's be no more sleeping un guarded, no more trusting, not with man like Orochimaru around. At best the man might try and get a blood sample – and that would be a mess and a half. At worst he'd cut them open to see how their insides worked. And their body being what it was…
One hint of Mokuton, and they'd be carted off to Konoha in a body scroll. Worse yet, if they saw the Sharingan and the Rinnegan…
Shit, had they seen the eyes?
"I think they were too busy staring at our junk," Naruto mused thoughtfully. "Either way, it's too late to panic about that. Ikaru saw – and he's going to report it to them."
"Shit," Obito growled. "Maybe we could –"
"We're not running," Kakashi sighed. "That'll just put suspicion us and they'll hunt as down. We've made our bed, Obito. Time to lie on it."
"Fuck," Obito muttered and sat down on the bed, running hands over the cloth they'd covered the extra eyes with. "Fuck, fuck, fuck, of all people, why him…"
They were quiet for a moment, all the ways this could go potentially wrong running through their head – then Naruto pushed Obito aside. "Kakashi's right, there's nothing we can do about this, now. We just need to live with it, and deal with it as it goes," he said and stood up. "And right now we're late for dinner."
Trust him to think only about his stomach, Obito thought but settled down to the back, trying to think of a way out of this damned mess. If nothing else, they'd need security measures for the trip – if they had to sleep in Orochimaru's presence, they sure as hell were not doing it defenceless.
Kakashi just sighed. They did have the worst luck, didn't they?
"I'm kind of sad," Inako admitted, as Naoka took seat beside her. "You're such a weirdo, but you grew on me, Naoka. I think I might even miss you a little."
"You kind of creep me out, Inako, but same," Naoka admitted with a grin – so it was the smiley one this time, nice. He reached eagerly for the nearest dish of food. "I'm staving. Panicking over Konoha jounin is hungry work."
"What are you panicking for? They're jounin, they'll take good care of you," Ikaru said, leaning back a bit. "Might even have faster way of travelling, you know, than walking. Some of them know summoning and stuff. Would cut your travel down to few days or something."
Naoka considered that. "Yeah," he then said and then shook his head. "Doubt they'll go for that, though. Summons generally don't like being used for transport – and besides," he grinned a little. "That would give them less time to observe and try to figure us out. And I'm pretty sure they're here to observe and poke at us more than they're here to escort us."
"There's that," Inako said, leaning her chin on her palm and looking at him. "I was kind of unflattering to you in my report. You're not that bad, really."
"It's okay. We somehow make the worst first impressions ever," Naoka shrugged and dug into his food. "So you guys are heading back to your post?"
"Yeah, first thing tomorrow," Ikaru admitted with a sigh. "Back to our good old boring hidey hole where nothing ever happens," he muttered. "It was kind of nice getting out for once. Pity it ended up being so short."
"Yeah, well," Inako pursed her lips. They'd taken initiative with Naoka in escorting him away from the border, and all the rest. That might count as plus in their next review. Who knew, maybe they'd get out of the border watch. "Well, Border watch isn't usually longer than few months, they're going to rotate us out eventually."
"So your posting, it's not a permanent one?" Naoka asked around a mouthful of fish.
"Ew – close your mouth, and swallow before speaking," Inako said and shook her head. "It takes special sort of nut to handle border watch like ours for a long time – so they rotate people in and out to keep them from getting cabin sickness."
"We kind of are that special sort of nut, though," Ikaru sighed. "So who knows."
"So… you like the border watch?" Naoka asked uncertainly.
"It has it's benefits," Ikaru admitted.
"No stupid people," Inako agreed. "Or stupid… anything really. Just him, and he's stupid in bearable levels."
"Same," Ikaru answered.
Naoka looked between them. "You two are a class act," he then said. "We're gonna miss you." Then he looked up as the door to the inn opened and someone stepped in. It was a man in Konoha flak jacket and though it had been a while since Inako had been to Konoha, she still recognized the Hokage's famous genius student.
"Damn," she murmured. "They sent Orochimaru?"
"Yeah, and Jiraiya," Naoka agreed and gave a her a look. "Probably thanks to your unflattering report."
"Ha," she and then stood up to greet her superior with Ikaru. "Chuunin Yamanaka Inako of the Mid North Border Watch," she said and bowed.
"Chuunin Hayate Ikaru of the Mid North Border Watch," her partner said and also bowed.
"Chuunin," Orochimaru greeted them, his eyes on Naoka. "You've done well, both of you. My partner and I will be taking over from here."
"Yes, sir," Inako agreed and then hesitated. "Um," she said, looking down to their unfinished food.
"At ease," the jounin said, not even looking at them. "Consider yourself off duty for the rest of the evening."
Inako nodded slowly, looking at Ikaru and then at Naoka and then slowly sitting down again. Somehow, the atmosphere got… thick. There was a tension between Orochimaru and Naoka that was almost physical.
"Well?" Naoka said, looking away first – reaching for another plate of food. "Are you going to just loom over us or are you sitting down? If you wanna question the chuunin, you're going to have to do it elsewhere – because I'm hungry and I ain't budging."
That made Orochimaru finally blink, and his eyebrows both lifted slightly. Then, throwing his slightly wet hair over his shoulder, he took seat beside Ikaru, just across Naoka. "I imagine it takes quite bit of food, to fuel a body like yours," Orochimaru said slowly, resting his elbows on the table and watching Naoka.
Naoka gave him a look at that and for a moment said nothing. Then, suddenly, he grinned. "Nice of you to be interested – you can pay."
"…excuse me?" Orochimaru asked, looking a little startled.
"I don't have any money," Naoka shrugged. "And since the chuunin are off duty, well. Someone got to foot the bill, don't they?"
Orochimaru stared at him, and then frowned. "You're serious."
Inako cleared her throat. "We can pay, sir, we already decided to," she said quickly, looking a little nervously between Naoka and one of the scariest Konoha jounin there were. "It's alright sir, we're good for it."
Orochimaru glanced at her and then looked at Naoka. Then he leaned in, an intent look coming to his face. "If I pay for your food and whatever else you decide to order," he said, slow and contemplative. "Would you be willing to answer a few questions?"
Naoka considered it – and it was the having internal fight look on his face. "Depends on the questions," he then said.
"Nothing concerning the info you hold," Orochimaru said. "I'm more interested in…" he looked slowly down and then up again. "Your unusual conformation."
Inako blinked at that and exchanged looks with Ikaru – who, gratifyingly, looked every bit as startled as she felt.
"I bet you are," Naoka muttered and considered it, leaning back a little – having another internal fight, probably. "Nothing about my origins."
Orochimaru frowned a little at that. "Agreed."
"In that case – excuse me," Naoka said and stood up, swaying a little. "I'm getting some more food."
That left Inako and Ikaru alone with Orochimaru, whose eyes followed Naoka all the way to the counter, where he talked with the Inn's manager – who was also it's cook. Then Orochimaru glanced at the chuunin. "How many personalities does he exhibit?" he asked. "I have counted two so far – this one, and another that was somewhat more hostile."
"There's three, sir," Ikaru said. "The smiley one," he pointed at the counter. "Then there's the grumpy one which is probably the one you met, and then there's a calmer, diplomatic one, but he doesn't seem to come out as much."
"They were all jumbled up in the beginning," Inako added because, well, she liked Naoka but she was still loyal Konoha shinobi and likable or not, Naoka was still something of a unknown. "He used to talk to himself a lot, holding actual conversations, arguing – the personalities didn't get along too well. I think they're trying to… seem more normal now, though, so they keep their dialogue internal."
"Hmm," Orochimaru answered. "Anything else?"
"I don't think it's actually a dissociative identity order," Inako admitted. "Judging by what they've talked about previously, they have different memories and experiences, and aren't completely privy to each other's pasts. I think there's actually different three people in Naoka, and they weren't always like this."
Orochimaru nodded. "Fascinating," he murmured and then stood up. "I think I shall order something to eat as well," he said, and then he pretty much stalked after Naoka.
Ikaru shuddered. "Damn, that guy is a bit…" he trailed away and shook his head. "I don't envy Naoka at all."
"Yeah," Inako sighed. Not that there was much to be envied about Naoka – the poor guy was a mess. Scary strong, probably, but… hell. The strength probably wasn't worth it, when it came with existence like that of Naoka.
"Well, it's three against one," she then said. "And my money's on Naoka."
Orochimaru watched for a while, just observing as Naoka ate. Unknowing, the man was giving away a lot about himself just by the way he moved – the way he utilised his hands. Or rather, the way he didn't. He only used the topmost pair to eat, holding bowl in his left upper hand while wielding the chopsticks with the right upper hand – and both of his lower hands were resting on his knees, unutilised.
That corresponded with Yamanaka's observation – the man wasn't quite used to having four arms.
"Does it cause you any discomfort, using all your arms?" Orochimaru asked curiously, wondering about how the lower pair was attached, how the bones worked. He'd seen then move, so they were well functional, but what sort of range of mobility did they have? "Do you have any limitations on the mobility of the lower arms – can you hold them straight up, like you would your upper arms?"
Naoka looked at him over the food and then swallowed. "No, some, yes," he then said and then did the most fascinating move. After tugging the sleeves of his kimono into his armpit, he held the upper set of arms forward so that the shoulders shifted as much to the front as possible – and then he lifted the lower arms straight up behind them. "It's not exactly comfortable though," he said and lowered his secondary-arms, rolling his shoulders a bit. "Too much stuff in the way. And I think I got real risk of dislocating my own shoulders – I mean, the lower ones – if I try to move them wrong."
"Hmm," Orochimaru said, wishing the man didn't have clothes on so he could see how the shoulders moved. And the rest too. Pity he hadn't gotten the chance to ask these questions at the bath house – but then, that had seemed a fairly antagonistic personality, this one was much more accommodating. Better take advantage of it, for as long as it lasted.
"Do you have extra pair of shoulder blades?" Orochimaru asked.
The man shrugged his shoulders experimentally, shifting where he sat. "Sort of," he then said and shook his head. "Also I have this weird bone, here," he added, tapping near where his armpit would've been, without the secondary set of arms. "I figure that works like extra collarbone."
"So, non standard human bone structure," Orochimaru murmured, narrowing his eyes. For mobility, it would possibly be easier to have shoulders side by side rather than one over the other, but… that would also require non-human bone structure and would possibly result in weaker general configuration – weaker joints, at least. No place for extra sets of supporting bones, after all. Naoka, with his extra set of scapula and pseudo-clavicles would have much stronger base for his arms.
"How strong are your secondary arms?" Orochimaru asked.
Naoka shrugged. "Wanna arms wrestle?" he asked, snorting.
Orochimaru blinked and then leaned in. "Yes," he said, and he sounded eager even to himself.
The man made a face at him. "It was a joke, but… oh what the hell," he said and then tugged the kimono sleeve up again, resting the elbow of his secondary right arm on the table, palm held out.
It took actual effort not to just grab the man's hand and turn it in his, examining his skin. It was pale, almost grey, and slightly misshapen – grown from scratch, Orochimaru had thought when he'd seen, he doubted he was wrong. Who ever had made Naoka couldn't just put bodies together, but he could regenerate body parts.
Or maybe Naoka could – it might very well be an aspect of his body, an ability inherent to him.
Constraining himself, Orochimaru took Naoka's palm in his, flexing his fingers – the skin was surprisingly warm even though it was so pale, and oddly hard. It felt… artificial. Almost bark-like. It was fascinating.
Naoka gave him unimpressed look and Orochimaru realised he was basically stroking the man's skin. Clearing his throat, Orochimaru set his shoulder and then, slowly, he put pressure on Naoka's hand.
Or tried to put pressure on his hand, anyway. The thing didn't budge.
"Oh?" Orochimaru said, and then increased the pressure, first by half, then half again – not much after he was pushing against Naoka's hand with all of his strength, and it still didn't move. His eyes widening a little, Orochimaru stared at their hands, his own white knuckled and straining. Then looked up at Naoka's face, his vitiligo skin, his scarred cheek, deep blue eyes. The man didn't look like he was struggling at all.
"Do you even feel this?" Orochimaru asked, and even to his own ears his voice sounded low and hushed.
The mismatched man let him struggle against his grip for a minute or so before, with no discernible effort, he pinned Orochimaru's hand down on the table. "I felt it," he said and shrugged. "Do you want to try the other arms? They're all a bit different."
"Yes, please," Orochimaru said, and held his hand at ready.
When Jiraiya headed back to the inn, fairly disappointed with the clientele of the bath house – or lack there off – it was to find Orochimaru wrestling arms with Naoka.
Stopping at the Inn entrance, Jiraiya stared at them, but no, it wasn't an illusion – Orochimaru was actually arms wrestling with someone. And he didn't look annoyed, like the times Tsunade managed to convince them to try her, nope – he was leaning in and he looked absolutely freaking exhilarated.
"How long as this been going on?" Jiraiya asked from the pair of chuunin who were seated little ways from Orochimaru and their charge, watching them.
"Uh, few minutes, sir?" the female one – Yamanaka Inako – said awkwardly. "I don't really know what they're doing but… I think it has something to do with Naoka's arms?"
Jiraiya nodded slowly and watched as Orochimaru shifted where he was sitting, pushing against Naoka's hand – left lower hand, judging by the looks of it. It took obvious effort, but slowly he managed to push Naoka's hand down onto the table.
"… the strength isn't equal, then, there's variance between all of them," Orochimaru said. "Are they all from different sources, then?"
"Nothing about origins, we agreed on that," Naoka answered and then shrugged. "But yeah, obviously."
"That is so interesting. Do you have a dominant hand?" Orochimaru then asked.
"Hmm," Naoka considered it. "I have a least dominant hand, I guess. This one, actually," he said, waving the fingers of the hand which Orochimaru was still holding in his. "You know about the whole…" he motioned at his head and Orochimaru nodded slowly. "Well, we all got different dominant hand, kind of. Which leaves one over, and that's this one."
"Different dominants hands," Orochimaru murmured, examining the hand said hand, running his fingers over the palm curiously. "So two of you are right handed and one is left handed?"
Jiraiya stared at them. Naoka looked still a bit wary, but he also seemed to be humouring Orochimaru, so that was… interesting. He'd kind of gotten the impression that the guy didn't like them much, back at the bath house. Well, if the guy really had multiple personalities, that might explain it – this one was different one, and more of a people person maybe. But Orochimaru…
Jiraiya shook his head sadly. So close to gone already and didn't even realise it.
"So, how do you have sex?"
It was only the long experience with perverts that kept Naruto blushing at that – instead he just looked over Orochimaru at Jiraiya, who was grinning over his team mate at them. "I mean," the man said. "You got two dicks, right? Do they both work? Do they work separately, or together – or –"
"Why are you here?" Orochimaru asked, releasing their hand and turning to glare at Jiraiya. "I thought you were going to stay another hour or two."
"The women's side was empty," Jiraiya shrugged and plonked down to sit beside Orochimaru. He turned to Naruto. "So, how do you do the do with two dos?"
Naruto laughed at that – though he was laughing more at Kakashi and Obito, both of whom were radiating oh hell no, at him and quickly backing away. Not that they'd been much into the previous conversation either – Kakashi had some deep reservations about Orochimaru and Obito was a ball of suspicion. Not that Naruto was that into the guy either, but…
There was something different about this Orochimaru. He was… well. Whole. And Naruto could feel it – the terrible, fractured feeling he'd gotten from Orochimaru in that small moment he'd seen the guy during the Fourth Great Shinobi War just wasn't there. He was, literally, a different person in this time.
He hadn't corrupted himself yet.
Naruto's thing for his enemies was pathetic, Obito thought pointedly at him.
Well, maybe – but it tended to work, Kakashi thought, thinking of Haku and Zabuza and Gaara and Nagato and the rest… Naruto had even talked the Kyubi and the tailed beasts to his side. It had gotten to the point that Konoha-nin had eventually given Naruto's weird ability to talk his enemies over a nickname and it was why everyone had eventually assumed that Naruto would one day become the Hokage.
"So?" Jiraiya asked, grinning, nudging at Orochimaru's side for some reason. "How do you do sex with two dicks?"
"Can you not?" Orochimaru hissed and elbowed him right back, twice as hard.
"It's a legitimate question! And you gotta be at least a bit curious with your science mumbo jumbo," Jiraiya said. "I mean – two dicks! That's so weird."
"You have no tact, you idiot," Orochimaru said, obviously embarrassed, elbowing Jiraiya again.
"Tact is for people with slow, boring lives. And also, ouch," Jiraiya said, rubbing at his side. He turned to look at them. "So, how?"
Naruto shook his head with a laugh and Kakashi and Obito groaned.
And to think they were worried about these two.
So yeah, I'm gonna pair them with Orochimaru. That's a thing that's happening. Yep.
"You got to be fucking shitting me," Obito growled as they sat on the edge of their futon in their rented room.
"I concur – please, no," Kakashi said with a slight wince.
Naruto sighed. "Guys –"
"Jiraiya and Orochimaru are literally the next room over," Obito hissed. "You think they don't have us monitored?"
"Well, they don't, at least not by any means I can detect other than the detection seal on the door, but…" Kakashi trailed off. "They might hear us."
"Yeah, and right now they can hear us arguing, whoodedoo," Naruto sighed and ran their hands over their face. "Guys, seriously. We should -"
"Not! We should not!"
Naruto sighed. "Why is that I am the only adult in this trinity?" he bemoaned. "Seriously, how is this a thing?"
"Yo-you think this is you being an adult?" Kakashi laughed, awkward, squirming.
"Yeah, pretty sure this just makes you a horny, needy fucking teenager," Obito agreed. "Now let's put some fucking clothes on, alright?"
"No," Naruto said petulantly and then quickly fell to lie on their back on the futon, keeping their body stiff so that the others couldn't try to get up. "I refuse to shirk around this like freaking coward. This is our body, guys, we should –"
"We could not, we could very easily, very simply not," Kakashi said quickly. "Despite what you think, this is not a vital part of human existence – you can very easily go without and –"
Naruto grumbled sullenly, folding his arms. "So what, we avoid looking at ourselves, avoid thinking about this, avoid this entirely, just pretend that we're fine and normal and that there's nothing unusual?" he asked sarcastically. "You wanna stop using the other pair of arms while we're at it – we can tie it in the back, pretend it's not even there, and while at it, let's just sew our eyes shut –"
"It's not the same at all," Kakashi said, exasperated.
"It kind of is. Except worse, because you're not – you're freaking scared and stuff," Naruto muttered, and made a face, sullen and sad. "You're scared of our body. Don't think I don't know you are."
Kakashi fell silent, annoyed and uneasy.
"Well, I'm not saying that we shouldn't never," Obito said after a moment. "We should at some point – but that point is not now."
"Why not?" Naruto asked. "Why not now? We're in an inn, we got private room and all the night to ourselves – tomorrow we'll set out and who even knows when we'll have this sort of privacy again? And when we get to Uzushio, well."
They all fell quiet at that. Even in best case scenario, they'd probably end up under around the clock surveillance. And along the way to there, Orochimaru and Jiraiya might forego private rooms entirely, and they'd end up sharing – which was bad enough as it was, but…
"I hate this," Naruto muttered. "I hate how freaking ashamed you are."
Kakashi was all unease at that and even Obito hesitated. "Why aren't you?" Obito then asked. "We look like… like…"
"Like what?" Naruto demanded. "Like a guy with four arms, five eyes, two dicks, mismatched skin and who knows what else? So what?"
Pushing their body into seated position, he scooted backwards on the bed and then looked down, at themselves. And though Kakashi's first instinct was to look away and even Obito seemed uneasy, Naruto kept their eyes on themselves, on their legs, lap, everything.
"Pervert Hermit taught me –" Naruto stared and then stopped because, well, lot of those teachings were probably current Jiraiya's teachings and the guy might be listening. So, instead he thought about it.
Thought about the things Jiraiya had taught him. Not the summoning or the Rasengan or anything else – well, there hadn't really been much else. But the actual teachings Jiraya had impacted on him.
Those had probably been the more important lessons Naruto had gotten. People always asked him about what Jiraiya had taught him and then they'd made faces at him when the only thing Naruto had really produced was slightly more advanced version of Rasengan – but that… that wasn't it.
No one had ever had any idea how many identity and body issues Naruto had had, back then. You just couldn't go through a childhood of being called freak and monster and disgusting and hundred other horrible names, and not end up with some issues. Naruto had full baker's dozen of them, back then, he'd just been so loud that they'd never shown.
Jiraiya had taken one look at him – one look at his Sexy no Jutsu, actually, and what it implied about Naruto that it was his default go-to when trying to persuade people to agree with him – and figured it all out. And then, instead of bothering with ninjutsu, he'd started teaching Naruto some proper taijutsu – powered by healthy dose of body-positivity.
Naruto might've not learned many – or any – of Jiraiya's trademark jutsu during his three year training period. But by the time he came back, he felt happy in his own skin for the first time in his life.
"And I freaking refuse to hate myself for what I am, not again," Naruto growled. "I'm freaking done with that."
There was a moment of silence in their head, while Obito and Kakashi hesitated. "Those aren't lessons most Shinobi get, you know," Kakashi then said, somewhat sadly. "Those aren't the lessons I got."
What Kakashi got was shame. Not precisely for his body, not even for his face – but just for his looks. Because he was a carbon copy of his parents. Outwardly, of his father – they had the exact same body type and hair, they moved the same. But his face…
He had his mother's face.
"I remember, when I was young, how… how my father would look at me, sometimes," Kakashi murmured. "Like it hurt."
Because his face reminded him of her, the woman he'd loved and lost. That was probably why Kakashi had originally started wearing a mask – just a bandana when he'd been very young, and then eventually, actual mask. Because when he hid his face, his father wouldn't look at him like it was painful.
It wasn't until later, when he became ANBU, when he was put into therapy like all ANBU were, that he started unravelling those issues that now kept him from being comfortable with any of… this.
Sakumo had tried, but he'd not understood – he'd just wanted to keep his son happy, probably. So, when Kakashi had first started hiding his face, instead of telling him it was okay to look like what he looked… Sakumo had bought him masks. Had replaced all his shirts to include a high enough collar to hide his face.
And so, Sakumo had enabled Kakashi. Subtly, unknowingly expressed that it was not only alright, but that Kakashi was on right track. That he should hide his face. A single father with little experience, coming from clan too proud to ask for help, he had never realised what he was doing to his impressionable, young son by letting him hide his face…
Sometimes, Kakashi thought Sakumo might've even been relieved he did.
And then Sakumo had died, and Kakashi had to contend with that. Because with his face hidden he no longer looked much like his mother – no, he looked like his father. Hatake Sakumo – the shame of Konoha. Man who'd abandoned his mission to save his team mates – and who'd then, in shame, killed himself.
Shame and shame and shame.
Sakumo's actions had had far reaching political consequences – which his suicide made very public, because everyone was curious about why such a famous, proud shinobi would take his life, and when so many people demand for answers, the answers appeared. Some of them weren't right and none of them were pretty, and at the heart of that particular shit storm, there'd been Kakashi. Last remaining member of Hatake clan, barely eight years old, and so very impressionable and sensitive under his mask.
Hid father was a failure and the shame of the village and Kakashi looked just like him.
And no one ever let him forget it.
And Naruto was right – you couldn't take verbal abuse for so long without getting some issues. Time helped some and Minato-sensei, bless his soul, tried to help but he was the Hokage and so busy, and then he too was gone.
"The eye probably didn't help things," Kakashi said, more to Obito than Naruto. "Because it pissed of your family like nobody's business and for years they were after me for it. I started slanting my headband over it and then…" then he was showing even less of himself.
And then he became and ANBU and wore masks over masks. And they all knew how the old shinobi edict went – wear a mask too long and… well. You forget what's underneath.
"Privacy, huh," Obito murmured. "Shit. That's… messed up."
"I know," Kakashi agreed with a sigh and closed their eyes. "So those are my issues. What's your excuse."
"Mine?" Obito scoffed. "Tch."
Obito didn't have issues with his body. He had issues with the fact that his body hadn't even been his body for so fucking long. The half grown from Senju Hashirama's cells had never felt like him – or even like it was real. And for so long it had taken so much effort just to keep his body going that it had stopped feeling like a human body at all, it was just a slap of meat kept together by the power of superior ninjutsu.
And of course, there were those identity issues too, though who knew if they were as severe as Kakashi's. Obito's came at him in bursts and moments – moments where he played Madara, when he played Tobi, when he played any one of Madara's puppets, hiding, hiding, always hiding the fact that he was Uchiha Obito and still alive.
"I always knew he kept me alive to work as extension of himself," Obito said out loud. "He didn't ever even try to hide it. I was like Zetsu, only slightly more usable because I was more human and thus more versatile, but…"
A puppet. That's how he'd felt for a very long time. Puppet on Madara's strings. And now he knew that it was exactly what he'd been.
Fuck yes he had issues with his body. Their body. Whatever.
"We're perfect," Naruto said, a little faint, a lot sad.
"We really aren't," Obito scoffed. Kakashi said nothing. "Now let's put some clothes on."
Naruto took a deep breath and then gritted his teeth. "Nope," he said and looked down at them. "This is too damn sad and I will not stand for it. Hell, Orochimaru is more into our body than we are and that's just not gonna do. I hear you got issues, but damn it – see it how I'm seeing it!"
Kakashi had called their body a miracle – and it was, it freaking was, and not just because it worked, but because it just was. Every damn bit of it was amazing.
So, ignoring Kakashi's squirming and Obito's deep, disgusted disbelief, Naruto stretched out their legs and just appreciated all of it, fully and without reservation.
The patterns of their skin, the way the colours mixed, it was like painting done in soft hues, in splatters and smears and it was so cool, the way paler and darker hues stood out against each other. They made almost freckle like pattern on their left calf, it was kind of cute.
Their feet – which they were all glad they only had two of – were kind of sleek and smooth, all long lines and smooth arches. They had a ninja's harsh and rough soles, and even there the skin was a little motley coloured, though the colour differences were hard to say. The arches of their ankles were clean lined and strong.
They had stronger, slightly thicker leg bones, though, Obito thought almost begrudgingly, while Naruto ran their hands over the bones of their ankles. That might be why walking had been so hard in the beginning – the weight distribution was wrong in the legs themselves too. But then, the muscles were a little stronger too.
Kakashi thought nothing, but he was paying attention now, as Naruto leaned one pair of hands against the futon and just stroked the other along their legs. There were variance between the two legs – one had slightly thicker calf muscle, other had bonier knee. The other was tiny bit hairier too – the right one was almost completely smooth.
"Are you –" Kakashi started and then stopped as Naruto spread out their legs a bit and put their hands on their inner thighs. "Damn it," Kakashi muttered.
"Shut up, let me appreciate," Naruto muttered back.
One of the weirdest and coolest things Jiraiya had taught Naruto was how to look at himself with lover's eyes. Not with pretence – not with that self serving, self hating way of what would people like, how to make myself more attractive to others, how can I make myself prettier, no. But like you were already in love, like everything was precious, from every feature to every flaw.
Like everything was a little bit special. And bit silly too, because there had to be silliness, because human bodies were inherently weird and if you couldn't see it, couldn't accept it, then what was the point? It was all hilarious and beautiful and weird and that was what made it special.
And that was how Naruto looked at them, like they were hilarious and beautiful and weird. Emphasis on the beautiful.
"This is so embarrassing," Kakashi almost whimpered, but he didn't try to look away anymore.
"Self fucking love, you bastard. Get on with the program already," Naruto answered determinately. He'd already won Obito over – the Uchiha was quiet now, and he'd let himself be drawn in. Kakashi was lagging behind because shame and embarrassment, but Naruto was winning him over too.
Time to up the ante, Naruto decided and hopped up from the futon and walked to the empty wardrobe that sat desolately in the corner of the room. Kakashi almost wrung the control back from him, but Naruto ignored him, and made his way to the wardrobe.
And to the full length mirror in it's door.
They'd gotten a pretty good look at themselves at the bath house, but now they took their time – Naruto took his time. Orochimaru had gotten them thinking about their arms and how they worked, and it was all sorts of interesting to have another look at them now, knowing how complicated they really were.
Thanks to their arms, their back was a mess of muscles and their chest was a little… weird, pectorals wider than before, and sort of segmented differently. There were new muscles there – or rather, muscles had been duplicated, a new set added in to serve the second pair of arms. Orochimaru probably could've even named them.
Naruto ran their hands – all their hands, over their chest and stomach and hips and just touched everything, felt everything, appreciated everything. Every colour and every shape and every flaw – the scars on their chest, all over their skin, Naruto's, Obito's, Kakashi's.
All their lives' stories were written on Naoka's body and it was god damn beautiful.
"Alright, alright, I get it," Kakashi hissed. "Can you just –"
"I'm not done," Naruto answered. "Not by a long shot." And Kakashi obviously did not get it since he was still shirking away. The point wasn't to get it over with or whatever the man thought.
Resting their lower hands on their hips, Naruto raked their fingers through their hair and then looked at their face in all of it's scarred, multi eyed glory. That was the part of them they knew best, and still had hard time with. Thanks to the whisker marks, they looked more like Naruto than anyone else – but it was the same sort of likeness you'd get from anything by adding Naruto's whisker marks to it.
They had Obito's jaw line more than Naruto's – Naruto had had more square jaw line, but Obito had that Uchiha smoothness to his, even in his mismatched configuration. Kakashi's straight nose with none of Naruto's slight perkiness. Naruto's lips, mostly – though the upper lip had a lot of Obito to it, Uchiha all had such full mouths. They no longer had eyebrows, there wasn't enough space for them, and their forehead was all misshapen because of the eyes, but it worked.
"I kinda love how your eyes are just… smouldering all the time," Naruto laughed, leaning in and running their thumbs along the skin between the two sets. "Just, constant smoulder, it's awesome."
The area around the right side of the eyes was scarred and discoloured, but it wasn't a bad look – there was already so much going on in their face that it was just another feature, and it all worked pretty well.
"We got odd pair of ears," Obito noted, and brushed their hair out of the way.
"Huh, we do," Naruto agreed, tilting their head this way and that to see them. The left one was attached, the right one was free and tiny bit bigger. Left was Obito's, right was Kakashi's. "Neat. It's a wonder we don't have multiple ears, though."
"We're lucky we don't have multiple heads," Obito snorted. "We're lucky we have functional hearing and sight."
"We're lucky," Naruto agreed, and then leered at their reflection. "And we're damn sexy. I mean, look at this," He said and spread out their hands, their arms, turning a bit. "Oh, that's one hell of an ass too. You could bounce a shuriken off this thing," Naruto laughed and ran their hands over their lower back, down over their ass, and up again, this close to groping. "Damn, we're shapely! Look at this shoulder to waist ratio – that's freaking hot."
Obito laughed at that, a little helpless and yeah, a bit embarrassed - but it was good sort of embarrassment, a sort of flustered, pleased sort of embarrassment. And Kakashi wasn't entirely immune to it either – the blush on their cheeks, that was all Kakashi.
Naruto grinned and then turned to face the mirror again. Time to face the music, he thought and then leaned one hand against the wardrobe, just in case someone got the shakes.
Then he ran their lower hands from their waist down to their crotch. He didn't touch yet, just sort of framed them with their fingers, and waited. The unease came instantly.
"Must we?" Kakashi choked out and tried to look away.
Naruto and Obito didn't let him.
"We're just touching," Naruto said. "We don't need to go all the way – let's just… see what we're dealing with here, okay? We'll take it slow, stop when it's too much. Alright?"
Naruto met their own eyes on the mirror, staring hard at Kakashi inside them. "Baby steps, okay?" he said because he wasn't like that, and even if it was all their body, it was still… well. Also sort of individually owned. And if one of them wasn't okay with sexy stuff, then it just wasn't okay, period. "Let's just see, alright? It's okay."
It took a moment, but eventually Kakashi relaxed and they could look down again without resistance. Kakashi was still squirming, still teetering on the edge of this is not okay, partially because of himself and partially because Naruto was his student, but…
"Oh," Obito murmured and then laughed. "I didn't notice before but, hey. Two balls. That's pretty damn lucky too."
Naruto grinned, running their fingers around and then under, taking one dick in one hand, the other in other. They were soft, which was probably just as well. They were still weirdly sensitive – more so than they really should be – but that was probably just side effect of having been, well. Thrown together, as it were. The dicks were lined up kind of neatly, one on top of another – and Naruto could recognize his own one under the other one, which meant that it was Kakashi's dick on top. Both were uncut too, which was bit of a relief.
"Don't," Kakashi said quickly. "Don't you even think about it."
"You're thinking about it," Naruto pointed out. "I didn't think of anything."
"Sure you didn't."
Obito snorted and then their dicks were pressed together in both hands, held against each other. Humming, Obito tilted their head a bit, measuring. "Upper one's longer, lower one is thicker," he estimated, and ran a thumb over the foreskins – it was little weird. He could barely even remember having a penis, and his had been circumcised when he'd been baby, like all Uchiha's had been. Now there were two, and both were uncut.
"It's not weird, it's nice," Naruto corrected, grinning, while Kakashi fought with the urge of smothering them both.
They examined their junk for a while, before Kakashi's unease for to the point where Naruto figured they'd probably had enough – any more, and they'd cross over to the land of sexual assault here. So, he pulled their hands away and held them all against the wardrobe and looked at their reflection on the mirror again.
"Okay?" he asked.
"Yeah," Obito said and swallowed. "Better," he then added.
Kakashi sighed and closed their eyes for a moment. "I will be," he murmured then and looked down. And yeah, he was still uneasy, but… there was something about Naruto's unabashed self love that made him yearn a bit.
He'd always been confident in his abilities, sometimes to the point of disaster, but this sort of self-confidence, skin deep and unabashed… he didn't know it. It was utterly foreign to him. And it was still weird and something in him still fought against it but…
There was a reason why he'd liked to read porn and it wasn't entirely because of the outrage on people's faces when they caught him with it. Of course Jiraiya-sama's plots were always good and the porn itself was exquisite, but… now that he knew what Jiraiya had taught Naruto, Kakashi wondered if that was it.
The characters in Icha Icha were always almost viscerally aware of their own bodies and bodies of their lovers. That was part of what made the porn so good, it was gritty and real and so full of joy at that simple physicality…
"Maybe it's time to stop living vicariously," Obito snorted at him. "The brat's right. This is our body. And we got fucking nothing to be ashamed about."
Naruto grinned, satisfied.
"My room was next you yours, you know," Inako pointed out when Naoka sat down to sit beside her the next morning. "Had a fun night, then?"
"It was fucking fantastic, thanks," Naoka grunted – so it was the grumpy one. "And we're fucking starving. There's food, right?"
In answer, she handed her own plate over to him – she was still a bit stuffed after the previous night's feast. "I'm kind of glad you're already awake. Me and Ikaru are heading off in a moment," she said. "We're going to try and push it, maybe make it back to the outpost before night."
"Running, you'll probably make it," Naoka said and grabbed a pair of chopsticks. He looked at her from under his headband. "What did you tell Jiraiya and Orochimaru?"
"About you?" Inako asked, arching her eyebrows. "The obvious, mostly. That stuff you talked about with yourselves… about whoever. Well. I figured that was private."
Naoka eyed her silently for a moment. "Thank you," he then said which, coming from the grumpy one, meant a lot.
"You really had a nice night, then?" Inako laughed and shook her head. "It's this sort of shit that keeps me from becoming jounin, you know," she then admitted with a sigh. "Ikaru, he's like the least ambitious asshole ever and all he'd ever do is lay around reading comics if he got a choice. Me? Well. I trust my own instincts too much, even when I know better."
"You're a Yamanaka," Naoka pointed out. "Integrity and good instincts… you need those."
"Aww, thanks," Inako grinned and reached for onigiri from a plate in the middle of the table. "So, you're going to head out with Jiraiya-san and Orochimaru-san? Straight for Uzushiogakure."
"That's our plan," Naoka agreed. "And it seems to be their plan too. So I guess that's fine," he muttered and scowled a bit at his food. "I still would've preferred going with you two, rather."
"That's nice," Ikaru said, just arriving. He yawned and fell to sit across from them, reaching for an onigiri as he did. "The beds here are amazing. So much better than the futons back at the outpost."
"So much better," Inako agreed with a sigh. "I was honestly contemplating on stealing the one in my room. Just seal it up on a scroll, no one would ever know."
"Except the manager who might be suspicious as to why a bed vanished after you used it," Ikaru snorted and then looked at Naoka. "So, had a fun night?"
Naoka rolled his eyes. "Yes," he said. "Thank you."
Ikaru grinned and leaned in. "So, how does it work, with you know. One body? I mean, yeah there's three of you, but still. It's one body. How do you have sex with just the one body? Does masturbation really count as sex when…"
Naoka just gave him a flat look at that.
"Okay," Ikaru said and leaned back again. "Masturbation counts, let's move on to another topic."
Inako giggled at that and Naoka just sighed and bit into his onigiri with twice as much vigour.
Sadly, it didn't take them too long to finish eating, and then it was about time to go. "Back to the lonesome frontier," Inako sighed and looked at Naoka. "I got a thing to ask you, though. Because, well. I will probably never get the chance again and it'll kill me later to never know if you would've agreed if I don't ask."
"What?" Naoka asked dangerously.
"Could I please get a hug?" Inako asked, and gave him her sweetest smile.
"You got four arms," she pointed out. "Twice as many arms as anyone else I know, which I figure means you give twice as good hugs."
"I want a hug too," Ikaru said. "If it doesn't kill me – I mean, I saw you arms wrestling with Orochimaru and I know you could probably crush me, but yeah. Hug."
Naoka stared at them as they blinked at him and then shook his head, sighing in exasperation. Something in his eyes changed and they brightened – and then Naoka grinned brightly at them.
"Hell you can get hugs," the smiley one said and spread out his arms. "Hugs for everyone."
Inako grinned back and then threw herself against his chest. His arms came all around her, around her shoulders and back and waist and just all over the place and it was just as amazing as she thought if would be. He was warm and kind of big and just all over her and it was amazing. She was ruined for other hugs for life.
Smiley one was definitely her favourite.
Seeing Naoka hug Ikaru was kind of amusing – Ikaru was kind of thin, especially when compared to Naoka, and he was sort of smothered in Naoka's embrace. Naoka gave him a friendly squeeze and then patted his hair fondly.
After hugging them, Naoka walked them outside and watched them check their gear for the return trip. "I don't know when I can pay you back, but I'll try to figure out something," he told them then – and it was a different Naoka now, the diplomatic one. "It might take a while though."
"Well, better late than never," Inako said and after making sure her headband was tied up straight, she gave the weird, mismatched man a grin. "Send us a post card when you get to Uzushio, okay? I've never been and I wanna know what it looks like."
"I'll see what I can do," the diplomatic-Naoka promised, and while he didn't smile or anything, he looked fond. "It was nice to meet you two. Have a safe trip."
"You too," Inako said.
"Bye, Naoka. Stay freaky," Ikaru added with a sloppy salute.
"It'll be a hardship but I'll try," the man answered, amused.
Then they were off, heading out first at casual jogging pace and then speeding up once they got past the village buildings.
"That guy is so weird," Ikaru commented as they ran, quickly setting into a casual pace.
"Yeah," Inako laughed. "So weird. But fun."
Kakashi looked after the chuunin and sighed. He'd never met neither Yamanaka Inako nor Hayate Ikaru in his life – they'd probably died in the Second Great Shinobi War, or sometime around it anyway. And he could see why, too – they weren't exactly the most diligent of shinobi.
They were good people though.
Shaking his head, Kakashi took them back inside. Orochimaru was just coming down the stairs, looking around and meeting his eyes. Kakashi smothered the urge to frown at the man and instead went back to their seat, sitting down again.
It was different now. Everything was… a bit different.
Different doesn't mean bad, Naruto thought at him. Change isn't necessarily a bad thing. Just give him a chance.
Obito scoffed silently, but didn't object.
"Good morning," Orochimaru greeted them, coming over and hesitating over sitting down. "The chuunin left, I take?"
"Yes, they took off just now," Kakashi agreed and looked up at him. "I suppose they should have reported to you first."
"We have their written reports, and they reported verbally late last night – it's fine," Orochimaru said thoughtfully and then sat down. "You're the third personality."
Kakashi blinked at that. "How can you tell?"
"You have different body language than the others – you slump your shoulders a bit, the other two don't, and your speech pattern is different," Orochimaru said.
Kakashi shook his head at that. Of course Orochimaru could tell with the slightest signs. The man was a genius. "I suppose we will be heading out soon as well?"
"As soon as the big oaf wakes up," Orochimaru sighed. "From what I heard from the chuunin, however, you don't seem to be in a hurry. You moved at walk speed."
"We should be able to manage a brisker pace," Kakashi said. "But no, we're not in immediate hurry."
"…Manage a brisker pace?" Orochimaru asked slowly, leaning in a bit. "You have trouble with movement?"
Kakashi hesitated. Naruto had already given up so much the previous night in making friends with Orochimaru and Jiraiya. Inako and Ikaru had probably reported that their formation was recent turn of events – at least Kakashi assumed they had figured it out, they hadn't gone into any true lengths to hide it after all…
Friends with Orochimaru. What a weird thing to even think about.
Play nice, Naruto thought.
Yeah, we need them on our side, Obito agreed with dismay. Better that, than having them against us.
Kakashi shook his head. "Balance was an issue for a while. Still is, to some extend. But we're figuring it out."
Orochimaru nodded slowly, looking them up and down. "The weight distribution is different, I suppose," he mused and folded his arms. "Running might cause issues… Your torso is longer now, isn't it?"
Kakashi thought back to – yeah. "Slightly," he admitted. "We haven't exactly counted, but we might have additional ribs now."
"Hmm," the Sannin – future Sannin, they weren't the Sannin yet – hummed and considered him. "I'd love to see an x-ray of your bones."
Kakashi could feel their expression hardening. "No," he said flatly.
Orochimaru smiled at that. "No of course not. My apologies – your conformation fascinates me. It's quite unlike anything I've ever seen. Just the fact that everything in you seems to work do well…" he shook his head, looking of all things a little wistful. "Your polymelia is perfect."
"Condition of multiple limbs," Orochimaru said and then smiled. "Polymelia, diphalia, vitiligo… what else? You wouldn't happen to know how your internal organs line up? With additional ribs and longer torso…"
Kakashi sighed and ran a hand over their lower set of eyes. Naruto just had to feed this guy's curiosity, did he?
Hey, curiosity is hell of a lot better than some of the alternates, Naruto thought at him. Besides, Orochimaru was bit of a nerd and it was freaking hilarious.
Obito scoffed at that. Yeah. Hilarious how the guy was dissecting them with his eyes.
"Stop freaking the poor man out, Orochimaru," Jiraiya's voice came from the stairs and moment later there was a thump as he sat down. "Also, good morning. Is there food."
"There was," Kakashi sighed and opened their eyes. He eyed their empty plate – Inako's empty plate, actually, and sighed. It was so awkward, not having any funds of their own and having to rely on other people, but…
Hungry, Naruto thought longingly. Still hungry, even. Inako didn't leave them much leftovers.
We're almost always hungry now, Obito sighed. We should probably get used to it.
Kakashi sighed in agreement. "If it wouldn't be too much of a trouble," he said, gritting his teeth and swallowing his pride. "We could use another bite to eat."
"Yes, and it's your turn to buy, Jiraiya," Orochimaru agreed, giving his team mate sickly sweet smile. "Go get some."
"Ugh, stop," Jiraiya said at him. "Fine, I'll get something. Don't do anything I wouldn't do while I'm gone."
"You know that covers everything indecent under the sun," Orochimaru scoffed after him him.
"Precisely!" Jiraiya threw over his shoulder and then headed off to talk to the manager.
Kakashi sighed. Travelling with the not-yet-Sannin would be… interesting to say at least.
I call this my extreme body positivity chapter. Also look, my Time Skip Headcanons are showing.
They left the Sato village just before noon, heading for south east. Plan was to make as clean a cut towards Uzushiogakure, all the while stopping by in as many actual towns and villages on the way to cut the time spend staying outside to the minimum.
Funnily enough, both Jiraiya and Orochimaru seemed to like their comforts and while they probably would've been fine staying out doors the whole trip, there was definite satisfaction on both their faces when Obito said that they'd rather stay at inns, than around camp fires.
"But of course, it's your money we'd be spending," Kakashi interjected, because he still didn't feel perfectly at ease with bumming from others.
Always so damn proud, Obito thought.
Yes, because Obito was the one to speak.
"We have mission funds just for this purpose, it is perfectly fine," Orochimaru said calmly.
"And we got to give back what's left once we get back home," Jiraiya agreed. "Might as well make use of them."
Kakashi nodded slowly, though that only made him more uneasy with the whole thing. Sure, there were funds like that – he'd had to deal with mission budgets in his time too when serving as escort, it wasn't precisely unusual, but… it implied certain level of importance.
Kakashi, Naruto and Obito, together they were a nameless shinobi and worse, a outsider and a freak – stop it, Naruto thought, and Kakashi sighed, frustrated. They were, though, in the eyes of outsiders. They had nothing to show for, really, nothing to offer. Just how strange they were and that they happened to be wearing a Konoha flak jacket. That wasn't exactly a lot.
People wandered to a hidden villages' doorsteps claiming to hold important secret knowledge all the time, and ninety percent of the time they had nothing. At best they had some vague titbits of information and barely a water tight alibi to go with it. Spies, with a genin level mission planning, barely worthy of attention.
Asking for refuge under the guise of being an informant was the oldest, the most worn spy trick in the book.
So why were they given this attention, treated with this level of importance?
Probably because it's a trick – a trick no one uses, Obito scoffed. Inako and Ikaru did a strength and threat assessment, probably wrote down transcript of their dialogue word for word. And they were so unusual in so many ways, even Obito knew that. And yeah, it probably looked like the worst attempt of installing a spy ever, but… Well. Who'd even try something like they were trying?
Who'd try it as badly as they were?
It's the old man, Naruto thought. Third Hokage. He'd probably read Inako's report and, well. He'd been – he was – the oldest Hokage for a reason. Right?
Kakashi frowned a little. What would've he done if he got report like the one Inako had probably written? Dismiss it off hand? Or consider it suspicious for is blatancy and sent his own students to investigate? Even if they had piqued the Hokage's interest somehow, to send two of the Hokage's three personal students…
"Is something the matter?" Orochimaru asked, watching them side-eyed.
Kakashi hesitated and then shrugged the shoulders. "I'm just wondering what it was about us that rang Konoha's alarm bells. What made them send you of all people, with funds nonetheless, to escort us through Land of Fire."
Orochimaru and Jiraiya exchanged looks. "I believe it was your claim of being Uzumaki," Orochimaru then said, looking at him curiously. "In part, at least. That and observations reported by the Chuunin."
"And probably that you didn't go overboard with the info," Jiraiya said, scratching along the red mark on his cheek. "If you were a spy and really thought this sort of thing worked, then you probably would've laid on thicker while you were at it, thrown in a sob story too. You didn't though – the whole thing was blatant and awkward as hell."
"Plus, you're heading to Uzushiogakure while claiming to be an Uzumaki," Orochimaru said, somewhat amused. "No one is stupid enough to do that unless they are an Uzumaki and if you speak truth of one thing, then… the rest might very well follow."
"… why not?" Naruto asked, pushing past Kakashi, too curious to stop. "I mean, why wouldn't they go to Uzushio, claiming to be Uzumaki?"
"Uzumaki can always tell," Jiraiya shrugged and gave him a sly look. "So for your sake, I hope you're telling the truth."
"We are," Kakashi said, frowning. He'd never heard of anything like that, but then… Uzushio had been gone for couple of years before he'd been born. "Though it's only one of us who is an Uzumaki and we're not entirely sure how we… mix, exactly."
Hopefully it would still count.
"You don't have a genetic analysis?" Orochimaru asked and stroked his fingers over his chin thoughtfully. "I suppose different arms at least might have different DNA to them, so it would require several biopsies…"
Obito gave him a harsh look. "Don't even think about it," he growled.
Orochimaru just blinked at him, and if the guy thought he looked at all innocent, he was sadly mistaken.
"Don't worry about him," Jiraiya laughed. "He might be a mad scientist but we're on a mission here – a priority mission nonetheless. He knows better."
"You know, that's not exactly comforting," Obito scoffed, and mentally planned seals to cover themselves with, to prevent any sort of… anything Orochimaru might try and do.
"I'm not a –" Orochimaru started and sighed shaking his head. He looked at them. "On my honour. I will keep my curiosity strictly theoretical."
"Yeah, right," Obito snorted. Honour, this guy. Sure.
"Yeah, we believe you," Kakashi said with just as much sarcasm as he did.
"Both of you, play nice," Naruto told them both, sighing. Here they go again. "Let's just try and get along here, okay?"
Orochimaru and Jiraiya both stared at them, the former looking fascinated, the other grinning. "So, you do talk to yourself," Jiraiya said. "That's so weird. How do you keep track of who's who?"
"We know who we are," Naruto shrugged. Sometimes it kind of felt like the others had hard time remembering what they were. Namely, grown up adults.
They moved at a glacial pace, for ninja. Jiraiya had nothing to complain about though – the longer this mission took, the longer it would be before the next one, and it was nice to take things slow for once. Besides… it gave him more time to laugh privately at Orochimaru being a total and complete embarrassment.
The guy could not look away from Naoka. Not that Jiraiya could blame Orochimaru – Naoka was freaking fascinating and kind of funny. But Orochimaru was so blatant, it was just hilarious. You could practically see him making mental notes on everything the guy did, from the smallest movements to the occasional bursts of dialogue to the constant sighing/frowning/eye rolling that probably meant the guy was having internal dialogue.
And of course, he kept asking constant questions.
"You wouldn't happen to know exactly how much you weigh, now?"
"Compared to the way you – all of you – were before, do you feel strain on your joints with the added weight?"
"Do you feel any light-headedness due to the added strain on your circulation? What I mean that having six limbs, you circulatory system now has more mileage to cover, as it were, so…"
"Can separate individuals control different body parts? Oh they can – that's interesting – how about eyes, can two of you look in different directions?"
That last one made Naoka give him a strange look. "No," he said slowly. "So, Ikaru didn't tell you?"
"Didn't tell me what?" Orochimaru asked, eagerly.
Naoka said nothing, just made a thoughtful face. "Good," he said, and then shrugged. "And no, we can't look in different directions. Or, we might be able to – but the double vision will probably give us a head ache and we'd just rather not risk it."
Jiraiya grinned privately to himself ads Orochimaru made a look that was half fascination and oh so much frustration. Naoka was just stringing the guy along, and whether or not it was intentional or not, it was so hilarious. Depending on which one of Naoka's different personalities were in charge, Orochimaru either got a cheerful, sloppily detailed answer, a short and succinct one, or he got a fuck you. It just made the man all the more intense about the whole thing.
He was constantly leaning in on Naoka. Any moment now, and they'd be walking hip to hip.
"Man I wish Tsunade was here to see this," Jiraiya lamented to himself. Then he'd have someone to appreciate the sheer ridiculousness of the situation with.
"Why isn't she here?" Naoka asked, absently rubbing a hand over his chest, finger twitching before curling into a fist.
"You know about her too?" Jiraiya asked, and smothered a grin at the annoyed look Orochimaru sent his way. Ah, young love – comes with so much jealously.
"Well, yeah, she's the…" Naoka hesitated. "One of the last members of the Senju Clan. I suppose she's on a different mission, or doing something at Konoha Hospital, being a healer and all."
That wasn't what they'd been expecting – both Jiraiya and Orochimaru stopped at that, stopped to stare at him. Naoka frowned at them and stopped too, looking confused. "What?"
"That… isn't common knowledge," Orochimaru said slowly, and even with his recent fangirling, he was dead serious. "How do you know she's related to the Senju?"
Naoka blinked at them. "It isn't?" he asked and then looked away, biting his lip. "Of course it isn't, you idiot. Think," another Naoka muttered before nodding slowly. "It makes sense. As the last members of the clan, her identity would be protected. The Senju are… what they are, after all." And then, "Yeah, I guess they are."
Jiraiya and Orochimaru waited and finally Naoka shrugged. "Sorry," he said.
"How do you know she's related to the Senju?" Jiraiya demanded.
"You know I won't tell you that," Naoka shrugged and looked away, rubbing at his chest again. "We haven't told anyone though, in case that makes any difference."
"It doesn't," Jiraiya muttered and exchanged looks with Orochimaru, who was frowning just as darkly as he was. The implications of this weren't good. But nothing else, they cemented Naoka's claim about him having important information – to know that Tsunade was of the dwindling Senju clan, and to consider that knowledge of less importance…
It also, kind of, proved Sarutobi-sensei right. In their reports the chuunin of the border watch had mentioned that Naoka had been pointedly against conflict, and had rather given the chuunin a pretence of control rather than have the situation escalate to violence. Even when the chuunin had attacked him first, the man had just shrugged it off, taking no offence. That was partly why the Hokage had sent Jiraiya and Orochimaru to meet the man, rather than anyone else.
And now this. There were clans and villages out there that would pay a hefty price for any information of the members of Senju – Naoka could've made pretty penny with that knowledge. It would've set him up for months. Instead, here he was – penniless, with only what looked like bunch of stolen clothes to his name, and nothing else.
Jiraiya was kind of starting to see why the chuunin of the watch had warmed up to this guy so fast. There was a weird sort of easy-going integrity about him, that was hard not to like.
"Does your chest hurt?" Orochimaru then asked and looked down at the hand Naoka was rubbing over his upper chest.
"Hm? No, well. Little, but no – never mind," Naoka said and dropped his hand again. "Can we continue now?"
They continued on, at their previous glacial walking pace. It took a while before the conversation resumed though, even Orochimaru had to take a moment to digest this new bit of information. Eventually though, he couldn't help himself.
"So your chest does hurt?" he asked thoughtfully.
"A little. It's a sort of background pain," Naoka shrugged. "We think it's growth pains."
"… growth pains?" Orochimaru asked, his eyes almost visibly brightening up. "You think you're still developing?"
Naoka gave him a flat look, personalities switching. "We're not a fucking photograph," he said. "One of us was pretty young, and we got a hefty dose of teenager from him. So yeah. We're experiencing a fucking growth spurt and our bones ache."
Orochimaru leaned in. "That is," he said and stopped himself, probably before he could say fascinating again. Instead he cleared his throat. "You know it's not the bones that ache during growth periods – is the musculature around the bones that aches as it adjusts to the growing bones…"
Jiraiya stroked his chin thoughtfully as they went off again, privately wondering. How do you end up like Naoka, and obvious subject of human experimentation, with some top secret knowledge under your belt, with obvious strength… and so decent, under it all?
Then he frowned.
"One of you is a teenager?" he asked, looking between Naoka and Orochimaru. Because Orochimaru was a creep but he wasn't that much of a creep, he hoped. Naoka looked like he was in his mid twenties, but… "Just how young…?"
"Seventeen," Naoka said, shrugging. "The others are in early thirties. Not that you'd be able to tell by their behaviour, they act like pair of toddlers at times," he muttered and then snorted. "Really, you have no leg to stand on, you brat," he said to himself and then, more calmly; "Let's just not start with this again. You're just proving him right."
"Seventeen," Jiraiya said, ignoring them. Okay, so, not that bad. "Phew."
"What?" Orochimaru asked, scowling at him.
"Nothing," Jiraiya grinned. "Just covering your bases."
The first night they stayed outdoors, making a camp little ways from the road they'd been following. While Naoka slumped down, rubbing calves with a look of irritation on his face, Jiraiya gathered some firewood and Orochimaru went through their supplies to put together something to eat.
"How bad is it?" he asked curiously, watching the man run his many hands over his leg muscles, obviously trying to ease the pain.
"It's not like unbearable but it's just… on going and bothersome," Naoka muttered, rolling his ankles.
"I know some acupuncture that might help," Orochimaru suggested, slightly amused – he knew very well what reaction that would get.
And there it was, the grumpy one's glare. "Yeah, no thanks," he muttered and stretched their legs out. Then he made a face. "Evenings are easier when there's a hot bath to take care of this," he muttered and rolled his neck and shoulders. "Tonight's gonna be fucking awful."
Then, Naoka switched again, his posture easing, slumping down to the casual wariness of the diplomatic one. "Actually we could probably make our own," he said and looked around – which spoke volumes of his bad the pain actually was. To make the most reticent of the three Naoka's consider actual action…
The diplomatic one gave Orochimaru a idle look. "Do you think anyone would mind if we did a bit of… redecorating here?"
Orochimaru arched an eyebrow at him and then glanced around them. They were in one of the many forests of Land of Fire, not altogether different from all the others. The ground was a bit rockier, perhaps – they were at the foot of a rocky hill that rose high just left of them – but aside from that it was just one forest among many.
"Unless you aim to set the forest on fire, I'm sure no one would even notice," Orochimaru said. "What do you have in mind."
"I make a hole, fill it with water, heat it up," Naoka shrugged and then, "Oh, man you're brilliant. Can make the hole? I'm expert at making holes in things," and then, "No. Your way is too flashy," and then, "But it's so effective!" and then, "Oh, shut up and just do it. Our everything aches."
Orochimaru watched with increasing interest, the food completely forgotten, as Naoka swung to his feet. The man rolled his shoulders and considered his hands before selecting the upper and clenching it into fist. "Now, where are we going to do this?" he asked and looked around. "There," he then pointed with another hand, the secondary right one. "That looks like solid rock. It should hold."
Unable to help himself, Orochimaru stood and followed as Naoka walked over to the foot of the hill, examining the rocky terrain there. Then, without a single seal, without so much as strain of concentration, the man lifted his right hand up and just… made a gigantic whirling ball of chakra.
"… what?" Orochimaru said softly because… "What is that?"
"Extremely flashy and over the top display of chakra manipulation," the diplomatic one sighed, even as he – or another Naoka? – lowered the hand, and the gigantic chakra ball, down. It drilled into the rock like it was nothing, just shaving chunks of it into splinters, poring first a dent and then a full hole into the rock.
The noise was incredible, and the rock shards flew everywhere. In the back of his head Orochimaru could see the sheer damage it could do against a person and he felt a little faint, not just at the concept that this thing existed but how easily Naoka had produced it.
Naoka drilled a surprisingly neatly shaped hole into the rock, smoothing it down carefully and even making a sort of steps into it, before lifting the gigantic chakra ball and squeezing his hand, shrinking it down. Then he used it to smooth down the sharp edges, polishing the pool he was making until the sides were all smooth.
"Show off," Naoka said, and the grinned. "If you got it, flaunt it," he said cheerfully and then closed his hand on the ball of chakra, smothering it – no, absorbing it back in. "Okay, I've done my part. Your turn," he said. "I got this," he then said and stood up. "First, let's get rid of the gravel you made and didn't take care of…"
What followed was a casual display of elements – first a Fuuton jutsu, that blew the rock shards away. Then a Suiton jutsu, a high level one, which sucked moisture out of the air, and produced a jet of water strong enough to fill the pool Naoka had carved into the rock.
"You want to take this one?" Naoka said and the sighed, annoyed. "Yeah sure, why not," he muttered and then made couple of quick seals of a Katon jutsu, which he used to basically instantly boil the water the diplomatic Naoka had filled the pool with.
And so, the man had inside ten minutes made himself a hot tub in the middle of nowhere, using at least one A rank jutsu, two B rank jutsu and unknown chakra manipulation technique the likes of which Orochimaru had never seen before.
"Perfect," the grumpy Naoka said and then, without another word, stripped, shrugging the vest off, letting the kimono fall to the ground before kicking his sandals and leg warmers off and shimmying out of his trousers. Moment later, Naoka slowly sank into the pool, holding himself up with all of his arms for a moment as he eased in, back straining, double set of scapula and back muscles showing gloriously as he sighed with obvious relief.
"Yeah, okay, you bastard, this was brilliant idea," Naoka sighed and then hummed with satisfaction, "Why thank you, you jerk, I do try." And then, "Behave, both of you."
Orochimaru was still staring, a little stunned, at Naoka when Jiraiya came back with an armful of fallen off branches.
"Okay, what did I miss?" Jiraiya asked, looking first at Orochimaru and then Naoka in his self-made pool. "Oh now that's just unfair. He can make his own hot tubs?"
"Perks of being a multiplicity," Naoka said cheerfully, smug as anything as he sank in deeper in the steaming water. "We have damn fine set of skills between us."
"I'll say," Jiraiya snorted and dropped the wood. He came next to Orochimaru and nudged at him with his foot. "Okay there, Orochi-jerk?"
Orochimaru swallowed. "I'm fine," he said, and he didn't sound fine at all.
"You don't think this is a bit much?" Naruto asked with some amusement, as Kakashi and Obito both carved seals into the ground around the spot where they meant to be sleeping.
"No," they answered together. If anything, this wasn't enough, Obito thought with annoyance, frustrated by the limitation to their supplies. A scroll, a brush, some wire, and he could've made such a security perimeter…
Kakashi snorted with agreement, and he missed his dogs terribly. Just to have Pakkun – just to have anyone of them – with them now would've made all this unnecessary.
Naruto sighed and shook their head. What a bunch of paranoid bastards.
"You're pretty paranoid, aren't you?" Jiraiya commented from where he was setting up his sleeping bag.
"Like you wouldn't believe," Naruto sighed. "You know, we could just make a clone, and have them watch over us. That would probably be better than any of this."
Kakashi and Obito both paused at that. Neither of them had even considered it because, well, why would they? Clones were limited. Elemental clones were imperfect, easy to destroy and had next to no intelligence to them. Normal bunshin was useless. Wood clone might've done it, but obviously they couldn't use that one in presence of Konoha-nin. Shadow clones were the best, thanks to the memory transfer, but they used too chakra to produce and once produced they used it up too fast – couple of hours and they'd dispel…
For any normal shinobi, anyway. Kakashi couldn't maintain a shadow clone even under best circumstances for longer than couple of hours and Obito was the same, unless he had someone else's chakra to absorb. Naruto on other hand… Naruto was the undisputed master of shadow clones, and with his chakra reserves and with senjutsu, he could maintain them indefinitely.
"Isn't that one of those things we're not supposed to know?" Obito asked wryly.
"Oh, I even don't care at this point," Kakashi said and considered the perimeter seals they'd been making. They looked sloppy and unsteady and fairly embarrassing. "Just do it."
"Okey-dokey," Naruto said and made a single handed seal. "Kage Bunshin no Jutsu."
The drain on their chakra was enormous, even Naruto felt it and he usually felt nothing from a single shadow clone. It twisted at them from somewhere deep in their gut, hooking in on their chakra cols and draining on them without restraint for a moment – and then…
"Oh, fuck!" Obito snapped and then acted before Kakashi or Naruto even realised what was happening – he reached out both their left hands and sucked in what Naruto had produced just as it started to explode. There was still an explosion and a wash of heat and smoke just before it was drained into their hand and into their chakra coils, a sort of violent mix of chaotic energy that seemed to burn in their coils.
"What the hell was that?" Jiraiya demanded and even Orochimaru was on his feet, looking alert.
"Backlash," Obito grunted, shaking their burning left hands with a wince. "Shadow clone, it seems, is out for us."
"Holy crap," Naruto said, wincing. "I didn't mean to do that – why did that happen?"
Kakashi tsked. "Of course – Kage Bunshin is designed only designed to use one type of chakra," he said. "We have several. Too many conflicting types of chakras in one container…"
"So it just blows up?" Naruto asked with dismay. "I can't use Kage Bunshin again? That's one of my best techniques!"
"I wonder what that means for the rest of our clone techniques," Obito wondered, making a face. Elemental clones weren't that important, none of them used them that much, but shadow clone was one hell of a loss and if wood clones were out too…
"How about we don't test it now," Kakashi said, just as dismayed. And thank god Naruto hadn't tried Tajuu Kage Bunshin no Jutsu – they'd all be dead by now if he had, if the chakra drain hadn't killed them first.
Even Obito winced at that thought.
Orochimaru and Jiraiya exchanged looks, looking a little at lost. Then Orochimaru shook his head. "Several types of chakra?" he asked because of course that was he got hung on. "Does that mean you have several sets of chakra coils?"
"Don't even start," Jiraiya sighed, running a hand over his face and looked over to them. "Now, if you're done blowing shit up…"
"Yeah, we're done," Kakashi sighed and looked down at their unfinished perimeter seals. "I guess we're going with these then."
"One of us will be on watch," Orochimaru pointed out. "There's no need for security seals."
Obito scoffed at that. "Says you," he muttered and went back to work, muttering curses under their breath.
Naruto hung back, completely bummed. Kage Bunshin was his most trustworthy technique – it had never let him down. To have it blow up in their face… it felt a bit like betrayal. "This sucks," he muttered, pouting. Some of his senjutsu techniques used Kage Bunshin too. Without the Six Paths Mode, and without Kurama's Chakra Cloak, regular senjutsu was his best technique, and it took time to prepare and had limited use. With Kage Bunshin he was able to extend it, to remotely gather the chakra required, but now…
Kakashi sighed, finishing the seals of his perimeter ring. He activated them by biting to his thumb and marking the awkwardly carved seals with his blood. "We'll figure something out," he promised. Once they got to Uzushio and, hopefully, had time to train and test their abilities safely.
Obito finished his ring of seals moment later, and also activated them. They examined the two rings and sighed almost in unison. It was such an awkward way of securing yourself – and so visible too. Obito's ring would cover them for one physical and one chakra attack, while Kakashi's ring would wake them if anyone tried to break the perimeter, or tamper with either seal. It wasn't exactly the best, but… for now it would have to do.
"The depths we sink," Obito muttered.
"Says the guy who can create hot baths for himself out of nothing," Jiraiya pointed out as he stretched himself out on his bed roll. "Next time you should make us ones too."
"In your dreams," Obito snorted and laid down.
"You could've just used it after we finished," Naruto pointed out.
"And absorb all your travel dust and sweat, ha, I don't think so."
Orochimaru shook his head from where he was sitting, on the first watch. Then, after a moment, he tilted his head curiously and asked, "Just how many types of chakra do you have, Naoka?"
Obito and Kakashi didn't even bother to smother their groans at that and even Naruto felt like it was starting to be a much.
"Orochi-bastard?" Jiraiya asked, yawning.
"Give it a rest already. You can fawn over him some more tomorrow."
"I do not –"
"You totally do and it's hilarious."
Obito grumbled at them and threw one of their hands over their visible set of eyes.
First day down – twenty or so to go.
Jiraiya and Orochimaru are 19 in this, btw.
My dearest, darling Tsunade-hime,
I have something very important to tell you.
This has been long time coming. Progress has been... slow, shall we say. Very slow. Indeed, sometimes it seemed like no progress was happening at all! But things have changed now. Something... has happened.
This will be very shocking for you, so you might want to sit down for this. Take a few deep breaths, have a cup of tea maybe. Just relax and mentally prepare yourself. Just breathe in... and breathe out.
Orochimaru has a crush.
I kid you not.
He has a full on, hearts in eyes, writing names in journals, crush. Or in his case, seals in eyes, writing a scientific papers, crush. It is just as amazing as it sounds and more because, oh man, this guy. This guy explains so much about Orochimaru's total and complete disinterest in any other human being before this because this guy. He's something else.
Oh man where to begin.
So. We're on a escort mission – sensei might have told you or not, I dunno, it was all pretty fast, super short notice. Anyway, we're escorting individual X for reasons X from place X to X destination, you know how it goes. I dunno how secret this stuff will be so let's skim the unimportant details. What is important is thankfully what I can tell you, because this guy is doing nothing to hide, like, at all, is this.
To make it short and sweet, this guy has, among other things, four arms, three minds, and two dicks. Just... let that sink in for a moment. Four arms, all of which are apparently different, one set on top of another. Three minds, all with distinctive personalities, backgrounds and opinions – actual honest to god individuals. And two dicks.
And I know what you're thinking. How come I know anything about his dick(s)? Surely such things are private! What could possibly justify my knowing such details about this individual?
Well for one, we met him in a bath house – which, you know, was informative. And also he goes around naked every damn night so that he can have a bath – a hot bath nonetheless. This guy, he's got zero shame about his body. Or it's features. Of which there are many.
Also, remind me to complain about the hot bath thing sometime, because that will be a letter onto itself and I got only so much scroll here.
Anyway, picture this scene.
Here we have Orochimaru and we both know what he's like. It takes something really damn weird to even make him even look at something twice and so far he's actually been into two things – that bloodline limit weirdo from Kiri and the lab of that asshole who made those poor chimeras. So we both agree – it takes something special.
And then we got our, ahem, protégé here with his four arms and three minds constantly fighting each other and yes, his two dicks too. This guy, habitually strips right in front of us to have a hot bath and in so doing displays his... everything to us. To Orochimaru. And lemme tell you, Orochimaru watches. He takes goddamned notes. I swear if he knew how, he'd be drawing the guy in loving detail.
And before you say it, no, that is not all of it, oh that is not all of it at all. Tsunade, Orochimaru talks to this guy.
He talks to him.
All the damn time.
It's freaking nonstop.
And okay most of it's him asking questions – how do your forearms measure against each other, how accurate is your sense of touch, do you ever get confused which hand is where, do you have different foot size, yadda yadda yadda. But they talk. They talk a lot.
Tsunade-hime, they got inside jokes. Orochimaru has inside jokes with someone. Granted they're about Orochimaru dissecting the guy or sucking his blood but never mind that. Inside jokes! Orochimaru!
This is all so amazing – but alas, there is one snag, and no, it's not the mission or anything. As if Orochimaru would even care. Oh no, its far worse than that.
Orochimaru has no idea.
He hasn't got a clue.
He has like constant boner for this guy and – just, no clue. He stares at this guy early in the morning before he wakes, and he's got no clue. Keeps giving him side eyed, shy looks, and just hasn't got clue. I swear they held hands one time, because Orochimaru wanted to examine the guy's finger joints or something, and still, no damn clue.
Help me, it's almost adorable. Baby's first crush and he's just so... so green. Bright eyed and naïve even. And I know who it's I'm talking about but man, you should be here, you should see this. It's wonderful.
I'm probably going to have to advice Orochimaru on this, the poor boy doesn't have any idea what he's doing, no idea at all, but never you fear. I am expert in matters of the heart!
But damn. The word is a wonderful place full of love, Tsunade-hime, and this is a great time to be alive.
So really – you need to ask that guy of yours out, because Dan is sure as hell never going to get the guts to do it, and at this rate Orochimaru is going to beat you to domestic bliss. And sure, his might involve human experimentation – but aren't all relationships experiments is humanity, really?
With all of my adoration
The great Love Guru Jiraiya!
Ps. As a medic and woman of science, please tell me. How does a guy with two dicks have sexual intercourse? This is very relevant to Orochimaru's interests.
Its been about six days since this mission started. Naoka has proven himself both weirder and more suspicious with each passing day. Aside from the ease which with he flings B and A rank jutsu around, he keeps accidentally dropping hints of skills. More notably, one member of the Naoka-Trinity is still complaining about the fact that he can't use Tajuu Kage Bunshin no Jutsu. It was my understanding that particular ability is impossible to actually use.
And that seems to be the very basic level skill, for this guy – or this part of him, at any rate.
We still haven't managed to nail down identities on the separate individuals present in our informant. I know Orochimaru is doing a… very in depth character analysis on his free time, he'll probably be sending that along any day now. But I'll summarise what I know about these guys so far.
One of them is an Uzumaki – but doesn't know anything about the clan. He's the one we've been calling the Smiley One or the Cheerful One, as he seems to be the most positive of the lot. He is also the youngest of them, claiming to be seventeen. As far as we can tell, he's also the one who uses Tajuu Kage Bunshin as a stable skill, and he's the one who produces the seal-less chakra orb they use to carve their little hot tubs. I'm sure I don't have to underline the implications of chakra and chakra control there.
The others were know far less about, though we've tentatively decided that the one we call the Grumpy One is the one who originally possessed the artificial arm. He shows leanings for ambidextrousness, and Orochimaru theorises it was out of necessity – he lost his dominant hand and had to learn to use his left one instead. Aside from that his skills are still something of a mystery, though we do of one unique talent that he seems to possess. When the Smiley One's Kage Bunshin destabilised, it was the Grumpy One who acted on it. We're still not sure what he did, but it looked like he absorbed the explosion.
And then there is the Diplomatic One, and him he know the least about, aside from the fact that he has almost alarmingly wide chakra range. So far we've observed him using Katon, Futon, Suiton, even Doton jutsu and all of them at B or A rank levels. The interesting thing here is his forms. I've seen chakra polymaths before, and they all tend to settle to a single form – like we in Konoha, we use Konoha forms. But this guy. So far I've seen him using forms from Kiri, from Suna, from Iwa… and yes, from Konoha too.
Of the three, only the Uzumaki is fully cooperative – and even he keeps his mouth shut about their past. He happily talks with Orochimaru about his body and how it functions, but not about how it was made, or where they came from, nothing like that. The others are varying degrees of hostile – the Grumpy One especially. When ever Orochimaru toes the line with his questions, it's the Grumpy One who slams him down. The Diplomatic One… he just judges.
Also of all the three, the youngest seems to be the peacekeeper – while the other two seem to share a… history. If he's the leader among the three, I don't know. The implication is that he might be – he's an Uzumaki, they're heading for Uzushiogakure, and he keeps the peace between the three. But judging by what the others say, well, they sure as hell don't see him as authority.
All in all, this is one hell of a mission you sent us to, sensei. And I'm kind of glad Naoka seems happy walking to Uzushio because it will give us more time to observe him. Maybe even figure out where he came from, and who made him. He sure didn't make himself, that much is obvious from what he's been saying.
… still I can't really help but like the guy. I can't really put a finger on it, but he's just... likeable. And I don't mean just the Smiley One. There's something about all of them. The Diplomatic One comes off as kind of veteran shinobi, experienced, reliable. And the Grumpy One, well, he's grumpy – but he's also so straight forward and blunt that it's kind of refreshing in a way. Together, and separately… Naoka isn't a bad guy. And I think if these three were actually separate people, I'd like them all.
Also, you got to hand it to them. I don't think they chose to be the way they are, but they're owning it.
I've included my progress report along with Orochimaru's report to this missive. Orochimaru's character analysis will follow in couple of days, he says, along with his preliminary analysis on… well, the rest. We still don't know more than is plainly obvious – and I think what we see is only the top branch of a very wide tree. Naoka is only showing us what they deem safe to show. The rest…
I'll write again if something new comes up.
Ps. I reported that Orochimaru shows... interest towards our good informant, right? Well. It's getting progressively worse. By the time we reach Uzushio, Orochimaru will either kidnap the guy and hide them in a laboratory somewhere, or ask their hands in marriage. Honestly, my money's on the latter.
My Dear Idiot Jiraiya
What I do or don't with Dan is none of your business, and don't you dare stick your overly large nose anywhere near my, our, business. Don't think I don't remember what happened the last time you tried to go steady with anyone. Love Guru, yeah, right, more like Love Utter Goddamn Failure.
I did ask him out though. You should've seen it – Dan blushes so pretty. Actually you don't need to see that, that's all mine.
As for what comes to Orochimaru and his supposed romantic exploits… Yeeeeah right. Proof or it didn't happen.
Granted I've heard about the mission from sensei – not all of it, of course, but he told me something. I kind of agree with Orochimaru – it's a bit fascinating, how this Naoka guy can even exists. I mean, if Orochimaru reported the probable anatomy correctly and the guy really has two sets of scapula and pseudo-clavicle… how do his trapezoids go? Does he has two sets of them too? Do they overlap or what – and how does his latissimus dorsi go, to they overlap too, how? How is there enough space? What do his pecs look like?
Tell Orochimaru to check on that if he can, alright? Also, tell him to sent me sketch or something on how the pseudo-clavicles go, I'm trying to figure it out by myself, best guess I have puts them almost in the armpits and that's probably not right.
Either way, I don't envy the guy, having shoulders in his armpits. If Naoka doesn't have terrible, terrible neck aches yet, oh, they're coming. No way can he rest the top set of arms comfortably in any position. And as for what comes to having diphallia, well…
Sex aside, he might have issues with that too, depending how they are wired. If both are functional, and are connected to his prostate, then well, there might be over simulation happening. Which might create overflow of seminal fluids. If they have different, shall we say, pluming? Then I haven't got the foggiest. They were one on top of the other, right, so they might be connected at the base, but then if we go by his arms, all of which seem to have their own base structures, they might not be. I wonder if he has double prostates too. How many testicles does he have? Orochimaru didn't mention in his report.
Orochimaru needs to sleep with this guy. For science.
Anyway, if Naoka feels inflammation and, shall we say, something akin to being constipated but different, more sensitive, maybe painful? And if he has trouble urinating, well. He needs to masturbate. Probably a lot. As in daily.
Okay now I kind of regret promising to do a turn on the hospital, this all sounds so interesting. However, I got a date, so…
Enjoy the frontier. And get me proof of this scandalous romance. Even though I kind of can see it happening, Orochimaru is… Orochimaru, I'm still not going to believe a word you spout before I get some actual factual proof.
Ps. With plenty of lubricant, I should hope.
My dearest Tsunade-hime
I have produced you some evidence and please, don't ask how I got a camera to the bathing house because true master never reveals his secrets. Also, my greatest and most valuable proof of the epic Orochimaru related romance – they both saw the flash and didn't even get up to shout at me.
Anyway, as you can clearly see on this picture, Orochimaru is washing his back. And I know I don't need to underline the sheer beautiful weirdness of this, but let me underline the sheer beautiful weirdness of this.
Orochimaru, our Orochimaru, "Don't touch me," Orochimaru, "Don't stand too close," Orochimaru, "Stop bothering me," Orochimaru. That Orochimaru. Is on his knees, washing someone's back. And judging by the looks of it, he's into it. He's totally into it.
So yeah, you were right about the shoulder aches. There was a pretty cold night and Naoka's sleeping bag is not designed for guy with four arms. This morning, they woke up, and I quote, feeling like sack of shit. I got no idea how this anatomy crap works, but ouch… it looks painful even for me. For a while, Naoka couldn't turn their head, the poor guy – it took couple of hours before they stopped walking all weird.
And, get this, Orochimaru offered them a massage. A massage. Oh my god that guy is so gone, I cannot even put it into words. Naoka refused, of course, because Orochimaru still seems to creep out two thirds of them. But by the time we reached this place – can't tell where we are, but oh glory and greatness, it has hot springs – their resolve was just gone.
By the time I managed to find the camera and bribe the owner to borrow it, Orochimaru was basically all over Naoka. And washing their back. As shown in the picture.
I am expecting you to get this picture copied, by the way. I want to frame it.
So yeah, I am not making this stuff up, Hime-sama, not in the least. This is not a joke. Orochimaru is freaking head over heels for this guy and somehow he doesn't even know it. He's so blatant that random passers by we meet can instantly tell, but not him, nope. Can't see much past Naoka's anatomy, really, which I would poke so much fun at except it's not even that.
I am in despair over him. But I can see it, clear as day, like rays of morning dawn after a long, dark gloom – hints of humanity in our dear old team mate. Oh he hides behind his scientific curiosity, wraps everyone nice and cold and clinical, but he is so into this guy, Tsunade. It's starting to affect him. It's starting to make him, well… human. And with humanity comes jealousy.
He got huffy at me when I suggested we should try and find an actual masseur in this place to help Naoka out. Huffy! He almost pouted at me. And still no glue. Well he's getting there. And we still got half of this trip left. There is time.
Naoka though seems well aware – though what they think about it kind of depends on who's in charge at the time. Mostly they think that Orochimaru just wants to stick them in a test tube and dissect them, and yeah, he probably does. But Naoka is a bit more attuned to human relationships, at least… one of them is. The others, well.
I heard them once, talking in their room, having what Naoka later told me are their Self Appreciation Lessons. Apparently parts of Naoka have self esteem issues, so they're having, well, lessons from the one part Naoka who is well into self love and body confidence. I'm not that sure about what's going on, but, yeah, you can pretty much guess at it. I mean. Human experiments and all. It would be weird if they didn't have issues.
I told them about what you said by the way, about issues of two dicks. You should've seen the face they made.
I also told Orochimaru that he should sleep with them for science. I honestly couldn't tell if he was outraged with me or actually honestly considering it.
Anyway, Orochimaru is right now giving Naoka a massage and it's just as awkward and awesome as it sounds. Naoka keeps switching between appreciative, weirded out and just flat out bitching, and Orochimaru keeps getting distracted by muscles because he's weird. And there are the inside jokes again.
We might have to plan a wedding before all this is through.
Anyway, I am turning in for the night, I cannot handle these homosexual undertones anymore.
With all my adoration
The Great Toad Master Jiraiya
Ps: Adding this in the next morning
Orochimaru says that Naoka is growing abnormally fast. In the ten days we've known them, they've grown at least three centimetres taller, it turns out. He thinks that's the cause for Naoka's ongoing aches – the guy has growth pains which I admit I was kind of amused about, but geez, three centimetres in ten days. That's… that's a lot, isn't it? And it'll cause issues for the guy if it continues, won't it?
Orochimaru says he's going to start keeping a height chart because of course he is, but he's asking for advice, what to expect, how to prevent issues, that sort of thing…
I've included on this letter some preliminary theories about potential causes, side effects and treatments for your mission charge's physical issues, both the growth rate and the issues with neck and shoulder aches. This is all conjecture, of course, I'd need to do an proper examination and testing to see what to actually expect from whatever is happening to them, but hopefully it will be better than nothing.
If possible, could you ask them to provide a detailed list of their symptoms and if they know anything about the causes or anything relating to the issue that they'd be willing to share, that might help me diagnose the problem and offer better treatment options.
Once you get to your destination, try and get them to see a proper iryo-nin, though. There are plenty good ones where you're going.
To Tsunade of Konoha
Orochimaru questioned us on our physical issues but as much as he's… aided us, we felt it better to contact you ourselves on this matter.
Though we appreciate your and, most likely, the Third Hokage's concern, there isn't anything you can do for us.
We know what is happening, and we are ourselves doing what we can to alleviate the physical problems we have. The issues of height are what they are, but we know how it will proceed – the accelerated growth rate is an annoyance, but not immediate threat. It will run it's course in due time, as it were. All we need to do is adjust to the eventual changes.
We have between us some medical knowledge and one of us is a special type of healer. So we have it well in hand. It is only matter the problems presenting themselves and of us dealing with them as they come. There is, unfortunately, no cure for what we are. All we can do is adjust.
So, we thank you for your concern, but it is not necessary.
And as for what to comes to our genitals, really, that is none of your business and we'd appreciate if it stopped being a topic of conversation.
Dear Idiot Frog
Oh, they sounds nice and proper, this Naoka of Orochimaru's. Not so sure about them handling their own issues themselves – healer or not, sometimes you just can't scratch your own back. Also, one of them is a healer? Interesting news, that. Especially considering that I kind of got the impression that they weren't fully in on all their own anatomy and all. Maybe that's the special part.
Still, I kind of like the sound of them. I figure it was just one of them that wrote that, though? It went through couple of analysts hands, and they all agreed that it was one individual's writing, both by the tone and the hand writing. I'm guessing the Diplomatic One? I was wondering why you called him that. It fits.
Seems to be bit of a prude, though.
Would be nice to know their names, if they even have individual names at this point. But I guess if they felt like sharing, they already would've. Well, maybe Orochimaru can get it out of them, in time, if you know what I mean. What am I saying, of course you know what I mean.
I can see what you mean, though, about the whole Orochimaru hearts Naoka thing. I've never even imagined Orochimaru being concerned for someone and he seems concerned for this guy and sure, lot of that is probably scientific curiosity, I'm curious too. But some of it seems to be actual honest concern.
I am so proud. So proud. There's actual tears, Jiraiya. We might actually make a normal upstanding citizen out of Orochimaru yet. And who knows, maybe even keep him from his inevitable career in mad science and unethical experimentation.
Serious talk though. I'm bit relieved. You're too I bet – and Sarutobi-sensei, he's… not worried, as much. You know that look he gets when you bring Orochimaru up, the way the corners of his lips tighten, way he seems just uneasy? He didn't do that yesterday. We had some tea and talked about the whole thing, and he was… amused. Kind of delighted. And relieved.
Orochimaru has always seemed to have this… hollowness to him. Like things most people have and take for granted are just missing. Maybe this whole thing… maybe it will help. Maybe something nice could happen.
But, because there is always a but.
There's a very real risk of this going monumentally wrong, you realise. Orochimaru's never had interest in people, he's never had crushes, he's never been in love, none of it. You and me and most other people, we went through all that when we were brats, we learned, we grew tough skin, we moved on when we were 12. But Orochimaru didn't.
And so, while his inexperience is probably hilarious, you need to remember something. He's never been rejected before.
And if he by some miracle realises that he actually wants to climb Naoka like a tree, and he obviously does… what will happen if Naoka says no to him? Worse yet, what will happen to Orochimaru if Naoka is awful about it? Because you know just as well as I do, Orochimaru is not a easy guy to like. And people can be awful.
Just… take care of him, okay? Watch out for him.
Ps. Also stop bothering Naoka about his dicks. Poor guy seems to have enough on his plate as it is.
Whole chapter of letters for time skipping purposes haha.
"I'm not sexually interested in you."
Obito and Kakashi looked up from the perimeter seals they'd been drawing. Orochimaru sat crouched beside them, watching them with a slightly annoyed look about his face, while behind him Jiraiya snored, loud enough for it to echo in the small forest clearing.
"Excuse me?" Obito asked in faint tone of disbelief.
"I'm not sexually interested in you," Orochimaru repeated.
"Right," Kakashi said slowly.
And then in silent unison, both Obito and Kakashi backed the hell away from that little icebreaker, leaving Naruto in control all of sudden. Blinking with surprise, Naruto looked between irritable Orochimaru, the seals the others had been working on, and then lifted their hands slowly.
"Okay," he said cautiously while the others shirked back like the cowards they were.
Orochimaru let out a frustrated sigh, glancing backwards at his team mate. "Jiraiya and Tsunade have gotten... notions to their heads," he said, sounding baffled and frustrated. "I can't image that you've missed them."
"Well, no," Naruto admitted and then shifted back to sit cross legged on their bed roll. "We haven't missed them, no." Hard to, with Jiraiya reading segments of their letters out loud.
"Right. Well, whatever they're imagining, it's not... like that," Orochimaru said, tight and almost urgent. "I promise you, it's not."
Naruto eyed him silently for a moment, taking in the tight look about his eyes, the frown, the thin, uncomfortable line of his lips. It struck him, not for the first time, how young this Orochimaru was. Only couple of years older than him, really, and a lot younger in some ways. Inexperienced, just like Jiraiya kept saying, and though it might be amusing to this younger Jiraiya, it just kind of reminded Naruto of Obito. And Kakashi too in some ways.
Oh hell no, Obito thought at him. He wasn't anything like this damn snake bastard.
Naruto huffed a internal sigh. People like them were kind of screwed in some aspects – not because they were weird or freakish, or anything like that, it because they were all goddamned orphans and there'd never been anyone there for them to tell it was okay. They all grew up crooked because they either didn't know better or because their own genius or aloofness or just their fucked up living situations had sheltered them in wits back ward way. They just... didn't get what they probably should've out of their upbringing.
Kakashi was like that, Obito was like that, Naruto was like that though he'd later on gotten one hell of a teacher to fix him and thank god for that. But now... it turned out Orochimaru probably was like that too. And it was all too easy to imagine why.
The guy had paper white skin, slit pupil eyes with yellow irises, and he even moved a bit like a snake. No way had the kids of Konoha not given him all sorts of shit for it, growing up.
Neither Kakashi nor Obito had much to say to that.
"You know, " Naruto said slowly, watching Orochimaru closely. "It would be alright if it was that."
"But it's not," Orochimaru insisted quickly.
"I know," Naruto said with a nod. "And that's cool too – but I'm telling you, it would be fine if it was."
Orochimaru scowled at that and for a moment said nothing, just watched him with a sort of annoyed, partially repulsed look on his face. Then he frowned and slowly sat down too, in traditional kneeling posture. He considered them for a moment and then admitted, "I thought you'd be uncomfortable. The other two are."
"They are, because one was raised all messed up, and the other hasn't had a properly functional body for almost two decades," Naruto shrugged and ignored the others' indignation. "I'm working on it."
"So I heard," Orochimaru muttered and then looked a little embarrassed. "Our rooms were next to each other the other night, the walls weren't exactly thick. So, well…"
"So you heard," Naruto said and shrugged. "I don't mind," he said and he didn't. It had been a good night. He'd finally gotten the others to do a bit of self exploration and it had been amazing and fun and kind of ridiculous. Still no orgasms but they all were agreed on the amazingness of their ass, so he considered it a win.
I mind, though, Kakashi thought with some mortification.
Hear hear, Obito thought, deeply uneasy.
Naruto ignored them. "I'm not uncomfortable," he told Orochimaru. "If I start sweating over the little things, then this," he motioned at their body, "will make me lose my mind and someone got to hang onto sanity here."
"Right," Orochimaru said slowly. "Little things."
Naruto quirked a smile. "I meant the entire thing, not you," he said. "And I know it probably isn't small thing for you. It isn't for the others. But someone having the hots for us, versus us having to deal with whatever crap our lovely body throws at us? Never mind our other issues. Well. It's not even a problem."
"No, I don't imagine it would be," Orochimaru said slowly, looking thoughtful. "So you would be fine, having sexual relations with me?"
Naruto smiled at that – and at the horrified no, no, no, going on the back of their head. "Now that's a whole different thing," he said, as gently as he could, and even then Orochimaru's expression closed up. "Hey, I'm fine with you having interest, that's not a problem. But we are three different people with whole bunch of issues here."
He motioned their body. "This is a whole load of trouble," he said. "And this," he motioned at their head, "is even worse. And if everyone up here isn't okay with something, then it's not okay. It will be long, long while, before we can even think of having any sort of relationship with anyone and even then it will be hard. And as it is, we have obligations that got to come first."
"I see," Orochimaru muttered, still looking kind of closed up.
"Hey I'm not saying never – I'm saying not now," Naruto said. "Because now is really not the time. I don't even what will happen once we make it to Uzushio, never mind the rest."
Orochimaru stared at them. "When, then?" He finally asked, his hands squeezing into fists.
Naruto blinked at him with surprise. "So you are interested? " he asked slowly.
"No," Orochimaru admitted. "But I didn't know it could be a possibility before. Knowing that you're not adverse to it... I could be."
Oh no, Obito thought. Oh hell no.
Oh, but this is interesting, Naruto thought and grinned. "Let's give it… half a year for a start, and we'll see how we feel about things then," he said and then leaned back. "If it was just me, though? I'd be all over you."
There was something intensely satisfying about making Orochimaru blush, he decided, even as Kakashi sputtered in horror and Obito just noped on the back of their mind.
Orochimaru cleared his throat. "I, ah. Really? Thank you?" He then said, looking at loss for words. "People usually – I mean, at the start, yes, perhaps, but not after prolonged exposure to my personality."
"That's probably because you kind of make everyone around you feel dumb without even trying. I've never been the sharpest kunai in the pouch, so I'm used to that sort of stuff," Naruto said plainly. "It's not that complicated really. You're interesting and weird, Orochimaru, and I like interesting and weird."
That made the Konoha-nin quirk a small, quiet smile. "How fortunate. So do I."
Of course the others weren't quite as sanguine about the whole thing – after they stopped feeling out about Naruto having the relationship talk with Orochimaru, the bitching started.
"You can't just – you can't make promises like that for all of us," Kakashi sputtered. "Not just like that and –"
"Him, really? I can't fucking believe you, except, no wait I can, because you're goddamned crazy," Obito hissed. "There is no way –"
"– not without consulting us first and besides –"
"– there is no way it will ever happen and don't mean just him, I mean at all but –"
"Orochimaru?" they asked together in unified horror. "You'd do Orochimaru. Really?"
Naruto considered Orochimaru in battle. Tongue that extended, jaw that unhinged, and no gag reflex judging by his constant sword swallowing. The future Orochimaru he wouldn't have touched with a ten meter pole, the guy was beyond creepy. But this one... well. It didn't hurt that Orochimaru was very beautiful man, in either time frame. So.
"Oh yes. In a heartbeat."
"Whyy?" Kakashi whined a bit at that and Obito just kind of choked in the background. That was sort of gratifying too.
"Still, you're promising things we didn't agree to," Kakashi said.
"Not really," Naruto muttered. He hadn't actually promised the guy sex or anything – just that they'd look into it again in six months or so. Honestly, if the others would be ready for anything even then, Naruto would be pretty surprised. But... it didn't hurt mark the date.
"You realise that by then we might not even be alive anymore," Obito said. "Depending on how things in Uzushio go..." They might have met Madara, Zetsu, maybe even Kaguya in battle by the time another year rolled around. And even with all their hopes and weirdness... they were just one man against all of that.
"Do you really think we'd be ready by then?" Naruto asked. What with the growth spurt which would probably go on for another month or so, and everything else… it would be a while before they could even start to train. "And in any case, it's good to have something to look forward to, don't you think?"
Because no matter what Kakashi and Obito thought, he had every intention of living through that battle, however it would go.
"But him?" Kakashi asked plaintively.
Naruto shook his head and smiled – and very, very carefully didn't think about how limited their options on that score probably were. That wasn't why he thought it could be worth a shot, it really wasn't, but... it was a sad fact. They were what they were. And that… would probably be a bit too much for most people.
It just… it would just be so much better to be with someone who appreciated and adored their weirdness... rather than someone who just tolerated it. Orochimaru's interest was blatant and unabashed and it was lovely. And it was nice to be wanted for all that you were, rather than just the easily acceptable parts of you.
Kakashi and Obito didn't really understand that yet, though. And sure, it was no basis for relationship, not really – there had more there than gratitude. But still, it was no small thing… to be desired.
Naruto kept it all to himself, though, for now. The others were weirded out enough as it was.
"For now let's just concentrate on getting to Uzushio and buying our way in," Obito said, irritated, shaking away from the thought of Orochimaru. "We're not far off now. We need to make a plan for this."
"I was under the impression we had a plan," Kakashi said, grabbing hold of the new topic almost desperately. "Using what we know, that is."
"And they'll believe us because...?"
Naruto ran their right top hand over their face, smothering a sigh and then settled down. "I guess we need to improvise," he said and yawned.
Baby steps, Naruto. Baby steps.
They arrived at Shitoro Port on the twentieth day of their journey, and it wasn't a day too soon. By that time they'd grown full 6 centimetres in height since arriving in the past and no amount of senjutsu healing could easily fix the constant aching of all their limbs or make their back and neck ache any less.
On word, it was damn good thing they were done with walking for a while.
"Now what?" Obito asked, after having taken the first opportunity to sit down. "How are we going to cross the ocean?"
"There should be a ship waiting for us," Jiraiya said, dropping his backpack beside them. "I'll go and check out. Orochimaru, I trust you have no problem starting here with Naoka?" He asked, grinning meaningfully.
Obito let out a disgusted huff.
"Just go, you dumb oaf," Orochimaru said and with a sloppy salute, Jiraiya headed off, half jogging towards the harbour.
Orochimaru watched them thoughtfully for a moment but thankfully stared on his feet and at a safe distance. "At least one of you knows Fuuton jutsu, " the snake bastard said. "If you know a gentle raise a wind, we might be able to set out today, even with the tide."
"Hmph," Obito answered. "Maybe."
Somewhere within them, Naruto sighed.
Orochimaru arched an eyebrow at them, before looking away. He was quiet for a moment before commenting idly, "You don't like me."
Naruto pushed through, "He doesn't like anybody anymore, don't take it personally," he said cheerfully and Orochimaru smiled faintly at him before Obito shoved Naruto back.
"No, I don't like you," he said. "I've known so many bastards exactly like you," one of them had even been Orochimaru himself. "I know how you tick and what moves you and I know what will become of you. Some of us might be naïve idiots, but I know what you are. And I don't want anything to do with you."
"And what, precisely, am I?" Orochimaru asked, sounding more curious than insulted.
"A power hungry asshole," Obito scoffed. "That's all you are and all you care about – power and getting more of it, becoming stronger, becoming the best. That's what you see when you look at us – we're powerful and damn if you don't want that for yourself."
"You think you're powerful?" Orochimaru asked, amused. "You can barely walk straight. Sure you have some powerful abilities, but you have just as many glaring weaknesses."
Obito grimaced at that and shook his head. "One of these days, Orochimaru, you will get the itch, and learning new jutsu won't be enough. And you'll decide to bend the rules a little. Why shouldn't you, after all, you're so strong already, might as well. And you'll make something like us," he motioned at their body, their stupid, ever stretching body with its million aches. "Or worse. Tell me, has Shimura Danzo approached you yet?"
That made the smile drop from Orochimaru's face. "Excuse me?"
"He has, hasn't he?" Obito smiled darkly. "And such a tempting offer too – join the Root, get access to all sort of secret research and materials and laboratories, with potential of all sorts of interesting studies – so as long as you, every now and then, take a project for him. He's very interested in reviving old bloodlines, wasn't it?"
"How do you –" Orochimaru asked and then stopped, frowning at them.
"I'm not Root," Obito scowled at the man's obvious train of thought. "But there are lot of similar people out there. And sometimes monsters exchange trade secrets."
Danzo had spied Akatsuki through every mean possible – of course Akatsuki had spied him right back. And then there had been Itachi, young and sharp and more than willing to betray some parts of his village to preserve others. And even before him, well. Konoha had a lot of skeletons on his closet – and Madara had made sure Obito knew and despised all of them
"He'll keep coming with better and better offers until one day you won't decline," Obito said darkly. "And then he'll have one of the Third Hokage's students in his back pocket and he'll sit back and suggest research and you'll twist yourself into knots chasing more and more powerful shadows. Until one day you'll trip and fall and then you'll have gone too far and there's no going back."
Kakashi and Naruto were both suspiciously silent in the back of their head and Obito gritted his teeth, looking up at Orochimaru
"That's your future," he said. "I can see it clear as day in every look you throw at us. So no, I don't like you."
Orochimaru just stared at them for a long, tense while. "Sounds to me like you're talking from experience."
Obito smiled at him mirthlessly. "I am."
They stared at each other for a long while, Orochimaru folding his arms and Obito idly rubbing at their aching thighs. The big muscles were the worst – like a constant muscle cramp, and healing did nothing to it.
Finally, Orochimaru nodded. "I appreciate the warning."
"The warning? " Obito snorted. "Sure, if that's how you want to take it." As if he would actually take it.
He might, Naruto thought hopefully.
He might keep it in mind and think he can overcome anything Danzo or anyone throws his way, but he'll fail, Kakashi thought dubiously. Obito is right. People of his type don't change easily.
But they do change. And he did, towards the end. He was on our side, Naruto thought. And just look at Obito now.
Obito didn't look at himself - he looked at Orochimaru. The snake bastard wasn't anything like Obito but... Naruto and Kakashi were both wrong and right. People like them did change, but only when it served them – or when their previous paths stopped serving them.
What Danzo could tempt Orochimaru with couldn't hold a candle to what Obito could give him. Even Naruto had knowledge you couldn't get anywhere else. They could very easily tempt Orochimaru to their side and –
No, Naruto thought sternly.
We're not Akatsuki, Kakashi thought, just as firm. Stop thinking like that.
Obito grit his teeth, at that, at first irritated and then begrudgingly accepting. Akatsuki hadn't been that successful anyway, as recruitment tool. How many of Akatsuki had stayed loyal in the end? All of them had been brought in by similar means of temptation and most of them had had their own agendas and goals. Orochimaru himself had betrayed them. Temptation wasn't the way. A threat, maybe…?
Kakashi pushed him aside before he could decide, and took control of their body. Better put an end to it before any actual damage was done. "I wonder if there's a time for bath before we set out," he mused out loud.
"I'm sure we can make the time," Orochimaru said, relaxing a little. "I'm know a bath house not far from here if you wish to go now."
"Shouldn't we wait for Jiraiya?"
"I'm sure he'll find us," Orochimaru said dryly, even as he shouldered Jiraiya's backpack.
They rather had made it a habit, hadn't they, Kakashi mused and slowly stood up. "Lead the way, then."
"It's become a funny world," Jiraiya mused to himself, looking over Orochimaru and Naoka, both of whom were resting neck deep in hot water, Naoka with a towel thrown over his head. "Here I am, looking for you and finding you in a bath house. It feels like our roles are reversed. I don't know how I like it."
"You shouldn't wear clothes in a bath house, you know," Naoka commented lazily.
"That is quite rude, yes," Orochimaru agreed, one elbow on the pool's edge as he looked up at Jiraiya. He arched an eyebrow. "Also, yes, it is quite the strange world – seeing you fully clothed and not peeking in a bath house, that's something else, certainly."
"What's up?" Naoka asked, yawning.
Jiraiya folded his arms. "There's a ship waiting for us in the harbour," he said. "Or specifically it's waiting on you, because I was ready to go ten minutes ago and then I had to go looking for you and didn't find you. Because you weren't where I left you. Because you ran off. To a bath house."
Both Orochimaru and Naoka just blinked up at him. It was beyond bizarre. Not just that, well, yes also that. All of it. Orochimaru was basically skipping out and Jiraiya was being the responsible one. It was just not now the world was supposed to work.
"Are you guys going to get up or not?" Jiraiya asked with a frown.
"We just got here, do we have to?" Naoka asked with a wistful sigh, sinking a little lower, all the way up to his chin.
"If you want to set out today, yes, you do."
Orochimaru sighed, disappointed, and then pushed himself up, to sit on the edge of the pool. "I suppose we must then," he said and looked over to Naoka who was making faces in the water. "If we set out now, or… soon at any rate, we should be there early tomorrow morning."
Naoka just grumbled, frowning at them grumpily – though it wasn't the Grumpy One frown.
"Uzushio has hot springs," Jiraiya offered. "And they are the best hot springs. Even Land of Steam doesn't have hot springs like Uzushio does. They have currents in them. They got whirlpool hot springs in Uzushio. They are amazing and you're missing out."
That made the strange man sigh and push himself up. "Oh, fine," he muttered and pushed himself up to the pool edge with his lower arms, holding the towel with his upper ones as he did. "Today's going to be awful, though. We're still aching all over. I reserve the right to complain."
"I'm sure Orochimaru can help you with that," Jiraiya said and grinned, clapping his hands together. "Come on, chop chop, we got ship waiting on us. Shower up and lets go."
He watched as Orochimaru hovered by Naoka, waiting to see if he needed help getting up – he sometimes did, after a bath – but the four armed man waved him off and stood up, wavering a little but steady enough. Together the two – four? – headed off to showers, Naoka grumbling the whole way there.
Then Jiraiya looked at the other patrons of the bath house – who had congregated into the opposite corner of the pool, all of them looking pale despite the hot water. "What?" Jiraiya asked.
"That man," one of the older men said, frowning. "Is he… quite…" he cleared his throat. "It's – it's a bit unusual. That."
"Uhhuh," Jiraiya agreed, smothering the urge to roll his eyes. He'd gotten pretty used to Naoka and the way people could react to him had gotten old fast. No one was stupid enough to get into his face about it – the guy did have four arms and not a single one of them lacked in muscle. But there were looks and freak outs a plenty. The poor guy. "He's not going to bite you."
"No, he's bit busy with that other guy, I figure," another of the bath house patrons murmured, amused.
"You know it's rude, coming to a bath house, fully clothed," another patron said, frowning up at Jiraiya.
"I'm going, I'm going," Jiraya said, and cast a last look at Naoka who had his back at Orochimaru as he washed his hair. Orochimaru was giving one of his recently-trademarked longing looks at Naoka's back. Nothing new there. "Enjoy your baths, gentlemen. Orochimaru, Naoka, I'll wait for you outside, hurry up!"
Naoka waved at one of his free hands at him and Orochimaru ignored him entirely. Such a nice team mate he was, Jiraiya mused and headed out. His clothes were getting damp already.
Kakashi sighed, running one of their hand through their damp hair, head band firmly in place, excess of eyes hidden, as they followed Orochimaru and Jiraiya towards the harbour.
As much as he would've preferred to stay at the bath house, they were all curious about Uzushio. There wasn't much knowledge left about the place in their time – they'd eventually stopped teaching about it in the Academy and everything, there was no point and all it did was unnecessarily scare the kids. There were no lessons to be learned about Uzushiogakure's destruction, it didn't even serve as a cautionary tale. It had been that mindless.
But they were all curious, especially considering the probable cause of it's destruction. Of course everyone knew that Uzushio had been growing powerful, and that people were afraid of it – that was the tale went after all, that Kiri destroyed it because they were afraid of the place. But why would Madara want to destroy the place? What was it about Uzushiogakure no Sato that had worried Madara?
Or… what was it about the place that had worried Zetsu?
It would be interesting to find out, never mind how things would go.
"Here," Jiraiya a said and pointed at a small two-masted ship, sitting further out in the ocean, sails partially unfurled. "That's ours."
"Great, let's go," Orochimaru said with a sigh, pushing his slightly soggy hair from his face.
They both jumped down from the pier to the water, landing with slight splashes on the surface. Kakashi hesitated for a moment just to make sure that he could get the chakra flow right – the smallest abilities were hardest, now – before following them.
He might've let out a small private sigh of relief when the water's surface held. It would've been something else, to fall through it in their age.
"Can you run?" Jiraiya asked as they bobbed on the waves.
"Hah, no," Kakashi answered with a wry look. "I don't think so, not right now."
Jiraiya grimaced sympathetically at that. "Hm, well. Let's try and keep a brisk pace at least, and not get knocked back."
If walking was bad, it had nothing on chakra walking. Kakashi was a goddamn jounin and no way was he going to sink on water, but still, it hurt like hell. Still he pressed on, every muscle cramping and all the sinews in their legs feeling like they were cramping.
This is freaking pathetic, Obito grumbled in the back of their head. He couldn't wait until the damn growth spurt would just stop.
Not helping, Kakashi grumbled right back at him.
Come on, Kakashi, you can do it, Naruto thought and quietly fed him a bit of his own chakra, and that helped some. But it was still damn awkward going.
Orochimaru took them by the elbow when they arrived under the ship and with a wince Kakashi realised they were sinking ankle deep in water.
"Few more steps," Orochimaru said. "Almost there."
Kakashi cast him a look, half irritated, half uneasy. Then he looked up at the ship's side. "There is no way in hell we can walk vertically," he admitted begrudgingly. That took sort of core strength they just couldn't muster up right then. "And jumping is right out."
"We'll give you a hand," Jiraiya said, and he and Orochimaru took them by the waist and then hoisted them up. It was all executed very smoothly, but it was still awkward as hell, being supported like that.
But it got them up to the ship.
"Finally," someone said and they looked up. The ship's crew were all giving them annoyed looks and the woman who was probably the captain was glaring at them. "Now are we waiting on someone else, or can we set out now?"
"We're good now, sorry," Jiraiya said with a sheepish smile.
"Good," the woman said and turned to her crew. "Move it people, finish unfurling those sails – I want us out of this damn harbour yesterday."
"Alright?" Orochimaru asked, still at their elbow.
"Fine," Kakashi said through gritted teeth and then sighed. "We could use a lie down."
"We got cabins below decks," Jiraiya said. "Come on, I'll show you."
Orochimaru helped Naoka stretch his legs out on his cot, feeling his muscles twitch even through the fabric of his trousers. "Muscle cramps?" he asked and after a split second consideration, eased the man's leg warmers off.
"Walking might've been pushing it," the diplomatic Naoka admitted with a grimace. "And channelling chakra through our feet was not… the best idea."
"You have trouble channelling chakra?" Orochimaru asked, unable to help himself, even as he eased the man's footwear off as well.
"Everything's stretching," Naoka shrugged, pushing himself against the headboard of the cot, shoving a pillow behind his lower back. "It stands to reason our chakra coils stretch too. It takes… bit more effort. And chakra just makes the muscle cramps worse."
Orochimaru nodded, setting the man's sandals down and then looking him over. "Would you like for me to…?" he motioned at the man's legs.
"There's nothing special about our feet," Naoka said, watching him steadily, wry look about his face. "Aside from the skin, maybe. There's nothing special there you can learn. They're just feet."
Orochimaru met his eyes evenly. "They're your feet," he finally said.
That made the man frown a little, lifting his head a bit and staring at him harder. "Well I'm not going to say no," he finally said, but he was still watching Orochimaru like a hawk. "Have at it."
Orochimaru smiled thinly at that, and then sat down beside the man, gently easing his pant legs up. "You don't like me either," he said, even as he started digging his fingers into the man's twitching calves.
"I don't," the third Naoka admitted, wincing a little.
"For the same reasons I imagine your other companion doesn't," Orochimaru guessed.
There was a moment of silence, during which Orochimaru shifted to sit more on the bed so that he could get the man's calf in his lap and really dig into his muscles. Naoka was right – compared to his arms and the rest, there was nothing special about anatomy of his legs, aside from their beautiful vitiligo skin and slight. But it was interesting in it's own right to feel the strain the man's muscles were under, being so quickly grown and stretched.
And they were… Naoka's legs. That alone made them special enough.
"I know what I am," Orochimaru admitted. "I see it on the faces of my team mates, and the villagers of Konoha, other shinobi. Every time I suggest or say something that is little less… civilized, they look at me like I'm built wrong."
Naoka frowned at that, watching him silently.
"And I've heard them talk about me, explain me away to patrons and customers and employers," Orochimaru added. "Don't mind Orochimaru there, he's a bit weird, or he's an asshole, or he's an prissy ice princess, or whatever else Jiraiya decides to call me at that particular time. Never mind him, he's a bit of a freak, that's the most common one he uses."
"Is that supposed to make me feel sorry for you?" Naoka asked without inflection in his voice.
Orochimaru smiled. "No. I suppose I only mean to explain that I know where you're coming from. I don't have same sense of social… decency I suppose, that most people do," he said, concentrating onto the man's legs. "And I am not unaware of where my curiosities might take me. I have scientific mind and urge to study and experiment and I am a shinobi in service of my country in increasingly violent times. And ninja's life is hardly one of kindness and gentleness."
He looked up. "That doesn't mean I wish to be a monster. Or whatever else you think I will become."
Naoka eyed him for a long silent moment before leaning back, folding the top pair of arms. "What do you want, Orochimaru?" he asked. "Not from us, in general."
Orochimaru hesitated at that and then shrugged, looking back at the man's knees. "What any ninja wants. To not die," he said. "To grow strong so I can defend my village. To protect those few I truly care about."
"To be immortal?" Naoka asked and Orochimaru looked up with a frown. The man just watched him. "To know everything, to be the most powerful." The corner of their lips quirked up a little. "I know your kind too, you know. Better than the others do, because I'm more like you than they are. A genius. And I know how easy it is, for a small wish to turn into all consuming obsession."
Naoka scoffed and looked away. "They are easy to get lost in, obsessions. Easy way to block the world out, when it starts being too much," he said. "And there will be times when it becomes too much. The others, they think it's power that makes people like you fall, but no. It's the slowness of the world around you. It's the world not understanding you, not keeping up with you, that's what gets to you. Frustration, when the world refuses to catch up."
Orochimaru stared at him. This one too, he thought faintly. Each and every version of Naoka just… saw right through him.
Swallowing he looked down at the man's legs, his own hands still around his left calf. Then, slowly, he resumed the massage. "And how did you stop the frustration from getting to you?" Orochimaru asked.
"I didn't," the diplomatic Naoka answered coolly. "Some things happened, I lost some people and I stopped caring about anything. That's the flipside. At some point it becomes too much and the world becomes a terrible twisted caricature of itself for you and you either decide it's all wrong and therefore you can do whatever you want with it, or… it stops mattering altogether. And for me, it was the latter."
Orochimaru swallowed. He could imagine it, almost. Already he had seen some of that. There were times when people seemed like… like cardboard cut outs, rather than real people. When they were so slow, so stupid that it didn't even feel real anymore. And it was frustrating. Every time someone couldn't just keep up – be it stranger or one of his team mates or anyone – it was frustrating.
"I see," Orochimaru said finally and took a deep breath, running his fingers up and down Naoka's calves. "I don't want that," he then said. "That sounds terrible."
"It was," Naoka admitted.
"Was?" Orochimaru asked, looking up. "It's not like that for you anymore?"
Naoka shrugged. "I taught a cell of three students," he said and smiled wryly. "Nothing puts things into perspective quite like teaching."
Hashtag communication is key.
The moment someone spotted land in the distance, Naruto was up and out on the deck to see it.
For all the travelling he'd done with Jiraiya, he'd never been to the Land of Whirlpools. For most of his life he'd never even known it existed. It had taken his dead mother manifesting from his chakra for him to even find out about it and there'd never been time to ask anyone about it – and so few people to ask. It had been destroyed so long ago.
What little Kakashi and Obito knew were mostly history and rumour. That Uzushio had been strongest in sealing, that it's most powerful clan, the Uzumaki, had been distantly related to the Senju, that it's people were powerful and crazy. The Uzumaki had been the strongest in raw chakra abilities – they had the best chakra sensors, they had chakra healers who didn't even need training never mind hand seals go heal someone, and they had a surplus of chakra manifestation abilities, like Uzumaki Kushina's famous chakra chains.
With Naruto the only Uzumaki with the name alive in their time, it was easy to forget – but Uzumaki had been a clan rivalling the Senju in its prime. So much so that they'd been able to establish a hidden village all by themselves. That was why Uzushiogakure was known as the Uzumaki village – because it was. Even when other clans joined them, Uzumaki remained the most powerful one.
And then it had been destroyed, the Uzumaki clan slaughtered, and it hadn't mattered anymore.
It had been Naruto's mother's childhood home. Coming there now, when it was still alive and strong... it was maybe a bit like coming to a second home.
"Don't get your hopes up," Obito warned him darkly. "This might go horribly wrong, you know."
"You are such a downer. Let me have my moment of optimism," Naruto grumbled, leaning their lower elbows on the railing as they stared over the water.
The island was a distant line of green, half shrouded in clouds. Already it looked amazing – there were mountains, what looked like a light house, maybe buildings along the shoreline. Each moment it got tiny bit closer and Naruto could feel their heart pounding with excitement.
Please, please let this go well.
"You're up early," voice commented from behind them and they glanced backwards to see Orochimaru walking towards them. "I expected you to sleep in, all things considered. How do your legs feel?"
"Absolutely terrible, but I wouldn't miss this for the world," Naruto grinned. "Also, good morning."
"Mm," Orochimaru nodded and stood next to them. "This is your first time here."
It was more a statement than question, but Naruto nodded. "Have you visited Uzushio before?" he asked curiously.
"Couple of times, yes. Konoha and Uzushio are closely allied, and our teacher is the Hokage," Orochimaru said and shrugged. "This will be my first visit without Sarutobi-sensei, however."
"Something new for all of us, then," Naruto said with a grin and then looked at Orochimaru. He… didn't look like he'd gotten much sleep. "Hey, about what the others said –"
"You don't need to apologise," Orochimaru cut in, looking down at the waves. "They didn't say anything that wasn't at least partially true."
"I know," Naruto agreed, making Orochimaru look hesitantly up. "But they're both pretty single minded people and they've been burnt by people a lot of times – they have hard time giving people second chances. There's more to people than their defining features. People are more complicated than that."
"Some of us more than others," Orochimaru agreed, giving him a small quirk of a smile.
"Well, that's what you like about us," Naruto shrugged and looked at him steadily. "I'm not saying you should ignore what they said – they said it for a reason. But just make sure if you decide to do something about it, it's for you, not us."
Orochimaru frowned a little at that and then looked towards the slowly island. "You all want me to change, though," he said quietly.
"No," Naruto said. "Never. We just don't want you to be ruined."
There was a moment of silence at that and after a while Naruto turned their eyes ahead. The ocean breeze was nice and the island was much closer now and he could almost feel...
"I don't want to go down that path," Orochimaru admitted after a while. "I've seen what it does to people, and you're right. It ruins them. But... no one's ever given me an alternative, between that and stagnation."
"And no one ever will. That's your job, to figure it out for yourself," Naruto said and sighed. "It sucks, but no one can do it for you. It's all up to you, in the end."
He'd certainly tried to change the destinies of others. And nothing he'd ever done had done a damn thing to change Sasuke's mind, not until the bastard had been well and ready to change it himself. And usually when he did, it was always for the worst, the damn jerk.
Orochimaru thought about it for a while. "I will think about it," he finally said and glanced at him. "Does this mean out date in six months is still on?" he asked with a faint, almost shy, smile.
"Five months and twenty nine days to go now," Naruto said and grinned. "Not that I'm counting or anything."
"Good morning, lovebirds," Jiraiya greeted the two standing by the ship bow, making Orochimaru do a full body twitch and Naoka let out a quiet laugh. "Ah how romantic, enjoying the ocean cruise together. I think I've read a book like this, it was about –"
"I will throw you off the ship," Orochimaru growled at him.
"No you won't," Jiraiya grinned and stepped closer. "Though to be fair someone was thrown off the ship in that book – there was epic rescue scene. And even more epic thank-god-we-didn't-die-sex. So are we there yet?"
"Almost," Naoka chuckled, leaning his chin on one of his palms. "It beautiful," he then said, nodding towards the island.
"You should see their women – although, I suppose that wouldn't even interest you much," Jiraiya said thoughtfully. "Well, more for me. Anyway, do you know, there's a rumour that they made the island themselves, out of nowhere? They used seals and whatnot to bring up a volcano on the ocean floor and just up and made themselves an island."
"I rather doubt that's what actually happened," Orochimaru said. "Just looking by the trees alone, that island has been around far longer than Uzushiogakure has."
"I don't know – you can do some amazing things with Mokuton," Naoka commented. "And the First Hokage married an Uzumaki. So, who knows. Maybe he spend some time there, gave them a hand."
"Huh," Jiraiya said, folding his arms. "That's a very good point."
"It that was the case, I'm sure Mito-sama would've mentioned it at some point," Orochimaru said with a shake of his head. "The Uzumaki are powerful – but even they can't create land masses out of nothing."
Naoka just hummed thoughtfully and said nothing.
The ship set anchor just little off the Uzushio harbour, and even at a distance they could tell they were being expected. There weren't that many people on the harbour itself – some fishermen and such, who were busy at work getting ready for the day. Aside from them, there were couple of figures in grey flak jackets waiting on one of the piers, watching the ship.
"Time to go greet the welcoming committee," Jiraiya said, clapping both Orochimaru and Naoka on the shoulder. "Ready?"
"Do they know about us?" Naoka asked thoughtfully, his posture little different – he'd switched personalities.
"Sarutobi-sensei sent word ahead – that's why there was a ship waiting for us in the first place," Jiraiya shrugged and looked them over. Arms hidden on their sleeves again, they looked almost normal. "Are you okay to chakra walk over there?"
"Just don't ask us to run," Naoka sighed.
After Jiraiya had paid his compliments to the crew and the captain, they departed the ship. Orochimaru hovered by Naoka side the whole way to shore and Jiraiya didn't miss the fact that he subtly supported the man by his elbow the last few meters and up to the pier, where they met the Uzushio-nin waiting for them.
"Good morning," Jiraiya said cheerfully to them and produced a scroll from one of his chest pouches. "Jounin Jiraiya and Orochimaru from Konohagakure, here on escort and delivery mission. I think the Uzukage is expecting us."
"He is," the female Uzushio-nin answered, accepting the scroll. She had short flaming red hair and bare arms with more muscles than most men Jiraiya knew – himself included. Striking in a mature way, he mused, but entirely too old for him. "Welcome to Land of Whirlpools. Just hold for a moment while I check this."
"Of course, of course," Jiraiya said with a smile.
The other ninja beside the kunoichi was younger, maybe in his thirties, with shaggy dark hair and a sort of rugged face Jiraiya kind of hoped he'd have in his age. The guy was too busy staring at Naoka to notice him looking, though, and he looked... amazed.
Jiraiya shared looks with Orochimaru, who frowned faintly but said nothing. Naoka just met the Uzushio-nin's eyes evenly.
"Right," the kunoichi said after reading through the scroll and rolled it shut. "You, weapons?" she asked, looking at Naoka.
"Some useless summoning scrolls but that's it," Naoka – the diplomat one, judging by the tone – said. "But in interest of honesty and cooperation, we do not need weapons to be dangerous."
"No, I don't expect you do," the woman agreed, arching an eyebrow and looking him over before nodding. "I am Uzumaki Sagami, this is Kazama Rokurou – we're here to escort you to the Tower."
"Uzumaki Sagami?" Orochimaru asked with interest. "As in Uzukage Aizu's sister?"
"One and the same," she agreed and looked at Naoka. For a moment she looked like she was about to say something but in the end she just motioned them down the pier. "Right this way then, gentlemen."
They followed her and her partner down to the shore properly. There were few people about, fishermen and the like, who didn't pay them much attention to them as they headed up from the harbour towards the actual village. It was a pretty short walk, and the road was pawed all the way – the worst bit for Naoka seemed to be the stairs leading up to the village itself, but Orochimaru kept a hand on the man's back the whole way, so Jiraiya didn't draw attention to it.
Once there, though...
It had been a few years since he'd been to Uzushiogakure, but he remembered it being full of cheerful, if weird people, quickly to laugh and hard to anger. He'd made a whole bunch of fast friends in all of his visits, and they'd always been pretty happy encounters.
All around them people in and out of Uzushio flak jackets were on obviously nervous and they were all staring at them – no, at Naoka. Almost as if they recognized him, and didn't quite know if they liked him. Everyone from kids to adults seemed to be hyper aware of him – few were even whispering behind their hands, pointing at him.
Jiraiya looked around them, confused. Then he looked at Naoka. "I thought you haven't been here before," he commented.
"We haven't," Naoka said slowly and bowed their head slightly, his lips thin. "I think… they can sense our chakra."
There was a weird look on Naoka face, dark and contemplative as he looked from one person to another, trying to figure it out. Then his expression switched as another Naoka took control. There was realisation on his face now, and amazement. "These people – they –" he started and then swallowed what he was about to say. "Oh, damn, I think I know why now. Holy shit, this place."
"What?" Uzumaki Sagami asked sharply.
Naoka ignored her and suddenly stopped, his eyes widening slightly. Jiraiya and Orochimaru both followed his surprised stare, to find him staring at a statue that stood smack in middle of Uzushio central square. A statue of an elderly spiky haired man seated in meditative position.
Vaguely Jiraiya recalled that Uzushio's main street was laid out in a spiral that started out on the central square – they'd cut through most of it by the side streets that connected different parts of the spiral. The central square – and its gigantic stone statue – were literally the centre of the Uzushio spiral.
"You like our statue?" Sagami asked, eying Naoka suspiciously. "That's the Sage -"
"It looks just like him. Damn," Naoka said faintly. "That's Super Grandpa Hagoromo, down to the last wrinkle."
"Excuse me?" Sagami asked, looking offended. "That is a statue of the Sage of Six Paths – show some respect."
"Yeah, it is," Naoka agreed and shook his head in amazement. "Its exactly him. You even got his weird glare right. That's amazing."
Orochimaru had been careful about his expectations. All things considered he still knew very little about Naoka, and next to nothing about why he really wanted to go to Uzushio. There had been no way of knowing what the man was planning and what would happen, once they'd reach the village. Expectations would have been unwise.
The reactions of Uzushio-nin was hardly surprising – there was a high number of chakra sensors in Uzushiogakure after all, and Naoka had confessed to having several types of chakra. Naoka sensing something about them in return wasn't that strange either – one aspect of him was an Uzumaki with powerful chakra abilities, it stood to reason he might be a sensor as well.
For Naoka to recognise a statue of Sage of Six Paths... Not just recognize it, to say it looks just like him…
Just what was that about?
Uzumaki Sagami stared at Naoka for a moment, unreadable look about her face. She looked between the statue of the horned Sage and then Naoka. Then her expression hardened. "The Uzukage is expecting us. Come on."
The Uzukage Tower stood just behind the statue. It wasn't Uzushio's most imposing building by far – there were other larger buildings. But it was one of the oldest buildings there, and maybe the strongest. Like all of Uzushio's buildings it was stone – and it was carved full of small seals.
Rumour had it that every Uzushio-nin added protective seals to the Uzukage's Tower when they graduated.
Orochimaru looked at Naoka as they approached the tower, taking in his expression. Whether Naoka recognised the seals or not, they definitely seemed to sense something about the tower, and there was a curious, almost wondering look on their face as they entered the building.
"This place is amazing," the cheerful Naoka murmured softly with a shake of their head and then personalities switched and they slouched their shoulders slightly, the diplomatic one in control once more.
"What was that about?" Jiraiya asked, not quite nonchalantly.
Naoka shrugged and didn't answer. Then, seeing Uzumaki Sagami head for a case of spiral stairs, he made a face. "Oh no."
"I'll support you," Orochimaru offered quietly.
"That won't make it any less easier for our knees," Naoka sighed, giving him a look. "But we appreciate it."
It was still obviously hard going for the man, especially since the Uzukage's office was at the very top of the tower. It was a round room that took that whole level, with windows on every wall, showing a nearly perfect 360 degree view of the village and it's surrounding areas. The floor was grey and, of course, marked with the Uzushio Spiral.
Uzukage Aizu was there, sitting on one of the many meditation mats near the windows.
"Aizu," Uzumaki Sagami started as they stepped in.
"I know," the Uzukage said calmly and stood up. "Thank you, Rokurou, you're dismissed."
"Sir," the shinobi said and vanished in whirl of warm air.
When Orochimaru had met the Uzukage with Sarutobi-sensei for the first time, he'd thought he looked like he'd been in a gale. Few years later, Uzukage Aizu still looked windswept and ruffled, red hair sticking every which way. But ruffled or not, the man was still intimidating, tall, wide shouldered, and obviously powerful. You didn't get to be the Kage of a village like Uzushiogakure if you were anything less.
"Welcome back to Uzushio, Orochimaru, Jiraiya," Uzukage Aizu greeted when with an amiable smile, as he stepped off the meditation mat. "Its good to have you back. And you must be the informant we've been expecting," he said and turned to Naoka. "I've heard some interesting things about you. You're hoping to buy a place in our village."
"Something like that," the diplomatic Naoka said slowly, watching him closely. "And even if you refuse sanctuary for us, we still have some information for you which we think you might find important. And which we'd rather share in private."
The Uzukage smiled wryly at that. "Of course," he said, not quite sarcastic, and turned to Jiraiya and Orochimaru. "Let's get the nasty official business out of the way. I think you have something for me."
"Yes, sir," Jiraiya said, glancing at Orochimaru. "It'll take summoning to get it here – is it fine if we do it here?"
"I've seen it done before, it's fine – go ahead," the Uzukage said and motioned the floor. "There should be plenty of space."
Feeling weirdly like he was about to perform a new jutsu for Sarutobi-sensei to inspect, Orochimaru turned to Jiraiya. "You start, I'll add my part after you."
Jiraiya nodded, bit his thumb, and crouching down begun to quickly sketch out seals on the spiral marked floor. Aizu, Sagami and Naoka all watched, Aizu with mild smile, Sagami without an expression and Naoka with curious tilt to his head. The seals were quickly enough done, though – after all, Jiraiya only had to do half of them.
Once he was done, Orochimaru bit his thumb, and added in the second half. Neither of them had ever seen the summoning circle in full, but Sarutobi-sensei had taught their parts to them perfectly, and to Orochimaru's censorious eye it looked good enough.
They activated it together, and in explosion of chakra smoke, a large scroll appeared, fastened carefully with the Hokage's official seal.
"Excellent," the Uzukage said, and picked the scroll up, hoisting it over one shoulder. "Thank you, gentlemen."
"Of course, sir," Orochimaru said and he couldn't help but feel terribly interested in what that scroll had in it. Sarutobi-sensei had gone through awful lot of trouble to keep it secure after all.
"As for what comes to you," Uzukage Aizu said, turning to Naoka. "You realise that for private audience, you would be chakra sealed and chained."
Naoka blinked at that and straightened. "That is acceptable. But... you're going to need more than that," he said apologetically. "If you mean to make us harmless."
"We have abilities that won't care about mere chakra seals and chains," Naoka shrugged. "I'd suggest paralysis seals for below neck paralysis, chakra coil anaesthesia, chakra neutral cell and lead clad blinders."
The Uzukage paused at that and Jiraiya choked a little – even Orochimaru stared at Naoka in astonishment. That implied... it implied a lot of things. That Naoka could use chakra even with his own sealed, and he'd need the slightest movement to do it, maybe none at all. That he could perhaps break any chakra seals and chains they put on him. A chakra neutral cell too – those were for people with ability to absorb chakra. And finally… lead clad blinders. Those were designed for Hyuuga and Uchiha, which was… very interesting indeed.
The Uzukage coughed, hiding whatever he felt behind a smile. "And that's be enough to make you harmless?" He asked with some amusement. "That's quite the risk you'd be taking, putting yourself in that sort of vulnerable situation."
"Not really, we'd still be able to escape," Naoka shrugged and the amusement on Uzukage's face vanished. Naoka smiled faintly at the man and shrugged. "But it would make us unable to attack, and incapable of further actions until the anaesthesia wore off."
Aizu stated at them hard for a moment and then let out a faint laugh. "I'm almost tempted to do it just to see if you can actually do what you boast," he muttered, shaking his head and turning to Sagami. "Please show our good Konoha-nin here their rooms," he said. "I'm sure they're tired from their travels."
"Brother?" the kunoichi asked suspiciously.
"It's fine," the Uzukage said and looked at Naoka. "And hey, if he's here to assassinate me, then you know who to blame, won't you?"
"We'll blame Konoha and start a war," Sagami muttered. "Don't do anything stupid, stupid."
"Why I never," Aizu said and blinked innocently at her.
"Tch," she sighed, and turned to Jiraiya and Orochimaru. "Come on, I'll show you the rooms where I will mercilessly murder you if your friend here touches a hair on my brother's head."
Jiraiya let out a small, awkward laugh and Orochimaru hummed. So, his recollections of the Uzumaki were right. They were all insane.
Kakashi stood as straight as he could as the others left, leaving them alone with this… Kage they didn't really know. Of course it stood to reason that Uzushio would have a leader, same as any other village, but somehow in all their plans for Uzushio and what they'd do when they got there, they didn't quite plan for a Kage.
Well, there were lot of things about Uzushio they didn't plan for. So, so many things they hadn't planned for.
Uzumaki Aizu stood still for a moment, head tilted to the side. Then he made a seal that was very obviously not one of the standard hand seals, and there was a pulse of chakra. Naruto perked up inside them at that, and sent his senses out – and moment later, the silent, invisible guards present disappeared.
Communication by chakra pulses. Kakashi swallowed and even Obito felt odd, awed unease. Not only was this… casual throwing of chakra abilities so common in Uzushio that they'd created a system of it, but it was so common that a system could actually be used.
In Uzushio… everyone was a chakra sensor.
Except they weren't.
They probably weren't even ninja, really.
"There, bit of privacy," the Uzukage said and walked over to the clearly rarely-used desk on one part of the round room, setting the scroll Orochimaru and Jiraiya had summoned on it. "I do hope you aren't actually assassin sent here to kill me, though. That would be a major bummer," the man said and rested his hand on top of the seal. "So, what do you have for me."
"I… don't know where to begin," Kakashi admitted. "What we have to say you won't believe, and we have little evidence. Except for ourselves."
"Hm," Aizu said. "How about you just say what you have to say and we take it from there, hm?"
Definitely an Uzumaki, Obito thought, but not meanly. There was something almost nostalgic about this guy. Something a lot like Naruto – something a lot like Kushina. It was weirdly comforting.
If this was Kushina, if this was Naruto… what would they say.
Everything, Naruto thought. If this guy is what I think he is – and I'm pretty sure he is – just tell him everything.
"In few years time there will be war," Kakashi said slowly. "It will eventually spread and then it will be called the Second Great Shinobi War, it will last almost eight years. During that war, there will be a power shift in Kirigakure. The Second Mizukage will die in battle, and he will be replaced with Kiri's Jinchuuriki, Yagura."
He took a breath. "Yagura will be under control of… outside forces, with agendas of their own and on their command, in his first year of office, Yagura will attack Uzushio with all of Kiri's power," he said and met the Uzukage's eyes evenly. "It'll be a massive surprise attack. Uzushio will be completely destroyed, every citizen killed, before Konoha even hears about it."
The Uzukage stared at him. "Well," he said and then nothing else for a long, tense moment. "I think," he said eventually. "I think you better explain that all in bit more detail."
Kakashi smiled wryly. "No, rather, I should start from the beginning," he said. "Do – do you mind if we sit down?" he then asked. "Our knees are about to give out."
Aizu gave him a strange look but motioned them to go ahead – and they did, all but collapsing to the floor, stretching their aching legs out. "Sorry, we've got some… issues with anatomy," Kakashi sighed, rubbing at their aching calves. "Anyway, I assume you know who Uchiha Madara is?"
"Was," Aizu said.
"Is," Kakashi refuted. "He's not dead."
Uzumaki Aizu had been Uzukage for good twenty years and in that time he'd encountered a lot of… frankly weird things. He was leader of Uzushiogakure no Sato, after all, and if there was a village with more crackpots in it than his, he'd yet to hear about it. In his time he'd known all sorts of ninja, from side to side, some of them more sane than others. As their leader, he'd loved and accepted them all.
Sarutobi had told him about this Naoka in couple of lengthy letters that detailed some things his students had reported to him. Subject of human experimentation, unusual anatomy, three minds in same body, and strangely blatant and straight forward goal of Uzushio. If he was honest, Aizu had rather been looking forward to whatever it was, a poor assassination or spy attempt, or something bigger.
To have the man there, in his village, was a whole different thing. The feel of it, his chakra… he had so many. Off hand Aizu could count four, but there were others, hints of chakra that had been there, absences in already too much of a tangle. Going by his reactions so far, the man had some sensor abilities, and Aizu would honestly be surprised if it ended there.
No doubt about it, the man was very, very unusual.
Even for Aizu the idea that one of Konoha's founders was alive and plotting to enslave all of sentient and sapient life under genjutsu that utilised the moon was bit too much.
Naoka sat on the floor, running his hands – his four hands – over his legs has he talked with single minded straight forwardness of someone used to reporting, telling him… impossible things. That Uchiha Madara had not only survived but he'd stolen some of the First Hokage's DNA when he'd escaped. He'd then used that bit of DNA to awaken ancient powers, Rinnegan, Mokuton, before using it to create a clone of Senju Hashirama, harvesting him for even more DNA. From that, he meant to grow an army.
He probably was already doing it.
"He's himself being controlled though, subtly manipulated," Naoka continued, his tone almost flat. "When he awakened the Rinnegan and summoned the Demonic Statue of Outer Path, it brought with it… something from where it had been previously sealed away. Madara thinks he created it, that it's his most loyal servant, but it's not. Zetsu, it calls it self and it's the manifestation of someone else's will."
Aizu folded his arms, staring at the man. Weirder and weirder. "And you have no proof of any of this?" he asked, and it took some effort to keep himself from laughing because… because it was all so ludicrous.
Naoka looked up at him and then something about his eyes changed. Curiously, there was no change to his chakra at all – another aspect of his personality took control, but their chakra didn't reflect it. Interesting.
"That statue down there," Naoka said, nodding towards the window. "How do you know what he looks like?"
"Lucky guess?" Aizu said, idle, inflectionless.
"You got every wrinkle on his face exactly right," the man said and leaned back a little. "You got his eyes right, you clothes right, you got his fingernails right. That thing was made by someone who's seen the old man. Who made it?"
Aizu considered him for a moment. "How do you know to tell how accurate it is or not?"
"Asked you first," Naoka said with a toothy grin and stared at him hard. "Did you make that thing?"
Aizu smiled faintly at that. "No. It was build by Uzumaki Miura, the wife of First Uzukage," he said after a moment. "My mother."
Naoka frowned a little at that. "Your mother," he repeated. "But wouldn't that make you –?"
"A lot older than I look?" Aizu asked and shrugged. "How do you know what the Sage of Six Paths looks like?"
Naoka considered how to answer than for a moment. Then, shrugging his shoulders, he pushed his sleeves up to his elbows so he could lift his hands without tearing them. Then, as Aizu watched, he removed the somewhat ragged bandana he had over his forehead.
Aizu's mouth didn't quite fall open with shock, but it was a close thing.
"Because I met him," Naoka said, and looked up at him with five eyes. One of which was the legendary Rinnegan. "And I think," Naoka said slowly, "as the leader of Ninshu, you've probably met him too. And that's precisely why Madara, under Zetsu's command, will try to destroy you – because this whole village is in the way of Otsutsuki Kaguya's return."
Sup. Look at my extremely AU Uzushiogakure. I ain't even sorry about it. Pretty Obito-lite chapter this one, but they were trying really hard to be on their best behavior.
"Alright," the Uzukage said. "Let's just… go over that again."
"But… we just told you everything."
"And now you're going to tell me everything again. This time in actual chronological order."
"How do you suppose it's going?" Jiraiya asked as he and Orochimaru lounged about in the, well, lounge area of the quest quarters. They were obviously made for diplomatic guests because everything there kind of looked like meeting hall. There was a big round table with lot of seats, and on the sound there was a circle of couches – as if someone had gone through lot of trouble to make every seat in the room equal to every seat around it.
"Who knows," Orochimaru murmured, looking tense and alert. "All things considered, Naoka has been very good about keeping what information he has a secret."
Jiraiya considered that and nodded. The guy was pretty free about himself and his body – answered any question about how it all seemed to work without any hesitation. But how he'd made or what he wanted from Uzushiogakure – aside from sanctuary… he got nothing. It was actually bit of a surprise to realise how little they really knew about Naoka's plans and goals.
"Well, you know him the best," Jiraiya said and gave his team mate a look. "What do you suppose he wants from this place?"
Orochimaru cast him an annoyed look but thought about it. "I think he needs a place to ride out the last of his transformation," he said thoughtfully. "The progress of what he's going through has been steadily getting worse. Even if what he says is true, and eventually the growth he's going through is simply going to run it's course, he's still very vulnerable at this time. In a week or so, I doubt he will be able to walk freely at all."
"Hmm," Jiraiya hummed and folded his arms. "Makes sense," he said. "But there's something weird about this all. About Naoka and his… whole thing."
Orochimaru gave him a cool look.
"I'm not saying that's bad, or he's bad… but it's weird, you know it too," Jiraiya said placatingly. "Someone made that guy – or he made himself. Whichever it was, that takes resources, right? What villages have the funds and the know how to do that? And you don't go through trouble like that without a reason. How much would it take to put three people in one body like Naoka's?"
"… quite a bit," Orochimaru admitted after a while. "I have been doing little else but studying his body and I still don't know how it was done. There are parts of him where his anatomy seems almost flawless – I can't speak for his internal organs, but the make up of his legs, his hips… the changes there are subtle but important, every aspect of him subtly strengthened to support the increased mass. His upper body is…" he trailed off.
"It's impressive even for me," Jiraiya agreed.
"It's not at all how I'd go about it," Orochimaru said, shaking his head. "It's too difficult. So many things could have gone wrong there, they could've completely destroyed the mobility of his arms. Also, his spine is longer than a normal human's – he has four extra thoracic vertebrae, two extra lumbar vertebrae and one extra cervical vertebra. That sort of adjustment is… dangerous. It could've very easily paralysed the subject for life."
Orochimaru frowned as if the whole thing was personally insulting to him. "And then there is his skin. It's obviously a mix of all their original skin – excluding the artificial arm, which alone has a skin of it's own," he said and looked up. "If I'd had to guess, I'd say his body was made by sealing. There is no way his skin was surgically produced."
"Sealing, huh," Jiraiya mused, frowning. "That… would take some next level seals."
"It would take a school of sealing that doesn't exists," Orochimaru scoffed. "But it would explain why Naoka wished to come here. Uzushio might have solutions to some of his problems, if they stem from how they were sealed together in the first place."
"Do you think they can be separated into three people again?" Jiraiya asked, frowning.
"No," Orochimaru said. "Not unless they have a secret stash of discarded body parts somewhere. There isn't enough material in their body for them to be separated again. It would kill either all of them, or two thirds of them, to undo what was done to them. Besides…" he trailed off and shook his head with a slight smile. "Naoka has never spoken of cure, or separation. Only of adjusting to the changes."
They were quiet for a moment, thinking about it.
"If that were sealed, by somebody else or by themselves," Jiraiya said. "And if that really takes type of sealing no one knows… That kind of sealing could be threat to Uzushio's superiority. They got some strong people here, I don't deny that, but their strength is in sealing. Maybe the info Naoka is trying to use to buy his way in is about that."
"Maybe," Orochimaru said, though doubtfully.
"You think it's something else?" Jiraiya asked.
His team mate was quiet for a moment, considering it, eying him like he wasn't sure if he wanted to share whatever he was thinking with him. "Naoka has a purpose in life," Orochimaru said. "That's the impression I get of them. They have a goal. Plus they have talked of obligations before, and how those obligations must come before anything else."
"So… they are here to spy after all?" Jiraiya asked hesitantly.
"No. But whatever they want from Uzushio is just another step in reaching their ultimate goal."
"Right, okay," the Uzukage said, rubbing the skin between his eyes. "Run that whole thing by me again."
"But – we just did! How many times do you want to go through this?" Naoka demanded in dismay.
"As many times it takes – just, let's go over it again."
Orochimaru paced along the windows of the quest quarters lounge area. Uzushiogakure was beautiful and quite hospitable and in any other circumstances he might've taken the opportunity to take what little enjoyment he could out of the downtime. If nothing else, he should've quickly made use of the laundry – and the shower. But…
It had been hours now, and they hadn't heard of anything from Naoka or the Uzukage.
Not that he was truly worried – if it had turned out that Naoka had some sort of insidious intentions after all, they probably would've already came to light and they would've heard about it. So, Naoka hadn't tried to assassinate the Uzukage yet, at least. And since the Uzukage's stern sister hadn't came to accuse them of anything yet, it probably wasn't anything else of that sort. They just… were taking their time.
Pausing his pacing for a moment, Orochimaru stared outside, frowning.
One of the things he'd observed of Naoka was that the man had a very real and fairly reasonable concern of being taken apart for study. Different aspects of Naoka had accused him of wanting to do it himself on occasion, and at first it had not been a joke between them. Naoka really did feel that it was a real possibility, that someone might very well capture him just to dissect him.
And Orochimaru knew well enough that there were a plenty of people who would. And not just because of how well Naoka was put together, as strange as he was, but because… well, Jiraiya was right – you didn't go through that much trouble for no reason. There had to be more to Naoka than met the eye.
It wasn't the first time Orochimaru had suspected that the man might have been hiding a bloodline limit. Kaguya Clan's Shikotsumyaku perhaps – the man's bone growth was somewhat abnormal after all, it would have made some sense. Of course Naoka had not revealed any of it to them, not while travelling – not while Orochimaru and Jiraiya were still in position of reporting back to Konoha and interrupting his journey to Uzushiogakure. Now that they were there…
Uzushio was known for some level of acceptance, when these sort of things went. There were next to no bloodline limits in Uzushiogakure, and those few that there were well accepted – and more than, Uzushio accepted self experimentation, even if the results were less than… normal. That too might be part of the reason why Naoka wanted to come here, but…
Uzushio was still a ninja village and Naoka was what he was, and who knew what he hid within his body. Orochimaru didn't think Uzushio was the sort of place that would take a potential ally and a sanctuary seeker and then turn on them in such way, but…
Squeezing his hands into firsts, he took a breath and then released it slowly, before continuing his pacing. It would be fine, he thought.
But even so, he suddenly wasn't sure if he would see Naoka again.
"Okay, let's just –"
"We're not going over it again!" Obito snapped. "No matter how many times you make us go over it, it's not going to change!"
Uzukage Aizu sighed, rubbing at his forehead. "No, and it doesn't seem like it's going to make any more sense either," he murmured and lowered his hand, staring at them. "You realise this is a little hard to swallow. Ninshu and your knowledge of the Sage aside – this whole thing is a little too fantastical even for me."
"Then fucking don't," Obito snapped. "Just… oh fuck it – do you believe we've met the Sage or not?"
Aizu stared at them for a moment. He glanced up at the Rinnegan and then down again. "Alright, I'll grant you that you probably have," he said. "At least one of you has, anyway."
"Okay, good, wonderful, fucking fantastic, we got progress! You've heard about Kaguya from him, right?" Obito demanded. "You know about Jubi, you know about the Tailed Beasts? Where they come from, how they were made, yadda yadda fucking yadda?"
The Uzukage sighed and didn't answer.
"Excellent," Obito said tightly. "So, given that some of this shit is believable –"
"Some of it, yes," Uzukage agreed. "Nut all of it – it doesn't account for your knowledge of events that won't happen for years. Nor does it account for you either," he said and gave them a flat look. "Don't think I didn't notice that for all of your tales, you have failed to mention how you know about Madara and his plans or how you know about the future in general."
The man stood up before Obito could come up with an answer and walked over to them. Naruto and Kakashi were warily silent inside them and Obito leaned back a little as the Uzukage crouched down in front of them, getting down to their eye level. "Three minds in same body," the man said, looking them up and down. "Four different skin tones, five eyes from at least three different donors, mismatched ears, four arms, all of them mismatched… you are a sealing accident. No, rather, you are a space-time jutsu incident. Aren't you?"
Obito glared at the man, refusing to let the surprise or alarm show.
Aizu smiled coolly at them. "The signs are obvious when you know what to look for – and you aren't doing particularly good job hiding, either," he commented. "We've had our share of space-time experimentation. Some of it has been… relative useful. Some, not as much – and one thing we know better than others, is how hard it is to temper with time. Even going forward causes… mutations, grievous injuries. Going back we though was impossible."
The man's expression hardened. "How did you three do it, and how far back did you travel."
Obito grit his teeth. No way – no way were they telling this guy.
They should tell him, Naruto thought.
They didn't know if they could trust the man though. There wasn't much about Uzukage Aizu in history books – not that Kakashi could remember. Sure, Uzushiogakure was known as Konoha's ally, but they weren't Konoha-nin, not anymore. And a Kage had their villages to look after, often by any and all means necessary.
But wouldn't it just be a good thing, to tell Aizu? Then they'd have something to offer the man – knowledge and stuff, Naruto thought.
Yeah, or he could scoop out our eyes, put them in someone he trusts, and start tampering with time himself, Obito thought darkly.
Yeah because we'd obviously just let him do that, right, Naruto thought with some amusement, thinking back to Kakashi's spiel from earlier. Any hint of trouble and the other two would Kamui them the hell out of there.
Aizu cleared his throat. "If I'm going to have you in my village," he said steadily. "I need to be able to trust you and right now I don't see much reason to. You come here, with fantastic knowledge, with warnings about shadowy threat that no one has heard about. It's a little hard to believe a word you say – for all I know you could be an agent sent here to do the very destruction you're warning me for."
The Uzukage met their eyes, one set after another, levelly. "So give me something. How did you travel back in time and how are you alive?"
"We have given you pretty much everything," Obito muttered through gritted teeth.
He knows already, Naruto pointed out. He just doesn't know how. If they didn't tell Aizu, the man would just guess at it, and really – they had to train the Sharingan too, didn't they? How were they going to do that while keeping it a secret?
Kakashi was quiet inside them before letting out a mental sigh. At this point… Naruto was right. There was no way around it, not unless they'd want to go elsewhere – and at this point they probably couldn't. Travel was pretty much out of question until the growth spurt passed.
"Fuck it," Obito muttered. "Yes, fine. We did travel back in time. We didn't have a fucking choice," he said and met the Uzukage's eyes.
It was the first time since the start that they'd activated the Sharingan and it took a little effort – there just were so many eyes to account for, and only two of them had the Sharingan. It kind of felt like they were trying to activate the wrong set of eyes before the right ones caught it – and then the Sharingan activated.
"Ah," the Uzukage said and arched an eyebrow.
"Our Mangekyu Sharingan manifests a powerful space-time dojutsu," Obito said through gritted teeth. "It created a dimension of its own. When everything… when everything died, the three of us, the last survivors of Kaguya's gloriously failed attempt of taking back her chakra, we used it to travel back. It almost killed us."
Aizu frowned and then laid a hand on their face, tilting it up. "Activate the Mangekyo," he said in tone that brooked no arguments.
Obito did – and the moment he did, The Uzukage's face changed. Seals bled out of his wind-swept hair like varicose veins, curling in spirals and squiggles around his eyes until he had a mask of seals around them. Moment later, his eyes bled into black, from iris to sclera.
"What is that?" Obito asked, unable to help himself – because under the eyes of Mangekyo Sharingan and Rinnegan both, it looked like… like nothing, but wild Chakra flowing over the top half of the man's face.
"Now, that would be telling," Aizu said, leaning in and peering right into the Mangekyo with his seal-black eyes. Then, after moment of silent, strange examination, he leaned back and stood. "Alright, you can close them," he said, and closed his eyes. The seals bled back into his hair, hidden under the mess of red strands, and when he opened his eyes they were green again, sclera gone back to white.
Obito blinked the Mangekyo out of their eyes and stared at the man uncertainly. So, Uzumaki seals. They even had seal-equivalent of dojutsu here.
Kakashi agreed silently, more than slightly disturbed himself. No wonder people feared this tiny island village.
Uzumaki are awesome, Naruto thought giddily. This whole place was amazing.
"Alright," Uzukage Aizu said, running a hand over his chin, staring at them. "Alright," he said again, making a decision. "One more thing. What do you want from Uzushiogakure? You came here for a reason, and if you have knowledge of future, you could've gone anywhere. Why did you come here?"
"Because they destroyed Uzushio for a reason," Obito said warily. "And because we had more to offer you than most other villages. We need a place to adjust to our body. Uzushio seemed like viable option."
"Hmm," Aizu answered to that, eying them thoughtfully. Then and then held out a hand. "I'll accept your plea for sanctuary. You can stay here for now. There will be conditions, you will have to sign some contracts – and believe you me, you won't breaking them. But for now I will, tentatively, believe you."
Obito accepted the hand and they were pulled to their feet in one powerful tug that almost send them flat on their face again. Aizu supported them by their elbow and then shook their hand, almost too firm.
"You better not be screwing with us, Naoka," the Uzukage said, smiling like a tiger. "But for now… Welcome to Uzushiogakure."
Jiraiya and Orochimaru both stood as the door to the quest quarters common area was opened, and the Uzukage stepped in. "Sorry for keeping you waiting," Aizu said, running a hand through his hair. "That took a lot longer than I was expecting."
"It's no problem," Jiraiya assured, and Orochimaru subtly leaned to the side, to see past Aizu – trying to spot Naoka. He wasn't there.
"Quite the headache you brought me," the Uzukage said and threw himself onto one of the couches, arm thrown over the backrest. "But then, Sarutobi hasn't sent me much anything else, lately," he muttered and then looked up at them. "Well you look glum. What's up?"
"Where is Naoka?" Orochimaru asked, his voice tense.
"Having a very in-depth health exam," Aizu said and shrugged his shoulder. "That man has some very interesting mutations going on his body and for all that he thinks they're nothing to be worried about, I prefer an professional option. What he's been through… honestly, I'd be surprised if we didn't find a tumour or dozen in his body."
Orochimaru swallowed at that.
"Then, you accepted them to Uzushiogakure?" Jiraiya asked.
"For now, and of course only under certain conditions," the Uzukage agreed. "He - they will have a guard, of course, and they will have to report everything they do in detail to the jounin I assigned as their guard. But yes, Naoka can stay here." The man let out a dry, mirthless laugh. "Honestly, I don't think I could let them leave now that they are here."
"And why is that, sir?" Orochimaru asked coolly.
Aizu looked up at him and smiled. "You have no idea what you brought me," he said. "Probably just as well. Their information was very…" he considered his words carefully. "Volatile. And so are they, I suspect. The things that man knows…" he shook his head. "In time I will probably share some of their info with Sarutobi, but for – I'd appreciate if you both forgot that Naoka exists at all."
Jiraiya paused at that and cast a glance at Orochimaru. "I… don't think we can do that, sir," he admitted.
Aizu looked up at them, looking between Jiraiya and Orochimaru who's expression had tightened considerably. "And why is that?" he then asked, his tone almost too even.
Jiraiya hesitated and Orochimaru just grit his teeth, looking away. "We've shared some of the recent events with our team mate," Jiraiya finally admitted and coughed awkwardly. "Nothing top secret, but… Naoka came up."
Aizu said nothing for a moment, just looked at them, and then sighed. "Well, hopefully Tsunade-hime knows better than to spread what she knows around," he said finally. "Just keep what you learned to yourselves from here on out. I'd prefer that Naoka's… condition it did not become common knowledge."
"Naoka wasn't very careful about hiding it, during our travels," Jiraiya admitted. "There's whole bunch of civilians out there that saw him. Lot of them heard them talk, and argue."
Aizu made a face at that. "Of course," he muttered running a hand over his face. "Oh, whatever," he finally said. "Nothing we can do about that, I suppose. Hopefully…" he trailed away and sighed. "That man is going to be a pain in my ass, I just know it."
"Sir?" Jiraiya asked. "Is there something –?"
"No, never mind, forget it," Aizu said and waved a dismissive hand. "Let's talk about something else. How is old Sarutobi – how is Konoha? It's been far too long since I've visited."
Jiraiya sat down on one of the couches hesitantly, wondering what the hell Naoka had said to the man, what Aizu had figured out about him. "Sarutobi-sensei was fine, last we saw him. Stressed, but everyone is a little on edge these days," he said. "There's a lot of tension around the borders."
"Yes, there is," Aizu agreed grimly.
Jiraiya and Aizu talked a little about Konoha and Uzushio and how both were dealing with the increasing tensions between nations, the whispers of conflicts and grievances. Orochimaru said nothing for most of it, and eventually he dismissed himself quietly from the room, heading to the bedroom he'd selected as his own.
"Did I offend him somehow?" Aizu asked.
Jiraiya shrugged awkwardly. "Orochimaru and Naoka got… involved," he admitted.
"Oh?" the Uzukage asked, blinking and leaning with interest. "They did?"
"Well, given value of involved – there's a lot of mutual interest happening. But Naoka is all…" Jiraiya made a motion beside his head, "all mixed up and Orochimaru is… well. So they haven't actually done anything about it. But yeah – lot of mutual interest."
"Hm," Aizu answered, running a hand over his chin. "I… honestly don't know what to think about that. On top everything else, they're dating one of Hokage's students?"
Jiraiya shrugged. "I wouldn't really even call it dating," he admitted. "But yeah. Kind of."
The Uzukage was quiet for a moment. "What do you think about Naoka?" he then asked. "As a person."
"Which one of them?"
"All of them together," Aizu shrugged.
All of them? Jiraiya leaned back a little. Between him and Orochimaru, they'd kept the different parts of Naoka separate, because they were. All of them were distinctive individuals with their own histories and thoughts and opinions, some of them very loud. They'd even made notes on the personalities. Jiraiya knew what different parts of Naoka were like… But together?
"They're… straightforward, usually honest if not entirely forthcoming," Jiraiya said slowly. "Self indulgent, when there's time for it, and all too willing to throw high level ninjutsu around just for a bit of comfort. Though considering their pains, I don't exactly blame them. They're goal oriented – for all their arguing, they'd never wavered from their plans. They're very self aware, for good and for ill…"
Aizu nodded slowly. "Would you say they're a good person?"
"I… wouldn't say they're a bad person," Jiraiya said. "One of them is kind and open to a fault, the others are more wary and suspicious – I honestly can't say how badly those two sides clash. I like the guy, I'd like to think they're a good guy, but I don't really know them that well. We were pretty lucky during our travels – nothing really happened that tested their resolve one way or the other. It was smooth sailing all the way. So I can't really say."
Jiraiya hesitated for a moment. "I've seen how they're with Orochimaru though. Orochimaru is in fairly vulnerable situation – he's never been interested in anyone like this before. And not all of them like him, one of them downright hates him," he said slowly. "But they've never been cruel or malicious to him. There's a… sympathy to all of them, even the grumpiest one is in his own way empathetic. I'd like to think that says something nice about them."
Aizu stared at him silently for a while and then nodded. "I hope you're right," he said and stood up. "I'm going to look over the contract Sarutobi sent me later today, hopefully I'll have an answer for him by morning. If I do, your next task will be to take it back to Konoha."
"Yes, sir," Jiraiya agreed and stood up as well. If Aizu did get his answer done by morning… then they'd be leaving Uzushio pretty quickly. Far quicker than he'd expected. "In the mean while, sir… would it be too much to ask to see Naoka again?"
"I'll consider it," the Uzukage promised. "But depending on how their check up goes, it might not be up to me. By all reason that man should be in bed rest until his mutations run their course."
Jiraiya bit the inside of his cheek and nodded.
"That is so weird," Naruto muttered, watching with wide eyes as the two medic-nin operated on their legs. One had her glowing green hands wrist deep inside their thigh and the other was stretching out their calf muscle with a blob of green energy.
Apparently lot of the constant pains they'd been going through had less to do with the fact that they were growing ridiculously fast and more do with the fact that things weren't quite lined right – and with each centimetre they grew, the misalignment got worse.
"Does it hurt?" the healer with her hands inside their thigh – Kazama Yui – asked.
"Nope, doesn't feel like anything," Naruto answered. They couldn't feel anything below waist, really – the paralysis seals were really thorough in this place. "It just looks really, really weird."
"We should be done in no time at all," the other healer – Yuuna Taiki – said, digging his thumb in and then just sort of shifting the whole muscle in place. "There we go, now I can fix the joint properly…"
"Just, out of morbid curiosity," Kakashi said slowly. "Is our whole body out of alignment?"
"Pretty much," the healers agreed in unison.
"Your arms are going to be the worst thing to fix," Kazama Yui said, pushing at something inside their leg and then pulling her hands out. There wasn't a mark on their skin, and as she shook her hands, they became more corporeal again. "It's a wonder you can move them at all, there's so much stuff going on up there. We're going to have to carefully figure out what we're going to do about them."
"Do about them?" Obito asked suspiciously. "Why do you need to do anything about them?"
"You're still growing," Yuuna Taiki pointed out and there was a terrible jolt through the leg as he did… something to the knee joint. "At the rate you're going, you'll be adding another ten, fifteen centimetres to your total height – that will mean your shoulders will widen. Your bones are thickening too, and you're probably going to gain a lot of muscle mass before long. And when you do, you stand the risk of losing mobility of the upper set of arms."
"The lower set will weaken too, probably," the female healer agreed. "So we're going to have to move things around a bit to make room for future growth. But that will have wait later, until we have charted out your growth properly, and figured what we can safely do without damaging overall mobility. Taiki, are you done?"
"Just about," he said, and ran his thumbs over their knee. Then he placed his glowing hands on their leg and knee, gripping hand. "I think that's about it. You want to count down?"
Yui nodded and laid her hands flat on the thigh. "Three, two –"
There was a rush of raw chakra from them, green and revitalising. Even through the paralysis they could feel seeping into the muscles and sinews and bones, healing what they'd strained with their alterations. As Naruto, Kakashi and Obito stared, their leg was put to rights, and even though they couldn't really feel it yet, it felt… better.
"Even your healing methods are…" Naruto muttered. "Ninshu is amazing."
"Eh," Yui shrugged. "It's not really that special – basic healing chakra, really, every iryo-nin uses it. We just use it more than anything else, so we're pretty good at it."
"And your body is kind of amazing in how malleable it is," Taiki agreed. "That's some fantastic work you've done with it – I mean, it's all messed up, sure, but at least it lets itself be healed. Lot of people who do body modifications at this level, they put in so many security triggers that they end up reject all forms of healing. Yours just drinks it up."
"… thanks," Naruto said and then looked up as the door opened.
Their omnipresent guard stepped in and leaned against the door frame. "Are you about done?" Uzumaki Akio asked, folding his arms.
"Almost," Yui said, running her hands over the mismatched skin, leaving glowing trails of chakra where she touched. "Hmm yeah I think that's about all we can do for now. I want to give it a day before we move upwards and deal with your pelvis, and maybe a week before we tackle the arms, but I think we're off to a good start."
"And no tumours after all," Taiki said and gave them a thumbs up. "Well done, man."
"Thanks," Naruto laughed, shaking his head. "It was dumb luck mostly."
"We're going to have to take a look at the eyes too," Yui said thoughtfully.
"No," Obito said, pushing for control, narrowing the said eyes at her, all five of them. "The Uzukage agreed – no one touches the eyes."
"We should at least check the optic nerves," she objected.
She sighed. "Fine. we're done for today," Yui said and shook the healing chakra off her hands. "You'll come here every day at dawn, at noon and at sundown, so that we can keep track of your growth. No arguments. Hopefully if there's any more issues, we can deal with them before they become issues."
"I'll just take this off," Taiki added and then reached out for the paper tag over their spine. "On one, okay? Get ready for the pins and needles. Three –"
The rush of sensation returning almost made them topple over. There was no instant agony like they'd been half expecting – it didn't feel like their legs had been operated on. But they did feel different – lot of the constant aching was just… eased away. They still ached a bit – but that was just a whisper from what it had been before.
"Okay," Obito muttered. "…maybe this wasn't such a bad idea after all."
Naruto snorted – Obito had been cursing up a storm when the surgery had started, dead certain they were about to be taken apart, or messed up worse than they'd already been. But it seemed that Uzushio healers knew how to deal with a messed up body – it actually kind of seemed to be a common problem, in Uzushio.
"How many people do body modifications here?" Kakashi asked curiously, turning to Taiki.
"Well, it's not that common," the healer said, scratching at his neck – he had seals there, dark and thick and strange. Almost everyone in Uzushio had some seals on them. "But at some point everyone does at least a little – chakra channelling seals, storage seals, stuff like that. Yui there," he pointed out, "Has pretty common modifications for healers. I'm probably going to get them too, eventually."
The female healer flashed her hands proudly. She had black seals that ran along the sinews of her hands, and her fingertips were all black with seals. "The Spirit Hands," she said and shrugged. "It's what lets me do surgeries without needing to cut."
"That's pretty impressive," Kakashi mused slowly. "It seems rather dangerous though."
"It has it's limits – and because of this, I can't lift more than couple of kilograms," Yui shrugged. "I can't develop the muscle mass for it, the Spirit Hand drains too much energy. But for a healer, it's worth it."
"If you're done patting each other on the back for your body modifications," Uzumaki Akio said, sounding bored. "They've readied a flat for you – I'm supposed to take you there and I'd like to get it done before meditation starts."
Naruto hesitated. "We were hoping to see the Konoha-nin," he said slowly.
"Not today," Yui said sternly.
"Yeah," Taiki agreed. "You don't feel it yet because you got Yin chakra all over you, but the moment that runs out, you're going to be knocked off your ass. Better go lie down before that happens."
Naruto frowned at that. He'd still hoped to see the others, but…
Beggars can't be choosers, Kakashi thought. We'll see them tomorrow.
Naruto sighed. "Yeah, alright," he said and stood up. It was a relief to find that their legs stayed firm under them – and standing didn't hurt. "Okay this is amazing – it doesn't feel like our bones are about come off anymore. Good work, guys."
"Why thank you," Yui said, giving him a brief smile. "Go lie down."
Naruto pulled their clothes on quickly – enjoying the lack of pain in their legs to the fullest – before bidding their thanks to the healers and following Akio out of the room and eventually from the hospital itself. As they walked, he gave the other Uzumaki a thoughtful look.
So far the guard Aizu had assigned them hadn't said much abut himself or the assignment, or about them – but then, most of their time together, Naruto, Kakashi and Obito had been in surgery. Akio had no visible seals, but for some reason he had lot of bells on him. Maybe he did jutsu with those?
It kind of reminded Naruto of Kakashi's bell test, and he wasn't sure if that was good or bad.
The bell test? Obito wondered. Kakashi put his Genin through the bell test?
It was traditional, Kakashi thought. And it saved him the trouble of coming with something of his own. And it saved him the trouble of teaching for years – before Naruto, Sasuke and Sakura came around anyway.
Naruto tilted his head a bit. Others had gone through the bell test too? Kakashi and Obito had gone through it? That was so weird. How old were those bells?
From the time of Shodaime, if Minato-sensei was to be believed.
As they thought about it, Naruto cast a look around them. It had gotten late, and most of the strange, arching streets were empty, the people having headed indoors.
He could still feel them, though, flares of chakra all around him – and all of them connected. There weren't that many people in Uzushio, it was barely tenth the size of Konoha but it was far more unified. In Uzushio, everyone could sense everyone else. They created a sort of network of chakra and he could feel their connections to everyone else – the bright bonds of family, the strong trust between friends and allies, and even mere acquaintances were connected.
Then, as Naruto just experienced it all… Uzukage Aizu begun to meditate. It felt like a sort, quietly ringing bell that started in the Tower of the Uzukage, and spread like soft shock wave, pulsing over the entire village. Moment later, another signature changed too, as another person – a elderly ninja also in the Tower – joined the Uzukage in his meditation. Then another signature, and another, and another…
"Damn it, I'm missing the meditation," Uzumaki Akio muttered. "Hurry up," he said, and then quickened his pace, Making Naruto hurry after him.
One by one, the signatures of the people of Uzushio shifted as everyone started to meditate, their prescience expanding in the network of chakra like ripples over a bond's surface - but somehow backwards. What had been chaotic normalcy of every day life of a ninja village slowly smoothed down into strange harmony as the people of Uzushiogakure just… joined together in their meditation.
And they actually shared it too, Naruto realised. It wasn't just that they all meditated at the same time – they matched each other, matched their chakra together. There were still individual signatures here and there – people at work, guards doing patrols. But most of the people of Uzushiogakure had joined their charkas together until… until it all became one, and the people became indistinguishable from each other.
"That is creepy as hell," Obito muttered, shuddering with unease.
"That's Ninshu," Naruto said quietly.
"It is a little strange," Kakashi murmured slowly. "Whatever it is."
Of course it was strange – it was utterly foreign to them. Even Naruto didn't really know it.
It was peace.
Orochimaru sighed, not for the first time, as he went over his things.
The Uzukage had brought his answer early that morning – in form of summoning array, one half given to Orochimaru, the other to Jiraiya. Again, they weren't to use it until they reached their destination, Konoha, and could perform the summoning at the Hokage's prescience.
Normally he would've been curious about it, especially now that he knew what the summoning array produced, but… he couldn't muster an ounce of interest for it.
Naoka hadn't returned.
"Are you ready to go?" Jiraiya asked, peeking into his room. "The boat's waiting."
"I'm almost done," Orochimaru said and shook his head, knowing he was stalling. Uzushio didn't get that many ships – so they'd be taking the same ship they'd came on back to the mainland, and they were probably already getting ready to set sail. He was doing no one any favours by dawdling.
"Hey," Jiraiya said. "Are you okay?"
"Fine," Orochimaru answered through gritted teeth. He'd stupidly let his hopes get up – he should've known better. Naoka was… whatever they were, Orochimaru didn't even know, really, didn't know what their motivations were, what their goals were, what they had planned. In the end, he knew so little about the man that it surprised him.
Thinking that they'd really could keep contact after all was said and done had been foolish. And even if Naoka had had any real interest in keeping some sort of contact… now that he was part of Uzushio, it might not be up to the man. Of course the Uzukage would hide Naoka away somewhere until his loyalties were proven.
Aizu said that Naoka had had a health exam, maybe even surgery to deal with problems with his body… that could be softly worded way of saying he'd been put under a microscope, every aspect of him studied, cut open, laid out, examined. Uzushio was a ninja village, after all. And Naoka was very unusual.
Naoka might not even be…
Orochimaru didn't even notice that his shoulders had slumped down before Jiraiya laid a hand between them. "Hey," his team mate said. "I'm sure he's okay, and he'd be here to see us leave if he could. He's probably in surgery or something, having his bones fixed or something."
"Or something," Orochimaru said dully.
"Uzushio gave him sanctuary," Jiraiya said and gripped him by the shoulder reassuringly. "These are the good guys, remember? These are allies and Aizu is one good ones. They don't lie to us."
"Not that we know of," Orochimaru said and shook his hand off. "I need to pack," he said then, and turned to his gear – most of which was already packed. "Did they say when the ship is setting sail?"
"When we board it," Jiraiya said awkwardly and for a moment Orochimaru could feel Jiraiya wanting to say something more. He didn't though. "We'll head out when you're ready," he said instead, and left him alone.
Orochimaru allowed himself a half a minute of stillness, before straightening his back and packing his gear up.
Uzushio was in somewhat more cheerful mood than they had been when they'd arrived – there were children playing in the streets, and people joking by stall selling fresh fish. Few people even greeted them and bid them good morning as they went, but Orochimaru paid them little attention, keeping his eyes on the street leading to the harbour, and the glimmer of ocean in the distance.
Distantly he recalled that Uzushio had hot springs – he'd wanted to visit them… with Naoka.
He was being an idiot, he decided. He'd let himself act like a fool for the whole stupid mission. It would not happen again.
Soon they were heading down the stone steps towards the harbour, and then they were approaching the piers there and Orochimaru found himself glancing around just in case – but no, of course not. There were only the fishermen and couple of shinobi sitting around on watch, and a ship waiting to take them to the mainland.
Jiraiya looked at him with a uncertain, infuriatingly sympathetic expression. "Orochimaru –"
"…wait, wait, wait!"
Orochimaru froze and then, slowly, turned around.
Naoka was running down the stone stairs, almost falling over their feet, with an Uzushio-nin lazily jogging after them. As Orochimaru watched, Naoka rushed down the first few steps and then stumbled over the last step, expecting it to be higher and it was almost instinctive, to more to catch him before he fell flat on his face.
Orochimaru stared, wordless, at Naoka's face. At their eyes. "You," he started, paused, and cleared his throat. He was holding Naoka by the waist, supporting them, and Naoka had five eyes. And what looked like horns, growing just at the edge of their hairline. "You've been holding out on me," Orochimaru said, his voice faint.
"Yeah, sorry about that," Naoka grinned, one hand coming to Orochimaru's shoulder for balance. "Thanks for catching us – they fixed lot of the stuff that's wrong with our legs, but they're still a bit weird," he said and glanced up, at Jiraiya. "I thought we were going to miss you. You guys are leaving already? That sucks."
"The Uzukage wants us to take his answer to Sarutobi-sensei as fast as possible," Jiraiya said, and Orochimaru could hear the relief in his voice. "Nothing we can do, I'm afraid."
"Still sucks," the cheerful Naoka said and then looked at Orochimaru. "Hi there," he said and smiled.
Orochimaru blinked, belatedly realising that he was pretty much pressed against Naoka's chest. He cleared his throat and stepped back. "So the Uzushio-nin are helping with your body? I was under the impression everything was fine, albeit growing too fast."
"Well it's fine, but not perfect," Naoka shrugged. "Apparently things just aren't aligned right – couple of healers spent all evening yesterday righting our joints and putting our leg muscles in right places. It was pretty weird but it doesn't hurt as much anymore."
"I'm glad," Orochimaru said. Jealous too, but… glad.
Jiraiya walked towards them, grinning. "So, you got a place in Uzushio now," he said and clapped Naoka by the shoulder. "That must be something."
"Tch," Naoka answered, personality shifting. "It's fucking weird in here," he said and glanced backwards, as the Uzushio-nin guard who hovered idly near by, leaning onto a Naginata. "But it will do for now."
"That's something, I guess," Jiraiya grinned and squeezed his shoulder. "Well, I hope all the best to you, Naoka," he then said, and glanced at Orochimaru. "I'll just go on ahead, aright? It'll take them a moment to unfurl the sails anyway. So… you two just… you know. Talk."
With a wave, Jiraiya turned and headed for the pier, whistling as he went. Orochimaru smothered the urge to glare after him and then turned to look at Naoka.
The grumpy one stared at him, thoughtful. "Still not sure about you, Orochimaru," he said. "You're too damn risky."
"Not much of a gambler then?" Orochimaru asked idly.
"No, not really," Naoka admitted, smiling crookedly. "Never been all that lucky, either. Things tend to go sour on me."
Orochimaru almost lowered his eyes at that – but he couldn't because Naoka had five eyes, and one of them… the middle one… it was the Rinnegan. He could hardly look away, with that in front of him.
"The brat though, he's luck incarnate. Probably why we're alive, and here, and still semi functional," Naoka said and snorted. "Dunno what that means about you though."
Before Orochimaru could ask what the hell that was supposed to mean, Naoka shifted – their shoulders slumped and they looked Orochimaru with narrowed eyes. All of their eyes narrowed too, not just the lowest set, and Orochimaru almost touched their face, touched the skin around their eyes, because all the eyes all had functional eyelids and one of them was vertical and -
Naoka lifted their head a little, as if reading his mind. "You still see us a test subject," the diplomatic Naoka said coolly. "As something to study. Something to recreate."
"Tch," Orochimaru answered. "As if I could recreate you. As if I would. You're…" he looked for a suitable word and failed. "Unique." Far more so than he'd even realised.
"No such thing," Naoka said flatly. "Shouldn't all test results be repeatable?"
"In science yes," Orochimaru said and shrugged. "But I'm under the impression that this is hardly science."
That made the man pause and look at him with surprise. Their eyes blinked and it was fascinating – there was just a smallest delay between sets, first the lower ones, then the middle ones and then finally the one in the middle. Orochimaru's hands twitched – he wanted to run his fingers over the eyelids and feel them move.
Naoka shifted again and then he smiled, wide and warm. "You're fricking adorable," he said and then he was all around Orochimaru, arms and hands everywhere, crushing him to his chest. Orochimaru froze for a moment, utterly still in the unexpected, all-encompassing embrace. Naoka's hands were on his shoulder, his back, his waist, everywhere all at once, and it was… warm.
Naoka pulled back and looked at him, his face so close Orochimaru could feel his breath. "Write to us, okay?" Naoka said, pressing the edge of his forehead against his, the small horns pressing into Orochimaru's hair. "Keep in touch, yeah? I mean, that's possible, isn't it, sending letters between Konoha and Uzushio? Just, you know… normal every day letters."
Orochimaru swallowed, staring at his eyes – blue irises, charcoal irises, faintly purple rings, so utterly enthralling… "Yes, it's possible," he said and lifted a hand, daring to touch now that the cheerful Naoka was in control. The man leaned into his touch, and closed his eyes, letting him explore, like he always did.
Naoka was so strange, and so big and so multifaceted. Complicated and powerful. Orochimaru ran his thumb gently over the numerous eyelids and realised that he was utterly, disgustingly infatuated with every part of the man.
"I'll write," Orochimaru said, because he might be a fool, but he wasn't a coward. No, he wasn't a coward at all – he was greedy and selfish and Naoka was letting him. "Probably every day."
Naoka smiled. "I'll look forward to it," he said and pressed their lips momentarily against Orochimaru's wrist. "You should go, though. They're setting sail," he added and opened his eyes.
Orochimaru grimaced, glancing backwards. They were indeed setting sail, and Jiraiya was hanging on the rigging like an idiot, waving both arms at him. "I'll see you in six months," he said. "At the very latest."
"Five months and twenty eight days," Naoka said and smiled.
This story is now going to go onto a Hiatus because I got distracted and also I kind of burned myself out on this story. I am intending to continue - this is like about the half way point of the story, there's still bunch of stuff to cover. I tried to make this ending-y to give a bit of closure but yeah, no updates in a while.
I hope you enjoyed the fic and will be still around when I hopefully continue it :)