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drink the wild air

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Obito drags himself out of hell by his fingernails.

Darkness gives way to more darkness, but this is night instead of the absence of light, something lighter and bright and warmer, and it enfolds Obito as he claws his way out of the dirt. There's a storm in the world, screaming down from the mountains, lashing at the trees and shaking the sky as lightning ruptures the clouds. Its fury almost matches the heat of the stone that falls away from Obito's body as he pulls himself up, livid streams of molten rock that mark his path up from the depths of the underworld, magma that drips from his skin and pools around him as he comes to his feet.

Always before earth has choked out fire, beaten it down, snuffed it out. They left him to drown in it before, left him buried and smothered and dying with each choked breath, but now—

Now Obito's fire blazes, gusts out with his breath in white plumes of ash that are taken by the wind, and the earth itself melts and runs at his touch. He laughs at the irony of it, bitter as wormwood on his tongue, and the sound is ragged and tattered but his.

He staggers on his first step, catches himself on a tree and curls his fingers into the bark. Smoke hisses into being, then light, and when Obito pulls his hand away the oak is smoldering. For a long moment he stares at the embers as they brighten, watches them hiss against the first few drops of rain. In the trees around him there's a shiver, a cry, something long and low and mournful. It makes Obito bare his teeth, makes him bristle, because the dryads watched him be buried and did nothing, kept to their trees as the earth closed over his head, and it’s so very, very tempting to simply let them burn.

Killing spirits is the same as letting Men win, though. For all the resentment that burns in his chest and bubbles up like magma from deep underground, Obito isn't willing to allow that. If he has his way, Men will never win again.

He curls his hand into a fist, focuses. Closes it, swift and sudden, and feels the embers snuffed out in an instant. There are only ashes left, a scar on the oak, a curl of smoke, the flicker of fury knotted in Obito's chest.

The roar of the storm is almost on him, closing in. Obito turns his head to watch it fall from the last peak of the mountains, boiling down the valley, and the wind hits him like the blow of a hammer against a forge. He doesn’t stagger, keeps his feet through force of will and bitter stubbornness, and watches the lash of rain strike all at once, drenching the earth in an instant. An angry storm, more vicious than most, and he lifts his face to its fury, searching—

The wind takes shape. A gust here, a twist there, a particularly angry howl that shimmers blue, and a spirit comes visible in the arms of the storm. Blue hair, cold golden eyes like distant lightning, and they slide from Obito standing in pools of molten stone to the scorched oak and back again. Her gaze darkens, just for a moment, and then she smiles. It’s thin, as cold as her winds, and distantly amused.

“They buried you?” she asks.

“Fifty feet deep,” Obito answers, and smiles back, bitter and vicious and angry.

“Then you're one of the lucky ones.” She touches down, silk whirling around her feet, and wind swirls through her, taking form, curling into fingers that stretch out to brush Obito's scars with icy fingertips. “They're killing us all.”

Obito knew that, distantly. Had heard the whispers, before he was caught, of families killed in vicious ways. Dryads with their trees cut down, naiads pulled from the oceans in nets, selkies caught for their seal-skins—but they were the kinds of stories whispered in the darkness to scare children. They weren’t real.

And then Obito was driven into a pit, buried beneath the earth. Dead, or maybe he would have been better off that way, and just—too stubborn, too angry to let that be the end of him.

“Not for long,” he says, sharp-edged and burning in the storm, and feels the flames lick at the inside of his chest. Bright, and he was shut away in the darkness but he’ll show these Men why they should fear the light.

The wind spirit smiles, and this time it has edges, an arctic chill. This is the wind that freezes homes, shatters trees, changes the world. A god-wind, Obito's heard it called, but there are no gods here anymore. Just spirits, scattered and dying. “Good,” she answers, and lifts her face to the dark and thunderous sky. “Name the winds Konan and I’ll answer,” she says. “There are too few of us left not to know each other.”

“Obito,” he offers in return, but he can't return the gesture. He doesn’t know where he’ll hear her best, if he left that sense buried in the earth with who he used to be or if he can still understand the voices heard through the flames. “Are there Men close to here?”

Konan smirks, as pretty and deadly as a snake beneath a rose. Lifts one hand to point in the direction of the storm’s path even as her form shreds back into spinning wind, and says, “Look for the river. I think you’ll find your purpose there.”

“The river?” Obito asks, because the only one close is the Nakano, and it’s a mighty one, wide and swift and full of jagged rocks. Men avoid it, or they die on its shores. “Why—?”

But the winds wail past him, twice as strong, and Konan is gone.



Obito has no idea how long he’s been gone, how long he’s been dead in every way that matters, but the realization that it was far longer than he thought possible strikes hard. Even Men can only change so much in a short time, and this—

This is too great a change.

He stares at the once-wild Nakano, now tame within its banks. Wide and glutted and dark, and once it leapt and crashed down from the mountains, flooding often, turning the soil black with life-giving earth. A joyous river, swift and laughing, and now it drags itself between stone walls with the effort of an ancient creature limping towards its deathbed, the water murky and thick with debris.

There's a sick feeling kindling in the pit of Obito's stomach, matched only by the spark of fury that lights and catches. The earth under his bare feet is hard, packed, with none of the richness the Nakano gives it every season. Conquered, he thinks, and has to swallow, remembering the feeling of dirt dropping on his head, rocks and earth tumbling down on top of him. Fires like his can't be tamed; he was the blaze that brought new life, that seared away the undergrowth so the old trees could reach even higher, that danced through the forests ever summer and raced through the valleys in the autumn before the rains. Not a fire Men wanted, so they put him out, or tried to. The Nakano, though—

It’s been beaten, tamed. Reduced, and Obito can hardly look at it. his eyes burn, and he ducks his head, breathes out smoke and ash and heat-vapor. Tempting, to rage, to fly forward and destroy the stone walls that hold the river back, but there's no spirit in these waters. It won't do any good. The spirit still exists or the river would have ceased to flow entirely, but they aren’t here.

There are lights through the rain, though; bright points of fire. Obito can feel them, a thousand small fires all clustered around one point, and he’s moving before he can consider the consequences, running along the hard, dead bank as it turns to mud in the storm’s wake, and the village of Men is new, unfamiliar. Obito has never seen one that they dared build next to the Nakano, but this one sits in the curve of the river, close to the dam. It’s small and walled and reeks of smoke and cut stone and something unclean, and Obito wants to gag. Stumbles, staggers, finds his balance, and there's a ringing in his ears, a surge of fire in his chest. His breath is white ash, sparks, and he comes to a stop before wooden gates shut tight against the gale.

“Is this what you wanted me to see?” he asks, low and furious, and the wind curls around him in answer. Swirls there, for a moment, and Obito can feel the lull, the surge behind him. The eye of the storm is passing, and beyond it—

He smiles, cold in the way only fire can be, and breathes out ashes that are stolen by the wind. A dark night, a cold night, but inside of him there's nothing but a blaze.

They're killing us all, he thinks, and the dam is wood and stone, built by the hands of Men. Breaking it will be the easiest thing in the world, because Obito isn't a cheerful forest fire anymore. He isn't a small blaze that passes quickly, clearing away dead leaves and tangled brush. They buried him fifty feet deep, trapped him in the earth, but buried embers don’t go out. They wait, half-smothered, growing stronger, for one small breath of air to bring them blazing back to life. The Men tried to kill a wildfire, and in doing so they made something far, far worse.

There's one more moment of quiet, of relative silence as the rain pours, and then there's a flicker within the storm, a face, a figure. Konan raises her arms, expression a war cry all on its own, and the wind screams. It crashes past Obito, slams into the gates and rattles them on their hinges. Shouts rise behind them, and Obito smiles, crouches low to make himself a smaller target. Presses his hands to the earth as Konan batters the walls, and feels the heat sleeping deep within it.

He fell, when they buried him. He fell so far and for so long. Right into the middle of everything, an ember seeking its source, and what he found there, sleeping, waiting for a spirit to take it, awaken it—

Breathes out white ash, smoke. Raises his head as the gates are wrenched from their moorings in a scream of metal and stone, and smiles.

The earth cracks, fractures. Fissures split the ground, racing away from Obito's touch, and the fire that bubbles up is liquid stone and burning fury, hissing in the rain. The heat of it is enough to scorch the air, and Obito lets it flood from the earth and across the streets of the town, then rises. He steps right through the burning tide, glancing touches over things as he walks, and stone melts beneath his fingertips, wood catches and blazes bright. The fire rises despite the rain, and Obito moves on, doesn’t bother to look back. He doesn’t need to; after tonight, there will be nothing left here.

Ahead of him, dancing through the streets, he catches glimpses of Konan through the storm, winds churning around her. The storm rages, and she overturns carts, breaks windows, pulls the roofs off sheds as she passes. A gleeful, beautiful fury, and Obito wants to watch her work but he has other things to see to. There's a spirit to find, for one; the Nakano is dying, trapped like it is, and they aren’t the only prisoner. Obito can see others, all around him. A nymph chained in a garden, a fire sprit trapped in a hearth, a breeze contained in a wheel to power a mill, a stone spirit bound to build more walls. Caught, trapped, and Obito thinks of Konan's words, then you're one of the lucky ones, and he burns.

The chains fall away as he passes, melted to slag. The bindings scorch and shatter. The wheel lights with flame so hot it glows white and cracks right through. The heat of Obito's rage undoes it all, and he stalks towards the center of the town as the wild winds shriek gleefully around him, tearing apart everything that bears the touch of Men.

In the very heart of the town, in an open square, there's a cage. Wrought iron, touched with the heat that twisted it into shape, and it’s a small thing, narrow enough that Obito could touch both sides while standing in the center. Within it is a still form, too large for such a small prison, and Obito knew that the river was half-dead, could see it the moment the Nakano came into view; he doesn’t know why he didn’t expect the same to be true of its spirit.

Blue skin is dulled, cracked, and there's a wasted thinness to each limb. He can barely open his eyes as Obito approaches, and when he does they're filmed with white, unfocused and vague. Each breath is an effort, heaved out as if there's some great weight atop his ribs, and his fingers curl impotently against the stone floor of his prison as Obito's steps approach.

There's a broadsword in an ornate stand, planted just beyond reach of the cage, like a triumph, like a trophy. No human hand forged that blade, and Obito snarls at the sight of it, steps forward and gets both hands on those wrought iron bars and pulls.

(Once upon a time Obito was a cheerful forest fire, running across the hills in summer, burning away the old leaves to let the big trees grow stronger. Once upon a time he laughed and cried and it was easy, so easy.

Once upon a time they buried him alive because they thought he was a threat, poured dirt down on his head and smothered his flames, and along in the darkness he burned away to embers. Alone in the darkness he fell and fell and fell, passed through hell and went deeper still, the screams of a whole world in his head.

Once upon a time he landed somewhere bright and dark all at once, and strong hands pulled him up. Once upon a time two spirits breathed life back into him, and one was destruction, one was the molten earth and the heat of a raging fire that couldn’t be put out, couldn’t be stopped, couldn’t be tamed.)

Iron runs like water at his touch. Runs and drips and flows away, burning up the rain before the storm can touch it, and Obito lets it go, falls to his knees beside the Nakano’s spirit, and rolls him onto his back, searching for the pulse of magic within him. It’s there, slow and weak and almost beaten to nothingness, but there's enough left to give Obito hope.

“Come on,” he says, pulls one big arm over his shoulders and staggers up as best he can, dragging uncooperative limbs along with him. “Wake up, we’re going back to the river. Just a little longer.”

There’s a faint, ragged breath against his ear, a bare tightening of the arm he’s clinging to, and the spirit rasps, “My sword. I fought—I fought for them.” Laughs, broken and bitter and cutting like shattered glass. “Killed our kind for them.”

A soldier-spirit, and Obito tries to find any seed of surprise within him. He comes from a family of fire spirits, and Men only rarely treated with them, but he knows others do. Did, before things changed. Gave their help, asking for some small return, but even that was too much in the end. Easier for the Men to take what they want, and tear the world apart in the wake of their greed.

“I have it,” Konan says, and she slides out of the storm winds in a whirl of silk to take the blade with careful hands. The town is broken and burning behind them, and the satisfaction on her face says she hears the screams as well as Obito does, and cares about as little.

“I'm taking him back to the river,” Obito says, and meets her golden eyes.

Konan inclines her head. “The way isn't clear,” she answers, “but I think you’ll manage.”

Obito laughs, rough in his throat. Balances the Nakano’s spirit on his shoulders, then raises a hand, and his breath swirls out as ash to be caught by the wind. White ash, then embers, and they blaze to life in the open air, settle into fragile wooden buildings, nestle into thatch that kindles instantly. A touch of Obito's will sends the fire racing out, leaping between buildings, and the earth beneath their feet shudders as he melts rivers of it into magma, brings it crashing up to shatter the foundations. Destruction roars, buildings fall, and the shriek of steam fills the heated air only to be swept away by the winds.

When the world quiets, the street glows dully, nothing but molten stone from one end to the other. Obito smiles, small and dark, and steps forward, dragging the river spirit with him. Walks, right on top of the lava that fills the town, and his bare feet hardly even feel the warmth.

“Sorry,” he tells the other spirit, who groans in pain at the heat. “Just a minute more.”

Above them, wreathed in her winds, Konan glides through the air like a particularly lovely bird of prey, carrying the sword. “Just putting him back in the river won't be enough,” she warns. “With the river as it is, it might as well not even be Kisame's anymore.”

“I’ll take care of it,” Obito says grimly, eyes fixed ahead. There are more spirits around them, too many, captured and chained and made useful, and he doesn’t want to kill them, even if it means destroying the Men as well. Focuses on freeing them instead, precise and careful in a way he’s never had to be before, and it’s a strain but it’s worth it.

The wide, lazy curve where the river once raged is proof enough of that.

There are walls holding the river back, stone and mortar and iron, looming above the town. Buttresses of stone sweep up high over their heads, bracing a wall easily four times Obito's height, that slopes up to a narrow top. He can see the water of the bound river above them, churning in the storm, and it’s too much water for even his fire. The lava will cool too quickly, might break the dam but not enough. This is one creation that can't be destroyed so simply.

Light and graceful, Konan touches down at his side, studying the stone as well. Her mouth pulls into a tight line, and she says, “There are spirits in the stone.”

Obito can feel it, too. Some sort of warding, or binding, and there are earth spirits holding up the walls of the dam, straining, screaming. Buried alive, Obito thinks, and breathes out carefully so it doesn’t shake. One ounce more strength, so that the dam won't break under the weight of the water. Men are clever, if nothing else.

“Near the top,” Kisame says, and he’s still hanging on Obito's shoulder with most of his weight, but this close to the Nakano his eyes are clearer, sharper, and his breathing comes more easily. The lower part of the river might be choked and dying, but the full force of its waters is above them, close enough to bleed at least a little strength back into his body. “They laid the bindings along the walkway.”

Something to look at and admire, Obito thinks, and the fury is rising in him, its full force bubbling up. He doesn’t look back, but the flames in the town leap higher, gleefully greedy as they devour.

“Then we go to the top,” he says, and Konan pulls Kisame's free arm over her shoulders.

“Allow me,” she says, and in an instant the winds are beneath their feet, lifting them, whirling them up like birds in flight. They skim the stone of the dam, rising sharply, and Konan settles them on the wide walk that crowns it without even a stumble. Then she steps away, turns, and presses the blade into Kisame's hand.

Kisame nods his thanks to her, curling his fingers around the hilt, and gets his feet under himself. Carefully, slowly, he takes his own weight, then straightens, and though Obito keeps a hand on his elbow he only sways a little.

“Thank you,” he says, looking down to meet Obito's eyes, and there's something dark and dangerous in his gaze, something that tastes of buried fury and grief. “I thought I would die there. He smiles, chuckles, but the only humor to it is as bitter as poison. “A traitor’s death would be what I deserve.”

“You couldn’t have known what they were planning,” Obito says, and looks away. The storm howls around them, and he can feel the pulse of power in the stone, bound in ways no spirits should be. “If you’re a traitor, every spirit is.” He glances up, finds Kisame still watching him, and musters a smile that’s bare and wan but still a promise. “I'm going to fix it,” he says, and means it. No matter what, no matter how many towns he has to melt to slag, he won't let this keep happening.

Kisame stares, that darkness just beneath the surface of his eyes, and then he smiles back. Sharp teeth, sharp humor, and he says, “If I can find my strength again, it’s yours.”

“Mine as well,” Konan murmurs, and when Obito glances at her, she tips her head to him. “My destruction is an inconvenience, momentary. But with you—this town will never be rebuilt.”

“Not if they have any sense at all,” Obito mutters, and when he steps forward Kisame is at his right, Konan a pace behind. The walk is empty, no one brave enough to face the wind from this height, but there are spots of brilliance along its length, circles of gold and precious stones sunk into the stone itself, humming with unsettling power as they glow. Obito circles the closest one, frowning, and he has no idea about the magics Men use to hold spirits, but this looks like part of a chain. Thin golden wires connect it to the circles on either side of it, and he leans down, takes in the careful script that edges it.

“I think they found their names,” he says. “The earth spirits. These words—what else could hold a spirit?”

“A name and a power different enough that the spirits can't break it,” Kisame says, and when Obito glances at him he nods towards the center of the walk, where a circular depression rests. A golden net covers it, careful threads of metal spun into a cage, and the wires that connect the circles radiate out from that same net.

Easy enough to find, at least, Obito thinks grimly. He looks over at Kisame, then out at the lashing waters of the Nakano, and asks, “Are you all right?”

Kisame chuckles, brings his broadsword up to rest the flat on his shoulder. “Getting better,” he says, and it’s almost cheerful except for the bloody edge beneath. “I’ll get back in the water soon, but you might need me.”

“If Men with swords come at us, we’ll leave them to you,” Konan says, only a little dry. She follows closely as Obito heads for the covered pit, minding her feet around the binding circles. Obito can hardly pay enough attention to do the same; there's an itch under his skin, something furious and blazing and so bright he thinks he might burn up with it, fall to ash himself. The golden netting glitters in the stormlight, eerie and too perfect—it isn't something made by a spirit, but it almost feels like their power, like whatever is under it is bleeding out into the strands, one drop at a time.

Obito crouches down, sinks his fingers into the netting. Feels it spark against his skin, hungry and grasping, and he snarls in return, lets flames kindle around his hands. Instantly the gold starts to run and drip, and Obito tears it from its mooring and hurls it to the side, then drops down into the shallow pit.

He already knows precisely what he’ll find, but it still makes him growl to see the small body curled in on itself, head of shaggy brown hair covered by thin arms. Pale cheeks marked with red, and Obito closes his eyes for a moment, cursing Men, before he leans down. A wolf spirit, he thinks, painfully young and without his pack. Without anything, body bare to the storm’s fury, and he’s fading just as Kisame was, sapped of his power in order to hold the dam’s captive earth spirits in check. Too small, too thin, and Obito gathers him into his arms, lifts him out of the pit, and Kisame catches Obito's hand and pulls him up and out.

“Oh,” Konan breathes, and that one sound vibrates with rage. She strips off the outermost layer of her robes, lets the silk fall over the wolf spirit’s body as he stirs faintly, and takes him from Obito's grasp to cradle him in her arms. “You're very far from home, aren’t you?” she asks gently, cupping his cheek as dark eyes flutter open. “Shh. You’re safe now.”

Really, Obito can't imagine anywhere safer than with Konan, so he steps back, gives her room. Feels a hand on his spine, and glances up into Kisame's face as the river spirit chuckles.

“He’s not the only one,” Kisame says, and nods to the closest inlaid circle. Its light has flickered out, brilliance fading from the gems and the golden script, and Obito closes his eyes, tracing the power as it slides away. The earth spirits’ screaming dies away on a breath, and Obito smiles a little in satisfaction. Still too much water to break the walls with his fire, but—he has a different plan.

“We should get back to shore,” he says. “I need to destroy the dam.”

Konan glances up, the wolf boy looking too. “You’re going to break it?” he asks, and there's a note of hope wavering in his voice as he curls his hands into Konan's underrobe. “You’re going to get rid of it forever?”

“Forever,” Obito confirms, meeting that wide-eyed stare. “They won't get you again.”

The boy nods, accepting that as unwavering truth, and settles into Konan's grasp. “I'm Kiba,” he says. “They caught me in a trap. There was—there was another wolf, too.”

Drained, Obito supposes, and it’s distant, detached as the fury beats against his veins. He wonders how often they had to replace the wolf in the center trap, how long Kiba had before he was just another body to be disposed of, power faded completely into nothingness.

Konan's eyes are burning, dangerous and cold, and Kisame curls his hand around Obito's shoulder for just a moment, presses his broadsword into Obito's hand, and murmurs, “Go. I’ll stay here.”

As the Nakano’s spirit, Kisame will know its power better than anyone. The river won't hurt him. Obito nods, then catches Konan's elbow and pulls her towards the far shore, away from the burning town. One step and then her arm is around his waist, a wind curling beneath their feet, and Kiba yelps as they’re lifted and spun back down to earth on the far side.

“Sorry,” Konan soothes, running a hand over his hair, and smiles when he peeks up at her. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“You didn’t,” Kiba says stubbornly, and leans over to look at where they are now. “Was that flying? Are you a bird spirit?”

“A storm-wind,” Konan corrects, and turns her gaze on Obito. “I can't break solid stone,” she says. “No matter how many spirits we free from the stone.”

“Then it’s a good thing you don’t need to.” Obito takes a breath, then drops to one knee, pressing both hands flat to the ground. Closes his eyes, and—

(Once upon a time Obito was a cheerful forest fire, burning away the detritus of old autumns, clearing the undergrowth so the old trees could thrive. Once he lived in laughing sparks and leaping flames, the ash that fed the forest to nurture new growth. Once he was a forest fire that renewed even as it burned, and he brought new life in the wake of cleansing.  

Once upon a time they buried him alive because he wasn’t the polite, tame fire they could use, because they thought him dangerous and never looked to see what good he did the forests. Once they threw him somewhere dark and covered him with damp earth, set a marker above his living grave and walked away, pleased with their work and what they had won.  

Once upon a time he landed somewhere bright and dark all at once, and strong hands pulled him up. Once upon a time two spirits breathed life back into him, and one was destruction, one was the molten earth and the heat of a raging fire that couldn’t be put out, couldn’t be stopped, couldn’t be tamed.

Once upon a time two spirits breathed life back into him. One was destruction, and the other—

The other was fierce and glowing and warm in the way of fire, but green green green in every sense. The other was age and youth and the might of an avalanche, or maybe just a spring.

Once upon a time two spirits breathed life back into him. One was destruction, and the other—

The other was creation.)

Fire can't burn stone. Can melt it, but not in the midst of so much water. Not when the Nakano surges on one side, desperate to flow. There are seeds in the water, though, acorns and old twigs that have rooted again, seedpods and remnants of previous life that have washed downstream, been borne here by the current but stopped short in their journey by walls of stone and power. Deftly, deliberately, Obito reaches for all of them, threads power into their forms, and instead of breaking, he makes.

There's a shiver of green, of growth. Stone cracks beneath the force of roots, a hundred years of might compressed into a handful of seconds, and oaks and maples and pines tear the dam apart as they grow up towards the sky. Water surges through the cracks with a mighty roar to rival the storm, and on the walkway of the dam Kisame raises his arms as the stone falls, as the river rises. It consumes him in an instant, and there's a shiver, a rush, a hush. The water falls towards the burning town, towards the choked and dying river below, and for a moment Obito can see light, power, like a star caught up in the fall. His breath catches, and—




Konan sets them down on the grassy bank, still alive with the touch of Obito's power, and she kneels to set Kiba on his feet. He stays close, still wrapped in her robe with one hand fisted in her belt, and Obito moves past them both, heading for the figure emerging from the headlong, ferocious rush of the Nakano, swollen by the rain and furious as it recharts its course through the valley. The dam above is now a waterfall, roaring triumphantly as it hurls itself over the lip of stone, past the thick, tangled roots of the trees that stand sentinel in the middle of the river. The town is halfway consumed already, the waters taking back their previous path without mercy, but the rest of it is still burning.

Kisame laughs as Obito approaches, quickens his step. He’s glowing with health, tall and broad again, muscle returned. His eyes are bright as he grins, and as soon as Obito is close enough Kisame wraps him up in his arms, lifts him right off his feet.

“My river is alive again,” he laughs, hugging him tightly. “Thank you.”

Obito can feel heat in his cheeks that has nothing to do with fury, and he swallows, looks away even as Kisame carefully sets him on his feet again. “I think it was a group effort,” he says, turns like he’s going to look back at Konan.

Kisame catches his face in a hand before he can, smiling. His eyes glow faintly in the dim light of dawn that can reach them past the breaking storm, and he carefully takes his sword from Obito's hands.

“I think,” he says, hand curving around Obito's wrist for just a moment before he pulls away, “that someone broke the dam, and as fierce as the wind spirit is, it wasn’t her.”

Obito smiles back just a little, helpless to not, and then says, “I'm glad you have your river back.”

Kisame chuckles, turning to survey the roaring waters. “It will sort itself out now,” he says cheerfully. “I promised you my help, and I don’t lie.”

“I know other spirits who will help us,” Konan says softly, joining them. Kiba is gripping her hand as if he’s never going to let go. “There are only a handful of us free, but I can find the strong ones.”

Obito hesitates, but—Konan was the one to give him a direction to walk, and this is no different. He nods, accepting that, and Kisame chuckles. He slings his sword across his back, then grins at Kiba, who smiles in return, and says, “It sounds like an adventure. I'm always up for one of those.”

There's still that trace of darkness in his eyes, still a flicker of something grim and sad that makes Obito think of a traitor’s death would be what I deserve, but—

There are two handprints burned into Obito's shoulder blades, one glowing red like the heart of the earth, the other green like the depths of spring in the mountains. He was buried alive but not allowed to rest, dragged himself up through hell by his fingernails to get his revenge. Fury beats a tattoo against his heart, and the whole world is crumbling away faster than he can drag it back.

One step at a time, he thinks, and breathes out. Hashirama and Madara had better be prepared for what he’s planning to do.

“Let’s go,” he says, and Kisame's hand is warm and heavy on his shoulder.