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Memories of the Future

Chapter Text

Unless we change direction, we are likely to end up where we are heading.

 Chinese Proverb

On the afternoon of a late summer day, Shikamaru was on the roof of one of the most remote buildings of the Nara compound, enjoying the breeze pushing ahead a few wispy clouds, when someone clapped loudly right beside his ear. His jump of surprise was maybe a bit undignified, but he felt he had a right to it: no sound would have betrayed any adult shinobi, but the one grinning before him looked to be his age, around six. And he doubted he was a ninja, actually ― the neon orange T-shirt was the opposite of stealthy.

Looking closer, the boy seemed familiar ― he had seen him a few times around, boisterous and flashy, usually chased by some irate villager. He wouldn’t have pegged him as someone able to be silent long enough to surprise him, though.

“Hi! I’m glad to meet you, my name is Uzumaki Naruto.”

Shikamaru eyed Naruto carefully while he responded to the greeting, “Nara Shikamaru.”

“Yeah, I know.” Naruto’s smile dimmed a bit. There was something like pain in his face, as if it hurt to look at him. Shikamaru shuffled his feet, uncomfortable under the heavy stare, and frowned.

“Ah, sorry, it’s… more difficult than I thought.” Naruto sat cross-legged with a sigh, and lowered his eyes. Shikamaru felt better being the only one standing. “Here’s the thing. I have a problem, and I need your dad’s help. But he’s busy all day, and I need to expose my problem in private. Do you think you could maybe introduce me, so that I could talk to him?”

Shikamaru was growing more and more suspicious ― a normal byproduct of being raised in a ninja clan, but then, if the intruder had bad intentions, he was really, really obvious about his approach.

“What problem?”

Naruto raised his eyes again, and there was something there, maybe sadness, maybe something else, that made Shikamaru listen.

“I’m a time-traveler. I’m from around fifteen years in the future. There was a big war, and the only way to win was to prevent it. That’s why I need your dad’s help.”

Shikamaru was staring, but again, he felt he had a right. What the fuck.

“Can you prove it?”

Naruto had a little helpless gesture.

“I came back in my old body, and I couldn’t bring anything with me. So all I have is information, okay?”

Still guarded, Shikamaru nodded. Information was good enough a currency to any shinobi. Naruto was observing his reaction with attention.

“Ok, so… There are at least four hidden paths into and out of the Nara compound, that I know of. First one…”

As he listened to Naruto explain to him details of his very home , some of which Shikamaru hadn’t even known, he felt his eyes going round. The apparent kid obviously knew the compound as well as any Nara, and if he was telling the truth, it was even possible that Shikamaru himself , at least a future version, had shown him. The idea was unsettling enough to decide Shikamaru ― it wasn’t his job to deal with complications, after all.

“Stop!” Shikamaru interrupted Naruto’s description, holding a hand as if to physically stop him. Naruto stopped. Shikamaru sighed, “What a bother.” He ignored the boy’s grin and continued, “I don’t know if I believe you yet, but that’s enough for an introduction. D’you want to come to dinner? You can talk after.”

Naruto nodded. “That would be perfect, thank you.” He gestured at where Shikamaru had been laying, the mossy slates not too hard, warmed by the sun. “Mind if I join you cloud-watching?”

Shikamaru shrugged. Maybe he had questions, but then, he would get his answers to most of them soon enough, and he might as well spare Naruto the bother of having to repeat himself.

“Feel free.” He returned to his previous position. He hesitated, but… that one was not about the maybe future war, after all. “Were we friends, in that future you come from?”

Naruto had a sad smile. “Yeah.”

He kept his silence after that, and Shikamaru kept watching clouds, but this time he wasn’t seeing them.

―――

Nara Shikaku was surprised to see his son come home soon before dinner with the demon container in tow. While he had never forbidden him to play with the kid, Shikamaru had never said anything before about making friends with him either, and his son looked a bit tense. Shikaku observed the jinchuuriki carefully, but Naruto seemed like a polite kid, quietly saying, “Thank you very much, I will”, as Yoshino offered him to stay for dinner. Unusually polite, in fact ― he had heard about the boy being a loud-mouthed brat, and this clearly didn’t match.  

Wondering about the discrepancy, Shikaku observed him covertly during the meal. Naruto was quite enthusiastic about the food, eating with an obvious gusto that was an indirect praise to the cook, making expensive gestures as he told about some prank, but he also met his own eyes more than once, in a thoughtful stare that the Nara found unsettling. Kids this age could stare alright, but there usually wasn’t that much intent in their glare. Naruto wasn’t six yet, and he looked too jaded for his age.

So when the meal came to a close, and instead of taking his leave, Naruto turned to him and seriously asked if he may speak with him for a moment, Shikaku felt compelled to give in, and followed Naruto and Shikamaru to the living room. Yoshino served the kids some hot cocoa with an approving smile to Naruto before leaving.

Naruto sat neatly, legs precisely folded but posture tense, and faced Shikaku while Shikamaru went to open the window and let the breeze cool the room a bit. And then the kid began to speak.

“In about ten years, there will be a war, a big one, largely caused by an international organization of S-ranked missing nins called the Akatsuki. They will want to collect the Bijuu to achieve an ambitious plan: peace through world domination. It worked surprisingly well for a while. We thought we would lose or win quickly, but then we… didn’t. The war went on for nearly five years. We were getting pretty desperate when we got a chance to travel back in time. And so I traveled back, along with the two other surviving jinchuuriki, to try and prevent it. Could you help?”

Shikaku prided himself on the efficiency of his mind, but it still took him a minute to digest that. Naruto looked entirely serious, grim even, and this sounded too precise for a joke, even considering that anyone would actually want to joke about such matters. Plus, the kid wasn’t supposed to know about his uninvited guest, yet talked about being a jinchuuriki with perfect ease.

“So…. You’re currently a twenty-year-old in a five-year-old body?”

“Yeah, I reached twenty a bit more than a week before the jump,” Naruto nodded, holding his eyes. He really had an unsettling gaze, extremely intense, but then, given the stakes he just described, Shikaku could maybe understand. Still. He was unconvinced.

Naruto seemed to guess his doubts. If anything, his reaction was more amused than disappointed. He added, “Ok, I know I’m shit at it, really, no need to comment…” Then he concentrated, made a hand sign Shikaku couldn’t ignore, and the shadows of the mugs on the table lengthened, with some jerks and waver. Shikaku straightened up with widened eyes while Naruto released the jutsu.

“Who taught you that?”

“Shikamaru.” Naruto was grinning.

Shikaku turned to his son, who held placating hands before his chest, “Never met him before today.”

Naruto rolled his eyes. “My own timeline’s Shikamaru, obviously.” He had a sad smile, faintly nostalgic. “By the end of the war, clan secrets didn’t mean anything ― if there was a chance it might help us win, we taught each other all we could. It still wasn’t enough, and I’ve never gotten good at that kind of thing anyway, but... It was something.”

Shikaku turned back to him, a bit more shaken than he cared to show. No one knew the Nara techniques outside the Nara clan, they made sure of that. That was a hell of a better proof than mere talk.

“Why were you the ones to… travel in time?” he asked, with fading disbelief. “For that matter, who are the two other jinchuuriki?”

“The sort of time-travel we managed is done by the Bijuu and could only take mind and chakra back, not bodies,” the kid answered instantly, giving Shikaku the impression that he had been ready for this question. Had he actually rehearsed this talk? Damn, how do you surprise a time-traveler?

“The Bijuu could take us along as their hosts, but they couldn’t take anyone else. The other two are Killer B of Kumo, brother of Ay, their Raikage, with the Hachibi, Gyuki, and Gaara of Suna, the youngest son of Rasa, their Kazekage, host to the Ichibi, Shukaku.”

Ok, THAT was far too much precision to be anything but the truth. Even Inoichi didn’t know for sure the identity of Suna’s jinchuuriki, let alone the names of the beasts ― hell, he didn’t even know they had names, and he was in Konoha’s Intelligence division. Assuming this was really Naruto and not a bizarre plan of a henged enemy, Shikaku felt chilled to the bone at the idea of the looming disaster that seemed to threaten the world. Although not right now, at least, he tried to console himself. Speaking of which…

“Why did you come back now? For that matter, when exactly did you come back?”

Naruto shrugged, fatalistic. He was playing with his spoon, his hands seemingly unable to stay still. “We couldn’t go back to before our birth. And I needed to be at least able to go where I wanted inside the village, without someone checking on me all the time, and I left the orphanage just two months ago.” He raised a helpless hand, the spoon in it adding a weird touch. “Later would have been possible, but seriously, there were things we wanted to fix from as early as this year, and we didn’t know how precise the jump would be. So we aimed for middle of summer, give or take a few weeks. I landed in this body ‘bout three weeks ago.”

That comment about “before his birth” unsettled Shikaku even a bit more ― was it even an option they considered? Just how far back exactly did history start to look messed up beyond hope?

“And you’re only talking to me now?”

Naruto’s smile was almost wicked, if a child could have such an expression, and he raised his voice just a bit. “Well, I wanted to wait for Hound to be my ANBU babysitter for the evening, since I knew Kakashi-sensei would also be interested”. He looked toward the open window ― no, beyond the window. Nothing happened, and Naruto rolled his eyes before turning back to Shikaku with a pleading look.

Without taking his eyes from the kid ― no, the young man in a kid’s body, he must not forget that ― Shikaku spoke quietly, “You’re welcome into my house, Hatake, and it seems it would be wise to share the conversation.”

The silver-haired man seemed to materialize out of thin air, but neither Shikaku nor Naruto batted an eyelash in surprise. He slowly took the porcelain mask off, and seated himself.

“Since when did you know I was following you?”

“Since you replaced Cat mid-afternoon. How is Yugao? Already with Hayate?” Naruto had a wistful smile at their reaction. “In my timeline, he died years before the war, but Yugao was still alive. There were so few survivors in the end, I got to know most of them fairly well, and when we began planning for our return to the past, they all tried to tell me something personal of them, that would help me convince their past selves if I needed it. They all wanted to save their precious people...”

Hatake seemed unsettled, noted Shikaku in passing. Right with you there, pal.

Naruto turned to Shikaku and added, almost apologetic, “I don’t know as much about you, Nara-sama, since in my timeline you’ve been dead for over two years. Most of what I know, Shikamaru told me, as he was one of the last.”

Reminded of his son, Shikaku looked at the one true kid in the room with sudden concern ― maybe this was a conversation best held without Shikamaru… but the child in question was looking at him, unfazed, with a resolute expression, and held his father’s gaze without blinking. This was his own future at stake, too, and after a moment of indecision, Shikaku decided to ask him what he wanted instead of telling him what he should do.

“Do you want to stay?”

“Yes.” The answer had been unhesitating, and while Shikaku would have liked to protect his child’s innocence a bit longer, he would not insult his intelligence by denying him the right to be there. Especially if Naruto was willing to talk anyway ― he wouldn’t be able to control anything if they chatted together without him.

Turning back to the maybe-time-traveler with a sigh, he asked directly, “Why me? I understand you needing adults to help since you’re stuck in a kid’s body, but why not go directly to the Hokage?”

Naruto’s hesitation put his already frayed nerves even more on edge, and he gripped his hands to avoid showing anything. Looking at Naruto’s own hands, he suddenly understood why the apparent kid was fidgeting with the spoon ― he was holding it like a kunai, without even noticing. So used to weapons his hands felt empty without one.

“I like Jiji, and I’m not completely against talking to him, but… not right now, not at first. For one, in my timeline, he made some mistakes, he’s not as objective as you can be, especially about Orochimaru.”

Shikaku raised a skeptical eyebrow ― that was a bullshit excuse if he ever heard one. The Third didn’t get where he was by being weak or unreliable, even concerning his former student. He would need more than that. Naruto eyed him, and conceded with a sigh.

“It would also be harder on me right now ― one of our enemies could reanimate the dead, and I’ve had to fight most of the kage, including him, so I have bad memories to deal with. I’d rather get used again to seeing him alive before talking with him. Plus, even at twenty I would have felt like a kid to him, so in this body I’m afraid he would dismiss me and anything I could advise as unimportant, even if he used the information I hold.”

An enemy who could enlist the dead into his army. Oh joy. Shikaku shivered in revulsion at the mere idea. Some things were better left buried. He nearly asked the kid about his father, after that remark on kages, but… if he was unconsciously considering even a spoon as a weapon, if he had difficulties thinking about the current Hokage, he really didn’t need more stress right now. Shikaku wouldn’t be that cruel unnecessarily. He hesitated to ask for more, but it seemed Naruto wasn’t quite finished.

“And you’re friends with Yamanaka-sama, so I thought that you could ask him to read my mind to check my story. Since you can’t just believe the word of a demon-container, I suppose.”

He looked dispirited by the idea, but Shikaku was floored by the level of trust in that simple statement. There were a lot of hardened jounin, loyal to the village, who would have felt more than nervous at the idea of Inoichi delving into their mind and looking for their dirty secrets. Shikaku himself was of course so used to the idea he didn’t even see the big deal ― Inoichi was as non-judgmental as one could get, but still, he knew of the others’ prejudices, and here Naruto was, offering his mind to be read. Judging by the slight widening of his visible eye, even Hatake was impressed.

“You’re sure? In that future that is your past, did you ever let him into your mind?”

That would have maybe explained his ease, but Naruto shook his head.

“Not him, but Ino, yes. She was a great help during the war,  coordinating our efforts. But she was killed months ago, before we even knew time-travel was possible, so she never knew I would try to jump back in time.”

Shikaku was shaken by the idea of sweet Ino, barely six, casualty of war before reaching twenty. He wondered briefly how many of the kids he knew had died in that war. Choza’s son, Shibi’s son, the Hyuuga’s cute daughter… They had already nearly lost her two years back, had her uncle sacrificed his life for a mere ten years’ delay? More?

The echoes of not-so-old grief darkened Naruto’s blue eyes for a moment, but then he continued, “You’re actually taking this a lot better than I feared. I didn’t react well to the idea, when we first had to think about it. I didn’t want to lose any more friends. But there were so many dead already, and it was only getting worse… in the end, those few left asked us to go, even if it meant they would never exist as they were. They wanted to give themselves a chance at a better life, you see.”

There was a longer moment of silence, suddenly broken by Hatake.

“You called me sensei. And you said I would be interested. Not that I’m not fascinated, but… why me?”

Naruto’s mood seemed to lift at that. Shikaku admitted to himself he was glad of the interruption ― he could use a breather after such an avalanche of revelations. And seeing the kid so down felt wrong, somehow. As if grief should have no place on this face, no matter how justified.

“You were my jounin-sensei when I became a genin and my team beat your bell test. In, wait… seven years?”

“I don’t know who had the insanely stupid idea of making me jounin-sensei, but let’s not get distracted,” he replied dryly. “Why me?”

Naruto sighed, but continued, “Because you know the true leader of the Akatsuki.” He hesitated. “And you really, really won’t like it, I’m sorry to say. Hmm, just… maybe not today?”

Hatake seemed to mull at that a moment, but let it go as Naruto continued.

“Plus, you were Acting Sixth Hokage when I jumped—”

Hatake spluttered a bit while Shikaku suddenly laughed out loud, breaking the almost reverent mood that followed the last momentous declarations. What little of Hatake’s face he could see was hilariously indignant, before he suddenly vanished as Yoshino’s head peeked through the door.

“All is well, I assume?” She was smiling, but continued with a slightly pointed look at Shikaku. “Shouldn’t Shikamaru be in bed, dear? And will Naruto-kun sleep here?”

Shikaku lifted an inquisitive eyebrow at Naruto, but the apparent kid seemed to regret having to decline. “That’s really very kind of you, Nara-sama, thank you, but I must go back tonight.”

As she was about to argue, Shikaku interrupted in a placating tone, “I’ll make sure he goes back safe, don’t worry, and Shikamaru will go to bed soon, I promise. Naruto-kun was almost finished anyway, so just a few more moments.”

His wife shrugged and let it go, disappearing back in the house.

While Hatake was coming back to sit, still a bit seething, Shikaku asked Naruto calmly, “You’re sure?”

Naruto answered, a bit despondent, “I can’t be too openly associated with you right now ― I’m supposed to be five. Maybe when Shika enters the academy, so real soon, I could have sleepovers, but you can’t be seen to house the Kyuubi's jinchuuriki without arousing suspicion.” He lifted his chin, determined. “I’ll survive, don’t worry.” A flash of a smile, far more biting than it should be. “I’ve already done it once.”

The implication of loneliness wasn’t lost to Hatake, judging by the sharpness of his sudden gaze. Shikaku carefully didn’t mention it, and continued, “I do believe you, you know. Really, I do.” Naruto’s grateful smile was much more natural this time. “But you’re right that I think it would be better if Inoichi were to confirm your story. It would help if and when you have to tell it again, as I think you may have to.” He paused briefly. It was getting late, but just knowing there would be a war was… a bit lacking in data to avoid it. “For now, I think you should indeed go home, but as food for thought ― what do you think is the most urgent matter to attend to? What exactly do you want to avoid in the nearest future?”

Naruto’s answer was swift and to the point.

“In less than two years’ time, Shimura Danzo will steal one of Uchiha Shisui’s eyes, and force Uchiha Itachi to kill his whole clan. His brother Sasuke will be left the only survivor of the Uchiha Massacre.”

The stunned silence was broken by Hatake’s quiet snarl, “Fucking Danzo!”, which Naruto seemed to approve wholeheartedly. Shikaku had never been the greatest fan of the old councillor, but if he wasn’t beyond shocked already, even he would have been surprised at that piece of news. As it was, he only felt a sort of dull disappointment.

“He didn’t leave many files to piece back together whatever happened exactly,” added Naruto almost apologetically, “but yeah, he’s been trying to discredit the whole clan for years. It’s… not exactly hard to find bad things to say about the Uchiha ― we’re not clear on the details because, well, not many witnesses to ask, but they were apparently pissed off they had a bad reputation, and wanted to overthrow the Hokage.”

Shikaku thought with horror of his jounin ― not many Uchiha, as most were in the police force, but still… Hisao was efficient and quiet, Chieko was good at teamwork and a prized scout, Norio… well, ok, he could do without Norio. He nearly shook his head in denial at his own thought ― just one pain in the ass didn’t mean the whole clan , one of the two founders, deserved to die. What the hell had Fugaku been thinking?

“I also have something to do the second week of December,” continued Naruto vaguely. He turned toward Hatake. “And I think you could be a huge help. Just the two of us would have the highest chance of success for what I have in mind.” He thought a bit, and shrugged. “That’s about all of the more or less urgent things. I’ll need more current info before the rest, and a lot will depend on that one thing anyway.”

Shikaku felt he had more than reached his quota of depressing info for the evening, and sighed as he stood up. “Ok. Thanks for the warning. Let’s think about the end of the world in our beds.” Because he would be lucky if he managed to sleep a wink tonight. He added dryly, with a glance to Hatake, “I think you already gave us more than enough reasons to want to change the future you describe.” The Hatake brat as potential Hokage. What a thought.

He looked at Naruto gravely, and added, “I won’t talk to the Hokage right now, and I’ll arrange a meeting with Inoichi for the end of the week, don’t worry. See if you can remember how five-year-olds are supposed to behave in the meanwhile.”

The wicked, gleeful smile on Naruto’s face was indeed the one he thought five-year-old Naruto might have once sported.

The time-traveler made his goodbyes, and as soon as the kids were out, Hatake got a bit closer and asked quietly, “You really believe it?”

“That you’ll make Hokage?” The joking remark was met with the glare it deserved, and Shikaku sighed. “If you have another explanation for what we just heard, I’m open to suggestions. In between, I’ll act as if it were true ― we can’t allow ourselves to treat this with anything but the utmost attention. And what I’ve heard is a battle-hardened young man mourning his friends, and trying to do right by them.” He gave a sharp look to the ANBU and added in a neutral tone, “You would be freer of your movements to help as a mere jounin, you know. Especially if you have to find two weeks of free time next winter.”

Hatake almost answered, but Shikamaru was coming back, all thoughtful, and he let his breath go unused.

“I’ll see you around, then”, and the silver-haired man was gone.

Shikaku carefully looked at his son, and went to hug him. He wasn’t usually that much of a tactile person, but right now any distance seemed wrong, and Shikamaru wasn’t protesting. He put him to his bed, and in the shadows of his room, he asked softly, “What do you think of this, Shikamaru?”

The eyes of his son were thoughtful if a bit confused, and Shikaku could relate.

“I wonder was kind of friends I was or could be with Naruto. He’s seen a twenty-year-old me, but now I’ll never see the five-year-old him, it feels unfair.”

Shikaku almost winced at the idea ― he could grieve, in some abstract way, for that Alternate Shikamaru he never met, but he would have missed his son fiercely if his future self had erased his current one. With a shadow of guilt, he thought of the time-traveler again. Who would miss five-year-old Naruto, now lost to them all?

Shikamaru’s eyes sharpened, and Shikaku recognized his too smart mind changing gears. “If Naruto wants to contact you, I’m the most obvious choice ― no one would look twice at two kids our age talking, and he’s right that when we will be in Academy together, our inviting him sometimes would be logical. It would be good cover.” There was an unvoiced plea in those words, not to be ignored and left out just because of his age, and Shikaku suppressed a sigh.

“Well, if it’s not too bothersome, then you’ll provide cover.”

There was relief in his son’s eyes, although he only said, “Goodnight, Dad.”

Shikaku smiled. “Goodnight, son.”

―――

Kakashi’s shift was supposed to end at midnight, and he had no intentions of going to bed without some more answers. He was still on light duty for at least a week following his last mission, which meant plenty of time to deal with whatever shitstorm Naruto might unleash, but he’d rather have a head start. No time like the present, he would once have said ― and likely be thought a hypocrite ― but right now he wasn’t so sure. He couldn’t get Naruto’s expression out of his head, when he had said that Kakashi knew the leader of Akatsuki and that Kakashi “really, really wouldn’t like it” .

Better rip the band-aid once and fast.

Naruto seemed sorry, but not surprised in the slightest to see the masked nin quietly jump to the floor of his apartment from the window barely minutes after coming home. He merely nodded, and began to make hand seals. Kakashi tensed in reflex until he recognized the sequence of the jutsu ― the kind ANBU used to ensure privacy. Noting his glance, Naruto smiled a little and, once done, confirmed, “Your future self taught me those.”

He settled crossed-legged on his bed, looking at Kakashi with a sad smile and a question in his eyes, and Kakashi wondered if Naruto knew what the Copy nin came here to talk with him about. He probably did, and Kakashi suppressed the urge to shift from foot to foot, suddenly feeling a bit self-conscious.

Out of contrariness, Kakashi asked another question first.

“Sensei? Really? Who the hell thought it would be a good idea to put me in charge of little kids?” he said, shoving his hands down the pockets of his pants.

A hit, that one: Naruto immediately relaxed, and laughed a little. “I don’t know, but for what it’s worth, you weren’t that bad a teacher.” At Kakashi’s skeptical stare, he insisted, “No, really. I’m not saying you were great ― you were lazy, always late, played favorite… but you also protected us, tried to teach us teamwork, and frankly out of most of the adults I know, you had probably the best excuses for not knowing what to do with three argumentative pre-teens you didn’t want to have to deal with. We got along better when I grew up, anyway.” His smile got a bit shadowed, and he added, “Although you might do me a favor and please, please never teach your Chidori to Sasuke.”

There was a story there, Kakashi was sure, more likely a hundred stories, but they didn’t have the time if he really wanted his answer tonight. He got to the point, and quietly asked, “Akatsuki’s leader?”

Naruto’s smile got fractured, but he did answer.

“You stare at his name every morning at the Memorial Stone.”

Kakashi’s breath hitched, and he felt his eyes go wide. But Naruto went on.

“Obito survived the boulder nine years ago. He was rescued by a madman with a bad grudge against humanity, and got manipulated into following his plans. He’s angry, and sad, and more than a little mad himself right now, but listen, Kakashi,” his eyes were intent, full of the kind of conviction that can move mountains. “I want to go see him this winter. I don’t want to kill him, I don’t even want to fight him. I’m entirely certain he can be convinced to change his plans, and you and I have the best chance. He needs an occasion to choose another path, and he deserves one.”

Kakashi… breathed through it. Slowly, slowly, he let himself not think too much, and kept staring at Naruto’s eyes, full of compassion and understanding. The rest of his body might look five, but his eyes were definitely older.

Turning away from Naruto when he was not able to hold his gaze anymore, Kakashi said in a voice like a rusty nail, “The shift change...”

And he was jumping from the window to the nearest roof as Naruto dispersed his wards, letting him flee without another word.

The rest of the night passed through a haze. Kakashi didn’t even try to sleep. The gray light of predawn found him in front of that cursed stone once more, and if his visible eye was redder than it should, and his mask a bit damp, no one would comment on it here. His heart was as heavy as usual, but with an ache he didn’t know how to deal with. He’d spoken to Obito countless times before, memories of what happened and regrets for what could have been, but never had he imagined he may get an answer from a living, breathing Obito.

A living Obito with a burning hatred for humanity right now, if he heard Naruto right. He couldn’t reconcile his memory of an idealistic boy with that new image. The Obito he knew had crying eyes and a bleeding heart, he would have gone out of his way to help any people he crossed. There had been much more grieving people at his memorial service than Kakashi had expected for a neglected Uchiha, and it had made him feel all the worse, to have been the only one not to realize how good a person his teammate was until it was too late.

But he knew he had to adjust his mental view, else it would be too easy, when faced with the real thing, to fall back into bad habits and speak as if to a stone or to the child he remembered. This living Obito… He had no clue who he was.

He knew from long and cynical experience that spot of mourning was great for self-reflection. As the hours passed, blessedly quiet and undisturbed, his pain slowly dulled enough to let him think. Among other things, he also realized that he, too, believed Naruto. There was still a very slight streak of mistrust last night when he followed him, but nothing else could realistically explain what happened. There wasn’t a single note in Naruto’s words that rang false, not a shred of dissimulation so far. For a fellow shinobi, such candid honesty was actually kind of worrying, if he was the same when he wasn’t desperately trying to convince people he was genuine.

But Kakashi was also clinging to Naruto’s last words: Obito could be turned back from his dark path, he was sure of it. More, he said he deserved a chance. There was still hope, and Kakashi may be shit at motivational speeches, but he would sure be practicing. Though to try and prepare himself, he really should wait for more data. The weekend couldn’t come soon enough.

 

Chapter Text

“I’ve seen the future, brother ; It is murder.”

The Future, Leonard Cohen

 

Yamanaka Inoichi wasn’t surprised to get an invitation to a “hunting party” by his long-time friend. Knowing Shikaku, he was also fully expecting it to be a pretext to laze around in the fair weather with a picnic in a nice spot of the Nara’s private stretch of forest, with any luck with some of their deer grazing around. They were beautiful beasts.

Given how few precious days of downtime he could enjoy, he was actually looking forward to their planned day of relaxation, merely regretting the absence of Choza, who was currently on a diplomatic mission. So when the expected short trip in the mid-morning to a clearing with decadently comfy cushions and lots of delicious food packed for later failed to relax Shikaku even the slightest bit, he felt himself begin to tense in response.

“Sorry, Ino,” Shikaku’s smile was fleeting, and Inoichi sat a bit straighter to give him his full attention. “We’re waiting for more guests. I’m afraid this day isn’t going to be as fun for either of us as we might want.”

Inoichi stared a moment, then snorted.

“It’s ok. It’s not as if this would be our first private briefing. Dangerous mission?”

Shikaku’s quiet laugh was less reassuring than he might have hoped.

“Oh, you have no idea. Dangerous life, but then, we knew when we signed. Interesting times coming ahead.” He sighed. “I might as well give you a bit of a heads-up: we have an informant with extremely vital information, which he got from extremely unconventional means, and he suggested you checked his mind to be sure we can trust him. Now, for the record, I already have enough cause to believe his story, beyond any of my doubts, but you’re even harder to fool about this kind of thing than I am.”

Inoichi had to admit he was surprised: hidden briefings weren’t unheard of, but someone volunteering to get their mind read was even rarer. And by Shikaku’s nervous and secretive behavior, the information in question had to be really, really golden. He felt his curiosity rise, like a cat about to be fed meowing after the full plate.

They didn’t have to wait for long before they were joined by their guests. Rising to his feet, Inoichi thought he hid his surprise well, but seeing their infamous Copy Nin look so lost was unheard of. He was usually either dead serious in ANBU mode or lazing around trolling people with his damn porn and fake smiles, not this strange kind of untethered. Well, if he got hot info from “unconventional means” as Shikaku delicately phrased, it might account for that.

He was so focused on Hatake, he barely noticed at first the blond kid walking around the clearing, deposing… papers? What? He felt his eyes go round as the Kyuubi’s’ human vessel made a series of hand seals and activated what seemed to be wards.

Shikaku looked on calmly, waiting for Naruto to finish.

“All went well? No problem leaving your apartment discreetly?”

“Yeah, we got out alright, I left a clone, no one will miss me.” He turned to Inoichi with a guarded, but slightly hopeful expression. “Hello, Yamanaka-sama. I don’t think you’ve officially met me yet, though I guess you know who I am. Just to be clear, I also know exactly who I am ― I know both about my parents and about the Kyuubi. He’s not that bad, by the way.”

While Inoichi digested that piece of information and began to wonder if maybe the Kyuubi was their source, Shikaku looked mightily interested.

“Really? How is he like, if not “that bad”, as you said?”

“Well, kind of a grumpy ball of fur. His name is Kurama, he plays the old man and insults anyone he finds offensive ― so basically anyone ― but I like him.” There was a fond look on Naruto’s face, before he added, “He was even angrier in the beginning, and he can still be pretty harsh, but he’s got my back, saved me several times, and he’s really smart when he bothers thinking. He’s sleeping a lot these days, though, the jump back in time exhausted him. Or so he says.” Naruto’s voice had gone a bit dubious on this last.

...The what ? Did Inoichi heard that right?

Naruto met his eyes as he said, “In around ten years, the Fourth Shinobi World War begins. It’s pain and destruction, and as the death toll kept climbing for years, we knew we were losing. Hell, by that time even winning wouldn’t have been worth the cost. To prevent it, I went back in time, along with two other jinchuuriki. I’m twenty, but I’m stuck in my five-year-old body. Nearly six, ok, but still. It kinda sucks.”

Inoichi stole a glance at Shikaku and Hatake, but their faces gave no clues.

“...Okay. I can see why you might want me to check. Hmm. Have you done this kind of thing before?” he asked cautiously.

“Yeah, not my first time,” Naruto’s answer came with a grin, and he sat down on a cushion and made himself comfortable with practiced moves, before returning an expectant gaze to Inoichi.

He carefully lowered himself on his own cushion and checked his surroundings. Hatake and Shikaku were both keeping an eye open in case of any danger, so Inoichi relaxed a bit and lightly put one of his hands on his own forehead and another on Naruto’s.

“I’ll begin, then.”

He usually tended to be delicate when dealing with willing participants so as not to startle them, but he was even more careful considering who he didn’t want to disturb this time. A mindscape was emerging around him, brighter than he expected after hearing of the war Naruto supposedly lived through. It actually wasn’t that far from the clearing their physical selves were in, with old trees and mossy roots, the running whisper of a small stream, a pond covered in white and rosy lotus. On the side was a huge cave, with a paper written on the barred door, and he could barely see the huge form of the sleeping Kyuubi in its shadows.

On the side of the cave was a young man with three whiskers-like marks on each cheek and a bright grin, meeting his eyes just as directly here as he did in the physical world mere moments before.

“Hi, Yamanaka-san.”

“You weren’t kidding about you age,” answered Inoichi faintly.

Naruto shrugged. “Nor about the rest”. He gestured at the pond. “Here are my memories. Help yourself.”

“Flowers,” Inoichi was amused. “How apt.”

He knelt near the pond and brushed his hand against the nearest flower.

The blurry face of an old man bent towards him, with a kind smile… Inoichi felt amused by the difference in height; he wasn’t used to seeing his Hokage from that angle.

Hurt, but no physical pain ― hateful glares toward him ― shouts after a prank turned wrong… the memory of soul-deep loneliness was likely from around his current physical age, and Inoichi felt a pang of sympathy for the jinchuuriki’s burden. He moved on.

A bright hope, determination, the image of a scroll ― fear, anguish, fight, and the face of a traitor ― triumph, shock, and pride, the face of a teacher… Wait, Taju Kage Bunshin at twelve? What the hell was that kid? At least he had graduated... A comforting note after the last memory, Inoichi carefully left the flower and went on to the next.

A team of top-of-the-class resenting the dead last, a pink-haired fangirl and a sulking Uchiha, a masked sensei with a bored attitude … Inoichi felt a bit of horror, not at the memory itself but its context. Naruto knew that Sasuke’s family was dead, and that knowledge clashed with Inoichi’s reality. He had met both of the Uchiha brothers, and there was almost nothing left in the Sasuke in that memory of the innocent boy he remembered trailing after his older brother.

Inoichi sifted through memory after memory, shielding himself from their emotional impact by sheer habit, while Naruto was idly sitting near the cage of the Kyuubi. He couldn’t absorb a whole life in bare moments, but what he saw was more than enough to get the gist of it. Actually with more details than he might have wished for, sometimes.

Even in the physical world, Inoichi knew he wouldn’t see Naruto as just a kid anymore. He may have been forced to grow up too much, too quickly, but grow up he did, and he deserved to be respected as a fully adult shinobi. He had earned it the hard way.

Inoichi kept going through the steadily worsening memories of an ongoing war, not always in strictly chronological order, until the searing image of his own daughter’s death, oh HELL NO, and the horror of it burnt his hands and shocked him back into his own body. He emerged with a gasp, and turned to an attentive Shikaku with a plea.

“Please, tell me you packed some sake.”

Shikaku found the bottle and gave him a cup without a word, while Naruto grimaced and offered, “Sorry? I guess I should have warned you more.”

Inoichi was still shaken, but he waved his apologies aside, and answered after swallowing, “No, don’t worry. It wouldn’t have been that much better, really”. He thought back about what he had just learned, and felt a bit faint at the enormity of it. He remembered the Third World War all too well, and he had hoped, really hoped, that his kid wouldn’t have to go through that. Instead he just saw she would have been so much worse off than Inoichi himself ever was. Despite his precautions, the feeling of crushing defeat, of hopelessness, was lingering in his mind, and he finished his cup with another shudder. He forced himself to focus again on the positive: Naruto had managed to undo the future, and they got another chance. Inoichi would be damned if he didn’t seize it with both hands.

He let out a long, drawn-out sigh. “Ok. I’m convinced. Any idea how to avoid that?”

Shikaku let out his breath abruptly, with a look of resignation, and Inoichi wondered if despite his words his friend hadn’t kept at least a little doubt in his heart, a hope the future wasn’t so bleak a failure.

Shikaku turned his eyes to Naruto, intent, and asked, “Before anything, I have to wonder if it’s worth it to alter the timeline too far, too fast. The further it goes from your own timeline, the harder it will be to predict your opponent’s moves.”

Naruto held his eyes and flatly stated, “Fuck the timeline. It’s already been tried once, and I know where it leads. No way I’m going through that another time.” The conviction in his words spoke of a lifetime of grief, and Inoichi ached again thinking of the memories he just saw. Not even a lake of sake would ever be enough to drown those images.

Naruto sighed and flopped on his back, looking comfortable against his cushion but with a frown creasing his brow. “But you have a point. I will likely have a window of opportunity at the beginning of this winter, and I’d rather not miss it by changing things too much before then ― it’s that mission I told you about, y’see. I want to meet the leader of Akatsuki and try to change his mind. It’s been done before, though I’d rather not say how right now, and I’m sure it can be done again.”

Shikaku raised his eyebrows a bit and remarked, “By your own account, it wasn’t enough to derail the war.”

“No, it was too late by then, things were already too far gone and there were… other interested parties with less morality left. Or at all.”

Shikaku frowned. “Who is this leader, really? You didn’t mention his name last time.”

Naruto grimaced, but answered, “Uchiha Obito. He’s not dead.”

Shikaku stared at Naruto for a second, shocked into disbelief, and shared a look with Inoichi. Both of them turned troubled eyes to Kakashi, who didn’t meet their gaze, but told the air, “Don’t look at me like that, I asked three days ago.”

Naruto continued, “And I suppose that’s as good a beginning as any for that story. He was saved by Uchiha Madara, who wasn’t dead either at that time…”

Noon had come and gone during Naruto’s narration. His three listeners being suspended to his every word seemed to make him a bit uncomfortable, if Inoichi judged by his occasional squirming, but he persisted.

“... After the jump, I contacted Gaara and Killer B. They are both fine, Killer B informed his brother Ay and Yugito, the Nibi jinchuuriki, in Kumo, and Gaara told his siblings and Takeshi, a jounin in Suna. See, that’s also what I meant with the timeline: with three of us doing changes, it’s bound to diverge anyway. Especially with Gaara. The first time around he had a defective seal and couldn’t sleep or else Shukaku would rampage and kill his own people. There was no way he was going to let it happen this time.”

Shikaku frowned, then asked, “Wait, how did you contact them without alerting anyone?”

“... After the meal?” Naruto’s pleading voice had an edge of true hunger, and Inoichi wondered if food was a problem for the kid. He was aware of the villager’s prejudice, much more so now than before, but if they didn’t even let him get groceries properly...

Shikaku looked a bit guilty, and unwrapped the food. There was a lot of it, as Yoshino was used to deal with Choza’s appetite. Given the enthusiastic way Naruto was digging in, there wouldn’t be too much leftover to pack. For a five-year-old body, it was quite impressive.

After the meal, Inoichi remarked, “I didn’t get that far in your memories. How did you discover time-travel was a possibility?”

Naruto shrugged, looking a bit uneasy. “Does it matter? We did.”

Inoichi lifted a silent eyebrow at the obvious evasion, but didn’t press when Naruto pretended not to notice it.

Meanwhile, Shikaku reminded Naruto of his earlier question.

“Ah, yes, communication. See, all the Bijuu have access to a shared mental space, sort of a common mindscape, where they can all go with their human partner if the Jinchuuriki is willing. Since Killer B, Gaara and me, we’re in phase with Gyuki, Shukaku and Kurama, we can go there, too, to discuss with the others, Bijuu or human. Killer B is training Yugito with Matatabi to help her come there, too. Furball has been speaking with all the other Bijuu, so they all know more or less what happened, and they’re all willing to cooperate.”

Kakashi had a sort of incredulous guffaw, “FURBALL? You’re the host of the most powerful of the Bijuu, and you call him Furball ??”

Shikaku looked as if he was ready to purr. “Oh, the possibilities…”

Naruto had a sterner look, and warned them in all seriousness, “ I can call him that. Don’t you dare try until you’ve earned the right.”

Inoichi was amused by how Shikaku and Hatake both straightened up and lost their grins.

Naruto finally looked at Inoichi with a bit of resignation. “I’m not really sure about the rest of my memories, but I’m not sure what you saw and I can’t say they might not be relevant, so… want to go again?”

Inoichi sat straighter, resolute. “I’d be honored.”

He returned to Naruto’s mindscape with a bit more confidence than the last time, and promptly lost said confidence upon seeing a few excerpts of the last of Naruto’s memories before his jump. He understood better why Naruto didn’t want to discuss it openly. Those memories could be dangerous . But he had to agree with Naruto ― Obito deserved a chance.

He emerged from the memories extremely unsettled, and took a few moments to compose himself. Naruto let him be, but stopped him when he prepared to leave, with a too innocent smile.

“Wait. Since you’re here, I might as well introduce you…” He turned to the cave, where Inoichi saw with apprehension that the Kyuubi was fully awake, with a grin full of teeth. Upon closer look, the writing on the paper was not a seal, it was his name , and to Inoichi’s instinctive horror Naruto opened the obviously unlocked door cheerfully.

“Hey, slept well, Furball?”

Fuck off, Brat. You’re not the one who had to power through a jump over a decade back. Go back and let me nap .”

Despite the harshness of the words, the deep voice was more gruff than angry, and when Naruto ignored his words and went to scratch the black patch of fur between his eye and his ear, the monster half-closed his eyes in contentment.

“Kurama, Yamanaka Inoichi.”

Inoichi wasn’t sure what the etiquette was here, but he didn’t dare ignore the Bijuu who kept one eye on him, and he took a step forward. “Hello, Kurama-sama.”

The Kitsune fixed him a long moment, unblinking, then he stood and slowly got out of his cave, as even the open door disappeared from the mindscape. He seemed to grow taller as he moved, each tail sweeping lazily after him, and he yawned widely, making a show of it.

Despite the urge to recoil, Inoichi locked his legs and didn’t step back, resisting the impulse to get the hell out of this mind, reminding himself of some glimpses of Naruto’s memories. The creature ― no, Kurama ― stretched, then resettled himself with his snout on his front paws, one tail slightly curled around Naruto, who had an indulgent smile for the display.

Yamanaka Inoichi. It’s been a while. Pleasure to meet you again. ” The Kyuubi’s voice was echoing and rumbling, but his tone surprisingly polite, and Inoichi was tired. He didn’t think before blurting

“You’re different than I thought.”

Kurama answered with a lazy smile, “ And you’re not as I remember. Let’s say it makes us even.

Inoichi looked again at the huge beast with too many teeth, and didn’t try to argue. He bowed more formally. “I’m honored to meet you.”

Indeed you are, Inoichi ,” retorted Kurama.

The Kyuubi gave a nudge to Naruto and said, “ There. Introductions done. Now go back, Brat, you have a lot of things to do and I have a lot of naps to sleep yet .”

“Lazy old bastard,” smiled Naruto, before disappearing.

Inoichi was expecting the mindscape to fade along with Naruto’s presence, but it stayed strong and sharp, and Kurama turned huge, serious eyes of a fiery red toward him.

Sunshine may be optimistic about this whole deal, but I am more cautious. And not quite so forgiving. Beware not to betray his trust, Yamanaka Inoichi. It is too easily given .”

“Sunshine?” managed to say Inoichi in a slightly strangled voice.

Kurama snorted. “ Just wait. You’ll see what I mean soon enough. Off with you, now.

There was a slight mental shove, a feeling of disorientation, and Inoichi was staring at Naruto’s curious face. He took a deep breath, and released it slowly. Shikaku was observing him closely, with what only his long association with the man allowed him to recognize as worry. He wasn’t sure he could manage a reassuring smile right now, though. He focused on what he learned.

“I think it’s enough info for today.”

Shikaku waited a moment to see if he had anything to add, before turning to Hatake and Naruto.

“Alright, now what? Do either of you have specific plans beside going after Obito in a few months and hoping for the best?”

“Maa, not yet.” Hatake was usually good at playing indifferent, but he didn’t completely pull it off. More seriously, he added, “I have thought about resigning from ANBU, but I was waiting for more information before deciding.” Turning to Naruto with a calculating eye, he continued, “What do you think? I won’t be able to babysit you anymore, as you put it.”

Naruto had a vague gesture of the hand, a bit like getting rid of something, and replied, “I’m supposed to lose my guard after entering the Academy anyway ― something about supervision not being necessary if it’s just to watch me sleep.”

“Speaking of guard, the next shift is due soon. It’s Shisui,” added Hatake.

Lifting an eyebrow at the innocent-looking Hatake, Naruto replied dryly, “What a coincidence.” More pensively, he continued, “What do you think? Should we tell him? I never met him that I remember, he died when I was in the Academy. I can’t guess how he would react, but it’s his life next on the line, there, I feel he might have a right to know.”

Hatake looked at the not-kid approvingly. “He’s a bit too reckless for his own good, but loyal to a fault to his friends. I think you’ll like him. He tends to be overly dramatic, though.”

With a flash of teeth, Naruto chipped in, “So he’s an Uchiha, alright.”

Hatake rolled his eye while Shikaku sniggered. Inoichi tried not to react ― seeing Naruto’s memories had given him a whole new appreciation of what “dramatic” could mean in relation to Uchiha.

“And yes, I think it would be a good idea to tell him. If I leave ANBU, you would do better with an eye still inside.”

“It brings the question of who exactly you want to tell about your time-travel, though,” Inoichi intervened. “The more people you tell, the easier it might be for you to live with it, but the harder it makes keeping it a secret at large. It’s not even a question of loyalty, it’s just too easy to slip up in front of the wrong person or be a tad too careless. Shimura Danzo is no small fry, you know his methods firsthand. We can’t be sure of any privacy inside the village.”

Naruto considered that a second, but nodded. “I have better wards than even ANBU, so it might not be quite impossible, at least in specific places, but it makes it an ever better idea to inform him now. Perfect occasion to do it outside the range of prying ears, and at least with you here he wouldn’t have as much reason to doubt me. Let’s make the most of the day.” Turning to Hatake, he asked, “Could you lead him here, then? You would just have to tell my kage bunshin.”

Hatake nodded, and was gone the next instant.

With uncharacteristic hesitancy, Shikaku asked Naruto, “I think it would also help us to inform Choza. I don’t know how well you know him…”

Naruto shook his head. “Barely. I know he’s a friend of the both of you and you formed one hell of a team ― you still do here and now, I suppose ― but he died a couple of months after you two in my timeline, covering a retreat. Choji was killed about a week earlier, so I couldn’t ask him.”

Inoichi winced at the thought. Choji’s death might well have been the reason why Choza didn’t survive that retreat. With both of his teammates and his son gone, he wouldn’t have been in the best of places.

“Well, he’s also the current head of one of the four noble clans, so to deal with any political aspects, I think he might be able to offer useful suggestions. Plus, like you said, Cho knows me and Ino very well: he would guess there was something off if we tried to lie about it.” continued Shikaku.

“Fine by me,” Naruto acquiesced. ”Tell him whatever you want.”

Shikaku looked relieved, and Inoichi could understand. Having to lie to the Hokage would be hard enough ; dealing with the aftermaths of these revelations would be easier as a team. He saw better why Naruto might want to tell more people ― that kind of secret was too heavy a burden to carry alone.

“There’s also the matter of Academy. It starts next week. I have two worries, there. How much of what I know should I show, and should I maybe tell my teacher? It would be easier to fake whichever grades I want with Iruka-sensei’s cooperation.”

Inoichi was beginning to see what Kurama meant about Naruto’s easy trust. Shikaku was looking at Naruto curiously.

“It depends on you, really. How much do you trust that teacher, and how good were you at school the first time around?”

“A lot, and not at all,” was the slightly pained answer. “I think Iruka-sensei would be a bigger help knowing, really.” He had a self-deprecating smile. “I’m not that good a liar anyway. Most adults aren’t likely to notice anything’s wrong because I’m not close to any, but Iruka-sensei cared, he’s more likely to feel something’s wrong, and if he doesn’t get an answer, he’ll look for it. I was dead last of my class the first time around.”  

Inoichi’s eyebrows climbed against his will. “How so? You managed Taju Kage Bunshin at twelve and you did that bad in class?”

Shikaku looked both surprised and interested by that piece of news.

Naruto laughed and rubbed his head, and said, “I’m not much of a reader.” He lifted his chin a bit defiantly, and added, “Plus I was shit at chakra control. It took me the longest time to master, ’cause I have too much of it to wield it easily, see,” he grinned. “Even now, I can’t do simple clone, you know. I’m always using the Kage Bunshin form ― since it uses more chakra, it’s easier for me.”

Avoiding the thought of a lonely Naruto trying to learn with bad reading skills due to lack of any parental help, and the hidden handicap of his too vast chakra reserves, Inoichi suggested, “In that case it may indeed be a good idea to get your teacher’s help, so that you may skip on all the basic stuff you already know, and concentrate on your own studies.”

“Assuming you want to go to the Academy at all,” Shikaku suggested, seemingly idly. “You don’t have to become a shinobi in this life too, after all. You may want to skip it altogether.”

Naruto looked horrified at the idea, then briefly considering. “No, I want to do it. It’s all I’ve ever wanted for so long, and anyway not going would come with a lot of other problems. Jiji accepted for me to have my own apartment on the condition I went to the Academy in the fall. Plus, really, right now all jinchuuriki are shinobi. If I wasn’t I’d become a target sooner rather than later.”

“Well, then you may want to tell your teacher you time-traveled, without giving him as many details. For that matter, if you really wish both to give Obito a fair chance, and to tell other people about your time-jump, you may want to skip a lot of your story next time you have to retell it. The more people know, the harder they will find to forgive him.”

Their conversation was interrupted by the arrival of Hatake.

“He’s right behind me. 50 ryo he’ll think genjutsu first,” he announced cheerfully.

Shikaku smirked, but didn’t take the bet.

―――

Shisui knew that chores were mostly assigned to newbies in any organization, and ANBU was no exception, so he wasn’t surprised to be put on babysitting duty this lovely afternoon. And he could acknowledge the need to keep an eye on the Kyuubi’s container, even if he wasn’t entirely detached from the resentment of his family toward the monster. Plus, he had heard about the kid’s tendency to pull off inventive pranks, so maybe it wouldn’t be quite as boring as he was expecting. But still. He couldn’t understand why Kakashi-senpai, who should have been well above such chores, kept requesting that particular one when not allowed on more demanding duty.

So as Shisui was jumping from rooftop to rooftop to his assigned post, he was planning how to ask that question in a somewhat diplomatic fashion. Diplomacy wasn’t his forte, he always found politics boring. He should have asked Itachi, his friend was so much more apt at that sort of things, despite being two years younger. Perks of being a genius, maybe. But he should maybe wait for him to join ANBU before asking. One had to really know Kakashi to realize what a pain he might be to communicate with.

He wasn’t surprised not to see his senpai, and he patiently waited to be contacted while observing his target through the window. The kid seemed to be merely reading, looking bored out of his mind.

“Yo!”

Shisui turned his head at the soft hailing, to see his senpai giving him that eye-smile of his. Should he be worried about the sort of gleeful edge he could sense around Kakashi?

“Nothing special to report, he’s all yours, bye!”, and he was gone with a cheerful wave of the hand. Damn. There went his chance. He didn’t have the time to dwell on it as the kid dropped his book on the bed, and went out of his apartment, then out of the building.

Shisui shadowed him to the outskirts of the town, perplexed by the sudden burst of activity. Naruto seemed to have a precise goal in head, going by his determined pace, but what the hell did he have to do in the forest? And if he had to go, why that particular stretch? If Shisui wasn’t mistaken, he was on the Nara land, and he didn’t think pulling a prank on any Nara would end well…

And then he saw the kid step into a clearing, purposefully striding toward himself , what the hell was happening? He barely registered the presences of Nara Shikaku, Yamanaka Inoichi and Kakashi, before the kid he was following dispelled in a puff of smoke, and the remaining Naruto stared right at him as if he didn’t even use a concealment jutsu. He beckoned him with a cheerful wave strangely reminiscent of Kakashi. Shisui wondered a moment if this wasn’t his senpai’s version of a prank.

“Oi, Shisui-kun! Come down here, you’ll want to hear this,” called Shikaku.

Well, his cover was already obviously busted anyway. Might as well obey the Nara on his own territory… Shisui took off and carefully hid his mask before dispelling his jutsu, no need to be even more compromised than he already was.

As he walked into the clearing, he noticed that Kakashi was looking pleased with himself, obviously tracking his reaction. Damn, was it a test? Did he pass?

“Pleased to meet you, Uchiha-san”, began Naruto, eyeing Shisui curiously. “I am Uzumaki Naruto, son of Uzumaki Kushina and Namikaze Minato, jinchuuriki of the Kyuubi, and now time-traveler from around fifteen years in the future. What do you need to believe me?” He looked at him expectantly.

What.

Shisui’s eyes slowly went to Kakashi, who was looking entertained, then Shikaku, looking amused, then Inoichi, looking sympathetic. He tried desperately to tell himself it was a joke of some sort, but. What.

He disrupted his chakra to dispel genjutsu. Okay, nothing but Kakashi looking disappointed. Shisui activated his Sharingan, and Naruto held his gaze firmly. That wasn’t so unusual in kids, but few adults ever held the eyes of an Uchiha, and almost none when their Sharingan was visible, so Shisui felt faintly surprised.

“If you could avoid that, Kyuubi really doesn’t like the freaky eyes and you really don’t want him to get angry here.”

Shisui immediately deactivated it with a dry throat and a feeling of ice along his spine. He had it long enough anyway to check that everyone’s chakra here looked normal except for the kid’s. Jinchuuriki, alright.

Ok, let’s try going with the flow. He began with the most obvious question.

“...Why and how did you travel in time?”

“Because there was a world war causing really extreme levels of destruction going on. We jumped when all seemed lost and time-travel was the only remaining option to try to fix this fuck up, “we” being me and two other jinchuuriki, seeing as only the Bijuu can go back in time that far.”

Shisui wasn’t sure how it was possible, but Naruto was managing fine to make a daring escape from the end of the world sound like a completely mundane event. It felt like he was quickly becoming tired of having to explain himself.

“Why are you telling me in particular?” Shisui glanced at the Yamanaka and the Nara, wondering the same about them.

“Because in my timeline you died towards the end of next year, after getting one eye stolen and giving the other one to your friend Itachi, triggering a chain of events that ended with him exterminating your clan in less than two years. We thought it would be cool to avoid that,” answered Naruto promptly.

What. Again.

Shisui felt as if his mind was desperately trying to cling to disbelief, but it was becoming harder by the moment. He was ANBU for damn’s sake, he was supposed to be able to withstand torture, why the hell had no one warned him it would be so much harder to receive information than to try not to reveal it?

Inoichi took pity on him and gave him the cup of sake he had thoughtfully poured while Naruto was talking. Shisui took it with relief and drank it in one go. He breathed a few times, slowly, trying to keep his distance from that info, trying to stay analytical and act as if this wasn’t about him or his family. After all, there were biggest stakes, here.

“Okay. I’m really cool with avoiding that, please , could you just maybe explain a bit more?”

With a sigh, Naruto launched into a description of the Uchiha massacre, its roots and its consequences for the Uchiha. He touched lightly on the ensuing war, and his time-travel. Shisui listened as if… well, as if his life depended on it.

“...So I got back in time with Gaara, Shukaku’s host, and Killer B, Gyuki’s host. Since all the four Uchiha we knew in the future were at one moment or another opponents in that war, the other two weren’t too keen on avoiding the massacre, to be honest, but… I knew Sasuke before he went to Orochimaru for power, and he… wasn’t that bad. We were teammates once, and in honor of that I wanted to avoid the death of his family.”

Shisui was looking at Naruto, but he wasn’t seeing him. Instead he was seeing the pictures his words had evoked. His Itachi, stretched between two loyalties until he snapped. Sweet Sasuke, Itachi’s pride and joy, turned into a ruthless murderer. Fuck, Sasuke was six . He had seen him yesterday. What the hell was Fugaku thinking, plotting against the Hokage?! Didn’t he know he had a family to protect first?

Shisui breathed deeply, and centered himself. All was not lost yet , that was the whole point of that time-travel thing. He tried to think.

“So, you just told me Councilor Shimura would steal my Mangekyo. But I haven’t awoken it yet, so I’m still in the clear, right?”

Naruto nodded, looking interested. “There were no witnesses of when you might have gotten it, so we weren’t sure, but yeah, he would have attacked next year, somewhere mid-December. Your death was recorded in the files as the 22th, but since there was no recovered body, we’re not sure of the date.”

Shisui tried not to shiver at the idea of his own corpse, but he felt a bit numb. A year. He was supposed to have barely more than a year left to live. He was thirteen, for fuck’s sake. But… If he awoke those eyes, and if it could prevent Shimura ever getting a hand on them...

Naruto narrowed his eyes, and spoke with an edge of exasperation. “You already did that once ― no, dying is not a solution there, why the hell can’t any Uchiha ever think about something else? What is wrong with your whole clan of drama queen that makes talking about peaceful resolution of conflicts so hard? Even Madara managed it for a while before he went crazy, it can’t be that impossible, for Sage’s sake!”

“I wouldn’t have done anything!” protested Shisui.

Shisui felt his face getting a bit hotter as he was being chastised ― Shikaku, Inoichi and Kakashi were all staring at him, with various degrees of alarm, and he hadn’t even said anything, that was so unfair. He hadn’t even finished maybe, possibly , thinking it. He cleared his throat, and spoke in a slightly wavering voice.

“Right. Ok, less dying, more talking. What can I do? How can I help?”

The others were a bit slow to react, Kakashi was still looking at him with worry, and he held his eye a bit defiantly. Damn, he wouldn’t have done it. Not with such a forewarning, he wouldn’t have. Shikaku spoke first.

“For now, I think the best would be, one, to collect whatever info you can about Root and its members, and two, to gather more about this possible coup and how to stop it. But please be careful ― you’re more use alive than dead, with or without the thing with the eyes.”

Inoichi intervened. “This is partly a public relationship problem ― if Shimura is poisoning the minds of the other villagers with rumors and whispers, he must be fought on the same field. And if your clan is getting more bitter about it, you’re in the better place to change their minds from the inside.”

Shisui digested that. He didn’t really feel fit for that kind of task, but if he was the only one who could do it, he would have to learn.

“Ok. Talking, I can totally talk. And no going alone at night with creepy eye-collector, promise.”

They spent the rest of the afternoon talking about various ways of mending the fracture between the Uchiha and the village. Naruto taught them quickly about some of his wards, and gave them the appropriate seals, so that they might speak in private when necessary. The sun was getting low in the sky when Shikaku called an end to their meeting with a sigh.

“We should go, Yoshino will get mad if we’re late.” He gave Naruto the leftovers of their lunch, gathered their few belongings, and turned to leave.

Inoichi waved them goodbye. “Hatake, Uchiha. Naruto. See you soon!”

“Just Kakashi,” said Kakashi suddenly.

“And Shisui,” added his kohai.

“Inoichi, then.” The man was smiling, tired but approving, and left with Shikaku, the latter giving a lazy wave as goodbye.

After their departure, Shisui turned to Naruto curiously. “When I came first, you didn’t just know I was there, you knew exactly where. How did you do it?”

Naruto shrugged. “Senjutsu, more or less. I wasn’t actually in Sage Mode then, but the training sharpened my senses a lot, the war even more so, and I can usually feel people’s chakra when they’re near, even if they try to hide it. When in Sage Mode, I can feel it much more clearly and from much farther away, of course.”

Shisui tried not to stare. “...Sorry. It’s a bit hard to realize your talents while in that body. I’ll try to be more heedful and not underestimate you.”

Naruto looked at him with a surprised, pleased expression, and grinned suddenly. “It’s not that bad. Plus, you’ll have to treat me like a kid if we happen to meet in the village anyway, so I guess it’s for the best if you can sometimes forget that I’m not.”

As Shisui was looking at him, another idea came to his mind. He tried to remember their conversation as precisely as possible.

“Can I ask you something? You said you came back in time with Gaara, host to Shukaku, and Killer B, host to Gyuki, right?”

Naruto acquiesced with a expectant face. Shisui wasn’t sure how to ask, so he plunged ahead.

“Well… if those are the names of the Ichibi and the Hachibi… what is the name of the Kyuubi?”

Naruto raised his eyebrows as he answered. “Kurama. His name is Kurama.” He was looking at Shisui with a weird look, and Shisui tried not to squirm. “...You’re the first one to ever ask , you know.”

Not knowing how to react to the not-compliment that sort of felt like one, Shisui looked at Kakashi for clues.

Kakashi had stayed mostly silent during all the afternoon, digesting information, most likely. But he asked seriously, “What do you want me to do now, Naruto?”

Naruto looked daunted at the idea that Kakashi was actually asking him.

“I don’t know? I said we planned for this in the future, but most of the planning was about who to contact first depending on when we managed to land, and trying to get the timeline of our actual lives right to see what extra good we might do, besides prevent the apocalypse, which isn’t likely to be even that hard. Since we hope the timeline will diverge from our own, the info we have will become less useful ― we can’t even rely on knowing the people involved if we manage to change their lives past recognition.”

He fell silent for a few moments, and went on more slowly, “If you want to know what could be most useful, what we missed the most, either right now or… later, if we succeed, there were two things, mainly. One, training your Mangekyo for speed ― Kamui is a hell to counter, and if nothing else it could save our asses against Obito. And it’s a fucking monster of a chakra drain, especially at the beginning, so please, please be careful, I don’t want to travel alone come winter just because you exhausted yourself in training.”

His eyes were haunted as they pierced Kakashi, and Shisui wondered what ghosts he hadn’t met yet in the young man’s past. Damn, not so young, he mustn’t forget Naruto was the oldest one, here, even if only by a few weeks.

“And two, researching fuinjutsu, especially cursed seals. I never had enough time or resources to do it, but you were gifted in most seals and they would have come in really handy more than once if you knew them better or earlier. They were a specialty of Orochimaru, and after Jiraiya’s death we didn’t have anyone to efficiently counter him. Plus, Obito currently has one on the heart, and that’s going to be a bitch to lift…”

“...What?” said Kakashi, deadly soft.

“I said Madara was a manipulator with a grudge, right? There’s a cursed seal on Obito’s heart right now to prevent betrayal, in the future you actually lifted it without meaning to by using Raikiri to pierce his heart, but I’m positive you’d rather avoid it this time.”

“Right,” was the faint answer. Kakashi actually looked sick, and Shisui took pity and shifted the topic.

“Speaking of various Uchiha ― what can you tell me about the Mangekyo I’m supposed to have developed in your timeline?”

“Well, it was some sort of mind-control thing. From what I gathered, it made it impossible to resist a command. I’m sorry, I’m not any good at genjutsu and there wasn’t any Uchiha left around to ask for details, so I’m not much help there, I don’t know more.”

“Right.” And maybe as soon as his Mangekyo got activated they would be a step closer to that tragedy. “Suddenly I’m much less eager to get it. Sharingan is more than enough anyway, I can do without Mangekyo.”

Naruto was looking at him with a strange kind of horror. “You mean that you wanted to get it before now?”

“Er… Yes?” Why did Shisui feel as if he was giving a wrong answer at an exam he didn’t know about?

“Which of your friends did you want to see die for it?”

The question was all the more cutting for not being judgemental, and Shisui felt a strange sense of vertigo at it. He had always been told power was to be sought, the Mangekyo was a mark of the Uchiha’s might and thus to be revered and wanted, those very few who had it were held as examples to be envied, not… pitied for their losses. He hadn’t ever had the occasion to dwell on how they got it. This time it was Kakashi who saved him from having to answer.

“I’ll tend my resignation from ANBU to the Hokage tomorrow. Shikaku is right, I’ll get more free time this way, and since he’s the jounin commander he can make sure I’ll be able to go with you if and when you need me too. Let’s hope it doesn’t change the timeline too much for what you had in mind?...”

Naruto looked uncertain. “I really don’t know. The window of opportunity I was talking about is a period of time where Obito is supposed to be tired and more receptive, somewhere else than at the Mountain’s Graveyard. If he’s in top form, he’ll flee with Kamui. If he’s at Mountain’s Graveyard, it’s too close to the Gedo Mazo and Black Zetsu’s influence. If the timeline is not altered too far, he should be resting in River country, which would be perfect: it’s near enough to get there fast, there’s an Akatsuki hideout not far so Obito wouldn’t feel cornered either, and in case of emergency Gaara will be ready. He’s been wanting to smash that particular hideout to dust anyway, so sooner or later it’s not too important.”

Shisui lifted an eyebrow. “How do you even know that much about such an opportunity?”

Naruto seemed grimly amused, but didn’t answer. Shisui filed the question somewhere in his mind, to think on it later, and Kakashi asked another one.

“If there’s an Akatsuki hideout there, why won’t he be there while recuperating?”

“He doesn’t want to show weakness, even to allies. I’d rather warn you that if he’s using his Tobi personality, he’ll be acting stupid and annoying. Could you let me talk?”

Kakashi was looking at him with a mixture of guilt and gratitude. “...Yes.”

The sun had set while they were talking, and in the deepening darkness of the forest, Naruto got up with a sigh to dispel his wards. He looked at Shisui, then smiled widely and suddenly.

“Race you to the top of the Hokage monument?”

Shisui was offended. “You think you can go faster than me?”

Naruto took his most innocent expression, and turning to Kakashi, asked, “Would you referee? You can have two minutes’ head start.”

Kakashi looked a bit perplexed, but went without comment. As soon as he left, Naruto turned to Shisui.

“No cheating!”

“I won’t need it, brat!” Who did he think he was to beat Shisui at pure speed?

“At the fall of the leaf?” asked Naruto, taking a yellowish one from the ground.

Shisui was primed to go, eyes following the idle fall, and shunshinned the instant the leaf touched the ground, to find Naruto a few moments later, laughing at the top of the Fourth Hokage’s stony head, with Kakashi looking amazed.

“...How??” Shisui’s voice may have been more plaintive than he planned for, but dammit, he knew how fast he was!

Naruto bent, still smiling, to retrieve a three-pronged kunai marked with a seal from where it was embedded in the rock, and presented it to Shisui.

“Hiraishin was one of my father’s favorite techniques.”

There was awe in Kakashi’s visible eye, and even Shisui was duly impressed. He made to give the blade back to Naruto, but the time-traveler shook his head.

“Keep it.” He was still smiling, but with an edge of seriousness, barely visible in the gathering shadows. “I know I look five, and I can’t use much taijutsu in this body, I’m bad at genjutsu and you never saw me fight. And I can’t really show you, the chakra flares would warn everyone ― I’ve been told my fighting style wasn’t even in the same realm as stealthy. But I don’t want either of you to think I need protecting and put yourself in danger unnecessarily. So… be safe, alright?”

Kakashi and Shisui were looking at him gravely, and Kakashi bowed to him, deeper than Shisui had ever seen him, and said, “Thank you”.

Naruto seemed embarrassed. “I haven’t even done anything yet, it was just talking.”

Kakashi looked at him. “After what you said of the war and what he did, giving Obito an honest chance to change is more than anyone could have expected of you. He’s directly responsible for both of your parents’ deaths and you want to redeem him, rather than kill him. That’s more generous of you than we deserve. Thank you.” Then he gave a sudden eye-smile, and after a cheerful “Goodnight!”, disappeared into the night.

Naruto opened his mouth as if to talk, but whatever he wanted to say remained unvoiced. After a glance at Shisui, he sighed and said, “I’d better go back home.”

“Hum, can I come? I still have a lot of questions?” asked Shisui eagerly. “Like, what did Kakashi mean right now?”

Naruto smiled at him, but it was a bit strained, and Shisui felt guilty for insisting. “I’ll owe you? Please?”

Naruto grinned more openly, and said, “Buy me ramen next time you come, and you have a deal.”

They both returned to Naruto’s apartment, where Shisui saw there were some pretty impressive permanent wards. After Naruto polished off the leftovers from lunch, he settled comfortably and spent the rest of the evening telling tales of the war that would never be.

Shisui was hanging to his lips. Stories of past heroes could be fun and entertaining, but it was nothing compared to stories of future heroes, apparently. Although tragedy wasn’t Shisui’s favorite genre, especially when he had a role.

As midnight came, and with it the change of ANBU shift, Shisui left with regrets. He was also thinking that at least he had an answer to his question, about why Kakashi kept requesting that duty. He’d never had a surveillance shift that far from boring.

―――

Shikaku was worried for his friend ― he felt more than a bit reeling himself after the revelations of the day, and he had the benefit of both a few days warning, and not having to directly see Naruto’s memories as Inoichi had.

As they went to his living room and he activated the seldom-used privacy wards, he poured them both sake and waited for Inoichi to see if he wanted to share, or not.

Inoichi thanked him for the cup with a smile, and if it was a bit shaky at the edge, well, there was no need to comment. They sipped their artificial courage in silence for a while, until Ino finally broke it.

“I hope he’ll be alright.”

Shikaku felt himself relax a bit. If Inoichi was in the mood to worry for others, he wasn’t so bad himself. Usually he kept his priorities straight.

“You didn’t come back at the same time as Naruto, the second time. That’s unusual.”

Inoichi’s laugh was a broken and dark thing, but it was there, and he answered.

“The Kyuubi no Kitsune wanted a few words in private.”

Shikaku stilled, eyes widening. Inoichi was speaking slowly, eyes in the distance.

“There’s an immensely powerful being of pure chakra in Naruto’s mind, centuries old, famed as the embodiment of fury and malice, and he calls his host Brat to his face, and Sunshine to his back.”

He emptied his second cup, laughed again, and lifted his eyes to Shikaku’s face.

“Felt like I imagine a shovel talk would go, to be honest.” His smile softened into something less brittle. “So, that was him. Kurama.” He pronounced the name with a sort of reverence.

“This… wasn’t what I expected.” Shikaku had heard Naruto speak about the Kyuubi as an ally, but it hadn’t really sunk in yet. And not to that scale, either. He remembered a huge, huge form of terror and darkness, showering the village with destruction. And now… Shovel talk. The mind boggled.

“No, I don’t think anyone could realistically have expected a neglected kid to befriend his resident monster. But if anyone can convince Obito, it’s him.”

“Was he the one to convince him the first time over?” Shikaku’s curiosity was anything but idle.

“No, but the circumstances are not replicable, trust me on this. Let’s say Obito is owed a chance, and leave it at that.”

They let the silence stretch again. Shikaku nobly tried to refrain from pestering Inoichi. Despite his brief stint in T&I ― or maybe because of it ― his friend had the annoying habit of more or less respecting the privacy of the minds he read when they were allies. He had switched to the Analysis division with relief. But when Shikaku noticed how Inoichi’s eyes seemed to trace his face, he couldn’t resist asking, if only to avoid becoming self-conscious.

“Anything on your mind?”

“...Shikamaru is going to look so much like you.” Inoichi had a small, sad half-smile, and it made it harder for Shikaku to forget his alternate son. Or his son’s alternate, he wasn’t sure. Time-travel was a more mixed blessing than he wanted, for making him mourn a stranger, and Shikaku tried to get back on the positive side of things.

“Anything I could use?”

Inoichi grinned more sincerely.

“Nothing further than what Naruto told us, for now.” Taking pity, he added, “Shikamaru’s going to like it ― he’s got a new friend without having to actually do anything for it. Beyond that… If Naruto’s plan goes well, the future will be too different to bother remembering, and it’s for the best anyway.” He sighed. “I can’t believe how lucky we are that Naruto turned out as he did. Let’s not waste it.”

Shikaku thought of the kid he had seen, with a big smile and a greater heart. Yes, they had been lucky.

He lifted his own drink.

“To second chances?”

“To second chances.”



Chapter Text

There must be a word for it... The thing that lets you know time is happening.

Is there a word?

in Sandman, Brief lives , Neil Gaiman

Being reminded so sharply of his own mortality, Shisui hadn’t wasted time. First, moving out. Like all Uchiha, he lived and slept in the Uchiha district when not on mission away from the village; like most Uchiha, he also spent almost all of his downtime there. They had their own training facilities, both indoors and outdoors, their own bar, their own tea shop and takoyaki stand, their own weaponsmiths and seamstress. Now that he had a bit more perspective on it, he could see how easy that made them to isolate ― an Uchiha could spend days on end without having to interact with someone outside of the family.

So it was a novel experience for him to go apartment hunting. The choice was easy enough ― not too far from the ANBU headquarters, the residential building he chose to settle in was already occupied by several jounins he was acquainted with, and even two or three he could honestly count as friends. Most were out on missions right now, but Ishitani had been happy to help. Surprised as hell, but delighted all the same. As Shisui didn’t have all that many possessions, the move itself was quick, and he had the keys to his new home less than two days after he made his decision.

Step two, more delicate: announcing the news. His mother had died when he was little, during the Third War, and his father appeared more hurt by the fact he hadn’t been even consulted beforehand than by the move itself. Once assured Shisui would of course keep in contact and visit often, he hadn’t made too much of a fuss. No, the problem was Fugaku ― his clan head had summoned him for a conversation, which had been… difficult.

Fugaku was at least astute enough to keep the conversation private, so that he wouldn’t lose any face when Shisui politely, but firmly refused to move back in the district. He argued his “new duties” would make his apartment more practical ― surely Fugaku could decode that as his assignment in ANBU. When reminded that the Uchiha had been requested to move into the newly constructed district after the unfortunate incident of six years ago, Shisui kept his new feelings about said incident to himself and pointed that no law forbade him, as a private citizen, Uchiha or not, to chose his place of residence where he wanted in Konoha. Fugaku had been seething, but short of actually excluding Shisui from the clan, he had no way of winning that argument.

Shisui was thankful Fugaku had stopped before going that far, but it was a cold comfort as he had stiffly forbidden Shisui from further contact with Itachi, or indeed even entrance into the district, as long as he chose to remain in defiance of his orders. He had winced at the idea of the promise he had just made his father to visit often, and been wondering if that was worth it, but refused to second-guess himself ― Inoichi and Shikaku, when they planned, had both agreed that anything that could show the Uchiha as less monolithic and more loyal to the village would be a step in the right direction. During their discussion, Shikaku had even changed his mind and prioritized it over learning more about the Uchiha's possible coup. Details of planning would be irrelevant if the clan rebellion, as they dearly hope, never happened.

In between, he was thankful he could find a mission, even a short one, outside the village, to let any temper ― including his own ― cool down a bit before any unforgivable words were exchanged. The work had been welcome, his partner for the mission worked with a smooth efficiency, even though he acted a bit distracted at some moments.

It had barely taken three days. On the way back, as Tenzo woke him for his shift, he noticed his partner seemed hesitant to go to sleep, despite how late the hour must feel for him. After a few moments, seeing as the other ANBU seemed to want to talk, but didn’t actually utter a word, Shisui sighed and opened the conversation himself.

“Is there something you wanted to ask?”

Tenzo looked a bit guilty at being called on it, but he did answer.

“It’s… You’re new in ANBU, right?”

Shisui nodded expectantly.

“I don’t mean to be rude or imply anything, but… have you said something to Kakashi-senpai?” asked Tenzo.

Shisui lifted his eyebrows slightly at the underlying protectiveness, and answered, “Not much, but why?”

That seemed to be the crux of the matter, and Tenzo talked more directly.

“I’ve heard that Kakashi-senpai was resigning from ANBU just the day we left the village. I don’t understand why he would, he is so good at it, so it surprised me. He didn’t even talk about it, just… left. His last active shift before that was just before yours, I checked, so… I wondered if anything happened?”

Shisui repressed a sigh. They hadn’t been all that discreet, had they? In a village choke full of spies, someone was bound to notice something. The only good thing about this crazy situation was that it was SO crazy no one would likely suspect the true cause of their change of attitude. He settled on a half-truth, easier to remember and less likely to contradict anything Kakashi himself might say.

“I’m not entirely sure, but I have a theory?”

Tenzo looked at him expectantly, and Shisui continued, “If you’ve looked at the schedule, you know both of our shifts were surveillance duty on the jinchuuriki. Naruto is entering the Academy next week, there shouldn’t be any more such shift outside of a threat situation. You do know who the kid’s father was?”

Tenzo nodded, looking enlightened. He seemed to have guessed where Shisui wanted to go, perfect.

“I think Kakashi-senpai wanted to have a bit more time to check on Naruto in honor of his former teacher. He’s friends with the jounin commander and the Hokage has wanted him to take it a bit more easy for years ― if he stays a jounin outside of ANBU, he’ll be freer of his choice of missions. He might stay more in the village.”

Tenzo looked a bit relieved, a bit disappointed… What, now? Shisui voiced that thought.

“I was wondering if that had been because of you ― not that you’ve done anything, no,” Tenzo hastened to say, “but you’re an Uchiha, and with his Sharingan…”

That accounted for the relief. Shisui shrugged, slightly amused. “I don’t care that he has a Sharingan, he got it honorably.” And if Kakashi’s retirement was related to Obito, it was not in any such straightforward way.

“We can still visit him, you know,” observed Shisui. “I’ll miss working with him ― I barely had the occasion as it is, but he looked liked an interesting person. And even if he left ANBU of his own choice, he might miss his colleagues. We wouldn’t want that.”

Judging by Tenzo’s minute relaxation, that at least alleviated any suspicion he might have had concerning the Uchiha. He almost smiled, then settled for what remained of the night, and Shisui spent the rest of his shift thinking. Inoichi had insisted on the importance of socializing, after all…

When they reached Konoha, Shisui wrote and went to deliver their report, as befitting the younger one, but before he could go and search for Itachi ― Fugaku could order anything, but he didn’t have to obey ― Shikaku intercepted him on his way out of the building.

“Shisui, just the man I was looking for.” The jounin commander had a file in hand. “If your duties permit, I was wondering if you could be convinced to take a mission?...”

Shisui took the file, and scanned the page. B-rank, rather standard spying mission ― pardon, “data gathering” ― a solo one, oh, in Suna . He lifted his eyes to meet Shikaku’s intent ones, and nodded. “I’ll ask the Hokage as soon as he is available.” This wasn’t technically an ANBU mission, but he had little doubt the Hokage would be amenable ― most of them took the occasional escort or surveillance shift, to keep a little variety and take some breathing space. Kakashi had been a notable exception rather than the norm in that regard.

The Third was hearteningly concerned by the solo nature of the mission, though, and Shisui felt sort of bad for keeping secrets even from his Hokage, but needs must. He promised to take care of himself, with the understanding that the information would be extremely interesting for Konoha, but not worth his life. He left the building as soon as the paperwork was done. The only downside was that he would be leaving at dawn ― not much time to rest.

He thought of Itachi, but with regret, renounced seeing him right away. He didn’t want to start something with Fugaku if he wouldn’t be there to deal with the consequences. Feeling too grumpy, for once, to want any company, he bought take out on his way to his apartment, tried to feel at home in the still new walls while he ate, took a long shower, and went to bed early.

―――

Gaara missed Naruto’s presence. He could see him in the mindscape they shared with their Bijuu, true, and he did get news often enough, but it just wasn’t the same. He missed his siblings, too, maybe all the more fiercely because they were present. His Kankuro had died nearly three years ago, and he had thought he had finished grieving him. His Temari had stayed with him almost until the end ― he took solace in the fact that she died with hope, knowing he would attempt to jump back in time.

His current siblings, though… They were like rough drafts of the finished pieces he had seen, still confused by his own apparent change of personality. He had hesitated a bit more than a week before telling them the truth after they had sworn secrecy. Eight-year-old Kankuro had been interested in knowing how strong he would become, and Gaara regretted a bit not being able to tell him more about his future talent in puppetry ― his own interests had never laid in that direction. His sister, who had just reached ten, had been more worried for him. The truth had been all he could give as a birthday present, given in the pre-dawn of the day after the celebration.

They could grow up to become just as precious to him as the dead siblings he still mourned, but they could not grow up with him, as the previous set had done. He was already an adult in mind if not in body, and no jump back in time would reverse that. And if he had to choose between them and his memories… well, he didn’t want to pay the price of growing up twice. It felt weird to now be the eldest sibling.

“Up for a bit of sparring?”

Takeshi’s question interrupted his thinking ― his brooding, if he was honest ― and Gaara looked at the jounin with curiosity. He needed to find a way to let out some steam, why not this way. He nodded and followed Takeshi. He could guess the jounin’s concern ― the man hadn’t really stopped worrying since Gaara had met him, in fact.

First, he was worried he might get killed by a rampaging demon, which, well. Wasn’t an unfounded fear. Then, he had been worried how he would tell his Kazekage that his youngest son was crazy ― crazier ― without getting himself blamed. It had been difficult to talk him out of spilling the truth to the Kage. After Gaara had more or less convinced him he really was a time-traveler, he had begun worrying about the upcoming war ― despite Gaara’s insistence that it wouldn’t happen this time, that it was the whole point of their time-travel. And now he was worrying for Gaara ― which was sort of touching, really. And comforting.

Gaara sometimes envied Killer B ― if he believed his account of how “the reveal” had gone for him, it had been much more straightforward. He had convinced his brother to go spar in private, completely overpowered him, and once he had proven without a doubt to Ay that he really was that much stronger than the last time they fought, his brother had been receptive to his explanation. An almost Naruto-ish solution ― bash them in the head until they see reason. Gaara sighed.

Catching Takeshi’s concerned glance, he repressed another sigh, and smiled a bit. Judging from Takeshi’s reaction, he still had progress to do. Oh, well.

Once outside the walls in the city, in the open sky of the desert, he felt as if he could breathe more freely. The dry sands would always be his , in a visceral way he could never fully explain.

No one in their right mind would spar in the sand dunes under the punishing hammer of the early afternoon sun. Of course, Gaara would, but he found no reason to inflict that on Takeshi. So they chose one of the outer training grounds, where the low cliffs of a former limestone quarry provided some shade even with the sun still so close to the zenith. Gaara warded the place before beginning, as he didn’t want to alarm the village should Shukaku want to play a bit. The sun was notably lower, and Takeshi likely about to cry for mercy, when Gaara felt something ping his senses.

He lifted an authoritative hand towards Takeshi as the other man was about to ask something, and searched for the disturbance. He had surrounded all of Suna with a thin layer of his chakra-infused sand, and the steps he could feel where not on any roads, nor from anyone he was familiar with.

Nor were they all that discreet, in fact. If the incoming person was a shinobi, they were either a bad one, or obvious on purpose. Coming from the road would have been much more inconspicuous. And coming from the general direction of Konoha, and after what Naruto had told him last night… Gaara smiled slowly, and told Takeshi to stay put as he ran toward the foreign steps.

Whoever it was still had enough sense to mask their presence ― ANBU concealment jutsu, no doubt ― but Gaara ignored that and merely stated, “Follow.” He ran back toward the training ground, where an anxious Takeshi was visibly trying his best to wait patiently. He had taken water from the hidden well while waiting, good thinking. Gaara turned toward the presence, and introduced himself, “Gaara of the Sand.” He made a negligent gesture of one hand, to encompass their surroundings, and added, “The whole area is private.”

The concealment jutsu flickered off, and a pale dark-haired teen with black eyes appeared, looking cautious. “Uchiha Shisui of the Leaf”. He bowed before him, while Gaara observed. The Uchiha. Uh. Why had Shikaku not just sent Kakashi? It would have been so much easier.

Takeshi had started at Uchiha’s appearance, but he hid his confusion rather well as he introduced himself. Shisui looked at him with interest. “So, you’re the one who would have already been dead?” Gaara was grimly amused by Takeshi’s reaction of abrupt interest, with a tinge of near panic.

“Holy shit,” Takeshi looked a bit green. “You’re not even kidding.”

Uchiha was looking at him with sympathy and offered, “Don’t feel bad, I apparently wouldn’t have survived next year.”

“That’s… that really was real,” breathed Takeshi. Gaara didn’t really blame him for needing that bit more persuasion, but still, it stung a bit. But Takeshi drew a long breath, before kneeling before Gaara and bowing low. “Please forgive my doubts.”

Gaara lifted an eyebrow. The first time they met he literally had been about to kill the man while in a Shukaku-induced frenzy, and the truth had seemed the only apology adequate enough. He grabbed Takeshi’s arm and helped him to his feet. “No need, I understand.”

Uchiha had been looking at them with dawning understanding. He turned to Gaara and asked cautiously, “Did you get the same kind of doubt from everyone you told?”

“My siblings believe me, as I knew much more about them and could be more persuasive. I haven’t told anyone else,” answered Gaara.

Uchiha seemed surprised. “Really? Isn’t your current apparent age a problem for changing things inside your village?”

“I am the greatest change brought to Suna in this time ― my not being maddened by Shukaku is already altering the course of Suna’s history, whether I want it or not,” replied Gaara flatly.

But Uchiha respectfully insisted. “Please forgive my curiosity, but even outside of any more ambitious plans, wouldn’t it be easier on yourself if the rest of your family knew? Naruto told me your father is the Kazekage ― surely he would be in the best place to both use your information and support you?”

Gaara heard Takeshi suck in a breath, and knew the jounin was beginning to understand. He had a lead, now, and enough data. Curse the man for being so perceptive ― Gaara hadn’t really wanted anyone to know, but… if anyone had to, better Takeshi than anyone else. He considered Uchiha. For a moment he was tempted not to answer, or just outright lie, but… an Uchiha. He actually might understand, too.

“The first time around,” he answered slowly, “my father ordered my uncle, who is my caretaker and his right hand, to kill me. Yashamaru would have tried ten days ago, and perished in the attempt.” By the darkening face of the Uchiha, he was judging them. That wouldn’t do. “Faulty seal on Shukaku,” added Gaara. “I was a threat. They weighed the good of the village against my life. Of course they chose the village. They had to. I would have done the same. I’ve made my peace with that.”

But they likely wouldn’t, had thought Gaara. How could he tell his father that he knew and forgave a decision he had managed to avoid by a few days this time around? How could he hope to keep an easy relationship with Yashamaru if he told the man the truth? If the price of staying a family was keeping silent, it was cheap enough.

The Uchiha was grim, but no longer shocked, merely sad. He still asked, “How did you avoid it this time around?”

Gaara shrugged, almost imperceptibly, and looked at Takeshi. The jounin answered in his stead, “After he spared my life, despite being seen from afar half-transformed into the Ichibi, he managed to convince the Fourth that he could gain the upper hand on Shukaku, and begged to be left to train with me until his seventh birthday, so that he may prove his control. The council agreed. I think they were relieved not to have to take any drastic measure.”

He was looking at Gaara with a sort of pity in his eyes, and it irked Gaara. He had his family ― he was even closer to them this time around, as they now took their evening meals together and their fear was beginning to ebb, all for the price of pretending to progressively master the Ichibi. He could sleep knowing Shukaku wouldn’t overtake him ― they may never be quite as close as Kurama was to Naruto, but since Kakashi had saved the Ichibi’s life, and even more since they discovered time-travel, he was much more amenable to the idea of pacific coexistence. Provided Gaara let him out sometimes, and if he thought about it, now might be a good time.

He glanced at Takeshi ― he was beginning to recover, but their previous sparring had obviously taken its toll. The Uchiha, on the other hand, was all fresh.

“Would you care for a sparring match?” asked Gaara, a bit abruptly.

Uchiha looked at him with surprise, then at their surroundings. The training ground was mostly shaded by this hour, and after a speculative look at Gaara, he made the confrontation seal, and waited for Gaara to respond in kind before attacking. They were both cautious at first, testing the waters, so to speak, but once they could see their opponent clearly wasn’t made of glass, they began exchanging more forceful blows. Well, Uchiha began exchanging more blows with Gaara’s sand ― he had yet to land one on his body.

To Gaara’s lack of surprise, Uchiha favored speed, misdirection, and fire. A safer choice here, with nothing to burn but themselves, than in Fire Country’s forests. After a while, though, Gaara called for a halt.

At Uchiha’s surprise, Gaara explained himself, “Why don’t you use the Sharingan?”

“Naruto said Kurama didn’t like it,” answered the Uchiha after a second’s hesitation. “I had assumed Shukaku might feel the same?”

That was… strangely considerate of him, but not very conducive to his health. “Shukaku won’t care here, just for a friendly match.”

Damn right, thought his partner. Bring it on!

Gaara smiled internally, Uchiha shrugged and activated his Sharingan, and the sparring match finally got heated enough for Gaara to let Shukaku seep into his body. No killing , reminded Gaara, and he felt the Ichibi reluctant agreement. Fortunately, Uchiha was fast enough to avoid most of the blows rather than have to withstand them.

Gaara had made no effort to avoid looking in his eyes, and he felt the moment Uchiha tried to use a genjutsu. Shukaku spiked his chakra, and Uchiha reeled back, as if he had been slapped, from the force of the resulting ripple of energy. He still managed to avoid Shukaku’s responding blow, though. He was a good opponent, but exhausted himself before Gaara. But then, Gaara’s style let him get away with barely moving himself, and with Shukaku’s considerable reserves added to his own respectable ones, he was seldom matched. That Uchiha had managed to be fast enough to go past his sand shield several times, even for grazing blows, was impressive enough.

Uchiha yielded before falling, still cautious enough to spare some reserve of chakra. Good. Gaara answered in kind his seal of reconciliation, and Uchiha limped toward the well, where Takeshi was idly waiting for them with a full bucket. Gaara took the time to regain his equilibrium, before quenching his own thirst. Once they were both refreshed, he politely said, “Good match.”

Uchiha was looking at him with open admiration, and it was maybe a bit embarrassing, but Gaara preferred that to pity. And he could feel Shukaku preen under that admiration.

“Is Naruto as strong?” asked Uchiha. “He didn’t want to risk anyone sensing Kurama’s chakra, so we haven’t sparred, but he bested my speed.”

Show off , thought Gaara fondly, before answering the question.

“Different strength. Not as versatile as my sand, but his attacks are much more powerful. He’s more of an offensive fighter than I am.”

Uchiha looked at the damaged training ground with incredulity. Gaara could almost feel him thinking, that wasn’t offensive? , but he didn’t actually say it.

They quietly discussed Uchiha’s mission afterward. Takeshi was shocked that Uchiha agreed to share it in the first place, even more so when he realized Gaara fully intended to help him. He wasn’t used to thinking of Konoha as allies yet. Gaara pointed aloud to him that if Konoha really needed info on Suna’s strongest fighters, they only had to ask Naruto. Although he admitted to himself that said info would likely be about “that guy with the mean Wind attack, like that”, or “that old hag with the poisons”, rather than actual names.

To his credit, Uchiha was just as surprised to get Gaara’s cooperation. He hadn’t expected his mission to be as easy as “just ask”. He was even more surprised by Takeshi’s offer to house him, but that, at least, Gaara understood perfectly ― the jounin would feel better knowing where the “spy” was. And that would give him the perfect opportunity to get all the info he could about Naruto and what he had told of the future. Gaara had no objections.

As the sun was setting on the desert, Gaara turned towards the village. He had a meal to take with his family, and didn’t want to be late. But Uchiha stopped him with a bit of hesitancy.

“I don’t want to be an annoyance, but I wonder if I could ask for your advice on something more private.”

Interest piqued, Gaara looked at him questioningly.

“I had an idea for a present, for Naruto’s birthday, and since you know him best…” he trailed off hopefully.

Gaara turned fully toward him, and he felt his lips curve in an honest-to-goodness smile as he listened to Shisui expose his idea.

―――

Between his missions and his cousin’s, Itachi hadn’t seen Shisui for a few weeks, and was beginning to wonder where he might be. Usually he managed to glimpse him around the district when he had some downtime, or on the training ground, but when he pointed his head in his house, Shisui’s father had directed him to another address. Shisui had moved out . Without even telling him!

Although when Itachi went to the indicated apartment building, no one answered. Seeing him at the door, one of the neighbors, apparently a friend of Shisui’s, told him he hadn’t been there for a few days already, so likely still on a mission. Itachi pondered the news a moment, thought about asking his father, but… if Shisui had moved out, it might be a fallout from a dispute with his clan head? Better be safe than sorry and wait for Shisui’s explanation before going to Fugaku.

He didn’t have long to wait, two days later, there was a light knock on his windows in the dead of night, and when Itachi went to check, he saw a grinning Shisui with a finger on his mouth. Itachi felt his own lips stretch in an almost-smile. He made a gesture to invite Shisui inside, but Shisui refused with a shake of his head, and whispered, “My apartment”. He left with a smile, and Itachi shrugged, got dressed, and followed.

Once inside, Shisui greeted him as he was already pouring tea for two, and handed Itachi his cup. He was still smiling, looking at his cup, with a sort of surprised edge, and Itachi asked, “Was it a good mission?”

Shisui lifted his head in surprise, and grinned a bit sheepishly. “So obvious, am I? Yeah, a bit farther than usual but very productive all in all. Wish I could have more like that.” He was peering at Itachi’s face, like he was searching for something, but all he asked was, “And you? What's up?”

Itachi looked at his cousin, unimpressed. “You won’t get out of talking about you that easily.” He let his eyes trail towards the walls, still empty, and the very bare rooms. “Why the move?”

Shisui seemed a bit at a loss for words, but after a few sips of his tea, he answered, “No particular reason. It was a good occasion to socialize a bit more outside of the family. I have some friends in this apartment complex, and I wanted to have a space to invite.”

“You could have invited in the Uchiha district,” persisted Itachi.

“Really?” came Shisui’s answer, unimpressed. “How many Uchiha do you know invite friends to the district?”

Itachi looked at him blankly.

“Exactly. Oh, some do, I know, but most go outside when meeting friends, because you know what we don’t have in the district? Privacy , my friend.”

Itachi lifted an eyebrow. “We’re ninja.”

Shisui rolled his eyes. “Beside the obvious spying on each other’s lives, of course.”

“Did you get a girlfriend, to suddenly want privacy?” asked Itachi, still full of doubts.

“No!” came the indignant answer. “Wait, that’s a good idea, actually…” Shisui was suddenly looking more cheerful.

It was Itachi’s turn to want to roll his eyes. It was obviously not the reason Shisui had suddenly wanted more privacy, but if he didn’t want to share… Itachi changed the subject.

“I have actually wanted to speak with you, lately. How is the work in ANBU?”

Shisui stilled at those words, and answered carefully. “Remember you’re not supposed to know about my posting, but to answer ― mostly boring, in fact. A bit of surveillance, bodyguard work. The first few months are like that for new recruits, I guess. It’s quite repetitive.”

Itachi was disappointed to hear that, but then, he hadn’t thought working from the shadows would be all fun and games.

“I want to apply soon. The Hokage told me they’re not supposed to recruit below thirteen, but that they might make an exception.”

Shisui looked at him with alarm. “Why the rush? You’ve just made jounin.”

“Three months ago,” came Itachi’s answer.

“But…” Shisui stopped himself, took a deep breath, and went on more slowly. “If that’s what you want, of course I’ll support you, but… Have you really thought about that? There is a reason for the age limit. And it would benefit you to stay jounin for longer ― it would allow you to make connections, to better know the skills of the other jounins. Then, when you’ll make ANBU, you’ll be more experienced in teamwork.”

Itachi felt a bit let down by his cousin ― he was usually so enthusiastic, why not there, too? It was not for his own benefit that Itachi wanted to apply.

Shisui was observing him with attention. “If it’s your ambition, you’re free to pursue it, but you would be much more useful to the village by sharpening your skills outside ANBU before applying. Why not give it a year? A year as jounin, for someone like you, you’ll learn as much as others in three years, I’m sure, and then, you’ll still be twelve, and likely the youngest ANBU ever.”

Itachi felt a slight indignation at that ― he wasn’t applying to break a record, but then… put it like that, Shisui might have a point. If he would really be more useful after a year… Shisui didn’t press him further, just finished his tea and poured another one. Seeing him pour tea reminded Itachi of the odd hour ― why hadn’t Shisui come in the day if he had nothing urgent to share? At his asking, Shisui looked a bit embarrassed.

“Your father didn’t take my moving out very well. He forbade me from meeting you again or enter the district as long as I don’t move back there.”

Itachi frowned. He could understand his father’s reasoning, but it didn’t mean he agreed with it. And Fugaku could forbid Shisui to meet Itachi, but he actually hadn’t said anything to Itachi, so…

“But I can come here?” Itachi checked.

“Of course,” Shisui grinned. Although after just a moment, he frowned, and went to go get something in a drawer. He came back with a key he handed to Itachi, saying, “I’ll install better wards soon, so please use the key when you come.”

They quietly discussed some more, before the slight lightening of the sky reminded Itachi of the hour, and he left before being missed in his family compound.

On the run back, he thought about Shisui's strange reticence today. He couldn’t help but feel a bit hurt by the silence, but then, he couldn’t fault Shisui for respecting the secrecy of his missions, either ― his cousin likely already told him more than he should. And… he had a point, about ANBU. Itachi couldn’t pretend he wasn’t useful already as a jounin, his missions so far had been highly successful, but also quite educative, and maybe he should make more use of that opportunity to better himself.

And his father, who wanted him to be ANBU as soon as possible, had barred Shisui from speaking with him. By itself, it wouldn’t have been a factor ― Itachi wasn’t that petty ― but... It was suspicious. If he could grant himself that tiny bit of rebellion while doing it for the best of the village, well... He would delay his application for at least a few more months.

Chapter Text

Really wanna change my mind

But I know it takes some time

― “My year is a day”, Les Irrésistibles

 

Umino Iruka was a bit nervous. That was already much better than the utter shock he’d been in when Shikamaru and Naruto had cornered him after a few days of unremarkable classes to tell him Naruto was special, not just because he was the Kyuubi’s container ― a fact Iruka had been determined to ignore and treat the kid fairly ― but also  because he was from the future . He’d thought of course that it might be a prank, something of a hazing for a new teacher, and he had been prepared to deal with it severely.

He had clung to that thought for all of five minutes, until Naruto had henged a Kage bunshin into his twenty-year-old body. The kid was supposed to be five and he already obviously mastered jutsus more advanced than ever taught at the Academy. So when he was told to go ask either Yamanaka Inoichi, Nara Shikaku, or Hatake Kakashi if he didn’t believe Naruto, Iruka took that chance to leave the conversation with whatever was left of his nerves.

Iruka had actually done it. The pretext was easy enough to find, given that both clans’ heads had kids in his class ― actually, there was a lot of clans’ heirs this year. Nara Shikaku had looked at him with a bit of amusement, invited him to discuss things further in his living room, and activated wards before calmly confirming Naruto’s story. Yes, the kid was a time-traveler, and yes, they were actively trying to avoid a major war. Iruka had wanted to ask for more, but the Nara clan head had told him that for now at least, the more complete the secrecy, the better. When Iruka pointed that Shikamaru knew, and he was six, the Nara had merely shrugged and said to ask Naruto for details.

Yamanaka Inoichi had been barely better. He had invited Iruka inside just as fast and without question, but hadn’t been much more informative. He had still been more helpful than the Nara, as he encouraged Iruka to think of the consequences of the time-travel for Naruto, rather than the reasons for it.

And indeed, now that he knew what was going on, Iruka could see traces of the adult in the kid’s body ― he was more articulate than most of his classmates, more self-assured than those of his supposed age, and he obviously barely paid any attention to his classes. Although that last one wasn’t necessarily an adult trait, it didn’t actually mean that Naruto wasn’t paying attention ― to his classmates, not to the lessons. But he also was jumpy, reacting weirdly to sudden touches or sounds. The first time Iruka had taken the class outside for shuriken training, Naruto had spent the whole time tense as a coiled spring, apparently waiting for one of those shuriken to be aimed his way. Some had gone close to him, actually, but none intentionally. The other kids were just terrible at it for now. Shikamaru had stayed near him most of that time.

But tonight was the anniversary of the Kyuubi’s attack. The anniversary of his parents’ death. Naruto’s sixth birthday. And the day the villagers were most likely to try something… inadvisable against the jinchuuriki. It didn’t matter that the apparent kid was in no physical danger, their hostility would likely make him retreat to his own room, to his own head ― Inoichi had hinted heavily at Naruto’s essential loneliness, and it made Iruka’s heart ache to think of an innocent child having to deal on his own with the unfairness of his treatment. He was condemned by the village for a crime not his own, only for being the demon’s vessel. Iruka’s underlying guilt at having once made the same hasty condemnation made him even more determined to set things right.

So at the end of classes, he kept Naruto behind and asked if he wanted to go to Ichiraku’s. He wasn’t sure what he expected, but not such an enthusiastic reaction.

“Ramen!! Thank you, Iruka-sensei!” Naruto’s huge smile was its own reward, and Iruka felt warmed despite the chilly weather. He kept having to remind himself that Naruto wasn’t a child anymore in a lot of ways, but he was also determined to try and give him whatever he may have missed during his first childhood.

They walked to the ramen stand to the constant background chatter of Naruto’s babbling about Shino’s bugs, Kiba’s dog, and how wonderful it was to have pets, and Iruka wondered again how Naruto could be twenty already. The time-traveler faked childishness so well, Iruka was wondering what kind of adult he had been. He was also wondering if the Kyuubi counted as pet to the kid, but refrained from asking. He wasn’t sure he could deal with the answer.

Once there, Iruka ordered the biggest ramen bowls on the menu for both of them, and let Naruto dig in in peace. He was barely halfway through his serving when Naruto finished and turned puppy eyes to him.

Before he could reach for his wallet, there was a cheerful voice saying, “That one’s on me”, and another bowl of ramen appeared in front of Naruto, who turned to the silver-haired man with a grin. Iruka didn’t see the hand seals, hidden by Naruto’s body, but his skin prickled as the sounds around them became a little less distinct, the surrounding conversations now unintelligible.

Naruto’s grin became a smile as he greeted the newcomer, “Kakashi-sensei!” He turned to Iruka. “Hey, Iruka-sensei! You ever met Kakashi? He was my jounin-sensei when I passed the first time around!” He turned to the ramen with gusto after his introduction.

Iruka took in the masked jounin, recognizing the famed Copy Nin, and was uncertain of his welcome, but the man’s visible eye was lazy and happy, and Iruka relaxed.

“Pleased to meet you, Hatake-san”.

“Likewise, Umino-san.” The voice was amused, and Iruka wondered if the situation felt as surreal to the man as it did to him sometimes. He didn’t have time to linger on the thought, though, as Kakashi produced a gift-wrapped package he offered to Naruto with a flourish. “Happy second sixth birthday!”

Naruto fell on the gift with greed and unwrapped it in record time with happy noises.

Glitter. Several choices of color, all eye-bleeding bright and cheery, with a double dose of orange, in a sparkling powdery stuff guaranteed to stay stuck everywhere. Iruka wept internally while faking a smile for Naruto’s sake.

“I wasn’t sure you had access to the right materials for you endeavors―” began Kakashi before he was glomped by an overjoyed Naruto. He looked uncomfortable in the hug, which Naruto seemed to be happy to briefly ignore as he thanked him with unholy glee.

“Oh, Kakashi, I have so many ideas for your gift, you’ll see, I’ll make them pranks worth remembering,” cackled the kid as he released the jounin and grinned at the content of the boxes with proprietary pride and anticipation.

Iruka tried to look severely at Kakashi, but the man was so openly oblivious to his disapproval, he deemed it a lost cause.

“Enabler,” he muttered under his breath.

Kakashi spared him a cheerful eye-smile before returning to Naruto and saying more seriously, “The others also have gifts, but couldn’t find any discrete way to cross your path today. They asked me to ask for your permission before leaving them at your apartment, if you wish?...”

Naruto looked on the verge of tears hearing that, and for all that they were happy tears, Kakashi still turned to Iruka with a helpless look, a bit panicked at the display of emotions. Iruka took pity.

“I have been wondering, Naruto. Could I take advantage of the current wards to ask about your age-mates?” Iruka tripped a bit about his formulation. “I mean, those who are really currently six. I was thinking, since you’ve seen them grow up once, you may know better than I could guess which kind of ability they may develop? Maybe I could teach them better that way?”

Naruto, a bit settled, looked happily at Iruka, and launched into a colorful depiction of his friends’ skills. Learning that shy Sakura, currently self-conscious about being one of the few civilian-born students, could one day equal the healing skills of the legendary Tsunade, or that socially awkward Choji, currently feeling pressured by his status as a noble clan heir and defensive about his weight, could become the powerhouse Naruto described, was inspiring and heartwarming to Iruka. Tenten was one year older and not in his class, but he would see if he should do something to make sure she wouldn’t let her latent weapon skills go to waste.

Kakashi intervened only once, merely saying, “In different circumstances, they may need to develop different skills, though.”

Iruka was a bit offended by the assumption that he would be unable to distinguish between guiding someone into their potential and pressuring them into expectations. Naruto merely laughed at Kakashi for daring to give Iruka advice about teaching . His student’s defense was more than a bit comforting to Iruka ― he was new at the job, after all, which was why he got one of the youngest classes, and he was maybe less secure in his teaching skills than he allowed himself to let on. But at least he seemed to have done something right in the time-traveler’s past that may or may not be their future. Kakashi left soon after, with Naruto’s apartment’s key, sparing them a last cheering wave before disappearing into the evening.

Their conversation faded into desultory comments on various villagers, some of them Naruto determinedly tagged as future targets for pranking. Hearing his reasoning, when he gave any, Iruka couldn’t help but agree silently. After a while, though, Naruto’s impatient longing looks in the direction of his apartment prompted Iruka, amused, to ask if he could accompany his charge home, to which Naruto smiled brightly.

Despite Iruka’s expectations, no-one had actually bothered Naruto during their meal, and he would almost have forgotten his misgivings about the evening, if the black looks sent their way by passersby didn’t remind him abruptly of Naruto’s plight. He made it his duty to hold his head high and return every stare with his own judging frown, walking closer to the kid in obvious protection, but he was glad it didn’t escalate into a physical confrontation.

Iruka had never before gone to his recent student’s home. The apartment was rather bare, with few personal touches. It was neater than he would have expected for a six-year-old, and the shelves actually packed more than just instant ramen, Iruka was happy to see, but it didn’t feel very lived-in. But then, Naruto wasn’t home for more than he could help: when not out in the streets of the village, he was out on its rooftops.

The nearly empty room made the packages obvious: Inoichi had given a bonsaied ginko, of a respectable age if Iruka was any judge, and Shikaku a kite in the shape of a red dragon, rather simple but well-made. Iruka eyed the remaining gift with mistrust, and gently asked a laughing Naruto, “Hmm, Naruto… Who sent you a fox plushie?”

“Shisui,” answered Naruto between two peals of laughter. “Holy shit, he has a death wish, this explains so much...” He was gasping to find his breath, and his laughter ran even brighter as he held the stuffed animal to better show Iruka the nine tails of the toy. It had to have been commissioned outside the village, no one would mass product this anywhere in the five nations and no one would ever make let alone sell this in Konoha. Iruka felt torn, chilled by the painful memory of his parents’ deaths by the might of the monster, and yet warmed by Naruto’s laugh. The toy was too close to exact for his peace of mind, the shade of orange vivid, with black markings running from the eyes, made of some sort of lightly chatoyant stone, to the inside of the ears, and an almost cheerful grin.

Finally noticing his teacher’s unease, Naruto calmed and explained a bit.

“I’m sorry, I know it shouldn’t seem fun. Konoha’s attack wasn’t completely his fault, you know, he really had no choice at the beginning, and he was too angry later on. He’s not bad, really. A bit gruff, and still a lot angry sometimes, but you would be, too, if you spent decades in prison.” After a few seconds of hesitation, with his eyes lost in the distance, he added, “His name is Kurama. He’s someone, not something.” And laughing a bit again, “And he’s so pissed at Shisui right now, you have no idea.”

Jinchuuriki. Iruka thought he knew what it implied: human sacrifice to a tailed beast, jailer to a monster, weapon of mass destruction for a village, tool for politicians. Never before had he thought about the point of view of the Bijuu themselves, when they got to know their human partners to the point of being friends. Naruto was lonely in a village that hated all he represented, but he would never again be truly alone, not as long as he was host to a grumpy old fox that he could talk with. That he could joke with, if he understood Naruto’s smile right.

It calmed his doubts, and he managed to smile more naturally. “Thank you for telling me, Naruto. It helps.” He hesitated, but he had nothing to lose by asking, “And if it wasn’t Kurama’s fault... whose was it?”

Naruto’s smile got more twisted. “Sorry, can’t say.” His eyes got more determined. “But what I can say is that it won’t happen again. I promise you. As long as I’m alive, no one else will get to him like that.”

…So not only could the jinchuuriki be friends with their Bijuu instead of jailor, they could apparently become their protector as well. Iruka felt a bit as if his world kept getting turned on its head, but he was alright with it. The view was better from here.

“Well, I’ll let you to it, then. It’s getting late. Happy birthday again, Naruto!”

Naruto’s smile was the most genuine thing he had ever seen.

“Thank you, sensei. This was my best birthday ever!”

Iruka got back home kept warm with the memory of that smile, and thought that maybe he wouldn’t associate death and fear to this day next year.

―――

Tenzo hadn’t had any real break between missions in over a month, as Kakashi’s departure had left ANBU slightly shorthanded. All in all Tenzo was glad for his senpai, but it didn’t make the work disappear. So when Shisui invited him on a rare day off to hang out with some friends at his apartment for the evening, he relished the occasion to relax in pleasant company. He thought to bring sake, but he was reasonably sure someone else would, so instead he bought some dango as dessert for whatever Shisui might have.

The apartment was a bit more crowded than he expected ― he could recognize Hayate and Yugao, already making eyes at each other in a corner, had met the exuberant Gai through Kakashi, and could guess that the shortest and most silent present was their youngest jounin, Itachi, but he didn’t remember seeing Shisui with the two remaining kunoichi.

A knock at the door revealed yet another guest, with a wide smile and lots of sushi take away.

“Ah, Ishitani! Thank you for the food!” Shisui said, holding the door.

“No problem, you’re paying”, was the cheerful answer.

As they were about to dig in, there was another knock, this time at the window, and Shisui opened with an exaggerated sigh. Kakashi didn’t even have the decency to look sheepish for his lateness.

“You made your Most Gracious Host wait for you, that was not very Youthful!” boomed Gai.

“At least you came, what did Shisui blackmail you with to make you get out of that cell you call an apartment?” asked Kurenai with curiosity. “I thought you were married to your career”.

“Maa, sorry,” answered Kakashi to Gai with a lazy eye-smile. “I got told by a time-traveler to go get a life,” he told Kurenai before helping himself to the food. Tenzo heard Shisui choke on his mouthful, and looked up to see the Uchiha coughing, round-eyed, staring at Kakashi. Didn’t he get enough of those avoidances to get used to Kakashi’s version of an excuse?

Kurenai rolled her eyes with tolerance and turned to the food and to Shisui, who she was eyeing with curiosity.

“That’s unusual to get invited to an Uchiha’s birthday ― I thought you lot only invited family.”

Tenzo almost lifted an eyebrow ― he hadn’t even known it was Shisui’s birthday. Chieko and Itachi had both slightly tensed, but Shisui merely shrugged.

“If I did it in the district, every passing aunt and nosy cousin would feel entitled to just come and eat, but since I got my own place now, I get to choose my own guests.” He had a small, happy smile, and Tenzo felt suddenly more privileged to have been invited. There was genuine satisfaction in Shisui’s eyes at the sight of his guests, and it made the small party all the more cosy.

“Is that why you moved out? Just to have parties?” Chieko’s voice was curious, with no condemnation.

“Why? Envious?” joked Shisui with a grin, neatly avoiding answering the question. “The district’s not a prison, you could do the same.”

“I’m good where I am,” shrugged Chieko. “Nosy relatives and all.”

“But it is rare to see you lot outside your compound off work,” noted Ishitani. “I was delighted to help you move, Shisui, but you’re the only Uchiha I know of living out of the district. Which is a bit of a shame…” his trailing words had taken a flirting edge as he raked his eyes appreciatively at Chieko, who didn’t seem that adverse to the attention. She was smiling slowly.

“Nothing’s keeping you from visiting…”

“It was a bit more common before the death of the Fourth,” mentioned Kakashi unexpectedly. If Tenzo hadn’t known him well, he might have missed him taking a deeper breath, as if steeling himself, before he went on, “My old teammate, Obito, was living outside the district, too, even when it was closer to the center of Konoha.”

Kurenai and Gai were both looking at Kakashi strangely, and Tenzo wondered about their moods. They seemed not to dare interrupt or comment as long as Kakashi talked. But maybe Tenzo was reading too much into their stillness.

“Was there a reason to it?” asked Itachi softly. He was so quiet and small, one might almost forget he was there, but his eyes were sharp.

“His mother was civilian-born, and his father had married her against the opposition of his clan head,” explained Kakashi. “They moved out to avoid him. When they were both killed on the same mission, Obito’s grandmother took him in, but he always had a hard time fitting in with the other Uchiha ― he was a bit of a ditz, more outgoing than most, and felt he didn’t meet the family’s standards. He was proud to be an Uchiha, but most of them made him feel they weren’t proud to be related to him. He moved out again when his grandmother died.”

His voice was carefully devoid of judgment, but both Chieko and Itachi were becoming less animated. If they weren’t so controlled, Tenzo thought they might be cringing. Shisui merely looked thoughtful.

Completely oblivious to the mood, Ishitani asked, “I thought the Uchiha were always proud of their Sharingan?” His gaze slid to Kakashi’s hitai-ate and what was beneath. He might not have known all of Obito’s story, but the whole village ― or at least the active shinobi ― knew Kakashi had an implanted Sharingan, and it wasn’t hard to guess he must have gotten it from his dead Uchiha teammate.

“He awakened it on our last mission, just before he saved my life and got crushed under a rock in my place.” There was no mistaking the pain in Kakashi’s voice, and when he reached for sake, Gai was already pouring for everyone, and lifted his cup in a simple toast.

“To our friends, fallen too young but not forgotten! Their spirits live on!”

Everyone lifted their cups with Gai and drank, although Tenzo noticed that Itachi had neatly avoided the sake and was lifting a glass of juice. The kid was still so serious…

“When did it happen?” continued Ishitani, respectful but still curious.

“Third War,” shrugged Kakashi. “Nine years ago, now.”

Ishitani blinked in surprise. “How old were you?”

“Eleven. I had just made jounin.” This time there was a slightly smug light in his visible eye.

Ishitani groaned and lifted his eyes to the ceiling.

“Too many geniuses in the room, seriously, as if having to compete with Shisui wasn’t enough…”

It turned out Ishitani had been Shisui’s teammate in his genin team, despite being three years older ― only because Shisui had graduated early, stressed Ishitani. Kakashi wanted to seize that occasion to get embarrassing stories on Shisui, but the Uchiha neatly turned it around by using his recent retirement from ANBU to convince some of the others to pitch in with tales of some of Kakashi’s more exotic ― and less classified ― missions. This drew even Yugao in, and they gleefully exchanged stories for a while.

It let the other Uchiha relax again, to Ishitani’s shameless advantage ― Chieko might live in the Uchiha district, but she had no curfew. Judging by the constant flirting, she wouldn’t leave alone. Kurenai excused herself early ― she had a mission in the morning and didn’t want to miss too much sleep. Gai tried to drink Kakashi under the table, but Shisui firmly prevented it from being a challenge by pointing that he was the one providing the sake.

All in all, it was a good evening.

Chapter Text

How all good men try,

Look around and wonder why

Can they shape this world to please me

― “Words unspoken”, Supertramp

    From the rooftop he was perched on, Naruto inspected the spread of houses with a meditative air that might fool an innocent observer ― if one such could be found in a hidden village ― into thinking he was serious. Contemplative, even. Anyone knowing the kid for the trickster he was, like his former ANBU guards, wouldn’t be fooled for a second, though. Indeed, they would have bet he was merely planning his next prank. They would even be mostly right. But of those former ANBU babysitters, only two would have guessed that the whole truth was a bit of both: he was planning which prank would most advance his overall objective.

Naruto let himself smile a bit thinking of his last one. Noble clans first, before they’re too paranoid , Shikaku had advised. Getting into the Hyuuga compound had been relatively easy, thanks to the memories of Hiashi telling him all about their protections. Getting all of his orange glitter into their fresh laundry had been barely harder. No, what had been hard was to make it so the glitter wasn’t noticeable until after they were out of their walls. The trick in that case was the privacy seals the Hyuuga used to avoid snooping on each other by accident. They could make their own walls mostly impervious to their own eyes, Byakugan included. He had spent over a week tweaking those seals so that the glitter wouldn’t register to their eyes while inside their home before proceeding with the rest of his plan.

All his patient efforts had been worth it. The sight of Hyuuga Hiashi covered in glitter was only topped by the memory of his horrified face when he realized it. Naruto sighed contentedly in memory, laced with regret. He missed “his” Hiashi, the clan head who had helped him devotedly, almost obsessively, to prepare for his time-jump, but the current version really needed to get that stick out of his ass. Shikamaru had been there, and his laugh had been like the best sound ever. His friend tended to find most pranks not worth the bother, but it didn’t mean he couldn’t appreciate the results of Naruto’s efforts.

The Hyuuga head had been mortified ― and furious, of course ― but there was no proof whatsoever of Naruto’s involvement, he had made sure of it. Hiashi even asked Inuzuka Tsume to track the delinquant, but the other clan head had laughed even louder than Shikamaru when learning of the Hyuuga’s plight, clapped Hiashi on the back, and told him that he needed someone to take him down a peg or two, sometimes. The other villagers, shinobi and civilians alike, seemed to agree, as Hiashi might have felt humiliated, but he got massive sympathy points from his peers, most of whom were sort of waiting for their turn anyway, even if they didn’t know it yet. Naruto could be systematic like that.

He had already added hot pepper in the sake of the Akimichi’s household the previous month, to their wrath and despair. He had almost felt bad about it, but hey, it was for their own good. Less risk for them of being suspected to be on his side. He waited to learn a bit more about Uchiha Fugaku before acting against his clan. That left the Aburame as his next shinobi target. But he wasn’t quite sure how to proceed. Nothing too threatening , Shikaku had said. You don’t want to be thought of as dangerous.

In the end he settled for a less than ideal choice. It was maybe too serious, but the Aburame were a tough target. And he would have to do it at night, so it left him some time for a bit of snooping first. He had most of the underground complex that served as Root’s base mapped, and found several of their facilities out of town, but he wasn’t sure yet of their numbers and identities. Spending more time in Sage mode to sense everyone was no bother, but it made him more likely to be noticed, so he had to be more careful. At least there were no Uchiha in Root, so his henge was less likely to be seen through (although his version could withstand at least a cursory glance with a Sharingan, if not quite a Mangekyou). He usually sent a kage bunshin while following classes under his true self, but it wouldn’t work on the weekend and he didn’t want to wait. And if he had to get caught at pranking to establish an alibi, he didn’t want it to be just drawing silly or obscene graffiti somewhere ― he had standards, now, dammit. Civilian targets were so easy, they deserved a bit more creativity.

Thinking with nostalgia of his Jiraiya, he smiled and went to the baths.

―――

Kakashi had been observing Naruto with attention in most of his spare moments since he knew of his time travel, and he was still amazed with how casually his pranks were accepted. The Hyuuga prank of last week was a perfect case: everyone had laughed and sniggered, but he had yet to hear anyone being worried at the idea of a prankster managing to get into the supposedly secure house of a shinobi clan. Even if Naruto hadn’t been caught this time , he was everyone’s favorite suspect for any pranks anyway. Didn’t people wonder how he was so good?

As the kid ran from the bathhouse, Kakashi decided to look at this from a bit closer. Knowing Naruto, he could see the kid was very deliberately staying fast enough to outrun his pursuers, but slow enough to be highly visible, taunting them in a bright orange T-shirt and loudly laughing. The pursuing men had visible reasons to be furious: Naruto had switched their normal clothes for outrageous things ― tight shorts with bunnies prints, purple half-see-through skirts, geta decorated with frilly flowers, lacy tops… Where had he even found them?

Turning to the origin of all the ruckus, Kakashi could see several young women sniggering at the sight of some other less young men in ridiculous clothing, who hadn’t even tried running and were bravely ignoring their ignominy while hurrying home. Naruto’s choice in victims was interesting, as none of the men were elderly or sporting any deformity or humiliating scar. The prank was a rather good choice, too: if the clothes had been merely stolen, the bathhouse might have felt compelled to lend patrons yukatas to cover themselves, but this was much more visible.

Hearing a respectable matron curse the demon under her breath for the practical joke, he frowned and edged unobtrusively closer under the henge of a middle-aged woman. As he approached, another woman, much younger, was weakly disagreeing with the first one ― interesting, this was the first time he had heard one of the civilian villagers actively defend Naruto’s reputation.

“You’re a bit harsh, Hoshira-san. He didn’t hurt no one.”

“He insulted those poor boys’ manhood, Shiori-kun,” the matron answered bitingly. “And now in this freezing weather they might catch death, and it would be his fault.”

“Didn’t you enjoy the view?” asked Kakashi innocently. The young woman ― Shiori, apparently ― giggled while Hoshira spluttered.

“And Shiori-kun is right, that’s not dangerous,” added Kakashi. Under the feminine guise, he smiled with pearly teeth and an amused glint in “her” brown eyes, “The run will have warmed their blood.”

“And the poor boy is no more warmly clothed,” noted Shiori, looking a bit worried.

“He’s not a boy,” said the matron in an outraged tone. “And he’s a thief!”

“He’s a kid, Hoshira-san,” interrupted Kakashi, with a slightly severe look, before Hoshira could launch into an accusing tirade. At her venomous stare, he added firmly, more to the benefit of the watching passerbys than to hers, “He’s playing, like kids do. And he didn’t get away with any of their clothes, so he most likely just hid them. He’s harmless, just maybe a bit too flashy. Just wait a few more years and he’ll be more settled.”                                              

Hoshira kept silent, furious, but in the minority ― the mostly female crowd was either dispersing or nodding, like Shiori was. Affecting indifference, Kakashi turned to leave unhurriedly, while laughing on the inside.

Harmless.Right.

―――

Aburame Shibi was a very light sleeper, even when compared to his fellow shinobi. But he wasn’t sure what might have woken him up in the dead of night ― his hive felt peaceful, the house silent… And given the creaky wooden floor, no sound usually meant no one walking. Still, no shinobi worth the name should ignore a gut feeling, especially not the head of his clan. He left the bed with murmured apologies to his wife for waking her and ghosted through the house on light feet.

For only a few steps ― he tripped on wire placed at ankle level and bit back a curse as he transformed the fall into a more controlled kind of flowing down that let him get back to his feet with barely a sound, ruffled, but intact. That woke his hive something fierce, and he let them fly around and sense. A few seconds later, he still had no name, but he could at least place a disturbance. He shunshinned to one of the hidden gates of the compound, intercepting a kid in… orange? The light was uncertain, but even more than the garment, the whiskered face was recognizable enough. And the chakra his kikaichu were picking up was unmistakable.

Shibi stood, bemused, in front of the Kyuubi’s jinchuuriki as the boy let out a curse under his breath. Interestingly, he didn’t try to run ― once seen, he would have been caught anyway, but it took some courage to not even try denial. There was some cunning in those eyes, dark under the moon, before Naruto adopted as pitiful an expression as possible.

“Com’ on, won’t do it again?”

Shibi didn’t believe it for a moment, but he kept his silence ominous for a few more seconds before simply asking, “Why?”

Naruto looked perplexed.

“Why you, or why the prank?”

Shibi repressed a smile. Yeah, the kid had guts. But the Aburame still had a point to make.

“Why wire? That’s not glitter or pepper, that could be really dangerous.”

“But you’re all ninja!” protested Naruto. He sounded sincere, even a bit indignant. “You wouldn’t get hurt just by wire.” He seemed to hesitate briefly, before adding, “Plus, I don’t really know your bugs, so I wasn’t sure if glitter or paint would annoy them. I didn’t want to risk hurting them, y’know.”

Shibi blinked at the excuse. That was either naive or strangely considerate. The kikaichu were resilient enough to use as weapons, they weren’t that fragile. But few enough thought of the insects as worthy of respect, he didn’t want to discourage the boy. He looked again at the kid’s eyes, too innocent. Huh. That brat was shaping up to be a good manipulator, at least.

Shibi thought again about his options. If he reported Naruto, he would at most get a scolding from the Hokage, who was overworked already but was the boy’s only legal guardian. The kid wouldn’t stop ― nothing so far had worked, anyway ― but would be even more isolated, with more reason to be resentful. Shibi wasn’t blind to the villagers’ prejudices, even if he didn’t share them. And… he was curious. Akimichi, Hyuuga, Aburame… he wasn’t stupid enough to miss the next logical step in that progression, and he really didn’t want to discourage Naruto from his target, assuming he was gutsy enough to take on the Uchiha and good enough to escape their wrath unscathed afterward.

Shibi sighed and tried to take on a more severe look. “Be more careful, okay? You shouldn’t risk hurting people just for a laugh.” The kid looked properly cowed, but Shibi wasn’t about to underestimate his acting abilities again. He added, “I won’t report you if you tell me how you managed to break in.”

Naruto was squirming, before launching into a surprisingly complicated supposed answer, full of evasion and glossing over details. He was about as informative as Hatake in a good mood ― Shibi had worked with him more than once ― and that was saying something. Shibi interrupted the kid mid-explanation, sighed and surrendered, “Just… Don’t target the Aburame again.”

“Thank you! You’re cool!” Naruto relaxed, and bowed down with gratitude before flashing a relieved smile at Shibi and running away.

Fighting an incipient headache, Shibi returned into the house and carefully cut the wire in front of his room. He made a round, initially wanting to get rid of that damn wire before anyone got hurt, but… as he checked which doors had been booby-trapped, he noticed that all of the wire was across the doors of active shinobi, at least chuunin level. None across the doors of any elders or children.

The idea left him all thoughtful. Naruto had managed to come into the compound, and knew it well enough to know which doors were whose. And armed with that knowledge, all he did was make sure the shinobi wouldn’t get too complacent even in their own home. The lesson might be worth it. Shibi left the rest of the wire. He would have to talk to Shino about his classmate. He seemed worth associating with.

―――

Sarutobi Hiruzen was a busy man, but not too much to have time to give to his favorite ward. He had missed the boy’s birthday, as he had to show up to the festivities, but he had taken the time to go by his apartment two days later and give him a new set of clothes, warmer for the winter. He had chosen fall colors, of dark green, brown, and a rusty orange he hoped might tempt Naruto, to discourage his love for bright hues, but given the latest report, he had failed ― Naruto would rather go in light clothes, in his favorite shade of orange, than in the warmer options the Hokage had provided.

He wondered sometimes if his choice to let the kid grow without an appointed guardian was wise. He thought it provided the best long-term security, but he hadn’t anticipated quite so flashy a behaviour in Naruto. A shameful overlook, given his parents.

The passing remark of the Aburame clan head about Naruto’s energetic behavior hinted that he thought along the same lines. Shibi had blandy reported an intrusion in his compound without providing any suspect, and for that the Hokage was grateful. At least he wouldn’t have to scold Naruto about it, as the Hyuuga clan head had almost demanded despite the lack of proof, before admitting that a six-year-old was an unlikely suspect given the necessary skill level involved.

But by now most every civilian would be prejudiced, even if the animosity toward the boy seemed to abate somehow to mere annoyance lately. And he couldn't name anyone from a shinobi clan without being accused of favouritism. Whoever earned the jinchuuriki’s loyalty first had to be more carefully screened.

He hoped to surprise Naruto with his visit. When the boy opened the door barely a second after the knock, he looked up at him with a bright smile, and went to hug him.

“Jiji!”

The greeting was warm and comforting.  The boy seemed happy and healthy, soothing Hiruzen’s conscience.

“Naruto-kun. I’d ask how your week was, but I got some reports on your activities…” He tried to take on a more severe look. Naruto tried to look more innocent. He was getting good at it, but it was hard to take it seriously against over a dozen eye-witnesses.

“Naruto,” sighed the Hokage, “What did I say about pranks?”

“Uh, that they’re awesome and I should totally do it again?”

Hiruzen lectured Naruto about the proper respect due to every citizen of Konoha ― yes, even the civilians ― but softened the reprimand about that bathhouse incident by offering to buy him some books. It would be a more proper pastime than pranking.

Naruto had been subdued ― resentful, if Hiruzen had to guess, and he regretted anew having to scold the boy ― while listening, but perked up a bit at that last offer.

“Could I have one of those actions books with ninjas as heroes?”

Hiruzen smiled at Naruto’s enthusiasm. He had the perfect book in mind. Jiraiya would be glad. He had asked for news of Naruto just the previous week, as he came for one of his reports. Those occasions to meet were rather infrequent, and always left the Hokage saddened, but unsurprised, that all of his students had been so hurt by Konoha that they could barely stand to visit. It had played a part in his impulse to go see Naruto in person today. The kid always cheered him up. His smile was as contagious as his mother’s had been.

Hiruzen left the apartment thoughtful about Naruto’s situation. He had left the orphanage about six months ago, now, and by all accounts was managing fine. He was shaping up to be an independent child. It had its advantages, but Hiruzen couldn’t help but wonder how much of the happiness he saw was a mask, and how much was genuine. He would need to monitor the kid more carefully.

―――

Naruto was thoughtful in the wake of Sarutobi’s visit. He was glad each time he got to see the old man ― he had missed him, alive and kind like this, instead of desolate and anguished across a battlefield, an unwilling soul full of regrets in a reanimated body. He rejoiced in seeing him alive, truly, and yet... it saddened him, too, on some level. That Hokage didn’t know him, the true him, whether the child he had been or the man he had become. And the Hokage was unaware Naruto knew him as anything but a distant grandfatherly figure, either.

It confused Naruto, even if he had kind of expected it. Most of the people who knew him had died, but the people he had known were still alive. He ached in that in-between place. He saw Sakura, shy and awkward, and he could never have guessed what she could become if he hadn’t seen it with his own eyes. He saw Sasuke, sweet and smiling if a bit haughty, all polite like he couldn’t even remember seeing him before, and it hurt to think of who he might have become.

For all the bittersweetness of seeing the kid version of his former teammate, and hoping he would turn out very differently, it was actually stranger to see the adults. Inoichi and Shikaku were pretty much the same as their alternate timeline counterparts, as far as Naruto could see, which was a bit comforting. He hadn’t been really close to them anyway, so he couldn’t tell the difference if any.

Kakashi was weirder to see. He had known his counterpart way too well, and he could already see the slight differences in behavior, his never sensei now done mourning for Obito while his former sensei had never really stopped grieving. Naruto knew the weight of survivor’s guilt, and he was both glad and jealous to see it so much lighter in this version of Kakashi. These mixed feelings didn’t stop there ― he was both unsettled and relieved to see Kakashi’s character begin to diverge from the one he knew. He would miss “his” version, but he couldn’t regret the chance to see a happier one.

Instead of being the grown-ups making the decisions, though, as Naruto was used to, these versions acknowledged his forewarning and actually deferred to him. It was daunting, humbling, and sometimes it ate at him, this responsibility. Well, more nibbled ― not devouring, more worrying. But he also needed their trust more than ever. He was a bit low on his own self-confidence right now, trying to project all he could of it, and he could use the comforting thought of being trusted. It was anchoring him.  

He had expected for it to be hard, to be confronted again to the hostility of the villagers after getting used, too briefly, to their approval as he protected them with all his strength. But he actually didn’t mind that much. Now he knew why they acted the way they did, now he had his eyes open enough to see the hidden fear beneath the open dislike. It made dealing with it so much easier. He had time , now, to act on it ― to prove himself harmless, even helpful when treated with sympathy.

He had taken to note which civilians defended him, if any, and he tried to do a little something in return. A bit of help to weed the garden of an old lady, owner of a perfume shop, who had frowned at patrons when they glared at him. He had come to buy some of those little sewn bundles of lavender, made to scent clothes in wardrobes, to offer a pair of waitresses who had taken pity and gave him some leftovers when he looked hungry. And patiently, slowly, little good deed by little good word, the civilians were fearing him less and less.

He had other worries, though. He hadn’t felt Sai’s chakra anywhere in Konoha, and he wasn’t sure if it was because he was in another facility Naruto hadn’t discovered yet, or if he was on a long-term assignment out of Konoha, or if his chakra had changed with the years to the point of being unrecognizable. It was perhaps better like this, though. His Sai had advised him not to intervene in his case. He had gained valuable skills and knowledge during his time in Root, and didn’t know anything else. But it would be hard for Naruto to do nothing to help his friend while Danzo was trying to stomp any humanity out of him.

Naruto wasn’t good enough at sensing yet, not by his standards. He could recognize people he knew, but couldn’t check their health or pinpoint the nature of a stranger, at least not yet ― he was really planning to train all he could that he had missed during the war, but he had to do things in some kind of order.

First, convert Obito. Much of the rest would depend on that. He couldn’t really relax or do anything for his own sake until after. He couldn’t let his anxiety about it mess with the encounter. It would be hard enough as it was.

Chapter Text

It's astonishing how much trouble one can get oneself into, if one works at it. And astonishing how much trouble one can get oneself out of, if one simply assumes that everything will, somehow or other, work out for the best.

― Destruction, in Sandman #72, “The Wake”

Kakashi returned from his latest mission much less exhausted than he usually was, and marvelled anew at the differences between ANBU and jounin missions. No one had actually died this time around, and even the unofficial part had gone without a glitch. He’d been amazed by the pointed civility of the Raikage, and upon meeting Killer B and Nii Yugito, slowly realized that Ay and Yugito might actually feel something close to kinship with him. They, too, had to deal with a time-traveler delivering terrifying news, and by all evidence, Killer B had been even more blunt and graphic in describing the future he came from, although more selective: Kakashi was almost sure he hadn’t in fact revealed the identity of Akatsuki’s shadow leader.

Ay had seemed to fish for information and additional confirmation of his brother’s tale, and Kakashi had tried to be at least somewhat open about it, wanting to honor Naruto’s honesty. Nothing too personal, and he kept the details of the information more pertinent to Konoha to himself, but what he gave obviously perfectly corroborated Killer B’s story, and Ay left their meeting visibly unsurprised, but even more troubled.

Yugito was an obviously competent kunoichi, and delighted to get the tutelage of her fellow jinchuuriki. Kumo had been somewhat more accepting of their jinchuuriki than Konoha these last few years, to Kakashi’s regret, and her increased apparent control had also increased her status and the acceptance of the villagers. She had been surprisingly friendly toward Kakashi, too. The Nibi seemed to agree with her personality, and maybe Matatabi was curious of Kakashi, knowing of him only through Kurama and Naruto. Kakashi himself was itching to know how it could be to live with a time-traveler in one’s head , although he wasn’t quite curious enough to wish it for himself.

Killer B had been something else entirely. Kakashi wasn’t sure how his older self had dealt with the unceasing rapping, but his own patience was sorely tried… a fact Killer B seemed perfectly aware of, and in fact greatly enjoyed. Well. Let him have his fun ― or coping mechanism. He had obviously leaned quite heavily on his brother to get him to try for peace, and the scrolls Kakashi left with were more than worth any amount of rapping.

When he had reported to Shikaku on his missions, both official and less so, Shikaku had mentioned he might want to take some of his accumulated leave very soon, which was quite a heavy hint for the normally rather subtle jounin commander. So once freed from his debriefing, Kakashi went in search of his favorite time-traveler. He was just in time to invite him for lunch.

“Hey, Kakashi!” Naruto’s smile was always so warm and sincere, Kakashi felt humbled to think such brightness survived years of war. He pushed aside the somewhat gloomy thought and gave a smile of his own to the jinchuuriki.

“Hey, Naruto! Want to try for some ramen?”

“Your treat?”

“First bowl only, you’d ruin me otherwise…”

Naruto laughed and fell in step with Kakashi. After ensuring their privacy, he asked more quietly, “Should I get a clone to go back to the Academy?”

Kakashi nodded, and added, “We could go to my apartment after the meal, if you wish. I think Shikaku wants to speak with you.”

“Must be about our trip. We leave in two days.”

Kakashi went quiet, trying not to let his body tense. “It came sooner than I thought.” He looked obliquely at Naruto. “Do you really think you can do it?”

Naruto sighed and answered, “I’m sure that he can be convinced to renounce his current plan. I’m less certain that I can convince him not to go for another plan just as crazy, or to return to Konoha, that’s something else entirely, you know. Either way, I know we don’t go there to fight. If he wants to, we shouldn’t fight back. We’ll have another chance, I guess.”

“You won’t give up talking? Even if he fights?”

“I never give up!” Naruto’s smile was bright and sudden.

They were arriving at Ichiraku’s, and Kakashi let him eat in peace. He hesitated a bit before lowering his mask, but he had noted before that Naruto didn’t seem to want to catch his face, and indeed he kept his eyes lowered while Kakashi ate. That made him all the more thoughtful.

Naruto knew him unnervingly well, and he sometimes wondered what his alternate might all have said about himself. He tried to avoid picturing it, but it was an inescapable thought. Possible future Kakashi had given information knowing he wouldn’t be the one to live with the consequences, and that the more info given, the greater the chance would be of Naruto succeeding in saving the world ― and Obito. Current Kakashi could guess that in those circumstances, he would have cheerfully shared anything, no matter how private. Hell, he would have jumped at that chance of trolling his past self with all the embarrassing details. He hoped it would be worth it.

After eating, they went to Kakashi’s apartment, which he had much more seriously warded since his first talk with Naruto. The defenses were layered, and keyed to let in only those already knowing about Naruto when the jinchuuriki was inside. Once secured, they both relaxed and Kakashi prepared tea.

“So, how goes your second first year at the Academy so far?”

Naruto actually took the time to think on it, with a perplexed look.

“It’s… very strange. I didn’t realize how much of that stuff I’d forgotten. The textbooks stay mostly as boring as the first time around, but at least I understand them better. I still don’t get why we’re supposed to learn all those rules, though, seriously, they never helped before.” He grinned suddenly, “When I was bored, I checked the list. I think there’s two or three I haven’t broken yet, I should get to it…”

Kakashi snorted. If in Naruto’s alternate reality, he had been the boy’s sensei, he had obviously managed to at least not infect his student with his own previous pathological love for rules. He was glad. Maybe Naruto would want help breaking those few left...

“Iruka-sensei helps by sneaking me other texts to study in class, things he checks out of the library for me, so I don’t have to fake being interested,” continued Naruto. “Some books on chakra theory could actually be pretty interesting, now that I’ve seen what’s the deal with all the different chakra, but the writers really made it sound all boring and confusing. I prefer the history books, some of the good ones are written like adventures, it’s rather fun. I’ve never had that much interest in history before, but then I never had to think about maybe traveling there.”

Kakashi asked curiously, “Could you actually do that?”

“Nope, not by any method that I know of, at least. Travel by Bijuu shouldn’t go further than my birth. Sage, having to travel to my toddler years would be horrible…” Naruto turned pensive. “But the story of the founding of Konoha was stranger this time around. The books made it all sound very formal and dry, just a strategic alliance between clans, plus a bit of drama, but… It doesn’t seem real. Did you know Madara was kind of obsessed with Hashirama? They really were best friends, once. And I think Hashirama really missed him, too ― he never forgave himself for letting Madara leave Konoha, for failing to convince him home.”

The idea seemed to pain him personally, and Kakashi wondered if he was still talking of Hashirama. He thought a moment that he would stop there. He didn’t dare push Naruto if reminiscing was hurting him. But the time-traveler went on after a pause.

“When we fought, Madara was all resentful, having to fight for the same side as his rival was making him bitchy and talkative, I’ve learned more about the Uchiha and Senju from his and Hashirama’s rants than from any books…”

Kakashi was both fascinated and uneasy. Some people were better left buried, in his opinion. But he had to ask.

“How was Madara?”

“Powerful, and impressive, but not really right in the head,” sighed Naruto. “I don’t know how he was when he was young, but Hashirama thought he wasn’t the same person after his brother’s death, and after fleeing Konoha, he spent years either alone, or staying in the shadows spying on his clan. I think his plan was all he had left, in the end.” He looked at Kakahi with a mixture of regret and relief. “I’m glad he’s dead, now. He would never have renounced, not for anything. I don’t think he knew how to change anymore.”

Kakashi could understand that, but it didn’t make it easier to think about. He clinged to the idea that Obito wasn’t that far gone ― yet ― while he tried to make the conversation go to a happier place.

“Speaking of Uchiha, did you make any progress? I’ve been out of the village for the last week, so...”

Naruto immediately relaxed and giggled in happy memory.

“I was sorta making friends with Sasuke lately, and ’bout two weeks ago, he wanted to invite me home, but couldn’t ― he told me his father had forbidden him. So… since Fugaku doesn’t want people to come in, I thought I’d make him come out.” He grinned, fox-like, while Kakashi kept listening with growing dread.

“It was glorious ,” chipped Shisui, and he looked disappointed when neither Naruto nor Kakashi were even a bit surprised at his sudden presence. Well, at least it reassured Kakashi that whatever happened couldn’t have been that dire. He went and fetched  another cup for pouring the tea while Shisui closed the window.

“Hi, Shisui!” greeted Naruto. “Stop pouting, you know I can sense you. How have you been?”

“Busy with missions, mostly. Since a certain someone —” the glare Kakashi could feel directed at his back was clear enough “—decided to resign, suddenly we find ourselves stretched a bit thin.”

“You wouldn’t be if you had let Itachi apply to ANBU as he wanted,” noted Kakashi without sympathy.

“As if I’d let him after That Briefing! I’m sure he doesn’t even really want to be ANBU anyway, he’s too much of a pacifist, it’s just Fugaku pressuring him to be even more the perfect son that he already is, and if all he needed to resist was a little needling, I was all too happy to provide.”

“And speaking of Fugaku, you interrupted at an interesting moment. So, what happened?”

Naruto went back to grinning, while Shisui explained dreamily.

“Stink bombs. Lots of them. Five days ago, the whole district was unlivable. Just washing wasn’t enough ― there were more hidden in every nook and cranny, ready to fall. It took two days to really get it all out.” He was looking at Naruto with pride. “That was good . Some Uchiha asked friends to house them temporarily, and at least one seized the occasion to just move out. And since Hitomi has an active Sharingan, too, Fugaku doesn’t want to disown her anymore than me.”

Kakashi felt torn between laughing his ass off at the mental image and groaning in pain at the idea of Fugaku’s reaction. He just face-palmed and stated behind his hand, “I won’t ask how you did it, I won’t .” As he lifted his gaze to Naruto, who was now laughing at him, he added, “Won’t that endanger your relationship with Sasuke, though?”

“Not proven,” shrugged Naruto, “and even if I got caught ― he’s six. He’s still capable of appreciating a prank. Shika had invited him on the day it happened, and Itachi was on a mission, so neither suffered from it personally, y’know.”

“Meanwhile, some villagers, especially previous prank victims, have actually paid rounds of drinks to disgruntled Uchiha just to commiserate. Hiashi even almost smiled.” Shisui sighed with satisfaction.

Kakashi had to admit that was well done. But it would be hard for Fugaku to see any advantage to the Uchiha’s humiliating fate, and as chief of police his power was nothing to scoff at. If he caught Naruto, there would be hell to pay. And yet… Kakashi glanced at Naruto. Compared to what he was trying to avoid, it barely registered. Fighting an apocalypse surely gave perspective.

“Try not to antagonize him too much,” he still cautioned Naruto. “I get that you might want a bit of payback, but we’ll have to work with him at some point ― he’s still a clan head.”

Naruto merely shrugged, looking unconcerned, but Shisui had a crease in the brow, not quite noticeable enough to be called a frown, but at least a close cousin. He turned to Naruto.

“About Uchiha and payback. Don’t get me wrong here, I’m totally behind you on the redemption thing and all that, but, I have to wonder. Gaara and Killer B, they have the same kind of memories of the war that you do, they’re used to seeing him as an enemy. How would they deal with a reformed Obito?”

For the first time during the conversation, Naruto seemed to hesitate, and Kakashi’s attention sharpened. He had to privately admit that wasn’t a problem he had anticipated, and yet he should have. He just came back from seeing Killer B, after all, and … and the man had NOT told his brother that Obito would have been responsible for the war. That seemed quite a hint, in retrospect.

“I talked it over with them, and they both agreed to give him a chance. Neither has told anyone about the identity of Akatsuki’s leader.”

Naruto gave Kakashi an almost apologetic look, and admitted, “They’ll do it at least in part for you, you know. We’ve all been comrades in arms for years with an alternate version of you. You saved Gaara’s life when Akatsuki tried to rip the Ichibi from him, they didn’t manage it thanks to you. And even Shukaku, crazy as he is, has enough honor to be grateful for his life. Killer B fought at your side and won’t forget that you protected his brother when he couldn’t. And we all know how Obito was your friend and saved your life during your war. The first time around, you discovered his identity in the middle of a battle after over a year of war, when I broke his mask, and… let’s say you didn’t take it well?”

Kakashi winced. He doubted there was a way for him to take it well, but there were degrees of horror in “taking it badly”, and with ten more years of angst and a war going on, he knew himself well enough to guess the shock would have broken him. At least this time around Naruto had given him privacy and hope to soften the blow. It felt weird to think that he might collect on debts he didn’t remember earning, but if it gave Obito a chance, he would hardly complain.

“Anyway. What about those scrolls Killer B told me about?” asked Naruto brightly, and Kakashi welcomed the blatant change of topic.

“What scrolls?” asked Shisui, interested.

“Since the fall of Uzushio, there has been a number of reported scrolls with Uzumaki sealing techniques surfacing here and there, and Naruto asked the other jinchuuriki to track them if possible.”

“In my time, they had all been destroyed,” commented Naruto, “some since before the beginning of the war, some during. Nothing left anyway.”

“Right. Well, Killer B found some of them in Kumo and had them copied…”

They spent a pleasant hour or so discussing fuinjutsu before Shisui seemed struck by a sudden thought.

“Say, Naruto, fuinjutsu ― what does Kurama think of it? He’s been sealed for decades, yes? He doesn’t resent you for studying how to be even better at it?”

Naruto looked at him as if he had grown a second head.

“You gave me a chibi version that made him feel positively murderous, and you’re worrying about his feelings now?

“It wasn’t meant as an insult!” A notably paler Shisui answered weakly. “I just thought it would be cute and cuddly…”

Naruto burst into laughter, and Kakashi felt his lips twitch under his mask. Shisui had been nearly eight during the Kyuubi attack ― how he could even put “chakra monster” and “cuddly” in the same mental case, Kakashi had no idea. Shisui went on more strongly.

“I mean, he’s there all the time, isn’t he? And he can’t even talk directly with us. The least I could do is ask what he thinks.”

Naruto was grinning wickedly while looking around, as if searching for something. He turned to Kakashi to ask, “Where’s your sealing ink?”

Kakashi was understandably wary of answering, but curiosity got the better of him. “Wait a sec.” He gave the necessary tools and paper and asked while Naruto was beginning to draw seals, “What are you planning, exactly?”

“Well, Shisui just said Kurama can’t talk with you, but he can, it’s just too noticeable most of the time, we haven’t really perfected any kind of stealth with it, so I was thinking, as long as we keep the chakra signature inside the room, it should be alright.” He had drawn six identical containment seals, and once placed on the walls, floor and ceiling of the room, he activated them with hand seals.

Then Kakashi understood exactly what Naruto meant with “noticeable”, as the air inside the room seemed to thicken with a formidable presence, feeling like anger with a trace of malice. Kakashi fought not to let himself be overwhelmed by memories of the last time he felt that chakra. Naruto hadn’t even blinked, but his eyes were now the fiery red of an ember, with slitted pupils, and the three whiskers marks on each of his cheeks had deepened and darkened.

He wasn’t talking, just fixing Shisui with a glare. Kakashi was really, really glad not to be the target of that glare. Shisui looked as if he was regretting a lot of his life choices, not knowing what to say. He settled on “...Hello, Kurama?”

... Uchiha. ” There was a perceptible growl in that voice, which had deepened. A lot.

“Shisui, yes, pleased to meet you.”

Kakashi had to admire the kid’s guts. Or recklessness. Sometimes it was hard to tell the difference. Kurama looked unimpressed, and the expression felt so strange to see on Naruto’s face. After a moment, he snorted, although the sound was closer to a snarl.

Shisui. You’ve got a lot of fucking nerve, you know. ” He sighed in exasperation. “ At least you made the brat laugh .”

“I strive to please,” answered Shisui, trying to regain his composure. “So, fuinjutsu? Do you have any thought on it?”

It’s what’s allowing me to speak right now, ” shrugged Kurama. “ And the better Naruto gets at it, the better he can alter our seal for greater convenience. It’s just a tool. Can be useful.

Kakashi was beginning to be more fascinated than afraid, his rational mind overriding the more primitive part of his brain that wanted to flee or fight in the face of a predator. But as Shisui was about to go on, Shikaku entered.

―――

Shikaku wished he could say he had a good reason to be grumpy to his wife, snappish to his jounin and acerbic to the desk chuunin of the Hokage tower. But he knew it was just nerves ― plus maybe a bit of a hangover ― and it made him even more irritable to know he couldn’t do anything about it. Two days. Two days until Naruto left to reason with a crazy S-class missing nin in all but name, armed with a smile and basically nothing else. Not alone, true ― with the one most likely to be vulnerable and damaged in the encounter, emotionally compromised as he was. Shikaku had still made sure Kakashi would have his free time, with an innocuous-looking excuse if any of his friends ― so, Gai ― asked about his whereabouts.

He sighed internally ― again. He knew that Naruto and Kakashi were both very competent shinobi which were highly likely to survive the encounter unharmed, but damn it, Naruto had time-traveled to avoid Obito winning the war he started, and the idea of the coming meeting was creeping him out. He’d tried to speak with Inoichi, but his old friend was annoyingly unbothered and merely asked uncomfortable questions about the true reason of his nerves. He should have known ― he’d barely escaped their drinking session of the previous evening without growling defensively at Inoichi.

At least there wasn’t too much time left by now. In a few days he would know ― after a fashion ― if Naruto had succeeded.

He wanted to speak to him a last time, and he knew he wouldn’t find the time the next day, so he hoped Kakashi had taken the hint. He was almost sure he had, but he really wasn’t in the mood to trust in his good fortune. The days were shortening, and the light was already starting to fade by the time he could free himself. He was distracted as he took the stairs to Kakashi’s apartment, and assuming he was expected, he opened the door directly ― to the feel of an oppressive chakra bringing back memories of danger, danger, now, and he threw a kunai at the threat before ducking without thinking.

Once his brain took the time to remind his body that the feeling of threat was likely outdated, he lifted his head to look at Naruto, too tense to feel ashamed of his reaction. One had better listen to their survival instinct to last in this business, after all. Naruto was looking back at him with a toothy grin and fire red eyes with slitted pupils, holding his thrown kunai between the pointer and middle finger of his right hand, shrouded in a reddish haze.

But it wasn’t Naruto who answered, “Kurama. Pleased to meet you too.”

As the chakra pressure vanished from the room, Naruto’s eyes bled back to his usual intense blue, and he groaned. “Shikaku-san. Sorry, sorry! I didn’t think you would just come in.”

Shikaku stood slowly as Naruto gave him back his kunai.  

“You make a compelling argument for knocking first.” He breathed once deeply, and added, “No offense meant to Kurama. Sorry for overreacting.” Then he frowned. “You didn’t sense me?”

“I sealed the room before letting Kurama manifest,” shrugged Naruto, “so I couldn’t feel the chakra outside. He would have felt any threatening intent, but since you didn’t mean any harm he didn’t sense you either.”

“I didn’t know you could do that,” continued Shikaku more pensively. “What was it, exactly? You can lend him your body just like that?” That was interesting. He had assumed any words of Kurama would be filtered through Naruto, but if Kurama could speak more directly… very interesting.

“Well, he can also manifest outside of me, but he doesn’t like to do it indoors, where there’s not enough space for his full size. But yes, we can basically switch whoever’s in charge of my body. He usually asks first if he can, but in case of emergency, he knows I would agree anyway.”

“Well, good to know.” Shikaku’s eyes fell on Shisui, and he lifted an eyebrow.

Shisui defended himself mournfully, “What, can’t I visit a senpai who just came back from a mission?”

Shikaku rolled his eyes and let it go.

“Before I forget, Naruto, I’m supposed to tell you not to distract Shikamaru from his studies with your pranks, his attendance record is suffering.”

Naruto grinned.

“And I’m supposed to tell you I’m very sorry to make your son miss classes he doesn’t like or need just to hang out, watch clouds, and play dubious jokes on innocent civilians.”

“Right. Now that’s out of the way,” he continued more seriously, “I’d just like to review your worst-case scenario. What if Obito is not alone, and Akatsuki manage to ambush you?”

“Then I’d like sunflowers for my funeral.” Shikaku had a brief glare for Kakashi’s quip, but waited for Naruto’s answer.

“I’m pretty hard to kill,” answered the time-traveler evasively.

Shikaku stared at him a few seconds with a sinking feeling of certainty, and sighed again before surrendering and giving him the file he had prepared. It was only a short scroll, after all, carefully rolled and tucked in a protective case.

“Right. So if you need to jump in time again, here are any code words and passwords I thought might be useful, along with people to contact, from the third war to our first meeting. Just in case.” The codes were changed often enough anyway, those were obsolete. Only useful in very, very specific circumstances ― such as a time-traveler in a three or four years old body needing to convince the Hokage he meant business despite appearances.

Shisui and Kakashi were looking unsettled, but Naruto merely grimaced slightly before accepting the file. “Let’s hope it won’t have to come to that.”

Shikaku looked at him without comment. The idea of being erased from reality, with no trace of this moment but in Naruto’s memory, was stretching his nerves thin. He really didn’t understand how Inoichi could be so phlegmatic about it. He wouldn’t even die , he would just never have existed as he was today.

“I’m more worried that he might not be there, to be honest,” confessed Naruto, apparently unaware of Shikaku’s mental small scale freak-out. The Nara gladly took the opportunity to think of someone else’s worries.

“You haven’t made major changes yet, have you?” He asked. “As long as the same Kage reign in each village, with the same informations, they would likely make the same decisions. Ay hasn’t tried anything drastically different yet, has he? If Obito is reacting to news of the shinobi world, he would likely be where he once was in your timeline. Small changes would probably take more time to accumulate.” Or so he dearly hoped.

Naruto looked comforted at the notion, and nodded decisively. Shikaku sighed, and added, “In case of future missions of the kind, and for my peace of mind, would you consider informing the Hokage?”

“Yes,” Naruto quickly agreed. “I’ll have to speak with him anyway if we manage to convince Obito, but I promise I’ll talk to him right after we come back even if we don’t succeed.”

This at least took a weight off his mind. Lying to the Third, even just by omission, was making him feel like the old man could see all of his secrets each time they met. He had been extra careful in his work these past few months to avoid having to meet him more than necessary. He actually understood better now why Naruto wanted to act before talking to him. In that case at least, better ask forgiveness than permission.

And yet… It also had some exciting side. Becoming jounin commander had mostly removed him from the field, and it seemed he had missed it more than he had noticed before. He felt younger just having to keep up with Naruto. Speaking of which...

“Inoichi was wondering how you were doing lately.” He grimaced. “Ino can’t provide a convenient excuse for you to meet him.”

“I’m alright.” Naruto seemed almost surprised that anyone could worry for him, which… actually underlined how right Inoichi might have been to want to check. At Shikaku’s skeptical stare, Naruto added with a twist of his lips, “Okay, it’s not ideal. I had sort of forgotten how prejudiced the villagers were, especially the civilians, but it’s already getting better, honest.” He had a reassuring smile, “And it might even have made me feel better just after the time-jump ― I’ve been running or fighting for my life for years, it would have felt weird as hell to get all smiles. I’m more used to deal with hostility and danger.”

That was kind of the opposite of reassuring, but before Shikaku had the time to feel pity for the jinchuuriki, Naruto added with a more sincere grin, “And I’m way better at pranking now than the first time around.”

Shikaku groaned in memory.

“Right. Thank you for having spared the better sake, Chouza appreciated. After cursing you, of course.” He still had a bit of a smile. “After drinking lots and lots of water.” He had a suspicious glance at Naruto. “Now you’ve done all the noble clans.”

It wasn’t really a question, and Naruto merely grinned innocently. Shikaku sighed in advance. Before he could add anything, Naruto seemed to remember something with an exclamation and rummaged through his pockets.

“Damn, nearly forgot, even with you giving me a file. Here, I’ve prepared a full report on all Root activities I saw the last few months,” he extracted a piece of paper with what looked like a grocery list and a set of doodles from one of his pockets, “but of course it’s sealed, and since it’s a dual blood and chakra seal, I’d need a drop of your blood to add you to the list of those who can unseal it without destroying it.”

He bit his own thumb and applied it to the doodle on the piece of paper, where it flared briefly into a more complex seal, and let a set of files appear. Shikaku lifted an impressed eyebrow at their thickness. Naruto may skip the Academy occasionally, but he obviously learned to do his homework.

They spent some more time discussing Root and how to deal with Danzo. One of the problems was the old councillor’s political base. He was widely respected among the shinobi and civilians alike. They were beginning to regain some ground regarding the reputations of both the jinchuuriki and the Uchiha, but it was still fragile work, and they were all listening attentively to any whisper that may undo their efforts. Shisui’s suggestions were quite thoughtful ― Shikaku could guess how much time he had devoted to the task. They could fortunately all be patient, though Shikaku suspected it had been hard learned in Naruto’s case. Experience was a good teacher, but not a kind one.

As the afternoon was edging into evening territory, Shikaku sighed and drew himself up.

“Well, with that, I’ll call it a day.” He hesitated before adding, “Good luck. Be careful, Kakashi, I really don’t want to tell Gai you left him for an old flame.”

Kakashi rolled his eye at the stale joke. “He’s been insufferable since I’ve resigned from ANBU. Been wanting me to quit for years. It would serve him right to learn I managed to die on holiday.”

Shikaku sniggered, said his goodbyes, and left.

Chapter Text

And what can I tell you my brother, my killer

What can I possibly say?

― "Famous Blue Raincoat", Leonard Cohen

Obito was hurt and bone-deep tired, chakra depleted, too exhausted to reach home in this state. Not that the Mountain’s graveyard base ever felt like a home, but one takes what one can get. The cave he had found wasn’t so bad, as caves go ― he’d always have a complicated relationship with caves. It was cold, but at least it was dry, he could stay there for the few days it would take to replenish his chakra. After lighting a fire, he was doing a routine check before settling for the night when he tensed ― the cave was dry, but not empty. He groaned internally while checking his mask was well in place ― he really didn’t have the patience to deal with an ambush. Or the strength, if he was honest with himself.

There were only two silhouettes deeper in the cave, though, one of them a child, and he relaxed a bit. Until the child spoke, his voice startlingly clear against the soft rumble of the fire, saying, “We’re not here to fight, Tobi”, and he grew taut in the blink of an eye as they came closer and he recognized his former teammate as the bigger of the two.

Not much could surprise him these days, but seeing Kakashi there unsettled him. He still felt the same old, stale anger at the sight of his once comrade. Even such a prized genius had failed to be worthy of his gifted eye, after all. He had broken his very last promise. But Obito shouldn’t resent him for his own mistake ― he should never have trusted Kakashi in the first place. No matter. He planned to make it all better, after all.

Kakashi took another step forward, and lifted his hitai-ate with a strangled, “Obito?”, and Obito hadn’t heard that name in that voice for so long he almost regretted having to take a step back. Hell, even the voice wasn’t quite the same, too deep for his memories ― Kakashi had been only eleven during the Kannabi bridge mission...

“Who? Make up your minds, two names for me and none for you?” He was very good at feigning confusion, even better when it was real ― how did Kakashi know it was him? He hadn’t even hesitated! There was also a niggling observation at the back of his brain ― how had they come from the depth of that cave?

Kakashi began to take another step forward, but a hand stopped him, and he took a step back obediently, resettling his hitai-ate on the Sharingan Obito gave him. The remaining eye was visibly drinking in the sight, but he didn’t make any further move, and Obito blinked at seeing the casually commanding gesture of the child. He had avoided looking at him so far, maybe fearing what he would see, but he hadn’t been mistaken in his first glance, despite the looming shadows. Minato’s kid ― no, the Kyuubi’s jinchuuriki, he mustn’t get distracted by irrelevant considerations ― was looking at him, and he couldn’t for the life of him understand the meaning of the look in his eyes.

Naruto sat cross-legged on the other side of the fire, and answered his comment, as absurd as it was. “You’ve sometimes used a third one, Uchiha Obito. But I know that Madara is dead.” His eyes got more piercing as he needled Obito, “Don’t you want to say hello to your friend?”

“I have no wish to get closer to a friend-killer,” answered Obito coldly, hoping it would hurt.

Kakashi’s look of pain was much too brief for Obito’s taste, and when the Copy nin became almost expressionless, tightly controlled, Obito felt his annoyance flare. But while Kakashi failed to take the bait, Naruto went on talking.

“And yet you’re following the plan of one. How do you think Madara got his eyes?” As Obito didn’t answer, he continued, “How do you think he knew how to give you yours? Do you even know what really happened eight years ago, what lead to Rin’s death?”

At that Obito did react.

“I know what!” he snarled. “An arm through her chest, that’s what happened!” Seeing it had been hell, but even saying it was painful, no matter how many years had passed.

“She wanted to die,” intervened Kakashi unexpectedly. “Kiri had sealed the Sanbi into her, but the seal was wrong, unstable ― she was like a ticking bomb and she didn’t want to detonate in Konoha. I refused to kill her when she asked, I thought we could find a solution, correct the seal, but when we were attacked, she… just took the choice from me. She threw herself in front of one of my attacks.”

He was trying to keep his perfect composure that Obito so hated, but his anguish was leaking through, and Obito was finding it wasn’t that much better. But before he could respond to Kakashi’s justification, Naruto interrupted.

“It wasn’t Kakashi’s fault.”

“What would you know of it?” Obito asked sharply, angry at the interruption.

“Didn’t you ever wonder how Kiri just happened to have a Bijuu on hand?” Naruto’s tone was provocative, almost insulting. “While Madara was one of the very few people known to be able to capture and control one? And then the Kiri nin just happened to choose your teammate, among anyone possible, and then conveniently came to be within traveling distance of you, at the moment you had decided to come home to Konoha?”

Obito could see Kakashi’s eye widen in surprise at the news, but he had no attention to spare for him.

“I made my own choice, it was my decision not to come back!” he said, but it was weaker than he wanted.

“Do you think Madara would have given you a choice if he hadn’t known exactly how to swing it his way?” Naruto continued his taunting.

Obito could barely hear Naruto over the roar of blood in his ears. It was one thing to entertain some occasional, horrible doubts in the dark of the night, it was another entirely to hear them voiced in the open, by a kid who shouldn’t know about any of it. He clenched his fists at his side, feeling the nails of his left hand dig into his palm. His right arm wasn’t sensitive enough for that sort of things.

“He wouldn’t . He rescued me from that hole, he save me, healed me, trained me. He wouldn’t ,” grated Obito. He cared , something in him wanted to say, but he ruthlessly repressed that part.

Naruto looked suddenly even more tired than Obito felt.

“You were ready to kill your own beloved sensei and you threatened the life of his newborn son for the sake of Madara’s plan. Do you really believe he would have done any less?”

No, that was the worst thing. He didn’t believe , he believed in nothing but achieving his goal. When he would succeed, it would be worth anything. Even Madara’s lies would be redeemed.

Obito’s eye widened as he took in the full implication of Naruto knowing about those details. He had been too focused on the information itself to realize before that there were no possible living witness to those scenes of his past, except himself.

“You’re using my mind against me.” He refused to let his voice shake at the accusation, while furiously thinking about what the kid might be using. His Sharingan guaranteed this was not a genjutsu. Some kind of Yamanaka technique?

“Yes, Obito, I am using your knowledge,” said Naruto bitingly. “Do you know why? Because you told me to do it , six months in my past and fourteen years into your future, before I jumped back in time into my old body.”

That… might account for the knowledge, yes. Of course, it was even more absurd an explanation than mind control, but kudos for the kid’s imagination, he supposed.

“What the hell? Time-travel, now? Do you expect me to believe you?” Obito didn’t even try to hide his scorn.

The air suddenly felt heavy with menace, and Obito was scrambling to get ready to fight or flee at the feel of a well-remembered chakra. He reacted without thinking when Naruto’s eyes turned to the vivid red of the Kyuubi and used his Mangekyo, like he had six years ago. It didn’t go quite as well. Naruto lifted a hand to stop an alarmed Kakashi, who was about to move. A spike, then a ripple of chakra came from the jinchuuriki, like waves in water from a thrown stone, to echo on the walls of the cave. It tore down his beginning genjutsu like a hand through a spiderweb.

Don’t talk to him like that and fucking listen for once in your goddamn life!” growled the Kyuubi’s voice, inhuman even through the human lips of Naruto. A blink, and his eyes reverted to blue. He had an embarrassed grin, scratched the back of his head, and shrugged. He hadn’t even stood during the episode.

“So, that was Kurama. He doesn’t like you much. But he has a point ― how about you listen to what I have to say, and you decide after if you believe it or not?”

Still wired up from the adrenaline high, Obito guardedly nodded. Better save his meager chakra reserves for now ― he could always Kamui out of there, for a short distance at least, but he’d rather not have to. And… Any tale worth the Kyuubi ’s attention might deserve his own listening.

“It’ll take a bit more background,” Naruto sighed. “Picture it. You were collecting the Bijuu. It was harder and bloodier than you thought. Four years of war, beginning flashy around ten years from now, then getting stuck. It turned into an attrition game. There were only three remaining jinchuuriki, Gaara, Killer B and me, plus maybe a dozen of survivors, against you, the rest of Akatsuki, and Zetsu. You had us almost cornered.”

Naruto paused, looking pissed, and Obito almost winced. He had intended to make it fast, almost the only mercy he could offer to the containers, and presented like that…

“Then one morning, when I wake up Kurama is frantic in my mind, talking about things that hadn’t happened yet, talking about traveling through time. He told us what would happen that day, warned us about an ambush you were setting up, that would get Gaara captured. We prepared, but… it didn’t happen according to his forewarning. When we went to try and surprise you, you were already engaged in either a battle or a shouting match with another version of you, slightly different.”

Obito was a bit relieved to note that Kakashi seemed just as confused. Naruto noticed, too, and tried another way. He made a hand sign, summoned two clones, and each clone henged into two versions of Obito, one that he could imagine being him fifteen years from now, the other similar, but with Rinnegan eyes and white hair.

“The first one is the Obito we had been fighting for years by then. The other version was an Obito from about six weeks into the future.” He dispelled his clones, and continued. “Here’s what happened in his timeline. He won. Completely. Managed to merge all the Bijuu into the Juubi, become its jinchuuriki, get all the power, and cast the Infinite Tsukuyomi.”

Obito would have rejoiced if Naruto’s presence here didn’t clearly indicate all had not gone according to the plan. He didn’t think he could tense further, but his body seemed to try.

“But waking the Juubi also allowed the rebirth of an immortal being, Kaguya, supposedly a goddess and the ancestor of all things with chakra. And she wanted all that chakra back. So she drained the whole world of it, killing basically everyone and everything in the process. That other Obito was the very last survivor, harder to kill because at the moment he had lots and lots of chakra.”

“But…” Obito had some difficulty breathing. “Madara wouldn’t have planned it if he was not certain it would work! He spent his life , several decades , to make sure it would work!”

“Madara was wrong,” answered Naruto simply. “He was manipulated himself. I’m not sure how, maybe Black Zetsu, maybe the Gedo Mazo ― anything connected to the Juubi or Kaguya can corrupt in her favor, I suppose. He was alone for so long, he might also have been delusional.”

Obito was looking at Naruto with horror while Kakashi’s eye had widened during the tale, evidently just as surprised. Obito was barely aware of him, too caught up with calculations. Madara had said the Infinite Tsukuyomi could end all wars and bring peace. But Obito had always known that Madara might have lied. Why had he never thought that he might also just be plain mistaken ?

In a fit of panicked rage, he took off his mask and threw it against the wall of the cave, breathing heavily. There was obviously no point to it in the present company anyway. Kakashi followed the mask with his eye, watching it clatter, and to Obito’s surprise, when Kakashi’s gaze came back to his naked, scarred face, he seemed to come to some decision, raised a hand and took down his own cloth mask.

The gesture calmed Obito. He had never before seen Kakashi’s bare face, but he realized how defensive the other man was of it. He still felt raw, brittle, but at least he wouldn’t be the only one painfully vulnerable here. He took a breath, and turned to Naruto.

“And?...” Obito forced himself to ask.

“Well, here’s what happened. When that other Obito understood he had been manipulated into basically bringing about the death of everyone, he used Kamui to rewrite that ending. It’s a space- time ability, after all. But even using all of what was left of the Juubi’s chakra, he couldn’t go back more than a few weeks. He went to prevent himself from winning ― that’s the battle we witnessed. So, two versions of you, one from after the war, one from our time, okay so far?”

Numb, Obito nodded.

“From then on, we hoped to win the war ― Older one convinced Slightly Younger one to ally with us against Zetsu and the rest of Akatsuki. But it wasn’t enough ― you had recruited another Uchiha into Akatsuki, and Zetsu used him. Plus… Wait, Orochimaru is already part of Akatsuki right now, yes?” Naruto asked.

Obito lifted an eyebrow at that. He hadn’t thought the slippery sannin would be relevant to his plan that much, but he nodded again.

“Well, Orochimaru and a student of his, they perfected Edo Tensei, a jutsu to bring back the dead to fight for them.” Naruto had a haunted look, and before Obito could get any hopes up at the idea of bringing the dead back to life, he hastened to add, “It’s not a resurrection jutsu, that’s not possible, any soul who reaches the Pure Land belongs there. They can only be bound, temporarily and unwillingly, by sacrificing someone else and using a bit of the DNA of the dead. But it meant that the more of us died, the more powerful they could be. We took to burning our dead, but on the battlefield it wasn’t always doable. And when Zetsu managed to kill Slightly Younger you, we were afraid that Orochimaru would bring you back to fight for them again.”

“What?...” It was all Obito could say, in a strangled voice.

“By that point, we basically went ‘Fuck it’ and just stopped trying to win. It wouldn’t have been worth it anyway. If a reanimated you jumped in time, it would get even more of a mess. We concentrated on how to prevent the war in the first place instead. That’s when it becomes weird, so bear with me a moment ― Older versions of you and Kakashi explained it to me, so I hope you’ll follow, but it still makes no sense to me sometimes.”

Kakashi looked surprised at that, and when Obito caught his gaze the confusion there, twin to his own, comforted him somewhat. At least he wasn’t alone.

“The Bijuu are made of pure chakra,” continued Naruto. “There’s something in their nature that prevents them from being trapped in perfect time-loops, and so to avoid such a loop, they retain all their memories when someone, anyone, goes back in time. That’s why Kurama woke up in my mind with memories of the future. He had lived it, merged with his siblings when you became the Juubi’s jinchuuriki, and traveled back in time with you. Except he landed in me, and separate from the other Bijuu, of course. Going back in time unmade the Juubi.”

Obito hadn’t thought about the possibility of time-loops before, but thinking over what he knew of Kamui, he could see the risk. It wouldn’t matter for a material being ― when Older Obito had jumped back, it was with his own body, so there were two versions of him, but a Bijuu had no physical body to travel with, so it made sense that their older self would supplant their younger self entirely.

“And by using Kamui with what was left of their chakra, since they ARE their chakra, you basically taught them all how to go back in time themselves. And you could go back just a few weeks with your body, but between their massive chakra reserves and the fact they travel without a body, they can go much further , years or decades further in the past. So they did. And they brought their hosts with them by anchoring our minds with their chakra. And so here we are.”

Naruto took a moment to breathe, likely waiting for Obito to absorb all this and to see how he was reacting. He looked… sad, to be the bearer of bad news, and yet determined, as if anything he said could make it better. As if he didn’t just void all of Obito’s life goal. As if he didn’t just make him a common murderer by taking any meaning from all the deaths on his hands. Obito could, maybe, have dealt with knowing Madara had betrayed him into following his delusions, as long as he could find a way to make it right again, but if his plan was doomed to failure…

If his dream never came true, then he had basically killed hundreds ― some of his own agemates, their parents, his own sensei ― for nothing .  

Obito was at a loss for words or ideas. If Naruto’s tale was the truth, then what? And if it wasn’t… same thing, really. But not quite. He turned to Kakashi, loathe to ask him anything, but he could use a second opinion, here. Grinding his teeth, for the first time of the evening, he directly addressed his former teammate.

“How can you believe it?”

“Because it’s the truth.” Kakashi’s answer was unhesitating, and he looked sincere, but it didn’t mean much, even with his mask down making reading him easier. But he added, “The Yamanaka and Nara clan heads were also convinced, both by words and abilities, although he didn’t share as much. The war and time-travel part. Inoichi went in his mind, so he might have seen more than we were told. I didn’t know most of the details, there.”

Damn. If that was true, those were likely among the hardest shinobi to fool. So, Madara and Zetsu’s word, against Naruto and Kakashi’s… Suddenly, Obito was tired of trying to make it that kind of choice, tallying the number of voices on each side to weight their worth. He might hate the answer, but no amount of digging his heels would make it change. If his plan had worked, Naruto would have been either dead or happy in the Infinite Tsukuyomi. And if his alternate had lost before carrying out his plan, there would have been no need (and no way) for Naruto to go back in time and risk their victory. Naruto’s very presence here could only mean that he was saying the truth.

Too exhausted to stand and with no reason to try anyway, he went and sat cross-legged opposite Naruto, on the other side of his dying fire. The stone was slightly warmed by the fire, though Obito barely felt it beneath his clothes. Kakashi copied his movement, sitting beside Naruto.

He didn’t know how to go on from there. The world was still rotten, but he was now bereft of a solution. If casting the Infinite Tsukuyomi destroyed the world, he must find something else. Hell, he was too tired to think of something else.

“Nothing more?” He asked Naruto. “No wisdom or directions from older me, no mistakes to avoid or plan to follow?”

“No. Quote your older self when I asked the same thing, ‘What fucking piece of advice would you want me to give? He can’t do worse than me anyway, no matter what bullshit he pulls’, end quote. He wasn’t in the best of moods.”

If Kakashi’s mask hadn’t been pulled down, he might have missed the slight quirk of his lips before he schooled his features. Obito had to admit with an internal sigh that it sounded like something he might say. And if the measure of failure was the death of everyone, indeed he could only go up from there. But why bother?

He looked at the kid again. For that matter, why bother with this discussion? Given the obvious fact that Naruto had known when and where to find him at his most vulnerable, enough to ward the cave in advance and wait for him, why had he not just killed him? He couldn’t believe his older self would have pleaded for his life. Not after fucking up that much. He would have most likely told him how to kill him efficiently. So… why was he even still breathing? Since the jinchuuriki seemed to be in a talkative mood, he might as well ask.

“According to you, you came from a future I basically destroyed after years of war. You know I’m responsible for both your parents’ deaths. For the sealing of Kyuubi inside you. Why not just kill me?”

―――

“I have a name, you know. Naruto told you so.” Growled said Kyuubi, miffed.

Kurama observed Obito closely through narrowed eyes, but this time, when he heard the Bijuu speak, the man barely reacted, and at least didn’t try to Sharingan him into submission. Maybe, maybe they could actually talk.

“And to answer your question ― I would have absolutely no problem killing you, but the brat is too much of an optimist to pass on the occasion to let you redeem your past actions. If you can.” And if there was a bit of derision in his words, well. No one pretended that Kurama was nice.

You’re not that bad , grumbled Naruto’s voice inside his head, and Kurama felt himself mellow just a bit.

You should be the one doing the convincing , complained Kurama.

Naruto had the mental equivalent of a shrug.  

I already have him listening. If he listens to just me, though, it’ll never work. It has to be you. I thought we agreed! He sounded almost aggravated, and Kurama sighed. More like he stopped arguing because Naruto was sure he was right, and the brat usually was about people.

“Redeem?” scoffed Obito, and if Kurama thought he was sometimes bitter himself, he clearly had nothing on Obito. “Why? This world is wrong, it’s rotten to the core, there is nothing to redeem here, so why would I try?”

“In that perfect dream world of yours, were the people real? Or mere constructs of your imagination?” answered Kurama, holding back the urge to roll his eyes.

Obito gave him a stinky eye, but still gritted, “They were real once.”

“Then they were of this world. It can’t be that hopeless if it gave birth to good people.”

“Every good person I’ve known has been killed, corrupted, or broken by this world.” Everyone. And it’s that hell that you want me to help? ” Obito’s voice was biting every word.

From the corner of his eye, Kurama could see Kakashi take this with a frown, but he refrained from interrupting.

“I’ve had to wait nearly a thousand years for someone to ask me my name and consider me more than a monster to be kept out of sight when not used. Don’t start telling me how bad this world is, Obito, I fucking know ,” growled Kurama. “Doesn’t mean it HAS to be this way. If you don’t like how the world works, fucking change it. And by ‘change’, I don’t mean destroy , even if I understand the temptation.”

Obito still seemed reluctant, but he also had almost smirked when Kurama mentioned he was tempted, so he counted it as a win so far.

“It’s been tried before, many times,” objected Obito tiredly. “If it was possible, it would have already been done.”

“Just because something never happened before doesn’t mean it’s impossible,” countered Kurama. “I’ve just told you no human cared about the Bijuu since the Sage, before Naruto. If he could talk me into giving peace a chance, what excuse do you have to not even try?”

Kurama could see that Obito wanted to protest, just deny everything, he clearly didn’t want to listen. But he was. He was obsessed, maybe, but he wasn’t stupid. He never would have lasted that long if he was. Listening wasn’t agreeing, though.

“What could I do that hasn’t been done before, then? Talk to people? Hashirama tried, and died in the First Shinobi World War. All he did was move up the scale of the battles. Fight them into agreeing to peace? I’d give it a go, but somehow I get the feeling it wasn’t what you had in mind,” retorted Obito.

“The one good thing that may have come from the Fourth War was indeed that you gave everyone a common enemy, but no, killing thousands of people in the name of peace is not the way to go.” Kurama thought of Nagato, of his desire to teach peace through hating war, and he felt the need to add, “It wouldn’t work anyway, it would just teach people that a war is justified if it’s big enough. But war breeds bad feeling all around, it would rot the following peace and just turn into another cycle of violence.”

“There you are. What’s new, then, that could be used to achieve world peace? And don’t tell me Naruto ― I may grant you that your host seems unusually optimistic and means well, but given time, even he would get crushed by reality. He’d lose hope before achieving anything of worth. And he’s only one man.” Obito added bitterly, “I would know.”

At that, Kurama threw his back and laughed, the irony was just that great. He had to explain the joke. Obito seemed unsettled by his laugh, Kakashi… looked like he understood.

“Naruto wouldn’t despair” , said Kurama with absolute certainty. “Your alternate future self waged war, destroyed Konoha, killed half his friends, and Naruto still allied with him without hesitation against Zetsu. He can forgive much worse than the death of his parents. I know, I’ve tried to tempt him into giving in to his inner anger for years , in vain, and I could feel it. Instead, he converted ME into giving a try to a partnership . So no, Obito. He’s not alone. He never will be. He will always have me. He will always have friends.”

Kurama tried to ignore how sappy he sounded, but, well. One has to use whatever weapons are available. He could read the wistfulness on Obito’s face clear as day.

“You don’t have to be alone either, Obito. You still have friends in Konoha.” intervened Kakashi quietly.

Bless the man for his sense of timing. But Kurama doubted Obito was quite ready. And indeed, after a glance at Kakashi he cleared his throat and rebuked Kurama.

“So there’s two of you. You’re feared across all the land of Fire ― and likely beyond ― and Naruto is hated as a jinchuuriki. No one would listen to you.”

You do , wanted to say Kurama, but he was aware the argument would be weak. If everyone was as hard to get to listen as Obito, indeed, they were fucked.

“I’m not the only Bijuu, Obito. There are nine of us, you’re well placed to know that. And we all came back in time. We know what we want to avoid. If something, maybe not good, but useful , has to be retained from the awful mess that was the end of the Fourth War, it’s that you taught us mortality.” There was no laughter left in him now. “I’ve never been close to my siblings, but if doing a headcount every night is what it takes to avoid being sealed one by one into our funeral, you bet I’ll do the fucking headcount.”

… Was it a trace of guilt he could see in Obito? Naw, must be wishful thinking.

“...What are you trying to say?” asked Obito, with a furrow in his brow. “The Bijuu as a whole are all feared, no one would listen to ANY of you.”

“We’ve been supposedly used as deterrent for war, only so far it never worked because no village could give a damn about their jinchuuriki. But now, WE give a damn. And when we cooperate with our hosts, in a true partnership, our power is enough to weight into bloody politics.”

He could see Obito’s eyebrow rise in surprise. Well, that was better than just denial.

“Wasn’t it Akatsuki’s original goal? Revolution?” pressed Kurama.

“...It’s also been tried before,” answered Obito, but it was slower and more thoughtful than any of his previously heated rebuttals.

“Not with our backing. I would know,” noted Kurama with a smirk.

Obito fell into a contemplative silence, and Kurama was all too happy to let him pickle a bit with an internal sigh of relief. Given how mule-headed the Uchiha was, how hard it was to make him see past his anger, Kurama was uncomfortably wondering if HE had been so frustrating to talk to.

…Is it some kind of revenge? he thought at Naruto.

I don’t see what you mean , answered the brat, all innocence.

Yeah, right.

“It won’t put an end to suffering. There will always be tragedies, be it accident or illness, or plain malice.” Obito sounded like he was talking more to himself than to Kurama.

“No. It won’t,” Kurama answered nonetheless. “Nothing can prevent death forever, and if you’d seen the dead brought back from the Pure Land, as we have, you wouldn’t want it either. They didn’t want it. But ending war would lessen the burden of fear and the strain of just surviving, so that you can become more than just those who endure.”

“How would you go about it?” finally asked Obito.

Kurama jumped at the chance.

“Kirigakure. Yagura doesn’t deserve Isobu’s power, he’s a freaking psychopath. Ending the reign of the Bloody Mist would be a pretty efficient first step ― there’s a revolution already brewing there, and it would kill two birds with one stone. You could install a more trustworthy Mizukage and find another, more sympathetic jinchuuriki for Isobu.”

Obito frowned.

“Was Yagura already unhinged before becoming the Sanbi’s container? How did he capture him?”

“Isobu,” growled Kurama. “The Sanbi has a name, too. If people could fucking remember it he wouldn’t have been a danger even when improperly sealed into that poor girl.”

Obito managed to both flinch and glare, not bad. Kakashi just flinched. Kurama would almost have felt bad, but he was positive the Copy nin would approve of anything that might help change Obito’s path.

“Nohara Rin,” gritted the Uchiha. “She also had a name.”

Kurama observed him closely, then shrugged.

“To answer your question, Isobu was captured by Madara, and shoved at Rin according to his plan. In this Rin was a true Jinchuuriki, a human sacrifice, and Isobu unravelled with her death. He was barely regaining coherency when Madara got to him again. He was gifted to Yagura, although Yagura himself doesn’t seem to know it ― Isobu thinks it was done under a genjutsu. He doesn’t know if his current jinchuuriki was already insane or not, but it can’t have helped. He’s rather unwilling to reveal himself to his host now ― he fears Yagura would abuse his knowledge of the future.”

Got you . Kurama could see the very moment of Obito’s decision, when he had begun empathizing with Isobu. Of course the Bijuu was about as far from needing protection as one can get, but Obito didn’t need to know that. Kurama carefully kept his smirk purely on the inside as Obito took a deep breath and surrendered.

“And would you have a suggestion for a more suitable jinchuuriki… Kurama?”

―――

As they had prepared the cave and settled in the back of it to wait for his wayward comrade, Kakashi had been trying, again, to anticipate the possible turns of the coming arguments and again failed to picture Obito as Naruto had described him. Angry he could understand, but bitter and ruthless didn’t belong to that name. He was unspeakably glad that Naruto had volunteered ― no, demanded ― to lead the conversation, and he could only hope he wouldn’t fuck up and put his foot in his mouth at the worst moment.

Seeing Obito at all had been a relief. Despite the limited scope of the changes they had made to the timeline so far, there was always the possibility that some crucial moment had been altered too far for him to stay predictable. But he was there. Between the dark blue clothes entirely covering him and his mask, there wasn’t much to see, actually, but his posture was worn out, his movements sagged a bit as he kindled the fire. Kakashi could detect a faint trace of blood on him, sap, likely from the collected firewood, sweat, the metallic tang of steel weapons… He doubted he would have been able to identify his teammate from his smell if he hadn’t known for a fact that he was alive, but underneath it all he could still recognize traces of what had been Obito’s baseline scent.

If Kakashi hadn’t been so close, he might have missed Naruto’s covered inhale just before he took his first step toward Obito. The time-traveler being nervous actually calmed Kakashi a bit, like a proof he would be doing his utmost best. He felt ashamed to need such a sign after all Naruto had been through. Of course he would be giving it his all.

He tried to let Naruto lead the way, and follow his cues. He did slip a few times, of his own or because of Obito’s riling him up, but it didn’t seem to matter in the face of what Naruto had to say. He had noticed that the time-traveler kept some things really close to the chest, of course, but he was only now beginning to understand why.  

He had almost panicked when Obito had tried to use his Sharingan against the Kyuubi. He had never thought to ask if it was a risk, but obviously Kurama and Naruto could deal. As he kept his eye on Obito, he could see his brief glances, trying to gauge his own  reactions.

When Obito threw away his mask, he saw the face of this teammate for the first time since his supposed death, and he ached for the scars he could see and the ones he could not, testimonies of Obito’s pain. The grief on that face had not faded from the years, held for so long at bay with an impossible dream. Seeing Obito’s bare face reminded him that his own was still covered, and he decided that since Obito wanted so much to see him react, he might as well oblige. Taking down his own mask was highly uncomfortable, yet still a small price to pay if it could help Obito.

It was strange to finally hear the true ending of the Fourth War that would never happen. Stranger still to learn that Obito had been the one to save the world after endangering it. That he had then willingly ensured his own defeat. Kakashi had a stray thought for his own psych profile, buried and classified somewhere with the words “self-destructive tendencies”. It hurt to understand Obito. It hurt even more to see him fold at his answer when he fully realized that Naruto was telling the truth and his dream would never come to be.

Kakashi tensed when Obito asked about the possibility of being killed with as much emotion as he would ask someone to pass him the salt. He carefully tried to hide his reaction, but it was harder without his mask. But it seems the surprise of hearing Kurama switch again with Naruto to talk directly distracted Obito enough to miss his tell.

He winced again when hearing about the fate of every good person Obito ever knew. He was pretty sure he knew where Obito placed him, and he wanted to protest, but he held his tongue. He could finally see the bitterness and cynicism of the man Naruto had described, and he didn’t know that Obito enough to dare say anything.

Kurama was still talking anyway, and doing a pretty good job of it as far as Kakashi could tell. He balanced nicely his host, realistic where Naruto was optimistic, using anger where Naruto went for cheer, both equal in their determination. He was also clearly more manipulative, and Kakashi seized his cue to remind Obito that whatever his plan, he wouldn’t have to do it alone, he still had a home and friends there if he would only reach for them.

It actually took him a moment and one more switch from Kurama to Naruto to realize they had succeeded. The shift from confronting to arguing to discussing to agreeing had been so gradual, it’s only when Naruto and Obito began planning the practicalities of a coup d’État that it really sunk in that Obito wouldn’t lead the Fourth War. Or at least clearly not the same Fourth War considering who he was planning it with. He tried not to show anything, but he felt his body slowly unwind, heady with relief.

Despite his efforts, Obito was throwing him suspicious looks.

“Why are you grinning, exactly?” he finally snapped.

Felt like he was still very, very much on the defensive. And Kakashi was clearly not as good as he hoped at keeping a poker face. A true shame for a shinobi of his reputation. He’d blame it on his mask, it must have made him lazy. Kakashi had to defuse the situation.

“I was just wondering why all your candidates were S-class missing nins?” he tried.

“Nah, Zabuza and Haku aren’t yet, if we’ve not fucked up with the chronology too much,” answered Naruto almost absently, seemingly oblivious to the tension between Obito and Kakashi. Though Kakashi wouldn’t bet any money on that obliviousness.

“And Kisame’s not bad, either, just bloodthirsty, but it’s Kiri, so about normal. But still,” he continued the discussion with Obito, “I think Zabuza would be a better Kage.”

“The demon of the Bloody Mist?” Obito’s tone was surprisingly more interested than dubious. “The one who killed his graduation class?”

“Yes, but at least Kiri stopped making kids duel to the death after that. So, ruthless, but effective. And Haku would be a perfect jinchuuriki, trust me on this, he’d be a great match to Isobu.” Naruto sighed before adding, “If I could have gone back in time earlier, before Kisame left Kiri, he might have been a better fit, but Haku would not follow him. And he would have been too young anyway, he wouldn’t have been as good as jinchuuriki.”

At that Obito’s face, which had grown a bit more animated during their discussion, closed off again, though not entirely.

“But you couldn’t go back further in time?”

“Not further than my birth. Actually, we’re not completely sure. Kurama wouldn’t risk it anyway ― it would likely kill me not to have a body to return to. But on the off chance that my mind would have survived, it would probably have gone with Kurama into the previous jinchuuriki, so… I might have woken up in my mother’s body, married to my father, which ― eww!”

Kakashi tried not to, really, but he couldn’t really help it. He burst into completely undignified giggles at the mental image. Obito’s face was doing weird things, aghast with horror or with mirth, he wasn’t sure.

“And if we went very much earlier,” continued Naruto cheerfully, “I might have woken up in Mito’s body, possibly married to Hashirama. Not saying I wouldn’t have tried, but not my first choice. Looking six years old again seemed the lesser evil.”

“...Right.” Obito still seemed deeply unsure, and he was looking at Kakashi as if checking who he was. Seeing him look so lost, Kakashi calmed his laugh and lifted his eyebrow in question.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever seen you laugh. Unmasked.” And happy, he didn’t say, but Kakashi could hear it. He almost lifted a hand to his face, self-conscious, but he resisted the urge to hide.

“You’re alive,” he answered calmly. Obito averted his eye, and Kakashi continued, “Will you come back to Konoha? Gai would be overjoyed. And Kurenai is still there. Genma would take you for a drink first thing.”

“They don’t know.” Obito was looking more disappointed and nostalgic than guilty, but the meaning was clear enough.

“They don’t need to,” intervened Naruto, decisive. “You could go with a cover story. And those who know ― we’d be glad regardless.”

“...I’ll think on it. After Kiri. Maybe.”

Surely , thought Kakashi.

 

Chapter Text

Le plus difficile n’est pas de faire son devoir, c’est de savoir où il se place

(The hardest thing is not to do one’s duty, it’s to know what it is).

― Jean de la Varende

Sarutobi Hiruzen didn’t really like it when all went smoothly, when his shinobi acted like a well-oiled machinery, didn’t bicker much, and didn’t upset the civilians of the village. It usually meant the calm before the storm, safety used as lure by danger. He felt it once already, the seductive illusion of too perfect a situation: the end of a war, a worthy successor, popular and gifted, a series of births brightening the lives of happy couples. And then, of course, came the Kyuubi.

So he was feeling a bit wary lately. The Uchiha situation had been itching in his mind for a long time now, and it was a comforting weight to feel, a familiar problem he was almost glad to have. But there had been a noticeable improvement in their relationship with the villagers, with confused stories about mixed drinking ― or pity? ― parties and some internal conflict. It wasn’t much, and Fugaku was maybe even harder to deal with than usual since the spectacular prank his clan had suffered, but it was something, and in Hiruzen’s considerable experience, problems didn’t just solve themselves.

He was missing something.

He was even beginning to miss Naruto’s habitual pranking. The aftermath reports were the highlights of some of his days, from plastic spiders in a clothes shop, spooking some uptight civilians (rather tame), to rats dyed in orange found in an upscale restaurant (more daring), to colored glitter bombs (a classic, but always entertaining). But there had been no reported pranking in over a week, and he didn’t know if he was feeling relieved, worried, or disappointed.

But the lull may have come to an end. His jounin commander had quietly asked for a sizable portion of his time. Not a meeting, not a request for a specific shinobi, not a problem with a mission, all matters familiar and often dealt with without glitches. No, the simplest of requests ― time, and so the hardest to interpret. He had immediately cleared his schedule for the evening and kept only two ANBU rather than the customary four, and even ready to dismiss them altogether if Shikaku required it.

The Nara hadn’t mentioned anyone else, but he hardly would if he felt the matter was of enough importance to necessitate the secrecy. So Hiruzen was not surprised to see him come into his private office with Inoichi, knowing they were old friends and so likely accomplice in whatever the matter was. More unexpected was the presence of Kakashi, and even more astonishing his obvious cheer.

It went beyond good mood ― if he was not mistaken Kakashi was likely grinning from ear to ear beneath that mask, and it made some alarm bells ring in the back of his head. Had the kid finally snapped? He had been so relieved a few months ago to see him leave ANBU with whatever was left of his sanity intact. Or so he thought. Was Inoichi’s presence related to Kakashi’s state of mind?

“Hey, Jiji!”

The happy salute was thrown from the window, where Naruto was grinning to him in his usual carefree manner.

“Naruto-kun,” sighed Hiruzen, sorry to disappoint the kid, but he had to be firm. “Now is not the time.”

A laugh, a snigger, a guffaw ― he looked at the three men present, swiftly regaining their composure, in surprise, but didn’t get the joke. Naruto was openly laughing, and despite the dismissal Hiruzen had tried to make clear, he got inside and closed the window. Still smiling, he turned to the Hokage and joined the others in sitting in seiza on the tatami floor, firmly wedged between Inoichi and Kakashi.

“Shikaku-san asked for time because of me. Inoichi-san and Kakashi-sensei came as witnesses.” Naruto was still smiling, but his tone was completely serious as he continued, “Last summer, I time-traveled from around fourteen years in the future, to avoid the Fourth Shinobi War. I’m happy to say it’s going pretty well so far, but I could use some help?”

Hiruzen knew he had been missing something.

But he didn’t get to be Hokage by being unable to adapt quickly. He looked at Inoichi and Shikaku for confirmation, and the firm nods he received were all he needed.

“Well, sounds like you have a lot to tell,” he said mildly.

Naruto nodded, and launched into his story.

As he listened to the boy, Hiruzen spared a bit of his considerable attention to the other shinobi present. They had obviously heard some version of all of this before, and likely more, but were nevertheless listening intently, Shikaku sharp as ever, Inoichi with an underlying sorrow. At least he could maybe understand Kakashi’s strange mood, with the news that Obito was alive.

Another part of Hiruzen was trying to remember the five-year-old Naruto that disappeared last summer, and blaming himself for not having even noticed the change. He’d seen Naruto ten or twelve times since his time-jump, and he had merely be pleased to see him so independent, relieving his touch of guilty conscience at the kid’s necessary social isolation, instead of wondering at his maturity. Shame on him for being so blind .

Since unlike his visitor he couldn’t alter the past, he did his best to concentrate on the present, and that was Naruto talking.

“...So Obito agreed to help put Akatsuki back to their original goal, which is world peace, without the genjutsu plan this time. He’ll have to be subtle or avoid Graveyard’s Mountain until we can take the seal off his heart: he said it doesn’t seem to interfere with free will, but I’m not sure what Black Zetsu could do with it. He can put off returning for a few months, but not much more, so we’ll have to find a way through it soon. With Kakashi’s help ― both older version and current one ― I’m pretty sure we have a counter ready, but the removal will still be dangerous, and I’d like to go ask Baa-chan to help in case he needs healing afterwards.”

“Baa-chan?”

Naruto smiled. “Tsunade-hime. I know she doesn’t like blood, but Shizune is with her, and she’s very good, too.”

“You think you can convince her to go back to Konoha?” Asked Hiruzen dubiously.

“I wouldn’t need to, we can do it elsewhere,” shrugged Naruto, “but if I have to, I’ve done it once, I’m sure I could convince her again.” He grinned a bit wickedly. “Or you could find her creditors. She owes money all over the Five Nations, offer to settle her debts and you would have one hell of an argument.”

Naruto had not spoken of his first childhood, but Hiruzen knew it must have been lonely, and wondered when the kid had found the time to develop a good enough relationship with his old student for Naruto to call her “Baa-chan”. The Hokage often missed Tsunade, despite understanding her position, and felt almost jealous to know that Naruto had managed to convince her to come home where all of Hiruzen’s pleas had fallen on deaf ears.

“In this future you describe, Tsunade was Fifth Hokage, you told me,” he mused aloud. “Was she a good one?”

For several years now, the only thing keeping him from retiring had been the lack of suitable candidate. Danzo was too old, Jiraiya too unreliable, Tsunade too far, Fugaku too biased toward his clan, Hiashi too resentful, Shikaku too laid back, Choza too soft, Kakashi too young… Among the other powerful jounin, none had the necessary political flair to maneuver with the other Kage. Ay would eat them and Yagura would pick their bones.

Or so he had thought. Knowing now that Kumo would be less threatening, and Suna less likely to betray them, he might take another look.

Naruto seemed to hesitate, and answered slowly, “She was, I won’t lie there. But… If you’re looking for a successor, I had… maybe… another candidate in mind this time?”

Hiruzen was honestly a bit surprised. He never would have thought the kid would think that far ahead, or dare to suggest a name if he had. He noted that Shikaku seemed amused, Inoichi very blank, and Kakashi a bit panicked. The Hokage smiled and asked the question. “Who, then?”

Naruto took a deep breath, and answered, “Obito.”                         

Okay, this wasn’t a name Hiruzen had considered. Shikaku’s eyes had turned wide with surprise, and Kakashi looked relieved. And yet not surprised himself, how interesting. The Hokage carefully mentioned, “You just told me he would be at the origin of the greatest war this world would ever know. Would you care to share your reasoning?”

“Current Obito didn’t launch the Fourth War, though, so he can’t be held responsible for it. He did commit crimes, I won’t deny that, but he’s a shinobi. Which of us has no blood on his hands?”

Now that was interesting for the Hokage and heart-breaking for Hiruzen to think again that Naruto had already shed his first blood. This would require more mental adjustment than he had first realized ― he could see a young child in front of him, but was listening to an experienced soldier.

“Now that his allegiance is back to Konoha,” continued Naruto, “Well, his being Hokage would have a lot of advantages.” He began listing on his fingers.

“First, he’s currently one of the strongest shinobi alive. I know that I’m more familiar with older version of him, but six years ago he was on par with the Fourth, and in ten years he was able to hold his own against several Kage-level opponents simultaneously. And he can teleport, that’s really convenient. Second, he’s one of the two surviving students of the Fourth Hokage: his nomination would seem logical, like you’re the Second’s student and my father was your student’s student.”

It sounded strange to Hiruzen’s ears, to hear Naruto casually refer to the Fourth as his father, and he felt a surge of worry at how unemotional Naruto was about it. The kid he knew was a very passionate child, he had relied on it, and it was chilling to see him detached about his father .

Keeping his attention on the conversation, Hiruzen had to point, “Kakashi would seem even more logical.”

Kakashi answered with naked sincerity, “I have no wish whatsoever to become Hokage.”

Before Hiruzen could dispute his point and argue that his wishes were irrelevant to the good of the village ― an argument he had prepared for several years now ― Naruto continued.

“Third, he’s got a killer intelligence network. With Nagato, he has ties all over the Five Nations with every underground movement or possible revolution, knows a lot of powerful missing nins, and he’s well-versed in the politics of every hidden village. He’s been to all of them and knows their forces and weaknesses.”

Hiruzen was actually surprising himself with considering the possibility. Those were all not bad arguments, but… Obito? He remembered him vaguely, a student of Jiraiya’s student indeed, burdened with being the teammate of a prodigy. He recalled the image of a middling genin, then a young chunin, without anything special about him, a bit too kind hearted for his choice of career maybe, whose life had been cut tragically short.

“Fourth, he’s an extremely good planner and skilled manipulator. His alternate stood in the shadow of Pain, posing as unimportant, for over a decade before taking open control of Akatsuki, and he managed to execute a plan spanning over two decades and see it to its end despite the united resistance of the Five Nations.”

He spared Hiruzen a strangely opaque look, and the Hokage wondered uncomfortably how much he knew about his own manipulations. The Third had always tried to balance what was right and what was good for the village, but that look was making him second-guess himself. A small, bitter part of his mind couldn’t help but whisper that at least, choosing Obito would ensure that the next Hokage would begin his tenure burdened with regrets and moral failings, rather than accumulate them during office in the name of Konoha’s benefit.

“And last, he’s an Uchiha. His nomination would likely appease the clan, but he was an outcast during his childhood and they would get no favors from him. That would neatly contribute to solve that problem. Or rather, that would make it his problem, and he’s the best equipped to deal with it. He’s been raised for years by Madara: he’ll never bow to any Uchiha Elder.” He fell silent, throwing a searching look to Hiruzen.

Hiruzen had to admit he was impressed. And almost convinced. Described like that, he had the perfect Hokage, but for a little detail.

“By your own admission, he’s responsible for your parents’ deaths,” he retorted, trying to soften his voice. “He unleashed the Kyuubi on Konoha, the worst attack the village ever suffered.”

“Kurama. His name is Kurama,” answered the Kyuubi’s jinchuuriki with determination. “I know. And you know. But no one outside this room knows except for Gaara, Killer B, and their partners. You let Danzo get away with trying to kill you and in another future, you would have let him get away with ordering the massacre of every Uchiha but two. You let Orochimaru get away with human experimentation until he was caught experimenting on children. Both of them would have played major roles in that war.”

Hiruzen kept from wincing, but it was hard . He was suddenly acutely aware of the two ANBU hidden in corners of the room, and had to wonder how much of their posting tonight was due to mere chance. Even now that he knew his story, he was underestimating the time-traveler. He kept seeing Naruto, the cheerful kid who called him Jiji with open devotion, instead of Naruto, the experienced shinobi who knew too many of his secrets.

“So why hold against Obito an attempt to control Kyuubi? You kept him imprisoned for decades !” Continued Naruto, unrelenting, “You had no use of him. It’s not as if Obito came with the purpose of attacking Konoha ― he just wanted Kurama, and when he failed he turned him against Konoha to force the Fourth off his back. He left as soon as he knew he couldn’t get a hold of Kurama.”

Why was Naruto defending the murderer of his parents? Hiruzen had thought dozen of times during the years about how to tell him about his parents when the time came. Turns out he wouldn’t need any of his rehearsed speeches ― he would have to listen instead of tell, and he didn’t know which was worse.

“No matter his qualities, the Hokage has to be loyal to Konoha first,” he forced himself to counter. “Can you guarantee Obito’s loyalty?”

Naruto held his eyes.

“Danzo is on your council, and he’s teaching vulnerable orphan kids in Root to live solely to serve and fight, making them kill each others to be sure their friends would never be more important than orders. Obito is in Akatsuki, convincing violent adult S-class missing nins to work together toward world peace. Even if his plan was crazy, which of them is more loyal to the Will of Fire? I’ve been told Konoha was all about teamwork.”

Hiruzen envied Naruto his staunch belief in that idealistic fantasy. He may still preach that very same belief, but his own faith had been worn ragged and thin by time. He knew the Kyuubi attack orchestrated by Obito had been an unforgivable act of destruction, costing thousands of lives, including his wife’s. He also knew that Danzo, for all his sometimes misguided methods, was deeply devoted to Konoha and wanted what was best for the village. So why couldn’t he find the words to defend Danzo to Naruto, who found him less worthy than a man who had tried to kill him for years?

He knew Danzo, he knew him very well indeed, enough to remember the friend he had been and yet acknowledge his cruel and arrogant streak, and he wondered if the Uchiha were not the only problem he had grown too comfortable having.

And maybe Konoha deserved a Hokage that would indeed face his problems, rather than grow comfortable having them. If he had failed so grievously in his duties to the next generation that Naruto had to literally go back in time to prevent Konoha’s annihilation, it was indeed time and past time to pass the hat. And he’d better do it cleanly since he got the chance, do it knowing he could be there to pick up the pieces if something broke, instead of waiting for the Shinigami to take any choice from his hands.

Still, having to choose didn’t mean Obito was the best choice.

“Outside of the qualities you mentioned, do you really think Obito has the personality for it?” Asked Hiruzen dubiously. “If he already bent once to someone’s will…”

“Obito was thirteen and severely injured when Madara saved him, and he spent nearly three years under his influence, two of those after seeing Rin’s death, before adhering enough to the plan for Madara to allow himself to die, and even then monitored by Zetsu and with a seal on his heart.” Almost aggravated, he added, “It’s not as if he was ever easy to convince.”

On Naruto’s side, Hiruzen could see Kakashi nod absently in memory. His last conversation with Obito must have been something to behold.

“And don’t tell me the Kage were all wise and serious-like,” continued Naruto, unaware of his rudeness. “Hashirama was ditzy and oblivious, the Seconds of Kiri and Iwa had that weird hate relationship, Ay is… well, still alive, so I’d better keep my mouth shut.”

So Naruto felt he could be rude to his Hokage, but not to the current Raikage. Now Hiruzen felt strangely cheated. But he also noted that Naruto seemed really familiar with all the Kage. He had heard him tell of the Edo Tensei and its consequences, but it hadn’t really sunk in yet that the not-kid in front of him had seen ― and fought ― more Kage than anyone alive. Maybe he knew what he was talking about when he said Obito would be the best choice.

“...I’ll think about it. It’s not as if Obito was already back in Konoha.” He finally sighed, and tried to tell himself it wasn’t an admission. Naruto smiled at him, satisfied, but not victorious.  “Naruto, you’ve given me a lot to think about tonight,” Hiruzen added. “I’d like now to discuss it with Shikaku, Inoichi, and Kakashi,” he held Naruto’s eyes while continuing firmly, “but you have my word that I’ll heed your advice and take it into account. And I won’t take any binding decision regarding either you or Obito without talking with you again.”

He was ashamed to see the relief on Naruto’s open face, as if the young man in a kid’s body had been prepared to be ignored, indeed was expecting his opinion to be dismissed. Clearly he had been doing something wrong in the past future if that was all Naruto expected of him. But the jinchuuriki stood up, and after a hand wave at the four men in seiza and a cheeky salute of “Bye Tenzo-san! See you later, Shisui!” at the two ANBU, invisible in their respective corners, he left the way he came, jumping out the window.

In the ringing silence of Naruto’s absence, Hiruzen let out a long, drawn out breath and asked wearily, “Shisui, since when exactly have you known?”

―――

Shisui could see Kakashi laugh silently with his eye while he answered a bit stiffly, “Uh, a bit over three months. I mean, he told me the same day as Inoichi-san, when I was his ANBU guardian for the afternoon.”

The Hokage turned to the other shadow in the room and asked dryly, “And you, Tenzo?”

“First I’ve heard is tonight, Hokage-sama.” If the voice was maybe a bit strangled, well, the news were extraordinary enough to deserve a bit of surprise even from an ANBU.

The Third spared the man a sympathetic smile, then gestured to the ANBU to join the others around the table. They cautiously took down their masks while doing so. A glance of his supreme commander was enough for Shisui to prepare them all tea before sitting.

The Hokage took his time to fill his pipe and light it while the tea steeped, his moves precise and practiced in the fraught silence.

“So,” began the Hokage after a few puffs. “What were you all thinking?”

After an exchange of glances, and to Shisui’s relief, Shikaku began.

“He asked me not to tell the first time we met. Since he was ― still is ― the best informed about a serious threat to Konoha, and breaking his trust may have resulted in long-lasting damages, I thought it better to convince him to talk to you. He was insistent that he talked to Obito first, though, and as we didn’t take any major action before then, I felt it wasn’t an impossible condition.”

“I see. Inoichi?”

“I’ve seen Konoha burning and my own daughter’s death in his memories, and the Kyuubi no Kitsune in his mind kindly warned me against betraying his trust. I must apologize for my bluntness, Hokage-sama, but even you are not that convincing. Major action or not.”

Shisui winced at the veiled warning about conflicting loyalties, but the Third didn’t insist on the point. He was looking pensive, and glanced at Kakashi, but didn’t actually ask him anything before turning to Shisui. “And you?”

“He told me that in his timeline, I died after getting one eye gouged out by Shimura Danzo and giving the other to Itachi, who would go on killing all of our family.” He wished he could sound as assured as Inoichi while justifying his insubordination, but he swallowed uneasily before continuing, “From his actions so far, he’s dedicated to peace, with more reason than anyone. Waiting until he was ready to talk seemed not only harmless, but potentially the most beneficial option.”

The Hokage seemed to be getting a headache, and took a few more puffs in silence for a while. When he extended his hand to get his cup of tea, Shisui couldn’t help but wonder how the Third could drink the bitter beverage on top of the acrid taste of smoke. For that matter, he was surprised they were sticking to tea instead of breaking out the sake.

“Alright. Shikaku, you mentioned ‘no major action’. What about minor actions?”

“We took contact with the two other time-traveling jinchuuriki. Shisui took the opportunity to contact Gaara, host to the Ichibi, during an unrelated mission in Suna, and I sent Kakashi on a mission in Kumo to get him the occasion to talk with Killer B, host to the Hachibi. The both of them obviously confirmed everything Naruto said, and seemed to work towards more peaceful policies.”

Shikaku hesitated before cautiously adding, “We also tried to take a more proactive approach in dealing with Naruto’s reputation as the Kyuubi’s container. Since he’s an expert at both henge and kage bunshin, he’s also been observing Root while seemingly going to the Academy, and compiled a report of all the activities he spied upon.”

“Speaking of proactive approach,” said Kakashi almost idly, “He’s been planning with Obito to replace the current Mizukage by Momochi Zabuza, and re-house the Sanbi, Isobu, into another host.”

Shisui nearly choked on his tea. He was gratified to see Shikaku just as shocked. Inoichi seemed as calm as usual and Tenzo looked as if he was way past his acceptable quota of bullshit for the day and was just stoically waiting to go cry in a corner. Or shake Kakashi like a tree until all the answers had fallen like ripe fruits, that would work, too.

“I see,” merely said the Hokage, in a rather frosty voice. “I imagine you didn’t consider that a major action?”

Kakashi looked at the Hokage with innocent eyes ― well, one of them ― before noting, “I didn’t do anything, and Naruto isn’t officially a shinobi, so not yet in any chain of command. And Obito has been doing without any orders for years, I doubt he even considered the possibility of asking permission to do a revolution. What should I have done that wouldn’t have endangered all Naruto has been fighting for?”

His eye was almost closed as he grinned. “Besides, it was Shikaku-san’s idea.”

“What?!” Exclaimed Shikaku indignantly.

“You once said, ‘As long as the same Kage reign in each village, they will likely make the same decisions’. Obviously Naruto and Kurama took that to heart. They want to change the timeline, after all.”

Shikaku looked as if he had to bite his tongue not to answer, and Shisui winced in sympathy. He may like Kakashi, but he was beginning to be actually relieved not to have to work with him.

The Hokage frowned while taking that piece of news under consideration.

More silence. More smoke. Shisui didn’t fidget, but it was a near thing.

“And what do you all think of this last idea of his? Did you know he had Obito in mind for next Hokage?” He turned to Inoichi first.

“Well, yes.” He avoided Shikaku’s betrayed glare while continuing, “I may add another reason to those he already mentioned: since altering the timeline is their ultimate goal, I think all three of them want to alter it as far as possible . The lady Tsunade in his mind was a good Hokage, but Obito is likely the furthest he could think of any of the possible choices in his original timeline, while being both competent and possibly redeemable.” He hesitated. “As for my own opinion… I assume I’ll have a better occasion to form one when I see Obito. But if Naruto is in favor, I’d be careful being against the idea.”

Shikaku seemed perturbed as he turned towards his friend, but didn’t say anything until the Third prompted him.

“I had no idea Naruto was even considering this. After thinking him a tragic hero, then an evil mastermind, excuse me for not warming right away to the idea of Obito as possible Hokage. I mean, he killed the Fourth and released the Kyuubi on Konoha.”

Kakashi intervened, his tone precise, “As far as I know, while he did try to capture Kurama, he didn’t kill Naruto’s parents: they died from the consequences of sealing Kurama into Naruto.”

“Technical details,” answered Shikaku impatiently. He looked at Inoichi, a bit challenging.

Inoichi answered serenely, “Oh, I’ve seen worse in Naruto’s memories. Fourth War, and all that. Naruto has suffered more than anyone from Obito’s actions ― both past and possible future. And Naruto is still the one to nominate him. If HE thinks it’s a good idea, as I said, I’ll take a second look.”

Shikaku looked troubled, and sighed while rubbing his forehead. “Gimme a minute, there.”

They politely waited for him to think it through.

After drawing a long breath, he finally said, “He did make good points. And I think the very scale of the problems Obito caused in that first timeline is indication enough of his potential. He was winning that war, after all. I’d rather have him leading our side than the enemy one. And an Uchiha Hokage would indeed help solve that troublesome mess of a situation.” He sighed again. “What a choice, though.”

The Hokage nodded, and turned to Tenzo, raising an eyebrow.

“I’ve never seen Obito,” said the ANBU, a bit fast. “I can’t judge.”

The Hokage pressed, “But knowing now what you do of both Obito’s crimes and his redeeming qualities, would you follow him, or not?”

“I’ll follow any leader duly chosen.” Tenzo looked a bit harassed at having to choose a side. “As long as he’s acting for the good of Konoha, I’d accept him as Hokage.”

To Shisui’s consternation, the Third turned to him. Damn, he had hoped he would be forgotten if only he could be silent enough.

“As the only Uchiha present, and the one with the most at stake, what would you think?”

Shisui tried to give the impression he was pondering his answer instead of cheering internally at the idea.

“I think that Obito would need a bit of readaptation to Konoha first, and a cover story for his years of absence, but if he can convince the other jounin that he’s a good choice, it would indeed appease a lot the situation inside the clan. Hard to argue that we are discriminated unfairly against when the Hokage is an Uchiha, after all. And if Naruto is right about his strength, well, the Uchiha have always had a great deal of respect for the Mangekyo.”

“I see.” Given the slightly ironic light in the Hokage’s eyes, Shisui hadn’t been completely successful in playing it cool. Well, if he was heard, that was alright. And the Third was clearly listening very, very closely tonight. He finally turned to Kakashi.

“So. And what do you think?”

“I want to adopt Naruto, if that’s alright with you?”

Shisui turned to him with incredulity, but Kakashi actually seemed perfectly serious.

“Beg your pardon?” The Hokage raised an eyebrow. He wasn’t the only one. Inoichi had a faint, approving smile.

“Well, he’s currently living alone, in a six-year-old body, in the middle of mostly hostile civilians for whose protection he fought a bloody war. I think we can all agree telling everyone about his story is out of the question. He’s having to hide most of his skills because people would ask awkward questions about where he learned them. Given his innate honesty, he would find it hard to live with anyone not knowing he is a time-traveler. None of you could take him in anyway without raising questions, while given my own past history as a student of his father and friend of his mother, anyone who knows who he is would understand that move. I want to adopt him.”

There was something very unyielding beneath his words, as if adoption or not, Naruto would be living with Kakashi if he only agreed, whatever anyone else could think of it. Shisui felt as if he had missed something ― after all Naruto was twenty, actually very slightly older than Kakashi, he didn’t need anyone’s protection or tutelage. Before Kakashi remarked on it, Shisui hadn’t really considered how much Naruto’s appearance limited his possibilities. He knew he had it hard due to hosting Kurama, but he hadn’t thought of the consequences of his apparent age.

“That… wasn’t the question I asked,” said slowly the Hokage.

“You asked me what I was thinking.” Kakashi shrugged.

The Hokage took a calming puff of his pipe and slowly breathed the smoke out before kindly adding, “I was asking what you were thinking about the conversation I’ve had with Naruto regarding Obito as possible Hokage.”

“I’m wondering how many of his arguments were Kurama’s. They’re really a terrific team. If they fight with half as much coordination as they argue, I’m even more impressed that they lost that war.”

Shisui admired the patience of the Third, really he did. But even Kakashi must have sensed he was coming to the end of it, as he answered the unspoken exasperation of the Hokage.

“I thought it would be obvious that I support the idea.”

“Because it’s Obito?” The soft voice was subtly challenging, and Shisui wondered if there was a test here, and if so, what it meant.

“Because it’s Naruto’s choice,” refuted Kakashi. “And Naruto is Kurama’s jinchuuriki. After ― well, so to speak ― a war specifically directed at them, I really don’t think we can afford to disregard the fact that nine extremely powerful beings, about a millennium old and close to immortal, have suddenly high stakes in world peace. The Bijuu have a will, a right to their opinion and the power to make it heard. Going against their wishes may be possible, but I don’t think it would be either wise or worth it.”

He had that eye-smile of his, strangely cheerful.

“Also, if we do go in a direction they disapprove of, they still have the power to go back in time all together whenever they want. It’s not even hard for them, the only thing that prevents them from going back to before their first capture is consideration for their current hosts.”

Shisui wouldn’t have understood how that could be comforting to know before learning how bleak their future had been. But now… at least they had a failsafe against the apocalypse. That was reassuring.

Well, maybe not to the Hokage, who despite his best efforts looked perturbed at the idea that if they wanted, the Bijuu had the power to undo the foundation of Konoha. That was a lot to take in in one sitting, so maybe Shisui could understand Sarutobi being a tad less controlled as he could usually be.

“Are you saying that… Kurama… The Kyuubi wants Obito for Hokage?” The Third couldn’t keep all incredulity out of his voice. “After being controlled and used?”

“No, Kurama doesn’t like Obito ― or any Uchiha, really.” Kakashi’s voice took a colder, almost clinical quality as he added, “Though he has a master to learn how to forgive being controlled and used.” He went on before Shisui could worry and wonder more about what he seemed to be missing.

“But Naruto wants Obito for Hokage, and Kurama wants Naruto to be happy.” Kakashi shrugged. “Or at least it’s the impression he gave me. The Kiri revolution they were planning, that was more for Isobu than for Naruto, I think. And given that they were seriously considering Hoshigaki Kisame, a notoriously bloodthirsty S-class missing nin, as possible candidate for Mizukage, I’m actually relieved they settled for Zabuza.”

While the Hokage was silently thinking behind whorls of thinning smoke, Shisui risked a glance at his colleagues. Tenzo was bland, Kakashi still entirely relaxed, Inoichi seemed content to stay spectator, and Shikaku looked at if he was trying to think his way out of a maze and perplexed at finding the exit too easily. Puzzled not by the difficulty of a problem, but by the existence of a solution.

After resettling his cup and emptying his pipe of the ashes, the Hokage finally spoke.

“Alright. You’ve all made your points quite clear. Kakashi, you’re free to propose your arrangement to Naruto whenever you want ― I said I wouldn’t take binding decisions without his input, and this is one I’ll gladly let him decide. Regarding the rest of it, I’ll have to think about it, and see how Obito reacts once reintegrated as a Konoha shinobi. I’ll deal with Danzo in between, to stall him if nothing else until a better solution can be found.”

To Shikaku, he added, “I’ll need a copy of that file about Root activities, but it can wait until next time. We can meet again the day after the Rinne festival, it’s usually a slow day anyway.”

“Because of everyone’s hangover, usually…” let Shikaku trail.

The Hokage smiled a little. Maybe it was petty revenge for the surprise of the evening ― he wasn’t said to be fond of surprises. But then again, maybe not.

“Dismissed.”

Chapter Text

“Home is the place where, when you have to go there,

They have to take you in.”
The Death of the Hired Man, Robert Frost

Even the Hokage had had difficulties hearing all of that without flinching, so Tenzo might be forgiven for taking a night to sleep on it before going hunting after Kakashi. But the elusive jounin wasn’t in his apartment, or Naruto’s, or Shisui’s, or in front of the Memorial stone, or in the jounin standby station. After checking the usual suspects, Tenzo was wondering if he would be as obvious as asking someone when he saw his target striding along the road. You could almost imagine him whistling, his steps long and relaxed, hands in his pockets, a smile in his eye as he was returning to his apartment.

Seeing him so happy, Tenzo was wondering how he could have missed that something was up.

He almost gave up talking, not wanting to disrupt his obvious good mood, but, well. Now he was curious . As he approached Kakashi, it turned out he didn’t have to worry ― his senpai cordially invited him for a drink to his apartment as soon as he was close enough.

Turned out the drink in question was tea. Again. Why couldn’t anyone here turn to the widely respected method of dealing with problems with alcohol?

“So. That resignation?” Tenzo had thought about the timing, and in retrospect it explained a lot .

“Well. Maybe more like a break, depending.” Kakashi was a bit sheepish, but still smiling. “I wondered about going on like nothing had happened, but just knowing would have colored my actions anyway, and I couldn’t afford to second-guess myself on mission. And Naruto’s entrance into the Academy gave me an acceptable excuse.” There was a trace of anxiety in his surprisingly open face ― what little of it was visible, but Tenzo was used to extrapolate ― as he added, “I couldn’t really talk about it outside of wards or without Naruto’s consent.”

Touched by his concern, Tenzo waved it aside.

“It’s alright, I understand.” If a shinobi couldn’t take their friends having secrets, they shouldn’t be shinobi. He sighed. “How long did it take you to adjust? To know what could have been?”

“Still adjusting,” snorted Kakashi. “But whatever happens now can’t be worse than whatever happened once ― you can’t really beat the apocalypse. It’s refreshingly comforting.”

Tenzo hid a frown at that. Naruto had spoken of a devastating war, of an enemy guiding pawns towards violence to achieve their own plans, he had described the Tsukuyomi plan that alternate Obito had tried to convince him to allow, but… he hadn’t phrased it quite like that. Was Kakashi being overdramatic ― always a possibility ― or had Naruto been a bit less than completely honest? He certainly couldn’t fault the time-traveler if so, he had noticed of course that Naruto had never revealed how they had discovered time-travel was possible, but it was worth remembering.

They talked about the former future a bit more, Kakashi adding bits and pieces to Naruto’s tale. Tenzo had been amused to learn Naruto knew him under another name. He almost considered adopting it ― Yamato didn’t sound bad, and maybe familiarity would help him with the jinchuuriki ― but Kakashi reminded him that Naruto wanted to change all he could of the future, so there really wasn’t any point.

As his eyes wandered on the rather small apartment during a lull in the conversation, Tenzo was reminded of Kakashi’s declaration of intent.

“Will you really adopt Naruto? Here?” He added rather dubiously.

“Yes, and no.” Kakashi had a far-sighting look on his face. “I’m reopening the Hatake estate. Haven’t been there in years ― I moved out after my father’s death.”

That made Tenzo almost stand to attention. Kakashi never spoke of his family, but here he was, still talking.

“I just came back from checking the house. The dojo and some of the annexes have suffered, there’ll be quite a bit of repair work, and I’ll have to buy some new tatami mats, but the walls are still sound and standing. I’ll ask Naruto if he wants to live there after I’ve made it a bit more livable.” He was looking at Tenzo from the corner of his eye. “I could use a bit of help.”

Tenzo looked at him with suspicion.

“How much repair work?”

Kakashi’s eye widened in betrayed innocence.

“I’ll pay for the beer and you can have free use of one of the guests rooms?”

Tenzo broke into a grin.

“Deal.”

As if he would let his senpai do all the work himself. From a purely practical point of view, it would also make it easier for him to find occasions to ask Naruto about how his own future had been. He knew it might be moot by now, but he still was curious by sheer ingrained professionalism.

The few following days were indeed bustling with activity. Tenzo suspected the Hokage’s cooperation in the light duty he was assigned ― leaving him plenty of time to go help Kakashi get a house abandoned for nearly fifteen years livable again. But once the main body of the house had been repaired and aired, which had been quick enough, Kakashi’s desire to complete the renovations felt more and more like stalling.

So when he began talking about decorations and annexes, Tenzo asked dubiously, “If you intend for Naruto to live here… shouldn’t you maybe ask for his opinion rather than mine?”

Kakashi deflated at the remark, and Tenzo blinked at seeing him avoid his eyes.

“You haven’t asked him yet?”

Kakashi fidgeted. It was kind of cute, and in itself a confession, but it didn’t answer why.

“I don’t know if he’ll agree,” admitted Kakashi when Tenzo directly asked.

Tenzo stared and almost asked how he could doubt it, but while a six-year-old orphan with no known parents would have jumped at the chance, maybe the twenty-year-old son of the Fourth Hokage and one of the last surviving members of the most prestigious clan of Uzushio would want to keep at least one of their names. Tenzo was too well-trained to let anything slip that might break a cover, so he checked they were still under wards before thinking of an answer.

There was something almost sad to think that he might be more socially adept than his senpai, but he didn’t let that thought distract him and tried to help.

“It’s not a marriage proposal, you know.”

A blank stare. Ok, maybe choosing marriage as a basis for comparison was a bad idea when talking to Kakashi, admitted Tenzo with an internal sigh. He clarified.

“You’re overthinking it. Just ask. If he accepts, good. But even if he refuses, it doesn’t mean he wouldn’t still be up for cohabitation. You were right when saying his situation is difficult as it is.” A sudden idea had him backpedal a bit. “Unless you think your alternate self would have done it, and you don’t want to repeat even a little bit of his timeline?”

“No, that’s not…” Kakashi let his voice trail as he thought more about it, but fortunately not back to his previous doubts. He nodded decisively, thanked Tenzo, and got up, hopefully to talk to the time-traveler.

―――

Kakashi was still nervous, but Tenzo’s remark had eased his doubts ― he was unfortunately too certain that his alternate had never taken that step, and he didn’t want to have the same regrets. If there was to be a point to this time-travel thing, he had to do better than his alternate future self, just following the path of least resistance wouldn’t do. So he buckled up, took a deep breath, and went in search of Naruto.

That might actually not be so easy. On the weekends, Naruto was seldom “home”, and Kakashi couldn’t blame him considering how bleak his apartment was. He didn’t know for sure why the time-traveler never made any effort to make it more homey, but given the state of his own former lodgings, he could hazard a guess and it would be hypocritical of him to make any remark.

So after checking Naruto’s apartment to no avail, Kakashi went to the roof of the building and summoned his pack of ninken. They all knew Naruto’s scent as well as Kakashi did, and the eight of them could cover more ground than Kakashi alone. He carefully instructed them not to disturb, in case whatever Naruto was doing was sensitive. He never knew if a prank was just for him to vent a bit or a way to shape his public persona toward something more mischievous than threatening.

Konoha was big for a hidden village, so Kakashi didn’t worry that it took time for his ninken to find the jinchuuriki. When Urushi finally reported that Naruto was en route to his apartment, Kakashi gave him ample time to arrive there before going himself. Naruto opened with a smile before his hand even touched the door.

Once safely inside, Kakashi found himself at a loss for words. He hadn’t exactly rehearsed how that talk could go. He began obliquely by asking where Naruto was.

“Went to the Forest of Death for a bit,” answered Naruto with a shrug. “I can’t train in the village, after all, it would be too visible, and I’m getting rusty.” He was looking at Kakashi expectantly before adding, “I should give you a marked kunai, too, for when you need to talk to me.”

“How did you learn to use them?” asked Kakashi curiously.

“Your alternate learned it, in part through memories, and in part from seeing the reanimation of the Fourth using it, again and again.” There was something achingly sorrowful in Naruto’s voice as he spoke of his father. “He was trying to help us learn it, you know. Going slow, giving clues, leaving the kunai when he could. But being a reanimation didn’t give him much choice.” He seemed to shake himself resolutely from his glum mood, and added, “Once you got the hang of it, you taught me how to do it. It wasn’t easy, and it’s still not my favorite technique, but it’s just so bloody useful, I had to know it.”

Hearing Naruto talk of the other him like that felt unsettling. Other him had been a sensei, not a very good one if he remembered Naruto’s older remarks about it, but he had likely done his best in time of war to ensure the survival of his student. Kakashi couldn’t help but feel a sense of obligation toward that other self, after all if he had inherited the debts owed to his alternate, it was only fair that he paid his dues in return.

Stalling wasn’t helping, and Kakashi took a deep breath before launching into his hastily improvised speech.

“I’ve thought about your situation, and I’ve come up with an idea. You’re free to accept or not, of course, but I think it would precisely help for your training, your living conditions,” Kakashi had a vague gesture to the bare walls and neatly stacked cupboards, “that sort of things.” Naruto was looking at him with interest, and Kakashi wondered if he could guess what he would propose. He had proved extremely hard to surprise so far, after all ― naturally. Another deep breath, and he finally asked the question. “I want to adopt you. Would you accept to become a Hatake?”

Judging by the rounded eyes and dropped jaw, no, Naruto hadn’t anticipated that. Even taut with nerves as he was, Kakashi took a perverse pleasure in having been able to surprise the time-traveler.

He was already preparing his arguments ― saying that he wouldn’t mistake their arrangement as giving him the right to try to control Naruto, that it would be merely for convenience’s sake ― when Naruto’s face broke into the biggest smile he had seen there yet, and he cried, “Yes!” before launching to embrace him. Kakashi almost tried to sidestep his reaching arms in discomfort, but it seemed in poor form given the circumstances. He tentatively patted Naruto on the back, and let himself be hugged.  

Naruto released him soon enough anyway, with a watery smile and …tears in his eyes? He sniffled and wiped his face with his sleeve before Kakashi could panic at the emotional display, still smiling widely, and repeated a bit more quietly, but with a lot of conviction, “Oh, yes!” He lifted his eyes to stare at Kakashi as if in wonder and added with all the gratitude of years of loneliness, “Thank you!”

It made Kakashi feel strangely floating, almost euphoric, to be the target of so much approbation. He was an assassin, a paid killer, a mercenary ― he was more used to be cursed than thanked. He caught himself grinning under his mask, and relaxed enough to get into his usual slouch, hands in his pockets.

He still felt obligated to add, “You won’t have to keep the name past childhood if you don’t want it. I would understand if you wish to be called Namikaze when your heritage is known.”

“No, you don’t understand,” Naruto shook his head, “You’re not the one who took that name from me. I know why my father did what he did, and I know why the old man choose to hide me… but even my godfather didn’t tell me my parents’ names. I had to learn I was the son of the Fourth just before the war began.”

The joy had dimmed from his face at the renewed evocation of the war, and Kakashi cursed himself for having brought up unwanted memories. But Naruto visibly took a hold of himself, and went past them to add, “I’d be proud to be a Hatake. It’s an honor. Thank you.”

“The honor is mine,” answered Kakashi, and even if his tone was facetious, he meant the words seriously. He added, “I’ve reopened the Hatake estate so that we could live there. Do you want to visit? The house is old, but I’ve been renovating with Tenzo.”

“Your family house?” asked Naruto with interest, attention diverted. “Of course I’ll come!”

They spoke a few more moments of the house before leaving to go see it. The Hatake house. Their home.

―――

Gai had been delighted to learn of Kakashi leaving ANBU ― although the assignments were supposed to stay secret, he couldn’t help but notice his sudden availability for joined missions toward the end of summer. He had made sure to propose himself as teammate when possible, and while Kakashi had rolled his eyes and muttered something Gai had chosen to pretend not to understand, he had still accepted more often than not.

The Hokage had smiled and approved most of their joined missions, but it may have more to do with Gai’s neat and enthusiastic reports being an easier read than Kakashi’s, who couldn’t help but use code and misdirection even in official mission reports. Gai didn’t know if it was a legacy of ANBU or just Kakashi relishing the confused looks of the desk chuunin, each uncertain if they should accept the maybe important coded report or just refuse it as barely legible trash.

Gai had been delighted, but cautious, too. He was well aware that his eternal rival ― a.k.a., friend ― was not the kind to leave voluntarily, and he had been on the lookout for any sign of mental breakdown, false cheer masking depression or worse. But Kakashi didn’t fake either more or less enthusiasm for Gai’s frequent challenges, nor did he look especially tense or gloomy. Rather the reverse, in fact ― Gai couldn’t remember ever seeing him so alive, his attention turned outward rather than inward.

Then he had noticed how some of that attention had been focused on Naruto, and he had thought he might understand.

Oh, he approved, wholeheartedly. He could see their growing relationship had softened Kakashi’s edges a bit, and he could guess the orphan found comfort in knowing he could count on an adult. But when he came back from his latest mission ― a bit longer than his usual at several weeks ― to find that not only had Kakashi reopened his family home, but adopted Naruto , his approval was tinged with a bit of alarm. He respected Kakashi’s considerable skills as a shinobi and knew of the depth of loyalty he was capable of, but… He wouldn’t have trusted him with a toddler, even less with an energetic kid old enough to get into much more trouble.

So he carefully planned to keep a discreet eye on it. A self-appointed mission of a sort, and one he took just as seriously as the more official type.

First, recon work. Easy enough, he just had to listen to the gossip in the jounin standby station ― Kakashi’s lunacy was apparently the talk of the moment. There were some bets going on about how long he would last before foisting the kid on someone else. Gai was more worried that he wouldn’t no matter how inept he may prove to be at parenting. More bets were actually about when Naruto would freak out. A few more perceptive jounin were hesitantly betting on when Naruto would learn his first jutsu, and how much the damage would cost. The dates proposed were alarmingly close, and the prices set alarmingly high.

Second, planning. Gai went on a tour of Konoha’s bookstores and libraries looking for books on parenting and children’s development. He nearly frowned when none of the clerks could remember seeing the recognizable Copy Nin in their shop recently. Kakashi wasn’t stupid, why had he not done his research? Gai added an adventure book that he checked was age-appropriate for Naruto and left with a dozen books.

Third, contact. Gai wasn’t blind to the fact that his exuberant personality could sometimes feel overwhelming, and he tried to remind himself to tone it down in the beginning. Armed with the books and his carefully tailored smile, he went to the Hatake house with just a bit of apprehension.

His knock was answered with a cheerful “Come in!”, and he opened the door. A blond kid with a bright smile, who was apparently painting on the wall before the interruption, dropped his brush and ran to glomp him.

“Gai-san!”

Gai could see recognition flash in those eyes, but didn’t have the time to ponder it before the kid jumped him in a fierce hug ― apparently exuberance wouldn’t be a problem. Gai let himself grin and boomed, “What a Splendid Display of Youth! Are you helping my Noble Rival to renovate his Most Important Family Home?”

“Yosh!” Strange, there seemed to be an echo.

As he lifted his head toward a door leading to the rest of the house, he could see another Naruto there, just as cheerful, in work clothes already stained with more fresh paint, followed by Kakashi, strolling there all relaxed as if his adoptive son hadn’t already mastered not only his first jutsu, but a kage bunshin. Gai should have taken that bet, he thought faintly.

“Hi, Gai.” Kakashi eyed the carrying bag still in Gai’s hand, and lifted his eyebrow in surprised pleasure. “House opening gift? It’s still a bit early.”

Naruto was already rummaging in the bag in greedy curiosity, and Gai, still reeling from seeing his double, didn’t have the presence of mind to keep it out of his reach. Naruto got the books out, and as he read the titles with interest, he had a giggle, before bursting into full-on laughter as he read on. His clone shrugged and dispelled himself in a puff of smoke.

As Kakashi came closer and read the titles himself, Gai could swear he heard him snigger, but if so it was too brief to call him on it.

“The Flames of Youth flourish better when fanned with Wisdom!” Gai defended himself.

“Thank you for the vote of confidence, Gai, you’re such a true friend.” Kakashi said dryly.

“He…” Naruto had to stop laughing a second to breathe, “He knows you too well!” and he went on laughing. Gai had a slightly embarrassed grin ― he had expected a bit of ribbing from Kakashi, but not that kind of reaction from Naruto , to be honest. That the kid already knew Kakashi well enough to seize the meaning of the gesture was surprising.

“What’s with the ruckus?” asked another voice, and Tenzo entered the room. He looked like he was helping with the repair works, too, with what looked like sawdust on his clothes. “Oh.” He seemed taken aback, and glanced at Naruto as if for direction.

Gai was confused. He turned toward Kakashi, who cocked his head, but instead of commenting, first asked, “Naruto?”, his eye never leaving Gai.

“It’s alright, Kakashi, I mean, it’s Gai , might as well, now.” The kid had calmed a bit, while still letting out the occasional snigger. “I’ve finished that part of the permanent wards already.”

Kakashi let out his breath in relief, and began talking.

Ten minutes later Gai was painting a ceiling. Kakashi had bluntly told him that Naruto was a time-traveler saving them from a future of destruction beyond hope, that Obito was alive, but also quite messed up, although NOT beyond salvation, and that the Kyuubi ― Kurama ― was best friends with his adoptive son. He had then kindly put a paint roller in Gai’s hand, and suggested that a bit of physical exercise might help him process. Gai didn’t even try to call him out on his blatant opportunism, he was that stunned. If Tenzo hadn’t been there to confirm every word, he might even have doubted Kakashi’s story ― or sanity.

And so while the repetitive movements of the brush were soothing him, Gai tried to adapt to the fact that Naruto was mentally of an age with Kakashi, reviewed his memories of a cheerful Uchiha he had thought long dead, and moved Kurama from “angry beast of destruction” to “friendly beast of destruction” in his mental inventory. Maybe still angry, though. He wasn’t sure what to think of all of it. The ceiling was finished before he noticed.

As Kakashi brought them beers for a welcome break, Gai found himself discreetly grilled by Tenzo, who was curious about Obito. He answered the best he could.

“He was always late, but kind, a helping hand to any who needed it.” Gai had liked that about Obito, although from far away. That he took the time for others, no matter in how much of a hurry he was. “Always trying his best, always training to get better still.” Being on Kakashi’s team had been no favor to the Uchiha, already much too easily dismissed by his own clan. He glanced at Kakashi, prodding. “I wonder what could have dimmed his light so. He was a Shining Example of Youthful determination!”

“He was captured by a sort of tree-thing hell bent on destruction,” answered Naruto, reminding Gai that the apparent kid was the one with the most information. “Its name is Zetsu.” Naruto’s voice had hardened, but he seemed suddenly tired, more resigned than angry. “It’s not even immoral, you know, can’t fault it for wanting to live. But if it lives, all the rest dies, so…” He had shrugged, helpless.

Gai wondered anew at the time-traveler. Naruto had apparently made friends with the Kyuubi , if he was saying an entity was beyond any hope of redemption, there likely was no point trying.

Gai hesitated, not wanting to impose on Naruto, but he looked so much like a kid, and he had been so enthusiastic when Gai had first come in, and now he was looking so dejected, and if he waited for Kakashi or Tenzo to do anything about it he would wait all day… He cautiously passed an arm around Naruto’s shoulder, in comfort. Naruto smiled at him, startled, but happy, and maneuvered to make it a proper hug. More sure of himself, Gai strengthened his embrace, and stated, “If Obito has been damaged by this Zetsu, then we will restore him to his Light. And if this Foe is still a menace, we shall fight it!”

“Yosh!” Naruto answered fiercely, and he lifted his hand, thumb up, with a grin at Gai.

Gai laughed, and released a much more relaxed Naruto. His eyes fell on the books he had bought, and he sighed dramatically. Failure in adequate recon work had resulted in unnecessary planning. And so no plan survives contact with the enemy.  

Naruto was still smiling at him, but with a hint of mischief, and he remarked, “If you really wish to use them, I know someone who would appreciate, you know. His name is Rock Lee, he’s a year above me in the Academy, and in my timeline you got along so well it was creepy, sometimes. You might want to take a headstart this time.”

Noting the anticipation in Naruto’s eyes, Gai promised himself he would seek out this Lee person and do his best.

Chapter Text

If a man has lost a leg or an eye, he knows he has lost a leg or an eye; but if he has lost a self ― himself ― he cannot know it, because he is no longer there to know it.

    ― Oliver Sacks

Shisui was on edge during the entire time he was gone on his last mission. He liked Ishitani, but that was sort of the problem ― since Naruto’s warning, he was leery of working with close friends. Just in case.

Still. They were a well-rounded pair, used to each other, and the Hokage had stressed the importance of secrecy for that mission. Ishitani could be remarkably unobtrusive when he wanted, and he had a gift for staying silent even when fighting if necessary. They secured their target before any alarm could be raised, leaving neither evidence nor witness, and ran home at full speed. Shisui had even managed to con Ishitani into writing the report in exchange for inside information about Chieko. He didn’t think knowing her favorite dishes was worth that much, but how could he not take advantage of a man in love?

Once safely inside Konoha’s walls, Shisui relaxed somewhat and went home to a hot shower. Refreshed, he swung by the Hatake house. He had left after Kakashi had adopted Naruto, and he was curious about how it was going. Well, most other jounin were curious, too, but few dared ask without any prior claim of friendship.

Naruto opened the door himself, smiled at Shisui, and they shared tea and some sweet mochis Shisui had brought, while discussing their lives. Kakashi had gone to meet Obito out of the village. In a way, Naruto had gone, too ―  he had sent a kage bunshin. It was so convenient, thought Shisui with a sort of distant envy. He knew the jutsu, technically, and could do one for some time, but even an hour was stretching it, and he was always afraid the rush of memories would disorient him on dispelling at a bad moment. Naruto could make dozens, and keep them for weeks.

It was relaxing for Shisui not to have to care about confidentiality. The Hokage had granted blanket permission to the jinchuuriki to learn anything he might want. ‘Need to know’ always applied to the once-and-maybe-future time-traveler. In return, Naruto seemed to appreciate not to have to keep up any sort of façade ― he hadn’t known Shisui in his previous timeline, the only one such in Konoha who also knew he was a time-traveler, and so they could form a friendly relationship new on both of their ends.

A knock on the door interrupted their chatter, and when Naruto went to open it, a surprisingly grumpy Shikaku glared at him from the other side.

“Naruto,” grunted the jounin commander, before entering without another word.

“Hello, Shikaku-san,” chirped Naruto, undeterred by the obvious foul mood of the Nara. Shisui kept his quiet after a polite hello, he had a feeling he knew where this was going, and didn’t want to miss the entertainment.

“Really, Naruto?” Shikaku finally sighed.

“Well, I have to be more careful, now, or else Kakashi will get blamed, but now that he’s out of the village…” Naruto’s grin was completely unrepentant.

“I wouldn’t have mistaken him for being responsible,” said Shikaku, aggrieved.

Damn, if he didn’t ask, Shisui actually might miss the point, what with both of them knowing what they were talking about.

“...What happened?” he risked, carefully neutral.

“Itching powder,” replied Shikaku. He obviously needed to vent, as he added, “In the bed sheets. Of already made beds. After a long day” He kept giving Naruto a reproachful glare, while Shisui bit his cheeks to keep his composure. It really wouldn’t do to laugh at the jounin commander.

“I had to use the occasion!” Protested Naruto, still grinning.

Shikaku sighed, and despite his obvious lingering irritation, there was a trace of grim amusement in his eyes.

“Yeah, I guess so. You know, after that trick you pulled on the Uchiha while sparing Sasuke, several cousins had taken to sleeping out of the compound when Shikamaru was out of the house. They didn’t think to observe if Yoshino was in the house. Shame on them.”

Shisui let a bit of his smile show at the picture of tired Naras finding their beds so inhospitables. Oh to have been a spider on their walls…

“Do you have anything already planned for the Yamanaka?” asked Shikaku, although Shisui wasn’t sure if it was to warn them in advance, or to help Naruto refine the prank.

“Not yet,” smiled Naruto. “They’re harder to target than you or the Akimichi, you know, since I don’t want to damage their plants.”

“Speaking of your Akimichi prank, if I may ask… How did you do it? Those bottles you spiked were sealed.” There was a trace of seriousness in the Nara’s face, and Shisui could relate. Naruto meant no harm, of course, but his pranks did tend to highlight the clans’ vulnerabilities.

Naruto brightened at Shikaku’s curiosity, as if flattered that one could appreciate his skills in the matter. “It’s just a form of kawarimi, except that I didn’t use it with myself, but to substitute the content of their bottles with the content of other bottles that I had brought. They have specific seals against poisons, I know, but since it was just hot pepper and nothing toxic, they didn’t react. Anyway alcohol is a poison itself, so those seals have a rather high threshold before being triggered. That’s also why I targeted the sake rather than anything else. Easier.”

“And what did you do with their sake, then?” asked Shisui, fascinated.

“Put it back where I got my own bottles in the first place,” shrugged Naruto.

Shikaku seemed amused to learn that a variation of such a simple jutsu had been enough to pull it off.

“Why not modify those seals? Wouldn’t it have been easier?”

At that, surprisingly, Naruto looked almost embarrassed.

“I’m not that good with seals.”

Shisui turned toward him in surprise. “What do you mean? After what you did with the Hyuuga clan? That was rather high level!”

Naruto had dropped his gaze, as if ashamed.

“Well, yeah, but it took time and I knew those seals, my timeline’s Hiashi had told me all about them. We were trying to come up with ways to counter dojutsu, y’see, so I had worked on that kind before.” He added defensively, “Seals against poison, I had seen once or twice, but it never was a priority. I could guess what they were when I saw them, but it’s not enough to manipulate them and be sure of the results. It’s not as if I wanted to risk really poisoning them, after all.”

Shisui shared a look with Shikaku. If Naruto could look at a seal and see its meaning, he was already way above “not that good” level. How come he could see the best in others but seemed to have difficulties seeing it in himself? Shisui cringed internally at the realization that maybe their assumptions of excellency on Naruto’s part were in their way just as damaging as the reverse would have been, adding to the weight he was trying to lift, rather than helping him.

Shikaku reacted first.

“Well, you’ll have plenty of time now to study them if you want,” he offered.

“And you’re already good with other seals, anyway,” added Shisui. “I mean, those privacy seals you use are better than anything I’ve seen even in ANBU, for example.”

“I didn’t invent those seals,” tempered Naruto, although he looked marginally cheered. “Main reason they’re good is because we needed them like hell during the war so Konoha ANBU and their equivalent from the other villages came up with a version that combined all the best they had and kept refining them.”

“So what? Nine tenth of being a shinobi is using well techniques that other invented,” said Shikaku decisively. “You don’t need to be the one to invent each of your techniques to be good.” Seeing that Naruto relaxed at the idea, he further changed the subject. “You’ve been pranking whole clans so far, when you target shinobi. You could try individuals, too. After all, some of even the clan shinobi have been strangely spared,” he remarked while looking pointedly at Shisui.

Naruto turned to him, too, mischief clear on his face, and Shisui mentally bid farewell to good nights of sound sleep for the time being. He decided that was a small price to pay to keep the not-kid happy. Judging by the amused glint in Shikaku’s eyes, he was thinking along similar lines. The jounin commander soon bade them goodbye, as his day wasn’t quite finished yet.

They discussed some more after Shikaku’s departure ― he had only come, officially, to check on Naruto in Kakashi’s absence and to ask him about the prank played on the Nara as there had been, again, no evidence. Thinking of Kakashi’s mission, Shisui’s mood grew more sober, and he left Naruto after cordial goodbyes so as not to darken the time traveler’s current cheer.

Obito’s return to Konoha had the potential to be messy, and Shisui wondered uneasily if he wasn’t missing something, if there was something he could or should do to make things go more smoothly. When nothing came to mind, he decided to go annoy Itachi instead of brooding alone. His suspicious cousin was home, he might be up for a bit of sparring.

―――

Tsunade had sworn never to go back to Konoha. She should have known better. She could almost feel Shizune’s joy at seeing her cross the gates, and for all the underlying pain of seeing the place as a reminder of her failures, she couldn’t deny that seeing the Hokage again felt like coming home. Her teacher’s warm smile was all the welcome she needed.

She tried not to think about Naruto’s timeline ― if not for his time-travel, she never would have seen Hiruzen alive again. She would have had no one to come home to, merely a new grave and responsibilities she couldn’t evade any longer. Despite her efforts, she shivered.

They didn’t go to the Hokage tower, Hiruzen obviously wanted to keep this informal, and there was only one ANBU following them to the cosy study she remembered in the Mansion, with the set of china cups of tea she had gifted him when she made jounin. She was surprised to see them all still intact after so long.

“I won’t stay for long,” she said, almost the first thing besides pleasantries.

“I’ll still enjoy the time you spend here, however short,” was Hiruzen’s serene answer. “I’ve come to appreciate time even more these days.”

Tsunade bit back a grin. Oh, the opportunities for time jokes… However, she had also come home for serious business.

“I admit I regret not having been there to see your reaction when you realized you had a time-traveling jinchuuriki in our gates. He’s quite something.” Her smile became a smirk. “I made the brat promise me I could watch when he told Jiraiya.”

Her teacher’s answering smile was complicit. “It would serve him well. He hasn’t contacted me in months.”

Tsunade nodded, unsurprised to learn her former teammate wasn’t really keen to spend more time in Konoha than he had to. Likely still chasing after their missing third...

Hiruzen became more serious. “So. How are the news?”

Tsunade took her time to answer, maybe a bit rusty after so many years spent not having any reports to make. She still had a wealth of old memories to rely on, though.

“Naruto told me of Obito’s story, past and future, or at least the gist of it. I’m sure it was at least somewhat censored, but given what he already told me, I’m not sure I want the full version. Naruto and Kakashi managed to lift that seal he had without any damage, I’m happy to report. But I don’t think even Obito himself realizes some of the possible consequences of that seal.”

Hiruzen lifted an expectant eyebrow. She hesitated, glancing at the ANBU present, but Hiruzen invited her to continue with a gesture of his hand, so she shrugged and went on.

“I’m not the expert Jiraiya claims to be in fuinjutsu,” she finally said after some consideration. “But I’m almost certain that thing prevented both suicide and betrayal. So it got me thinking. The Kyuubi attack was an objectively bad move, from the point of view of someone wanting to discreetly collect all the Bijuu. Trying to capture Kurama made sense, but not so early on, or with that much noise, unleashing him on Konoha. However, it put the village on high alert and made them wary of all Uchiha. So… From the point of view of someone wanting to be killed before he could do further harm, and who wished to alert everyone that a dangerous Uchiha was at loose? That would have made a lot more sense.”

Hiruzen was surprised enough to actually show it, and he answered slowly, weighting each word, “You think Obito was trying to fail at pursuing Madara’s plan?”

“Probablement not consciously,” shrugged Tsunade. “But on some level… Yes. In one of the only ways left to him.”

She let her old teacher chew on that a bit. She knew it didn’t absolve Obito of his choices and his responsibility ― everyone made unconscious decisions, it didn’t mean they could be judged on their supposedly good intentions rather than the actions they took.

Hiruzen finally sighed, and went on, “How would you assess him? Is he physically and mentally fit to be a shinobi of the Leaf again?”

Ah, the million ryo question. She had thought of it for most of her travel time, and she still wasn’t certain of her answer, but she owed her best guess to the Hokage.

“Yes.” She elaborated, “Physically, he lost most of his right side under the boulder that crushed him almost ten years ago. Madara replaced parts of his body with cloned Senju cells, and he gained a hefty measure of regeneration, but it also made some of his tissues behave more like some kind of strange goo than like normal human tissue. With his permission, I’ve corrected some serious issues I could see, so that he could live again being a bit more dependent on food and water than air and sunshine. He’s actually quite healthy for a nearly twenty-three-year-old human experiment survivor.”

Hiruzen’s gaze was grave. “And his mental state?”

Likely the more delicate part. Tsunade tried not to wince.

“Actually better than I feared when Naruto and Kakashi first approached me.” Hiruzen lifted surprised eyebrows and she continued, “He’s bitter, and angry, and more than slightly paranoid, but so are a lot of other shinobi, especially veterans. Everyone his age or older, basically. He’s been subjected to human experimentation and mental conditioning for years, of course he’s not completely alright. But he did let me work on his body, I hope you realize how hard that must have been after what he’s been through.”

Her old teacher looked downright grim as he nodded. She knew he must feel at least a bit guilty ― in a lot of ways, they had unknowingly abandoned Obito behind enemy lines during the Third War. They had a part of responsibility in what he had become, and Tsunade herself felt the echoes of that guilt. She hadn’t even been in the village at that time, already a deserter in deed if not in name. She continued.

“He’s also willing to work for peace, and he’s approaching the problem with a single-minded determination bordering on obsession. But then, he’s an Uchiha to the bone, for all that the clan neglected him. I’ve never seen one halfway committed to anything: either you can’t move them, or you can’t stop them. The one thing that I found fascinating to watch was his interactions with Naruto.”

She could remember them clearly, their heads bend toward each other, blond hair and dark curls, the positions of child and adult strangely reversed in their discussions, Obito listening intently, longingly , to Naruto talking about a world at peace, with Kakashi looking at them radiating contentment. Kakashi, who had adopted the kid. She snorted at her own nostalgy.

“Talk about being dependent on sunshine.” She grinned briefly, but continued more seriously, “I’m not a specialist in mental health, but I think the kid is important for his stability, even more so than Kakashi. I would strongly advise against separating them once Obito is ready to relocate to Konoha.”

Her teacher didn’t seem surprised by the news, and he merely commented, “Naruto seems to inspire loyalty easily.”

That made Tsunade curious about who else the kid might have touched like that. He hadn’t talked much about his time in Konoha since his time-jump, focused as he was on Obito, and she hadn’t thought to ask Kakashi. She had been too stunned at the moment, to be honest. It wasn’t everyday that a time-traveler came to tell her she messed up a job she hadn’t taken yet.

Tsunade hesitated, but she wouldn’t get an answer without asking. “Do you know when Obito might be back? I must admit I was more or less expecting to see him come back with Naruto and Kakashi.”

Hiruzen smiled at her hidden question, and answered. “Kakashi has come home, but Naruto suggested Obito might make use of his connections to Kiri. There is an impending revolution, apparently, that Naruto thought had better succeed the first time rather than the second time around, as it went in his original timeline. With any luck, the next Mizukage might be more tractable than Yagura.”

Tsunade considered the news with interest and the beginning of hope.

“If Killer B can effectively influence his brother, and Gaara his father, it would make three Kage out of the four other major favorable to long-term peace. Damn. They might actually manage it.”

“I think we can safely assume that Killer B can indeed make his brother listen.” Hiruzen sounded thoughtful, with a trace of regrets she was unused to hear in the voice of her teacher. “Ay has sent a formal letter of apology to the Hyuuga clan head on behalf of Kumo for their regrettable handling of the Hyuuga affair. They offered a blood price for Hizashi’s life to settle the debt. Sorry does no mending, but maybe the dead can at least rest in peace. I don’t think I had ever seen Hiashi that stunned.”

Tsunade whistled, impressed. “That must have taken some doing on Killer B’s part.”

The Third nodded. “Naruto told me Killer B had been working on his brother for months about that particular matter. I’m not sure what a Hyuuga did to earn Killer B’s respect in that alternate future they came from, but it was well worth it.”

They reflected on that for a few moments, as Tsunade tried to wrap her head around the idea of the Fourth Raikage apologizing to anyone. What the hell had Killer B told him?!

“We’re still basically a village of soldiers,” cautioned Hiruzen at last. “I don’t know how long a peace could last, but it’s… nice… thinking that the next generation might not have to go to war quite so young as the one before them.”

Tsunade knew he was again thinking of Obito and his teammates ― Rin, dead at fourteen, Kakashi, soldier at five, jounin at eleven, unwilling friend-killer at twelve; and Obito himself, crushed in body at thirteen and in spirit at fourteen. In her mind’s eye, Tsunade could see another trio: Yahiko, Nagato, and Konan, asking to be taught how to defend themselves, all orphans in the ruins of a battlefield. No wonder those kids had grown up thinking war might be a solution. It was all they had ever known.

When thinking of them, Tsunade couldn’t help but feel her own losses pale in comparison. She wasn’t quite ready to let go of her pain, but… maybe she was closer now than before meeting Uchiha Obito.

―――

    Kisame was surprised to see “Tobi” waiting for him as he came back to his room at the local inn. Both because it wasn’t planned, they weren’t supposed to meet before nearly two more months and the man usually knew how to stick to a plan. And because he hadn’t bothered with his mask. Given how Kisame had had to insist to be allowed to see beneath it, that was a sign that something, somewhere, had gone to shit.

“Why, hello, ‘Tobi’. To what do I owe the honor?” Kisame used sarcasm as a way to cover his tenseness, but he felt as if the jab had missed somehow when the Uchiha didn’t react, still observing him with a calculating eye.

“Obito. Tonight, I am Obito, Kisame. I’ve been recently reminded about what’s in a name,” he began quietly.

Now that was even more interesting. Did the Uchiha meet someone he knew from before he assumed another identity? Not much could faze him ― that was one of the things Kisame appreciated about him, the determination he had to reach his goal, step after step, whatever contrary winds he may meet.

Despite his beginning, Obito didn’t continue right away, seemingly weighing his words but not uttering one. That, too, was highly unusual. ‘Tobi’ could babble forever about nothing, ‘Madara’ when he used that name was driven and ruthless, but not much less talkative, but silence wasn’t something Kisame expected of Obito. Finally, the man sighed.

“I’m wondering if finding the right words was as hard for them.” He had a slight smile, with a bitter edge. “There’s no good way to say it, so I’ll go for short: I’m giving up the Infinite Tsukuyomi plan, it’s been proven unfeasible. There won’t be a world without lies.”

And here Kisame had thought someone at least wouldn’t betray his ideals. Swallowing his disappointment, which left a foul taste in his mouth, he wondered if that was supposed to be a threat, if Kisame now knew too much. But he fancied himself too good an opponent to be offered a warning if death was Obito’s purpose.

“The best I can do to redeem my word to you would be at least to let you be a Kiri shinobi again, who won’t have to betray his comrades,” continued Obito. “That much, I’m almost positive stays doable.”

Kisame frowned. That didn’t sound like a change of heart on Obito’s part, then, but a true impossibility. What gives? The man had pursued that plan for years , as far as Kisame could tell, couldn’t he have spotted an obstacle of that scale sooner?

“You don’t owe me my citizenship, I gave that up before meeting you, Obito. But for the years I followed you, you DO owe me an explanation. What happened?”

“What would you prefer, Kisame?” Obito had a strangely provocative glint in his eye as he continued, “A truth you won’t believe, or a lie you won’t forgive?”

“I’ll believe the truth,” scoffed Kisame. “If it’s really on offer.”

“Your pick. Very well. Our plan was based on capturing the Bijuu one by one. Turns out they’re capable of both a form of telepathy, and time travel .” He had a self-deprecating twist of lips. “If going back fourteen years in their past proves to be not enough to make us abandon the plan, they can go decades further. I won’t waste more of my life against the kind of power that can undo our existences.”

Kisame opened his mouth, but closed it again without a word, like a fish out of water. And he detested that comparison. He wanted to say, you’re fucking kidding me , but he had just said he would believe the truth, and in what universe would someone, would Obito, lie about something like that, expecting to be doubted?

“How did you learn it?” he finally settled on.

Was that a hint of surprise on Obito’s face, for his word to be accepted?

“The Kyuubi, Kurama, came to see me last month with his host, Naruto. He wasn’t happy with the future I was responsible for in his timeline. Not happy at all. But Naruto wanted me to try another way to achieve world peace, and Kurama agreed to give it a chance, so since plan A had to be scrapped, I went for plan B. Still in progress, though. It’s much more new.”

Obito had received a visit from the Kyuubi? And Kisame had missed that! Now frankly curious, he wanted to ask for more, but felt it wasn’t the moment yet. He already had his truth for the evening, he could be patient for the rest of it. Obito should know better by now than to think he could outlast Kisame’s badgering. He could be as unrelenting as a river, eroding its bank.

“How would it be more likely to succeed than plan A?” asked Kisame cautiously instead.

“Well, for one, it would work with the Bijuu instead of against them…”

As Obito explained the rest of his plan, such as it was, Kisame was slowly feeling something he hadn’t expected when seeing him at first. Elation. The missing nin had been committed to the Infinite Tsukuyomi plan on faith, believing that Obito knew what he was doing. This, though… This he would be able to see progress, step by step. Not an overwhelming victory, long in coming and suddenly achieved, but a slow, tortuous path towards a better word. A longer road, perhaps, but Kisame could live with that.

“So…” began Kisame once Obito had finished. “You plan to scam the Five Nations into peace?”

“Basically, yes.” Obito looked challenging, and Kisame smiled in answer.

“Count me in.”

Chapter Text

From the ashes of our despair grow the flowers of tomorrow.

― Unknown

Kakashi was beginning to regret letting Obito go on to Kiri alone. He had promised himself never to leave his teammate behind again, and Obito’s current absence was enough to make him feel forsworn. He had argued with Obito, though, and the Uchiha had clearly not wanted him to come, so he had resigned himself to go back to Konoha without him.

The copy nin didn’t especially want to argue with Obito, after all, he didn’t want to oppose him again for anything but the best of reasons. He had avoided any arguments for their time together since they first met again, and Obito seemed wary of him at first anyway, verging on hostile, so Kakashi was trying hard to look harmless and supportive, but he knew he wasn’t very good at it. And Obito’s surprise at his support hurt him more than he wanted to admit. He never had the occasion before to make up for his guilt and regrets at his past rule-sticking behavior, and even more at Rin’s death, but he had nearly a decade to get used to that guilt and think of ways to atone, while Obito didn’t seem to realize how much Kakashi had changed.

Which was kind of ironic, given how much Obito himself had changed. That, at least, Kakashi could clearly see, now. The scarred Uchiha was mistrustful, on the lookout for any hint of lie or betrayal ― expecting to be hurt. It broke Kakashi’s heart a little, but he could be patient. And under the anger and bitterness, he could still see the deep-seated longing for a better world, almost the only constant of Obito’s personality. So he just smiled, approved, and let Naruto work his magic on his prickly teammate.

Because where Kakashi was a bit lacking in people skills, Naruto obviously got his share and then some. Kakashi was pissed at the Konoha civilians who couldn’t be bothered to notice what wealth of generosity the kid had. And while Obito wasn’t currently there for Kakashi to help, Naruto was here, and better yet, now Kakashi had a right to be officially pissed at anyone looking askance at his adoptive son.

So he took great pleasure in shadowing the kid, be it for minor errands, for groceries, or on his way to the Academy, and making sure any civilians wanting to stare venomously would meet his own icy eye. People were quickly learning at least not to show any overt animosity. He kept himself in check, though, not wanting to undo any of Naruto’s hard work to make himself look more harmless, but he made sure everyone knew he took his role as protector and guardian seriously.

Naruto himself hadn’t said anything about his new habits, but he could read his gratitude in the way the boy sometimes cooked for the both of them (even though he was barely better at it than Kakashi), in his smile when he got home, in the way he always tried to behave and tone down the pranks while Kakashi was there. The jounin didn’t really know how to say that it wasn’t necessary, that Naruto could act like he wanted and he would deal with the fallout ― with relish, even. But he figured the kid would say something if he had a problem.

So as he was studying the briefing file for his next joint mission with Gai, Kakashi was surprised to receive the visit of the boy’s teacher. They had barely met a couple of times since Naruto had introduced them to each other, and while Naruto tended to treat Iruka like a cool big brother, the man himself seemed awkward in Kakashi’s presence, maybe a bit intimidated by his reputation as an aloof and ruthless genius.

“Naruto’s not here,” warned Kakashi after their greetings.

“I know.” Iruka seemed to steel himself to go on. “He’s not the one I wanted to talk with. I’m aware that Naruto can take his own decisions, but I was wondering if he had shared with you the problems I think he’s having.”

Abruptly much more attentive, Kakashi shook his head mutely. Naruto was always cheerful, always happily chatting about this and that, always… driven to achieve his goal. He never gave the impression he had any problems, only solutions to anyone else’s problems. Kakashi swore internally. So much for looking underneath the underneath. He should have known all could not be going so well.

“I’m not even sure he knows he has problems,” sighed Iruka. Small mercy ― at least, if Kakashi missed some signs, he wasn’t the only one. “But… Has he ever spoken to you about his classmates?”

Kakashi mentally reviewed their latest conversations. Sharing his memories of the future, commenting history books (and their authors), training sessions with Gai in secluded parts of the forest (where he currently was, in fact), spying on spies and killers ― sorry, shinobi ― as he was planning how to prank them… He knew Naruto kept going to the Academy, if only as cover and alibi for when his clones needed one, but of all he told of his day, that part was actually mostly absent. Conspicuously absent, now that he thought about it.

“...No.” he answered. He held Iruka’s gaze. “Has any of them given him any trouble?”

Iruka had a frustrated gesture, like he was struggling to even define clearly the problems he could see.

“It’s not… not exactly that. He obviously doesn’t need any lessons meant for six-year-olds, so he spends most of his time either reading, fiddling with sealing ink, helping, or observing his classmates. He recently suggested I use him as a sort of assistant teacher for practical lessons, and it seemed to help him, making him move more. But it also set him apart from his classmates, and I think some of them are beginning to wonder what’s going on.” He had a searching look toward Kakashi. “He was more discreet at the beginning of the school year ― has something happened?”

Kakashi reviewed what Iruka was supposed to know, and settled on a severely abridged version. “Something he did last month makes it almost certain that our timeline will be different enough from his own to avoid his war. I think he might be less careful about secrecy now because of it.” But making his time-travel public would lead to a whole world of other problems Kakashi was certain Naruto didn’t want to deal with. Damn.

Iruka has let out a long, relieved sigh at the news.

“I’m glad to hear it. That explains part of it, then.” Still, his eyes were sharp on Kakashi as he went on. “Though if he thinks we’ll avoid his war, I wonder if he really believes it. He’s been badgering and goading his classmates into more training, lately. It’s not always easy to properly motivate a class of young kids, they have the attention span of starving puppies, but a lot of them have been taking training more seriously just to try to show him up.” He frowned. “Uchiha Sasuke looked as if he wanted to compete in the beginning, too, but he’s been unusually down lately. I think he’s among those who actually realize they don’t stand a chance to catch up, and he’s been a bit snappish to the other clan kids. He doesn’t regard the civilian born as competition, so he doesn’t have the same problem with them.”

Kakashi carefully kept his reaction to the Uchiha name hidden. This Sasuke was innocent. It would be unfair to the kid even to caution his teacher against any slip in temper. It wasn’t Sasuke’s fault that listening to Naruto’s stories of the war in the evenings might have colored a bit Kakashi’s perception right now. Although thinking about it…

“Do you have a reason to single out Sasuke?” He asked casually.

“Naruto does,” answered Iruka dryly. “He’s not too bad an actor, don’t get me wrong, but you could almost count the dead of his war in the way he reacts to his classmates. ‘Observing from afar’: He knew them, they died, and he enjoys seeing them alive. ‘Trying to make friends’: He didn’t know them all that well, and wants to correct that now. I suppose they didn’t graduate, or weren’t part of his group. And ‘Trying desperately to make friends’: I’d guess he knew them and failed once.” His eyes were almost daring the copy nin to deny it.

Kakashi was impressed. Iruka was actually underscoring the problem with revealing Naruto as a time-traveler ― not the best way for the kid to take the fresh start he craved.

“Does he react that way to other people?” he finally asked.

Iruka shrugged, but his voice was thoughtful. “Among his classmates, he’s been trying to get closer to Sakura, but I think he creeps her out a bit. And as civilian-born, her parents are more prejudiced. The only one he really gets along with is Shikamaru, who as far as I can see has been remarkably level-headed about all this. The others thinks it’s because he’s a Nara ― takes a lot to make one react.” He had a brief grin, but it quickly disappeared as he added, “But he’s a twenty-year-old in a class of six- or seven-year-olds. No matter how hard he tries to belong… I’m not sure he can.”

Kakashi felt cold at the idea that Naruto might lose his second chance at a normal childhood, after losing the first chance already through no fault of his own. He couldn’t help thinking that there was in fact a place in Konoha where Naruto could be among children and treated as an adult and a soldier, but… no. Surely not. Kakashi hastened to move on.

“Are his classmates giving him a hard time?”

Iruka hesitated a second too long for Kakashi’s comfort before answering, “Mostly, no. Some of them said some nasty things in the beginning, but Naruto’s been ignoring them so consistently that they’ve mostly stopped by now. One tried to punch him ― Tetsuo, one of the civilian born ― but he overbalanced and fell when Naruto dodged, and then he got so humiliated when Naruto was acting all sorry and concerned about him afterward that no one has tried since. The incident wasn’t all bad, he got some admirers out of it, though.”

Kakashi relaxed at that, but before he could speak, Iruka added diffidently, “I was wondering… If he’s been doing well outside the class, and if it’s getting hard for him to keep going… Wouldn’t he be better off leaving the Academy? He could surely make a good argument for early graduation.”

Kakashi spared him a dry glance. That much was obvious. If Naruto had wanted it, the Hokage would have granted it in a heartbeat. But he hadn’t asked, and such an early graduation would draw attention, more than Naruto was prepared to handle right now. Teaching his classmates was already risky, in fact.

“I’m not sure,” he admitted to Iruka. “I think he would still want to keep an eye on his friends. I’ll talk about it with him.” Seeing Iruka’s skeptical stare, he hesitated, but finally capitulated, “And I’ll talk about it with Inoichi.” If anyone could help them understand what was going on, surely none better than the Yamanaka who actually went into Naruto’s head.

Iruka looked relieved, and smiled approvingly. He bade Kakashi a cordial goodbye, and left soon after.

Once alone, Kakashi allowed himself a sigh as he thought of the mess his teammates were. Naruto had had such a positive influence on Obito, would maybe Obito be equally helpful? His old teammate had always been more gifted than him with people ― granted, that was not terribly hard. If only they could be each other’s solutions, that would be ideal.

―――

Naruto was all sweaty, but almost high on endorphins as his training with Gai drew to a close. They hadn’t had many occasions yet, but Naruto relished each of them: above all else, Gai was fun to be around.

They had established that any more advanced taijutsu would have to wait a bit for his body to grow ― he knew the moves, but he didn’t have the strength or reach to use most of them in battle right now. When he had tried to say he could do it, Gai had not only sternly lectured him on self-care and the importance of pacing oneself, but proposed all kinds of alternative training more appropriate to his current size. His version of hide-and-seek was a lot more “seek” than “hide”, and they had spent the better part of an hour running after each other, mostly vertically, jumping trees like squirrels on speed. Hell, but he had missed Gai. The man was grinning at him from where they had let themselves fall to catch their breath.

“A Healthy Body comes from a Healthy Diet!” proclaimed Gai, before a conspiratorial grin. “I could make us a curry for lunch?”

Naruto smiled at him, and they trudged back to the village. They weren’t quite at the gates yet when Naruto heard a man and a child arguing in a field. Well, not really arguing. The kid was asking for something, and the man trying to deny it. As they drew nearer, Naruto could see that the kid ― likely the man’s daughter, they had the same kind of wavy, rusty dark hair ― had tangled the lines of her kite into a tree. The man was arguing that it was too high for the girl to try and retrieve it, and the child was trying to convince him to climb himself. The danger was obvious, as the tree branches were too thin to support the man’s weight so high up.

Naruto looked at Gai, who had the same reflexive answer to any kid’s distress and was obviously about to volunteer his help, and pulled discreetly at his sleeve. Gai looked at him, and at his glance smiled approvingly and let him lead the way.

“Hi!” Naruto didn’t let his grin falter when the man scowled and took a guarded, almost defensive stance in front of his daughter. “I could try to climb, I’m sure I could get to it in no time!”

“He’s a very good climber, it would be safe,” added Gai when the man looked at him uncertainly, purposefully misinterpreting his glance as worry for Naruto.

After one more pleading stare from his daughter, the man nodded nervously, and let them approach.

Naruto didn’t try to get closer to the child, and promptly climbed the tree. It was almost too easy, his only concern being discretion about his use of chakra to stick to the branches. Once high enough, he sat and got comfortable to detangle the lines. They were a mess, and he didn’t want to cut them if he didn’t have to. The kite looked new, purple edged with black and yellow lines, with wings like a weird butterfly. Once it was carefully freed from the traitorous twigs, Naruto cautiously climbed down to the lower branches, from where it was easy to let the kite fall into Gai’s waiting hands.

Once back on the ground, he smiled at the girl, who was ignoring him in favor of the kite that Gai had handed her back, and turned away. But before he took a step, the man hailed him back.

“Thank you.” He grudgingly said. He nudged his daughter, who lifted her head and had a sudden, relieved smile before chirping “Thanks!”

Naruto’s grin softened at the appreciation. “You’re welcome! I have a kite, too, I know how it can be.” He nodded cordially at the man and his kid, and left with a new spring in his steps.

His good mood survived their shopping at the market, where Gai’s presence acted like a buffer between the villagers and him. Some of them, getting used to deal with Kakashi, were actually relieved to see Naruto with Gai for once, and were unusually, pointedly polite to them. It was hard not to snigger, but it could have been misinterpreted, so Naruto kept his mirth to himself. Being considered the lesser of two evils was refreshingly new.

Gai kept his word and accompanied him all the way to the Hatake compound, where he roped Kakashi into chopping the vegetables while he was minding the frying pan. Meanwhile, Naruto was enjoying their bickering over the spices while nibbling on a tangerine. He might like ramen above all else, there was something to be said for fresh produce. They had so very few during the war, and among the little attentions Kakashi tried to show, the big bowl of fruits on the counter that he kept replenishing was one of his favorites.

Gai left just after the meal to take a shower and kit up before their next mission. Naruto could see that Kakashi had something on his mind, but he didn’t volunteer anything, and left soon after Gai, warning him they would probably be out for two, maybe three days, and to ask Iruka, Shikaku, or Inoichi if he needed anything.

After their departure, Naruto went to take his own bath with a sigh of pure bliss. He felt almost guilty at his enjoyment ― he didn’t think he could grow so dependent so fast on such little comforts, but not having to deal with a cold stream, like during the war, or with a faulty heater, like in his former lodgings, was a relief. Hot water was so underrated.

Having spent the morning outdoors, he sternly disciplined himself into practicing seals for a while. They were supposed to be his family’s lore and he didn’t want to leave behind all the Uzumaki name had meant for him, but it was hard work. He never really enjoyed writing. At least Kakashi had more than decent materials about it ― by now his personal library was well stocked. Shikaku’s remark the other day made him want to try poison-oriented seals, but he wasn’t sure it would be safe practicing those alone. Maybe he would ask Anko for some help? She was fun to be around, although in a completely different way than Gai, with her sarcastic wit and bright determination to thrive.

But this one didn’t know him. He sighed as he thought about the limited number of persons he could ask. Better not, then. He should ask Kakashi to find a way to (re-)introduce him to the poison specialist. He consoled himself with drawing out explosive seals. Those he knew well enough, and Kakashi would be pleased to have reserves. And there was something cathartic in thinking up ways to blow up things.

His training in seals, then sensing and senjutsu, filled up his afternoon. He went to get his favorite ramen from Ichiraku’s for the evening, sparing himself from having to cook anything, and used the early night to go visit the Inuzuka kennels for his latest prank idea, sending a silent apology to Kiba. He could hear Kurama snickering in the back of his mind.

The fox wasn’t laughing when Naruto finally went to bed with his plushie.

Must you really cuddle that thing? Seriously? grumbled Kurama, resigned.

It was a gift , answered Naruto firmly, snuggling with the softer and smaller version of his friend.

From an Uchiha , complained the bigger but currently immaterial version. By then, it was more rote than heartfelt.

Come on, Shisui’s never done you anything!

Kurama sighed in his head, and Naruto felt his lips curl up as he let himself join him in their shared mindscape.

―――

Inoichi couldn’t say he was surprised to see Kakashi get in step with him after work. After about a month of living with Naruto, he had been almost waiting for it ― if Kakashi hadn’t approached him, he would likely have gone to visit soon.

“Would you have a moment this evening?” Asked the copy nin courteously.

“Let me guess. Naruto-related troubles?” At Kakashi’s slightly ironic nod, Inoichi continued. “Come along. We might as well do it home.”

Once in his private study and away from prying eyes, he waved Kakashi toward a cushion at the low table and went to rummage into his desk. “Wait a second, I’m sure I’ve put it away… Ha!” He carefully moved aside the scrolls he had recently copied, took the thick notebook in which he had copied them, and turned toward Kakashi, who was looking perplex, but so far too polite to remark on it. “I took the liberty to check for similar cases in our archives, those may help.”

“...Similar?”

The bemused tone could be forgiven, and Inoichi refrained from rolling his eyes, just thrust the notebook into Kakashi’s hands as he sat on the opposite side.  

“No, I’ve never heard of another time-travel. But yes, we DO have records of adults Yamanaka finding themselves into children’s bodies.”

He felt vindicated at Kakashi’s abrupt interest. He had spent hours looking for those records, many more copying them and adding any notes he thought might be relevant. He couldn’t do anything to change Naruto’s past, but he would do his damn level best to ensure his future could be brighter.

“It’s not perfect, of course,” commented Inoichi as Kakashi was scanning the notebook. “Most of those instances were short-term, old missions and the like.” He may not like it, but it was a fact of life that before Konoha’s founding (and sometimes even after), children were easy targets for infiltration. “But there are some that could be of interest, like Fumio’s record on his tests to see how much the body can affect the way of thinking, or Ayako’s mission ― she still holds the record for longest mind-switch in the clan. Katsuo’s diary is messier, but one of the most detailed instance where a child mind-switched with an adult by mistake. He had to wait to be back in the compound to get fixed.”

Kakashi stopped looking at the notebook to lift his eye toward him. “Thank you!” Inoichi could hear his underlying relief at the idea that precedents existed. “I’ll take good care of it,” added the copy nin. At least Inoichi wouldn’t have to remind him that those were treasured clan secrets, not to be shared lightly.

“Don’t mention it,” sighed Inoichi. “You and Naruto need it more than us, right now. Apart from the obvious problem of his age, what did you notice so far? Any other difficulty?” Since Kakashi seemed surprised at the records, he likely had come for a more classic kind of counseling, maybe as proxy. He knew Kakashi wasn’t really the kind to share, so a little prompting couldn’t go amiss.

Kakashi put the notebook down on the table, and got more serious. “It’s his teacher who warned me recently. Iruka noticed that Naruto seemed to have difficulties interacting with his classmates, but it’s likely part of ‘the obvious problem’, as you said. Iruka’s trying to work on it. What worries me a bit more is the fact that he doesn’t talk about his classmates anymore.”

Inoichi grew grimmer at the thought. “It’s… not completely unexpected, either. He saw most of them die. He might not want to risk losing them again if he makes friend with them.” He sighed. “That might not make his grief easier. Processing the death of loved ones is not so linear as some think, but his situation might make it a real risk to get stuck at ‘denial’. I wouldn’t worry so much about that, though, I believe he’s got enough experience in unhealthy ways of coping to recognize and avoid them.”

Seeing Kakashi’s discomfort, he refrained from commenting further in that vein. He knew Obito and Kakashi each had good excuses, but it didn’t make it less true. Nor were they the only such examples in Naruto’s life, unfortunately.

“I didn’t spend that long in Naruto’s mind,” continued Inoichi after a brief silence. “But it’s obvious he’s got a very positive mindset.” The young man had been just out of the worst war ever, and Inoichi would have chosen his mindscape as a vacation resort if he could. It continued to amaze him. “I don’t know how he will chose to deal, but try not to imagine difficulties he may not have, just because it would be logical for him to have them.”

“Uh?” Now Kakashi was confused, and Inoichi sighed again, erasing with a hand on his face the beginning of a smirk.

“Look, right now I’m more confident in his mental health than ours, so don’t borrow trouble and just support him? It’s not that hard ―  treat him like one of your puppies, with food, shelter and praise, and that would already be more than he had the first time around. He’ll make do with what you give him, he knows you.”

“...Hn.” The inarticulate sound could be offense or laughter, Inoichi wasn’t sure. The slight crinkle at the corner of Kakashi’s visible eye made him think laughter, and Inoichi smiled briefly in echo before continuing.

“I know all is not well, and Shikaku told me some of what he saw, too. So yes, Naruto has some difficulties. He’ll face them, and all we can do is help him. You can’t resolve them in his place, it won’t work that way. He’s NOT a child, we’re already too late to treat him like one.” A trace of bitterness had leaked in his voice, and Kakashi visibly picked on it.

He didn’t ask, though, and Inoichi repressed a sigh ― if he didn’t say anything, Kakashi would likely come up with his own ideas, and Inoichi didn’t want to know what those ideas might be.

“Nevermind me.” He waved a hand as if to set aside his own feelings. “I just can’t wait to see differences. His timeline was so completely fucked up, I’m getting a bit impatient to see confirmation that it’s actually changing.” He had been feeling more antsy these past few weeks, now that they were on track and knew that things should change.

“Too bad your clan couldn’t have been the ones to adopt Naruto, that would have been a notable change.”

Behind Kakashi’s facetious tone, Inoichi could guess some honest curiosity.

“Wouldn’t work. My clan members actually know how a six-years-old is supposed to behave.” He looked briefly but pointedly at the notebook on the table. “They would have guessed something was amiss within a week.” He didn’t even try to repress his grin. “Now if he behaves weirdly, you’ll be the one seen as responsible. Much more comfortable.”

“Eh.” Kakashi looked more entertained than resigned. “He’s spending time with Tenzo and Gai, too.”

Inoichi laughed at the idea, and got up to accompany Kakashi to the door.

―――

Noriko had been all excited at the idea of sharing the news, but when she saw that her dear husband was coming home with the Hatake, she smiled demurely, welcomed them in her house, and let Inoichi deal with the copy nin without further interference. She was relieved to see the Hatake get some likely-much-needed advice about Naruto, raising a child should never be undertaken lightly and that one could surely do with more stability.

Still. Thwarted in her quest for a listener, she wandered toward the greenhouses, looking for Chisaki. Surely their third had as much right to the announcement as Inoichi?

She found her putting away her tools, almost ready to head inside for dinner. Noriko had to take a moment to enjoy her casual grace as Chisaki washed her hands quickly before approaching with a warm smile and light in her beautiful eyes. The little bubbles of happiness fizzling in her mind overflowed and she just blurted, “I’m pregnant!” with a grin from ear to ear.

Chisaki whooped and took her in her arms with a laugh, careful not to constrict her in the hug.

“That’s fantastic! Did you tell Inoichi?”

“Not yet.” Noriko couldn’t stop grinning, but her smile grew a tad more concerned thinking of Inoichi. “He’s been so stressed lately. He might welcome a bit of good news.”

“I’m sure he’ll be delighted,” promised Chisaki confidently.

Chapter Text

Schade dass die Natur nur einen Mensch aus dir schuf, denn zum würdigen Mann war und zum Schelmen der Stoff

(It’s a shame that Nature only made one man out of you, for you were the stuff of heroes and villains both.)

― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust: First Part

 

Terumi Mei lifted her head in surprise at the rapid knocking on her door, a quick pattern she recognized, but wasn’t sure to trust. It was too late for a social call, and there had been no meeting scheduled tonight. She quickly checked for incriminating evidence in the room, just in case ― better thorough now than sorry later ―  before cautiously opening the door.

It was indeed Zabuza, for once without his young apprentice. Her relief at seeing him instead of Yagura’s ANBU was short-lived, and she tensed when she saw his face, dreading his reason to be here.

“Haku?...” She bit her tongue on the rest as she gestured him to come in and raised the wards.

She always knew he had a soft spot for Haku, and the kid’s bloodline limit made him a liability, but she had hoped that the precautions they took would be enough to protect the child. Zabuza’s own behavior and reputation were Haku’s shield, so that no one would even think to use him against Zabuza. But Mei knew better. If he had been captured, Zabuza would try something, and it was too soon , they weren’t ready yet. Far from it!

“No, he’s alright. Or maybe yes. I don’t know.” Zabuza wasn’t making sense, and he passed a hand in his already messy hair, apparently in sheer frustration at not finding the words. He began again.

“I’ve had a visit from Kisame.” Mei’s eyes widened despite herself at the news. “He was with a friend who offered help to overthrow Yagura.” Zabuza was speaking quickly, as if to get rid of an unpleasant chore. “Their conditions are, they want complete secrecy about their involvement, they want me as Kage and they want Haku to become the Sanbi’s jinchuuriki.”

“He can’t be serious!” answered Mei reflexively. Although that would explain the wild eyes and slightly desperate tone of Zabuza’s voice.

“Mei, Kisame guaranteed Utakata’s full support if we do it his way.” Ah, so that would account for the manic edge of hope. Zabuza’s voice could be surprisingly expressive when he was passionate about something.

Mei took an abrupt breath. “You’re sure ?”

“Kisame is sure.” His eyes were almost burning.

She released that breath in a long, drawn-out sigh, and slowly smiled. “That bloody shark better be.” Kisame had always been too much of an optimist, in her opinion. He thought the world could be better, thought people should at least try. Damn but she missed him. He would laugh himself silly at seeing her try, but he would grin and follow. Or so she thought. Now it appeared he may lead rather than follow. Well, alright. She could adapt.

Wordlessly, she went to get some rum. It may be pricier than sake, but Zabuza had a weakness for the sweet aftertaste, and if there ever was an occasion, it had to be now. They lifted their glasses to each other in an ironic salute before drinking in one go. Mei appreciated the trust as Zabuza didn’t even check for poison after basically telling her he would be stealing her show.

She poured them a second drink, and swirled it slowly in her glass as she asked Zabuza for more information. Nerves soothed by alcohol and by her listening, his speech was getting slower than the few earlier terse sentences, more articulate. He repeated what Kisame and his friend had said, and Mei felt a surge of worry at their plan. Barely an outline, really, leaving way too much room for miscommunication and resting pretty much on the shoulders of a stranger. “Kisame’s friend”, Zabuza had said, but was he? Moving too soon would nip their rebellion in the bud, before it could even get to flower, nevermind bearing fruit. There was something, too, in the back of her mind, like a bell trying to warn her...

Her worry must have shown, as Zabuza interrupted himself with a frown.

“Something wrong?”

“Are you really sure about that ‘friend’ of Kisame?” And then the bell rang. “And how the hell do they know that we are planning anything?” She added urgently. Her fingers suddenly gripped the glass tighter under her renewed tension.

Zabuza looked arrested for a second, but he shook his head slowly. “They never said, but they never asked anything, either. They didn’t even mention your name, Mei, they just said they knew I would rebel if given the occasion, and promised to give me the occasion. They almost looked ready to offer me victory on a plate!” He appraised her. “It’s not too late to back out. If it works as they think, you may not even have to show your cards, so if we fail, you could try again later.”

Mei considered that option, but it had its own obvious disadvantages. “If you fail because I wasn’t helping, I’ll spend the rest of my years going crazy on ‘what if’s. And Yagura would clamp down even harder on bloodline carriers. He would be more paranoid than ever and next time, if there is a next time, would be even harder.” She didn’t like it, but trust seemed like the only option. If they didn’t try, there would still be someone out there knowing what they intended, and she wouldn’t even know who.

“And you would be ok with me replacing Yagura?” asked Zabuza hesitantly. “It’s not what you wanted.”

“We can’t always get what we want,” smiled Mei briefly. “Better you than him.” She lost the smile. “He’s getting worse. If we don’t act, there won’t be a Kirigakure to save.” She smoothed her bangs over her face to better hide behind them as she looked at Zabuza. “And you?”

Zabuza looked taken aback, “Me, what?”

“How will you deal with sacrificing Haku?” she asked bluntly.

He stilled, and Mei could almost see denial rising behind his eyes. She interrupted. “It’s what it is, Zabuza, it’s in the bloody name. Living sacrifice, maybe, but sacrifice all the same. He wouldn’t be yours anymore, his life would belong to a demon.”

“Isobu,” corrected Zabuza sharply, then seemed surprised by his own reaction. His hand was making a fist, as if wanting for a physical fight rather than a verbal one. “The demon’s name is Isobu,” he explained. “And that pal of Kisame’s knew it, insisted on it, and said he was not evil. He said he knew other jinchuuriki, and they were dealing fine. Haku might not be mine alone anymore, but I can… share him, I suppose.”

Mei watched him without comment, and he answered her silence with a sigh.

“At least he would live. We can’t just pass up the chance and you know it. And if we fail or if I’m killed―” Mei pinched her lips, but they had to be realist, “―Haku will need protection. You know how the villagers are. Kisame swore that if we accept, Utakata will personally train Haku.” Mei recoiled slightly in surprise, eyes widening. Utakata wanted nothing to do with anyone, and he had dodged would-be apprentices, enticed by his reputation, as persistently as he dodged the hunter-nin still periodically sent on his trace. If he was really into this, if all this was anything else than an elaborate trap…

She sighed and went to get ink and paper in her study.

“If we’re doing this, then we might as well make it count…”

The night would be long.

―――

Sitting on a log on the slope of the mountain over the village, Obito was contemplating Kiri with a troubled eye. He had imagined a revolution to be more bloody, more… messy.

But Kisame had convinced the local revolutionaries and the rest of the Seven swordsmen to support Zabuza, Naruto had convinced Utakata and Saiken of the same, and basically all Obito had to do was show up and fight. They had managed to get Yagura separated from his guards, and while the man was powerful and naturally violent, that described most of Obito’s opponents for the past several years. Nothing here he had never seen. And he may not have studied Bijuu transfer with that application in mind, but the fundamentals were the same, and Naruto could cover any gap in his knowledge. Subduing Yagura without killing him had been a pain and half, but transferring Isobu to Haku, with both of their cooperation, proved rather easier than he expected.

Yagura hadn’t survived the transfer, of course, but apart from him, there were surprisingly few casualties, most of them loyalists who benefitted from Yagura’s bloodlust and didn’t want to see peace in their lifetime. Utakata had observed Obito coldly from afar, but hadn’t interacted with him, preferring to spend time with his new protégé. Zabuza had rather stiffly thanked Obito, and left him to his privacy, making no comment on his mask or his abilities. And so he was alone again, looking again at a village from above after fighting against its Kage, as a new child had been chosen to carry the burden of the village’s Bijuu, killing the previous jinchuuriki in the process. The parallels were unsettling.

Well, not alone for long, at least.

“You’re sure about Haku?” He asked Naruto when the kid returned from speaking with the new jinchuuriki.

“Oh, yes,” answered Naruto with blatant satisfaction. “He’ll get used to Isobu right away, believe it! I’m sure they’ll get along great.”

“He seemed… Maybe not very assertive?” asked Obito tentatively. Completely subservient to Zabuza, from what he could see, and he wasn’t sure he approved. The man didn’t seem to appreciate the devotion of the kid he had attached to himself, and Haku was only ten, after all.

“Isobu is not very assertive either,” shrugged Naruto, and he cast Obito an ambiguous look, part irony, part serious. “We’re living sacrifices. Haku’s idea that he is a tool of Zabuza is what made him a good candidate.”

“Kurama said Yagura didn’t deserve Isobu’s power. But now there’s a risk of Zabuza abusing Isobu through Haku.” He was still dubious, but Naruto answered with pain in his voice.

“In another life, one where Zabuza was a missing nin and Haku died serving him, he avenged Haku with his own life and his last request was to be buried near him. I don’t think Zabuza will ever willingly abuse Haku, and now he’s in a position to protect him.” He shrugged. “And if we’re wrong, well, Utakata is here. Saiken would never let Isobu get bullied, not now that they’ve finally learned to get along. And Utakata listens to Saiken. Hell, out of all of us, he’s maybe the one who listens best, really. They’ll be fine.”

The other jinchuuriki was indeed much more in harmony with his Bijuu than most, even before Saiken had time-traveled. His wandering lifestyle had left him with plenty of opportunities to meditate, and Utakata had achieved full synchronicity with Saiken without any outside help. His ability to coordinate with Naruto through the mindscape they shared with their Bijuu had been instrumental in their victory, or at least in hiding Naruto’s role in it.

Obito accepted Naruto’s reassurances, and thought back on the situation. Zabuza was firmly installed now, even if he still was suspicious of Obito’s motives. In his experience, free help didn’t just come from nowhere when he needed it most. Obito could relate, but there was no way he would explain to Zabuza that he was helping because an irate and ancien chakra-construct time-traveling from beyond the end of the world had demanded it. Let him wonder and worry. Obito’s only stated price for his help, secrecy, had been respected so far as he could see. Kisame had grinned, said to his former comrade that was reverse payback, and left it at that.

Obito smiled a bit. He was relieved Kisame had chosen to follow him along the new plan. He would need him, more than he wanted to admit. And that first success had bolstered the shark man, whose good mood was impressive to watch. People were edging away from his grin on the streets. He was still technically a missing nin, but only because Kisame had refused to be reinstated for the time being. Zabuza may need plausible deniability of his actions if all went according to the plan, and Kisame could wait. His place in Kiri was assured for as long as Zabuza was Mizukage. That was at least one thing Obito had been able to set right.

He heard Naruto sigh, and turned towards him. The kid was looking at him with grave eyes, and said apologetically, “I can’t stay for much longer. Too much risk of something going wrong. I’m supposed to be in Konoha.”

Indeed, they had taken care not to let anyone see the jinchuuriki under his true appearance. Only Utakata knew who he really was. Even Zabuza and Haku didn’t know, and Obito intended to keep it that way if possible, although he could hardly control what Isobu chose to reveal to his jinchuuriki.

He let out a sigh of his own, drew himself up, and gave Naruto a nod, gravely. “Farewell, Naruto.” The shadow clone dissipated in a puff of smoke, and Obito wandered back into the village, searching for Kisame.

―――

Isobu was… restless, maybe. He wasn’t used to the feeling, and wasn’t sure of the name, but he felt a bit jittery, without being overly enthusiastic nor especially worried, so “restless” seemed to fit. Saiken had told him it would go fine, but the transfer itself had been… unpleasant.

He didn’t like feeling his host die. The one before Yagura had been nice, in that distant way he could feel through the faulty seal, and Isobu had bad memories of her/their/his death. It felt like being shredded, his conscious being dispersed into tiny, frantic pieces that tried but failed to cling together. As if his host shared the feeling of dying, but not the peace that was supposed to follow, only the anguish of being unable to persist. When Yagura had desperately reached for him, in a bid for survival, Isobu had nearly helped him despite his previous agreement, because he didn’t want to go through that again.

But he could also remember Yagura’s first death, when Isobu had been trapped into that cursed statue, and truly… it was no better. Persisting helpless until forcibly joined with his siblings was even, by some measure, worse. Dying was getting dispersed, but like a puzzle, he could be whole again. Merging had been an unnatural fight, his mind getting pressed against those of his siblings, all snarling for the survival of their personality as their chakra fused, and the resulting cacophony had felt like madness. He didn’t like dying, no, but he hated merging. And Kurama had said his potential new host was a nicer one.

So he had watched and refused Yagura his chakra. By himself, maybe Yagura would have been able to force him to cooperate, as he sometimes did, but he couldn’t fight both outside and inside at the same time, and soon the question had been moot.

Isobu had been relieved not to feel dying, after all. He was still there, even if “there” was a weird thing to call something that wasn’t really a place. He wasn’t sure he liked the mindscape, it was snowing and Isobu didn’t like cold, but that snow didn’t feel like freezing but like the absence of burning. Safety instead of threat. It was fluffy, like a sort of glittery, feathery cotton, falling in a silence that was more the quiet of a mind at peace with itself than the absence of sound. His cage was of ice, too, and Isobu didn’t like the bars, although he was used to them.

Soon he could see a form coming at him, barely visible through the snow but resolving into a child as it ― he ― was getting steadily closer. Isobu was curious. Once near enough, the child looked at him with open wonder. It was sort of flattering, really ― no one had looked at Isobu with anything like joy for a very long time. This was close enough. He lowered his head, carefully, so as not to startle the child.

“Hello,” said the Bijuu.

“Hello,” replied the child. He continued tentatively, “I am Haku. What should I call you?”

Isobu cocked his head. “They didn’t tell you?”

“They did,” replied Haku evenly. “But it’s your name. I don’t know if it’s what you want me to call you.”

Isobu hadn’t seen the difference before Haku pointed it. It felt like consideration, and he felt more settled, his mood suddenly improved by the attention.

“You may call me Isobu, Haku. I’m pleased to meet you.”

“I’m honored, Isobu.” Haku bowed, and then seemed to have finished the script he had in mind when he came, losing some of his formality. He looked at Isobu, really looked this time, but he still wasn’t recoiling. He came closer, pressing against the bars of Isobu’s cage with curiosity, and he was more shy than hesitant when he went on, “Utakata said that he is friends with Saiken. Do you think we could be friends, too?”

Isobu looked at the young human before him. The idea was tantalizing. He liked Naruto, but it wasn’t quite the same ― Kurama was possessive as all Hell. This one could be his . Maybe. He hadn’t had a friend in so long, he wasn’t quite sure how to do it anymore. He pressed his head against the bars, too.

“I am in a cage. Do you think you could do something about those bars?”

Haku had an intense look of concentration. “I don’t know. I’ll try?”

“Then I’ll try being your friend, Haku,” rumbled Isobu.

―――

As he was walking towards the small town they had agreed upon as a rendezvous point, Obito was distantly admiring the scenery, wondering if he would have another chance. The sun wasn’t quite up yet, and lingering frost was outlining the bare branches of the bordering trees, stark black against the luminous sky. The day was full of the promise of bright sun, crisp air and blue skies. It was beautiful.

It felt suspicious. Both Naruto and Kakashi had told him he would be welcome in the village, but really, how could Obito trust their words? Even if they were entirely honest, they weren’t the Hokage, his council, or the clan heads. Although now that he thought of it, Kakashi might qualify as clan head. Still. The Powers that be had pretty good reasons to execute him on the spot if they wanted to be efficient, or put him on trial for his past treason if they wanted to make it last. Both options were singularly unappealing, and he almost slowed his pace even more.

Dispositions had been taken in the case things went poorly, of course, but an almost pathetic part of him was whining after a good ending. Maybe all would go well? Maybe he could go home? For a moment he felt almost down enough not to care, and then he couldn’t help but remember Naruto’s hopeful eyes, and he sighed and walked faster. The chilly wind was trying to take advantage of his recently shortened hair to slip around his neck, but Obito wasn’t cold. He rarely was, now.

He had avoided thinking of Kakashi during the past few days, but it wouldn’t work for much longer. If he was on schedule, they should meet in the late afternoon, and go the rest of the way together to enter Konoha the next day. At some point, he would likely have to deal with Kakashi, and his behavior baffled Obito.

He remembered a stick-to-the-rules kid, annoyingly indifferent to any kind of human interaction, ungrateful to Rin’s kindness, unimpressed by Obito’s efforts. He had spent years trying to get to Kakashi, to make him acknowledge his peers instead of look down on them. He had seen enough glimpses of humanity in Kakashi to be sure there was a heart to reach somewhere, and indeed his sacrifice had seemed to melt some of his ice. Obito had gone to what he had thought was death’s final embrace warmed by the memory of Rin’s voice and Kakashi’s anguished face, knowing he had finally connected.

Obito had changed a lot with the following years. He knew it. But he hadn’t quite realized how much Kakashi had changed, too. The few visits he had paid to Kakashi in Konoha, with his teammate unaware of his presence, had merely assured him of his continued survival, it had in no way prepared him for the reality of a Kakashi that knew he was alive, knew what he had done , and still accepted him, acknowledged him without the need for Obito to even try and regain his acceptance. It seemed that once Kakashi noticed someone, he never un-noticed them.  

Obito was still getting used to the idea that Kakashi had adopted Naruto. The feeling of welcome that had been in Kakashi’s voice when he had told him he had reopened the Hatake compound, and hesitantly invited Obito to live there, with them, at least until he could find more permanent lodgings, had made him feel weirdly homesick for a place he had never even seen.

And now Obito couldn’t quite find his footing in their changed relationship. Kakashi’s kindness had creeped him out into asking him to go back to Konoha for the time being. Dealing with a psychopathic jinchuuriki Kage must be easier than talking feelings with Kakashi.

Obito wondered if he could stall such a talk for longer. After all, if he didn’t say anything, Kakashi was unlikely to broach the subject himself. They might keep ignoring any issues until Obito understood better where Kakashi stood.

He should be thinking of more vital things, about which cover story they would use to explain his long absence, about how he could keep the Hokage from interfering with his plan, about the lies he would have to tell his former friends in the village. But he was tired of it all, tired of thinking ahead for nothing. He would deal when he would have to, not before.

At least Naruto would be in Konoha. He might be willing to translate Kakashi into normal.

Chapter Text

I was not missing, I was dead

― “An Ode to Death”, Birds of Tokyo

After all the months spent thinking about the possible future, and the weeks since that memorable meeting with the Hokage, and the days since Kakashi’s last laconic report, spent preparing for Obito’s reintegration, Shikaku was actually impatient enough to fight his natural laziness and go meet the main cause of all that noise at the gates.

His first impression of Uchiha Obito was that even if he knew he was alive, he may have taken more than a second to recognize the happy kid of his few memories in the scarred face of the approaching shinobi. Obito looked tired, as if he hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in ages. Shikaku knew he was about two years older than Kakashi, walking on his left, but right now he looked a decade more. He also looked surprisingly off guard ― either he didn’t really think he might be attacked or arrested, or he didn’t care. Or he thought he could escape anyway.

Kakashi wasn’t smiling, and yet there was a lightness to whatever one could see of his face that Shikaku had only become familiar with since the last few months. He was sure finding Obito again was a large part of the Copy Nin’s new-found happiness, but he wondered how much leaving ANBU and moving in with sunshine in human form played a part.

He stood straighter as the pair approached, and went to salute Obito.

“Obito-san. It’s been a long time. Glad to see you well.” He actually was. Obito might be scarred and tired, but he also looked fit and moved with ease.

“Nara-sama. It has. Thank you for your welcome.” Judging by the skeptical slant of his eye, he wasn’t sure of its sincerity, but would play along.

“The Third has asked to meet you right away, if you please.”  If not for the dignity of his office, Sarutobi might even have imitated Shikaku and waited at the gates. Curiosity was a powerful motivator.

As they fell in step, Kakashi asked, “How’s Naruto?”, as he now systematically did when returning to the village.

“Had a sleepover home two days ago. Which might explain why the water in the coffee machine of the T&I restroom got changed to sake yesterday, Shikamaru tends to redirect him to non-civilian targets.” Shikaku smiled in memory. According to Inoichi, there had been a heated debate about whether they should replace the liquid or not. Eager coffee- and-alcohol-addicts had made it a moot point, the machine was emptied before they could reach a decision. Not a lot of constructive work had been done that day. “Your brat’s fine, and don’t worry, he’s having fun.”

There was the eye-smile. Obito seemed to have relaxed just a tiny bit, too, and as they entered the Hokage’s office, he hesitantly asked, “Does it happen often?”

“The sleepovers? No, they’re pretty rare. The pranking? Every damn day. It has its use: no one would believe that he’s nearly fifteen years older than he looks. Or that he can be serious for more than five minutes.” Shikaku had to remind himself regularly of his true age.

Obito blinked in surprise, and darted a glance around, seeing who might have overheard. The Hokage was there, standing in front of his desk. Inoichi was at his side, clearly just as interested as Shikaku in their guest. And two ANBU in the corners that Shikaku knew to be Shisui and Tenzo. The Third had tried to keep the number of fully informed ANBU to a minimum: only Yugao now shared the confidence that Naruto was a time-traveler, and even then she didn’t know everything.

The Third nodded once to one of his faithful shadows, and there was only one ANBU left.

“Welcome back to Konoha, Uchiha Obito.”

“I thank you for your welcome, Hokage-sama,” was the formal answer.

The Hokage was smiling with more warmth than Shikaku honestly expected. Maybe his own memories were more tinted with nostalgia. He invited them to sit with him, and began seriously.

“Given your long absence, I imagine you might meet with difficulties to reintegrate. I have informed Uchiha Fugaku, your clan’s head, that your return was expected, and he offered the hospitality of the Uchiha district.”

Obito glanced at Kakashi, who answered for him, “I have already invited Obito to reside in the Hatake compound for as long as he wishes.”

“Be that as it may, I had to extend the Uchiha’s invitation.” Despite the phrasing, he seemed to wait for an answer, and this time Obito spoke.

“I have no particular desire to reside with my clansmen, as they are bound to be too curious for the questions I may freely answer anyway.”

Understatement of the year, thought Shikaku. The less people knew exactly what Obito had been up to, the better. When he had actually seriously considered his fitness as possible Hokage, that had been one of the biggest question marks against Obito. No matter how good he proved to be, one, two, five or even ten years from now, if the fact he was behind the Kyuubi attack ever became public, it would likely end him and might destroy all he could have done for Konoha in between. Even now Shikaku wasn’t sure it was worth the risk.

The Hokage nodded to himself, and added, “Fugaku will see you tomorrow, then. Shikaku has also arranged a test for you, if you are willing. You left the village as chunin, but I have been given to understand that would be a misleading classification now.”

Obito was maybe too respectful to shrug, but the intention seemed to be there. “As you wish.”

They were interrupted by the arrival of Naruto through the window, smiling as usual, as the ANBU returned in his corner.

“Jiji! Inoichi-san! Kakashi! Obito!” He went on and glomped Obito.

Judging by Obito’s flummoxed expression, hugs had been pretty rare in his past. Judging by Naruto’s enthusiastic expression, they were bound to be much more frequent in his foreseeable future. Shikaku had to refrain from smiling. The man was obviously unused to be touched, but Naruto was cheerfully ignoring his lack of response, while still respecting his boundaries enough to relax his touch as soon as Obito showed discomfort. Naruto turned to Kakashi for his next welcome, but Shikaku didn’t miss the brief, wistful lifting of Obito’s lips that might pass as a smile. Naruto sat on the other side of Obito and grinned to the Hokage, who was watching with an indulgent smile.

“Glad to see you, too, Naruto. Now you’re here, we can hear the latest news.”

He turned a questioning glance at Obito, who dutifully began reporting on the aftermaths of the Kiri revolution. He was speaking very detachedly, as if unconcerned by the matter. Shikaku wondered if he was trying to keep his distance, or if he didn’t care that much about Kiri. He threw a look at Inoichi to gauge his reaction, but his friend didn’t seem to feel anything was amiss.

The Hokage was too experienced to look impressed, but Shikaku got the feeling it was a near thing. Kiri’s background hostility had been a thorn in everyone’s hide for years, it was a relief to learn the reign of the Bloody Mist was finally over. Shikaku allowed himself to be cautiously hopeful. When he had first heard of Naruto and Obito’s plan, he hadn’t been sure it could be done that cleanly. They’d still have to see if the now Fifth Mizukage would be worth the trouble, but it looked promising.

When Obito was finished, Hiruzen looked thoughtful for a moment, before apparently shaking himself and turning to Naruto.

“I’ll send an official envoy to Kiri to negotiate with the new Mizukage. We never had a peace treaty, but we can formalize last war’s cease-fire into a more formal document easily enough, I think. That would be all for Kiri. What about Suna and Kumo? Any news from your friends?”

“Well, Ay may not be all warm and friendly, but he’ll be at worst neutral. Wait-and-see isn’t really his style, but he’s too smart to make any hostile move given Killer B’s warnings.” Naruto seemed to hesitate a bit before going on more cautiously. “Suna might be a bit more of a problem. Gaara is officially seven, and the council considers he’s proven his mastery over the Ichibi. Shukaku doesn’t like it, but Gaara persuaded him to go along with it for now. Also, Fuu of Taki came to Suna, officially she fled her village because she was scared of losing control of the Nanabi there, unofficially she came to talk with Gaara and learn how to get along with Chomei. She doesn’t have Suna citizenship, but the council is pressuring her for it. They’re mostly a bunch of greedy bastards and they can’t wait to have two weapons at their disposal.”

Naruto’s face clearly showed what he thought of it, and now that he knew more about Bijuu, Shikaku couldn’t help but agree. Trying to pressure the jinchuuriki was a tactical mistake. But then, he could hardly regret that a potential enemy made mistakes.

“Gaara can stall things for a few months if necessary by pretending he needs a lot of time to teach Fuu,” continued Naruto with a frown of concentration, visibly recalling his latest conversation with his jinchuuriki friend, “But he thinks he’ll have to tell his father and Baki about his time-travel, after all. Their weight may be enough to prevent the council from trying to use Gaara and Fuu, but maybe not. Gaara fears his father might be considered biased by the council. They’ll feel he’s just sentimental if he opposes using his son.”

Shikaku nearly frowned at the idea. Shisui had reported precisely what Gaara had said about his relationship with his father, and this was a nasty side effect they hadn’t anticipated. In another timeline, Rasa would have been known as ruthlessly dedicated to his village. This time around, he hadn’t had to prove to his council that he could and would disregard his son for the greater good of the village.

But Obito intervened, with an intent eye.

“Who in Suna does know about Gaara’s time-travel?”

“His siblings, Takeshi,” Naruto looked as if going through a mental inventory, “Pakura, and Yashamaru.” He stopped and explained before Shikaku could interrupt, “Pakura knows because she’s a friend of Takeshi and would have likely died in a mission last autumn without a warning, but she didn’t believe Takeshi’s warning until he said from where he got it. Yashamaru is Gaara’s uncle, his mom’s brother. He noticed Gaara’s change of behavior, and when he finally talked it out with Gaara, he thought it would be best to tell him. Yashamaru has been pushing Gaara to talk to his dad ever since.”

Shikaku nodded. He had brushed up on his knowledge of the prominent jounin of the other major villages just in case, but he had been curious about the circumstances. He hesitated to intervene, but had to at least point it out.

“That makes it close to twenty people, that you’ve told us about, who know about your time-travel. Do you think the secret can hold up indefinitely?”

“They’re all ninja,” shrugged Naruto. And so were used to keeping secrets, right. “And even if more people are told and some guess… Well, it’s becoming more and more useless anyway. At this point, I don’t think the future can repeat itself. I don’t see how.” He pointedly didn’t look at Obito, but Shikaku could guess that part went unsaid. “It’s becoming more like an alternate reality, I’m not sure how interesting it would be for people to know how another version of them, living in another universe, would have reacted to things that here will never happen.”

Shikaku accepted Naruto’s words, a bit dubious, but not enough to hold the conversation.

“If the council tries to force the issue,” continued Obito, “How will Gaara react?”

“He’ll flee with Fuu to avoid violence,” grimaced Naruto. “He’ll come either here or to Kumo, likely with his siblings. But he would really rather find another way, he likes it in Suna when they’re not being assholes.”

“If Gaara can’t convince his father, can the council force him to stay and use him anyway?” asked Shikaku. “Maybe with his family as leverage?”

“No.” Naruto’s answer was uncharacteristically flat, but he didn’t expand on it. Shikaku almost asked for more, but he caught sight of Inoichi’s eyes, discreetly disapproving, so he subsided and shelved his questions for later, when he could grill Inoichi alone.

“Then I might have an idea for a solution. I’ll have to see if it’s possible first, though,” proposed Obito guardedly. He seemed braced for more questions, but the Third surprised Shikaku by not asking for details.

“If your possible solution relies on your own resources, I’ll let you try to work it, then.” Obito’s reaction was rather muted, barely a slight widening of his eye, but the Hokage still expanded, “I have no intention to intrude on your relationship with Akatsuki or any other ally you might have made during your exile. I would appreciate warnings when your actions might directly impact Konoha, but I’m not blind enough not to see that trying to tell you how to act in that respect would cause more problems that it would solve.”

This time Obito’s face was more readable, both surprised and relieved to some extent. Before he could react further, the Hokage continued.

“Though I have a request, maybe. When Naruto revealed himself as time-traveler―” conveniently ignoring he hadn’t done so to the Hokage before months, “―he proposed that Inoichi walked his mind to ascertain the veracity of his story. Would you be willing to accept a similar examination?”

The following silence had a thickness to it that Shikaku could almost feel, like a fog upon his skin. He was actually surprised, again, that the Hokage apparently gave Obito a choice. Given his past, Shikaku would have made sure of it. But then, maybe it was indeed wiser to observe the man’s reaction. He saw Obito on the verge of refusing, before glancing at Naruto, who just looked at him with trusting eyes. Obito looked torn for a few seconds, before managing a jerky nod of his own.

“Agreed, if it’s in a more private setting.” The words sounded like he had to force them through his lip with sheer willpower, but they were there. Which was pretty impressive. In his place, Shikaku didn’t know if he would have had the nerve to let himself be at the mercy of anyone. There was something sadly amusing to see Naruto becoming his moral compass. Better the kid than anyone else, in Shikaku’s opinion.

While the Hokage lifted an impressed eyebrow, Inoichi agreed, too, and Shikaku made plans to get him to talk after, maybe with Choza. Inoichi could be annoyingly scrupulous about the privacy of the minds of allied shinobi, but Shikaku was good at using even small clues and Choza wise enough to reign him in before he got annoying. It was part of what made them a good team, after all.

The Hokage deftly took their minds off the matter by redirecting the conversation to Obito’s need for a cover story, and they spent some time agreeing on the details. Most shinobi missions, especially long-term, were classified anyway, so it shouldn’t be that hard for Obito to avoid answering any questions, but something should still get written into his file somewhere. They had mostly exhausted the subject when Shikaku reminded them of a point he felt had been neglected.

“What of Iwa?” He asked the Hokage. “Won’t they feel threatened by the appearance of an alliance between the other major countries?”

The Third turned toward Naruto. “That might depend of the other Bijuu. What of the Yonbi and Gobi?”

“Son Goku and Kokuo are not really on talking terms with their hosts, though Kokuo thinks he might get along with Han if only he tried. They’re wandering somewhere between Kumo and Iwa, these days, and not under anyone’s authority. I don’t think either Roshi or Han would side with Iwa anyway.”

“Then I’ll deal with Iwa,” said the Hokage with a sort of predatory satisfaction. Noting Shikaku’s glance, he added with a slight smile, “I know Onoki. If it comes to that, I’m sure I can phrase diplomatic correspondence to let him know the balance of power wouldn’t be in his favor without provoking him into attacking. He can be reliable like that.”

With a sigh, he remarked, “Easier to plan for peace than for war.”

Because he had been looking, Shikaku noticed the edge of bitterness in Obito’s pressed lips, but he didn’t comment, and soon enough the Hokage dismissed them. Naruto left again by the window with a cheerful wave, while Kakashi and Obito chose the more sedate way, leaving by the door. Shikaku trailed after them with Inoichi, who suggested quietly, “When would you wish to do it?”

Obito looked at him from the corner of his eye, and grudgingly answered, “I’d lie if I said I wished to do it, but if at all, then the sooner, the better.” He turned to Kakashi to ask with circumspection if they could do it at his home, to which his teammate obviously agreed. At least obviously for Shikaku, Obito still seemed to have difficulties accepting Kakashi’s well wishes at face value.

Not finding any acceptable reason to follow, Shikaku let them go with disappointment.

―――

Obito wasn’t sure why he had agreed to go out. His session with Inoichi had left him too disquieted to appreciate any company. He had been surprised not to be judged in any way by the Yamanaka. He knew Inoichi’s position left him with very few illusions on the human nature, but he didn’t think it would translate into that kind of acceptance. When he was finished, Inoichi had been shaken, but hadn’t had a word of condemnation. Merely a few kind suggestions as to how to go on from there.

Kakashi had offered to get take out and stay at home if it was what he wanted, but Obito didn’t want to sit alone with him right now. He was bound to be curious, Obito didn’t want to talk, and getting holed up in his room would feel too much like avoidance. Not to mention how strange it felt to even have a room in Kakashi’s house, in his family house.

And so Obito found himself wandering Konoha’s streets with Kakashi, his new faithful shadow. Obito was beginning to suspect Kakashi didn’t even spy on him for the Hokage, and the idea that he might have gotten more of Kakashi’s loyalty for an unthinking act of bravery as a teen than the Hokage after more than a decade of service was weirding him out. His past courage shouldn’t make Kakashi overlook the following years of denial and bitterness. Not even considering the unmentionable.

He lifted his eye toward the Hokage cliff, and felt a flicker of guilt at the impassive face of the Fourth. The stone didn’t give him justice, there had been more kindness in his sensei’s eyes than the rigid material could render. More determination in his mouth when he had confronted Obito, unknowingly, and given his life to secure power for his village. Although Obito was almost sure that when Minato had envisioned the Kyuubi as a weapon, he wasn’t thinking of his skills in persuasion.

“We could go for a late lunch at Naruto’s favorite food stand?” Kakashi nudged him, with what Obito suspected was a trace of anxiety. After all, Obito had been unusually quiet since they left home.

Obito shrugged and nodded, and they soon found themselves sitting at Ichiraku’s, where old Teuchi took a look at him, standing beside Kakashi, recoiled with shock, and exclaimed, “Obito-kun!” with wide eyes and the beginning of joy.

Obito lifted his eyes and felt a moment of vertigo as he remembered, ten years ago now, going quite often to that same stand, ordering ramen to that same kind face, barely younger. A wave of nostalgia hit him, but it was a very soft blow, and he answered with a half-smile, “Teuchi-san”.

Teuchi hastened to go on the other side of the counter to properly greet Obito, with a wide, happy grin. He called Ayame to say hello to his formerly-thought-dead customer, and she saluted Obito with dimples in her smile. Teuchi shared his joy at seeing Obito alive freely, but thankfully without comment on the apparent resurrection. One doesn’t serve as many shinobi as Teuchi did without realizing that asking questions was a Bad Idea. If someone wanted him to know something, they just told him.

Once installed with a huge bowl of ramen on the house, Obito started to relax. His relative peace barely lasted for the duration of his meal, though, as another voice that he could nearly recognize called his name in wonder.

He turned to see Gai, looking at him with unbridled joy, a smugly grinning Naruto at his side. Obito hesitated, but it was Gai, after all, one of the kindest hearts he had ever met, and he didn’t look that surprised ― Naruto had likely told him what he saw fit to share ― so… He let himself extend an arm with a put upon sigh, and Gai engulfed him in a fervent hug. Obito blinked, unexpectedly moved. He had tensed in reflex at the too close contact, unused to have his space being invaded without threat, but Gai was a tactile person, and his touch was careful. He smelled of sweat and dust, and Obito wrinkled his nose.

“You stink, Gai.”

“I’m so glad to see you, too, Obito!” laughed Gai, relaxing his grip.

It turned out that he was coming fresh (so to speak) of a training session with Naruto. Since Kakashi had adopted the kid, Gai had bonded with him and proposed to help him master taijutsu. Obito could also decode that explanation as the disguise it was for Naruto’s current skills. After training, a shared meal was apparently customary, and ramen at Ichiraku’s was Naruto’s usual choice, no matter the hour.

Kakashi paid for Naruto’s serving, and they talked relatively quietly on the side while Gai and Obito tried to patch up nearly ten years of absence. Not being able to talk openly about their many secrets made it sometimes awkward, but more often amusing, as their respective imaginations could fill the blank spaces in their tales with their own musings. Gai conscientiously filled him up on the lives of any of their classmates Obito might care to mention, and many he had almost forgotten. Under the flow of his words, the lingering unease of Inoichi’s intrusion into his mind was quickly soothed away, and Obito found himself enjoying Gai’s presence.

It was heartwarming, and something Obito hadn’t noticed he had missed. It might have been overwhelming, but Gai was more attentive than a lot of people would give him credit for, and carefully avoided pressuring him into anything.

They were still engrossed in their conversation when quick steps and an exclamation made them lift their eyes. Obito took a moment to mentally place the slightly out-of-breath shinobi who was staring at him with incredulity. The scars marring the left side of his face weren’t helping his memory, but then, Obito could hardly talk.

“...Raido?” He finally greeted the newcomer, with an edge of uncertainty.

“How did you manage to be so late for your own funeral, Obito?!” Raido grinned at him, with a sort of glee in his eyes, and came closer in a few strides. He gestured carelessly at Obito’s own face. “I see we match, now.”

Obito lifted a hand to his face, a bit self-conscious, but Naruto chipped in, “Lots of my favorite people have scars on the face.” He had an impish grin while pointing his own whiskers-like marks, “Bet I got mine younger, though.”

Raido seemed to regret having brought up the subject, but Obito shrugged. Even without his mask, he was used to his scars, now, and could usually forget them. Mostly. He invited the newcomer to join them with a wave of his hand, and Teuchi brought them beers to go with their conversation.

“How come you’re alive?” asked Raido bluntly once seated.

“Classified, I’m afraid,” sighed Obito. That would have to be his answer to most questions anyway, he might as well get used to it. “How did you know?”

“Overheard the gate guards gossiping about hearing your name. They didn’t recognize it, shame on them, and I couldn’t believe it at first, I had to see for myself. Genma and Kurenai will be sorry they missed your return, they’re both out of the village right now.” He shifted his eyes to Kakashi, and added with an accusing voice, “When did you learn it?”

“We met outside the village about two months ago,” said Kakashi, and Obito admired how the avoidance might be mistaken for an answer. Since he didn’t seem to want to add anything, perfectly content to just listen, Obito continued.

“I’m not leaving again in the near future, anyway, so Kurenai and Genma will have other occasions to see me. Gai was telling me all about what I missed in the village.”

Raido’s eyes strayed briefly toward Naruto, and Obito cringed internally. He knew about the secrecy law, and that Naruto wasn’t supposed to know about hosting the Kyuubi, but he hadn’t quite realized how it could have impacted all his interactions with the village. If everyone kept giving him silent knowing looks, even without any hostility, it must drive him insane. Or rather, it must have been maddening in his first timeline ― current version was obviously used to it.

Naruto managed to take his leave, pretexting the need for a shower, without letting on that he was doing it to let the “adults” talk between them. Gai followed him with the same excuse, though, and Raido seemed to regret chasing them, however unintentionally, but not for long. Soon he was telling stories of his own, most of them about Kakashi, saying that Gai, as Kakashi’s friend, wouldn’t have told those, and that Obito would be curious. He wasn’t wrong on that count. Obito kept expecting Kakashi to want to interrupt, but he wasn’t even showing the least discomfort, no matter how embarrassing the story might get.

The conversation could have gone on for long, but the light of the still short winter afternoon was already fading, Obito was tired, and they finally parted ways with promises to drink to his return to the living on another occasion.

Obito’s first evening at the Hatake house proved less awkward than Obito had feared. Naruto and Kakashi had installed permanent privacy and protection wards, no one was expecting him to want to talk, no one was asking him for more than he felt like sharing right now, and after a light meal Obito finally slept in a place that felt safe for the first time in a very long time.

―――

Choza frowned pensively at his friends as Shikaku was pouring Inoichi a cup of sake after their meal. They were gathered in the Nara compound, as Shikaku’s living room was the most heavily warded. Yoshino had taken one look at Inoichi’s face, arrived earlier in the afternoon, made him his favorite herbal tea, and found him a comforter to bundle under. Sometimes Choza understood why Shikaku adored his wife so, even when she was nagging him to no end.

It wasn’t the first time Inoichi took refuge at the Nara’s compound, given his job. He never wanted to bring his troubles to his own house, even if his wife would have understood. Choza often wondered if being among his clan wasn’t sometimes more burden than support to Inoichi ― they were hard to fool, most of them had high security clearances, they were horribly curious by habit and would insistently want to help him if he showed the slightest hint of needing it. Granted, they were also very good at keeping their secrets, but keeping one from them while living amongst them was a daunting feat.

Inoichi hadn’t said a word yet of what he might have seen in Obito’s mind, beyond a short report to the Hokage that amounted to an all-clear. Shikaku initially wanted to wheedle information out of Inoichi, but Choza had firmly put his foot down on the idea and grilled Shikaku on their meeting instead. His friend had always had a remarkable memory, and he could repeat most of it verbatim. It made Choza more and more curious about Naruto. He hadn’t yet had an occasion to meet the time-traveler in circumstances where he could acknowledge Naruto as more than the adoptive son of Hatake Kakashi.

Choza had been keeping an eye on Inoichi during Shikaku’s retelling, and was worried to see him stay so tense and gloomy. Although he deigned answer Shikaku’s inquisitive look when he came to the part about how Gaara would be unlikely to bend to the Suna council.

“Come on, Shika,” grumbled the Yamanaka with an unusual trace of impatience. “Naruto told us about that thrice-cursed reanimation jutsu their enemies kept using on the strongest of the slain. And Naruto and Gaara are both sons of then-deceased Kage. You really don’t need me to tell you the results.” He didn’t let Choza and Shikaku dwell on that grim picture for long. “Trust me, hostages or not, family or not, nothing we could throw at them would make either of them even waver. Especially not a council of Elders they don’t give a shit about.”

That did silence Shikaku for a while, and Choza had to prod him into continuing his retelling. Once he was finished, though, Inoichi wasn’t looking much better. He was morosely staring at his cup of sake ― still his first one, barely touched ― as if he wasn’t even seeing it, visibly chewing over whatever was eating at him. But when Inoichi noticed their silent staring, he rolled his eyes at their faces, and groaned.

“Relax a bit, both of you, I’ll get over it. It’s just fresh, and on top of the rest…” He let the words trail, and added, after a moment’s reflection, almost helplessly, “Obito is just… Uchiha.” He grimaced, and took a few more sips of his cup of sake.

For once mindful of Inoichi’s visible distraction, Shikaku was less confrontational than usual as he remarked, “If you mean their weakness to their emotions, wouldn’t that be a burden? Since you did give a positive recommendation to the Hokage, I supposed it’s not to the point it would be a true handicap, but it’s still not going to make it easy for him.”

Choza smiled, amused at the way Shikaku avoided mentioning for what, even here.

“I’ve seen the alternative through Naruto’s eyes,” shrugged Inoichi. “And yes, I know I’m not quite objective, there. I don’t know if Obito would be good for the village. But I think so. And if Konoha has to go down in flames, I’d rather it happened because its Hokage cares too much than too little.”

“You believe Sarutobi doesn’t care?” reacted Choza. It didn’t quite match the Third’s reputation. Sarutobi was more often accused of softness than indifference.

“If he does, I don’t think he knows how to show it anymore.” There was some unusual bitterness in Inoichi’s voice. “He doesn’t have the best track record these last few years.”

He sighed, and added as if in afterthought, “And letting Obito stay anything less would be such a waste. Naruto was right, he may have trouble choosing a path, but damn he has potential.”

“You’re almost giving me second thoughts about that fight I’ve planned for tomorrow,” joked Shikaku.

Choza grinned, but Inoichi had only the briefest of smiles before retorting, “You weren’t expecting us to win anyway.”

Silence fell again, heavier than before. Choza exchanged another glance with Shikaku.

“That’s enough brooding,” Choza abruptly said. “What’s on your mind, Ino? You’re not worried just because of Obito.”

Inoichi looked for a second as if he wanted to deny it, but he deflated and answered, “Noriko’s pregnant.” Before Choza could contrast the statement with Inoichi’s obvious mood, he added in an unusually small voice, “Naruto has no memories of Ino ever having a sibling.”

The silence was more painful this time, and Choza could bless Shikaku for breaking it.

“You can borrow my excuse for being anxious about it?”

The humor was even darker than usual for Shikaku, but Choza thought he could be forgiven. The Akimichi clan head sometimes regretted that his loyal Akiko could only give him one son before the unfortunate incident that made her sterile, but he never expressed those regrets in front of Shikaku. Yoshino had given up a promising career in her eagerness to have children, lots of them, and suffered half a dozen miscarriages before Shikaku insisted that they stopped trying for more.

Inoichi was looking at Shikaku with a shade of gratitude for taking it with levity, and the Nara sighed and poured everyone another cup of sake.

“You told me, repeatedly, that accepting what we can’t change was the beginning of wisdom. And for the rest, there’s planning.” He nodded decisively. “So let’s plan, and if nothing work,” he lifted his cup, “there’s always sake.”

“Always your answer,” said Inoichi affectionately. But unburdening himself seemed to have helped, and he looked marginally less stressed than before.

“You should tell Chisaki,” suggested Choza.

“You think I can?” asked Inoichi, disarmingly hopeful.

“I know we said secrecy is best and all that, but you’re the one living with mind-readers, Inoichi, it’s not good for you to keep too many secrets, and that one is personal anyway. You’ve heard Naruto, according to what Shikaku said he’s more or less accepting that more and more people will know. Chisaki would help.”

Inoichi relaxed altogether at the idea, and Choza could only be glad at having thought of it, as the glance he exchanged with Shikaku was finally more relieved than anxious.

Chapter Text

Well, I grew up fast, I guess I grew up mean

There's a thousand things inside my head I wish I ain't seen

― “Old Number Seven”, The Devil Makes Three

The next morning found Shikaku blatantly lurking near the Hokage’s office, and while Sarutobi undoubtedly noticed, he kindly refrained from calling him up on his curiosity. He saw Uchiha Fugaku come in, but waited for Obito and Kakashi to arrive and followed them unobtrusively inside. The Uchiha clan head looked severe, but that was about all one could read on his face ― trust an Uchiha Elder not to show their emotions. Sometimes Shikaku wondered how the clan could have spawned Obito or Shisui.

“Obito, Hatake. Thank you for joining us.”

“Uchiha-dono.”

“The Hokage has informed me you were back from a long absence, which is largely classified?...”

You could almost, almost guess a hint of curiosity in the trailing words.

“I was captured while wounded during the third war and spent some time as a prisoner. After a few years, I had an opportunity to convert an escape into covert work.”

In the right light and not knowing exactly what Obito had been through, it might even conceivably be construed as a cousin twice removed of the truth.

“My apologies for the rudeness, but there have been instances of… impersonations. Can you prove your identity?”

Fugaku’s tone was anything but apologetic, and Shikaku covered his frown. It was bordering on insulting toward the Hokage to suggest that he might not have checked Obito’s identity, or that he might have been fooled. But the Third didn’t let any annoyance show, if anything he seemed curious as to Obito’s answer.

Obito didn’t actually replied, his right eye just shifted into Mangekyo. Kakashi, who had remained quiet at his left side, lifted his hitai-ate and did the same in his left eye that was Obito’s. What was visible of his face showed one of the fakest smile Shikaku had ever seen. The effect of the twin red and black eyes staring from the two very different faces of Obito and Kakashi was quite impressive, Shikaku had to admit with a shiver.

Fugaku’s eyes had shifted into Sharingan to check for genjutsu, and his lips briefly thinned as he acknowledged brusquely the display. They released the dojutsu, Kakashi replacing carefully his hitai-ate over the eye.

“Obito’s work has already been extremely useful, and may prove even more helpful in the near future,” intervened the Hokage. “But the complete secrecy of his mission may not be entirely necessary anymore, and as his clan head, I felt it was appropriate to inform you of his survival.”

Mission. Right. Shikaku knew the Hokage could be a great liar when he wanted, but damn that was smooth. He felt almost admirative. Obito hadn’t even twitched. Fugaku nodded as if undercover missions spanning as many years were nothing out of the ordinary.

“I thank you for that opportunity to welcome Obito back into the Uchiha clan, then.” He turned back toward Obito, a bit more civil than when he first addressed him. “When do you wish to move back to the Uchiha district?”

“I wasn’t planning to. Kakashi invited me to reside at the Hatake compound, which suits both of us, as our missions these days may overlap.”

What a polite way of saying ‘I don’t want to sleep in the middle of potentially murderous assholes with an easily transplanted clan treasure for an eye’. But if Fugaku was disappointed by Obito’s answer, it didn’t show.

“Yes, Kakashi.” Fugaku’s glance toward the silver-haired nin was as hard to decipher as usual as he spoke to Obito. “I do not know how much your friend told you about his return to Konoha nine years ago, but his carrying a Sharingan caused quite a bit of a talk.”

Shikaku didn’t miss the very slight sharpness put into the word “friend”, and wondered what Fugaku imagined Obito and Kakashi’s relationship to be. Not everyone could accept that Kakashi just wasn’t interested, and Obito had literally given him an eye after saving his life. Judging by the dryness of Obito’s answer and the glint of humor in his eye, he might have noticed it too.

“Why? I would have thought it easy to explain. I was severely wounded, thought myself dying, and gifted my eye to Kakashi as he was in need of one and I was sure he would put it to good use.”

“But you did survive.”

“I did.”

Obito didn’t add anything, and Shikaku looked in fascination as Fugaku was trying to find a way to ask him to retract his “gift” without sounding callous. Kakashi at least looked relaxed, even entertained, so Shikaku imagined he knew it wasn’t a risk. Or would have agreed to a removal anyway. Fugaku must have realized it, too, as he abandoned the effort fairly quickly to change tactics.

“You mentioned upcoming missions. Will you not go into the Police force?”

“Not in the foreseeable future,” replied Obito, with a slight twitch of the lips that might have been a repressed grin. Shikaku carefully kept his own face blank while appreciating the phrasing.

Fugaku was unused to being so obviously objected to, and the slight pause to find his words might have been floundering in any lesser man.

“I understand that your mission will be given priority, of course,” he finally chose. “But whenever possible, you would be at least welcome to dinner at our table. You haven’t met your family in far too long.”

Shikaku could appreciate the tactical retreat. Obito’s eye was still mistrustful, but he agreed stiffly. “If the occasion arises, I’ll gladly accept your invitation.”

Fugaku nodded with formality. “I’ll leave you to your business, then, I wouldn’t want to impose on your time.” That last directed to the Hokage, who had watched the exchange without comment. Shikaku watched as Fugaku left the office before turning to the Third.

“May I borrow Obito now, Hokage-sama?”

“Just a moment.” The Hokage turned to Obito. “I won’t intervene in your dealings with your clan, they are your family, but I wish to remind you that their position in Konoha has been delicate for several years now, although going by Naruto’s information it could be a lot worse. I would advise you to tread carefully.”

Obito stared thoughtfully at him, but what he finally said was just, “I’ll talk with Naruto about this, then.”

With an ironic smile, the Hokage let them leave. Shikaku wondered briefly how it might feel for his potential advice to be dismissed in favor of a twenty-year-old looking like six, but he dismissed the thought as he turned to Obito.

“So. Ready for a bit of sparring?”

Obito nodded, and a bit of his tension dissipated. Maybe giving him targets for his nerves might not be a bad idea. Shikaku continued.

“Another day I might want to test your abilities against surprise opponents, but not today. I’ve reserved a training ground and the fight might be watched. Given the spreading news of your return, I’d be surprised if there wasn’t a sizable audience.”

In fact, he was counting on it.

“So your first opponents are going to be a pair of chunin, Izumo and Kotetsu. To be honest, they’ve been getting a bit too careless these days, I need them to be reminded that teamwork is great, but doesn’t replace honing one’s personal skills.” Also, they were curious and gossipy. They were on guard duty at the gate yesterday, knew most Konoha shinobi by sight, had heard Shikaku greet Obito by name, and had been pestering him with questions since. Served them right.

“They’re usual partners, then?” Obito wasn’t quite smiling yet, but he was attentive and a bit more relaxed.

“Yes. Next will be Gai. Since he’s a taijutsu specialist and used to fighting against Kakashi with your other eye, I thought it might be interesting to see. Next, I’ll team up with Ino and Cho against you. Not that I’m expecting us to last,” he flashed Obito a self-deprecating grin, “but I’m curious about your reaction when outnumbered.”

“Did you discuss tactics with your team beforehand?” Asked Obito with a fleeting ironic grin, barely lifting his lips.

Strange to think that even after years of conditioning, a long closeness with numbing violence, and a grief deeper than Shikaku wanted to contemplate, he was still showing more emotion in that almost smile than one could usually see on an adult Uchiha.  

“Yes, but not yesterday, in case you were wondering.” Not that it would have changed anything, Inoichi wouldn’t have abused his recently acquired knowledge, and they had other concerns. Shikaku shook the thought and went on.

“If you’re still up to it by then, next will be an Uchiha in tandem with another bloodline user ― Shisui and Tenzo. They are no more likely than my team to underestimate you.” His glance at Obito met full understanding of the implications of this warning, good.

“Do you need anything specific from those fights?” asked Obito, cautiously vague.

No shinobi were supposed to like to display their skills, after all. Secrecy was half their weapons.

“Yes,” answered Shikaku firmly. “If you could be as obviously impressive as possible, that would be a big help. Think of it as an upgraded version of the Chunin exam: a show off instead of an efficient fight. The training ground lends itself to that kind of things anyway.” He had chosen it for that specific purpose, after all: few obstacles to obstruct the view, a pond to facilitate the use of any Suiton, nothing flammable in close proximity except for a copse of saplings… It actually wasn’t used very often precisely because it was too open.

There was a gleam in Obito’s eye that Shikaku suspected might be enthusiasm. If the Uchiha had spent most of the last decade maneuvering from the shadows, maybe he might enjoy the change of pace and the occasion to shine, actually.

Izumo and Kotetsu were already at the training ground when they arrived, warming up, and they both eyed Obito with interest while he greeted Raido, who had come to watch, and Gai, who was early. Kakashi went to perch on a nearby fence, part of the training ground’s limits, where Naruto joined him soon after.

Once Shikaku gave the signal, Izumo and Kotetsu exchanged salutes with Obito, and divided to surround him. Obito had no weapon in hand, and his posture stayed relaxed until his opponents attacked. It soon became obvious that he didn’t even intend to use any weapons ― he defeated them with pure taijutsu, giving the impression it was easy, despite barely escaping Izumo’s Suiton one moment and blocking one of Kotetsu’s weapons bare-handed the next. With his right arm, noted Shikaku, the one which had been replaced with Senju cells.

All in all, that fight barely lasted a few minutes, but perfectly got the message across: Izumo and Kotetsu were not even in the same league and could they kindly let real ninja play with Obito now that he had his warm-up? Shikaku didn’t hide his ironic smile at the pair as they left the training ground with slightly disturbed expressions. They didn’t go far, joining the cluster of onlookers, including Choza and Inoichi who had just gotten there. Shikaku threw them a searching glance, but they appeared as serene as possible before a fight, good.

Next was Gai, who saluted Obito with a blinding smile, obviously delighted to have an occasion to spar. This time Obito didn’t waste time and activated his Sharingan first thing, with a pleased grin of his own at his opponent, almost unguarded. Shikaku was glad they had the time to reconnect a bit the previous day, he wouldn’t have wanted for Obito’s first meeting of an old friend in Konoha to be in a fight, no matter how friendly.

Obito attacked first, with a Katon that allowed him to put more space between Gai and himself. He wasn’t stupid enough to want to engage Gai in taijutsu, obviously, but Gai was fast and determined. Keeping him at bay wouldn’t be so easy. Obito switched to a Doton to get a wall between them, then a quick combination of two: water, then lighting to try and fry Gai. But he jumped out of the way swiftly enough to avoid the worst of it, likely used to lightning attacks.

Seeing Obito fight with a wide range of ninjutsu reminded Shikaku forcibly of Kakashi, their styles had glaring similarities, and he wondered anew why more Uchiha didn’t use more varied jutsu, given their Sharingan advantage. Or was it something specific to Obito’s Sharingan? Most Uchiha used mostly Katon, genjutsu and weapons. Maybe developing other elemental affinities was as hard to them as to others. A somehow comforting thought. Also, Obito’s style differed quite a bit from what Naruto had led him to expect. Was it the different point of view that did it? Had Obito changed style later in life?

Meanwhile, Gai had gotten in range, and Obito barely dodged a fist, then used fire again, enhanced with wind to fan the flames. He seemed determined to keep to ninjutsu for this fight, using the Sharingan only to predict Gai’s moves enough to anticipate them, and they moved fluidly, as one, Gai used to fighting ninjutsu and Obito keeping carefully away from him, all too aware of Gai’s skills.

Had this been a real fight, thought Shikaku, Gai and Obito might have been a bit more evenly matched, but they were both pulling their moves, and since some of Gai’s most powerful attacks had a sacrificial element, he never fought at full strength in a spar anyway. At least they were having fun ― they were both grinning when a lull in their fight let them stand at opposite ends of the training ground.

A Doton to get dust in the air, then fire and water again in quick succession to get steam, and to Shikaku’s regret he couldn’t see exactly how Obito got Gai to yield suddenly. He might ask an Uchiha or a Hyuuga later, several of them had now joined the growing crowd of nin watching the match, dojutsu activated.

Inoichi and Choza had watched with interest, and smiled approvingly at Obito when he went to greet them. In a way, Shikaku regretted not being able to see all of the fight, since he would be a part of it. He trusted Inoichi and Choza to tell him about it later. They saluted each other, and this time Obito waited for them to make the first move.

Shikaku tried to make him regret it, and managed to latch onto him through his shadow, but before they could exploit the bind Obito managed a seal-less Katon, burning bright and close to Shikaku, and he lost the connection. He carefully noted the ability ― copying someone’s jutsu wasn’t easy, but managing seal-less ninjutsu was hard. Meanwhile, Choza had attacked, Inoichi covering his back, and Obito activated his Mangekyo to teleport out of range. There were a few exclamations from some Uchiha watchers, but Shikaku could only hope that Kakashi was enjoying their reactions, he had no attention to spare as Obito threw a few shuriken at Inoichi as distraction, and teleported again to suddenly reappear in Shikaku line of sight.

Even warned, Shikaku couldn’t avoid Obito’s Sharingan, and suddenly the shuriken he threw seemed to dissolve into a reverse rain of rainbow-colored bubbles, startling him long enough for Obito to strike again at… he had no idea. The view suddenly changed again as a forest of bamboo grew in seconds, light and dark stripes dancing with the wind, until the genjutsu ended and Shikaku found himself with a blunted blade against his neck, and Obito’s face a mere foot from his, eyebrow raised in silent question.

He yielded immediately, and checked on his teammates. Inoichi seemed to have been caught in a Doton, both legs sunk into the dirt, and was looking at him with a wry expression as he freed himself. Choza was resigned, caught in a mess of ninja wire, and answered Shikaku’s glance with a small smile. Given the state of his armor, he had taken, and maybe given, some serious hits, but he didn’t seem injured. Shikaku wondered how much time he had lost in that strange genjutsu.

As Inoichi and Choza came closer, Shikaku made the seal of reconciliation in their common name, and Obito answered in kind, as he had done with each partner so far, if a bit haltingly. He was so unused for a fight to be friendly.

Shikaku called for a few minutes of pause, to let Obito catch his breath. It didn’t look as if it was necessary, but he didn’t want to risk Obito getting too caught in the flow and forgetting this was a spar, not a fight to the death. And it would give that much more time for the gathering crowd to grow… He looked around for Tenzo, and found him talking with Naruto on the side. Shisui was all ready, looking at Obito with shining eyes.

Shikaku introduced the fighters to each others, Shisui with an anticipatory grin and Tenzo with an unusual spark of interest in his dark eyes. Obito was cautious around them, but it was almost funny to see him stare at Shisui’s grin as if he was about to get bitten by this strange creature. Shisui was obviously dialing up his good mood in sheer provocation, and Shikaku hid his smile at seeing Obito get freaked out by a cheerful Uchiha.

Their match began more slowly than the previous one, Obito on guard, Shisui waiting for an opening, and Tenzo cautious. This time, though, Obito activated his Mangekyo directly and attacked first. Shisui and Tenzo separated to dodge, Shisui fast enough to seem like a blur to Shikaku’s eyes.

Shikaku was observing Obito closely, and saw his reaction of surprise mirror that of the crowd when Tenzo used his Mokuton. Any viewer could recognize the ability, and Shikaku could hear more than one suddenly catch their breath in astonishment. After dodging the attack, Obito threw a glance at Shikaku, seemed to gauge him, and then made his own seals with a growing smile.

Vines and roots surged to strangle Tenzo’s growing trees, and the crowd grew as wild as shinobi could be when they understood both fighters were Mokuton users. Shisui tried to take advantage of the stunning effect, but Obito teleported out of his reaching blade.

From then on the fight got too heated for Shikaku to follow, much to his regret. Both Shisui, using his shunshin, and Obito with his teleportation, were faster than the naked eye could see, and the ground was soon overwhelmed by the various pieces of vegetation Tenzo and Obito were growing. Obito finally managed to get Tenzo the same way he had Shikaku ― teleporting into his line of sight the moment Shisui finally tripped on a root and got swiftly bound by Obito’s Mokuton.

All three fighters saluted each other as soon a Obito freed his sparring partners. Looking on the side, Shikaku could see that the field was lined with boggled shinobi. What looked like half the Uchiha clan was staring. Kakashi looked like a cat who got the cream. Naruto was grinning. The heat of the battle fading, Obito was standing, looking a bit uncomfortable at all the amazed stares. He did look a bit winded, so all that effort to tire him had not been in vain, but he still clearly had enough chakra to fight.

Ha. Shikaku snorted at himself. Six jounin had managed to get Obito to look tired . He didn’t have a scratch on him, although his clothes had suffered, and Shikaku wondered if he didn’t get hit even once or if his healing factor was that good. Anyway, the demonstration had been all he could have hoped for ― by nightfall, basically all of the village’s shinobi would know of Obito’s return and most of them would be in awe of his skills. While still underestimating him, because he had gone easy on them. At no point had he made use of the most elusive ability of his Kamui.

The training field was half destroyed, with craters overrun by branches piled haphazardly, the pond was mud, the sapplings ashes. Shikaku might leave it like that, as silent testimony. Or so he could claim ― repairing it would just be too much effort for what it was.

“Well done,” he grinned at Obito. “Very well done. Thank you for the fight, and congratulations for your promotion.”

―――

Kakashi was reminded again of why he initially had so much difficulty associating with Obito. It wasn’t just that he was then a stuck-up child with no humor and Obito a stubborn kid with no regard for the rules (although it had played a big part). Obito was a people person, while Kakashi… was not. He found socializing with his peers to be often tiring. Obito revelled in it.

He was one of the most outgoing person Kakashi knew, and he wondered again how his teammate had managed to stay mostly hidden for years , with no social contact in his own name outside of Madara (an insane legend way too close to the grave), Zetsu (an overgrown weed with a mother complex, according to Naruto), and Kisame. Kakashi had never met the Kiri nin, but he hoped he had been worth Obito’s friendship during his years of near isolation.

As it stood, they had compromised. Obito wanted a party, both for his birthday and to celebrate his new status as a jounin of Konoha, and while Kakashi would have gone to great lengths to make Obito feel welcome, he wasn’t sure he was up to having his family home invaded, no matter how friendly the invasion. So they had the party at an outside venue, which Kakashi had managed to book despite the short notice.

The only inconvenience was that they wouldn’t have been able to behave with Naruto as the time-traveler deserved, but Naruto had waved their concern aside and solved the problem by getting himself invited to the Nara compound to spend the night. It’s not as if he would miss them for long ― they lived together, now.

And so Kakashi was shadowing his teammate as Obito was getting used again to his former classmates and future colleagues. Shisui had trailed after him with stars in his eyes, and it was mildly amusing to see Obito’s reaction. He looked liked a cat being enthusiastically greeted by a dog and wondering if it was worth hissing. Genma had missed yesterday’s showdown, but he came home in time to try to drink Obito under the table. In vain, as it turned out.

Most of the other nin present tried to respect Obito’s privacy to some degree. On the one hand, they were all professionally curious, on the other hand, they were also all used to keep secrets and allow their coworkers to do the same. Earlier in the evening, Raido had cornered Kakashi alone and checked that Obito’s return formalities had been completed before allowing himself to relax and go joke with Obito. Kakashi could understand, even if that had chilled him a bit. No one wanted to welcome back a possible spy. But Inoichi’s word was good enough to bypass a T&I-style interview, and that much at least didn’t need to stay secret.

So, without any innocuous conversation-starter like “So, how was your decade?”, Obito was mostly told things rather than asked them. And where Kakashi would have been bored within five minutes of hearing someone tell of a supposedly amusing anecdote, Obito was actually listening , and apparently enjoying it.

Kakashi had been wondering if even offering a birthday gift would be appropriate ― they weren’t children anymore, after all, but… Obito hadn’t enjoyed a birthday in the village in ten years, and Kakashi obscurely felt that the fact they had managed to stay alive one more year should be celebrated. Given their jobs, it was a feat every year.

There had been lifted eyebrows and suggestive glances from the other nin when Kakashi offered the little package, but he studiously ignored them as Obito took the gift with a nonplussed expression. When he tore the paper wrap to reveal colored eyepatches, some of them with cute embroideries, Kakashi could hear sniggers from the others, but Obito grinned in amusement, and switched the bland black band he had been using for an orange eyepatch. His gaze when he looked at Kakashi was full of irony, with a trace of bitterness, but much less hostile than he had been. Maybe even relieved.

Genma was well on his way to plastered when Raido remarked suddenly, “You’re not even tipsy.”

Obito drawled, “Not everyone can hold their liquor.”

“Really?” Raido eyed him with mock offense.

“It's not sake,” said Obito, lifting his glass with a grin, while looking affectionately at Genma, precariously listing on his side.

“Damn, Kakashi’s rubbing off on you,” groaned Raido. He proceeded to haul Genma off before he could no longer stay on his feet, waving them a friendly goodbye.

Obito didn’t comment, but Kakashi could see him look at him with a pensive furrow in his brow. Their night ended soon after, and their silence as they got home was more companionable than when they had left it.

Chapter Text

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all.

Hamlet, act 3, scene 1, Shakespeare

Hiruzen had observed the fight through his seeing ball, from the solitude of his own quarters, wanting the luxury of not having to hide his thoughts. But it was such an ingrained habit, he found that it didn’t really make a difference. Someone was always watching anyway. Be it from the mountain or from the walls.

He sighed and lifted his gaze toward Minato’s face, neatly framed on the wall, forever frozen in time. In the past he sometimes avoided looking, feeling off-balance in front of the serene face. He imagined his successor and predecessor full of reproach, demanding to know what Hiruzen had done with his legacy. Even in his own mind, he was never quite sure if the man would have meant his son or his village. Now he could add his students ― both of them, really. Living in Konoha had been no kinder to Kakashi than living outside its walls had been to Obito.

Hiruzen lit his pipe just so the slightly acrid taste of the tobacco could hide the bitter taste of his thoughts. Professor, he was called. Hailed for his wisdom and kindness. An old reputation, built decades ago. Yet his students would forever refuse to follow in his steps. Yet his own son rejected his philosophy. And could he blame them, when he had failed so spectacularly? Was it wisdom to fail to plan for his own successor? He had had years to think on it and train someone. Was it kindness to merely put the weight of darkness on another? Danzo was rather cold by nature, but he hadn’t always been quite so ruthless.

As whorls of smoke enveloped him, he kept staring at Minato’s portrait, trying to remember what he had thought when he had chosen his successor the first time around. Minato had made it too easy, really ― genius, beloved, war hero… Maybe Hiruzen had been too spoiled then, refusing since to select anyone who wouldn’t live up to that reputation? Should he wait for another war to make a survivor shine? Hiruzen snorted at the thought. War had to be the most wasteful selection process ever.

Come to think of it, though, it might be another argument in Obito’s favor. If surviving skills were the main criteria, clearly he had them down pat. Hiruzen groaned at the realization that he really couldn’t escape the thought. He tried again, though. He owed it to the dead of the Kyuubi’s attack to consider other choices first.

Recalling older times, he tried to think what his predecessor had thought when he was chosen himself, but really, he had to admit it was more circumstances than merit. Tobirama had been a great man, and Hiruzen wasn’t too modest to ignore his own real skills, but when under threat and with only six choices available in front of him, the Second might as well have rolled a dice. Hiruzen thought with nostalgia of Kagami. Kind, brilliant Kagami. Damn, if he had to choose an Uchiha, he would have been perfect. And like all the perfect people Hiruzen knew, he had died too young, leaving a legacy that Hiruzen had neglected. He hadn’t wanted to show it during Naruto’s retelling, but it had chilled him to the bone to know that Danzo would have pushed Kagami’s grandson to suicide.

He was almost irritated enough to consider Fugaku a viable choice. Uchiha, powerful, stubborn, in current acceptable standing to both his clan and the village, experienced, he fit the bill and anyway he deserved to get saddled with all of Hiruzen’s problems. It would also be spitting at Naruto’s face to disregard his advice, and at least three clan heads would know it. At least three jinchuuriki would know it, too. Hiruzen didn’t like feeling manipulated into a decision, but he had spent decades doing it to others, so he couldn’t really call foul on the method.

He sighed again before admitting to himself that he was dithering about it for the sake of his already tattered conscience, but the decision was already taken. Inoichi hadn’t flagged anything barring Obito from the hat, Minato’s own son and his other student were in full support, his most respected tactician hadn’t objected, and now he had made his strength obvious for all to see. In a few months, no one would question his appointment. It would just be a question of timing.

Feeling finally lighter from acknowledging the choice he had made, Hiruzen turned toward the much more pleasant thought of planning for his retirement.

―――

Shikamaru was watching clouds in Naruto’s company with mixed feelings. The wind was still a bit chilly, but the February sun was doing its best to heat the slates, and the air kept a certain stillness around him that helped him stay warm. Few would guess that their corner of roof, the very same one where he had met Naruto nearly half a year ago, was one of the best warded places in Konoha, but he had grown used to it. The seals engraved in the slates were half-hidden in the moss, and one had to know exactly where they were to notice their slight shimmering in the light.

On the one hand, being Naruto’s classmate had been more of a bother than he could have wished for. The jinchuuriki was relentlessly trying to make their class into the most efficient soldiers possible. No matter that he was sure they would avoid his war, or that they were six- or seven-year-old , for kami’s sake, Naruto just couldn’t help it. In a way, Shikamaru could understand, but still. He hadn’t thought he would have to exert any effort before graduating, and now he had to put in at least a bit more than the bare minimum to keep his mother’s nagging at bay. And he wasn’t quite enough of an ass to ever bitch about it to Naruto.

On the other hand, saying “I was watching clouds with Naruto” was actually considered a valid excuse to skip chores or even the Academy. By both his parents, now. He wasn’t sure exactly what or when his mom had been told (or guessed ― she hadn’t married into the Nara clan for nothing), but she clearly knew that Naruto may need his support more than he needed to go to class. Still, Shikamaru tried not to overuse the excuse ― it would be a pain to explain to Ino or Choji, and he didn’t want to burden them with his knowledge. And it was just plain easier not to say anything.

On the other other hand, there was a reason it was a valid excuse, and that was actually supporting Naruto. Sometimes (most of the time) it was easy ― the jinchuuriki was naturally cheerful, and a few suggestions on how to get a prank to be not just good, but great , were usually enough to keep him happy. Shikamaru could easily understand how his alternate had been friends with Naruto, he was warm and friendly and just felt comforting to have around.

And sometimes it was neither easy nor quite so light-hearted.

“I’ve seen him watch, I’m sure he’ll get Root on it, and it’s early , I hadn’t planned for it yet,” was complaining his current source of worry. Shikamaru had gotten accustomed to be treated as a more-or-less adult by Naruto. Sometimes it was annoying, but most of the time it was flattering, and fortunately Naruto had no problem accepting answers like “How should I know?” or “Ask my dad, I have no idea.” So, no pressure. A time-traveler was just hearing his opinion, nothing so heavy as relying on an actual six-year-old to avoid a world war. Or so Shikamaru hoped.

“That’s not your problem, that’s Obito’s,” he pointed out. “And that’s what cover stories are for.” The clouds were letting wispy trails out, like hair out of a braid.

“Yeah, but he’s just been back, he may be distracted.” Naruto’s fretting about a fully adult shinobi that Shikamaru had seen destroy several jounin-level opponents as if they were small fry could have been amusing, in other circumstances. But hanging out with the time-traveler hadn’t fostered in Shikamaru any huge confidence toward the adults of his world.

“Then join Root. You’ll know if he gets close,” suggested Shikamaru idly. There were a few low-altitude clouds, like tufts of wool, pushed a bit faster by the wind than the high, wispy ones.

“That’s…”

Shikamaru shifted his eyes to Naruto with a bit of wariness at the trailing words. A silent Naruto was a scheming Naruto, and the Nara was learning to be careful with his suggestions, lest the supposedly-not-a-kid ran with them.

“...actually not a bad idea. But, same problem, it wouldn’t work right now, he would get even more suspicious if I suddenly volunteered. It needs time, and I don’t know what to do right now.”

“You have time,” answered Shikamaru with a roll of his eyes. “And if Obito can’t handle him, he wouldn’t be suitable for what you want anyway. Relax, it’ll be alright.”

He wasn’t so sure himself, but it was worth it to see his friend finally unwind a bit.

―――

Shimura Danzo didn’t survive to get to the age he was by being reckless or oblivious. So while he observed the ending of Obito’s spar, and had the rest of it narrated in details, enough to grow rather unsettling suspicions, he wasn’t reckless enough to act on those suspicions without due consideration. For years he had been of the opinion that an Uchiha had to be behind the Kyuubi attack, and here was an Uchiha, with what looked like a powerful evolution of the Sharingan, who had oh so conveniently disappeared from a time before the attack, and who just as conveniently reappeared just when the Uchiha’s standing was beginning to recover from his smear campaign. He must have become lax in monitoring their reputation for the trend to become apparent to him only now.

So he had brought up his suspicions to Hiruzen, because he might despise the Hokage’s soft-heartedness, the fact remained that he was the one ultimately responsible for the safety of the village, and Danzo couldn’t let his doubts remain unvoiced at the price of Konoha’s vulnerability.

He hadn’t held much hope to be heard fairly, unfortunately. Since Hiruzen had firmly got his nose into Danzo’s business, he had been hard to deal with. He had made very, very clear that if Danzo ever tried making kids kill each other (again), there would be Serious Consequences. Root or not. He had also explicitly forbidden him to recruit anymore. Danzo would have ignored it if Hiruzen hadn’t proved annoyingly knowledgeable about some of Root’s missions that Danzo had been certain had been kept completely off the books. As long as he didn’t know who his mole in the organization was, if there were any, he couldn’t go directly against the Hokage’s orders, especially now, with the Uchiha situation. They needed to present a united front.

But he had been pleasantly surprised by Hiruzen’s answer. His suspicions had not only be acknowledged, but seriously listened to. Hiruzen’s story did provide an adequate explanation, though, and if it was true, if Madara truly had returned, he couldn’t let himself get distracted by Obito. More, Hiruzen had given him free reign to pursue any leads on Madara, had provided some clues himself, encouraged him to go talk with Obito for more if he wanted, and had authorized him to get Root to keep tabs on Obito in the meantime. His only condition had been not to kill Obito without conclusive proof.

Danzo wouldn’t let the Hokage’s scrupules stop him if he got a sufficient amount of clues pointing in the same direction, but then, taking out a shinobi of Obito’s demonstrated talent wouldn’t be so easy anyway. If six jounin were no match to him, even if a mere sparring match was no true test of skills, he had to tread carefully.

So he had put Root on the task.

He had only one partially trained Yamanaka, unfortunately, but when he arranged for that talk with Obito to happen in Root’s quarters, Fuu was carefully hidden in a secluded corner of the room. He might not be up to his clan’s standards yet, but he had gotten rather good at sensing the truth in interrogations.

Obito had patiently listened to his every question, and even if he hadn’t answered all of them, he still had provided more than enough information to allow for cross-checking. Fuu had frowned before hesitantly answering.

“Some parts were harder to feel, Shimura-sama, but… He didn’t lie about meeting Madara and being trained by him for years. And he was completely certain of his identity. He didn’t lie when he said that he wanted him dead and that he had completely renounced his plan. I’m very sure of that, really.”

“What about the Kyuubi attack?” frowned Danzo.

“That’s among the hard parts,” admitted Fuu, “But it might be because his recent memories of the Kyuubi’s host interfere with older memories. He’s aware the vessel is the Fourth’s son.” Fuu seemed more certain as he added, “But he does deeply regret his sensei’s death and I got the feeling he wanted to avenge him in some way.”

Danzo still wasn’t completely convinced, regret and guilt weren’t always misplaced after all, and “avenge” could be a nebulous concept, but he knew that Inoichi himself had checked Obito’s loyalty, and given an all-clear. Unlike Fuu, the Yamanaka clan head was an absolute master of his clan’s techniques, and himself completely loyal to Konoha, of that Danzo had no real doubt.

Obito had told him that Madara had only one remaining functional eye, due to having blinded the other with the Izanagi seal that had saved his life during his last fight with Hashirama. Obito’s willingness to explain all he could of the secrets of the Sharingan was another point in his favor. Danzo had been very interested in his information, but he could hardly reveal why he was so keen to learn.

Fortunately, if Obito was telling the truth, he wasn’t his only possible source of information. There was another Uchiha on the loose, and with a definite starting point Root would finally have a chance at tracking him.

It might also allow him to let the Uchiha retain their reputation, after all. Madara had been labelled a missing nin and his clan had distanced itself from him for decades, there was no reason to keep alarming the citizens of Konoha about mostly law-abiding shinobi. He would keep watch, as he always did, from the shadows, but as long as Madara stayed outside of Konoha, he was a manageable threat. He might even be a useful one.

―――

Doing paperwork at his desk in the Police station, gripping the brush maybe a bit tighter than he should, Uchiha Fugaku was beginning to wonder what he had done in a previous life to deserve the current Elders of his clan. And not in a good way.

Only a few months ago, he was getting along pretty well with them. They were united under his leadership, the clan proudly getting ready to take their rightful place in Konoha’s history. The Third was aging and weakening, had no chosen successor, and forcing the issue just a bit seemed almost a kindness to the old man. Sarutobi had had his chance, and he had proven either incapable or unwilling to address the growing divide between the Uchiha and the rest of the village, shinobi and civilian alike.

It should have been easy .

But no. Fate had laughed in his face, and the worst thing was that, in hindsight, Fugaku could pinpoint exactly when it had really begun going downhill. It wasn’t when Shisui had left ― an annoying distraction, and a failing in his nephew’s loyalty he would remember, but it had no consequences. It wasn’t when Itachi had refused to ask for an early assignment into ANBU ― they had time for some margin of error, after all, and Fugaku hadn’t forced the issue. Itachi had made some good points, staying a jounin for a while would give him more opportunities to build a network of alliances.

It was when some misbegotten asshole had thought it funny to use stink bombs in his home . The stench, which had clung to the district’s houses for days , would have been bad enough. But the blow to their reputation had been so much worse. The villagers had laughed at the prank, as if it was hilarious to be forced outside, by freezing temperatures, by the malicious deed of… someone. Fugaku careful didn’t fill in the blank, even in his head, but he would make sure there would be no repeat. It was a blemish on the Police Force reputation that their own home had been targeted, and they couldn’t identify the suspect with certainty.

Whatever the culprit’s intention, though, it had certainly had unexpected and far-reaching consequences. The … momentarily inconvenienced Uchiha had found shelter and sympathy outside the district, lots of them being housed for a few days, thus reconnecting with old friends and former teammates from their genin days, thus forming new fond memories on top of the old ones, thus making a few definite steps on bridging the gap between the Uchiha and the rest of the shinobi. And the civilian villagers had laughed, but more often than not some had shared a drink with an Uchiha just to offer a sympathetic ear and bask in the knowledge they had something in common. Even Fugaku had been surprised by how many villagers had been prank victims, and it had disturbed him to realize that some had suspected the Police Force of being negligent of their complaints until they had themselves been targets.

All well and good, but now his clan’s beautiful unity was slowly crumbling. And Obito’s return might prove the final blow.

Which got him back to the Elders. Out of the nine other current Elders of his clan, two no longer supported the idea of a coup, and a third was wavering. Fugaku suspected the odds were even more balanced, and maybe even reversed, in the younger generations.

Atsushi now thought the break between Uchiha and villagers could be mended, and Obito’s return had prompted Umeko to join him, as she thought the boy she remembered could be a part in that mending. Eitaro had been bitterly against it when his granddaughter had left the district to go live with her friend, but he was now beginning to wonder if she might not have been onto something. Obviously being outside the district could not be all bad, if not only Shisui, but even Obito, a Mangekyo wielder , thought it was perfectly acceptable. And if being outside was fine, then maybe they didn’t need to defend the inside so fiercely?

There was also in all of them the diffuse panic of realizing that even if they wanted to, they may no longer be able to grab the Hokage seat if Obito was more loyal to the Third than to his family. They needed his cooperation. And Fugaku wished he could say otherwise, but he knew the family had done nothing to earn that loyalty. His only hope was that to the best of his knowledge, neither had Sarutobi. He also dearly wished to know how Obito had developed his Mangekyo, but that much he knew all too well would be a sensitive subject.

Fugaku actually wasn’t sure he should press for the seat, but he wanted for the Elders to make up their minds . They were currently making their disunity his problem, and that couldn’t stand. He would have to be clear during their reunion tonight.

A sharp knock at the door diverted his attention, and he welcomed the interruption and his visitor. Surprised to see the Nara clan head at his door, he stood up and went to greet him. Once the door closed behind them, the jounin commander began.

“I couldn’t help but notice a few days ago that Obito disappointed your hope to see him join the Police Force. While I realize it might seem a poor substitute, I was wondering if you would be willing to examine a Nara candidacy.”

Hiding his surprise under his interest, Fugaku took the file Nara was handing him with mixed feelings. He didn’t need another possible source of conflict in his territory. It may help sway the Elders toward a more open policy. Or it may make them dig their heels at the idea of a possible spy in their ranks. He really couldn’t guess.

“That’s quite irregular,” he temporized while scanning the file, checking the name. It wasn’t completely unfamiliar. “Is there anything peculiar I should know about Nara Mayumi?”

“Most of it is in the file,” noted the jounin commander with a hint of amusement. “She’s twenty-four, married, has a two-years-old daughter. She’s looking for opportunities for a stable job that would be neither boring nor away from the village, and the clan is helping her look because a bored Mayumi is hell on our nerves. She’s extremely observant, has already done some undercover work in coordination with the Force, and I thought she might be a good fit.”

The phrasing was sort of dangerous, as Fugaku could clearly read that the woman had the support of her clan and her clan head, but the Nara wasn’t especially pressing. His tone was too relaxed for that.

“The Police Force is exclusive to the clan,” Fugaku reminded his guest, “So I’ll have to consult the rest of the clan before taking any decision. I can at least promise you that her candidacy will be given a chance.”

“That’s all I ask for,” replied the jounin commander pleasantly. But not all what he could ask for, if he was willing to really back up his candidate, thought Fugaku. So, vaguely interested in the matter, but not passionate about it. He would take a refusal graciously.

Fugaku was thankful for it when the evening proved that the clan wasn’t ready to relinquish their monopoly on the Police Force. He had kept his word, the candidacy had been examined. That it had been rejected mostly because of her name wasn’t even completely the Uchiha’s fault. The Nara weren’t reputed for their hard-working ways, and it would likely be difficult for Nara Mayumi to keep up with them. If the only reason she wanted a job was to avoid boredom, she could find elsewhere. Even if there was a nagging voice in Fugaku’s head reminding him that she had done exemplary work in both of her undercover missions. He had to pick his battles, and his Elders had priority right now. Maybe satisfying them on that point would make them more amenable on another.  

Over a week later, when they finally noticed that the latest shipment to the Police station consisted of a very slow acting disappearing ink, Fugaku was forcibly reminded that his prime suspect as prankster happened to be a known friend of the Nara clan heir.




Chapter Text

For afterwards a man finds pleasure in his pains, when he has suffered long and wandered far.

― Homer

Shiranui Genma was looking at Obito with undisguised amusement. The man had been waiting for barely five minutes and was already looking perplexed, maybe even a touch anxious. Tenzo obviously knew the drill and had already got a piece of birchwood to whittle away while waiting for Kakashi. Genma took pity and talked before Obito could seriously get worried. Poor sod didn’t deserve to pay for Kakashi’s habits.

“Don’t worry, he’s always late.”

Obito looked at him, nonplussed. “Late? Kakashi?

“Haven’t seen him be less than an hour late at anything but happy hour,” added Genma cheerfully. “The Hokage even got used to mark any order as ‘urgent’ if he really wanted them read the same day.”

Obito was staring for a long moment, as if he couldn’t believe what he was hearing, and then he frowned, muttered something unintelligible but likely obscene under his breath, while pinching his nose, then took a breath and announced briskly, with a wide and artificial smile, “Just a second, I’ve got this.”

He activated his weird Sharingan just a moment after, to Genma’s hidden fascination, and teleported out of there. True to his word, he was only absent for less than a minute, before getting out of that strange spiral his eye generated, holding Kakashi by the arm. He was talking, incensed, obviously continuing whatever conversation he had managed to begin in his very short absence, “...can’t believe you’re wasting time, we left the house this morning together , for fuck’s sake, how did you bloody manage to get lost on the road, you said you had just a detour to make, that’s…”

“But I wanted to buy something nice for our poor traveling companions,” justified Kakashi mournfully. “Leaving so early, they might not have taken breakfast. One needs something to begin the day in the proper spirit, nee?”

Indeed he still had a wallet in hand and was brandishing some interesting boxes, and Genma, surprised but glad for the attention, nabbed a dango stick before the argument could continue. Grumpy, but agreeable, Obito took some, too, while Kakashi was holding the other box for Tenzo.

“Well, you could have said something, then, if you knew you would be late, I mean, the rendezvous was specified at… wait, is it… that’s my wallet??” His voice had gotten a bit shrill at the end, and Genma strangled a laugh as Kakashi answered, in a fake-sheepish tone that was convincing absolutely no one, “Aah… Maybe?”

Obito seemed at a loss for words in front of the veiled admission, and Kakashi shamelessly exploited the advantage of surprise, “Now let’s not waste time, the sooner we go, the sooner we’re done, aren’t we?” before leaving in a swirl of leaves, immediately followed by a long-suffering Tenzo.

Obito opened his mouth, but closed it when he saw there was no point, too surprised to react, and Genma snickered at the sight. It was good to see him so animated. In his first few days back, he had been way too serious for Genma, but now he seemed more relaxed.

“Yeah, you’ll get used to it.” He cheerfully said before checking on his own wallet ― with Kakashi around, one was never sure enough ― and starting on the road.

The mission was supposed to be easy, but Genma was curious. Until Obito’s spectacular jounin assessment, he didn’t know Konoha had a Mokuton user, let alone two, and suddenly they were both openly admitting to the ability? And the Hokage even let them take a mission that might as well be an advertisement? Veeery intriguing.

Their part of the team got to their side of the ravine right on time, and to Genma’s complete lack of surprise, Kakashi and Tenzo weren’t there yet. Obito stared at the opposite side for a moment, like he couldn’t believe what he was (not) seeing, before sighing and finally joining Genma, already sitting comfortably, wondering if it was worth it to get his whetstone out. There was always sharpening to be done, but he might find something else to pass the time. Obito held out the box he had kept, and they nibbled on sweets for a time. The sky was threatening rain, but it hadn’t broken out yet, and Genma prayed it would hold a bit more. He usually didn’t mind waiting for Kakashi, but getting wet and cold would change that very fast.

Obito was fiddling with his hitai-ate, tracing the engraving on the new plate at his waist with a small crease in his brow. He hadn’t taken up Kakashi’s habit to slant his own on his blind side. He was much less spontaneously talkative than Genma remembered. Ten years, he reminded himself. That’s a lot of time for someone to stay the same. A lot of time for things to happen. He tried not to look too interested.

“So… Mokuton?”

“Classified,” answered Obito, with a shadow of a smile.

“Same classified as Tenzo?” Persisted Genma, fishing for more.

“I… don’t know.” Obito was frowning, obviously lost in thought. “I didn’t know there were other experiments.”

Ick. And wasn’t that damning enough already. Genma grew more solemn at the idea, and refrained from asking further.

Although Obito seemed to have his own curiosity, too.

“So… Late?”

Genma sniggered. “Constantly, and that’s the least of his sins.” Seeing Obito’s very obvious interest, he regaled him with a few barely-exaggerated tales about Kakashi’s most infuriating habits. Obito didn’t look like he quite believed him, and Genma was already relishing his future triumph when the Uchiha would realize he was right . Though it raised a few other questions, and Genma couldn’t help but ask, “But you’re the one who was his teammate, wasn’t he like this at the time?”

Obito’s eyebrows shot up in surprise.

“What? Kakashi? His motto could have been ‘Let’s do it by the book’. I’ve never seen him follow anything but the rules.” After a second he mumbled, “Well, I’ve seen it once .” He seemed stuck on the idea, not quite frowning, more bewildered.

Genma smiled while carefully noting this in a corner of his brain. He hadn’t had any occasion to work with Kakashi before Obito’s “death”, Genma had entered the Academy after Kakashi had already graduated, and he had stayed there with the rest of the normal kids for most of Kakashi’s pre-jounin days. It was interesting to realize that he may not know the Copy nin as well as he thought. He may ask Raido for more stories later ― unlike him, the other tokujo had completed several mission with Kakashi both before and after he was affected to Obito’s team.

Their tardy teammates finally showed up on their side of the ravine, and Obito reverted to a somewhat business-like manner. While he prepared himself to do his thing, Genma was observing the few villagers that had gathered, interested. This mission was at their request, after all, and they visibly wavered between burning curiosity and healthy survival instinct.

On the opposite side, Tenzo had grown a tree, then began another series of seals. Obito did the same, and from both sides a tangle of roots and vines grew, oscillating precariously until they joined at the center and finally formed a stable bridge. The tangles widened to form a stronger structure, then smoothed out into a more defined shape, hanging in a slightly curved line, with higher sides to avoid accidents. Genma was as fascinated as the nearby villagers, but hopefully he concealed it better. Obito looked concentrated, but not overly taxed. He seemed to adjust his moves to Tenzo, who on the other side swayed on his feet when he was done, although he covered it rather well by turning to speak with Kakashi.

One of the villagers, likely the speaker for the village, had gotten closer to them, and was looking at Obito with delighted wonder. He bowed formally.

“Thank you for your hard work, shinobi-san!” He smiled warmly at Obito, sparing Genma a respectful nod.

“You’re welcome,” answered Obito after clearing his throat. He seemed touchingly disarmed by the thanks, and turned toward the bridge after a brief bow of his own. Genma waved amicably at the staring villagers and hastened after him.

―――

Kakashi observed Obito and Tenzo create their bridge with a private, secret pride at seeing them cooperate. Tenzo had thought himself a freak way too often because of his so far unique ability and the way he had gained it, and it had meant a lot for him to meet another Mokuton user. And Obito had not worked openly with others to the clear benefit of the civilians since before the cave. This bridge they created would be a much fonder memory for Kakashi than the Kannabi bridge he had helped destroy.

Once Obito had crossed the ravine on the new bridge, followed by Genma, Kakashi greeted them cheerfully.

“We could have crossed, you know, the way back is obviously shorter on your side.”

Obito glared before answering, sugar-sweet, “We wouldn’t want to risk you getting lost again, surely.” Genma sniggered and Kakashi smiled innocently.

Before they took to the road again, though, Obito had a troubled look at the new bridge.

“This mission didn’t require all of us. With your level, you’re wasted as mere escort.”

“Bodyguards?” offered Kakashi, and Genma snorted.

“You mean you threatened the chunin that was supposed to take the mission to leave it to you?” Kakashi noted with amusement that Genma didn’t add that he had bribed his chunin by sheer curiosity.

Obito seemed oddly embarrassed, and Tenzo thoughtfully diverted the subject toward the Mokuton. An interested move, as it happened. They spent most of the return journey talking about how it felt like to them, carefully avoiding how they got it, while Genma was more or less covertly listening and throwing speculative glances at Kakashi.

They separated at the gate, exchanging cordial goodbyes, and Kakashi and Obito returned home. They were greeted at the compound by Naruto, as cheerful as usual. Despite Kakashi’s greater attention, he couldn’t find anything forced on the not-kid’s part, either in his smile or in the hug he gave Obito as welcome, and he allowed himself to relax and to ruffle Naruto’s hair in passing. The blond was startled at the touch, but leaned into it, grinning happily, and Kakashi smiled at him before starting to take his vest and weapons off to make himself comfortable.

Obito didn’t follow suit, though, and tentatively asked, “Shouldn’t we report on the mission?”

“It’s just a C-rank, a written report to file is enough,” dismissed Kakashi. “It’ll keep.” He may have exaggerated his carelessness just to mess with Obito, but his face was worth it.

“How was it?” Asked Naruto with enough enthusiasm to get them talking.

The tale wasn’t long. Once they were done, though, to Kakashi’s surprise Naruto went to the study and got back with a blank report form and a pen, before slowly beginning to write, tongue caught between his teeth in concentration.

“What are you doing?” wondered Obito, sparing Kakashi from having to ask the very same question.

Naruto shrugged without stopping. He was unusually careful in writing, taking at least twice as long for each kanji. “Writing the report. If we wait for Kakashi to do it, it’ll take ages.” And then, twisting the knife, he added, “Don’t worry, I’m used to it.”

Obito was looking at him, with an eye full of reproach at making Naruto do his work, and despite not having asked for it, Kakashi felt a twinge of guilt, twice as sharp for realizing that his alternate may be the guilty party, here. Looking at Naruto, he had a sudden suspicion that the time-traveler knew perfectly well what he was doing. He crossed his arms, mulish, unwilling to take the blame for something he hadn’t even done .

“It’s not the first time I’ve forged his handwriting, anyway,” added Naruto, offhand. “I need to stay in practice just in case, you know.”

Suddenly worried, Kakashi got up from where he was sitting to watch over Naruto’s shoulder. Indeed, the writing was an imitation of Kakashi’s handwriting, likely already passable to a distracted eye. Debating for a second with himself whether he really wanted for the best prankster in Konoha to get better at forging his handwriting, Kakashi sighed and took over the pen, grumbling, “Leave me that, you brat.”

Naruto’s grin was edging toward a smirk as he let the pen go and ceded his place, evidence enough of his scheme, but Kakashi couldn’t find it in himself to mind when he heard Obito strangling his laugh. When he risked a glance in his direction, Obito was looking at him with bright humor in his eye, trying to stifle his mirth behind a hand, and the sight was welcome enough to make Kakashi half-smile in answer.

The mission had been short and unremarkable, the report wouldn’t warrant much time anyway. While he was writing, Obito suggested that they go to Ichiraku for dinner, again , and Kakashi couldn’t muster much enthusiasm. He was hungry, but unlike both his roommates, he wasn’t enough of a ramen fan to want it for every meal.

“Maybe not this time,” answered Naruto after a calculating glance at Kakashi. “Saito’s, for once?” He had an impish smile. “Kakashi could join us there when he’s done giving his report?”

Kakashi groaned in defeat and lowered his head on his almost finished report. Ichiraku was no temptation, but Saito served some of the best sushi in Konoha and their sides of grilled vegetables were among Kakashi’s favorites. More upscale than Kakashi was used to, but he could afford it once in a while and the semi-private booths they offered to their more paranoid clients were well worth it.

Kakashi wished he could strangle the manipulative bastard who had taught Naruto, but it seemed both pointless and self-defeating.

“Go ahead,” he lifted a hand blindly from where he was, face planted on the cool surface of the table. “I’ll meet you there.”

Obito and Naruto both threw him a weirdly similar cheerful salute before going, and Kakashi smiled at their sudden absence, secretly glad even for their not-so-subtle nagging.

He swung by the administrative building to file his report. Iruka was manning one of the desks, as he often took an evening shift before the weekend, but Kakashi chose the shortest queue, ending up in front of an older clerk. Shinta?... No, Shinya, that was it. He was used to Kakashi’s ways, and so, much more likely to provide his entertainment. His reaction was everything Kakashi could have hoped for. His eyebrows were climbing steadily higher as he read the report.

“Is it… That’s for today’s mission? A C-rank, wasn’t it?” He looked up, feigning concern, “Hatake-san, are you alright? Are you sure you don’t need an escort to the hospital, given your obvious fever?” Alright, maybe a bit too sarcastic. Shinya dropped the act to let a bit of his honest surprise show as he pressed the stamp marking the report as approved. “What under the sun could have happened for you to give a C-rank report on time??

Kakashi sighed dramatically.

“A recent roommate of mine took advantage of familiarity with my weaknesses and the privilege of age to bully me into punctuality.”

Iruka nearly choked on his laughter at the neighboring desk, fully catching Kakashi’s meaning, although it was lost on the bystanders, most of whom were grinning evilly at him.

“Oh, we’ve found a Hatake-wrangler,” sighed one of the other chunin on desk in a tone of gleeful wonder. “Uchiha Obito, was it? Do you think he could convince you to file the report for your A-rank mission from last November? You know, your solo one?”

Kakashi smiled and left without answering. Dinner was waiting.

―――

Shisui checked his mental list for the Nth time, more nervous than he would have thought for what was, after all, just a small get-together. Some friends and acquaintances sharing a barbecue, nothing important . He had carefully balanced Uchiha and non-Uchiha, men and women among his guests, his fridge was stocked with both food and drinks, the small grill he had borrowed was waiting on his balcony, the weather was still a bit chilly but sunny, the first breath of spring whispering in the air.

He had been afraid, when planning this, that his clan would have already made their move toward seducing Obito to their side, but apparently not. Bless the Elders’ immobilism (for once). A bit late for the Uchiha family to make a good first impression, but he would do his best with what he had. He had waited just long enough for Obito to repair bridges with most of his former classmates in the village, so that he had his chance to settle in and get up to date with the village’s gossip. The formerly missing nin was now going out more and more in the evenings, hanging out with friends and colleagues after missions, with or more rarely without Kakashi, and when Shisui had oh-so-casually invited him when they ‘accidentally’ crossed paths in the administrative building, he had readily accepted. Maybe Shisui’s burning curiosity wasn’t entirely one-sided.

Shisui started when the doorbell rang, and hastened to open. Hitomi and Itsuo were there. Shisui hadn’t been quite sure how to place Itsuo the first time he had met the Hyuuga, but either through his long acquaintance with his Uchiha teammate, or due to the fatalistic attitude most branch members ended up with, he had proven surprisingly accepting of new ideas and new people, even Uchiha. Shisui wouldn’t count him as a friend yet, but he was definitely leaning that way.

Kurenai was next. Shisui had wanted to get at least an old friend of Obito’s to help him get comfortable. Most of Shisui’s friends were too young to have known the Uchiha before his doomed mission, after all.

Obito arrived almost on the stroke of noon, as punctual as he was reputed not to be. Shisui welcomed him with as warm a smile as he could, carefully introduced him to Hitomi and Itsuo, and went to get the drinks out of the fridge. The doorbell rang again before he could get to the appetizers, and Shisui’s smile grew even more genuine when he saw that Kaya was there, just in front of Ishitani and Chieko. He let the latter two sort themselves, and hugged Kaya.

Obito had found a place near Kurenai, and was looking at the newcomers with reserved curiosity. Shisui did the introductions.

“You may have already met Uchiha Chieko and Tajika Ishitani, but may I present Umenori Kaya, my other teammate.” He was stupidly proud of Kaya. ‘No-clan’ Kaya, always having to work harder to prove herself, taking missions on the longest side and complicated honeypot operations because they offered the best pay and she wanted to make sure her younger sisters wouldn’t be too great a financial burden on their overworked widowed mother. He had missed her these past few months.

After the murmured greetings in response, Kaya nodded toward the Hyuuga after a glance.

“I think we have already met, actually, Hyuuga-san.” Itsuo nodded after a careful look at her face, and Kaya went on, “Thanks again for your care.”

Ah, yes, that was always the risk when inviting a healer. They let the topic slide, damn medical confidentiality, leaving unfortunate room for awkward silence. The moment passed before Shisui could pick one of his carefully selected conversation starters, prepared just in case, and he breathed a covert sigh of relief. It seemed Kurenai and Ishitani were as determined as he was to keep the conversation smooth and lively.

After a round of appetizers, the mood was getting good, and Shisui was tentatively relaxing when Chieko prodded Obito.

“We haven’t seen you around the District yet. At least half of the family is wondering what is keeping you. They were all excited after your spectacular fight.” She spared an appraising glance at Shisui, but quickly turned back toward Obito. “Aunt Umeko asked after you, too. Didn’t Uchiha-sama invite you to come?”

“He did,” replied Obito carefully. “But he also implied that the clan had difficulties accepting that I gave an eye to Kakashi.” He seemed to search for the least offensive way to say what he wanted to say next, and settled for, “I wanted to be a bit more comfortable home before accepting Fugaku-sama’s invitation.”

And yet he had accepted Shisui’s invitation with no hesitation. Hitomi and Chieko both seemed to take that as a veiled mark of distrust toward their clan head ― not completely wrong ― but wisely declined to defend him. Hitomi had her own reasons not to be too fond of Fugaku, and maybe Chieko was reminded that before his extended absence, their clan hadn’t been all that fond of Obito.

“I’m sure you would be welcome,” she still added valiantly. Chieko was nothing if not loyal to the family.

Kurenai seemed to sense a change of topic was due, and asked, “Speaking of Kakashi, I’m surprised he didn’t come, too. I’ve hardly seen you apart since you came back. On mission?”

Obito relaxed. “No, he’s taking advantage of the weather to train outside. He can keep an eye on Naruto’s training while doing his own. I’ve seen him dig up sensei’s old fuinjutsu notes and his marked kunai, I think he wants to experiment with the Hiraishin so that he might teach it to his son when he’s older.”

Probably meaning that Naruto was teaching Kakashi, thought Shisui, and he wondered if he might convince Naruto to teach him, too. He was fast, but teleporting was awesome . Oblivious to the dead silence that had fallen, Obito continued, “Naruto’s already ahead of the Academy curriculum, now, between Kakashi and Gai he’s got the best teachers. I’m sure he would be glad in a few years to learn his father’s favorite technique.”

There were several pairs of widened eyes around, but Kurenai’s weren’t among them, noted Shisui. She must have guessed, too. Shisui was doing his best to keep his face straight, but he was internally cackling. Hitomi had stopped while reaching for her glass, Kaya was still as a statue, Chieko and Itsuo were twin pictures of repressed surprise.

Ishitani was the first to metaphorically pick up his dropped jaw from the ground. He cleared his throat, and said, “I may have understood wrong, but didn’t you just imply that Naruto is the son of the Fourth?”

Obito eyed him with a flat look. “...Wasn’t it common knowledge?”

“No. No it wasn’t.” Kaya’s voice was high and strangled. A picture of poise and distinction when on the job, she was so completely taken off guard it was funny.

Obito looked at all of them with a disbelieving eye. “You’re kidding me. How could someone miss it? He’s practically a mini Minato!”

“We’re not encouraged to speak of Naruto,” noted Kurenai, surprisingly level.

“So I’ve seen, but I’ve been told it was for another reason” retorted Obito in a low voice. “Still,” he went on, “With his hair, those eyes… How was it supposed to stay secret? His coloring isn’t exactly common. He even has Kushina’s weakness for ramen!”

Shisui let his other guests grill Obito about Naruto while he took the rest of the food out on his balcony to grill on his borrowed barbecue. He was sniggering to himself while he was putting the meat on the grating. Kaya joined him shortly after, appraised him, and stated, “You knew.”

Shisui smiled in answer, but didn’t bother with more, it wasn’t a question anyway. Kaya had a frustrated sigh.

“You would almost make me regret not trying for ANBU. If that’s the kind of juicy gossip that gets around…”

She had renounced even trying for jounin after careful consideration. Shisui thought she could do it, if she really applied herself, but she had needed more immediate cash, and maybe a less immediate death risk.

“What’s the deal, with your clan?” She asked. “Did Obito clash with the family?”

Shisui explained Obito’s circumstances. Keeping the classified bits out made the explanations admittedly look weirder than they needed to be. Kaya hadn’t been in the village for months, she had missed most of the recent pranking around, Naruto’s adoption, and Obito’s return. By the time Shisui was finished, some of the meat was done, and they went back inside to fill everyone’s plates. The conversation was shifting to missing nin, and Shisui had a moment to fear that the topic would be sensitive to Obito, but he was taking it in stride.

“So you’re behind the lastest update to our Bingo book?” was asking Kurenai with interest. “I saw they took several names off…” She let the words trail invitingly, and after a brief hesitation, Obito shrugged and answered.

“I don’t know if I’m the only reason, but yes, I’ve spent some time with the Intelligence division to debrief. Yamanaka-sama has been most helpful, and yes, he did suggest I might take a look at the book. I’ve run across some of them in the past few years, and I’ve heard of some other deaths, so it made sense to update now, I suppose.”

“You’re saying it as if crossing their path was nothing out of the ordinary.” Hitomi’s voice was cautious, likely wary of another revelation, but with a trace of eagerness. “They’ve taken off at least ten S-rank missing nin from the Book. Several with flee-on-sight orders.”

Shisui repressed a smile. It looked like Obito was on his way to getting another fan.

“They’re not all monsters in the dark, you know,” he was answering dismissively.

“Metoro of Ishi? Mukade of Suna? Suien of Taki? They’ve been called worse than monsters!” Hitomi asked, almost daring him to deny it.

“Well, yes.” He almost winced. “Good memory, I see. I’ve run across Metoro around three years ago, and Mukade nearly a year later, I think. They weren’t that good. Suien was more of a pain in the ass, but I wasn’t alone for the fight.” When he saw the starry-eyed stare of Hitomi, he seemed to hesitate between proud and defensive. “I didn’t kill all of them. Kakuzu of Taki took down Shinichi, and I’ve heard of some other deaths through other sources.”

After a beat of silence, Ishitani asked, in an uncertain voice, “You crossed Kakuzu? The one whose only known failure is the First Hokage’s own assassination? And you’re still alive?”

“So far,” answered Obito with a brief grin. “Kakuzu’s not that bad. Almost good, really, by missing nin standards.”

“He’s reputed as ruthless,” noted Kurenai. Despite her apparent composure, Shisui could see a small smile beginning to lift her lips.

Obito rolled his eye. “Most missing nin are considered as dangerous as their bounty. With Kakuzu, it’s sort of the reverse: he’s exactly as dangerous to you as the size of the bounty on YOUR head. Since I’ve managed so far to avoid getting listed in any Bingo book, and there’s no bounty on my head, he wasn’t seriously trying to kill me.”

“Which missing nin would you consider most dangerous, then?” asked Itsuo unexpectedly. He was so quiet, usually, you could almost forget he was there, but Shisui was pleased to see him get as drawn in as the others.

Obito seemed torn between honesty and caution, and this time caution won.

“Classified, sorry.” Facing several raised eyebrows, he insisted, “Yes, seriously. It wouldn’t make sense to keep quiet on those already dead, especially with the Bingo book update, and Kakuzu has been notorious for bloody decades , the man’s immortal, but the living ones are a pain to annoy, and I don’t want to make more enemies than I have to. If it’s not in the book, you’re not supposed to know.”

Shisui used the lull in the conversation to go take the rest of the meat, verging on well done. When he came back and refilled the plates, the conversation had safely veered off any obviously sensitive topic, and Hitomi was complaining, saying something about a promotion. It took a few more moments for Shisui to go back into the flow and understand that Hitomi didn’t want to get promoted, but to avoid it, and he turned toward her in surprise.

“What?” She grumbled when she saw him stare. “If I get promoted before Itsuo, his clan will be pissed, and if I get promoted before Isami, well…” she had a slight blush and didn’t finish.

“I’m not running after a promotion, you know,” noted Itsuo. “And I’m unlikely to get one anyway now that I’m taking more regular shifts at the hospital.”

“Who is Isami?” asked Obito with interest.

“Inuzuka Isami is our third teammate,” replied Hitomi. “She would have come today if she could, but she’s on mission.” She wittled at the reminder, but then went on more strongly. “Anyway, I don’t see the point of promotion for the sake of the title. I’m already doing my best. Getting promoted is becoming a magnet for troubles, anyway.” She suddenly blushed, and hastened to add, “Present company excluded.”

Shisui grinned, and Obito snorted.

“No need to exclude anyone,” he remarked, amused. “Though for the record, one of the strongest shinobi I’ve heard about died a genin, so there’s that.”

“Who was it?” asked Itsuo.

“Might Dai, Gai’s father.”

Kurenai lifted her head with interest. “Gai told you about him?”

“No.” Obito briefly hesitated, then shrugged with a sigh. “One of those missing nin I’m not telling you about. Dai once stopped the Seven Swordsmen of the Mist, killing half of them in the process. He’s almost a legend in Kiri. That missing nin I’ve definitely not met could gush about it for hours.”

Shisui sniggered at the avoidance. He wasn’t the only one, there were conspiratorial grins all around the room. They didn’t disappear when Shisui brought some dessert, then sake. The conversation stayed lively and the mood lighter now that everyone was fed and on their way to tipsy. Well, most everyone. Shisui couldn’t help but notice that Obito avoided sake, but that was alright. He was prepared, he had juices, he had tea, no one would go thirsty in his home.

Itsuo left soon after the meal, he had a shift in the evening. Hitomi left with him, and most everyone found their way out soon after them. Shisui was left alone with the resounding satisfaction of time well spent.

 

Chapter Text

Just because you've forgotten

That don't mean you're forgiven

― “My body is a cage”, Arcade Fire

Rasa was looking at Gaara, speechless, waiting for his shock at the news to fade. He was afraid he might have to wait a long time. When the Jinchuuriki had asked to speak with him after breakfast, along with Fuu of Taki, he had thought it would be a progress report on the latter’s training, hopefully announcing both of them to be ready to fight for their village. That… had been wildly optimistic. He should have known better, but even his worst case scenario didn’t include far-fetched stories of world-ending war and time-travel.

He threw a furtive glance at Yashamaru, at his side, and was infuriated by his bland, maybe slightly guilty look. No need to ask if his brother-in-law had known. Rasa reigned in his temper ― it wouldn’t do to let their authority look divided in front of Gaara. At least Yashamaru’s lack of protest meant that he had verified that tale, and the Kazekage knew him well enough to be sure that check had been thorough.

Gaara really was a time-traveler. Good grief, as if Rasa didn’t have enough problems yet.

“I know it’s a lot to take in,” added Gaara politely, making Rasa realize that he had stayed silent a bit too long. “We have it mostly under control now, anyway, I merely thought that with the growing pressure of the council, you should be made aware of the reality of the situation.” As if talking was an unavoidable inconvenience, and not his duty to his Kage!

“...Some of which is actually what they wanted to hear,” noted Rasa, making an effort to stay positive and keep his grip on the thread of their conversation. “That both you and Fuu, here, are in control of your Bijuu, and could contribute to any war effort.”

“No,” answered Gaara, briefly and directly.

“We’re not in control of them, Kazekage-sama, no more than any person is in control of their friend,” intervened Fuu, a bit nervously, before Rasa could rebuke Gaara for his answer. “Chomei and me, we agree to live in peace together, and to make allowances for each other, but I don’t control her.”

Gaara seemed to try to follow her example and adopted a more conciliatory tone. “And it is true that, should any army show up and attack Suna, I am perfectly capable and willing to protect the village.” He cocked his head, and immediately ruined his attempt at diplomacy by adding, “But that’s not ‘any’ war effort. I will not allow myself to be used to attack when unprovoked. I cannot.”

“I’m your Kage, boy,” answered Rasa sharply. “You will follow orders.” Although he was uncomfortably aware that the times he could enforce such orders by force were definitely past. He had seen Gaara train with Fuu, Takeshi or both ― hell, he had sparred with him himself, along with Baki, when the council had wanted to test Gaara’s control of the Ichibi. And to think that he had felt pride at Gaara’s overwhelming power, when really, there had been cheating involved...

Gaara looked actually almost judgemental at that. Like he had been expecting better from Rasa.

“I am,” he answered calmly. “I am doing my utmost best to follow your orders and fulfill the very first mission you ever assigned to me: being Shukaku’s host. You choose to give me the mission of my life before I was even born, and I cannot fault your logic in that choice, but we both must live with the consequences. One of which is that I owe myself to Shukaku first.”

“You owe your service to your village first, Gaara,” retorted Rasa. “Not to the Ichibi.” He would have gone on in that vein, but Gaara interrupted, soft but unyielding.

“His name is Shukaku.” He kept going, although his voice was slower, as if he was trying to find his way through a maze of words. “I care about the village. And I can help . But I tried, once, to put the village before Shukaku. It nearly torn us apart. I ended up having to leave the village because our enemies would target Suna to get to me, and I couldn’t let them have Shukaku or they would kill us all.”

Rasa frowned, about to argue that as Kage, he was the one to judge what would be best for the village, but Gaara continued, overriding his attempt at interrupting.

“Just the same, Naruto was chosen at birth and cares about Konoha. He tried once to follow the orders of his Kage. Naruto thought he should fight with Kurama, but his Hokage ordered him into hiding to protect him. Because he was absent for that fight, we lost thousands. ” Gaara’s voice had become sharper. “Fleeing, staying, sometimes there is no good choice. But we’ve lived through other people’s choices once, and it ended in disaster. So now, they will be our choices.”

At his side, Fuu was looking oddly proud, an inverted mirror to Rasa’s dismay. He almost snapped at Gaara that he would obey, but the order didn’t pass his lips. Time-traveler. Gaara knew that trying was doomed to failure. Damn but Rasa really needed more intel on that possible future. He made an effort, and took a few breaths to calm himself. Time-traveler or not, he needed Gaara’s obedience. So he had to find another angle. What was the saying, again? If you can’t solve a problem, make it someone else’s?

“The council will not be appeased by a mere defensive position. They’ll think I’m coddling you. If you refuse to obey their wishes, and insist to take your own decisions, it will weaken my authority and damage my ability to protect Suna. So what would you suggest?”

“I’m not the one having to deal with the council.” There was an appreciative spark of amusement in Gaara’s eyes. “But they can hardly reproach you to have succeeded in creating a superior weapon. That it leaves them with no mean to force my cooperation is their problem.” He marked a pause, clearly reluctant to go on. “If you really wish for my opinion, though, I think you would be of more use to Suna if you gave up the Kazekage hat to take a seat as councillor. They couldn’t accuse you of bias toward me if you did, and your voice would still carry weight.”

“And abandon the village when it needs me most?” scoffed Rasa. He frowned at the very suggestion. He wouldn’t abandon his people. He supposed he shouldn’t really blame Gaara for having done the same, after all there must have been extenuating circumstances if time-travel had been the only solution, but even now he wasn’t sure he approved.

Despite his misgivings, Rasa explained. “The council is not the only problem, not even the main one. At this rate, we won’t even need enemies. If the Daimyo keeps decreasing our funding, we’ll starve all by ourselves. What we need is more money, more money comes from more missions, and more missions comes from greater demand. Unrest fuels the shinobi world. We need to feed it back.”

Gaara was observing Rasa dispassionately. “There are other options. We don’t need to be ‘all by ourselves’. You could drive prices higher by agreement with the other villages. If Konoha increases their rates, our Daimyo might suddenly find us more cost-efficient. With trade agreements with Fire and Mist Countries, commerce would pick up, leading to more escort missions. Our shinobi are high-quality, defending from road brigands should be easy and profitable.”

“We can’t let ourselves depend on others,” reprimanded Rasa. “Treaties have never been worth more than the paper they’re written on. They’ll never hold against the first temptation. Peace would merely give them more time to prepare for war.”

“Naruto and Utakata can guarantee that won’t happen,” answered Gaara, with an air of patient benevolence that immediately set Rasa’s teeth on edge. He wasn’t a child to be schooled in statesmanship! But Gaara continued, oblivious to his internal snarl, “If you keep wanting war, you will get one we won’t survive. I’ve seen it once already, I’m not doing it again. If you refuse to respect my position on the subject, Kazekage-sama, I will have no choice but to leave Suna.”

“That would be treason,” answered Rasa, forcing the words through the beginning of a sick feeling. He was suddenly overly aware of the few grains of sand sticking on his skin with his sweat. They were in the middle of a desert, sand was everywhere. And sand was Gaara’s weapon.

“Yes, it would be,” replied Gaara calmly. His eyes were almost compassionate. His stance was relaxed, unthreatening. “I would be sorry to have to make such an unfortunate choice. I would make it regardless.”

Rasa let the ultimatum lay between them, unanswered. Things were going too fast, from learning such a shocking piece of news to possibly losing his best asset. He needed time, to process and to think. Surely there was another way. He took a calming breath, and tried to defuse the situation.

“You’ve made your position clear, Gaara. I’ll have to think on it.” He turned toward Fuu, almost forgotten at Gaara’s side. She was looking at him with curiosity, and with enough deference to pass for obedience, but if Gaara was ready to defy him, Rasa had no real doubt about Fuu’s allegiance. He forced himself to nod civilly at her. “I suppose you would follow Gaara?”

“No, actually,” smiled Fuu. “I’ll go before him. I was coming to say that I’ll be leaving in a few days to go visit Kiri. Now that Utakata is teaching Haku, Chomei is curious about them.” She bowed briefly. “I wanted to thank you for your hospitality. If you wish to send any message to their new Mizukage or to Utakata, I would be happy to carry any letter.”

Ungrateful child! Rasa was fuming. Months of protection, of eating for free and learning priceless control, with a risk of retaliation from Taki toward Suna, and she would just… go? Say thank you and leave? The council would blow a gasket at seeing such a ressource leave, and he would spend days doing damage control, but he couldn’t stop Fuu, the bloody wench could fly and Gaara would obviously help her if necessary. Breathe, he reminded himself. See what you can change, accept the rest and move on.

“You would leave Suna with a debt toward us,” he merely said.

“Yes,” acknowledged Fuu. “And I’ll remember it.” Her eyes as she was looking at him had a certain shine to them, and Rasa felt the brief weight of someone ― of some thing ― else’s gaze on him. That feeling of otherness faded quickly, but the memory of it promised to stay vivid and follow Rasa in his dreams. Or nightmares.

They got up to their feet, and Gaara and Fuu left after a bow. A secretary tried to use the occasion to enter and begin the day’s usual business, but Rasa sharply sent him back with clear orders to cancel any appointments for the morning. Rasa waited for their steps to fade and carefully reined in his anger before turning toward Yashamaru.

―――

Yashamaru had followed the conversation between Rasa and Gaara with the feeling of a growing, gaping pit of darkness opening beneath his feet. He has insisted, told Gaara that the Kazekage had a right to know, that he would listen, would understand, and now… Rasa hadn’t even asked. Yashamaru was almost sick with disappointment, not even sure if it was in Rasa or in himself.

“So?” Asked Rasa. His tone was level, but Yashamaru wasn’t fooled. He could read Rasa’s fury under his cool demeanor, but instead of cowing him into obedience, it sparked his own anger. How dare Rasa threaten Gaara with exile over the consequences of his own choice? How dare he run the risk of wasting his beloved sister’s death? Out of all his chaotic thoughts, a few words escaped.

“You didn’t even ask.

“Ask what?” replied Rasa, impatient. “If I had not been blindsided, maybe I could have come up with some questions, but whose fault is it that I didn’t know of that… Whatever you want to call this fiasco? How long have you known?”

“I’ve noticed something was out of place since last summer,” answered Yashamaru heavily, his brief anger slowly draining out of him, leaving place for a numb kind of desolation. “Everyone noticed: Gaara reined in Shukaku mid-rampage. It took me a few more days to notice that Gaara could sleep. And then that he didn’t need to fake calm. That he hadn’t spoken of hearing his mother’s voice urging him to kill for weeks. That he talked to and with his siblings with love and behaved toward them like an elder brother, not a younger one.” Yashamaru lifted his eyes towards Rasa, unseeing, “You were there , Rasa. We’re eating together almost every night. You’ve seen Gaara encourage Kankuro, support Temari in her choice of weapon, even though her fan is too large for her. Why didn’t you ever ask him what was going on?”

Rasa stood his ground.

“You’re his caretaker. I didn’t appoint you to the position to do it myself ― I have a village to run.” Rasa’s voice grew sharper. “I trusted you to call to my attention anything worth mentioning. And you didn’t answer: since when have you known that Gaara came back from the future?”

“No longer our future,” said Yashamaru. Prayed, really. “And I asked him around mid-December. He was looking nervous, almost on edge for a few days, for no apparent reason, and then suddenly much more cheerful.”

As cheerful as Gaara could ever look. Smiling. At peace. Looking at his siblings with joy and a promise in his eyes. Yashamaru had seized the occasion, relieved after the stress of a few bad days that he had feared were a relapse.

A very short-lived relief, it had been. Yashamaru shivered and went on.

“He told me why he had changed. And then told me more”. As Yashamaru did now.

It was a long conversation. Yashamaru had pestered Gaara with questions, wanting every details of his life. Rasa merely listened to Yashamaru’s retelling with a frown and an occasional demand for some clarification. Once the story was told, as much as Yashamaru knew anyway ― because he was acutely aware that Gaara had left out pretty important bits of information ― Rasa took the time to think it over. Yashamaru let him to it, regretting that the Kazekage hadn’t taken the same time before confronting Gaara. Rasa should have waited before reacting, really. Was it fear of looking weak or indecisive, maybe? Had he felt challenged by the knowledge that Gaara had once been the Fifth?

“Who else knows about all this?” Finally asked Rasa.

Yashamaru didn’t like the speculative glint in his eyes. He had talked with Takeshi, most notably of the Uchiha’s visit to the village and Gaara’s unbelievably laid back attitude toward the Leaf nin. Yashamaru had been left with the impression that Konoha was doing their time-traveler’s biding, whether out of fear or out of wisdom, he couldn’t know. It hardly mattered anyway. On one point Gaara had been very clear: every Jinchuuriki could time-travel with their Bijuu’s cooperation, and at least three of them would do it for certain if things didn’t go their way. Yashamaru was almost sure Gaara hadn’t meant it as a threat, but it didn’t change the consequences. The future would happen with their cooperation, or not at all.

And looking at Rasa now, Yashamaru was not at all sure that his Kage would cooperate with the Bijuu.

“I know that he’s told his siblings,” finally said Yashamaru. “They’ve both taken it rather well, from what I can see. I’ve talked it over with them. They’ve accepted that Gaara is older than them, but then, they’re kids. At that age, it’s easier to adapt. They’ve been curious about the future, although I think Gaara has… not so much censored, really, as much as tailored the version he shared to reassure them.” He added, to be sure Rasa wouldn’t get any idea of retaliation, “At the very first, they were too afraid of Gaara to disobey his demand for secrecy, and then when they saw he was so much better like this, they were happy for him and didn’t think further on it, I believe.”

Yashamaru was almost surprised not to have lost Rasa’s interest half-way through this explanation. He so seldom gave the impression to care about his children, it was hard to predict when he would feel invested.

“Anyone else?”

Yashamaru almost winced at the pointed demand. Visibly Rasa didn’t believe him anymore to be fully honest and wouldn’t let him avoid direct answers. Should he lie outright, to protect the jounin from Rasa’s wrath? Would saying the truth be any better? Was Rasa’s trust even worth regaining? Opting for the truth was more an impulse than a carefully thought out choice, but Rasa was his Kage, he needed truth from his closest advisor. Whether he deserved it or not.

“Miura Takeshi. The one Gaara was about to reduce to paste when he came back in time. In his timeline, Miura wouldn’t have survived, and Gaara felt obliged.” He almost stopped there, then added, “He spoke of possibly talking to Baki, maybe because of Kankuro and Temari, but as far as I know, he hasn’t yet.”

Rasa looked surprised, and Yashamaru almost laughed at seeing it now , as if that was the most surprising news of the day. Silence fell again between them. Yashamaru felt no inclination to break it.

“You’re saying that Gaara told you only after you asked him,” remarked Rasa. “While he told Miura as soon as he came back. Does he not trust you?”

Yashamaru shrugged, hiding how much the question bothered him. He had wondered himself, of course, but one cannot simply ask another shinobi ‘do you trust me?’ and hope for an honest answer. He wondered if Gaara even knew the answer. The distance Yashamaru had felt slowly growing between them may be a deliberate choice, or a result of Gaara trying to hide the truth of his time-travel, or the echo of untold trauma during his war. Four years of it, summarized in a few hours for Yashamaru’s benefit, left a lot of room for unsavory details to be buried in silence. It pained him to feel Gaara drift apart. He missed the six-years-old he had known, who had looked at him with a shy smile and trusting eyes. The current version was far more reserved, and harder to read.

“We can’t let Gaara leave Suna,” finally said Rasa. “No matter what, the Ichibi ― Shukaku, since he insists ― cannot fall into other hands.”

“His family is here,” remarked Yashamaru. “I doubt he wants to leave. He said it himself. It might help if you acknowledged him more often as your son than as Shukaku’s host,” he added pointedly. A few months ago, he wouldn’t have dared, but he was still pissed that Rasa hadn’t adressed Gaara as his son even once nor showed the least measure of sympathy when learning that he was a survivor of war.

“It would only give more ammunition to the council,” retorted Rasa. “They already think me too soft as it stands.”

Yashamaru wondered tiredly if Rasa even made a difference, now, between his public life and his private one.  But the Kazekage wasn’t quite finished yet.

“If I don’t find a way to make Gaara follow the council’s orders, they will take the matter into their own hands.”

Rasa’s statement stayed in the air, unanswered, as much an impasse as Gaara’s ultimatum.

―――

As Gaara was waiting for Fuu to finish preparing her backpack and say her goodbyes to the few friends she had made during her sojourn, he was reflecting on his recent confrontation with his father. He was surprisingly okay with how things had gone. Disappointed, yes, there was no point pretending otherwise, but it could have been so much worse. It had been so much worse, once. It had been nice to play house for a few months, and maybe it would be nice again after he had dealt with his father, but if there was one thing he had learned from his own tenure as Kazekage, it was to do what was necessary instead of letting problems fester. At least his siblings were safe.

He wondered if either Rasa or Yashamaru had realized that having once been Fifth Kazekage meant that he fully knew all the privacy measures taken in the Kage’s office, and was actually still (again?) keyed to the wards. Rasa had just learned the truth, he might be excused for not thinking of it, but had Yashamaru deliberately omitted mentioning the possibility to let Gaara spy at his convenience?

Gaara wasn’t too sure where Yashamaru stood, these days. He had been surprised, in fact, that his uncle had managed to keep silent for so long. In his mind, Yashamaru’s loyalty to his Kage had always been absolute. Rasa’s piercing question toward the man had made Gaara uncomfortable ―   did he trust his uncle? He wanted to say he did. This version had never betrayed any faith Gaara had placed in him. Yet he couldn’t deny that their relationship had grown strained these past few months. Maybe it had been naive of him to think that concealing parts of the truth would be enough to protect them from its effects. Even if current Yashamaru and Rasa bore no guilt for the actions of their alternate, Gaara couldn’t help but remember them, and his memories were enough to warp his feelings and taint his actions. He would have to be careful about that.

His thoughts were broken by Fuu, sauntering toward him with an open grin. He smiled in answer, almost reflexively. Of all the new experiences this time-travel had given him so far, meeting Fuu had been among the most precious.

“Thank you for your hospitality and your teachings,” she began warmly. “I know you felt you had to do it anyway, but you didn’t need to be nice about it.”

He shrugged slightly. It had cost him nothing. She was observing him closely, and added, “I hope things will turn out better with your father. He didn’t seem really open.”

He didn’t really appreciate her intruding, and couldn’t help replying, “Was yours any better?”

“My being a Jinchuuriki was never his main complaint, I think.”

Her smile had grown a bit brittle, and Gaara winced. That had been mean of him to remind her of the man, and he touched her wrist slightly in apology.

“Take care, Fuu. Say hello to Utakata and Haku for me, will you?”

“I will!” Good cheer already back, she came closer and surprised him by hugging him instead of just bowing. It was unusual, but it felt… nice. He returned the gesture, awkwardly given their height difference. Chomei was smiling, looking at him through Fuu’s eyes, when they let go of each other.

“It was a pleasure meeting you, Gaara. Tell Shukaku I’ll give him hell if he annoys you! You’ve been such a good host.”

“We’re good,” assured Gaara. “He listens much better now, anyway.”

Chomei’s smile grew. “He’s lucky to have you. Take care of each other, then! We’ll see you soon again, anyway.”

“We will,” promised Gaara.

Fuu took a few steps, and they exchanged a final wave of hand before she turned resolutely to the road.

Chapter Text

...my soul has lost its way

Oh Lazarus, how did your debts get paid?

Blood on my name , The Brothers Bright

Hitomi had left Shisui’s party with a lot of questions, one of which she definitely wanted an answer to: why the hell had no one ever told her the Uchiha’s personal blight was the son of the Fourth? There were rumors about Naruto, but she had never heard one about his parents. He was supposed to be an annoying prankster (most of her clan used harsher words), with a reputation for viciousness among the civilians, and for being adopted by Hatake the prodigy among the shinobi. Clearly, that was subpar intelligence if the fact that he was the previous Hokage’s son had never been discussed, even in idle speculation, around Hitomi.

She could sort of understand the need for secrecy, of course ―  the Yellow Flash hadn’t become a war hero without making a lot of enemies. Still, the family might have been a lot more forgiving if they knew of his parentage. Being blindsided sucked and she was determined not to be caught off-guard again. If there were so many gossips already about the Hatake child, there had to be something at the root. Either something else exceptional about the kid, or someone spreading those rumors. Or both.

Listening to the whispers gave her a starting point. It was easy to encourage the civilians to talk about the kid, since a lot of them had some sort of grievance to vent. At least the prankster part seemed well-founded ― he had been caught red-handed, or just open about it, on enough practical jokes for Hitomi to be confident he was responsible for a lot more of them. The more nasty side seemed less supported, and the civilians themselves were divided about it, especially since his adoption. It seemed none of the pranks were ill-meant, and Naruto had never harmed anyone willingly. It was also intriguing to see that Naruto seemed to have a nicer reputation in the worst parts of the village

The petty thieves and hookers, the dirt poor and the crippled were never the targets of Naruto’s dubious humor, and so they laughed all their fill whenever a prank was revealed, praised his skills, and gave him a pass whenever he needed to hide. The high-nosed upper class wannabe were less forgiving of Naruto’s jokes, especially those played at their expense, but even them were becoming wary of openly criticizing the kid, now that his adoptive father might hear what they were saying.

Those who clung to the view that he was bad news became tight-lipped when Hitomi probed further. In bars and taverns, where alcohol loosened tongues, Hitomi learned Naruto may have a link with some demon, or maybe was a demon. Alcohol or not, it was difficult to get a clear picture, everyone who seemed to really know something looked twice over their shoulder before speaking in hushed tones.

Hitomi had discreetly checked the records, and Naruto’s birth was listed as October 10th. It didn’t take a genius to guess which “demon” might be involved, and it gave Hitomi a cold sweat to realize she might have stumbled onto dangerous knowledge. No wonder shinobi were encouraged not to talk about Naruto! If what she suspected was true, that knowledge must not be allowed to leak to the other villages.

At least there was an easy way to check.

She was lurking around a training field, near the academy, when she glimpsed the kid among his classmates. She hid carefully before activating her Sharingan. The chakra flow in Naruto was… unbelievable. She was seeing it , and she still couldn’t believe it. She almost went closer, to see better, but the kid chose that moment to lift his head toward her hiding  place, and she saw his eyes pinpoint her with eerie accuracy given how invisible she was supposed to be. He seemed surprised at her attention, and maybe uncomfortable. He retreated toward his teacher, and Hitomi fled ignominiously before she could be accused of stalking little children.

Fortunately, hers were not the keenest eyes available for seeing chakra flow.

“Why did I agree to this?” was grumbling Itsuo as they got nearer the Academy.

“Because you’re as curious as I am,” she replied with confidence. Itsuo may be better at hiding it, given the necessary confidentiality of his job, but he was unavoidably interested in a secret of that magnitude.

They were closer to the Academy this time, and just had to wait for the kids to be released. It would mean less time to see, but a better vantage.

They didn’t have to wait for long. Hitomi saw the children beginning to exit the building, heard Itsuo activate his Byakugan in a low voice as soon as Naruto was in view, and waited impatiently for his verdict.

“Holy shit,” cursed softly the Hyuuga. Hitomi felt vindicated ― clearly there was something interesting to see. “Holy Mother of all fucking shit!” Ok, maybe more than interesting. That was almost becoming creepy.

She tugged the sleeve of her stunned teammate away to get his attention, and as soon as he was more focused on her (which took a disturbing amount of time), they started toward her apartment. Itsuo didn’t say a word before they were safely ensconced beneath a quilt at the kotatsu.

“So?...” probed Hitomi

“Definitely a big yes on your guess, there’s no doubt that he has the Kyuubi, it’s just that…” Here Itsuo seemed to search for words. “It’s not as if I have a point of comparison, you know, so I’m not sure…”

Hitomi nodded, impatient. She had carefully peeked at the public library ― nothing on Jinchuuriki, including in the most classified section. She hadn’t even known the word before her research. She had resorted to her clan’s archives to get more accurate records on the Kyuubi’s history before planning their little spying session.

“There are two different flavors of chakra, but they’re not completely separated, more like intermingled. I thought the Kyuubi was supposed to be sealed! His chakra shouldn’t flow about freely like that, should it?”

The note of uncertainty in Itsuo’s voice perfectly echoed Hitomi’s feelings.

“And that’s not all. Naruto’s supposed to be six, right? His chakra coils are at least as developed as those of adult jounin I’ve seen, if not more!” Itsuo’s tone became almost plaintive. “What the hell is this kid?”

Hitomi had no answer, but she had an idea about how to get one.

―――

Iruka was trying to hide his amusement behind his tea. He wasn’t trying very hard, though ― Isami’s teammates’ reactions were hilarious. Hyuuga and Uchiha were reputed as haughty and unflappable. He was sure there was more to Itsuo and Hitomi, or Isami wouldn’t get along that well with them, but it was still pretty funny to see them feigning disinterest so badly.

At the end of a long day, he hadn’t expected to receive any visitor, but his former Inuzuka classmate had a standing invitation and had shamelessly used it to get in with her two teammates. And her dog, but Kigane was well-behaved, friendly in a reserved sort of way, and probably the less annoying member of the team.

“So, I heard Naruto was in your class. Did you know he was the son of the Fourth?!” had asked Isami.

“Well, yes,” he had admitted. And then, he couldn’t resist and had added, “That’s not the most surprising thing I’ve learned about him.”

The resulting uproar had been so satisfying. Iruka suddenly understood way better what Kakashi could find funny in misleading statements. They were such a convenient way of hiding the truth in plain view.

He had taken advantage of his short trip to his kitchenette to make tea and activate the nifty little seals Naruto had engraved for whenever he visited and wanted their discussion to remain private. Now back at the low table, he was sipping his tea with the smug satisfaction of having a captive audience. Three riveted shinobi were an easier public to play than a class of kids.

“Spit it, Iruka. What’s the deal? When did you learn it?” Isami never learned patience.

“I was informed shortly after the beginning of the school year” admitted Iruka. A colleague of his had told him in hushed tones exactly what the kid was. Or so he had thought at the time. It hadn’t lasted.

“And he’s really host to the Kitsune?” Isami had a disbelieving glance at her two teammates, who were trying to look affronted.

“Kurama,” answered Iruka with hidden delight. “The Fox’s name is Kurama.”

The following boggled silence was just as satisfying as the previous uproar. Even Kigane looked impressed.

Iruka tried to rein in his amusement. Naruto had told him about the mysterious Uchiha who had been looking at him during classes (not so mysterious anymore), and from their ensuing discussion, Iruka had gathered that the time-traveler wasn’t quite ready yet to go public as jinchuuriki. He needed more time to explain away his skills. So Iruka carefully tailored his truth.

“You understand, this is all supposed to be secret.” He had a severe look at Isami. “Since you’re already halfway there, I’ll tell you just so you don’t worry, but NO loose lips after, get it?”

He got three vigorous nods of approval in return, and settled more comfortably.

“Naruto’s mother was the previous host of the Kyuubi. During Naruto’s birth, her seal was weakened, and the Kyuubi took advantage.” He hesitated. Naruto had always been secretive about the exact circumstances, and Iruka didn’t wish to draw more suspicion. “You know I’ve no lost love for Kyuubi, but really, he had been imprisoned for what, half a century by then? More? When he saw a chance, I guess I can’t really fault him for taking it.”

His listeners’ eyes were wide as saucers, and he sighed.

“Wouldn’t you have done the same? If a village had sealed you, isolated you, cut you off from your only family for decades after decades, and you had a chance for revenge, wouldn’t you have tried? Kurama is not exactly the most forgiving one around.”

“You…” Isami swallowed. “You talk about him as if he was a person.”

“Yeah, well, Naruto’s habits are catching. See, Naruto was adopted last December. He was told about the fox, and he immediately tried to get to know him.” Iruka shook off a depressing thought about how the child Naruto had once been didn’t get that chance before nearly one more decade. “The Fourth had sealed Kyuubi in Naruto in the hope that his son could grow to use his power, but he went right past ‘using’ straight to ‘befriending’. He’s figured how to loosen the seal enough to interact, and he’s been talking with him and learning about the Bijuu ever since. They are a lot of things, apparently, not all of them nice, but they are definitely not just monsters. They’re thinking, arguing ― a lot of that, according to Naruto ― feeling persons .”

Trust an Inuzuka to get right behind the idea of non-human looking persons. Isami looked enlightened. Hitomi and Itsuo were nodding thoughtfully.

“And… Do you know why his chakra network looks so developed?” Itsuo’s question had an edge of uncertainty, as if he wasn’t too sure he actually wanted to know.

“He’s been training for months,” deflected Iruka. “It might be a side effect of his being  a jinchuuriki.” In a way, it was. After a moment’s reflection, he added, “I’m quite sure you wouldn’t have seen any sign of it last summer. Initially, the seal was much tighter.”

Looking comforted, Itsuo nodded more surely.

“Now, I’m not privy to the Hokage’s thinking,” added Iruka prudently, “But I think he’s waiting for Naruto to complete his training as jinchuuriki before drawing attention to the kid.”

Hitomi approved vigorously. “It would be dangerous for him.” Then she hesitated. “Though Naruto’s perfectly capable of drawing attention to himself.”

Iruka grinned at that, and Isami outright laughed.

“Your clan’s still not over that ink,” she joked.

At Iruka’s noise of interest, Hitomi grimaced and explained. Iruka was amused. He talked about Naruto’s pranks with him quite often, but that one hadn’t come up… “Are you sure it was him?”

Hitomi’s raised eyebrows were answer enough. Iruka felt compelled to explain. “Because he’s sure crafty, but as far as I know he never hits the same clan twice. Now, I may or may not have talked with him about the unfortunate events of last November―” he grinned innocently, and even Hitomi had a small smile in reaction, “―but ink hasn’t come up recently. When was it?”

“Around February 15th,” replied Hitomi promptly. She wasn’t part of the Police Force, but she sure had family enough there to keep her up-to-date with that one file. “Hard to be more precise, there’s no evidence of tampering with the ink before shipment but it would be nigh impossible to do once it was distributed to everyone.”

Iruka tried to remember. Nearly six weeks ago…

“Wasn’t he with Maito Gai? I’m almost sure it was the week Gai took his new ward and Naruto and decided that a camping trip in the rain would forge character.”

“It was,” nodded Hitomi, “Maito-san and Lee-kun confirmed it. Or Fugaku-sama would have arrested Naruto before now. But come on, he had an alibi for a lot of ‘unproven’ pranks that still have his scent all over them.”

Iruka shrugged, conceding the point.

“Is he using the Kyuubi’s power for his pranks?” suddenly asked Isami. Her two teammates looked mildly horrified, but Iruka shook his head, laughing.

“Not as far as I know. Your clan would have noticed the chakra traces, surely.” Hitomi looked doubtful, but Iruka grinned. “His advice, maybe ― from what he told me, Kurama has a wicked sense of humor, and he has a bone to pick with the village.” Seeing his guests’ obvious interest, he leant toward them, and let his voice take a storyteller’s cadence to tell more of what Naruto had allowed him to share. Like the tale of Kurama’s family.

―――

Obito was slowly getting into something of a routine in Konoha. The Hokage understood his need to get reacquainted with the village, and he had kept him out of any long-range missions. Those he got were never solo missions, and more often than not someone from his age group managed to get assigned to the same one.

Now if only Kakashi had the grace to revert back to his annoying self, it would be almost comfortable. Obito had finally begun to understand that the change of heart he had witnessed the day of his near death had been deeper and more genuine than he had dared to hope. With a trace of uneasiness, he had also noticed how much his own supposed death had affected his surviving teammate. He sometimes got Kakashi to leave him alone, dammit , but then Kakashi sulked . He was more childish now at twenty than Obito remembered him being at ten, but with a weird, devoted kindness underlying his cheerful act that reminded Obito of his dogs and left him disarmed. Snapping at the man would have felt like kicking a puppy.

He was much more happy than in any of Obito’s old memories, though. Occasionally Obito even got to see him smile. Kakashi seemed to have understood how much Obito resented his mask sometimes, and despite his obvious discomfort, he made the effort of taking it off when they were alone and at home. Seeing the effort made Obito feel guilty for wanting to see Kakashi’s face. When they were kids, Obito had resented the mask as a barrier and taken it personally, but now he could see that Kakashi wanted that barrier between him and everyone else , it wasn’t targeted at Obito.

It also had a very practical use, in that Kakashi’s nose was way too good without the mask. It was harder for him to ignore any smell when bare-faced, and it made him more distractible. Even with the mask, his nose was nearly on par with an Inuzuka’s dog. After seeing how bothered Kakashi could be at invading involuntarily the privacy of his roommates, Obito had capitulated and told him to keep the damn mask if he wanted. Kakashi had smiled, and then hidden that smile with obvious relief.

Beyond Naruto, Kakashi and his agemates, Obito had been surprised to be actually missed. When he had gone to a weaponsmith to get a new set of kunai, Higurashi was still there, and gave him a discount in fond memory, on account of Obito having sometimes helped his wife with groceries. Obito had forgotten himself ― it was close to fifteen years ago! ― but he was remembered.

The tea shop owners, a middle-age couple with easy smiles, had looked at him with wonder and remembered his fondness for cinnamon and other spices, selling him flavored tea at half-price and waving away his awkward thanks. He hadn’t even remembered their names, but they had smiled all the same. They had a son, now a teenager. Obito could remember having once helped him mend a broken toy.

He had visited his old neighbourhood by curiosity, what of it had not been destroyed in the Kyuubi attack, and he had been surprised to see his former neighbour still there, with her grown daughter, now a lovely and blushing lady, who had smiled with delight at seeing him.

He had gone into a perfume shop, to get scented candles ― he liked both their soft, warm glow and the calming scent in his room, making the darkness kinder ― and the old little lady who helped him with his purchase had added some more samples, “for him to try”, as she said. There was sympathy in her eyes, and Obito wondered if maybe he wasn’t the only shinobi using scent to chase away bad dreams in the dead of night.

He hadn’t realized how much he had missed the village until he could walk in the streets and see smiles and waves of hand.

As he had promised, he had also tried to socialize a bit with his Uchiha family. Shisui’s warm welcome and friendly acquaintances had let him hope the clan would be more welcoming than he remembered. So he had accepted Fugaku’s invitation and showed up for dinner. It had been stilted and horribly formal, and maybe all the more painful for the contrast with Shisui’s liveliness, but no one had tried to kill him, or insult him, or even glare at him, so he supposed it had gone better than expected. Chieko had been present, but subdued compared with what Obito had seen at Shisui’s.

At one point, one of his distant cousins at begun talking about something, but had been shushed sharply by the lady Mikoto, who was doing her damn best to smooth the edges of everyone’s prickly temper. Going by Chieko’s rigid, disapproving frown at their cousin, Obito suspected the subject so hushed had been Naruto. He had frowned, but let it slide. He had said he would make an effort, after all. But he wasn’t anticipating another such dinner with anything like joy.

He was wandering the streets aimlessly, for once alone, just taking some fresh air, when he heard a voice calling him, and he turned his head just in time to see Asuma’s face before getting a big hug. He again had to get a grip of his instinctive reaction to recoil, but it was getting better. He patted Asuma’s back awkwardly with a little smile of his own.

“Obito!” Asuma greeted him happily once he released him. “They told me you had returned from the supposedly dead, but I could hardly believe it. You just blew the record of longest missing-in-action, you know.”

“Second longest was barely ten months,” he replied with a half-grin. “I checked.”

Asuma was laughing, and looking at him as if drinking the sight.

“What happened?” He was still smiling, but he had obviously taken stock of his scarred face, and his eyes were serious.

“Classified,” sighed Obito. Seeing Asuma unsurprised, but dejected, he added, “I’ve been wounded and captured, not killed, during the Kannabi bridge mission, and I spent a long time recovering, then escaping.” So much longer than he should have, he thought with regret. “Been doing covert work for some time out of the country, and now I can go home.” Now that he had discovered that he had a home.  “How have you been?” he asked with curiosity. “Gai told me you enrolled into the Twelve Guardians a few years ago, but he didn’t get more specific.”

“Yeah, I got a short leave and thought I’d take the opportunity to come see you,” Asuma answered. “Three days, I’ll go back on Monday.”

“I’ve never met the Daimyo,” admitted Obito. “Is he worth the work?”

Asuma laughed and replied, “He doesn’t look much, I’ll grant you that! Easy to guard, though ― unlike some nobles I can remember, he actually cooperates with his bodyguards.” He had a lingering smile as he continued, “He’s made it an art of looking stupid and harmless. At first I was disappointed in him, but actually it’s fascinating to watch. I’m pretty sure he’s fooling most of the court into thinking he’s just a puppet, and so they’re fighting each others for control instead of banding up against him.” He regained a more serious contenance. “Not that they should. He’s a good man.”

Obito nodded, satisfied. “I’m glad to hear that.”

Asuma was looking at him curiously, and cautiously asked, “And how have things been since your return?”

“Better than I thought after so long,” conceded Obito, letting a trace of his wonder into his voice. “The villagers have been very welcoming, and the work has been easy so far.”

“I’ve been told you were living with Kakashi, now,” remarked Asuma with an obviously inviting tone.

“For now, yes,” replied Obito shortly. He wasn’t that keen to revisit the subject. He tried to soften the curt answer with another question. “You didn’t seem that interested in bodyguard work when we were kids. What changed your mind?”

“I got into an… argument, with my old man,” answered Asuma, his mood darker. “I know he’s changed since Mom’s death, but… Well, he’s the Hokage, it’s harder to disagree and keep working, so I took the chance to change boss for a time.”

His mom. Sarutobi Biwako, one of those who died during the Kyuubi attack, and Obito felt his half-smile freeze on his lips. No, one of those he killed during that attack. With effort, he kept talking, hoping his voice wouldn’t betray him.    

“Will you visit the rest of your family?”

“Yes, Sis wouldn’t let me leave in peace if I didn’t go and see her kid anyway.” He had a slightly goofy grin, and continued, oblivious to Obito’s internal turmoil, “Little Konohamaru is just two, he doesn’t have much conversation yet, though. You wouldn’t happen to have an idea for a gift? I didn’t take the time to buy one before coming.”

Little Konohamaru, yes. Asuma’s nephew still had his mother, at least.

Obito breathed slowly, and answered lightly, “No idea, sorry.”

“Well, you have it harder with your kid, I’m sure,” continued Asuma with a complicit grin. “I heard Naruto is a terrific prankster.”

Harder. Yes, living with another child he had orphaned, he supposed it could count as hard.

“He’s not my kid,” Obito answered woodenly. But he was, he definitely was his responsibility. Asuma was looking at him with the beginning of concern, and Obito couldn’t bear to see the man worry about him. “But I still have to go get him from the Academy, it’s almost time, so, I could let you to your shopping, and we’ll hang out more another time?”

Asuma didn’t look completely convinced, but he let it go, and said his goodbyes to Obito cordially before turning tail.

Obito went to the Academy, and waited outside, lost in thoughts, until Naruto cheerfully greeted him. He didn’t wait for an answer, he just continued to babble, all the way to their home, until they were safely behind the walls of the Hatake compound.

There, Obito went to sit on the couch in the living room, still observing Naruto, who was preparing himself some tea and cookies. And as Naruto was coming back with a plate to share, Obito lifted his eye to the jinchuuriki’s face, and said, “I’m sorry.”

Naruto lifted his gaze from his mug, looked at Obito’s anguished face, and went to hug him.

“I know,” he sighed. “Me too.”

Obito hesitantly returned the embrace, and closed his eye. Naruto didn’t comment when Obito’s arms began shaking slightly, nor when Obito felt dampness on his face. His sensei’s son just hugged him tighter.

 

Chapter Text

To behold harms of our own hands doing, where none beside us wrought,

causes sharp ruing.

― Ajax, Sophocles

The first time they had gone to Konoha’s cemetery together, to mourn on Rin’s grave, Kakashi had made a detour to the Memorial Stone, and Obito couldn’t help but notice how used his teammate seemed to be at staring at his name. His now striked through name.

Now, Obito also took notice of the entries added from the Kyuubi attack, and he wasn’t sure how to deal with them. He didn’t want to name the gnawing feeling in his gut, growing with every line on the stone, but it hurt.

When Obito joined Kakashi to reflect on his deeds in front of the Memorial Stone listing the people he killed, Kakashi didn’t comment. Obito stared at the Stone, and there were so many names . And only the shinobi were listed here, the civilians had a separate cemetery. Some of the names he knew, first among them Naruto’s parents. Some he didn’t know, but he was still responsible for their deaths. There were several Yamanaka listed there, and he wondered anew how Inoichi could have held his gaze with kindness instead of bitterness.

When he had raged against the world for being cruel, being evil, he had never considered the possibility that he might be a part of that cruelty, of that evil. It was so much easier to blame the world for being wrong than the people for being mistaken, and so much easier to blame the people responsible when he wasn’t one of them . Seeing the bigger picture had blinded him to what was in front of him. Now, as he stared at the names of the dead and could almost feel their blood on his hands, he wondered if every killer felt like a monster.

He didn’t dare ask Kakashi. He was afraid of his answer.

He thought of Nagato, and he could almost finally understand his warped logic. If he wanted peace because he had been hurt, he would hurt others so that they would want peace, too. Logic, wasn’t it? Did every war began because someone, somewhere, had wanted peace their way ?

No wonder the Bijuu had once been driven mad, if they could feel humanity being insane around them.

After a few days of shared morning visits to the Memorial Stone, Naruto joined them in contemplation. He crouched in front of the stone, and sighed, “You shouldn’t spend so much time here, you know.”

The quick glance Obito exchanged with Kakashi was almost embarrassing, as he realized they couldn’t even be sure to which of them Naruto was talking.

“They’re dead. They’re gone. If we ever join them, do you think they would have wanted us to remember their deaths, or their lives?”

The question was purely rhetorical, and no one tried to answer him, but after a few moments, Obito asked hesitantly, “You said ‘If we ever join them’. Why ‘if’? You’ve met the dead. You among all should know that death is not the end, no?” He hated his uncertainty.

Naruto raised an arm, and slowly traced with the tips of his fingers the smooth expanse of stone on the side of the engraved names.

“But whose death? Say I live a long and happy life, with my friends and family.” His brief grin including them warmed Obito’s heart despite the circumstances. “I see you grow old and die. I see Shikamaru get married, Sasuke get kids, Sakura get famous and respected. I see their kids grow up and get their own children. I grow old, too, and then I die, and go to the Pure Lands. Who will I meet there?” His hand on names yet unwritten suddenly seemed foreboding. “I would want it to be their happy selves. I would want to see Sasuke laughing, and Shikamaru proud of his legacy to his clan, and Ino scheming with Sakura about I don’t know what, with that disturbing grin on her face. Neji free and teasing Hinata, Lee laughing with Gai.”

His hand tightened, no quite into a fist.

“But it would mean never meeting again the pink-haired fangirl who was on my team, called me an idiot, and later saved my life. Or the pineapple head who taught me shogi and stayed at my side right ‘till the end. If we did things right , that’s what will happen when I die.”

“I’m sorry,” said Obito again, helplessly. It was awfully inadequate, but it was all he had, now.

“It’s… not alright, but I’ll be fine,” sighed Naruto. “They wouldn’t want to remember all the bad stuff anyway, just for a few good memories.” He shrugged, and added toward Obito, “Shit happens. Not all of it was your fault.” He turned back to the Stone. “Not all of it was their fault, either.”

He got up, and turned resolutely his back to the Stone.

“I’ll see you later, it’s almost time for the Academy. I,” he had a pointed look at Kakashi, undermined by his slight grin, “wouldn’t want to be late.”

With an airy wave, he left them to their graveyard.

Without Naruto here, it was harder to speak, but Obito still made the effort as he looked at Kakashi. “Thank you.”

“For what?” was Kakashi’s confused answer, and Obito almost wanted to hit him for not getting it.

“For coming to get me. For not letting me behind once you knew.” Staring at their sensei’s name on the Stone, he didn’t quite understand yet why Kakashi had brought him to his home instead of to his execution, but he was grateful all the same.

“You’re welcome,” answered Kakashi, with that same strange kindness Obito wasn’t used to yet. “You’re always welcome.”

―――

In the secluded part of the forest they had chosen as training ground, Kakashi performed the Hiraishin one last time before considering it well and truly mastered. Under Naruto’s guidance, he had done it in a mere few weeks, and wondered at the strange chain of teacher/student that had led him there. He had learned it from Naruto, who had learned it from Kakashi’s alternate. Was he his own teacher, once removed? Naruto had been completely unsurprised at his progression, and was now looking at him with a hint of pride. Kakashi almost stood straighter just to bask even more in Naruto’s approval.

He had kept an eye on Obito and Tenzo while doing his own training. Another weird teacher/student pairing. Tenzo had never had any formal teaching in the Mokuton, only his own trial-and-error method added to whatever notes Orochimaru had on it, while Obito had been taught by the most expert first-hand witness of Hashirama’s prowess, and himself a Mokuton user. Madara may have been crazy, but judging by the results, he had been an efficient teacher, if not a kind one. Now, Obito was trying to teach Tenzo what he could, and learn with him from Hashirama’s private notes, found in the Hokage’s library.

Obito had been unusually subdued, lately. Kakashi understood why, of course. He had seen his face when the Uchiha had looked at the Monument and seen the dead staring back instead of mere engravings on a stone. Kakashi couldn’t even regret it, not really. He knew it was necessary, that Obito would never have been able to move forward and stay in Konoha without facing his responsibility in the Kyuubi attack, but his heart ached all the same to see Obito’s first real encounter with guilt. The feeling was an old friend of Kakashi’s, he knew both how powerful a motivator it could be, and how destructive a poison. Obito was a novice at dealing with it, and it showed.

Kakashi had suggested that Obito teach Tenzo in part to channel Obito’s remorse into a more positive outcome than his own regret, and Naruto had enthusiastically backed his suggestion. The not-kid was now wandering toward the Mokuton users, peering curiously over their shoulders. The results of their trials were at least entertaining to watch. Both Obito and Tenzo could grow trees, roots and vines in combat, strong enough for practical purposes, but the finer points of wood essence or shape were a bit hit-or-miss. It turned out that “wood” wasn’t such a simple material.

“What were you going for, here?” asked Naruto, always interested.

Obito’s latest try looked weirdly shaped, like his tree couldn’t decide what to be and had tried to please its creator by growing into several shapes at once, with a myriad of twisting branches. It was a bit poetic, maybe, but hardly functional.

“Don’t know the name. I was hoping to grow the species of tree that yield ebony,” sighed Obito. He turned toward Tenzo, almost apologetic. “I’ve noticed you like to whittle, and I thought you could use some.”

Tenzo looked touched at the attention, and directed a small smile at Obito. For him, it was almost equivalent to beaming, really.

Naruto looked at some of the horizontal branches, and grinned. “You could always use it for a swing. Or several.”

Obito looked at him, turned toward the tree, and concentrated. A flurry of vines grew in a few moment, looping down from the tree to form seats, and Naruto laughed before lunging at one to swing, bringing a wistful smile to Obito’s lips.

It was looking at those kind of scenes that always made it harder for Kakashi to remember Naruto’s “true” age. As much as the notion held meaning, anyway. Inoichi’s notebook had warned that his physical age might influence his behavior in some ways. Kakashi had initially thought to keep that notebook to himself, giving Naruto his advice as needed, but he had barely read a third of the records before reluctantly admitting that his impulse was misplaced. Several of those accounts specifically noted how unbelievably irksome it could be for an adult to be treated as a child, especially when those around should have known better. Kakashi had been mindful of it since, and had given the notebook to Naruto as soon as he was done reading.

The time-traveler had been delighted, and not only for himself ―  through their shared mindscape, he often communicated with his fellow jinchuuriki, and most especially his fellow time-travelers. And while most of it wasn’t applicable to Killer B, Gaara had been grateful for the pieces of advice Naruto could share, asking Naruto to pass on his thanks to Kakashi and Inoichi.

Kakashi shook those thoughts as Naruto jumped on the ground after a last spin. His markings indicated that he had activated his Sage mode, and he was now cocking his head at the new pieces of vegetation, the results of Obito’s and Tenzo’s efforts.

“They really feel almost the same.” After staring a bit more, he made a hand sign, creating about twenty clones who went and wandered among the trees, hesitating a few times before placing a hand on whatever they could touch of the new creations. Once they were all in place, Naruto turned toward Obito, and asked hesitantly, “Were those yours?

Fascinated, Obito and Tenzo joined the Naruto clones in trying to see which pieces were whose creations. Apparently Naruto had made very few errors, sometimes mistaking the feel of some vines with the feel of the underlying, supporting branches. Less invested in the results, Kakashi was looking directly at Naruto, and noticed the original had a slight frown, looking unusually down. Or maybe perplex? Given how high-spirited Naruto normally was, his “down” moods were harder to pinpoint.

“Something wrong?” Kakashi asked softly, unobtrusively.

Naruto opened his mouth, closed it without answering, then finally said, “...’t’s nothing.”

Kakashi waited. He wasn’t always sure how to deal with Naruto, who was far too used to adapt himself to Kakashi anyway rather than the reverse, but he had learned that a little patience and an attentive ear could go a long way.

“It’s just the eyes, see,” finally conceded Naruto. Then, probably guessing that he could hardly be less specific, he had a brief smile and expanded, “I hadn’t noticed earlier, but my clones’ eyes are normal even in Sage mode. I have round pupils now, right?” He turned toward Kakashi expectantly.

Kakashi lifted his eyebrows and nodded, wondering what this was about. Naruto’s eyes had gone a pale yellow that Kakashi had assumed was normal for his Sage mode, but apart from their color the irises themselves seemed unchanged.

“Before, in Sage mode, they were more like a horizontal dash. Like frogs, see, ‘cause I had the Toad contract. But I’ve lost the contract. Summons are not like Bijuu, I guess, they don’t keep memories of the future.” Naruto added, “I mean, I knew I had lost the contract. It’s one of the first things I tried when I came back in time, just to check, so it’s not a surprise now, you know. It’s just that I hadn’t realized it would change even my eyes.” Before Kakashi could worry, though, he had already added, with a sort of deliberately exaggerated despondency, “And it looked so cool when I added Kurama Mode! Cross-like, you see.”

Kakashi shook his head with amusement and regret. Naruto was good at addressing other people’s feelings, but he also could be about as good as Kakashi at avoiding his own.

Meanwhile, the Naruto clones had dispersed themselves and Obito and Tenzo had wandered back. They had heard the tail end of the conversation, and Obito asked, “Who has the Toad contract, now?”

You could almost see him making plans to correct Naruto’s situation, and it made Naruto laugh briefly, shaking his head.

“Jiraiya, and yes, he probably would share if I asked, but I’m not sure. See, I was fine with the Toads, but Kurama doesn’t like them, never did, and if it’s a choice he would rather avoid them. I don’t want to argue with him about it, not for summons who don’t even know me anyway. I’ll be fine, he’s enough for me.” His stout reassurance didn’t quite help.

Don’t say it…

One more sacrifice Naruto would make, because his life was made for it after all, and he would bear it, and smile, and deny it even hurt.

Don’t say it, don’t say it!

Obito looked crestfallen, and Tenzo was kindly beginning to ask something of Naruto to divert his mind from his losses, when Kakashi’s voice bypassed his brain to interrupt.

“And how does he feel about dogs?”

―――

Shisui intended to visit the Hatake’s house as soon as he was done giving his report on his latest mission. As he had exited the Hokage’s office, one of the clerks he met, obviously pleased to find a new ear for gossip, had gleefully told him of the latest, unprecedented streak of on-time and readable reports from Kakashi, and it would be Shisui’s pleasure to tease the man about it. He had had a rough few weeks, with back-to-back missions, and he was exhausted, but not to the point of missing an occasion to rib Kakashi about his abject surrender to his roommates.

He met Obito barely a few steps out of the Hokage tower, though, and upon seeing the look on his face, abruptly changed plans. If he had learned anything from Naruto, it was that leaving an Uchiha deep in gloomy thoughts was a Very Bad Thing. And in Obito’s case, to avoid at all cost. The look wasn’t that obvious, but Shisui was ANBU, Uchiha, and deeply invested in making sure Naruto’s plan for Obito would come to fruition.

“Hello!” He greeted Obito with his most engaging smile. “Where’s your other eye?”

Either the sudden greeting or the formulation startled Obito, and after a moment brought a slightly ironic smile to his lips.

“Oh, you mean Kakashi. He’s probably looking for as deep a stash of sake as he can find, to forget ever offering Naruto the Dog contract. Naruto’s getting along fantastically with his ninken.”

Shisui laughed. “Good for him!” He doubted Kakashi would regret the move long-term, and Shisui obviously approved anything that might cheer up Naruto. And if it was one more ammunition in teasing Kakashi, well, all the better.

Obito was throwing him a speculative look, and Shisui seized the occasion.

“I was about to go home, actually. Would you mind coming for a drink?”

Obito barely hesitated before acquiescing and following Shisui. As they made their way, Shisui began.

“I’ve been told the Mission Desk clerks were singing your praise.” Was he imagining the brief, agonized look in Obito’s eye? It flashed away too soon to be sure, but it gave Shisui an inkling about what might weight on Obito’s mind. He kept talking. “What did you and Naruto come up with to make Kakashi behave?”

Obito was slow to answer.

“Last I heard, Naruto’s been threatening to hide his books if he didn’t file his reports on time.” Shisui smiled in answer, and Obito relaxed a bit. They stopped talking while maneuvering in the too public stairwell, and once inside Shisui’s apartment and its privacy wards (carefully checked), Obito went on, “When that wasn’t enough anymore, he threatened to spoil the ending of the next one. He can even spoil books not yet written, after all.” Obito had a perplex smile, quickly fading. “I didn’t know Kakashi was so attached to fiction books.”

Shisui sniggered and didn’t add anything about Kakashi’s preferred brand of literature. He went to prepare some tea for his guest, who looked like he didn’t quite know what to say now that they were alone. Once back with the tea, Shisui didn’t let the silence linger.

“I’m glad Naruto’s having fun.” He looked more directly at Obito. “I’m sorry if I’m intruding, but you didn’t look quite as amused by his antics as I imagined you would. Is there something wrong? Anything I could help with?” There, open question, positive ending, let’s see what Obito would make of it.

Obito’s hand gripped his mug maybe a little tighter, and his face lost whatever relaxation he had managed, but he didn’t rebut Shisui. He hesitated a long time before beginning.

“You know he’s a time-traveler.”

Shisui nodded at the not-a-question, patient.

“What did he tell you of the future, exactly?”

Exactly would take hours, so Shisui gave Obito a shortened version.

“Naruto told me that in his timeline, you helped engineer the massacre of our clan, leaving two survivors to become missing nin. You then led a terrorist organization that hunted the Bijuu, and launched the Fourth War to achieve the Infinite Tsukuyomi plan. Naruto said it came from Zetsu, who’s immortal and spent centuries manipulating our world and especially us Uchiha.” Obito seemed to cringe with every word. Shisui didn’t stop, though, keeping his voice even and his body language carefully open. “He said that you switched sides toward the end, but that it wasn’t enough by then ―  Zetsu and his remaining allies were too powerful. I believe his exact words were that by then, even a victory wouldn’t have been worth it. He didn’t share how they discovered time-travel, but I gathered he had time enough to prepare for the jump.”

Obito was looking at Shisui as if he was seeing him for the first time, and Shisui returned his stare calmly.

“...And it doesn’t bother you to see me free and in Konoha??”

Shisui almost joked and said he prefered to know where Obito was than let him free outside of Konoha, but he didn’t want to risk diverting the conversation. He hesitated on his formulation ― saying that Obito was innocent of the acts of his alternate was fraught with conversational pitfalls he’d rather avoid.

“No, it doesn’t bother me. Rather the reverse, in fact.” He sighed. “Naruto didn’t erase the future to let it haunt us. There’s enough to regret in the past, and before you ask, yes, I’m also aware of your responsibility in the Kyuubi attack.” Shisui’s gaze on Obito turned curious. “For that matter, I don’t hold any grudge toward Kurama, either, not anymore.”

“Kurama had good reasons to want to retaliate,” objected Obito, although he didn’t lift his eye, fixed on his cooling tea.

“And at the moment, you thought you had good reasons to want to capture him,” patiently defended Shisui. There was something darkly amusing in playing Obito’s advocate to the man himself. “According to what Naruto told me, you wanted to enact that plan to achieve peace on Earth. I may object to the method, but I agree with the end goal.”

“Good intentions, yes. Everyone has those. What a great consolation for the dead,” mumbled Obito bitterly.

“A lot of people, indeed. There were about four thousand dead from the Kyuubi attack,” agreed Shisui serenely. Obito seemed to shrink into himself, and Shisui sighed. “That’s not even a tenth of the death toll of the Third War. According to Naruto, that’s likely less than a hundredth of the total number of casualties your Fourth War, now avoided, would have caused. So if you keep trying for peace, and keep supporting the Bijuu now that they’re trying their way, you would ultimately save way more people than you ever killed.”

“If it works,” replied Obito. Still, the idea seemed to have comforted him somewhat, so Shisui persisted.

“Even if it doesn’t work. Every year without a war count as peace. You don’t have to eliminate war, just try to make it not this year. And you try again every year. It’s a life.”

Obito had crossed his arms on the table during the conversation, and lowered his head on them, but he lifted his eye toward Shisui at that. He stared for a long moment, almost to the point of it being uncomfortable, but Shisui didn’t squirm or fidget. Finally, Obito got back upright, nodded gravely, and said, “I am sorry, you know. But thank you.”

Shisui almost let out the breath he definitely hadn’t been holding. Obito surprised him by hesitantly asking, “Is there anything I can help you with?”

Oh, if only he knew. Shisui smiled, and answered, “Now, if you ask…”

He was still exhausted, somewhere, and he knew it was just waiting for him to acknowledge it, but he was too excited to miss that opportunity.

―――

Shikaku intended to spend a bit of time working in his study after dinner, as one of his files was proving more challenging that he had hoped for, but he tensed as soon as he noticed something off in the air. He didn’t switch on the light, as the shadows were his anyway, and stayed immobile on the threshold while his eyes got used to the low light coming from the windows. He let out his breath in an exasperated sigh when he heard a faint tinkling sound, the silhouette in the room resolved into a familiar figure, and it finally registered that Kakashi was sitting at his desk, drinking his sake.

“What the hell, Kakashi? Can’t buy your own?”

He walked toward the desk in slow steps, wondering what had prompted the visit.

“Needed to tell someone,” mumbled Kakashi, who sounded barely tipsy, “And yours was the closest place with wards and well-stocked.”

“Tell what?” Shikaku wasn’t quite in the mood to be patient.

“Naruto lost a summoning contract when he went back in time, so today I offered to let him sign my Dog contract,” explained Kakashi.

“Sounded like a good idea at the time, Boss” pipped in an unexpected voice, and Shikaku’s eyebrows went up as it registered that Pakkun was drinking, too. He hadn’t seen the pug, half-hidden behind a pile of papers, at first glance in the darkness.

“And?...” Shikaku was beginning to get really curious.

“And Naruto was overjoyed at the occasion, and he signed before I quite realized the consequences.” Kakashi sighed dramatically, but Shikaku refused to be baited into asking for more details. They were forthcoming anyway, he was sure.

“He shares everything with a certain chakra monster,” continued Kakashi. “Who happened to find himself somewhat related to dogs, apparently.”

Shikaku almost choked, in surprise or in laughter, he wasn’t quite sure.

“The bloody fox said nine was better anyway,” grouched Pakkun. “Apparently a pack of eight on our side was obviously missing a member, so he graciously offered.”

“So generous of him,” said Shikaku in a slightly strangled voice as he tried not to laugh at the picture they painted. “Did you accept?”

“What was I supposed to do?” Complained Pakkun. “Like, ‘No, Kurama, your host is fine because he’s human but you can’t join the pack?’ Of course I said yes.”

Shikaku could just imagine it, the kitsune doing puppy’s eyes at the dog. Surely Naruto hadn’t become so good at that particular skill without a bit of coaching.

“So now you’re not only dog summoner, but Kyuubi summoner, right? I didn’t even know it was possible.”

“Well, I didn’t know either,” sighed Kakashi. He took Pakkun in one arm, and saluted Shikaku with the half-empty bottle in the other. “Anyway. Thanks for the sake!”

Kakashi and his dog disappeared in a flash of yellow light before Shikaku could take a hold of the bottle, but he had to admit the Hatake might need it more at the moment. He would find another one.