"Sasuke! I am so glad to see you. What happened? I expected you hours ago."
"I ran into serious trouble less than two minutes after you split — we met up with Uchiha Madara."
"Uchiha Madara!? Are you all right!?"
"Amazingly, I'm fine. He didn't hurt me. Madara was out scouring the woods, which on reflection we perhaps should have expected, what with his formerly-dying brother lounging in the mud like a dramatically fainted princess. And that's not even getting into the roving bands of child killers hunting missing clan kids."
"I still can't believe you met Uchiha Madara. That's terrible luck."
"You have no room to talk, Miss 'I'll Hold Them Off.' Don't think I don't see the Nidaime shoved under that bush over there. I'm not the only Lucky Seven here, and at least I didn't have to fight Madara, which I'm betting you can't say about Senju Tobirama."
"First, that wasn't exactly luck since I intercepted him on purpose—"
"That isn't better—"
"—but okay, still a fair point. Second, I did fight the Nidaime, but I got actually lucky and surprised him with a knockout tag. I don't think he'd seen one like it before. Then I couldn't just leave him somewhere his enemies would find him helpless and I also couldn't figure out how to let him go without him, you know, killing me, so I brought him here. That's pretty much all that happened to me. You, on the other hand, have apparently been palling around with Uchiha Madara for the last fourteen hours or so. Explain.”
"So I'm running with Izuna under one arm and Kagutsuchi clinging to my other side when Madara pops up out of nowhere. Madara thought I'd, I don't know, kidnapped his brother and Kagutsuchi for a brisk afternoon jog with a side order of murder or something."
"Okay, that does sound bad. But here you are alive, just the way I prefer you, and you already said you didn't have to fight him."
"Izuna woke up and distracted him and at some point during that conversation, they must have assumed I was an unfamiliar clan member because Madara decided to take us all back to the Clan compound."
"Yeah. I was just about to make up some excuse and run for it when Kagutsuchi informed Madara that you'd heroically gone off to fight our enemies and Madara lost his mind. He insulted my gear and then implied that I was going to freeze to death in the temperate zone of Fire Country."
"Weird, but okay. Then what?"
"Madara literally hauled me back to the clan compound, where everyone fretted over me like I was an injured but especially stupid baby bird."
"And no one questioned that nobody recognized you except for a nine year old you'd met maybe three hours earlier?"
"No. It was bizarre. I am seriously concerned for the safety of the Uchiha Clan, because that was downright unnerving. Of course I'm grateful that it worked out for me, but that is an enormous hole in their security. I could have been anyone, and yet they greeted me with open arms as a fellow Uchiha!"
"...Sasuke, you are an Uchiha. You are one of the Uchiha-est Uchiha to ever Uchiha."
"Yes, but they didn't know that!"
"Sasuke, you are the spitting image of the clan heir and you have the sharingan."
"I could have stolen it!"
"I could have, though."
"Uh-huh. Let's test this, then. How do you feel about fire jutsu?"
"Which one? There are a lot of them, and they're all very different. It's important to pick the right one for the job. Even the Grand Fireball Jutsu, which you know is one of my personal favorites, isn't good for everything. If you're doing precision work, you're going to need something more—"
"Let's shelve that topic for the moment. What about ninja wire? How do you feel about that?"
"I'm glad you brought that up. This whole side jaunt caught me off guard, and I'm just not sure I've got enough wire to compensate. Can you loan me some of your spare supplies?"
"The evidence is indisputable, Sasuke, you are very definitely an Uchiha. ...Here's the wire."
"Thanks. Incidentally, if anyone asks, you are my younger sister, you are also definitely an Uchiha, and your name is Nakano."
"Got it. I told Tobirama my name is Kako, but it should be fine. I doubt they're going to compare notes."
"True. Anyway, it took longer than I'd have liked for people to stop fussing over me so I could sneak away and then as soon as I made it into the forest I ran into Madara again. I had to shake him off before I came back here and even now I'm not positive I managed it — he sliced through all my stealth techniques like I was using academy basics. Can you sense him?"
"I don't know. Is he the frantically searching chakra signature that feels like a forest fire which someone has personally infuriated and which is now coming to burninate you, your friends and family, and also your entire country?"
"Then yes, I can sense him. What's he so angry about? He just got his brother back."
"I vanished into woods swarming with hostile ninja the moment he turned his back on me, less than fifteen minutes after I agreed to go back to the clan compound with him. Apparently, Madara's taking our safety personally."
"Yes. You're the healing prodigy whose miraculous skill saved his brother's life, and now the clan has lost you before they even realized they had you."
"Oh. I guess that does make sense. It just seems a little strange that Madara's getting that worked up about two clan members he doesn't know he didn't have yesterday. Two clan members he doesn't know he doesn't have? Um. You know what I mean."
"Two shady clan members he didn't even suspect the existence of yesterday who could very well be scam artists on the worst prepared infiltration mission ever?"
"Yes, that. We're only the second worst prepared scam artist infiltration I've heard of, though — about six generations ago, a naked tailor's son and a nin cat successfully impersonated a daimyo. The rulers in the Land of Wind are descended from that tailor's son."
"It's legendary and hilarious, I'll tell you about it sometime."
"Sounds educational. For now, do we have a plan?"
"...I'm working on it."
"Lay it out for me."
"Okay, so the way I see it we've got three main problems: One, and the most immediate, Uchiha Madara and a few of his clan members are running a grid search and they're slowly closing in on our location. Two, we have Senju Tobirama, the Uchiha clan's most hated enemy, tied up and unconscious. Three, the seal."
"How soon will the Uchiha reach us?"
"If they maintain this pace, three to four hours. Judging from their current positions, it likely won't be Madara personally who finds us, but once the alert goes out he should be able to get here in minutes. Do you think our stealth is good enough to hide from them?"
"...no. You and I might be able to — no one noticed anything when I snuck out of the compound — but Madara saw through me so easily that it would be foolish to gamble on whoever searches here not being able to do the same, and we definitely can't hide with the Nidaime's unconscious body."
"Can we dodge the patrollers and go to ground in a section of the forest that they've already searched?"
"Maybe, but I'm not sure they won't just turn around and comb the woods again."
"How long do you think they'll keep looking?"
"...I don't think they're going to stop until they find us. On the plus side, if you warn me when they're coming, I can lead them off. I'll be distracting enough to allow you to escape with the Nidaime."
"I'm not sure—"
"Yeah, I don't want to hear it from you. Your arguments on this topic are completely disregarded, especially since I'm not suffering from chakra exhaustion and also planning on fighting a legendary ninja without any backup."
"...so you are mad about that."
"I'm fine, though?"
"I know, so whatever. Anyway, what does matter is that if I get caught, the Uchiha aren't going to do anything bad to me, although Madara may try to put me on a leash. On the other hand if you get caught, well... While the Uchiha have proven to be frighteningly trusting about random ninja crawling out of the woodwork claiming to be relatives, I'd prefer that we not test that by attempting to pass you off as Uchiha to actual adults instead of a terrified child. And even if we do succeed with you, the Nidaime as an Uchiha is going to be a much tougher sell."
"I'll agree that it's better for the Uchiha to find you than all of us, but it's better yet if they don't find anyone. Especially if you think it's going to be more difficult to get away from them next time. It’ll be best if they just stop looking for us.”
"And why are they going to do that?”
“Because we’re going to fake our deaths.”
“...That could work. He didn't say it outright, but Madara seems to think you’re already dead, and I'm pretty sure part of the reason he's so upset to keep losing me is because he believes this forest is stupidly dangerous."
"Well, he's not wrong. Pretty much the first thing we found here was a Senju hunting party attempting to kill a nine year old, directly followed by a dying man, and then finally we met two completely different world class ninja in two completely different directions. It shouldn't be too hard for them to believe that we got ourselves killed."
"Wait, no, we can't get killed by ninja. The whole idea was to lay low; since we already failed at that, we may as well try not to make the Senju-Uchiha conflict any worse. And it will get worse if we, the poor, newly discovered, newly beloved Uchiha clan orphans, are killed by a Senju hunting party."
"I... hadn't thought of that, sorry. But it's still doable! We can be eaten by tigers instead. The day we can't fake a tiger attack is the day we hand in our masks."
"...If Madara believes I'm incompetent enough to freeze to death in Fire Country, he'll believe we're incompetent enough to get eaten by tigers. Nice."
"Right, so that's step one planned. Next, Senju Tobirama."
"Please explain again why we have him hidden in the shrubbery. Use more detail this time."
"Essentially, I was trapped as soon as I tagged him. If I took the knockout tag and the chakra suppressor off him and then tried to run, obviously he'd recover and I'd be dead before I got more than three feet away. And I can't put a time delay release on the chakra suppressors to let him regain control once I have a big enough head start, because I'd be leaving him vulnerable in, as we've discussed at some length, these extremely dangerous woods."
"What if we give him back to the Senju? We find a low level Senju patrol, drop the Nidaime in front of them, then we book it."
"We can't do that, either, because Tobirama will say, 'Hey, Senju clanmate, please take this tag off me,' they'll do it, Tobirama gets his chakra back, and again we're dead before we make it three feet. Also because you're an Uchiha, and empirical evidence has demonstrated that your face makes five out of six Senju ninja want to murder you on sight, so giving the Nidaime back might be difficult anyway."
"...what if we throw him back to his clan?"
"No good, his sensory range and speed are a lot better than ours, so unless you're secretly Tsunade, we won't be able to throw... him... far enough. ...hm."
"I wasn't entirely serious, but what are you thinking now?"
"We can't throw him far enough, but we should be able to get enough distance if we launch him out of a catapult."
"Using a catapult would at least get us out of visual range. He'll still be able to sense us, but if we go full stealth and full speed for the border it might work out all right anyway. We're fast and tricky enough that I doubt he'll bother to hunt us down, especially if we're already leaving the country."
"We're fast, Shikako, but I'm not convinced we're that fast."
"Well, we can probably buy ourselves another few minutes if we aim him at the river. He's a suiton master so a water landing won't do him any permanent damage but even the Nidaime is going to find it difficult to go from flying through the air straight into water walking. I'm sure he'll stumble at the very least, and if we're lucky he might even get dragged away by the current."
"He’s not going to be able to stick the landing, water or otherwise, with his chakra sealed."
"We'd have to take the seal off before we launch him."
"And after he gets his chakra back, Tobirama is politely going to wait to kill us until we pull the launch trigger and shoot him off?"
"I'll make a chakra release seal that actives to remove the chakra suppressor once he reaches a specific height above the forest canopy. I can set it so that he'll get all his chakra back when he hits the apex of the flight curve — that will give him plenty of time to regain control during the downward arc. He will absolutely stick the landing that way! And he'll also be far enough away not to just, like, water whip us to death from the air or pincushion us with ice spikes or something."
"As promising as that all sounds — and sadly I'm not joking, we have definitely used crazier plans — there's one large problem remaining: do we have a catapult?"
"Not on me, but I do have everything we'll need to build one."
"Of course you do, I don't even know why I'm surprised."
"I've got experience, too — Shikamaru and I helped Naruto make lots of catapults for pranks back at the Academy. It's actually really fun, and once you get the basics down it's just a matter of math."
"I'll take your word for it."
"You won't have to, since you're going to help me build it. We can make the Nidaime double-check our calculations; he’ll probably feel better if he understands what we’re doing."
"You really think a catapult will be enough to allow us to escape from Senju Tobirama?"
"If we launch him far enough away, yeah. He's the Senju clan's second in command. He must have better things to do than chase after random vagrants."
"That's true. Okay, you persuaded me.”
“Catapult it is, then. On to our final problem: the seal.”
“What’s the issue with the seal?"
"Aside from the obvious? It's fortunate we're planning to flee the country, because in order to figure this seal out I'm going to need peace and quiet as well as some serious space. Like, at least half a kilometer's worth of space. Additionally, it might be a good idea if wherever we set up shop is isolated enough that no one comes to investigate any strange phenomena. I vote for Land of Rivers; we can camp at one of the hidden lakes up near Rain."
"Land of Rivers bordering Rain? All right, that is far enough from Fire Country for us to avoid everyone we've infuriated into attempting to kill us or, apparently, adopt us. Plus, easy access to lake water can only be beneficial for when you inevitably start causing explosions."
"Explosions are possible but unlikely. You'll be pleased to know that we are far more likely to crumble into dust and then drift down across Rivers over the span of a century or so."
"Somehow I am less comforted by the low probability of explosions than I expected to be. Just how likely is our dusty demise?"
"I mean, no more than twenty, twenty-five percent, and I bet I can significantly lower those odds, but there's no way to properly test the seal before we use it."
"So you're saying we'll be using a seal which has already produced catastrophically weird results without having a chance to work out the kinks."
"Oh no, we won't be using that seal! That seal is so badly made, Sasuke, you don't even understand. I'm pretty sure its creator just kept adding symbols she or he saw in other seals until something happened. It shouldn't work at all, it shouldn't be possible that a seal like that could do anything, much less what happened. I think it was intended to be a barrier seal to freeze us in place until someone could come collect us, but I honestly can't tell for sure."
"It was a barrier seal?"
"Possibly. It might also have been a chakra storage unit, since it — parts of it — look like they were designed to suck in natural energy. Maybe it was supposed to be a barrier seal that sucked the energy out of anyone who walked across it, who knows. Anyway, once I figure out which pieces were functional, I'll make us a new seal from scratch."
"In light of what you've said about the original sealwork, I actually do find it comforting that you'll be constructing an entirely new one, even if it will be untested."
"How long will this take? Give me an estimate, if you can."
"I'm sorry, but I'm going to need at least a month. Good news is, however long it takes we won't get home any later."
"A whole, entire month to learn to bend the forces of nature, time and space to your whims. Wow, Shikako. It's too bad I didn't get stranded with someone smart, or I could've been home by now."
"...no need to be sarcastic about it."
"I disagree, there is every need to be sarcastic about this."
"Your face needs to be sarcastic."
"Shut up. ...Stop smirking at me! Jerk."
"Hn. Well, your suggestion of Land of Rivers for a month of quiet solitude and dangerous sealwork seems solid, so that's our third step settled, and now we officially have a plan: One, we fake-die in a fight with a wild tiger in a magnificent display of stupidity and incompetence. Two, we fire Senju Tobirama out of a catapult, thereby fulfilling the daydreams of countless bored Academy students. Three, we hide out in Rivers while you fiddle around with an incomprehensibly dangerous seal until it either functions or we for real die in a chronologically drawn out, dusty non-explosion."
"That does sum it up."
"Okay. Let's do this."