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To dreams and dust

Chapter Text

AN: This was written yonks ago for the trope bingo challenge! Why is it finally reaching Ao3? Shameless cross-posting is why. 8)

Events diverge from chapter 608, and a caveat regarding B’s dialogue: I can’t wax rhyme-verse to save my life, so his speaking tic was traded into to an occasional occurrence instead of every other line. Anyway, enjoy!

 


  

‘Obito…what you left to me in the past is still here,’ Kakashi’s words resonate with a renewed strength, fist clenched and eyes not without a glint of calculation, ‘what I can do now is protect my comrades!’

Kakashi, ever the scarecrow. The same mantra, from years in the past to a darker present. Icy disgust on Obito’s part is the least of it, but. There’s so much to be accomplished in so little time. Madara gave him orders to distract, and Obito’s days of insubordination have long passed.

And so:

Obito isn't nearly blind enough to miss what the kyuubi jinchuuriki's planning, the brat launching Kakashi in his direction. Sheer force of habit has him warping the jounin to kamui's dimension, near effortlessly, barring the prickling drain of chakra. 

Next is avoiding the brat's rasenshuriken—inches away from dealing serious damage—wind chakra whirling, and yet lethal in precision. Unhesitant, he shifts into the other dimension. And anticipation has him jumping back to one of the many grey prisms mosaicking the landscape, an omnipresent blanket of darkness in stark contrast to Kakashi's hair and attire.

Only. There are no kunai greeting his arrival. No chidori. Kakashi looks, to all appearances, irritatingly calm, hands held up in a placating gesture, almost resolute - Obito narrowed his eyes - for what?

Kakashi answers the thought, likely expecting Obito's reaction, the teammate-slaughtering bastard.

'You need to know the truth, Obito,' a warning look, almost daring him to interrupt, though a shade of tension blooms in the form of the jounin’s increasing rigidity, 'Rin was killed by iwa nin not long after you, months after the war—'

Hand twitching towards his kunai holster, Obito is half seething with murdermurdermurder

'—we never obtained a body, though the ambush took place near the border of water country. It was a two-person mission. Her partner was poisoned, and only survived long enough to warn us on a possible iwa-mist collusion.'

—and half frozen, transfixed with the vicious satisfaction that Kakashi was lying through his teeth. Even the worst of circumstances could bend the unyielding, for all of the jounin’s supposed integrity. Memories flicker through his mind, calling up an image of Rin, impaled by chidori… (but unnaturally silent. With no words of surprise on her part? Obito dismisses the thought.)

I couldn’t protect her. Couldn’t have, not in those circumstances, are the words left unspoken. If Kakashi wants him to consider the predicament reasonably, the nin has another thing coming.

However.

(Something stays his hand; a nagging sensation in the darker corners of his mind. Is it prudence guiding his actions, with Madara’s lessons taking forefront, or remnant loyalty?)

Either way, he can afford the delay.

Apparently satisfied with Obito’s reaction, or lack thereof, Kakashi continues, his words adopting a steely tone, 'they wanted revenge on Minato. In any way they could. We were too busy grieving from our losses, so we never realised their intentions in targeting Rin and I, believing us to be sensei’s weakest links,' the jounin faltered momentarily, 'against orders, I went to investigate. I found Rin, reanimated, barely alive. A puppet. They wanted sensei to suffer that same way they did…'

'So you killed her,' Obito says in a low tone, carrying an undercurrent of vitriol as his vocal chords strained in protest, ignoring Kakashi's pained look, 'was it a mercy kill, Kakashi?' he snaps, voice rising in a mocking baritone. 'Is that what you tell yourself so you can sleep at night, you fucking bastard?'

It isn't hypocrisy if Kakashi's too emotionally compromised to connect the dots, he contends, not without a tinge of hysteria. But the jounin will arrive at the conclusion eventually. Of that, Obito has no doubt.

But, really, if he were in the same position as Kakashi at the time, would he have done anything differently? There's a thin line between faith and needless suffering. This, he knows in close detail, a product of years of manic research in forbidden healing jutsu, looking for some way to resurrect the dead. And, even then, there was no body to be found after discovering a means. 

Calming from the outburst, some part of him is still reeling in an amalgam of shock and hate (towards whom? Kakashi's no longer a viable scapegoat, laughs Spite).

For so long, he's been blinding himself to the hints of manipulation on the elder uchiha’s part.

(Madara's sudden curiosity regarding his team. Being left alone under Zetsu's supervision. Obito's assisted escape. His coincidental timing in witnessing Rin's death. Mist nins under Madara's command, he infers. All part of the plan.)

Pieces, clues to a larger whole: at first small and unnoticeable to the thirteen year-old Obito - who was a failure and too proud all the same.

A few years older, and Obito steeps himself further into denial.

(attacking Minato. Kushina. Konoha and the kyuubi. All for a better world... an illusion. All for Rin... too selfish, ripe for lies and false platitudes.)

The dam breaks, fragments latching together in a jigsaw mockery of his life.

And then there's clarity, like an overdue morning after an eternity of night. Obito knows what to do. It's not redemption (how could it, with revenge singing in his blood like a dormant legacy?), but it's something close.

Madara has to pay, even if it means giving up Rin to do so.

Kakashi seems to detect the shift in atmosphere, body language tired, but strangely hopeful – eyes shining with something unlike fury, or the barest hint of offense, and. Obito feels at a loss in discerning the exact sentiment.

The jounin speaks up, 'we could put an end to this.' The words leave his mouth, hanging in the air between them.

 

((…It’s time they’ve cut away the tears and tragedy. Team 7's had too much of the latter, Kakashi thinks, left hand minutely clenching, relaxing, nails digging into his palm.

This is hope, this is pain.))

 

We won’t,’ Obito cuts into the silence, voice trying for acidic but not quite reaching it, ‘but I will,’ levelling a glare to dissuade any objections. ‘Once we leave the dimension, we continue as though this conversation never transpired. Are we clear on this, Kakashi?’

A pause. ‘How do I know you aren’t lying?’ The jounin’s expression is unreadable, an esoteric reminder of the nin’s earlier years. Déjà vu casts forth a mirror-image, reaching back to a Kakashi from their mission at Kannabi bridge, and. Obito recollects his own words, a promise lost and out of reach—

(Those who break the rules are trash, ...)

‘You don’t,’ the retort leaves his mouth before he can think better of it, and Obito resigns himself to biting his cheek to stifle further slip-ups. But. The uchiha can’t find it in himself to summon the embarrassment. His fingers are numb, joints slurring and fluid all the same; in counterpoint to the blood rushing through his ears, mind hyperaware.

Somewhere, in someplace once cold and arid, purpose courses through him like a tempest, charging him with static and certainty. Time to act.

Obito warps the two of them back to reality not a moment later. As though on cue, the worried shouts of kyuubi jinchuuriki are ringing across the terrain. Typical.

(…but those who abandon their comrades are worse than trash!)

 


 

What happens next, Obito isn't entirely sure.

Both sides fight it out to near-exhaustion. Pseudo, on his and Madara's part. Obito still has more than enough chakra for the sealing jutsu.

Jyuubi is summoned without complication: a grey, flesh-like monstrosity of tails and protuberant limbs, towering, snaking over the battlefield, blocking out bars of the night sky in its enormity.  Controlling it is almost natural, the connection like a whispering, indistinct static in his mind. Obito urges the demon into maturity with success, increasing the mental strain on his part, a feat which proves to be borderline painful. But, for the plan he has in mind, the sooner, the better. If Madara's noticed what he's doing, the man doesn't show it.

Madara calls out, nonchalant, 'shall we begin?' and Obito takes that as his queue join the elder uchiha, warping to the demon. A brief exchange is had, and Madara is smugly compliant with Obito’s wishes to start the infinite tsukuyomi ritual. It might have had something to do with the desperation in his voice, or maybe not. Obito isn't so deep in denial that he's unable to recognise a lingering desire to see Rin, but. There's a time and place for everything.

As per caution, he does a quick headcount of the opposition; two jounin, two jinchuuriki, two tailed beasts. Chakra signatures normal. Kakashi and the kyuubi brat seem to be in rapt discussion, but their voices don't carry far enough for it to be coherent. A distraction is a distraction, anyway.

First is sealing the jyuubi into Madara, who would then activate the jutsu with jyuubi’s chakra pool to draw from. Or, that's how they planned it originally. Obito's going to take a few creative freedoms. His hands flip through the seals of shiki fuuin, omitting those designed for stability, thoughts filled with a turbid mutation of malice (I hope you suffer choke on your blood cough out your lungs—) and resignation, and. He thinks this is a new beginning. For everyone else.

Obito completes the jutsu. Before blacking out, his senses are flooded with redredred and gloating and shouting overlaid by a booming clarion, inhuman and ominous. Something is being torn from his skull - from the very sinews of his body, phantom claws both tangible and immaterial, sinking in and sinking through.

Pain lances through him like the lightning of slaughter and, soon, he's not the only one screaming.

Chapter Text

Kakashi's the first to wake up, if his hearing is to be trusted, acute as it is. Or maybe not, especially after what happened with—

Obito.

His surroundings are dead silent; discounting what seems to be a ringing in his ears, already dying down. Eyelids weighed down like lead, his movements are dulled by the coagulated edge of sleep, as minute as they may be. Kakashi is met with his body's protests when he manages a loose sitting position, feeling dead tired.

Self-diagnosis would suggest chakra exhaustion, but something isn’t adding up.

What he sees is. Darkness, afforded only a bare minimum of illumination from what seems to be... a red moon? Which can't be possible. No. Not after everything they did. To stop Madara. His memories are a mess. Some are bone-bare shards, carrying the essentials. Others are painfully vivid images, scorched into his mind through sheer intensity.

Which brings him to a case point. Madara's stint as jinchuuriki was short-lived. That, he's confident in. What he doesn't remember are the specifics.

He'll have time for that later. What matters is locating survivors, a judicious part of his mind intones.  The wording gives him pause. What was there to survive?

Vision better adjusting to the darkness, Kakashi concludes that he's still in the area where they confronted Madara, but not. The ragged juts of rock are the same. What isn't is the sparse vegetation, bare of foliage, germinating from the crevices at impossible angles, some towering over him by pure height and others juvenile. The trees are smeared with red from the root up, before fading into a uniform bone-white, as though bleached by its extremities.

Coating, blotting the landscape are rust-pigmented fields and towering formations, implanted like a malignant cancer – the rooted spread mapping a maze in its enormity. His sharingan eye shows no indication of a genjutsu, and a simple kai yields no results. Kakashi blanks out, skirting the inevitable flurry of conclusions.

Covering his left eye with the alliance headband, thankfully intact, he opts to wander aimlessly in a semblance of a search, muscles burning in dissent.

Moments pass without interruption, though Kakashi abandons the temptation of summoning his nindogs for extended tracking capabilities. The landscape is already too precarious, and his footholds on safe, sure rock scarce, having eschewed the idea of traversing in any significant proximity to the foreign structures. Something distinctly off about them bring to mind his first and worst memories of kyuubi – humming in the air is a hushed veil of killing intent, as though vacuuming, choking the air of hope, malevolence and despair left in its wake.

Scaling another slope, what jolts him into action is the sight of his normally-animated pupil, laying stockstill, only metres away.

The effort on his part is painstaking, comparable to shaking off rigor mortis (he'd know, after being revived by Pein), but. It's getting easier to move. Marginally. The difference is, nonetheless, a long awaited relief.

'Naruto?'

No response.

Heart sinking and movements increasingly stiff, his hands go through the motions: pulling the blonde from a sprawl to a supine position, the body as though deadweight. Kakashi checks for a pulse, for anything, and.

One. Two. Beneath his fingertips is a steady rhythm, a reassurance in and of itself.

Deft recovery follows seconds later, reclining into a standing position before giving his student a shove with his foot, hard enough to bruise, but soft enough to vanish within seconds of kyuubi’s regenerative boon. And… is rewarded by a stream of unintelligible curses.

'Dammit, I am so getting you back for that,' Naruto grumbles in what's probably a knee-jerk reaction before the reality of the situation sinks in, jolting up to a sitting position, absently rubbing a rapidly disappearing blemish where Kakashi aimed his kick, 'wait. Sensei? Did we win?'

Kakashi shrugs, but he knows they've lost one way or another. Trust Naruto, of all people, to equate a fight for the world into a simple win-lose scenario – which knocked out any final misgivings Kakashi might have had about the nin’s identity.

'Where are B and Gai?' The genin continues.

'Waiting to be found,' he says in a tell of his own, flippant. A pause, as he waits for the blonde to process the confirmation, 'what about Kurama? And how much do you remember?'

Naruto screws his expression up into a look of concentration before replying, 'Kurama's returned to my body. I think. Hold up,' his eyebrows rise, 'I can give 100% confirmation. You might want to know he's swearing you out for having the gall to be worried.’ Shooting Kakashi a dry look, he addresses the second question, 'not much. I'm kinda exhausted so I'm not up for the headache of piecing everything together.' The blonde finishes on a preternaturally honest (shaken?) note, considering his track-record for bravado.

It isn’t too unrealistic to conclude that his student remembers more than he’d want to, let alone share, so Kakashi lets the subject drop. For the time being.

'We'll compare notes later, unreliable as they may be. First is finding our missing comrades,' Kakashi concludes, feeling dead on his feet and ignoring it all the same.

Chapter Text

Gai and B are found in record time, for all the wrong reasons.

Their shapes are easy to spot with the backdrop of a rust-pigmented field, voices grim. Up close, the reasons present themselves, along with an unwelcome observation – the field, or growth, if it could be called so, possessed an undeniably flesh-like consistency. More unknowns, more uncertainty.

B is nursing what seems to be his lower leg, sitting a distance away from the field, the intermediary expanse of sandstone mapped by blood tracks in a gross parody of an artist’s brushstroke.

‘B? Are you okay? What the hell happened?’ Naruto shouts, rushing down to the other ninja with a practiced jump down a craggy slope. Kakashi has a harder time scaling the terrain, drunk on a penultimate ghost of fatigue.

Gai ends up not-quite-carrying him down after a brief once-over, a thick brow raised in an unspoken question. ‘Chakra exhaustion,’ Kakashi waves off, sotto voce, once they land near Naruto and B, giving a dismissively wan smile.

Judging by sharply disapproving look, the green-clad jounin seems to have something to add, eyes flickering toward Naruto knowingly upon catching onto Kakashi’s reticence on the matter. Rightly so, because the rest of them have more pressing things to worry about than a textbook case of chakra depletion, irrespective of… whatever. Ever since regaining consciousness there’s been an indecipherable energy to the air, or lack thereof.

Thankfully, Gai elects to stay silent in favour of allowing B continue explaining their side of the situation. Though, not without hand-signing a series syllables which roughly translated into genin will have a fit and what could only be unyouthful, emphasising the latter with extreme prejudice.

‘—I woke up with one leg deep in this damn mystery meat,’ B says, gesturing towards the flesh-like field with one hand, the other supporting his right leg, ‘and pulling it out wasn’t the most comfortable feat. Our friend Gai ended up finding me in the commotion.’

Euphemisms. The section of growth closest to B looked disturbed, its insides bared to view, veins and arteries wrapped and knotted along themselves, protruding and limp against the rock with flecks of skin and gore still attached. From their ends pooled a viscous dark-red substance, almost black. B’s lower leg is a similar mess of disfigured flesh, blood oozing from the deeper cavities. With the cloth pulled back, it isn’t hard to miss the bruising trails travelling up along the kumo nin’s leg.

Crouching down to examine the wound further, Kakashi almost hesitates in asking: ‘do you feel anything unusual?’

‘Sensei?’ Naruto’s expression is blank, surprise and dread betrayed in the minutest of details; a pull of his mouth, a slight squint of the brow.

B and Gai are faster to catch on, the former listing off probable onset symptoms with a fraction of his usual ebullience, ‘killer headache. Numbness in my leg after pulling it out, plus this sort of buzzing noise that won’t leave me alone,’ B rubs his ear in irritation before continuing, ‘it’s quiet now, but it’s been getting louder since I woke up.’

But if Naruto was capable of rebounding so quickly after waking up… ‘And Gyuuki?’

‘Says he’s been trying to slow it down,’ a pause, ‘and that he keeps sensing traces of the jyuubi’s chakra in my leg and the tumour in front of us. Or that’s what he’s calling it.’

His calves burn. Kakashi settles onto his haunches, shifting his weight to the ground. A bijou’s chakra supply and regenerative ability backing him up… and they’ve only managed delay the onset?

‘So he’s had experience with these “tumours” before?’

Tilting his head up, B’s mouth was set in a line of concentration before paraphrasing further, ‘Not entirely, more like the ideas were implanted upon his creation, in case of this very scenario. They’re a dormant state of the jyuubi – whatever happened before we blacked out, the demon lost a shit-ton of chakra, enough to force it into its parasitic form,’ gesturing to the field. ‘It wouldn’t be too unlikely to say that it’s draining back lost chakra, which, I quote, “would take a very, very long time.”’

‘And I assume our newfound vegetation have some relation to jyuubi as well?’ Kakashi’s getting answers, but not the ones he’s been hoping for. Not even close.

Although. His recent observations slide into place, and. Kakashi suspects the jyuubi’s been draining the ambient chakra. With such low ambient levels, chakra would no doubt be leaving his own body at a significant rate to mitigate the sheer internal and external disparities. Which plateaued into a consistently negligible amount to draw from for bodily function, let alone techniques—

Kakashi snaps out of the train of thought soon enough to zone in on B’s explanation, but he doesn’t miss the flash of uneasiness in his student’s face, wiped away just as quickly as though it were never there to begin with.

A grimace mars the kumo nin’s face as he answers, ‘”growing from bone fragments” is what Gyuuki’s telling me.’

A large-scale eruption, then. They were lucky to have avoided a majority of the debris, with the exception of B’s situation which could have been a lot worse in the long-run. Even so, they were left to the mercies of uncertainty, with no direct measures of treatment – prescribed or otherwise. At any rate, their best hope of prevention laid in avoiding blood or skin contact with the structures. Further risks were out of the question.

Which brings Kakashi to another point of dispute.

‘Naruto?’ He asks, noting the blonde’s unusual silence.

‘Nothing to add here,’ the genin replies with a nondescript smile, shaking his head, ‘Kurama’s saying B gave us the gist of it.’

No eye contact.

Kakashi lounges back into a sitting position, and waits.

 


 

Thus:

'We should go back,' Naruto says, apropos of everything, 'to check on everyone else.' And to check on Sakura, Kakashi amends, knowing his student’s usual priorities.

With uneven elucidations, eating the last of their rations, and bandaging B’s wound out of the way, the four of them were left considering their options. Making good use of the resting intermission, Kakashi had propped himself against a slat of stone, close to B, who was currently sitting stiffly to avoid agitating the wound. On the other hand, Gai stood as watch guard, counterpoint to Naruto’s restless pacing.

'But first, we do some reconnaissance. Something took place just a few hours ago. Or a few days ago, for all we know,' Kakashi replies with feigned detachment, as though listing off the rules of the ninja handbook, 'and not for the better, I'm sure we all know that. If we're going to reverse the effects, whatever they may include, we need to find out the specifics before returning to main base.'

The mission takes a higher precedence over our comrades, for now.

Or maybe not, because Kakashi’s just as keen to find Obito, after all. Either way, any recon they find now would be conducive to preventing further incidents, so it seemed they went hand in hand. No point in looking a gift genin in the mouth if we’re fortunate enough to have our priorities overlap, for the most part.

‘Then, if we split up—'

Gai speaks up, ‘we’re left with two teams, one person in each indisposed in the best case scenario, Naruto, though youthful your plan would have been in fairer circumstances,’ he finishes, tinged with disappointment. The jounin looks, to all appearances, just as eager to check on the others – face gaunt with worry, for his students, most likely, causing Kakashi to feel a pang of empathy. B would, no doubt, be facing a harsher dilemma, unsure of his own condition, and the fates of his comrades-in-arms from kumo.

All of them have their respective families to worry about (just as well, having fought their ways up to this point, laughing together, mourning together), with none oblivious to the red moon and its permutations of possibility.

‘And if a team were to go up against Obito and-or Madara alone…’ Kakashi trails off, leaving the others to fill in the blanks. Jinchuuriki or not, they wouldn’t stand a decent fighting chance if they were split up. Teamwork would be their best chance at winning, if it came down to it. Ha.

…Which brought to mind Obito’s words before the incident. He turned them over.

‘We won’t, but I will.’

Was this all according to plan, or did something go wrong along the way? Kakashi deliberated, eyeing the transformed landscape, bathed in the moon’s pale red glow. Or is this your ideal world? The thought evaporates as soon as it came. If that were so, Rin would be alive, he muses, a vague shadow of disappointment overtaking him, and I wouldn’t have any recollection of her death in the first place.

Slipping Kakashi out of his train of thought is B’s reply: ‘I’m for recon. The faster we figure out a way to counteract whatever I’ve got,’ a punch towards some invisible foe, ‘the better.’ The words come out like a personal oath, braced by vim and vigour. The nin’s gestures speak louder than his declarations ever will: I won’t let them down. Not in a million years.

Taking a deep breath as though it were capable of purging negativity with a simple exhale, he planned.

Ruminations and grief were wasted on the dead, for his only witnesses were the living. Simple in theory, difficult in practice.

A brief flash of green, and in the next instant he sees the names of his teammates inscribed on unforgiving obsidian, branded into memory with exacting detail.

Eternity after eternity spent mourning, arriving late to yet another mission briefing, excuses leaving his mouth like water, blood, betrayal

So you killed her,’ and some part of Kakashi wonders distantly if Obito practiced the sheer venom and accusation.

Inhale, exhale.

‘That settles it then. And, Naruto,’ Kakashi sends the blonde a weighted glance, ‘you’re free to send some clones to check on the others, but don’t push yourself and don’t, for the love of kami, attract any attention; we still have no idea what we’re up against in the scheme of things.’

The barb is dealt in good nature, almost a force of habit. Attachments, sentiment, he discerns, feeling a shaky smile pull at his lips as it realised a faint eye-smile.

Kakashi can’t bring himself to imagine a reality without the team sevens of past and present, hurts and losses aside. Their lives will live on in a persistence of memory, undeniably interconnected with his own – to forget, to abandon everything they stood for, would be the worst of betrayals.

With a huffed laugh a few pegs below utmost confidence, ‘who the hell do you think you’re talking to?’ Naruto shoots back, pausing with a defiant pose and an obtrusive thumbs-up, ‘future hokage and prankster extraordinaire, here! Have a little faith in my abilities.’

And so they shift into action, falling into a routine camaraderie honed by hours, days, months of an alliance in faction and spirit.

A fog lifts, cleared by duty and the effusive shine of hope. We can do this, Kakashi avows, pulling his body into a languid stretch. With all four of them accounted for, the circumstances were beginning to work in their favour.

‘Let’s move.’

 


 

.

.

.

It’s only a few short hours later that everything goes to hell.

Chapter Text

Scuff, thud, the unmistakable clatter of kunai – yet, somehow, dulled. Hushed.

Closer, something rattles, rhythmically and unrelenting, alternating in pitch.

Vision dark, pitch black. Obito’s eyes are unresponsive, as with the rest of his body. Only the minutest of sensations seem to register, nerves insensate. A lingering rigor of suffering, throbbing periodically, weaker in his extremities and concentrating, converging at his chest.

Everything is Wrong.

It’s hardly an ideal afterlife. Though Obito doubts the assumption almost immediately. Bodily functions still seem to be ongoing, he notes, connecting the dots between the rattling and respiration. Maybe a fitting purgatory for murderers such as himself.

Though. He distinctly remembers trading blows with the kyuubi brat. At most, moments ago. And a conversation with Kakashi, the teammate-slaughtering bastard.

Whose moniker… fell to the fault of Madara.

Ah.

Painstaking effort is spent pushing his thoughts into the realm of comprehension, webbed with redshoutinggloatingscreamingand – a sharp intake of breath – pain. Cognitive shards reduced to mere phlegm; viscous and uncooperative when coupled with an exhaustion resonating in body, mind, and spirit.

Nonetheless, Obito’s instincts are unmistakable, even when diminished to a blunted roar – hackles raised and reared up in warning, alarmalarmalarm get UP WAKE UP

 

((Rin would be so disappointed, a small voice speaks evenly, deafening the bedlam to soft static. And. Obito recognises it to be his own. Younger. A relic from his first few days of academy. Innocence and optimism replaced by a changeling of something darker, hungrier. An unshakeable uchiha legacy, almost a latent curse.

Those who break the rules are trash, but those who abandon their comrades are worse than trash!’ His words. Team seven. A legacy instilled by candid moments of respite and intermittent civility. Ties that continue to bind, and a loyalty to Rin distorted into a poison without an antidote.

(A lie. What good is a cure without the crucial ingredient of reprisal?)

Rin. ‘It's not good to hide your wounds, you know. I'm looking after you.’ Always a sentinel of genuine care, unselfish where it mattered most.

If so, what was Obito, who was near-willing to give up the world?

So willing to abandon Rin’s memory, all for a mere illusion.

His chest burns, breathing ragged and thoughts in disarray, flatlining into a sharp cadence of denial and blind guilt. And yet. A simple answer rings out with a different voice, a different tone – one beyond recollection:

Worse than trash.))

 

Obito’s eyes snap open. And the world seems to realign itself, sensations raw and real, a blanket of lethargy lifting from his very extremities. 

‘—up, wake UP!’ Shouting, screaming, rumbling; the sounds of struggle, of fighting, melding into a familiar susurrus.

.

.

.

 


 

The team of them depart their ad hoc shelter, an understated crevice of rock, travelling at a meager pace by shinobi standards, trapped between a limbo of utmost haste and measured steps, but. It’s the best they can manage with two of their count either fighting off disease or drained of energy: B and himself falling into the unfortunate category. Naruto has long since sent out his clones in an attempt at scouting the area and the shinobi alliance encampment, tipping the scales into their favour.

Nonetheless, the best case scenario would mean locating and interrogating either Madara or Obito apropos the particulars of what transpired, and the best means of reversing the effects. Ideally.

For the first few twists and dead-ends, they work towards navigating around the formations before settling on plowing through, courtesy of kyuubi’s assistance, but.

The chakra-gloved punch ends up skidding along the veined surface, looking no worse for wear than before. Better even, as though invigorated. In possession of Naruto’s body for the time being, Kurama scowled, eyes scrutinising the malignance, irises narrowed into prerequisite slits. 

‘Normal chakra’s useless,’ a haphazard gesture towards the wall, more of a flick of a wrist than an informative indication, ‘fucking jyuubi. No pride of its own. The attack was absorbed, so I couldn’t do anything major.’

If it were possible to label a demon-possessing-a-teenager with human descriptors without the risk of evisceration, Kakashi would’ve said Kurama looked disappointed. Almost.

The demon threw a speculative look, head tilted.

‘No interruptions. Unless you fancy yourselves accident-fodder.’

And drew back, coiled into a stance before invoking its demonic chakra, molten and caustic as it shrouded the demon’s form in red.

Kurama struck, lunging forward with violent abandon. And yet.

The chakra vacuumed to the biomass with nothing more than a vapourous hiss, vessels pulsating and the structure seeming to reach for the bijou, Kurama’s fist hanging a distance away, as though frozen.

Flashing through his mind is a simple fact. The bijou originated from jyuubi to begin with, so it would be logically sound to say that these tumours would have a greater affinity for demonic chakra. …

‘Gyuuki,’ Kurama starts, flashing a mean smile as the demon approached, ‘how are things progressing with that headache of yours?’

B tenses, folding his arms together. ‘Worse,’ he replies, pithy and. Obstinate? Was this B or gyuuki speaking? Both? Kakashi shakes his head. It’s an honest reply, his honed instincts call out, and he supposes that’s all that matters.

 ‘Worse. Worse,’ the demon spat, the beginnings of fury flickering through its expression like cradled embers, ‘one of the last of our kind, and that’s all you have to say? Do you plan on sharing the same fate, like the others—?’

 —only to be extinguished a second later, replaced by a gaunt frown.

‘Do what you want. At this point, the problem is yours and your host’s alone.’ With that, the demon turns away, skulking off.

To sulk, from the sounds of it. Or maybe not. One could never tell for sure when it came to Kurama without getting input from Naruto – on the rare occasion that his student remembered or cared to explain, for that matter. Rubbing his temples, Kakashi feels the beginnings of a migraine at the train of thought, so he leaves it at that.

Which meant a temporary roadblock. Inwardly, he shrugs. Now is a good time as any to take a break, he concedes, seating himself on a slab of granite. Kurama and B’s (gyuuki’s?) conversation… there’s enough to fuel darker speculation – unhealthy during such presently dire straits – but nothing concrete.

Something affecting both B and the gyuuki? The symptoms from earlier. “Worse,” a single word resonates. Would this mean death, assimilation? Where did Kurama’s righteous outrage come into play? Too many questions, too little answers. No. That would be a lie.

(Too many answers, none of which he liked in particular.)

Gai lifts a hand, placating, ‘I do not mean to pry as it would be decidedly unyouthful; however, it would be even moreso to leave a comrade in adversity…’

For a split-second, the taijutsu specialist looks to be prepping himself up for a heartwarming speech on youth and camaraderie, so Kakashi takes his chances, butting in with aplomb.

Ergo, is this something we may be of help with?’

The reply is blunt.

‘No help whatsoever.’

A beat, and B warms with a hearty grin, ‘though the consideration is appreciated, even from a couple of stubborn leaf nin who act too tough for their own good.’

 


 

Kurama returns a few minutes later, looking chastened by an infinitesimally small margin. Naruto’s doing , Kakashi muses. The demon trades a nod with B as he passes. A ceasefire, of sorts. Or an apology. Though, knowing the demon’s usual disposition, the latter seems unlikely.

‘You may want to step back,’ the bijou warns.

With no further ado, the demon flips through the seals of a fire release unrecognisable to Kakashi, sparks gathering, and the name muttered too low to be audible – almost an empty breath. The jinchuuriki’s posture is the slightest bit defensive and some secrets have to be kept, he reasons.

Synchronous with the kyuubi’s own movements, Gai’s posture lowers, readying to relocate the three of them with the probable threat of a messy aftermath. Which was looking exceedingly likely with such close quarters and a demon’s chakra supply backing it up.

In the next instant, a gaping maw is opened up to view, the observable distance charred, smoke billowing in sheets and grasping tendrils, the radiated heat warping what little visibility there was. With no discernible friendly fire; and Kakashi grimaces at the pun. Considering its usual track-record, the demon was being outright considerate. Small wonders.

As though on cue, smothering his sinuses is the pungent stench of burnt flesh, forehead faintly beading with sweat at the radiated heat – which is soon gusted away, courtesy of a vehement wind jutsu.

With demonically-enhanced senses, the fetor must have hit the blonde the hardest. Kurama attempts a rictus mutation between scowl and sneer, and, owing to Naruto’s uncooperative facial structure, ends up looking mildly constipated.

Swallowing the urge to laugh and risk sudden death, he says, dumbly:

‘I take it elemental chakra’s still effective?’

‘Stating the obvious is for lesser minds,’ Kurama replies, giving a wise nod. Which is. Well.

Possibly sensing the impending meltdown, B speaks up, ‘the path’s likely cooled down, so we can either gossip like a flock of wrinkly samurai past their prime or,’ sending a blistering look at Kurama that must have been all-Gyuuki, unimpeded by sunglasses, ‘do what we shinobi do and make like a rhyme.’

Taking the reprimand for what it isn’t, Kurama’s all too happy to return to Naruto’s subconscious in what the demon deems to be a strategic retreat, shooting a parting sneer-but-not-quite. Thank kami.

Soon after, Naruto takes to gravitating towards B, sending the occasional innocuous comment or muttered apology. Probably for the best, since Naruto’s closest to understanding what B’s going through… It occurs to Kakashi that the four of them haven’t spoken about their memories of before, about Madara. About Obito.

Later, the word comes out like a mantra.

Weaving their way through the charred aftermath is a comparatively simple matter, though the remnant stench is close enough to human. Kakashi’s knees weaken as he slogs forward, stomach roiling in an aching reminder of disgust and his ANBU days (years, a voice corrects, wisened and weary).

Deceptively light, dragging footsteps register within earshot, barely audible over a whistling breeze. Judging by Naruto’s slight tense, Kakashi knows he isn’t just imagining it.

‘Naruto, still no word from your clones?’ he says, the syllables rolling off his tongue oddly, unmistakably terse.

Shooting him a troubled look, the genin replies: ‘Nothing.’

The rustle of movement falls into the kumo nin’s hearing range several moments after, and B’s face twists into an uneasy grimace before interjecting, ‘the million ryo question is “were we expecting company in the first place?”’ Other than the obvious candidates goes unsaid.

Gai shakes his head in vague reply – attention diverted elsewhere – expression focused and scanning the landscape; still thoroughly warped and disfigured, affording only a scarce degree of unobstructed view.

Kakashi sighs, ‘noise source aside, we’ll need a greater range of visibility before jumping to confrontations—‘

‘—since getting split up isn’t in our best interests,’ Naruto finishes, rolling his eyes, ‘we know.’

They grow up so fast, he muses, mock-wiping a single tear.

Naruto seems to sense the thought a moment later – either through Kurama’s obliging input, or simple familiarity. Kakashi isn’t sure which exasperates him more. The successive jab to his ribs is positively weak by shinobi standards, but he suppresses a wince all the same.

Settling on a more expedient pace, the group of them reach the foot of the central crater, occupied by the jyuubi’s cadaver, hollow in some parts, and arterial vessels bulging in others where it met the tumorous structures. Bony spines extend to the sky like a vast envelope, webbed and encrusted with residual gore where it gave off the impression of an over-large labyrinth. Its many limbs seem to decompose into the landscape; a union between their world and the entity that would eventually exhaust it bare of life and chakra.

Belying the scenery is a soft blanket of light afforded by the moon, red as it is.

Leaving nothing to be heard over the low howl of gale, the wind picks up.

Hand inching towards his kunai pouch pre-emptively, the timing sends Kakashi and the rest of their number on edge. His eye tears up from the intensity of the gust, parched and smoky, stripping it of moisture and leaving it uncomfortably dry. Succumbing to a round of blinking, he briefly considers the possibility of picking up a pair of goggles when they return to basecamp. (Minato would be rolling in his grave.)

They search, cautious and unrelenting.

(Wind directions change, and he picks up on the sharp stench of rust, blood, decay—)

In an astoundingly small window of time, they find their answers. Or rather, their answers end up finding them.

For the most part, Naruto’s kage bunshin are rendered redundant in the scouting department as grotesque humanoid cadavers slip, stumble and lunge at them from all directions, shrieking; forms metamorphosed beyond recognition, like walking caricatures of biomass.

‘Fight to survive,’ he shouts over the noise, and he hopes Naruto will take it to heart. B and Gai, he knows, have already had the necessary lesson. He sends forth a barrage of shuriken, which manage to incapacitate a number of their attackers. Nothing lethal, but just enough to halt them in their tracks.

Naruto calls up a rally of clones to even the odds, and it’s almost too easy to lose sight of everyone else in the abrupt flood of movement and carnage. Gai’s assault errs on the side of caution, honed to the very bare-bones of taijutsu. Appropriate. By now they’re all pretty sure there won’t be any opportunities to recuperate any time soon. B, seems to be handling his own, though Kakashi can’t help but notice a wild, careless edge to his movements where they used embody decisiveness and balance.

Eye narrowing in scrutiny, Kakashi side-steps what would have been a bloodletting swipe of a hand (claw?) by a hair’s breadth. Too close. Its second lunge is met with a well angled kunai, its neck seeming to rasp as the blade tore through, rending flesh and bone alike. The body fell still, and as he pulled his weapon away, splotches of a thick, dark liquid dotted the ground below.

Caking their bodies are bloodstains and withered viscera, limbs hanging out at awkward angles. And, if not outright tarnished beyond recognition, many bore alliance headbands, whilst a select few were peppered with kunai, shuriken, and other implements, flagrant medals celebrating, narrating a massacre.

Realisation hits him like an anvil, heart plummeting.

This didn’t happen overnight, nor in a matter of hours… we were asleep for so much longer than that.

Recognition rushes through him like a jolt: a kiri nin, altered and bearing only the slightest resemblance to an image summoned by recollection. Did they think themselves abandoned, when they saw the world go to hell?

A glimpse of an iwa nin, visage warped and unseeing, a cavity spanning through their side. 

Or did they consider the battle lost?

Konoha.  

At the very end, did they lose hope?

A brief flash of green, and something tackles him to the ground with a slide, knocking the air out of his lungs. Kakashi’s body moves to take care of the threat (quickly, quickly), and stops.

‘—akashi!’ someone holding onto his shoulders, shaking him, ‘snap out of it, my eternal rival!’

Blinking owlishly, he sees Gai, brows knotted together and expression twisted into concern. Making an abortive gesture, he waves off the contact, opting to sit up. Pathetic performance from a nin of his caliber, but he’ll take what he can get, running on empty.

‘I fell asleep for a moment there,’ Kakashi lies, and for all he knows it might even be true. Shaking away the thought, the jounin focusses on a cadaver disposed of with a well-aimed kunai, motionless and unerringly close to where he stood prior. Still, something bothers him, an alarm ringing, blaring in step with the blood pounding through his ears.

The temperature drops, stealing away what little warmth he feels in his extemities, and the uproar of combat seeming to decline. Bodies grow still of their own accord, and Kakashi wonders whether he’s seeing things, trapped into an endless loop fluctuating between haste and stagnation.

Further beyond is Naruto, arm still extended, as though frozen in after-throw, and posture uneasy. A hard gleam to his eyes invokes an image of Minato wearing the very same look, all those years ago. Of the hokage. Of so many others, fallen and alive alike, who have staked their life upon protecting what they deemed to be precious.

Just as well.

Rising to his feet and steeling himself, Kakashi lets Gai support him by the shoulder, dowsing the sting of indignity easily enough.

Fending off a pack of attackers, B winds his way back to the group, something about his gait distinctly off. Where the nin once bore an undercurrent of restraint and discipline,

there was void.

Naruto breaks the radio silence, settling into an adaptable kata.

‘B?’

Not fending. Ramming through, as gyuuki’s chakra slices, pulverises its surroundings like a flurry of blades moving in quick succession. The cadavers seem to part like water in preemption, swaying and unsteady. Something, everything about this was amiss. 

Kakashi’s muscles tense, and Gai shifts his stance, ready to intervene.

His student takes a step back, something in his expression shattering.

(Naruto’s always known more than he’s wanted to share, and Kakashi can’t fault him for it. Not now, when their circumstances placed hope and unfaltering optimism at such a premium.)

Through split and slivered lenses, B’s irises are bloodshot, eyes wide and animalistic. No recognition, only a cold intent in common with their attackers.

The three of them move in coordination: Naruto summons a flood of clones in a whorl of smoke and vapour, and Gai and himself incapacitate the nearest cadavers. Nerves strung too near to their breaking point, the very air seems to thicken in dread and urgency. Time dilates as though under the ward baleful keeper, and the noises of approach ring out like an irregular pendulum.

And run, leaving a din of violence in their wake.

Further into the cavern network, their path is illumed by the barest shards of luminosity through the canopy with Naruto at the helm – shielding an ember in a modified katon jutsu. The reds, blacks and blues of their surroundings blur into one, save for the occasional trick of light, granting Kakashi a snapshot of bone and viscera.

They move in silence, the loss of one of their number a raw wound, cauterised with bare resolve, but only just.

An eternity later, ‘his leg,’ Kakashi breathes out, ‘what happened to the others happened to B. A neurotoxin, possibly.’

‘That would indeed make sense, Kakashi,’ Gai supplies, the cheer in his voice ringing hollowly. ‘So we’re to avoid to blood-to-blood contact, is that correct?’

For the first time since their confrontation with B, Naruto speaks up, voice tight, ‘it’d be best if we avoid fluids altogether.’

Kakashi’s next few words are measured, hoping for a compromise between the mission and empathy.

‘Is this coming from Kurama, or something else?’

The blonde shakes his head, and the conversation flatlines.

They continue onwards.

.

.

.

Your own student couldn’t find it in himself to trust you, laughs a familiar voice. He shakes it away like a cloak of dust.

Chapter Text

Soon enough, entering a chamber-like area, they stumble across Obito; splayed against a shallow alcove.

A dead end.

Overhead, the canopy seems to be decomposed to a greater extent, minutiae hanging down and the ground tinged with red beams of light, gleaming through.  With their pursuers not far behind, Kakashi’s hardly thankful for the unfortunate timing.

‘Cover me for a minute,’ he orders more than asks, falling into autopilot. In the jounin’s periphery, he sees Naruto hesitate for a fraction of a second before moving to join Gai.

The two ready themselves, the Gai’s fists further bandaged to lower the chance of blood contact, and the Naruto calling up a number of clones, rasengan at the ready. Kakashi lets himself nod in approval. Anything stronger than that would risk destabilising their surroundings, knowing his student’s admittedly destructive track record.

Crouching down to inspect the uchiha, it’s almost too easy to miss the blood tracks trailing down Obito’s temple, nails caked with skin and blood… bruises under his eyes. Exhaustion. (Chakra exhaustion? he wonders. Would Obito be in the same situation as Kakashi, when or if he woke up?)

Pressing his fingers to the nin’s wrist, Kakashi releases a breath he wasn’t aware he was holding upon registering the faint pulse.

Inhuman roars pound against his eardrums, reverberating against the closed-quarters in a discordant symphony. They’ve caught up, he notes, checking Obito’s pupils, and observing how they contracted in the light. Not in a coma, nor is there any serious brain damage

Which is. Convenient.

The world blurs, ground quaking and surroundings cast into sharp relief. Chakra surges over him with an ambient hiss, awash with killing intent. Everything slows, and he stands in cold sweat, wavering.  

(Gyuuki.)

‘Kakashi—!’

Something snaps, and a fissure travels along overhead, triggering hairline fractures that shatter and rupture bone and flesh alike.

The canopy collapses on itself, raining dust, shards, and boughs of bone that spear the area below. The bedlam reaches crescendo with an ear-shattering crash, and the fulmination knocks him off balance.   

Kakashi catches a glimpse of movement in his periphery—

And feels himself slam into the wall with a crack and a sharp stabbing pain in his abdomen, headband loosening against his sharingan eye.

Reserves meagre, the surplus drain of chakra is scalding to the point that he near-misses the chance to thrust a kunai into the head of his assailant – a distended cadaver, movements slowed dramatically through the lens of a bloodline limit.

The killing blow is a neat affair, gore flying to the side.

Kakashi makes quick work of another straggler in rapid approach with a precise kick-snap of a neck, fighting back the urge to vomit or pass out. Or both, knowing his luck.

Headband slipping back into place, Kakashi treks back to Obito with a single-minded focus, fatigue pulling at the seams.

They need to leave. Somewhere, anywhere. A jinchuuriki to jinchuuriki confrontation is the last thing he has in mind with their surroundings unstable as they are. Only, Naruto and Gai are nowhere in sight. His vision gravitates to the debris, a mixture of dead, hardened tissue and live biomass. Intermittently, a red viscous liquid drips from the ceiling, the stain pooling, blooming metres away.

The silence drills at his eardrums.

An insistent throb of discomfort interrupts. And Kakashi tears his gaze away.

Sparks of pain breach the anesthesia afforded by a sheer lack, in and of itself. A wound – abdomen. Swaying precariously, his fingers scout the damage. They come back bloody, glove and skin alike stained black in the low-light, glinting red. A gash. From—

An earlier aggressor, laying inches away, hand smeared with shades of red and black. Claw, he corrects.

Priorities.

(inhale. exhale.)

He swallows, throat parched and chafing like sandpaper. Rationalisations begin to pour out as freely as the blood from his abdomen.

Brace for the worst; plan for the best.

Naruto and Gai will need Obito alive. For interrogation, if anything. Obito. Will hopefully be cooperative, if Kakashi’s even remembered their last conversation correctly. Naruto and Sakura… are fully capable of taking care of themselves. Sasuke, and everyone, too.

They’ll survive. He won’t.

(If anything, Kakashi aspires to take care of himself, should the need arise. Like father, like son.)

Pulling out a roll of bandage, his teeth grit before wrapping the wound with a deft efficiency borne of experience and muscle memory.

Kakashi shoulders the uchiha’s arm over his own, and rises, scaling the wreckage. This is hope—

 


 

—this is pain.

An easy mantra.

Not entirely true, Kakashi admits, happening across Naruto and Gai in the midst of action, of searching. Somewhere along the line, he smiles, warm and genuine.

Comrades.

Settling the uchiha down, he blacks out.

 


 

.

.

.

Obito’s eyes snap open. And the world seems to realign itself, sensations raw and real, a blanket of lethargy lifting from his very extremities. 

‘—up, wake UP!’ Shouting, screaming, rumbling; the sounds of struggle, of fighting, melding into a familiar susurrus.

Vision adjusting, he sees a red moon and a night sky, surroundings alien. Hovering overhead, the kyuubi brat‘s hand is clenched onto his shoulder with an iron grip. Unexpected, though perhaps not.

‘Sensei trusted you,’ the blonde rushes, blue eyes narrowed and preternaturally harsh, ‘before. Before jyuubi and Madara and whatever the hell you did. He said to “wait”. That you were on our side. And I don’t know why—’

The grip on his shoulder tightens, almost painfully, nails sharp and digging into fabric and flesh.

‘—but what I do know is that Kakashi carried you here, bleeding and half-dead—‘

Obito could swear his bones creaked under the strain, if he listened hard enough. The observation is superfluous. Hashirama’s cells would likely heal any injuries. A lingering awareness from his younger years, he concludes.

In periphery, he spies a form clad in green combatting a number of humanoid assailants. The jounin’s movements are sluggish, other times dragging and arduous.

Closer still, Kakashi is slumped over like a dark and waning stain against the debris. Useless. Obito ignores the stab-twist of painguiltbetrayal, and a faint voice, calling out (don’t leave me behind, don’t you dare).

The ground tremors, a gulf seeming to widen between stability and chaos. Its aftershocks linger, agitating his wounds, old and new.

Was that… gyuuki’s jinchuuriki?

(Likely, unlikely.)

‘—what I do know is that you’re going to help us out of this mess, the side-effects of your own “good intentions”, or not,’ the brat finishes.

For a brief juncture, Obito considers otherwise. What would he stand to gain? Why not end it now, ambitions achieved and swept into an ephemeral past? Or perhaps a dying attempt at peace, paradise – at Rin, his team, and a better world?

A spectrum of chance and opportunity.

Instead, he sneers, hand seizing the blonde’s wrist, destructive force reciprocated in turn.

And angles his face upwards, looking the jinchuuriki in the eye. No sharingan, no active rinnegan. A peace offering – or as close as he’ll ever get with crisis pressing down upon them, its weight like a phantom chokehold.

Obito rises to his feet, shaking off the grip.

‘Stay out of the way,’ he says, voice twisting with muted scorn, ‘and we may even make it out alive.’

Time to act.

It’s not forgiveness, but. It’s something close, he hopes.

 


 

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((What he doesn't realise - not until retrospect - is that intent played an important role in the jutsu, just as much as everything else. Minato sealed the kyuubi into his son with a father's love, hoping for protection and prosperity. And, in some way, the seal ensured just that, taking some part of sensei along for the ride only to resurface when the seal faced dire straits during the Pein confrontation. This, he overhears when the br—Naruto recounts the story to a recovering Kakashi.

It sounded fine in his head at the time, innocuous. Like knocking out two birds with one stone. Madara would implode on himself, and jyuubi would dissipate into natural chakra.

And yet, that's how the world ends.

Explanations out of the way, Obito's one step closer to fixing it, he supposes.))