Hello again everyone! If you're up to date on the manga, :spoilers ahead: you'll indeed realize that our journey here in fanfic-land has led us off the beaten path of canon plot-points. Namely, Sasuke doesn't magically get a shiny new Rinnegan (still don't know how I feel about that) and Kakashi still has his Sharingan (really disliked that). If there are any plot points in the coming manga chapters that I can tastefully mesh into my story, I'll do my best to do so.
Also, I apologize it took a little longer than usual to get this chapter out, I had a difficult time figuring out how I wanted to pace everything, and it sort of messed up my writing mojo. Hopefully subsequent chapters will be released closer to a once-a-week basis.
Anyway, let's get this under way…
Disclaimer: I don't own any characters from the Naruto franchise. They are owned by Masashi Kishimoto.
Chapter Four: Redemption
Somewhere towards the northern end of the sprawling camp of the United Ninja Army, throngs of ninja who had only moments ago been happily immersed in their daily obligations had stopped. Some merely stood frozen in place, staring, while others whispered to one another curiously. All of them, however, had come to fix their eyes on one small group that was quickly making its way past.
One could scarcely blame them of course; it wasn't every day that eight of the most renowned and powerful ninja in history could be seen together in such a strange fashion.
The group consisted of a disheveled-looking woman leading Kakashi Hatake and the newly dubbed savior of the people Naruto Uzumaki briskly across the camp. Stranger still was the collection of the Five Kages and the shogun Mifune who followed several yards behind, packed together like gossiping schoolgirls in a huddled cluster. It wasn't until the shock of the sight had dissipated somewhat that one of the on looking ninja had the good sense to cheer. These were after all the leaders responsible for putting a stop to the war. Then, like a match to a powder keg, the masses quickly followed suit and began to cheer raucously for their heroes.
Normally, Naruto might have reveled in the cheers that were being showered upon him, but currently a deep and burning anger had muted the outside world to him. The Kages, figures that Naruto had idolized his entire life and had seen as bastions of hope during their war against Madara, had just proven themselves to be no less deceitful and mistrusting of one another that they would have been if they had been at war with each other. Naruto clenched his fists tightly, eliciting an audible crack from several of his knuckles.
How, after everything we've done, can they still be so divided? Naruto seethed to himself. It's like they don't even want peace! He looked icily back at the Kages who had wisely elected to follow from a safe distance. And how could they have thought of killing Sasuke without even talking with me about it? Even Baa-chan and Gaara… At that moment, Naruto would have liked nothing better than to storm off, leaving his so-called superiors far behind, and find a secluded place where he could vent his anger alone.
Unfortunately, this was something Naruto knew he would have to wait for. Himself along with Kakashi, Shizune, and the Kages were currently making their way towards the massive medical centre located at the heart of the camp, all to pay a visit to the newly awakened Obito Uchiha. Under any other circumstances, Naruto would not have seen his presence in this meeting as necessary, but Shizune had told him that Obito had demanded to speak with Kakashi and Naruto, and would see no one else before. This had puzzled Naruto; he could understand Obito wanting to meet with his former teammate, but why him?
"Did Obito say anything else to you after he woke up?" Kakashi asked Shizune as they walked. The Kunoichi sighed and shook her head.
"No. Once he came to, he forced all the medical personnel out of his room and demanded that I bring you and Naruto to him at once. Trying to get anything else out of him after that was like talking to a wall." Kakashi rubbed his chin.
"I don't get it, Obito was helping us by the end of the war. He was our ally. I don't know why he would be so distrustful of us now."
"There seems to be a lot of distrust going around." Naruto said bitterly beside them. Shizune recoiled slightly at his tone. Noticing this, Naruto felt a pang of guilt mix awkwardly into the dark maelstrom that was currently his mood. Deep underneath his anger, Naruto felt badly about snapping at Shizune back in the command tent. She hadn't had anything to do with the plans against Sasuke; she had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time. He resolved to apologize to her once his nerves had settled a bit more.
"He… he might just be trying to be cautious," Shizune added meekly, "He wasour enemy at the beginning of all this. If I were injured in the middle of the camp of people I was just at war with, I'd look for someone I trusted too." Kakashi nodded slowly at this.
"You bring up a good point, Shizune. Thanks" Shizune's face colored ever so slightly.
"Yeah… You're welcome. That's his tent over there." Shizune pointed to a tent that looked quite similar to Naruto's that stood just outside the cluster of massive white tents that made up the temporary field hospital. The one major difference, Naruto noted, were the two armed shinobi who stood like menacing statues on either side of the tent's entrance. As the group approached, the guards relaxed visibly.
"Nothing new to report, Shizune-sama." The guard to their left said, saluting.
"No one's been in or out since I left?" Shizune questioned, slowing her pace to a stop at the entrance of the tent. The guard shook his head definitively.
"Not a soul, ma'am."
"Good." Shizune turned around, addressing the group of Kages who had just warily made their approach. "My apologies, Lord Kages," She began as she lifted the flap of the tent for Kakashi and Naruto to enter. "But the patient asked to speak privately to Kakashi and Naruto before he meets with any other visitors."
"And why are we taking orders from our prisoner?" Onoki barked, crossing his arms contemptuously. "I see no reason why we shouldn't-"
"Don't take it personally," Naruto said from over his shoulder. "He probably just wants to avoid being murdered." Practically spitting the last word from his mouth, Naruto turned and entered the tent, leaving a very quiet Tsuchikage behind. Outside Shizune let the flap fall back into place, and he and Kakashi were alone.
Almost alone, anyway. Naruto noticed immediately the lone figure in the room that looked more like a mummy than a man lying in a bed hooked up to several delicate-looking machines. The only part of Obito's body that wasn't covered in dense bandages was the relatively unscathed left side of his face. And of course, the lone light purple eye with rings expanding outward like ripples in a pool that was now fixed upon them both.
"I was beginning to think they wouldn't let you meet with me." Obito rasped, his voice sounding much more ragged than Naruto remembered it being. "They're a paranoid bunch. Then again, I suppose I've given them reason to be." Naruto was unsure whether the grimace that appeared on Obito's face afterwards was his attempt at a smile, or simply a look of pain.
"You did start a war," Kakashi sighed, approaching the bedside. "You can hardly blame them." Obito grunted.
"How did it end?"
"The war, you mean? Naruto and Sasuke managed to bring Madara down. The Zetsus and those brought back by Edo Tensei just disintegrated after that." At this, Obito's eye flicked over to Naruto, who was still standing away from the bed.
"You, boy. Come here." Naruto stood there for a moment, taken aback, but obeyed. As he approached the bed beside Kakashi, Obito's hand shot up abruptly and gripped Naruto's arm firmly.
"Hey!" Naruto protested, startled. "What are you-"
"Are you sure you killed him?" Obito demanded, his single visible eye transfixed on him. "Are you absolutely sure he's gone?" The intensity of Obito's stare unnerved Naruto, and his arm was beginning to hurt under the elder ninja's surprisingly strong grip.
"Yes," he finally answered. "I'm sure he's gone. Unless he learned how to live without a head." Naruto met his gaze unflinchingly for a few long seconds before Obito finally released his arm.
"Good." Obito said tiredly. "Then it is truly over." His eye closed, and he waved lazily in Naruto's direction. "You may leave. I wish to speak to Kakashi alone now."
Naruto blinked. He hadn't known what to expect from his meeting with Obito, but he certainly didn't think it would be nothing more than one mundane question that could have been answered by any other person in the camp. Before he could stop himself, Naruto blurted out the first question that came to his mind.
"Is that it?"
But Obito had already focused his attention on Kakashi, speaking to his former teammate of things Naruto didn't quite follow in low, rough tones. Realizing he would gain nothing more by remaining in the tent, Naruto turned on his heel and left, annoyance further souring his mood. As he exited the tent, he passed Shizune and the group of village leaders who had been talking amongst themselves. He didn't say a word, and they had the sense to do the same. He noticed out of the corner of his eye that Tsunade had made the slightest motion as if to say something to him, but stopped herself. Just as well, Naruto thought, he wouldn't have listened to anything she had to say anyway.
Naruto had quickly found his way to the outskirts of the camp. He was in no mood to deal with others at the moment, which became somewhat problematic in the middle of a camp filled with people who considered him their savior. No, he reasoned, it was far better for him, and everyone else for that matter, that he be alone now. He walked several yards outside the edge of the camp, heading back towards the general direction of his tent. Naruto had no real interest in returning to his temporary living space, but he knew it was removed from the rest of civilization, and he distinctly remembered a thicket of trees that lay just beside it that he could easily disappear into for a while to work through his frustration. Punching things always seemed to help him calm down, and better to punch the trunk of some old tree until his knuckles were bloody then to take a swing at one of the Kage.
Still, despite all of the anger and bitterness towards his superiors that now flooded his thoughts, his meeting with Obito had planted a small seed of suspicion that had firmly taken root in his mind.
If he had only wanted to know that Madara was dead, why did he demand to see me? Naruto echoed inwardly. He could have just as easily asked Kakashi and gotten the same answer. It just doesn't make sense. Every last ninja instinct he had told him that there had been something more to his visit with Obito, some ulterior motive, but he couldn't for the life of him figure out what it was…
A noise from behind him quickly brought Naruto's attention back to the world. He guessed he had been followed by another star-struck ninja from the camp, or perhaps Kakashi had caught up to him after an equally brief conversation with Obito. That is why when Naruto turned to see Shizune panting once again behind him, he was taken by surprise.
"I… swear… If I have to… run… anywhere else today…" Shizune huffed, wiping several large beads of sweat from her brow. She shot Naruto a sour look. "You're…faster…than I thought."
"I was in a hurry to leave." Naruto deadpanned. Then, remembering his earlier pledge, he added, "I'm sorry I was such a jerk to you earlier, Shizune. I was angry and I took it out on you, you didn't deserve that." Shizune's expression didn't change as he walked tiredly to Naruto's side. Catching her breath, she finally spoke once more.
"I'm not the one you should be apologizing to. Kakashi told me what happened." Naruto's eyes flashed with anger.
"You think I should apologize to the Kages? They were plotting to kill Sasuke behind my back! They were undermining all the progress we had made towards real peace!" He began to walk away. "If you knew about all of that, maybe I shouldn't have bothered apologizing!" This time, Shizune did not shy away from him, and instead matched his stride along the camp's edge.
"You have a right to be angry, Naruto, but you don't know the whole story!" Shizune admonished. "Yes, some of the Kage wanted to find Sasuke and execute him, but can you blame them? If Sasuke has the Rinnegan, we could have another Madara on our hands before long!" When Naruto gave no reply, Shizune sped past and stopped abruptly in front of him, blocking his path. "Even so, do you honestly believe that Tsunade-sama and Gaara-sama would let anyone track down Sasuke without talking to you about it?"
"Yes!" Naruto snarled, trying to push his way past. "Because I heard them talking about doing just that, Shizune! Tsunade-"
"Tsunade tried to meet with you the day you woke up to tell you everything before the meeting!" Shizune all but screamed. "Didn't Sakura tell you?"
Naruto opened his mouth to respond, do disprove Shizune's words, but a sudden memory crashed against his mind like a wave.
Tsunade has requested that you meet with her as soon as you're able. Those had been Sakura's instructions after he had woken up, but with the flurry of activity and news that had made up the last few days, he had completely forgotten them until now. Naruto had the sudden feeling being a child again.
"What about Gaara?" He asked quietly. It was less accusatory and more guilty curiosity that prompted his questioning now.
"From what I heard from Tsunade, Gaara refused to be apart of the conversation until you were involved." Shizune said more evenly than before.
Naruto's mind wandered back once more to the command tent earlier that day, replaying the exchange in his head. He realized that while the Kages had been arguing in their hushed voices, Gaara hadn't said a word. Naruto felt a knot form in his stomach as his anger turn on himself rather than the Kages. How could he have been so quick to assume the guilt of two people he had known and trusted for so long? Feeling very foolish, Naruto walked past Shizune to a nearby tree and slid down its trunk to sit at its base.
"I feel like a complete ass." He moaned into his hands. However bad his anger had made him feel before, his guilt now made him feel much, much worse.
"Well, if it makes you feel any better, you were really only partially an ass." Naruto looked up at the sensation of a hand on his shoulder. Shizune had knelt down beside him, her face having adopted a more comforting expression. "You had the most right of anyone to have a say in what happens to Sasuke, and I think some of the others were too blinded by a sense of revenge to see that." Shizune smiled. "And I'm not sure what else you said to them, but I haven't seen the Kages agreeing this much since the war started." This peaked Naruto's curiosity.
"Agreeing? What do you mean?" Naruto asked quizzically. "What have they been talking about?" Shizune shrugged, rising to her feet once more.
"'Dunno, they were keeping it pretty hush-hush, but from all the nodding I saw, they definitely looked more like the leaders of a united ninja army." Naruto winced inwardly. While he had wanted them to come together, he had a feeling such sudden teamwork between the Kages so soon after he had finished calling them a disgrace to their offices wouldn't bode well for his future prospects. Shizune offered him a hand up, which he accepted.
"I should go apologize to Baa-chan and Gaara," Naruto started, but Shizune dismissed the notion with a wave of her arm.
"Don't bother right now, they've already run back to their command tent. Whatever they were talking about seemed important. You'll have a chance to talk with them tonight at the… um…"
"I already know about the party, Shizune, don't worry." Naruto spared her, amused. Shizune laughed lightly touching a hand to her forehead.
"Right, of course you do. I don't know whose idea it was to try and keep this damn thing a secret." She tilted her head in the direction Naruto and her had been walking. "Mind if I walk with you back to your tent? I've still only heard rumors about how you actually beat Madara."
Naruto nodded in agreement and began to walk. Curious, he added,
"What kind of rumors have you heard, exactly?" Shizune smiled.
"The best one I've heard is that you seduced him with your harem jutsu, and killed him while his guard was down."
Naruto grinned. He'd have to try that the next time the world was in danger.
Naruto's walk back to his tent with Shizune recounting his fight with Madara for the second time that day had done much to improve his mood. Since this was not a formal debriefing, Naruto was able to leave out the parts he didn't like remembering, and focused on the more thrilling bits of the skirmish. By the end, he found himself enthusiastically recounting each blow he had managed to land to a thoroughly engrossed Shizune.
"Wow!" Shizune breathed, "It sounds like it was a pretty amazing battle! I wish I could have been there to see it myself!" Naruto quirked an eyebrow.
"You sure about that?" Shizune's look of astonishment wavered, replaced quickly by a nervous smile.
"Actually, hearing about it from you sounds… safer." She laughed. Shizune momentarily directed her attention in front of them, and quickly stopped. "It looks like we're here, Naruto." A playful smirk appeared on her features. "And it looks like someone has a guest."
Naruto had been so involved with his story, that he hadn't noticed his solitary tent on the hill that now stood only a few yards away… or the purple-haired girl that now stood outside it. "What's Hinata doing at my tent?" he wondered allowed. Shizune shrugged.
"Guess you'll have to go and find out." She readjusted her direction towards the camp to their right. "Make sure you find Tsunade-sama and Gaara-sama tonight to apologize!" she added sternly.
Naruto nodded in response, waving as Shizune soon disappeared into the thicket of tents. After she was out of sight, Naruto turned his attention once more towards his tent and Hinata. He began to trudge up the hill, and as he came closer he raised his hand in greeting.
"Oi! Hinata!" he called. In front of his tent, Hinata jumped visibly and turned so quickly in Naruto's direction he thought she might fall. Breaking into a light jog, Naruto quickly closed the remaining space between them and came to a stop a few short feet away. "What's going on, Hinata?" he greeted once more, "can I help you with anything?" Naruto noticed that like the night before, Hinata's face seemed to fluctuate rapidly between her usual pale complexion and an almost concerning shade of red. Hinata might want to go to one of the med tents, he thought, she looks like she might be coming down with something.
"H-hello, Naruto-kun!" she stammered. "I thought you w-were in your tent, so I…" she fidgeted for a moment before changing topics. "Have you heard anything else about the celebration tonight?" Naruto crossed his arms.
"Not yet, they've done a pretty good job so far keeping the details under wraps. You heard anything?" Hinata shook her head.
"No… nothing really." A pause followed her words as if she wasn't sure what to say next.
"Did you need help with something Hinata?" Naruto offered helpfully after a time. If it was at all possible, Hinata's face turned redder still.
"Well… I-I…" She began to wring her hands nervously at her waist. Naruto sighed inwardly. While Hinata had gotten much better since their childhood, she still had a habit of taking a painfully long time to get across things she was trying to say. Naruto always tried his best to be patient, but sometimes watching her struggle to find the right words was a pain in his…
At first, Naruto thought he had been stung by a bee as a pinprick of burning pain bit at his left forearm. He winced and rubbed it distractedly. Hinata seemed too focused on her own message to notice.
"The c-celebration tonight… I didn't k-know if you were planning to go w-with…anyone…"
Naruto let out an audible grunt of pain as the stinging sensation seemed to spread across his arm like scalding water.
"I was t-thinking, that…that maybe w-we…"
"Dammit!" Naruto cursed as the pain in his arm intensified. Maybe he had injured it somehow? Finally, Hinata noticed Naruto's distress.
"What's wrong, Naruto-kun?" she asked concernedly, "Are you hurt?"
"Something's wrong with my arm." He grunted through clenched teeth. "It feels like it's burning!" He tugged hard on his sleeve, hoping to discover the cause of the pain. When the tanned skin of his forearm was finally visible, both he and Hinata gasped.
Long lines of black glyphs that looked unlike any language Naruto had ever seen were appearing on his flesh as if an invisible hand were writing them. With the appearance of each new character, the burning sensation was reinvigorated. Hinata looked worriedly between Naruto's arm and his face.
"What is that?" she asked, fear laced in her voice. Naruto shook his head roughly, his eyes glued to the slowly growing marks on his arm.
"I… don't… know." He growled.
"We need to get you to the medical tent!" Hinata said with more urgency than before. "What if it's a curse mark, or some kind of torture jutsu, or-"
"Wait!" Naruto interrupted abruptly, "Look!"
Sure enough, the symbols' advance across his arm had slowed their progress and the pain Naruto felt had begun to dissipate. The burning sensation had all but gone when the last symbol completed itself. Naruto thought for a brief moment that it was over, until one final line of black script began to scrawl itself below the rest near the crease of his elbow. Unlike the rest of the symbols, these caused him no pain, and Naruto quickly realized that this final line was no longer written in some alien language. Instead, a single word now lay branded onto his arm, its black letters standing in stark contrast to his skin.
Naruto and Hinata both said the word out loud, eyes transfixed on it.
"What…what does it mean?" Hinata asked, sounding astonished. Naruto shook his head slightly.
"I have no idea…"
Naruto was familiar enough with the Sharingan, the now infamous Kekkei Genkai of the Uchiha clan, but he had no idea why its name was now printed onto his arm. Perhaps it was some kind of warning? Or a message? And if that was the case, then who was it from, and how had it gotten there? Whatever the purpose of the word and the strange symbols, Naruto knew of only two people in the entire camp that knew enough about the Sharingan to be useful, and of the two, he was quite sure he knew who he'd prefer to speak to.
"I have to find Kakashi," Naruto said as he pulled his sleeve over his arm once more. "He might be able to tell me what all of this means." He turned to Hinata, who was already staring intently back at him. "Hinata, do me a favor and don't tell anyone about this just yet, okay? I don't want anyone to start panicking over nothing."
"B-but what if it's dangerous?!" she pleaded, fear creeping into her voice again. "I don't want you to get hurt…" Naruto have her a grin in an attempt to calm her nerves.
"If Kakashi says it's dangerous, or doesn't know what it is, I'll go straight to the medical tents. Promise!" Naruto took off in the direction of the camp, taking long bounding strides. "Thanks Hinata!" he called over his shoulder, leaving the Hyuuga girl staring after him. Had Naruto not covered so much ground so quickly, or had his mind not been so consumed with questions over his new markings, he might have been able to catch Hinata's last desperate attempt to ask him to go to the celebration that night with her if he was indeed all right. But he and his thoughts were already elsewhere, and the words drifted away unheard into the afternoon.
Naruto had entered the camp in a full sprint, fully anticipating a tedious and protracted search for his elusive former teacher. Every location within the sprawling camp where Kakashi might possibly be now flitted through his mind in a high-speed checklist, and his eyes frantically scanned the surrounding crowds for any sign of that signature silver hair.
That is why when Naruto nearly ran over Kakashi, who had just rounded the corner of a tent to his left, his mind had momentarily stopped functioning as the momentum of his thoughts seemed to thud against his skull. Naruto clumsily skidded to a stop in front of the jonin, almost tripping over himself in the process. Kakashi raised his visible eyebrow in surprise.
"Oh, Naruto. I didn't expect to see you tearing through the camp. I thought you'd still off beating up logs painted like the Kages." He squinted as he examined Naruto's face more carefully. "But you don't look to be in as bad a mood as before." Naruto shook his head vigorously.
"Kakashi, that isn't important right now! There's something you need to see, it's-" Naruto suddenly became aware of the conspicuously high volume of his voice, and the many sets of eyes that now cast their unwanted gazes on him. Lowering his voice, Naruto continued, "I have to show you something, but not here. Follow me." Kakashi gave his former pupil a questionable look, but nodded slowly.
"Alright, Naruto… lead the way."
Naruto wasted no time and began walking at a brisk pace towards the nearest edge of the camp. He had decided to rule out going back to his own tent, reasoning that a more secluded location with less possibility of running into others would be best. If these markings on his arm did contain some kind of warning, or worse yet, were destructive somehow, he wanted to be sure that they were well out of range of the camp. Kakashi kept his pace next to Naruto, keeping his demeanor casual.
"So," he asked in conversational tone, hoping to avoid rousing outside attention. "Should I be worried about something?"
"Not sure yet," Naruto answered in a similarly even voice. "But we're being safe just to be sure." A silence followed, and Naruto knew that Kakashi now grasped that something serious was happening.
"Is it about Sasuke?" Kakashi finally asked.
Naruto's brow furrowed. He hadn't considered the possibility that Sasuke could somehow be involved with the strange markings currently lining his arm. Still, Kakashi had unknowingly raised a question both interesting and disturbing in equal parts. Sasuke did possess the Sharingan, but what reason would he have for leaving some kind of message on his arm?
"I'm not sure," Naruto said thoughtfully, "Possibly. You'll have to see it first. This way."
Naruto veered suddenly between two tents and emerged on the opposite side to see a dense grouping of trees. They had made their way to the edge of the camp once more. Seconds later, Kakashi emerged from the same small gap Naruto had come through.
"Here?" He asked. Naruto shook his head.
"Not yet, let's head into the forest a ways." The pair made a quick scan of the area to make sure that no other prying ninja had decided to follow them, then quickly disappeared into the thicket.
Naruto and Kakashi walked silently for a time, avoiding the fallen trees and thorny brush of the forest as they went. The afternoon had gone quickly amidst the chaos of the day, and the sun had already passed its zenith in the sky. Despite their possibly dangerous situation, Naruto found himself enjoying the warm afternoon air and the rhythmic sound of the brush crunching under foot. It was Kakashi who finally broke their silence.
"I think we've gone far enough, Naruto." He said, the crunching of his footsteps stopping. "What is it you needed me to see? Is it out here somewhere?"
"It's not something here in the forest, no." Naruto quickly looked around and spotted a clearing a several feet away. The sunlight there would allow Kakashi to make out the characters more easily. He began to walk towards it. "Earlier today, I was talking with Hinata, and all of a sudden, I felt this burning sensation on my arm. At first I didn't think it was anything, but it started to get worse. When I pulled up my sleeve to see what it was, I found this." Once Naruto had entered the sunlit clearing, he turned back towards Kakashi and rolled up his sleeve, revealing the strange black script. Kakashi approached slowly, the look of curiosity on his face morphing into one of awe the closer he came. When he had come close enough, he took Naruto's arm deftly in his hands and brought it closer to his face.
"This… is the sacred script of the Uchiha clan." He said finally, his visible eye scanning each character carefully. "We learned about this when I was in Anbu. It's unreadable unless you possess the Sharingan, it's how members of the Uchiha clan would pass along sensitive information to one another." He pointed one finger to the sole legible word on Naruto's arm. "This was supposed to be your clue. Someone wanted you to read this." Naruto felt excitement, curiosity, and nervousness all boil up within him at once. He looked expectantly towards his teacher.
"Can you read it with your Sharingan, Kakashi-sensei?" When Kakashi shook his head, Naruto's felt his heart sink.
"I tried to once while I was in Anbu on some old letters we uncovered from the Uchiha compound after the massacre, but even with my Sharingan they were still unreadable… unless." Naruto's ears perked, and he noticed the contemplative expression in Kakashi's eye.
"Unless?" he pressed. Kakashi looked back down at Naruto's arm.
"Unless the regular Sharingan wasn't enough."
Without another word, Kakashi brought his own hand up to his face, lifted his headband from over the left side of his face, and opened his eye, revealing the telltale red iris and three black tomoe of the Sharingan. After only a second, the three tomoe began to spin, slowly melding together into the sharp, vortex-like shape Naruto knew to be Kakashi's Mangekyo Sharingan. Naruto's heart skipped a beat as Kakashi's eyes widened.
"The symbols are reshaping themselves," he breathed, amazed. "I can read it now…" Naruto watched as Kakashi's one red eye scanned the words that he himself could not see. He could feel his anxious curiosity intensify with each pass of Kakashi's eye over his arm. Finally, Kakashi hummed in understanding.
"What?" asked quickly, "What is it?" it was only after he spoke and felt winded that Naruto realized he had been holding his breath as Kakashi had been reading.
"It's strange," Kakashi replied, rescanning several parts of the message. "It looks like instructions for some kind of summoning circle."
"A summoning circle? To summon what, exactly?" Kakashi shrugged.
"I don't know." He turned upward to look Naruto in the eyes. "But we're about to find out. Help me clear a space in the dirt here."
Naruto nodded and did as he was told, quickly sweeping away all of the leaves, twigs and rocks he could from a plot of dirt towards the center of the clearing, until a bare circular spot about three feet across had been made. Kakashi looked it over, then deciding it was sufficient, set himself to the task of carving the summoning circle into the dirt with a stick.
While summoning circles were usually something instantaneously formed by ninjas with little more needed than a drop of blood and sufficient chakra, summoning an unknown being or item with which a ninja had no previous contract was another matter entirely. Each symbol and glyph had to be written by hand exactly and in the right order, or the summon would not work. Luckily, these seemed to be little more than trivial details to Kakashi as he quickly etched symbol after symbol into the dirt with a clearly practiced hand. He would glance occasionally back at Naruto's arm for instruction, but other than that showed no signs of trouble. After what seemed like no time at all, Kakashi carefully rose from his crouched position to survey his handiwork.
"This should do it, I think." He said as he brushed the dirt from his pants. He turned to Naruto. "Be on your guard. We don't know what's going to show up once we activate this circle, and I want you to be ready to fight or run if you need to." Naruto gave Kakashi a grim smile.
"You're crazy if you think I'm gonna run and leave you behind, but I'm ready to fight whatever this thing's got for us." Kakashi nodded, then directed his attention back towards the circle.
"Alright then, here we go." Kakashi pulled a kunai from a pouch on his waist and pressed its sharp point against the center of his thumb. When he drew it away, a small red bead of blood swelled from the small wound. Dabbing the blood onto his palm, Kakashi raised his hand above his head before bringing it down abruptly on top of the circle in the dirt. "Summon!" he shouted, and suddenly the small clearing was filled with white smoke.
Naruto had already created several shadow clones that now surrounded the area, each with a glowing blue Rasengan in hand, and his eyes now strained to see what lay within the cloud of smoke. As the cloud began to dissipate, Naruto could see nothing that indicated a threat. Whatever had been summoned, it wasn't large.
"Do you see anything yet, Naruto?" Kakashi called from somewhere on the opposite side of the clearing.
"No!" He yelled back, still searching. Suddenly, a strange, dark shape close to the ground began to come into view. "Wait, there's something there on the ground!" His eyes now locked onto the shape, he began to notice it was making slight, heaving movements. Whatever it was, it was alive. "Be careful, Sensei" He warned, readying his Rasengan. "It's alive!" The sudden sound of coughing made Naruto's ears perk up.
"Only barely alive, boy. And I am not an it." A husky voice responded from the smoke. Why did it sound so familiar?
"It couldn't be," Naruto heard Kakashi say. "Is that you… Obito?"
Naruto squinted at the shape on the ground. As the last of the smoke finally dispersed from the clearing, he realized that it was indeed a man, hunched into an uncomfortable looking position in a white hospital gown, familiar white bandages covering most of his body.
"O-Obito?!" Naruto exclaimed, eyes widening. "It is you! Why- How-"
"Not now, boy!" he rasped loudly, sending him into another coughing fit. "They'll no doubt know that I'm gone already," he turned his head towards Kakashi on his opposite side. "Kakashi, take us to Kamui's dimension with your Sharingan! I'll answer all of your questions once we're there!"
Kakashi simply stared at Obito with a sharp expression.
"If you think I'm going to help you escape Obito, you've lost your mind." He said, his voice stony.
"Do what he says, Kakashi-sensei." Kakashi's eyes quickly found Naruto.
"What?" he sputtered, sounding as if Naruto had just asked him to cut off his own hand. Naruto's eyes fell onto Obito once more.
"I want to hear what he has to say," his eyes narrowed. "And even if he tries to get away, he won't escape." Kakashi was silent for a moment, his eyes dancing between Naruto and Obito. Finally, he nodded.
"Alright, Naruto. I'm trusting you on this…" He stared at Obito. "You first."
Naruto watched as Kakashi's Sharingan began to spin once more. He noticed Obito's body begin to look distorted as the space around him seemed to spin. Then, with a soft whoosh, Obito was gone once more. Kakashi then turned towards Naruto, his Sharingan still spinning.
"Be careful," he said. "I'll be right behind you." Naruto nodded.
Naruto had the sudden jarring feeling of being pulled inward on himself, the forest around him seeming to spin. Then suddenly, he was aware of nothing but black.
Naruto staggered as solid ground rushed to meet his feet once again. His head felt dizzy, and he decided then that Kakashi's jutsu, while undeniably useful, was in no way enjoyable to be apart of. He had to blink several times for his eyes to adjust to the dim light that lit his surroundings. Naruto had seen Obito's pocket dimension only once before, and its odd square platforms seemingly extending on endlessly into the darkness in every direction unsettled him.
The only different sight to see in the entire dimension, Naruto guessed, was Obito himself, currently sitting hunched over on the other side of their square platform and breathing heavily. Taking a deep breath, Naruto approached his former nemesis.
"Alright, Obito, we're here," he motioned around them with a sweeping gesture. "Safe in your own dimension. Now start talking." Obito coughed, but said nothing more. Feeling a hint of irritation at being so blatantly ignored, Naruto took a step closer. "Did you honestly bring us here so you could just sit there? I swear, if you think-" Naruto stopped as Obito finally looked up at him, his eyes filled with the undeniable look of remorse.
"I never did thank you." He said, his voice sounding even more tired than before. "You were the one who changed my mind, made me realize what exactly I was doing, and I never thanked you." Naruto stood there, mouth agape, unsure how to respond to Obito's sudden sincerity.
Suddenly the noise of footsteps from behind them cut through the silence, and Kakashi appeared at Naruto's side.
"He hasn't been any trouble, has he?" Kakashi asked, both eyes trained on Obito. The Uchiha smirked, his eyes again turning stolid.
"He talks too much, but not particularly troublesome." He grunted.
"I was talking about you." Kakashi shot back sharply. Obito merely coughed.
"I know what you meant, just a bit of fun." Kakashi crossed his arms.
"Right. Fun time's over now, why did you have us come here? And how did you get that message onto Naruto's arm?" Naruto unconsciously leaned towards Obito, curiosity clawing at his mind. Obito clicked his tongue.
"Kakashi, I would have expected you to have figured out the 'how' already at the very least." His gaze fell on Naruto, who started back at him confused. "I placed a delayed seal on this one's arm when you both visited me in my tent. You didn't find the brevity of our conversation unusual, boy?"
Naruto thought back to his suspiciously short conversation with Obito earlier that day, and suddenly remembered the way the Uchiha had grabbed his arm so suddenly. His blue eyes widened with understanding.
"You placed it on me when you grabbed my arm." Naruto started. "You never really needed to talk with me or Kakashi at all, it was all just to give you that one opportunity." Obito nodded, seemingly agreeing with Naruto's analysis.
"But why Naruto?" Kakashi interjected. "If you had intended for me to read the message anyway, why did you involve him?"
"Now that is a better question," Obito said, leaning farther forward on his legs. "My tent was most certainly bugged, and the Kages aren't stupid, they would have analyzed every minute interaction between myself and my ex-teammate. With you there would have been a much larger chance of someone realizing I had placed a seal." He paused for a moment to cough. When he had finished, he added; "besides, I wanted both of you to be here."
Naruto looked quizzically down at Obito.
"And… What are we all here for, exactly?" he asked. Obito heaved a long and tired sigh.
"I've come here to die, boy, and you're here to witness it." Naruto felt cold shock run through his body.
"What?" Naruto exclaimed, "What do you mean you're hear to die?" Next to him, Kakashi stared sternly at the man on the floor.
"Neither of us are here to kill you, Obito. So if that's what you were hoping for…" Obito gave a stiff shake of his head.
"No, there would be no point to that." He said flatly. He paused, looking from Kakashi, to Naruto, and then to the floor between his legs. "I have wasted most of my life trying to build a nightmare. I've done terrible things to so many people that I'm not sure I even deserve to be around others anymore. And so long as I have this-" he jabbed a bandaged thumb towards his Rinnegan, "-It will just be a matter of time until someone worse than me gets a hold of it."
"But you've changed, Obito!" Naruto protested, feelings of pity and understanding flooding his senses. "Everyone knows you helped us beat Madara in the end, people will forgive you!" Naruto watched as the faintest of smiles spread across Obito's mangled face.
"I believe you, Naruto." He said, using Naruto's name for the first time. "But I would never be able to forgive myself as long as I lived while so many others had died for my misplaced ambitions. No, it's better for me to die for this one last thing, this final bid for redemption."
"What are you talking about, Obito?" Kakashi asked, taking a step forward. "What thing?" With what appeared to be a considerable amount of effort, Obito lifted his broken body into a standing position.
"These past few days, I haven't really been sleeping," Obito grunted. "I've been waiting for my chakra to return to me, trying to conserve every last bit of it. That's why I asked you to bring us here instead of teleporting myself, Kakashi." Obito slowly turned himself away from Kakashi and Naruto and towards the endless oblivion of his pocket dimension. "I've been saving it all for this moment."
"What are you planning to do?" Naruto's voice asked almost on it's own. Obito's looked back at them, his eyes burning with a fierce determination.
"I'm going to release the tailed beasts. All of them, if I can, and send them and you both back to the real world." He faced forward once more and began to form the necessary seals with his hands. "Then me, that damnable statue, and the Rinnegan will rot here, so that no one can ever use them against anyone else ever again."
"That's crazy!" Naruto shouted, advancing towards Obito. "There's no need for you to die trying to do that! No one but the Sage of Six Paths ever managed to separate the tailed beasts once they've been brought back together!" unseen by both Kakashi and Naruto, a grim smile spread across Obito's face.
"All the more reason you should be silent now so I can concentrate, boy." Obito finished his final hand seal, then extended a palm out into the void. "Summon."
There was a massive plume of white smoke, and the enormous, grotesque Gedo Statue now towered over them. All nine of its eyes were open and bulging, their pupils twitching as though alive.
"Kakashi," Obito barked over his shoulder, his voice already sounding exhausted. "Once I begin, Use your Kamui on the statue's head, understand? That way I can drag the beasts out directly back to your dimension." Kakashi's eyes flicked disbelieving between the massive statue and his former teammate.
"It's already done, Kakashi!" Obito snapped, "I can't stop the jutsu now, just be ready with Kamui!" Before Kakashi could protest further, streams of different-colored chakras began to pour from each of the eyes on the Statue, signifying that the extraction of the tailed beasts had begun. "Now!" Obito roared back.
Following his orders, Kakashi activated his Sharingan, and the streams of each of the tailed beasts' chakras began to disappear into the swirling Kamui portal like water down a drain. Naruto watched awestruck as bit by bit, Obito dragged all nine of the beasts from their prison. Only minutes into the ritual, the toll on Obito's feeble body had become brutally evident, as his legs began to shake beneath him until they finally gave way. Still, he never broke his concentration on the statue, and the chakra continued to pour from it.
"N-Naruto," Obito called, his voice now little more than a hoarse whisper. "I almost…forgot. Your friend… Yamato? He still… lives." Naruto felt his heart skip.
"Captain Yamato is still alive?! Where?"
"In our… underground base… east of your camp… nine miles." Obito croaked, his concentration on his jutsu never wavering. "Entrance… behind… waterfall."
Just then, the flow of chakra from the Gedo Statue seemed to ebb away into nothing, and all nine of it's unnerving eyes slid shut. Naruto blinked, momentarily unable to comprehend what had just happened. Finally, the truth of the situation fully sank into his mind: Obito had done the impossible and freed the tailed beasts.
"Wow," Naruto breathed in pure amazement. "You did it, Obito! Thank yo- Obito?" Naruto knew immediately that something was not right, as Obito hunched awkwardly forward, his arms limp at his sides. "Obito!"
Naruto rushed to his side and caught Obito by his shoulders seconds before he fell forward onto his head. Naruto carefully turned the Uchiha face-up to reveal a faint smile across his face. His eyes made only the slightest movement in Naruto's direction. Naruto quickly noticed that Obito's lips begin to move, as though he were trying to speak.
"What is it, Obito?" Naruto asked urgently, turning an ear closer to the man's mouth. Naruto strained to listen as hard as he could, but of all of Obito's final, nearly inaudible words, he only managed to pick up two.
Naruto kept his ear close to Obito's mouth after that, thinking there would be more to hear, but the pressure of a hand on his shoulder tore him away. Kakashi now loomed over him, a sad, yet calm look adorning his features.
"He's gone, Naruto." He said softly.
Naruto looked down at Obito's face again, and instantly recognized the sightless eyes that all dead men possessed. Naruto felt a coldness spread throughout his body, and he lay Obito gently down on the ground.
"He didn't have to die like this." He said in a small voice as he rose from Obito's body. "There must have been a way we could have helped him." Kakashi gave his shoulder a comforting squeeze.
"Obito had planned on this since the end of the war, I think." He sighed. "Perhaps you're right, if we had known earlier what he planned to do, we could have saved him… But I think what Obito really wanted, after spending so much time playing the villain, was to die a hero." He glanced down at his student. "He did that, Naruto. He freed the tailed beasts, and even made sure that no one, not even Sasuke, would be able to get the other Rinnegan."
Naruto's eyes fell once more onto the smile Obito had died with. He might have only known him for a short time, but Naruto hated the concept of losing anyone he considered to be an ally. Still, he had to admit, that as far as redemption was concerned, Obito had done more than Naruto would have ever thought possible to change his opinion of him since the start of the war.
"Come on, Kakashi-sensei," Naruto said, feeling more peaceful than before. "Let's get back, everyone should hear about this."
Kakashi said nothing, but nodded, and his Sharingan began to spin one last time. As the world around him began to spin once more, Naruto stole one last glance at the fallen Uchiha.
The last thing he saw before the world disappeared around him was Obito's final smile. The smile of a man redeemed.
E/N: Whew! that was a long one. Sorry again for the horrible wait time on this one, things are getting past the build-up stage and we'll be getting into the real meat of the story soon, so expect my creative enthusiasm to pump out more frequent chapters! Leave a review, and I'll see you all next chapter!