A/N: *As a friend of mine stated eloquently: "HAX! I CALL HAX, OBITO YOU CHEATING PRICK!" (Yes, this had been the plan for a while.) Word count is ~12.5k.
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.
Chapter 31 - To Find the Way
Three figures stood in the midst of the destruction.
A cave, or what was left of it, was before them—looking to be little more than a pile of rubble on the mountainside.
"He's in here," Kakashi intoned, his voice cold but tremulous. Beside him, Pakkun's head was bowed low. "His scent, it's faint, but here. He's—he's definitely in here."
Both Rin and Kakashi looked towards their sensei, waiting for direction. It was simple to see that they already knew what they wanted to do, but didn't fully trust themselves to make the judgement. If the entrance of the cave looked to be in such a state of disrepair, what of its contents? The inner corridors? If Obito was in there, the chances he was trapped were high, and neither of the teens wanted to chance a mistake that would make the situation even worse. Kakashi inwardly wondered why Obito couldn't just use his Kamui, but then he remembered that it was Obito's decision to leave them to begin with.
Minato, seeing his students' trepidation, placed his hands on their shoulders. "Don't worry," he stated calmly, his azure eyes riveted to the entrance of the cave. "We'll need to find a way in, obviously, but I'm sure Obito is fine."
"How do you know?" Rin blurted, glancing between Minato and the cave's entrance with wide eyes. "Can—can you sense his chakra?"
Minato narrowed his eyes and nodded. It was faint, and he was more than certain that it was the lingering sense of expelled chakra he could detect, but he could give his students the hope they needed for the task. "… Yes, but that isn't the reason why I think he is still alive. Look around yourselves," he said, gesturing around the area. Both Rin and Kakashi, however confused by the command, did as he said. "Do you notice anything strange?"
Kakashi's eyes narrowed as he observed the landscape. He observed the contours of the land, the destruction surrounding them. His eyes widened as he noticed a peculiar detail. "… The damage here is less than in the other areas," he murmured, eyes darting from the cave to the edge of the destruction. "I can see it. Where we were before, the destruction was immense, causing the trees to uproot and the land to shift. But here… Considering what we felt from a distance, the cave is surprisingly intact. And there's still grass and shrubbery in the vicinity. For whatever reason, in a reversed kind of reasoning, the destruction at the epicenter of the explosion was the least while elsewhere it increased." He turned to Minato with a furrowed brow. "… But why?"
Minato grimaced at the question. "Kushina and I… We had made a seal at Obito's request. An explosion seal. The finished product was what he requested, in essence, but we added our own touches, knowing how reckless the boy could be at the worst of times." Rin and Kakashi exchanged a worried look. "It seems, that… Obito used the seal that we gave him. I have never been more thankful for a last minute change to one of my seals."
Both students turned back to the blond. "… Did he know?" Kakashi's voice was a near whisper.
Minato paused, thinking. He had told Obito, but both he and Kushina had known that the boy wasn't paying attention to them when they told him of the seal's properties. It was obvious what he was after, in this instance. And for once, Minato was glad for his student's inattentiveness.
He shook his head, gaze distant. "No," he stated, and both of his students tensed at the word. The blond closed his eyes and sighed before shaking himself from the gloomier thoughts. "… But that doesn't matter. We can deal with those issues later, because we came here for a different reason."
Kakashi straightened as he nodded, his aloof mask in place once more. Rin bit her lip.
"Repeat of last time. Kakashi, search the area for another entrance with your pack. I will try to pinpoint Obito's exact location while you do so." The two held each other's gazes for a moment before departing, the both of them disappearing in opposite directions.
He was floating, and that was all that he could comprehend, as a fuzzy shroud settled over his mind and body. He vaguely registered unconsciousness, death probably, and contentedness washed over him as he realized that this was the end.
Memories flashed before his mind's eye, and he smiled at the warm feeling that blossomed at them. He saw Minato, Kakashi, Kushina. Rin. They were smiling, arms outstretched, waiting for him. Happiness filled him as he felt himself being pulled towards them, awaiting the welcoming embrace of those he loved most. A small, ugly feeling in the back of his mind told him that he couldn't, shouldn't, because he didn't deserve happiness, but he shoved it away with ease. The emptiness of his mind helped to accomplish the task, and he continued his journey to his loved ones.
But then reality slammed down on him, forcing him to fall, and all of his senses lit aflame as he returned to the waking world. Pain, stiffness, a distinct sense of claustrophobia, and the lingering vestiges of what was supposed to be his final rest.
A dry, raspy cough escaped his throat as the dirt and debris coating the inside of his mouth chafed.
"… Ow," he muttered mutely, forcing his stiff limbs and aching body to sit upright, his throbbing eye protesting as he peeled it open in the darkness. He examined his surroundings with blurred vision and a dulled mind, attempting to recall what had happened and where he was.
Realization hit harder than his awakening.
"… I'm…" he murmured, eye widening in surprise despite the irritating pain. "… I'm… alive."
… He didn't understand it. He didn't understand. He was at the very center of the explosion, and he shouldn't have been anymore than charred remains… Or particles of dust and ash, considering the condensed power he had known existed within the specialized seal.
He looked down at his still very whole form with a frown, realizing that most of what he felt was due to the chakra exhaustion that he already suffered. His eye wandered to the room he sat, and slowly but surely the pieces came together. The walls and ceiling were in a state of severe disrepair, crumbling. There were areas where parts of the cave were missing, having fragmented and fallen to the ground… But the cave was still standing.
Curiously, with a tired, weary gaze, he looked down at the frayed and tattered seal diagram that he still held tightly in his hand. Obito only had a passing understanding of Fūinjutsu, but he knew such a thing was probably possible for seal masters of Minato and Kushina's calibre.
A wry chuckle escaped his dry, chapped lips as he came to a conclusion. "Figures."
He only vaguely recalled the man mentioning something about the exponential effect of the seal. He had been trapped in his own thoughts and dismissed it at the time, thinking, 'as long as it's an explosion seal of greater effect than a normal tag, then it's fine.' It seemed the seal itself was worked to cause the least amount of harm at the epicenter, and as the distance increased the frequency and force multiplied, increasing the damage exponentially with each added inclusion of distance… Or something to that effect.
The time traveler silently wondered if they had planned this, if they had known. His efforts in concealing the truth had grown increasingly lax after his initial confrontation with Minato, and he wouldn't have put it past either to have realized his true intent. Any self-respecting shinobi might've been able to read between the lines, see that he hadn't expected to return.
… But no, that wasn't entirely true. If they had the full truth they might've, but the hints Obito had left, however many, lead to something that was supposed to be impossible. It was possible that they suspected, but it was more likely that Minato and Kushina had simply taken precautions they thought were necessary. Minato himself might have figured it out, but Obito was certain that if the man had he would have gone to tell the Hokage—and Obito wouldn't have been allowed to leave the village as a result. Regardless, even if they didn't know for certain, whatever they had done definitely accomplished its task.
Obito sighed as he forced his weakened legs to stand, wobbling slightly from strain and exhaustion. He walked, stumbled over to the familiar prone form of his ancestor, who was more unfortunate than himself and lay buried under fallen slabs of ceiling.
With a harsh thud that made him wince, he fell to his knees and reached for the elder's left eye socket, reached for the eye that existed within.
As he held the organ in his hand, he just barely registered the fact that this was sick and morbid on levels that could match Orochimaru's experimentation. The thought was quickly dismissed in his exhaustion-induced apathy, and he placed the eye within his own empty eye socket with a dry detachedness.
He couldn't see through the eye. It was expected, as it was a dead organ and though it existed in his eye socket at the moment, it wasn't bound to him. He knew little about Iryō-ninjutsu, nothing past the body structure, and that wasn't nearly enough to actually connect the severed organ.
However, he knew that something had happened when a wash of chakra passed over him like a veil, centering around the eye.
'Yang chakra,' he noted absently, feeling as the nerves connected and revitalized. A familiar throb of power pulsed from the borrowed organ, slowly receding until the transformation had completed, leaving Obito's limbs leadened.
The Uchiha peered down at his ancestor with an amused grin, his hand coming up to cover his pulsing left eye.
"… So, I was right. My own Sharingan failed to change… But the one that had existed in your eye, drenched in your chakra did." He allowed his hand to drop, and peered down at the still form of Madara, one eye crimson, the other unseeing and a rippled amaranthine. "I suppose you actually did have a use in the end, my honourable forefather."
It had been his suspicion ever since speaking to Kurama regarding it. It wasn't the eye itself that mattered, but the chakra that surrounded it. Even though Obito himself wasn't a reincarnation of Indra, he had hypothesized that an eye bathed in Madara's chakra while he still had Indra's essence, added with the Sage Chakra he had received from Kurama in this time, might have a chance at evolving it into the Rinnegan. Sasuke didn't have his own eyes but Itachi's when his left became the Rinnegan, further proving the fact that it wasn't the eyes themselves but the chakra that determined the final outcome.
And yet, it had still been an uncertain gamble, a possibility that the eye wouldn't change because even in Sasuke's case only one eye had evolved. The only two instances where someone successfully evolved their Sharingan into the Rinnegan were of the Eternal Mangekyō—a version Obito did not have. He also was not a holder of Indra's essence, and even Madara waited several decades before he had achieved the legendary eyes. If he were to be honest, he was surprised that it had worked as he hypothesized.
Obito sighed as his posture slumped, his eyes closing from weariness. Yes, it had worked, but as it stood, the fact held mournfully little interest for him. He didn't know what to do, now, and the darkness coaxing him back to an eternal slumber was not helping. He wasn't quite sure why he felt like he needed to stay awake. His goal, coming there, had been to complete his objective and perish. He'd done that… Right?
(Had he been more coherent he would have known that he should've prioritized searching for Black Zetsu, because even the most powerful jutsu would most likely fall short in erasing the non-living being, let alone a glorified explosion tag.)
Blood trickled down from his hairline and his eyes.
He was surprised to hear the gravelly voice, but failed to show any outward reaction besides a blink. Obito looked down at his ancestor, who stared up at him with one piercing crimson eye and an empty, gored eye socket.
"… Your aim was to pilfer the eye from my corpse… Was it? To attain… The Rinnegan?" The old man coughed, blood splattering his chin and dripping down his throat. He bared his teeth in a grimace or a snarl, the action made more menacing with his bloodied visage. "You said that we were… Both meant to die. You had stated it with conviction, and yet… Your actions belie your previous words. Are you truthful? Is there honor in your actions, what you claim to be for those you love?
Madara released another wet cough, clutching his chest with his only hand. His eye didn't lose its menacing, anger-filled glint. "Do you have honor? Are you proud? You have killed me, what you sought to accomplish… I know not how you managed something as astronomical as time travel, but you've completed your goal. You've killed a… A dying old man. Can you say that this entire endeavor was meaningful? That it was not… Not of selfish means?"
Obito stared down at the dying Uchiha unblinkingly. "Honor… Is merely a concept, held by those of a purer, selfless mindset. There is no such thing as honor for me. That lies with the Child of Prophecy, tasked with saving he world from its hatred. I, however… I will be what protects the guiding light for the future, the ever present shadow existing by light's side, cast by light. My shadow will always be there, regardless of what happens to me. As such, I have no qualms with doing what I must to ensure the boy's safety."
He paused, eyes wandering to the side. "… If you believe that my traveling back in time to kill you is selfish… Then you'd be correct." He then shook his head, returning an impassive gaze to the man. "But that was never my goal. Despite what I did, despite what my intentions appeared to be, killing you was not my main goal. No, it was merely a step towards it. I am here to reclaim my name, the freedom of my loved ones, and my life. Even if it ends here… At least I'll know I had died once and for all as Uchiha Obito." A small, hopeful smile spread on his face. "… With, perhaps, some of my sins relinquished."
Obito placed a hand on Madara's head, and then realized. 'How anticlimactic,' the raven thought.
The old man was dead.
"… And you, as Uchiha Madara. Two separate people entirely."
The space shifted around the elder's head, and in the next moment it was gone, kept safely within the Kamui dimension.
Obito's vision wobbled, twisted, and he collapsed in a heap next to the headless body of his ancestor. He felt his remaining chakra drain away, the mere wisps losing hold of his drying chakra coils. His body seemed to melt into the earth, slowly dying. Becoming a life-less corpse.
"… Heh," he rasped, his lungs straining to grasp at air that didn't exist. "… For the man who had challenged the world, and saved the Child of Prophecy… To die from chakra exhaustion…"
He blinked up at the dark ceiling of the cave, his vision receding as darkness deeper than the cave's crept over his eyes.
'… I suppose this truly was for the best.'
Rin sighed as she cradled herself in her arms, trying to shake off the faint trembling she suffered from.
At this point, it wasn't fear or worry, really. No, she had been in that constant state for so long, that even while she was supposed to be (and she actually was, almost) in a state of rest, she couldn't quite reach it.
It didn't help that she was forced to sit back and do nothing. She wanted to help, she really did, but Minato had told her to stay back and save her chakra. It was logical. But while she knew that she would be the only one to save Obito if it came to it—because they all doubted they would find him in a healthy state that could be slept off—she still felt restless with a need to contribute. Now.
The brunette flinched when a strange jolt of something charged through her. It felt almost like electricity as it surged through her, almost like the warm surge of chakra.
She blinked back the sudden dizziness she felt at the sensation and stumbled, trying to reorient herself.
'… What… What was…?' She wondered silently, gripping her arms tighter as she attempted to keep herself standing. Rin tensed when a chilling sensation alerted her that she wasn't as alone as she had believed.
Something brushed against her.
Something… Walked through her.
Her head snapped upwards and she went wide-eyed when her gaze locked with chocolate brown eyes mirroring her own, owned by a girl with brunette hair cropped at shoulder length. Purple, rectangular marks on either cheek, a black shirt and a light-pink skirt.
Rin gaped as she stared at a mirror image of herself standing several meters away, whose face was eerily wan and sorrowful. But then the mirage turned away—it was slightly translucent, Rin noted—and disappeared, before reappearing at a further distance.
"W-wait!" Rin called out, running towards the fading mirage. Just as she neared the strange phenomena, she tripped over the rubble surrounding her and fell, her eyes still riveted on the figure. And then she noticed.
Her replica was not exactly as she looked, for the image seemed tired and worn, the edges of her sleeves and skirt tattered. On her left breast was a gaping hole, and the very real injury made Rin's own heart beat with erratic insistence against her chest.
But the replica suddenly smiled, its gaze soft on something off to the side. Rin followed its gaze and gasped at what she saw. A blue cloth, buried under the rubble. Rin scrambled over to it and withdrew the fabric, gingerly, and turned it over. A metal plate bearing her village's proud insignia stared up at her.
It was Obito's.
At that moment, Rin felt the surge of electric energy again, and something within her resonated. Suddenly, she could sense Minato, who was off to the west. Kakashi was in the opposite direction but closer, his familiar presence more noticeable. And below her, directly below her, she felt it.
Within what felt like a cavernous void, thrummed the faint presence of her missing teammate.
"Minato-sensei! Minato-sensei, we found him!"
"Kakashi! How…? Where did you find the entrance?"
"There was no entrance, I had my ninken dig below."
"Kakashi, you and I both know that the reason why we hadn't done so to begin with was because we couldn't risk any damages. We didn't know the state of the area, and it was an un-calculated risk that—"
"I know it wasn't the wisest thing to do, but Rin said that it was okay. She couldn't explain it, but she knew that if we dug down from that spot… Damn it, that's not the point! Rin is back there taking care of him, but he's—he's barely alive. We need to get him back to Konoha as soon as possible."
"… I see. Of course."
"Rin, how is he doing?"
"… It's hard to say. E-even as we speak, his vitals are… They're dropping. Slowly, and if I hadn't double-checked I would have thought he was stable. But something isn't right."
"Do you think he'll last?"
"I can't really say. Most likely, but I'd rather not… Chance anything. We should get him back to Konoha as soon as possible."
"I can use my Hiraishin in bursts, but I won't be able to carry you two with me. Will you be alright to travel home on your own?"
"No! Obito, he's—he's only kind of stable because I'm keeping him stable. It's—its hard to explain, but his chakra exhaustion isn't normal… It's almost like his—like his spiritual energy is drained as well. No matter how much chakra I give him his coils aren't keeping it, and if I stop the flow he'll… Obito will…"
"… Die. He'll die."
"… Well, that isn't an option. Can you at give me an estimate for how long you'll be able to keep him stable?"
"I—I'm not sure, but a couple of days at least—"
"Alright. Let's go, we can't waste any time."
"… Yes, sensei."
"We're here for you, Obito. So don't you leave us again."
"We're almost there."
Obito woke up.
Surprisingly, his mind was rather clear, a vast contrast to what he had felt within the cave. He glared down at his still complete form, his apparently still alive body.
"The Shinigami must hate me," he muttered with irritation. "I just cannot. Fucking. Die."
A distinct sense of deja vu hit him then, and he equated his current situation with when he first landed in the past to begin with.
He glanced up, feeling his previous irritation flee him as he took in his surroundings. He appeared to be in a white void, that was decidedly not a cave or anything that he recognized from the living world. It was far more reminiscent to the shared mind-scape between he and Naruto, and the visions he had of the pure world. "… Huh. Maybe I really did die this time."
Obito leapt in the air, releasing a rather unmanly yelp at the deep voice. He whirled around with wide, angry eyes—he was confused, and he didn't really feel like socializing or anything like that—and promptly froze when he realized exactly who it was standing behind him.
The raven-haired man inclined his head in greeting, unmoved by Obito's surprise. "Obito."
The addressed time traveler stared, wide-eyed at the new arrival. Because the last time he had seen the boy in recent memories, he was still a little tyke, training under his instruction and tutelage.
No, this man, he seemed almost… Almost like—
"… Uchiha Itachi," Obito murmured, his eyes narrowing at the young man. He noticed that the faint outlines of the younger Uchiha were blurry, as though he was only viewing a mirage and not the genuine article. "… What… What the hell is going on? What are you doing here? Is this…" He trailed off, brow furrowed. "… The Pure World…?"
To his irritation, and confusion—because he had never seen the man perform such a casual action—Itachi shrugged.
Obito's eyes narrowed further. "Don't give me that, damn it. Obviously, I'm here for a reason, probably because I died. I don't understand how I'm in the Pure World, but—that's besides the point. Why are you here? To guide me, or something weird like that?"
Itachi remained silent as he observed Obito. After a few moments that felt like an eternity, the younger Uchiha replied. "… I am here to explain."
"Explain?" Obito questioned incredulously. "As in, explain why I was in the past to begin with? What happened in the future that I left? Who sent me into the past? Or, wait, maybe you're here to tell me that it was all a test? Or worse, it actually was all a Genjutsu, a fake world, that I had fallen for." As he continued his suppositions, his voice steadily grew with more and more panic. What if it really had been a dream? What if his first assumption had been correct, and Naruto failed?
Itachi merely shook his head, an expression that could have been amusement displayed on his features. "No. You were not incorrect about your original assumption about what has transpired."
Obito stared. "… So it was a Genjutsu?"
Itachi stared back, and Obito felt both irritation and relief flood him. Because he knew that look, as much as Itachi was a master of hiding his emotions and inner thoughts—that look spoke clearly, "you're an idiot," even if Itachi himself didn't say it in so many words. 'Not a Genjutsu, then. He was referring to the time travel part.'
"You've wondered about the Amaterasu."
The time traveler's eyes shot to Itachi at the statement. "… Yes," he murmured, searching the younger Uchiha. "You know what happened with… That."
It wasn't a question. And while he didn't care about the answer to that question as much as he wanted to know about why he was in the past, it was a mystery he wouldn't mind being solved if given the chance.
Itachi gave a silent nod.
He clearly wasn't planning on being forthcoming. With an inward sigh of exasperation, Obito ventured, "well, I'd like to know."
Itachi regarded the time traveler with an inscrutable gaze. "I had placed a transcription seal within your eye."
Obito blinked. "… How?"
"Unimportant and irrelevant," Itachi stated coolly, brushing off the question. "The transcription seal was made with the purpose of activating when you encountered the true Uchiha Madara, but due to the fact that I had never met him personally, it had been set when your emotions were full of bitter hate and resentment—what I had assumed would result from you meeting him once again."
"Again, how?" Obito questioned, eyes narrowed. "What happened? You were, and have been dead. Even discounting the fact that I was displaced through time, we never actually met during the Fourth War, and it was impossible for you to have placed a transcription seal on my eyes."
Itachi remained silent, turning to look to the side. "… Even though I myself died, my eyes continued to exist."
Obito's brow furrowed. "Sasuke?"
The younger Uchiha nodded. "And Naruto."
An irritated snort escaped Obito. He was no less confused, even with the information he had been given. He himself could be cryptic and oh-so-mysterious when he wanted, but Itachi took it to a whole new level. But admittedly, knowing that it was Itachi and not someone else that caused the strange occurrence eased his mind, and he supposed that was good enough.
"Why, though?" Obito asked, confusion prevalent on his face. "Why would you give me that insurance? As far as you knew, I was still an enemy. Why help me?"
Silence greeted him as Itachi glanced to the side, seemingly in thought. After a few moments, he shook his head. "… It was not for you, but for the future of Konoha. I… Had a vague idea of the kind of individual you were, and I had confidence in Naruto that he would see peace through the end. I had placed my trust in you in order to change things for the better." His eyebrow twitched. "… Of course, I never would have imagined that you would use it on yourself like that, or the seal reacting in such a way. The object of your hatred was supposed to receive the brunt of the attack. I ever would have thought that, upon waking you would wish death upon yourself."
Vindication. Obito smiled wryly as he regarded the younger Uchiha. "Well, perhaps you should stop assuming that you know how others would behave. You don't exactly have a good track record with that."
The air between the two of them took on a frigid atmosphere. While Obito had befriended the Itachi of the past, he had wronged the one of his original time in ways that could not be described. They had worked together in the Akatsuki, but their interactions were limited to parallel play wherein one rarely acknowledged the other. Both knew that the other was an Uchiha, but neither cared for this fact—for they both believed in the idiocy that their clan had fallen to, and that the individual paths they had chosen were the right ones. They were not friends, and while they may have been family by blood, they held no deeper or more meaningful connection beyond that.
So Obito had been slightly surprised when Itachi relaxed, his features displaying acceptance. Understanding. "… That is true," he replied in acquiescence.
"… Anyway," Obito continued, feeling vaguely awkward. He hadn't expected to be greeted by Itachi of all people in death, after all. "When, and how did you place the transcription seal in my eyes? How did you even know? Does the…" He hesitated, brow furrowed as he grasped at words. "… Pure world allow that? Are you actually still able to… See things, while dead?"
If anything, his digressed line of questioning seemed to incite brief amusement in Itachi before the impassive mask was donned once more. "Have you ever questioned how you ended up in the past?"
Answering a question with a question; Obito couldn't help but think that Itachi was more infuriating than himself. "Yes, I did. It's not everyday that people find themselves surrounded by dead people, after all." He thought to correct his words when he realized just how they sounded (in their line of work, being surrounded by dead people actually wasn't all that uncommon after all) but he knew that Itachi understood his point.
After a brief moment of silence, Itachi nodded. "It was… During that time, then."
That made no sense. "… What…?" Obito shook his head, regrettably realizing that that particular line of questioning had reached a dead end. "… Forget it. So, how am I talking to you, when I'm in the past? Does death transcend time…? Is this the Pure World? What is going on?"
Itachi offered only a slight quirk of the lips that could possibly be considered a smile. "I wonder."
Obito stared at his younger cousin for a brief moment wherein he didn't know how to respond or what to feel, and shook his head in resignation, again. Itachi's cryptic, sometimes philosophical answers would never change, it seemed, and he would be forced to figure out the answers on his own with the bare hints he was given.
But at the moment, he didn't mind.
"… I guess it doesn't matter. Everything is over." The time traveler smiled, relishing in the lightness of his body, the guiltless conscience within him. "… I… I guess I am dead, huh?" He looked around curiously, wondering if the scenery had changed at all. "Is this it? Or do I wait for the end-all? The eternal reprieve?"
This time, Itachi actually did smile, and it was a strange look on the man. "No. There is someone else who has need to speak with you."
Obito turned back to his cousin with a raised eyebrow. "Someone else? Who—"
And was quickly silenced by a punch to the face that could have given Tsunade a run for her money.
He flew, soared through the air for what felt like whole minutes before slamming on the ground once, twice, as his careening body finally skid to a halt. He tried to process what exactly happened—why do I feel like I was hit by a damn bijūdama—and attempted to sit up, cradling his head as his eyes crossed.
"You fucking idiot!"
That didn't sound like Itachi.
He forced his eyes to focus and blinked in surprise as a figure of pure gold walked—no, stomped up to him. He could see the faint outlines of black contrasting against the brilliant color, and the voice sounded so familiar, but he couldn't place it. As the image cleared and the figure finally came to a halt in front of him, he blinked up in surprise at what he saw. No… No fucking way.
Obito grimaced. "… What the hell—"
He was yanked up by the collar and met by a fierce, orange glare that he hadn't seen since his previous life.
It was him. He was taller, Obito noted, and the shroud looked a bit different from what he had seen. He looked to be around Minato's age, possibly a bit older, and minus the bangs he was an exact replica of the man.
It was him.
It was Naruto.
"I thought it was enough," the strangely-older Naruto growled, eyes flashing between orange and red. "I thought I had gotten through to you Obito, but clearly, it wasn't enough."
He released his hold on Obito and the Uchiha stumbled at the sudden freedom. The blond stepped back to cross his arms, a scowl still in place. "Why didn't you tell anyone? Why didn't you trust anyone, even the people you were supposed to trust? Hell, even Rin, the girl you started a whole damn war for!? And why…" His eyes bled into a strange, reddish orange color and his chakra surged in a powerful blast. His voice was calmer, quiet, but his tone was far from benign. "Why the fuck did you think it was smart to go off and die?"
Obito had his own questions that he wanted to ask; how was he even speaking to Naruto like this, why was he in the past, why was he able to talk to Itachi earlier, and what the hell happened in the future after he died. But the vaguely oppressive (and clearly suppressed, still) aura the blond man exuded… It was that of a kage. A glance to the blond's white cloak and Obito verified that, yes, Naruto had done it. He became Hokage. He achieved his dream.
And Obito couldn't quite bring himself to go against the boy… No, the man, who helped him so much. So he answered truthfully.
"… It seemed like the right thing to do."
Just like that, the golden shroud receded, the previously suffocating aura gone. Naruto stared at him, his face eerily blank, but his eyes searching. "… Do you really believe that?"
Obito noted with wry humor that this scene was oddly reminiscent of their confrontation during the war. "Maybe," he replied with a bland tone before shaking his head. "I'm not sure, honestly. I thought I was right, I was certain it was the right thing to do… But, facing you now, I know it was wrong." He chuckled, but it was humorless and laced with thinly veiled bitterness. "… I just don't seem to learn, do I? Mistake after mistake… It's a wonder I hadn't died sooner."
He who had failed and he who had prevailed stood on opposing ends of the spectrum.
Obito sighed at the thought. Even in death, he couldn't quite escape the guilt and feeling of regret that had resulted from his wrongdoings.
"… 'Children who make the most mistakes grow up to be the wisest adults,'" Naruto whispered, near unheard.
Obito looked up at him questioningly.
"It's… It's something Kurama told me, when I was first starting my Hokage training," Naruto stated awkwardly, scratching the back of his head. It was almost strange, seeing the boy he knew in the man before him—the very same man that held enough power to rip Obito limb from limb only moments before. "I… I messed up a lot, and it was getting really frustrating. No matter what I did, I just couldn't get the hang of it, and I wanted to give up. Finally, the damn fox had had enough of my 'useless moping' and pulled me into our mind-scape to tell me that, accompanied by an ass-whooping. Honestly, I kinda wish I befriended him sooner… Those words would have really helped me when I was a brat."
"… The wisest adults…" Obito echoed, before shaking his head with a frown. "That phrase is… Truthful, but I must be an exception to it. I'm no longer a child, Naruto, and we were just talking about how many mistakes I've made up to this point—"
"You never grew up."
Obito stared at the blond. "… What?"
"You never grew up," Naruto repeated, a solemn, dark look in place. "… You were just like Sasuke. The moment your hatred took ahold of you, you stopped learning, stopped changing, stopped growing… Even if you gained more intelligence and field knowledge, what kind of human can actually grow solely with hatred? Hell, what living being can grow on hatred alone?"
A pained grimace formed on Obito's face. "What kind, you ask? The insane kind, Naruto. Madara—"
"Is what you never became," Naruto interrupted, face severe. "Otherwise, I would never have been able to pull you out of that bullshit. You never went insane, Obito, and you never stopped being Uchiha Obito. You were just… Lost. Uncertain. And grieving. You were too weighed down by your own grief to grow up, you were too focused on a single point in time, your darkest hour to move on.
He paused briefly as his thoughts trailed, missing the shadow cast over the Uchiha's face. "… When you died during the war, what was your last memory?"
Obito blinked at the sudden switch of topics, feeling off-kilter. He thought for a few moments before replying. "… I think I told K—"
"No no, not that," Naruto interrupted, waving his arm in dismissal. "I mean, what did you look like? Who were you?"
Obito frowned in consternation at the interruption and the strange line of questions before his eyes widened in realization. He had… He had been a child. Just as he had been before "dying" during the Kannabi Bridge mission.
His eyes narrowed on the blond. "… So you're literally saying that I'm still a child."
Naruto only offered an unrepentant, vulpine grin. "That's what I said, 'ttebayo. They say that a person truly finds out who they are at death, but no—at least, not now." His face relaxed and the smile grew gentle. "People grow from their mistakes, from their adversity and loss. But that growth, that healing and strengthened armor, is only possible when you have an actual reason to move on. When you have people to help you, to motivate you to move forward…"
He shook his head. "… Both you and Sasuke were so certain that you didn't have anyone, and as a result, you never grew up. You froze in time, in that moment you felt you lost everything because you didn't think there was anyone else—because you didn't want to move on."
Obito's fists clenched as he stared at Naruto, unblinkingly, ignoring the inclination to turn away. What Naruto was saying was the truth, and facing it was the first step to repenting.
"… But, that was the you before," the blond continued easily, grinning proudly at the hesitant look on the Uchiha's face. "Even though you made your mistakes up to the last minute—and I mean the very last minute—you made the right choices, too. You've changed, Obito, and as a result you changed the future."
Silence settled between them, but it was a comfortable one as Obito fully processed the words of the kage before him.
Even without being the Child of Prophecy, or the reincarnation to an Ōtsutsuki, or some other crazy thing… He had. He had changed things, right? Not a lot, and while a part of him worried that time would fix itself and everything would eventually revert to what he knew as a pre-scripted future/past… Somehow, it was actually simple to believe that he had done something right.
Obito burst out into laughter.
"I can tell that you've gotten better at your speeches, Naruto," he chuckled out, smiling at the blond. "Kagehood helped, huh? I think you're wordier than me and Madara, now. Maybe."
Naruto rolled his eyes and crossed his arms, a decidedly unmanly pout on his features. "Goddamnit, come on, why does everyone say that? I was motivational before too, 'ttebayo…" And despite his complaining, he smiled as Obito continued to give true, mirthful laughs.
"… Thank you," Obito finally said after his chuckles had died down. "That… That does, admittedly, make me feel a bit more certain about the life I've lived. I can finally rest, now."
To his confusion, Naruto scoffed. "You dumbass. You still have stuff to do."
An uncertain frown formed on Obito's face. "… What do you mean?"
"Look, you still have things to do, you have precious people to protect." The blond jabbed a thumb at himself. "Just like me."
The Uchiha's expression twisted to something unreadable. "I'll never be you."
Naruto snorted. "I'd hope not, everyone keeps telling me that I'm an idiot of a Hokage. But despite that, Konoha needs people like us, Obito."
"… What are you saying?" Obito asked, eyes narrowed almost suspiciously.
The blond sighed, clapping a hand over his face. "Look, little-me won't be Hokage-ready for a while, and I know Tou-chan is gonna need a break. I mean… He'sspryand all, but dealing with both me and Kaa-chan is gonna tired him out quickly. Seriously, can you imagine the shit that little-me and Kaa-chan will be capable of? Someone is gonna need to fill the gap… Just until I'm ready, though. No version of me is gonna NOT be Hokage."
Obito shook his head solemnly with a chuckle. Admittedly, the idea of Kushina and a younger Naruto working together—most likely on a prank, no doubt—was an amusing thought. "That's a forgotten dream, Naruto."
"Like hell it is," he snapped in reply, crossing his arms. "You once thought that protecting your precious people was a forgotten dream, and look at where you are now. Look at all of the people you have to protect, and who care about you." He gestured behind Obito.
The time traveler, curious, turned around. He was slightly surprised to see the hazy after-images of a small crowd—Minato, Kushina, Rin, Kakashi, Itachi, Fugaku, Shisui, Mikoto, and a few other faces he had encountered in his stay in the past. It wasn't anything like Naruto's group of supporters, but he had to admit that knowing he actually had them made a warm feeling swell in his chest.
… It hurt. He felt like he couldn't breathe. And he didn't like the strange fogginess that blurred his vision.
"… Yes, but…" he murmured, shaking his head to dispel the odd, suffocating feeling. "It isn't the same."
Naruto lifted an eyebrow. "Obito, I'm Hokage in my time now, even if I was only just handed the position. Don't bullshit me with lame excuses or I'll wade across time just to kick your lame-ass."
Obito managed a wry chuckle at that. "I can't, Naruto. I've changed, and I can't go back. I'm not fit to be Hokage, of all things, and to look after the new generation—not with all of the darkness that still shrouds me. Hell, I don't know if I can even walk into Konoha as it is. I just… I can't go back to how I was."
"Who said anything about going back?" Naruto questioned, and Obito lifted his gaze to meet the blond's azure eyes. "Nothing stays the same, Obito. There is no such thing as fate, your future is however you make it."
Obito closed his eyes, unaccepting of the blond's words. While he himself was an unequivocal pessimist, Naruto was an optimist—for all that the blond wanted him to believe him, for all that he himself wanted to believe Naruto, some things just didn't work out as they hoped.
Unseen by the Uchiha, Naruto smirked. "… Y'know, this makes me think of something that Kakashi-sensei said. What was it? That saying that he picked up from you… Something about getting lost all the time?" Obito's lifted his head and looked at Naruto with wide eyes. The young Hokage tapped his chin contemplatively in thought, but the vulpine grin on his features belied his uncertainty. "Life will be whatever you want it to be, and it's up to whatever path YOU decide to take, not some stupid pre-scripted path to a specific destination." He laughed. "After all, I don't think you guys would've been getting lost on the road of life so damn often if you knew exactly where you were going, right?"
He lifted his fist. Obito stared at it, his eyes still wide, before his gaze slowly trailed up to the blond man, who wore an expectant look on his face. Tentatively, Obito curled his own fist and reciprocated the fist-bump, the action awkward and unfamiliar.
Naruto smiled as he nodded, his eyes glowing with trust, determination, and uncontested strength. Charisma.
That of a true Hokage.
"You can't fix anything if you're dead, Obito. Only the living can change and grow." The blond turned around, waving a hand nonchalantly. The characters for "Nanadaime Hokage" were displayed proudly on the back of his cloak, rippling with each sway of his steps. "… We'll see you soon, Obito."
Obito blinked at the vision that was displayed before him. Afterimages of Minato and Kushina, the former in his own Hokage attire, trailed behind their son. They paused briefly and turned to Obito, twin smiles on their faces that mirrored Naruto's own. Slowly, the vision faded, and with it the retreating back of Naruto followed not long after.
Once again, Obito found himself drifting, floating, and cognizance slowly receded from his mind. The bright surroundings dimmed as he faded entirely.
"Uzumaki Naruto… Thank you."
The stifling smell of sterilizing products and medication filled the air.
The hospital room was bright and washed in the sun's rays, the white walls bright in the natural illumination. And yet, the sickening anticipation and misery lingering in the room provided a cloud of dread that offset the natural light.
A single, grey eye drifted over to the prone form on the hospital bed.
"… You stupid idiot."
Minato observed the silver-haired Jōnin with half his attention, and Rin didn't even acknowledge Kakashi's words—she was sleeping soundly, her head bowed where she sat.
They were all weary, in mind and body. They had just returned from their individual missions—Kakashi and Rin from the Kannabi Bridge mission, and Minato from the front lines—and then, Minato had dragged them all out there again, still grieving over the potential loss of their teammate, in the hopes that he was not as lost as they believed. The three of them had already been drained, but the additional travel across half of Hi no Kuni added to the emotional turmoil they had been thrown through left them all extremely fatigued.
Quite frankly, Minato was surprised his two students lasted as long as they did. If he was feeling as worn out as he felt, it was a natural assumption that his students would practically be dead on their feet.
It went to show how much the life of their teammate meant to them.
At the thought, Minato's fists clenched and he sealed his eyes shut, hiding his fury. Obito was here, he was alive. But at what cost? Minato still didn't know exactly what Obito felt was so important that he needed to give himself a suicide mission, and he needed to know the boy's exact reasoning.
It went beyond the loyalty he had for his village. It was for himself that he needed to know, for Obito and their team that he needed to know. Minato simply couldn't understand why Obito would think it wise to undertake such an endeavor on his lonesome.
… But maybe he didn't want to know. At this, Minato released a sigh, his tension alleviating somewhat. He recalled with vivid clarity the darkness that loomed behind his student's eyes when he recalled his past, recalled the future that could be. He knew that it was a future wherein neither he nor Kushina lived, a future where Rin was dead. Minato wasn't quite sure he wanted to know about such an outcome unless necessary—unless he needed to know of it to preventit.
There was also the fact that in the future-past, the Uchiha had been living over half of his life in that hell. How long had he believed that what he was doing was right? For how long were his morals tainted, his view of the world skewed and misted? Could someone who actually couldn't see the same strain of reason as Minato be blamed for his less-than amenable choices?
No. He couldn't. Obito had been alone, with his own haunted memories and twisted mind to guide him. If no one was there to correct them, no one, even Minato—especially Minato, perhaps, for having apparently failed his student to begin with—could judge him for his errors.
… Still, it didn't excuse Obito. It made the whole situation slightly easier to understand, but Obito was by no means pardoned in the Hokage-to-be's eyes.
"… It's just like last time."
Minato glanced back to Kakashi, whose gaze was still firmly affixed to Obito.
'Just like last time…?' In a way, it was.
The whole situation was eerily similar to when this Obito had, presumably, first arrived in the past.
Minato twitched when his ears picked up a commotion in the halls, and Kakashi reacted not a second after him. They both stood as the door slammed open, startling Rin awake.
"Let me GO you STUPID IDIOTS, I need to SMACK SOME SENSE into that STUPID UCHIHA—"
"Uzumaki-san, please! You need to rest—"
"—I SWEAR to KAMI all Uchiha except 'Koto-chan are FUCKING IDIOTS WITH TEN-FOOT POLES UP THEIR ASSES—"
"—this is a hospital, please keep your voice down—!"
"—Kurama FINALLY LET ME OUT, so I am GOING TO BEAT SOME DAMN SENSE INTO THE IDIOT—"
Minato cleared his throat purposefully, his brow furrowed as he regarded his wife. "… Kushina, what… What is going on?"
The redhead blinked as she paused her struggles. She glanced around the room before wrenching herself away from the grabby nurses (causing some of them to go flying to the wall, not that she cared much; she did warn them) and scratching the back of her head as she walked in. "… Um. Well, hi?"
Minato's eyes narrowed. "… Kushina, why are you wearing a hospital gown? Did something happen while we were away? Did someone attack you? What—"
"I'm fine, dattebane," the Uzumaki quickly interrupted, crossing her arms with a huff. "It was just Kura—er, the Kyūbi." At her husband's stricken look, she waved her arm flippantly. "He kept me unconscious so I couldn't go after you guys and, well, beat some sense into the current occupant of this room."
Silence greeted her statement until a crash echoed through the room, and all eyes darted to Kakashi—who was sprawled on the floor next to his chair, holding his head.
"Kakashi!?" Kushina darted over to the boy, worry clear. "Kakashi, are you alright? What happened!?"
"It's just minor chakra exhaustion, Kushina-san," Rin said quietly, stifling a yawn. "… Well, exhaustion in general, I guess…"
Kushina's violet eyes grew menacing as she turned to her husband. "… Minato. What happened?"
The blond sighed, taking care to not miss his chair like his student as he sat down. "It's… A long story. I'm not sure if word traveled already, but…" His gaze met Kushina's. "Did you hear that Obito was KIA?"
The red-head gaped, her eyes darting to the pale but living visage of Obito. "But he's—he's right…" She noticed the emotionless look on the blond's face, and gathered herself. "… No. I didn't."
Minato nodded. "Well, as you can see, he wasn't as dead as some of us thought."
Another silence lulled, and Minato's eyes grew blurry and unfocused. If he had not been as exhausted as he was, he would have noticed his wife's assessing, scrutinizing gaze being leveled at the four of them.
"… You're all really tired."
Minato didn't deadpan a harsh "yes," but it was a close thing. He wanted to rest, but his nerves were not yet his own.
"… You guys probably don't want to hear this right now," Kushina stated, "but I have something to say. And I need you three awake for this, 'ttebane."
It was then that Minato felt the wash of chakra, and straightened immediately. Rin and Kakashi were not quite as immediate with their reactions, but they had noticed the shift regardless. A privacy seal.
"… the Kyūbi," Kushina murmured quietly, "told me some… Things."
"The Kyūbi?" Kakashi questioned incredulously with a hint of apprehension. "Why? Should you be talking to the bijū?"
Kushina and Minato exchanged a glance. They had both forgotten that Kakashi and Rin had been left out of the more recent truths regarding the fox.
"That… Well, we have reason to believe that he means well in this case," Kushina acquiesced. "But anyway, I want to confirm some things. He told me about a future when Minato, Rin and I are dead, Kakashi is a loner, and Obito has been… 'Engulfed by darkness'."
While both Kakashi and Rin stiffened at the last part, they had shown confusion at the beginning. Minato suddenly found himself pinned by the eerily inscrutable gaze of his wife, and his mind caught up to him.
She knew. And no doubt was wondering how much they knew.
He nodded, answering her silent question. She didn't turn away as he had expected, however, and her gaze remained on him.
"He told me a few things, very interesting things. But I think the most interesting was about a certain boy." Almost unconsciously, her hand drifted to her stomach. She didn't seem to notice the motion, but Minato had catalogued it in the back of his mind. "A boy without parents, hated by the very village he was born to protect. Hated for what he held, what everyone saw as a monster. Apparently, a boy who was considered the Child of Prophecy. This boy… He had to do with Obito's, er, 'shift of perspectives'."
And then she turned away as Rin asked her a question.
But Minato was wide-eyed, stunned by his own revelation, by his own thought.
He was shocked, because it hadn't been something he had even considered—after all, who would? He had questioned who the boy Obito spoke of so reverently was. Minato had never considered the possibility that the boy wasn't even born yet.
That fact alone brought an endless supply of possibilities, yet Minato's mind had come up with a very specific one that left him both baffled and fearful of the future. He hadn't considered it before, but the connection, how it made sense…
Alone, without parents. Hated by the village because of a "burden." The Child of Prophecy, a title that Jiraiya had once associated with Minato himself.
Kushina was the Kyūbi's Jinchūriki. Minato and Kushina's death, as told by Obito…
Minato shook himself from his thoughts and turned to a curious-looking Rin. "… Yes, Rin?"
Her brow furrowed. "… Do you know?"
The blond turned to his wife, who only nodded. He had fallen to his thoughts and missed a portion of the conversation, and he wasn't quite sure exactly what his student was asking.
"… Do I know? You'll have to be more specific than that, Rin."
"Do you know what's going on with Obito," Kakashi interrupted—though perhaps he was asking the question his teammate had meant. "You looked shellshocked, like you realized something. What is it?"
Minato grimaced. "… I do know what is going on," he relented, inwardly wincing at the way his students looked like they were ready to pounce. "However, this is really something that Obito should tell you himself."
"He won't tell us," Rin almost growled, frustration apparent. "And it's really, really frustrating! We don't understand what is going on, and no matter what we do… Even though we want to support him, he won't let us. We already tried stepping back and giving him space." She glanced to the prone form of the Uchiha. "And thisis what it got us."
Minato closed his eyes and sighed. He understood her thoughts on the matter—he wouldn't have been feeling so annoyed himself if he didn't. He couldn't tell them everything for obvious reasons, partly because he himself had not yet received confirmation and also due to the nature of the information, but he could give them the general facts and allow them to create their own theories from there. "… I'm only going to say this once. I will understand if you do not believe me, but I would appreciate it if you took a moment to consider it and the fact that I myself am vouching for its validity before outright rejecting my words." He opened his eyes and stared at his students. "… Obito is from the future."
A deafening silence fell around them at the declaration.
Kushina pat Minato on the shoulder, and he looked up at her.
"… I'm going to go back to my room," she murmured, looking at the shell-shocked expressions of the teens. "You guys will need some privacy I think, dattebane."
"Wait," he whispered quietly. "How much did the Kyūbi tell you? You know more than me, don't you?"
Kushina smiled wryly. "I know, you're curious. We can talk about this later, after you give your students the support they need." She glanced to the two in question. "… It looks like they'll need it."
Minato sat back in his seat and cast a tired look at Obito, who, while paler than usual, had an almost peaceful look on his face. He didn't know whether to be happy for the Uchiha or angry at him, looking so content while leaving his loved ones in such a state of panic and worry.
"… How?" Kakashi finally croaked, breaking through the silence. "How did he end up in the past? Why? When?" His voice slowly gained more strength as he went on, growing from a hushed whisper to shouted growls. "Is that why Obito is so strong? Why he knew so much? What was the future like? Why didn't he tell us? Why didn't he warn us about the future? Why—"
Minato lifted a hand up, silencing the rambling boy. "This is kept as a secret for a reason, Kakashi. If anyone should tell you guys the full truth it's Obito—don't give me that look, it isn't just because of that, but also because I myself don't know the full truth. So ask Obito, but if he doesn't wish to tell you then don't push it."
A thousand emotions ran past his student's faces, but he watched as each one was reined back behind their barriers as they sat back in their chairs to process the information. They knew, as well as Minato, that the third member of Team Minato was not exactly emotionally stable. They would have had to have been blind to have missed the darkness that existed in their teammate's eyes, and even though they wanted answers… They also knew that if Obito didn't want to tell them, if he didn't want them to know… Then they had no choice but to accept it until he was willing to tell them himself.
After a minute of silence, Kakashi's eyes widened and he turned sharply to Minato and Rin. "That story… About the fool…?"
As Rin's eyes widened as well, Minato placed a hand on both of their heads to ruffle their hair. They looked up at him, both questioning and knowing the answer—a fact that made a soft smile form on the blond's face.
"Let's just make sure we're always there for him, ne?"
As he came to for what he mentally noted as the third time, he sucked in a relieving breathe of air.
The action left him aching with his muscles contracting painfully, but it was a soothing feeling anyway. Because it meant that he had, against his original expectations, survived.
He was alive.
Obito sat up as he fully realized this fact, but quickly regretted the action when his midsection felt as though it were sliced in two. The world spun before his eyes and he hunched over cradling his stomach, his eyes screwed shut from the battering, nauseating sensations.
"… Ugh… I feel like shit," he mumbled halfheartedly. While he was happy that he had survived, he kind of missed the weightless, burden-less feel he had in that white void.
"You should take it easy," a calm voice chided quietly, and Obito only then realized he wasn't alone. He cracked his onyx eye open when he felt a cool hand come to rest on his back, and sucked in a startled breath when he saw golden-blond hair and azure eyes.
But he blinked, and as his vision cleared he saw the differences. No, it wasn't Naruto standing there before him, the man's side bangs were too long, his face slimmer… And there was a distinct lack of whisker marks.
"… Minato-sensei," Obito greeted awkwardly, not quite sure how to react to the man's presence. After all, the last time he had seen the man he had been planning his own death. He hadn't thought he would be returning, so seeing the blond there as it stood was… Strange.
Minato eased him back to lean against the elevated bed, either oblivious to or politely ignoring the searching stares of his student. Obito knew that it was the latter. He could tell that he wanted answers, but he wasn't quite ready to give them. Not yet.
But he at least owed the man some peace of mind.
"… You know sensei…" The blond's gaze snapped to his own immediately. Obito gulped, recalling his conversation with the man's son. "… I've… I've been thinking about the Hokage thing…"
Minato visibly brightened. "Is it your dream again? To be Hokage?"
Obito stared at the Hokage-to-be's hopeful face. He knew it was more the man's wish to see the innocent happiness of the original Obito than the actual wish for his students to vie for his position. "… No." The Uchiha valiantly ignored the way his sensei's smile faltered at the admission. "I… I hate to admit it. But I would not be the type of Hokage Konoha needs. Even Bakashi would do a better job than me at this point."
He looked out of the window, only able to see a portion of the Hokage Monument from his vantage point. He silently wondered how the monument looked in the future, with Kakashi and Naruto's stone visages up there with their predecessor's. "… I would only take up the position if it was strictly necessary, and if there was no one else. Only if something were to happen to you… Otherwise, I will only blindly follow two people in my life."
Obito turned to Minato with a small, wistful smile. "You, and another block-headed blond with sky-blue eyes that is so stubborn… So damn stubborn, that people can't help liking him."
The time traveler turned away and stared down at his hands, flexing each finger to occupy himself. He winced at the strange, prickling sensation that flashed through his arms, his right in particular, but he supposed that the sensation was a good sign.
He therefore missed the almost mischievous grin that grew on his sensei's face.
"… It's a good trait, you know. It means that he won't ever give up, even when the cards are against him… He's just like his mother in that respect, wouldn't you agree?"
Obito's head snapped towards the blond quick enough to give him whiplash, and he stared at Minato with his only eye widened in shock. A few moments of silence passed with Minato's grin unfaltering, and Obito struggling to keep from gaping. Eventually, he eased into a small, resigned smirk, and turned away with a shake of his head. "… You figured it out. I really shouldn't be surprised."
Minato sat back in his chair, still grinning at his student. "Well, sort of. You just confirmed my suspicions… And it's quite a story, to be honest. Admittedly, it didtake me quite a while to piece everything together."
Obito stared at the opposite wall with a blank gaze, not wanting to meet the stare of the blond. He still wasn't quite sure what to say, and he now understood his earlier apprehension. Sure, he was back in Konoha, he was alive—but what would happen to him if they asked questions? If they demanded answers? Obito couldn't confidently say that he wouldn't run away and destroy his remaining chances of living a happy life in his village, because he couldn't say he wouldn't hurt or attack someone asking too many—by accident or otherwise.
"… I don't claim to know how you feel," Minato began, and Obito tentatively glanced in the man's direction. "… But if you feel like you made a mistake in the past… What you need to do is continue living so you can rectify your mistakes. Dying won't solve anything." Minato pinned the Uchiha with a stern look. "Don't run away. Stop thinking you need to, Obito, because you still have us. Even if most of us are dead in the future you came from… You're not there anymore. You're here. And we're here, alive, with you."
Obito stared at the blond for a few moments before returning his gaze to his hands.
… But a fist collided with the top of his head and he spluttered, turning to his sensei with a scandalized look.
"What the hell—OW!?" He hissed, shielding his head with both hands. "Sensei, what was that for!?"
Minato sat back in his chair with a casual look, but the downright evil grin displayed proudly belied his innocence. "That, Obito, was for hiding so much from us. We aren't your team for nothing, and while I understand that you had a tough time in the future, you need to stop living in your past. Like I said, no one is dead, even you." His grin softened. "… You're here in the past, so make changes—that includes to yourself. Nothing has to stay the same if you don't want it to."
Obito observed the man, his chest feeling suspiciously tight.
Before he could reply, however, the doors slammed open, revealing his two disheveled teammates and a frazzled-looking Kushina. "IS HE AWAKE!?"
Wordlessly, Minato stood and pulled his chair back. Two and a half pairs of eyes immediately darted to Obito's, and he suddenly found himself in a crushing embrace.
"R-Rin?" He murmured quietly, confused and embarrassed at the girl squeezing him to death. He noticed the trail of tears next, and allowed his arms to wrap around her trembling form as she let out restrained sobs.
He winced, however, when a hand smacked him across the back of his head. He leveled an unimpressed glare at his other teammate, who regarded him impassively. "I'm still injured, y'know, Bakashi."
Kakashi's only visible eye glared down at him. "… You're a fucking idiot, you know that?"
Obito blinked, incredulously. "… You know, I don't think I've ever heard you actually swear like that."
"… So?" The silver-haired Jōnin asked, looking vaguely uncomfortable at the Uchiha's stare.
Obito grinned. "So, I think you're just embarrassed! You were worried about me, weren't you?"
The tips of Kakashi's ears went red, but he didn't respond to the teasing. Instead, he took a seat next to Rin, and pat Obito on the shoulder. "… Yeah. I guess… I guess I was."
Obito gave an exasperated eye-roll at the boy's socially awkward antics (he was flattered by the boy's sorrowful attempts, but still) and wrapped his arm around Kakashi's neck in a half-hug, half choke-hold. He kept his other arm around Rin and squeezed, smiling at Kakashi's sudden protests and Rin's mirthful giggles.
Meanwhile, Minato and Kushina observed the exchange with smiles.
"… Obito," Kakashi murmured, causing both the addressed Uchiha and Rin to pause in their laughter. The Jōnin pulled away to lightly punch Obito on the shoulder. "… No matter what happened to you before… Everything is different, now. You don't need to allow your past to keep its hold on you. Not when you have us."
"Yeah," Rin nodded as she sat back, patting Obito's hand. "… And we're a team. You were the one who said that, as a team, we had to stick together."
Obito watched as the Minato, Kushina, Rin and Kakashi exchanged a look before turning him with smiles of varying brightness—even Kakashi was smiling, beneath his mask.
The time traveler blinked, fighting the familiar fogginess clouding his vision, the moisture creating an uncomfortable sensation in his closed right eye. His chest constricted, and he suddenly felt it difficult to breathe. It was suffocating, and he was almost scared. Scared of the feeling, of the hope that had taken residence. Scared of the possibility that everything would shatter and fade, the only remainder being a fragmented memory that he couldn't live in reality.
As his eyes darted from person to person, smile to smile, he saw the future that could have been had he not given in to the darkness the first time. And then, he saw a future from the here and now.
"Welcome home, Obito."
… And just like that, his hesitance shattered.
Because it didn't matter. His sins and his past would always accompany him, would always be within his shadow.
But he was home.
A cool hand brushed against his cheek, and he suddenly saw the worried gazes of Kushina and Rin. "… Obito? Are you alright?"
He lifted a hand to touch his cheek, and startled when his fingers came away damp. He was… He was crying.
"Ha… Haha…" he chuckled, and despite his tears, it was relieved, truly mirthful laughter, untainted by the darkness that had been ever-present for half of his life. He balled his hands and wiped away at the dampness, turning away slightly. "… Hahaha! It's nothing guys, just—it's just dust. I-I just got some dust in my eyes, haha…"
Silence settled around him, but it was a comfortable silence. Even though his eyes were sealed shut as he rubbed away the liquid, he could feel their unwavering presences, their undying support. For him.
Eventually, he gave up the battle. Uchiha Obito had cried many times in life, but never had he cried of pure relief and happiness. It was, for lack of a better explanation, like the purifying rain preceding blue skies, the rain that followed a time of perpetual overcast skies and bleak weather.
His visage, one that was less than-pleasing-his scarred right side, the obvious lines of stress and weariness written within the creases around his eyes, the bruising around his sealed right eye due to the extraction and replacement of his own-brightened, for once unshadowed by his past.
Un-touched, not haunted by guilt.
He looked up at his team, at his family, with a sunny grin only offset by the already drying tear tracks.
"… It feels good to be back."
A week had passed since then.
He had been discharged from the hospital, and had gone to visit a few people that had, to his surprise, been rather worried about him.
The elderly that his younger self had befriended were rather shaken about the whole ordeal, and clearly overjoyed that he had returned alive. It was somewhat shocking, if only because some of them he had only spoken two once or twice in his lifetime, and yet, they regarded him as a member of their family.
Perhaps more surprising was when he was accosted by Uchiha Mikoto and Itachi in the marketplace on the way to the old folk's home. Mikoto had hugged him (it had been both surprising and immensely awkward for him), saying how glad she was that he was alright and how worried she had been. She had backed off when Itachi clung to him, choosing to remain silent. He had looked down at the quiet boy, immensely startled by the clear signs of a breakdown. Itachi had almost cried.
Thankfully, the boy had only let a few tears slip before he reoriented himself, patting Obito on the hands with his own in a silent display of affection. Or checking to see if he had any lingering injuries; he honestly didn't know with the eerily precocious child.
Mikoto had then told him that he should come over for dinner at some point. When he had asked her reasons for the invitation, she had mentioned that Shisui missed him and Fugaku was worried about his condition.
Fugaku. Uchiha Fugaku. Worried.
He hadn't voiced his incredulity, partly because it would have been immensely rude to do so—but also because of the look in Mikoto's eyes that belied any assumptions he had, that somehow made him truly believe the Fugaku had been worried for him. Even if the concept itself was still a bit difficult to accept. Because Uchiha Fugaku.
Overall, his encounter with the Uchiha family had been very shocking indeed.
So there Obito was, walking to the training grounds where he was supposed to meet Team Minato for the last time.
It had come as a shock when Obito learned that Minato was being pulled from the ranks to prepare for Hokage-hood, and that Kakashi would be the official team leader. Many changes had occurred in the aftermath of the Third Shinobi War, including Minato's new moniker "The Yellow Flash" (something that Obito smiled at with nostalgia as Minato was teased relentlessly by Kushina).
While there were changes to be sure, some things hadn't changed. And for that, Obito was grateful.
During his week in the hospital, he had much to mull over, and he had been glad for the solitude his room provided.
He had to rework his entire view, had to reorient himself in this new world of possibilities. For the first time in his life since he was a child, the world was not the hideous, selfish monster that took as it pleased. He had people standing with him, supporting him, and it was both empowering and frightful. For all the power and knowledge he had accrued before, he had made many mistakes in the future-past, caused the deaths of many, and Obito wasn't sure if he actually knew another way.
But Naruto had pounded a new ideal into his head. Minato had as well, and to a lesser extent, his team.
Being alive meant trial and error. It was as simple as that.
Making mistakes, fixing them, and hoping for a better tomorrow. It was all a part of living, of growing, and no amount of sulking over his past would change anything.
Obito had made enough mistakes for two lifetimes, but so long as death didn't have him, he would continue to forge on into the unknown. He didn't know the immediate future, not with all of the changes he had already incurred by simply existing, and he was determined to ensure that the future he did know wouldn't come to pass.
It was better this way, he realized. Better than expecting life to go a certain way after his death.
It was better to live through it all and watch the world change with him rather than run and hide. Rather than run to the embrace of death.
No one knows exactly where life will take them.
Obito lifted his hand as he entered the training field, waving at his teammates. They turned to him with smiles as he ran over. "Obito! There you are!"
Nothing is written in stone until the moment it happens.
"Obito, you weren't in the hospital when we went to get you!" Rin pouted, crossing her arms. Kakashi stared at the boy and interjected. "And you're late. Where in the world were you?"
After all, that's what it means to be…
Obito shrugged and smiled brightly, his shoulders unburdened and lacking tension. Free.
"… Lost on the road of life."
To Be Lost on the Road of Life
A/N: I have to laugh at how many of you mentioned, during Obito's "darkening" or whatever, that he needed someone to whip him back into shape and how Naruto couldn't do it. Because, at that point, Naruto breaking all the rules and doing just that had already been the plan. So for those of you who mentioned that and were wondering why I didn't reply to your review, that's why. I THINK one of you actually guessed it, but I can't remember who atm.
A question quite a few of you have asked: Sequel? First of all, I want to say that some of you are crazy. Started pm-ing me/commenting about a potential sequel after 1-3 weeks of the initial posting of this story! But anyway, to answer your questions: maybe. I did set this up for a sequel to be honest, but I don't see myself writing one. I already have a general idea of what this supposed "sequel" might entail, but that's it. I may post the sequel in a month, a year, three years—I'm just not a particular fan of the concept of sequels. You guys can probably see the setup for a sequel but I'm still debating if I should even attempt it.
There's an optional epilogue coming for you guys. It's my solution to a time skip, which I want to avoid. (The epilogue is the lead-in to the possible sequel, and both of them will take a while to be posted—the epilogue, maybe as much as a few months, the sequel, as much as two years if I do one. Hence, the optional part.)
Because I have no idea when the epilogue will come around, I'll just say it now. I almost can't believe that I actually finished this. It started with an idea, spurned on from the wish to read something that apparently didn't exist. Eventually, it became my own, along with yours—the reviewers, thanks to all of the support, constructive criticism and guidance you lent me. I am not sad to see this end—in fact, I'm pretty satisfied with how things wrapped up—and over all, I am actually quite happy with how my first completed story turned out. (I still can't believe that I did this in English, and I really feel like this is a pretty major milestone for me regarding the language, just, GAH HOLY SHIT) I cannot say it enough, thank you for your continued support and devotion! :D
(Hopefully most of your questions will be solved by the Epilogue [it's freaking HUGE, and yes Madara's head/Uchiha Council and the Ame Siblings come into play], and I will be addressing Zetsu, OOC, and the overall lack of actual plot development in the epilogue A/N.)