Chapter 63

"Tobi and Orochimaru escaped, Sunagakure entered the alliance, Gaara got sent back, and Itachi obtained our father's Mangekyou. What else am I missing?" Maiko asked, placing the cup of water down on the nightstand.

Slowly, Kakashi shook his head. Only when Maiko squinted her eyes at him, trying to see his movement more clearly, did he remember to answer, "No. That's pretty much it."

He didn't quite approve of the fact that Maiko was back in the working mode five minutes after waking up from an eighteen-day long coma. But Maiko stubbornly insisted, adamant on getting caught up as soon as she was conscious again.

"Death and casualty?" Maiko asked, making Kakashi and Itachi go silent. As if sensing their unease, Maiko asked again with more specification, "What's the death and casualty during One-Tail's rampage outside of the village?"

She knew something. Not everything, but enough that she wouldn't give up until she got her answer.

"Seven Anbu died while two suffered career-ending injuries," Itachi said. There was a pause as Itachi wondered if he should just break the news and be done with it. "Your teammate, Keishi, died as well."

Maiko's finger tightened on the blanket covering her body, scrunching up the edges as veins started to show on her hand. A moment later, she asked, "He was killed by One-Tail?"

"Yes," Kakashi answered.

"After I started taming the beast?"

"Yes, but-"

"It's not your fault." Itachi interjected before Kakashi could finish saying the same thing. His tone was non-negotiable like it was meant to cut deep into Maiko's heart before it got swallowed by guilt and blame.

"I know." Maiko turned her head to the side, refusing to meet Itachi in the eye. "Trust me, I know."

Yeah right, Kakashi had his own fair share of losses in Anbu that he knew exactly what she was thinking: it wasn't her fault, but it was her incompetence that let One-Tail escape her control.

Therefore, Kakashi debated if now was the right time, but it seemed like it shouldn't matter, for there never was a right time. Quietly, he took out the letter from his storage seal and placed it by Maiko's nightstand.

"Keishi had this letter in the Anbu Archive, to be sent to you in case of his death," Kakashi explained, drawing Maiko's attention to the envelope sealed by the Konoha Anbu insignia.

"Thanks for delivering it to me," Maiko said, her eyes only stayed on the envelope for a moment before she turned her attention away, so abruptly that Kakashi was sure that she was fleeing. "On the note of the One-Tail Rampage, we should talk about Tobi."

"We can discuss that topic later, Mai. It can wait," Itachi said, already regretting bringing work to Maiko's bedroom in the first place.

"It can't," Maiko didn't even pause in her words before turning to Kakashi. "He has the same Mangekyou as yours, Kakashi. So unless anomalies appeared in history for the first time, he also has Uchiha Obito's sharingan."

"So, I'm sorry for asking this, but are you sure that Uchiha Obito is dead?" Maiko asked, forcing Kakashi to think back on his dead friend that was lost at the Kannabi Bridge forever.

"The right side of his body was crushed by boulders, then I watched him getting buried by rocks as the rest of the cave exploded," Kakashi answered, remembering the tears that ran down Rin's face as they ran away, not even able to retrieve the body of their teammate who had given his life to save them.

But that was the eleven-year-old Kakashi. Now, the twenty-six-year-old Kakashi needed to re-examine his memory with rationality and scrutiny, for he was the only one who had survived to pass along the information.

"Rin - my teammate back then - and I were unable to retrieve Obito's body, and yes, we never confirmed his death before he was buried by the fallen rocks. After Kannabi Bridge was destroyed, we went back and searched for his body, but we never found anything." Kakashi finished his sentence, trying to figure out - and helping Itachi and Maiko figure out - where exactly things went wrong from fourteen years ago.

"Is it possible that Uchiha Obito had survived longer for someone to find his body and take his eye before it had lost its potential to be transplanted?" Maiko asked. It was the kinder speculation out of the two, Kakashi supposed, to think that Tobi was merely someone who had pillaged a sharingan.

"I saw Tobi closing his sharingan before, so that alone confirms him as an Uchiha," Itachi answered. "Furthermore, Tobi's mastery over his Mangekyou ability is unparalleled even amongst Maiko and me. We all suffer from drawbacks and chakra exhaustion, but not him."

Kakashi knew what Itachi was hinting at but wasn't willing to say. Too many coincidences had to have happened for an unknown Uchiha to stumble upon Obito's dying body, where he happened to have the resources to harvest Obito's right eye, and he happened to be in need of a right sharingan.

After all, Obito's Mangekyou wasn't even open then and nobody would know what kind of Mangekyou abilities it would develop. It was unlikely for an Uchiha to replace his own sharingan with Obito's unless he was missing one.

Too many coincidences meant that they were stretching to fit narratives to the facts because the simplistic explanation was too difficult to accept.

"It's more likely that Obito is still alive, that he is Tobi," Kakashi said it for them, the speculation that everyone was thinking but couldn't say for his sake.

"... Even if he is Uchiha Obito, he won't be the Obito you know," Maiko told him in a soft voice, comforting his mind that was being grilled on fire.

She was right. His Obito died fourteen years ago, along with a part of himself that he had to abandon, to make space for the 'Obito' that he promised to take with him as he continued to live.

"When Tobi entered my mindscape and interfered with my battle with One-Tail, I asked him, why would he interfere," Maiko said a second later. "I couldn't understand why he would do such a thing when I stepped in to tame the beast for him, just like he wanted."

Neither could they, and that was why they hadn't discussed more on Tobi before Maiko woke up. Speculating on Tobi's identity and abilities, sure, they could guess all they wanted. But his motivations and desires? They were just as clueless now as they were back when the Chunin Exam started.

"And, did he answer?" Itachi prompted, careful in his words as Maiko seemed to fall back into her memories.

"He said that compared to capturing One-Tail, the circumstances of my death are more important," Maiko replied as if trying to pull the words out of her dream, a nightmare that should just be allowed to fade into nonexistence.

"The circumstances?" Itachi picked up on her wording immediately. It wasn't her death that Tobi sought, but the manner in which she was about to die that prompted Tobi's actions.

"'Killed because of a greedy power known as the Tailed-beast, murdered by your own duty towards Konoha.' Those were his words."

Kakashi felt like his entire body was being doused with freezing water, encasing him in a permanent layer of ice that made it hard for him to move an inch of his muscle. Maiko's experience with taming the tailed-beast should have no similarity to the circumstances of Rin's death, at least, until Tobi had pointed it out.

Here it was again, the self-sacrifice prompted by their duty to protect that forced both Rin and Maiko to greet danger and death with open arms. Fourteen years ago, Rin looked at him with eyes that told him it was the only way as she ran herself through his Chidori, taking Three-Tail with her before it could ever be unleashed again.

Eighteen days ago, Maiko pitted herself against a tailed-beast to stop it from slaughtering her fellow Anbu and entering the village, because it was something that only she, with a full set of Mangekyou, could do.

"My death is supposed to prove his point, about the true state of the world as he sees it - broken, unsalvageable, and full of despair," Maiko concluded, resting her eyes on her hands. "Tobi has a deep-rooted ideology that he wants to spread, and he wants to spread it by emulating an event from long ago, probably the same circumstances as which he first developed that belief."

Kakashi thought that Maiko's words cut worse than Chidori's lightning, even though she never meant it. But then again, this was what duty meant for them: personal pain could always wait in the face of greater threats.

"He's emulating the circumstances of Rin's death, at least, the root of it," Kakashi said, drawing both Itachi and Maiko's attention. He didn't have to reiterate Rin's death to anyone for the past fourteen years, letting it rot in the depth of his heart while its records were sealed in the Anbu archive.

He never thought he'd have to, because like deaths, what was gone was already gone. Like the Obito that died on Kannabi Bridge, Rin died in that field of blood and rain. Time was supposed to freeze for them, sealing their last image into the river of history, unable to be tainted again.

That was, until Tobi came back as a ghost, forcing them to examine his identity, history, and rationale for his actions so that they could predict and caution against his next move.

"At the end of the Third Shinobi War, Kirigakure had come up with a plan to seal Three-Tail into a Konoha prisoner, so that when they are rescued, Three-Tail would be unleashed in the village, breaking it from the inside," Kakashi started from the beginning, forcing himself to be impartial.

"Rin was made into the temporary vessel for Three-Tail and I was the one who had rescued her from Kiri." Kakashi only needed to say that one sentence, Maiko and Itachi could already foresee what was about to happen. Still, for clarity's sake, Kakashi continued.

"Rin knew of Kirigakure's plan, but she wasn't able to take her own life because of a cursed seal placed on her. Therefore, she committed suicide by my hand." That was the official report written by Minato-sensei after he found Kakashi's unconscious body and had him describe the events to him after he woke up.

Minato-sensei forced the twelve-year-old Kakashi to watch as he wrote the cause of Rin's death as 'suicide', forcing him to understand that he didn't kill Rin, that it wasn't his fault. But Minato-sensei didn't know the promise he made to Obito on Kannabi bridge, where he swore that he would protect Rin by any means necessary.

Sure, it wasn't his fault. It was merely his incompetence.

Now, Maiko was telling him that Tobi - or Obito, as things likely stood - knew exactly how Rin had died, and it might have shaped his current belief and ideology, leading him to do all those horrible things that he had done.

The worst part, Obito was still alive when Kakashi had run away. He was still living and breathing for all those years, but Kakashi couldn't find him.

"I'm sorry for your loss." It was a simple sentence from Maiko that broke Kakashi out of his trance. A moment later, she looked at him with her eyes, trying to focus her gaze on him despite the world that was dissolving in her vision.

"But please know that Tobi's ideology - whether our speculation was right or not - is not being created by one singular event." Therefore, please don't blame his actions on yourself. Somehow, Kakashi understood her unspoken words.

"Anyway, if Tobi was indeed Obito who had escaped death, given everything, it makes sense that he had chosen to exact revenge on Konoha and Kirigakure first." Kakashi changed the topic without a second thought, ushering them to move on.

Maiko and Itachi suggested that Tobi's potential meddling in Kirigakure could partly be attributed to hate. The Bloody Mist spanned almost a decade, yet the end result didn't really contribute to Akatsuki's goal as much as it did to ruin Kirigakure as a village. It took dedication to maintain a scheme for that long and that motivation had to come from strong emotions.

"Moreover, knowing his strong ideology and disillusionment towards the current state of the world, what is he doing in Akatsuki, collecting tailed-beasts?" Finally, amidst all the memories and pains, Itachi asked the right question.

"That depends on what can be done when all the tailed-beasts are collected, doesn't it?" Maiko answered. "And also, what does he want to do with this … lost world? Does he want to change it, or does he want to destroy it?"

"Neither sounds like a good thing," Kakashi said under his breath, making Itachi nod in agreement.

"Tailed-beasts are massive reservoirs of chakra and energies. If they are all gathered, I don't doubt that it can create miracles that will reshape the world," Itachi commented beside him. For a second, they all considered the plausibility,

Kakashi wondered what Obito had envisioned in a world that was 'right', a world without despair, violence, and deaths full of regret. Would Rin still be alive and well? MInato-sensei, Kushina-san, and his father … For a brief second, he could see the appeal, especially for those who had lost everything in this bleak reality.

But a brief second was all it would get from them.

Against an ideology as radical as that of Tobi, they had to find an anchor that was unmovable against the current.

"Well, nothing new there. We still had to defeat Akatsuki and prevent them from gathering the tailed-beasts," Maiko concluded. "But now that we know that the two Mangekyou are a pair, do you think the same space he used to teleport is the same space as your Kamui?"

"Maybe? I don't know where the things sucked into my Mangekyou go, but the swirling of space that comes from his left eye does resemble my Kamui," Kakashi replied, wondering the same thing as well.

"Great, the next time we fight him, you can try throwing me in your Kamui space, and maybe that'll prevent him from using teleportation to escape," Maiko suggested and Kakashi almost choked at her audacity.

"First of all, I've never sent a live person there. Even if I could, I wouldn't have a way to check if they're still alive after I sent them in, would I? Second of all, have you ever seen me take things out of Kamui before?" Kakashi could go on, but he was sure that Maiko already knew all of these and just didn't care.

"Look, you need to give your Mangekyou more faith. If Kamui does connect to the space of Tobi's Mangekyou, then there's no reason that a person wouldn't survive in there, nor does it make sense that you can't take things out," Maiko explained, trying to make it all rational. "You can always start with a rabbit."

Kakashi gave her a look of skepticism, only to realize afterwards that she couldn't see his expression anyway. Kakashi was having trouble putting faith in his Mangekyou, or more accurately, himself. Just because Tobi could do it with his eye didn't mean that Kakashi was qualified to do the same.

"We can talk about how to stop his teleportation later. Besides, we shouldn't rely on Kakashi's Mangekyou all the time. It drains his chakra more than it does ours and there's no reversing the blinding process," Itachi spoke up, halting the argument before Kakashi could materialize his skepticism into actual words.

"Kakashi did mention a way to counterattack against his phasing ability." Itachi looked at him, asking him to go on and repeat to Maiko what he had repeated to the Hokage days prior.

"He has to stop his intangibility to make contact with his enemy. Therefore, the moment when his attack connects - and maybe a fraction of a moment prior - he is vulnerable to our attacks." His left arm was still wrapped in bandages, keeping the fragile, newly-grown skin safe from the environment until he fully healed.

"So basically, strike when he does," Maiko summarized. Of course, the application was never as simple as it sounded, proven by his damaged arm, but at least it made fighting with Tobi difficult instead of impossible.

At the end of their conversation, Itachi asked Maiko, "Can I ask Tsunade-sama to prepare for the eye transplantation in a few days?" It was a rare moment when Kakashi could sense Itachi's nervousness.

"Sure," Maiko answered a second later, but it seemed to surprise Itachi. The pause only lasted a moment before Itachi replied, "Thank you. I'll leave you to rest then."

It was only after Itachi had closed the bedroom door and walked towards the main hall that Kakashi felt Itachi's worry again.

"Why are you worried?" Kakashi always thought that Itachi would be relieved by the fact that Maiko agreed to the transplantation.

"Only a little. The Maiko before this would have never agreed to it so easily, She would have tried to make me the recipient, or even Sasuke in the future," Itachi answered, making Kakashi frown as well.

"But it's okay. I couldn't have asked for more." Itachi shook his head, letting his worry be dissipated. It never ceased to amaze him how Itachi could command his emotions with such precision.

As they passed the back porch, Kakashi saw the scattered buildings in the background, abandoned after the Uchiha Massacre. His words left his mouth before he could stop it. "What do you think of Tobi's Ideology?"

Itachi paused in his footsteps before he turned around. "I don't think he's wrong. There are many things that Maiko and I wish could change, things that we wish didn't need to be done." His eyes landed on the scattered buildings around the compound that remained a ghost town.

"I once killed a friend of mine using Tsukuyomi. I fabricated a world for her in the genjutsu, giving her a life that would make her happy and fulfilled, while In reality, I killed her in a second. But which 'world' would she prefer? I didn't ask her, and she couldn't answer. That's why what I did was 'murder' and not 'salvation'." Kakashi didn't expect Itachi to tell him a story, but at the end of it, he understood Itachi's point.

"There're many things that we wished would have turned out different, but we still hold so much in this damaged, imperfect world to let it be forgotten and denied. Then again, that's simply our choice and we're fighting to keep this right to choose," Itachi concluded, turning his eyes from the forgotten buildings back to the hall that was being lit by lights and warmed by the fire.

Kakashi's life was filled with regret and guilt, but like Maiko and Itachi, he wasn't ready to give up on this damaged, imperfect world. So much effort had gone into changing this world, by those that had passed and those that were still alive, and so much effort was still being made at every moving second.

Kakashi let out a breath as he exited the compound, ready to report his conversation with Maiko and Itachi to the Hokage. At the end of the day, Kakashi was also fighting for a chance to make his choices, to pick his own reality. Nothing more and nothing less,

(づ。◕‿‿◕。)づ fuwa~fuwa~desu~~~

The moment I closed my eyes, I saw nothing but a world of fire, sandstorm, and falling stones.

I could hear the roaring of One-Tail amidst the firestorm as sand piled on top of me. My body was held in place by falling rocks, unable to move. Soon, sand weighed down on my lungs, my chest, and my bones, crushing them slowly, ridding me of air to breath and strength to struggle.

The sand burial was at its completion and I snapped my eyes open, hearing the accelerated beating of my heart as everything in my vision turned fuzzy.

To those of us trained in genjutsu, the world of reality and illusion was always just a line away. Yet, the 'reality' that I knew of didn't seem real while I could feel and see everything in the 'illusion' with perfect clarity.

I reached my hand towards the nightstand, looking for that cup of water. But I couldn't even judge the distance as my hand fumbled around, searching for the glass with only my touch.

Before I found the glass, my hand touched the envelope. I traced my finger on lines that had sunken from the paper surface - it was the Konoha Anbu insignia being sealed onto the letter.

Keishi died. That was the reality.

Taking a breath, I pumped chakra into my eyes, forcing it to turn into the Sharingan. Maybe it was because my body was still recovering from not being used for eighteen days, my chakra flow felt wonky and sluggish. Despite all that, my sharingan finally opened, returning me to a world with all its details and clarity intact.

With some difficulty, I peeled open the seals with my fingers and took the letter out of its envelope. It took me a moment to realize that my fingers were shaking ever so slightly as I unfold the paper.

These were the words of a friend that I couldn't protect as he pondered over his death.

To Maiko,

I thought it was kind of strange for me to write you a letter even though these kinds of things were usually reserved for families. So fear not, I'm not weird and I don't have unrequited feelings or anything like that.

I just thought that knowing who you are and what you're like, if my demise occurred before yours in line of duty, you're going to feel really bad. So here are some of my words to try to alleviate that, hopefully.

You should know that I have considered myself lucky ever since I joined Anbu. I come from a civilian background, but the fact that I made it into Anbu meant that I am, at least, talented in some aspects. Indeed, there was a period of time that I thought I was a genius, of course, that lasted only until I joined Anbu.

Man, people in Anbu are crazy. They fight like machines and kill enemies within seconds. You should have seen my face when I joined Kakashi's team as a green rookie. He was barely an adult in age then and he could have replaced the need for ten of me back then. Of course, now it's more like three of me; I am proud of my sensing abilities, after all. Then there's you. Even when you were just fourteen and a newly-made captain, every time you fight, I was glad that you weren't my enemy.

My point is, I was lucky to have joined both of your teams, where I had never experienced the death of an Anbu teammate. Both of you cared for your teammates more than you cared for your own lives, and both of you are strong and intelligent enough to keep us out of danger. I'm thankful for our teammates as well - Yes, even Owl, who always rolls his Byagukan at me, which I can't even tell without squinting - for they are competent and treat their lives with care. With those combinations, I had never lost a teammate in my six years of Anbu.

But such care means that you'll be devastated if one of us were killed in battle, even if that's such a common occurrence in Anbu. I know you can do many things, but in our line of work, unpredictable things happen and it's not always pretty. I'm sure you don't need me to tell you that, but it will still suck big time in real life. Nobody is ever perfect, Maiko, and nobody expects you to be, despite all the pressure you have to experience in life.

I will say these words to you if one day you have to experience an unpredictable tragedy that you beat yourself up for. But in the case that I can't, I put them into this letter. Please think about my words and know that I mean every one of them. My death might be due to bad luck, an unpredictable turn of events, or even a flawed judgement, but never would I wish for you to feel guilt over my death.

As always, please take care of yourself.

Kishida Keishi

Updated July 3rd, XXXX

My hand glossed over the inked characters. Before I knew it, I was already smiling at his words. It was so accurate, his description of Owl's Byakugan. I could never tell if he was rolling his eyes if I didn't use the sharingan.

After all, I didn't want to cry after reading his letter.

As he said, he wasn't telling me anything I didn't know already. But the fact that he thought he needed to write me a letter reminding me of such a thing was embarrassing. It seems that I have worried you even after death.

But I didn't know the exact composition of things that led to his death. Bad luck? Sure, if only he wasn't there dealing with One-Tail. An unpredictable turn of events? Well, who could have thought that Tobi would be as crazy as he was. Flawed judgements? If only I wasn't so arrogant.

I thought I had One-Tail under control if I used the Mangekyou. It worked for Saiken, and I hoped that it would work for One-Tail, despite knowing that they were different. I took a risk with a power that I had no full control over, but someone else had to share the price.

My sharingan stung in pain as I stared at the words on the letter. I couldn't tell if it was because of the surge of emotion, or the fact that my body was complaining about the overuse.

I laid back down onto the pillow, but as soon as I closed my eyes to rest, the battlefield seemed to return to my mind, filling it with the fire, sandstorm, and the hatred of One-Tail that seemed to curse me forever.

Not even a few seconds had passed before I opened my sharingan again, forcing the clarity of reality to rush into my vision, pushing out the remnants of horror that filled my sensations. Once again, Keishi's words rushed into my eyes, telling me to treat his death with acceptance.

Along with the black ink that filled my vision, where every pause in the pen was visible under the sharingan, came the headache. I pressed my fingers on my temple, trying to ease the pain that seemed to scream louder with every drum of my heartbeat.

It was then that the door opened, startling me as I pushed myself up from the pillow. My red sharingan swirled as they focused on the intruder and all I saw was Tsunade-sama, looking unimpressed with the fact that I was exhausting my sharingan moments after waking up.

She opened her mouth, ready to reprimand me. But then she saw the letter clutched in my hands, and for once, she decided to let me go. "Your vision is that bad, huh, that you can't even read the letter without your sharingan."

"It's quite bad," I replied as Tsunade-sama closed the door and walked to the chair by my bed. I couldn't even recognize Itachi when I first woke up; Kakashi escaped that fate only because of the mob of unusual silver on his head.

Under her gaze, I pulled chakra back from the sharingan, letting my vision fade back into a world on the verge of dispersion. Amidst the fog, I felt Tsunade's warm medical chakra that flowed from my head to my body, easing my own sluggish flow of chakra while nourishing the muscles that I haven't used in a while.

"Now, try again." Following her instruction, I directed chakra flow to my eyes, allowing the red sharingan to be lit up again. This time, the headache had subsided a little, leaving only a dull discomfort around my eyes.

"The nerves around your eyes are still inflamed, so you'll feel some pain if you use your sharingan. Your body is still trying to adjust to being used again, making your movement and chakra flow a little sluggish, but otherwise, I don't see any long-lasting detriments." There was a pause, before Tsunade-sama added, "well, except, you know."

Right, everything would recover, except my vision. Unless ...

"I heard from Itachi that you've decided to go ahead with the transplantation," Tsunade stated as she crossed her legs while sitting on the chair. "I'll be your surgeon, no question there. So I need to know that you're sure about this."

"What's there not to be sure about?" I asked instead. The Eternal Mangekyou was the pinnacle of Uchiha's Sharingan, the end of all loss and misery. We went through so much trouble to retrieve Father's eyes from Orochimaru, it would be ungrateful of me to invalidate that effort.

"Like all surgery, the procedure is not without risk. Bleeding, shock, infection, all of those could happen in extreme cases, even with medical ninjutsu," Tsunade informed me of the risks like a true doctor, but quickly, she moved on from general concerns to more patient-specific ones.

"Are you mentally prepared to have your eyes gouged out and be replaced with that of your deceased father?" She asked, hearing the silence that soon followed.

I closed my eyes, hearing the roars of the sandstorm that inched closer in a crescendo. "Yes, I'm prepared," I answered as I opened my eyes, locking my gaze with Tsunade-sama to show her my determination.

She was one of the few people in this village that dared to stare into my sharingan without any fear or unease

A moment later, she spoke up again. "As soon as you gain the Eternal Mangekyou, you'll be a weapon. Before, you have the excuse of deteriorating eyesight and so do I; after the procedure, we won't."

"What I have are weapons, but as long as I believe myself to be a 'human', no one can truly make me a 'weapon', Tsunade-sama," I told her, a faint smile on my face despite my rebellious words - to the Old Konoha, anyway.

The birth of a pair of Eternal Mangekyou would mean that the optimal solution for taming the tailed-beast had been found. Itachi knew this from day one and so did I. He weighed his options and concluded that my safety was more important if confrontations with tailed-beasts and Akatsuki were unavoidable. I weighed mine and decided that it was a responsibility that I was willing to shoulder.

But this responsibility and duty must be built on trust, not forced by the circumstances.

A moment later, Tsunade let out a smile of her own and said, "That was well said."

"As long as you're sure, then I will do my best to make the procedure a successful one," Tsunade-sama concluded before standing up. "Try to lay off using your sharingan to give the nerve around your eyes more time to heal. But I know you're not going to follow that instruction, so mandatory hospital visits every day and Shizune will speed up the process and assess your health."

"You know me well, Tsunade-sama," I must be going out of my mind, admitting to her that there was no way that I would stop using sharingan. As expected, Tsunade rolled her eyes at me but said nothing more as she left my room.

Other than the quality-of-life issues, I needed the sharingan to stay sane, with my mindscape cracked open like a broken vase, unable to contain the events that my Mangekyou had recorded. I needed the sharingan to make the reality feel real, at least, until my mindscape healed up.

I laid back down, placing my head back on the pillow. My body felt tired and so did my brain as if they were forced to work and catch up after a long vacation. Of course, when I closed my eyes again, the scenery of violence and destruction returned.

I resisted the urge to blink back into the sharingan - I couldn't keep my eyes open 24/7. The line between reality and illusion was thin and easily crossed, and I would get lost if I couldn't find an anchor that helped me differentiate between the two.

Amidst the flying sand, I felt the touch of a foreign surface. Smoothness interspersed with marks of sunken lines, spelling out words that were too calm and positive for the world of negativity flashing through my mind.

My hand clenched tighter onto the letter, anchoring me into reality, reminding me that all of the fire, the sandstorm, and the falling rocks were just a shadow of the past that would be left behind with time.

(づ。◕‿‿◕。)づ fuwa~fuwa~desu~~~

"I'm going out again after dinner," I said as I stirred the bowl of miso soup in front of me, making the paste disperse in the liquid.

"Where?" It was Sasuke who asked and I raised an eyebrow. Look at him, learning from Itachi to keep tabs on me.

"The cemetery," I answered and Sasuke averted his eyes. "I need to pay respect to those who lost their lives during the invasion."

"I can come with you," Ryuu offered as he took bowls of rice from Itachi and placed them on the dining table.

"Thanks, but I think I'll do this alone," I told him and Ryuu dropped it like that. He was never the one to disobey my words.

"Oh, Sasuke, congrats on your Chunin Promotion." I patted my younger brother on the head, making him grunt in annoyance. The results for the Chunin Exam came out today. Despite the interruption, the Hokage had seen more than enough to make her decision.

From Konoha, Sasuke, Neji and Shino made Chunin. While Temari from Suna was recommended for Chunin by Tsunade-sama, it would be up to their leader to make the final decision.

The decision to promote someone to Chunin was made with care. Between Lee and Neji, other than their performance at the Tournament, Neji showed exceptional leadership skills during the second stage while Lee fell a little short.

"What about Naruto?" Sasuke asked with furrowed eyebrows.

"His promotion is still being evaluated," Itachi answered from the side.

"Because he's a Jinchuuriki?" Sasuke asked, knowing that he didn't need to hold his tongue in this household.

"Perhaps being a Jinchuuriki will make the criteria harsher, but Naruto still needs practice in remaining calm amidst heated situations," I explained. I wouldn't deny that being a Jinchuuriki and thus a target of Tobi's world-changing scheme made it harder for the village to send him on higher-level missions. But compared to the three candidates that received a unanimous pass, Naruto fell a little short.

Still, Jiraiya reminded everyone what a superb battle strategy Naruto had come up with in his fight against Neji. Tsunade-sama also didn't want to make Naruto a Chunin while having to ban him from missions outside of the village.

She was convincing herself to have confidence in Naruto's current abilities and thus, she couldn't afford to make careless decisions.

"Either way, I'm sure that Lee and Naruto - if he didn't make it this time - will come back stronger at the next Chunin Exam," I reassured my brother, who muttered something like "Of course that idiot will" under his breath.

"I'll be back soon, maybe," I told Itachi as I left the front porch.

"Take care," Itachi replied with a wave of the hand. His eyes trailed on mine, where I had my sharingan opened since before dinner, but he said nothing about it.

I wasn't Kakashi, the normal sharingan used minimal of my chakra. After four days of healing, I stopped getting headaches or pains around my eyes. But I supposed that the fact that I opted to keep my sharingan open all the time was a constant reminder that my eyesight was near nonexistent, even worse than his own.

I placed a lily in front of the giant monument that was supposed to represent the Will of Fire. The names of the shinobi who died in the line of duty were carved on the memorial stone below. Just a few days ago, a new column of names had been inscribed onto the stone.

Amongst them, more than sixty percent of the deceased came from Anbu and forty percent had been killed during One-Tail's rampage outside of the village.

The numbers were nothing new. Every recruit was being told of the statistics when they first joined. Anbu wasn't Root, we had plenty of chances to withdraw or retire from the force. Those that remained, then, must understand what they were getting into.

I placed a hand above my heart and bowed my head, lowering my eyes to pay my respect, like I would have done at the ceremony two weeks ago if I had been awake then.

A minute had passed before I raised my head again. With one last look at the monument, I wished them well in the afterlife, before walking away into the cemetery.

Keishi's grave was easy to find. The spaces were filled in order, after all, had the family decided to bury their loved one in the public cemetery.

"Well, you told me not to blame myself for your death," I muttered as I placed the last lily on his grave.

"Just so you know, it's not working." I paused a little as I let out a laugh. "But I appreciate the thought, and it's helping me with something else." I still had his letter on the nightstand, so that when I got overwhelmed by the remnant memories, I had the weight of his words to anchor me back to reality.

Suddenly, I heard the sound of footsteps behind me. I turned around and saw a woman standing a few meters away, a bundle of flowers in her hand. As soon as she saw me, she covered her mouth in shock. It was then that I realized that I still had my sharingan on.

I lowered my eyes and blinked the sharingan away. Not many shinobi could stand being looked at with the sharingan, let alone civilians. I nodded my head at her before rushing to get out of there.

"Oh, wait! I didn't mean to drive you away!" A voice sounded behind, making me turn around. "Thank you for the flower," the woman said, and I could vaguely make out the fact that she was pointing to the lily left on the grave.

The image of her face before I turned off sharingan flashed in my mind and this time, I saw the family resemblance. She must be Keishi's sister.

"I'm just about to leave," I responded.

"Really? I hope I didn't make you uncomfortable. I was just a little surprised by your eyes, please forgive me for such rude behaviour." She had spoken those words so fast and suddenly, I understood where Keishi's habit of never stop talking came from. It must run in the family.

"Not at all, please don't worry about it." I shook my head in a hurry. "Keishi was a dear friend of mine. I wasn't able to pay respect during the wake … I'm sorry for your loss."

I couldn't see the expression on her face, nor could I judge her reaction with accuracy. Without the sharingan, the world around me was veiled by a thick layer of fog, blending everything into fuzzy shapes and hiding the details that truly mattered.

It made me nervous, to the point that I had to fight against my urges to turn the sharingan back on in front of a civilian.

"Thank you for that, we appreciate it." Her voice was gentle and soft. It placated my nerves, just a little.

"Have a good day." I gave her a smile before walking away. Behind me, I heard a soft mutter as the woman spoke to herself, "I thought I had heard of those red eyes from Keishi …"

I should be going home like I told Itachi. But as I walked along the street, I saw something that changed my mind.

Lifting the curtain, I slid myself into the tavern. Immediately, the aroma of alcohol assaulted my senses, even more potent than the rush of visual information I would get from opening the sharingan.

The owner at the bar paused a little when he saw my red eyes, but the shock subsided quickly as he placed the bottles back on the shelf.

"I don't think I've seen you around here," he said as I took a seat by the bar.

"I don't come here often. The last time would have been … three years ago?" I said, a little uncertain. I supposed it was best if he didn't remember me. The last time I was here, I accidentally said that his sake tasted like water, not that it was my intention.

"No matter. Everyone is welcomed here, especially shinobi," the man said with a laugh. "What can I get you?"

"Just a bottle of sake and a cup, thank you."

(づ。◕‿‿◕。)づ fuwa~fuwa~desu~~~

"Kakashi, are you actually considering the idea?" Pakkun said as he nuzzled at the back of his neck, trying to pull his round body onto Kakashi's shoulder.

"I did ask you all to find me a rabbit, didn't I?" Kakashi answered. But yes, the fact that he was considering Maiko's proposal was insanity, but he supposed that eventually, it would get to that point. "Speaking of which, where is my rabbit?"

"Urushi is checking the Forest of Death, but you'd be having better luck with forests outside of the village, if you really want that hare," Pakkun stated, laying his body flat on Kakashi's shoulder.

"It doesn't need to be a hare, just need something that's alive and won't struggle when I try to send it through the Kamui and pull it out," Kakashi said with nonchalance.

"Maybe you should ask Tsunade for sedated lab mice," Pakkun suggested and Kakashi considered that idea. It could work, as long as Kakashi could explain to her why he was also rushing in to destroy his Mangekyou just like Maiko and Itachi.

But then again, what needed to be done had to be done. It wasn't like Itachi and Maiko were thinking that hard on the consequences when they used their Mangekyou abilities on Orochimaru and One-Tail. If Kakashi's Mangekyou could connect to the space that Tobi was using to teleport, then he better figure out how to properly use it to capture Tobi before that eye went blind.

It was ironic, how the best chance they had at fighting Obi… Tobi, was Obito's other eye. There, he still couldn't say it, couldn't equate the person who hated Konoha and the entire world with the boy that taught him how to be a human, not a weapon.

Suddenly, Pakkun pressed his paws into Kakashi's hair as he perked up, sniffing in the air. "Kakashi, I smell sake."

"Of course, we're walking past the tavern," Kakashi said, a little confused by Pakkun's words.

"I also smell Maiko, mixed in with sake."

Kakashi paused his footstep right in front of the tavern. Without a word, he pushed the curtain open and entered the bar. Just like what Pakkun had told him, he saw Maiko sitting on the stool, one of her elbows propped on the bar table as she rested her chin in her hand.

She was staring into a cup on the table with her red sharingan that seemed to glow in the dark. A little to the side was a bottle of sake that looked like it had barely been touched, with the amount of liquid that remained.

"It's not an enemy," Kakashi couldn't help but say, "Your sharingan is not going to make it go away."

"I'm just trying to see. Otherwise, I won't be able to tell where the cup is," Maiko muttered as she turned to him. It didn't take long for her to notice the ninken clinging to his head. With a smile, she waved, "It's been a long time since we've talked, Pakkun."

Pakkun waved his paw back, before jumping onto the bar table and sitting down beside her bottle of sake. A moment later, Kakashi also pulled out a stool and sat down beside her.

"Why are you drinking?" Kakashi asked. Maiko couldn't tolerate sake without washing it with chakra, making the action of drinking alcohol itself useless for her.

"I was hoping that maybe, just maybe, over the years, my tolerance to alcohol has gotten a little better like my chakra control," Maiko answered, her fingers rubbing the cup, showing her uncertainty in her own words.

"Yeah, she's been sitting here for an hour, staring at the cup instead of drinking it. I've been wondering what her deal is," The owner of the bar, Imano-san, said to Kakashi.

"I'll pay for another bottle. I just need some time to prepare myself," Maiko said, making Imano-san raise an eyebrow at the weird request that he had probably never heard of in the decades he had been running this bar.

"What's there to prepare? It's sake, you just drink it and hope that it makes you forget about your troubles, which, you look like you have a lot," Imano said, waving his hand at the sake bottle that was barely touched. Maiko let out a laugh at his description, but otherwise, she said nothing.

Alcohol was supposed to unlatch one's inhibition and loosen one's internal control. But for Maiko who had been struggling to reign in her life that always seemed out of control, loosening her internal control was in every aspect, going against her instinct.

Then there was also the fact that she might fall asleep after a few sips.

"What are you planning to do, if you fell asleep again like last time?" Kakashi asked, honestly curious about the thought process that got her here.

"My brother's crow will find me in a few hours, probably," Maiko answered. Kakashi would have been more reassured if she didn't add that last word into the sentence.

"Imano-san, do you have a room?" Kakashi asked and the older man nodded towards the back hallway. "It's a little small, but at least it's quiet."

"Thank you. I'll have a bottle of sake and a cup too." Kakashi ordered, and within a few seconds, Imano-san placed the sake and cup in front of him. Kakashi grabbed them and went down the back corridor. It took Maiko a second to realize that she was supposed to follow him. After a moment's thought, she dumped the sake in her cup back into its bottle and left for the back corridor as well.

Kakashi pushed the chairs out with his foot as he set the sake down on the small table. It was a little room tucked at the back corner, probably not commonly used by customers, but still spacious enough for a table and two chairs.

"So, what made you decide to walk into the tavern when you hate the scent of alcohol like it's the mist in Kiri?" Kakashi asked, watching Maiko reopen her bottle of sake and pour the liquid into her cup.

"I saw it while I was walking down the street. Keishi always tried to get me to come here after my Jonin promotion. He said that I owed him a celebration with free drinks," Maiko said, her red eyes resting on the cup of clear liquid like what she was doing for the last hour. "Of course, I always told him that I'll do it later when I never planned to make my promise true."

Kakashi said nothing, merely opening his own bottle and pouring it into the cup.

"Did you know that he once got me a bottle of sake as a get-well-soon gift while I'm lying in the hospital? I was thirteen then and I thought he's an alcoholic," Maiko said a moment later. Now that made Kakashi raise an eyebrow.

"You should've told me, I would have had an excuse to make him do my locker room chores for a week as punishment," Kakashi replied and Maiko just laughed. Her fingers tightened around the cup of sake before she released it again.

Kakashi looked at her indecisiveness. Without saying a word, Kakashi pulled his mask down with his fingers and downed the cup of sake. The alcohol was gone in one breath and Kakashi placed his empty cup back down on the table.

Maiko's eyes trailed his movement until Kakashi was already in the process of pouring the second cup. Tentatively, Maiko raised the cup of sake, feeling the weight of the liquid that rippled lightly on the surface.

"Remember that time when I almost got sent to Root by Kotoamatsukami? You told me that you won't judge my words," Maiko asked. A moment later, Kakashi nodded. "Can you do the same for me now? Once I drink this alcohol, letting it course through my system, I might say things that I normally wouldn't say with proper inhibition."

"Or you might just fall asleep." Kakashi reminded her of the very likely outcome.

"I sat there for an hour, forcing my body to get used to the scent of alcohol. I'm also going to filter some alcohol with my chakra - but not all of it. So no, I don't think I'll pass out with one cup." Maiko gave him an answer that was so meticulous that it seemed out of place in this environment.

"Sure, I promise that I won't judge anything you say from now on until tomorrow morning." Kakashi gave her his words. With that, Maiko took a deep breath and gulped down the bottle of sake.

"Ugh, it tastes as bitter as I imagined," Maiko said, despite the fact that she was already pouring the second cup.

"Give it some time, the aftertaste will come," Kakashi explained, downing his second cup as well.

"So, what were you and Pakkun doing earlier? You don't usually summon your ninken out for a walk in the village," Maiko asked, opening her arms. Before Kakashi could answer, Pakkun jumped on the table and entered Maiko's cradle.

"Kakashi was looking for a wild hare to practice with," Pakkun answered the question for her as he laid down against Maiko's hug. It took her a few seconds to process his words. Great, the alcohol was starting to take effect.

"I was just kidding about trying out your Mangekyou on the rabbit." Maiko gave him a look as if the prospect of him going on a rabbit hunt was ridiculous - it was, now that he thought about it.

Still, she clarified a moment later, "The part about the rabbit, not about the Mangekyou. I still believe that your Mangekyou can reach the space that Tobi used, as long as you want it to."

"It's not as simple as that." Kakashi felt the need to argue. It wasn't his Mangekyou, to begin with - it was Obito's. "I don't have confidence that it will work the same, nor do I have the confidence that I'll be able to manipulate space in Kamui to the same degree of familiarity as Tobi."

Maiko looked at him, the tomoe in her red eyes swirled just slow enough for him to notice. "With that attitude, you'll just be wasting your eyesight." Now he understood why she solicited his promise earlier. She really wasn't holding back with her words when she was drunk.

"Why did you agree to do the transplantation so quickly? Itachi thought you'd argue a little more," Kakashi asked instead. Two could play this game. Only in this state, Maiko wouldn't put so much thought into the consequences of her answers.

Maiko paused at his words. Then she pressed a hand against her head as if trying to calm something that was rushing to get out. Only then, did she answer, "It hurts, taming the tailed-beasts, and I don't want to go insane just yet."

With that, she downed another cup of sake and poured out another. In the span of a few minutes, the bottle of sake was down to two-thirds of its original content.

"We can't cremate our father's eyes, because I need them to stay sane, and I need them to survive." Maiko let out a laugh full of mockery and Kakashi immediately regretted asking.

"My Mangekyou can't survive another tailed-beast rampage. One more use and it's gone forever, along with my vision. I told myself that accepting the transplant was what everyone wanted. It will reassure Itachi and Sasuke, and I can take on all the responsibility involving tailed-beast suppression. But in reality, I'm taking away the cure for my brother's progressive blindness, which also happens to be our father's body parts repurposed, for my own benefit." Maiko let out a breath, as she felt the burns of the alcohol down her throat.

There was a pause, before she warned him, "Don't tell that to Itachi, It'll just make him feel more guilty and all my efforts in the past year will be for nothing." Only after seeing Kakashi's nod, did she go back to pouring another cup of drink for herself.

With nothing better to do, Kakashi finished another cup of sake, letting the heat from the fiery liquid rush through his veins.

"Why don't you have confidence in your Mangekyou, is it because it's a transplant?" Finally, it was Maiko's turn to make Kakashi feel like he was being pried open. Kakashi shrugged his shoulder because the answer should be obvious.

"But it's a gift, isn't it, from Obito-san," Maiko said his name so easily and it made Kakashi feel like all his problems were just an imagination. When Kakashi said nothing, Maiko let out a sigh and rested her head in her palm.

"The evolution of sharingan is progressive, you know. The first tomoe, perhaps strong emotional distress will do. The second tomoe, I'd say the stimulation from blood and injuries when fighting an enemy should be enough. The third one, perhaps the rush of emotion when you first killed your enemy," Maiko said, holding out her fingers one by one until it spelled the number three. Then, she opened her fist completely.

"The next is the Mangekyou. This one requires the sacrifice of death, the loss of a loved one, and the realization that it's just as painful as having your own heart ripped out." Just like that, Maiko closed her fist, like crushing a seed of hope that got extinguished every time a pair of Mangekyou opened.

"That's pretty horrible, isn't it?" Maiko asked and Kakashi couldn't help but nod. But it seemed that she wasn't even close to making her point yet.

"Then why does the last step, the Eternal Mangekyou, require merely transplantation? Theoretically speaking, I could have given Itachi my eyes and none of us would die. Compared to the Mangekyou itself, isn't that a smaller price to pay, even just by a little?" Maiko asked as their eyes locked, his black one to her red ones.

For this one, Maiko felt like he should know the answer, and he did.

"It's the act of giving and taking," Kakashi said, "sometimes, it's just as heavy as the weight of a death."

"I suppose death, in a sense, is also an act of giving and taking, albeit much more subtle," Maiko muttered and Kakashi's silence served as an agreement. In this department, Kakashi had more experience than Maiko.

Every time someone close to Kakashi died, they gave him a piece of them to carry and Kakashi took it without fail. His father, Rin, Minato-sensei, Kushina-san … and Obito. Kakashi carried their ambitions and wishes, hoping that they would remain in his memory as he walked his path in life with loneliness.

Obito just made that act of giving and taking more concrete by gifting Kakashi his left sharingan, along with a piece of him in Kakashi's heart, reminding him of what was important to protect, for Kakashi, and for Obito that lived inside him.

The living took on pieces of the deceased, along with the burden and guilt of being alive, and they did it willingly. The same applied to the Eternal Mangekyou, whether the eyes to be 'taken' came from the dead or the living. In Maiko's case, it might even be crueller for the eyes to be taken from the living.

"Don't give me that crap about Danzō's transplantation. His transplants are inferior because he only wanted their power without paying the cost." Maiko furrowed her brows as if the mention of that man disgusted her.

Then, she turned to him, her red eyes drew him in like the depth of the ocean. "Everyone knows that the sharingan feeds on these emotions and pain. Kakashi, whether you've realized it or not, you've experienced everything there is to experience in the evolution of the sharingan. Your Mangekyou is strong, don't doubt it."

Unconsciously, Kakashi touched the fabric that covered his left eye, feeling the warmth of his eyelid that seeped through the cloth. This eye would forever remind him of Obito's existence, reminding him of the weight he had to carry, and the dream he had to realize.

Not just Obito's existence as a twelve-year-old boy who sacrificed himself for Kakashi and Rin, who told him to be a dignified human who cared about those around him rather than a mindless weapon that fooled no one but himself.

But also the Obito that was acting as Tobi; the Obito that most likely orchestrated the Nine-Tail rampage that killed Minato-sensei and Kushina-san; the Obito that saw this world as nothing but a graveyard of despair and suffering.

Maiko told him that the formation of Obito's ideology was not being created by a singular event. But other than Rin's death, Kakashi knew nothing of what Obito went through, nothing of what he saw, and nothing of what he experienced as he walked the earth in the shadows.

Now, Obito's sharingan would always remind him of what he needed to find out.

"Please excuse me."

Kakashi had long lost track of the silence until he heard Maiko's voice. Then, Maiko reached over the table and pulled him into a hug.

"It's a little arrogant for me to say this, but I won't let you take the burden of my death as well." her voice sounded around him as felt her weight on his shoulder. Slowly, her arms left his back as she pulled away and sat down back.

"I'm strong, so I won't die that easily," Maiko concluded. Only after a moment, did she remember to explain, "You look like you need a hug."

For a second, Kakashi was at a loss for what to reply. When in doubt, he poured himself another cup of sake and downed it without hesitation. Only then, was his mind clear enough to reply, "I don't doubt that."

"The part that I won't die that easily or the part that you need a hug," Maiko asked, a little confused.

Kakashi let out a laugh and answered, "Both. All of it."

His bottle of sake was at the end of its lifespan, just like Maiko's alcohol tolerance. By the look of it, she wouldn't be awake for the second bottle, so Kakashi figured that he should say everything before she fell asleep.

"Maiko, you told me once that the sharingan demanded us to be proud of our love and hate and suffer because of our love and hate," Kakashi said, catching Maiko's drifting attention with his voice.

"Please believe that the Eternal Mangekyou is also a gift from your family. Be proud of the fact that you love them enough to take on the burden, and be proud of the fact that you're equally loved by them."

Maiko seemed to pause a little at his words before she raised her red sharingan and gave him a smile. "Hmm, I will."

Maiko didn't finish her bottle of sake because Kakashi ushered her out before she could actually fall asleep.

"But I was so close to getting my money's worth," Maiko complained as Kakashi led her back to the Uchiha compound. Right, she paid for a bottle and she wanted to finish it. Unlucky for her, Kakashi didn't feel like dragging her unconscious body all the way back to the Uchiha Compound where Itachi would probably want to kill him.

It was only after they left the tavern that he remembered, he went into the tavern to stop her from drinking, not to drink with her.

"It's the experience that matters. It's priceless," Kakashi replied and Maiko was just conscious enough to roll her eyes at him.

Itachi was already waiting for her at the front porch, looking a little speechless at the fact that she had opted to spend the better half of the night in the tavern.

"She's all yours," Kakashi couldn't wait to drop Maiko into the care of his brother. It had been a long night and a tough conversation for both of them.

As he walked back to his apartment, Pakkun had once again climbed onto his shoulder. "Do you still want that hare? Urushi said he found an injured hare in the forest of death. It's still alive, but not for long."

"Probably not. I'll go apply for a sedated lab mouse from Tsunade-sama tomorrow." Kakashi patted Pakkun's fur, hearing it purr under his touch. "Thanks. Go rest now, with the others."

Pakkun nodded, disappearing in a puff of smoke.

The power of his Mangekyou would run out eventually, that was irreversible like the course of nature. Therefore, he had to reach Obito - whomever he had become, he was no doubt alive - before the sharingan expired, before the gift that connected them lost its power.

As to what came after that, Kakashi had his own ideology as a 'human' to protect.

(づ。◕‿‿◕。)づ fuwa~fuwa~desu~~~

A splash of thick, warm liquid fell on my face. Wordlessly, I wiped the blood off of my eyes as the body of a child fell in front of me. I never noticed it before, but Daichi was so young when he died, his body was only half the size of those missing-nin on my missions.

My body moved on its own as I walked past Daichi's fallen figure, letting it fade in the shadow like my memory of his face.

The sharingan recorded and remembered everything. There was no running away.

Splat! Someone had fallen into the water, sending up splashes of liquid that soaked my legs, freezing them to the bone. Shisui's body drifted away in the water, a trail of red left on its path until he was enveloped by the black fire.

Heavy breathing, rushing heartbeat, and the sound of flesh being torn through. Sand poured from Keishi's chest, where his chest cavity should be. His hand fell near my feet just as I took a step forward, leaving his body behind to be swallowed by the sand.

I felt the texture of the paper as I placed my hand on the shōji door. With a light push, I slid the paper screen open and walked into the darkness.

The sound of two dull thuds resonated in my senses, along with that, I caught the sight of my parents falling onto the ground as blood pooled under their yukata.

My legs didn't stop moving - I couldn't stop them from moving - as I stepped into the spreading blood. From here, I was just close enough to see their bodies in full. My father's body fell above that of my mother's as if enveloping her in an embrace.

His head was missing.

Along with that realization, I felt a weight in my own hands. I looked down and saw my father's head resting in my palms.

At the places where his eyes were supposed to be, there was nothing but empty holes.

I snapped my eyes open as a wave of nausea overwhelmed me. I pressed my left hand into my stomach and clutched the other over my mouth to prevent myself from throwing up and making a commotion.

It might have taken a few seconds, or it might have taken a few minutes, but I finally pushed the wave of nausea down. I looked out the window, the dawn was just breaking, covering the sky with shades of purple and orange, a glint of sunlight piercing through the horizon.

I stood up from the bed and walked to the window. The dim morning light shone down on my desk, illuminating the old scroll I had open since last night.

There wasn't much written on the Eternal Mangekyou in our clan other than its activation methods. After all, calling its existence 'rare' was an understatement.

There was only one known user of the Eternal Mangekyou in the recent hundreds of years. As the sole wielder of our prestigious dōjutsu in its full evolution, Uchiha Madara had the right to write anything he wanted on this topic.

In the end, he did write a sentence.

Only those who have continued to walk their path without any wavering hearts, even after the great losses that mired one down, were worthy of the Eternal Mangekyou.

The signature of 'Uchiha Madara' sprawled across the page with wild and bold strokes, much like the tales that I had heard of our great great great … something ancestor.

Well, I didn't know if I was worthy, but the transplantation was scheduled in a few hours and there was no going back.

The passage of time felt surreal to me and before I knew it, Tsunade-sama was going to sedate me for the surgery.

I remembered grabbing onto her wrist impulsively as she held the needle in her hand. Tsunade-sama rubbed my hand gently and said, "Don't worry, everything will be fine. I'm here." After a few seconds, I retracted my hand and watched as she injected the sedatives into my vein.

I didn't want to fall asleep, for the chance that I would see my father's severed head again. That wasn't the aftermath of my battle with One-Tail nor a product of my broken mindscape. That was all just me, a dream of my own creation.

Within seconds, I slept soundly on the operation table. It felt like I was floating on a lake, swaying to the ripples like a piece of leaf. I waited patiently, bracing myself for the intrusion of a nightmare, but that dream never came.

Instead, I vaguely dreamt of a warmth enveloping me as someone hugged me. I wanted to move my arms, to catch and return the embrace, but there was nothing tangible that I could touch.

Before I knew it, I felt the same warm sensation over my eyes, like a pair of hands covering my eyes, telling me to sleep and rest and stop worrying. There was a familiarity to its touch, so I followed its words.

The next time I opened my eyes, I saw the world as a clear picture for the first time in five years. It wasn't like the view under the sharingan, where every detail rushed to get into my mind. It was just the world as normal and as peaceful as it could be, a scene that was slowly being lost the moment I gained the Mangekyou.

A dim light flashed across my vision and I turned my head to the side instinctively. "Don't dodge, Maiko, I need to check your eyes." That was Tsunade-sama's voice as she held my face steady.

I couldn't help but narrow my eyes when Tsunade-sama placed her fingers around the rim of my eyes. "There's no swelling, so it has healed up nicely. Slight discomfort is normal, but any major pain or fuzziness in vision?"

"No, it feels … normal," I answered, letting her examine me one last time with her medical chakra. Normal, that was the word I was looking for. There was no feeling of foreignness that I had imagined, where it would constantly remind me that these eyes didn't belong to me.

"I'm glad." Tsunade-sama gave me a faint smile. Here, she wasn't acting as my Hokage, just my doctor. "I'll let Itachi in. He's been waiting for a while now." She waited for me to give her a nod before heading towards the door.

I watched her until she disappeared through the door. Then, I turned my attention back to the room and I saw the mirror hanging on the wall. My dark eyes stared back at me from the mirror. As I said, I looked normal and nothing seemed out of place.

I didn't put much thought into it when I pushed the chakra into my eyes, seeing it swirl into the three-tomoe sharingan in the mirror. I didn't stop there as even more chakra filled in. In a fraction of a second, my Mangekyou opened without any resistance.

In between the flower petals, black, curved lines extended from the centre and stretched to the rim of my irides, rooting the flower in place.

For a second, my breath halted when a figure seemed to flash through the mirror. I thought I had seen my father, placing a hand on my shoulder, as a faint smile appeared on his face. The image had only flashed for a moment, so fleeting that it seemed to be nothing more than a product of my imagination.

Right, so what of it.

Suddenly, the door opened as Itachi stepped inside. I looked in his direction as well and our eyes met. He looked at my Mangekyou and observed the merge of two patterns into one. A second later, he let out a smile and said to me, "We can go home now. Sasuke and Ryuu are waiting."

"Of course. Let's not keep them waiting."

(づ。◕‿‿◕。)づ fuwa~fuwa~desu~~~

On the Eternal Mangekyou Sharingan …

Only those who have continued to walk their path without any wavering hearts, even after the great losses that mired one down, were worthy of the Eternal Mangekyou.

- Uchiha Madara

The journey to the Eternal Mangekyou is not kind, nor does it always give one a choice. But as one walks the path with great losses, seemingly the only one that remains, our eyes are proof of the fact that we have loved and have been loved. The Eternal Mangekyou is the proof that no matter if they are dead or alive, they will always walk the path with us.

- Uchiha Maiko

A/N: Anyway, a somewhat heavy chapter with lots of emotional baggage, self-reflection, and self-acceptance.

I remember reading about Sasuke's background and I'm like, damn, no way anyone has a more tragic background than him. And then there's Kakashi Gaiden and I take that back. While Sasuke's path is filled with revenge, Kakashi's path is filled with regret and loneliness. He has picked up pieces of those who had died around him, making them a part of him, in terms of habits, teaching, and ideologies.

Kakashi and Maiko's relationship has always been 'undefined'. It started because it will make it easier for them to get out of it without any attachments, but on the other hand, 'undefined' means that it can develop into anything. But before this, their relationship has not been equal, because Kakashi had witnessed most of Maiko's struggle for the past decade while Maiko knew nothing of his past. But I think even before that, there's always been a mutual understanding in terms of how they think. I'm just going to write with the flow here as I see fit. If there are any relationships beyond friendship (or whatever is going on now, idk), it's not going to happen right away, nor will it be an important part of the story (they are literally trying to save the world here). Besides, whatever happens, I don't think it will change the fact that they are important to each other.

I like symbolism and I do use them a lot, especially in the case of Sharingan. It's fascinating how much despair goes into this Kekkei Genkai the more we know about it. But despair can't survive alone, so I'd like to think that despite everything, the sharingan shines a light on hope and love as well. Maiko added the last few sentences onto her clan's scroll to ensure that the love and hope will be remembered, even if they have to endure the pain and the despair.