Chapter 80 - Broken Hero

Sometimes, Kakashi felt as if his life had been a broken record.

In this play called 'life', a section - a dramatic, meaningful, plot-shattering section - in the middle had been looped to make the play 'Hatake Kakashi' more interesting. Over and over again, just when Kakashi felt like that chapter must be near the end, he was brought back to the beginning

But this time … this time, it would be the last cycle.

Kakashi could feel the seething heat waves from the fire, halted just behind the wall. With a loud crash, the earth wall in front of Kakashi crumbled into pieces as Obito slammed the Gunbai towards him. With a sharp pivot, Kakashi let the edge of the fan slide past him, leaving a shallow cut on his shoulder, before rushing forward with a kunai in his right hand.

Electricity gathered on Kakashi's blade, crackling and chirping on his senses. Obito retreated quickly, moving his arm out of the range. But Kakashi's reflexes had already caught on. With a twirl of his wrist, Kakashi lodged his kunai at the base of the Gunbai, forcing the blade into the long handle.

Lightning danced violently for a second before the Gunbai broke at the base. Obito lowered his body to maintain his balance before sending the broken fan toward Kakashi with a strong kick.

The weight of the broken Gunbai pushed Kakashi's back and obscured his vision. Kakashi had his handguard in front, cautious of an attack that could be coming at any moment. But By the time Kakashi push the fan to the side, Obito had flickered backward, letting the portal swirl out of his right eye.

Kakashi didn't waste any time as he made the seal with his right hand. A speck of lightning formed in his palm before darting out, catching up to Obito just before he could get sucked in.

The teleportation was halted as Obito moved to dodge, but Hakuryuu still managed to drill past his face. With a cacophonous noise, the mask cracked open, falling to the ground, finally revealing Obito's face for Kakashi to see.

"You know it as well as I do, that we're not going anywhere until one of us is defeated," Kakashi said as he observed Obito's familiar yet foreign features. The disfigurement on Obito's face reminded Kakashi of his deepest regret, and the eyepatch that covered Obito's left eye reminded him of his broken promises.

"No, I guess we have to finish this first," Obito replied, his voice deep and slow. His right sharingan landed on the other half of its pair that was embedded in Kakashi's left eye socket.

They were not going anywhere, not under Kakashi's watch, and not when Kakashi still had the other Kamui. Obito's Mangekyou was near invincible, but Kakashi's left eye held the key to its biggest weakness. Obito - or more accurately, Tobi, who was the instigator of this war - couldn't afford to leave him unchecked.

The air in Kamui space felt stagnant. Even with the fire jutsu grilling the battlefield just a moment ago, Kakashi's skin felt chilly. Of course, the piece of paper that hid behind Kakashi's neck by blending in with his skin was definitely another reason that made his skin crawl with unease.

A piece of paper with such good mimicry could only come from Konan's shikigami. It had so many chances to blow Kakashi's head off while he was busy defending himself against Obito, yet, nothing happened.

Kakashi hadn't quite figured out what Konan wanted from him, but it probably wasn't his life. Not right now, at least.

Obito adjusted his grip on the broken Gunbai shaft, reusing it as a weapon. With barely a moment of rest, they charged in again.

The metallic clank rang loud in Kakashi's ears, and when their sharingan met again - when Kakashi saw the dispassionate gaze on the other side of the mirror, he couldn't help but ask, "What have you seen over the years, Obito?"

What happened that made your eyes look like this?

It was as if a pebble was thrown into the dead water. A ripple burst outward along with a violent splash. Obito's gaze turned furious and seething.

"What have I seen?" Obito repeated as his sharingan pulsed. The world felt as if it was toppled over and slanted sideways, but Kakashi was unfazed as he ripped apart the genjutsu before it could even settle in.

Kakashi blocked the rod that was stabbing into his stomach with his kunai, before grabbing Obito's outstretched arm and throwing him over his shoulder. Obito twisted his body in the air and aimed his elbow at Kakashi's face, forcing him to let go as Obito landed behind.

"I've seen it all, Kakashi, how you were cornered by the Kiri-nin, how you let your famed Chidori gather on your hand with desperation, and how that same hand pierced Rin's heart," Obito said as he slammed the metallic rod down on Kakashi's face. Kakashi blocked it with his arm guard, only for Obito to blow out a thick veil of flame right in front of his face.

Kakashi jumped backwards, barely avoiding being licked by the flame. Without giving him a moment to breathe, a dozen shuriken broke through the fire screen, setting the ninja wires trailing behind aflame and trapping Kakashi in a blazing web.

Obito arrived a moment later, aiming to drive the metallic rod into Kakashi's heart with vindictive ferocity. But as soon as he laid his gaze on Kakashi beyond the veil of flame, he widened his eye in realization and quickly turned his body.

But the Kakashi that was trapped in the web of fire grabbed onto the wire with determination and the lightning clone dissolved in a mess of electricity. Explosion enveloped Obito, pushing him back as shreds of heated ninja wire burned through his sleeve and seared into his skin.

Even then, Obito turned with sharpness, just in time to block Kakashi's kunai, stopping the blade right before it could reach his neck. Kakashi opened his mouth, but Obito seemed to see through his thoughts.

"Spare me the explanations, Kakashi. I know that Rin committed suicide by your hand to save Konoha and I know about Kiri's setup with Three-Tail," Obito said as he let out a laugh of contempt while forcefully disengaging himself with a strong flick of his weapon. "At least I did something about it."

Kakashi felt his fist tighten around the kunai as rage boiled, adding to the mixture of guilt, dread, and regret. "Is that your excuse for unleashing Nine-Tail when Kushina-san was giving birth, for killing her and Minato-sensei?"

Were you punishing us as well?

There might have been an ounce of hesitation in Obito's sharingan, but as if mocking Kakashi's sorry attempt at unearthing any sign of compassion, Obito's gaze turned hard and cold. Once again, Obito seemed to see through Kakashi's thoughts and he found Kakashi's naivety hilarious. "You don't get it, Kakashi."

Kakashi had spent countless nights, steadying his heart against the accusations and blames Obito could have towards him. He was prepared to be hated and he expected Obito to want to do everything to punish him, to make it hurt.

But what he didn't foresee was the immense amount of hate and despair in Obito's voice, all directed towards himself, when he told Kakashi, "We failed, Kakashi, to protect Rin, to do what we're supposed to do. We're all failures, but I'm trying to make a better version of us - a world that we didn't fail so spectacularly."

Kakashi knew it was a genjutsu, when the image of Kakashi, Obito, and Rin showed up around him, looking no older than teenagers as they bantered with liveliness and laughed without care. But he let it last a moment longer than he should, enough that he felt suffocating to the point of being painful.

He grabbed the ninja wire around his neck and pulled it with force just before it could cut deep into his skin. Flushing his chakra down his legs and into the ground, earth spikes rose from behind him, cornering Obito as Kakashi loosened himself from the noose of execution with a duck of his body.

With a wide swing of the gunbai shaft, Obito smashed apart the earth spikes. "Or perhaps, do you think that our failures will move on with time? That it will be written over if you busy yourself with something else, like being a guardian and a role model to my little cousin, healing her from her own tragedies?"

Kakashi felt as if his bones were being crushed, and he couldn't figure out if that was because of what Obito was saying - implying - or because Obito had kneed him in the chest.

Fighting against the tightness in his lungs, Kakashi hooked the ninja wire around Obito's shin and pulled, lifting him off balance just before Kakashi could be hit point-blank with a wind bullet. The vacuum of shredding wind breezed past the side of his head and tore through the fabric of his forehead protector.

"I have never forgotten about what happened with Rin, not once since her death." Kakashi heard the sound of the metallic hitai-ate hitting the floor as the two of them locked arms with each other. His hand grabbed onto the metal rod, preventing it from piercing deeper into his shoulder, while Obito stopped his kunai with his bare hand.

"And I will never lie to myself and write her over. I thought you knew that," Kakashi said as blood flowed down both of their weapons, connecting them through heartache and injuries. When their eyes met again, it suddenly became clear that despite everything, they were the closest person - if not the only person - that could understand each other's pain.

Their sorrow seemed to resonate through their swirling sharingan, like two pieces of a picture, combining together into the full scene of a tragedy. At that moment, Kakashi felt as if he was being unravelled and all his rationality came undone.

Even Obito took pity on him, retracting his weapon and freeing his bloodied hand from Kakashi's kunai. They broke apart as Kakashi forced himself to focus, to react with a jutsu if Obito wanted to leave through Kamui. But Obito didn't, merely looking at him, as if waiting for him to accept how useless he was - how they all were - against their past.

But Kakashi wasn't who he used to be anymore. He wasn't someone who used to run away from his Mangekyou like a plague because he couldn't handle the emotions that came with it. There was no immunity gained from suppressing the love, the hate, and everything in between.

Suffer because of your love and hate, but nevertheless, be proud.

Once he figured that out, Kakashi found it easier to breathe, to swim in the suffocating current. He realized that he was an emotional mess, probably even more so than Obito, but even then, he found himself to be able to think with clarity.

So he asked, knowing that at this point, against Kakashi who had been reduced to this, Obito would be happy to answer - happy to show him a way out. "What do you really want to do, Obito? I failed to see how Pein's plan of flattening the world through pain and suffering will fix our failures."

"His plan can't," Obito admitted with ease, not at all realizing the piece of paper that was stuck to Kakashi's neck since the beginning. "The Tailed-Beasts have great powers when they come together, and it's such a waste to treat it as merely a weapon of destruction and intimidation."

"You're familiar with Itachi's Tsukuyomi, a genjutsu capable of creating a whole different life." It can't be … "But with the power from all the Tailed-Beast and the moon as the sharingan, Infinite Tsukuyomi is capable of creating a whole different world."

Kakashi felt as if he was split in the middle, and his rational side merely watched on as the other half of Kakashi - the half that he stopped trying to reign in - exploded. Lightning crackled on his fingertips as Kakashi flickered forward and reached with ferocity.

"So your answer is a genjutsu?" Kakashi asked. So much rage and disappointment were mixed in his voice that it somehow sounded flat. Obito, to his credit, took it in stride as if expecting Kakashi's outburst to be normal.

"The only difference between reality and genjutsu is the amount of belief," Obito went on, dodging the thrust of lightning by an inch as the chains of icy-blue electricity destroyed the fabrics on his shoulder. With a twist of his body, Kakashi kicked from the side, forcing Obito to take a few steps to the side despite raising his arm to guard.

Both of them could hear the light cracking of bones - Kakashi put so much strength into his strike that he didn't know if it was his or Obito's - but Obito paid it no attention as he punched forward, bringing them closer together as he said, "I know it's difficult to accept. As I said, Kakashi, you're numbed by a reality that you can't get out of, just like the majority of people. That's why someone has to do it."

"We're not numb, Obito. We're just not denying our past and running from the future." Kakashi wondered if he had entered into a strange state, where he was standing on the edge of insanity, calm but at the same time completely out of his mind. His body reacted on its own, parrying the onslaught of taijutsu and ninjutsu while fighting back relentlessly.

"What future! What future do we have when the past was already as broken as this?" Obito yelled as his fire dragon crashed into the twisting water serpent that Kakashi summoned up in response.

"It's salvation for the world and everyone in it, Kakashi. Rin won't have to die as a sacrifice to war - she can live a beautiful life as she should! Naruto won't lose his parents and suffer a fate as a human weapon. Itachi won't have to massacre his clan, and Maiko and Sasuke won't have to grieve for their family, both the dead and their murderer. Peace, happiness, childhoods free from strife and war, they can all be had!"

It was as if every one of Obito's words was stepping on Kakashi's nerves, telling him that everything Rin had done, everything Sensei and Kushina-san had done, everything those fighting alongside him had been trying to do, to propagate their aspiration and realize the future they wanted to see, was all just something that could be discarded so easily.

"But it's our past," Kakashi pushed the words out of his teeth as he slid past the piping hot water vapours that had turned into a veil of mist. "It's filled with misfortune and failures, but it's also filled with hope and strength from those that we lost. They didn't die so I can close my eyes and go to sleep—"

Before the sentence was finished, Kakashi was pierced through the heart by a metal rod. But instead of blood that rushed out, Kakashi's body dispersed into water, dousing Obito and gathering into a pool around his leg. Obito was quick to realize the trap, but a streak of lightning was already conducted through the liquid and clung to his body.

Obito's movement was halted as the electricity paralyzed his muscles. Kakashi caught that moment of vulnerability as chirping lightning gathered on his kunai.

"Hope means nothing when it's just an afterthought - a consolation prize - of blood and death." Obito still had the energy to argue with Kakashi, so it really wasn't a surprise when he turned around at the last moment and pushed his metal rod forward.

In that one second, Kakashi noticed a lot of things. For example, how instead of dodging or blocking, Obito left his chest bare as if he wanted to trade Kakashi's life, a heart for a heart. He also noticed how the fabric of the eyepatch covering Obito's left eye socket rippled and smoothed over Obito's supposedly empty eye socket.

Kakashi remembered everything and anything that caught his attention, and Kakashi slowed his step a little and turned his body sideways. The metal rod slid through under his arm, grazing the side of his chest, dragging a bloody cut across his skin. But because Kakashi prioritized saving himself, his kunai wouldn't reach Obito in time.

Obito might have given him a look of disdain as if mocking his cowardly nature. Kakashi accepted the accusation, pausing his movement just enough to show that he wanted to retreat and reorient after realizing that his attack wouldn't reach.

Then, he flicked his wrist and pointed the kunai towards Obito's neck. Before Obito could react, chakra rushed to Kakashi's hand and the concentrated lightning extended from the metal blade into a spear, piercing through his neck with the cry of a thousand birds.

Kakashi saw the pack of explosive tags that fell out of Obito's sleeve as he gagged in shock. With a deafening explosion, Kakashi was blown back as heat and smoke filled his lungs. But Kakashi didn't have time to worry about himself, as he brought his hands together and formed the hand seals.

The tiny ball of electricity zoomed out in front of him, charging into the smoke and flew past it unhindered. The white lightning looked lost as it kept on zooming into oblivion as if confirming to Kakashi that the chakra source it was supposed to follow was truly gone.

For a second, Kakashi slumped over his knees, trying to catch his rushed breathing. His muscles relaxed for a moment, giving out an opening of vulnerability. His mind went back to when they were little, sparring with each other on the training field.

Obito's taijutsu back then definitely left much to be desired for. But because Kakashi wanted to please Minato-sensei, he forced himself to slow down, to match up with Obito's sub-par speed and reaction time, before finally overpowering his teammate all the while giving an impression that Obito always had a chance.

Of course, Obito later found out about his lies when he caught him sparring with Gai and demanded he to stop looking down on him. Kakashi gave him what he asked for - he too, found it exhausting to pretend and lower himself for that idiot - as he blitzed through Obito's defence and slammed him into the ground, five times in a row.

Obito would always climb up and ask for more, but the last time Kakashi plummeted him into the ground, Obito finally looked done. It was just like now, Kakashi let his body relax and looked away from Obito, deeming him no longer a threat.

That was the first time Obito managed to get a clean strike on Kakashi, and he did it by preying on Kakashi's pride and impatience, which in turn, made him expose a moment of vulnerability.

How stupid, Kakashi used to think as Obito tried trick after trick to get Kakashi off his high horse, but it kept on failing each time and it made Kakashi more certain of the fact that nothing could overcome the clear difference in power.

He was glad that Obito proved him wrong back then, because look how the table had turned. Now it was Kakashi who layered trick after trick, trying to inch closer to his unspeakable goal.

Kakashi turned as he switched the kunai to his left hand. With a twirl, Kakashi let the lightning cover the blade and brought it down, slashing right at Obito's head. The eye patch covering his left eye was gone now, revealing an eye that was devoid of all emotions and signs of life.

Kakashi was there when Danzō sacrificed eleven sharingan all for a second chance at life, so he knew what an Izanagi looked like when he saw one.

Obito caught his left wrist with an iron grip while the metal rod was already aiming at Kakashi's heart. It was as if the clock had been turned back and time had been rewound. Kakashi and Obito locked arms with each other and were once again back to trade a life for a life.

Obito's fingers dug into the tenketsu point on his wrist, inhibiting the flow of his chakra, preventing Kakashi from gathering up more lightning to his kunai, telling him that the trick of Chidori Blade wouldn't work a second time.

The lightning chakra that enveloped his kunai was dissipating, but If Kakashi wanted, he could drop the kunai from his left hand and catch it with his right. With a sharp thrust, he could pierce Obito's heart while Obito did the same to him.

A heart for a heart, Kakashi, Obito seemed to say. It's what we all deserved, after failing to protect Rin. She shouldn't be experiencing that fate alone.

It was the devil's words, and any day before this, Kakashi might have listened to it. But not today.

Kakashi's right hand grabbed onto Obito's wrist, halting the metal rod before it was stabbed into his body, and in turn, giving up the chance to attack. Obito was angered as he pushed all his strength into his right hand, sending the broken handle into Kakashi's chest despite the resistance.

Obito was stronger in strength, that was clear to Kakashi from their earlier encounter. But it was fine, Kakashi did it not to save his own life, but to make sure Obito couldn't get away.

Lightning sizzled on the kunai raised at Obito's head and Kakashi clenched his fist tighter, feeling the friction of the scrunched-up paper seal hidden in his palm. The sound and sight of the wild lightning, barely contained by the metal used as foci, hid the noise and chakra signature of something else.

Hakuryuu came back from the void, piercing through Kakashi's own hand before it drilled into Obito's sharingan. It didn't have a target before, so it wandered off into the void. But now it had one - Maiko's yin-chakra, released from the seal hidden in Kakashi's left hand.

No matter how fast Obito tried to turn his body in avoidance, the white lightning clawed into Obito's right eye and continued to sear across his face.

Obito's yells of anger and pain reminded Kakashi that the rod stabbing into his chest seemed like a fitting punishment. A heart for an eye, but he didn't think he paid enough, for Kakashi just tore through the precious thing that connected them together with broken threads.

A moment later, it seemed that he paid even less. Obito's strength faltered when he struggled to protect his eye, so somehow, the piece of porcelain in Kakashi's pocket pushed the metal rod off-course, just a little, guiding it to the left by a few degrees and Kakashi narrowly escaped having his heart pierced through.

Still, Kakashi felt as if the world was shaking when he forced himself to retreat before the wild branches that sprout out of the right side of Obito's body could kill him. Ignoring the pain, Kakashi took his body off the metal rod and raised a few wobbly earth walls to protect himself.

All of his cold-blooded calculation, all of his machine-like calmness … They seemed to break down at this moment as Kakashi raised the kunai towards his own sharingan.

The second one of the pair. So long as Kakashi destroyed the left Mangekyou as well, the Kamui space would be locked forever, trapping Kakashi and Obito until their death. All it required was a single slash, another scar that covered Kakashi's old one.

It seemed to be the most rational decision, for Kakashi was halfway to the doorstep of chakra exhaustion and also losing focus from blood loss. It was always easier to destroy a part of yourself than to take something from an enemy.

Kakashi's life was like a broken record, playing a segment of tragedy on loop with only the main characters being different.

It always started with a lull of happiness where everything seemed to be alright.

Then it was the world-shattering death, telling Kakashi that what he did wasn't enough - he wasn't enough.

Next, enter the slump, where Kakashi shut off everything and everyone.

Finally, time cracked away his petrified heart and he was brought to light again by those that still cared about him, one of which could very well be the main character of the next cycle.

But after knowing about Obito's plan of infinite Tsukuyomi, Kakashi realized that as much as his life remained in a loop, it was Obito that was stuck in the past, unable to move on, unwilling to let the record continue playing.

As for Kakashi? He wanted the play of his life to continue. He wanted to believe that he had the right to adventure into the end.

I'm not keeping your stuff forever, Maiko reminded him in his head, remember to take it back, and remember you owe me one.

Kakashi wondered if the blood loss had screwed with his senses, but he felt a hand on top of his, grabbing onto his shaky fingers. The touch was gentle, but the strength behind it steadied his grip on the kunai and pushed it away from his left eye.

Okay, I'll keep my promise and fight on.

As if on cue with his determination, a thick branch slapped through the earth wall, breaking it in half and forcing Kakashi to roll to the side. Finally, Obito and Kakashi faced each other again. Obito's right eye was shut, but the way he searched Kakashi's location using sound told him that the eye did not survive even with the passive healing from the Hashirama cells.

"Did you destroy the other Mangekyou?" Obito asked, his voice hollow and chilling.

"No," Kakashi answered with honesty, making Obito snap his face towards where the sound came from.

"Coward," Obito couldn't help but mock, but Kakashi begged to differ. Destroying the other Mangekyou - the key to leaving and entering Kamui - was the easier path. If he had chosen to do that, they would be done here already.

However, fighting on to see the future where his decision could very well end in more failures, guilt, and regret … That was the bravest thing Kakashi could have done.

"Obito, refusing to meet the future, that's cowardly." What answered Kakashi's words, of course, was a roaring fire dragon. But Kakashi wasn't nearly done.

"No matter how real that genjutsu is, Obito, all it will do is to serve the obsessions of those that are still alive. Rin, Minato-sensei, Kushina-san, they'll all just be a snapshot in the past, taken from our memories, preserved for only our convenience," Kakashi yelled out as he ran for his life, only for a root to crawl out from beneath and stab into his thigh.

For a moment, so brief that it might just be Kakashi's delirious imagination, the root that hooked onto his leg paused in its destruction, giving him a chance to rip the plant out before it dug deep and to escape the sea of fire that crashed down.

Moreover, it gave him a chance to regain his breath and finish the sentence that he couldn't wait to get out of his lung. "Infinite Tsukuyomi won't be giving them a future either, and I won't let you erase their ambition and hope when it's all that's left!"

Kakashi wasn't naive enough to think that hope was some kind of glorious ascension of humanity as if it could replace those that had passed. But it was all they had left in the world, the only thing that could prevail to witness the evolving future. A consolation prize or not, it was something that Kakashi would give everything to protect.

I have to be smart about this, Kakashi reminded himself as he slid under a burning tree branch. His left hand had more or less lost any feeling other than pain. The blood loss and the injury in his chest were stealing his strength.

Obito, on the other hand, was sending waves and waves of violent attack towards Kakashi, no doubt trying to take back his other eye all the while preventing Kakashi from getting close. A hurricane of fire expanded from around Obito, forcing Kakashi to call out a thick earth wall in defence.

Kakashi heard it before he saw it, the columns of wood that crashed through the earth wall. The lightning clone he left behind exploded into wild electricity, charring the wooden structures black while Kakashi jumped and slapped the ground again, raising another earthen structure, not in front of him, but under him.

Kakashi waited with patience, not even flinching as Obito sent half a dozen dragon-headed fireballs towards the earth wall he was standing on.

He knew how much vision meant for a Sharingan-wielding Uchiha. Having never experienced the deteriorating vision of the Mangekyou, Obito forced himself to react using only sounds and feedback on his attacks, hence the increased amount of Wood Release.

The sound of the second earth wall would have marked Kakashi's direction for Obito, but the explosion of the lightning clone would have mimicked one of Kakashi's lightning jutsu, making Obito think that Kakashi was hiding behind it.

As expected, the little but impactful fireballs crashed into the earth wall, destroying it in a second. Kakashi timed his movement with the moment of destruction, letting the noises he made blend in with the sound of something more violent. With a push of his feet, Kakashi jumped up and flickered towards Obito.

Sensing the lack of a target, white branches grew from the right side of Obito's body, spiralling around him until the shape of a tree trunk was formed, protecting Obito from attacks that came from any direction.

Kakashi brought his right hand - the only good hand that remained - to his mouth as he gathered fire chakra in his throat. As soon as the giant fireball left his mouth, he fished out a shuriken tied to ninja wire. Kakashi balanced it on his fingers as he felt its weight, before throwing it forward, aiming at the ground.

The fireball crashed into the wooden cocoon, telling Obito exactly what direction Kakashi was in. Columns of wood rushed out, trying to skewer him while he was still in the air. But with a pull of his hand, Kakashi forcibly changed his trajectory and pulled himself back to the ground.

The piercing branches missed Kakashi by a hair. Some splinters might even have scratched past his skin, but Kakashi paid it no attention as lightning gathered in his palm.

The world itself felt as if it slowed down when Chidori cut through the burning wooden shield and pierced Obito in the chest. Blood, flesh, bones … every time Kakashi disposed of an enemy using Chidori, he could feel those things vividly, and this time, it was no different.

Memories seemed to fold and overlay together when he broke the facade of wood. Images of Obito and Rin, the two most important people in his life, overlapped with each other as Kakashi caught both of them in one last embrace.

At the last moment, Kakashi's body reacted by itself, wanting to move his hand away, correcting the fatal mistake of last time. It took every ounce of focus for Kakashi to override that trauma and keep going, carving a hole with lightning in Obito's chest that was enough to kill.

"Why did you let me hit you?" Kakashi asked as Obito's body slipped down from his arm. You want me to attack your heart, don't you? So why are you dying?

Neck, eye, heart … He could feel both his mind and muscles stuck in battle mode, ready to strike the next spot or block a critical hit in retaliation, unable to relax or feel a sense of closure - a sense of grief - because he couldn't figure out what Obito wanted.

"You finally did something I wanted," Obito whispered as blood soaked through his robe and then into Kakashi's vest. Obito strained his neck as if trying to look down to confirm something, before realizing that he no longer had any sight. "And you almost missed."

"This isn't over, Kakashi, even if I'm dead." Obito pushed the words out of his mouth as he struggled to maintain consciousness. His body - the part saved by Hashirama cells - tried to generate new flesh to replace what was lost, but it was a dying effort.

"I had a seal on my heart, the same kind as the one on Rin, binding me to the one who saved me from death." Suddenly, it all made sense, why Obito tried to draw his attack towards his chest, so Kakashi could destroy the seal for him.

Perhaps he had planned to use his Sharingan to dodge the critical hit and the regenerative ability of his body to survive, but none of that plan made it to the end.

"Then did you–" Kakashi didn't even get to finish his words before Obito shut him up with a wheeze and a glare.

"Don't disgust me with your assumptions, Kakashi. I did everything willingly. It's a dark path, but I took every step by myself …" Obito's words dimmed as if he had run out of breath. But before that spark of life could disappear, Obito grasped it and forced the rest of his words out of his mouth.

"Even if I can't see this through to the end, someone else will. They will take back the Rinnegan and finish Infinite Tsukuyomi. But …" Obito hesitated.

Kakashi had seen the dying moment of many, both enemies and loved ones alike. Some had blessed him and some had cursed him; some moved on with silence, while others would change Kakashi forever.

But this time, Kakashi couldn't delineate the nature of Obito's last words. He could see the hate, but he could also feel the love. The desperation and regret made it hard to breathe, but the relief and solace brought a gasp of fresh air.

Kakashi had so many questions. Did I convince you of the future? Which future? What do you want to see? … what is your hope, Obito? But Obito, in the conflicted state he was in, might not even have the answer.

Eventually, everything melted into one last breath as Obito finished his last words. "… perhaps I lost the right to see the future the moment I lost the courage to accept it."

There, that was all the answer Kakashi was going to get.

Just like that, Kakashi and Obito were looped back to the beginning of everything at Kannabi Bridge. Back then, Obito also lay there without sight because his 'sight' was given to Kakashi.

In the first loop, Obito asked Kakashi to take a piece of him and live on, to see the world and record the future with his eyes - their eyes. This time, Obito didn't want to ask, nor was Kakashi certain of what kind of future Obito wanted to see - what decision he had made at the very end of his journey.

Nonetheless, Kakashi would witness the future for Obito. No matter if Kakashi's ideology of hope and future will prevail, or if the world would succumb to an eternal dream. While Kakashi fought for the former, he would inevitably witness the answer for both of them.

Kakashi almost didn't make it out of the Kamui space.

When Kakashi forced his Mangekyou to open and transport himself out, it felt like his entire body was being ripped to pieces. His mind zoned out as he wondered if his heart would finally give out after experiencing severe blood loss and chakra overuse.

But as Kakashi clutched onto the scroll that locked away Obito's body and focused his drifting attention on where he ended up, he realized that the scene in front of him was too weird to be one from the afterlife, and it was far from the Konoha that he was familiar with.

The paper stuck to Kakashi's neck had finally peeled off on its own. Kakashi wondered if he could call up an earth wall fast enough to block an explosion, but all the shikigami did was fold itself into a paper crane and disappeared into the woods.

Kakashi didn't have the energy to chase Konan's shikigami, not with the giant wooden statue in front of him, half-buried in the ground. It crouched low on the forest floor, hiding in the woods like a creature out of this world.

Ahh … The teleportation process of Kamui was all but a blur for Kakashi, so he might have gotten a few things mixed up and ended up where Obito wanted to go when he tried to get out earlier.

A rush of pain assaulted Kakashi as if he had been stabbed by a million needles. His vision turned fuzzy and his brain felt like it was being turned upside down. All the debt his body had to pay for keeping up the intensity of the earlier battle while heavily injured finally came back to haunt him.

Kakashi felt his body hitting the ground as his consciousness escaped him.

But before he passed out, he heard the sniffling of a small animal. The last thing he saw - which really made him wonder if he was still sane - was a monochromatic rat darting across his vision, before running away into the forest.

(づ。◕‿‿◕。)づ fuwa~fuwa~desu~~~

I was surrounded by carnage and buried by destruction.

The entire ground looked as if it was peeled off as slabs of rock hit the silver giant, smothering it with the weight of the earth and pushing it back. Hunching its back, the Susanoo planted the shakujō deep into the earth and rooted itself in place against the calamity known as Pein.

How would Pein react when all of his spare puppets were destroyed was uncharted territory. But that question just got answered now, and the short summary was that he went berserk.

Without the need to coordinate the teamwork of his puppets or caution against my Kannon Bosatsu, Pein, as 'Yahiko', was free to unleash all the devastating ninjutsu and otherworldly forces that he possessed so long as his chakra remained.

I didn't know how much chakra he had, but it seemed bottomless and would no doubt outlast me countless times over.

I cast a glance behind me, seeing Tsunade-sama locking her fingers in a hand seal and shutting her eyes in concentration. Compared to the beginning of the battle, she looked like she had aged more than a decade.

107 deaths and 1293 serious injuries, that was what a little Katsuyu had reported a minute ago, along with a warning that the death to injury ratio would soon increase dramatically. While it sounded like the majority of the injured survived, as the medical resources got diluted and exhausted, more shinobi suffering critical injuries would unable to recover.

As soon as we heard that, Tsunade-sama sent Jiraiya and Gai back to alleviate the pressure on the village, allowing more injured shinobi to be healed. She wasted no time in siphoning even more of her chakra to the army of Katsuyu in the village, summoning more of the Sage Slug's clones to make up for the lost ones and keep up the medical assistance.

Under my Sharingan, she looked like a beacon of chakra, spreading her light regardless of how much fuel was left and the consequences of having all the life force spent. And I was determined to make sure that nothing could interrupt her.

Under the repulsive force, slabs of stones compressed together and formed a giant pillar, drilling into the Susanoo's shoulder with no mercy. With a burst of pain on my own shoulder, I could see the giant's armour plates cracking in response while my chakra struggled to keep them together.

A slimy sensation climbed up my shoulder as the little Katsuyu sucked away the worst of my fatigue and lessened my chakra exhaustion. Without a pause, I let the newfound vigour wash over the silver giant, smoothing out the cracks and pushing the stones out.

As soon as I felt the slightest sign of the repelling force being lessened, I willed the Susanoo to raise the shakujō. With a horizontal swing, the long rod swept away the last wave of incoming debris. Continuing with the momentum, I turned the staff in a half-circle and tapped the bottom against the ground.

With a crystal-like clatter, the mixture of chakra travelled along the ground and burst forth when it arrived at 'Yahiko'. A veil of ruby-red flames rose from below his feet, circling around him and spiralling in, sealing off his route of escape.

'Yahiko' let out a harsh grunt as he slapped his remaining hand on the ground. The earth cracked open for him as waves and waves of water sprouted out from underneath. The raging water compressed together around 'Yahiko' before bursting outwards like a Tsunami.

Soon, clouds of vapours crowded my vision as the thin veils of Uchiha Kaenjin struggled to contain the sheer volume of the raging waves. Water spilled out a second later, forcing me to swipe the shakujō on the ground and call up a row of fire barriers.

Just then, an overwhelming pressure landed on top of us, and the silver giant hunched over, doing everything to stand up to the gravity that was trying to crush us.

"The summoning creatures have stopped regenerating, but with the amplifier destroyed in the Sensory Unit and half of the sensors incapacitated, they're in a rush to set up the communication networks." Despite the impending doom literally crashing down on us, the little Katsuyu reported with diligence as soon as she got new information.

There was a pause before she continued, "Director Yamanaka managed to pinpoint the location of Pein's real body. Yamato sent Uchiha Sasuke, Haruno Sakura, and Sai as the vanguard to scout and secure the location."

I clenched my teeth, half to stabilize Susanoo under the weight and half to prevent my overprotectiveness towards my little brother from interfering with the war. But it seemed that Tsunade-sama had doubts of her own as she asked behind me, "Reason for such deployment?"

"Given the situation on-site after the destruction of the Sensory Unit, they were the best options." Katsuyu - or rather, Yamato - had the answer ready. "Both Sasuke and Sai have avian transportations and Sakura maximizes their survivability. Also … Sasuke opened the Mangekyou."

I could feel my body tense up and in response, so did the little Katsuyu on my shoulder. Despite the rumbling landscape around us and the crushing gravity making my Susanoo let out a grating sound with its joints, I could hear myself asking, "Whose death did he see?"

Tsunade-sama could have stopped my line of questioning right there, but she didn't. I should be honoured that she had such trust in me - trusting me that no matter what answer was given, I wouldn't let it interfere with my duties.

"It's Uchiha Ryuu."

For a moment, the world felt like a void around me. Despite the immense gravity rooting me down, I didn't feel grounded in reality at all.

Just then, the downward push finally lessened as 'Yahiko' stepped out of the dissipating mists, looking battered and war-torn.

Shinobi learned to hide their emotions in battles, but even the best of us were just human. There were moments like this where emotions leaked out against my best judgements, telling our enemies that we were grieving before I could bury the sorrow.

For a second, 'Yahiko' looked thoughtful as he spared a glance at the village that he could no longer control through terror. Just like that, he had a pretty accurate guess as to why I was grieving.

"I've warned you, only loss and pain can be understood universally." Pein had the guts to act as if everything that happened here made him even more certain of his ideology; as if the death of a boy barely seventeen - the death of my family - and countless other shinobi were just an inevitability in the path of enlightenment.

"Those who never saw pain and suffering will never know its fear and devastation. I'm only doing this so the world can learn, so that wars as devastating as this will never be stirred up again—"

"What a load of crap." I cut him off with biting words. The Susanoo shimmered around me in instability, not because of chakra exhaustion, but because for a second, I couldn't regulate my chakra output with calmness.

We can't have that, can we? Not when my chakra was already scarce, to begin with, and not when I needed to use what I had left to destroy the last bit of him that could still talk.

The little Katsuyu used the last of its energy to replenish my dying chakra before poofing out of existence. As if knowing my destructive thoughts, Tsunade-sama slowed her chakra siphoning and said, "I won't be able to attack with full force before my chakra replenishes more, but I don't need a bodyguard anymore."

I didn't need another cue to be released from my bindings.

'Yahiko' raised his hand, summoning up a fortress of stones as the Susanoo slashed its silver staff through it. Without a pulse, he pushed his hand forward and shot out a series of piercing wind bullets.

The wind bullets cut through the falling debris and shot straight into the defence of the Susanoo. For a moment, 'Yahiko' looked surprised by how easily his attacks cracked the defence, but his suspicion was soon being answered as the silver structure disintegrated like dust.

Clank! My sword clashed with the obsidian rod, which 'Yahiko' managed to raise at the last moment before my blade could cut into his neck. Flashes of electricity discharged from my body as lightning tumbled around the sword.

"Look me in the eyes and you dare tell me that I don't understand pain and suffering?" The flashes of icy-blue electricity were almost blinding as I hissed at Pein.

The Mangekyou pattern in my eyes swirled with fervour, turning all my raging emotions into power. Every petal, every line, and every drop of red in my eyes … They were calligraphed by blood and death, glowing brighter with every loss that I had witnessed.

"Do not compare your pain with mine! Do not compare Konoha's pain with that of those caught in your greedy conflict, ravaged by wars that they did not wage!" Pein shouted back with menace as he pushed my blade to the side with raw strength. But the raging lightning couldn't be stopped so easily, already arching its way towards him across the distance.

Just before the arc of lightning could connect with his heart, Pein's cooldown finally ended. With a strong push, Pein repelled the lightning jutsu and pushed me backwards, all the while sending out half a dozen black rods that rode the current of the almighty push.

Without any hesitation, I let the silver chakra expand around my body. In the blink of an eye, skeletons, musculature, and armours materialized one by one. While the black rods pushed against the armour, I swung the half-formed shakujō towards Pein before it expanded to its full shape.

With a rattling noise, I twisted the staff and managed to hook the rings at the head of the shakujō right on 'Yahiko'. To serve as the strongest defence of the Uchiha Clan, Susanoo was constructed by compression of chakra, so dense that not even Shinra Tensei could blow its integrity apart.

"You're not the only one who has lost their families due to the screwed-up reality we live in. You're not the only one in pain that hurts so bad that you question if you'll survive!" I yelled and Pein almost stumbled as he was suddenly being latched on and pulled forward.

I heard 'Yahiko' letting out a shout of anger and frustration as he stood his ground and increased his power. Clenching my teeth until I could taste blood in my mouth, I refused to let go.

The floor below him cracked as he slid forward. I could hear the crunching sounds of his bones breaking under the pressure, not enough to incapacitate a puppet's movement, but alarming enough that he decided to end the repulsion.

The moment I felt the pressure lessened, I channelled chakra through the shakujō until it reached Pein on the other end. Crimson lotus bloomed around the edge of the staff, wrapping around the rings with its stems as it opened its petals to cleanse everything in its path.

But Pein was familiar with that jutsu. Slamming his feet onto the ground, pillars of rocks rose according to his command, slapping the shakujō up towards the sky while also drilling towards the giant body of Susanoo like stone dragons.

Immediately, lightning coursed through my limbs as I zoomed out of the Susanoo and dashed past the falling debris. When Susanoo's large body became a hindrance rather than a help, I had no problem discarding it as necessary.

Of course, having used the trick once before, Pein's body tensed up in defence when he saw the silver giant shimmer out of existence behind the waterfall of rocks.

Catching the moment when I arrived behind a rising pillar, I stabbed my tantō into the ground, with concentrated lightning already gathered on the metal. Pulses of electricity snaked towards Pein, zig-zagging around the rocks and debris, having eyes only for their prey. Without looking back, I left the sword on the ground and jumped up the side of the pillar.

Chains of icy-blue lightning rose up from below Pein's foot, and one managed to stab into his leg before he could dodge. Electricity exploded on contact, shocking Pein's lower body with enough voltage to paralyze him. But 'Yahiko' was just a corpse. Despite the smell of charred flesh, he raised his hand and sliced with force, sending a wide arc of wind scythe towards the direction of my attack.

The thin blade of wind sliced through the rock pillar and everything on its path, but what Pein saw beyond the fallen stones was a blade stuck to the ground, pulsing with the last bit of lightning that remained. Before he could react, I pushed off of the broken pillar with a strong force, dashing down from above while sending the tip of the rock pillar back with momentum.

Chakra gathered in my palm, burning a bright signal in Pein's vision as I aimed toward his chest. At the last moment, he crossed two black rods in front of him, narrowly blocking the worst burns as the red lotus bloomed between us.

"What makes you above all of us that you get to 'teach' us what it means to be in pain?" I pivoted my body and the barest of the silver ribcage materialized around me, protecting me from the flames while its bony fist punched Pein in the stomach and sent him flying.

Without stopping, I pulled my hand back and a dozen clusters of ruby-red fire stretched into the shape of feathers. "Because you have Rinnegan? Because you're given an unparalleled power and it suddenly makes you a god, even though you're just as broken, flawed, and human as the rest of us?"

Crimson quills pierced through the air, catching up to Pein as he regained his balance. Twisting his fingers into a series of hand seals, thick torrents of water rose up from the ground. Water crashed against the fire, shaving off the fiery blaze with desperation. Despite that, a few quills still drilled into his flesh, searing holes in his lower abdomen and left shoulder.

As soon as I realized that Pein didn't use Shinra Tensei to block my attacks, I knew that this was a premonition of the calamity to come.

"Someone has to do it! If not me, then who else!" Rage and anger seemed to build up in Pein's voice as he raised his hand before pushing his palm down. "Banshō Ten'in!"

I expanded the Susanoo just in time for the gravity to fall on me, but it wasn't all. Above us, Pein commanded the rocks to compress together into an up-side-down cone-shaped meteor before falling down with a deadly force of attraction. Water - both the remnants left on the battlefield and new ones conjured up by Pein - got pulled towards me from all directions.

Stones, water, and even the air itself all crashed down on me. It was as if I was being buried in the depth of the ocean, where the water pressure was grinding my flesh and bones to dust, making every breath, let alone any movement, a luxury.

Against the enormous force, I screamed and forced myself to straighten my back, to stand up against Pein's heavenly power, and stand up to his twisted ideology. Susanoo answered my call, and even if it was just a little, the silver giant raised its hunched body.

It was then that Tsunade-sama crashed in like a cannonball. Black lines laced across her forehead, reactivating the Seal of a Hundred Strength once more. She rode the force of attraction despite the damage it did to her body and slammed her fist against the pillar of rock.

The meteor of rock was smashed to pieces, relieving the weight on me just a little, enough for me to reorient Susanoo and expand the silver Shakujō in its hand.

The unnatural gravity that fell on me was released abruptly when Pein's attack ended and entered into the cooldown. With wasting a heartbeat, I spun the silver staff towards the ground before drawing up a crescent arc using the momentum.

The shakujō slashed through the ground, broke apart the water, and sliced by Pein's body, missing just an inch as he rolled to the side in a hurry. Still, he was flung off-balance by the sheer force of the swing. Without stopping, Susanoo turned the shakujō with a flick of its wrist and slashed it across diagonally.

Fiery chakra ran up the silver rod, coating it with a crimson glow as it arrived at Pein's torso. Layers of water ran up his body, creating shields and cushions as Pein got flung back by the hit.

"Even if you win today, even if you tame this world through pain and intimidate everyone with calamity, that's not peace, that's just a snapshot of silence," I said when Pein crawled out of the ground again was a searing slash that ran across his midsection.

Even with an undying corpse as his vessel, 'Yahiko' was at his limit. So to push the last button, I stated, "There will always be more of us who will rebel against your bleak reign, against your belief that people will only give in to pain and fear."

The landscape had all but been altered by our battle, but I could tell that Pein was retreating further and further away from Konoha, to the point that my village had been reduced to a dot in the distance.

Suddenly, my instinct was screaming in alarm and I snapped my head up to see the source of danger. There was a tiny black sphere that floated to the sky, vibrating the same energy as Pein's repulsive and attractive forces, but a hundred, even a thousand times stronger.

"It's exactly that kind of naive thinking that makes people fool themselves, pretending they're making a difference when nothing has changed." Pein looked beyond pissed at my word - particularly the last part. "People, villages, even countries, destroy each other out of greed, out of revenge, and even out of noble excuses such as protecting their loved ones. There's no end to the chain of hatred when the origin of violence had already been propagated for ages."

"You will see; the world will see, that fear and intimidation is the only way! And I'll start with you and your village."

With a deafening yell, Pein raised his hand and screamed, "Chibaku Tensei!"

The ground below my feet broke apart as everything started to fly up and was drawn towards the pitch-black sphere like stars being devoured by a black hole.

A large slab of debris flew towards my head and bounced off the Susanoo. However, I could feel the soreness that washed up my body and the Susanoo shimmered in response to my unstable chakra flow. The dose of stimulation from the little Katsuyu was coming to an end.

"Let me in." Suddenly, I heard a shout from Tsunade-sama as she jumped up from below. With my permission given, she phased through the Susanoo and landed on the slab of rock I was standing on, while everything was being pulled to the sky.

"This will hurt." Tsunade-sama didn't really explain what she meant when she clutched onto my shoulders. But the answer came quickly enough when her rough chakra coursed through my veins, forcing every cell in my body to go into overdrive.

Tsunade-sama pushed my cells beyond their limit and healed the damage at the same time. It was as if someone had stabbed a needle into every tenketsu in my body, but I could feel the rush of chakra that flowed out like rivers gracing a drought. Now that was a trade I could live with.

The stone platform that we were on broke into pieces, but instead of falling, we were ascending into the sky. Immediately, I channelled the chakra into the Susanoo, letting it expand until legs formed below its waist and scales of feathers gathered behind its back.

While the wings flapped furiously to keep us from being pulled in, flying rubbles already gathered in a thick layer covering the black sphere that served as its origin. I wondered if we could escape the pull of gravity with the full form of Susanoo, but at this height, I could see Konoha in the distance.

Once the meteor grew to a formidable size, with or without us trapped in it, Pein would crash it down on the village in the distance. By then, it would be far more difficult to destroy such a monstrosity.

Running away was never an option.

The black sphere is the core of the pulling force, I narrowed my eyes at the growing meteor. If this was the same force as Banshō Ten'in, then all attacks, whether physical or jutsu-based, would be pulled to it.

The sparks clicked in my mind and I made Susanoo raise its arms. I needed long-range ninjutsu, more powerful and more destructive than everything I had so far.

"You got an idea, or should I go punch it instead?" Tsunade-sama asked, despite the black marks on her body disappearing as more of her chakra went to support me and the village. However, I had no doubt that she would do it if it really came down to it.

"Yeah, somewhat," I said, trying to sound confident when in reality, I really had no idea if it would work. Tsunade-sama raised an eyebrow at that, but she never stopped pumping chakra into me.

With a command in my mind, the shakujō melted in Susanoo's hand and tried to reform into something else. While I didn't figure out how to use it until very recently, I did determine that the shakujō was like an amplifier, allowing me to gather and channel my ninjutsu to a range and power that wasn't possible before.

But right now, I didn't need a shakujō, I needed something else. The answer was at the tip of my tongue, so I asked my Mangekyou, and it said yes.

The molten mass of silver reconverged on Susanoo's left hand and smoothed into the shape of a bow. Meanwhile, a ball of crimson fire gathered in Susanoo's right hand.

Like notching an arrow, Susanoo drew its right hand back and the ruby-fire fire stretched into a blazing arrow. I let the yin-chakra fire concentrate, compressing itself many times over until I couldn't stretch it anymore.

But against the meteor that had grown to a size comparable to the Susanoo and the tough core made out of a material that not even my lotus could incinerate, it still didn't feel enough.

Just then, a crow materialized off of my collar, staring at me with its red eyes while I narrowed my gaze at him.

I swear to the gods, Itachi … Before the crow could activate the reverse summoning, I cut it off and said, "I know you can understand me, so don't call Itachi here."

The crow paused in its movement, feigning its innocence, but that wasn't going to flow here. Itachi must have left the crow with me so that it could summon him when it sensed extreme danger.

But my brother was on a mission of his own, trying to end the evil behind Edo Tensei.

"I got it here, so tell Itachi to do what he needs to do and don't look back," I said to the crow as my Mangekyou reflected back at its pupil. "Even without him dropping everything and coming to my rescue, I was never fighting alone."

Tsunade-sama was literally standing right beside me, trusting me to make good use of her chakra when it was nothing short of her own life force. Countless others had lent their power to me as I recorded their last moments through my sharingan, accumulating into the pattern of the spinning tomoe, before melting into the tri-petalled flower.

Vessels burst in my arms as they got damaged by the rush of wild chakra flowing through my body. In the blink of an eye, my skin was filled with bruises as the pain dulled my senses. But I ignored everything and increased the chakra flow even further.

If one thing wasn't enough, then maybe I should try addition.

A wisp of silver chakra escaped the bow and started to encircle around the tip of the flame arrow. Like the pattern in the sharingan, the swirling chakra slowly shaped into a loop of spinning magatama, rotating around the arrowhead like moons orbiting the planet.

Legends had it that Hama Ya, the evil-banishing arrow, had the power to destroy and quell any demons it pierced through. The bow used to shoot the arrow, then, was called Hama Yumi, the evil-banishing bow.

I released the blazing arrow from the silver bow, watching it cut through the sky, the rocks, and everything on its path, flying straight towards the centre of the meteor, despite my horrible aim.

Sound, light, explosions … everything melted together as the combination of Hama Ya and Yasaka Magatama smashed into the black core buried beneath the rubbles. There was so much that stimulated my senses that the world turned silent as Susanoo got blown back by the force of impact.

It wasn't until I felt Tsunade-sama's hands covering my ears that I realized that my hearing was actually damaged by the sound from the impact.

Warm chakra flowed into my body, healing my eardrums and the broken vessels littered all around my body as I somehow managed to regain control over the flying warrior and landed on the ground.

Without the stimulation, the silver giant unravelled as my chakra level dropped at a frightening speed. But before it could fade away completely, I sent the arms forward and slammed Yahiko's wobbly body back to the ground. The reverberating impact and the rubbles that got blasted out took out his remaining arm and everything below his left knee.

"There's no quick fix to humanity," I could barely hear my own words as Pein was stuck under the hold of the bony fingers. His body was far too damaged to put up any defence, so he could only watch as I drew out the last bit of my chakra and pulled it in the shape of a thin crimson arrow.

"If you think you can train us to behave using shock therapies, then you're the one that's naive here." On cue with my last word, the fire arrow drilled Pein's body and expanded into a cloud of red.

As the bony fingers disintegrated into a wisp, the raging flames swallowed up the last bit of the man once known as 'Yahiko', finally exposing the one hiding in his skin under the bright, searing sunlight.

(づ。◕‿‿◕。)づ fuwa~fuwa~desu~~~

A crow slipped out of Itachi's collar, and the first thing his summoning animal did, before even latching onto his shoulder as a foothold, was to complain.

"So she kicked you out," Itachi summarized while the crow shook his feathers in protest. Begrudgingly, the bird reported to him Maiko's words.

Don't look back, Itachi repeated the words in his mind. To be told that by both Maiko and Sasuke, he must be quite predictable. With nothing else to say, the crow disappeared in a poof of feathers.

"Itachi-san, it's just up ahead," Karin said from behind. She paused a little, presumably to do another scan of the surroundings, before panic rose in her voice. "There's …"

Karin's voice dwindled when Itachi raised a finger to his mouth, telling her to swallow her words and pretend it never happened. Itachi had an idea of what could possibly alarm her, even more than the hordes of Kabuto's snakes that already littered the fields ahead.

"Return to Konoha and be careful on your way back," Itachi told the younger kunoichi as he paused his footstep.

"I can …" Karin furrowed her eyebrows as words blurted out of her mouth, but it soon died down when she clutched onto her arms. The bite marks that used to cover her skin only took a week to heal, but it seemed that the memories were a different case.

"You've helped plenty," Itachi said in all honesty. Karin's sensory role was fulfilled perfectly, but the upcoming battle wasn't one that Itachi planned to drag her in.

Eventually, Karin nodded at him solemnly, wishing him luck with her actions. Without any hesitation, she turned around and started making her way back.

Finally, Itachi stood under the thick forest in isolation. The vegetation in Fire Country was always dense and luscious, kind and bountiful to those that knew their way around, but deadly to those that stumbled inside without preparation.

The forest was the life and home of many creatures, the harmless, the dangerous, and those that kill when one was least suspecting.

A shuriken hung on Itachi's finger as he glanced to the right. In a split second, the shuriken flew across the air, curving around the trees before skewering a snake into the forest floor. The white snake writhed and hissed, but Itachi's attention had already moved to the shadow lurking behind.

"What's the point of hiding when you've already been made?" Itachi asked. His words hung in the thin air for a second, before Orochimaru stepped out of the shadow.

"I had a feeling that it would be you that came here." With nonchalance, Orochimaru pulled out the shuriken pinning the snake down and the reptile slithered up the man's arm, never more alive. "It makes me curious, what have you prepared for Kabuto's Edo Tensei?"

It better not be the same old trick you used on me, Itachi got the underlying message. Kabuto was a different kind of problem compared to Orochimaru, with different motives, different obsessions, and different weaknesses, so of course, the same solution wouldn't work twice.

"It makes me curious too, how did you mess up so badly that Kabuto got enough sharingan to reincarnate twenty-two Uchiha." Itachi could see a variety of expressions melting together on Orochimaru's face, from the anger of being mocked to the pure joy of seeing Itachi suffer from his own doings.

"So, what are you here for, to take back what's been stolen from you by Kabuto?" Whether that's physical properties or lost dignity, "Or to take advantage of the chaos?" Itachi didn't expect a heart-to-heart honest answer, but the conversation between him and Orochimaru was never as boring as those with Konoha.

Perhaps it had to do with the fact that Orochimaru had seen the darkness that resided inside him and both of them knew that it wasn't going to go away anytime soon. It made Itachi more tolerant of a lot of things, which also made him more interesting to talk to.

"Who's to say that I have to pick one? There are certain things that I do on principle, but the rest is about opportunities," Orochimaru answered with a shrug before cocking his head in the direction Itachi was heading. "What did you say before, 'what's the point of hiding when you've already been made,' is it?"

Itachi wasn't blind - not yet - nor was he inept enough to miss the hordes of snakes slithering through the earth, the grass, and the leaves. These weren't Orochimaru's snakes, but they were preying on him nonetheless.

Hunger, craze, greed … Itachi could feel those emotions radiating off of the animals, resonating with that of its owners. Clearly, Kabuto had yet to learn how to hide the lust for one's prey, but then again, why would he? When he suddenly seemed to gain all the power in the world.

But as he said, Itachi was more tolerant of a lot of things, including having to face Kabuto in the presence of Orochimaru, who had very debatable principles and ambiguous motivations. But if it was opportunities that he sought …

"This war is both an end and a beginning, Orochimaru," Itachi spared Orochimaru one last glance, knowing that the missing-nin could understand what he meant, before he walked towards the army of snakes that could barely hide their aggression.

"It's the last chance to choose the future, both for the world and oneself."

A/N: The story between Kakashi and Obito is probably the most complex thing I've ever written and I can't say that I've figured it out. I imagined that Obito must have tried to reaffirm his own belief in Infinite Tsukuyomi countless times, when he turned on Konoha, when he orchestrated the death of his teacher and Kushina, when he set the Tailed-Beast plan in motion, and especially when he sees Naruto as a mirror of his past. But no matter how many times he tried, the seed of doubt never went away, because he was Obito. Here, he is also trying to reaffirm his belief, with Kakashi who was his other half - the half that ended up better - despite going through the same trauma. It's hard to write out exactly what he's thinking without going to his point of view, but I think Kakashi's response, both in words and in action, ripped through his own deepest doubt. And in a battle like this, a moment of doubt is fatal.

Complete Susanoo finally making an appearance (we're gonna need it for wave two of calamity). I always thought that Yasaka Magatama was the coolest thing ever and it's like different for every Susanoo, so I had to do it. Next chapter we will see Itachi and Kabuto (ft. Orochimaru doing ... stuff) and how team 7 is doing.