Obito should absolutely, definitely keep walking. He has somewhere to be, and a time limit that can't be ducked. If he doesn’t fulfill this mission, Madara will never trust him, never believe in him. Obito has one chance to prove his worth, to prove that he’s worthy of sharing Madara's dream of a perfect world, and if he doesn’t get to Konoha before Kushina recovers from giving birth, everything is for nothing. But—
He stares at the towering oak in front of him, not quite able to tear his eyes away from it. There's nothing outwardly strange about it except its size, which is vast even for a Fire Country tree. Thick boughs stretch out, not picture-perfect but twisting, curling, and the bark is thick and weathered, green with moss. Nothing special, nothing beyond the ordinary, and yet something about it sings in Obito's blood, winding through his veins like golden streamers of sunlight in the middle of winter.
Obito breathes, feels the thrum of the earth under his feet like the tree is breathing with him. It tastes of age on his tongue, faded but still grand. He hesitates, but reaches out, slow and careful. Mokuton is more instinctive than fire jutsus, at this point, and it’s the world’s greatest irony that even now he can't master his own clan’s techniques, but in this second it feels…less important, maybe. Not quite the failure it was a few hours ago.
His fingers press against gnarled bark, sink into the deep cracks, still warm from the day’s sun. Another breath, and for a moment Obito feels a jolt like lightning, something sharp and clear and cleaving, and he gasps, jerks away—
Nothing. No reaction. No sign that anything happened at all, and Obito forces his heartbeat back down, tells himself he’s being stupid and paranoid. It’s just a tree, even if it is a pretty one, and it’s certainly nothing he can't handle.
Madara would be so mad at him for wasting time here, Obito thinks, with a twinge of something that’s almost fear, but still can't make himself turn away.
Steeling himself, he reaches out again, traces his fingertips over the craggy bark. It’s warm, and he closes his eye, savoring it. The artificial half of his body always feels so cold, these days, unless he physically goes and basks in the sun. Madara hates that, scoffs and mocks him and tells him that even Zetsu doesn’t waste time like that, so it’s become Obito's guilty pleasure, something to do when Madara is occupied with other matters and leaves him without work. And this—this feels like that same basking, like afternoon sunlight in the long grass. Obito can't help but smile, small and almost painful in how it’s become unfamiliar in the last year, presses his fingers deeper and when that’s not enough lays both hands against the trunk, seeking just a little more warmth.
The air is humming, just faintly, and out of the corner of his eye he can see flickering darts of light. Fireflies, he thinks, and leans forward, letting his forehead fall against the bark. He breathes in the wet-earth smell of the forest, the damp wood of the trunk itself, breathes out with a sense of peace he hasn’t felt since Rin died.
This, he imagines, is what a hug feels like. Warmth on his shoulders, against his cheek. The brush of a faint breeze through his hair like fond fingers, gentle and lingering. It’s pure instinct to reach back, to call up the waiting curl of power inside of him like drawing thread from a spool. It comes, new-green and eager, and Obito lets the chakra suffuse his hands, creeps across his palms and out through the pads of his fingers, sliding into the tree and—
The world shivers like a struck gong, and with a ripple of power that raises every hair on Obito's body the tree is gone. It turns to green-gold light, and Obito yelps as he tumbles forward, abruptly off-balance, falls right through the swirling chakra ad collides with something solid and warm.
“Oh!” a voice says, startled, and there are suddenly hands on Obito's shoulders, a man in a brown yukata patterned with autumn leaves dropping to his knees in front of him. Obito blinks at him, utterly bewildered, but before he can get so much as a word out, the man smiles.
It’s bright and beaming and warm, full of a welcoming kindness that Obito can't begin to know what to do with. He stares, not quite able to form words.
Thankfully, the man doesn’t take offense. His fingers tighten just a little on Obito's shoulders, and there’s a strange joy in his eyes when he says, “Mokuton—you have Mokuton? Is that what I felt?”
Obito forces himself to swallow, to nod. His gaze slides over the man, taking in the long dark hair, the dark eyes that are kind and wise in a way even Minato's never managed to be. “You—” he starts, but can't get even one more word out, because he thinks he’s seen this man before, but—
The stone face on the mountain never had this humanity, and under the full force of it Obito can hardly breathe.
Senju Hashirama laughs, running a hand through his hair and pulling out a handful of green leaves that he lets flutter to the ground. They shiver against the earth, sparking with power sharply enough to make Obito's gaze snap down to stare at them. In half-stunned silence, he watches them twist and grow, rising as saplings that spread delicate leaves, and it’s enough to make Obito swallow, suddenly, starkly aware that the only thing he’s truly used his Mokuton for is killing. He has a flicker of memory, crystal-clear as if it happened just moments ago, of the Kiri nin under the full moon, Rin collapsed on the ground, and—
“Oh, what’s wrong?” Hashirama asks gently, and the hands on his shoulders have suddenly become arms around his back. Hashirama pulls him in, right up against his chest, and Obito sucks in a startled breath, thinks about protesting that he’s fourteen, a shinobi, hardly needs coddling, but…
He can't remember ever being hugged like this, warm and all-encompassing, the hand cupping the back of his head ridiculously gentle. Obito grabs for his rage, tries to summon up the righteous fury that drove him out of the Mountain’s Graveyard and straight towards Konoha, ready to kill his old teacher and surrogate older sister, but he comes up empty. There's nothing close to the fury he needs, and before he can stop it a sound of fear tears out of his throat.
“No!” he cries, shoves himself away from Hashirama but can't do more than stagger a step and fall, landing hard on the ground as he tries to scramble away and grasping desperately for an explanation. “No, no, no, this is a test, he’s trying to see if I’ll give up, but I won't, I won't. You're a genjutsu, you can't—it doesn’t matter—”
Concern is slanting across Hashirama’s face, and he carefully rises to his feet, taking a step after Obito as he crawls backwards. “What are you talking about?” he asks in confusion. “Is something wrong? Is there a problem with the village?”
“You're dead,” Obito snarls, but it’s not the anger that he needs, not the calculating fury Madara has drilled into him. “You're dead and this is a test, that bastard didn’t think I had the guts to go through with it so he put you here to stop me, but it won't work.”
Something very close to exasperation flickers through Hashirama’s eyes. “I'm not dead,” he protests. “No matter what my brother told you, it was just a nap. I wanted to sleep in the sun for a little while, but I felt your Mokuton.”
That’s the most idiotic excuse anyone could ever come up with. “You were a tree!” Obito nearly shrieks.
Hashirama blinks, like this is news to him. “What? I was just sleeping.”
“As an oak tree!” Obito tries not to flail, tries to drag himself under control the way he’s been taught, but none of Madara's lessons covered hero of the village brought back from the dead right in front of you, and he doesn’t have any idea how he’s supposed to react here. “I put my hands on your bark!”
“Huh,” Hashirama says thoughtfully. “That’s never happened before.”
Obito kind of wants to cry in frustration. Kind of wants to scream at him, because it has to be a trick but it’s not, his Sharingan can see through even Madara's genjutsus, and this is real.
“Madara's going to kill me,” he whispers, breathes out shakily only to have the mask block it, and abruptly can't stand the feel of porcelain against his face for even one second more. He wrenches the black-streaked mask off and hurls it to the side, curls forward to fist his hands in his hair as he gasps for air. Rin is dead, Rin is dead, and that perfect illusion Madara wants to build is the only way to bring her back. If Madara casts him aside, or kills him for being unfit, Obito will never see her again. He’ll have to live the rest of his life with the image of his own hand piercing his best friend’s heart, her blood-streaked face burned with perfect clarity right behind his eyes.
“Madara?” Hashirama asks quietly, and his tone is still gentle, but now there's a dark, angry thread wound through it, menacing enough to make Obito flinch. He twitches back, doesn’t quite let himself recoil even though he wants to, and forces himself to look up.
“We’re making a perfect world,” he says. “Where everyone wins, and no one has to lose. It will be perfect, and Rin will be alive again, and Kakashi won't kill her—”
A big hand settles on top of his head, and Hashirama looks down at him with sad, grim eyes. “You're an Uchiha,” he says gently. “An Uchiha with Mokuton. Is this something Madara did to you?”
Obito swallows, not quite sure how to answer, but— “It’s yours,” he says, admits. Madara had told him that much, though Obito is still learning about all of the science part.
Those dark eyes hold his for a long, long minute, heavy and intent, and Obito has never felt smaller or weaker than he does right now, frozen to the earth in front of the Shodaime Hokage, the man responsible for the founding of every single Hidden Village. Hashirama’s hand drops to find Obito's wrist, taking in the cuff and chain around it, and his expression tightens just faintly.
“I haven’t just been asleep for a few hours, have I?” he asks, and it’s sad. “And Madara—he sent you to attack the village.”
“I volunteered!” Obito snaps, because if nothing else this was his choice. He picked this path, and he’s not going to deny that. “It’s been—it’s been sixty years, and the wars haven’t stopped, and everyone keeps dying! Madara's way is the best one!”
“Betraying your home is never the best way,” Hashirama says, sharp and certain. He reaches out, cups Obito's face in his hands. “You’re wavering,” he says, and it’s almost kind, even though there's steel in his eyes. “There's still a Will of Fire in your heart. If there wasn’t I would kill you as a threat to the village.”
Something dark and terrified slides down Obito's spine, and he has to clamp his eye shut to get himself under control. Even when he’s frightening Madara isn’t that scary, but Hashirama is.
From above him, there's a quiet sigh, and Hashirama pulls him forward, wrapping his arms around him again. “You're a child,” he says. “I thought one of the few things Madara and I agreed on was that children shouldn’t be used as weapons.”
Obito blinks into Hashirama’s shoulder, trying to parse that. “He saved my life,” he tries. “I was caught in a cave-in—”
“A very convenient and well-timed cave-in, I'm sure,” Hashirama says, but there's nothing of humor in it. “I believe I have several questions for Madara, not the least of which being how he survived.” Another moment, and he pulls back just enough to meet Obito's gaze, holding it firmly. “Madara turned on his own clan more than once. He isn’t to be trusted. And if he had nothing to do with your situation, I’ll gladly admit I'm wrong. But…coincidences rarely line up so neatly.”
For an instant, all Obito can see if Rin under the full moon, Kiri nin all around her and blood painted thick and crimson around her mouth. his breath stutters in his chest, and nausea turns his stomach so violently he has to fist his hands in Hashirama’s yukata to stay upright.
“No,” he says, but it’s a plea more than anything. “No, that’s not—it can't—”
Hashirama smiles sadly at him. “We can prove it,” he says, “one way or the other.”
Obito hesitates, wavers. They can, but that means abandoning their plan to remove the Kyuubi from Kushina. There won't be another chance until she has a second child, and there's no guarantee of that ever happening.
But what if Madara did have a hand in Rin's death? something small and dark in the back of Obito's thoughts whispers. It was certainly perfect timing, wasn’t it, that Zetsu would report back at that exact moment, get Obito to the fight just as Rin died. And—what use would he have been to Madara without the Mangekyo? Hadn’t Madara seemed delighted about the way Obito's had manifested?
“Okay,” he whispers into Hashirama’s shoulder, not quite able to summon the strength to lift his head. Hashirama is still warm, regardless, and Obito is so unused to that. “I—okay.”
Hashirama kisses him on the forehead, almost like a benediction. “Good,” he says, and it’s fierce and steady and resolute. “You’ve made the right choice. I know you can feel it.”
Obito closes his eyes, tries to breathe evenly through the lump in his throat. He has, and he can, but it would be so much easier if he didn’t.